This section deals with German engineer assault tactics developed
since the battle of Crete. Since the formation has been obtained from
German prisoners of war (engineers) captured in Tunisia, it should be
accepted with the reservations customary under such circumstances.
2. ATTACKS ON PILLBOXES
a. Composition of Detachment
An engineer assault detachment (Pioniersturmzug), whose principal
task is the assaulting of pillboxes, may be composed of any or all of
(1) From two to six men with pole charges or tube charges. (These tubes
are said to be about 2 yards long.)
(2) From one to three flame-thrower teams of two
men each. There is also said to be a third man, who accompanies
them and serves as an alternate, if needed.
(3) From one to four men with hollow charges and
(4) Light machine-gun covering detachments.
The engineer assault detachment in action is normally divided
into two sections (Gruppen).
b. Assault Tactics
The assault is normally preceded by a concentration of artillery
fire. One purpose of this fire is to make craters in which the
advancing engineers can take cover. When the assault detachment
reaches the wire surrounding the enemy pillbox, Very signals are
fired, calling for all available artillery fire to be placed on
the pillbox and its immediate surroundings.
It is reported that, at this point, a smoke screen is laid by two
men of the detachment, using smoke grenades (similar to stick grenades), smoke
candles, or smoke canisters. Also, there are reports that smoke screens
are put down as soon as the artillery is compelled to cease fire
because of the proximity of the assault troops.
Men armed with wire cutters cut a lane through the wire obstacle, hidden
by the smoke screen. As an alternative measure, men with tube charges go
forward and push their charges under the wire. These tube charges, which
are similar to Bangalore torpedoes, contain 18 to 20 pounds of explosive. When
the charges are in place, a designated engineer calls out "Ready for
ignition!" (Fertig zum zünden), whereupon the commander of
the obstacle-blasting party replies "All together, ignite!" (All
zusammen zünden). The engineer then ignites the fuze and calls
out "Burning!" (Brennt) to warn personnel nearby to get under
cover. The explosion of the tube charge opens a lane in the wire. The
engineers nearest the lane then shout "Gap here!" (Hier Gasse).
Besides blinding the defenders of a pillbox by meads of smoke, the Germans
also fire antitank guns directly at the embrasures of the pillbox.
(It seems highly probable that the shouting drill has been developed to
enable the engineers to keep in touch with each other when visibility is
poor or zero, and because of the difficulty of commanding the whole
operation from a central command post.)
The flame-throwing detachment, having advanced with the remainder of the
assault party from crater to crater, now moves through the gap in the wire
and attempts to reach a point 5 or 6 yards from the pillbox.
Now that artillery fire has lifted from the area around the pillbox, the
task of keeping the defenders' heads down is taken over by covering machine
guns. The flame-thrower operators direct jets of flame at the various
embrasures in the pillbox, in accordance with orders given before the
operation began. The blinding effect of the jets enables the men with
the pole charges to advance. When the flame-throwing detachment is about
to run out of fuel, a designated engineer
shouts "Last jet!" (Letzter Strahl). Each man who is carrying a
pole charge advances to an embrasure and detonates his charge inside
it. Prisoners state that
these charges are effective even against closed embrasures.
If the pillbox continues to hold out, either of two alternatives is possible:
(1) The engineers may throw smoke candles into the pillbox
to drive out the occupants.
(2) The engineers may blow in the roof, using a charge weighing
about 110 pounds. This charge, which may be carried in two pieces, is
fitted with handles for easy transport. It is circular, and has a concave
undersurface and convex upper surface. It is said to be about 10 inches
thick in the center, but thinner toward the edge. Since the charge is
constructed on the hollow-charge principle, it can penetrate normal concrete
or armor. It is detonated by a friction igniter.
As soon as an important pillbox has been taken, a swastika flag is
draped over it as warning to friendly dive bombers. A pillbox in a
fortress, for example, is considered especially "important."
3. ATTACKS ON TRENCHES
German engineers who have taken part in exercises involving attacks on
trenches state that they have used ordinary assault methods, preceded
by a liberal use of hand grenades.
For this purpose, certain men are trained as short-distance
throwers (Nahwerfer) or as long-distance
throwers (Weitwerfer). The flame-throwing detachments
move directly behind the hand-grenade throwers, and the whole
party is covered by machine-gun fire from the flanks.
[ NOTE.—The Germans, having devised these tactics, are thoroughly
familiar with the methods of defense against them, one of the most
important of which is the use of pressure and trip antipersonnel
devices in the vicinity of the dead angles of bunkers. Extremely
meticulous intelligence is an essential for this type of assault. ]