TM-E 30-451 Handbook on German Military Forces

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Technical Manual, TM-E 30-451: Handbook on German Military Forces published in March 1945. — Figures and illustrations are not reproduced, see source details. — As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. — Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]



5. Doctrine of Westwall System

The Germans consider economy of force the fundamental principle in planning zones of permanent fortifications. They originally built the Westwall as a protective barrier along the French frontier to permit commitment of maximum forces offensively in the East. Thus, in 1939, they were able to hold in the West with approximately 20 divisions, while employing 40 to 50 divisions against Poland.

When Westwall construction ceased in 1940, German strategy in the West was offensive, envisioning an invasion of France by a wide envelopment, with the bulk of the German forces in the North, where the Westwall defenses were relatively weak. The pivot of maneuver was south of the Moselle River, where the Westwall defenses were strongest.

The Germans never have discarded the principle that offensive action is the best protection. When their armies were forced back to the Westwall in 1944, they used this defensive system as a base for offensive operations in selected areas, as in the Saar and the Eifel. Advantage also was taken of this protected zone for the free lateral movement of troops; shelters were utilized for the cover and concealment of reserve forces, weapons, and supplies.

German Westwall tactics are based on a stubborn defense of individual fortifications, local counterattacks against areas of penetration, and counterattack by general mobile reserves against areas of deep penetration. German troops are not permitted to develop a static-defense complex which might foster the idea that a position once surrounded is lost. Bunker garrisons are taught to continue resistance even though surrounded, because their perseverance impedes the attackers' advance and facilitates counterattacks. Troops are trained in the principle that the decision usually is achieved by the infantry in the open between bunkers. Organic heavy infantry weapons and artillery are the backbone of German defense in the Westwall, just as in mobile warfare. Reserves habitually are left under cover until the time for counterattack arrives.

Surprise is always attempted. For example, bunkers and heavy weapons frequently are sited on reverse slopes, not only for concealment and protection in defilade, but also to open fire suddenly upon the unwary attacker crossing the crest or moving around the nose of a hill. The attacker penetrating the Westwall defense system must be prepared to cope with unexpected resistance flaring up in his rear areas, surprise by accurate flanking and enfilade fire at short and medium ranges, sudden counterattacks by forces not known to be in the areas, and counterattacks in increasing strength as the penetration progresses.

German doctrine prescribes that the intact portion of the defenses must continue the battle, regardless of the situation at the penetrated area, until the appropriate command orders a readjustment of the line. Penetrations normally are dealt with as follows: by mobile reserves which seal them off frontally; by counterattack or counteroffensive from protected flanks to threaten the rear areas of the penetrating force; or by both, as in the Aachen area. At any rate, the Germans will attempt to destroy the penetration before the attacker has reorganized and consolidated his gains. Here again the principle of economy of force is generally followed. German troops may be taken from strongly protected and little threatened areas in order to concentrate on adequate counterattacking or counteroffensive force. Hence the attacker should have sufficient strength to ward off strong countermeasures and at the same time exploit the advantages gained by a penetration.


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