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"G.I. Comments on German Use of Fire Power" from Intelligence Bulletin, Dec. 1944

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   A U.S. report on German use of fire power based on accounts submitted by U.S. noncoms and company officers, from the Intelligence Bulletin, December 1944.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy weapons and tactics published for Allied soldiers. More accurate data on German weapons and tactics is available in postwar publications.]

[G.I. Comments on German Use of Fire Power]     G.I. Comments on
German Use
of Fire Power

As the war in Europe progresses, U.S. soldiers are becoming increasingly familiar with the ways in which the enemy employs his fire power; however, since each unit naturally has learned more lessons from its own experiences than from those of other outfits, a general pooling of information can be extremely helpful.

Most of the following comments on German use of fire power have been submitted by U.S. noncoms and company officers, and are based on fairly recent combat experiences in France and Italy.

Artillery in Support of Infantry

"The German basic force seemed to be infantry with heavy weapons, plus a heavy tank, a self-propelled gun, or some other single cannon. The enemy covered an attack by an impressive display of fire power over a wide front. He also attempted to move his base of fire by having a self-propelled gun or a tank accompany the infantry, who fired machine pistols as they advanced. In defense a single gun was used, but we destroyed so many that the Germans soon found this system wasteful. To gain control, they stayed in close columns very near the front, where we frequently surprised them.

"The chief drawbacks of German field artillery can be summarized briefly as lack of mass, poor transport, poor lateral communication (especially between observation posts), slowness in occupying positions and preparing for massed fire, and reliance on single cannon, often very poorly sited, for support.

"When German delaying forces used cannon, they tended to select poor positions. Their high-velocity weapons had to occupy positions which we could discover easily. Their infantry howitzers were very poorly situated, either through ignorance or because of a desire to put the guns in a position from which their personnel could not escape and where they would have to fight to the last.

"On the other hand, we were impressed with the accuracy of German field artillery. I've seen a 150-mm battery concentration hit a crossroads so consistently that engineers had to be called on to make it passable for a 2 1/2-ton truck. As far as thoroughness goes, the Germans get more out of a round than the devil himself gets on a lump of coal."

Deceptive Fire of Machine Pistol

"The German machine pistol—a submachine gun, in U.S. terminology—is very deceptive when heard in combat. We call it the 'zipper gun.' It can be fired almost on top of you and yet sound far away, and vice versa. The reason for this is that there is a gadget on the barrel which enables the operator to muffle the sound of firing. Our men know that this gun is not highly accurate, but, because of the high rate of fire and the sound, it's a fairly harassing weapon."

"The first bursts that the machine pistol delivers are effective. The rest have a tendency to go high and to the right. Because of this, new troops sometimes think that they are being fired on by more weapons than are actually in operation. A favorite German trick is to fire a single round from the machine pistol, move to another spot and deliver automatic fire, and then move again to fire a single round."

Prearranged Fire on Approaches

"When the Germans expected us to attempt an advance, they would zero in on all the avenues of approach that we might reasonably be expected to use. Then they would plant snipers at strategic points. When we attacked, the snipers would open up immediately, in an effort to pin us down into a compact group. If this tactic succeeded, the enemy would let loose with mortars or 88's, which already had been zeroed in. The Germans especially favored this method in hilly terrain, where we did not have a wide choice of attack routes.

"The Germans seldom defended low ground. They almost invariably entrenched themselves in high ground, where they would have good observation."

Artillery Fire Control

"In our experience, German artillery fired only on targets of importance, except in the case of a diversionary attack, when firing at random seemed to be the general practice. The Germans fired according to the amount of ammunition they had on hand. To conserve ammunition for their larger guns, they would couple one of these guns with a light gun, and would try to obtain the range by using the lighter piece. (However, by using smoke, we were able to thwart these efforts at range estimation.) The Germans invariably used only one destructive weapon against a target. When they were hard-pressed and were about to withdraw from a position, their artillery would fire a heavy barrage, lasting as long as half an hour, on the whole front or area. This barrage would be heavier than in the case of an actual attack."

"Our unit found that the Germans nearly always fired a smoke shell during the daytime, to get the range for their artillery. At night they would move a machine-gun squad close up to the line, and fire tracer over a certain point; by this method the observation post could determine the range for artillery at night.

At first the Germans used only two men to a machine-gun nest, but later on they began to use three men. The third man would stay hidden in case there should be an Allied attempt to take the machine-gun nest. If such an attempt was made, the two German soldiers who were visible would walk out in front of the machine-gun nest, holding up their hands to be searched. When Allied soldiers were engaged in the searching process, the two Germans suddenly would drop to the ground, and the third German, concealed in the machine-gun position, would start firing.

"When the enemy was driven out of a town or village, he would leave an observation post in a church tower or some other place where there was a large bell. As our troops entered the village, the observation-post personnel would ring the bell, and German artillery, having zeroed in previously, would fire as soon as the bell rang."

[The two Germans suddenly would drop to the ground, and the third German, concealed in the machine-gun position, would start firing.]
"The two Germans suddenly would drop to the ground, and the third German, concealed in the machine-gun position, would start firing."

Use of Tanks

"I never saw a German tank employed singly. In nearly all instances, a section or a platoon was employed. One tank may try to draw your fire; then, if you react as the Germans expect you to, you are immediately subjected to the remainder of their fire power.

"German tanks have a tendency to bunch up, and it is quite common for them to expose their broadsides. We found them vulnerable to cross fire from fire power employed on an extended front."

"I found that the enemy employs his tanks in groups of six or more, and that there usually are two or three types in a group. The most common, we found, were the Pz. Kpfw. VI, the Pz. Kpfw. IV, and, in most cases, one or two self-propelled guns. These guns, I believe, are intended to delay our advance in the event that the tanks have to withdraw or maneuver to a more advantageous position. The Germans frequently use a single tank as a decoy to draw your fire, with the hope that you will present yourself as a more vulnerable target. The enemy's main fault, it seems to me, is bunching up his vehicles and trying to get too much through a single avenue of approach or withdrawal."

"If a German tank is not completely destroyed—set afire with high-explosive shells, for example—the enemy is likely to sneak back into it and deliver unexpected fire from its weapons. Also, a crew bailing out may leave a man behind to cause us trouble. Once, we fired on a Pz. Kpfw. IV Special, and hit it in the track. The crew bailed out immediately, and we thought the tank was out of action. However, the gunner remained in the vehicle. After we had stopped watching this particular tank, the gunner fired two rounds at us. We weren't hit, fortunately, and lost no time at all in demolishing the tank."

[The crew bailed out immediately, and we thought the tank was out of action. However, the gunner remained in the vehicle. After we had stopped watching this particular tank, the gunner fired two rounds at us.]
"The crew bailed out immediately, and we thought the tank was out of action. However, the gunner remained in the vehicle. After we had stopped watching this particular tank, the gunner fired two rounds at us."

Antitank Guns

"The Germans have been introducing more and more 57-mm antitank guns, usually emplaced in pairs. The positions are likely to be just below the crest of a hill or a high bank. From the positions of the guns, it is evident that the crews plan to let our armor come well within range, and then take them under a cross fire. The emplacements are always well dug-in and camouflaged. Invariably there is a crawl trench leading from the gun itself to a dugout, which serves as living quarters for the crew. After the gun has been hit, surviving members of the crew move down these trenches and out of observation."

Machine-gun Fire

"Our men have learned how to get around the fast-shooting German light machine guns. These guns have such a rapid rate of fire that they are not able to cover a great deal of ground. When our men have stayed well apart, the machine guns have not been able to do much damage. Actually, these weapons are terrific ammunition wasters. And our men have learned how to take advantage of the few moments afforded when the crew must change barrels. This happens frequently because of the high rate of fire. What ground the light machine guns cover is covered well, but it's a very limited area."

"Double rows of German base fire, at night, involved a heavy unidentified line of fire approximately 3 feet from the ground and a high, arching line of fire, amply identified by tracer bullets. Evidently the Germans hoped to create the impression that the principal fire was high and inaccurate, and also to discourage night bayonet attacks."

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