The following article, taken from a German military magazine, is of
interest as emphasizing certain elementary tactical principles, which, though well
known and frequently discussed, are sometimes forgotten in combat.
* * *
How Should Tanks Attack a Bridge?
a. First Example
The Russians were withdrawing toward the north. On the previous day
they had been thrown out of an improvised fortified position. A German tank battalion
with attached units was ordered to pursue the enemy.
The battalion was ordered to occupy the stream sector with the bridge in
a village and overtake and destroy the retreating enemy.
(3) Friendly Troops
The battalion had 23 tanks -- the 1st Company, 18 -- all PzKw 3s, of which
10 were taken over from another battalion on the morning of the day of attack. They
were manned by crews which had not been trained to work as a team, and the drivers
did not know their tanks. The 2nd Company had only three tanks, also PzKw 3s.
In addition, Battalion Headquarters had two command tanks. There was no third
company. One very weak company of motorcyclists was attached, as well as two
guns from an infantry cannon company.
(4) Course of Action
The battalion marched in the following order: 1st Company, Battalion
Headquarters, 2nd Company, infantry cannon, motorcyclists. Some of the
motorcyclists were mounted on the tanks of the 1st Company. At 1000, after taking
over the new tanks, the 1st Company moved out without sending forward an advance
platoon. The march was rather quiet. After moving about three miles, the head
of the 1st Company reached the crest overlooking the river and saw the village with
the bridge, lying in the valley below.
The leading vehicles drove straight toward the bridge at high speed, without
halting to observe the terrain to their front and without giving an order or
receiving one. The following tanks did the same, so that the company advanced
at top speed along the road and over the crest with its entire flank exposed to the
enemy. When the leading tanks, company commander, and platoon leader of the
1st Platoon were about 50 yards away, the bridge blew up. Entrenched on the
opposite slope, the enemy opened fire with antitank and antiaircraft guns and
artillery upon the village and the road where the company had halted. The company
took cover behind the houses, each tank for itself.
By this time the rest of the battalion had reached the crest overlooking the
valley and halted. The 2nd Company and the infantry guns deployed to fire on the
enemy entrenched on the hill across the river, while the motorcyclists dismounted
from the tanks and took cover. The commander of the motorcyclists was with the
battalion commander. Because the new tank crews did not know how to operate
their radios, it was impossible for the battalion commander to regain control of
the 1st Company and fight it as a unit. Proper coordination was absent; the new
crew members did not know where they belonged. Thus the tanks of the 1st
Company fought independently of each other.
Since a crossing was not possible without the bridge, the commander
managed to recall the 1st Company. Under the protection of several rear tanks
which opened fire one by one, each of the advanced tanks broke off separately.
Three tanks of the 1st Company were knocked out in the action -- two entirely and
one which could be towed away. When the Russians saw that we had given up the
attempt to cross, they contented themselves with harassing fire so that their own
losses were fairly small.
(5) Lessons Learned
(a) When on the march, send out an advance platoon to guard against
surprise, even though expecting only a weak enemy.
(b) When approaching a sector which is probably occupied, halt and
reconnoiter the terrain.
(c) If it is expected to capture a bridge by advancing at full speed, then
place at least some elements in the reverse-slope position to provide fire support.
Do not rush into the valley with all forces, because in so doing the units may run
into a trap.
(d) No attack should be made with tanks which have just been taken over
from another unit. The crews do not know each other, the drivers do not know
the tanks; an otherwise good company is thrown into confusion.
(e) If an attack is to be made across a stream, engineers should be on
hand to build a bridge if necessary.
b. Second Example
With a strong combat group the enemy had taken up a position astride the
two roads leading to Armawir in the region of Dondu Kowskaja on the Laba River
and had cut off and encircled a German infantry battalion.
The 9th Company of the 10th Tank Regiment was assigned the mission of
rescuing the infantry battalion, and capturing the bridge across the Laba.
(3) Development of Action
(a) Taking the Bridge
The 9th Company advanced on Dondu Kowskaja from the direction of Maikop.
Shortly before reaching the bridge leaning over the Laba, it was learned that it
had already been occupied by enemy antitank guns and riflemen. The 2d Platoon
was immediately ordered to go into position to the right of the road in the wooded
sector and to bring the bridge under fire. After the 2d Platoon had taken position,
the rest of the company advanced toward the bridge at full speed and took possession
The 2d Platoon was then ordered forward with one tank left at the bridge
(b) Taking the Village
Communications were established with the commander of the friendly
infantry battalion that was surrounded. Some of the German infantry had managed
to extricate itself, and it was attached to the tank company. The tank company
commander divided his force into two groups and ordered them to advance through
the village in two wedge formations; the two wedges were to close in a pincers
movement upon reaching the northern edge of the village. The attached infantry
advanced to the right and left of the tanks with the mission of protecting the flanks
and of reporting any antitank guns or rifles. The attack was successful.
(4) Lessons Learned
(a) In attacks on bridge crossings fire support should be provided and
the bridge crossed at high speed to form a bridgehead.
(b) In local fighting the cooperation between tanks and riflemen must be
very close. The riflemen must immediately call out to the tank crews any target
and enemy movements that they see, or they must destroy them with their own
If hostile forces have had appreciable time to organize the defense of a
bridge, a tank attack to capture the bridge is not likely to be successful. In the
second example this was not the case; hence, the complete success. It is doubtful,
however, whether success could have been achieved in the first example. In that
case the enemy was entrenched on the other side of the bridge, and in considerable
strength, particularly in armor-piercing weapons. The bridge was blown up by
the enemy even though the leading tank platoon advanced against it at high speed.
In the first example, if the leading company had acted as did the company
in the second example, it would have given the battalion commander an opportunity
to reach a proper decision; as it was, he lost control of his unit.
The following mistakes were made in the first example:
(1) An advance should not be made until signal communications have been
established, particularly where a unit receives replacements the same day it goes
(2) On the march, security must be maintained, which was not done in
(3) In open terrain, motorcyclists or armored infantry should not ride
the leading tanks. In the case described, the motorcycle unit was scattered when
the leading tanks ran into opposition; control of the unit was lost. In wooded
country, where tanks are tied to the roads and trails through the woods, infantry
may ride the leading tanks. When the leading tanks encounter the enemy, the tank
"grenadiers" get off at once and fight on foot.
The situation in the first example should have been handled as follows:
(1) Before the attack, the 1st Company should have placed a platoon in a
position from which it could fire on the bridge; then a second platoon should have
rushed the bridge as was done in the second example.
(2) In any event, the enemy undoubtedly would have succeeded in blowing
the bridge in time. The battalion commander would then have had to use his entire
force for a coordinated attack. This means that the infantry guns would have had
to take up firing positions, as well as most of the tanks.
(3) The next step would have been an assault by the motorcycle company.
(4) The destruction of the bridge would not necessarily have prevented
the accomplishment of the mission if there had been another intact crossing in
the neighborhood. Then the battalion commander would have attempted a crossing
at the latter place. If no crossing were available, a bridgehead would have had to
be established. The armored division would then send up engineer and infantry
reinforcements to enlarge this bridgehead.