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"Notes on Winter Use of Infantry Weapons" from Intelligence Bulletin, October 1943

[October 1943 Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   The following is a report on German use of infantry weapons in winter military leadership principles from the October 1943 issue of the U.S. Intelligence Bulletin.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin publication. 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 notes are based on directions issued by the German High Command regarding the use of German infantry weapons in winter. For complete descriptions of these weapons, with illustrations, the reader is referred to Special Series No. 14, "German Infantry Weapons," issued by M.I.D., W.D.


a. General

The German Army is thoroughly aware that winter cold and snow necessitate special measures concerning the carrying, moving, and bringing into position of infantry weapons and ammunition. In this connection German soldiers are reminded of certain fundamental points: that noises travel farther in cold, clear air; that when snow obscures terrain features, there are decidedly fewer landmarks; and that, in winter, distances are generally estimated too short in clear weather and too far in mist. The German High Command adds several other practical suggestions:

It will be especially necessary to practice target designation, distance estimation, and ranging.

The rifleman and his weapons must be camouflaged thoroughly. White coats, white covers for headgear, and white overall trousers and jackets will be worn. When necessary, such outer clothing can easily be improvised out of white canvas. The simplest camouflage for weapons will be plain white cloth covers or coats of removable chalk; the former will have the added advantage of affording protection.

At low temperatures, the accompanying weapons of the infantry will fire somewhat short at first. After a few rounds, however, the range to the point of impact will be normal. Before a weapon is loaded, the loading movements should be practiced without ammunition. (In drilling with pistols, be sure to remove the magazine beforehand.)

b. Specific

(1) Rifles.—Rifles are carried on the back, or are hung from the neck and suspended in front. During long marches on skis, rifles are fastened on the side of the haversack.

When the German soldier goes into position, he takes special care not to allow his rifle barrel to become filled with snow. He does not take off the bolt protector and muzzle cap until shortly before he is to use the rifle. The various methods of going into position are practiced in drill.

As far as possible, telescopic sights are not exposed too suddenly to extreme changes in temperature.

(2) Automatic Pistol.—The Germans keep the automatic pistol well wrapped, and sling it around the neck or over the shoulder. Magazine pouches are closed very tightly.

(3) Light Machine Gun.—The light machine gun is slung on the back. In going into position, the Germans use brushwood or a "snow board" (see fig. 2) for a base. They take care not to disturb, by unnecessary trampling, the snow cover in front of positions. The purpose of this precaution is to avoid recognition by the opposing force.

[Figure 2. Snow Board Used as a Base for German Light Machine Gun in Firing Position.]
Figure 2.—"Snow Board" Used as a Base for German Light Machine Gun in Firing Position.

The simplest kind of mat is taken along so that belts can be kept clear of snow.

The light machine gun is first shot until it is warm, and then is oiled.

When fire is continued for any length of time, the snow in front of the muzzle turns black; therefore, before the snow becomes blackened, the Germans decide upon prospective changes of position.

If there is to be a considerable interval after the firing of the machine gun, the bolt is changed and the oil is removed from the sliding parts. (Only an extremely thin oil film is allowed to remain.) This precludes stoppages which might be caused by the freezing of oil. The new bolt is given a very thin coat of oil before it is inserted.

Replacement ammunition, in pre-filled belts, is carried into action.

(4) Heavy Machine Gun.—The heavy machine gun is carried in the usual manner or is loaded on a small sleigh, skis, or a pulk. A pulk (see fig. 3) is a type of sled used by the Lapps; its front half somewhat resembles that of a rowboat.

[Figure 3. Pulk Used for Winter Transport of German Heavy Machine Gun.]
Figure 3.—Pulk Used for Winter Transport of German Heavy Machine Gun.

When the Germans take the heavy machine gun into position, they use some sort of snow board, the pulk, or even a stretcher as a base. They take care not to disturb the snow in front of the position.

The Germans try not to expose the sights to temperatures of less than 6° F. During marches these sights are kept in their containers, and before they are used, they are gradually warmed in sheltered places or on the human body. The sights are kept mounted on the machine-gun carriage only while the gun is in active use.

Mats are carried so that belts may be kept clear of snow.

For shooting in extreme cold, German range tables provide for the necessary sight adjustments. The heavy machine gun is first shot until it is warm, and then is oiled. New positions are decided upon before the snow in front of the muzzle becomes blackened.

The Germans prevent soiling of the machine gun, which leads to stoppages, (a) by keeping the antidust cover closed as much as possible, and (b) by not allowing the gun to remain loaded (with bolt backwards) for any length of time.

Speed is considered highly important in readying the gun for firing. While firing is in progress, the bolt remains uncocked in the forward position, the belt is inserted into the belt pawl, and the gunner, remaining in the firing position, withdraws the cocking slide only with a strong jerk and pushes it forward again.

(5) General Rules for Firing the Mortar and Infantry Howitzers.—Adjustment of fire is done only by very careful bracketing.

At low temperatures, the weapons fire somewhat short at first. After a few rounds the range to the point of impact becomes normal. Therefore, in adjustment of fire, the Germans start with a greater range than that ascertained.

When shooting from the same emplacement for any length of time, the Germans repeatedly throw fresh snow over the black spots in front of the muzzle to camouflage them.

(6) Light Mortar.—The light mortar is carried in the usual manner. In emplacing it, the Germans clear away the snow and dig into the ground. If the snow is loose enough, the Germans fill sandbags with it or pack it down to form bases.

The Germans have found that the fragmentation effect of the mortar shells is diminished by deep snow.

Sights are wrapped in wool as a protection against extreme cold.

(7) Light Infantry Howitzer.—The light infantry howitzer is moved by spur wheel (horse-drawn) or on a simple sleigh, drawn by two horses or six men. When half-tracks or tractors are used, sled runners are placed under the front wheels.

When the ground is frozen solid, the guns in firing position are put on elastic bases whenever this is feasible. Brushwood fascines (bundles) are considered especially satisfactory. When the Germans are firing in deep snow, they use sled runners and snow plates or boards, or the largest commercially-produced snowshoes, to prevent the guns from sinking in. If one pair of snowshoes is not enough, two pairs are fastened together.

Since the march is generally confined to roads or trails, emplacements are usually set up in the route itself.

The Germans try to fire ricochet bursts. This is possible if there is loose snow (up to about 16 inches in depth) and frozen ground.

Sights are protected against extreme cold.

(8) Heavy Infantry Howitzer.—Movement in 6 to 8 inches of snow is not difficult on roads and trails.

For the rest, see (6) and (7).

(9) 37-mm Antitank Gun.—In 6 to 8 inches of snow, the 37-mm antitank gun is drawn by a light five-passenger personnel carrier. When the gun is man-handled or horse-drawn, the Germans use a spur wheel and sled runners fixed underneath.

The emplacement is prepared in the same manner as that of the light infantry howitzer.

The front of the protective shield is painted white. When the gun is in the firing position, a cut-out board is placed underneath the trail.

To avoid blackening the snow with the first round, the weapon is not fired too low over snow cover.

(10) 50-mm Antitank Gun.—In 6 to 8 inches of snow, the 50-mm antitank gun is drawn by a half-track prime mover on roads and trails only.

For the rest, see (9).


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