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 von Cochenhausen.
Most of the German tanks are in the "Panzer" divisions, but Panzer divisions are organized
in many ways. Some have one and some have two tank regiments. The infantry may be a rifle
brigade made up of several motorized battalions, forming a regiment, in addition to a
separate motorcycle battalion. There are as many antitank and antiaircraft units as
necessary to meet the tactical situation. The whole organization depends on how many
men or what equipment is available, on the task to be done, on the terrain and the
nature of the hostile defenses.
Generally the Panzer division contains a division staff; a brigade of two tank regiments, each
with two or more battalions of four companies each; a rifle brigade of one motorized
infantry regiment, which also has a battalion of armored assault artillery and a
motorcycle battalion; a reconnaissance battalion; an engineer battalion with combat
bridging equipment; a signal battalion; an antitank battalion; an antiaircraft
battalion; an artillery regiment; and all the necessary administrative, supply,
maintenance, and medical troops.
In order to understand this text it should be remembered that the ways in which the
Germans use a Panzer division vary according to the mission, the commander's conception
of the terrain, and the nature of the hostile defenses.
"The entire force of our troops is concentrated in the attack" -- Frederick the Great
1. PREPARATION FOR THE ATTACK.
a. General. The time before an attack should be spent in studying the terrain, preparing
positions, and making arrangements to work with the other arms. The study of the
terrain should cover the area from the assembly position forward to the front line, and
then as far as possible into the enemy's position. The tank force commander, or an officer
chosen by him, should take part in this study. Aerial photographs should be used along
with the map. It is important to find out the location of mines and the position of the
enemy's defense weapons.
b. Surprise. Surprise is most important for a successful attack. Therefore, all
preparations must be carefully camouflaged. Tank units should move at night, and in the
daytime they should move only when they can be hidden from enemy airplanes. The time of
the tank attack must be set so that it will come as a surprise. The enemy can be kept
from knowing that an attack is coming by engaging him in a few local actions, as well
as by camouflaging our radio communications or by keeping the radio silent.
c. Organization of the Tank Force. The tank force commander must decide in every
case whether he is going to attack with his tanks in line or in column. An attack
in column facilitates control, and makes it possible to maneuver tanks in any
direction; to attack in line makes the enemy stretch out his defense, and
supports the infantry attack over a broader front.
d. Objectives. Tanks set out to attack the enemy's infantry and infantry
heavy weapons, artillery, command posts, reserves, and rear communications. But
before they can get through to these targets, they must destroy their most dangerous
enemy, the antitank defenses. For this reason the heaviest and most powerful
tanks must lead the attack, and they must be supported by the other arms, both
before and during the attack.
Only after the antitank defenses have been destroyed can the tanks go
ahead. After that, the most powerful tanks should be directed to attack the
points that are deepest within the enemy positions, such as artillery, reserves,
and command posts. The lighter tanks attack the infantry. Each echelon of
tanks should be definitely informed concerning its mission and its objective.
Tank forces are also able to seize important points, such as river
crossings, and to hold them until the infantry comes up.
e. Assembly Positions. The Panzer division usually prepares for an
attack in a position, not too near the battlefield, which gives cover against
observation and is beyond the range of the enemy artillery. Here the troops should
be told what they are to do, supplies should be distributed, and fuel and
ammunition issued. If the tank force by itself cannot protect the position, the
commander should see to it that the necessary supporting weapons are brought up.
The tanks can go to the attack more quickly if there are several roads
leading from the position to the front, and if crossings over railroads, highways, and
rivers have been constructed by engineers.
When time is the most important factor, tank units should remain in their
assembly positions for a limited period, or they should move directly to
the attack without stopping in these positions.
2. SUPPORT OF THE TANK ATTACK BY THE OTHER TROOPS.
a. Infantry. The infantry must direct its heavy machine guns against
the enemy's antitank defenses. The other heavy weapons must fire at targets
outside the area of the tank action so that they will not disable their own
tanks. Signals must be arranged in advance (such as tracers, flags, and
radio) so that coordination is assured.
b. Artillery. The artillery fires upon targets in front and to the flanks
of the area of the tank action. It fires both high explosives and smoke, and must
generally regulate its fire by time. Adjustment can be attained through the radio
or the artillery liaison detail, which, riding in armored vehicles, can accompany the tanks.
c. Engineers. Engineers assist the tanks by strengthening bridges, building
temporary crossings, and removing obstacles and mines.
d. Signal Troops. Signal troops keep up communications with the
commanders, with the artillery, with the services, and with separate units of
infantry, engineers, or the air force.
e. Antitank Units. Antitank guns must follow the tanks as closely as
possible so as to be able to enter the fight immediately if enemy tanks are met.
f. Aviation. Aviation has two duties: it should serve as reconnaissance
before and during the time the tanks are in action, and it should attack the
enemy's reserves, especially tanks and antitank defenses, before they can come
g. Rear Services. If a tank force does not have its own medical service, it
should be kept in touch with first-aid stations of the assisting troops. During
the battle the service troops are held in readiness well to the rear.
h. As soon as the tanks reach their objectives, they at once prepare themselves for a
new mission. They send reconnaissance to the front and find out how far the infantry
has advanced. They decide their next movement on the basis of these findings.
i. After the battle the tank force is withdrawn behind the lines and
reorganized. The longer it has been in action, the longer the rest period should be.
3. EXAMPLES OF COMBAT ORDERS AND OPERATIONS.
a. General. Orders to the tank force must be kept brief and simple in
all situations during a war of movement. It is enough if they tell: (1) the location
and strength of the enemy; (2) the location and mission of our own troops; (3) the
mission for the tank force, to include direction of attack, the objective, and
sometimes the hour the tanks are to attack and their action after the attack; and (4) what
support is to be given by other arms.
b. Example No. 1 (see figure No. 1) illustrates an order to a Panzer
detachment in the advance.
(1) The Order. The Motorcycle Battalion has encountered the enemy and
has deployed on each side of the road in front of Hill 304.
The commander of the 1st Battalion, 1st Panzer Regiment, meets the commander
of the advance guard (probably the motorcycle battalion commander) at
the forester's house. After receiving brief information about the terrain, he
issues the following order:
"The enemy holds Hill 304. Hostile artillery, estimated to be one battery, is
firing from the direction south of Franken Woods.
"The Motorcycle Battalion deploys for attack on both sides of the road. Company C is
advancing here left of the road against the southern edge of Hill 304.
"The 1st Battalion, moving north of the road, will attack Hill 304. After
overcoming the resistance thereon, it will continue across B Creek to attack the
enemy artillery south of Franken Woods. It will continue combat reconnaissance
to the far end of Franken Woods. I want to know:
a. When the crossing over B Creek begins.
b. When the hostile artillery has been reached and overcome."
(2) The Engagement. The commander of the 1st Battalion then drives to
the commander of Company A and orders him to advance around the northern
edge of the woods just in front of him and to attack Hill 304. He then gives the
necessary commands to the other companies by radio.
While Company A is deploying, Company B, with its left flank on the road, advances
against Hill 304. Company D supports the attack from the vicinity of the
forester's house. Company C, forming the second line, follows Companies A
and B, and the Battalion commander advances with it. As soon as Company A reaches
Hill 304, Company D begins to displace forward to this position.
Meantime, the artillery has been definitely located south of Franken Woods. The
Battalion commander now issues a new order to attack the artillery and
Companies A, B, and D proceed around Hill 304. Company C then engages
the remaining resistance on Hill 304 until the motorcyclists come up from the
south side. A part of Company A carries out the reconnaissance on the far side
of Franken Woods.
c. Attack Against a Prepared Position. If the tanks are to attack a
prepared defensive position, the commander of the force must then coordinate all
the arms in his command to assist the tanks. Therefore, every arm must be
told exactly what to do in an action which is intended first of all to support the
tanks against the enemy's antitank weapons.
(1) Preparation. The commander tells the tank force commander about such
matters as the enemy, the terrain, and the plan of attack. The tank force
commander reports the results of his own reconnaissance, how he thinks the
attack should be carried out, and what sort of support he wants. The commander
then makes his decision and draws up the order. The tank force commander
then informs his subordinates about the terrain and what he intends to
do. The tank forces advance to the assembly position on the roads that the commander
has assigned to them. These roads are kept free of other troops.
(2) The Tank Force Combat Order. The order should contain:
(a) Information about the enemy (his position, strength, and the location of
known or suspected antitank weapons) and the position of our troops. All later
messages from the front that contain information for the tanks are
passed on at once to the tank force commander.
(b) Our own intentions, stated thus:
"Tank force ---- in ----, echelons ---- at (time) crosses the front line, attacks
with the first echelon across ----, toward ----, advancing thence to ----. The second
echelon attacks ----. After the attack the tanks will ----. (This order should give
the mission and support furnished by the infantry, if a part of the
tank force is not placed directly under an infantry unit or attached to it.)
(c) Artillery ----. Smoke ----.
(d) Engineers ----.
(e) Aviation ----.
(f) Signal Communications ----.
(g) Rear Services ----.
(h) Command post of the higher commander is at ---- (where reports are to be sent).
d. Example No. 2 (see Figure No. 2) illustrates a typical problem for
the cooperation of tanks with other arms.
(1) Situation. An infantry division, encountering increasing hostile
resistance, arrived at the line X -- X at 1600 hours. The division, supported
by the Panzer Brigade, will renew the attack the next morning.
(2) Operations. In the morning, after a brief artillery bombardment, the widely
deployed tanks break into the enemy line. The infantry push through the break. Meantime,
the artillery advances its fire to the village, Adolfburg, and the Zwing Creek
crossings. Smoke troops place fire on the western edge of Oster Wood. Wherever the
enemy's antitank weapons are found, they are immediately engaged by heavy infantry
weapons and by the tanks. Heavy artillery fire is kept up on Adolfburg. The first
echelon of tanks is now advancing rapidly north around both sides of the village; the
second echelon decreases its speed and attacks the enemy forces still resisting on
the high ground on both sides of Adolfburg. The artillery constantly moves its fire
forward so as not to hinder the advancing tanks, being informed by its own forward
observers who advance with the leading tanks.
On the right, the infantry attack in the direction of Oster Wood has been checked. Guided
to the place by tracers and flag signals, the second echelon of tanks moves
toward Oster Wood. Meantime the commander of the first echelon reports:
"Have overcome hostile artillery groups north of Adolfburg. Am continuing toward the
artillery discovered farther west. Reconnaissance toward Zwing Creek reports that the
stream is passable."
The supporting infantry has been mopping up Adolfburg and the high ground on both
sides of the town. This infantry now proceeds to assist the tanks
at Oster Wood. Then the heavy weapons and artillery are brought forward to
Adolfburg. The enemy, retreating along the road, offers stubborn resistance, but
is overcome by elements of the tank battalion cooperating with the advance
infantry. Zwing Creek crossings are kept under the fire of tanks, artillery, and
END OF TRANSLATION
COMMENT: 1. These instructions show how much emphasis the Germans put upon
surprise, which is even more important in an attack by tanks than in an infantry
attack. Speed is necessary, and so is concealment, but careful preparations
are not to be neglected. The approaches are carefully selected, traffic
regulations worked out, and reconnaissance and engineer units make every
effort to secure quick, unbroken movement of the tanks from the assembly
position into combat. The supply system is planned to avoid delay. Because the
Germans are well trained, these arrangements are executed in a businesslike
manner, which makes them look simple and easy, though they are often difficult
2. German tank attacks are based upon an accurate estimation of the opposing
strength and defenses, and the organization of their attacking force is
determined by the situation. The tanks leave the assembly position in the
formations they will hold during the attack. In difficult terrain, the
detailed deployments are made just behind the last cover before coming
into the open. Careful scouting of the position, studies of maps and
photographs, the planned removal of obstacles, and the preparation of
material to be used in negotiating unforeseen obstacles enable the tanks to
come upon the enemy with surprise and with a mass fire effect.
3. The heavy tanks attack first to clear the way for the lighter tanks, which
then operate against any resistance likely to hold up the infantry. The Germans
realize that tanks must act in close cooperation with infantry, but at
the same time they believe that the tanks should be free to strike hard by
themselves. Therefore they plan things so that each tank unit has a definite
goal to reach.
4. German artillery gives the tanks good support; to work out this support, artillery
officers ride in the tanks and signal the ranges to the guns.
5. The Germans regard the tank as the decisive weapon and arrange for its
support by all other arms.
6. Note in Example No. 1 of the combat orders that the tank battalion commander
does not waste time by getting together his subordinates and issuing a
complete order. Instead, he gives his order orally to the officers near at
hand, and to the others by radio. What looks at first like a piecemeal action is
actually a united effort by the entire battalion.
7. In Example No. 2 note that smoke was used along the edge of the woods; where
hostile antitank and other weapons, even if observed, would be difficult to
combat with tanks.
8. German antitank crews are trained to be ready for action at any
moment and to fire very rapidly.
9. Not only are the tank units supported by the other arms, but the German
tank units support each other. Individual tanks within the platoon, and
platoons within the company, will fire while halted in concealment in
order to protect other tanks or platoons advancing to positions from
which they in turn will be able to protect their former supporting group.