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."
THE OFFICERS TALK IT OVER
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.