Die Geöffnete Ordnung

By Erich Tobey--edited by Marsh

This is one of the most important sections for field service! Learn this! There were two basic formations for the open order: The Schutzenreihe (shewt-zen-rye-eh) or Indian file and the Schutzenkette (shewt-zen-ket-teh) or skirmish line.

The Schutzenreihe was used to move the squad across terrain before small-arms combat was actually joined. The men were front-to-back, with the squad leader in front, followed by the MG gunner, and the assistant squad leader at the end. The interval in this formation was called Abstand (ahp-shtahnt) and was fünf Schritte (five (5) paces) unless otherwise ordered.

There were two ways to get the squad into a skirmish line. If the squad were to keep moving but the leader wanted all his men able to use their weapons, he would order Schutzenkette. The MG gunner (also called the Anschlußman, whether he has a machine gun or not), his assistant, and the Scheißbecher (grenade launcher) grenadier then forms the center of the line. The first half of the riflemen then fan out to the right of the MG, the second half fan out to the left (the actual division was left up to the assistant squad leader). The assistant squad leader winds up on the left of the line. The formation would then keep moving, and always dresses itself on the MG. The interval in this formation was called Zwischenraum (tsvish-en-rowm) and was again, fünf Schritte (five (5) paces) paces unless otherwise ordered.

If the squad leader wanted his men to take up stationary positions in preparation for opening fire, he would spread out both of this arms along the line he wanted his men to occupy and order "Stellung!" The MG gunner selects a suitable spot for his team, and the first half of the riflemen fan out right, the second half left, again, forming up on the MG. All the men take cover in these positions and prepare to open fire.

  • IMPORTANT: It is vital that every man can see the men on either side of him. Close up the interval in the woods or thick stuff. The command to reassemble is Sammeln, and the squad reassembles in Reihe formation.

There are other methods to initiate these formations other than verbal commands. At present, the new recruit need only know the verbal commands, but the other three methods are Hand Signals (when you want to be silent, and this is quite often because the ranges in reenacting are often very close), Light Signals (for nightime work), and Whistle Signals (when the battle gets real noisy).

Observation Posts and Sentries
Feldposten und Feldwache

Feldwache was the equivalent of an "outpost" or the Civil War "pickets." They were set up forward of the main body, of course, and were often located near road forks or crossroads. The actual 3-man outposts were called Feldposten. They consisted, according to regulations, of a leader and 2 men. The actual challenge to someone trying to come through the outpost line was:

"Halt! Wer da?" (halt vair da?) [Halt. who goes there?] If the challenged party did not answer after the third halt, the outpost was to open fire. A password in the German Army was known as a Kennwort (ken-vort).

A messenger in the German Army was called a Melder (mell-der), and care was usually taken to provide the Melder with a protected route (called a Meldeweg) over which to carry his messages. Messengers could originate from Feldwache or from a Spähtrupp (shpay-troop) [scouting party]. Scouts and messengers who were bringing their commanders back observation reports were expected to answer the following questions:

  • Wann (vahn) when was the observation made
  • Wer (vair) who made the observation
  • Was (was) what was observed
  • Wie (vee) how were they observed
  • Wo (voh) where was the observation made.

Combat Techniques

  • An attack was called an Angriff (ahn-greeff), and the objective was called an Angriffsziel (ahn-greeffs-tseel). The boundaries of a unit's zone were called Grenzen (gren-zen).
  • A counterattack (which the Wehrmacht was noted for) was called a Gegenstoss (gay-gen-shtoss).
  • Defense was called Verteidigung, and a German commander would typically be asked to halten (meaning to hold, not to stop) a particular terrain feature or position.
  • The reserve was called the Reserve (ray-zair-veh).
  • A breakthrough was called an Einbruch (ein-broohk).
  • Close combat was called Nahkampf (nah-kahmpf).
  • An assault Gruppe was called a Stoßtrupp (shtoss-troop).
  • To entrench was to schanzen (shahn-zen) [this is an idea foreign and hateful to most reenactors!], and a foxhole was called a Schützenloch (shyoot-zen-lohk).
  • The typical late-war German foxhole on the Western Front was dug in an "L" shape with one leg roofed over with logs or boards and covered with dirt. If the position was under fire from artillery or aircraft, the Landser would duck under this overhead cover, or "mini bunker" as it were.
  • A common German tactic was called the Wechselstellung (veks-sel-shtel-oong) in which a unit would move from one prepared position to another to avoid enemy countermeasures. This particular tactic has been used by some reenacting units to devastating effect during night battles. After ambushing some Allied troops from one position, they rapidly moved to a second position which just happened to be directly in the path of the Allies' flanking move. Talk about some surprised Allies! This maneuver also exaggerates the actual numbers of troops involved.

Anti-armor techniques

Due to the great numbers of tanks employed against their infantrymen, the German Army was particularly concerned in providing training to its troops on how to deal with enemy tanks on their own. In our case, the allies still have a lot of vehicles, ranging from trucks and armored cars to half-tracks on up to tanks.

The common Landser were issued a number of special weapons to use against tanks, among which were the famous Panzerfaust (pahn-zer-fowst) one-shot rocket, Panzerschreck (pahn-zer-shrek) and the 3kg Haft-Hohlladung [Haft-HI 3] (magnetic mine).

Special tank-hunting parties were sometimes formed called Panzerknacker or Panzer-vernichtungstrupp, and these were instructed that the best time to go "tank hunting" is during the night or during the hours of early dawn or twilight. German soldiers also had to be prepared to defend themselves against tanks at any time, of course.

The "tank alert" warning was called Panzeralarm!, and was commonly signaled using a particular colored flare from a flare gun. This was necessary since the usually danger signal of sentries shooting their rifles would normally indicate a threat from enemy foot troops.

German troops were also instructed in a number of passive defenses such as tank traps, obstacles, and the construction of tank-proof foxholes.

The historical procedure for dealing with tanks could be condensed to the following:

  1. Wait and see if the minefield and other passive defenses will stop the tank.
  2.  If #1 fails, wait and see if the short-range anti-tank weapons like the Panzerfaust will stop it.
  3. If #2 fails, blind the tank with smoke or by firing at its vision slits, then attack the tank by hand with mines, firebombs, or grenades.
  4. If #3 fails, then hunker down in your position and wait for the tank to go by. Do not flee before the tank.

***Note: This last option is not applicable for the reenactor. Get out of the way of the vehicle or it will squash you flat. This would be an unwanted degree of realism.