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"Some Basic German Tactics" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. military report on German tactics in WWII was published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 15, Dec. 31, 1942.

[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 are summaries of certain phases of basic German tactics.

a. The Meeting Engagement

(1) A meeting engagement means that a commander dispenses with preliminary preparations, and deploys straight into battle. Careful coordination and a determination to succeed on the part of all concerned will compensate for the absence of preliminary preparations.

(2) A commander will not commit himself to a meeting engagement unless either:

(a) he feels that his troops and leadership are superior to that of the enemy (this does not necessarily mean a numerical superiority) or;

(b) he would, by waiting to launch a deliberate attack, sacrifice ground which he cannot afford to lose.

(3) Sound tactical decisions in the initial stages are essential. Mistakes cannot afterwards be rectified. The worst mistake of all is hesitation.

(4) The advance guard will delay the enemy and seize important positions, e.g., for artillery OPs. It may therefore:

(a) attack with a limited objective;

(b) defend its existing positions;

(c) withdraw to more favorable positions. (Withdrawal is likely to hinder the deployment of the main body.)

(5) The main body will deploy immediately. To wait for further information in the hope of clarifying the situation is wrong. Time will be lost and lost time can never be regained. The time available determines whether the commander should concentrate his troops before launching them to the attack, or launch them on their tasks as they become available.

(6) The meeting engagement will normally take the form of a frontal attack by the advance guard, combined with one or more enveloping attacks by the main body.

b. The Deliberate Attack

(1) The object of the attack is to surround and destroy the enemy.

(2) A strong, rapid, enveloping attack can be decisive, provided that it really gets to grips with the enemy, and that the enemy is pinned down by frontal pressure which will be exercised mainly by fire.

(3) Enveloping forces must move in depth if they are not to be themselves outflanked. All enveloping attacks ultimately become frontal.

(4) In all attacks, the commander will select a "Schwerpunkt" or point of main effort, where the bulk of his forces will be employed. ("A commander without a Schwerpunkt is like a man without character.") The considerations when choosing this point are:

(a) Weaknesses in the enemy defense;

(b) Suitability of the ground for cooperation of all arms, but especially for tanks;

(c) Avenues of approach;

(d) Possibilities of supporting fire, especially by artillery.

(5) Boundaries and objectives are allotted to attacking units. This does not mean, however, that a unit must cover the whole ground within its boundaries with troops. It will choose within its boundaries the best line, or lines of advance, and dispose its troops accordingly. A Schwerpunkt battalion can be allotted about 450 yards of front, while a battalion which is attacking in the non-Schwerpunkt area may be given 1,000 yards or more.

(6) An attack on a narrow front must have sufficient forces at its disposal to widen the breach, maintain its impetus, and protect the flanks of the penetration. Once an attack has been launched, it must drive straight on, regardless of opposition, to its objective. It is wrong for the leading attacking troops to turn aside to deal with threats to their flanks. This is the task of the troops which are following them.

(7) A breakthrough must be in sufficient depth to prevent the enemy from establishing new positions in rear. The breakthrough cannot be successful until the enemy artillery positions are captured. This is the special task of the tanks.

(8) As soon as enemy resistance weakens at any point, all available fire and forces must be concentrated to insure the success of the breakthrough.

(9) Continuous artillery support is essential. Therefore artillery must be kept well forward.

c. The Pursuit

(1) If the enemy is able to withdraw under cover of a rearguard, the attack has failed. He must then be pursued.

(2) The object of the pursuing forces will be to encircle and destroy the enemy. Infantry and artillery alone are not sufficient for this.

(3) Aircraft will attack defiles on his line of retreat, and motorized elements will endeavor to pierce his front and envelop his flanks. A Schwerpunkt and clear orders are just as necessary in this operation as in any other.

(4) The task of the pursuing forces is to interfere with, and if possible stop, the enemy's withdrawal, so that he can be dealt with by the slower-moving infantry and artillery which will be following up.

(5) Troops pursuing the enemy may find themselves in great difficulties owing to the speed with which they move and the exposed positions in which they may find themselves. They must be prepared for this, and must rely on aircraft and the slower-moving infantry and artillery to get them out of their difficulties in due course.

d. Defense

(1) A Schwerpunkt is as necessary in the defense as it is in the attack.

(2) A defensive position is only of value if the enemy must attack, or if it is so strong that the enemy is afraid to attack it. If the enemy can avoid a defensive position by passing round its flanks, it has no value.

(3) Defensive positions will be held to the last man.

(4) Essentials of a defensive position are:

(a) A good field of fire for all arms, but especially the artillery;

(b) Good observation;

(c) Concealment;

(d) Natural protection against tanks;

(e) The ability to concentrate the fire of all weapons in front of the main line of resistance.

(5) The defensive position is divided into covering force, outposts, and a main position. The forward edge of the latter is known as the main line of resistance.

(6) The task of the covering force is to deny good observation points to the enemy and to hinder his advance. They will be approximately 6,000 to 8,000 yards in front of the main position. Mines and obstacles will be used to strengthen the position of the covering force. The covering force must not expose themselves to the danger of being overwhelmed. They will be withdrawn at a definite time. They will normally consist of small mobile forces. Their principal task is to force the enemy to deploy.

(7) The outposts are responsible for the immediate protection of the main position. Their tasks are:

(a) To prevent the enemy from surprising the forces holding the main position;

(b) To mislead the enemy as long as possible as to the dispositions and situation of the main position;

(c) To protect advanced OP's.

They will be withdrawn when the situation makes it necessary. They are normally 2,000 to 3,000 yards in front of the main position.

(8) The main position must be defended in depth. This consideration is paramount. Areas and not lines will be defended. If the enemy should succeed in penetrating a position, he must be faced by a series of defended areas, mutually supporting one another by fire, so that in the end he collapses under the concentrated fire directed at him. A battalion will defend from 800 to 2,000 yards.

(9) The withdrawal of both covering forces and outposts must be carefully planned, to avoid masking the fire of the main position.

(10) Penetration must be met by immediate local counterattacks with limited objectives, carried out by small parties of infantry, and if possible against the enemy's flanks. Unless tanks are available, a deliberate counterattack will succeed only if carried out by superior forces and as a surprise against one or both flanks of the enemy penetration. Like any other deliberate attack, it requires preparation.

e. Village Fighting

Troops are too easily attracted to villages. These give some cover from fire, but also draw it, and may become traps.

(1) Attack

(a) In attack, villages should be bypassed if possible. The enemy in the village must, however, be pinned down, chiefly by artillery fire, when this is happening.

(b) If they must be attacked, heavy supporting fire is needed on the nearer edge, especially on isolated buildings and small groups of houses.

(c) Leading troops will avoid the streets, and fight through backyards and gardens to the far end of the village. These troops are difficult to control and support, and must therefore operate in small independent groups. Their tasks must be accurately laid down, and each group must have its own supporting weapons.

(d) Reserves must move close behind these leading groups, as they may easily get into difficulties.

(2) Defense

(a) Well-built villages make good strongpoints.

(b) Their edges are shell traps. The main defended line should therefore be either inside or outside, not on the edges.

(c) If a village is favorably situated, it should be turned into a strongpoint organized in depth. The irregular shape of its approaches should provide ample opportunities for flanking fire.

(d) Villages are especially useful as antitank positions.

(e) Reserves must be held in readiness outside the village to deal with the enemy's probable attempts to bypass it.


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