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Time Periods => WWI (The Great War) => The Central Powers => Topic started by: Sturmkatze on June 21, 2008, 12:26:21 AM
by Generalletnant a.D. Constantin v.Altrock
extract from an article appearing in Infantry Journal, Nov.-Dec., 1933
submitted by Marc Benedict, IR120 |0|
Night Surprise of Lankhof, April, 1918 Numerical Independence in Night Battle
After the fortunate successes of the Kemmel at Hollebeke and Wytschaete, the German 7. Infanterie Division had carried the attack on April 24, 1918 and succeeding days, deep into the south flank of the Ypres salient. Only the castle Lankhof remained untaken, and hampered the straightening of the division front. Therefore, its capture was ordered April 27 in the afternoon. For this operation, the fairly intact 4. Kompanie, IR393 posted at Lock 7, was selected, supported by part of 1. Kompanie, 4. Pionier Bataillon. This advance, executed in daylight, encountered strong machine gun and rifle fire and did not get forward.
In a shell hole, the following men gathered: 1 officer patrol of the regimental staff (I.R. 393) and the Kompagnief?hrer of the 1./ 4. Pi.Btl. They conferred and agreed that the object could not be attained in the manner ordered and that the castle should be taken at night. The ranking officer, the Kompagnief?hrer of the Pioniere, gave the following instruction:
"Direction of the castle?tall trees to be oriented?compasses to be adjusted. A platoon of heavy machine guns covers our advance to the half right, screening it by fire volleys. The two officers of the patrol proceed with the point. The 4. Kompagnie follows at a distance of 100 meters with connecting files interspersed. The machine gun platoon follows toward Lankhof when three green rockets, fired successively, indicate the capture of the castle. It will notify the Bataillon and the artillery."
In darkness, without a star in the skies, the advance was begun as directed, at the head, the two officers and their escort of one Sergeant-Major and three men. Without being fired on the head arrived at the fairly wide double wire obstacle of a hostile position extending east of Lankhof. Under the cover of the noise made by the machine gun platoon, which fired from the half-right and rear, both obstacles were cut through. The well-constructed trench behind it appeared to be empty. A pistol shot fired into a dugout produced a British lieutenant; and his orderly, both of whom had slept peacefully.
Now the 4. Kompagnie was brought forward and the trench was occupied on both sides of the point of penetration, but at too narrow a front, as was found later, as only two or three sections of the weak Kompagnie had followed. The remainder had become separated in the darkness and probably remained in rear of the obstacle. The point of the advance guard proceeded farther toward the castle along a deep-trodden path. In the meantime it had become completely dark. A British runner, sent by the company leader to investigate the shooting, literally ran into the arms of the foremost German officer. It was possible to establish the identity of a German or Englishman solely by touching the headgear. The point with the three prisoners reached the water trench surrounding the castle.
Here cover was sought, the locality was reconnoitered and two passages across the trench were discovered. These could easily be recognized against the bright water surface. In the castle one heard lively commotion, but there was no trace of resistance. They considered our small force a much larger number of attackers. Loudly we called in English for surrender. To emphasize this, three hand grenades?our last ones?were thrown across the water trench. After the detonation we crossed the bridges and reached the castle. Here presented itself a strange picture: two officers and about 50 men?it was a company of "Leicesters"?stood in the courtyard with raised hands, the rifles stacked against the walls of the reinforced concrete dugouts built in the ruins of the buildings. On the men were food bags, canteens and overcoats. Now the 4./I.R.393 and the:' machine gun platoon were brought forward. By continued firing of green rockets, our artillery fire, which had been directed on Lankhof, was stopped and the castle was occupied by security detachments. The mission had been carried out without loss.
The two officer patrols took over the delivery or the prisoners. The return march was exciting. The column, groping in the darkness for the direction of the German front, got lost in the barrack camp north of the castle so completely that the place of penetration east of the castle was not found. Proceeding farther north, the column came to the English position. There, 20 additional Englishmen surrendered, they having been so surprised by the unexpected German visit from the rear that they forgot every resistance and without further ado attached themselves to the long column of their captured comrades. For the second time we had cut the wire obstacle and to our ease of mind met a strong patrol from I.R. 165. This patrol led us to the initial point of enterprise?the canal bank?and occupied trench just taken. It was possible to count the prisoners only at the command post of the 1. Bataillon/I.R. 393?three officers and 58 men.
In spite of favorable circumstances, the coup de main on castle Lankhof contains some things which may be accepted as useful fundamentals for night enterprises. According to German regulations, night attacks are suitable means "to enlarge attained success." Successful attacks, such as had proceeded the above-described enterprise, created favorable conditions for the success of daring enterprises. On one side, is the sense of superiority?on the other side there is a sense of inferiority, an inclination towards panic and leaderless action and through these; results the overrating of uncertain dangers, all combine to offer particularly great prospects of success in night actions. In itself, the night is the friend and benefactor of those who have fought unfortunately or without success. We felt this with gratitude quite often during the last defensive actions of 1918. Often, at the end of a day of grave battle, on an extended front, there was scarcely a single unit, which could be made use of. It was only after the relative quiet of the long fall nights of 1918 that a defense could be organized to give the enemy much trouble the next day. The almost anxious avoidance of every night attack, which was the rule with the Entente in 1918, has shown the disadvantage of too strongly tying the Infanterie to the heavy armaments, especially artillery and tanks. The need of waiting for the reorganization of the latter, left many fruits of victory unplucked; while with a stronger emphasis of the inherent value of the Infanterie, especially as it shows itself in these night attacks, these fruits could have been plucked with comparative ease.
In the preceding pages we have depicted a series of night attacks, which permit the visualization of night fighting. No approved recipe for victory can be given and no set of rules leads to success. The true leader will always know how to make good use of the night. It is not only the senior commander who needs the "divine spark" in his soul and the "anointment of Solomon," of which spoke the great Schlieffen. Fire of war, determination and ability must animate the warrior. Heroism will succeed; in all grades of service it is the basis of all effectiveness in war.
To be sure, there is need of thorough training and habituation of the soldier to the night. Foresters, farmers and gardeners will easier accustom themselves to the military demands of the night than factory workers who have become rigid at the vice. One must help the others. Above all, it is the youths, especially the residents of cities, who must be given an opportunity to get accustomed to the night. For this, the methods of training of the American "Boy Scouts"?progressive, from easy to difficult steps?and the excellent selection of their leaders, is ideal. Youths thus accustomed to the broiling sun and the starry night sky will some day prove fully dependable on the battlefield in the anxious hours of the nation.