June 13, 2014

An Early Evaluation of StuG’s Battle Performance

StuG III assault gun

On December 23, 1941 the U.S. War Department issued an information bulletin concerning the employment of an assault gun battery in support of an infantry unit. The bulletin was based upon the report of a non-specified American official observer in Berlin. In essence the report was a translated article which appeared in the German magazine “Die Woche”.

During the French Campaign Infanterie-Regiment “Grossdeutschland” was part of Guderian’s XIX Armeekorps (mot.). The Regiment was reinforced with an armored assault artillery battery. At the time there were only four such batteries (640, 659, 660, 665), because only twenty four StuG III assault guns were available. Each battery had six StuGs in three platoons. 640 Battery was given to “Grossdeutschland”, where it was renamed as the 16th Sturmartillerie.

According to the article on May 10, 1940 “Grossdeutschland” was advancing from Vance to Étalle, in Belium. As the leading elements were engaged with enemy scout cars in Étalle, it became known that Villers (Villers-sur-Semois), a town a little further to the northwest, was occupied by French cavalry. The Regiment’s 2nd Battalion attacked Villers, but was stopped at the eastern edge by strong hostile fire. Meanwhile the 1st Battalion, with the assault battery attached, had arrived at Neuhabich (Habay-la-Neuve) and attacked towards Villers from the northeast. The 3rd Platoon of the assault battery supported the attacking company. The platoon encountered no resistance until it arrived at the center of the town, where it received heavy machine-gun fire. Two rounds from each of the assault guns silenced the machine guns. Finally, the French evacuated Villers.

2. Villers-sur-Semois. Grossdeutschland’s 2nd Battalion attacked from the east 
and the 1st from the northeast, overwhelming the French resistance.

The next morning, at 5 a.m., the 3rd Platoon of the assault battery moved out toward Mellier (Marbehan). The assault guns soon reached a destroyed bridge across a tributary of the Semois River. The pioneers, although hard at work, had not yet completed their task here; but the guns managed to ford the river. The regimental commander, in order to get up to the front, took a seat in an assault battery munitions vehicle. After fording the stream, the assault guns came to a barricade of tree trunks which didn’t prove to be much of an obstacle.

The Regiment moved through Mellier into a beechwood forest beyond that town. Resistance was encountered at 10:30 a.m. at a clearing in the woods. The 1st Battalion, upon emerging into the clearing, was fired upon from the direction of Suxy (Chiny). The leading company deployed promptly and, supported by an antitank platoon, began to advance, finally being checked at the stream just west of the town. As the heavy infantry weapons and assault guns were heard approaching from the rear, the battalion commander, in a quick decision, signaled his advancing reserve company to turn off and attack in the new direction.

In the meantime, the assault battery continued to the front to assist the leading rifle companies. Finally, one of the assault guns moved up on the high ground and quickly fired 11 rounds at a range of 800 yards into a battery of enemy horse artillery going into action. The assault gun itself, however, was then taken under fire by a French antitank battery.

The 1st Battalion, supported by field artillery, began to advance across the Vierre River. The bridges had been destroyed and all the trucks had to be left behind, although the water was no obstacle for the infantry and the assault artillery. After crossing the river, the advance, was checked again by resistance coming principally from a fortified house which stood along the route of advance. Assault Gun No. 5 went into action against this house. The first round hit the lower left window; the second entered the attic window; the third went over the house but exploded among some retreating Frenchmen. By 5:30 p.m. all resistance in this vicinity had been overcome. The French reconnaissance battalion, which had attempted to stop the Regiment, was completely destroyed.

On the next morning, May 12, the Regiment moved through St. Medard and Herbeumont. On the following day, May 13, the Regiment left Belgian soil, marching through Bouillon into the Bois de Sedan, and on the next morning it forced a crossing over the Meuse at Sedan, thereby clearing the road to the north for the oncoming panzer division.

Grossdeutschland’s advance towards Sedan
3. An overview of Grossdeutschland’s advance towards Sedan.

The U.S. Official Observer made the following comments regarding the employment of the assault guns:

The author indicates that in this particular engagement this assault artillery fulfilled the mission for which it was intended. Conversations with German military personnel and the context of other articles published in German military periodicals confirm the conclusion that this assault artillery gave important and timely assistance to the leading infantry elements on many occasions during the operations on the Western Front in the spring of 1940.

Since this weapon is completely armored, it conforms to the commonly accepted definition of a tank. According to published accounts, this weapon, during combat, moved forward from cover to cover, keeping generally abreast of the regimental reserve. When the advance of the leading foot elements was checked by resistance beyond the capabilities of the infantry weapons immediately at hand, the armored assault artillery was ordered forward along with other heavy infantry weapons and sometimes the regimental infantry reserve. When going into action, armored assault artillery vehicles sought suitable covered positions in the front line, from which they delivered direct fire upon observed targets. It is not believed that they ever preceded and cleared the way for the foot elements. Consequently, these weapons, as employed, are not comparable to accompanying tanks.

It is probable that if the defending French forces had been liberally equipped with antitank mines and antitank weapons, they could have neutralized the efforts of the German armored assault artillery”.

U.S. War Department, General Staff, G-2. “German Armored Assault Artillery.” Information Bulletin No. 2. Carlisle Barracks, PA: Army War College, 1941.

Photos attribution
1. Doomych, via Wikimedia Commons
2. Imagery © 2014 Aerodata International Surveys, Map data © 2014 Google
3. “German Armored Assault Artillery.” Information Bulletin No. 2. 1941.

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