We were always anxious to get our hands on captured documents before they were destroyed. Marked maps, signal diagrams, code lists, operational orders, intelligence summaries, routine daily orders and copies of office stamps or frankings were all valuable sources of intelligence and most likely indicators of enemy intentions and identification. A glance at reference numbers on these documents highlighted their possible value: IA Operations, IB QBranch, Ib Ordnance, Ic Intelligence, ID Training, IIa Officer casualties, IIb Other Rank casualties, III Legal, IVa Administration, IVb Medical, IVc Vet., IVd Chaplain and V Technical. Priority had to be given to IA and Ic in passing these back to Brigade Headquarters. German diaries and letters, photos and diagrams of enemy equipment, training manuals and unmarked German maps were also sent back.
This signal message shows Battle Intelligence at work. Interrogation of P.o.Ws reveals enemy troop movements and indentification of units; 155 Brigade HQ sends priority message to Operations at 52 Division HQ. [I am grateful to Mr Jan Wigard [see Page 16, para.3] for providing a copy of this signal message.]
From: 155 Inf Brigade to 52 Div copy
Approx 30 PW on way to cage.
British Infantry Battalion v. German Grenadier Battalion
It was helpful 'in knowing your enemy' to be aware of the differences in organisation between us. The British and German rifle companies had three platoons but the German platoons were larger, having four sections to our three. They had the same section strength of 10 men with a section leader, 3 men firing and belt-feeding the MG42 and 6 riflemen; however, the German platoon had a light mortar section compared to our single 2-inch mortar at platoon headquarters. Their concentrated use of German mortars always seemed to me to be very effective.
The German battalion Support Company had 3 Medium Machine-gun Platoons with twelve MG42s on heavy mounting (schweres Maschinengewehr: [abbreviated] s.M.G); and 1 Medium Mortar Platoon with six 8cm mittlerer Granatwerfer (8cm m.Gr.W.) The German battalion also had an Infantry Gun Company with 8 Infantry Artillery Guns.
The Germans having 3 MG Platoons normally allotted one to each of their three rifle companies; both German and British battalions kept their heavy mortars as specialist sub-units. The Germans did not have a Carrier Platoon and also the disadvantage of having to rely on horse-drawn transport to bring forward their ammunition, company rations and other baggage; motor vehicles and half-tracks being reserved for their artillery and specialist weapons like the Nebelwefer rocket-projector.
German Infantry Weaponry we faced
When we attacked a German rifle company position we could face twelve rifle sections each with an MG42 and six riflemen, plus the fire-power from one MG Platoon with four MMGs and one Mortar Section with two 8cm mortars and one Anti-tank Section with three grenade-firing rifles (anti-tank and anti-personnel).
23mm Anti-Tank Grenade Pistol.
A modified Signals Pistol, fires an Anti-Tank projectle of approx one pound.
In the fire-power mix there could be one sniper's rifle with telescopic sight, one self-loading rifle, one rifle discharger cup lobbing grenades, one anti-tank rocket-launcher as well as a modified signal pistol able to fire anti-tank and anti-personnel grenades. This rifle is self-loading, operated by surplus gas pressure trapped in the cylinder at the muzzle. Has a 10-round box magazine and can be fired using British 7.92mm Besa ammunition. [Used it as my personal weapon in addition to my Smith@Wesson point-38.] Below is an High Explosive Grenade, with a fuze delay of 4.5 seconds and a burst radius of 16 yards.
Formidable as that concentration of enemy firepower could be, the German rifle company could also have the direct support of a Platoon of two 7.5cm Light Infantry Guns to cover targets beyond the range of their 8cm mortars; and there were two Heavy (15cm) Infantry Guns at German battalion headquarters with 83-pound shells to reach targets up to a range of about 5000 yards.
Anti-Tank Guns were usually allocated to German battalions, giving them three guns compared with six in a British battalion; the calibre of the guns roughly the same. Their Anti-Tank Company was the one motorized sub-unit in the grenadier regiment. The German rifle company also had an anti-tank rifle section with three anti-tank rifles (point-31 calibre) that could also fire anti-personnel grenades.
Table 1 shows the strength and fire-power of a German rifle company.
The balance and effectiveness of machine-guns between us was very important. The German MG42 was introduced in 1942 to replace the MG34. Used as Light Machine-gun (LMG) when fired from bipod; as a Medium Machine-gun (MMG) when mounted on a tripod and aimed with a dial sight. German rifle company had 12 LMGs plus 4 MMGs attached from the MG Company.
In comparison, a British rifle company had nine Bren LMGs but the Battalion's Carrier Platoon with twelve LMGs [4 Sections, each three Bren LMGs] could be deployed to supplement the fire-power of the rifle companies or as flank protection or as a screen in front of the Battalion.
The normal role for the Bren was firing as an LMG using the bipod; when mounted on a tripod it became an MMG able of firing on fixed lines, used especially at night to cover enemy approaches or ground likely to be used as a forming-up place. The Bren LMG was especially effective when fired from the hip during an assault charge.
If and when a Platoon of the Manchester Regiment was attached to a battalion, four Vickers MGs with a range of 4,500 yards could be deployed. These were superb weapons, belt-fed, had enormous fire-power.
German MG42 [7.92mm (point-31in)]
British Bren LMG (point-303in)
British Vickers MMG (point-303in)
The German MG42 had double the rate of fire compared with the Bren LMG and the Vickers MMG. However, the German MG42 suffered breaks in fire due to over-heating and as it used belts of 50 rounds it needed to be kept supplied and reloaded requiring a crew of 3 (one gunner and two ammunition carriers). They were generally sited in pairs to cover each other, but we would expect this as it was a basic manoeuvre used by us in siting our Bren LMGs. Our battle drill of fire and movement with a rifle group and the Bren machine-gun section moving separately in bounds gave cover to each other in an attack: the Germans did this less frequently.