Air combat positional advantage

In general, opposing WWII planes sought the advantage in altitude and relative position. Seizing a position in the sun was always desirable, because the glare could almost blind an attacked pilot. But because the sun’s position rarely corresponded with the mission, it was a luxury that could not be counted on.

The reason the altitude was of such great importance is worth a brief examination. The problem from the US side of view, was that Japanese fighters could perform their maneuvers quicker and at a lower speed. The latter attribute was important. Cursory look at aeronautics explains:

Viewed from the side, the wings of an airplane are curved and tapered on the top, flat underneath. The thrust generated by the propeller creates an apparent air flow that strikes the wing. Due to the curvature in the wing, air moving over the top of the wing flows more quickly than that passing underneath. Because of the Bernoulli effect, the faster-moving air on the top creates less pressure than does slower-moving air along the botom. The disparity in pressure creates a lift, which is the counterpart of gravity. When the plane moves through the air it encounters friction, or drag. Thrust and drag are also natural counterparts.When flying at a steady speed in perfectly level flight, the twin counterforces that govern performance: lift-gravity and thrust-drag are in equilibrium.

Any maneuver, regardless of how slight, that alters the equilibrium will cost the aircraft either speed of altitude. A plane can exchange altitude for speed by diving. When a plane climbs, the opposite takes place: when the
angle of attack (angle of the wing relative to its flight path) changes the Bernoulli effect is amplified, causing more lift. Drag, however, is also increased, slowing the aircraft down. In a climb, therefore, due to the result of the twin forces of drag and lift, the aircraft rises due to lift but also slows due to drag. Something similar takes place during a turn: wing are no more parallel, so pilot require more lift to stay in the same altitude and raises the aircraft nose, also slowing down the plane. Speed and altitude are the trade-offs during maneuvers.

Source: E. Bergerud. “Fire in the Sky. The Air War in the South Pacific”

Early tactics against Zeros

In the spring of 1941 General Claire Chennault, who had been in China since 1937 and knew Japanese well, began warning his superiors in Washington about the new superfighter just introduced by Japan. His memorandum outlining the lessons learned by the Flying Tigers, which flew the early model P-40B, quickly circulated between air commanders:

Concerning the P-40 and Zero the Universal rules are:

Take advantage of the sun and clouds whenever possible. Keep Looking Around. Never remain intent on a target, a flight of the enemy, or even one part of the sky for very long. Danger might be coming from any direction. Take one last look before making an attack, and take another good look as you break away. If possible, also take a good look around just before you come within firing range of your target. Basic tactics adopted with P-40s against Japanese fighter of superior maneuverability:

  1. Never use climbing maneuvers unless you have excess speed from a dive because the Jap plane can outclimb you.
  2. Use the P-40’s best characteristics; namely – speed, diving and firepower (head-on runs). Never use maneuverability. Avoid aerobatics because the Jap planes can do them faster and in much less space. Never dogfight them.
  3. Altitude is good life insurance. if the enemy has two or three thousand feet altitude advantage on you, turn at right angles to his course, or even directly away from him and avoid him until you have enough distance to climb safely at least to his altitude. Climbing straight up into an enemy formation at 150 MPH is almost a sure way to lose pilots and equipment.
  4. If you have to bail out while the enemy is in the vicinity, wait as long as possible before opening your chute, because if Jap sees you, he will machine-gun you.
  5. Be patient; use the clouds and sun, and wait until you have an altitude advantage before attacking. If you have to dive away from the attack, it will take you twenty minutes to get back into it again. If you have an initial altitude advantage, you can dive, fire and climb again and repeat at very close intervals, thus doing more damage.
Source: E. Bergerud. “Fire in the Sky. The Air War in the South Pacific”

Origins of War Plan Orange

Before 1906 the only frictions hot enough to kindle a bit of war planning had arisen from suspicions that Tokyo coveted American islands. In the 1890s many Japanese laborers had emigrated to the Hawaiian republic, which was virtually a U.S. protectorate. When Japanese warships came snooping around, Roosevelt, then assistant secretary of the navy, solicited from his officers a plan of defense in case a need should arise to intervene against a claim by Japan.  The U.S. annexation of Hawaii in 1898 put such anxieties to rest. In the Social Darwinian atmosphere of the time it seemed plausible that Japan also hungered after the Philippine Islands as a place to resettle its burgeoning population. There was shadowy evidence that Japanese secret societies aided a native insurrection against U.S. rule in the Philippines. Japan’s covetousness of Blue possessions was customarily mentioned in Orange Plans as a cause of tension, but the strategists never seriously believed it would foment a war to commandeer such resource-poor archipelagos when far richer prizes in East Asia could be plucked with far less peril.

War Plan Orange was inaugurated by a trivial incident. Between 1891 and 1906 thousands of Japanese emigrated to California. Local white racists agitating to block their entry unfairly stigmatized them as “immoral, intemperate and quarrelsome men bound to labor for a pittance.” They victimized Orientals by looting and violence in the tense aftermath of the earthquake and fire that devastated San Francisco in April 1906. Politicians passed laws restricting property rights and segregating schoolchildren—laws that violated treaties. The proud people of Japan were outraged. The American press, the “leprous vampires . . . eager to involve their country in war to sell a few more newspapers,” in the words of Secretary of State Elihu Root, brandished lurid tales of menace by the warlike Nipponese who had whipped the czar’s legions. Roosevelt’s administration calmed matters by coercing bigoted city officials to repeal the measures and negotiated a “Gentlemen’s Agreement” whereby Tokyo curtailed the flow of immigrants. But anti-Oriental riots broke out in the spring of 1907, and another “war scare” hit the headlines. So taut was the atmosphere that the Naval War College staff began to ponder a Blue-Orange war scenario. The Second Committee cobbled together a rough plan featuring “preliminary steps to be taken . . . when war is imminent.” Even the president became unnerved. A few months earlier he had asked if the navy was studying how to fight Japan. Dewey had told him that the General Board had prepared an “effective” Orange Plan. The Joint Board briefed him on it.

Roosevelt never believed that bigotry and journalistic jingoism could incite a war. Neither did the naval planners, who saw that Japan was absorbed in digesting its conquests in Manchuria and recovering from financial exhaustion. The scare blew itself out by the time the American fleet paid a goodwill visit to Tokyo in 1908. U.S. planners regarded the vigilante flare-ups on the West Coast as “pin pricks” that Japan would exploit for public agitation and world sympathy, not realistic inducements to war.

In 1913 the “yellow press” of both countries again stirred up wrath after the California legislature barred Orientals from owning land. Again the administration urged moderation, but this time President Woodrow Wilson discouraged warlike planning. Angered at plotting of steps for mobilization behind his back, he suspended the Joint Board from all war-planning activity. The scare evaporated. Racist incidents soon faded as a motivation for planners. When the United States passed an immigration act in the early 1920s that excluded most Orientals and provoked bitter feelings in Japan, the strategists took little notice. Nevertheless, the legacy of the bigotry of 1906 was profound because it set the United States to planning war against Japan.

A viable war rationale was identified when the planners scrutinized their country’s most prominent Far Eastern policy. The prospect of a lush Chinese market had long captivated American government and business leaders. It had also motivated McKinley to keep the Philippine Islands as a colony after the war with Spain for a commercial entrée to the Orient. But European powers were carving the moribund corpus of Manchu China into exclusive spheres of commercial dominance and preempting Chinese ports as naval bases. The most avaricious imperialists were Germany, France, and Russia. In 1899 Secretary of State John Hay appealed to all nations to preserve free trade throughout China. The following year, after several powers (including the United States) squelched the Boxer uprising of Chinese nationalists against foreigners, the feeding frenzy intensified. Russia virtually annexed the rich province of Manchuria. Hay expanded his plea, asking all states to honor the political integrity of China. The commercial and political appeals, together named the Open Door policy, were popular with Americans for idealistic and practical reasons. With unwarranted confidence, Hay (who joined Roosevelt’s cabinet after McKinley was assassinated) assumed that the great powers had assented to America’s self-appointed stewardship of the status quo in Asia. Along with the Monroe Doctrine, the Open Door was, Mahan declared, one of the “principal and permanent policies” on which naval planning would stand.

Before the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–5, U.S. planners had searched for ways to maintain the Open Door against predators. It was clear that an isolationist America with a minuscule army could not enforce its high-minded dicta against continental powers like Russia. It needed strong friends in the region. Great Britain and Japan appeared friendly for they were sated for the moment, the former with its vast Eastern empire and the latter with Formosa and Korea, the spoils of its 1894–95 war with China. The British-Japanese alliance of 1902 was applauded in the United States as a stabilizing alignment that would support the Open Door. The General Board therefore set about concocting scenarios of coalition struggles in the Far East that it assembled into War Portfolio No. 2, a collection of vague plans and harbor charts. Rear Admiral Henry C. Taylor, Dewey’s right-hand man, mesmerized his colleagues with melodramas that usually pitted the United States and the Anglo-Japanese alliance against a sinister cabal of Russia, Germany, and France. (His naval wars somehow never spread beyond the Orient.) Rear Admiral Frederick Rodgers of the Asiatic Station responded unenthusiastically. When pressed, he grudgingly produced a plan to send his thirteen warships from their rudimentary base at Manila to wreck the weakest opponent, the French squadron, and occupy its Indochinese ports to secure his communications via the Indian and Atlantic oceans. He would then join the larger allied fleets in bottling up the German and Russian squadrons in North China and Siberia. When Rodgers’s successor refused to dabble further, the Second Committee and the War College pecked away desultorily at other sketches.

Taylor’s studies, though detached from political reality, bequeathed certain legacies to Plan Orange. They envisioned primarily naval contests with little need of Blue ground forces. They emphasized the importance of distant naval bases. A battle-worthy squadron, Taylor declared, would need an industrialized dockyard in the Philippines. Since it would not be able to range as far as the Yellow Sea, it would also need mobile or “flying” bases for replenishment and light repair. The General Board speculated on obtaining a coaling base in China but soon acknowledged that acquiring one in peacetime would be provocative to opinion abroad and that the U.S. government would not sanction it. (Rodgers slyly suggested a permanent anchorage in Korea, which Japan was hardly likely to grant.) During a war, Blue would have to improvise mobile forward outposts, for which the navy began accumulating matériel in the Philippines. Such bases, the board decided, ought to lie conveniently near the fighting zone yet rearward enough to require only portable defenses against light raids. These criteria for advanced bases permeated Blue strategic thinking in the ensuing decades.

Source: E. Miller. “War Plan Orange”

Barbarossa panzer arm, part 2

Germany’s panzer formations were initially conceived of with two main models in mind – one light and one medium. The lighter variant, the Mark II, was for reconnaissance and an anti-tank role – which even in 1934 was an optimistic assessment of its capabilities given the poor 2cm armament, although it was hoped that the heavier enemy tanks could be drawn into fire of infantry-manned anti-tank guns.

The medium model later became known as the Pz Kpfw IV (Mark IV) and was to be used in a close support role against fortified field positions. Yet it was not long before the inadequacies of the Mark II were recognised and the need for a purpose-built anti-tank model was realised. This model became known as the Pz Kpfw III (Mark III) with the first few being produced in 1936-37. The Mark III had a troubled beginning with designers unable to perfect a suitable suspension and accordingly none of the first four series A-D were employed after Poland for action in France and the Low Countries. All were produced in small quantities. The E series saw the first run of large-scale production with almost a hundred being built. It adopted an entirely new suspension system, a better engine and upgraded frontal armour from a pitiful 15mm plate to 30mm, giving it a total weight of 19.5 tons. At the beginning of 1939 it was decided to replace the increasingly ineffectual 3.7cm main armament with a new 5cm L/42, yet the time taken to develop and adapt the new gun meant that 3/4 of the new F series  (425 produced in total) were equipped with the old standard 3.7cm gun. The G series (600 produced) added the 30mm armour to its rear plating, while H series (308 produced) benefited from a newly designed turret, transmission and running gear, as well as an extra 30mm armoured plate welded to its front. The last of the Mark III upgrades to be initiated before Barbarossa was the J series which commenced production in March 1941 and incorporated the new frontal armour in the basic design. In total, 979 Mark III tanks were deployed against the Red Army for the beginning of Barbarossa.

For the attack on the Soviet Union the Germans employed the first large-scale use of the so-called StuG III – Sturmgeschutz (assault gun). The main armament was mounted on the chassis of the Mark III and they were commisioned to provide close armour suppot for infantry and serve in an anti-tank role. The central difference between the StuG III and panzer was the absence of a revolving turret. In order to keep the silhouette low, the 7.5cm L/24 armament was built directly into the hull and the saving in weight from the turret was put towards extra armour, reaching a maximum thickness of 50mm. The total weight came to 20 tons and it was manned by a crew of four. Mass production was only begun in 1940 (only six machines were available in French campaign). By June 1941, 250 were assigned to the invasion force.

The final German model to participate in the invasion was the Pz Kpfw IV (Mark IV). All series produced before the Barbarossa campaign (A-F) were armed with 7.5cm L/24 main gun. The Mark IV was originally designed to provide close infantry support, with two machine guns fitted for local defence. As with the Mark III, the Mark IV underwent many improvements, meaning that earlier variants were markedly inferior to later ones, particularly in terms of armour. Thus, A series had a frontal armour thickness of only 20mm. The latter B, C and D series improved on this somewhat with a maximum thickness of 30mm. The F series was the last version of the Mark IV to commence production before Barbarossa (April 1941) and included 50mm armour as standard to the turret, hull and superstructure, and 30mm for the sides. In total, 444 Mark IV tanks were deployed against the Red Army for the beginning of Barbarossa.

Without doubt, the Mark III, StuG III and Mark IV, which together numbered some 1673 vehicles, represented the cream of the German tank force.

Source: D. Stahel. “Operation Barbarossa and Germany’s Defeat in the East”

Barbarossa panzer arm, part 1

The smallest and most feeble German tank was the Pz Kpfw I (abbreviation for Panzer-Kampfwagen I, commonly referred as Mark I). Produced in two main models since 1934, the design included a fully rotating turret mounted with two 7.92mm machine guns and an armour thickness of 13mm, restricting its usefulness wholly to engagements with enemy infantry. It was considered lacking in armament and protection even in Spanish Civil War, so by the time of Barbarossa it was plainly an obsolete model. Despite this, 281 were included in the invasion force and the remaining stocks were relegated largely to training roles.

A year after the Mark I came into service the Mark II appeared, a slightly heavier tank that saw many upgrades and variants. The improved D and E models known as ‘fast fighting vehicles’ (Schnellkampfwagen) entered service in 1938. These were adapted with armour up to 30mm and included a torsion bar suspension system with larger wheels which in addition to a new more powerful engine raised the top speed to 55 kph. The trade-off was that high speeds could only be achieved on sealed roads, while cross-country performance was hampered. The main armament was a 2cm L/55 gun with a secondary 7.92mm machine gun mounted next to it in the traversing turret. Panzer training regulations of 1939 classed the Mark II as being ‘chiefly designed as an anti-tank weapon’, yet its record in France proved very poor. By the beginning of 1941 the Mark II was remodelled in a new F series with only thicker armour and no change in the main armament, rendering it, like the Mark I, outdated on the modern battlefield. The army deployed 743 Mark II tanks in Operation Barbarossa, which together with Mark I make up over 1000 tanks. This meant that 28 per cent of the total tank force consisted of obsolete models.

As a result of the bloodless occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939 the Wehrmacht was able to benefit from the considerable arsenal of high-grade Czech weapons.  Czech advanced design outstripped both the Mark I and Mark II, at that time the mainstays of the German tank fleet. The heavier of the two Czech models was dubbed by the Germans Pz Kpfw 35 (t) and featured 35mm armour, a 3.7cm vz 34 anti-tank gun as main armament, plus two 7.92 machine guns, one mounted in the turret and the other alongside the driver on the hull. Germans overcome some tank problems, though some of them remained basic to the design. The armour was riveted, not welded, so the rivets had the dangerous tendency to pop out under the impact of a heacy shells, sending the rivet shanks flying through the inside of the tank as secondary projectiles. By the launch of Barbarossa, the Model 35 (t) was in decline and was deemed ‘no longer suitable for combat’ In total 157 Pz Kpfw 35 (t) tanks supported the German invasion and not one of 6th Panzer Divisions 105 tanks saw out the year 1941.

Following on from the early disappointment of the Pz Kpfw 35 (t), the Czech authorities comissioned a new design what later called Pz Kpfw 38 (t). Lighter than its predesessor, the first four designs had thinner armour (25mm) until November 1940 when the new series E and later F attempted to rectify this inadequacy with an extra 25mm plate added to the frontal surfaces and 15mm to the sides. The armament was similar to Pz Kpfw 35 (t), supporting a 3.7cm KwK 37 (t) main gun and two 7.92mm machine guns. The Pz Kpfw 38 (t) was also adapted by the Germans to fit a four-man crew with addition of a gun loader to the driver, radio operator and commander/gunner. Excellent performance and durability of the chassis was extremely reliable mechanically and offered itself as an appealing base for later variants in design including the Panzerjager Marder III and Hetzer. The Pz Kpfw 38 (t) represents the best of all the German light tanks at this time and some 651 were deployed for service in Operation Barbarossa, making up a large portion of Hoth’s Panzer Group 3.

Source: D. Stahel. “Operation Barbarossa and Germany’s Defeat in the East”

Two ways to skin a bear

The conference on 31 July 1940 formalised the effort to prepare operational studies for war against the Soviet Union. Major-General Erich Marcks, 18th Army Chief of Staff, had already been working on contingency plans for war that would become a principal cornerstone in the theoretical foundation of the final Barbarossa.

Marcks plan, entitled “Operations Outline East” (Operationsentwurf Ost), was completed in the first week of August. The plan envisaged two main thrusts: one to the north and one to the south of the Pripet marshes. The stronger of these two pincers was to be stationed in the north striking from East Prussia and Poland as Marcks, at Halder’s urging, determined Moscow to be the decisive key to ‘eliminating the coherence of the Russian state’. To achieve this, more powerful northern army group should take the most direct approach to the Soviet capital, using one of the best road systems in the country, which proceeded via Minsk and Smolensk through the Orsha corridor between Dvina and Dnepr rivers. A secondary force would break off from the main group to strike north and seize Leningrad via Pskov. In the second theatre of operations south of Pripet marshes, the objective was to prevent a Soviet advance into Romania (vital oil supplier) by advancing on Kiev and middle Dnepr.

The campaign was to embody four phases through which Marcks hoped to achieve final victory (see picture). The first phase was thought to require ~3 weeks and involved pushing back the vanguard of the Red Army to their older fortified lines of defence, roughly ~400 km from German starting positions. Failing preventing withdrawal of Soviet large-scale formations, second phase would be necessary, requiring the breakthrough and encirclement of the Soviet defensive positions extending to a distance 100-200 km more (~2-4 weeks). The third phase was predicated on the success of the 2nd. Its objective called for the simultaneous advance on and capture of Moscow, Leningrad and the eastern Ukraine (~3-6 weeks). The final stage was the occupation of the Soviet Union up to the Don, middle Volga and upper Dvina. No serious opposition was expected, so the phase was even termed “railway advance” (~3-4 weeks).

Marcks believed the Soviet strategic response would suffer from fundamental dilemma. On the one hand, the might wish to adopt a strategy similar to 1812, and fall back into the depths of their country. But being unable in a modern war to abandon lines of supply and sources of production, Marcks concluded, they would be forced to hold a defensive position in the western part of the country.

The Red Army’s strength was estimated to be 151 infantry divisions, 32 cavalry divisions and 38 motorised brigades. German strength for the invasion was aimed at being 110 infantry, 24 panzer, 12 motorized and 1 cavalry divisions (not including western occupation forces).

In the following weeks Marcks’ reflections on the possible outcome of war created a new study named “Evaluation of Situation Red” (Beurteilung der Lage Rot), which envisaged quite different outcome comparing to the initial analysis. He foresaw an enemy coalition between Britain and USSR that would be shortly by the United States. This would put the Axis in the grip of powerful blockade, so the Soviets would just have to ensure their survival against initial German blow to take advantage of the collective power. These could arise towards the end of 1941. Such a scenario placed great emphasis on defeating the Soviet Union quickly in order to eliminate a dangerous enemy and ensure Germany’s economic survival.

Lieutenant-Colonel Bernhard von Lossberg began work on his “Operational Study East” (Operationsstudie Ost) under orders from Jodl shortly after 29 July 1940 and completed it much later than Marcks, on 15 September. He benefited from learning Marcks’ work, so accounts had many similarities. Unlike Marcks, who anticipated a significant Soviet withdrawal, Lossberg didn’t think that withdrawal could be most likely Soviet reaction to invasion. He foresaw three possible scenarios:

  1. Pre-emptive Soviet attack. He discounted it on military grounds, while acknowledging that a degree of risk existed to Finland and Romania.
  2. Most likely estimation: Red Army would mount a vigorous defence of its western borders.
  3. Soviets would revert to their 1812 strategy of withdrawal in depth, meeting the Germans only where necessary as rearguard actions. This also viewed as improbable owing to the economic importance of Ukraine which couldn’t be abandoned according to Lossberg judging.

As Red army was expected to hold the line near the border, Lossberg plan called for three simultaneous thrusts into the Soviet Union, each directed by its own army group and deployed to the north (two groups) and to the south (one group) of the Pripet marshes. Of the two northernly army groups, one would attack through the Baltic states, across the Dvina towards Leningrad, while the second and most powerful group would proceed due east towards Moscow with encirclement battles centered on Minsk and Smolensk. For the southern group Lossberg envisaged two main areas of concentration, one striking from southern Poland and the other from Romania along the northern shore of the Black Sea. The goal was to enact a double envelopment of Soviet forces between the Pripet marshes and the Black Sea, eradicating resistance before attempting a crossing of the Dnepr. He also stated that without the use of Soviet railways to facilitate the latter stages of the advance, ‘a transport system based only on roads would be insufficient’.

Just as Marcks had done, Lossberg’s plan never questioned the ability of the Wermacht to achieve victory and he believed it was impossible that Russia can remain capable of resistance after losing her western territories and contact with the seas. His outline of the campaign contained no timetable.

Source: D. Stahel. “Operation Barbarossa and Germany’s Defeat in the East”

Position defense in strong points

The defender who decides to hold out in place in strong points and improvised fortresses usually employs emergency measures rather than defense tactics. The Germans were forced to resort to such measures because of the acute manpower and materiel shortages from which they suffered once the war had spread all over Europe and to North Africa. In Russia, the overextended front lines, the bitter struggle against a superior enemy, and the elements of nature led to an expenditure of forces for which German manpower resources and industrial potential were insufficient. The long duration of the war accentuated these deficiencies with the result that position defense in improvised strong points and fortresses became ever more frequent. Excessive losses, difficult terrain, and bad weather forced the Germans to anchor their defense system on inhabited localities along wide sectors and to use these defense areas as substitutes for a continuous front line. These tactics often proved effective because they helped to gain time and overcome critical situations. During the winter or during the muddy seasons, for instance, holding villages and towns was the only way to escape annihilation. Then, it was the weather and terrain that imposed the adoption of these emergency measures. During the summer and dry weather many an enemy break-through attempt was delayed and whittled down by the same tactics until the Germans were capable of containing the Russians along a continuous line prepared in the rear.

Service troops took a major part in the defense of inhabited localities. In most instances they built and improved fortifications in areas where they were stationed and made strong points of them. Frequently, supply elements were organized into alert units and committed as replacements in the most forward fortified areas. The system of mutually supporting strong points provided for defense in depth and maximum utilization of all available forces for combat purposes. Every soldier in a headquarters or service unit and in rear installations received combat training with emphasis on proficiency in the use of antitank weapons in close combat. Whenever the training schedule was rigidly adhered to, the results were favorable. In 1943, for instance, in Zolochev (near Kharkov) a divisional bakery company stopped Russian tank units which had broken through, destroyed several tanks, and forced the remaining ones to turn about.

The practice of defending strong points should, however, not be overdone or adopted as a standing operating procedure. It would be wrong to order all unit trains and supply trucks to stop in the midst of a withdrawal and make their service personnel fight to the last man. If such an order was obeyed to the letter, it would lead to the loss of all transportation facilities and disrupt traffic. This, in turn, would jeopardize the supply of the combat forces, greatly impair freedom of maneuver, and result in disaster.

Source: Dept. of the Army, 20-233. German defence tactics against Russian breakthroughs


Defence in place with mobile reserves

Even large-scale offensives can be stopped by a defense in place if a number of successive positions are available and the infantry holding the front line has strong artillery, tank, and assault gun support. The reserves must be mobile so they can be shifted from one sector to another in time to prevent or at least contain an enemy penetration. This can be achieved only if the road net is in good condition and sufficient transportation is available.

A conflict entailing simultaneous fighting in different theaters of war and at different fronts within each theater may easily produce a shortage of combat forces which can be overcome only by improvising reserves. In such a situation, security and supply troops, as well as other service units, may have to be committed along extensive, quiet sectors to release combat forces for the formation of reserves. A correct estimate of the enemy’s intentions is essential for the timely withdrawal of units from apparently safe sectors.

Source: Dept. of the Army, 20-233. German defence tactics against Russian breakthroughs


Defensive pincers

Since defensive pincers are the most effective countermeasure against an enemy break-through, they should be applied whenever the tactical situation permits and the necessary forces are available. If these forces have sufficient striking power and mobility, the application of defensive pineers will reverse an unfavorable situation very quickly and decisively. The immediate objective is to seal off the enemy penetration by flank attacks launched simultaneously from both shoulders. Ideally, this maneuver should lead to a “Cannae” — the encirclement and destruction of the enemy force which has broken through.

The jaws of the pincers must attack simultaneously, overcome the hostile flank protection, and link up before enemy countermeasures can become effective. If the jaws do not strike at the same time, the enemy will be given an opportunity to reinforce that interior flank which is not under attack and the maneuver may easily fail. A typical example for such a failure was the Russian pincers attack which was launched during the summer of 1941 in an attempt to eliminate the German bridgehead at Porechye on the Luga. (See Department of the Army Pamphlet No. 20-230, pp. 42 ff.)

Another indispensable prerequisite for the success of defensive pincers is the close co-ordination of all participating units under one command. In minor actions the exercise of unified command will not meet with any particular difficulties. Complications arise during large-scale operations when some of the participating divisions are separated by long distances and belong to different armies or army groups. In such instances it is expedient to make a single army or army group command responsible for the entire operation. A similar procedure must be followed even in minor actions if the enemy at tempts to break through at a sector boundary — a common practice with the Russians.

Defensive pincers can eliminate even comparatively major breakthroughs. During the course of such an operation several divisions or corps may regain their freedom of maneuver as, for instance, after the Russian break-through near Belgorod in 1943. At that time the armored wedge which the enemy had driven to a depth of 100 miles was pinched off at the base of the penetration, and his thrust was checked by a pincers movement carried out by two panzer corps, start ing from the two opposite shoulders.

When the jaws of the pincers are too weak or the terrain too difficult to tie off the enemy forces that have broken through, protracted fighting involving many critical situations and the formation of curiously shaped front lines will result.

Source: Dept. of the Army, 20-233. German defence tactics against Russian breakthroughs


Spoiling attack

The spoiling attack — a surprise thrust into the enemy attack preparations—is a very effective, though rare, operation. Its purpose is to disorganize the enemy’s assembly and thereby delay and weaken his offensive or to force him to launch his attack at a less vulnerable point.

Such an attack from the defensive can be undertaken only under certain conditions. The enemy assembly area must be easily accessible to a surprise thrust, and the defender must have strong armored reserves on hand. The terrain and road net must facilitate quick maneuver under cover of darkness. All attack plans must be concealed from the enemy, or he must be deceived with regard to the realintentions. For this reason, it is imperative that one act without delay.

Frontal thrusts into enemy attack preparations can be employed only in minor operations. Their success depends on achieving complete surprise as, for instance, during night raids.

Source: Dept. of the Army, 20-233. German defence tactics against Russian breakthroughs