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"Cooperation Between German Reconnaissance Aviation and Ground Forces" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following intelligence report on German reconnaissance aircraft and ground forces was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 8, Sept. 24, 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 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 bombardment troops.

(1) Reconnaissance

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.

(2) Pursuit

A pursuit group is composed of three squadrons, and three groups form a wing. These planes are used for aerial defense.

(3) Destroyer

A destroyer group is composed of three squadrons, and three groups make a wing. These also are used for aerial defense.

(4) Bombardment

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

(1) Economy

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 assigning missions.

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.

f. Orders

(1) General

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 by telephone.

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 be established.

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) --

i. Remarks

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.


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