[Lone Sentry]
  [Lone Sentry: Photographs, Documents and Research on World War II]
Home Page  |  Site Map  |  What's New  |  Search  |  Contact Us

"Close-Quarter Fighting and Withdrawal" from Intelligence Bulletin, February 1944

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following U.S. report on German tactics in close-quarter fighting and withdrawal during the Sicilian campaign was originally printed in the February 1944 issue of the Intelligence Bulletin.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin publication. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


The Battle of Primosole, which took place during the Sicilian campaign, furnishes a very good example of German tactics in close-quarter fighting and withdrawal.

The initial assault by United Nations forces was made on the morning of 15 July 1943. After bringing it to a standstill, the Germans made no attempt to defend the river line, but concentrated on holding a position in the vineyards and ditches on each side of the road, north of the bridge. This position was based on a sunken trail which ran west from the main road, about 200 yards north of the river, and which afforded concealment. Shallow trenches had been dug in the banks of the trail. The Germans also made use of ditches which ran east and west from the main road. Pillboxes in that area had been engaged by 75-mm gun fire from United Nations tanks, and for this reason were not used by the Germans.

The Germans were equipped with a very high proportion of automatic weapons, especially light machine guns. At night, light machine guns fired on fixed lines very close to the ground. The fire was coordinated with the firing of flares. Bursts of 10 to 15 rounds were fired at a rate of about one burst every minute.

In the daytime, German machine guns were well concealed in commanding positions in ditches and along the sunken trail. Extensive use evidently was made of alternate and supplementary positions, for each machine gun appeared to fire first from one spot and then from another. Never more than two, or possibly three, machine guns were firing at any one time. This suggested the presence of a very small force, whereas in the length of the sunken trail alone (from 200 to 300 yards) the number of rifles and other weapons subsequently counted, and the number of prisoners taken, indicated that there were at least 50 to 60 men.

Individual snipers armed with light machine guns, submachine guns, or rifles were concealed in the vineyards and trees forward of, and on the flanks of, the main German position. The mission of these snipers probably was to protect the German flanks and to harass the United Nations force.

During the first part of the battle, the Germans had very few mortars. Only one is known to have fired; its fire was inaccurate and evidently not observed, perhaps because of the closeness of the fighting.

Grenade-throwing pistols and rifle grenade dischargers were used at close quarters to put down a heavy concentration of high explosive. Both types of weapons throw a high-explosive grenade approximately 20-mm in diameter. Many stick grenades and egg grenades also were used.

The Germans had four or five 88-mm guns and one or two antitank guns of small caliber, 20-mm or 37-mm. These guns were used principally to cover the main road. No attempt was made to conceal them, probably because they were brought up in great haste when the Germans discovered the presence of United Nations tanks and realized that demolition of the bridge was impossible. However, individual Germans concealed themselves in ditches by the side of the road and in culverts under the road, and engaged our tanks at close quarters with demolition charges and magnetic antitank grenades.

The German withdrawal from the defense position was accomplished at the rate of 5 to 6 miles daily. Each day the movement was made to a position previously selected. Commanding ground was the deciding factor in the choice of their positions, which afforded good fields of fire for machine guns and good observation posts for mortars. Sometimes the positions were based on natural antitank obstacles, such as river beds. Towns and villages were not used as centers of resistance, except where positions commanding a bottleneck could be obtained by the expedient of occupying houses situated on high ground. Once the Germans occupied a line of houses built on a very high ridge. A sunken road behind the houses provided good lateral communications and a covered line of withdrawal.

Patrol reports and reports from civilians indicated that the Germans usually withdrew in the early morning, between 0200 and 0400 hours, the last elements to leave often being protected by a few tanks. The type of fire which had marked German withdrawal in Africa—increased shelling and machine-gun fire at the end of the day and at intervals during the night—was not employed here.


[Back] Back to Articles by Subject | Intel Bulletin by Issue | T&TT by Issue | Home Page

LONE SENTRY | Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Search | Contact Us