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"Fortress Battalions and How They Are Used" from Intelligence Bulletin, Feb. 1945

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   U.S. intelligence report on German Fortress Battalions intended to man the West Wall and other German defenses, from Intelligence Bulletin, February 1945.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on German military forces published for Allied soldiers. More accurate information is available in postwar publications.]

Fortress Battalions
...and how they are used

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.]
German Fortress Battalions now take part in the defense of fortified lines.


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If the field troops retire to new positions, the Fortress Battalions are withdrawn to the nearest permanent fortifications.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 as these:

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.]
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 of observation.

[Closeup of center machine-gun embrasure, measuring 8 by 12 inches, showing closure plate partly closed.]
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.]
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.]
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."


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 ammunition.

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 threatened.

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.


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.

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