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"von Arnim Discusses Junior Leadership" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   A translated German order from General von Arnim in Tunisia describes principles for German junior officers, from the Intelligence Bulletin, February 1944.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy tactics and equipment published for Allied soldiers. More accurate data on German tactics is available in postwar publications.]




It is both foolish and dangerous for anyone to go to extremes in appraising the junior officers of the German Army. To say that German junior leadership is "weak" would be untrue. But to say that it has demonstrated "instances of weakness" in the past is an entirely valid statement. The German Army attempts to correct such faults as soon as they become apparent. In Tunisia, for example, General von Arnim issued to his commanders a constructive order, which discloses a number of errors that they had been making. He prefaced the order with this comment: "In recent operations, apart from the outstanding conduct of certain officers and men, many self-evident principles of tactics and command seem to have been discarded."

In considering the following extracts from the order, the reader will have no trouble in detecting the faults that General von Arnim was determined to overcome. It is reasonable to suppose that the enemy may again display, in other combat areas, various tendencies indicated here. In any event, it is an advantage to know the opinion of a high-ranking German officer regarding the deficiencies apparent within his command.


a.  Before an action every unit commander [in the Fifth Panzer Army] must try to give his men the broad picture so far as it affects the missions of the company and the battalion.

b.  Unless the soldier has been informed about the plan, he will fight without enthusiasm or understanding, and will become confused in crises.

c.  Unless a patrol knows the broad picture, it will be unable to make the most of what it observes within the enemy lines.

d.  Unless signalmen and runners know the broad picture, they cannot maintain their contacts properly.

e.  During battle every commander must try to keep his subordinate commanders informed regarding the progress of the fighting. If it is impossible for him to give the broad picture, he must at least inform them regarding the progress of his own unit. In turn, subordinate commanders will pass this information along to their men.


a.  When a decision must be achieved, it is impossible to be too strong. That is, at the point where a decision is to be brought about, one's forces must be concentrated--but not bunched.

b.  Flank protection by small detachments a considerable distance away is worthless; the opposition can destroy these detachments one at a time. Instead, flank protection should be afforded by close flanking columns--echeloned toward the rear, if necessary. A battalion and a half may well attack on a 2,000-yard front, but never on a 7,000-yard front. Attacks in divergent directions are employed only for feints.

c.  A concentration must never be permitted within a sector dominated by the opposition. Concentrations must not only be covered, but protected from the air.

d.  Unless reconnaissance has been extensive and thorough, there is always a chance that one will unexpectedly run into hostile fire. Reconnaissance should be conducted by sectors, and from ridge to ridge (including reconnaissance for future observation posts), in exactly the same way in which the attack is divided into bounds so that support weapons can be brought forward in time.

e.  Before every action an assault detachment precedes the rest of the company, which is deployed in depth. Support weapons should be well forward, to give prompt assistance. The forward observers for support weapons and artillery must be very far forward; an infantry detachment must be assigned to protect them against surprise attacks.

f.  As soon as a position has been taken, it must immediately be consolidated against counterattacks (including air attack) by means of:

(1)  Reconnaissance of the position to which the hostile force has withdrawn and reconnaissance of the nearest hostile force on our own [German] axis of advance.

(2)  Readiness of machine guns, with sentries performing half-hour tours, especially on the flanks.

(3)  Dispersion of the troops taking part in the consolidation (so as not to provide the opposition with targets for artillery or air attack); rapid replacement of ammunition, and short breaks for messing, maintaining equipment, and so on.

g.  It is a matter of honor for one arm to help another--for example, infantry covering disabled tanks and giving protection while brief recovery jobs are being undertaken. At night, tanks are blind, and must have infantry protection against tank-hunting detachments (often the crew alone will not be adequate for this). Artillery pieces and mortars in exposed positions must also be protected by infantry.

h.  Ground cooperation with dive bombers has always worked well in cases where tracer fire or guiding smoke has been used lavishly.


a.  Too little use has been made of brief warning orders, which prepare our troops, make reconnaissance of approach routes possible, and sometimes speed up the departure by hours. It must be remembered that preparations for the attack and the defense, especially when the fighting is to take place in mountainous terrain, call for different equipment.

b.  Written orders will be given only above regimental level. On and below this level, verbal orders will be given--and in the prescribed sequence so that salient points can be written down.

c.  It is impossible to be of assistance to subordinate commanders unless adequate reports from the front line have been received. Reports received in the past have hardly ever mentioned the exact time when events occurred or when things were seen. Often a place has not been identified, except by a system of private map references unknown to others. Intelligence about the opposition is almost always omitted--exact details about the hostile force, its positions, and its movements. In instances in which a United Nations force has attempted an outflanking move, reports have failed to mention which of our flanks was involved and in which direction the hostile force was moving. How can the higher commander help his subordinates under such circumstances?


a.  The nearer the front, the shorter the communication routes must be.

b.  A battalion headquarters must be close enough to the rear of its companies to permit a runner from a company commander to reach it in not more than 10 minutes. A regimental headquarters must be no more than 2,000 yards to the rear of its battalion headquarters--if possible, on a level with them and in a position from which it can observe the battlefield.

c.  It is best for a battalion headquarters and the regimental headquarters to move forward along a main field telephone line, which has a direct wire to the company command post at the decisive point. In any event, the company commander will be at the decisive point for intercommunication within the battalion and the regiment. The units flanking him to the right and left will be maintaining contact with him, anyway, as a matter of course.

d.  Every effort must be made to rush important reports to the rear. This Army cannot be of assistance if a crisis is not reported until 24 hours after it has occurred!

e.  In forwarding reports about purely local matters (weather, casualties, exhaustion of personnel, hostile artillery fire, and so on), all commanders must refrain from wording them too pessimistically or so coloring them as to influence the higher command in a certain direction. A course which appears favorable for one sector may prove disastrous for the situation as a whole.

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