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"Infantry Tactics (German)" from Intelligence Bulletin, January 1943

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following U.S. military article on German infantry tactics was published in the Intelligence Bulletin, January 1943.

[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.]



At present German infantry tactics naturally are of the greatest interest and importance to American fighting men. Official German doctrine covering infantry tactics is clean-cut--so much so that when an American reads it, he is likely to fall into the dangerous error of assuming that the Germans always will follow certain methods. There is in circulation a popular theory to the effect that the Germans are fond of set procedures. Even if there is an element of truth in the theory, it must not be supposed that German military thought is inflexible. German commanders often show great imagination and adaptability in difficult situations. Although the following German doctrine is official, American troops will find that the enemy does not hesitate to depart from it. Its chief value for us is that it suggests what we may sometimes, although not always, encounter.


In a meeting engagement a commander dispenses with preliminary preparations and deploys straight into battle. A commander will not accept the challenge of a meeting engagement unless he feels that his troops and leadership are numerically or otherwise superior to those of the enemy, or that, by waiting to prepare a deliberate attack, he would sacrifice ground he cannot afford to lose. Sound tactical decisions in the initial stages are essential. The worst mistake of all is hesitation.

The advance guard will delay the enemy and seize important positions, such as those suitable for artillery observation posts. The advance guard may (1) attack, with a limited objective; (2) defend its existing position; or (3) withdraw to more favorable positions.

The main body will deploy immediately. (It must be remembered that a withdrawal by the advance guard is likely to interfere with this deployment.) It is wrong to wait for further information in the hope that it will clear the situation. Lost time never can be regained. The time available decides whether the commander should concentrate his troops before launching them in an attack, or whether he should launch them when, and as, they become available.

The meeting engagement normally will take the form of a frontal attack by the advance guard, combined with one or more encircling attacks by the main body.


The object of the deliberate attack is to surround and destroy the enemy. A strong, rapid encircling attack can be decisive, provided that it really comes to grips with the enemy and that the enemy is pinned down by frontal pressure, which will be exercised mainly by fire.

Encircling forces must move in depth if they are not to be outflanked. All encircling attacks sooner or later become frontal.

In all attacks the commander will select a Schwerpunkt, or point of main effort, where the bulk of his forces will be employed. The considerations involved in choosing this point are: (1) weakness in the enemy defense; (2) suitability of the ground for cooperation of all arms, but especially for tanks; (3) lines of approach; (4) possibilities of supporting fire, especially by artillery.

Boundaries and objectives are allotted to attacking units. This does not mean, however, that a unit must distribute troops over all the ground within its boundaries. It will choose within its boundaries the best line or lines of advance and utilize its troops accordingly. A Schwerpunkt battalion can be allotted about 450 yards of front, while a battalion which is attacking in an area removed from the point of main effort can be given 1,000 yards or more.

Once an attack has been launched, it must drive straight on to its objective, regardless of opposition. It is wrong for the foremost attacking troops to turn aside to deal with threats to their flanks. This is the task of the troops which are following them.

A breakthrough must be in sufficient depth to prevent the enemy from establishing new positions in the rear. A breakthrough cannot be successful until the enemy artillery positions are captured. This is the special task of the tanks.

As soon as enemy resistance weakens at any point, all available fire and forces must be concentrated to insure the success of the breakthrough.

Since artillery support is essential, artillery must be kept well forward.


If the enemy is able to withdraw under cover of a rear guard, the attack has failed. He must then be pursued. The object of pursuing forces will be to encircle and destroy him. For this, infantry and artillery alone are not sufficient. Aircraft will attack defiles on the enemy's line of retreat, and motorized elements will attempt to pierce his front and encircle his flanks. A point of main effort and clear orders are just as necessary in this operation as in any other.

The task of the pursuing forces is to interfere with, and if possible stop, the enemy's withdrawal so that he can be dealt with by the slower-moving infantry and artillery, which will be following up. The motorized elements pursuing the enemy may find themselves in great difficulties because of the speed with which they move and because of the exposed positions in which they may find themselves. They must be prepared for this, and will rely on aircraft and the slower-moving infantry and artillery to assist them in due course.


A point of main effort is as necessary in the defense as it is in the attack. A defensive position has no value if the enemy can avoid it by passing around its flanks. Essentials of a defensive position are (1) a good field of fire for all arms, but especially for the artillery; (2) good observation; (3) concealment; (4) natural protection against tanks; and (5) factors permitting the fire from weapons to be concentrated in front of the main line of resistance.

The position is divided into advance positions, outposts, and a main position. The forward edge of the main position is known as the main defensive line.

The task of the advance positions is to deny good observation points to the enemy and to hinder his advance. They will be approximately 6,000 to 8,000 yards in front of the main position, and mines and obstacles must be used to strengthen their area. The defenders of advanced positions normally will consist of small mobile forces. Their principal task is to force the enemy to deploy. They will be withdrawn according to a definite schedule.

The outposts are responsible for the immediate protection of the main position. Their tasks are (1) to prevent the enemy from surprising the forces holding the main position; (2) to mislead the enemy as long as possible over the dispositions and situations of the main position; and (3) to protect advance observation posts as long as possible. Outposts will be withdrawn when the situation makes it inevitable. As a rule, they are from 2,000 to 3,000 yards in front of the main position.

The main position must be defended in depth. This is of the utmost importance. Areas, rather than lines, will be defended. If the enemy should succeed in penetrating the position, he will be faced by a series of defended areas which can support each other by fire, so that in the end he collapses under the concentrated fire placed on him. A battalion will defend from 800 to 2,000 yards in depth.

The withdrawal of advance posts and outposts must be planned carefully so that they will avoid getting in the line of fire of the main position.

Penetration must be met by immediate local counterattacks, with limited objectives. Small parties of infantry carry out these counterattacks--if possible, against the enemy's flanks. Unless tanks are available, a deliberate counterattack will succeed only if it is carried out by superior forces and as a surprise against one or both flanks of the enemy penetration. Like any other deliberate attack, it requires thorough planning.


Troops are too easily attracted to villages. These afford some cover from fire, but also draw it. It is important to note that they may become traps.

a. Attack

In attack, villages should be by-passed whenever possible. However, when this is done, the enemy must be pinned down in the village, chiefly by artillery fire.

If villages must be attacked, heavy supporting fire will be placed on the outskirts, especially on isolated buildings and small clusters of houses.

The leading troops will avoid the streets, and will fight their way through back yards and gardens until they reach the far end of the village. Small independent groups are preferable for this work. Their tasks must be laid down accordingly, and each group must have its own supporting weapons.

Reserves must move close behind these leading groups, which may easily get into difficulty.

b. Defense

Well-built villages make good defense areas. Their edges are shell traps; therefore, the main line of resistance should be either inside or outside the village, not on the edges.

If a village is favorably situated, it should be turned into a defense area organized in depth. The irregular shape of its approaches should provide ample opportunities for flanking fire.

Villages afford especially good antitank positions.

Reserves must be held in readiness outside the village to deal with the enemy's probable attempts to by-pass.


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