German Attack Doctrine
German Attack Doctrine
The fundamental principle of German offensive doctrine is to encircle and destroy the enemy. The objective of the combined arms in attack is to bring the armored forces and the infantry into decisive action against the enemy with sufficient fire power and shock. Superiority in force and fire power, the employment of armored forces, as well as the surprise element, play a great part in the offensive.
Coordination between the combined arms under a strong unified command is, the Germans emphasize, an absolute requisite to the success of these shock tactics. This has become more and more true as the Allies have developed effective antitank weapons and have adopted deeper defenses, limiting the self-sufficiency of German tanks. To counter these measures, the Germans have increased the mobility and armor protection of their motor-borne infantry, and have mounted a large proportion of both their direct and indirect heavy support weapons on self- propelled carriages.
In attempting thoroughly to paralyze the defender up to the moment of the tank-infantry assault, the Germans realize that even the most formidable forces are never sufficient for overwhelming superiority on the entire front. They therefore select a point of main effort (Schwerpunkt) for a breakthrough, alloting narrow sectors of attack (Gefechtsstreifen) to the troops committed at the decisive locality. There they also mass the bulk of their heavy weapons and reserves. The other sectors of the front are engaged by weaker, diversionary forces. In selecting the point of main effort, the Germans consider weaknesses in the enemy's defensive position; suitabiltiy of the terrain, especially for tanks and for cooperation of all arms; approach routes; and possibilites for supporting fire, especially artillery. Although the Germans select a point of main effort in all attacks, they usually also make plans for shifting their main effort if they meet unexpected success elsewhere. To allow such shifts, sufficient reserves and a strong, unified command are organized.
An attack along a narrow front, according to German doctrine, must have sufficient forces at it's disposal to widen the penetration while maintaining its impetus, and to protect the flanks of the penetration. Once the attack is launched, it must drive straight to its objective, regardless of opposition.
2. TYPES OF ATTACK
a. FLANK ATTACK (Flankenangriff)
The Germans consider that the most effective attack is against the enemy's flank. The flank attack develops either from the approach march - sometimes through a turning movement - or from flank marches. It attempts to surprise the enemy and permit him no time for countermeasures. Since mobility and the deception of the enemy at other positions are required, the flank attack is most successfully mounted from a distance; the troop movements necessary for the maneuver can be executed in close proximity to the enemy only with unusually favorable terrain or at night. Attacks are launched on both flanks only when the Germans consider their forces clearly superior.
b. ENVELOPMENT (Umfassungsangriff)
The envelopment is a combination flank-and-frontal attack especially favored by the Germans. The envelopment may be directed on either or both the enemy's flanks, and is accompanied by a simultaneous frontal attack to fix the enemy's forces. The deeper the envelopment goes into the enemy's flanks, the greater the danger of being enveloped oneself. The Germans therefore emphasize the necessity of strong reserves and organization of the enveloping forces in depth. Success of the envelopment depends on the extent to which the enemy is able to dispose his forces in the threatened direction.
c. ENCIRCLEMENT (Einkreisung)
An encirclement, the Germans think, is a particularly decisive form of attack, but usually more difficult to execute than a flank attack or an envelopment. In an encirclement, the enemy is not attacked at all in front, or is attacked in front only by light forces, while the main attacking force passes entirely around him, with the objective of maneuvering him out of position. This requires extreme mobility and deception.
d. FRONTAL ATTACK (Frontalangriff)
The Germans consider the frontal attack the most difficult of execution. It strikes the enemy at his stongest point, and therefore requires superiority of men and materiel. A frontal attack should be made only at a point where the infantry can break through into favorable terrain in the depth of the enemy position. The frontage of the attack should be wider than the actual area (Schwerpunkt) chosen for penetration, in order to tie down the enemy on the flanks of the breakthrough. Adequate reserves must be held ready to counter the employment of the enemy's reserves.
e. WING ATTACK (Flugelangriff)
An attack directed at one or both of the enemy's wings has, the Germans teach, a better chance of success than a central frontal attack, since only a part of the enemy's weapons are faced, and only one flank of the attacking force or forces is exposed to enemy fire. Bending back one wing may give an opportunity for a flank attack, or for a single or double envelopment.
f. PENETRATION (Einbruch) AND BREAKTHROUGH (Durchbruch)
These are not separate forms of attack, but rather the exploitation of a successful attack on the enemy's front, wing, or flank. The penetration destroys the continuity of the hostile front. The broader the penetration, the deeper can the penetration wedge be driven. Strong reserves throw back enemy counterattacks against the flanks of the penetration German units are trained to exploit a penetration to the maximum so that it may develop into a complete breakthrough before hostile countermeasures can be launched on an effective scale. The deeper the attacker penetrates, the more effectively can he envelop and frustrate the attempts of the enemy to close his front again by withdrawal to the rear. The attacking forces attempt to reduce individual enemy positions by encircling and isolating them. The Germans do not consider a breakthrough successful until they overcome the enemy's artillery positions, which usually is the special task of tanks. Reserve units roll up the enemy's front from the newly created flanks.
The Germans often refer to this maneuver as "Keil und Kessel".
3. ORGANIZATION OF THE ATTACK
a. ATTACK ORDER
The attack order (Angriffsbefehl) generally contains the objective of the attack, the disposition of the infantry, unit sectors and boundaries, disposition and support missions of the artillery, location of reserves, and the time of attack. The order is not drawn up in accordance with any stereotyped form, but as a rule follows this pattern:
(1) Estimate of the situation (disposition of hostile and friendly troops)
(3) Assembly areas for the forward companies; objective; sector boundaries; orders for the continuation of combat reconnaissance.
(4) Instructions for the preparation of the heavy-weapons fire support, especially for massed fire.
(5) Orders to the artillery for fire preparation and coordination.
(6) Assembly areas for the reserves.
(7) Time of attack.
(8) Instructions for rear services (medial service and supplies).
(9) Location of command posts.
b. SECTORS OF ATTACK
The width of a sector assigned to an infantry unit in the attack depends on the unit's mission and battle strength, on terrain conditions, on the availlable fire support of all arms, and on the probable strength of enemy resistance. Normally the sector assigned to a platoon is betwen 165 and 220 yards. A company attack sector is about 330 to 550 yards. A battalion sector is about 440 to 1,100 yards, while a division sector may be 4,400 yards to 5,500 yards. These sectors also provide the boundaries for the other arms, especially for the artillery in support of the infantry, although the artillery may utilize favorable observation positions in neighboring sectors. This also applies to the heavy infantry weapons.
For large units the sectors are determined from the map; for smaller units, from the terrain. These sectors extend as deep into enemy territory as the plan of battle may require. As the situation develops, changes are frequently made. Important points always lie within units' sectors, unless they are to be attacked by several units. The Germans do not consider it necessary to occupy the whole width of the sector with troops. Open flanks ordinarily are not bounded.
c. FIRE PLAN
Fire superiority is achieved through coordination of the infantry and artillery weapons. The basis of the fire plan (Feuerplan) is the regulation of the commitment of all weapons. The fire plan includes the following:
(1) Assignment of combat missions.
(2) Distribution of observation sectors and fields of fire for the infantry and the artillery.
(3) An estimate of capabilities of the artillery for effective execution of the combat mission.
(4) Orders for the commencement of fire and fire schedules.
(5) Orders for the preparation for massed fire.
(6) Instructions for ammunition supply.
4. CONDUCT OF THE ATTACK
Most of the German successes in the present war have been achieved with armored formations. Years of secret training and equipping were devoted to the development of the Panzer division. The original German blitzkrieg tactics were based on the belief in the irresistable power of tank formations operating independently with the support of dive- bombers. Considerable modifications have taken place in this theory over the past few years. At the present time, the offensive tactics of the Germans are less spectacularly bold than they were in 1939, but the fundamental theory behind them has changed remarkably little, though in their armored tactics they stress more tank-infantry coordination since unlimited air support is no longer at their command.
The main weight of all major German attacks since 1939 was borne by the Panzer division. Where infantry divisions have been employed, they were limited to local attacks on a comparatively minor scale, or to mopping up in rear of the Panzer divisions. The Germans never envisaged a full-scale attack by infantry formations on fixed defenses. German tactics have been to outflank or encircle the main area of the enemy defenses with tank formations and to have the infantry roll up the defenses from the rear, or to break frontally through the enemy defenses with massed tanks and develop the famous "Keil und Kessel" maneuver.
The Germans learned at heavy cost the futility of charging a hostile antitank defense with tank concentrations and of engaging in tank-versus-tank combat without having superiority in range and armament. They have learned that large formations of tanks cannot achieve a breakthrough, opposed by an effective screen of antitank guns, without the assistance of other arms. Therefore attention has to be given to the combined tactics of tanks and Panzer Grenadiers, the mechanized or motorized infantry who accompany the tanks.
Great emphasis in German offensive theory is laid on the role of the artillery, but in practice the artillery-support role has devolved to an ever-increasing degree on the tanks and assault guns. Nevertheless, the principle that the supporting fire should be concentrated on a narrow frontage where the tanks and infantry are most likely to achieve a breakthrough has been retained.
The fact that part of the enemy resistance is likely to remain undisclosed until the attack has already begun has caused the Germans permanently to decentralize a portion of the field artillery. This tendency has led to the emergence and continual development of the assault guns, whose main function is the close support of infantry and tanks in the attack. Their armor and mobility allow them to operate much farther forward than the field artillery.
The tendency to detach field artillery battalions from their field artillery regiment remains strong. In fact, this tendency is so prevalent that a concentration of massed artillery preceeding an attack seldom is achieved, necessitating, as it does, a great degree of centralized control. The Germans however, replace the massed artillery fire to a large extent with the fire of multi- barreled mortars and rocket projectors, though these latter have not the accuracy of the former.
b. ATTACK BY MECHANIZED AND MOTORIZED FORCES
(1) THE ATTACK
In armored-force operations, the Germans stress the need for the concentrated employment, at the decisive place and time, of the entire combined command of tanks and other arms, less necessary reserves. The tanks constitute the striking force of such a command and normally advance as the first echelon of the attack. Their primary mission is to break through and attack the enemy artillery, rather than to seek out and destroy enemy tanks, which can be more effectively engaged by antitank units. The mission of the other arms is to assist the tanks in their advance, and particularly to eliminate antitank weapons. The smallest combat unit in such a force of combined arms is the comany.
The basic formations for the tank platoon, company, and battalion are file, double file, wedge, and blunt wedge. The type of formation used for a specific task depends to a large extent on terrain conditions and the strength of enemy opposition. A German tank platoon normally consists of one command tank and two tank squads of two tanks each.
File or Column Double file or staggered column
The tank regiment normally attacks in waves, in either of the following manners:
The tank regiment is echeloned in depth, one tank battalion following the other. The regimental commander's location is between the two battalions. This formation has the advantages of a sufficiently wide front (about 1100 yards), and close contact by the company commander of his units in the conduct of the attack. When two tank battalions are attacking, one behind the other, it takes them about half an hour to pass their own infantry.
When the two-battalions-abreast formation is employed, it is almost essential that another tank regiment form the following wave. This formation usually has the disadvantage of being too wide. The regimental commander cannot observe his units, and he has no units of his own behind him which he can commit in a decisive moment. The attack normally proceeds in three waves.
The first wave thrusts to the enemy's antitank defense and artillery positions.
The second wave provides covering fire for the first wave, and then attacks the enemy's infantry positions, preceded, accomapanied, or followed by part of the Panzer Grenadiers, who dismount as close as possible to the point where they must engage the enemy. The objectives of the second wave are the remaining antitank positions, positions of heavy infantry-support weapons, and machine-gun emplacements which hold up the advance of the infantry.
The third wave, accompanied by the remainder of the Panzer Grenadiers, mops up.
These three waves now often are telescoped into two, the first wave speeding through the enemy's positions as far as his gun positions, the second crushing the enemy's forward positions in detail and mopping up the opposition no dealt with by the first wave or which has revived since the first wave passed through.
A typical attack formation of this type might be divided up among the Panzer division's units as follows: the first wave, on a frontage of about 2,000 to 3,000 yards, might consist of one tank battalion, two companies forward, supported on the flanks by elements of the assault gun battalion. Close to the rear of the first wave usually follow one or two Panzer Grenadier companies in armored half-tracks. About 150 yards to the rear of the first wave moves the second wave, formed of the second tank battalion in the same formation, closely followed by the remainder of the armored Panzer Grenadiers, who are in turn followed at some distance by the motorized Panzer Grenadiers. The flanks are protected by antitank guns which normally operate by platoons, moving by bounds. The artillery forward observer travels in his armored vehicles with the first wave, while the artillery commander of the supporting artillery units usually travels with the tank commander. Assault guns normally also accompany the second wave.
The tanks help each other forward by fire and movement, medium or heavy tanks taking up hull-down firing positions and giving covering fire while the faster tanks advance to the next commanding feature. Then the latter give covering fire to the former moving forward to their next bound.
Once the first wave has reached the rear of the enemy's forward defenses, it pushes straight on to attack the enemy's artillery. As soon as these positions have been neutralized, the tanks reform beyond the artillery positions and either prepare to exploit the attack or form an all-round defensive position on suitable ground.
The tank commander, as the leader of the strongest unit, is in most cases in command of the combat team, and all the other participating arms (Panzer Grenadiers, artillery, engineers, and antitank units) are placed under him. The Germans realize that a strong and unified command is an essential feature of any military operation. For certain missions, however, tank units are attached to another arm, in which case the tank commander is consulted before the final plans for the operations are made.