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"U.S. Soldiers Describe Enemy Methods in Italy" from Intelligence Bulletin, June 1944

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following reports by U.S. soldiers on German tactics in Italy were 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.]


In a series of informal discussions, a number of U.S. junior officers and enlisted men who have been fighting the Germans at Cassino and the Anzio beachhead have made the following useful comments on enemy combat methods. This section should be regarded as supplementary to Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. II, No. 9, pages 61-65, in which some recent German tactics were discussed by U.S. Army unit commanders and observers.

On the Anzio beachhead the enemy is making considerable use of his light machine gun and machine pistol. The latter is not too accurate, but has a very high rate of fire. The artillery that the enemy is employing is mostly 105-mm, 88-mm, and long-range 170-mm. The light and medium artillery consists chiefly of self-propelled guns, which are moved frequently to create an impression that the Germans are using more guns than is actually the case. A self-propelled gun will sometimes have as many as five or six firing positions. The enemy has also been using the six-barreled rocket projector.1

Many offensive moves have been made by patrols varying in size from five to two hundred men. The objectives have been limited—usually a commanding hill. The Germans often made only a single thrust—retiring if this was unsuccessful.

Once the Germans have established a defensive line, they usually hold it lightly with automatic weapons. The enemy maintains a strong mobile reserve capable of counterattacking at any point which is pierced or threatened. In other words, the Germans try to catch the attacker in a disorganized state and throw him off balance. The enemy is likely to counterattack a position he has just lost, even if he employs only a squad or a handful of men for the job. This has been done on numerous occasions, particularly in the Venafro area. However, counterattacks are usually made in greater strength.

Although the Germans often lay down heavy artillery and mortar fire before an attack, they sometimes make lavish use of such fire without following it with an attack. In one sector the Germans laid down a concentration of ten rounds per minute for 60 minutes, and even then no attack followed.

The Germans have used motorcycles at night to drown out the sounds of moving tanks and other vehicles.


The fighting I was engaged in took place in mountains and hills. It was possible for the enemy to use a minimum of men to defend a maximum of ground. Usually, German organization of the ground was excellent. Commanding terrain features were given the utmost attention. Gun positions were well built and had good fields of fire. As a rule, when a key position was overrun and taken, the Germans evacuated the supporting positions and retired to prepared positions in the rear.

German mortar fire usually followed a specific procedure: the enemy would try to pin us down with small-arms and machine-gun fire and then deluge us with mortar fire.

Enemy soldiers who were left in positions to provide covering fire generally fought until their ammunition was exhausted. Then they surrendered.

The machine pistol was used constantly as a harassing weapon.


On the Cassino front, the Germans used dugouts made of reinforced concrete and steel. The walls were about 5 feet thick. One of these dugouts withstood direct 75-mm fire at 10 yards. In general, they had excellent fields of fire, with trees and other obstacles cleared in front of firing slits.


German deployment in the attack often is poor.

In the defense the enemy uses very good judgment in selecting his fields of fire. At night he will fire at sound. The mortar and the M.G. 42 are his main weapons; he uses the machine pistol for sniping and in protecting the M.G. 42. He stays well concealed, and is very hard to move when he has the advantage of high ground.

If you drive him from his guns during a barrage and get into his positions, he will come back with his hands up until he reaches his guns. He will then drop down and open fire, also making use of hand grenades.


Enemy firing positions are mutually supporting. The trenches are usually well dug-in and are about 4 feet deep. The dirt is sometimes scattered, but I've noticed that the dirt is generally used to form an embankment beside the trench. When time permits, the pits for two or more men are usually covered with heavy logs for protection. The logs are then covered with some dirt, and are camouflaged with brush or hay to blend with the countryside.

Jerry makes good use of his mobile artillery. In the evening Jerry would bring in his guns and fire on some previously observed or reconnoitered hill where our troops were. Then, before daylight, he would pull out.


At night, time fire from German artillery was directed on our installations by flares dropped from planes. By a similar method, areas have been illuminated for observation.

One batch of prisoners that we captured was armed with machine pistols, which had been used extensively to make a small patrol sound like a company.

The Germans often construct reinforced concrete pillboxes inside houses. This method gives the enemy first-rate camouflage.

German artillery adjustments sometimes were made with one piece (not always, of course) and, when the adjustments were completed, a high burst or a smoke round was fired to bring the impacts on the target. When our artillery was firing close-in support on enemy front-line installations, the Germans often fired immediately after we did, to make it appear that we were firing short and on our own troops.


Many of the enemy's installations are prepared beforehand with heavy engineer equipment, particularly in rocky positions. His weapons often are in shallow emplacements, with deep, well-covered personnel dugouts nearby. These dugouts are often reinforced with steel plating, concrete, timbers, railroad ties, and several feet of dirt.

The enemy's weapon training has obviously been thorough. His M.G. 42 is a very rapid-firing gun, but it is likely to be laid on a final protective line and fired only on that. It is seldom fired in well-placed or aimed bursts.

The enemy makes extensive use of his mortars. As long as he has observation, and is not actually getting fire on his gun position, he will fire on any likely target.


At first, the enemy's defense may seem to be very loose and poorly organized, but, as it develops, it usually turns out to be exactly the opposite. He has had every opportunity to prepare his positions beforehand, and they are very well built and concealed. Often the places that don't appear to be under fire are thickly laid minefields, which are not fired on until we have nearly cleared or crossed them. They are then subjected to concentrated mortar fire.

The enemy uses all kinds of ruses. He will often fire continually in one sector, to draw attention from a nearby sector which he wishes to reinforce or evacuate.

1This is the Nebelwerfer 41, which was described in Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. II, No. 3, pp. 9-15.


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