The following translation from a German military review gives an account
of the German crossing of the Narew River at a point about 100 miles northeast
of Warsaw on June 25, 1941. The account illustrates very concretely the German
methods employed in a small tactical operation. Of special importance in the
success of this action were: The effective combined use of the various
arms (particularly supporting artillery); the flexibility of control, which permitted
rapid adjustment of tactical plans to meet a changing situation; and, finally, the
offensive spirit that characterized the whole operation.
The Vorausabteilung (advanced detachment) is to be distinguished from
the Vorhut (advance guard) and operates in front of the latter. It is formed to
carry out specific tasks connected, at least partly, with combat reconnaissance.
Its size and composition are flexible. In the action described below, the Vorausabteilung is
converted into an Angriffsgruppe (attack group), prior to the general attack.
A map will be found at page 48. The translation follows.
* * *
THE GERMAN PLAN OF ATTACK FOR JUNE 25
The 499th Infantry Regiment, reinforced, advancing by forced marches,
had supported the advanced detachment (Vorausabteilung) of the division in its
defensive engagement with enemy* tanks attacking west of Rajsk. On the evening
of June 24, the most advanced elements of the regiment had reached the Orlanka
crossing at Chraboly without any important contact with the enemy. Orders were
issued for the regiment to advance the next morning on Ryboly, located north of
the Narew. It was assumed that the enemy would evacuate the Orlanka sector and
withdraw behind the Narew in the direction of Bialystok (about 15 miles north of Ryboly).
An advanced detachment (Vorausabteilung) for the regiment was formed,
consisting principally of the 9th Bicycle Company, a platoon of engineers (Pioniere),
and an assault gun platoon.** This detachment was to assemble at Banki at 0600,
proceed by way of Rajsk and the Orlanka bridge at Chraboly, take possession of
the Narew crossing 3 kilometers southwest of Ryboly, and keep this crossing open
for the regiment coming up from the rear. The regiment was to follow the advanced
detachment in such a way that the advance guard consisting of the 3d Battalion
(less the 9th Bicycle Company), one platoon of light infantry howitzers, one anti-
tank platoon and one cavalry squad,† was to reach the hill 1 kilometer northeast
of the Narew bridge as its first objective, while the main body was following at a
distance of 2 kilometers.
Plans for the support of the advance across the Orlanka River were as
follows: strong artillery, emplaced at Rajsk, was to be put into readiness for
action; from its bridgehead positions at Chraboly, the 2d Battalion (reinforced)
was to cover the crossing of the advanced detachment; a battery of assault guns
was to be attached to the advanced detachment to cover the advance beyond the
THE ADVANCED DETACHMENT REACHES THE NAREW
The reinforced 9th Bicycle Company (the advanced detachment) arrived
at the Chraboly bridgehead at 0730. Inasmuch as the battery of assault guns which
had been ordered to the Chraboly bridge had not yet arrived, the company waited.
Not until 0815, upon arrival of the assault-gun battery, did the advance detachment
start on its march, assault guns ahead.
The forward reconnaissance elements very soon reported that a weak
enemy force with machine guns was holding the southern edge of the woods south of
the Narew crossing. At 0830, the assault guns, with the most advanced elements
of the 9th Company, reached the enemy-occupied edge of the woods and attacked
with the object of throwing the enemy across the Narew and seizing the hill north
of the crossing.
Effectively supported by the assault guns and the antitank platoon, the
company succeeded in throwing the enemy back; a few isolated individual Russian
soldiers continued to fight stubbornly in the woods. The main enemy force
withdrew to the east and harassed the 9th Company from that direction by means of
rifle and machine-gun fire. The company reached the north edge of the woods
and found itself before the bridge and the hill to the north, both occupied by the enemy.
Meantime, the advance guard (reinforced 3d Battalion), having been some-
what delayed by skirmishes with enemy snipers, had been late in arriving at Rajsk.
In order that the march of the main body should not be held up because of this
delay, the regimental commander ordered the main body to close up on the advance
guard without regard to the prescribed distance of 2 kilometers. The regimental
commander went to the northern bank of the Orlanka, where the reinforced 2d
Battalion was assembling most of its elements, the remainder continuing to cover
the Orlanka crossing. There, the message from the 9th Bicycle Company reached
him saying that it was attacking weak enemy forces at the edge of the woods south
of the Narew bridge and that the Narew bridge was occupied by stronger enemy
Thereupon, all available mobile forces, namely, one engineer company and
one antitank company, were rushed ahead in order to reinforce the 9th Company,
and were placed under command of the advanced detachment commander. By
relentless attack, they were to force the crossing of the Narew and hold the hills
beyond as a bridgehead until the arrival of the regiment. .This movement of these
reinforcements proceeded with dispatch, and the regimental command post was
moved forward to the hill 2.5 kilometers southwest of the Narew bridge.
ESTIMATE OF THE SITUATION (ABOUT 0900)
Here, two reports arrived. First, prisoners stated that the enemy was
intending to defend the Narew. Their statements were at first regarded as
incorrect, in view of the general estimate of the situation. However, a short time
later an air observation report came in that enemy motorized forces were
advancing on Zabludow from the northeast; this appeared to confirm the prisoners'
The regimental commander now estimated the situation to be that the
enemy was bringing up forces to defend the Narew southwest of Ryboly. He stuck
to his plans of seizing the crossing from the enemy by means of a quick grab and
decisive attack before the latter could bring up any stronger forces. To effect
this plan, the approaching advance guard (3d Battalion) was ordered to attack
immediately, from march formation, to the right of the road and to seize the hills
and the Narew bridge. The 1st Battalion, which was closely following the 3rd,
was to move forward rapidly and get into attacking position on the left flank of the
3d Battalion, with the same missions namely, to seize the hill beyond the river
as quickly as possible and hold it.
As for the artillery, one battery was moving to a position east of the new
regimental command post; two batteries still were concentrated to the east of
Rajsk, ready to open fire. They were to hinder the approach of the enemy
motorized forces by means of interdiction fire on Ryboly. A battalion of medium
artillery, a liaison officer of which reported to the regimental staff, was to fire on the
road south of Ryboly so as to block the enemy's path to the Narew bridge.
THE ENEMY RESISTANCE IS STRONG (0930)
At 0930, the 3d Battalion reached the hilltop at the command post. According
to messages reaching the regiment at that time, the situation in front was bad:
the enemy had heavily occupied the hills beyond the river and was inflicting severe
casualties, by means of rifle, machine-gun, mortar, and artillery fire, on the
troops of the advanced detachment.
Thereupon, the regimental commander went forward himself and ascertained
that enemy artillery, reckoned at one medium battery, was shelling the road south
of the bridge as far as the regimental command post; some rounds even fell into
the positions at Chraboly. The sound of battle indicated that the enemy was
In order to force the attack forward, the regimental commander ordered
one of the assault gun platoons to push at once to the far bank of the Narew and
engage the enemy. Since signal flares, indicating enemy tanks, were now going
up from the wooded area south of the bridge, this order was supplemented by
special directions to destroy enemy tanks on the far river bank. An additional
assault gun platoon received the same orders. The 3d and 1st Battalions were
impressed, once more, with the urgent need for a quick advance. Meanwhile,
enemy tank concentrations had been reported at Woiszki and in the woods to the
south, and were being engaged by the artillery.
At this time, messages were arriving from the advanced detachment saying
that fire from enemy artillery, tank guns, heavy mortars, and infantry howitzers
in addition to well-aimed rifle fire, was preventing any forward movement. Some
elements had got as far as the river; there, however, they had been stopped by
enemy machine-gun fire. Consequently, though the assault guns were on the far
bank, no infantry or engineers had reached it as yet. Artillery was therefore
ordered to engage the enemy on the north bank.
The enemy artillery fire increased; it was estimated at 4 medium and 4
light pieces. Furthermore, it was reported that the enemy was installed in field
fortifications on the far bank of the Narew, and that numerous tanks were engaging
the attacking force. No report that the 3d Battalion had succeeded in moving
forward was forthcoming. Likewise, the report that the assault guns had got across
the river, expended their ammunition, and recrossed with more ammunition, could
not change the general picture--that a continuation of the attack did not appear to
promise success under the methods employed so far. On the contrary, it seemed
possible that casualties would be augmented without the objective being reached.
Moreover, it was ascertained that the 1st Battalion had lost much time in
its advance by deploying across open terrain arid that it was still lagging behind;
early assistance from this battalion was not to be expected. From the commanding
hills, the enemy completely enfiladed the river--600 to 1,000 meters wide,
level, and devoid of cover. Finally, the avenue of approach (particularly east of
the road) was made difficult by extensive pools and stagnant channels, and the
attacking force was not familiar with the crossing conditions on the Narew.
PLAN FOR A COORDINATED ATTACK TO FORCE THE NAREW
The plan of attack was based on the only existing possibility, namely, to
seize the crossing by surprise, on, under, and beside the bridge. This naturally
required some time, as this area in particular was under heavily concentrated fire
from rifles, machine guns, rifle grenades, and tanks.
A coordinated attack had to be planned: the 1st Battalion had to come up,
deployment of all elements be completed, and preparatory fires by artillery and
heavy weapons laid down.
Therefore, oral fragmentary orders were issued to continue the attack only
after systematic preparation and after guarantee of the strongest possible artillery
support, as well as support by one antitank battalion. The following forces were
to prepare for the assault, south of the Narew:
Right Front: 3d Battalion with one L Inf How Plat, one AT Plat, and the
1st AT Co, all attached.
Left Front: 1st Bn with one L Inf How Plat, one Hv Inf How Plat, and the
2d AT Co, all attached.
Angriffsgruppe:†† The former advanced detachment (Vorausabteilung),
with its attached units, in its present position.
Regtl Reserve: 2d Bn with one L Inf How Plat attached. This force was
to reconnoiter possibilities for attacking from a
position in the western section of the woods northeast of
The commanding hills north of the Narew bridge were designated as the
next objective of the regiment.
The main mission of the artillery was to support the 3d Battalion and to
prepare the attack by smashing the enemy in the fortified positions north of the
bridge; furthermore, to smash enemy tank concentrations south of Ryboly, in the
woods southeast of Wojszki, and at Wojszki.
A CHANGE OF PLAN TO MEET A CHANGE IN THE SITUATION (1130)
Toward 1130 the situation took a new turn. The aggressive power of the
attacking elements was able to accomplish what had not been considered possible
in view of the estimated enemy situation, defending as he was a fortified position,
with increasing artillery support and strong tank forces held in readiness.
By exploiting the bold forward thrust of the assault guns, elements of the
infantry--about 20 men of the 10th Company--and parts of the engineers had
succeeded in pushing to the far bank on and under the bridge, forming a bridgehead
and thereby initiating a sweeping general attack across the Narew by the attack
Toward 1130, the reports from the liaison officers who had been sent to
the units then attacking, (the attack group and the 3d Battalion) revealed the
The liaison officer with the attack group realized, upon his arrival, that
there had been a change in the situation since the issuance of the order for
a coordinated attack. It now appeared possible for the forward movement to gain
sufficient momentum for a successful assault without a coordinated attack. He
hurried to take this important news to the regimental commander.
The liaison officer with the 3d Battalion delivered a message from the 3d
Battalion Commander indicating that his attack was in progress, some units
already had succeeded in pushing across the river, and could not now be stopped.
The most advanced infantry was involved in stubborn close combat with the enemy
in foxholes and small trenches. If reinforcements could come up soon, the attack
was likely to be successful.
It was now imperative to prevent the attack from stalling; this was the
moment to press forward with all available strength.
A considerable element of danger was recognized in the fact that, during
the sweeping continuation of the assault, the attacking force might run into its
own artillery fire. However, efforts to shift the fire to a box barrage succeeded
in time; later it turned out that the artillery fire had been falling directly in front
of the infantry and had greatly facilitated the attack.
The liaison officers with the attacking units were rushed forward with the
new and final order to dispense with any preparation for a coordinated attack and
to press the attack now in progress, with the hill north of Ryboly as the next
objective (3d Battalion to the right of the road, 1st Battalion to the left of the
The regimental command post was moved forward to the hill north of the
Narew bridge. This was done at a moment when the most advanced elements,
generally speaking, had cleared the enemy positions on the hill to the right of the
road. There were one or two dead Russians lying in every foxhole; now and then,
shots were still being fired by some individual Russians who obviously had simulated
death. Parts of the 3d Battalion turned east so as to clear the grain fields
of enemy riflemen; other elements fought their way into the wooded rolling
country 500 meters north of the Narew bridge.
Only a few tanks were still resisting; they were disabled by the assault
guns, and some of them were abandoned by their crews.
The enemy had been forced to give up his intention of defending, both by
the fierce attack and by the effective artillery fire, which had caught the enemy
motorized column at Ryboly and tank concentrations at Wojszki and in the reserve
position in the woods to the southeast, as well as the enemy artillery. While the
most advanced enemy riflemen and heavy weapons, supported by tanks, were
holding out until the last, everything else was in full flight. Enemy riflemen
approximately two companies in strength were observed northwest of Ryboly in scattered
retreat (seemingly, the enemy infantry reserve). The enemy artillery left some
single guns behind, in their emplacements; the rest withdrew from Ryboly to the
northeast and, caught in the pursuit fire of the medium artillery, were abandoned
by the enemy north of Ryboly.
* * *
Comment: As in any contemporary account, based on incomplete records,
one must allow here for the natural tendency to overestimate the achievement of
friendly troops. The Russian strength is nowhere clearly indicated, and it would
appear from the account that the German superiority in artillery was decisive,
even against Russian tanks. Whatever the final judgement on this small
engagement, it remains well worth study as an example of bold and rewarding offensive
tactics in a difficult type of operation.
* "Enemy," of course from the German viewpoint. Throughout the translation "enemy" has reference to the Russians.
** Probably two 75-mm self-propelled guns.
† The infantry regiment includes a mounted infantry or a cavalry platoon, consisting of a headquarters and 3 squads.
†† Attack group.