Chapter 4

Combat Arms

I. Infantry

In pursuit, German and enemy forces alike found it expedient to mount on tanks. This improvisation proved effective on innumerable occasions when a defeated enemy was to be pursued. For instance, when 6th Panzer Division spearheaded the drive of Army Group North during the first days of July 1941, it broke through the pillbox-studded Stalin Line after two days of fighting. (Map 1) The enemy offered renewed resistance farther to the northeast but after a few hours the Russians were dislodged from the fortified frontier zone and dispersed into the surrounding forests. In order to take possession of three major bridges before their destruction, it was necessary to prevent the enemy from gaining another foothold. Spearhead panzer units, composed of some fifty tanks with infantry mounted, pursued the retreating Russians relentlessly, occupied the bridges, and- meeting with little resistance- reached the day's objective, the city of Ostrov, within three hours.

Another good example was the battle of annihilation fought southeast of Plavskoye in the Army Group Center sector. It started in the middle of November 1941 when an enemy cavalry division attacked the exposed flank of the army group. Assault guns were to disperse the enemy formations and infantry was to annihilate his forces completely. In order to move the infantry straight into the depth of the battlefield together with the assault guns, volunteers from infantry units mounted the assault guns and, hanging on like grapes on a vine, rode into the enemy lines with all guns ablaze. The enemy cavalry division was obliterated.

In both instances the enemy was totally vanquished and shattered. The completeness of the success of this improvisation can be traced to the panic spread in the enemy ranks by the German tanks. But whenever the enemy was firmly entrenched in front or on the flanks, this venture turned out to be dangerous and costly. During the later years of the war this improvisation was generally discontinued because of heavy casualties caused by antitank weapons and air attacks. Moreover, it was superseded by the introduction of armored personnel carriers.

The Russians also used this expedient repeatedly and found it a fast means of transportation. But whenever they encountered German resistance they always suffered heavy casualties from


machine gun fire. For that reason they discontinued this practice when they came close to the German lines.

II. Artillery

In position warfare daily fire direction exercises carried out by the artillery and infantry howitzers assumed great significance. During these exercises all wire and radio communications were prohibited for extended periods. As substitutes field expedients had to be used to maintain communications between observation posts and gun positions. Some of the media employed were signals transmitted by discs, inscriptions on blackboards read with the help of field glasses, mounted messengers, runners, and relayed messages. Much time was devoted to training in Morse code transmission by signal lamps.

Since the German infantry units were usually understrength the Russians were often able to infiltrate through their defense lines. The artillery positions therefore had to be fortified and constructed as strong points in the depth of the defensive zone. The artillerymen had to be given advanced infantry training and were issued extra machine guns and hand grenades whenever possible. The gun crews had to be ready to make counter­thrusts which were specified in the combat orders of each battery.

Such a system of strong points proved effective during the summer of 1943 when the Germans were engaged in heavy defensive battles west of Kharkov. The artillery troops intercepted an enemy force which had infiltrated through sunflower fields. For a while the situation looked very critical but the artillerymen, fighting a delaying action, gained sufficient time for the launching of a counterattack which led to the annihilation of the enemy forces.

Some German commands on the Russian front issued orders prohibiting their artillery from firing on enemy command posts. The enemy was to feel secure and was to establish a network of communication lines and observation posts based on his command posts and was not to suffer any interference during that time. But the destruction of uncovered command posts was to be prepared in such a manner that it could be carried out instantaneously in accordance with the demands of the tactical situation. The sudden elimination of enemy command installations never failed to produce a favorable effect on offensive or defensive operations.

Flat trajectory fire from howitzers proved very effective in clearing tree tops in forest fighting. In one instance, during


operations near Leningrad in the autumn of 1942, marshy terrain prevented the howitzers from going into position to deliver flat trajectory fire and to assist in the penetration of a large wooded area. The following tactics were therefore employed to cross the wooded region: All artillery pieces, heavy infantry howitzers, antiaircraft guns, and ground support planes were temporarily subordinated to the artillery commander so that he could exercise centralized fire direction. Heavy rolling barrages systematically raked the woods and cleared lanes in one sector after another. For this purpose the wooded zone was divided into 1600-foot squares which, in turn, were subdivided into 400-foot squares. Artillery, infantry, and Luftwaffe units marked identical squares on their maps. According to the attack plan one square after another was raked by heavy concentrations either from front to rear or from rear to front or alternately, but always in conformity with the requests of the assault troops. Smoke shells were interspersed to obstruct the enemy's vision and prevent him from conducting a systematic defense of the forest. The forward assault units were withdrawn a few hundred yards shortly before H Hour to enable the artillery to soften up the enemy positions without endangering the infantry. The delay caused by this withdrawal was made up by the immediate launching of the attack as soon as the fire lifted. During the course of the assault the advancing infantry closely followed each shift of fire, moving into each square as soon as it had been cleared, and proceeded to mop it up.

The detection of German artillery positions by enemy observation was sometimes made more difficult by camouflaging the firing report with the help of an improvised device that simulated detonations. At the beginning of the war most observation battalions were equipped with such simulating devices, but later on only few of them were available and those few were inadequate for actual deception because of the great variety of guns used in counterbattery fire and for infantry support. Actual deception of the enemy artillery observation could only be achieved if the deceptive firing report sounded like the detonation of a real gun both to the enemy ear and to his sound-ranging equipment. A close similarity between the actual and the deceptive report was achieved with the assistance of engineer specialists who built a makeshift detonation device which was thoroughly tested behind the front. The amount of explosives used in this device was regulated in accordance with data provided by the sound-ranging check points. These experiments were continued until the instruments finally showed that the detonations could have originated from 150-mm. field howitzers or 210-mm


howitzers. Furthermore it was established that the most effective deception could be achieved by placing the detonation device approximately one mile to the front of the battery which was to be protected but never on its sides or to its rear.

The results of these experiments were confirmed in 1942, when it was necessary to deceive the enemy about the positions and strength of the German artillery in the Volkhov sector of Army Group North. There the 818th Artillery Regiment was faced by numerically superior Russian artillery in extremely narrow positions hemmed in by woods, marshes, and impassable terrain. Deception was essential in order to protect the positions from counterbattery fire and air attacks and to divert the enemy fire by misdirecting it into unoccupied territory. For some time the impact areas of the enemy fire in the immediate vicinity of the detonation devices gave the impression that the improvisation had served its purpose and that the enemy had been deceived, at least for a while. Yet, some caution against over­estimating the effect on an alert and well-trained enemy may well be indicated. Although the accuracy of his observation can often be frustrated by distorting the sound patterns at his control points, the continuous deception of the enemy requires the introduction of a few additional improvisations which might present inconveniences to the artillery units applying them. These are:

a.   Several men would have to be permanently assigned to servicing the detonation device and maintaining telephone communications with the gun emplacements. In co-ordinating the simulated detonations to the actual gun reports it is necessary to pay careful attention to the velocity-of­sound factor.

b.   The dummy positions must have the outward appearance of fully occupied firing positions. This can be achieved by burning wood fires that leave traces of smoke in the air and show up on air reconnaissance photos.

c.   It will be helpful if the camouflage materials are frequently renewed, particularly in the event that tree trunks are supposed to represent guns.

In the field of sound deception, which assumed particular importance when a weak force faced a considerably stronger enemy, several other expedients proved quite effective

a. Co-ordinating the fire of several batteries or battalions by issuing simultaneous fire commands over the wire or radio fire direction system in order to prevent the enemy from identifying individual emplacements.


b.   Moving individual guns out of the firing positions and including these roving guns in the fire-command system.

c. Combining a medium battery with a light howitzer battery for simultaneous firing, particularly during the registration fire by sound and flash methods which provided the data for firing for effect, since these preliminaries always took time and were easily observed by the enemy.

Critical ammunition shortages forced the artillery to fire almost exclusively on observed point targets. In view of the circumstances this produced better results than firing on area targets with insufficient ammunition. Harassing fire by sudden concentrations was also excluded. Instead, slow fire by single pieces from many batteries had to be carried out simultaneously according to a precise firing plan. The advantage of this method was that it could be continued all through the night and that enemy communications to the front could thus be seriously hampered and more effectively disrupted than by intermittent concentrations. This expedient was successfully applied at Sevastopol in 1942. According to intercepted radio messages all Russian supply movements had come to a standstill during the nights preceding the German assault.

In many instances the Germans were painfully short of artillery for area targets while the Russians always had plenty of multi­barreled rocket launchers and long-range heavy mortars. These were the most suitable weapons to cover an area with surprise fire and to protect flanks.

During position warfare the Germans made up for this deficiency by flexible artillery tactics which included many improvisations. They fired mass concentrations on single point targets when all batteries within range would fire one round. If, for instance, eighty batteries were within range of a target, it would be hit by eighty rounds on one single command. As a result, the individual batteries achieved a maximum concentration on a given area with a minimum expenditure of ammunition. The effect was excellent and this procedure had the additional advantage of frustrating all enemy attempts to detect the location of individual batteries by sound range.

Whenever there was a shortage of antitank guns and whenever defensive sectors were overextended, field howitzers and antiaircraft guns were used as antitank weapons by the Germans. They were emplaced in rear area strong points and were given the mission of stopping at point-blank range all enemy tanks and assault forces which might break through. The field howitzer batteries frequently consisted of only three


guns which, however, proved fully sufficient for routine missions particularly when ammunition was in good supply. A Russian cavalry division which had broken through in the 97th Light Infantry Division sector in the winter of 1941 was routed by field-howitzer fire from all directions.

On 26 July 1941 another German infantry division committed its entire artillery regiment for antitank defense against an enemy corps north of Lvov. After the Russians lost a large number of tanks they were no longer in a position to continue the attack. In later years armored break-through attempts repeatedly failed due to the improvised antitank defense system of the artillery. The standing operating procedure for light artillery batteries prescribed, that only three guns were assigned to purely artillery missions whereas the fourth was to be employed as antitank weapon.

Although the inaccuracy resulting from wide dispersion made rocket launchers generally unsuitable as antitank weapons, they occasionally proved effective in massed fire. Thus, during the fighting around Minsk in July 1941, an armored thrust launched by the Russians from the woods south of the city was stopped with the assistance of two rocket launcher batteries. In massed fire they scored some direct hits on tanks and succeeded in shooting the turret off one tank.

Massed fire by several rocket launcher battalions against an enemy armored attack echeloned in depth had a particularly strong impact on enemy morale. During the fighting near Voronezh in mid-July 1942 an armored thrust, launched by the Russians from cover of nearby forests, ground to a halt in the face of rocket-launcher fire. Several tanks attempting to infiltrate through gullies were stopped by the fire of some 300-mm. mobile launchers. Particularly in this case the psychological effect was greater than the material damage. The tanks stopped and the crews dismounted and ran away. The other tanks which formed the main spearhead turned back in the face of 320-mm. incendiary rockets. Actually, rocket launchers were not intended for fire on point targets or the destruction of tanks.

III. Combat Engineers as Infantry

When critical situations developed in wide sectors the Germans were often forced to employ combat engineer units as infantry. But this expedient backfired because many essential and almost irreplaceable engineer specialists were lost in combat. This wasteful dissipation of valuable personnel had to be repeated over and over again despite the fact that the responsible commanders


were fully aware of its disadvantages. Necessity knows no laws; in critical situations every available man had to be com­mitted at the front. The employment of combat engineers as infantry was very tempting because they were trained for combat and also because they were exceptionally good soldiers. Many commanders were prompted to commit them as infantry when the situation did not fully justify the change. This was all the more regrettable since it was none other than the infantry which had to pay for the improper utilization of the engineers. In extreme emergencies it was of course necessary to use engineer units as infantry. On many occasions the courage and staunchness of the engineers saved the day. For example, when the enemy broke through southwest of Rzhev in 1942, a corps engineer regiment, all engineer units of one division, and even all the construction engineer companies and some of the road-building battalions from the vicinity were committed to stop the Russian thrust into the rear of Ninth Army. The engineers halted the enemy advance and allowed the tactical command sufficient time for countermeasures which eliminated the danger. (Map 1)


page created 4 September 2002

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