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.
2. THE MEETING ENGAGEMENT
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
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
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.
3. THE DELIBERATE ATTACK
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
Since artillery support is essential, artillery must be kept well
4. THE PURSUIT
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
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.
6. VILLAGE FIGHTING
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.
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.
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.