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"German Tactics--Russian Front" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following comments on German tactics on the Eastern Front are extracted from German War Office documents. The report was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 18, Feb. 11, 1943.

[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 report deals with the experiences of the German Army on the Eastern Front. The extracts are taken from two documents issued by The German War Office, one dated March 1, 1942, and the other August 1, 1942.

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a. Attack

The special nature of the Russian Front, with its great area and few roads, has led to a tendency when on the march to cling too much to existing roads. The Russians have based their defensive system on these roads. The best attack is that made off the roads, using enveloping forces which must be made as strong as possible. Where possible, artillery should be allocated to these enveloping forces, but in most cases they will have to depend for their fire power on the heavy weapons of the infantry, especially the heavy mortars. Even weak enveloping forces may achieve decisive results by surprise attack, coordinated with the main frontal attack.

The fighting in the Kerch Peninsula has once more shown that deep slit trenches, and well-built earthworks, often render impossible the destruction of the enemy by artillery, infantry support weapons, and by bombing; these, as a rule, serve only to make the enemy keep his head down. Infantry in the attack must, therefore, approach as closely as possible behind the artillery barrage, and attack with all possible speed as soon as it is lifted.

The Russians have shown themselves very susceptible to a section or platoon assault in close formation, carried out with shouts and firing on the move.

Night attacks have been found to be of special importance on the Eastern Front, since it is the Russian practice to carry out moves at night, and these attacks prevent the enemy from carrying out his plan.

b. Coordination of the Various Arms

On the Russian Front our success in the coordination of the various arms has been due to the careful organization of the fire plan of all weapons down to those of even the smallest units. The infantry must learn not to rely exclusively on artillery fire, or the support of tanks or assault guns, but must use its own heavy weapons to the fullest extent.

The main task of the artillery is counterbattery missions, and all available forces will be concentrated against the enemy's artillery "schwerpunkt" (area in which enemy artillery is concentrated) without regard to corps or divisional boundaries.

Assault guns must never be used without the protection given by accompanying troops. They require infantry protection since, as they have no revolving turret and little protective armor, they are incapable of close defense.

c. Defense

Russian reconnaissance is pushed without regard to losses. Limited attacks for purposes of reconnaissance, are, as a rule, carried out mostly by a company, but may be made by a battalion. When the weak spots are thus found, the enemy maneuvers his main forces, which are usually masses of infantry supported by tanks. The attack is preceded by intensified mortar fire, and shelling by tanks at extreme ranges. If the leading tanks are shot up and the first attack beaten off, a pause of several hours often precedes the second attack.

The rule for defense in open country, when ammunition is plentiful, is to open fire at great ranges; when the country is not open and ammunition is scarce, it is more effective to let the enemy approach, and then strike him with sudden concentrated fire at long range.

Defense on a wide front is the rule on the Eastern Front, where only the most important points can be occupied. These are to be built up as strongpoints, and occupied with one or more platoons, with heavy weapons (heavy mortars, heavy machine guns, and antitank guns). All-around defense must be organized. When the strongpoints are far apart, greater patrol activities between them will be necessary.

d. Antitank Defense

Russian tanks seldom attack in large numbers. As a rule a few, sometimes even single, tanks precede the attacking infantry, which then follows in compact groups. In defense, therefore, the most important task of all arms is to separate the infantry from the tanks. The aim of infantry training in antitank defense must be to teach the young soldier that the effect of tanks against dug-in riflemen is extraordinarily limited. Fighting against tanks is, for the infantrymen, merely a matter of nerves.

The plan for antitank defense should ensure that 50-mm antitank guns are brought into position in good time, because of their lack of mobility; 37-mm antitank guns may be held on carts under cover, or near prepared positions, since these guns are more mobile.

e. March Discipline

The few and very bad roads in the east have necessarily had heavy traffic, and a column moving on the roads is liable to become very extended. Therefore, troops following up require more time than usual, and it is necessary to put well to the front of the column considerable detachments of artillery and heavy weapons, and communications and engineer personnel. Similarly, to ensure the supply of a column, carefully calculated loads of ammunition, fuel, and lubricants must be included at intervals along the road.

f. Night Fighting

In night attacks all units must be given definite and limited objectives. Detailed and careful planning is the basis of success, and considerable previous reconnaissance is required. The result; of this reconnaissance form the basis of the commander's plan, which must be known down to its smallest details by every junior commander.

A useful means of keeping direction at night is the preliminary setting of fire to haystacks or houses in enemy territory.

g. Mobile Troops

Fighting over wide, open areas and along roads has often made necessary the formation of mixed battle groups in which tanks have been included. As a consequence, the number of tanks decreased rapidly and the units from which they were detached lacked the necessary strength to carry out independent attacks. An armored division equipped with a tank regiment of three battalions and motorized infantry is capable of extensive tasks, provided its tanks are kept concentrated, and the motorized infantry is directed to cooperate closely.

In defense the most successful method of stopping a breakthrough of enemy mobile troops or tanks is the formation of mobile groups reinforced with antitank and close-support weapons; they should be disposed in depth throughout the sector, particularly in localities vulnerable to tanks. These counterattack groups are to be held ready to attack the flank or rear of any enemy force which may break through and to cut off the enemy rearward communications.

h. Miscellaneous

For all infantry weapons, in particular the machine gun, mortar, and antitank gun, a wide field of fire is not so important as emplacement to produce a heavy uninterrupted belt of fire to the immediate front.

On the Eastern Front, unnecessary losses have been caused by unmilitary behavior, both at headquarters and in units, in zones covered by enemy fire. Considerable casualties, which could have been avoided, have been caused by the disinclination of the German soldier to dig in quickly in the course of the battle, his carelessness behind the immediate front, and by inadequate battle reconnaissance of invisible areas.


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