TM-E 30-451 Handbook on German Military Forces

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Technical Manual, TM-E 30-451: Handbook on German Military Forces published in March 1945. — Figures and illustrations are not reproduced, see source details. — 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.]



1. General

a. PURPOSE. The purpose of reconnaissance and the types of units employed to obtain information are similar in the U.S. and the German Armies. German tactical principles of reconnaissance, however, diverge somewhat from those of the U.S. The Germans stress aggressiveness, attempt to obtain superiority in the area to be reconnoitered, and strive for continuous observation of the enemy. They believe in employing reconnaissance units in force as a rule. They expect and are prepared to fight to obtain the desired information. Often they assign supplementary tasks to their reconnaissance units, such as sabotage behind enemy lines, harassment, or counter-reconnaissance.

b. TECHNIQUE. Only enough reconnaissance troops are sent on a mission to assure superiority in the area to be reconnoitered. Reserves are kept on hand to be committed when the reconnaissance must be intensified, when the original force meets strong enemy opposition, or when the direction and area to be reconnoitered are changed. The Germans encourage aggressive action against enemy security forces. When their reconnaissance units meet superior enemy forces, they fight a delaying action while other units attempt to flank the enemy.

c. CLASSIFICATION. Reconnaissance is classified by the Germans as operational, tactical, and battle reconnaissance—corresponding to the U.S. distant, close, and battle reconnaissance.

2. Operational Reconnaissance (Operative Aufklarung)

Operational reconnaissance, penetrating over a large area in great depth, provides the basis for strategic planning and action. This type of reconnaissance is intended to determine the location and activities of enemy forces, particularly localities of rail concentrations, forward or rearward displacements of personnel, loading or unloading areas of army elements, the construction of field or permanent fortifications, and hostile air force concentrations. Identification of large enemy motorized elements, especially on an open flank, is important. Operational reconnaissance is carried out by the Air Force and by motorized units. Aerial photography units operate at altitudes of 16,500 to 26,500 feet. Since missions assigned to operational air reconnaissance units are generally limited to the observation of important roads and railroads, reconnaissance sectors and areas normally are not assigned. The motorized units employed for operational reconnaissance have only directions and objectives assigned.

3. Tactical Reconnaissance (Taktische Aufklarung)

a. PURPOSE. Tactical reconnaissance, carried out in the area behind the operational reconnaissance, provides the basis for the commitment of troops. Its mission embraces identification of the enemy's organization, disposition, strength, and antiaircraft defense; determination of the enemy's reinforcement capabilities; and terrain reconnaissance of advanced sectors. Air Force reconnaissance units and motorized and mounted reconnaissance battalions are employed for tactical reconnaissance. Their direction and radius of employment are based upon the results of the operational reconnaissance.

b. AIR RECONNAISSANCE. Tactical air reconnaissance is normally made from altitudes of 6,500 to 16,000 feet. As a rule, air reconnaissance units are assigned specific reconnaissance areas, the boundaries of which normally do not coincide with sectors assigned to ground units. Reconnaissance planes generally are employed singly.

c. GROUND RECONNAISSANCE. Sectors of responsibility are assigned to ground tactical reconnaissance battalions. In order to make them independent or to facilitate their change of direction, battalions may be assigned only reconnaissance objectives. In such instances, boundary lines separate adjacent units. The Germans avoid using main roads as boundary lines, defining the sectors in such a way that main roads fall within the reconnaissance sectors. The width of a sector is determined by the situation, the type and strength of the reconnaissance battalion, the road net, and the terrain. In general, the width of a sector assigned to a motorized reconnaissance battalion does not exceed 30 miles.

d. ORDERS FOR TACTICAL RECONNAISSANCE. Orders issued to a reconnaissance battalion or its patrols normally contain, in addition to the mission, the following:

(1) Line of departure.

(2) Information concerning adjacent reconnaissance units.

(3) Sector boundaries or direction of operation.

(4) Objectives.

(5) Phase lines.

(6) Instructions for transmission of reports.

(7) Location of immediate objectives whose attainment is to be reported.

(8) Instructions regarding air-ground liaison.

(9) Time of departure, route, and objective of the main force.

e. TACTICAL RECONNAISSANCE PROCEDURES. When a motorized reconnaissance column expects contact with the enemy, it advances by bounds. The length of bounds depends on the cover the terrain offers as well as on the road net. As the distance from the enemy decreases, the bounds are shortened. The Germans utilize roads as long as possible and usually use different routes for the advance and the return.

The reconnaissance battalion commander normally sends out patrols which advance by bounds. Their distance in front of the battalion depends on the situation, the terrain, and the range of the signal equipment, but as a rule they are not more than an hour's traveling distance (about 25 miles) ahead of the battalion. The battalion serves as the reserve for the patrols and as an advance message center (Meldekopf), collecting the messages and relaying them to the rear. Armored reconnaissance cars, armored half-tracks, or motorcycles compose the motorized reconnaissance patrols, whose exact composition depends on their mission and on the situation. Motorcycles are used to fill in gaps and intervals, thereby thickening the reconnaissance net.

When the proximity of the enemy does not permit profitable employment of the motorized reconnaissance battalion, it is withdrawn and the motorized elements of the divisional reconnaissance battalion take over.

Divisional reconnaissance battalions seldom operate more than one day's march (18 miles) in front of the division, covering an area approximately 6 miles wide.

4. Battle Reconnaissance (Gefechtsaufklarung)

a. GENERAL. Battle reconnaissance as a rule is begun when the opposing forces begin to deploy. All troops participating in battle carry out battle reconnaissance through patrols, artillery observation posts, observation battalions, and air reconnaissance units. The information obtained on the organization and strength of the enemy provides the basis for the conduct of the battle.

b. ARMORED CAR PATROLS. The Panzer division dispatches armored reconnaissance units equipped with armored vehicles and numerous automatic weapons. The armored reconnaissance unit is fast and has a wide radius of action.

Armored car patrols normally are composed of three armored reconnaissance cars, one of which is equipped with radio. An artillery observer often accompanies the patrol so that in an emergency fire can be brought down quickly. This type of patrol usually is organized for missions lasting one to two days. Tasks are defined clearly, and nothing is allowed to interfere with the patrol's main objective. If enemy forces are met, action is avoided unless the force is so weak that it can be destroyed without diverting the patrol from its main task. If enemy action is anticipated, the patrol is reinforced with self-propelled guns and occasionally with tanks. Engineers and motorcyclists are often attached to the patrol to deal with road blocks and demolitions.

While scouting a woods, a favorite German ruse is to drive the leading car toward its edge, halt briefly to observe, and then drive off rapidly, hoping to draw fire that will disclose the enemy positions.

At road blocks, the leading car opens fire. If fire is not returned, men dismount and go forward to attach tow ropes to the road block. If necessary, the patrol dismounts and proceeds with machine guns to reconnoiter on foot.

A patrol is never split up, but in open country distances between cars may be as much as 200 to 300 yards.

c. OBSERVATION BATTALION AND AIR RECONNAISSANCE. The German observation battalion locates enemy artillery and heavy weapons positions by sound and flash ranging and evaluated aerial photographs. The Air Force assists in battle reconnaissance by observing the distribution of the enemy's forces, his artillery, bivouac and movements, reserves, tank assemblies, and any other special occurrences behind the front. In general, air battle reconnaissance is executed under 6,000 feet.

d. BATTLE RECONNAISSANCE PATROLS (Spähtruppen). The Germans send out reconnaissance patrols, consisting of a noncommissioned officer and three or four men, to get such information as the location of enemy positions and minefields. They generally avoid contact and retreat when fired on.

e. COMBAT PATROLS (Gefechtsspähtruppen or Stosstruppen). These consist of at least one noncommissioned officer and eight men, but are usually much stronger. As a rule the combat patrol is commanded by a sergeant who has under him 15 to 20 men, organized in two equal sections, each commanded by a section leader. These are raiding patrols, and their mission often includes bringing back prisoners of war. Since Allied air supremacy has neutralized German air reconnaissance to a great extent, the Germans have placed increased importance on prisoners of war, especially officers, as a source of information on enemy strength, dispositions, and intentions.

Combat or other types of patrols are often sent out to test the strength of enemy outposts. If an outpost proves to be weakly held, the patrol attacks, occupies the position, and remains there until relieved by troops from the rear. If the patrol is strongly garrisoned, the patrol attempts to return with a prisoner of war.

f. SPECIAL PATROLS (Spähtruppen mit besonderen Aufgaben). These vary in strength in accordance with their special mission. Special patrols are sent out to carry out such tasks as demolitions, engaging of enemy patrols that have penetrated German positions, and ambushing enemy supply columns.

g. MISCELLANEOUS PATROLS. Engineer patrols are employed to reconnoiter approaches to fortified areas, defiles, or rivers. Artillery patrols, usually consisting of an officer and a few mounted men, reconnoiter routes of approach, observation posts, and firing positions.

h. TERRAIN RECONNAISSANCE (Geländeerkundung). The Germans place great emphasis on terrain reconnaissance, realizing the influence terrain has upon the conduct of operations. Most of their usual reconnaissance missions include terrain reconnaissance tasks. Terrain may be so important at times as to require reconnaissance by special units. Ground and air reconnaissance units give special attention to the road net—its density, condition, road blocks, mines, and demolitions—as well as to the terrain itself, particularly tank country.

i. EQUIPMENT AND SUPPORT. The Germans equip their ground battle-reconnaissance patrols with machine pistols and one or two light machine guns that are used to cover the patrol's approach or withdrawal. Engineers often are attached to guide a patrol through German minefields and to clear a way through enemy wire or mines. Artillery support is given in the form of harassing fire put down just before the patrol reaches its objective. Sometimes the artillery fires into adjacent sectors to mislead the enemy as to the actual area to be reconnoitered. In other instances, artillery and mortars that have registered during the previous day shell during the night the area to be reconnoitered. As soon as the barrage is lifted, the patrol advances under cover of machine-gun fire from flanking positions.


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