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"A Prepared Defensive Position in Italy" from Intelligence Bulletin, March 1944

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   Description of a German defensive position in Italy, from Intelligence Bulletin, March 1944.

[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 tactics is available in postwar publications.]


A German prepared defensive position near Sipicciano, in Italy, affords a useful illustration of certain methods currently employed by the enemy. A force estimated to be a battalion occupied the position, in the preparation of which a number of German defensive principles had been observed.

The position, which covered a road leading from the village of Cici to the Garigliano River, was protected to its front by two double-apron barbed wire fences, 30 yards apart, running through an olive grove. Tellermines and wooden box mines had been laid between the fences and in a strip about 50 yards wide immediately in front of the forward fence. The road, which ran through the position, also was mined with Tellermines and wooden box mines.

Nearly all the individual enemy positions faced in one of two directions, east or southeast. There was a definite and surprising lack of any attempt at all-around defense, and positions had unprotected sectors ranging from 90 to 100 degrees.

For the most part, the individual positions were mutually supporting. They had excellent fields of fire, which were easily obtained because of the nature of the terrain. Some positions were in the olive grove, while others faced pasture land. There was very little scrub growth or other hindrance to vision. In the olive grove the positions were sited so as to afford an unobstructed field of vision between the ground and the lowest branches of the trees.

Individual positions were protected against frontal attack by means of short narrow belts of antipersonnel mines and trip wires 30 to 40 yards forward of the positions and just beyond effective hand-grenade range. [In a number of other instances, however, the Germans have been known to place a belt of mines within hand-grenade range so as to take advantage of any confusion which might result from the detonation of the mines.] These defensive measures did not cover the flanks or rear of the positions.

Elaborate precautions had been taken to protect the defenders against bombardment by aircraft or artillery. Firing positions were from 3 to 4 feet deep, and were well camouflaged overhead and to the front. Several small-arms positions were of the trench type, while others had overhead cover and a rear entrance. Shallow crawl trenches connected most of the firing positions with dugouts, which served as living quarters. These dugouts were well constructed, and were roofed with tree trunks, planks, and sandbags filled with earth. In some instances the entrances were zigzagged. Revetting was generally very good. Barbed wire, of the type employed for apron fences, was also used in revetments and to support camouflage material.

Grenades, both the stick-type and the egg-type, were kept on the parapets. Many of the grenades were still in place when the position was taken. The caps of the stick-type grenades were unscrewed, and the china marbles were exposed and ready to be pulled.

A mortar had been emplaced in a circular emplacement, protected by breastworks. It was situated behind a clump of low trees. Ammunition, which was plentiful, had been stored in a separate dugout about 10 yards from the mortar emplacement.

Antitank guns were well camouflaged and had excellent fields of fire. They were emplaced in shallow dug-in positions. Dugouts for the crews were nearby, and the men also had short trenches, about 3 feet deep, next to their guns. Ammunition was stored partly in shallow trenches near the guns and partly in caches dispersed in the vicinity of the dugouts. Antitank-gun positions were usually protected by machine-gun sections (two guns each) covering the areas to the front and at the flanks, but not to the rear. It is probable that alternate machine-gun positions covering the rear had been chosen, but no prepared alternate positions were found. Antitank guns were sighted so as to fire down the probable axis of advance, rather than the flank.

Company headquarters had a wire connection with headquarters. The wire, approximately a mile and a half of which had been laid, was in an open trench about 6 to 8 inches deep and 4 inches wide. In places the wire had been covered with stones.

Apparently the enemy had not used any of the buildings in the vicinity. Track discipline, incidentally, had been good.

United Nations forces avoided frontal assault on this strong position by attacking and seizing high ground on which a flank of the enemy defense area had been anchored. After capturing this hill, the United Nations forces struck for the Garigliano River to cut off the enemy in the prepared defensive position. They were successful in seizing the crossings, but the Germans escaped by swimming the river. The hasty nature of the retreat is substantiated by the German failure to evacuate equipment and supplies. Eight antitank guns, some undamaged, were left behind. Further evidence of haste is shown by the enemy's failure to carry out prepared demolitions of bridges along the road leading from the position to the river.

To summarize:

1. Minefields, covered by small-arms fire and antitank fire, and supplemented with barbed wire, were used to block the expected axis of attack.

2. Positions were dug and were well camouflaged to the front and overhead.

3. Antitank-gun positions were protected by anti-personnel mines and small arms.

4. Protected sleeping quarters were provided.

5. No provision was made for all-around defense.

6. Fields of fire were excellent.

7. The flanks of this strong defensive position constituted its chief weakness.

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