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"Defense of Populated Places" from Tactical and Technical Trends

A translation of a WWII German document on the defense of towns and villages, from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 37, November 4, 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.]


Emphasis on the vital importance of inspiring efficient leadership, and understanding of troop psychology, and a discussion of tactical principles, feature in a recent German document concerning the defense of populated places. The following article is a translation of the document, which was written by an officer serving on the eastern front.

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a. The Leader

The leader is the soul of the defense. The fighting power, strength of the defense, and the spirit of the unit depend entirely on the leader. The leader, in turn, depends entirely on his men.

The defense of a town can only be directed from the town itself. It is nonsensical to attempt to direct the defense of a town from the rear. The leader must breathe the same air, take part in the same combat phases, as the common soldier. The leader must possess energy and must perform his mission with undaunted fanaticism. He must be able to act on the spur of the moment. Better to do the wrong thing once in a while than to act too late. He must be filled with optimism. He must be young and alert -- there are young leaders who are 50 years old. Ruthlessness and hardness are always necessary. Yet the leader must feel for his men. Cold, rational beings will never be able to inspire enthusiasm, among the men. The leader must be able to give orders and state his intentions clearly and concisely.

Overcoming fear is the greatest victory man can gain. Some fear is inherent in every human being; the leader, too, cannot free himself from it. Even in desperate situations, the leader must be able to force weak men to stick it out. He who runs away will be shot. He who weakens must roughly be barked at. Better to beat up a weakling and thus save the situation than to lose the fight.

b. The Men

As troops engaged in the defense of a town are usually a mixture of several units, they do not possess the combat efficiency of a closely knit group. Leading such troops is a most difficult task. It is therefore necessary to form small groups and appoint sub-leaders. Sectors and boundaries must be clearly defined. An all-round defense must be planned. The leader in each sector must be thoroughly aware of the great responsibility resting on him. Every opportunity must be seized to instruct the men, to question them about their mission, to strengthen their self-confidence and to inform the sub-leaders about the situation. Every man must know the intentions of the leader. The men must believe in their invincibility and every one feel that he is stronger than 100 attacking Russians.

Men must be freed from the tank phobia. The men inside the tank are only human beings, who are just as frightened as the defenders, if not more so. The soldier must know that individual tanks are helpless in a town. Don't hesitate, therefore, to let such tanks pass through the lines. Tanks in motion don't hurt anything.

The soldier should be familiar with every possible situation and with the methods for defense in each case. His optimism must be refreshed time and again. Occasionally the leader might even start a good latrine rumor. The efficient functioning of the guard reliefs and provision for rest, warmth and food is vital.

c. The Position

Wherever possible, reverse slope positions which cannot come under enemy observation should be selected and scouting patrols for combat reconnaissance continuously sent out. During the frost, snow forts can be built. (See Tactical and Technical Trends No. 22 p. 20) Defenders should remain close to warm places; and should not hesitate to leave unoccupied a seemingly important hill if it is fairly distant. Small, narrow antitank foxholes should be dug on the outskirts of the town, as in cases of artillery fire, buildings are mantraps. The heavy weapons should be ready for action. Areas not covered by antitank guns must be closed by minefields and covered by fire. Reserves of ammunition and food must be accumulated, cattle and food-stuffs protected, and dogs shot. Attached artillery will usually have to learn how to fight in far advanced positions. Provision for early evacuation of wounded is necessary.

d. Antiaircraft

Russian low-flying attacks are usually ineffective. This is true also of their bombing attacks. Thus, everybody is to go under cover and only one light machine gun and one squad will remain to fire on planes.

e. Antitank Combat

Tanks usually move slowly through towns, fearing minefields and unexpected obstacles. Tanks are fought with AT and incendiary charges, with mud thrown against the slit, and by using every other means. At night, the field of fire may be lighted with flames and concentrated fire directed on the tanks. Each soldier must know the tank's weak points, what weapons it carries, where it cannot fire. Tanks that have lost their mobility are still in fighting trim. It is necessary, therefore, to blow them up or to fight them until they burn. Experience teaches that the Russians use "destroyed" tanks for artillery observation posts or as machine-gun emplacements; therefore from time to time such tanks in front of our own position should be fired on.

f. Use of Assault Guns

The self-propelled assault gun is an outstanding and much-feared weapon. It is especially well suited for house-to-house fighting against an enemy who has broken through. Do not let assault guns fight against heavy Russian tanks since the assault gun's armor is too weak.

g. Signal Connections

At least one wire connection must be functioning at all times. Therefore, several must be laid and checked constantly. Radio equipment and batteries must be ready for immediate use. Whenever conditions permit, transmission may be in the clear.

h. Lighting

Lighting facilities are needed to enable the men to find their weapons and equipment without delay at night.

i. Water

Drinking water must be boiled, and tea prepared for the guards whenever it is possible to do so.

j. Barrage Fire

Exact barrage areas for mortars and infantry guns must be established and heavy machine guns sited to give flank protection to reverse slope positions. Hills can be combed with heavy machine guns and 20-mm AA. An advance observer, with a radio connection, should be constantly in the front line.

k. Care of Weapons

Weapons are inspected constantly to see that all are ready for action. Weapons "sweat" when taken into warm rooms; they should be dried at once. Oil or grease can not be used during freezing weather as such lubricants freeze and cause jams; petroleum or a gasoline-petroleum mixture is preferable. Machine-gun ammunition belts must be kept filled and in good order.

l. Conduct of Fighting

If the enemy penetrates a town at night, he must be cut off at daybreak and driven out with bunches of grenades and single hand grenades. Dominating hills are to be held by the smallest possible number of men, and in reverse slope position, in order to avoid unnecessary large losses. Massed Russian infantry attacks will be affected by organized hurrah-shouting by our own troops. This strengthens our own morale and confuses the enemy.

m. Conclusion

The focal point in winter fighting for a town is the town itself, since it is the center of warmth. It is much more effective to concentrate on the defense of the town and a few hills nearby, or on the defense of the town only, than to scatter one's forces by occupying hills far off. In the event of a strong attack it will not be possible to send prompt support to these hills.

If the town should be entirely surrounded it will be the duty of the leader to continue the defense as before. The enemy will have to depart sometime. Since he will freeze to death, he cannot camp in the open for an indefinite period in order to keep the town cut off. An enemy who has been beaten off repeatedly will become cautious and hesitating. Relief will arrive eventually. Only mind and will power will triumph over any weapon.


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