The following remarks on German methods and tactics in their rear guard
action in Sicily have been sent in by American observers.
a. German Counterattack
The Germans will usually counterattack immediately after dawn and are
very clever at supporting an attack with artillery and mortar fire. When they
believe the position has been softened up, they advance with a small number of
infantry from their front, but attempt envelopment of one or both flanks by the
largest bodies of troops. The attack may start at 800 or 1,000 yards, with the
infantry advancing at a continuous fast pace, with marching fire, or fire from the
halt or kneeling. It is an excellent opportunity for a display of American
The terrain and nature of the campaign made sniping unusually effective. Enemy
snipers firing from concealed, delaying positions were a major nuisance. Civilian
clothes were worn frequently. Flanking countersniping was the answer.
There were pillboxes all over the island, sited to cover roads, approaches, valleys
and stream crossings. While some were poorly placed, many were well
located with excellent fields of fire. Concrete was the usual construction material.
Three general types were found embodying a circular form with 18-inch walls
and a 2-foot roof, to the largest type with a circular wall 14 feet across, 4 feet high
and 5 feet thick, topped by a domed roof 9 1/2 feet high in which the concrete
tapered to a thickness of 3 1/2 feet at the top. Frequently they were extensively
camouflaged, at times with-brush, straw, hay or some other material from the
immediate surroundings. Others had houses or huts built over them. In open
fields, a number were found camouflaged to represent straw or hay
ricks -- a poor camouflage, as the material caught fire and turned the pillbox into an oven.
d. Night Fighting
As has been frequently noted in reports from the Eastern Front, the Germans
detest night fighting.
The commander of one American division reported that -- "The Germans
are able to avoid many casualties from artillery by digging deeper than the average
American soldier is willing to do." In some cases, this amounted to two feet
below the ordinary slit-trench depth with an undercut to prevent casualties from
air bursts. They call our short, intense artillery
concentrations Feuerzauber (magic fire) and have a well-earned respect for it.
f. Observation Planes Silence Batteries
It was discovered that the presence of an artillery spotting plane in the
air -- even a Cub -- had a tendency to put German artillery out of action. This is
reported as a general experience throughout the campaign, and an unintentional
compliment to the power of our own counterbattery fire.
g. Spotting AT Guns
German powder is, as has been noted before, quite smokeless, but it makes
a flash at night which permits the spotting of concealed AT guns. Such
flashes, however, must be carefully differentiated from the bursts of
our own HE.
h. Ground Minerals Affect Instruments
The presence of metallic debris, or possibly ore bodies, tended to affect
magnetic needles. Precautions had to be observed to avoid errors of observation.
i. By-passed Resistance Centers
Instances occurred where German machine guns held their fire during the
advance of armored vehicles, and opened on the unarmored or thin-skinned vehicles
following the tanks. This is a time-worn ruse, but must be constantly guarded
against by supporting units.
j. Mine Warfare and Booby Traps
This subject has been repeatedly mentioned in Tactical and Technical Trends and
other service publications, but so serious is the problem, that publicizing it
can hardly be overdone. There is a story of an early California sheriff who instead
of a six-shooter, carried a bowie-knife. "A gun misses," he explained. "This
here knife don't miss." Neither does a mine.
The Germans in their continual withdrawal employed mines and booby traps
even more extensively than in Tunisia. The general pattern was fairly similar
to that employed in Tunisia, although the mines were in greater number and more
irregularly laid. While there was an absence of the extensive antitank mine fields
found in Tunisia, roads, the approaches to demolitions and blown bridges, and all
available avenues of pursuit were thickly strewn with mines of all types. Nearly
all likely positions for infantry and artillery -- well known to the
retreating Germans -- were thickly strewn with mines and booby traps
whenever there was time to lay them. The British report that hay
stacks, left unburned by retreating Germans, from which men might
take hay for bedding, are favorite places for the laying
of trip-wire actuated mines.
k. Antipersonnel S Mines
S mines were used in huge quantities. Whenever there was time, booby
traps of every form, from ammunition dumps to attractive souvenirs were prepared.
Even partially buried dead were trapped to catch our burial parties. Tellermines
were not so dangerous to foot troops unless booby-trapped with trip wires, but the
S mines, because of the profusion with which they were sown and the difficulty of
detecting them, constituted a constant menace and a source of many casualties.
The one major lesson of the campaign was the emphatic repetition of the lesson of
Tunisia -- the fact that mines are a danger to all troops of all arms in the combat
Two things must be avoided -- souvenir hunting and riding on the running
boards of vehicles. When clearing mines, after removing one mine, the spot must
be tested to be sure a second or third mine is not buried below or nearby. Only
cleared lanes and roads must be followed by vehicles, and vehicles must be