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"Notes on Combat" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following notes on combat written by General Patton were published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 30, July 29, 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.]


Present-day methods of warfare embrace many problems hitherto absent or completely non-existent in previous wars. Specific admonitions emphasizing the importance of some of these questions, such as the necessity for good discipline, the conduct of troops under varying conditions of combat, and other factors influencing the success of operations, are contained in the following extracts from a letter of instruction to Corps, Divisions, and Separate Brigade Commanders, and from a report entitled "Notes on Combat," both by Lieutenant General G. S. Patton, Jr., now commanding the U.S. Seventh Army. These documents were written as the result of American experience in Tunisia. As stated by General Patton, nothing herein is in material disagreement with our training doctrine, his purpose being to stress certain points.

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a. Discipline

There is only one sort of discipline - perfect discipline. Men cannot have good battle discipline and poor administrative discipline. Discipline is based on pride in the profession of arms, on meticulous attention to details, and on mutual respect and confidence. Discipline must be a habit so ingrained that it is stronger than the excitement of battle or the fear of death.

Discipline can only be obtained when all officers are so imbued with the sense of their lawful obligation to their men and to their country that they cannot tolerate negligences. Officers who fail to correct errors or to praise excellence are valueless in peace and dangerous misfits in war. Officers must assert themselves by example and by voice.

Currently, many of you have defeated and destroyed the finest troops Germany possesses. This should make your men proud. This should make you proud. This should imbue your units with unconquerable self-confidence and pride in demonstrated ability.

One of the primary purposes of discipline is to produce alertness. A man who is so lethargic that he fails to salute will fall an easy victim to an enemy.

Officers must have self-confidence and men must have confidence in their officers. Close-order drill, meticulously executed for two daily periods not to exceed 30 minutes each when practicable, will go far towards developing confidence and self-confidence.

It must be impressed upon officers that it is their paramount duty to set the example in courage. They must be the last ones to take cover and the first ones to leave cover. They must not show emotion except the emotion of confidence.

Americans, with arms in their hands, are fools as well as cowards to surrender. If they fight on, they will conquer. If they surrender, they will starve. Reports from prisoners of war in Germany indicate that the casualties in prison camps, unintentionally inflicted by our air bombardment, are in excess of those encountered by hostile bombardment on the battlefield. Cowardice must be ruthlessly eliminated.

Present methods of warfare demand a higher discipline than anything we have previously conceived. Discipline can only be insured by meticulous obedience to orders and regulations, to include military courtesy, dress, and behavior. It is absurd to believe that soldiers who cannot be made to wear the proper uniform can be induced to move forward in battle. Officers who fail to perform their duty by correcting small violations and in enforcing proper conduct are incapable of leading. Requiring officers to carry out their duties in the enforcing of discipline brings out in them the latent ability to command in battle. The prime essential to victory is to have all officers obsessed with their obligation to their country and their troops, and imbued with the determination that they cannot fail in the performance of their duty and live with their own conscience.

The regulations as to speed, distance, and intervals between vehicles must be maintained in combat and out. Any driver who violates either should have his driver's permit revoked and be reduced to the grade of basic private.

Any officer, who, while riding in a vehicle, permits the above violations, or who on seeing them fails to take corrective measures, should be tried or fined under the 104th Article of War. Officers are always on duty, and their duty extends to every individual in the U.S. Army, not only just to members of their own organization.

b. Infantry Employment

Infantry occupying a position must use the method of mutually supporting small groups wired in. The fact that they are surrounded does not justify surrender. It should be a matter of pride with troops as well as individuals that they never surrender as long as they have weapons and ammunition.

The absurd practice of advancing by rushes when ground defilade exists must be discontinued. When casualties, due to fire, make movement too costly, artillery observers with the front line infantry must automatically call for smoke on the enemy producing the small-arms casualties. Where casualties result from artillery fire or mortar fire, every effort must be made to neutralize the enemy observation posts by smoke from our own artillery or mortars. As soon as enemy observation is neutralized, the troops formerly pinned down by fire must move because even though the enemy's observation is neutralized he can still lay on his former data, but cannot change his data to cover the movement.

In addition to the ability to march and deploy at night, troops must be able to fight at night both in the moonlight and in the dark. This ability can only be obtained by practice. Troops who cannot fight at night are valueless.

In order to ensure that time is not wasted or confusion caused in setting up mortars and machine guns, the crews of these weapons should have standing gun drill daily both by daylight and in the dark. They should be further instructed in the method of laying by the ladder system.

Reconnaissance is of paramount importance. If small vigorous reconnaissance patrols are sent out before dark, the enemy front can be located, and taking advantage of this knowledge, our troops can move into position from which to attack at dawn, or under favorable circumstances, during the night. Without meticulous reconnaissance, either form of attack is suicide.

c. Tactics

There is no approved solution to any tactical situation. There is only one tactical principle which is not subject to change. It is: "To so use the means at hand as to inflict the maximum amount of wounds, death, and destruction on the enemy in the minimum time." The following points, all of which are as old as war, are emphasized as useful means in obtaining the above result.

The primary mission of armored units is to destroy infantry and artillery. Tank versus tank battles, although sometimes necessary, are expensive and indecisive.

Tanks advancing against other tanks or antitank guns must govern their movement by the existence of cover. In the case of a platoon, when other cover is lacking it is possible for 4 tanks to fire smoke at the located enemy guns or tanks, while the other tank moves to a new position. If tanks are advancing under the supporting fire of other tanks, the supporting tanks must immediately open with smoke on any enemy gun or tank which takes the moving tanks under fire. After an object has been smoked, HE, or when the range permits, machine guns, should be fired into the smoke to prevent movement. When, or if, it is desirable to slow up or halt tanks before they are within effective armor-piercing range, the use of smoke is indicated.

Never attack strength - "Catch the enemy by the nose with fire and kick him in the pants with fire emplaced through movement." You can never be too strong. Get every man and gun you can secure provided it does not delay your attack.

In battle, casualties vary directly with the time you are exposed to effective fire. Your own fire reduces the effectiveness and volume of the enemy's fire, while rapidity of attack shortens the time of exposure.

Our mortars and our artillery are superb weapons when they are firing. When silent, they are junk--see that they fire!

Flat trajectory fire against machine guns must be delivered from a position near the axis of enemy fire. This pins the enemy down until the grenadier with the bomb and bayonet kills him from behind.

Few men are killed by bayonets, but many are scared by them. Having the bayonet fixed makes our men want to close. Only the threat to close will defeat a determined enemy. Bayonets must be sharpened. Owing to the size and strength of our men, they are invincible with the bayonet. They must know this.

In mountain warfare the highest peak must be taken first so as to insure observation and permit subsequent attacks down hill. This is best done by a night attack by a small unit which must seize the peak and be reinforced at dawn twilight by sufficient troops to hold it. To reinforce in the dark may cause confusion and firing on friendly troops.

In forcing a pass secure the heights first. There are always trails leading to the rear of hills. It must always be remembered that inviting lines of approach are invariably defended, and an advance by such lanes, without securing the heights covering them, is almost suicidal.

Movement across country at night is very slow; therefore the enemy will stick to the roads as long as possible. Patrols well out, observing the roads, will find him, but if they sit right on the roads, they will be captured.

Never take counsel of your fears. The enemy is more worried than you are. Numerical superiority, while useful, is not vital to successful offensive action. The fact that you are attacking induces the enemy to believe that you are stronger than he is.

Battles are fought by platoons and squads. Place emphasis on small unit combat instruction so that it is conducted with the same precision as close-order drill. A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution ten minutes later.

In battle, small forces - platoons, companies, and even battalions - can do one of three things, go forward, halt, or run. If they halt, they will be destroyed in place. If they run, they will be an even easier target. Therefore, they must go forward. When caught under fire, particularly of artillery, advance out of it; never retreat from it. Artillery very seldom shortens its range.


Oral orders will be repeated back.

The tendency prevalent in lower echelons of issuing inaccurate and conversational orders will not be permitted. Orders to a squad must be as exact, though much shorter, than orders to any army corps.

Mine fields, while dangerous, are not impassable. They are far less of a hazard than an artillery concentration. Troops must move forward through them.

Troops should not deploy into line until forced to do so by enemy fire.

d. Artillery Fire

Artillery concentrations, particularly when combined with the use of smoke, are effective in stopping or destroying tank attacks. In firing on peaks, artillery must not attempt to bracket, but must fire short and work up-hill. When it has good range on the top, it can use smoke to cover an infantry attack or neutralize observation, otherwise it should use shell fire to destroy observation.

In giving close-fire support to our infantry, especially in mountains, the artillery must open well forward and creep back. The observer conducting the fire should be with the infantry.

The use of smoke must be emphasized. A concentration of white phosphorus against enemy tanks will usually immobilize them and frequently cause the crews to leave them. If the crews remain in them, they must put on their gas masks. When tank destroyers, artillery, or tanks engage hostile tanks or antitank guns at decisive ranges, they should have smoke immediately available, so that if they get a miss on the first shot, they can follow it with smoke. This gives them a chance either to maneuver or to catch the enemy when he emerges from the cloud.

Tank attacks against positions defended by artillery or antitank guns should be preceded by high-burst artillery concentrations on the located or probable location of such guns. Tanks with the tops closed can operate under such conditions with perfect impunity, but the enemy will have difficulty in manning his weapons.

e. Armored Reconnaissance

In armored reconnaissance, the following points are of importance. This applies to the reconnaissance troop with infantry divisions and the reconnaissance battalion with armored divisions.

Junior officers in reconnaissance units must be very inquisitive. Their reports must be accurate and factual, not exaggerated. Negative information is frequently more important than positive information. Information not immediately transmitted is valueless.

All members of a reconnaissance troop should know what they are trying to do. Reconnaissance obtained in front of one division must be transmitted to reconnaissance units of adjoining divisions. Troops must not report types of guns or vehicles unless they are certain. The report that three 88's are firing at them may lead to erroneous conclusions. The report should state that three artillery pieces are firing, unless a definite identification is secured.

Reconnaissance units must not lose contact. At night, listening posts off the road are of vital importance. These listening posts should be at least six miles in front of the normal outpost.

Reconnaissance units should not be used for security missions. Their sole purpose is to get information. They must have sufficient strength in tanks, assault cannon, etc., to obtain this information. They should have direct radio communication with reconnaissance planes.

f. Antiaircraft

When attacked by enemy planes, every weapon must be fired against them.

On the other hand, every effort and every disciplinary measure must be taken to prevent firing against our own planes. If we have relative air superiority, it is better to wait until planes attack before opening fire than it is to shoot down our own planes. On the other hand, our planes should avoid, even when it entails considerable difficulty, coming in from the direction which the enemy would use or just after he has passed.

Commanders are responsible that their antiaircraft guns do not fire on friendly planes. Panicky firing will be rigorously dealt with. By this is meant when one antiaircraft gun opens fire, others immediately join in without identifying the target. Never fire at a plane until you have identified it or it has attacked you.

If attacked by friendly planes, through error, show yellow smoke.

g. Tactics of Landing Operations

All landing operations will be rehearsed on sand tables. These can be improvised on the ground and need not be complicated. The rehearsal should commence with the boats and terminate with the platoons. In each case, the officer in charge of the unit will give, at the sand table, the actual orders or instructions which he will give in battle.

Owing to the fact that we do not always land where we expect to, junior commanders, to include platoons, should know the general as well as the special plan and wherever they land will use their best efforts to insure the success of the general plan. This is always done by offensive action.

Speed and ruthless violence on the beaches is vital. There must be no hesitation in debarking. To linger on the beach is fatal.

In landing operations, retreat is impossible.

Every unit in the assault echelons must have a magnetic azimuth, and where possible, a distant directing point.

The initial objective for each unit in securing the primary beach-head must be specified. It should be a natural terrain feature capable of identification, even in darkness.

Above all else, the assault must push on relentlessly to its objective. You know where you are going; the enemy does not. Utilize the initiative thus afforded.

You must be prepared to smother the beach with fire. To this end, medium tanks, assault cannon, self-propelled guns, mortars, and machine guns should be emplaced on all suitable craft so that they can fire on the beach prior to landing. You will arrange a means of suspending this assault fire when your leading waves have landed.

Guides on beaches must know their jobs and do them.

Antiaircraft weapons will be emplaced on all suitable craft so that they can be fired while at sea. All vehicles possessed of antiaircraft weapons will have them arranged for the immediate opening of fire. Troops will disembark with fixed bayonets. Life belts will be inflated prior to landing. They will be dropped on the beach.

Assault infantry must be provided with the maximum number of large wire cutters. Hand grenades are useful in the assault of the beach.

Vehicles landing over beaches should do so in second; first speed is too slow. Motors must be wide open as the vehicles hit the water or beach. Maximum speed across sand is necessary. Motors must be warmed-up ten minutes before craft grounds.

In landing operations, intelligent reduction of tire pressure is vital to the successful crossing of beaches and sand dunes. All vehicles, including artillery tractors, will have tire pressures as follows:

Truck, 1/4-ton, 4 x 4 6
Truck, 3/4-ton, 4 x 4, command and reconnaissance15
Truck, 2 1/2-ton, 6 x 6, amphibian12
Truck, 2 1/2-ton, 6 x 6, cargo15
Truck, 4-ton, 6 x 6, cargo, with winch15
All half-tracks, combat tires completely deflated
All trailers will carry normal pressure.

h. Maintenance

Weapons will be kept in perfect working order at all times. This should be checked frequently by officers and non-commissioned officers.

Vehicles will be properly maintained in combat as elsewhere. Particular attention must be given to tire pressure, lubrication, and the batteries.

Upon the completion of each phase of an operation, all vehicles will be serviced and replenished, so that the next phase may be started without delay.

Commanders are responsible that all vehicles are marked in accordance with Paragraphs 6-14, AR 850-5.

i. Medical

Each soldier will be provided with one bottle of twenty-four (24) halazone tablets for purifying water. A first-aid packet, consisting of a dressing, sulfanilamide powder, and sulfadiazine or sulfanilamide tablets, will be carried at all times within the first-aid pouch.

j. Miscellaneous

Whenever troops have gained a position which they purpose to hold, they must immediately mine it. Time and effort can be saved if part of the mine field is dummy.

In the location of towed antitank guns, these guns must be emplaced where they can neither see nor be seen beyond their effective antitank range. They must be dug in.

Every effort must be made to maintain wire communication to the front. The value of wire communication cannot be overstated.

Where a command post using radio is in position more than six hours, the radio vehicles must be under remote control wire from the command post and at a distance of from half a mile to a mile away from it. If this is not done, the enemy will get radio bearing intercepts and be able to locate the command post for air attack.

k. Conclusion

We can only conquer by attacking.

In landing operations, continued ruthless pressure by day and by night is vital.

In the initial phases of any campaign, we must be particularly emphatic in the ruthless destruction of the enemy. Remember that a pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood!


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