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
"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
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
"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."|
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
"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
"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 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."
"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."