The Panzerwaffe established two Panzertruppenschulen, one in Munster and the other in Wünsdorf, for the training of its officers and NCOs. Four American official observers, at the invitation of the German General Staff, visited the school at Wünsdorf, on October 4, 1940. The school troops staged a demonstration in the maneuver area for the purpose of illustrating some of the troop leading features involved in attack by an armored force and the general technique employed in the execution of such an attack. The Americans observed the demonstration and reported on it.
|1. Tank crews inspected by Generalleutnant Ernst Feßmann, at Wünsdorf on October 20, 1935.|
Terrain and Weather
The terrain of the maneuver area is gently rolling and sandy, but, since the ground is covered with well-rooted grass, there is a firm footing for both wheel and track vehicles. About half of the reservation is irregularly wooded, but in other areas wheeled vehicles, including motorcycles, can move directly cross country without difficulty. There was a heavy fog over the area when the demonstration was staged, and, since visibility was restricted to about 150 yards, not more than two or three tanks could be observed in action at one time.
Orientation of the Tactical Situation
The demonstration was preceded by a brief orientation on the assumed tactical situation delivered by the commander of the armored regiment (school troops), who said:
“The 2nd Armored Division, assisting in a general attack, is advancing in a zone approximately six kilometers wide at this point.
“Yesterday afternoon the divisional infantry brigade, leading the advance, was stopped on the line they now hold. (He pointed to the line).
“The tank brigade, less one battalion, is to assist the infantry brigade in the attack this morning.
“One tank battalion will remain in reserve for the use of the division commander.
“The woods along the right boundary of the divisional zone of action have been gassed by the enemy.”
This orientation was given on the friendly front line at a point from which the principal hostile positions that were holding up the advance could normally be seen.
No maps, overlays, aerial photographs, written or mimeographed orders, compasses, or notebooks were used or referred to by the regimental commander or his unit commanders during the entire exercise.
Troop Leading Procedure
The regimental commander, representing the armored division commander, gave the tactical situation in the presence of 26 participating unit commanders. Immediately afterwards, the plan and oral order were given by the infantry battalion commander charged with making the principal attack. The conversations were substantially as follows.
The infantry battalion commander to the commander of the tank regiment cooperating with him:
"My battalion has been stopped by fire from hostile machine guns and other infantry weapons located along the crest of that hill (pointing to right front) and the eastern edge of the woods on that hill (pointing to the left front).
"I do not know yet the exact positions of any enemy antitank guns or artillery pieces.
"My front line is along the eastern edge of this woods (pointing).
"I will attack at 10:35 A.M. in conjunction with the remainder of the infantry brigade.
"The right boundary of my battalion zone of action is along that road (pointing); left boundary, the edge of that woods (pointing) extending to that group of trees (pointing to left front)."
The tank regimental commander speaking to his battalion commanders in the presence of the entire group:
"The tank regiment will attack in two echelons.
"The first echelon, consisting of the First Battalion will move along the route ---. (Here the commander indicated a route by naming roads, villages, and woods which presumably were familiar to all concerned as a result of prior map and terrain studies). It will attack hostile antitank and artillery positions.
"Units of this battalion will move directly to their targets.
"The second echelon, consisting of the Second Battalion, will follow the first echelon and attack hostile antitank guns and heavy infantry weapons.
"The support of the tank attack by fire from heavy infantry weapons is requested.
"It is also requested that the bulk of the artillery supporting fire be placed along the flanks of the zone of the tank attack,
"It is further requested that the tanks be protected from any enemy activity from the direction of --- woods (pointing toward right front)."
At this point the officer representing the division commander approved the announced plans and requests of the tank and infantry commanders, and directed that they continue with their orders accordingly.
The Second Battalion commander to his company commanders, in the presence of the entire group:
"My battalion, constituting the second tank echelon, will attack in three waves.
"The first wave, consisting of the First Company, will be followed at a maximum distance of 500 meters by the second wave, consisting of the Second Company. These two waves will attack hostile antitank guns and infantry heavy weapons.
"The third wave, consisting of the Third Company, will operate with and support the attack of the infantry battalion.
"I will be on Hill 326 (pointing) during the attack."
At this point the tank regimental commander approved the plan of this battalion commander.
The commander of the First Tank Company, speaking to his platoon leaders, in the presence of the entire group:
"The 1st Platoon will attack in the right of the battalion zone.
"The 2nd Platoon will attack in the left of the battalion zone.
“I will be with the 3rd Platoon, which will attack behind the 2nd Platoon.
"The battalion commander will be on Hill 326."
The commander of the Second Tank Company, speaking to his platoon leaders, in the presence of the entire group:
"The 1st and 2nd Platoons abreast will attack in rear of the First Tank Company.
"I will be with the 3rd Platoon in rear of the center of the 1st and 2nd Platoons,
"The battalion commander will be on Hill 326."
The commander of the Third Tank Company, speaking to his platoon leaders, in the presence of the entire group:
"The 1st and 2nd Platoons abreast will attack with the leading infantry elements.
"I will be with the 3rd Platoon in rear of the center of the 1st and 2nd Platoons."
At this point one platoon leader asked the question:
"What should my platoon do if threatened by hostile antitank weapons?"
The company commander answered:
"Go ahead. Your targets are the hostile machine guns and other weapons that are holding up the infantry."
At the conclusion of these conversations, the officer representing the division commander briefly reviewed the situation and plan of attack, concluding with synchronization of watches and the familiar "Are there any questions?"
Comment on Troop Leading
It is believed that the map-reading demonstration moved too rapidly for maximum instructional value, especially if students or spectators were unfamiliar with the terrain and the assumed situation, When this point was raised, it was stated that the commanders would have thoroughly studied their maps and aerial photographs if available, and that they would have had at least a general knowledge of the situation before arriving at this phase of preparation for the attack. Terrain appreciation is emphasized in the training of the German combat officer. The individual who must constantly refer to a map for orientation purposes is considered poorly trained.
The Germans believe that the map, once studied, should be carried in the mind rather than in the hand.
Method of Formulating Plans.
The demonstrated method for announcing plans, requesting coordination with other weapons, and issuing orders orally and in the presence of all unit commanders concerned is a matter of special training in the German Army, It saves time and facilitates team--work, for each commander present is given a complete picture of the part his unit is to play in the operation.
Execution of the Attack
2. A PzKpfw IV Ausf. D
on a training exercise, in March 1940.
After completion of the troop-leading part of the demonstration, visitors were taken to a knoll about 250 yards in front of the line of departure to observe tanks and infantry en route to their objectives.
At 10:35 AM., the hour scheduled for the attack, tanks were heard approaching, and rifles and machine guns opened fire. Two minutes later the first tanks appeared through the fog opposite the spectators. These were elements of the first echelon, whose mission was to attack hostile antitank weapons and artillery. All tanks observed in this echelon were M-III and M-IV types, medium tanks of 17 and 22 tons whose principal weapons were 37-mm and 75-mm guns, respectively. They were moving directly ahead - not zigzagging -- towards their objectives at a speed estimated at 10 to 12 miles per hour. Apparently no attempt was made to maintain a formation, for intervals between tanks varied between 20 and 50 yards. All tank doors were closed.
Several tanks in this echelon were firing their principal weapons while moving, although German tank officers among the spectators said this was contrary to gunnery instructions. They stated that tanks armed with the 37-mm and the 75-mm gun must halt momentarily in order to fire these weapons accurately and to obtain maximum results from the limited supply of ammunition carried in tanks.
Immediately behind the rear-most tanks in the first echelon there were deployed foot troops moving at double time. Apparently none of these troops stopped at any time to fire or to take cover. They seemed to be intent on keeping as close as possible to the tanks.
The first wave of the second echelon caught up with, and began to pass through, the leading foot elements at a point opposite the spectators. The second wave of this tank echelon followed immediately in rear. This apparent merging of the two waves may have been due to limited visibility caused by the heavy fog.
The third wave of the second tank echelon moved at a slower speed than the other waves. It was intermingled with what appeared to be a support echelon of foot troops. Thus, only the first tank echelon was entirely ahead of the foot troops and able to fire without endangering friendly ground personnel. However, the leading foot elements were only 200 yards from their line of departure at this time, and they still had approximately 500 yards to go before arriving on the forward part of the hostile position.
After foot troops and tanks had passed the observation point, the demonstration halted temporarily while the spectators were moved to another vantage point in the forward part of the enemy's position. Here the first tank echelon was again watched as it moved directly to its assumed targets, artillery and antitank guns farther to the rear. No tanks in this echelon stopped to attack hostile machine gun positions, which were represented by troops, wearing red cloth bands around their helmets and firing light machine guns in shallow emplacements.
In the second echelon, however, the leading tanks searched out these positions and simulated an attack on them. The tanks moving directly toward the positions fired their machine guns in short bursts and halted frequently for a few seconds to fire their 37-mm or 75-mm guns. Unlike the tanks in the first wave were attacking their targets, those in the second wave remained some distance in rear, generally in partial defilade. The latter were apparently watching for hostile antitank guns and for new enemy machine-gun positions. Halts for observation or for fire were only momentary - never more than ten seconds in duration, and seldom more than five seconds.
The tanks in the third wave were intermingled with the infantry and, when observed, were moving at the infantry rate of advance.
The infantry-tank wave continued to move slowly forward into the hostile position. About one minute after it had passed the spectators, antitank guns towed by their halftrack prime movers came into view and went into appropriate positions.
Approximately two minutes behind the antitank guns came the empty personnel carriers. These are armored half-track vehicles designed to transport rifle units of the infantry brigade when they are not actually engaged in combat.
The end of the attack demonstration was indicated by a signal rocket at 11:10 A.M. immediately after the arrival of the personnel carriers. It is of interest to note that the fog lifted just at this time.
Comment on Execution of the Attack
No information concerning the organization of the armored division was given during the demonstration, and answers to questions on the subject were indefinite and sometimes contradictory. Several tank officers stated that companies equipped with M-III and M-IV tanks were organized into three platoons of five tanks each and that experiments were still being conducted with various types of tank organizations.
It is believed that a tank company is usually allotted a frontage of about 500 meters and a tank battalion a frontage of about one kilometer.
During the demonstration, there was no indication as to the action or disposition of tank units after completion of the attack. In response to a question on this subject, one of the instructors stated that tank units would assemble in previously designated areas where they would not interfere with the action of foot troops but where they would be available for further action if needed.
The goal of instruction at the school is to make each armored unit a smooth working organization rather than a collection of individual experts. To accomplish these results, three ideas are constantly drilled into the minds of the students:
Training panzer crews at Sagan (Żagań), 1943.
U.S. War Department, Military Intelligence Division. "The German Armored (Panzer) Troop School and Army Motorization School." Special Bulletin No. 27. 1940.
1. Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-2006-1023-502/CC-BY-SA-3.0-de, via Wikimedia Commons2. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-124-0211-18/Gutjahr/CC-BY-SA-3.0-de, via Wikimedia Commons