Official German military doctrine dealing with the tactics to be
used in high mountains and under conditions of extreme cold is
summarized in this section. The information has been extracted
from German Army documents.
1. IN HIGH MOUNTAINS
The German Army emphasizes that the skill and leadership of junior
commanders are severely tested in mountain warfare inasmuch as forces
will generally be split into relatively small groups. The efficient
handling of these groups demands a high standard of training and
discipline. Columns will often be separated by wide areas of difficult
country, and, since lateral communication is often very difficult, command
of deployed units becomes much more complicated than during operations
over ordinary terrain.
(1) The Germans recognize that the limited number of trails and the
tendency of men and animals to become exhausted have a decisive
influence on movement.
(2) Units are divided into numerous marching groups, none of which
is larger than a reinforced company, a gun battery, or an engineer
platoon. The Germans maintain that in this way the danger of ambush
can be overcome, and each group can fight independently.
(3) Engineers are well forward (with protective patrols) to help repair roads.
(4) Aware that small enemy forces can hold up the advance of a whole
column, the Germans consider it necessary to have single guns well
forward. They also regard flank protection as very important; for this
reason stationary, as well as mobile, patrols are used.
(5) When unusually steep stretches are encountered, infantry troops [probably
reserves] move forward and disperse themselves among the pack animals of the
artillery, for the purpose of helping the artillery in an emergency.
(6) Pack artillery moves at march pace (2 1/2 miles per hour) and
after marches of over 6 hours, 3 to 4 hours rest is necessary. Short halts
are considered useless, because men and animals must be able to unload.
(7) The Germans stipulate that for every 325 yards ascent or 550 yards
descent, 1 hour should be added to the time which would be estimated
necessary to cover the same map distance on ordinary terrain.
(1) The supply echelon may include some, or all, of the following means
of transport: motor vehicles (with preference given to vehicles of
from 1 to 2 tons), horse- and mule-drawn vehicles, rope railways, pack
animals, and manpower. Transport aviation may also be used if the terrain permits.
(2) The Germans have found that a cart drawn by two small horses can be
highly practical in mountainous country.
(3) The German Army stresses that supplies must initially be packed in
containers suitable for pack transport, in order to avoid a waste of time
in repacking en route.
(4) Man loads vary from 45 to 75 pounds.
(5) In general, supplies are organized into valley columns and mountain
columns. Valley columns carry supplies for 2 days, and mountain columns
carry supplies for 1 to 2 days.
(1) Light machine guns are used more often than heavy machine guns.
(2) Mortars are used extensively, and often replace light artillery.
(3) Antitank guns and heavy machine guns are mostly used for covering road blocks.
(4) It is a German principle that effectiveness of artillery fire
from valleys depends on the careful selection of observation posts, and
on efficient communication between these posts and single gun positions. "It
cannot be overemphasized," the Germans say, "how difficult it is for
artillery to leave the roads or level ground."
(5) In general, the emphasis is on the lighter weapons.
Apart from normal reconnaissance tasks, it is considered important to mark
trails to show: which areas can be observed by the opposition, how far pack
transport can be used, where trails need improving, and where troops must
assume the responsibility of carrying everything themselves.
(1) The Germans use radio as the primary means of communication, because
of the great difficulty of laying lines.
(2) Motorcycles and bicycles are used in the valleys.
(3) The Germans take into account the fact that lateral communication
is often very difficult and sometimes impossible.
German engineers in mountain units are assigned the following tasks in
addition to their normal duties: bridging swift mountain streams, clearing
mule trails, and constructing rope and cable railways.
h. Attack Tactics
(1) Attacks across mountains usually have the subsidiary missions of
protecting the flanks of the main attack (usually made through a
valley), working around the rear of the opposition, or providing
flanking fire for the main attack.
(2) It is a German axiom that the early possession of commanding heights
is essential to the success of forces moving along the valleys.
(3) Generally, the German main attack follows the line of valleys, which
alone gives a certain freedom of movement to a strong force and the
necessary supply echelons.
(4) German troops attacking uphill are always on guard against falling
rocks and possible landslides caused by supporting artillery fire.
(5) The Germans have found that attacking downhill, while easier for
forward troops, often presents tactical and ballistic problems for the artillery.
i. Defense Tactics
(1) German officers are reminded that defense of any large area of
mountainous country ties down a very considerable number of troops.
(2) The Germans believe that if a crest is to be defended, it is better
to have only the outpost position on the crest or forward slope and to have
the main line of resistance, with heavy weapons, on the reverse slope.
(1) In general, the basic training of German mountain troops is that of
normal infantry units. Specialized training comes later.
(2) Battalion officers are trained mountain guides, and must pass tests annually.
(3) All guides are required to be expert at map reading and the use of
altimeters, at judging weather conditions, at recognizing dangers peculiar
to mountainous country, and at overcoming great terrain difficulties in order
to reach observation posts.
(4) The necessity for noiseless movement is emphasized, inasmuch as
under certain conditions sound may travel farther in mountainous terrain
than in open country.
(5) It is stressed that ammunition must be used economically.
(6) Since troops are likely to be separated from their units for a number
of days, the Germans require a high standard of discipline and physical toughness.
2. IN SNOW AND EXTREME COLD
(1) Marching.—The Germans consider it important that clothing
should not be too warm. Weapons are covered. Advance guards are strong, and
heavy weapons and artillery are well forward. Antitank weapons are distributed
along the column. Ski and sleigh troops may be sent out to guard the flanks. Plenty
of towing ropes are loaded on motor transport, and horse-drawn and hand-drawn
sleighs are considered very useful for transporting weapons and supplies.
(2) Halts.—In contrast with normal German practice in
mountains, halts are short when the temperature is very low. Motor
transport vehicles are placed radiator to radiator. Snow is cleared
under the vehicles, and some sort of foundation is provided for the wheels.
(3) Restrictions.—The Germans limit the use of the tanks and
motorized units when the temperature is lower than 5 degrees above
zero (Fahrenheit). Motorcycles are considered useless when the snow
is more than 8 inches deep. Snow is regarded as a tank obstacle when it
is higher than the ground clearance of the tank's belly. German tractors
can negotiate snow up to 1 foot in depth; at 1 foot the use of snow-clearing
apparatus becomes necessary. At very low temperatures, gasoline consumption
is reckoned at five times the normal rate. Snow deeper than 1 foot 4 inches
is considered impassable for pack animals.
The German Army warns its mountain troops that:
(1) Distances are usually underestimated in clear weather and
overestimated in fog and mist.
(2) At low temperatures weapons often fire short at first.
(3) Ammunition expenditure tends to rise very sharply when visibility is bad.
When German reconnaissance units are operating in mountains under
conditions of extreme cold, extra tasks include obtaining information
about the depth of snow, the load capacity of ice surfaces, and the danger
of landslides and avalanches.
Regarding direction signs, the Germans warn that the opposition will use
every possible form of deception, and that great care must be taken in
interpreting the direction of trails correctly. It is acknowledged that
there is an ever-present danger of being diverted into an ambush or a
strongly defended position.
The usual German methods of indicating trails are to mark trees and
rocks, erect poles, and set up flags on staffs. Stakes are used to denote
the shoulders of roads.
It is noted that a greater length of time is needed for
laying communication wire under mountain conditions, and that cold and dampness
lowers the efficiency of a great deal of signal equipment.
e. Attack Tactics
(1) Because of the difficulty of movement, assembly areas are nearer the
opposition than is normally the case.
(2) Limited objectives are the rule.
(3) Because deployment is so difficult, it is often delayed until contact has been made.
(4) Combined frontal and flank attacks are used wherever possible.
(5) Commanding positions are considered of added value and are occupied by
mobile troops as quickly as possible.
(6) Decentralization of weapons is authorized so that units can deal with
surprise attacks without delay.
(7) Attacks are often made by ski troops.
f. Defense Tactics
German mountain troops are taught that under conditions of snow and extreme cold:
(1) Obstacles take much longer to build.
(2) Strong outposts are highly valuable because they force the opposition
to undertake an early deployment.
(3) The usefulness of snow as protection against fire is often overestimated.
(4) Heavy snowfalls render mines useless.