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"A German's Reaction to a British Night Attack" from Intelligence Bulletin, June 1944

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following German account of a British night attack in Italy was originally published in the Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. II, No. 10, June 1944.

[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.]


After a recent action near Minturno, Italy, in which a British raiding party attacked a German antitank-gun pillbox, a German prisoner gave a detailed description of the attack, from an enemy point of view.

In the evening of 30 December, the prisoner arrived at the pillbox, which was situated at one end of a bridge across the Garigliano River. He was to serve as the new gun commander. The man already in command, who was to be relieved with his crew the following day, was to give him full instructions as to the mission, the targets, and so on. Thus there were two gun commanders in the pillbox at the same time, as well as three crew members. (The prisoner stated that a new gun commander had also been dispatched to a second antitank gun position, further south, to take over the following day.)

At about 2200, the British laid down an artillery barrage. The prisoner commented that although the concrete pillbox received several hits, which shook the occupants severely, it did not collapse. For this reason, he said, he felt comparatively safe; but he admitted that the barrage frayed his nerves badly. He said that he did not blame the German infantry in exposed positions along the west bank of the river for having withdrawn to the rear. However, he added, if these German troops had not withdrawn, it would have been impossible for the British to advance from that direction and, in a surprise move, arrive in his sector.

When the barrage lifted, intense firing was going on east of the river. From the noise and the length of combat, he deduced that the British forward platoon was fighting well.

At about 0400 his entire sector was illuminated by flares. In the bright light he could see some men running in and out of the ruins of a Roman amphitheater about 200 yards away. He was unable to tell whether they were friend or foe.

By this time the men in the pillbox had been joined by a corporal of engineers, who had fled from his post at the river, where he had been on ferrying duty with a small detachment.

During the entire night, frantic discussions went on in the pillbox as to what course of action should be taken; however, since everyone was both confused and frightened, the discussions resulted in nothing more than excited talking and gesturing.

From the entrance, the prisoner suddenly noticed a number of men—about 100, he estimated—rising from the grass to the south and advancing quickly toward the ruins of the amphitheater. This advance was conducted quite silently, compared to the sounds which came from the amphitheater a few minutes later. The prisoner said that what happened next was like a fantastic play, with black figures moving in all directions under flares, with the sound of firing mingled with the music of bagpipes. The prisoner said that during lulls in the firing he could observe British troops moving along the main road—silently, because of their rubber soles. He observed that this was in marked contrast to the sound of German boots he had heard when, before the attack, German soldiers had been moving about in the vicinity of the amphitheater.

A number of British soldiers advanced toward the pillbox, and the occupants went into a huddle to try to figure out a means of escape. The prisoner unblocked one of the two apertures, but could barely push his head through. The old gun commander decided to open fire with a machine pistol. He loaded it, fired a magazine, and then shouted for more ammunition, not realizing that five magazines were lying close beside him. The prisoner mustered courage, and fired two rounds with his own machine pistol, only to find that the feeding had stopped, probably because of a broken magazine spring.

The advancing British fired a machine-gun burst into the pillbox, killing the old gun commander and one of the crew. Going to the antitank-gun aperture, the prisoner saw some British soldiers moving toward the shelter from the undefended side. The prisoner crouched by the aperture, which had been cleared in the hope that escape in that direction would be possible; however, any such move now was out of the question. A British soldier approached, and fired his machine gun into the pillbox. In the dark he unwittingly rested his gun on the prisoner's thigh. The German, who was terrified, remained motionless.

By this time the men in the shelter were so confused that when a smoke hand grenade was hurled through an aperture, they quickly obeyed an order to surrender.

The Germans were led to the amphitheater and then to the river. They had to swim across the river—"a hazardous venture," the prisoner remarked, "because of whirlpools created by the debris of the demolished bridges."

By the time they had reached the other side of the river, German artillery had opened up. The prisoner noticed that during the German artillery fire, British soldiers always hit the ground, whereas the German prisoners remained standing. This prisoner implied that long experience on the receiving end of artillery fire had taught the Germans to judge direction of fire and impact.

"The sureness of the execution and the fact that picked men were employed for the task made the raid a success," the prisoner commented. He spoke with respect of the use of rubber soles, daggers, blackened faces, and so on, and of the fire power of the light automatic weapons. He said that he felt obliged to couple with these factors the inadequacy of the German defense of the sector. The positions were too far forward, a central command was lacking, and no minefields had been prepared. Before the British attack, he said, he and the other men in the pillbox had discussed "the ridiculous defense layout."

The other prisoners corroborated this German's belief that the attack achieved absolute surprise in all parts of the sector.


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