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"German Combat Tactics in Towns and Cities" from Intelligence Bulletin, January 1944

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following report on German tactics when fighting in towns and cities was originally printed in the January 1944 issue of the Intelligence Bulletin.

[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.]



Now that United Nations forces are fighting energetically on the soil of continental Europe, it must be expected that we shall engage the enemy in towns and cities with ever-increasing frequency. For this reason, it is most important for us to understand German doctrine regarding combat in populated places.

Often the size of a town is not the principal determining factor in a German commander's tactical plan; instead, a town's geographic or economic importance may be his first consideration. A very small village may be worth contesting fiercely if it commands the entrance to a mountain pass, for example, or if it possesses resources essential to the German war effort. A much larger town, on the other hand, may have far less value, and by no means be worth the same expenditure of men and matériel.

However, the Germans use the same basic tactics for towns and cities alike. These tactics are summarized in the following paragraphs, which are based on a German Army document.


The Germans attempt to outflank and encircle a town. If this move succeeds, they cut off the water, electricity, and gas supply. They find the most vulnerable spot in the area held by the hostile forces, and penetrate it. After cutting the hostile forces in two, the Germans then divide the opposition again and again so that it no longer is able to maneuver freely. German doctrine maintains that parallel attacks constitute the most advantageous method if a number of columns are available (see fig. 17a). Thrusts at an angle (see fig. 17b), and especially thrusts from opposite directions (see fig. 17c and d), are avoided. The Germans believe that such thrusts are likely to result in friendly troops getting under each other's fire, and that confusion is inevitable.

The Germans group their units as attack columns and mopping-up columns. Advance by limited sectors is the rule. Commanders do not plan too far ahead. After taking a block, a commander reassembles his men and issues further instructions.

It is a German axiom that "he who commands the heights also commands the depths." The Germans strive for dominating positions, although in defense they may site their machine guns in much lower positions.

While an advance is being made in a street, a simultaneous advance is made along the roofs if the houses adjoin each other. In the streets an advance is made by single files edging forward close to the houses on each side. From front to rear, marksmen are detailed to observe danger points on the opposite side of the street; that is, a man may be ordered to observe all roofs or all the windows on a given floor, and so on.

[Figure 17. German Attack Tactics in Towns and Cities.]
Figure 17. German Attack Tactics in Towns and Cities.

Side alleys and entrances to side streets are blocked as rapidly as possible. After this, searching parties are detailed to investigate all buildings in the block, and then close them. Entrances to cellars and first floors are guarded until all houses in the block have been searched. All windows are closed and shuttered.

The Germans attach importance to constant and effective cooperation with artillery. Light guns (manhandled) advance along the street and combat nests of resistance with direct fire. The Germans believe that, aside from air bombardment, only 150-mm to 210-mm pieces are effective in destroying the larger buildings. Tanks, they maintain, are not very successful in assaults on houses.

When attacking a town, the Germans do not employ motor vehicles or horses. As much gear as possible is sacrificed in favor of axes, crowbars, wire-cutters, saws, ropes and rope ladders, flashlights, prepared charges, hand grenades, smoke candles and grenades, and maps and air photographs of the locality.


In organizing the defense of a town, the Germans prepare a reserve of drinking water, rations, ammunition, and medical supplies. Some of this is stored in various cellars, since the Germans are aware that these are tactically useful places, from which the advance of a hostile force can be hindered considerably. Searchlights are kept ready to illuminate the target area at night. Preparation is made for defense by sectors. Mines and booby traps are kept ready for use.

So that the main line of resistance will not be discovered by the hostile forces, the Germans place it within the town proper and make it irregular. Only individual centers of resistance are established in the outskirts. These are used for flanking purposes. Important buildings are defended, not from their own walls, but from advance positions.

The Germans try to maintain a strong mobile reserve.

Every attempt is made to trap hostile units in dead-end streets and to cut off, by sudden flanking movements, hostile units which advance too recklessly.

Emergency barriers are kept ready in the entrances to buildings. These barriers can be placed across the streets on extremely short notice.

Low machine-gun positions are prepared to cover all possible approach routes.

Good telephone communication is maintained.

Command posts remain constantly on guard against surprise attacks.

The windows of all buildings are kept open at all times, so that the attackers will have difficulty in detecting from which windows fire is being delivered. German soldiers are instructed not to fire from window sills, but from positions well within the rooms. Snipers continually move from room to room. Individual roof tiles are removed to provide loopholes. On rooftops, firing positions behind chimneys are considered desirable, provided that the chimneys are below the roof ridges.

Important doors leading to the street are guarded, and doors which are not to be used are blocked. Holes are pierced through the walls of adjoining houses to afford communication channels.

The Germans regard the entire matter of defense merely as a preliminary to surprise counterattacks.


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