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"Recent Tactics and Ruses in Mountainous Terrain" from Intelligence Bulletin, April 1944

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following report on German mountain tactics in WWII was published in the April 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.]



The Germans have been showing decided originality in exploiting rugged, rocky terrain in Italy. Since terrain of this type is common to many parts of Southern Europe, and is very likely to favor the defenders, certain enemy defensive methods employed under such conditions are examined here.


a. In the Mountains North of Venafro

From a river valley 600 feet above sea level at Pozzilli, the mountains rise to an elevation of 2,300 feet, 3,000 yards north of the town, and to an elevation of 2,115 feet, 2,000 yards west of the town. Between these masses are ravines and terraced slopes. The mountains, or high hills, are crisscrossed with rock walls, and there are small olive groves here and there. The rock walls protect Roman trails, roughly paved with stone, which traverse each cultivated section and link farms and villages. Apart from the rock walls and olive trees, there are only barren slopes.

The Germans attempted to deny United Nations forces access to the hills and to the valley entrances beyond Pozzilli. It was the enemy intention to make it necessary for opposing troops to expose themselves by moving across open slopes or to be canalized in ravines.

Most of the German automatic weapons were forward. The riflemen were behind them, removed from direct fire and ready to counterattack. Weapons were grouped, and each section was protected by bunkers and provided with prepared shelters.

The German shelters in this area consisted of dugouts reinforced with rocks, boards, and earth. The rock covering was sufficiently well extended along the front and sides to blend with the rocky terrain and thereby provided excellent camouflage. These shelters were large enough to accommodate from two to five men. Whereas the smaller shelters merely had straw for bedding, the interiors of the larger and more elaborate positions were revetted with boards and contained bunks. Some of the dugouts were strong enough to withstand direct mortar and light artillery fire.

Gun positions were situated near the shelters. There was nothing strikingly unusual about the emplacements. Some had a small amount of overhead cover. All automatic weapons were protected by a few riflemen, who also acted as observers and as sentries along the trails.

German weapons were sited so as to cover the exposed slopes of hills with interlocking bands of fire, to cover hollows between hills with cross fire, and to place direct fire down each trail, ravine, or gully. In addition to having a primary fire mission, each position was so situated as to cover an adjacent position and to support its fire. The network of rock walls protecting the Roman trails enabled the defenders to move troops, shift the zones of action, and, in general, to conceal many kinds of activity from hostile observation. Protected by these walls, German riflemen continually harassed the attackers with machine-pistol fire and hand grenades.

It required very close observation to detect the exact location of German weapons and their fields of fire.

German camouflage discipline was excellent, and in forward areas there was a decided lack of visible movement by daylight. The simplicity of the German positions resulted in such an effective blend with the rocky terrain that they presented a remarkably natural appearance, even to air observation.

The German riflemen who had been withheld for use in counterattacks were employed for that purpose throughout the operations. At no time, however, was a counterattack made in greater strength than that needed to regain a very limited objective. Because of the rock walls shielding the trails, it was very difficult to be sure of the German point of main effort (Schwerpunkt) until after an attack had developed.

One night counterattack in particular is of interest, involving, as it did, an unusual ruse. Two or three Germans armed with machine pistols drove a herd of goats into the right flank of a battalion position. Under cover of the resulting noise and confusion, the main German effort was launched against the left flank of the same battalion position. At first, the ruse was successful. The counterattack was repulsed only after a bitter hand-to-hand fight.

Throughout the German defense of the Pozzilli area, German artillery placed intermittent harassing fire on zones not completely covered by small-arms fire. Evidence suggests that this harassing fire was not observed, but, rather, that it was prearranged and that the Germans had secured their firing data before United Nations troops attacked. The Germans laid down only one heavy barrage during the entire action.

b. In the Monte la Difensa Area

(1) In the Monte la Difensa area (which is about 8 miles southwest of Venafro), an unusually high percentage of German infantry was found to be armed with machine pistols. The enemy also used the MG 42. Both the machine pistol and the MG 42 have a very high cyclic rate of fire, which permits easy distinction between German and friendly automatic weapons. Many rifles equipped with flash hiders were employed.

(2) An unusual German method of mortar and artillery fire control was encountered in this area, where the terrain is rugged and rocky, with a number of natural caves and clefts in the mountainside. The Germans improved these clefts and used them as dugouts, camouflaging each opening so that it blended with the terrain and constructing a protective barrier across the front. In some instances, dugouts were occupied by only one man, who was supplied with enough ammunition, rations, and water for several days. The occupant was armed with a machine pistol, and was supplied with tracer ammunition. As the attack progressed toward the German position, the supporting troops withdrew, but the occupant of the shelter remained in place. When he observed a promising mortar or artillery target, he fired a round of machine-pistol tracer at, or over, the target. Usually this procedure was undertaken by two of the posts; as a result, the target was indicated by the intersection of tracer fire. This tracer fire served both as the call for mortar and artillery fire and as the control.

The observers kept their positions secret as long as they possibly could, firing only an occasional round for effect and never engaging targets for their own personal defense, except as a last resort.

Some of these observation posts were provided with escape routes, while others permitted no easy exit. In the latter case, the observer would remain at his post until he was killed or captured. It is significant that at least one of the dugouts was equipped with radio.

(3) The Germans had mortar and artillery firing data covering, existing trails, but these calculations were upset when the attackers used new trails up the mountains. The enemy made .a special effort to place fire on United Nations soldiers who bunched up. Enemy observers did not call for artillery or mortar fire on two or three men, but when they observed a dozen or more soldiers close together, they called for fire to be placed on them immediately.

(4) The enemy used ruses to locate United Nations positions. Sometimes German soldiers would deliberately expose themselves by needless movement, with the obvious intention of drawing fire. If United Nations soldiers revealed their position by firing, they themselves promptly received mortar fire. On the other hand, the Germans were susceptible to trickery, and on one occasion even fell for the old ruse of a helmet on a stick.

(5) The Germans tried to avoid combat at night. This generally has been the case throughout the Italian campaign. The enemy usually depended on mortar and artillery fire to halt night attacks, and tended to become confused when such attacks were pressed.

(6) The Germans employed the "white flag" ruse several times. On the first occasion, enemy soldiers in covered positions fired on a United Nations junior officer who went forward to accept a prisoner advancing under a white flag. After that, whenever the ruse was attempted by the Germans, it failed when the attackers themselves remained motionless and ordered the bearers of white flags to keep moving forward.

(7) A controlled minefield was encountered in the Monte la Difensa area. Tellermines were rigged with pull-devices, with wire leading to the German positions. In this way the enemy could detonate a mine when United Nations troops approached, even though there was no physical contact between the attackers and the device.

(8) A German prisoner stated that his company was divided into two platoons, one of which worked as snipers while the other served as a combat patrol. Although no enemy patrols were encountered, it is quite probable that they existed; if they actually operated, it is likely that they were so dispersed and had to cover such a large area that they stopped functioning as units and worked as individual observers. The rugged terrain may well have been responsible for this.


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