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"The Forcing of the Narew River Crossing" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following article on the German crossing of the Narew River originally appeared in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 27, June 17, 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.]


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.

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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 Orlanka.


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 units.

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.


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' statements.

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.


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 resisting stubbornly.

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.


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 Deniski.

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.


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 group.

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 following situation:

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 road).

[Narew River Crossing]


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.

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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.


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