[Lone Sentry: A Tank-Infantry Team Observed in Combat] [Lone Sentry: Photos, Articles, and Research on the European Theater in World War II]
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"A Tank-Infantry Team Observed in Combat" from Intelligence Bulletin, Dec. 1944

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   A U.S. intelligence report on German tank-infantry tactics in Normandy, from the Intelligence Bulletin, December 1944.

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



For a period of 36 hours in the last days of July, an officer of an Allied army group staff had an excellent opportunity of observing German tanks and infantry attacking an Allied force in France. The following notes, which are based on his report, describe the tactics that the Germans employed.

The general situation was fluid at the time of the attack. The Germans advanced westward in three parallel columns, each consisting of tanks accompanied by infantry. The center column followed a main road, firing rapidly and moving at a brisk rate. It went from hill to hill, with the accompanying infantry dog-trotting through the fields on each side of the road and over the hedgerows. The infantry was deployed over no more than the width of a single field on each side. The center column had a total of only about eight track-laying vehicles. At least three of these were tanks, one or two probably were self-propelled guns, and the remainder probably were half-track personnel carriers.

Although the total German strength which had been sent to capture and hold an important crossroads at St. Denisière consisted of two companies of infantry and probably not more than ten tanks, the Allied officer observed only the track-laying vehicles previously mentioned and possibly a platoon of infantry.

The Infantrymen Moved Fast

The leading tank fired its 75 rapidly, getting both graze and air bursts, while its machine guns, supplemented by those of the vehicles behind it, sprayed the top of every hedgerow. The noise was terrific, and the bursts in the shrubbery and the tops of trees and hedgerows were certainly impressive. Even before the shock of the guns discharged at close range, and the garden-hose spray of machine-gun bullets, had taken full effect, German infantrymen were over the hedgerow and into the field and were advancing toward the next field with determination and courage. They knew where they were going, and went there fast.

At night the Germans reacted forcefully, with fire and limited movement, whenever they detected any sign of an Allied approach. The German tanks moved slowly, and made very little noise. Immediately after firing, each tank moved to a new position 25 to 50 yards away. It should be emphasized that the noise discipline of the German tank crews and the accompanying infantry was superior. There was no talking or shouting; except for machine-gun and cannon fire and the starting of motor, no sound carried farther than 100 yards.

On the other hand, the approach of U.S. tanks and the passing of most U.S. motor convoys was rapidly identifiable by the loud shouting, talking, and issuing of orders by the U.S. troops who approached or passed the general vicinity of a German position. The propensity of U.S. tank drivers to "gun" their motors was a dead give-away, whereas the Germans always eased their tanks forward, traveled in low gear, and were remarkably quiet in all operations except the firing. They used long bursts of their rapid-firing machine guns to discourage guests. If pressed at all, they sent up flares to obtain German artillery and mortar fire on their flanks. The way they handled their tanks was bold and sure. They acted as if they knew exactly what their destination was, and by which route they wished to proceed.

A U.S. Tank "Got the Works"

At 0230, the darkest part of the night, a German tank moved out and headed toward the northernmost German column, making as little noise as possible. Later it turned out that a lone U.S. tank on reconnaissance had pushed up against the nose of the ridge that the German tanks had organized, and the Germans were quietly laying plans to place a terrific amount of fire on it. Before long, it got the works.

Because there were so few German infantrymen, and because they were interested only in reaching and holding the team's objective, their mopping-up activities were negligible. Thus, of the Allied troops overrun in this fashion, a large percentage was neither killed, wounded, captured, or missing during the first two or three days. The ease and rapidity with which this small attacking force made its penetration, reached its objective, sat on the objective, and cut traffic on an important road is of more than ordinary interest. Also, it is reasonable to assume that the Germans will employ small groups for similar missions in the future.

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