August 20, 2014

German Tank Platoons Operating as Points

Whether in the attack, formed as a wedge, or in the march, formed as a column, one platoon of the tank company had to operate as point.


Platoon wedge
Platoon wedge (Keil).
The point platoon was generally made up of the platoon leader's tank and two sections of two tanks each. The platoon leader may place either the first or second section at the head of the point platoon, but he himself always stayed between the two sections in order to observe his entire outfit. However, the composition of the point varied according to the situation.

The strength of the point platoon may be increased in mountainous terrain. During the invasion of the Balkans, the point amounted to an extra-strong company and consisted of heavy tanks, assault weapons, an infantry platoon, and a detachment of engineers. A platoon of five Pz.Kw. IV's led the point. Behind them came a group of engineers, riding either on the last tanks in the point or on other tanks immediately following. After that came a platoon of self-propelled assault guns, then the platoon of infantry riding in armored personnel carriers, and finally a platoon of five Pz.Kw. III's. There were no motorcycle couriers.

At the historic Thermopylae Pass, there were 22 tanks in the spearhead, but only three of these got through. A responsible German officer's comment on this was that it was worth losing the 19 tanks in order to achieve success with the three.

Communication Within the Point Platoon

In combat, communication within the tank platoon operating as a point was done basically by radio. Up to that time, liaison was maintained by at least one or two motorcycle couriers attached to the platoon leader. As soon as contact with a hostile force was established, these couriers scattered to the sides and lied in ditches until the whole platoon had passed. They then went back to the company commander and reported to him that contact had been made. After this, he carried on by radio.

Communication Within the Armored Regiment

As has been stated, there were five tanks in each platoon—two in each section and one for the platoon leader. The platoon leader and each section leader had a two-way radio; the two remaining tanks had receiving sets only. Regimental commanders and all three battalion commanders had special radio cars, each equipped with 100-watt sets. If the battalions (or companies) attacked together, they had radio communication with the regiment. When they attacked separately, each used, in addition to his two-way radio (Funk Gerät 5), four sets capable only of receiving (Funk Gerät 2's). Each of these receiving sets was used for communication with one of the four companies. Moreover, each company was on a different frequency. In turn, each company commander had a two-way set and two receiving sets, and could speak with the battalion commander. Each battalion, too, was normally on a different frequency. The platoon was on the same frequency as its company commander. Each platoon leader had his second receiving set tuned to the frequency of his battalion commander, in case his company commander should become a casualty.

If the regiment attacked as a unit, the network remained unchanged. However, if the battalions acted independently, the regimental commander had no communication with them except by messengers, usually motorcyclists.

Code was used only with the 100-watt sets, from battalion up to division. During the attack, communication was in the clear, even up to the regimental commander. When battalions attacked separately, however, they used code in communicating with the regimental commander.

The division commander alone authorized messages in the clear. If the battalion commander couldn’t reach his regimental commander by using the two-way Funk Gerät 5 (which has a range of 6 kilometers), he encoded his message and used the 100-watt set.

On the March – Combat Vehicles

It was a German principle that the distance between the rear of the point platoon and the company commander must not be so great that the latter cannot see the former. It could be, but seldom was, as much as 1 kilometer. The spacing depended entirely on the terrain. All movement was made by road until a hostile force was encountered. The tanks then scattered to the sides. Even when there was danger of air attack, the tanks remained on the road but kept well apart. In mountainous country, when heavy tanks were used in the point, the method of advancing on roads was altered. Two tanks advanced together, one behind the other but on the opposite side of the road.

The sections were easily interchangeable; for example, should the first section be at the head of the platoon and then leave the road to overcome hostile resistance, the second section could move to the head, allowing the first section to fall in behind when the resistance had been overcome. It was believed that it is of the utmost importance to keep the platoon moving forward.

On the March – Supply Column

During the campaign in Greece, all supply trucks were placed at the rear. In any other position they would have delayed the movement, because of the twisting mountainous roads. Any truck that was damaged was immediately shoved off the road to keep the column moving at all costs.

In Russia, when facing the possibility of a guerrilla attack from the front (rather than from the flank), the practice used was to sandwich elements of the supply column between tank platoons on the march. The important ration and fuel trucks had even traveled between tanks within a platoon. While this plan had not been followed by a point platoon, it had been employed by the platoons following immediately afterward in the line of march.

The same plan had occasionally been used by battalions on the march, but only when there had been a danger of attacks by guerrillas or when road conditions had been so bad that supply trucks needed tanks close at hand at all times, for emergency towing.

War Department, Military Intelligence Division. Intelligence Bulletin Vol. II, No. 10. 1944.