As stated in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 27, p. 21, the German
doctrine as applied to defense calls for the concentration of the available forces
in a few, very strong islands of resistance. In contrast to the pre-1940 French
"linear" practice of setting up the defense in platoon "strong-points" supported
by field artillery in the rear, Major F. O. Miksche a well known Czech military
writer, pointed out in "Blitzkrieg" published in 1942 that the Germans favor the
use of defense areas containing at least a rifle company, reinforced by
appropriate supporting weapons, organized for all-around defense, wired-in behind
mine fields, and provided with their own infantry artillery. Even a battalion may
be employed in one of these positions, which, when developed to their fullest
extent, are self-sustaining defense areas, capable of resisting armored attack. An
example of such an island of resistance will be found in the following translation
of a German document entitled "Training Publication for the Installation of
Battalion Defense Areas" issued by the Commander-in-Chief of the Panzer Army
in Africa. A combat officer very recently returned from southern Tunisia
reports that defenses of this type were met with there.
* * *
In order to strengthen the power of defense, the troops will organize
defense areas which they can hold against attacks coming from any direction.
The normal battalion front in a defensive position may be from 3,500 to
4,000 yards; company defense areas (see figure 1) are some 700 yards wide by
300 in depth, and spaced about 500 yards apart.
b. Garrison of Company Positions
A battalion sector is divided into several company defense areas. In general,
a rifle company with infantry heavy weapons attached occupies each of the four
sub-defense areas. The unit command posts are also to be installed within these
defense areas. Artillery is stationed behind the forward company defense areas
on terrain protected by the rear company defense area of the battalion sector.
[Note: Whether this artillery is composed of the infantry guns, or attached
field artillery is not clear but field artillery was found in such defense areas in
Tunisia. Obviously, while the lay-out is such that infantry guns could cover the
forward company positions, some field guns of greater range could be used, if
Weapons are distributed so as to give mutual supporting fire. Every
company defense area is provided with infantry light and heavy weapons. Armor-piercing
weapons, and antiaircraft guns are attached.
The company defense area is to be fenced in with wire. However, platoon
areas within such company areas are not to be inclosed by wire. [Note: Perhaps
sufficient wire for both inside and outside entanglements was not available as
wired-in platoon areas have been encountered.] The distance of the wire entanglements
from the most forward weapons is about 50 to 100 yards.
To facilitate reconnaissance activity, narrow lanes through the wire
entanglements are to be laid out on the enemy side. Wide lanes are permitted only
on the flanks.
To defend the protective minefields, and wire entanglements, rifle pits,
listening posts, observation posts, and weapon emplacements are installed. Dug-outs
are constructed for the garrison of the area.
Communication trenches are to be dug only between the firing positions or
observation posts and nearby dugouts. Extensive communication trenches give
the attacking enemy a chance to gain a foothold inside. In stony terrain the
parapet is to be made of sandbags or stone, but trenches must first be dug deep
enough into the ground (by blasting, if necessary) to prevent the position from
showing above the surface.
As a matter of principle, no installations, as seen from the enemy side,
must stand out above the surface of the grounds. Defended areas are not to be
laid out on the crests of ridges but on the slopes [whether forward or reverse
slopes, is not made clear]. Although the highest positions are normally the
most desirable for observation and antiaircraft purposes, such installations must
not be placed on forward slopes in view of the enemy, but somewhat further to the
rear, masked by the crest.
Dummy positions (also for artillery and antiaircraft) are to be used for
the purpose of diverting enemy artillery fire. Distance from the other positions
must be great enough to protect the latter from the natural dispersion of artillery
The sections of trenches inside a position must have frequent traverses or
angles to reduce the splintering effect (see figure 2). Good camouflage is the best
protection against enemy fire.
In rolling country, vehicles must be completely hidden from the view of the
enemy. In level country, this result is obtained by keeping the vehicles well to
the rear of the combat positions, and by using camouflage with nets. These nets
can be improvised with open mesh wire covered with any sort of brush or camel
* * *
Comment: Figure 1 indicates in diagramatic form the lay-out for a battalion
defense area on more or less level ground. In actual practice, of course, natural
defense positions would be entrenched. The front-line wire, naturally, would
scarcely be laid out in a straight line. Both diagrams are based on German
sketches, and are notable for their simplicity.
The three forward company defense areas are composed of several platoon
strong-points subdivided into squad positions like the ones illustrated in figure 2. The
large number of heavy and automatic weapons is worth noting. A squad area
provided with an AA/AT gun, a mortar, a Hv MG, a LMG all well dug in and
mutually supporting, flanked by similar squad areas and reinforced with the fire
of infantry cannon from the support position, make a defensive position of great
power, entirely aside from the garrison's rifle and grenade fire. Such a defense
area could, if necessary, be supplied from the air if ground communications were
By necessity, the plan here outlined bears a superficial similarity to
defensive layouts found in our own field manuals, but it should be noted that the
method prescribed in the above document is based on the German theory of
defense against the principal effort in a German armored attack. Such an attack
combines overwhelming local superiority in men and equipment, the onset of tanks
with motorized infantry and artillery following, combined with a fire from massed
artillery, mortar and heavy weapons of the utmost possible violence, supported by
dive-bombing. All is concentrated on a narrow front of perhaps 1,500 yards. The
theory of defense assumes that the islands of resistance must allow the tanks to
pass through since they can not prevent it, but do endeavor to stop by fire especially
from the flank, the motorized infantry and artillery which follow behind. Cut off
from their supporting infantry, the tanks are expected to be stopped by the rear
elements of the defense and destroyed. A counterattack launched by the rear elements
follows to eject any remaining enemy forces that retain a foothold in the
The extraordinarily wide frontage, 3,500 yards, is remarkable, as well
as the wide spaces between the company defense areas - 500 yards. One
commentator suggested that this defense would be far easier to pierce than our own
more closely-knit system, but it must be remembered that the German plan here
outlined is based on no theoretical study but upon the hardest possible school of
Another interesting feature is the concentration of heavy weapons entirely
within the company defense areas.
A third feature is in the extensive use of minefields. Whether these minefields
are laid by the garrison or by engineers is not made clear in the instructions,
but as each German infantry company contains a group of men trained to lay and
lift mines, it seems reasonable to suppose that the minefield in front of the battalion
area was to be laid by the garrison. The absence of any indication of mines between
the company defense areas is rather odd. It would seem logical to mine
these avenues rather heavily. The failure to indicate such mining should, however,
not necessarily preclude the possibility that mines might be found there. The
system here illustrated would appear vulnerable to infantry attack. This, in fact,
was the method used by Montgomery at Alamein, where, reversing the German
practice, infantry and engineers equipped with mine detectors led the assault, behind
a devastating artillery barrage. It is understood, however, that the British
had a substantial superiority in both guns and tanks.
In southern Tunisia was found a rather unusual lay-out for a German platoon
on the defensive. American officers report that inside the wired-in company
defense areas, were wired-in platoon defense areas, laid out in a more or
less Y shape. The accompanying sketch is schematic, and not to any scale, but
illustrates the plan of such a position.
One branch of the Y, or the broad angle might be pointed forward, or
occasionally, one branch ran over a crest with the other two limbs on the reverse
slope. Automatic weapons were placed at the ends of the trenches; the trenches
themselves were sometimes blasted out of the rock. Mutually supporting
crossfire, of course, was provided throughout the company area.