The following comments on German combat methods
in Italy have been made by U.S. Army unit commanders
and experienced observers. Only those tactics which
have been noted repeatedly are mentioned here, since
occasional, isolated instances of German methods cannot
be regarded as illustrative of standard enemy procedure.
When the Germans suspect that new troops are opposing
them, enemy patrols become very active, to determine the identity
and strength of the new troops.
The Germans have used artillery and some rocket guns to
harass our forward areas and to interdict vital supply roads,
but fire has decreased as soon as the enemy has lost dominant
The enemy often restricts his movements entirely to those
he can make under cover of darkness or during days when
weather makes hostile air activity impossible.... The Germans
do not pull out in daylight, even when they have practically
been surrounded. They fight like tigers to hold a narrow
escape corridor, through which they try to withdraw at night.
Enemy agents make every effort to infiltrate into civilian traffic and movement.
Long-range weapons are active mainly on clear days. No
change has been noted in the German policy of continually
changing positions and of employing a considerable number of
It is necessary to stress again and again that road craters
are surrounded and lined with antipersonnel mines—often just
over the lip of the crater, where they are harder to detect. The
Germans have used a large number of abatis in Italy, most of
which have been infested with antipersonnel devices.
During the first part of December, the German artillery
had the commanding observation, and, as we advanced, the
enemy's activity was definitely in proportion to the visibility
and observation advantages remaining in his hands. The
enemy adjusted by observation the major portion of his artillery
fire. Subsequent night harassing missions (German) were
based on this data. German counterbattery fire decreased considerably
whenever the advance of friendly troops deprived
the enemy of commanding heights.... The Germans are
continuing the policy of seeking to neutralize an installation
temporarily, rather than exploiting opportunities for damage
when an increased use of ammunition would be involved. Fire
of medium caliber has been decreasing, with a corresponding
increase in light caliber, principally 105-mm guns.
The Germans will send out patrols to feign a night attack,
or a daylight attack, just to locate your barrages so that they
can side-step them when the real attack comes.
The German positions we have run into in the mountains
have had very few riflemen in the front line. The forward
element of the defense has consisted almost entirely of machine
guns in rock bunkers; these bunkers are so cleverly blended
into the terrain that they are extremely difficult to locate. In
the daytime the Germans seem to hold practically all their
riflemen back about 200 yards. They depend on their machine
guns, mortars, and artillery to stop your attack or to cause
you such losses that a quick counterattack by the riflemen will
throw you out. At night they put out listening posts manned
by riflemen, but still hold back most of the riflemen.
On Hill 769 one of our companies got up close to the German
bunkers. The company could not move in daylight because of
the lack of cover, so a night attack was decided upon. Since
there would be moonlight, it was decided to place smoke on
the bunkers at the time of attack. This was done, but, as soon
as the smoke screen was formed, the Germans left their bunkers,
moved their right front and left front to the edge of the
smoke screen nearest our positions, and placed machine-pistol
fire on our attacking unit's flank.
The outstanding feature of mountainous country in Italy is
that a village is almost invariably on the dominating ground,
or on ground vital to the attacker to secure his line of communication.
Such villages consist of closely packed houses
with narrow streets between them. The houses themselves
have thick walls and are immune to shellfire, except in the case
of a direct hit. The enemy realizes this and makes full use of
them as strong points, firing from windows and improvised
loopholes. Such villages are also covered by machine-gun and
mortar fire from either flank. In some cases houses are scattered
on dominating features, and the enemy often uses them
as machine-gun posts, covering the approaches by means of
snipers and additional machine guns in adjacent houses.
In front of organized German positions, we have found
mines only in the natural avenues of approach. These avenues
are also covered with machine-gun and mortar fire. Thus the
Germans are better prepared to deal with an opposing force
using draws or gullies than one which is working its way along
the sides of ridges. On the ridges and less jagged mountains,
the Germans often dispose their strength on the reverse slopes
in order to bring heavy fire on our forces as they cross over
Strong stone bunkers are continually being encountered in
mountainous terrain. Although it is reported that grenades
and rockets will not penetrate the walls of such bunkers, it has
been found that both grenades and rockets are effective when
exploded close to the slits, which are near ground level. The
occupants are at least stunned. As a U.S. sergeant who has
had considerable experience with both weapons recently expressed
it, "If you close in fast after using them on bunkers,
you will find the Germans either knocked cold or goofy." Another
noncom observes, "Grenades exploding within 3 feet or
so of the slit will get the Germans if they are looking out."
In town fighting, buildings and strong points occupied by
the Germans have proved vulnerable both to the grenade and
The German soldier does not like to fight at night, and does
not fight as well at night as he does during the day. In several
instances German security at night has been found to be lacking.
A number of instances have also shown that the German
soldier, when surprised at night, has become confused and has
been an easy victim of an opponent well trained in night
When patrols are sent out to locate the German defensive positions,1 the
Germans do not fire on these patrols if they can
avoid it, but let them go on through. German prisoners have
stated that they were ordered not to fire except in case of a
major attack. They have also recited instances of seeing our
patrols go by their positions at a given time on a certain night.
Checking back, we have found that our patrols were there at
the stated time.
On the other hand, if one of our patrols stumbles into a
German position, the Germans try to destroy the patrol to the
last man, to keep the information from getting back to our
Repeatedly, when an entire patrol has returned to report
that a hill is unoccupied or that a bridge has not been blown,
some unit moves forward and finds the hill alive with Germans,
who smother the unit with fire from machine pistols, light
machine guns, and mortars—or, in the case of a bridge, the
unit will find that the Germans have demolished it in the meantime.
In other words, the Germans are quick to exploit the
situation if an opposing force fails to seize and hold ground
until stronger elements have been brought up to hold it in force.
Experience has shown that the Germans will almost invariably
launch a counterattack to break up an attack made by
small infantry units. You can expect such a counterattack,
usually by 10 to 20 men, not more than 5 minutes after you get
close to the German positions. They are usually well armed
with light machine guns and machine pistols, and counterattack
by fire and movement. They keep up a heavy fire while
small details, even individuals, alternately push forward. The
Germans almost always attack your flank. They seldom close
in with the bayonet, but try to drive you out by fire....
The Germans keep a sharp lookout for radio antennas, and
shell every one they see.
The enemy is skillful at radio intercept, and tries to draw a
great deal of information by inference. He notes the peculiarities
of individual radio operators, which can easily become a
dead give-away to the location of units.
1This commander is speaking of heavy stone bunkers.