K.J. Bunting Capt.
Issued down to Divisions
(for distribution down to Battalions)
NOTES ON RECENT FIGHTING – No. 13.
GERMAN TACTICS IN THE ATTACK.
(Issued by the General Staff)
- The method of concentration of the attacking troops and their movement to the position of assembly in the recent operations on the Western Front were very similar to those employed by the Germans in the attack on Riga in September 1917. Several of the attacking and second line divisions were brought forward by night marches and by easy stages. In certain cases these marches were so regulated as to bring the divisions into their assembly positions at the end of their last march. This method of attacking after long marches was a feature of the training and manoeuvres carried out by the German divisions in the back areas during the early part of this year. In some cases, the starting point of the attacking divisions was at a considerable distance behind the enemy’s line. Prisoners who have been captured from divisions which adopted this practice state that their losses during the advance were comparatively light.
- The enemy has employed two or three different methods for deployment of his assaulting troops. There is evidence to shew that in some cases an assault division was brought up through a division already in the line. The 3rd Naval Division, for instance, is stated to have marched through another division to attack Contalmaison, and in the attack north of the Scarpe on the 28th of March the three attacking divisions passed through regiments of the two divisions which were holding the line. As a general rule, however, the enemy appears to have distributed his divisions in depth in groups of two or three, and the assaulting division attacked with two regiments in the front line and one regiment in reserve. Thus, the German IX Corps (St Quentin Group) for the attack on the 21st of March was organized with three divisions in the front line and three divisions in reserve. The Corps frontage was about three miles, so that each division attacked on a frontage of about 1,760 yards, with two regiments in the front line and one regiment in divisional reserve. The heads of the central reserve division were ordered to arrive at positions about 4,500 yards behind the German front line at the moment of assault. The leading regiments of the assaulting division had two battalions in front and one battalion in reserve. The leading battalions had two companies in front and two in close support.
- The general dispositions adopted by a company in the attack are shewn in the diagram below. This diagram is based upon a prisoner’s statement, and shews the formation adopted during training. It is probably typical of the formation generally employed by a company in the attack, but the strength of the various waves naturally depends upon the fighting strength of the company. It will be seen that a fourth platoon is temporarily formed, consisting of runners, signallers and carriers. The task of this platoon, in addition to maintaining communication, is to supply the forward infantry with ammunition and engineer material.| 50 yds. |100 yds |100 yds. | | riflemen |group | | | | | | | | | | | |L.M.G. Group | group of |“Granatwerfer” |signallers | | | | |
- | riflemen |group | |
- Platoon Cmdr
- Assault group | | | |
- Platoon comdr. L.M.G. Group | Coy Comdr. | | | | L.M.G Group | Platoon Comdr | Carriers |
- Assault group | | | |
- | Platoon Comdr. | |
- L.M.G Group | group of |“Granatwerfer” |runners |
- The special assault detachments which form the first wave of an attack advance in extended order, but there is no definite information to shew the exact formation adopted by the succeeding waves of the leading battalions. It is probable that the usual method of advance is in line of groups in file until the battalions reach our trenches, when the men deploy into line. The reasons for this kind of formation are obvious. Casualties from artillery and machine gun fire are reduced to a minimum and the strength of the attack is liable to be underrated. The reserves follow the assaulting battalions in artillery formation, taking advantage of every form of natural cover.
- The enemy’s maxim that the light machine gun is not an auxiliary weapon, but just as much the chief weapon of the infantry as the rifle, has been acted upon throughout the recent offensive. Light machine guns have always been well forward with the assaulting troops. On one portion of the front it was noticed that the system adopted was for one big man to carry the gun until the attacking troops came within our rifle fire. The No. 1 then took the gun from the carrier and crept forward as far as possible before opening a machine gun barrage, under the protection of which the infantry attacked.
- The enemy’s light mortars have usually followed close behind the assaulting infantry. They have been used to support the attack if it appears to have been definitely checked and to reinforce machine guns in the defence of captured localities against our counter-attacks.
- In some cases, as in the attack carried out by the enemy on the 24th of April between the Somme and Hangard, attacks have been delivered by mixed groups of infantry and artillery, a minimum of one field gun battery accompanying an infantry regiment. Although this form of attack may not have been universally adopted by the enemy, it had been employed on all known occasions by various divisions during the recent operations on the Somme and Lys battle fronts. It should be noted that the constitution of mixed groups was laid down by the Germans for the engagement of intervening divisions during the fighting in Flanders in 1917.
- In the majority of cases, the objectives of the attack appear to have been unlimited and the orders to the troops have been to push on until an organized resistance was encountered. In this connection, it is of interest to note that many of the prisoners who have been captured have been in possession of maps, complete in every detail, of the country into which they might penetrate.
- In the development of his offensive operations the enemy has aimed at establishing continuous action. He has, therefore, allowed his unit commanders of all grades the fullest initiative, and has endeavoured immediately to exploit any success which he obtains. His tactical methods during the recent fighting constitute a complete return to the principles laid down in the training regulations of German infantry before the war.
4th of June, 1918.
Printed in France by Army Printing and Stationary Services. PRESS A-6/18-6661S-4000.