German tactics in world war 2

German squad tactics in World War II 

Two important points: First, a squad rarely acted alone on the battlefield... It was used in coordination with other squads of its platoon and/or company. Second, the main source for this is the US manual 'German Squad in Combat' from The Military Intelligence Service. 

The German infantry squad in World War II for the most part consisted of: One squad leader and nine infantrymen, thus a total of ten men. Initially, all men besides the machine gunner and his assistant were equipped with the Karabiner 98 Kurz, the German standard rifle in World War II. Even the squad leader was equipped with that rifle. 

Yet around 1941 he was issued an MP40 submachine gun with 6 magazines, 32 shots each. The machine gunner was equipped with an MG34, and later on with an MG42. He was also issued a pistol and an ammo drum with 50 rounds. The assistant gunner carried 4 ammo drums with 50 shots each, additionally 1 ammo box with 300 rounds. He was also issued a pistol. There was also an ammo carrier assigned to the machine gunner, whose job was to carry and supply ammunition. He carried 2 ammo boxes of 300 rounds each. Unlike the assistant, he was issued a rifle, not a pistol. 

Note that the 'German Squad in Combat' indicates a pistol instead of a rifle as a weapon for the ammo carrier. But, it seems this is incorrect and is probably from an old layout of the squad, which was used in 1937. 

Now, each rifleman had around 9 clips for his rifle with 5 shots each, thus 45 rounds... This was the regular amount. 

According to Buchner, more rounds were issued in case of a combat situation. Also, the second in command was armed the same way as the regular riflemen. Hence in total, the squad had: 1 light machine gun, 1 submachine gun, 2 pistols, 7 rifles, and several hand grenades, which were issued depending on the situation. 

Now the roles and responsibilities of each squad member were as follows: 

The squad leader was commanding the unit. He directed which targets the LMG should engage and if the combat situation permitted, also the rifle fire. His responsibilities outside of the combat included that the equipment of the unit was in order and that enough ammunition was available. 

The second in command was his assistant and was in command during the absence of the squad leader. His responsibilities were to communicate with the platoon command and also adjacent squads. Thus he was vital for the coordination. 

Next is the machine gunner... He operated the light machine gun and was responsible for taking care of the weapon. His assistant would help him setting up the MG, supply ammo, and assist him in combat. Usually, he would be positioned left of the gunner, or to his rear. He had to be ready and close enough to support the gunner with tasks like changing the belt or fixing jams. And in case the gunner couldn't continue operating the MG, he would take his roll. 

The ammo carrier was responsible for inspecting the ammo refilling fired ammo belts and checking for left ammunition. He usually stayed in the rear and in cover but could act as a rifleman if necessary. The regular rifleman's duty was to participate in combat with his rifle and bayonet. The riflemen formed the assault part of the squad thus if necessary assaulting the enemy position with grenades and bayonets. Although not officially designated they would also serve as ammo carriers to varying degrees. 

German Squad formation

Now, let's take a look at formations... The basic close order formations were the squad line or "Reihe", the squad column or "Kette", which was basically a 90-degree turn of the previous, and of course, the squad march order. As you can see, the machine gunner with his assistant is always at the very front. 
He was the key member of the squad, which was also indicated by his designation, "Schutze 1": Infantryman number one. 

These were close order formations, that were not suited for dangerous situations. Close order formations were abandoned if the situation changed due to terrain, hostile activity, or other circumstances. The basic extended order formations were the squad column or "Schutzenkette", and the skirmish line or "Schutzenreihe". The squad column in extended order was not a straight line. Instead, the soldiers used terrain for cover, although the principal order of the line remained. 

Note that the second in command was at the end ensuring that the squad stayed together. The skirmish line was used if the firepower of the whole squad was necessary. In this case, the riflemen moved to the left and right of the machine gunner, who remained at the central position. The forward half of the infantrymen moved to the right, and the other half to the left. 

Alternatively, an echelon right or left deployment was also possible. In this case, all of the men moved to the right or left of the machine gunner. The distance between the men was about 3.5 meters. Yet, this was only a guideline. Note that the squadron leader had no fixed position in this formation. In terms of leadership, the translated manual states: that leading by example is essential. It is explicitly stated. 

It is very important to note that the squad in offensive combat would not act alone, but as an element of its platoon. Note that each platoon contained usually four squads. So let's look at the different stages of offensive combat. The stages are as follows: Development, deployment, advancing, attack, and penetration. Note that most other sources useless stages, and the transition from one stage to another can be quite fluent or blurry. The development phase is the first step in the preparation of an attack. The rifle company left the marching route and broke up into three platoons. Those platoons themselves separated into four squads. 

Yet the squads remained in close formation. The machine gun and other important equipment were now carried by hand and not on carts anymore. Next was the deployment phase, which was about organizing the troops into combat formations. The squad leader may have received his orders directly from the platoon leader or acted independently based on the mission of the platoon. Since the units were now in battle formation, the advance phase began. 

The advance was ideally performed in a squad column, with the light machine gun on the front. This would allow rearward supporting machine guns and other weapons to fire safely past the advancing squads. If the squad was under effective enemy fire the squad needed to use its own fire to support its movement by achieving temporary fire superiority. Fire and movement should be employed, which means that one part of the squad fires to cover the movement of another part of the squad. 

This principle can also be used on a larger scale, where one squad covers another squad. If areas were covered by enemy artillery fire they would have been avoided if possible. if not, these areas needed to be crossed during firing pauses in quick rushes. 

Generally, it was recommended to use rushes when the situation and the enemy fire did permit them. Following a successful advance of the squads far enough, the attack phase commenced. Although the difference is not so obvious at first since both stages include firing upon the enemy and also advancing. Yet during the advance phase, firing is only used if necessary. 

whereas in the attack phase, firing was usually a crucial element. Initially, the firefight was started by heavy weapons from supporting units like artillery, infantry cannons, and heavy machine guns. These weapons focused on the destruction or neutralization of strong points. Hence at this point, the squad still advanced. Generally, the squad should move as much forward without firing as possible... Only if this wasn't possible anymore it should engage the enemy. 

The final phase is the penetration into the enemy positions. It is usually initiated around 100 meters away from the enemy positions. It is important that the maximum amount of fire is provided during an assault. For this reason, the LMG should be positioned to fire into the enemy position without risking a friendly fire. 

If such a position is not attainable the LMG should be used directly in the assault and fired from the hip. Furthermore, neighboring units could provide additional firepower and/or support the assault by the complementary attack from another direction. Once the riflemen closed in on the enemy position The designated grenade throwers, on command, would use their grenades, and after the detonation, the squad stormed the positions under the leadership of the squad leader.

Based on an original German manual, the German position on the left side, and the fictional enemy on the right. Both positions were reinforced by barbed wire. There is a German mortar pit with a light mortar, and in the visible rear positions, another light and heavy mortar are available. The mortars would attack the following areas of the enemy positions to prevent reinforcements. To support the attack, two heavy machine guns would be positioned on the flanks.

 In the center, a squad with a light machine gun would fire at the enemy positions to support the attack. The assault itself would be performed by two assault squads that were supported by light machine guns. The first squad would directly assault the enemy position whereas the second one would attack the rear, and cut it off from any reinforcements. Once the assault was successful the squad leader would ensure discipline and prepare against a potential counterattack.

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