German Squad Tactics

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Zimtstern
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German Squad Tactics

Post by Zimtstern » 15 Feb 2019 21:21

I read about German Squad Tactics and there their said that the primary weapon of the squad is the machinegun and the riflemans are there for assault and flank protection and only if nessesary the riflemans would assist with their fire. I heared thats the reason why their were equipped with a smooth and reliable but rather limited carabine for most time of the war.
What I don't quite understand is how this was successful. If for example a american squad would fight a german one then the americans would face just a point target which everyone would engage including there Riflamans with there semi-auto rifles. It wouldn't be hard to find it too because a machinegun is loud and spits tracer rounds which should get them supressed fast.
My thoughts here are that thats maybe the reason for their emphasis of changing position (Der Stellungswechsel) but that would leave them constant on the move. Shoot some burst, relocate, shoot, relocate,.... That sounds quite ineffective to me giving me a hard time to understand why the germans were so effective and were most of the time only chrushed by numbers.

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Re: German Squad Tactics

Post by doogal » 15 Feb 2019 22:13

The US used it's heavier machine guns as a base of fire, its riflemen would then maneuver i.e ( flanking or frontal)towards the enemy position... The idea was fire and maneuver... In essence German infantry tactics were not that different US and German automatic weapons would be moved so that effect counter fire could not easily range in on them... I think also it should be remembered that the mg 34 and mg 42 had a greater rate of fire than US browning .30 and .50. US infantry units had a higher proportion of automatic weapons. As such when laying down covering fire more Infantry weapons would be used by the US in the direct fire role.....

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Re: German Squad Tactics

Post by Max Payload » 16 Feb 2019 00:23

Zimtstern, IIRC Germany had not developed an accurate and reliable semi-automatic rifle by the early period of the war and apart from a limited number of Soviet semi-automatics, didn’t have to face opponents armed with them until 1943 in North Africa. If you are interested in section/squad tactics among different nationalities, you should check out Second World War Infantry Tactics by Stephen Bull. It’s quite detailed and technical and in it he quotes a British dictum - firing without moving is a waste of ammunition, moving without firing is a waste of lives. Presumably that applied to machine gunners as well as riflemen.

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Re: German Squad Tactics

Post by Sheldrake » 16 Feb 2019 00:56

There may be several factors in play.

#1 The Germans too often had no choice but to get close and personal with the enemy. A US (or British) squad often had the option of calling for fire support from a well supplied field artillery arm. This has the merits of minimizing the risks to the flesh and blood of the squad.

#2 IIRC the actions on coming under effective fire were dash-down-crawl-observe-fire. One well aimed automatic weapon will stop forward movement. Targets will only be visible for maybe a second or two so the higher rate of fire of an MG 34 or 42 translated into a disproportionate number of casualties.

#3 Germans NCO squad leaders were much more thoroughly trained than US or British NCOs. In WW2 US Army NCOs were trained in the unit. In the German Army it was a ten week course at an Army level NCO school. NCOs were taught all the tasks expected of a platoon commander. A German NCO had a much better grounding in tactics.

#4 the Germans had an ethos prizing quick decision making and tactical elan.

None of this is a claim that many US NCOs and squads were far far better than their German counterparts - in particular as they gained experience.

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Re: German Squad Tactics

Post by Zimtstern » 16 Feb 2019 01:06

It seems like it's not properly understood what I mean so I try a second time:
The Germans were focusing their fire power in one weapon per Squad. The machinegun. The rest was more of a support element of the machine gun.
Other nations had their own ways but in general distributed the fire output they expected from their men over serveal of them.
(The americans are a great example in my eyes because their had a semi-auto rifle for every infantry man and not uncommonly multiple automatic rifles and/or machineguns)

So my problem is how a Squad focusing their main fire power in one weapon can be superior to one distributing their fire. The german machine gunner after he revealed himself with fire would draw fire from all this directions. His fire on the other hand would maybe be supressing/killed this guys but then the other guys could fire on him. And not just with some carabines but with M1s and maybe the second BAR if we take the americans as an example again. Acceptable fire volume on just one point => Good supression

That sounds like a big disatvantage for the germans making them rather ineffective in my eyes so where do I miss something that would turn the tide?

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Re: German Squad Tactics

Post by Stugbit » 16 Feb 2019 01:51

Zimtstern wrote:
16 Feb 2019 01:06
It seems like it's not properly understood what I mean so I try a second time:
The Germans were focusing their fire power in one weapon per Squad. The machinegun. The rest was more of a support element of the machine gun.
Other nations had their own ways but in general distributed the fire output they expected from their men over serveal of them.
(The americans are a great example in my eyes because their had a semi-auto rifle for every infantry man and not uncommonly multiple automatic rifles and/or machineguns)

So my problem is how a Squad focusing their main fire power in one weapon can be superior to one distributing their fire. The german machine gunner after he revealed himself with fire would draw fire from all this directions. His fire on the other hand would maybe be supressing/killed this guys but then the other guys could fire on him. And not just with some carabines but with M1s and maybe the second BAR if we take the americans as an example again. Acceptable fire volume on just one point => Good supression

That sounds like a big disatvantage for the germans making them rather ineffective in my eyes so where do I miss something that would turn the tide?
I would say that`s because the Germans had a higher proportion of machine-guns per soldier than the Allied. At least in the first years of the war.

There was not only one MG-34 firing, there were many, all working together. That`s why they could made their offensives in the beginning, advancing with such tactics.

I think the French, British and Soviet counter-parts at first didn`t had such firepower. Things changed over the years through the late war, when in more defensive circumstances it was required to the Germans different kinds of maneuvers and actions to succeed.

And also different kinds of weapons appeared in the Late war, from both sides, Axis and Allied. Semi-auto rifles, Assault-rifles, things like that.

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Re: German Squad Tactics

Post by Zimtstern » 16 Feb 2019 04:46

From what I read and heared so far the Germans only got one machinegun per Squad but if for exapmle they got two then they created just one additional point targets while on the enemy side every man was intended to contribute to the fire making them more like an area target.

Of course there was teamwork between the machineguns and stuff but the germans often managed to be superior against an enemy superior in numbers and assets so if they got a additional machinegun then the enemy would come with two more. So somehow their way of doing things have to be an force multiplier not an disadvantage.

Also focusing your fire power in one point is kinda dangerous. In the prone position a big part of the sight picture of a machinegunner would be his weapon so I assume its not unlikely the wepon got hit and easily broken. Now you lost your main weapon and the hole Squad can be considered combat ineffective compared to before that incident. Maybe just the gunner gets wounded but there would be still a time gap with little fire output besides the great amount of pauses they have to make to change constantly positions as I assumed previously as their solution to responding fire.

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Re: German Squad Tactics

Post by Duncan_M » 16 Feb 2019 06:29

German squad level organization and tactics were not designed to fight WW2, and were not designed to compare and contrast with the US Army's methods, it was a direct evolution of post-WW1 infantry doctrine of the Reichswehr, whose senior leadership, specifically von Seeckt, who rewrote much of the doctrine, took lessons of WW1, combined them with the limitations of the Reichswehr (in terms of size and armament stipulations) to create a more effective squad in the early 1920s time frame. This was a time when most squads were predominately armed with five shot bolt action rifles and maybe one unofficial squad support weapon in the form of some sort of light machine gun or automatic rifle.

When the Reichsheer first made these changes, the gruppe's light machine gun was not the MG 42, nor the MG 34, but was either an MG 08/15, or some other type like the Dreyse MG 10, the Bergmann 15 A, the Parabellum Model 1914, or the Danish Madsen gun. New specifications for light machine guns were initially written in the early 20s, it was these specifications that would lead to the MG 13 and the much more practical and universal MG 34, and eventually its semi-replacement, the MG 42 (which while superior in some roles could not, by design, fulfill other roles of the universal machine gun).

German infantry of the interwar years were a combined arms fighting force. A squad was no more responsible for winning a battle than a single battalion was, they were to fight as part of the larger team. The basic squad had the ability to support itself with its own organic light machine gun, while riflemen made the assault with rifle fire (accuracy was emphasized heavily during the interwar years, as was the use of the hand grenade). It could hold a defensive position likewise, though the Germans did not emphasize defensive tactics to the point that in WW2 they had to relearn them the hard way,especially on the Ostfront.

The Reichswehr lacked artillery and mortars, severely limited on both by the stipulations of the Versailles Treaty. So while the infantry was combined arms, it could not rely on supporting fires of high explosive weaponry to the point that competing nations could. So an infantry regiment made up for it with more heavy use of weapons organic to itself. Platoons of squads would also be augmented by heavy machine gun teams in the company level, as well as located in the heavy weapons company that could be detached as necessary and attached all the way down to the squad level for specific missions. Most fire support was planned with direct fire and lots of indirect (especially with the advent of the Lafette Tripod) could be done with heavy machine guns, while mortars would cover dead space that their fire couldn't reach. Artillery was considered an afterthought, as there so little of it and changing doctrine meant what they had would be massed and in support of the division's schwerpunkt, its main effort. What this meant is that all units that were not part of the main effort were essentially on their own, in theory and often in practice in WW2, and must provide their own fire support with their own organic weapons. The Germans thus emphasized machine guns.

The idea that the German squad's riflemen were all in support of the machine gun isn't entirely true. It came down to that more and more as WW2 progressed, as the skills and the ability of the German infantry as a whole declined, and especially when they fought on the defensive. But by doctrine, the lMG of the gruppe was supposed to support the attack of the squad. Typically that meant that the gruppe would advance independently from other gruppen within the zug, while all were being supported by hMG and mortar fire, possibly even artillery and even close air support once the Luftwaffe was included. At close range, when the supporting fires could no longer safely suppress the objective the squad's light machine gun team would break out of the file/chain and establish a base of fire position, while the rest of the squad continued the assault, culminating with the use of offensive (concussion) and defensive (fragmentation) grenades and close range fires, at which point the machine gun team would pick up and rejoin their squad and prepare for further operations, either setting up on another position to be taken, or to repel a counter attack.

The US Army's system was similar, in that it was planned to be used with combined arms. More so, it was really designed to fight the Germans, and had the advantage of being organized largely after WW2 had officially started. Plus better US production, logistics, etc.

Each rifle squad possessed riflemen with bolt action rifles and M1 rifles. The rifle company level had only two light machine guns present in the rifle company (M1919A4), but also contained 60mm mortars to provide support. As did the battalion's heavy weapons company, with 81mm mortars, plus M1917 Browning Machine Guns (which were heavy tripod operated and water cooled). Additionally, more responsive, accurate, and better supplied divisional artillery, augmented by corps and army level artillery battalions, plus enough separate tank battalions to support each infantry division, all meant the US Army's infantry squad was far better supported than a German squad.

Comparing just squad to squad, the US Army probably had the least impressive (though the semi auto rifles did give it advantages that the Germans and other nations didn't possess, and inability for individuals that weren't machine gunners to better control a sector of fire). But that doesn't matter anyway, modern combat is not infantry squad jousting. What matters is the total package, and in the end artillery beats light machine guns.

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Re: German Squad Tactics

Post by Stugbit » 16 Feb 2019 15:04

Duncan_M wrote:
16 Feb 2019 06:29
German squad level organization and tactics were not designed to fight WW2, and were not designed to compare and contrast with the US Army's methods, it was a direct evolution of post-WW1 infantry doctrine of the Reichswehr, whose senior leadership, specifically von Seeckt, who rewrote much of the doctrine, took lessons of WW1, combined them with the limitations of the Reichswehr (in terms of size and armament stipulations) to create a more effective squad in the early 1920s time frame. This was a time when most squads were predominately armed with five shot bolt action rifles and maybe one unofficial squad support weapon in the form of some sort of light machine gun or automatic rifle.

When the Reichsheer first made these changes, the gruppe's light machine gun was not the MG 42, nor the MG 34, but was either an MG 08/15, or some other type like the Dreyse MG 10, the Bergmann 15 A, the Parabellum Model 1914, or the Danish Madsen gun. New specifications for light machine guns were initially written in the early 20s, it was these specifications that would lead to the MG 13 and the much more practical and universal MG 34, and eventually its semi-replacement, the MG 42 (which while superior in some roles could not, by design, fulfill other roles of the universal machine gun).

German infantry of the interwar years were a combined arms fighting force. A squad was no more responsible for winning a battle than a single battalion was, they were to fight as part of the larger team. The basic squad had the ability to support itself with its own organic light machine gun, while riflemen made the assault with rifle fire (accuracy was emphasized heavily during the interwar years, as was the use of the hand grenade). It could hold a defensive position likewise, though the Germans did not emphasize defensive tactics to the point that in WW2 they had to relearn them the hard way,especially on the Ostfront.

The Reichswehr lacked artillery and mortars, severely limited on both by the stipulations of the Versailles Treaty. So while the infantry was combined arms, it could not rely on supporting fires of high explosive weaponry to the point that competing nations could. So an infantry regiment made up for it with more heavy use of weapons organic to itself. Platoons of squads would also be augmented by heavy machine gun teams in the company level, as well as located in the heavy weapons company that could be detached as necessary and attached all the way down to the squad level for specific missions. Most fire support was planned with direct fire and lots of indirect (especially with the advent of the Lafette Tripod) could be done with heavy machine guns, while mortars would cover dead space that their fire couldn't reach. Artillery was considered an afterthought, as there so little of it and changing doctrine meant what they had would be massed and in support of the division's schwerpunkt, its main effort. What this meant is that all units that were not part of the main effort were essentially on their own, in theory and often in practice in WW2, and must provide their own fire support with their own organic weapons. The Germans thus emphasized machine guns.

The idea that the German squad's riflemen were all in support of the machine gun isn't entirely true. It came down to that more and more as WW2 progressed, as the skills and the ability of the German infantry as a whole declined, and especially when they fought on the defensive. But by doctrine, the lMG of the gruppe was supposed to support the attack of the squad. Typically that meant that the gruppe would advance independently from other gruppen within the zug, while all were being supported by hMG and mortar fire, possibly even artillery and even close air support once the Luftwaffe was included. At close range, when the supporting fires could no longer safely suppress the objective the squad's light machine gun team would break out of the file/chain and establish a base of fire position, while the rest of the squad continued the assault, culminating with the use of offensive (concussion) and defensive (fragmentation) grenades and close range fires, at which point the machine gun team would pick up and rejoin their squad and prepare for further operations, either setting up on another position to be taken, or to repel a counter attack.

The US Army's system was similar, in that it was planned to be used with combined arms. More so, it was really designed to fight the Germans, and had the advantage of being organized largely after WW2 had officially started. Plus better US production, logistics, etc.

Each rifle squad possessed riflemen with bolt action rifles and M1 rifles. The rifle company level had only two light machine guns present in the rifle company (M1919A4), but also contained 60mm mortars to provide support. As did the battalion's heavy weapons company, with 81mm mortars, plus M1917 Browning Machine Guns (which were heavy tripod operated and water cooled). Additionally, more responsive, accurate, and better supplied divisional artillery, augmented by corps and army level artillery battalions, plus enough separate tank battalions to support each infantry division, all meant the US Army's infantry squad was far better supported than a German squad.

Comparing just squad to squad, the US Army probably had the least impressive (though the semi auto rifles did give it advantages that the Germans and other nations didn't possess, and inability for individuals that weren't machine gunners to better control a sector of fire). But that doesn't matter anyway, modern combat is not infantry squad jousting. What matters is the total package, and in the end artillery beats light machine guns.
Many thanks for this, Duncan

Could you make a comparison with the French, British and Soviet armies of the first years of the war for us as well?

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Re: German Squad Tactics

Post by Zimtstern » 16 Feb 2019 17:42

Even though this was a very interesting post to read I dont quite see how this answers my question. Could you or anyone who got it explain it?

I get it that everything was more of a combined arms thing but for it to work every part has to contribute to success. If the Squad Tactics of them would be bad then all of the other elements would have to carry them but as you said support was something not always available in the same form and strenght. This would mean a unit with rather limited support couln't succeed which wasn't the case.

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Re: German Squad Tactics

Post by AbollonPolweder » 16 Feb 2019 19:25

Zimtstern wrote:
16 Feb 2019 01:06
It seems like it's not properly understood what I mean so I try a second time:
The Germans were focusing their fire power in one weapon per Squad. The machinegun. The rest was more of a support element of the machine gun.
Other nations had their own ways but in general distributed the fire output they expected from their men over serveal of them.
(The americans are a great example in my eyes because their had a semi-auto rifle for every infantry man and not uncommonly multiple automatic rifles and/or machineguns)
"Focusing" or "distributing" is the one story. Revealing MG or BAR is the other. And these two problems are not so closely related, I think. The fire from the BAR is also or almost as easily distinguishable from the fire of a semi-automatic rifle. It's rather a matter of mask. It is common practice to change MG's positions. Spare positions are selected and prepared in advance. You have to compare the rate of fire and you will understand why the German Squad was so effective.
https://sites.google.com/site/krieg1941undnarod/
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Re: German Squad Tactics

Post by Stugbit » 16 Feb 2019 19:30

In my understanding, we need first to separate the early war from the late war, which would give troops a different combat reality.

In the early years, when the Germans were in the offensive, as I said before, even if the allied had a numerical advantage in terms of troop numbers, I think they had a fewer proportion of machine-guns than the Germans per soldier. MGs were more diluted over the troops within the Allied. Duncan confirmed this with his exceptionally detailed reply.

I can pick the Soviet for comparison, they had three main types of MG during the war. First, the Dushka .50 heavy machine gun, which was conceived as an AA weapon in the first place and despite being used by infantry, there were not many of them around for the troops sadness. Although a very good weapon for defensive purposes, it was very heavy to be carried by hand. Then there was the DP MG, which was more closer in concept to the MG-34, but in numbers I guess there weren`t around many of them to actually be a counter. It leaves us with the slightly modified version of the Maxim MG, an old design gun not as flexible enough to counter the MG-34 as well, yet it could work in defensive circumstances.

So, the German regular infantry had more small-arms firepower in the beginning of the war than the Allied, in the first place. Then there`s the specific characteristics of the MG-34 as well, because it is not a static weapon at all. It`s a very light machine-gun that can change positions and be carried away in an attack and advance foward pretty easy. It had the bipod, it could shoot from a small broken wall, the shoulder of another soldier, from a tree branch, etc.. So, it was mobile enough to work during a maneuver and specially within the maneuvers of different squads working together. In the close-quarters combats, however, grenades, submachine-guns, things like that, just complemented it.

When the war started to get even more difficult for the Germans, and numerical advantage of the Allied augmented, it was needed for their infantry even more firepower to compensate that, and since they could not raise the troop numbers, the solution was to develop a MG with even bigger rate of fire, the MG-42.

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Re: German Squad Tactics

Post by Duncan_M » 16 Feb 2019 21:02

Zimtstern wrote:
16 Feb 2019 17:42
Even though this was a very interesting post to read I dont quite see how this answers my question. Could you or anyone who got it explain it?

I get it that everything was more of a combined arms thing but for it to work every part has to contribute to success. If the Squad Tactics of them would be bad then all of the other elements would have to carry them but as you said support was something not always available in the same form and strenght. This would mean a unit with rather limited support couln't succeed which wasn't the case.
I think the easiest thing for you to do to get the answer you're looking for is to remove all declarative statements and personal opinions or insights from your post. Simply provide a situation and then ask the question.

Situation dictates tactics, and doctrine, especially pre-war, often flew in the face of reality. Describe the conditions in which this fictional battle or skirmish occurs. Who is present, what is their mission, what are their orders, who are they fighting, etc.

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Re: German Squad Tactics

Post by Duncan_M » 16 Feb 2019 22:14

AbollonPolweder wrote:
16 Feb 2019 19:25
Zimtstern wrote:
16 Feb 2019 01:06
It seems like it's not properly understood what I mean so I try a second time:
The Germans were focusing their fire power in one weapon per Squad. The machinegun. The rest was more of a support element of the machine gun.
Other nations had their own ways but in general distributed the fire output they expected from their men over serveal of them.
(The americans are a great example in my eyes because their had a semi-auto rifle for every infantry man and not uncommonly multiple automatic rifles and/or machineguns)
"Focusing" or "distributing" is the one story. Revealing MG or BAR is the other. And these two problems are not so closely related, I think. The fire from the BAR is also or almost as easily distinguishable from the fire of a semi-automatic rifle. It's rather a matter of mask. It is common practice to change MG's positions. Spare positions are selected and prepared in advance. You have to compare the rate of fire and you will understand why the German Squad was so effective.
It wasn't that successful. When it worked very well there was usually a major reason why, usually having to do with either enemy deficiencies in preparedness, or support from force multipliers such as hMGs, mortars, regimental cannons, assault guns, divisional artillery, etc.

And the Germans recognized very early their early war squad organization was insufficient. Not only manpower and command and control issues, but small arms firepower. One lMG per squad is never going to cover up the remainder having five shot bolt action rifles, which was why they were desperate for more SMGs, including captured, autoloading rifles like the horrible G41 or mediocre G43, the MP43 and eventually the StG44.

Curiously, the Germans themselves answered the question about the importance of a squad level light machine gun, what happened when the 1944 Panzer Grenadier Sturm Zug organization, when all landser had access to an assault rifle? Even though the MG 42 was only a few years old, and supposedly a great improvement to the MG 34, what happened to it? They were removed from three of the four squads of the platoon, with the last turning into what was essentially a weapons squad.

So how important was the squad LMG compared to a good rifle? Less.

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Re: German Squad Tactics

Post by Sheldrake » 16 Feb 2019 23:13

Zimtstern wrote:
16 Feb 2019 01:06

#1 (The americans are a great example in my eyes because their had a semi-auto rifle for every infantry man and not uncommonly multiple automatic rifles and/or machineguns)

#2 how a Squad focusing their main fire power in one weapon can be superior to one distributing their fire.
re 1 the US Army was uniquer in WW2 in having a semi automatic rifle. But it didn't stop the Americans trying to train their soldiers not to be afraid of the MG42.

Re2 The Germans did not specify that only the light machine gun was to be sued. https://ia902205.us.archive.org/10/item ... Combat.pdf

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