I. Improvised Hedgehog Defenses
From the very first days of the campaign, the vastness of European Russia and the peculiarities of Russian warfare led to the repeated isolation of individual units and combat teams. Allaround defenses and security measures were the only possible remedy. Far from being stressed, these defense tactics were frequently not even mentioned in the field service regulations. The field forces improvised them and designated them very appropriately as "hedgehog defenses." As time went on these tactics were applied more and more frequently and adopted by larger units. Their use was not confined to defense. During offensive actions advance detachments had to build hedgehog defenses as protection against enemy surprise attacks by night. For instance, during their advance through a swampy forest region in Lithuania where strong, dispersed enemy forces were reassembling, combat teams of 6th Panzer Division formed the first hedgehog positions during the initial week of the Russian campaign. Several hay barns in a major clearing were selected as the location for the divisional command post. Covered by thick underbrush, the tanks were placed in a wide circle around the barns with their guns ready to fire at the edge of the woods. In front of the tanks was an outer ring of infantry in foxholes and ditches and behind embankments which enabled the tanks to fire over their heads. Security patrols and outposts formed an outer cordon. The Russians recognized the strength of these protective measures and did not dare carry out the surprise attack they had planned. They resigned themselves to harassing the hedgehog area with tank and machine gun fire and a few rounds of artillery shells.
The hedgehog defense provided the troops with security and rest and thus passed its first major test. Before long these precautions became a routine security and defense measure for armored spearheads. The first large-scale employment of this measure occurred during the thrust toward Vyazma in October 1941 when an entire panzer division with 260 tanks spent the first night of the attack in an elaborate system of hedgehog positions in the woods. (Map 1) Forming the spearhead of a powerful wedge, the division had penetrated the enemy lines to a depth of twenty miles. In its rear and on its flanks de-
feated enemy divisions were withdrawing under cover of darkness. A retreating enemy corps staff sought refuge in a small isolated village in the forest which was occupied by the German divisional staff. Enemy troop units were around the entire system of tank hedgehogs. As long as the German tanks were on their own, the intermittent firing of flares and machine guns indicated their great uneasiness. This changed with the arrival of the armored infantry which followed the tanks. When the divisional artillery and engineers arrived and were also integrated into the hedgehog defense system, a restful night was had by all. Early next morning the Russians departed very quietly because they were unable to find any rest in the immediate vicinity of the German division.
II. Defensive Improvisations in Extreme Cold
During the last days of 1941, the 6th Panzer Division was outmaneuvered by superior Russian forces and dislodged from a chain of villages which surrounded a large forest region. The division was faced with two alternatives: It could either withdraw a certain distance to another group of communities and be enveloped and split up, or it could establish defense positions in front of or between these indefensible villages in a temperature of -49° F. without adequate shelter which would mean certain death from exposure. During the engagements of the last few days, most of which had of necessity taken place in open terrain, the daily casualties from frostbite had increased at an alarming rate. By 3 January 1942 the number of moderate and severe frost bite casualties had risen to 800 per day. At that rate the division would soon have ceased to exist. The immediate construction of shelters and bunkers, with whatever heating facilities could be installed, was mandatory. But these defensive positions could not be built because only one corps and two divisional engineer battalions with 40 to 60 men each and very little equipment were available. On the other hand a large quantity of explosives had recently arrived at division. In view of the critical situation, the engineer battalion commanders were ordered to disregard the frost and to blast enough craters into the solidly frozen ground along the tentative defense line to provide shelter for all combat units including the reserves. These craters were to be echeloned in width and depth and were to hold three to five men each. The engineers were also to mine certain areas and build tank obstacles in three places. The reserves and service troops were ordered to pack down paths be-
tween the craters and to the rear. They were to use readily available lumber to cover the craters.
The blasting along the entire line started early next morning. The noise of the 10,000-pound explosive charges somehow gave the impression of a heavy barrage. Fountains of earth rose all around and dense smoke filled the air. The enemy watched with surprise, could not understand what was happening, and remained quiet. The blasting was over by noon and by nightfall the craters were covered and occupied by the combat elements. Soon afterward smoke rose from the craters where the crews kept warm at open fires. The craters formed an uninterrupted line of positions in front of which outposts were established. A maze of abatis lay in front of these, guns were emplaced along the thoroughfares behind the tank obstacles, and the entire front line was ready for defense within twelve hours after the first detonation. This position withstood all enemy attacks and was not abandoned until ten days later, in milder weather, when the adjacent units on both wings were forced to withdraw after enemy tanks had penetrated their lines.
The engineers who prepared the positions in the fiercest cold and suffered 40 percent frostbite casualties saved the combat units and restored the situation by their sacrifice. The very next day the casualties from frostbite dropped from 800 to 4 cases and thus practically ceased.
This improvisation was introduced at a time when 6th Panzer Division had lost all its tanks during the preceding withdrawal. Before blasting the positions, fighting had centered upon the possession of villages which alone could offer shelter from the extreme cold. Groups of villages had formed natural phase lines for both the attacker and the defender who had been forced to ignore all other tactical considerations. Whenever the Russians failed to capture a village by day, they withdrew to the last friendly village for the night. Not even the best-equipped Siberian troops attempted to continue an attack on a village after dusk. Blasting positions in open terrain was therefore an innovation that served the double purpose of stabilizing the front and maintaining the combat efficiency of the remnants of the division.
On another occasion the blasting of ice proved much less effective. In order to prevent the enemy from making an enveloping thrust across Lake Pskov on the Russian-Estonian border during the winter of 1943-44, Army Group North blasted a ten-foot-wide, several-mile-long canal into the ice north of the isle of Salita. At that time the ice was so thick that it could carry medium guns and prime movers. But here, as in other
instances, it became apparent that the blasting of ice created no permanent obstacle because the water froze immediately in the extreme cold and shortly afterward the ice was again capable of carrying heavy loads. In extremely low temperatures all attempts to stop enemy advances by blasting frozen bodies of water were doomed to fail.
Almost a year later, toward the end of 1944, the Germans devised another improvisation to prevent the Russians from crossing a frozen body of water. By late autumn the Russians had driven a wedge into the German front near Memel [Ed: now Klaipeda] and had reached the Kurisches Haff. (Map 4) The Germans intended to prevent the landing of enemy forces on the west side of the Haff. A large-scale landing was not expected because the prerequisites for such an undertaking did not exist, but it seemed quite likely that the enemy would attempt to land sabotage or raiding parties, spies, agents, or commandos along the coast under cover of darkness. The coastal defenses composed of service units, volunteer organizations, and Volkssturm [Ed: Peoples' militia assembled during the last years of the war] supported by weak reserve elements from Koenigsberg [Ed: now Kaliningrad] were thought to be sufficient to thwart any such operation.
It was a known fact that the Haff froze over in winter and that the ice cover would carry men and vehicles. This might encourage enemy attempts to envelope the exposed German wing, cut off the only supply route to Memel, or undertake some other major operation. For that reason plans were drawn up to block the Kurisches Haff in its entire width of ten miles.
In the late fall of 1944 a number of wooden bunkers with heating facilities were constructed for this purpose. They were approximately five feet high and could hold a crew of three to five men and their weapons. The bunkers were placed on rafts with sled runners in order to give them mobility on ice and simultaneously to protect them from sinking into the water in case the ice suddenly broke. This possibility had to be taken into account because of the sudden changes in temperature which occur in this area. By the end of December 1944 the first groups of bunkers were moved onto the freezing Haff, the edges of which were by then sufficiently strong to carry them. The bunker positions were spread over the ice as the freezing process progressed. Approximately 150 bunkers were laid out in two parallel lines in checkerboard formation, giving each other fire support. The bunkers were reinforced with blocks of ice on the outside and camouflaged with snow. A continuous line of en-
tanglements with alarm signals was to prevent the enemy from infiltrating between the bunkers. Reserves were held in readiness behind both lines of bunkers. Ice boats and motor sleighs needed by the reserves to give them mobility did not arrive in time and the plans for organizing a combined ice-boat and motor-sleigh brigade had to be abandoned. Artillery support was provided from both shores.
Since the Russians lacked fast means of transportation on ice, they could only have advanced on foot over the long distances of the Haff. This was probably the reason why they failed to attack during the winter and this improvised position was therefore never put to the test.
III. A Moving Pocket Regains the German Lines
In some instances German divisions were left behind the Russian advance and were forced to fight their way back to the west. For example during the large-scale Russian offensive in the winter of 1942, the 320th Infantry Division, which had held a sector on the Don front with two Italian divisions at its sides, suddenly found itself behind the enemy lines because of the rapid disintegration of the allied units. The division commander decided to fight his way back to the German lines. On the way all the divisional motor vehicles ran out of gasoline and had to be destroyed. The horse-drawn batteries and trains also lost a great number of horses in battle and from exhaustion. Altogether, the fighting power and mobility of the division was greatly impaired. If it was not to resign itself to its fate, it had to resort to improvisations. What was needed either had to be wrested from the enemy or taken from the land. In this manner the division procured hundreds of small draft horses for the light vehicles. The medium artillery was drawn by oxen. Cows and oxen were used as draft animals for the transportation of radio and signal equipment. Even the division commander decided to use such a team as a sure means of transportation. The loss of many weapons such as machine guns, antitank guns, and artillery pieces could only be offset by weapons captured from weak enemy detachments on occasional raids. The ammunition needed for the use of captured weapons was also taken from the enemy and the same methods were applied in obtaining rations. Small radio sets and other sensitive equipment had to be carried on litters. Infantrymen mounted on Panje horses were charged with reconnaissance and security. The difficult retreat of the division took several weeks and was an uninterrupted series of marches, combat actions, and improvisa-
tions. As the division approached Kharkov, it suddenly made radio contact and asked the German units in the city for assistance in its attempt to break through to the German lines. A strong armored thrust from inside the city was coordinated with a simultaneous attack by the division. The enemy lines were pierced at the point designated by the division and it was able to rejoin the German lines. Its appearance hardly resembled that of a German unit. A strange conglomeration of weapons, equipment, vehicles, and litters, small and large shaggy horses, oxen and cows, accompanied by soldiers in a variety of winter clothing created the impression of a traveling circus on parade. And yet it was a battle-tested unit with excellent morale that had courageously fought its way through enemy territory, had returned to its own lines, and was to be considered a precious addition to the corps strength. By the following day the division once again stood shoulder to shoulder with the other corps units and held a sector facing east. Its strong will to survive and skillful improvisations enabled the division to regain its freedom.
IV. Zone Defense Tactics
During the last years of the war, Russian break-throughs were accomplished by the same methods that had been employed so successfully by the same enemy in World War I. These methods had little in common with customary tactical doctrines but were based on great superiority of manpower and materiel. After weeks of logistical build-up and moving up the enormous quantities of ammunition needed, the German front was breached after several hours of concentrated fire. This was followed by the break-through of massed infantry forces and deep thrusts of armored units in order to gain freedom of maneuver. The system was absolutely foolproof so long as the opponent did not interfere with the sequence of events. An essential prerequisite was that the defender would rigidly hold that sector of the front, which was to be attacked, until he received the deadly blow. In the East the Germans complied with this prerequisite since their forces had strict orders not to relinquish one inch of ground voluntarily. These defense tactics were enforced almost without exception until the end of the war. Being aware of the army's numerical inferiority and its loss of combat efficiency caused by heavy casualties, Hitler perhaps doubted its capability of conducting a flexible active defense and therefore ordered all army units to cling rigidly to prepared positions. But such tactics could never prevent an enemy break-through, let
alone lead to victory. Despite the fact that Russian casualties were relatively heavier than those suffered by the Germans and the fighting qualities of the Russian soldiers vastly inferior to those of their opponents, the always-present crucial problem was to make up for the Russian superiority in men and materiel. Aside from their greater fighting capabilities the Germans had no other means of offsetting their inferiority than by employing more flexible and superior tactics. If the military leaders lost their faith in the superiority of the German armed forces in these two fields, or if shortages of materiel became so acute that these advantages could not be exploited, then a favorable outcome of this war was no more to be expected than in World War I. It was the responsibility of the Supreme Commander, Adolf Hitler, to recognize this fact and draw the necessary conclusions. Until that time it was the duty of the commanders in the field to do their utmost to prevent a collapse of the front lines. The greatest imminent threats to the fighting front were the Russian massed attacks with subsequent break-throughs. Since adequate reserves for successful defense were rarely available, it became all the more necessary to prevent the annihilation of the front-line units by Russian fire concentrations, bombing attacks, and massed armored thrusts in order to preserve their combat efficiency.
An improvisation devised for this purpose was the zone defense tactics introduced toward the end of the war. It was derived from an analysis of the reasons for the success of most enemy break-throughs. The principal factors to be considered were the following:
a. The annihilation of front-line troops by mass concentration on points along the main line of resistance;
b. The neutralization or destruction of the German artillery by heavy counterbattery fire and continuous air attacks;
c. The elimination of command staffs by air attacks and surprise fire on command posts up to army level;
d. The harassing of reserves by artillery fire and air attacks on their assembly areas;
e. The disruption of the routes of communication to the front which delayed movements of reserves and cut off supply;
f. The massed armored thrusts in depth which enabled the Russians to obtain freedom of maneuver.
For obvious reasons the task of the defender was to neutralize these enemy tactics or at least to reduce them to tolerable proportions. One of the panzer armies in the eastern theater de-
vised the following defense measures and employed them successfully:
a. There were two ways of preventing the annihilation of the frontline troops: either by constructing bombproof and shellproof positions or by withdrawing the forward units in time to evade the devastating barrages. Since the construction of shellproof positions required an expenditure of time and materials beyond the German capabilities, the adoption of evasive tactics was the only solution. Such evasive tactics had already been employed during the last stage of World War I. The forward positions were evacuated shortly before an imminent attack and the defending troops moved far enough to the rear into a new and even stronger line to force the enemy to regroup his forces, always a time-consuming maneuver. The difficulties encountered by the enemy before he was able to resume the attack were to be enhanced by demolitions in the intermediate terrain. These evasive tactics were tried out in 1918 in the West when the German combat forces withdrew to the Hindenburg Position and in the South on the Italian front along the Piave River. The loss of some ground which was involved in the application of these tactics was a well-considered sacrifice. But to achieve a permanent gain was possible only if the new positions could be held without fail. Another method of evading fire concentrations and a subsequent break-through was the adoption of elastic defense tactics in a deeply echeloned system of machine gun strong points which, however, often lacked the necessary resiliency to stop a major enemy attack.
A method frequently applied by the Germans as another form of evasion can best be compared with saber-fencing tactics. A cut is warded off by sudden retirement with appropriate guard, followed by an immediate counterthrust which will permit the fencer to regain his former position. Like the fencer, the forces holding the threatened sector of the front executed a surprise withdrawal at the last moment. They moved far enough to the rear so that the blow would miss them, the pursuing enemy could be repelled, and the initial position could be regained by a counterthrust. In order to satisfy these requirements, the terrain in which the pursuing enemy was to be intercepted had to be well chosen and systematically prepared in order that the withdrawing forces could resume the defense within a few
hours. It was therefore neither possible nor essential to withdraw the front-line units so far to the rear that they were out of reach of enemy guns. Past experience indicated that the enemy fired his concentrations only on the main line of resistance and on strong points in the zone of resistance. For this reason it was absolutely necessary to evacuate this zone. Depending on the terrain and local fortifications, it was usually quite sufficient to withdraw the most forward troops 900 to 2,200 yards. Here was the forward edge of the battle position, a well-camouflaged organized system of defense that took advantage of all favorable terrain features. Numerous strong points and sizable local reserves were distributed throughout the position which extended back to the artillery emplacements and even beyond. In a camouflaged area behind the artillery were the general reserves of corps and army. By following this procedure, targets were so well dispersed that fire from as many as a thousand guns directed at so large an area could cause only local damage but could never wipe out entire units.
b. If the German artillery was to avoid neutralization and escape destruction it had to switch to alternate emplacements in the battle position at the decisive moment. In addition the artillery also had to use alternate observation posts. These alternate positions had to be prepared well in advance, provided with ammunition, and equipped with a smoothly functioning wire and radio communication system. Additional battery positions and. observation posts had to be reconnoitered and organized in depth so that they would be ready for immediate occupancy and utilization in case of emergency. This was to guarantee continuous support for the infantry even in the event of a reverse since only the flexible employment of artillery units which were always intact and ready to strike promised a successful defense. Furthermore, each battery had to establish two or three additional alternate positions and one or two dummy positions and had to fire from them with at least one registration gun in order to determine firing data for every emplacement. Altogether between five and eight positions had to be prepared by each battery. The Russian build-up allowed sufficient time for such extensive preliminary work and the Germans could therefore devote several weeks to these preparations.
c. All necessary precautions had to be taken to protect the command staffs and their communication system from destruction by artillery preparations and the ensuing general attack. For that reason no command staff from battalion up to army was permitted to stay at the command post it occupied before the start of the enemy attack. Each staff had to prepare a well-camouflaged, shellproof command post away from inhabited communities and was required to install a telephone switchboard in a separate bunker. Communications with the command post had to be assured by wire, radio, visual signals, dispatch riders, or runners, and in an emergency by a combination of these various means of communication. Telephone wires had to be laid in such manner that they could not easily be cut by fire or tracked vehicles; wherever possible they were laid along ditches and swampy depressions or strung on trees. Radio trucks had to be dug into the ground in inconspicuous places, protected against fragments, and well camouflaged before the attack started. Then strict radio silence had to be enforced.
d. Before the general attack, all reserves had to leave their billeting areas and move into the battle-position quarters which had to be well camouflaged, outside inhabited communities, and ready for immediate use. Telephone, radio, and other communication media had to be readily available.
e. The routes of communication to the front were of vital importance and therefore had to be kept open under all circumstances. Bottlenecks had to be avoided, defective stretches of road made serviceable even in inclement weather, and strict traffic control imposed for two-way traffic. Alternate bridges had to be built in suitable places away from the existing ones and provided with approach roads. At least two alternate routes had to be determined through each community so that convoys could detour narrow streets whenever there was danger of air attacks.
f. One of the major problems was to intercept massed armored attacks and prevent break-throughs. This involved extensive countermeasures which could only gradually be enforced and slowly integrated into the defense system.
First of all the terrain particularly suited for an armored break-through was mined to a quite unusual extent. Selecting such areas and mining them with due consideration for Russian tactical doctrine presented little difficulty to an experienced panzer expert. The numerous mine fields
were to be laid in depth and width in a checkerboard pattern in such a manner that the German armored units could detour them on the basis of information received. All signs designating mine fields were removed prior to the enemy attack. No mines were laid in front of the German main line of resistance because the enemy could have removed them and used them for his own purposes before the start of the attack. The main battle position was mined in depth up to fifteen miles to the rear. Prior to the major offensive in the area east of Lvov during the summer of 1944, the sector where the main attack thrust was expected was mined with 160,000 antipersonnel and 200,000 antitank mines within the zone defense. This was the first time that the Germans applied zone defense tactics of the type described in this study.
The most forward divisional antitank guns had to take up positions approximately one mile behind the main line of resistance. The bulk of the artillery and numerous medium antitank and antiaircraft guns were to form centers of gravity behind the forward guns up to twelve miles in depth. In addition, all roads suitable for sudden armored thrusts in depth were blocked by tank obstacles, captured immobile antitank guns, and antiaircraft guns emplaced at all important points up to a depth of twenty-five miles. In case of critical developments numerous self-propelled antitank guns were to reinforce the defense. To camouflage these guns, tank ditches had to be dug and approach roads built in suitable terrain.
The army reserves had to be sufficiently strong to support the front and stop the enemy in case he suddenly shifted his main effort and turned his tanks to an adjacent sector which had not been prepared according to zone defense principles. For instance, during the battle near Lvov the army commander held in reserve five strong panzer divisions which he had withdrawn from sectors that were not in immediate danger. Two of them were to support the front in the center of gravity and the three strongest were to be instantly committed to stop any armored thrust elsewhere in case the enemy shifted his point of main effort. The two divisions assigned to the center of gravity were expected to be able to lend them assistance in due course. The reserves formed mobile battle groups and equipped them with many antitank and assault guns in
order to enable them to give immediate support to frontline sectors threatened by sudden disintegration. In most cases these battle groups consisted of reconnaissance or motorcycle battalions reinforced by antitank and assault gun battalions which were held in instant readiness and formed advance detachments of their respective divisions.
The task of indoctrinating the unit commanders in all the essential zone defense measures was far from easy. After detailed briefings, map exercises, and tactical walks, they not only grasped the idea but became thoroughly convinced of the expediency and feasibility of the plan and lent their enthusiastic support to its execution. Discussions and training exercises continued down the line to the smallest units.
The next step was to put these measures to their practical test and examine them in the light of experience. Starting with individual arms, these tests were later extended to larger units. Finally, zone defense tactics were adopted and enforced by entire divisions and corps. The tremendous effort entailed in these preparations was to pay high dividends.
The fencer derives an advantage from cutting into his opponent's sequence when the latter intends to strike because the attacker usually exposes himself on that occasion. This intercepting blow was also included in the zone defense tactics. Since the enemy moved his forces close to his most advanced positions and massed them there before jumping off to attack, he exposed himself to concentrated surprise fire from all artillery pieces and rocket launchers. Two basic loads of every type of ammunition had been set aside for just that purpose.
The most difficult and critical problem was to determine the correct time for withdrawing to the battle position. If too late a moment was chosen, the safety measures against the annihilation of the combat forces by an enemy barrage would have remained ineffective. The front-line units and intermediate commands alone were unable to gather sufficient positive clues regarding the hostile intentions to enable the higher echelons to draw the correct conclusions as to when the enemy attack would begin. This can be easily understood since their observation of enemy activities was restricted to the most advanced areas of the front. But well-organized combat intelligence and constant air observation, co-ordinated by the army commander in person, gathered so much information on enemy preparations and covered his rear areas so completely that the H Hour for the attack could be determined with a high degree of accuracy. The most reliable information was secured by radio interception. As much
as 70 percent of all reliable information was obtained from this source.
The improvised defense system was first applied in the summer of 1944 in the battle of Lvov and for the second time in January 1945 during the second battle for East Prussia. In both instances the Russians attacked at precisely the point and in exactly the manner expected by the army commander who devised this zone defense system. H Hour for the enemy attack in East Prussia was determined to the exact day and hour. In the battle near Lvov, however, the enemy started his offensive two days later than expected. Interrogation of prisoners confirmed that the attack was postponed by two days at the last moment. As a result the evasive maneuver had to be repeated on three successive nights. On the first day the Russians either did not notice the withdrawal because German rear guards left in the forward positions simulated the weak routine harassing fire or they lacked time to react to this sudden change. On the second day they attacked several evacuated positions with combat teams up to regimental strength and pushed back the rear guards.
Even this turn of events was foreseen in the original plan. Strong counterthrusts supported by massed artillery fire from the regular firing positions sealed off the enemy penetrations and at dusk the former main line of resistance was once again occupied by the infantry. As expected, the enemy resumed his attacks during the night to find out whether the Germans would continue to occupy the positions. When these night attacks had been repelled everywhere and the Russians had convinced themselves that the positions were held by their full complements, the fighting broke off and the front calmed down. After midnight the positions were evacuated for the third time and, when the enemy fire concentration was unleashed at dawn, it hit empty positions. The units that had moved into the battle position suffered hardly any losses and, supported by assault guns and one battalion of Royal Tiger tanks, they were able to drive back nearly all Russian forces which had advanced beyond the empty positions. The artillery preserved its entire fire power because the shelling and air bombardment hit the empty battery positions which assumed the role of dummies. Not a single gun, not a single command post was hit. The telephone communications from army down to regiment suffered no disruption. But the former positions that had been evacuated were in poor shape. The towns were badly damaged by air attacks, and the debris of bombed buildings blocked the main roads in several villages. Nevertheless, the traffic continued to move along the previously
designated alternate routes and was stopped only intermittently whenever the enemy air force scored direct hits on convoys.
The reserves were left untouched by the air attacks directed against them since they had moved to locations that were unknown to the enemy. The advancing Russian infantry was hit by the defensive fire of an artillery and rocket launcher brigade which was fully intact and well supplied with ammunition. When the enemy infantry attempted to disperse and take cover it walked straight into the mine fields which had been laid behind the German main line of resistance. This took the momentum out of the attack and prevented the Russian infantry from concentrating its effort in one direction. The advance slowed down and became hesitant. Practically all territorial gains had to be abandoned by the Russians when the German troops that had evaded the destructive effect of the initial barrage started to counterattack later during the day. The distress signals sent out by the Russian infantry brought their armor to the scene. Like a cataract released by the sudden opening of a dam, the massed armor poured across the Seret River into the historic battle ground of Yaroslavichi where exactly thirty years before, during the summer of 1914, Austro-Hungarian and Russian cavalry divisions had clashed head on in the last major cavalry charge in history.
History repeated itself. Once again the Russians had numerical superiority and once again the battle ended in a draw. In 1914 the defender achieved this result by the use of new machine gun and artillery tactics whereas in 1944 he introduced zone defense tactics to overcome his inferiority. On the very first day of the armored attack, the enemy lost eighty-five tanks in the mine fields. The number of tanks lost increased rapidly when the armored thrust came within reach of the antitank guns and was brought to a halt. The losses assumed truly disastrous proportions when the German panzer divisions proceeded to counterattack.
In 1914 as in 1944 the battles for Lvov were not decided by the cavalry charge or the armored thrust near Yaroslavichi but by a major Russian break-through north of Lvov in the adjacent army sector to which the enemy shifted his main effort. Unfortunately for the Germans in 1944, the SS panzer corps with the three strongest panzer divisions had previously been transferred to the Western Front because the Allies had meanwhile landed in France. For this reason sufficient forces were no longer available to stop the Russian armored drive in the new area of penetration.
V. Improvised Fortresses
By 1944, after the Germans had suffered a succession of defeats, Hitler frequently tried to reverse the tide by the arbitrary designation of fortresses. In the face of an imminent enemy attack, many towns suddenly became improvised fortresses and had to suffer encirclement and siege as if they were well-equipped strongholds that had been systematically constructed and provisioned over a number of years. A commander was appointed for each fortress, given absolute powers, and put under a special oath. He thereby received authority of life and death over all persons within his jurisdiction and could employ them as he saw fit, even though most of them were merely passing through his territory. These men and their equipment were frequently the only resources at the disposal of the commander who actually was forced to pick them off the streets.
Thus, the city of Kolberg was declared a fortress early in March 1945 when the battle for Pomerania was in full swing. The small city was overcrowded with wounded, the railroad station filled with hospital trains. Columns of refugee carts blocked the roads and enemy tanks were only twenty-five miles off. Precisely at that moment the newly appointed fortress commander who was entirely unfamiliar with the situation was flown in by plane. He was not acquainted with the duties of a fortress commander and had to be briefed in detail. The fortress was absolutely defenseless. Hitler's attention was called to this fact, but he nevertheless decided that Kolberg must be held as a fortress under all circumstances. In his reply Hitler stated that the Spandau depot would receive instructions to immediately dispatch twelve new antitank guns to Kolberg by rail. This was at a time when the single-track railroad line to Kolberg was completely blocked and enemy tanks were expected to appear in the immediate vicinity of the city within a few hours. Obviously, the antitank guns never arrived. The commander was forced to pick his defense force and weapons from the streets. Indiscriminately everybody and everything moving through the city was stopped, whether they were Luftwaffe, naval personnel, damaged tanks, antiaircraft, antitank, or artillery guns, and integrated into the fortress defenses.
It was difficult to imagine why Hitler decided that this former small coastal fort should be defended, unless for historical reasons. In modern times, however, the events that occurred in Napoleon's day could not possibly be repeated. However, the enemy seemed to be impressed by the glorious past of the city because his approach was slow and hesitant. The first Russian
attack was delayed for two days, but the defensive tactics employed by the Germans soon revealed their weakness and after only a few days the enemy captured the city. Most of the entirely improvised garrison was rescued by the Navy.
The location of some of the fortresses was so unfavorable that their defense seemed hopeless from the outset. Despite all remonstrances, even these places had to be held at all cost. For instance, Brody, a small town in eastern Galicia completely surrounded by woods, was located in a valley without observation facilities. Dominated by a nearby plateau in enemy hands, the town was under complete enemy observation and at the mercy of his artillery. At one point the woods even reached up to the edge of the town. Because of the lack of space, there was not even a suitable area for the artillery emplacements in case of a siege. In order to avoid an imminent disaster, the army commander circumvented Hitler's orders and adopted tactics that prevented a siege of the town.
The situation at Ternopol was similar; there the garrison held out bravely for one month only to succumb for lack of rations and ammunition after an attempt to break the siege had bogged down in the mud.
By the end of January 1945 one of the German panzer armies had three of its best divisions in Fortress Koenigsberg, two in Fortress Memel, and only the two weakest at its disposal for operations in the field. At this decisive time an entire army group with the best available troops was hemmed in in Kurland and eliminated from participation in the defense of the German homeland because it had strict orders to hold out in place.
These tactics were championed by Hitler in person and enforced with all the authoritative powers at his disposal. In the end they obstructed all operational freedom and devoured the very substance of the German Army until there was no army left.
But the picture was entirely different whenever the encircled forces broke out and remained intact. In February 1943 Kharkov was surrounded by enemy armies and ordered to hold out in a hopeless situation. In his last telephone message the corps commander called attention to the seriousness of the situation and stated emphatically that the only choice was between losing the city alone or losing the city with all the troops in it. The reply was that "Kharkov must be held to the last man." On the following morning a second order came through by teletype stating that "Kharkov must be held to the last man but the defenders must not allow themselves to be encircled." On
the strength of this ambiguous order, the second part of which precluded the first, the encircled corps took immediate steps for a breakout to the rear without the knowledge or approval of army. After two days of hard fighting, which ended with the loss of several hundred motor vehicles, this corps rejoined the German lines. The decision proved to be correct for, together with some divisions detrained in the Poltava area under its protection, the corps was able to launch a counterattack only one month later, recapture Kharkov and Belgorod, and reach the upper Donets.
This example demonstrates very convincingly that it is not of decisive importance to hold a town at all cost but rather to have some forces available for further operations.
VI. Defensive Improvisations in East Prussia
As the danger of an invasion of eastern Germany loomed toward the end of 1944, tens of thousands of civilians were mobilized to construct a number of continuous defense lines in East Prussia. Everywhere people could be seen digging trenches and defense positions. Altogether twelve main defense lines and switch positions were constructed, many of which were well equipped. Perhaps their most outstanding feature was the construction of improvised machine gun emplacements which were very practical and consisted of two large concrete pipes. One pipe stood upright in the ground and served as the gun emplacement proper whereas the horizontal pipe was connected to the base of the upright one and employed as a personnel shelter. This improvisation offered shelter against tanks, could be constructed in a minimum of time, was easy to transport, and highly effective.
In addition to these defensive positions a continuous antitank ditch was constructed which cut across all roads. Temporary bridges, ready for immediate demolition in case of emergency, spanned the ditch where it cut through the roads. Some 18,000 laborers were diverted to the construction of this antitank ditch alone, although they were badly needed to build fortified defensive zones. In order that such zones could be prepared at least in the most essential areas, every man belonging to reserve, service, supply, or headquarters units was assigned his daily quota of obligatory digging that was measured in cubic feet. If necessary the work had to be done at night. To get these positions ready for immediate winter occupancy, the rear echelon units as well as Volkssturm battalions moved into the
positions to make the quarters livable. Slit trenches were dug along the roads and antitank and machine gun nests were prepared at all important points. Perimeter defenses were established around every village and hamlet.
The over-all effect of these numerous, fully integrated defense installations was to transform the most vulnerable northeastern part of Germany into one great fortress area. Although some of the defensive positions never played any part in the subsequent fighting, others proved very useful during the battle for East Prussia. If they failed to change the fate of that doomed province, it was due to the entirely insufficient number of troops and to the inadequacy of the weapons which could be mustered for its defense.
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