In many respects, combat in woods is similar to that in towns. Some
woods, owing to their location and size, are naturally strong defensive
areas. The Germans, it is supposed, derived considerable experience in
this kind of warfare during the fighting on the Eastern front. Some of
these experiences, based on German sources, are recounted in the
Training for fighting in wooded country not only improves sell-confidence
and ability for decisive action, but is at the same time good practice
for fighting in darkness and smoke.
The Russians show extraordinary powers of resistance when fighting in
marshy and wooded country. They make full use of their exceptional sense of
direction and masterly camouflage. They use woods to a large extent, not only
for approach, but also in defense, tending, in that latter case, to defend the edges
of the wood strongly. The Russian does not give up easily, and therefore the
attack in woods must be systematically carried out section by section. The
enemy will cover trail crossings with heavy weapons. The difficulty of movement
necessitates the allotment of heavy weapons and artillery to units at the start of
an operation in order to avoid delays later on.
A coordinated fire plan for attack and defense is often impossible, and
reliance must be put on coordinated infantry thrusts. Surprise is a more decisive
factor in woods than in open country, and systematic preparation and silence in all
movement are essentials.
It is easy in wood fighting to allow one's forces to be split up, especially
when patrols, and flank and rear guards, have been detached. Every effort must
therefore be made to keep one's forces intact. Movement should be made in deep
A detailed plan must be drawn up, and when a departure from the original
plan seems inevitable, permission from the next senior commander must be
sought so that he can inform the supporting elements of the changed conditions
and avoid any possible danger from one's own fire. (This departs from the
modern practice in German tactics, which encourages flexibility of action among
junior commanders, and must presumably apply only to the specific conditions of
The results of air reconnaissance are often inadequate, and the employment
of numerous and strong fighting patrols is of increasing importance. Efficient
signal communication cannot be too strongly stressed.
Surprise by the enemy must be countered by continual ground reconnaissance. Patrols
should be sent to the flanks. Intervals should be sufficiently great
(in thick woods, 150 yards) to prevent a patrol from hearing the noise of
neighboring patrols, which might often lead to confusion and loss of direction. The
arms carried should include submachine guns, rifles (preferably
automatic with telescopic sights), and plenty of egg grenades; machine guns are
cumbersome. Stick grenades are unsuitable as they easily become lodged in
branches. Egg grenades, on the other hand, break their way through. Steel helmets
should be left behind; they impair hearing.
Tasks of patrols must include the following objectives:
Where is the enemy expected to appear?
Where is he?
Where are his flanks?
How far is he each side of the trails?
Where is his main line of resistance?
Which trails and roads does he use?
Ground reconnaissance must clarify the following:
Existing roads, trails and clearings, ditches, rivers, and bridges;
Condition of the woods and their undergrowth, such as
thickness and height of trees, marshy ground, rises and dips in the ground;
Location of tree snipers.
Trails give valuable information as to the direction the enemy has taken. Branches
broken off at about head height, axe marks on tree trunks, and bundles of
leaves hanging in branches might be used to show the route taken by the enemy.
c. The March
Under difficult conditions the rate of march is sometimes as low
as 2 to 3 miles a day. Engineers must be well forward, and
special units for clearing and improving routes must be formed. The
help of the local inhabitants as guides must be obtained when possible. Advance
guards must be strong enough to envelop enemy forces which are likely to
offer resistance along the line of march. Heavy weapons, artillery,
headquarters, and signal detachments should also be well forward. Mechanized
vehicles with infantry support will be used as protection where
possible. Flank and rear guards must be lightly equipped to give them
mobility. Antitank weapons and tank-destroying sections must be
distributed along the column.
Leave the roads as soon as possible. The thicker the woods, the closer
should be the formations. Moves must be made in bounds and covered as far as
practicable by heavy weapons and artillery. It has proved worth while to have
single rifle squads distributed forward and to the flanks for close-in
security. When reaching clearings, trails, etc., and also when leaving woods, a
halt should be made to enable patrols to make a careful reconnaissance in
order to avoid surprise by ambush and tree snipers. Rifles, submachine guns, and
machine guns must not be carried slung, but must be ready for immediate use.
In order to effect surprise, feint attacks can often be usefully carried out
in woods. Every effort must be made to effect a flanking movement, the enemy
being held down frontally by the fire of heavy weapons while strong forces envelop
Fire discipline is very important in wood fighting. Irregular, single bursts
of rifle and machine-gun fire are of little use. The fire must be controlled in short
and heavy bursts. A strong burst of fire has a big moral effect. When the attackers
come under fire from the enemy, which will be at quite short range, it has been
proved less costly if the attackers rush the intervening ground than if they take up
positions and exchange fire. It is no use, after breaking into the enemy's
position, to follow up with fire alone, as a withdrawal can easily be made under cover.
The enemy must be speedily reengaged, and given no respite. It must always
be remembered that ammunition consumption in wood fighting is heavier than in
(2) Attack against a Weak Opponent
Flanking movement is generally easily accomplished without great loss. Sound
signals are best used, as visual signals are readily missed.
(3) Attack against a Strong Opponent
Assault troops armed with close combat weapons and supported by flamethrowers
must break into the enemy's position and effect a narrow penetration. It
will often pay to make a surprise breakthrough without first opening fire. Heavy
mortars and single light infantry and antitank guns will generally be allotted to the
rifle companies. Antitank shells can be used very effectively in woods. Numerous
observers must be placed well forward to direct the artillery.
f. Clearing a Wood
Combing through woods over a wide area with intervals of a few yards between
each man has been proved ineffectual, because there is always the risk
that the enemy having concentrated his forces can easily break through the weak
line. The rule must be to keep one's forces together and send in strong assault
support from various directions with the aim of encircling the enemy. This
must be the subject of very careful and coordinated planning on a time
basis. Attempts to break out of the wood must be countered by covering the edges with
fire from heavy weapons and artillery, as well as by the employment of tanks
and assault guns.
To avoid being surprised there must be constant reconnaissance; it is
wrong to wait for the enemy to approach under cover; it is right to search him
out and destroy him wherever he is. The very mobility of the defense deceives
the enemy as to one's strength and intentions. Reserves must be ready to make
counterattacks. Woods offer numerous possibilities for obstacles in depth; these
hold up the enemy or divert him to routes favoring defensive fire. If time is too
short for construction of continuous defensive positions, every effort must be
made to arrange strongpoints of resistance, with all-around defense if
possible. These should be surrounded by mines. Weapons should be placed 30 to 50 yards
behind the edge of the woods, so long as visibility is not impaired. Wood defense
requires a large number of observation posts, and signal equipment must be
obtained from the division signal unit for the necessary links. Trails must be
cleared of dry wood and other material which causes noise. Wire must be
anchored to the ground; otherwise, its removal with implements such as hay-forks
is possible. Listening posts must be changed daily.
The following points in training are particularly important:
Silent movement; working forward in thick undergrowth; crawling in
various types of woods; visual training and indication of targets; finding
direction; marking routes, and recognition of enemy markings of routes; cover
and camouflage; close combat and engaging tree snipers; antitank
close combat in woods; tree observers; patrols; pickets; firing in woods.
(2) Heavy Weapons
Transporting heavy weapons; rapid emplacement; creating fields of fire; observation
and keeping contact; reporting targets; fire coordination.
Building bridges and dams, and clearing paths and trails in marshy ground; rapid
removal of tree obstacles in depth; building wire and tree obstacles; building
observation posts; preparing gun positions and making clearances in the field
Formations for movement and fighting in woods; marching to the sides of
trails and by night; movement by bounds; quick deployment; surprise with light
and heavy weapons; attack on limited objectives; coming under enemy fire; break
into enemy position, and quick exploitation of success; defense alarms; reserves
counterattack; security at night.