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"The British Discuss Combat in Towns" from Intelligence Bulletin, August 1944

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following article on British training for combat in towns and cities was printed in the Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. II, No. 12, August 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.]


With fighting in streets and towns becoming increasingly important as ground operations in the European theater progress, the following British Army "model discussion" of this type of combat should prove interesting and useful to Intelligence Bulletin readers.1 The model discussion is presented as a dramatic sketch in which a British officer, who is to command a combat team in an assault on a German-held town, confers with his adjutant; an artillery battery [U.S. battalion] commander, an antitank battery [U.S. battalion] commander, and a tank squadron [U.S. tank company] commander. The discussion is not limited exclusively to the men who represent these officers; each man in the audience is asked to regard himself as an officer of the combat team, and is invited to offer constructive comments at stated intervals.

Before the sketch begins, the officer who is about to play the commander of the combat team says to the audience: "The model you see in front of you represents a town of about the same size as Ortona.2 Some of you may well recognize the similarity, but I do not intend to enter into any argument as to how accurate it is. Let's just say that the model represents a typical layout of a town you may have to tackle. I have got you all together to try to clear up this problem of street fighting. I propose to deal with it as though we were getting out an operation order--but with the following difference: I intend at the end of each part, not only to request advice from the officers who are sitting here with me as members of the cast, but to ask all of you to consider what has been said and speak up if you believe that anything has been neglected."


COMMANDING OFFICER--The enemy strength is unknown, and the Germans can send in reinforcements at will. As far as we know, the German garrison consists of paratroops and engineers well dug-in behind prepared demolitions. There are bound to be machine-gun nests in the houses and other buildings. Houses will have been demolished to form road blocks, and snipers will be well placed to cover all approaches. The enemy's equipment consists of antitank guns, tanks, mortars, automatic weapons of all kinds, flame throwers, mines, "beehives," and grenades. It appears likely that the Germans intend to hold the town at all costs. As to ourselves, we have our own infantry brigade [roughly equivalent to a U.S. infantry regiment], which, as you know, is the best out here, and we'll be supported by tanks and antitank artillery. We are lucky in that we have worked with both of these before, and know their capabilities. The field artillerymen will do everything in their power to help us, but we must realize that they aren't going to support us with block-busters or anything like that. We shall also have help from elements of the brigade support group and the engineers. Have we left out any elements that you believe should be included?

(Here five minutes are allotted for consideration of the question and five minutes for discussion.)

It is our intention to capture the town. Now we come to the method. I propose that we discuss this very fully. It seems to me that we should be systematic and divide the town into sections. What do you think, Tanks?

TANK OFFICER--Yes, I think that's much the best way. Have we plenty of maps showing the streets of the town? I consider it essential for each officer to study his particular section very thoroughly.

ANTITANK OFFICER--Is it really necessary for each officer to have a map?

COMMANDING OFFICER--I think it absolutely essential, and for the following reasons:

a. From an infantry point of view, this job will be very slow going. It takes time to neutralize well sited and well dug-in machine guns, not to mention snipers. Also, as a precaution against being stabbed in the back, we must consolidate repeatedly as we advance by prearranged bounds.

b. The expenditure of ammunition will be great, and we shall have to replenish our supply continually. The demands for smoke and grenades will be especially heavy. In the battle for Ortona, for example, a single Canadian battalion used 2,000 rounds of 2-inch-mortar smoke. During the forthcoming operation, the supply headache will be eased considerably if everyone has a map--even if it is only a freehand map.

c. Narrow streets tend to make fighting confused. For this reason a thorough knowledge of the streets will be essential. We must be able to order that a definite street be held by the men farthest forward so that we can push fresh troops through and so that the men farthest forward can reorganize for their next push.

TANK OFFICER--I agree. From a tank point of view, each troop [U.S. platoon] leader should carry a marked map for the following reasons:

a. The forward boundaries of all objectives should be well defined on the map, so that they can be identified readily.

b. Definite rendezvous with the infantry commander should be shown, so that it can be identified by all personnel.

c. When the ground situation makes it impossible to give an eyewitness description of targets, it should be possible to describe them from the map.

d. So that we will not engage buildings occupied by our own troops, changes in the situation should be noted on the maps as promptly as possible.

ANTITANK OFFICER--I think your arguments are very sound. Also, the maps will be useful to me when I am siting my guns and engaging targets which may be hidden by buildings.

ADJUTANT--We must not forget the brigade. Duplicate maps marked to show the current status of bounds, objectives, and so on will be a great help in keeping the brigade commander informed about the progress of the battle.

COMMANDING OFFICER--I suspected that all of you would agree about the advisability of dividing the town into sections and having plenty of maps available. Therefore, I have had a map prepared showing sections and bounds, and I have numbered them from left to right and from front to rear.

(He displays the map.)

TANK OFFICER--It seems to me that all the bounds are too short. At this rate it will take days to take the town, and the higher commanders will probably begin to get impatient.

COMMANDING OFFICER--I've thought of that, but in a show of this kind control is essential. We must not be too ambitious. If we fall into this error, the show will rapidly be come disorganized. We must make up, by speed of action and reorganization, for what we lose by short bounds.

ANTITANK OFFICER--Is it your intention to have a fresh party of infantry and tanks all set, on the mark, and ready to go as soon as it is reported that a bound has been made?

COMMANDING OFFICER--That's right. A point to remember is that the days are short and that, except for continual harassing of known enemy locations, there isn't much fighting after dark. If this leapfrogging at each bound is handled properly, we shall save a lot of time and also be able to maintain the pressure and hold our gains. Now let's consider the following questions:

a. What is the general opinion of all the officers about using maps showing street plans?

b. Do you think this method of leapfrogging a good one? In other words, is it really practical?

(Here ten minutes are allotted for consideration of the question and ten minutes for discussion.)

TANK OFFICER--Now, then, from my point of view, I've got to decide where we are likely to encounter antitank guns. I think the Germans will probably have antitank guns up these alleyways and at the curves in the Esplanade. (He indicates several points on the map.) The enemy may not actually have them in position, but I think he'll have them handy, so that he can deal with such threats as may develop. I can also visualize the enemy strengthening the defenses of these two railway tunnels. (He points to them.) Wouldn't it be a good idea to send some antitank guns and tanks into that area so that they can place direct fire on the enemy, or else fire according to instructions that the assaulting infantry can send via tank radio? The range is only about 2,000 yards, and I know that a troop [U.S. platoon] of tanks can provide good high-explosive concentrations on request.

COMMANDING OFFICER--That's a very good idea. Can the antitank commander spare a couple of 17-pounders to accompany the tanks and help with that job?


TANK OFFICER--I'll send a troop of tanks there, and have plenty of ammunition dumped with them.

COMMANDING OFFICER--Is this mission suitable for tanks and 17-pounders, or can any of you officers suggest a better procedure?

(Here ten minutes are allotted for consideration of the question and ten minutes for discussion.)

COMMANDING OFFICER--In the past I have lost too many good officers who tried to talk to tank commanders from exposed positions and who tried to point out targets. Has anyone had any brain waves lately as to how we can overcome this?

TANK OFFICER--We might have a head set and transmitter hanging out of the pistol port of the tank, so that it can be caught with a hook or something from a safe doorway or street corner. It would mean rigging up the apparatus in a new and unorthodox way, of course, but I still think the idea has possibilities.

COMMANDING OFFICER--It sounds interesting. We already have excellent communications on the battalion commander-squadron [tank-company] commander-company commander basis, using a No. 18 radio set and an infantry liaison officer in the co-driver's seat. But it seems to me that we should hit on some way of letting the individual tank commander know than an infantry company commander wishes to talk with him, and also some way of indicating in which doorway, or at which corner, the infantry company commander is waiting.

ADJUTANT--The Canadians have a method which has proved very successful. The infantry commander informs a tank that he wishes to speak, simply by firing a white Very light parallel to the ground along the axis on which the tank is moving. The tank immediately proceeds to the doorway from which the light was fired. The tank's armor then shields the infantry commander from any small-arms fire. Since the pistol port is on the left rear of the turret, the infantry commander must choose his position with this in mind. The Canadians have also found that the same method worked well when the infantry commander was behind the tank. The Very light was fired in exactly the same way, and the tank commander then retraced his course, observing through his pistol port until he spotted his man.

COMMANDING OFFICER--Is this the best way of communicating with the tanks, or have you any other suggestions to offer?

(Here ten minutes are allotted for consideration of the question and ten minutes for discussion.)

TANK OFFICER--The next point I would like to raise concerns the method of indicating targets to tank commanders. In the past we have used smoke, Very lights, or tracer. I think that these, combined with the radio extension we were discussing, should serve the purpose satisfactorily.


TANK OFFICER--There are several other matters I'd like to see cleared up. Here's the first one. I know that the infantry will insist that the tanks keep on fighting in the town with them at night. This is hard on the tank crews, and I don't see what the tanks can accomplish that the infantry can't accomplish themselves. At night we are blind, and must rely on the infantry to protect us--that is, we rely on the infantry to keep the Germans from dashing at us with "beehive" demolition charges and so on.

COMMANDING OFFICER--I'm afraid I'm going to ask the tanks to stay in the town during the night, and for this reason. Each tank can use its two machine guns to fire on fixed lines and, if good positions are chosen, can give valuable assistance with defensive firing. Also, remember that your gunners are behind armor plate and have many advantages that the infantry machine gunners lack. The principal advantage is that you can choose almost any position you like. (He indicates a point on the map.) Look at this. Here is an excellent field of fire for a couple of mobile machine guns, right at an exit from the town. The Germans might well decide to launch a counterattack from this point.

TANK OFFICER--Why can't the infantry handle jobs like this with their own machine guns?

COMMANDING OFFICER--Because they would have to be sited forward of cover. There is nothing at that point which could be improvised into a blockhouse. Also, I shall need the medium [U.S. heavy] machine guns for left flank protection and harassing tasks during the night. Now for another question: should the tanks be kept in the town during the night, or should they be withdrawn?

(Here five minutes are allotted for consideration of the question, and five minutes for discussion.)

ANTITANK OFFICER--Having studied the map, I think I can guess where the enemy is likely to site his antitank guns and tanks. I suspect they will be down those side alleys and will fire point blank at any tank as soon as it shows itself around the corner. What should our remedy be?

TANK OFFICER (to Antitank Officer)--I'm afraid your antitank gunners can't help me very much with that. However, I expect the infantry to be able to give me some warning, inasmuch as they will be able to observe a good deal from the places they are combing out. There's one thing I'd like you to do, and that is to study this map carefully and try to determine, from your point of view, the probable sites of the enemy's antitank guns. In other words, I'd like you to amplify what you were saying about the side alleys. Once we have decided about these enemy sites, either the infantry can take them on with smoke, or we can indulge in something we have come to regard as SOP—that is, speculative firing of a couple of rounds of AP, fired diagonally through the corners of buildings at intersections, followed by HE. A careful study of the latest possible aerial photographs may also help.

ARTILLERY OFFICER--At this stage I feel that I ought to ask about the mission of the artillery.

COMMANDING OFFICER--I was coming to that. In an operation of this kind, the best use for the field guns, owing to the fact that they are not block busters, is to harass the approaches to the town. I feel that the 4.2-inch mortars are also suited for the same type of work.

ARTILLERY OFFICER--As a matter of fact, I think the artillery's job of harassing the approaches to the town should be carried out with even greater vigor at night, when the enemy is bringing up his supplies.

ADJUTANT--The last time we conducted an operation of this sort, we used pioneer and engineer personnel to great advantage, and could have used more. The possibility of keeping a bulldozer in the background also is worth considering.

COMMANDING OFFICER--It's absolutely necessary to have pioneers and engineers. Forward troops often need tank support very badly, and can't get it, owing to mines and obstacles. In such cases the infantry must protect the sappers while they are at work, and the tanks must be prepared to give covering fire whenever possible. It is also very important for pioneers and engineers to keep checking the whereabouts of forward troops to save time in clearing mines and booby-trapped areas. We must also remember that smoke can be very useful as concealment for the clearing of obstacles.

ADJUTANT-—Will prepared charges figure as prominently in this show as in the last one?

COMMANDING OFFICER—-Yes. We'll have to use "beehives" to penetrate walls that tanks and antitank guns can't get at. Grenades can then be thrown through the gaps that have been created, and men can crawl through afterward. Prepared charges are also very useful for the following purposes:

a. To clear obstacles.

b. To clear ways for passage from one building to another.

c. To demolish buildings (containing enemy soldiers) in such a way that the resulting debris does not interfere with our progress.

TANK OFFICER-—The last time we conducted an operation of this kind, we found it essential to secure a high building in the town for an observation post--not only for the gunners, but for ourselves.

COMMANDING OFFICER--That's true. There was a tall building in the town square that we found very useful. This time it will be just as imperative to capture a suitable observation post at the earliest possible moment.

ANTITANK OFFICER-—I suppose we can count on the tanks hauling the 6-pounders in the early stages. This seems to be the safest way of bringing them up, and of providing protection at the same time.

TANK OFFICER—-Yes, I think our method of coupling up tanks and 6-pounders has proved satisfactory, and they can be uncoupled very easily.

COMMANDING OFFICER—-At this point we'll open the discussion to all officers again. How do you think the antitank guns should be towed up?

(Here five minutes are allotted for consideration of the question and five minutes for discussion.)

COMMANDING OFFICER--There are certain administrative problems which must be covered. Chiefly the question of ammunition. In the last show we used an enormous amount, and employed the carriers and tanks to transport it. Has anyone a better idea?

TANK OFFICER--I have come to the conclusion that the best thing to do is to establish dumps as near to the town as we can get cover. Since my tanks have to run a shuttle service to and from a dump to keep the forward tanks supplied with fuel and ammunition, why don't you put an infantry dump in the same area, and then we can help carry the infantry's stuff forward. There is enough room on the back of a tank to carry practically any item you want. Inasmuch as my tank units and your infantry units are working in close harmony anyway, all requests could be made by the infantry on their "18" sets, or verbally to individual tank commanders when they are going back to pick up fresh supplies.

COMMANDING OFFICER--That should work very well. Incidentally, we had better use "compo pack" rations until the situation becomes reasonably stable.

ADJUTANT--What about the problem of evacuating the wounded? That caused trouble the last time.

COMMANDING OFFICER--There are bound to be a lot of casualties in a show of this kind. Minor casualties, especially. A lot of these will be walking wounded, so it is important that all ranks know where the Regimental Aid Post is. Every man must carry first-aid dressings. Every available means of transport should be used to evacuate the wounded. Carriers and any extra jeeps should be detailed for this, and even the rear decks of tanks which are going back for supplies should be utilized. Also, we may have to use smoke to get the casualties out.

TANK OFFICER--We'll all cooperate in getting the casualties back as fast as we can.

COMMANDING OFFICER--For this operation, and for all future operations, we must keep thinking of new ways to get the better of the enemy. We should encourage the men in our outfits to come to us and suggest new tricks, no matter how far off the beaten track of normal tactics the suggestions may seem to be--no matter how strange they may sound at first. And if any of you have good ideas that you would like to air right now, I'll be very glad if you'll bring them up so that we can discuss them while we are all here together.


The British training center which originally staged this discussion was aware that a number of useful points could be added to it, and, as a further aid to junior officers, prepared the following notes:

a. Such elementary principles as keeping back from windows, changing positions frequently, and so on not only must be remembered, but must be applied.

b. The best method of attacking houses is from the top down. In most Italian towns and villages, one house adjoins another. When the first house has been cleared, "mousehole" your way into the top story of the adjoining house. Keep repeating this procedure.

This method of clearing will call for a plentiful supply of "beehives." All personnel must be thoroughly familiar with this type of demolition charge.

c. Village fighting is mainly a platoon commander's show. The platoon commander must display great initiative, and must keep well forward at all times. Initiative will also be required of noncoms and enlisted men. Since control will be decentralized into sections, because of the general confusion which results from street fighting, platoon commanders must know their bounds and stick to them. For example, if a section is detailed to clear a certain house, and on arrival finds the house clear, that section will not push on to another house. Were the section to do so, the platoon commander would lose control over it temporarily. When a house has been cleared, or is discovered to be clear, the section leader must indicate this fact to his platoon commander by means of a prearranged signal.

d. Definite report centers must be established on a platoon-to-company basis. Definite times must be set for reports to arrive at these centers.

e. Consolidation must be attended to promptly. Once a house has been cleared, two men will be detailed to hold it. If this is not done, the Germans will "mousehole" back and reoccupy the house. During the battle for Ortona, the enemy used this method of infiltration a number of times.

f. The company commander's biggest problem is deciding which positions he will attempt to hold throughout the night. Such a position should have a street or an open space in front of it. This permits mutual support, and affords fields of fire. At night, automatic weapons should be sent to the top of the house to help consolidate the position thoroughly. If this is not done, the Germans will grenade the defenders from rooftops and openings in the walls.

g. The enemy is likely to leave grenades and other ammunition in houses throughout the town. He does this with the intention of reoccupying the houses and of finding plenty of ammunition when and where he wants it. Another favorite German trick is to leave a machine gun sited in a window to cover a probable avenue of approach. This machine gun is manned for very short periods--in fact, only long enough to fire two or three good bursts. This gives a false impression of strength. Still another German trick is to employ a cupboard or bedstead to cover a hole that has been smashed through the wall of a room. When one of our soldiers enters the adjoining room, a burst of automatic fire is likely to come from the hole. The best preventive is to spray the cupboard or bedstead with fire from a Thompson submachine gun, on entering the room.

1For the latest U.S. Army doctrine on this subject, reference should be made to FM 31-50, "Attack on a Fortified Position and Combat in Towns."
2The unsuccessful German defense of Ortona against an attack by Canadian infantry was described in Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. II, No. 11, pp. 1-4.


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