The German infantry division has played a decisive
part in the successes of the German Army in the Polish,
French, Balkan, and Russian campaigns. German
armored divisions have penetrated enemy lines
and have won freedom of maneuver. But the hard-
fighting, quick-marching, ground-holding infantry with
its great firepower has brought about final decisions. Why
is the German infantry division so effective?
The Germans have always recognized the basic importance
of the infantry. They select especially promising
officers and men for this arm of service, give them
the most thorough training, and provide them with the
best possible weapons. These weapons range from
carbines, antitank rifles, machine guns, and light and
heavy mortars to 75-mm and 150-mm infantry howitzers. German
division artillery is very similar
to our own in caliber, number of guns, organization, and
Each infantry regiment in the division has an infantry
howitzer company with three platoons of 75-mm
howitzers and one platoon of 150-mm howitzers. This
company is an organic part of the regiment and thus
relieves artillery units of the division of many small
but difficult direct-support missions. This set-up also
simplifies the problem of liaison between organic
artillery and infantry units. In contrast to our infantry
division, three-fourths of the transport in the
ordinary German infantry division is horse-drawn.
Above all, the American soldier should remember
that the German soldier is trained in the use of firepower
and infiltration. The newspaper stories about
German infantry attacking in solid waves, only to be
mowed down, are plain nonsense. The Germans take
advantage of every bit of cover and look for soft spots
through which they can drive. Furthermore, the Germans
know how to use firepower to clear out opposing
forces; they go about their business as methodically
as if they were engaged in a training exercise.
2. ATTACK METHODS
When you run into German infantry, you will probably
meet detachments of the reconnaissance battalion. Your
first contact may be with the armored-car platoon. In
country where roads and paths are fairly good--and
especially at night and in foggy weather--your first
contact may be with bicyclists, with the horse cavalry
troop, or with motorcycle patrols. In any case, machine
guns (nearly the same caliber as our own) and infantry
howitzers will soon arrive to support these forward
After you have held up the reconnaissance unit, you
can expect the supporting infantry to appear. They
will reconnoiter your position quickly but thoroughly.
They are well trained and keen-eyed, but how much they
see depends on you.
In attacking, the infantry will appear by squads,
each deployed in a wide, staggered column or in line as
skirmishers. In either formation the men will be
about 5 yards apart, and the squad probably will be preceded
by its light machine gun and its leader with his machine
During the advance the light machine guns operate
well forward. The light infantry howitzers are not far
behind. The howitzers have a very loud report and a
considerable flash, and can easily be distinguished from
the mortars. The mortars are 50-mm and 81-mm, much
the same as our own light and heavy mortars.
The howitzers may be 1 to 2 miles away from you,
even closer if there is cover. The mortars, which cannot
fire any farther than ours, will be much nearer.
Experience has shown that the mortars are brought into
action quickly. You may even spot them taking up a
position without cover in order to save time.
Once the attack is held up, the Germans will quickly
try other methods. Reconnaissance patrols may first
reconnoiter your position more thoroughly. They
patrol well. Their scouting is excellent, partly owing to
their thorough training and partly because many men
come from country districts, as is the case with our
own troops. Patrols specially organized and lightly
equipped--as they were in 1939 when they harassed the
Maginot Line--sometimes stay out for days, working
in pairs and marking your dispositions on their maps. Their
map-reading, too, is very good, and they have
plenty of field glasses.
If your positions are well concealed, the enemy may
have to send out fighting patrols, 40 or 50 strong.
Working at night, the patrols will send out ahead one
or two men who betray their presence in order to draw
fire. As soon as one of your posts opens fire, the enemy
will attack it with light machine guns and mortars.
Small detachments infiltrate, engage defensive posts
from flank or rear, and cut telephone wires. They try
to create the impression of a much larger force in the
hope that you, feeling isolated and in danger, will fall
back. With this idea in mind, they are likely to form
salients, projecting deep into your forward defenses.
Where you are protected by an obstacle, the enemy
attack will be made with the help of engineers. Against
wire in front of you they will use their equivalent of
our Bangalore torpedo--a plank up to 10 feet long with
slabs of explosive placed end to end along its length.
For action against your pill-boxes--if they can get near
enough--they may use slabs of T.N.T. fastened to
the end of a pole and pushed into or against the openings
for firing. The man carrying the pole is your
best target. They also use flame-throwers, the range
of which is limited to some 25 yards and which cannot
be operated continuously for more than 12 seconds.
These are carried on one man's back and therefore are
comparatively slow-moving and offer a fairly easy target.
If the enemy is faced with a water obstacle, he
will find any part that you have left inadequately
guarded and will cross it by means of rubber boats.
The larger ones can transport a rifle or machine-gun
squad or one of the 37-mm antitank guns. These boats
are very vulnerable to small arms fire.
The part played by the engineers must not be underestimated.
They are very good at the rapid crossing of
rivers--first by assault boats, then by rafts made up of
rubber boats and pontons, and, finally--when they are
established on the opposite bankóby the construction
of a ponton bridge. The motor vehicles can be ferried
across on the rafts, which the engineers will already
have constructed by the time the leading troops are
across. Therefore, if you can prevent the leading
troops from establishing themselves and keep the engineers
from launching their rafts, you may delay the
attack of a whole division.
3. USE OF DECEPTION
Another important point must be remembered. The
Germans will use every method to fool you. Telephone
calls in perfectly good American may order a bridge not
to be blown up. Fifth Column operations may be well
coordinated with military operations.
In general, German infantry are trained to create
the impression of large numbers, and in this they are
assisted by their close-support weapons--particularly
the infantry gun, with its loud report, and mortars, which
are brought into action very quickly.
Smooth cooperation, short clear verbal orders, a true
appreciation of the value of speed--" Sweat saves blood"--and a
high degree of physical fitness all combine to
enable the Germans to exploit their opportunities to the full.