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"Reconnaissance Units (German)" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   A report on German reconnaissance methods from captured German manuals, from the Intelligence Bulletin, November 1942.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy tactics and equipment published for Allied soldiers. In most cases, more accurate data is available in postwar publications.]



That the German army—like our own—attaches great importance to thorough reconnaissance is borne out by a recently captured German manual dealing with reconnaissance units. For example, only exceptionally well qualified personnel is chosen for such duty, as revealed in the following quotation from the manual:

"Cunning, versatility, ability to grasp orders rapidly, skill at driving vehicles across any type of terrain, the offensive spirit, resourcefulness under all circumstance and especially at night, cold bloodedness, and the ability to act quickly and independently should be characteristics of men selected."


a. Tasks of Reconnaissance Units

By taking advantage of * * * mobility, the reconnaissance unit may even engage superior enemy forces successfully. Mobility often enables it to attack the flanks and rear of the enemy and achieve surprise, to deliver repeated attacks at different points, to concentrate its forces quickly, to destroy small, isolated enemy detachments, and to employ part of its strength as a mobile reserve or for counterattacks in defense.

In the attack, a distinction must be drawn between an enemy defense area and an enemy defense line. Against the defense area, the aim of the reconnaissance unit is to use its speed to surround and destroy the enemy. Against a defense line, the aim is to concentrate all available forces and achieve a break-through at one point. It may not be wise to reconnoiter points suitable for a break-through, if this action is likely to give the enemy a hint regarding our plans. The reconnaissance unit generally will have to be reinforced if it is to achieve a break-through in a strongly held defensive line.

When an attack is in preparation, orders as a rule will be issued first to the heavy weapons, so that the attack will not be delayed while the heavy weapons are getting ready to come into action. Otherwise, the element of surprise may be lost. If an attack is held up, it may be a good idea to cancel the plans and strike at another point. Reconnaissance units are especially well suited to pursue an enemy who has been forced by our major units to withdraw. If pursuit from any of our flanks would mean loss of contact with the enemy because of the distance being too great, the enemy should be pursued directly through the break-through itself.

A reconnaissance unit may be forced by the task allotted to it, or by enemy action, to adopt the defensive temporarily. It can defend itself successfully only on ground which forces the enemy to attack on a narrow front; under any other circumstances, the unit's flanks must be protected by other troops. It is usually best to keep a mobile reserve to forestall enemy outflanking movements or for counterattacks.

The reconnaissance unit is better suited for delaying action than for lengthy defense.

b. Motorized Reconnaissance Units

The reconnaissance unit commander must make his own decisions about sending out patrols. It is required, however, that each patrol consist of at least two cars (including the radio car).

Before the patrol commanders start out, they receive verbal information from the reconnaissance unit commander on the general situation—for example, where contact with the enemy may be expected, the strength and composition of enemy forces, the nature of the terrain allotted to the patrols, the results of air and other reconnaissances, the mission of the reconnaissance unit, and how it will seek to fulfill its mission.

The unit commander then issues verbal orders to the patrol commanders. Particular points about which reports are needed should be given out in the order of their importance, under the heading "I want to know." The patrol leaders will be told to report, by radio or messenger, on crossing a designated line—even if they have not been in contact with the enemy.

Usually a patrol should not be given more than one task. If demolitions are required, combat engineers should be assigned to the patrol and move with it.

Reconnaissance at night is mostly a question of watching roads and keeping the enemy under observation from such concealment as woods and farms. Reconnaissance units should be relieved before dawn.

Reconnaissance units and patrols must be able to effect river crossings rapidly. Attacks on bridges on main roads often are likely to fail. A feint attack may be made on such bridges, however, while preparations are being made to cross at other points which are undefended, or less strongly defended.

The commander of the reconnaissance unit decides whether to send the whole unit across or merely the patrols. In the latter case the friendly shore usually must be defended until the patrols return.

The engineers in a reconnaissance unit must be able to carry out the following work:

(1) Build a 5-ton bridge, 36 feet long.
(2) Build and man two 2-ton rafts or one 4-ton raft.
(3) Build a footbridge for bicyclists.[1]

c. Partly Motorized Reconnaissance Units

The partly motorized reconnaissance unit carries out tactical reconnaissance for an infantry division.

In country where immediate contact with the enemy is to be expected, the reconnaissance unit commander will designate the area to be reconnoitered. The patrol will be told by which route the reconnaissance unit will advance. As a rule, the bounds for the mounted and bicycle patrols should be not more than 10 miles ahead of the main body of the reconnaissance unit (unless radio communication facilities are available).

Mounted patrols do not depend on roads, and can swim their horses across stream. They can search a sector independently. Ground, weather, and the matter of supplies do not affect them seriously. However, their rate of march and extent of performance are limited.

In districts with good road systems, and in favorable weather, bicycle patrols can get around better than mounted patrols. However, their rate of march is reduced on paths, especially in bad weather. Across country, their rate of advance may often be less than that of a man on foot. At night, if there is a good road system, bicycle patrols are excellent because they make little noise.

The armored-car patrol has a high rate of advance and performance. Since it is allotted a radio car, it can pass information back more quickly than other patrols. It is suitable for use on roads and to cover great distances. It can carry out a task quickly, and be available shortly afterwards to undertake another.

d. Conclusion

The strength of patrols of all types depends on their tasks, the ground, enemy dispositions, and the attitude of the civilian population. The strength of a mounted patrol varies from a platoon to a company. As a rule, bicycle patrols should be of company strength, since they are mainly confined to roads and are therefore required to fight more often than mounted patrols. The strength of an armored-car patrol, even if the reconnaissance unit is only partly motorized, must consist of at least two cars (including a radio car), just as in the case of the fully motorized units. Also, portable radio communication sets may be allotted to the patrols. It must be remembered, however, that the less radio communication is used, the more difficult it will be for the enemy listening posts to discover the presence and movements of the reconnaissance unit.

In most cases patrols can work only by day. At night their activities will generally be limited to gaining and maintaining contact with the enemy and locating his outposts.

[1] Against a major opponent, German reconnaissance units seldom use bicycles unless the terrain makes this absolutely necessary.

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