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Time Periods => WWI (The Great War) => The Central Powers => Topic started by: Sturmkatze on February 03, 2007, 10:43:44 PM
A Visit to the German Front in Belgium?The Sturmbataillons
The following appeared in the "Infantry Journal," Vol, XV, NO. 1, July 1918. It is extracted from a report by a Spanish military mission to the German Army. It appeared originally from "La Guerra y su preparacion," Madrid, January, 1918
On the appointed day the Commission went from Ghent to Audenarde and reached the camp of the Sturmbataillon (assault battalion). The captain who commanded it was presented and then a conference given by him began at which were present some fifty or sixty officers who had come to Audenarde from various places to learn, from the detailed course of instruction, the changes which had been introduced in tactics by the creation of so different a force as the assault battalion. These officers were to apply what was learned in their own commands.
The lecturer described the means of attack at the disposal of the battalion, not failing to state those employed by the enemy. The description of the hand grenades were exactly like the description given at Beverloo. He closed by stating that many officers of the army believed that hand grenades were the principal infantry weapon in the present war, having taken the place of the rifle or carbine. On the other hand, there were others who thought that this idea was unsound, and that the rifle was still the main arm of the infantry; although this faction admitted that in this special form of war?that of position?it was quite true that on the first lines, the attack was carried out almost always with grenades. Then he explained the organization of the Sturmbataillon, which is divided into four units?two of them are Kompanies of Infanterie, one unit is made up of Machinengewehre (machine guns), Flammenwerfers (flamethrowers), etc., and the other is a battery of artillery. The object of this Bataillon, as its name shows, is to enter into action at decisive moments of the combat?for example, in the attack of an important, difficult-to-take position. The Sturmbataillon is kept under cover as long as possible and, having accomplished its purpose, it is withdrawn from the first line as soon as possible?that is, as soon as its presence ceases to be indispensable. The reason for this is that, as the Bataillon is made up of chosen troops, they should not be exposed to great and fruitless losses.
Great importance is paid to individual instruction in training the Bataillon, each man being required to know perfectly, not merely the method of combat of the Bataillon, but the actual use of the different kinds of armament in it
In order to show how thorough was its instruction, at different places various platoons of the Bataillon were posted, each one of them charged with showing the situation corresponding to a definite phase of the attack as carried out by the Bataillon. From what we saw, we can state the following (it should be noted that the action was carried on with service grenades charged). To advance on a trench containing an enemy platoon, the German platoon advances in groups of eight men, each of two squads of four men each. Their action is as follows. The leading man moves forward, throwing hand grenades from the two pouches, one at his side and the other on his back, which carry in all sixteen grenades. He shifts the one on his back to his chest when he has used up those in the pouch at his side. When he has expended his own grenades he throws those carried by the two men behind him, who are only carriers. Each of them has 32 grenades in four pouches. The fourth man, armed with a rifle, covers his leader in case any enemy is left in the trench or in its neighborhood, for it is obvious that the hand grenade cannot be employed at a very short distance as the thrower would himself be in danger of being injured by explosive. One of the carriers has a flag which he constantly waves above the trench so that the rest of the friendly force can see how far the party has advanced. This is of great importance, for it is clear that the whole success of the system is based on constant communication between its elements, especially with the artillery. If communication breaks down, the result will be serious and the losses may be very heavy. The other four men follow the first squad and enter into action when the first have used up their grenades or when the men are exhausted.
The attack with hand grenades, carried on from one trench to another, was also of interest, especially the methods used against the wire netting which is employed. This is not easily destroyed by artillery fire. The grenades fall when they strike the net and explode on the ground without effect. In order to produce the desired effect, in spite of the protection of the net, a grenade is used whose body has a number of wire hooks which catch in the meshes and accordingly make a breach in the net when the grenade explodes. Then the small ovoid grenades (Eiergranaten) are thrown through the opening.
Another interesting exercise was the destruction of the wire entanglements which defend the trenches. To do this the heads of hand grenades are used, placed along a piece of wood or surrounding a cylindrical stick. In the first type there are eight or ten, in the second twelve or more in groups of six. In any case, one of the grenades is left with its handle which is used to fire the whole group by pulling a wire attached to it. The others are discharged by its explosion as they are close together. To be certain of this arrangement working, and the explosion of the others, the percussion caps are left in place and are held with pegs or wedges toward the grenade which is left complete. In order to use this at night the soldier crawls on the ground, places it under the wires he wants to destroy, and then returns to his trench, from where the firing wire is then pulled. In daylight, an attack with hand grenades is made on a wide front upon the first line of the trenches, and when some effect has been obtained the board described is properly placed and the explosion is produced from the trench. When an opening has been thus effected, an attack is made through it, covered by another group of grenade throwers, who use them from continually greater distances.
We saw a section of two Minenwerfers (bomb throwers) fire at 300 meters with excellent effect. The guns were of a caliber of 7.45 cm. and, like those we saw at Beverloo, resembled a modern rifled mortar with recoil apparatus and sights. It was a muzzle-loader, the charge being made of disks held together in a container. These guns were drawn by two men. Each had a crew of eight men, including the commander. Two only were required to fire it. The others brought up projectiles which were like shells. They were carried in boxes.
The rapidity of fire was very great, since the operation of loading consisted merely in letting the projectile slide into the gun, producing a continuous discharge. The rapidity of fire was so great that one of the gunners who did not take his hand away quickly enough had it badly torn. Another stepped in at once without interrupting the fire.
Of course this sort of instruction would be impossible in peacetime, but during war, when the importance of forging such aggressive troops as the Sturmbataillons is considered, such pieces of bad luck are taken as a matter of course. They are in fact, necessary to obtain the maximum level of efficiency in training, however regrettable they are.
The members of the Commission were a long way off from the Flammenwerfers. Nevertheless it is possible to give some definite information concerning them. It is known that they are used to clean-up (according to the graphic expression of the Germans) the enemies in their trenches. Apparently each apparatus is handled by two men who wear masks, undoubtedly to protect them against the heat to which they are exposed. The projectors amount to containers of petroleum under great pressure. The flame is produced by contact of the petroleum with an incandescent body, and its intensity is graduated by turning a key. The jet will extend for 20 meters and its destructive effect is obvious.
The Artillerie of the Bataillon consists of four short 7.63 cm. guns which can be dismounted from their carriages. The Bataillon used them in an attack on a commanding position. In this attack the Bataillon employed all its armament. We were especially surprised to see the accuracy with which the guns supported the attack, keeping up a barrage 50 to 60 meters in front of the line. It was directed by the small flags and the luminous signals which are used so much in trench war. Although the guns were hidden, with our glasses we could see that they were firing at ranges of from 1,200 to 1,500 meters, The fire was controlled by a section seated behind some trees, which also protected the pieces of the attacking group. At the end of the exercise it was possible to see the guns better, and we perceived that each had eight gunners who carried carbines slung, and that the movements of the gun into and from position were by hand. When the road was reached at the end of the exercise the guns were attached to limbers much like ammunition carts and drawn by two horses. The number of projectiles carried in each limber was eighteen, arranged in three baskets bearing six each.