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"Notes on German Artillery Forward Observers" from Tactical and Technical Trends

A translation from an issue of the German WWII publication Artilleristische Rundschau on the artillery forward observer, from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 28, July 1, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


In the observation of fire, the greatest reliance by the Germans is placed on forward observers. Often the battery commander himself goes ahead in this role. The part that the observer plays in German field operations is brought out in the following translation from a recent issue of Artilleristische Rundschau.

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The artillery forward observer (Vorgeschobene Beobachter) plays a decisive part in the success of infantry. In the attack he goes along with the infantry, accompanied by a radio operator. If the attack is stopped, this observer calls for fire on enemy points of resistance and carries the infantry on to the next assault. In static warfare, the observer orders destructive fire against the enemy and covering fire to aid his own troops. He also directs destructive fire against enemy infantry who are about to attack or actually attacking. The results of this are shown not only in the effective cooperation between the two arms, but in the existence of a spirit of brotherhood in combat--the artillery forward observer becomes the best friend of the infantry.

A few examples from the Eastern Front will illustrate the role of the forward observer.

In one instance, a German battalion was attacking a Russian objective at a place where there was a churchyard in close proximity to the Russian rear; the attack was gaining ground very slowly, impeded by stubborn defense and by poor observation for the German artillery. Finally, a forward observer succeeded in the face of Russian fire in reaching an observation position located at the flank, whence he could observe the churchyard. The signal troops, working fast, established communication in a very short time with the battery, which was then able to deliver well-placed fire. The opponent was so pinned down that the attack regained its impetus. In a short time the village and churchyard were captured.

In August 1941, a German division had been defending for some time a stream south of C--. A battalion received the mission to make a limited-objective attack in order to secure prisoners; the attack was to be made with a reinforced company, supported by heavy infantry weapons and artillery. After assembly in combat outposts, the company began the attack in several groups. The forward observer of a light battery and heavy battery went forward with the company, while at the same time another forward observer was stationed in the advance combat positions of the sector to the right of the attack in order to watch for any threat to the flank. Given excellent support by the artillery, and working skillfully through the terrain, the assault troops succeeded in penetrating deeply into the Soviet positions, without loss, and in capturing prisoners and weapons. At the same time, on his own initiative, the company commander in the sector to the right sent a weaker assault group to capture a Russian scout squad. The forward artillery observer in this sector supported the effort so well that nearly all the personnel of the scout unit were disabled or captured. The result of these two operations was a total of 42 prisoners and 12 captured machine guns and mortars, while on the German side the only casualty was one soldier slightly wounded. The skillful and rapid fire-support given by the artillery as a result of the work of the forward observer played a major role in this success.

A forward observer showed up well in another local assault by a neighboring regiment. The night before the operation, he went into no-mans-land with a scout squad. Three kilometers in front of the German lines he found a hide-out, and for 9 hours observed the Russian position from so short a distance that no detail could be missed. He could look into each pit dug for protection against tanks and could almost count the number of occupants in each. The next morning the assault group attacked at the appointed time. The radio of the forward observer had scarcely given the first order of command when the answers roared from 3 batteries. The Russian position was thoroughly raked. After a momentary pause, a powerful concentration of fire was placed on the left-hand sector of the enemy positions, only to move in another instant 100 yards to the right on a zigzag trench net. On the left, where the dust clouds from the bursts were slowly settling, the hand grenades of the assault troops were already exploding. With incredible speed, the trenches were mopped up, and always, throughout the action, the concentrated fire of 12 guns moved just before the assault group from right to left. About 500 meters of the Russian position was overrun in this way. With the mission accomplished, the assault group withdrew from the Russian positions, while the forward artillery observer placed his fire to cover the withdrawal. Numerous prisoners and weapons were brought in, without any losses suffered by the Germans. In this case too, the service of the forward artillery observer was no minor factor.

Every member of the First Battalion still remembers the day at O-- in September 1941. This position was taken by storm without any difficulty. However, before the battalion had organized itself for defense, the Russians made a counter-attack in heavy force, supported by 18 tanks and designed to recover the locality. Fortunately, the second battery which had been attached to the battalion had moved its position and was ready for action, having established communications with the forward observer. Gun after gun fired its destructive barrage into the massed ranks of the Russian infantry following the tanks. Even the tanks hesitated, and then gave up the attack. The Russian attack was repeated several times in very strong force, and every time was stopped by the barrage ordered and directed by the forward observer. Bodies of Russians and ruined tanks covered the field at evening, and the battalion officers thanked the battery commander, assuring him that the village would have fallen had it not been for the artillery support and the courageous conduct of the forward observer, who had fallen in the combat.


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