The following German document summarizes lessons
learned by the German Army in Russia, with regard to
combat in wooded terrain. It is of special interest to
American troops, inasmuch as the Germans may reasonably
be expected to utilize these lessons in other
theaters in which large woods, often swampy and thick
with underbrush, are to be found.
2. THE DOCUMENT
a. Principles of Leadership
(1) Wooded terrain often enables us [German forces] to advance
within assault distance of the enemy, to bring up reserves, and
to shift forces to the critical point of attack (Schwerpunkt). Wooded
terrain also is favorable for coming to close grips with enemy tanks.
In woods, it is practicable to seize the initiative against an
enemy who is superior in heavy weapons, artillery, and tanks.
By using surprise attacks, it is possible to annihilate such an
enemy, or at least to maintain a successful defense against him.
(2) Difficulty of movement through wooded terrain, and of
observation over it, demands that heavy weapons and artillery be
attached to the combat units they are to support.
(3) In woods fighting, observation difficulties and a general
lack of knowledge of the situation call for courage, tenacity, and
the ability to make quick decisions. Mobility, coupled with alert,
cunning leadership on the part of all commanders, can play a
(4) In this type of combat, everything depends on the concentrated
energetic employment of the infantry strength with a
view to annihilating the enemy. Systematic fire preparations and
the development of protecting barrages are seldom possible.
Also, there will usually be many blind spots in defensive fires.
Therefore, the number of rifles and machine guns is often the
decisive factor in woods fighting.
(5) Surprise is even more important in woods fighting than
in combat in open terrain. For this reason, woods fighting demands,
above everything else, careful planning and silence
during all movements.
(6) In woods fighting, the necessity for sending out strong
patrols to the front, flanks, and rear can lead to a dangerous scattering
of strength. In situations where there is danger of being
cut off or surrounded, it is generally preferable for the commander
to hold his strength together. Such situations arise frequently,
especially with small units. This must not lead to hurried or
ill-advised measures, or to panic. Caution, determination, and
skillful employment of available forces will generally permit
offensive actions in which the enemy can be defeated or
(7) Movement and combat in woods demand formations in
depth. This facilitates control of the forces, mobility of leadership,
rapid transmission of orders, and readiness to deliver fire
quickly when a flank is in danger.
(8) An advance based on gaining one intermediate objective
after another, and on reorganizing the units after each objective
has been reached, protects against surprise and makes control
(9) To coordinate the effort in woods fighting, the commander
must formulate a detailed plan of operation, and must give each
subordinate unit a definite mission. Often he must prescribe in
detail how the mission of a subordinate unit is to be accomplished.
(10) Combat in extensive woods, especially in enveloping movements
and in encirclements, often consists of a series of small
fights. The individual assault groups must act as a coordinated
whole, despite difficulties in the transmission of orders and in
communications between units. Commanders of participating
units must understand both the mission and the situation.
(11) Any commander who is forced by the situation or the terrain
to depart from the prescribed plan of operation must obtain
beforehand the approval of his higher commander. This is necessary
so that the latter can coordinate the proposed action with that
of other units in the woods, and above all with the fire of the
heavy infantry weapons, the artillery, and the German Air Force.
Such coordination is necessary in order to avoid losses through
the operation of friendly supporting fire.
(12) Since the German Air Force is often unable to obtain
adequate information about the enemy, and since it is seldom
practicable to employ the motorized and armored reconnaissance
units on a large scale, the employment of numerous strong scout
patrols on foot becomes highly important.
b. Reconnaissance, Observation, Orientation
(1) In operations in wooded terrain, all our [German] troop
units must carry out ground reconnaissance continuously to avoid
surprise attacks by the enemy.
In general, several patrols operating abreast of each other
should be sent out to the front. Other patrols should operate
along the flanks. In this connection, it is important to make the
distance between adjacent patrols wide enough to avoid the danger
of one patrol being confused by the noises made by a neighboring
patrol. In woods with thick underbrush, this distance should
be at least 160 yards.
(2) In line with the principle of silent movement, the equipment
of patrols must be tested carefully, and anything which
creates noise or which is too unwieldy must be left behind. The
armament of patrols consists of machine pistols, rifles (if possible,
automatic rifles equipped with telescopic sights), and many
Eier (egg) grenades. Since the ear must be constantly alert,
the steel helmet may be left behind.
(3) Patrols should obtain information which will answer such
questions as the following: Where is the enemy, or where is he
believed to be? Where are his left and right flanks? Where
are his advance security elements? What are the habits of his
patrols? Where are his fields of fire?
If contact with the enemy is effected, it is desirable to obtain
early information regarding gaps or weak points in his positions.
This provides a basis for quick tactical decisions by the commander.
It is especially necessary for reconnaissance missions to obtain
information regarding existing roads, paths, and clearings; ditches,
streams, and bridges; and such characteristics of woods as the
thickness of underbrush, the height of trees, the location
of high or low ground, and the location of swamps.
(4) The commanders of companies, platoons, sections, and
squads must always detail special lookouts to protect against
snipers in trees. Individuals who spot tree snipers are to dispose
of them by aimed rifle fire. Sweeping the treetops with machine-
gun fire will be resorted to only in cases where the enemy snipers
cannot be located definitely.
(5) During halts, observation from treetops is profitable.
(6) Patrols in the woods must carefully observe paths and
trails. Important conclusions concerning the position of the
enemy can be drawn from the location and condition of these
trails. It is important to note whether or not a trail has been
used recently. One way of judging this is to inspect the morning
dew for any unnatural disturbance.
(7) If there is no terrain feature on which the patrol can
orient itself, the compass must be used. Each patrol must carry
at least two compasses, one for the leader and one for his second-in-command. The
leader is in front; the second-in-command brings up the rear, guarding
against any deviation from the proper course.
c. On the March
(1) Our [German] troops must be prepared to erect short, strong
bridges and to lay corduroy roads. Engineers must be
placed well forward to clear the way and to remove obstacles.
Also, many road-working details must be provided to assure
mobility for all units.
(2) When paths and roads through swampy woods must be
used, it is especially desirable to employ local inhabitants as
guides. Routes of this type often are not shown on maps.
(3) In woods fighting, the increased length of time required
for bringing forward various elements from the rear demands
that the advance guard be made very strong. Heavy weapons
and artillery, staffs, and signal detachments are to be placed
well toward the front.
(4) All elements of the column must be prepared for instantaneous
defensive action, and must expect surprise attacks
against flanks and rear.
(5) As a rule, flank guards and rear guards must be used.
The flank guards must be able to leave the roads and move across
country. The strength of the flank guards, as well as the interval
between them and the main body, depends on the strength of the
main body, the character of the woods, and above all on the character
of the roadnets. Lest the flank guards be cut off and destroyed, they
must guard against operating too far from the main body.
(6) It is necessary to include, in all echelons of the column, detachments
which have the mission of searching for enemy tanks.
(7) Strong air attacks, artillery fire, attacks by guerrillas, or
attacks by enemy troop units may make it necessary to conduct
the march off the roads while passing through woods.
(8) In clearing road blocks rapidly, it is advisable to attack
the blocks frontally with fire delivered from units on each side
of the road. This fire will pin the defenders to the
ground. Meanwhile, other elements of the attacking force should envelop
the road block from the rear.
d. Approaching the Enemy
(1) When our [German] reconnaissance has indicated that
enemy resistance is to be expected on the route of march, and
when contact with the enemy seems near at hand, it is often wise
to abandon the march on the road fairly early, in order to gain
surprise and launch an attack from a direction that is tactically
(2) If the woods are thin, the advance formation can be loose,
with wide intervals. If the woods are thick and relatively
impassable, the troops must be held close together, echeloned in depth.
(3) Units should move by bounds when advancing through
woods. Orders issued in ample time should specify the successive
objectives. These must be clearly defined features, such as roads,
paths, creeks, and so on. After reaching an objective, the unit
must halt long enough to reorganize and re-orient itself, to let
the heavy weapons and artillery weapons catch up, and to take
new security measures.
(4) It has proved a good idea to provide special close-in security
elements between the main body and the normal security elements. The
special elements consist of small groups of infantry, equipped
with close-combat weapons--especially machine pistols.
The main body advances in deep formation, with security to
the flanks and rear, as described above.
Mortars, antitank guns, and heavy infantry weapons should be
placed well forward, immediately behind the leading infantry.
This is done so that unexpected enemy resistance can be broken
at once by heavy fire.
(5) Short halts should be called on reaching clearings, roads,
and paths, and on leaving the cover of woods. Machine guns and
heavy infantry weapons are brought up to cover an advance
across open land. Patrols move through the woods to the right
and left, so as to reconnoiter the edge of the woods on the opposite
side of the clearing. When the advance is resumed, the open
clearing is to be avoided even if the edge of the opposite woods
is reported to be free of the enemy. Clearings which cannot be
avoided are to be crossed in swift bounds.
(6) When German troops are within sight and range of the
enemy, further advance is made by creeping and crawling so as
to come within close combat distance. Even under strong enemy
fire, creeping and crawling through woods can be accomplished
e. Attack (General)
(1) To achieve surprise, we [German forces] should employ
all available weapons so that the enemy will be deceived as to our
plan and strength and as to the time and place of our attack.
Feint attacks may be made in the woods with weak forces. Noise
alone may serve the purpose. These measures confuse the enemy,
tempt him to employ his reserves prematurely, and therefore
weaken his power of resistance. If possible, the attack should
be made so that the enemy is enveloped from both flanks, or at
least struck in one flank.
(An enveloping attack by the enemy can best be repulsed
through the employment of forces brought up from the rear.)
(2) In thick woods, natural features which run perpendicular
to the direction of the attack serve well as objectives. The
stronger the expected enemy resistance, the shorter must be the
distances between objectives.
(3) Surprise will be obtained chiefly by the manner in which
fire is opened. Generally, the commander himself will give the
order to open fire. Fire must be coordinated and delivered in
short, heavy bursts; this has a useful psychological effect in the
(4) The fire of the defender, which normally strikes the attacker
at very short ranges, must be traversed rapidly, regardless
of consequences. Experience has shown that this method results
in fewer losses than if the attacker goes into position and overcomes
the defender by fire power.
(5) In general, it is pointless to deliver fire on the enemy after
he has abandoned his position. Through rapid, determined pursuit,
he must be prevented from reorganizing and gaining time to
launch a counterattack. However, if fighting has been heavy and
has involved much man-to-man action, it is profitable to halt
briefly after the enemy collapses so that we can reorganize and
concentrate our strength.
(6) Since trees and underbrush reduce the effect of individual
rounds, woods fighting calls for the use of more ammunition than
does combat in open terrain. Therefore, the problem of ammunition
supply requires special consideration.
(7) In woods it is usually impossible to carry on an attack after
nightfall. For this reason, troops must break off the fighting in
ample time to organize a defensive position for the night.
f. Attack against a Weak Enemy
(1) We [German forces] are most likely to succeed in an attack
against a weak enemy if our approach is noiseless, and if the
assault is launched from the closest possible distance on either
(2) When our patrols have developed the possibilities for an
envelopment, troops are brought up from the rear. While they
envelop the enemy flanks and rear, our forward elements attack
energetically to the front.
Frequently the patrols sent out to locate the enemy flanks, or
the messengers sent back by these patrols, can serve as guides for
our enveloping forces.
The units assigned to the enveloping force will be controlled
by their leaders through prearranged sound signals.
The attacking elements in front of the enemy positions open
fire and launch their attack, with battle cries and with bugles
blaring "the charge."
(3) In general, the commander belongs with the elements attacking
to the front, since this enables him to judge the situation
and make decisions regarding the employment of rear elements.
g. Attack against a Strong Enemy
(1) This type of attack follows our [German] principles of
attack against organized positions. Assault detachments are
formed, equipped with such weapons of close combat as hand
grenades, smoke grenades, and Molotov cocktails. Flame throwers
are especially effective in the woods.
(2) Assault detachments seek out the weak points in the enemy
position, and try first to effect a small breach. If the woods are
thick, and if gaps in the enemy positions are discovered, it is
advisable to infiltrate silently into the position with small detachments.
These detachments attack enemy centers of resistance
and security posts, annihilate them, and attempt to throw
the enemy into confusion. They prepare the way for the attack
by the main body.
(3) Woods often prevent the opposition from detecting our
advance. This makes possible the assembly of our attacking
force at points closest to the enemy position, especially just before dawn.
(4) A sudden and determined surprise attack without preparation
by fire is usually more effective than an attack preceded by
(5) The fields of fire prepared by the enemy must be avoided.
Machine guns, antitank guns, and individual artillery pieces
must be brought into position in these fields of fire and must
silence the enemy guns.
(6) The spearhead of our attack must penetrate deep into the
enemy position, despite all difficulties and lack of observation.
The rear elements of the attacking force widen the penetration
and mop up the position.
h. Support by Heavy Infantry Weapons and Artillery
(1) Since the ranges are usually very short, our [German]
heavy machine guns will often be employed in the role of light
machine guns. Light machine guns may be brought into action
rapidly, and may be shifted from position to position very readily.
Ammunition supply vehicles are brought forward by bounds.
Heavy infantry mortars are attached to the heavy infantry
platoons. Use of smoke shells during siting has often proved
profitable. Care must be taken to insure that the trajectory of the
mortar shell will not be blocked by trees or foliage.
The mobility of light infantry weapons and light antitank guns
makes them extremely useful; they will normally be attached
to the infantry companies and will be employed in direct firing.
The use of armor-piercing shells by antitank guns is effective
against targets of all kinds, since these shells are not easily
deflected by trees or foliage. On the other hand, our "hollow-head"
shell (Hohlkopfgeschosse) is less successful, because it is
sensitive and explodes prematurely when it strikes a tree or bush.
(2) Because of observation difficulties in the woods, our artillery
is likely to have great trouble with shells falling short of enemy positions.
Many advance observers must be attached to the leading companies. Whenever
observation is possible, fire must be opened suddenly.
The laying of telephone wire takes time. Therefore, reconnaissance
units with the leading elements must be equipped with
other means of communication, preferably radio.
In favorable terrain it is often possible to make use of observation
from high points outside the wood. Flares are used as signals
between the observer and the infantry commander to indicate
the location of the leading elements, to define the targets, and
to control the fire.
To match the advance of the infantry, artillery fire is moved
from objective to objective. Certain phase lines will be prescribed, and
fire will be directed on these at the infantry's request. Short
violent salvos are especially effective.
i. Mopping Up a Woods
(1) When we [German forces] attempt a rapid mopping up of
a woods, we normally succeed only through the employment of
forces moving in different directions to surround the enemy.
(2) The mopping up of woods by the "combing" method--in which
our troops advance in a line along a broad front, with
only a few yards between the individual soldiers--has proved
ineffective. There is always a danger that the enemy will concentrate
his forces at a given point and break through our own
line. Therefore, we must keep our forces concentrated and, according
to the situation, direct strong and compact assault detachments
along the roads and paths--with all movement following a carefully
(3) To forestall enemy attempts to break out of the woods, we
must cover the edges of the woods with infantry weapons and
artillery, and must employ tanks and self-propelled artillery.
(4) Against an encircled enemy, harrassing fire in ever-increasing
density and the employment of air power are especially effective.
Advance observers, attached to the assault detachments and
equipped with individual radio sets, can direct the artillery fire
and the air bombing so that there will be no danger to our own
(1) When defending in a woods, the danger from surprise
attacks is increased. We [German forces] must not wait until
the enemy, taking advantage of the abundant cover, launches an
attack from the immediate vicinity. We must seek out the enemy,
attack him, and annihilate him.
(2) Mobility in the defense is the best means for deceiving the
enemy as to our own strength and intentions. This mobility
often leads to the defeat of a superior enemy force.
(3) It is especially important to build up centers of fire quickly
and to employ reserve strength, even in small units, with a view
to annihilating the enemy through counterattacks. Heavy infantry
weapons, artillery, and reserves must be held close to the
point of likely action.
(4) Organization in depth and complete cover of the front by
fire are seldom possible, even when strong forces are available.
Woods enable a defender to erect many effective obstacles in
great depth. These obstacles will often stop the enemy or canalize
his attack in a direction favorable to the defender.
(5) The employment of tank-searching details close to the
enemy's best routes for tank approach is highly profitable.
(6) When a complete defensive position cannot be organized
due to lack of time or manpower, a continuous strong obstacle
must be erected--and, if possible, many centers of resistance, capable
of all-around defense and of holding under fire the
enemy's avenues of approach.
(7) The edges of woods normally lie under enemy fire and
therefore are not to be occupied. Our weapons must operate
from within the woods. If observation permits, they should be
at least 30 to 50 yards from the edge.
Each center of resistance must be protected all around by mine-
fields. Within the center of resistance, an adequate supply of
hand grenades must always be within reach.
Every effort must be made to clear fields of fire. These must
be located so that our fire will strike the attacking enemy's flank.
(8) Camouflage of the position against observation by treetop
observers is essential, but uniformity in the organization of
positions and in methods of camouflage must be avoided.
Camouflage screens are to be used at all times. Branches and
twigs used for camouflage must be renewed every morning.
(Dry or withered foliage will betray even the best-located
(9) Paths and trails between individual centers of resistance,
and to the rear, are to be provided and marked. These paths are
necessary for mutual support by adjacent units and for quick
employment of reserves.
Paths must be kept free of dry wood and foliage so that the
patrols will not be betrayed by crackling and rustling noises. The
tendency of soldiers to take short cuts, and therefore to make
new paths, must not be tolerated.
Patrols must never operate on regular schedules or by identical
paths. The enemy will soon discover the routine and will annihilate
(10) Defense in the woods demands the employment of numerous
observation posts for the artillery (3 to 4 per battery). For
this purpose, signal equipment from the division signal company
must be made available. Many heavy barrages must be provided
in front of the main line of resistance, and especially between the
gaps in the centers of resistance.
The gun positions of the artillery must be protected against
close-in attack. To this end, the position must be surrounded
with centers of resistance, especially to the flanks and rear, and
with increased numbers of security patrols.
These provisions are especially important in cases where only
weak infantry forces are available and where, therefore, the development
of the defensive position in great depth is not possible.
(11) Obstacles must be erected in front of every position, especially
along rivers and creeks. The enemy may use the latter
as avenues of approach. All obstacles must be covered by fire,
even if only by patrols. Wire and booby traps are to be used
liberally. Alarm devices, which can be made from captured
wire and cans partly filled with stones, should be installed in
the wire and obstacles in front of a position. The response to
alarms should be rapid. Indeed, each commander must realize
that speed can be decisive in a counterattack.
(12) Listening posts and standing sentries are to be employed
at all favorable approaches to a position. The hour of relief and
the place of relief are to be changed frequently.
(13) The laying of telephone lines, even to the smallest advance
unit and neighboring units, is important. (Captured matériel
will often be useful in this connection.) Wires should
be strung through the treetops.