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WW2 German Tactics

The fighting of 2 Panzer Division, Normandy, 17 June – 7 July 1944

On 6 June 1944, Allied troops landed on the coast of Normandy, France on D-Day. The German 2.Panzer Division was ordered to advance towards the Allied invasion force and push them back into the sea. This was incredibly difficult as they were outnumbered and did not have the same resources the Allies had. The Normandy bocage landscape and the lack of air support caused problems for the Germans who had been used to fighting on the open farmland of the Eastern Front. They had to quickly change tactics.

The Allies captured and translated a German battlefield report written by Lieutenant-General Freiherr (Baron) von Lüttwitz, the commander of the 2nd Panzer Division. This report was dated 14 July 1944 and covered the fighting in Normandy between 17 June – 7 July 1944. His unit was being relieved by the 362nd Infantry Division and he was required to inform its commanding officer of what the situation was like on the front line. The translated report was then circulated to Allied units in a document called Weekly Intelligence Summary No.42. As it is a primary source document written during the battle for Normandy from the German point of view, this document provides a fascinating insight into how the Germans saw the situation and their mindset.

Generalleutnant Diepold George Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz was commanding officer of 2 Panzer Division.

Account of 2 Pz Div Operations

17 Jun – 7 Jul 44
362 Inf Div
Ops No.2044/44 Most Secret
Div Battle HQ, 17 Jul 44
Ref: 2 Pz Div Ops No.675/44 Most Secret, dated 14 July 44 (only to Div)
17 copies, copy No.4

Extract from battle experiences from recent operations
by 2 Pz Div whose sector is being taken over by 362 Inf Div

The fighting of the Div on the invasion front is characterised by
(a) the special nature of the country of Normandy.
(b) the great material superiority of the enemy, even on so-called quiet fronts.

(a) The country in which the fighting is taking place consists of meadow and brush land enclosed squarely by hedges, with embankments and sunken roads. This does not lend itself to engagements over large areas. All engagements soon resolve themselves into shock-troop and individual engagements. The possession of ‘dominating heights’ is often not as decisive as the possession of traffic junctions. Often, the former cannot be exploited because hedges and trees limit visibility and field of fire, whereas road traffic arteries are essential since it is only by roads that the heavier weapons, artillery and tanks can be brought forward. Nevertheless, certain features always retain their dominating role, whereas, conversely, some traffic junctions can be dispensed with.

US troops negotiating the narrow sunken lanes of the bocage country in Normandy. Most fields only had one gated entrance and were surrounded by high hedgerows.

(b) The incredibly heavy artillery and mortar fire (of the enemy) is something new, both for the seasoned veterans of the Eastern Front and the new arrivals from reinforcement units. Whereas the veterans get used to it comparatively quickly, the inexperienced reinforcements require several days or so, after which they become acclimatised. The average rate of fire on the Divisional sector per day is 4,000 artillery rounds and 5,000 mortar rounds. This is multiplied many times before an enemy attack, however small. For instance, on one occasion, when the British made an attack on a sector of only two companies, they expended 3,500 rounds in two hours. The Allies are waging war regardless of expense. In addition to this, the enemy has complete mastery of the air. They bomb and strafe every movement, even single vehicles and individuals. They recce our area constantly and direct their artillery fire. Against all this, the German Air Force is conspicuous by its complete absence. During the last four weeks, the total number of German aircraft over the Division’s area was six.

From the operations point of view, our own offensive operations by day, after completed assembly etc. – i.e. attacks prepared all ‘according to the book’, have little chance of succeeding. The assembling of troops is spotted immediately by enemy recce aircraft, and smashed by bombers, fighter-bombers and artillery directed by aircraft; and if, nevertheless, the attacking troops go forward, they become involved in such dense artillery and mortar fire, that high casualties ensue and the attack peters out within the first few hundred metres. The losses suffered by the infantry are then so heavy that the impetus necessary to renew the attack is spent.

Many of the country lanes in the bocage country in Normandy were not wide enough for tanks to drive down.

Better results have been obtained by attacks prepared down to the last detail by assault detachments operating by night on a broad front. These penetrate the enemy positions noiselessly and in each individual case surprise and overcome the enemy, without the enemy artillery or air force having a chance to intervene.

The primary condition for this is that each individual assault detachment be fully acquainted with its task and knows what to do in various circumstances, is in close liaison with its neighbours, and that the heavy weapons and artillery know exactly when to come into operation (usually only in the case of local failure when the element of surprise has not been achieved). The direction of such operations is less a question of large-scale elaborate planning than that of practical instruction and reminders. The mere fact that ‘assembly has been completed’ before the attack begins is of less importance than the fact that every company and platoon commander has thought of everything necessary to ensure the success of the operation of his assault detachment. It is an essential duty of the staff planning the operation to put everyone, down to the lowest ranking commander, completely in the picture. An attack of this nature attains no far-distant objective, but proceeds only by small stages, night after night. But in the end, it reaches its objective without paying a high toll in manpower. The more cunning and variable the fighting, the more successful the operation. This ‘infiltration’ has proved its worth in every case hitherto, as far as this Division is concerned.

German troops inspection the wreckage of an Allied Horsa glider. In the background you can see how high the Normandy bocage country field system hedgerows were.

The fact that a modern equipped Panzer Division with two tank battalions and two infantry battalions with armored half-tracked vehicles is not necessary for such fighting methods is another question.

In defence, we must reckon with the fact that the attacking enemy simply smashes down the forward battle area with his massed artillery fire and aircraft. Hitherto, the enemy has always succeeded, usually after a very short time, in occupying our main line of defence after a heavy barrage of this kind. It is, therefore, essential to maintain reserves in at least every battalion sector, which come forward immediately after the barrage has ended. Large masses of troops are not needed for this, but only a few assault detachments. The enemy infantryman is no fighter in our sense of the term, and consequently only a few machine guns are necessary to hold him – but these must be there at the right time. The Divisional reserves must be employed immediately without waiting for the ‘All Clear’ in order to throw back the enemy, assault troop fashion, in immediate counterattack. In any case, when the enemy is firing a lot of smoke from weapons of all calibres, everything is hidden in a blinding pall, and a clear picture is impossible. But once the enemy has brought up his anti-tank guns and forward observation officers and dug himself in, it is usually too late. Then the only remedy is to infiltrate on the following night. After several abortive attempts, the British become cautious and finally discontinue the attacks.

US soldiers inspection a knocked out Panther Tank. The high hedgerows of the Normandy bocage limited the range tank crews could see the enemy.

Individual Arms

1. Panzer Grenadiers.
The Panzer Grenadiers must be able to withstand the heavy artillery fire of the enemy. This is the decisive factor. They must, therefore, be dug-in deeply. Since the enemy uses a very sensitive fuse, overhead protection is necessary against shells which explode on striking trees. During the barrage, the weapons must also remain under cover, or else they get clogged with mud and rendered useless.

Our soldiers enter battle in low spirits at the thought of the enemy’s enormous material superiority. They are always asking, ‘Where is the German Air Force?’. The feeling of helplessness against enemy aircraft operating without any hindrance has a paralysing effect, and during the barrage, this effect on the inexperienced troops is literally ‘soul-shattering’ and it must be borne in mind that four-engine bombers have not yet taken part in attacking ground targets in this Division’s area. It is, therefore, essential for troops to be lifted out of this state of distress the moment a counterattack begins. The best results have been obtained by the platoon and section commanders leaping forward uttering a good old fashioned ‘hurrah’, which spurs on the inexperienced troops and carries them along. The revival of the practice of sounding a bugle call for the attack has been found to answer the purpose, and this has been made a Divisional order. Moreover, the use of the bugle in territory where visibility is restricted enables the troops to know when and where the attack is taking place. An attack launched in this manner is an experience which troops will never forget and stimulates them into action again.

Some Allied tanks were fitted with “Rhinoceros” blades at the front so they could force their way into a field by smashing through a hedgerow.

The Panzer Grenadiers fight as assault detachments, in this more depends on the NCOs than ever before. Only an energetic commander will get his men to go forward. For weaklings, there is every inducement and opportunity to hide in the hedge. Close-combat weapons (flame throwers, anti-tank close-combat weapons, mines and explosive charges) are especially effective in country of this nature. In defence, it may be expedient to deplete the front line in order to maintain sufficient reserves for counterattack. Specially efficient NCOs would be selected for this.

The battle outposts and outlying picquets of all kinds must change their positions frequently and at irregular intervals. The enemy, especially the Americans, are experts in creeping up under cover of the hedges and making frequent attempts to dislodge our picquets. They then cover their withdrawal with heavy mortar and artillery defensive fire.

The heavy weapons are compelled by the heavy fire to change their positions frequently. The enemy got their range very soon. It is not unusual to change positions ten times during the day. Therefore, heavy and light infantry guns use only their roving guns. (see para 4.) The evaluation and employment of enemy tactics has proved profitable. In one instance, a counterattacking company succeeded in turning the enemy mortars and firing smoke on the enemy, with the result that the enemy was misled into believing that a penetration had been achieved on the breadth of the front covered by smoke, and brought down artillery fire on his own troops.

US troops crossing a high hedge lined road between a knocked out German Panther tank and lorry.

2. Tanks.
There is no question of tank employment in the true sense of the term. They can only be employed to accompany infantry. Their mobility is limited by the sunken roads and hedges. They can only penetrate the square areas enclosed by hedges at certain points, and these points are registered by the enemy anti-tank guns. Therefore, the anti-tank weapon must be neutralised before the tanks advance again. Since the country favours close anti-tank combat, each single tank must have a strong flank protection. It is unprofitable to employ more than one troop of tanks at the time. On sunken roads, which are often the only places where tanks can move, the first and last tanks of the column get knocked out and those in between are wedged in. Therefore, the tanks must work in the closest cooperation with their infantry. The tanks must give high explosive HE and machine gun covering fire along the ridge of the hedgerow until the infantry have reached it by passing along the hedgerow running at right angles to it. The infantry then mop up, and then the tanks make another bound forward to the next hedgerow and the process is repeated. In this case, the actual punch is delivered by the infantry and the fire power supplied by the tanks, and thus the control of the operation lies with the infantry.

German troops anxiously look in the sky for enemy aircraft.

3. Anti-tank
(a) SP. The employment of self-propelled anti-tank guns is extremely limited in country of this kind. Their low structure is a disadvantage, and in many cases, they are unable to shoot over hedges and walls. Since the turret cannot be traversed, self-propelled anti-tank guns are completely helpless on sunken roads. The best method of employing them is to have them in a concealed position at the side of the main roads. Therefore, self-propelled anti-tank guns should be kept back in reserves in order to intercept enemy thrusts along the main roads in the event of an armored break-through.

(b) Tractor drawn. There are not enough of these available. If it were possible to employ these regardless of loss, they would be the best weapon in the main defensive line, since they can be properly camouflaged and dug in and can destroy enemy tanks at the closest range and inflict severe casualties on the enemy infantry in the hedgerows by high explosive HE fire. But they cannot get away again, and their loss has to be reckoned with as a matter of course. Losses and damage inflicted by enemy artillery fire must also be taken into account. The enemy uses his anti-tank guns in this way, but the Germans can no longer afford to do so. Therefore, tractor-drawn anti-tank guns have been withdrawn and placed in depth in the main battle area, where they form the backbone of the main defence zone. The only available anti-tank weapons in the front line proper are the close-combat weapons.

The threat of attack from the sky was always a problem for German troops in Normandy during the Summer of 1944.

4. Artillery.
The highest demands are made on the elastic use of artillery. Since our own artillery can only fire one tenth of the amount fired by the enemy, success can only be achieved by closest cooperation and best possible ground observation, therefore, forward observers must be placed well forward. Ample provision of means of communications are essential. Even in counterattack, the forward observers must be well forward. It is essential to maintain ample reserves of forward observers in order to avoid loss of all forward observers and their equipment during the enemy barrage. The allotment of ‘SOS’ tasks which can be brought down automatically during any enemy attack has proved profitable. The artillery must change its positions frequently, since it is spotted very rapidly and engaged with the aid of observation from the air. Good results have been achieved by ‘roving’ artillery troops and ‘roving’ guns which mislead the enemy as to the siting and strength of our own guns. Every attempt at harassing fire on the part of our artillery is promptly repaid many times over by the enemy. The artillery must take up different positions by day and night. Here on the Western front, too, the siting of the artillery for all-round defence is the chief support for the main battle area.

5. Anti-Aircraft.
The anti-aircraft (AA) guns cannot protect everything. It is better to concentrate all the light and heavy AA troops on the point of main effort instead of scattering over the whole Divisional area in troops and sections. In bad weather, the AA can be used successfully in an artillery role. In this case, but in this case, only, they are placed under the command of the artillery. The siting of light AA troops in concealed positions close behind the main line of defence with the sole task of engaging artillery spotting aircraft. By this means the Division succeeded in shooting down two enemy aircraft in the course of a few days, and now the enemy spotting aircraft keep a safe distance of approximately 3 km (1.9 miles) from the main line of defence, whereas formerly they used to fly right over it.

The German infantry was armed with anti-tank Panzerfaust weapons.

6. Engineers.
The Engineers have been particularly successful in an infantry role in this terrain, thanks to their good training in assault and close combat methods. Since they are limited in their employment as infantry, they must, however, be restricted to exceptional cases, since, owing to their numerical inferiority in this close country, their technical engineering tasks in front of and in the main defensive area, and the consolidation of positions in the rear, is of special importance. The commander of the engineers must exercise control over all engineers employed, including all engineer platoons. Owing to the limited means available, this is the only way whereby points of main effort on the part of the engineers can be created. Since the whole operation in this territory demands special skill, the construction of obstacles must be carried out with resource and variety. In this cut-up territory, it is impossible to construct a continuous line of obstacles which can be covered by our own fire from medium and long range. The improvised anti-personnel mine S.150 issued to the engineers has proved unsatisfactory since the chemical igniter is unreliable. In order not to waste the effort of the engineers in purely labour tasks the Division has combed out all surplus personnel from support columns to provide labour for consolidating the main battle area and rear positions. This method, adopted from the Eastern front, has proved successful here.

7. Reconnaissance.
This is performed exclusively as battle recce. The best results are achieved by bringing back prisoners of war, even if these scarcely disclose anything. Signals interception within the Divisional area scarcely provides any results, since the enemy hardly carries on any wireless telecommunication traffic, and if he does, it is impossible to determine if this is taking place in front of our own sector. Listening has so far produced no results. It is only done for monitoring our own traffic.

This German soldier is armed with an anti-tank Panzerschreck.

8. Signals.
The principle remains the same. The Division avoids wireless telecommunication traffic as far as possible. No enemy attempts at direction-finding have yet been confirmed, but this must still be reckoned with. There are signs that the enemy is monitoring our wireless telecommunication traffic.

9. Supplies.
The entire supply system, including the receiving, works by night. The time is very short, with the results that losses are constantly incurred due to journeys made in the daytime (also by moonlight). The supply of ammunition is insufficient. Hitherto, it has been out of the question to engage the enemy artillery. The enemy, too, is gradually realising this, and is, therefore, moving up closer and closer in order to take full advantage of the range to disrupt our columns in the rear. Consequently, our supply lines are under constant artillery fire, even at night. Our supplies of fuel, oils and lubricants are adequate, since the Division is in fixed position, The use of mechanical transport traffic is reduced to a minimum. The supplies of food obtained from the land are very good, but those obtained through supply channels are mediocre.

The question of spare parts and tyres is a serious problem. The Division has to fetch everything over distances of hundreds of kilometres so that, in spite of the Division being engaged in static warfare, its mobility gradually becomes less and less. The enemy’s air superiority presents an almost insolvable problem with regards to supplies.

Signed Freiherr (Baron) von Lüttwitz

After this

Generalleutnant Diepold George Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz was commanding officer of the 2nd Panzer Division from 27 May 1944 to 31 August 1944. He was born on 6 December 1896 and died on 9 October 1969. His family were members of the landed nobility of Prussia. He served in both World Wars. He competed as part of the German Olympic equestrian team in the 1936 Summer games but failed to obtain an Olympic medal which did not go down too well with the Nazi regime. He later went on to command the XLVII Panzer Corps (47th Panzer Corps) during the Battle of the Bulge which included 2 Panzer Division during December 1944 – January 1945. He is perhaps best known for requesting the surrender of the 101St Airborne Regiment in Bastogne, and received the reply back, “Nuts”.

The 2nd Panzer Division was sent to Verrieres ridge area southwest of Caen after it had been relieved by the 326th Infantry Division. Some of its units took part in Operation Spring but the Division was later moved west to try and halt the American Operation Cobra breakout in Normandy. This failed and they withdrew towards Falaise after taking part in Operation Luttich, a unsuccessful German counter-attack near Mortain. Although encircled in the Falaise Pocket they managed to fight their way through, but with heavy losses of manpower and vehicles.

The Division was refitted in Germany and then took part in the German offensive in the Luxembourg and Belgium Ardennes in December 1944. They were forced to retreat in late December by the US 2nd Armoured Division and the British 3rd Royal Tank Regiment. In the Spring of 1945, they were tasked with stopping the Allied crossing of the River Rhine. Their last combat engagement was in April 1945 near the city of Fulda. On 7 May 1945, the 2nd Panzer Division surrendered to US Forces in north-west Czechoslovakia and Saxony.

The 3rd Panzer Regiment of the 2nd Panzer Division was equipped with Panther tanks which could not utilize their full potential in the bocage.
The Panzer Grenadier regiments of the 2nd Panzer Division were equipped with Sd.Kfz.251 half-tracks.
The armored opposition to the 2nd Panzer Division consisted of Allied Sherman tanks. All illustration by David Bocquelet.

Sources

National Archives Kew WO 170/275