[Lone Sentry: WWII Tactical and Technical Trends]
  [Lone Sentry: Photographs, Documents and Research on World War II]
Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Intel Articles by Subject

"Observations -- Sicilian Campaign" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. military report on German tactics in the Sicilian Campaign was published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 46, May 1, 1944.

[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 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 marksmanship.

b. Snipers

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.

c. Pillboxes

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.

e. Digging

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 zone.

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 sand-bagged.


[Back] Back to Articles by Subject | Intel Bulletin by Issue | T&TT by Issue | Home Page

Web LoneSentry.com