These newly created German units are charged with the defense of such
strongly fortified lines as the West Wall.
A large number of German "Fortress Battalions", intended to man the West Wall, were
formed during the crucial period following the enemy's collapse in France, and may
be expected to take an important part in the defense of that fortified line. A
Fortress Battalion may be one of three basic types: the Fortress Infantry Battalion, the
Fortress Machine-gun Battalion, and the Super-heavy (Independent) Machine-gun
Battalion. In the late summer of 1944, General Heinz Guderian issued an order
giving details regarding the various types and discussing their tactical use. The
following notes are based on the most important parts of his order.
|German Fortress Battalions now take part in the
defense of fortified lines.|
THEIR PURPOSE AND MISSIONS
German Fortress Battalions are Army GHQ troops, and are controlled by the
Army High Command. As a rule, they are meant to be used only in the defense
of fortified lines and other fortified positions. By assignment these Battalions
operate under local commanders.
If the field troops retire to new positions, the Fortress Battalions are
withdrawn to the nearest permanent fortifications.
In contrast with the standard 1944 battalion organization in the German
infantry division, Fortress Battalions have less personnel but — as
the enemy sees it — greater combat effectiveness, because of a more
liberal allotment of automatic weapons and mortars, and especially because
antitank rocket-projector platoons are attached.
A thorough knowledge of the terrain, (especially a knowledge of the possible
avenues of approach and the areas in which hostile forces are concentrated) and
a carefully prepared defense plan are regarded as prerequisites for the correct
emplacement of the automatic weapons and mortars, and as an indispensable basis
for the tactical employment of the Battalions.
If time permits, defensive measures are tested, and defensive action is rehearsed, on
the basis of theoretical Allied attacks. This, of course, is a customary practice for
all units throughout the German Armed Forces.
The Germans may employ these battalions not only in a fortified line and in the
outer defenses of forts, but in prepared rear defensive positions, entirely independent
of the fortified line. The Battalions also may be committed as a screening force in
threatened sectors or in sectors which may be tactically important for other reasons.
The enemy believes that Fortress Battalions preferably should be given missions such
1. To defend against weaker hostile forces which have broken through unexpectedly.
2. To delay the oppositions advance by forcing its advance guards to fight before
they reach the actual fortified line or position, and by blocking defiles and other
tactically useful corridors.
3. To allow fighting troops falling back toward the main defensive position to be
absorbed into that position.
4. To occupy quickly and to defend points or sectors of special importance.
5. To counterattack with the limited objective of cleaning up hostile penetrations
into a prepared line or position.
The purpose of such missions is to prevent an Allied force from capturing key
defensive points without a battle, and to gain time and space for subsequent
operations by German forces.
The tactical principles that Fortress Battalions will observe are the same as the
standard German principles of defense, and are not affected by the location and
specific combat mission of any individual Battalion.
Normally, the Battalions will be assigned to existing fortified lines or
positions, or to those under construction. To increase the effectiveness of
their assigned sectors of defense, Battalions will make use of natural obstacles
and will construct additional blocks. The units are told that they can greatly
increase the defense potential of their positions by the skillful employment of
all available automatic weapons and mortars; interlocking bands of fire, organization
in depth, and flanking fire are stressed. However, only the local commander is
allowed to alter the defense lines or to authorize changes in a fortification plan.
|A well-concealed German pillbox showing center embrasure with
vision slit at right. This pillbox for light machine guns was
captured during the assault on the Siegfried Line. Other vision
slits are on other sides of the pillbox, affording a wide field
|Closeup of center machine-gun embrasure, measuring 8 by 12 inches, showing
closure plate partly closed. The vision slit at the right is probably for
observation of gunfire and hostile troops without interfering with
the machine gunner.|
|View of an embrasure in the rear of a German pillbox used to protect
the rear entrance from assault. The steel plate with slot is embedded
in the center of the concrete wall.|
|Interior of German pillbox showing details of embrasure closure plate. The
plate is locked by the eccentric wedges. Pinion for mounting the machine
gun, apparently added after the pillbox was completed, is below the
embrasure. The lettering means "No lights when slit is open."|
THE THREE BASIC TYPES
Differences in armament, strength, and mobility determine different special
uses for the three basic types of Fortress Battalions. Here are General Guderian's
comments about the various types and the ways in which they should be committed.
Fortress Infantry Battalions
1. Bicycle Company
Infantry companies equipped with bicycles are especially suitable for
reconnaissance and mobile warfare. The following missions are recommended:
a. Long-range reconnaissance. For combat reconnaissance, all companies must
furnish patrols because of the small number of mobile forces.
b. The swift occupation of important terrain features.
c. The protection of front, flank, or rear when no other German unit
is available for this.
d. Employment as a mobile reserve, at the disposal of the Fortress Battalion
commander. Weapons, ammunition, and necessary pieces of equipment are to be
fastened onto the bicycles.
2. Rifle Company
The heavy machine gun squad in each rifle company is particularly well adapted
for defensive fighting in depth from concealed, flanking firing positions. Covered
positions may be employed.
If the assault platoon is equipped with the
submachine gun 44 (Machinenpistole 44), the
fire power of the company is greatly increased. This platoon should be employed
for counterthrusts, in case of hostile penetrations, and at local defense points
where the terrain does not permit effective use of such long-range weapons as
the heavy machine gun and the 81-mm mortar.
Up to a range of 150 yards, the M.P. 44 is as accurate as
the rifle. The principal value of the M.P. 44 lies in its
accuracy and high rate of fire (22 to 28 rounds per minute) as a semiautomatic
weapon, and in its alternate use as an automatic weapon, when it is fired in
short bursts of 2 to 3 rounds (40 to 50 rounds per minute). Generally, the
weapon is set for single fire. Bursts will be fired only when beating off an
enemy assault, making a counterthrust (against a penetration, in close combat), or
at very short ranges during combat in trenches, towns, or woods. Strict fire
discipline must be observed. Conserve ammunition! Remember that this weapon
fires a short cartridge, not interchangeable with ordinary rifle or machine-gun
In addition to being equipped with antitank hollow charges, the antitank
rocket-projector platoon enables the rifle company to build up a powerful
and deeply echeloned antitank defense in, or immediately behind, the main
line of resistance.
3. Heavy Company
By means of fire from its heavy machine-gun platoon (4 or 6 guns), the heavy
company supplements the heavy machine-gun fire of the rifle company. Whenever
possible, the platoon fires from covered positions.
The mortar platoons support the action of the rifle companies by commitment
as a unit and with concentrated fire. The mortar-platoon observation posts
are to be situated so that they can maintain communication with the company
commander in whose sector they are committed. The firing positions should be
close enough to permit continued observed fire, even if technical means of
communication are destroyed. This can be achieved by situating observation
posts close to the firing positions.
Fortress Machine-gun Battalion
The usual German tactical rules for the defense apply, with certain natural
modifications, to the Fortress Machine-gun Battalion. The latter is committed
in the first line of defense and in terrain where the best use can be made of
the shock power of the heavy machine gun.
The machine-gun company is committed by squads or platoons. The heavy machine
guns usually will take advantage of every opportunity to fire from the
flanks. Concentrated fire is placed on terrain features which are especially
Antitank rocket-projector platoons are committed by squads or teams, for the
protection of firing positions.
The heavy company receives a liberal allotment of 81-mm mortars and
75-mm infantry howitzers, to permit heavy concentrations of fire.
The engineer platoon is committed in the usual manner.
Super-heavy (Independent) Fortress Machine-gun Battalion
The companies equipped with single-barrel, 20-mm machine guns are
primarily intended to combat ground targets from concealed or covered firing
positions. These positions are selected with an eye toward the possible use
of the guns against air targets, as well.
The antiaircraft company, equipped with four-barrel, 20-mm guns, is
committed principally against air targets, and from concealed positions at important
terrain features. However, when the firing positions are selected, the possibility
that the guns may also be used against ground targets is taken into account.
NOTES ON TACTICS
The Germans recognize that Fortress Battalions often will be on their own, especially
in the early stages of an operation. This is why the enemy believes in conducting
tactical and terrain reconnaissance frequently, for a considerable distance, and
in ample time to permit planning. Moreover, early liaison is established with
approaching reinforcements and with German troops falling back to the fortified
positions. Ruses and deceptions are used.
Great care is taken to prevent a hostile force from penetrating a fortified line
or position unexpectedly or occupying rear positions before German troops can
reach them. Therefore, in addition to performing reconnaissance, Fortress Battalions
take the necessary measures to guard the fortified positions and to keep them in
readiness for defense on very short notice. In this connection, no time is lost in
constructing additional positions, with emphasis on sectors considered suitable
for a hostile approach; frequent alerts and drills are ordered, to reduce the time
needed to man the installations; and mobile elements are dispatched forward.
The Germans believe that counterthrusts and other fighting outside the fortifications
can be conducted successfully only by mobile elements. Such elements are selected at
the earliest possible time (they may be drawn from the mobile forces of the
Battalion), and are equipped with the necessary weapons and supplies.
Because of the independent nature of a Fortress Battalion, the headquarters company
takes care of the supply of all companies in the Battalion. Thus the company commanders
become free to devote their entire time to leading their units in training and in
combat, and are not obliged to concern themselves with supply problems beyond
maintaining a general supervision. (This type of organization is
called "freie Gliederung," or "freeing organization," since it frees the
company commander for combat duties only. It represents a trend which is becoming
noticeable in the organization of all German armored units and some Volksgrenadier
units.) According to General Guderian, the principal job of Fortress Battalion
company commanders should be to weld the whole organization into a perfectly
coordinated fighting unit. However, as with all German units, it is required
that an "adequate" amount of time be set aside for National Socialist education
and indoctrination. Even Fortress Battalions, charged with conducting a
desperate defense within the borders of Germany itself, are not permitted
to forget that Nazi domination of the world still is the ultimate goal.