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"Company Orders (Defense)" from Intelligence Bulletin, May 1943

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following report on German combat orders was published in the Intelligence Bulletin, May 1943.

[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.]



A detailed set of German combat orders issued to a company in North Africa affords an excellent illustration of enemy defense technique, as well as insight into the way the tasks of smaller units are outlined and coordinated. Every platoon and squad, and almost every support weapon, is discussed separately and fully. For the sake of brevity, the contents of the orders are summarized and are grouped under appropriate headings.


The first words of the order were "The company will hold its position to the last man." Each sub-unit received its own assignment. The left platoon was to "neutralize and destroy the attacking enemy" [British]. The right platoon was already in its assigned position, where it had received its orders; the heavy mortar section had already been given two prearranged fire plans for the two halves of its front; the antitank rifle 41 was not to engage British armored vehicles at more than 200 yards; the antitank guns were to bring the British tanks to a standstill in front of the main line of the company defensive area; and company headquarters was to use all available personnel to form a strongpoint (Stutzpunkt) in the event of an enemy penetration (Einbruch).

As is customary in German orders, the information given under "Intentions" contained a few tactical hints, as well. Thus the left platoon was encouraged to site its reserve machine guns in an enfiladed position, and its reserve squad was to fire between the forward squads. The right platoon was to have a listening post near the fence which surrounded the position; the post would withdraw as soon as the British attacked. The machine guns were to open up without orders as soon as they observed an attack developing. Designated snipers were to aim at commanders. The reserve machine guns were instructed to fire between the forward squads, and the remainder of the reserve was to give supporting fire in depth. The center platoon's fourth squad was to become a "counterattack group" and was not to open fire except to deal with British troops who had actually penetrated. The center platoon's antitank rifle was forward, between the center and right squads. The heavy mortar squad was reminded of the customary role of the mortar, and was advised to fire with the sun at its back. The antitank gun was given the ranges beyond which it was not to fire--namely, 200 to 300 yards in the case of medium and heavy tanks, and 600 yards in the case of light tanks. For reasons of concealment, firing at British ground positions was forbidden. The antitank gun commander was ordered to observe the fall of his fire from a flank position, and the ammunition handlers, except when they were needed for their normal duties, were to join in the infantry fire fight. During action, all-around observation was to be maintained. The gun commander was instructed to prepare a range card, and to require his crew to learn it by heart.


The company's position was apparently surrounded by a single-apron or double-apron fence. The British positions (given separately in each sub-unit's orders) were from 150 to 450 yards away. On the German side of the wire, the arrangement of the minefield appears to have varied. The left platoon's minefield consisted of a row of booby traps 3 to 4 yards from the wire, a minefield proper 40 yards behind this (3 to 4 yards between rows, 2 to 5 feet between mines), and three independent mines between the two fields. The right platoon's minefield consisted of four rows spaced alternately (4 yards between rows and 5 rows between mines). The center platoon's minefield was known only vaguely to the company commander, but in front of its right squad the minefield was 30 yards from the fence.

The left platoon had a trip-wire in front of its fence, but no explosives in the fence itself; the right platoon had explosive charges hung in the fence, and these were detonated by a cord from the position; the center platoon had four to six grenades in its portion of the fence, to be fired in the same way.

From the orders, it seems evident that the details of siting minefields and booby traps were left to the discretion of individual platoon commanders.


The left platoon's position was not described in the orders, but its total frontage was given as 300 yards. Attached to the center squad was the antitank rifle, model 41, covering a sector which ran through the whole position.

The right platoon's position consisted of three trench systems, arranged like a wide arrowhead. The squad occupying the trench system at the left had an antitank rifle. A reserve section was held at platoon headquarters with runners, and with the reserve (fifth) machine gun and antitank rifle.

The center platoon had three squads forward, while the fourth was 130 yards southwest of platoon headquarters. The heavy mortar squad had an observation post between two of the forward squads and a fire position 500 yards in rear of the observation post (and 80 yards to the right of company headquarters).


The left platoon had two men on guard by day. At night (from 1900 to 0600 hours), there were two men per machine gun and two men in each of the listening posts put out by the three forward squads.

The right platoon had one post per position (including platoon headquarters) by day, and at night two men per machine gun plus two sentries, who were allowed to rest in the position but who were required to know the light signals and the password.

The center platoon had one observation post per squad manned by day, with the "counterattack group" manning an observation post between the center and right squads. At night the center platoon had two men per machine gun. One of these was to be the squad leader or his second-in-command. The antitank riflemen maintained one man in a position between the center and right squads. On the left (open) flank, all squads in turn maintained two men with grenades in an abandoned antitank gun-pit northwest of platoon headquarters. The heavy mortar squad was to keep one man at the mortar by day and two at night. A man remained at the antitank rifle day and night; he was relieved every two hours. One man by day, and two at night, maintained continuous observation by the antitank gun. At dawn the gun commander was to stand to.


Reserves of ammunition were dumped behind or in each position. The right platoon had one "echelon" of ammunition at platoon headquarters and two "echelons" with its squads. The heavy mortar squad's ammunition was dug in near the mortar pit. The antitank rifle's ammunition was hidden in holes within a radius of 30 yards from the position. The antitank gun's ammunition was similarly hidden, but in such a way that the gun crew could lay its hands on the right kind, even at night. (There were 11 cases of armor-piercing and 4 cases of high-explosive projectiles.)


There was a warning against bunching at the issuing point. As a precaution against harassing fire by British artillery, containers were to be distributed at some distance from the vehicles which brought them forward. It was noted that 8 days' reserve rations were buried near platoon headquarters in each position.


Intercommunication was normally to be by light signal or by runner. The right platoon was reminded that, in line with normal German procedure, its squad leaders were to maintain contact with their neighbors.

The antitank gun commander was told to report the day's observations and any other events to his platoon commander, at the evening ration-drawing.


For firing on fixed lines, wooden stakes were to be driven in near each machine gun, to mark the permissible arcs of fire. (All machine guns were given definitely prescribed arcs.) The antitank rifle was permitted to fire all around at ranges of 400 yards or more; along the sector it was covering, it was allowed to engage armored vehicles at ranges as low as 200 yards.


Each position was told in detail the degree and types of hostile fire likely to fall on its sector, and the distance between itself and the British position.


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