As in the case of attack, the final goal of defense is victory -- the
destruction of the enemy. One of Germany's great military writers states the following:
"A fundamental principle is never to remain completely passive . . . the act of
entrenchment shall serve the defender not to defend himself more securely but
to attack the enemy more successfully."
Tactical and Technical Trends has already included previous references
to German defensive methods in various theaters of war. However, it is thought
that the following summary of Russian experience, particularly concerning enemy
troop dispositions and the use of appropriate fire power, which appeared in an
allied publication, may provide interesting material at this time.
* * *
The Germans base their defensive systems on inhabited localities, on
commanding heights and on the exploitation to the uttermost of tactically advantageous
types of terrain. The German principle of basing defenses on inhabited localities
is particularly strongly marked during the winter.
The Germans' defensive system is principally formed of separate zones
of resistance laid out for all-around defense with mutually supporting fire. The
ground between the defense areas is covered by fire, often protected by obstacles
and invariably patrolled.
However, it has been noted recently that at some points on the Eastern front
the Germans are endeavoring to create a continuous defensive belt by filling in the
gaps between defense areas with several lines of communication trenches, extended
along the whole length of the front.
When organizing a defensive system the Germans attach great importance
to the nature of the ground. Weapons are located after consideration of the
possibilities of camouflage and enfilading fire.
Tactically speaking, the German defense zone generally consists of two
defensive areas with a total depth of from 5 to 10 miles. The main elements of the
defense are concentrated in the first defense zone, which the Germans term the
"main defensive belt". On an average this zone is from 4,000 to 6,000 yards deep,
and includes the artillery positions. The second defense zone gives added depth
but, as a rule, is thinly held. Under certain conditions it is occupied by reserves
who prepare it in advance should it seem that the defense will be forced to withdraw.
According to the Germans, the defense will be withdrawn from the first to
the second zone when the resistance of the troops in the "main defensive belt" is
broken and when the bringing up of reserves to the "main defensive belt" is likely
to lead to disproportionately heavy losses.
Individual defense areas and fortified positions are set up in the area between
the two defense zones; their purpose is to safeguard the rear of divisions and
headquarters against the attacks of Russian guerillas and of the Red Army units which
have penetrated to the rear. In addition, the two defense zones are connected by
Experience has shown that whenever the Germans decide to put up a stiff
resistance on a given sector, they put all their forces, including army reserves,
in the "main defensive belt" and that they even transfer units from other sectors
for the purpose.
German strategic defense includes defensive areas in depth; these are
generally prepared in advance by forced labor. The defenses are finally completed
by the troops themselves, as soon as it seems imperative to withdraw to the new
In addition antiaircraft artillery in separate zones of resistance for the
protection of important military objectives - bridges, railway junctions,
communication zones - is situated within the depth of the German strategic defense. The
frequent attacks by Russian guerillas on important military objectives in the rear
of the enemy have forced the Germans to provide strong protective forces and
often to put up special field fortifications for the protection of these objectives.
b. "Main Defensive Belt"
The German main zone of defense is generally selected on the basis of
the terrain advantages and invariably includes inhabited localities. The immediate
front of the main zone of defense must be easy to cover by observation and
The main zone of defense consists of the company defense areas incorporated
into the battalion defense areas. The ground between these defense areas is
covered by a system of enfilading cross-fire from automatic weapons and, if time
permits, by artificial obstacles. In addition, this ground is kept under the fire
of artillery and mortars, located in the defense zone.
The foundation of the "main defensive belt" is the battalion defense area.
The battalion defense area can fight independently and is prepared for prolonged,
A company defense area includes two or three platoon defense areas, and
in addition to automatic infantry weapons, antitank guns and mortars.
The German army considers the principal weapons of the defense to be
LMGs, HMGs, mortars and antitank guns. Artillery fire is also used extensively. The
Germans prefer the following ranges in defense:
Rifles and LMGs 400 yds or under;
HMGs 1,000 yds or under;
Mortars 1,000 to 3,000 yds.
As a general rule, firing points are located in buildings adapted for defense;
sometimes timber and earth firing points are built. Machine guns are frequently
found in trenches, covered over with camouflage. Obstacles, and mines if
available, are located in accordance with the fire-plans of adjacent defense areas, and
are invariably kept covered by fire from the defense areas.
Roads and approaches to defense areas are carefully mined. A system of
barbed wire entanglements, up to four poles wide, [probably 30 to 40 feet] concertina
wire, etc., is put up forward of the front line. A less developed system
of wire entanglements (up to 20 feet) is put between defense areas. Within the
system of defense areas, besides the antitank weapons, antitank minefields are
laid on corridors of approach which tanks are likely to use; antitank ditches and
other static antitank obstacles are less frequently employed.
It should be noted, however, that the German command realizes the value
of antitank ditches. Referring to the instructions of the Führer, an order dated
8 Sept. 1942 from the Inspector General of Engineers, points nut the necessity of
digging ditches one behind the other. It is indicated that these ditches should be
dug sufficiently deep to make them effective in winter also.
The antitank defense of the German "main defensive belt" is based on the
(1) supporting artillery, intended to block the approach of attacking
tanks, opening at from 3,000 to 4,000 yards (this is principally
(2) antitank guns in the defense areas, and brought forward to
form "antitank islands";
(3) antitank rifles, large caliber machine guns and also machine
guns and rifles using armor-piercing ammunition against vision slits.
Attacking tanks, which have penetrated deep into the defenses (according
to German instructions, those which have penetrated the "main defensive belt")
are counterattacked from ambushes by tank destroyer detachments.
The Germans believe every infantry company should include one tank
destroyer detachment, consisting of a sergeant, 4 privates and 2 snipers. This
detachment is equipped with five 3-kg explosive charges, 4 antitank mines, 6
smoke and incendiary grenades. The detachments operate in the company sectors,
co-operate with the antitank guns and generally take up their positions forward
of the latter.
The defenders try to prevent penetration of their front line by concentra-
ted fire and counterattacks.
When laying out the defense, the Germans generally create "fire-pockets",
the purpose of which is to give the impression of a weak defense in a certain
sector, encourage the attacking units to penetrate into that sector and then, having
cut off their lines of withdrawal to destroy them.
"Fire-pockets" are generally located between defense areas, in flat open
country bordered by woods, heights or buildings.
German fire-plans are normally based on the principle of concentration
of fire; cross-fire in enfilade from automatic weapons; concentrated fire of
mortars (see Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 38, p. 47); fire of antitank
weapons; artillery fire from deep within the position. The average weight of
fire-power per thousand yards of front is up to 5 infantry and antitank guns and
1 to 2 divisional artillery pieces.
It may be concluded from an evaluation of a number of translated German
documents that German defensive positions are laid out on the following
(1) The object of the position is to attain maximum results with minimum
expenditure of manpower and weapons;
(2) Each defense area and each position should have all-around defense. No
standard model of layout should be followed; close attention should be given
to choice of ground for location of defensive positions;
(3) The guiding principle in the location of defense areas should be mutual
support by infantry support weapons;
(4) The fire-power of defense areas should be reinforced by the laying of
antipersonnel and antitank mines;
(5) All positions built should at least protect those inside against shell
and mine splinters; whenever possible they should be capable of supporting the
weight of tanks; shelters and command posts should be laid out for all-around
defense; observation posts should be set up on ground covered by fire from the
various positions; the separate positions should be welded into fire-units of at
least a reinforced battalion in strength;
(6) Company defense areas should be combined into battalion defense
areas. The distance between company defense areas depends on the ground and
(7) In the initial stages simplified constructions should be built; these
can be strengthened later as time and resources permit;
(8) Existing buildings and local materials should be used as much as
possible in setting up defensive positions; special consideration should be given
to the use of cellars in houses and barns as shelters;
(9) Concealed positions (on reverse slopes behind buildings) should be
selected for mortars which should be dug in; the positions should be changed
frequently; roving guns and mortars should be employed;
(10) Special attention should be given to the selection of artillery positions,
and to the protection of gun detachments and ammunition;
(11) Camouflage screens should be provided to enable the troops to occupy
their positions quickly when alerted.
c. Field Engineering
The German engineers make extensive use of existing houses and industrial
buildings, road embankments and fences. For heavy and light machine guns,
automatic weapons, and artillery, special positions are built or existing ones adapted,
where available. The Germans build dugouts for sections (seldom for platoons)
on reverse slopes; some of the dugouts are given a field of fire; entrances are
constructed on the side facing the enemy so as to get the infantry into action
quickly. The Germans favor the construction of a very dense network of
communication trenches, if time is available and ground suitable. A frequent German
device to reinforce the defense is to dig in tanks, thus turning them into virtual
Many German field fortifications are built of timber and earth and in the
majority of cases, are of a light type. Heavy works are very seldom encountered.
They use such types of obstacles as wire barricades, wire entanglements stretched
between trees, houses and fences, knife-rests, concertina wire, trip-wires.
They also use barricades in woods and on roads. In the winter they may
resort to icing slopes. As a rule they mine their wire entanglements and
barricades with trip-mines, booby traps, antipersonnel mines, and less frequently
with antitank mines. In addition the Germans lay antipersonnel mines to protect
their antitank minefields; minefields containing only antipersonnel mines have
also been noted.
As antitank obstacles the Germans make wide use of various odd antitank
mines and explosive devices, locating minefields at points threatened by tank
attack. It should be noted that the Germans lay minefields not only in defense but
also in attack for the rapid consolidation of an occupied area.
The scale of German mining operations may be judged from the fact that
on the front of one army up to 15,000 mines and explosive devices were cleared
in the course of three months.
An order issued to one German infantry division defense sector, stated
that not less than three mines should be laid per yard of front.
All obstacles both infantry and antitank are covered by fire. Minefields
are generally laid 200 to 500 yards from the forward edge of the forward
defense line. There seems to be no systematic method of laying mines within the
The Germans, as is well-known, make extensive use of booby traps, setting
them up in dugouts, houses, abandoned equipment of all kinds and even mine the
corpses of their own men.
As has been pointed out above, the local population is pressed into service
in the construction of their [German] defenses; their engineers are employed as
fighting soldiers in cooperation with infantry and at critical moments even instead
Special attention should be paid to the way in which the Germans adapt
inhabited localities for defense (see Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 37,
p. 36). As a rule the forward edge of the defenses does not run along the outskirts
of the inhabited locality but is pushed forward about 150 to 200 yards. Projecting
salients in inhabited localities are used for enfilading fire.
In addition to putting up the usual field works the enemy turns all the
houses, barns and other buildings he needs into firing-points; all remaining
buildings blocking the field of fire are burnt down.
The most common method of adapting houses for defense is to deepen the
basement for use as a dugout, cut embrasures in the basement and reinforce the
roof by means of logs and earth. In houses, especially of stone, the embrasures
are generally cut in the walls; windows and doors are also made into embrasures.
Barns and dwelling houses are likewise adapted for gun positions. For this the
Germans generally pull down one wall and then place the gun inside. Attics are
frequently used for machine guns and automatic weapons. Wire entanglements
(knife-rests) are put up in the streets; sometimes these entanglements are
intersected by deep ditches. Mortars are generally put up in open positions behind
buildings in the outskirts in the rear of inhabited localities.