Home Forums WWII German Infantry in 1940: Tactical Experiences of the Infantry in the West (long)

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  • #146121
    John D Salt
    Participant

    I have just spent a few days leaning heavily on Google Translate to get a WW2 German document most of the way into English. I post it here under the delusion that it may be of interest to other WW2 wargamers. It’s 3,443 words, so unfashionably long for the twitter era.

    The original seems to have originated in OKH on 18 Dec 1940 and got to the people running the General Staff Course in Berlin by 15 Jan 1941. The document finishes “signed von Brauchitsch”, but the signature appears to be that of a Major Dieckmann, who I take to be Hans Dieckmann, later an Oberst, who was serving on the OKH staff at the time.

    A.V.J.9 is the German document that appears to correspond to the British “Infantry Training”.

    If anyone who speaks better German than Google Translate would like to have a go at improving on my translation, I can supply a document including the original German text and my translator’s notes.

    All the best,

    John.

    – – – – – – – – – cut here – – – – – – – –

    Evaluation of the Tactical Experiences of the Infantry in the West
    (Auswertung der taktischen Erfahrungen der Infanterie im Westen)
    Translated by John D Salt, October 2020.

    1.) Reconnaissance.
    Operational reports show that reconnaissance was insufficient, including infantry recce, especially against an enemy set up for defence.
    The reasons for failure are:

    a) Excellent camouflage by the enemy
    b) The enemy let scouting troops close to short range and then shot them down or let them run past
    c) Prohibition of recce by commanders in order not to give plans away prematurely
    d) Urging by commanders to hasten the attack
    e) Patrols too weak
    f) Inadequate training of scouting troops, especially the leaders.

    Regarding a) and b) the enemy cannot destroy, capture, or allow battleworthy scouting troops to pass by at close range, especially if they are deployed and advance under the protection of heavy weapons.
    On c) according to paragraph 182 of AVJ9, premature crossing of a line, in order to maintain surprise, can be prohibited “in exceptional cases” for reconnaissance and scouting. Such an exceptional case is for example given when an attacker is ready to push into the enemy flank from a completely new direction without contact with the enemy, but not when an attacker is already facing the enemy position and his presence is known to the enemy.
    On d) the main reason for the failure of reconnaissance is the urging of commanders to accelerate the attack. This is right as long as both parties are in flux. In such cases, waiting for the results of recce is wasting the best opportunities to seize. When attacking an opponent prepared for defence, time taken to prepare the attack is also useful for the defender. The leadership will therefore urge you to act quickly. However, preparation of an attack takes time, which must be granted by the troop leadership in order to avoid unnecessary losses and setbacks. This preparation time must be used as thoroughly as possible for recce.
    On e) The use of too weak patrols is partly based on our regulations. So it says for example in paragraph 198 of AVJ2a that “a few brave men” suffice and then further, “the minimum strength is usually one leader, two men”. Almost all scouting troops practised in this strength in times of peace.
    It also arises from the efforts of the company and platoon commanders to keep their troops together and not to weaken them prematurely. Experience shows that for reconnaissance against an enemy prepared for defence, only combat-capable scouting troops prevail. Scouting teams of 1 to 2 squads led by the platoon leader and supported by heavy weapons have proven their worth. Specifically for this purpose, the squad usually remains intact as a unit, with 4 squads in the platoon it is always available. The regulations will be changed accordingly.
    On f) The new squad of 1-9 has greatly limited the level of tactics to be carried out by the squad leader. Only in reconnaissance and security duties does he often have to make decisions of his own accord. It is precisely in this that he must be trained. As before, it is not a matter of training individual corporals, but especially of the non-commissioned officer and the young officer as the leader of battleworthy scouting troops of various strengths and compositions.

    2.) Stormtroops.
    Combat reports and numerous verbal statements from troop leaders show that the term “Storm troop”, which has become a catchphrase, leads to confusion due to the interpretation and expansion that it has experienced among the troops. It is necessary to create clarity here.
    The expansion of the term “Storm troop” arises partly from the desire of the troops to give the attacking spearhead a name that increases the momentum of the attack.
    The schematic arrangement of the rifle company for the attack with two platoons in the front line and one platoon behind as a reserve, with no clear combat mission and without determining the objective for each platoon, as was so often found in peacetime with thoughtless and inexperienced leaders, led to failure. Learning from this, each platoon was given an objective, the troops formed the form adapted to the respective situation and also incorrectly referred to the storming parties intended for the break-in, which all other groups and the heavy weapons supported, as “Stormtroops”.
    The attack in “Storm troops” was practised everywhere in the winter of 1939/40 with a view to the imminent attack against the Maginot Line or against the extensive bunker fronts in Belgium and Holland. In combat training, the shock troop attack, through frequent exercises, was the procedure that the masses of infantry really mastered during spring 1940.
    The first attacks in “Storm troops” were carried out in May. This form of attack was later retained in some units, often as a result of the crisis of the baptism of fire, when the attack was mostly in a too-massed nominal form or because the mass of riflemen was not expected to have the necessary attack momentum.
    In contrast, it can be stated:

    a) Storm troops are necessary when attacking bunkers, blockhouses, strongpoints etc., the removal of which requires special means of attack.
    b) Storm troops are specially assembled and equipped for their purpose.
    c) Storm troops are made up of selected people, often volunteers, under a particularly careful and dashing leader.
    d) Storm troops must be trained in the composition and equipment appropriate for the respective purpose and, if at all possible, have practiced the impending attack. They need time for that.

    The fighting in the West has not changed this definition. Storm troops should therefore only be used if the requirements for a – d are met.

    3.) Attack Procedure.

    a) Formation for advance and attack.
    The rifle company firefight requires the use of numerous MGs in the forward line. The formation necessary for this was often already taken when forming up for the advance and maintained the whole time when deployment into combat formation was not even an option.
    Thus, instead of the casualty-avoiding approach in long, narrow formations that made use of all the possibilities of the terrain, there was a fully deployed troop offering numerous targets, covering the entire width of the combat frontage.
    Even if, because of defective reconnaissance information, the location of the enemy main line of resistance is not known, spearhead elements must move off with platoons and companies behind them in long, small formations, maintaining this formation until the transition to combat demands a broad formation. Of course, the spearhead elements must be assured of heavy weapon support at all times.

    b) Attack wedge.
    When attacking positions, pushing into the enemy as a wedge with powerful spearhead elements is the usual procedure. The objective of the attack wedge is the opponent’s soft spot, “where, depending on the enemy situation and the terrain, there are favourable prospects for the attack to be carried forward quickly to the enemy” (A.V.J.9, paragraph 189, 2). The exact formation of the company advancing as a wedge depends on the available approach routes and fire support as well as on the breadth of the objective.
    The advance of the attack force corresponds to focusing fire on the decisive point by using all available heavy weapons, including the reserves, to combine their fire.
    The reserves are pushed in at the point where the wedge hits the enemy position. They feed the fight with shock and fire power, keep it flowing and widen the initially narrow break-in points.
    The attack wedge is therefore nothing more than a sharp emphasis on the building of the main effort. The most important thing is not the formation of the company and the battalion, but the combination of all forces – shock, fire and reserves – in the direction of the chosen objective.
    When attacking in wedge, command must give orders what to do with those parts of the enemy position not directly struck by the wedge.
    If a battalion with a rifle company in the front line attacks the objective as a wedge, the stronger enemy parts lying to the side are initially not attacked. Often the spearhead elements of the wedge can flank these unhindered and take them under fire. The fire of heavy weapons and artillery will usually not be enough to eliminate these enemy elements. Their effect is only neutralised with certainty if these nests are also attacked. As a result, the wedge must be widened on both sides, with powerful elements successfully attacking the flanking enemy nests. This also determines the formation of the company or battalion advancing and attacking as a wedge. The points made in section 189 of A.V.J. 9 are still relevant.

    c) Objective of attack – combat sectors.
    Combat sectors for rifle companies are described in some reports as superfluous because they inhibit the thrust towards the objective.
    When attacking from the line of march, the battalion commander assigns the rifle companies “axis of attack and objective, if necessary boundaries – or centre line” (A.V.J. 9 item 176). In the case of an attack after deployment, he orders the “objectives, combat sectors or a centre line” (A.V.J. 9, paras. 181 and 185). The objective of the attack is always put first. When attacking from the line of march, the designation of combat sectors can often be omitted. The width of the developed company is largely unlimited, there is no risk of crowding by pushing the companies into one another, the direction is clear from the designation of the objectives.
    When attacking after deployment, especially when attacking fixed positions, the designation of the objective is not sufficient. Combat sectors limit the range of movement and combat space. They regulate the responsibility for tying down enemy elements not struck by the attack spearheads. If the rifle company deployed on the main effort is only attacking one objective as an attack wedge, then there are usually a number of enemy nests in their combat sector, which they have to fight with their heavy weapons or by attacking with other parts of the company so that attack spearheads can advance without filling up the entire width of the combat sector.
    For this a clear separation from the neighbouring company is necessary. If battalions attack a position next to each other, boundaries and battalion combat sectors are essential for the same reasons.
    On the whole, then, as before, the objective has priority over the combat sector (no blinkers). The regulation (A.V.J. 9) expresses these principles well enough.
    For the build-up of the battalion main effort, the allocation of combat sectors of different widths is necessary. The concentration heavy weapons fire on the objective of the main effort company, the increased allocation of heavy weapons to this company, and the tracking of the reserves in their combat sector are means of focusing effort, which are supplemented and reinforced by the allocation of a narrow combat sector. The narrow combat sector allows the main effort company to organise itself strongly in depth and to drive a wedge into the enemy.

    d) Fire concentration and procedure.
    Many reports highlight the benefits of concentrated fire. That is not news. Fire concentrations ordered by the battalion commander are to be used as required by the action. Avoid stereotyping.
    Fire concentration requires careful preparation. Prohibiting any shooting during this preparation inhibits the initiative and so the freedom of action of the subordinate commander. During preparation, too, every company, indeed every platoon, will take advantage of every favourable opportunity to move forward, and indeed lend impetus to this by concentrating fire.
    A.V.J. 9 sharply emphasized the synchronisation of fire and movement in many places (paragraphs 46, 48, 52, 72, 194, 204, 207). Combined fire of heavy weapons and artillery must coincide with the advance of the infantry.
    “The task of the battalion commander and the commanders of all heavy weapons is to bring the attack forward again and again by concentrating fire” (A.V.J. 9, para 204). The task of all leaders and subordinate commanders of rifle companies at the start of the fire concentration is to get their people up and storm forward as long as the fire continues! Under your own fire “close with the enemy” – this is the key to success!
    This attack procedure requires drill-like practice with regard to fire concentrations and their exploitation!

    e) Focus of Fire – Heavy weapons of the reserves.
    The focus of fire is on the break-in point. All heavy weapons prepare to concentrate fire on enemy targets inhibiting the advance and later on the objective of the attack. The battalion commander orders the timing of the concentrations according to the criteria mentioned above. The regimental commander reinforces the focus of fire through the use of heavy weapons, if possible also from the reserve battalion as well as the main effort battalion, as well as through appropriate involvement of the artillery.

    f) MG Coy OC as the commander of all heavy weapons.
    The battalion commander can instruct the commander of the MG Company to establish the focus of fire and the fire concentrations as well as managing all heavy weapons subordinate to the battalion. The company commander of the MG Coy is then responsible for the preparation of these tasks, for triggering the fire concentration and bringing the heavy weapons to the front as the attack progresses, in order to be able to shoot the rifle companies forward at any time according to the orders of the battalion commander.

    g) Ammunition consumption.
    Infantry fighting in the West has shown low consumption of ammunition. During all the fighting, for example the divisions of the 1st wave, apart from infantry guns, only used 50% of the 1st line allocation on average.
    These figures confirm the recurring complaints in combat reports that the infantry make too little use of their excellent weapons. But they also show that worrying about shooting yourself out of ammunition in an attack is mostly unjustified. There was no shortage of ammunition anywhere.
    There is undoubtedly a failure in training here. The sad necessity of frugality in peacetime range firing, the deficiencies in shooting skills of only half-trained riflemen, the inexperience of Battalion, Company and Platoon commanders in the use of heavy weapons in the attack, especially in concentrating fire, and the difficulties in recognizing the target, in particular in spotting enemy MGs, are the reasons for this deficiency.
    It is important that when the infantry encounters the enemy, they not only call for artillery support, but help themselves with their own weapons. Without exaggerated concern for shortage of ammunition, but also without pointless wasting of ammunition, they use their excellent offensive weapons of all kinds for maximum fire effect. To do this, they must be encouraged and educated!

    h) Shooting at area targets.
    The principle of the rifle shooting regulations: “The shooter must see his target in order to be able to engage it” has also been carried over to the heavy weapons of the infantry in peacetime training. Given the great difficulty of observing a well-camouflaged enemy under fire, especially enemy MG.-nests, and deficiencies in reconnaissance, the above-mentioned principle in many cases led to insufficient use of our powerful heavy infantry weapons. Even if this principle for shooting training remains fully valid, heavy weapons will often have to fire on area targets, groups of bushes, houses, etc., in which the enemy is lodged without being clearly recognizable as a single target. Only in exceptional cases will fire have to be conducted on mere suspicion.

    i) MG as an attack weapon.
    The MG 34 – LMG and MMG – has proven itself an excellent offensive weapon. The superior rate of fire of the MG has great moral effect on the enemy. Troops in the attack must unceasingly seek to exploit this advantage, by shooting through gaps and from superelevated positions, but especially by using the MG in the front line (see A.V.J. 9, item 77).
    Narrow attack formations favour the fire of rearward MGs through the gaps that form. At close range, numerous MGs should be deployed in the front line to gain fire superiority.

    k) Signal “Forward at the double”.
    The signal “forward at the double”, blown at the crucial moment, has proven its worth. Numerous examples prove this. From platoon commander to regimental commander, this signal has been used to give impetus to the attack at the height of the fight and often in the most difficult situation.
    Training of musicians in delivering signals, but especially for leaders in their application, is required.

    4.) Combat under special circumstances.

    a) Forest fighting.
    Attack through dense forest area poses special combat tasks for the leadership and troops. It takes careful preparation and time.
    Alertness, cunning, bold strokes and surprise can lead to quick success. In the event of a sudden encounter with the enemy, he must be attacked immediately with armes blanches.
    In the larger forests with dense stands and a lot of undergrowth, a powerful reconnaissance is to be set up, which forces the enemy to open fire and to disclose his well camouflaged positions.
    The reconnaissance is followed by the attack spearheads, well equipped with close combat weapons, SMGs, and, in thick undergrowth, axes. Individual heavy weapons, Anti-tank guns and infantry guns, are brought close to the forward elements, and engage weak resistance nests from forest clearings and paths. Stronger pockets of resistance should be avoided if possible and left to follow-up elements. If that is not possible, they are to be stormed after careful investigation and with the support of heavy weapons.
    Loud cheers and the signal “forward at the double” confuse the enemy when the attack spearheads break in and facilitate mutual understanding.
    The rifle companies follow the penetrating attack spearheads in a wedge, and comb and clear the terrain won according to the enemy situation.
    The flanks are to be secured.
    Spraying the treetops with MG fire is a well established counter against riflemen in trees (A.V.J. 9, point 295).

    b) Fighting in towns.
    Attack in towns is by squads and platoons with copious amounts of explosives, hand grenades and SMGs to carry out close combat.
    The unhesitating use of individual light field howitzers, heavy infantry guns and anti-tank guns by advanced platoons as well as setting fire to the town contributes to the rapid breakdown of the resistance.
    The follow-up squads, determined in advance, remove the last resistance and mop up the village. Shelling resistance nests with smoke puts the enemy in danger of suffocation and often has the desired incendiary effect.
    Against MGs installed in basements, direct aimed fire from light field howitzers and 88mm Flak is particularly effective.

    c) Night fighting.
    Night fighting rarely took place. Troops, accustomed to the peculiarities of night fighting, with precise knowledge of the enemy position, detailed preparation and surprise, carried out actions successfully, with low losses.
    The fighting principles of the regulations have proven their worth.

    5.) Defence against tanks.
    According to the reports of the troops, a large number of enemy armoured vehicles of all kinds have been put out of action by the anti-tank weapons of the infantry. In one case, the anti-tank company of an infantry regiment destroyed over 50 enemy armoured vehicles in a short time, and in another battalion 5 enemy tanks were destroyed by anti-tank rifles. However, the reports indicate that these successes have only been achieved at close ranges.
    It is therefore necessary that all weapons involved in anti-tank defence be kept close to the front line, and open fire as late as possible. Shooting at close range improves penetration and accuracy. Always strive for flank shots. Hitting the sides of the armoured vehicles, especially the tracks and running gear, is very effective.

    6.) Use of smoke.
    Occasional use was made of artificial smoke from medium mortars to blind and neutralise flanking positions and OPs, and against houses to burn and suffocate the occupants.
    The smoke round of the heavy infantry gun has not been used.
    Smoke candles and smoke hand grenades were often used by scouting troops, storm troops, and in street fighting against barricades.
    In small unit combat, from platoon to battalion, infantry smoke munitions (smoke hand grenade, smoke candle, smoke mortar bomb and sIG smoke shell) are effective and casualty-preventing means of support, which the troops still use far too little. (See H.Dv. 211/1 – “Smoke devices and their handling”).

    7.) Cooperation with armoured forces.
    The points given in A.V.J. 9 are still valid. No new experience has arisen. The infantry will always have to endeavour to support their own armoured forces by fighting enemy anti-tank defences, but above all to exploit and secure the successes of attacking tanks by unstoppable, fierce pushing forward.

    #146126
    Steve Johnson
    Participant

    Very interesting, so thanks for taking the time to do this.

    #146127
    Whirlwind
    Participant

    That’s brilliant, many, many thanks.

    https://hereticalgaming.blogspot.co.uk/

    #146128
    grizzlymc
    Participant

    Fascinating John.

    It’s interesting to compare and contrast with experiences of 21st AG and from the Brits in Italy. One comment I have never heard made about Commonwealth troops was inadequate patrolling. It seems to me that the moment you had a foxhole dug and a wet inside you, someone was calling for a patrol. Ubiquitous patrolling must have solved the issue of signaling plans to the enemy.

    It’s also interesting to note the difficulty of getting MGs to put enough suppressive fire downrange. I have never heard that comment about Commonwealth troops, but apparently the Americans learned that the purpose of shooting is not always to drop an enemy.

    #146139
    MartinR
    Participant

    Thanks John, very interesting.

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    #146140
    Etranger
    Participant

    Yes indeed, interesting!

    #146152
    Thomaston
    Participant

    Interesting. I wonder if there is another from Mid-war to see if changes were implemented and what other lessons they learned once the war got going.

    Tired is enough.
    I like tiny miniatures

    #146161
    deephorse
    Participant

    Many thanks for this John.  Some rule writers should be made aware of this.  As an aside, what ‘musicians’ did a German infantry platoon/company have, buglers?  I don’t recall seeing photos of such men, or figures offered for sale by figure manufacturers.  A couple of ‘Jingling Johnnies’ would enliven my platoon HQs no end.

    Less enthusiasm, please. This is Britain.

    #146177
    Coyotepunc
    Participant

    That was an amazing read and I thank you for it. I have all the tactical sense of a wet, possibly dead hamster so things like thisxare always helpful. Thank you again.

    Please visit my OSR products for sale at
    www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/17194/Punkrabbitt-Publishing

    #146239
    John D Salt
    Participant

    Some rule writers should be made aware of this.

    The thing I always find frustrinteresting about reports like this is how they never seem to deal with the same topics that wargames rules-writers deal with. This report concentrates on recce, engaging hidden targets, use of smoke, and the assignment of control measures such as objectives and boundaries. In most wargames I’ve played, “Time spend in reconnaissance is always wasted”, area fire against poorly-located targets isn’t possible, there might not be satisfactory rules for smoke, and control measures are almost always completely absent. So unfortunately for Coyotepunc, a putative Nasserhamsterstaktischehandbuch might not help very much on the wargames table.

    As an aside, what ‘musicians’ did a German infantry platoon/company have, buglers? I don’t recall seeing photos of such men, or figures offered for sale by figure manufacturers. A couple of ‘Jingling Johnnies’ would enliven my platoon HQs no end.

    Sadly I can find no evidence of jingling johnnies at platoon, or even company, level. I’ve had a gander at a lot of the infantry KStNs at https://www.wwiidaybyday.com and come to the hand-waving conclusions that:

    Company and rifle platoon HQs each have one bugler (Hornist) for orbats up to the end of 1941. The Schützen-Feldersatzkompanie has huge platoons, each with 2 buglers.

    From Feb to Nov 1941 company and rifle platoon HQs will have buglers and also a visual signaller, presumably with the K-Blink, see https://www.nachrichtentruppe.de/en/technology/69-das-k-blinkgeraet-von-reichswehr-und-wehrmacht

    From 1943 radios make an appearance, typically 4 Feldfunksprecher bs for the company, and the buglerage and blinkery mostly disappear. One Orbat for a Sturmkompanie includes 8 Feldfunksprecher bs as well as company and platoon buglers, and the one for the Karpaten-Jagdkompanie has 4 Feldfunksprecher bs and platoon buglers.

    A modest amount of time flonking around the interwebs reveals four or five photos of Wehrmacht buglers who look warrier than regimental bandsmen,including one Fallschirmjäger, but few of them seem to be easily linkable to.

    All the best,

    John.

    #146242
    MartinR
    Participant

    Interesting. I wonder if there is another from Mid-war to see if changes were implemented and what other lessons they learned once the war got going.

    I assume the lessons learned apply to principles laid down in Truppenfuhrung published in the late 1930s (translations are available), which covers operations up to divisional size in a range of circumstances including mountain warfare etc.

    The only later manual I’ve come across is the misleadingly titled “German Squad Tactics” in the Nafziger series. It does cover the minutiae of platoon level combat (who carries the MG34 etc) but is mainly concerned with company level operations for infantry and armoured panzer Grenadiers. It still assumes a four gruppe platoon with a 50mm mortar section though, even though the infantry section is supposedly from 1942.

    As John notes, a lot of this stuff is about march security, recce, the organisation of attack and defence, objectives, boundaries etc. No reference to buglers I’m afraid.

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    #146265
    deephorse
    Participant

    Thanks John, I knew I could rely upon you.  Now to try to find the same bugler photos that you did, and then to persuade someone to make one!

    Less enthusiasm, please. This is Britain.

    #146266
    deephorse
    Participant

    Here’s one from King and Country.  Doubt that he would have worn the Swallow’s Nests on active service though.

    https://www.kingandcountry.com/wehrmacht-bugler-p-2691.html

     

    and it looks as though they didn’t

     

    Less enthusiasm, please. This is Britain.

    #146271
    Thuseld
    Participant

    I would be interested in having a crack at reading the German. Do you have that available? Thanks for all the effort you have gone to for this.

    #146273
    John D Salt
    Participant

    I would be interested in having a crack at reading the German. Do you have that available?

    Indeed I have. Had I been slightly less forgetful I might have included my e-mail address for people to send requests to.

    Send mail to musketoonltdFRUITBATgmail.com, where “FRUITBAT” is the “@” sign, and if you like mention Auswertung der taktischen Erfahrungen der Infanterie im Westen in the subject line. Same goes for anyone else. Suggestions for improvement always welcome (sensible suggestions, not “Learn more German you lazy lump”).

    All the best,

    John.

    #146289
    Patrice
    Participant

    Very interesting, thanks.

    BTW I happen to own a small book which I find very interesting (I mention it here although I’m not willing to sell my own, but perhaps you’ll be interested to know it does exist, I don’t remember where I found it, probably in some car boot sale or at a local bookseller in France many years ago for a cheap price) “Modern Battle by Col. Paul W. Thompson, Infantry Journal – Penguin Books, printed in the USA 1942” . It describes many battles from the first part of WW2, taken from German military publications. “All the chapters of Modern Battle were written not only with the soldier of today’s American Army in mind, but also his lay military brother in arms in this day of total war – the citizen”.

    http://www.argad-bzh.fr/argad/en.html
    https://www.anargader.net/

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