This page from my War-time notebook is dated 1944. These machine-guns, rifles and small arms supported by mortar bombardment were the basic elements of the infantry battle, in attack or defence. We expected the enemy's fire-fight to be supplemented by field artillery and heavier medium field guns firing before and during an attack; in close combat to meet hand-thrown and rifle-fired grenades and flame throwers could also be a part of the lethal mix.
Tanks were always a frightening hazard to both German and British infantry. When they appeared we had protect ourselves with anti-tank hand-held weapons. With prior knowledge or expectation of their deployment we sited anti-tank guns to deal with the threat. In defence we laid anti-tank mines and dug delaying ditches, with anti-personnel mines to delay the attacker in a designated area covered by pre-registered artillery, mortar, machine-gun and rifle fire. However, when we were attacking an enemy position we had to be prepared to quickly fight our way out of delaying obstacles by prepared artillery fire and bold use of bangalore torpedoes by our forward troops to make gaps in the German wire and move our attack forward on to the German 'strong-points' as rapidly as possible.
German Mortars: (l to r)
Range5cm 568 yards; Short 8cm 1,200 yards; Normal 8cm 2,600 yards.
|German 7.5cm Infantry Gun-Howitzer.||
British 25-Pounder Field Gun.
German Defensive Positions
The Intelligence file noted German defence tactics based on intelligence from the North African and the Italian campaigns, where they were reported to have had well-prepared formidable defensive lines. A map captured at Anzio shown below is an example of a two-battalion regiment in a strongly held defensive position.
However, the situation in Europe following the successful establishment of the bridgehead at Normandy and the subsequent break-through after we had captured Caen, forced the Germans to use a very effective aggressive 'mobile' defence. Their strategy was based on their need to delay our advance and provide the German High Comand with time to develop operational manoeuvreability to regain the initiative. A strong feature of their 'mobile' form of defence was based on the launching of immediate counter-attacks to try and regain lost ground, especially key 'strong-points' when these were over-run.
Although we were trained to attack orthodox in-depth defence positions, we quickly adapted to attacking these 'nests of all arms' deployed to defend hills and ridges, villages and road junctions, woods and river lines. The enemy were adept and skilled in their counter-attacks, said to be rehearsed, and we equally became skilled in pushing through the objective after a successful attack and quickly prepared our troops to repel the enemy 'battle-group' of infantry and/or tanks as they came in from a flank. It was axomatic for us to immediately dig in and co-ordinate our fields of fire with neighbouring units. We also knew we were occupying ground pre-registered by their artillery and a good incentive to get dug in . . . but quick!
This sketch shows the static defence layout by a Two-Battalion Grenadier Regiment at Anzio.
Attacking this position we would meet two screens of troops deployed forward of the main defensive line. A screen of lightly manned advanced positions about 5000 yards in front, then about 3000 yards behind more troops dug-in but ready to fall back to the main forward 'battle outposts' if likely to be over-run. These deployments intended to delay us and prematurely deploy, seeking to hold us pinned down in their field of fire ranged for divisional artillery, infantry field guns and mortars as well as MGs.
When we reached the forward main defensive belt, our urgent need was to secure several break-through points through their concertina wire and minefields. The minefields at Anzio measured 150 yards by 25 yards with anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. Having anticipated this, our artillery would have targetted these wire/minefield hazards and our forward troops ready to use bangalore torpeodes to open up the wire. Once through, we would meet 'nests of all arms' with their MMG42s and riflemen in weapon pits with dugouts built in their rear. Our artillery barrage would be timed or signalled to assist us as we advanced in phases of fire and movement, each section and platoon supporting each other as they attacked their allotted objectives. In the inevitable close encounter each side ready to use bayonets, grenades and anti-personnel missiles.
The second line of defence some 900 to 1700 yards behind the main forward line would become the objective of reserve troops passing through us to attack the next series of strong-points. If German habit is followed and terrain is suitable these may not necessarily be closely supporting by cross-fire but with open ground between them protected by wire and mines and/or anti-tank ditches intended to force us into the fire of their Mg42s and riflemen. This could be a phase where both sides use flame throwers.
In defence the Germans were adept at camouflage and having well-sited alternative positions, often with misleading 'dummy' positions. Snipers with telescopic-sighted rifles an expected hazard. However, the sting is always in the tail as the Germans believe the defence battle has only been won when they have worn us out and we have been successfully routed by a flank attack.