The article summarized below comes from a handbook that is used in
the German Army, especially by officer candidates. It is called "Tactical
Handbook for the Troop Commander" and was written by General of
Aviation, von Cochenhausen. (See Tactical and Technical Trends No. 7 for
previous article taken from this handbook).
The German Air Force is a separate command from the ground forces, but the
Germans have worked out a close coordination between the two. The text
indicates in general how this has been done.
a. Organization and Command
Air troops are organized into reconnaissance, pursuit, destroyer, and
There are two types of reconnaissance squadrons, those that
perform distant air reconnaissance and those that perform close or battle
reconnaissance. There are two types of distant reconnaissance squadrons: one
type is commanded by a higher headquarters (an army or a group of armies), while
the other is directly under the command of the air commander and performs
reconnaissance only for the air arm itself. The squadrons for close battle
reconnaissance operate under the orders of one of the divisions in the corps. The
Panzer divisions have their own air-reconnaissance squadrons attached. To
secure cooperation between the ground forces and the air forces, the higher
headquarters have an air commander on their staffs, who advises the commanding
officer and at the same time is chief of the subordinate air units. When air
squadrons are attached to corps or the division, an air liaison detail, commanded
by an air liaison officer, is ordered to report to the headquarters of the
ground force. This officer is the air adviser in the headquarters staff, but he
advises on matters pertaining to the tactical employment of the squadron only as
the representative of the squadron commander.
A pursuit group is composed of three squadrons, and three groups
form a wing. These planes are used for aerial defense.
A destroyer group is composed of three squadrons, and three groups
make a wing. These also are used for aerial defense.
A bombardment group is made up of three squadrons, and three groups
make a wing. Dive-bombers are similarly organized. These planes engage
enemy ground targets. Pursuit, destroyer, bombardment, and dive-bombing
units are under the command of the air headquarters and are not placed under
army ground-force control, but in special situations they are instructed to work
with army ground-force units.
b. What the Air Arm Can and Cannot Do
(1) To employ the air arm successfully, one must know what it can and cannot
do; its actions are determined by the type of plane, the weather, and the
efficiency of the crews.
(2) Knowledge of weather conditions is especially important. The deeper the flight
goes into enemy territory, the more a knowledge of the weather becomes necessary. Modern
planes can fly through bad-weather areas, but they will not be successful if the
weather is bad over the target area. Flying can be hampered by fog, heavy
rain, hail, snow, and thick low-hanging clouds. Sun rays are often blinding. Ground
haze and heavy moisture prevent planes from finding targets or getting good
photographs. Weather conditions are even more important in night flights; a night
haze that permits only perpendicular vision is especially dangerous.
c. Basic Rules
The most important rule in the employment of the air force is the economy of
strength. Missions must be limited. A main effort must be established and
the air force concentrated on it. Extreme care must be taken in
How often the air force is employed depends upon the situation and upon what
the crews have already done. A long flight lasting several hours can usually be
made only once a day. A crew can make several short f lights in a day if it has
already made a survey of the ground.
Pursuit flyers can be employed several times a day. Destroyer or
attack crews are limited to one or two flights daily.
Air strength should be conserved especially during quiet periods in the action.
When a mission is given to the air force, clear language must be used, the situation
must be outlined, and the missions distinctly explained. Because signals are
necessary for success, all the details must be worked out in advance and told
to the crews early enough to permit all the men to learn them.
(2) General Considerations
The principle task of reconnaissance aviation is to get information about the
enemy, both in the air and on the ground, so that the commanders may understand
the situation and make battle decisions.
In addition, reconnaissance aviation explores the terrain. It reports the
nature of the ground and vegetation, and the condition of roads,
railroads, bridges, rivers, and woods. It furnishes information useful in planning an
attack, as well as in checking and correcting maps.
In every flight over friendly terrain, the flyers check on the camouflage of their
own troops. They also study the weather.
Reconnaissance crews should not be employed for combat unless necessary, nor for
bombardment except in the most critical situations. Reconnaissance planes can
carry only limited loads. In small-scale operations they can be used for smoke
screens. They should not generally be used for ground strafing. Reconnaissance
planes should not seek combat with enemy planes.
The advantages of reconnaissance
aviation are its speed and its ability to get beyond the enemy's position; it
secures rapidly an extensive view of the enemy and can report its results
quickly. On the other hand, air reconnaissance gets only a glimpse; it is
almost impossible for planes to make continuous observation of the same area.
Air reconnaissance is done with the eye as well as with the camera. Reconnaissance
with the aviator's eyes is the more natural type, and its results can be reported
to the ground-force commander at once. But it is limited by visibility
conditions, by the height to which enemy guns force the planes, by the
success of the enemy's camouflage, and by the abilities of the
observer. Planes fly so fast that it is difficult at low altitudes
for the observer to recognize certain information or to locate it accurately on the map.
Generally, under average weather conditions, the observer can recognize:
Columns of large units, from a height of 9,000 to 12,000 feet.
Rifle groups, from 3,500 to 4,500 feet.
Individual men, from 2,000 feet.
Firing batteries, from 12,000 feet.
Smoke from railroad trains in open country from 20,000 feet.
Railroad trains without smoke in open country, from 12,000 feet.
Photographs give an accurate representation of the terrain and can be examined in
detail. Photographs must be developed, and this causes delay. In urgent cases, partial
results in rough work can be reported within 30 minutes after the film is landed or
dropped. Otherwise, the time required varies from 2 to 24 hours.
Air reconnaissance by night is limited to what can be seen naturally or with the
help of parachute flares. Such flights are most used to get detailed information
about some one point, such as a railway station, a main traffic artery, or a
crossroads. On the battlefield, night reconnaissance is used to determine the
location of hostile artillery flashes and sometimes to discover the enemy's
positions of readiness. Crews for night reconnaissance must be carefully
selected, and reliable results can be expected only from crews who
have already operated over the area by day.
d. Types of Air Reconnaissance
(1) Distant Reconnaissance
Distant air reconnaissance forms the basis for an estimate of
the strategic situation. It scouts the entire hostile territory and observes: troop
and transport movements behind the enemy's lines, the assembly of large
units or their dispersal, the construction of rear defensive positions, changes in
traffic, and the location of enemy aviation installations.
Distant reconnaissance is done by the squadrons of the army, army
group, or general headquarters. It concentrates on taking pictures at
high altitudes (20,000 to 30,000 feet). If the weather prevents flights at high
altitudes and the enemy is equipped with antiaircraft artillery, then the mission
should be limited to separate but important objectives.
(2) Close Reconnaissance
Close air reconnaissance provides the basic information for accomplishing a
mission within a limited area. The limits are determined by
the situation, and so are likely to change. The approach of the enemy cuts down
the depth of the area, but the nearer the battlefield, the more detailed the
reconnaissance must be. When fixing the limits, the marching abilities of the
enemy, especially of his motorized forces, must be considered. The reconnaissance
should extend far enough ahead to report the approach of motorized forces in good time.
Close reconnaissance observes: assemblies and concentrations of troops, width and
depth of the enemy formations, shelters, airfields, supply station, and defensive
works. Especial attention should be given to enemy reserves, particularly armored
units. If the planes discover armored units approaching the battlefield, they must
remain in close contact with them.
Close reconnaissances are made visually and photographically by the
corps (or division) squadrons. As fast-moving troops approach the
battlefield, visual reconnaissance becomes more important. Altitudes will be
determined often by the enemy antiaircraft defense.
(3) Battle Reconnaissance
Battle reconnaissance provides the basis for carrying on the
fight. Its extent depends on the combat situation. Battle reconnaissance reports
in detail the distribution of the enemy's strength and the progress of the
action. It is important, first of all, to determine the assembly areas and movements of
the enemy reserves, to observe artillery, and to report promptly all hostile
armored units. All action, both friendly and hostile, should be observed.
The results of battle reconnaissance must be reported as soon as
possible. The importance of the message will determine whether it is to be
reported by radio, dropped message, or in person.
Planes engaged in battle reconnaissance must always maintain contact
with their own troops. This will enable them to identify the front line, to
keep contact between the ground troops and their commanders, and to furnish
isolated troops with orders, information, and even supplies.
The planes must be able to recognize the friendly ground troops, ground
troops are identified by panels. The airplanes request a display of
panels by a special light signal, the color of which should be announced
to the troop commanders in time for those in the front lines to be able
to recognize it. In a like manner, the planes can establish contact with
the staffs; staff panels are larger and can also be used to send messages
to the planes.
The amount of battle reconnaissance is determined by the situation, and
more than the usual amount must be used when tanks are engaged. An
enemy tank force must be kept under observation, and the observing planes
relieved from time to time so that the watch will be constant.
(4) The Artillery Aviation Service
On the battlefield, one of the most important duties of the air
reconnaissance is to cooperate with the artillery. The corps commander will
usually assign particular planes to this work. During the battle, the division
artillery commander will give his requests directly to the squadron. However, his
requests and orders will deal only with artillery matters, for the elements
of a reconnaissance squadron must never be subordinated to the next lower
headquarters. As much as possible, the direction of the air force must be
centered in one person, such as the corps commander.
The missions of the artillery aviation service are: (a) reconnaissance of
objectives, and (b) observation of fire. The amount of aviation that
can be assigned to this task is limited, and the planes should be given only such
missions as cannot be accomplished by the other means of artillery observation.
This reconnaissance should be begun before the battle. The task of the crews
is to locate the enemy artillery and to report where and when the enemy's
concentrations can be hindered by fire on certain points. Furthermore, the
air artillery reconnaissance must study every area in which hostile
batteries cannot be definitely located by ground observers, and must help out
when ground observation is interrupted by hostile action or change of position.
This type of reconnaissance is much easier when photographs have been
taken of the area before the battle. Close cooperation between the
squadron and the artillery command is necessary to make good use of the results.
Observation by the air squadron includes observing the effect of single
rounds fired while the artillery is adjusting, as well as the effect of the
battery fire. The planes only make observations; the battery commander
controls the fire.
e. Cooperation with Motorized Forces
Squadrons that work with motorized forces perform both close reconnaissance
and battle reconnaissance.
Close reconnaissance must be made where ground reconnaissance
would be too slow. However, air reconnaissance cannot protect advancing
mobile troops against surprise. Reconnaissance of the terrain is especially
important for armored forces, but reconnaissance from the air can give only a
limited amount of information about the suitability of the ground for
tank combat. The planes can perform a valuable service by checking the
camouflage of friendly troops.
The battle reconnaissance should report, before the tanks begin to attack, whatever
can be discovered about the enemy's antitank defenses, such as
barriers, and about the positions of the enemy's armored forces. Well-camouflaged
antitank defenses are difficult to recognize.
During the tank attack, the battle reconnaissance should watch the
movements of friendly armored forces and promptly determine the hostile
countermeasures, especially on threatened flanks.
Cooperation between the squadron and an armored division requires
close contact between the two commanders. It may even be necessary for the
squadron commander to remain on the ground with the division command. It is
important to have good signal communications between the ground force command
and the squadron's advance landing field. The liaison airplane is most
practical for this purpose. The regulation of signals, including radio and dropped
messages, requires careful attention because of the speed of the motorized
forces. The greatest difficulty comes in getting messages to the assault waves
where it is impossible to drop messages and where radio communication is not
practicable. The reconnaissance planes can draw attention to areas where threats
of danger exist by dropping smoke-signal bombs into those areas.
The next higher command gives the mission to the squadron as a whole, while
missions to individual planes are ordered by the squadron commander. The air
reconnaissance mission should be given in a special paragraph in the operation
order; this gives only instructions for the command as a whole and should be
supplemented by a special order. The special order must be issued early
enough to permit the preparation of the planes and the crews. Hasty
preparations endanger success.
The air reconnaissance order must consider the following points: (a) situation,
(b) conditions determining the allotment of planes, (c) extent of the
area to be reconnoitered, (d) the reconnaissance missions, (e) reporting of
information and signal communications, (f) friendly antiaircraft defense,
(g) ground organization, (h) information about weather conditions.
The order must give the crew a complete picture of the situation. The
extent of the area is determined by the mission, and so must not be
rigidly limited. The main effort of the mission is stated at the place the orders
are issued, and individual missions can be given out as the need arises. Specific
questions assist the crew in understanding and carrying out its mission.
Orders to photographers must tell the subject of the picture and
its purpose, and give instructions about dropping the film and developing the
picture. Such missions must take into account the time required and the possibility
of delay from the enemy and the weather. The obtaining of photographs to be
used by troops cannot be ordered too early. The order should indicate the type
of map on which the information is to be reported; also, target squares should be
prescribed in order to aid the reporting.
The method for dropping messages should be carefully worked out. A station can
be located near certain outstanding landmarks or by means of target designations. The
signal which the aviator will use to request permission to drop a message is given
in the operation orders so that all ground troops will know it. In reporting by
radio, call signals and frequencies are carefully announced, and also the
headquarters for which the message is intended as well as those who are
supposed to listen in. All interested parties are promptly informed of
the recognition signals and code designations.
The allotment of landing fields to the air reconnaissance units
is prescribed in a special order issued by the army. In hostile country the
assignment of air fields is made by agreement between the air arm commander
and the command headquarters.
(2) Operation Orders for the Artillery Aviation Service
These always include: (a) mission, (b) area, (c) objectives (in case a reconnaissance
has already been made, the objectives are indicated by numbers), (d) information
about the firing batteries (number and type of guns; hours they are ready to
fire; situation at the fire position), (e) call signals and frequencies, the
dropped-message position, location of the ground radio station,
and (f) duration-hour the reconnaissance is to begin, hour fire is to
begin, and duration of the fire.
g. Signal Communications and the Reporting of Information
Cooperation between the reconnaissance aviation and the ground-force commander
depends upon signal communications, which consist of telephone, radio, liaison
plane, and motor vehicles.
The squadron requires telephone communication with its command headquarters; direct
telephone connection with next lower headquarters of the ground forces is usually
impossible, and for communication with such units motor vehicles or the liaison
plane must be used.
The army installs radio communication between its headquarters the
distant-reconnaissance squadron airfield. The corps headquarters installs
and operates the ground stations near its headquarters and the stations on the
airfield of the close-reconnaissance squadrons. If there is an advance landing
field, the ground force operates the ground radio traffic between its
headquarters and the landing field, while the squadron operates the remaining
ground radio traffic.
The greatest possible use should be made of the liaison plane, because
it is free to move and permits rapid communication.
Reports can be made by: (a) air personnel, (b) radio, (c) dropped messages,
(d) photographs, and (e) the aviator in person. The type of report to
be used must be based on the rule that to be of any value a report must get to
headquarters promptly. Normally, reports are made by air personnel after
landing, and important reports are transmitted to the ground force headquarters
Reports that would be delayed if they went through headquarters are
made by radio in plane-to-ground traffic. The aviator on distant reconnaissance
calls the airfield ground station, and the army command station listens in. The
aviator on close or battle reconnaissance calls the ground force headquarters
and the airfield ground station listens in.
Dropped messages are difficult for the enemy to intercept. They are
as complete as possible and can be made in several copies at once and dropped
on several positions, even to assaulting troops that have no other direct
communication with the planes. The ground-force commander indicates the
places where dropped messages should fall; whenever possible there should
be no woods or water in the vicinity. These positions must not be near
command posts or troop assembly areas, since such positions are likely
to draw enemy fire. Before dropping a message, the aviators must make
sure that the place is free of the enemy. When the plane asks for it, the
panel signals will be displayed and then withdrawn after the message is dropped.
In many cases, oral reports delivered by the pilot himself can be most
useful to the ground-force commander.
h. Ground Organization
The reconnaissance crews are quartered on field air bases. Upon advancing
into hostile territory, the command promptly prepares new bases, which
are determined by tactical considerations and by natural camouflage. An attempt
is always made to have the air base of the subordinate squadron near the
headquarters of its ground-force command. There should be good approach
roads, buildings for quarters, and storerooms and workshops, as well as
water, light and power facilities, and a railroad connection. Signal
communications between the ground-force command and the squadron should
Advance landing fields serve to improve cooperation and should be
prepared when the home base is so far from the ground-force command that
rapid cooperation is no longer certain.
The change of air bases is determined by the situation. As a rule a
change in the ground-force-command headquarters calls for a change in the air
base. Also, enemy air attacks can cause a change.
-- (end of translation) --
German military successes have been due primarily to a superiority in the air and to
cooperation among the different arms, especially between the air and ground forces. This
text shows that such cooperation is the responsibility of everybody concerned and not
only of the higher command. The various German arms work together not by accident but
because they are all trained in the fundamentals. Jealousies and rivalries between
individuals and units may exist, but these are firmly controlled and not allowed to
hinder the united effort. All units and all men are made to realize the important
part they play in the team. Credit is given individuals or units for outstanding
achievements, but the emphasis is always placed upon what they have contributed to the
common cause. Grandstand plays are not allowed.
It is a matter of pride among German commanders to be informed on the
characteristics, abilities, limitations, and methods of the arms and weapons
with which they cooperate. Every officer must know the basic principles of all
the arms. Many of the statements in this text may at first sight seem so obvious
that they hardly need stating, yet because the fundamentals of any science are
generally simple, the officer acquires from the study of such a text a thorough
grounding in the essentials of the science of war. He is then equipped to
understand the relation of his particular mission to the larger mission of the whole
army. Thus team-work and mutual confidence are achieved.