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
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
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.