The following report deals with the experiences of the German Army
on the Eastern Front. The extracts are taken from two documents issued by
The German War Office, one dated March 1, 1942, and the other August 1, 1942.
* * *
The special nature of the Russian Front, with its great area and few
roads, has led to a tendency when on the march to cling too much to existing
roads. The Russians have based their defensive system on these roads. The
best attack is that made off the roads, using enveloping forces which must be
made as strong as possible. Where possible, artillery should be allocated to
these enveloping forces, but in most cases they will have to depend for their
fire power on the heavy weapons of the infantry, especially the heavy mortars. Even
weak enveloping forces may achieve decisive results by surprise
attack, coordinated with the main frontal attack.
The fighting in the Kerch Peninsula has once more shown that deep
slit trenches, and well-built earthworks, often render impossible the
destruction of the enemy by artillery, infantry support weapons, and by
bombing; these, as a rule, serve only to make the enemy keep his head
down. Infantry in the attack must, therefore, approach as closely as
possible behind the artillery barrage, and attack with all possible
speed as soon as it is lifted.
The Russians have shown themselves very susceptible to a section or
platoon assault in close formation, carried out with shouts and firing
on the move.
Night attacks have been found to be of special importance on the
Eastern Front, since it is the Russian practice to carry out moves
at night, and these attacks prevent the enemy from carrying out his plan.
b. Coordination of the Various Arms
On the Russian Front our success in the coordination of the various
arms has been due to the careful organization of the fire plan of all weapons
down to those of even the smallest units. The infantry must learn not to rely
exclusively on artillery fire, or the support of tanks or assault guns, but must
use its own heavy weapons to the fullest extent.
The main task of the artillery is counterbattery missions, and all
available forces will be concentrated against the enemy's
artillery "schwerpunkt" (area in which enemy artillery is
concentrated) without regard to corps or divisional boundaries.
Assault guns must never be used without the protection given by
accompanying troops. They require infantry protection since, as they have no
revolving turret and little protective armor, they are incapable of close
Russian reconnaissance is pushed without regard to losses. Limited
attacks for purposes of reconnaissance, are, as a rule, carried out mostly by
a company, but may be made by a battalion. When the weak spots are thus
found, the enemy maneuvers his main forces, which are usually masses of
infantry supported by tanks. The attack is preceded by intensified mortar
fire, and shelling by tanks at extreme ranges. If the leading tanks are shot up and
the first attack beaten off, a pause of several hours often precedes the second
The rule for defense in open country, when ammunition is plentiful, is to
open fire at great ranges; when the country is not open and ammunition
is scarce, it is more effective to let the enemy approach, and then strike him
with sudden concentrated fire at long range.
Defense on a wide front is the rule on the Eastern Front, where only
the most important points can be occupied. These are to be built up as
strongpoints, and occupied with one or more platoons, with heavy
weapons (heavy mortars, heavy machine guns, and antitank guns). All-around
defense must be organized. When the strongpoints are far apart, greater
patrol activities between them will be necessary.
d. Antitank Defense
Russian tanks seldom attack in large numbers. As a rule a few, sometimes
even single, tanks precede the attacking infantry, which then follows in
compact groups. In defense, therefore, the most important task
of all arms is to separate the infantry from the tanks. The aim of infantry
training in antitank defense must be to teach the young soldier that the
effect of tanks against dug-in riflemen is extraordinarily limited. Fighting
against tanks is, for the infantrymen, merely a matter of nerves.
The plan for antitank defense should ensure that 50-mm antitank guns
are brought into position in good time, because of their lack of
mobility; 37-mm antitank guns may be held on carts under cover, or
near prepared positions, since these guns are more mobile.
e. March Discipline
The few and very bad roads in the east have necessarily had heavy
traffic, and a column moving on the roads is liable to become very
extended. Therefore, troops following up require more time than usual, and it is
necessary to put well to the front of the column considerable detachments of
artillery and heavy weapons, and communications and engineer
personnel. Similarly, to ensure the supply of a column, carefully calculated loads of
ammunition, fuel, and lubricants must be included at intervals along the road.
f. Night Fighting
In night attacks all units must be given definite and limited objectives. Detailed
and careful planning is the basis of success, and considerable previous
reconnaissance is required. The result; of this reconnaissance form the basis
of the commander's plan, which must be known down to its smallest details by
every junior commander.
A useful means of keeping direction at night is the preliminary setting
of fire to haystacks or houses in enemy territory.
g. Mobile Troops
Fighting over wide, open areas and along roads has often made necessary
the formation of mixed battle groups in which tanks have been included. As a
consequence, the number of tanks decreased rapidly and the units from which
they were detached lacked the necessary strength to carry out independent
attacks. An armored division equipped with a tank regiment of three battalions
and motorized infantry is capable of extensive tasks, provided its tanks are
kept concentrated, and the motorized infantry is directed to cooperate closely.
In defense the most successful method of stopping a breakthrough of
enemy mobile troops or tanks is the formation of mobile groups reinforced
with antitank and close-support weapons; they should be disposed in depth
throughout the sector, particularly in localities vulnerable to tanks. These
counterattack groups are to be held ready to attack the flank or rear of any
enemy force which may break through and to cut off the enemy rearward
For all infantry weapons, in particular the machine gun, mortar, and
antitank gun, a wide field of fire is not so important as emplacement to produce
a heavy uninterrupted belt of fire to the immediate front.
On the Eastern Front, unnecessary losses have been caused by
unmilitary behavior, both at headquarters and in units, in zones covered by
enemy fire. Considerable casualties, which could have been avoided, have been
caused by the disinclination of the German soldier to dig in quickly in the
course of the battle, his carelessness behind the immediate front, and by
inadequate battle reconnaissance of invisible areas.