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"The Infantry Division (German)" from Intelligence Bulletin, October 1942

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following U.S. military report on the WWII German infantry division was originally published in the Intelligence Bulletin, October 1942.

[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.]

 
THE INFANTRY DIVISION (GERMAN)

1. INTRODUCTION

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 employment.

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 troops.

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 pistol.

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.

4. CONCLUSION

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.

 

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