Eastern Front Experiences, March 1942
By Christian Ankerstjerne
The following document, published by the Oberkommando des Heeres (German army high command) 1 March 1942, details the experiences gained on the Eastern Front since the beginning of the German invasion of the Soviet Union.
Instructions for infantry training, based on the experiences from the Eastern campaign
- General instructions
- Camouflage and entrenchment
- Nighttime combat
- Urban combat
- Forest combat
- Air defense
- Anti-tank combat
A. General instructions
1.) All the important experiences and derived instructions listed below must be used in the training instructions of the western and replacement armies.
The general principles of combat have proven their worth. Decisive spirit, maneuverability, the ability to quickly understand and adapt to new situations, and overcoming crises at all command levels have made the German infantry superior in all the campaigns and against any enemy of this war, and have led to great successes.
The experiences below, mainly gained from the campaign in the East, are given as the foundation of the practical employment of the general principles of combat.
2.) The terrain in Russia is characterized by wide spaces, a lack of roads, and difficulty to obtain an overview. The Russian1, a man of nature with great resilience, cleverness, and cruelty, will attack in any situation, and seeks out close combat. The German soldier, superior to the Russian in morality and combat ability, has proven his worth in the East through resilience, physical toughness, and endurance. The young, inexperienced soldier must therefore adopt these qualities, and be trained in man-to-man combat.
3.) The wide spaces and the poor roads, and the inaccurate maps that do not give a clear overview of the terrain, require ongoing scouting, day and night, with any means available.
Route reconnaissance must focus on:
- The usability of roads, streets, and bridges.
- Verifying and correcting maps.
- Exploring the terrain's passability, camouflage options, and mines.
The simplest aids and landmarks of nature much be known when navigating the terrain by day and night.
4.) Specifically for the reconnaissance troop
Reconnaissance troops must only be deployed in force. When possible, the recon patrol must be equipped with a lensatic compass and route sketches. Lack of knowledge of the terrain must not mean that the patrol stays close to roads.
A Russian statement about German reconnaissance has been:
German recon patrols camouflage themselves poorly, and move so casually that our spotters could easily follow their movements. The patrols always leave their base in the same way, rather than moving in deceptive way and changing their route.
The Russians often allow the recon patrol to penetrate their lines, only to shoot returning runners and ambush the patrol.
5.) The training must emphasize the following:
- Provide overwatch with heavy weapons2.
- Jump from spotting point to spotting point.
- The recon patrol must provide its own spotting and fire protection.
- Cleverness and deception.
- Bring heavy weapons, or obtain artillery support through radio communication.
6.) Spotters of all sections, and in particular the commanders, must continuously observe the terrain. Spotters may never be recalled without replacement. All spotters must camouflage and entrench themselves cleverly. Runners may not move in such a way as to reveal their point of origin.
Reconnaissance reports much immediately and continuously be passed on and exchanged between the infantry companies, heavy infantry weapons, and artillery. Quick coordination is facilitated by target plans.
7.) Both in the offense and in the defense, fire should be focused quickly - not just by one weapon branch, but through combined arms and the combination of direct and indirect fire.
The Russians are greatly affected by the effect of mortars, infantry guns, and artillery.
Through the local and timely concentration of fire of all available weapons - the point of fire concentration3 - is the fastest way to get the greatest possible effect. This is the place from which the superiority of German combat tactics over that of our enemy arises.
In order to allow this, the heavy weapons [should be concentrated] as densely as allowed by the availability and terrain, as close as possible to the infantry companies, working with them and each other.
8.) Equipping the best infantrymen of each squad with scopes and semi-automatic rifles allows them to be used as sharpshooters. The employment of sharpshooters to shoot enemy commanders, spotters, and machine gunners at medium ranges is always successful.
9.) The squad commander must ensure that his squad's fire is concentrated both when firing at known targets as well as when firing at swaths of land, hedges, and shrubbery thought to be held by enemies.
10.) The ammunition usage of the eastern campaign is increasing. Therefore, forward-looking ammunition statistics are necessary, especially in defensive combat where the Russians often use multiple waves of attacks over several days.
11.) Deflective fire4
Deflective fire should frequently be used by light and heavy infantry guns when the terrain allows it. The effect of especially heavy infantry guns against an attacking or quickly entrenched enemy is exceptionally good.
When firing large-caliber high-explosive grenades with time fuses, duds will often result when the grenades hit hard objects (rocky ground, stone walls, houses, ice, etc.) The fuse breaks off and does not set off the explosive. As soon as duds occur when firing time fuses, firing must be switched to contact fuses.
12.) The success of the attack of German infantry is a result of the steady change of the methods of attack and time. Of particular importance is:
- Exploit darkness and poor visibility to move closer to the enemy and prepare the assault. Don't always attack at the same time of day. Instead, like the Russians, often attack during the night, at dawn, when misty, or during snow storms.
- The infantry should use narrow, tight formations, exploiting the terrain without contact to the neighboring units.
- Create point of fire concentration through the attachment of heavy weapons to the company leading the assault. In addition, the battalion commander should use his heavy weapons and the artillery available to him in order to concentrate fire at the decisive point.
- Employ the reserves where soft spots have been detected with the enemy. Do not turn prematurely or pay too much attention to flanks.
The goal of every commander must thus be to concentrate all forces - assault, fire, and reserves - at the decisive area.
13.) For young and inexperienced commanders, it has proven absolutely necessary to use a point-by-point breakdown of the intentions of the combat leadership and employment of heavy weapons through the battle and fire plan within the orders.
- The battalion commander manages cooperation with the artillery. Tight concentration of the areas of combat, as well as active exchange of observations and incoming messages, is important. He coordinates the firing plan of his heavy weapons with the commander of the machine gun company.
The preparation of fire prior to an attack depends on the respective weapon stocks and available ammunition. During surprise attacks, fire should not be opened until the attack begins, and preferably not until the enemy opens fire and reveals his gun emplacements.
During planned attacks against fortified positions, artillery and heavy weapons fire should be used against known targets and pillboxes, in order to destroy and wear down the enemy prior to the attack.
The urge to move forward with an attack must not result in insufficient preparation. Allowing the troops more time to prepare, in exchange for setting higher demands from them, has often proven itself.
During the course of the attack, fast, local, and timely fire control is important, as is pushing forward when it becomes bogged down.
- The company commander leads his company forward under covering fire in deep, narrow, and loose formation, according to the terrain.
When encountering heavy enemy fire, the infantry company must use heavy weapons to prepare for the individual squads to leap-frog forward. Alternatively, the company waits, either entrenched or in cover, until concentrated fire can be brought on the new targets, after which they can be engaged either individually or in groups. Squads and platoons must stay close to the fire of the indirect fire weapons and the artillery.
Following the directions of its commander, the squad must only engage moving or unentrenched targets with light machine guns or rifles at medium and short ranges.
As the Russians are usually well-concealed, it may be necessary to fire at strips of lands, shrubbery, hedges, and city edges where, based on his fire, the enemy is presumed to be located. Entrenched Russians are fought down or dislodged through the use of indirect fire of rifle grenades, as well as light and heavy mortars.
14.) It is the responsibility of every commander to keep every new concentration of fire from indirect and direct fire weapons during the attack in flux.
The combat mission regulates the firefight. It should always be considered which weapons should be used to fight down a target. To prevent unnecessary ammunition usage, the commander must always make it clear to himself whether it is really necessary to employ additional weapons against a target.
It is wrong to conduct a frontal assault against a strong enemy, merely in an attempt to move forward. That costs too much blood.
15.) The breakthrough is prepared through the concentration of fire at the point of breakthrough, and shielding the flanks through fire.
The Russians are particularly vulnerable to concentrated, enthusiastic breakthroughs of the squad and platoon, while firing on the move with light machine guns, sub-machine guns, and semi-automatic rifles. Trumpeters blow the
swiftly forward signal.
16.) Every combat victory must be followed up by an overthrowing and ruthlessly forward-pushing action in the ordered direction, supported by the protective fire of heavy weapons. All commanders must sharply keep their units together. This is the best way to oppose enemy counter-attacks. In particular, assigned squads must examine and clear the conquered trenches and shelters left behind, as the Russians often hide or pretend to be dead, only to later open fire from behind.
17.) As the Russians often settle in at dusk, attacking at night is important, in order to prevent the enemy from escaping.
If an attacking unit has to remain behind enemy lines overnight, they must immediately form a "hedgehog" to defend against enemy counter-attacks from all sides.
At daybreak, the old - and if possible an improved - position and organization must be resumed.
18.) The Russians always begin by systematically conducting combat reconnaissance across the entire front. This combat reconnaissance is carried out as probing attacks, usually in company or even battalion strength. As a rule, the enemy manages to find weak spots. In any case, the reconnaissance is carried out without any consideration for their own casualties. Based on the results of the reconnaissance, the assault and breakthrough forces, i.e. heavily massed infantry and armor, are moved into position. The attack is usually preceded by concentrated long-range mortar and tank fire. If the spearheading tanks are knocked out, and the attack is fought off, there will often be a break lasting several hours, after which a new attack usually follows.
19.) Continuous, active observation and reconnaissance, and the creation of a firing plan in cooperation with the artillery, is an important foundation for the defense. All weapons must be able to quickly and nimbly direct their fire against their assigned areas of observation and fire. Points of fire concentration must also be set up here. Having the commander of the machine gun company organize the fire of the heavy infantry weapons, while supporting the battalion commander, has proven itself. Experiences show that using the concentrated fire of heavy mortars, infantry guns, anti-tank guns, and artillery against their known positions and attacks is effective at defeating the enemy. Parts of the machine gun company must be used to cover open areas from a camouflaged position. Simple methods of alignment (using rulers, synchronization, measuring triangles, and aiming circles) must be used.
An anti-tank defense and warning plan should be set up.
20.) As a rule, in open terrain, when plenty of ammunition is available, fire should be opened at long ranges to take advantage of the range of fire.
If there is a shortage of ammunition, or the terrain is closed, it is effective to let the enemy get close, before destroying them by opening up fire at short range, and in short, surprising, concentrated fire assaults.
21.) The rifleman must be trained to take part in combat. Their fire is guided by the squad commander against known targets. Sharpshooters with scoped, automatic rifles must be tasked to eliminate particularly dangerous enemies, such as machine guns, enemy commanders, or spotters.
22.) Wide defensive fronts are the rule in the East. This necessitates the occupation of important geographic features (hills, bridges, fortifications, villages, street- and road intersections, protruding forest edges, etc.). They must be turned into strongpoints and, if sufficiently important, manned by one or more squads (platoons) with heavy weapons (heavy mortar, heavy machine guns, as well as anti-tank guns). A "360 degree" defense must always be set up. As the Russians always tries to penetrate gaps by night and when foggy, it must be possible to support the strongpoints through flanking fire. When the strongpoints are far apart, in addition to strong reconnaissance activity, there must also be light troop deployment in the gaps.
Simple barriers and minelaying makes it difficult for the enemy to operate between the strongpoints.
Strong point garrisons must fight to the last man, as the defensive system will otherwise collapse. They must be amply supplied with ammunition and food.
In order to give some depth to the positions, reserves must be placed behind the main battle line, or placed in secondary strongpoints between the line of strongpoints. Their defensive tasks must be discussed and rehearsed based on reconnaissance. A quick and powerful counter-attack has always been successful against the Russians.
23.) How to act in positions
As the Russians vigilantly observe the terrain, the position must appear to be deserted. All milling about, every showing of oneself, the kitchen smoke from houses, and sounds, betray the position of the strongpoints to the enemy. They will very quickly identify weak positions and gaps, and will attack at these places.
The greatest attention must be paid by all positions at night. As the Russians will sneak up cat-like and silently, setting up forward listening posts has proven especially effective. The listening posts must always consist of two men.
24.) As the wide fronts are rarely allows for soldiers to move to the rear for rest and recuperation, being stationed at a forward position is very exhaustive. Every soldier must be thoroughly instructed in the importance and responsibilities of his post. Constant vigilance is required. They must be constantly watched by the squad-, platoon-, and company commanders, especially at night and during fogs. Half the forces used for security duties, and during nighttime two-thirds, must perform their guard duties with their weapon in hand.
Part of the soldier's training involves practicing long guard duties, especially at night and in all weather conditions.
F. Camouflage and entrenchment
25.) For all types of combat
Entrenchment and camouflage at every location is the duty of every soldier. Sweat saves blood!
- The Russians are masters of camouflage. It is often difficult to spot them; it is therefore important to observe where they are, and what they are doing. The camouflage must always match the particular terrain. Vehicles and horses must not be forgotten.
- Foxholes must be dug at the soldier's own initiative without any order to do so, as soon as the troops are within range of enemy artillery, there is a lull in the battle, or the troops rests. When the ground conditions allow it, foxholes must have vertical walls, so that they also offer protection against being overrun during tank attacks. Spread around the dug-up dirt in a wide area, as the dirt mounds, etc., will otherwise easily give away to the enemy the number and location of the foxholes, especially when they have had to be dug in open terrain.
The creation of positions requires clear order for the sequence in which they should be carried out, for example:
- Firing positions for the weapons,
- Secondary positions,
- Areas of approach,
When laying out obstacles, start with tripwires and rattling wires, then build cheval de frise and continuous obstacles. Laying out mines should be one of the first tasks, and often protects the working troops against surprise attacks. Keep accurate sketches of their positions!
It requires the monitoring of all commanders to ensure that the work is carried out in the ordered sequence.
The supply train must also be trained in the construction of cover for men, horses, and vehicles.
27.) All forces behind the front line must secure themselves against raids, and must create cover against artillery and fighter-bombers for both themselves and the horses and vehicles.
Two types of security must be practiced:
- Village security
- Forest security.
H. Nighttime combat
28.) Nighttime attacks, conducted in a raid-like fashion, confuses and has a great impact on the Russians. For this reason, localized nighttime attacks are successful, and must be practiced.
29.) Every nighttime offensive operation requires thorough and conscientious preparations by means of reconnaissance, which is initiated at an early stage, and no later than the preceding night.
The result of the reconnaissance is the foundation for the commander's plan, the way of execution of which must be known in even the smallest details by the subordinate commanders.
It is particularly effective to sneak around and surprise the enemy at their flanks or rear.
30.) The main task of the heavy weapons and artillery is to engage the enemy's neighboring bases, so as to shield the nighttime attack.
It is especially important to precisely plan the fire of the artillery and heavy weapons at specified times and according to light signals.
31.) The nighttime attacks must infantry-wise be carried out by shock troops, that are amply equipped with hand grenades, smoke grenades, wired charges5, as well as weapons for cutting and stabbing.
32.) The night training must familiarize the soldiers with the tools used during the darkness. They make the fighting easier for him.
During the training, focus on practicing:
- Making the eyes and ears accustomed to the darkness,
- Seeing and hearing at all weather conditions,
- Direction and target practice (the targets are usually overshot),
- Silently overcoming the terrain (sneaking up),
- Performing reconnaissance in the dark,
- Clearing out enemy posts and nests - raids, close combat.
J. Urban combat
33.) In the wide spaces of the East, and especially during the winter, the defender will cling to villages, thereby blocking the only usable roads. The Russians sets up their position quickly and aptly, and puts up a tough defense. They will usually assault the units that have moved into the village in the flanks and rear, using gunfire and counter-attacks.
Consequently, the attack of villages must be well-planned. Thorough reconnaissance and spotting provide the foundation to do so. Frontal attacks usually lead to higher casualties.
While tying the enemy to the front, the village must be attacked from the sides and read. Attached to, and according to specific agreement assigned to, the circumventing units must be heavy weapons (infantry guns and anti-tank guns), and often also small numbers of guns6, assault guns, and tanks.
Individual houses and nests are cleared by strong shock troops with a large number of hand grenades.
For larger villages, the attacks must be carried out in sections.
34.) Defense of villages
The Russians circumvent defended villages using the surrounding groves, so that they can attack from the most suitable side. They cleverly use every available cover while moving in. Their aim is to occupy some houses, or at the very least, some of the barns surrounding the village. If they succeed at this, they will begin the planned destruction and capture of the village, usually at night. If the enemy uses tanks in the attack, they will use their guns to destroy one house after another, thus forcing the occupants into the open. Then, under their cover, the Russian infantry will enter the houses.
To know the enemy's intent, ongoing and vigilant reconnaissance is necessary, not only at the front, but also at the flanks. If enemy forces are spotted, they must be engaged by gunfire, and then destroyed by attacks. Daytime security must be fundamentally different than that at night.
K. Forest combat
35.) The Russians display their greatest resistance when fighting in forests, which are usually also marshy. Under the guidance of local inhabitants, they will follow unknown roads, paths, and animal trails, often also spearheaded by tanks. Fighting toughly and cleverly, they will exploit their numerical superiority.
The following is particularly often encountered:
- Clever camouflage and use of the terrain,
- strong field fortifications in the middle of forests and shrubbery,
- good use of spotters in trees,
- allowing approaching troops to get up close,
- actively seeking out close combat.
36.) An attack through a forest must therefore be carefully planned and carried out in leaps. The enemy is tied to the front, and suppressed by the fire from heavy weapons. Large forces circumvent the edges of their front, and attack their flank and rear. The reconnaissance must provide an accurate picture if their positions, especially gaps and the edges of their front line. This is the most important foundation for a successful forest attack.
Strong recon patrols must fan out ahead of time along the roads leading through the forest. They are lightly armed, though they are often arranged to bring along mortars and anti-tank guns.
The attacking forces must ensure close cooperation with the artillery prior to the attack. The advance of individual guns and batteries must be prepared and arranged at an early stage.
37.) Defense in forests
Listening posts and riflemen in treetops must watch no man's land, while changing their location on a daily basis.
When possible, the position should be continuously improved and camouflaged well. When cutting down trees, care must be taken to conceal the position from above.
A forward-facing field of fire can be created by cutting down trees in front of the main battle line. Flanking firing lanes must be laid down. The trees must be cut down in such a way that they create obstacles.
Behind the main battle line, footpaths must be created so that they can be used without making noises (remove twigs and foliage).
The ways in which counter-attacks can be conducted must be precisely prepared and practiced.
38.) Indiscriminate firing by single riflemen and machine gunners will only unsettle the troops. In forest combat in particular, strict fire discipline must be practiced, and the non-commissioned officers must be instructed not to open fire at every sound or approaching recon patrol. Single, well-aimed shots by rifles, scoped rifles, and semi-automatic rifles have been shown to be the most effective in this situation.
If an enemy attack is detected, or a preparatory position is presumed, a short but powerful fire mission using all available weapons must be ordered. The powerful fires mission has a great impact on morale, especially due to the deafening noise. Usually, it will also inflict considerable losses on the enemy.
L. Air defense
39.) Nature of the attacks
Russian aircraft always appear unexpectedly, striking at low altitudes along the march columns below, using their cannons and bombs with good results. The attacks often involve multiple passes. If the attacks take place from the side, the results are poor. High-altitude bombing runs are rarely carried out, and when they are, they have only limited effect.
40.) Anti-aircraft fire
A large number of shot-down aircraft have been achieved through infantry fire, and many aircraft have been damaged or forced to turn away. The effect of the machine guns is roughly equal to the combined fire of the rifles. The logistical and support services must also practice anti-aircraft fire using rifles and machine guns.
Air spotters must always be assigned. Neglecting air spotting when the threat of air attacks is low revenges itself.
Quickly opening fire with machine guns from the shoulder of another infantryman, and especially from twin mounts, as well as by many riflemen is a requirement for success.
The machine gun company's vehicles with twin mounts must be distributed throughout the battalion's entire march column. The loaders must put down their bayonet, entrenching tool, and bread bag, as these will hinder their movements.
Every rest must exhibit good cover and camouflage. They must be protected by machine guns in twin mounts, three-legged mounts, and anti-aircraft swivel mounts. Many riflemen must also be assigned to fend off attacking aircraft.
M. Anti-tank combat
41.) Russian tanks rarely attack in large formations. Usually only a small number, or frequently even single, tanks will drive in front of the attacking infantry, which will follow in large groups. The most important task of all forces is to use fire to separate the attacking infantry from the tanks.
Through instructions and, if possible, by the use of practical demonstrations, the goal in the training of infantrymen for fighting tanks must be to show the young and inexperienced soldier, that the effect of enemy tanks against entrenched infantrymen is very limited; the infantry's anti-tank actions are purely a matter of nerves.
The appearance of enemy tanks must be reported by all parts of the spotting- and guard sections by the fastest possible means to warn the troops.
Due to their immobility, the 5 cm Pak must be placed into position, in accordance with the anti-tank plan, at an early stage. Because of their greater mobility, the 3,7 cm Pak can be kept ready behind cover, or concealed near already prepared positions.
Positions must be set up around bushes, hedges, etc., maintaining good traversability, but above all good camouflage. Foxholes must be laid out, without creating earth mounds, for the gunners and ammunition. Laying out mines around the position prevents tanks from overrunning the position.
Hold the fire, to make sure that the first shot is a hit. This is especially important when fighting new tank models with very sloped armor.
It is necessary to carry out many exercises to get accustomed to allowing tanks to move in close.
Once one tank has been hit, the others will usually behave insecurely, which can be noticed by them halting, turning, and showing their flanks. This allows the anti-tank guns to open fire at their weak spots (view- and weapon slits, the turret ring, the side armor, the tracks, and the running gear), which will quickly have an effect.
The fire of other weapons: Anti-tank rifles, machine guns, rifles with anti-tank rifle grenades, light infantry guns, if possible firing simultaneously, are also effective at close range.
44.) Close-range fighting of tanks is carried out by close-combat troops using their close-combat weapons (blinding-, fire-, and explosive weapons).
Moving in on broken-down, slowly moving or immobile tanks is particularly important to practice (see army manual 469/4, "Preliminary guidelines on close combat against tanks" from 29 January 1942).
The overall tone in the report is quite disparaging towards Soviet soldiers. As mentioned in the notes, the Soviet army and Soviet soldiers are consistently referring to as
The Russian, as the definite article, which is a traditional way to demeaningly refer to a population group as a homogenous embodiment of its stereotype. The report also start out be directly calling German soldiers as superior to the Soviet soldiers, both in terms of morality and combat ability.
Further down in the report, however, it is quite clear that the German combat ability is far from perfect, specifically pointing out that German reconnaissance leaves much to be desired, and that the Soviet camouflage techniques are superior to the German ones.
- The original document uses the demeaning terms "Die Russe" (the Russian) and "Er"/"Ihm" (him) throughout to refer to the Soviet armed forces in general. Except for this instance, the term has been translated to the neutral "the Russians" and "them"/"the enemy". Back
- Heavy weapons refers to infantry support weapons, such as heavy machine guns, mortars, and infantry guns. Back
- Referred to in the original document as Feuerschwerpunkt. Back
- This method refers to high-explosive ammunition being shot into the ground at a shallow angle in front of the target, resulting in a burst of scrapnel being blown forward. Back
- Translated from "geballten Ladungen", which consisted of the heads of six stick hand grenades wired around the head of a seventh, creating a more powerful explosive charge that could also be used against tanks. Back
- This is not specified further, but probably refers to artillery. Back
- Hinweise für die Ausbildung der Infanterie auf Grund der Erfahrungen des Ostfeldzuges. Oberkommando des Heeres, 1942. 20 p. Gen. St. d. H./Gen. d. Inf. Nr. 500/42 geh.. DHI 500-12451-000405.