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"Engineer Assault Tactics (German)" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   Report on German engineer assault tactics from prisoner of war interviews in Tunisia, from the Intelligence Bulletin, August 1943.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy tactics and equipment published for Allied soldiers. In most cases, more accurate data is available in postwar publications.]



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.


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 the following:

(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 explosives.

(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."


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. ]

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