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"German Employment of Tanks, and Their Cooperation with Other Arms" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following military report on German use of tanks in WWII was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 7, Sept. 10, 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 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


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.


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 into action.

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.


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.

[Figure 1: Attack by an Armored Unit]

(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.

[Figure 2: Attack on a Prepared Position]

(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 combat aviation.


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 and complicated.

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.


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