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"Notes on Some German Tactics Used in Russia" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. report on German tactics in Russia during WWII originally appeared in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 20, March 11, 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.]


Reports from an Allied Mission attached to the Russian Army highlights some tactical maneuvers used by the Germans in the Russian operations. Some of these tactics are mentioned under the following headings:

a. General Characteristics

The close cooperation of all arms was brought into play--all arms being subordinated to the success of mass tank formations. Great stress was laid on speed and surprise. Though detailed orders were issued, full scope was allowed to local commanders for their execution.

b. Surprise

Surprise was achieved by secrecy, rumors, and false orders. Tanks were moved about (especially by rail) in an area where the main blow was not to take place, and at the same time, the main striking force was kept concealed elsewhere. Immobile dummy tanks were also used.

c. Psychological Methods

At the moment of a tank attack, paratroops armed with automatic weapons were dropped. Troops which had gotten to the rear of the Russian defenses fired indiscriminately in an attempt to break the defenders' morale. Parachutists or motorcyclists were used for the seizure of nerve centers.

d. Frontal Attacks

Frontal attacks were always avoided by the Germans. German tanks reacted quickly to antitank fire; where a strong antitank defense was met the attack at that point would be called off. The Germans then would appear to be getting ready for a second attack in the same place, but would in fact be searching the front for spots that were weak in antitank defense.

e. Advance

While the leading detachments proceeded forward, the German main body would follow in march column. When resistance is encountered, the leading detachments deploy on a wide front, and strong reconnaissance detachments are sent out to the flanks; the main body remains in march column.

f. Attack

The arrowhead formation was the normal form of attack used. The order of march was as follows:

(1) Motorcyclists, with assault weapons in the lead;

(2) Tank regiment, with two battalions forward if frontage is 1 to 2 miles;

(3) Armored infantry, deeply echeloned.

The remaining infantry either advanced far to one flank or remained concentrated in the center ready to widen any gap that presented itself.

g. Defense

The defense was very elastic. Towards dusk, detachments of armored infantry would move forward in front of the main line of resistance to give the impression that the edge of the defensive zone was further forward than it actually was. The remainder prepared the main battle position. Some tanks were dug in on the defensive position. When the defensive preparations were completed, a majority of the tanks withdrew to assembly points in the rear. A few single Pz.Kw. 3's and 4's remained dug in on the position as pivots of fire.

There follow Russian answers to questions concerning the tactics and operation of German armor in the Russian campaign.

(1) Where do the various German Headquarters march in a full-scale tank attack?

During battle, the Headquarters of a tank force is placed as near as possible to the forward units, in order to obtain observation over the field of battle. Protection of communications with flank and rear units from fire is one of the considerations affecting the location of the command post.

(2) What is known about protection of tanks on the march and in final assembly positions?

Assembly positions and routes of advance are usually protected by three tiers of fighter planes flying at heights of from 18,000 to 20,000 feet, the most intensive patrolling being at 6,000 to 7,500 feet.

(3) Describe aircraft support during a tank breakthrough.

The tank attack is preceded by attacks by bomber aircraft (Ju-87, Ju-88, less frequently He-111) and by fighters (Me-110), in groups of from 20 to 30 planes endeavoring to pave the way for the tanks. The Me-110's operate in front of the bombers, attacking enemy troops with their cannon and machine guns.

When organizing cooperation between aircraft and tanks, the German command pays a great deal of attention to communications and control. Therefore, an air force control post is established with each Armored Division. These posts are commanded by experienced air force officers, who ride in the tank unit commander's tank at the head of the column. In contact by radio with the air force control post, he directs the aircraft to the targets as required.

(4) How are fuel and ammunition supplied to tank units which have broken through to the rear of the enemy?

The German command employs transport aircraft (preferably Ju-52) to supply such tank units as have broken through into the rear of the enemy defenses with ammunition and fuel. The Germans have a considerable number of transport aircraft and provide substantial help to small groups of tanks. But the basic problem of supplying tank units with fuel and ammunition devolves upon line-of-communications organizations.

In so far as the cooperation of the German air force with tanks is concerned, there is a marked tendency on the part of the German command to employ their air force with great mobility. In the course of operations in the south of Russia, it was noticed that the German air force units were rapidly moved from one sector of the front to another, as operations required.


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