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"Signs of a German Attack" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following military report on signs of a German attack was originally 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.]


Some interesting observations contained in the following notes indicate certain preliminary signs of a German attack. Despite the fact that sometimes the unexpected happens to defeat the supposedly best laid plans, there are often dependable signs to look for in trying to predict the enemy's intentions. It is through day-to-day observation and practical testing that tactics become adapted to combat methods of the enemy.

These notes of a combatant in the presence of a German attack were translated from a French document.

*          *          *

a. Preliminary Signs

These are indicated by thorough local aerial reconnaissance; patrolling and local attacks; deployment of a considerable reserve.

Attention should be directed to the following signs:

(1) Mounted or horse-drawn troops -- almost sure indication of an infantry division.

(2) Mounted group of more than 32 men -- platoon of regimental mounted orderlies of an infantry regiment.

(3) Motorcyclists in large numbers -- reconnaissance group of an infantry division. Individual motorcyclists: (a) without sidecars, probably couriers. (b) with sidecars, perhaps armored units or motorized infantry.

(4) Light armored vehicles indicate either a reconnaissance group of an infantry division or an armored or motorized division.

(5) Horse-drawn artillery -- infantry division.

(6) Tanks -- armored divisions in general, use sections of five tanks, rapidly shifted, for their reconnaissance.

(7) The establishment of passages in mine fields, the presence of engineers in armored vehicles, night patrols, the arrival of dive-bombers, likewise indicate an attack.

b. Enemy Attack - Things to Watch

(1) Three men crouched side by side indicate a machine gun or a light mortar. The mortar produces a small cloud of rosy-colored smoke. Mortars and machine guns are vulnerable to destruction by a grenade or by rifles, employed by two men who are mutually supporting. Infantry cannons are indicated by a loud detonation and a brilliant light. They are frequently pushed ahead very much in the advance.

(2) German smoke signals -- a white smoke probably signifies: "We are here". A colored light or smoke means: "Call for support fire"

(3) Mortar fire ordinarily calls for three trial shots, followed by a group of ten shots, which one expects to see full in the center of the spots where first three shots struck. German 81-mm mortars generally operate in pairs; those of 50-mm by groups of three.

(4) Antitank rifles are habitually in groups of three; antitank cannon by two's or by three's.

c. Conclusion

There is nothing new about the preceding statements. Nevertheless it is necessary to remember that the Germans have not lost sight of two essential principles, which they apply in practice, both in strategy and in tactics:

(1) The principle of the economy of forces, which calls for the accumulation of almost all the disposable armament on a narrow front, even to the detriment of other sectors.

(2) The principle of enemy destruction. The latter should be preferred to gains in terrain and is obtained by flank actions, after a fixation of the enemy's front.


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