[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.]
CHAPTER IV. TACTICS
Section IV. OFFENSIVE
4. Conduct of the Attack
a. GENERAL. Most of the German successes in the present war have been achieved with armored formations. Years of secret training and equipping were devoted to the development of the Panzer division. The original German Blitzkrieg tactics were based on the belief in the irresistible power of tank formations operating independently with the support of dive-bombers. Considerable modifications have taken place in this theory over the past few years. At the present time, the offensive tactics of the Germans are less spectacularly bold than they were in 1939, but the fundamental theory behind them has changed remarkably little, though in their armored tactics they stress more tank-infantry coordination since unlimited air support is no longer at their command.
The main weight of all major German attacks since 1939 was borne by the Panzer division. Where infantry divisions have been employed, they were limited to local attacks on a comparatively minor scale or to mopping up in rear of the Panzer divisions. The Germans never envisaged a full-scale attack by infantry formations on fixed defenses. German tactics have been to outflank or encircle the main area of the enemy defenses with tank formations and to have the infantry roll up the defenses from the rear, or to break frontally through the enemy defenses with massed tanks and develop the famous "Keil und Kessel" maneuver.
The Germans learned at heavy cost the futility of charging a hostile antitank defense with tank concentrations and of engaging in tank-versus-tank combat without having superiority in range and armament. They have learned that large formations of tanks cannot achieve a breakthrough, opposed by an effective screen of antitank guns, without the assistance of other arms. Therefore attention has to be given to the combined tactics of tanks and Panzer Grenadiers, the mechanized or motorized infantry who accompany the tanks.
Great emphasis in German offensive theory is laid on the role of the artillery, but in practice the artillery-support role has devolved to an ever-increasing degree on the tanks and assault guns. Nevertheless, the principle that the supporting fire should be concentrated on a narrow frontage where the tanks and infantry are most likely to achieve a breakthrough has been retained.
The fact that a part of the enemy resistance is likely to remain undisclosed until the attack has already begun has caused the Germans permanently to decentralize a portion of the field artillery. This tendency has led to the emergence and continual development of the assault guns, whose main function is the close support of infantry and tanks in the attack. Their armor and mobility allow them to operate much farther forward than the field artillery.
The tendency to detach field artillery battalions from their field artillery regiment remains strong. In fact, this tendency is so prevalent that a concentration of massed artillery preceding an attack seldom is achieved, necessitating, as it does, a great degree of centralized control. The Germans, however, replace the massed artillery fire to a large extent with the fire of multi-barreled mortars and rocket projectors, though these latter have not the accuracy of the former.
The Germans make a clear distinction between an attack made from movement and an attack from a prepared position, which is the more common of the two.
b. ATTACK BY MECHANIZED AND MOTORIZED FORCES. (1) The attack. In armored-force operations, the Germans stress the need for the concentrated employment, at the decisive place and time, of the entire combined command of tanks and other arms, less necessary reserves. The tanks constitute the striking force of such a command and normally advance as the first echelon of the attack. Their primary mission is to break through and attack the enemy artillery, rather than to seek out and destroy enemy tanks, which can be more effectively engaged by antitank units. The mission of the other arms is to assist the tanks in their advance, and particularly to eliminate antitank weapons. The smallest combat unit in such a force of combined arms is the company.
The basic formation for the tank platoon, company, and battalion are file, double file, wedge, and blunt wedge. The type of formation used for a specific task depends to a large extent on terrain conditions and the strength of enemy opposition. A German tank platoon normally consists of one command tank and two tank squads of two tanks each.
The tank regiment normally attacks in waves, in either of the following manners:
The tank regiment is echeloned in depth, one tank battalion following the other. The regimental commander's location is between the two battalions. This formation has the advantages of a sufficiently wide front (about 1,100 yards), and close contact by the commander of his units in the conduct of the attack. The normal depth of such a formation is about 3,000 yards. This is the usual form of the tank attack. When two tank battalions are attacking, one behind the other, it takes them about half an hour to pass their own infantry.
When the two-battalions-abreast formation is employed, it is almost essential that another tank regiment form the following wave. This formation usually has the disadvantage of being too wide. The regimental commander cannot observe his units, and he has no units of his own behind him which he can commit in a decisive moment. The attack normally proceeds in three waves.
The first wave thrusts to the enemy's antitank defense and artillery positions.
The second wave provides covering fire for the first wave, and then attacks the enemy's infantry positions, preceded, accompanied, or followed by part of the Panzer Grenadiers, who dismount as close as possible to the point where they must engage the enemy. The objectives of the second wave are the remaining antitank positions, positions of heavy infantry-support weapons, and machine-gun emplacements which hold up the advance of the infantry.
The third wave, accompanied by the remainder of the Panzer Grenadiers, mops up.
These three waves now often are telescoped into two, the first wave speeding through the enemy's position as far as his gun positions, the second crushing the enemy's forward positions in detail and mopping up the opposition not dealt with by the first wave or which has revived since the first wave passed through.
A typical attack formation of this type might be divided up among the Panzer division's units as follows: the first wave, on a frontage of about 2,000 to 3,000 yards, might consist of one tank battalion, two companies forward, supported on the flanks by elements of the assault gun battalion. Close to the rear of the first wave usually follow one or two Panzer Grenadier companies in armored half-tracks. About 150 yards to the rear of the first wave moves the second wave, formed of the second tank battalion in the same formation, closely followed by the remainder of the armored Panzer Grenadiers, who are in turn followed at some distance by the motorized Panzer Grenadiers. The flanks are protected by antitank guns which normally operate by platoons, moving by bounds. The artillery forward observer travels in his armored vehicles with the first wave, while the artillery commander of the supporting artillery units usually travels with the tank commander. Assault guns normally also accompany the second wave.
The tanks help each other forward by fire and movement, medium or heavy tanks taking up hull-down firing positions and giving covering fire while the faster tanks advance to the next commanding feature. Then the latter give covering fire to the former moving forward to their next bound.
Once the first wave has reached the rear of the enemy's forward defenses, it pushes straight on to attack the enemy's artillery. As soon as these positions have been neutralized, the tanks reform beyond the artillery positions and either prepare to exploit the attack or form an all-round defensive position on suitable ground.
The tank unit commander, as the leader of the strongest unit, is in most cases in command of the combat team, and all the other participating arms (Panzer Grenadiers, artillery, engineers, and antitank units) are placed under him. The Germans realize that a strong and unified command is an essential feature of any military operation. For certain missions, however, tank units are attached to another arm, in which case the tank commander is consulted before the final plans for the operations are made.
(2) Infantry-tank cooperation. When the enemy has well prepared positions with natural or constructed tank obstacles, the German infantry attacks before the tanks and clears the way. The objective of the infantry is to penetrate into the enemy position and destroy enemy antitank weapons to the limit of its strength and the fire power of its own support weapons, augmented by additional support and covering fire from the tanks and self-propelled weapons sited in their rear.
Only after the destruction of the enemy antitank defense can the tanks be employed on the battle line to the fullest advantage.
When the tank obstacles in front of the enemy position already are destroyed, and no additional tank obstacles are expected in the depth of the enemy's main defensive position, the infantry breaks through simultaneously with the tank unit. The infantry attack is conducted in the same manner as it would be without the cooperation of tanks. Heavy infantry weapons are kept in readiness to fire at possible newly discovered antitank positions. Of particular importance is protection of the open flanks by echeloning the flank units and employing heavy weapons at the flanks.
In most cases, the infantry follows the tanks closely, taking advantage of the fire power and paralyzing effect of the tanks upon the enemy's defense. The Germans normally transport the infantry to the line of departure on tanks or troop-carrying vehicles in order to protect the infantry and to increase its speed. The infantry leaves the vehicles at the last possible moment, and goes into action mainly with light automatic weapons.
The tanks advance by bounds from cover to cover, reconnoitering the terrain ahead and providing protective fire for the dismounted Panzer Grenadiers. The tanks do not slow their advance to enable the infantry to keep continuous pace with them, but advance alone and wait under cover until the infantry catches up with the advance. Terrain that does not offer sufficient cover is crossed with the greatest possible speed.
The infantry attacks in small formations also by bounds under the fire cover of its own heavy weapons and of the tanks, staying away from individual tanks because they draw the strongest enemy fire.
When a tank company attacks with infantry, there are normally two platoons on the line, one platoon back, and the fourth platoon in reserve. The interval between tanks is usually 100 to 120 yards. The tank's machine guns usually engage infantry targets at about 1,000 yards range and under, while the tank guns engage targets at 2,000 to 2,500 yards.
The coordination between tanks and Panzer Grenadiers moving into combat on armored half-tracks is similar to the technique employed in a purely armored formation, since the armored half-tracks are not only troop-carrying vehicles but also combat vehicles. When the terrain is favorable for tank warfare, the Panzer Grenadiers in their armored half-tracks follow immediately with the second wave, after the first tank wave has overrun the opponent's position. A deep and narrow formation is employed. After the penetration, the main mission of the Panzer Grenadiers is to overcome the enemy positions which survived the first wave.
In attacking enemy pillboxes the Germans use combat groups consisting of tanks, infantry, and engineers, assisted by artillery. The normal composition of a combat group attacking one bunker is one platoon of tanks and one platoon of infantry reinforced by one squad of engineers. Before the combat group is committed against the enemy pillbox, artillery fires high explosives and smoke shells at the neighboring pillboxes to isolate them, shells the terrain between pillboxes, and conducts counterbattery fire. Under the protection of this fire, the combat group advances close to the pillbox while other infantry units attack the enemy in the terrain between the pillboxes.
One tank squad covers the advances of the other tank squads and the infantry platoon by direct fire against the pillbox, particularly against the observation and weapons' openings. The first tank squad halts under cover whenever possible and covers the advance of the second tank squad.
When the combat group reaches a barbed wire obstacle surrounding the pillbox, the two tank squads have different missions. One tank squad remains in front of the pillbox, and its tanks are driven into a position from which they can overlook the terrain, and watch out for antitank guns and machine gun emplacements, while the other tank squad (the pillbox tank squad) rolls across the obstacle to enable the infantry and engineers to get close to the pillbox. The pillbox tank squad then fires on the pillbox at close range. The infantry squad meanwhile takes the surrounding terrain and covers the engineers who blast the entrance of the pillbox with TNT.
(3) Artillery-tank coordination. Artillery support is of decisive importance for the preparation and the successful conduct of a tank attack. A unified command for the entire artillery controls the artillery fire as long as the infantry and tank units are fighting on the same line. When the tanks break through the enemy forward defense lines, the self-propelled artillery or any other artillery battalion designated for the support of the tank unit is placed under the command of the tank unit commander.
The Germans believe that the artillery fire must not check the momentum of the attack. Consequently the heaviest fire must fall well ahead of the tanks or outside their sector.
The mission of the artillery preparation before the attack is to destroy, or at least to neutralize, the opponent's antitank defense in the area between the line of contact and the regimental reserve line. Continuous counterbattery fire prevents the enemy from shelling the tank assembly area and from breaking up the preparation of the tank attack.
The artillery has the following missions before the tank attack:
Counterbattery fire on enemy artillery located in positions which command the ground over which the tank attack is to be made.
Concentrations on enemy tanks in assembly areas.
Harassing fire on all areas in which the antitank units are located or suspected. Fire is heaviest on areas in which tanks cannot operate but from which they can be engaged effectively.
Adjusting fire with high explosives on probable enemy observation posts commanding the sector to be attacked. These observation posts are blinded with smoke as soon as the attack begins.
Experience has taught the Germans that the flanks of a tank attack are vulnerable. Therefore they assign to the artillery and the rocket projector units the task of protecting flanks by barrages using high explosives and smoke shells.
The artillery has the following missions during the tank attack:
Blinding enemy observation posts.
As the attack progresses, engaging successive lines of antitank defense, especially areas to the rear and flanks of the sector attacked.
Screening the flanks of the attack with smoke and neutralizing the enemy's infantry and rear areas.
Delaying the movement and deployment of enemy reserves, particularly tanks.
The Germans stress that this wide variety of tasks must not lead to the wholesale dispersal of effort. The main task of the artillery is at all times the destruction of the enemy's antitank weapons, tanks, and artillery.
Liaison between artillery and tanks during the attack is established by the commanding officers and the artillery liaison group, which normally moves with the first wave. Artillery forward observers, if possible in armored observation posts, ride with the most forward elements. A German field expedient is for the tank unit to take along a forward observer in one of its tanks. It often happens that the tankman himself has to take over the observation for the artillery. He himself can request artillery fire and shift concentrations when the situation requires such changes. Figure 10 represents a map with superimposed coordinate system and artillery reference points used by tank commanders to help them in this task.
c. THE INFANTRY DIVISION IN THE ATTACK. (1) General principles for employment. German teaching envisages infantry divisions being employed to make a penetration in the enemy defensive positions through which armored and mechanized formations can pass. During the course of this war, however, no major attack has been carried out by infantry divisions without the support of Panzer divisions. In fact, more major attacks have been carried out by Panzer divisions, with only a minimum of ordinary infantry elements. Infantry divisions have been employed almost entirely in a role of consolidation, following up the armored and mechanized formations, systematically eliminating centers of resistance bypassed by the latter, or exploiting the latter's success by mopping up demoralized enemy defenses to the flanks of the armored breakthrough—in short, consolidating and holding the ground won by the mechanized formations.
In view of the unspectacular role allotted to the infantry division it is difficult to give information about other than minor infantry tactics, such as attacks on a small scale.
(2) Preparation for the attack. The method of forming up for an infantry assault on a prepared position is similar to that employed by the Panzer division. While the infantry is in assembly positions, the artillery makes all preparations for the support of the attack. It draws out hostile artillery fire and executes counterbattery fire against known enemy batteries. Large troop concentrations and especially-important targets are taken under fire at great ranges. In order not to betray their full strength and intentions, the Germans withhold a portion of their batteries from these missions. They also try to deceive the enemy as to their intentions by covering other sectors simultaneously with fire. When possible, preparation for an attack is avoided during the day in order to prevent Allied observation. Occasionally, to obtain a success by surprise, the Germans launch attacks without artillery preparation. Surprise attacks also are launched under cover of darkness or fog.
The Germans normally occupy their line of departure by means of infiltration in order to avoid losses. Their orders direct what actions have to be taken when companies run into enemy defenses; when enemy fire is opened from the flank; when an enemy counterattack is launched; when objectives are reached; when companies appear to be getting dispersed; when part of a company pushes too far ahead of neighboring units or is held up.
The heavy machine guns of the rearward company and some of the mortars and heavy mortars are assigned to deal with enemy flanking fire.
The commander of the heavy company is normally at the battalion headquarters, from which he can control the fire of the infantry heavy support weapons.
(3) Deployment. (a) First stage. The Germans carry out deployment in two stages. They call the first stage Entfaltung or "shaking out", which is equivalent to the development of a march column according to U.S. procedure. In the first stage (Figure 9), an infantry regiment normally deploys down to battalions, although the procedure may go down to companies if a high state of preparedness is necessary. Features of the first stage of deployment are as follows:
Companies retain their combat vehicles until their weapons and equipment arrive at the off-carrier position, which is located as far forward as the situation permits.
The Germans often place only one company forward, the main strength of the battalion being kept under control of the battalion commander as long as possible so that he may employ it in the most advantageous direction for attack.
If the condition of the terrain and enemy fire cause a change of intervals between units, the normal intervals are resumed as soon as possible.
Support weapons are used to cover the "shaking out" phase of deployment and the subsequent advance, the weapons being kept within the march column between the companies or behind the battalion.
After the first stage of deployment has been carried out, the leading elements of the battalion may be ordered to seize important tactical features.
When deploying by night or in woods, a careful reconnaissance is made, routes are marked, and strong protection is placed forward. Intervals between units are shorter.
After the first stage of deployment has been completed, the battalion commander marches with the leading elements and normally will send reconnaissance patrols ahead or reconnoiter the enemy position himself. The commanders of support weapons accompany him, reconnoitering for firing positions.
(b) Second stage. The second stage (Figure 10), called Entwicklung (development), is deployment in detail, which is the final action of the company extending itself down to platoons and squads. Features of the second stage of deployment are as follows:
The companies deploy in depth as soon as they come within range of artillery fire. An advance in columns of files is considered desirable because it affords a small target and the company is easier to control, but before adopting this formation the danger of enfilade fire is weighed.
If enemy fire and difficult terrain necessitate further deployment, the companies disperse in depth by sections. Reserves and support weapons also adopt open formations, but they remain far enough behind to avoid coming under the fire directed at the leading elements.
When the rifle companies are deployed, they exploit all possible cover as they advance, employing column-of-file formations with irregular distances. The leading elements are not extended until they are to engage in a fire fight. The elements that follow continue advancing in file.
In determining when to deploy, the Germans take into consideration additional physical strain placed on men when they march cross-country.
(4) Technique of attack. The infantry attack on prepared positions is made in the same sequence as that of the Panzer division, namely penetration, breakthrough, exploitation by the reserves. In the infantry attack, however, the first phase is a series of local attacks by so-called assault detachments (Stosstrupps) with the aim of overcoming key points in the enemy defenses, so that wedges into the enemy's forward positions can be established from which the attack can be driven forward into the depth of the enemy position, or rolling up the positions on either flank of the wedge.
Assault detachments normally are composed of infantry with engineers attached. A typical assault detachment consists of the following: one officer; obstacle clearing party, consisting of two to six men for each lane to be cleared, equipped with small arms, wire-cutters, and bangalore torpedoes and other explosives; embrasure-blasting party consisting of three or four men equipped with grenades and demolition or pole charges. This party may also include, though it may work independently, a flame-thrower party, consisting normally of two men; covering parties, normally two or three parties of varying size from three men with one light machine gun to full platoons; smoke party consisting of two or three men equipped with smoke candles or grenades; supply party, carrying reserves of equipment and ammunition, their strength depending on the size of the assault detachment.
Attacks most often are made at dawn, and are preceded normally by heavy artillery preparation, one purpose of which is to make shell holes which afford cover for the advancing assault detachments as they move forward. When the latter reach the wire obstacles surrounding the enemy position, Very signals are fired, calling for available artillery fire to be brought on the position to seal it off, from flanking positions. If, by reason of proximity of the assault detachment to the artillery's danger zone, the former cannot be protected by covering fire, the smoke party may lay a smoke screen. The obstacle-clearing party then cuts one or more lanes through the wire, using wire cutters or bangalore torpedoes. The embrasure-blasting party passes through and attacks the embrasures. Flame throwers, if employed, are not intended by themselves to cause the surrender of the position, but to cover the advance of the embrasure-blasting party with its explosive charges which are considered the decisive weapon.
Antitank guns may be used to give close support to the embrasure-blasting party, being man-handled from cover to cover. They will attack the embrasure with armor-piercing ammunition and also give protection against possible tank-supported counterattacks.
It is probable that several such operations will be in progress on any one sector at any one time before an attack, in the first place to probe for weak spots, and in the second place to keep the enemy in uncertainty as to the final point of main effort of the attack. German feint attacks have often been delivered in such strength or with such violence as to be indistinguishable from the main attack.
Once a wedge has been firmly established in the enemy positions, the second phase of the attack begins. Troops so far held in their assembly area, or slowly making headway under cover of the artillery fire supporting the first phase of the attack, advance to cut the enemy position in two and to roll up the positions flanking the wedge.
Because the Germans anticipate enemy defenses organized in depth, and because these are unlikely to be fully disclosed until after the beginning of the attack, they do not make detailed plans for close-support covering fire, which would be hard to work out in advance, but tend to decentralize their support weapons and artillery for the second phase of the assault, in which reinforced battalions, companies, or platoons fight their own way forward, independently of their flanking units, until they have gained their final objective.
Attack on lightly defended positions is more similar to the conduct of the attack by the Panzer division. The first phase is likely to be a deployed attack on a two-regiment front, the third regiment in reserve.
The Germans believe that in the advance extended formation of units is advantageous because it forces the enemy to scatter his fire.
To counteract the overwhelming Allied superiority in artillery and planes which frequently knock out the attack before it is under way, the Germans have been known to use the following method. Small groups of less than platoon size infiltrate mainly at night over a period of three to four days into the hostile battle position or at least well behind the advanced positions. During the day the infiltrated groups conceal themselves, but if caught pass themselves off as ordinary patrols to avoid raising suspicion. When the actual attack is launched these units try to give the impression that the defender is surrounded and often cause great confusion.
When the Germans go over from the attack to the defense, even if only temporarily, they concentrate the supporting weapons around the commander of the unit that is to be supported, so that he can control the fire plan.
(5) Infantry-assault gun coordination. The assault guns are organized in assault gun battalions and are under the control of the division commander. The Germans regard their self-propelled assault guns as decisive weapons to be employed particularly at the point of main effort. In cooperation with infantry they facilitate the penetration and breakthrough. These weapons, the Germans believe, complement artillery fire by their ability to follow the infantry right up to an objective. Their use for small actions before an attack is forbidden so as not to betray their presence. Surprise is sought by bringing them into position by night and camouflaging their assembly area. Used primarily to neutralize enemy support weapons at short ranges over open sights, assault guns are preferably employed in concentrations; to employ them singly or in comparatively small number is frowned upon by the Germans.
German assault guns advance with or just behind the infantry; they never go ahead of the infantry. When an objective is reached, the assault guns do not remain with the infantry while the position is being consolidated but retire about 1,000 yards to await further assignment.
In close combat the assault guns are rather helpless and therefore it is the task of the infantry to keep the enemy away from the assault guns. Newly-organized assault-gun escort batteries have the same task.
(6) Artillery. The Germans employ their field artillery in general support (Allgemeine Unterstützung) or in direct support (Unmittelbare Unterstützung), in the same manner as the U.S. Army. The Germans consider the battalion as the firing unit. Splitting up an artillery battalion into batteries and placing batteries under an infantry battalion is the exception justified only when the infantry battalion has an independent mission (for example, flank protection) or when the terrain does not permit unified fire control by artillery battalion commanders. Single commitment of guns is against German tactical doctrine. Various recent reports, however, describe deviations from the prescribed practice. Normally the Germans do not employ single field artillery pieces for direct fire, as, for instance, the Russians do. But much use is made of roving guns (Arbeitsgeschütz), and of guns firing from alternate positions to make identification more difficult. Standing German orders call for the preparation of alternate firing positions, which, however, are used now only in cases of very heavy counterbattery fire, as the gasoline shortage keeps all movements to a minimum. The Germans often designate the number two piece as the roving gun, and, unlike the other pieces, it normally is not dug in. It frequently changes its position, which is about 250 to 300 yards from the rest of the battery.
The German artillery often engages a target from a lateral position. This deception, particularly identified with longer range weapons, is extended by employing another gun, often of lighter caliber, in a carefully coordinated attack on the same target. Flash simulators also increase the difficulty of visual location of active guns.
The first step to obtain infantry-artillery coordination is taken in the attack order and is assured by direct contact between the commanders, artillery liaison units (Artillerieverbindungskommando), and direct contact between artillery observers and infantry units.
The Germans also employ forward observers (Vorgeschobene Beobachter), who have the same task as their U.S. counterpart.
The signal equipment necessary for communication between units, liaison units, and observers is only partly organic. The Germans keep most of the signal equipment centralized in the division signal battalion, which allots equipment as needed to the various units.
In the attack the greater part of the artillery supports the main effort. The remainder of the artillery is assigned the mission of flank protection against possible enemy counterattacks.
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