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"The Heavy Mobile Punch" from Intelligence Bulletin, May 1945

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   Intelligence report on late-war German armor tactics, including orders from Gen. Student to try to prevent piecemeal employment of German panzers, from Intelligence Bulletin, May 1945.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy equipment and tactics published for Allied soldiers. More accurate data on German weapons and equipment is available in postwar publications.]



Recently the Germans have intensified their efforts to exploit armor, in spite of the deteriorating situation. These notes reveal the tactics of German armor at the present time.

Alarmed by the growing German tendency, early in 1945, to commit armor in small groups, or even singly, General Student, Supreme Commander of a German army group, made a vigorous attempt to correct this practice. General Student was shrewd enough to know that the reason for so much dispersion of armored equipment within his command was the very natural anxiety of his troops to obtain security in all localities. In stressing that strong measures would be necessary "to combat the tendency prevailing in the infantry to split up assault-gun battalions and tank, assault-gun, and tank-destroyer companies," Student pointed out that success is achieved only by commitment in a body—in battery or company strength, at least—at points of main effort. In effect, what he demanded was a return to normal German doctrine.

[German Tiger II tanks in formation]

When tanks, assault guns, or tank destroyers lose their full mobility because of Allied action or mechanical defects, the General observed, it is folly to retain such equipment in the line merely so that their weapons can be utilized.

In the light of the situation then existing, he declared, "The fuel and spare-parts situation does not permit so much as 1 meter of unnecessary travel." As a result, he allowed only corps or divisions to decide on, and supervise, the shifting, routing, and other movement of tank and assault-gun units.

As to commitment, General Student ordered that if, in a battery or company, the number of weapons ready for action should drop to less than three, the unit was to be committed only in conjunction with other tank or assault-gun units until the weapons could be built up to their full strength.

"I prohibit the piecemeal commitment of tanks, assault guns, or tank destroyers," the General ordered.

Divisions which had tank, assault-gun, or tank-destroyer units assigned to them were to keep a reserve of these weapons in readiness, preferably in company or battery strength. After a commitment, such a reserve was to be restored to full strength as rapidly as possible. For security reasons, these reserve weapons were not to remain in the main line of resistance.

Of timely-value, in connection with these problems with which General Student has had to cope, is some further information from a well-informed and credible prisoner of war.

The primary mission of German tanks, as this source explains, is to provide the heavy mobile punch. This is why "piecemeal commitment" violates the basic German canon of tank warfare. And it also explains why the enemy has gone to such great lengths to increase the caliber and muzzle velocity of his tank guns. The better the gun, the better the tank, according to the German way of thinking. Machine guns play a secondary role, and are used relatively little, except against tank hunters. A hard-hitting tank that can crush steel is the equipment in which the Germans now place their faith, believing, as they do, that such tanks must clear the way for Panzer Grenadier elements to advance with their automatic weapons.

[This is the latest model of the Pz.Kpfw. Panther]
This is the latest model of the Pz.Kpfw. Panther.

Conforming to this tactical doctrine, the Panther has a super-long 75-mm gun. Panther personnel, according to this prisoner-of-war source, are trained to engage a Sherman tank without hesitation at a range of from 2,000 to 2,200 yards. They are taught that while the preferable range of 800 to 900 yards will improve accuracy, it will not add greatly to the punch. The gun has an optical sight with three graduations: one for high-explosive shells, one for armor-piercing shells, and the third for the coaxially-mounted machine gun. Each graduation has its own range subdivision. According to the source, the gun is seldom, if ever, used as indirect artillery.

This source had been taught that, in the approach march, the tanks moved in column, covered by eight-wheel armored reconaissance cars ahead. These vehicles, he states, are part of the reconnaissance platoon of each tank battalion. If contact with hostile armor is made, the tanks deploy and attack, echeloned in depth. However, in the battle around Noville on Christmas Day, these tactics were not followed. A Captain Hingst, commanding officer of a 1st (German tank) Battalion, ordered all tanks to attack in a shallow skirmish line. The U.S. commander quickly sized up the situation, and in 45 minutes his Shermans had completely destroyed six Panthers. The Germans withdrew, and Hingst was replaced by a Captain Scheer, commanding officer of the 2d Battalion. What was left of the two battalions was combined into an improvised team. Captain Scheer then tried to bypass the U.S. center of resistance, but it was too tough a nut for him to crack.

An interesting prisoner-of-war disclosure confirms the existence of a German order to the effect that if a hopeless situation develops, and if a unit is threatened with capture or annihilation, all officers and sergeants are to withdraw and report to the next higher command. It is explained that this measure was adopted to reduce the heavy battle losses in unit leaders.

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