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Small Unit Actions During the German Campaign in Russia (Historical Study Department of the Army Pamphlet No. 20-269)

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Small Unit Actions During the German Campaign in Russia

(Historical Study Department of the Army Pamphlet No. 20-269)

  • German Report Series
    • Dept. of the Army, Washington, D.C., 1953
    • 317 pages
    • 51 maps
    • 40 photos
  • Free PDF download
The purpose of this text is to provide small unit commanders with instructional material, at their own level, concerning the Russian front during World War II. A careful study of the examples in the text will provide many lessons in tactics, logistics, and techniques, in the coordination of weapons, in the influence of terrain, climatic and weather conditions upon operations, and in the qualities of the officers and men who fought on the Russian front. It is only by utilizing German experience that the best insight into the fighting on that front can be secured.
To the average military student a thorough and detailed knowledge of the fighting and living conditions on the battlefield is of far greater benefit than a superficial acquaintance with large operations, which are primarily the province of commanders and staffs of the higher commands. In his Battle Studies, Ardant du Picq stated the same idea as follows:
The smallest detail, taken from an actual incident in war, is more instructive for me, a soldier, than all the Thiers and Jominis in the world.   They speak, no doubt, for the heads of states and armies but they never show me what I wish to know—a battalion, a company, a squad, in action.
The young officer, lacking practical wartime experience, will find much information in field manuals and service regulations, but such texts will not stimulate his imagination or understanding of battle. These must be stimulated and developed by other means, if the principles propounded in manuals are to become a live part in the professional preparation of small unit commanders before they participate in battle. One of the most vivid media of instruction that can be drawn from military history is the small unit action based on personal experience.
A number of books dealing with small unit actions have been published. One of the first was Freytag-Loringhoven's Das Exerzier Reglement fur die Infanterie, which appeared in 1908 and which attempted to show the validity of selected statements in the German field manual for Infantry by subjecting them to the test of military history. Perhaps best known to the United States Army is Infantry in Battle, which considerably influenced U.S. Army training during the 1930s. During World War II General George C. Marshall, who as commandant of the Infantry School fathered Infantry in Battle, initiated the American Forces in Action Series. These pamphlets are essentially small unit actions.
The actions contained herein describe the Russian soldier, his equipment, and his combat methods under a variety of circumstances and conditions as seen by his opponent—the German. The narratives are intended to supplement the theoretical knowledge of Russian combat doctrine during World War II that can be acquired from the study of manuals. Whereas the military doctrines of the nations vary little, the application of these doctrines differs greatly between countries. The chief characteristics of Russian combat methods during World War II were the savagery, fanaticism, and toughness of the individual soldier and the lavish prodigality with human life by the Soviet high command.
The actions here described are based solely on German source material, primarily in the form of narratives of personal experience. They were written under the direct supervision of General Franz Halder, Chief of the German Army General Staff from 1938 to 1942. General Halder, like many of our own high-ranking officers, has on numerous occasions expressed interest in small unit actions and has often stressed their importance in training junior leaders.
The German narratives, comprising over a hundred small unit actions, reached this Office in the form of 1,850 pages of draft translations done in the Historical Division, USAREUR. These were analyzed for content, presentation, and pertinence to the subject. The better ones were then rewritten, edited, and arranged in chronological sequence to give the best possible coverage to the different phases of the German campaign in Russia. Under the direction of Lt. Col. M. C. Heifers, Chief of the Foreign Studies Branch, Special Studies Division, Office of the Chief of Military History, this work, as well as the preparation of maps, was done by Mr. George E. Blau, Chief, and 1st Lt. Roger W. Reed, 1st Lt. Gerd Haber, Mr. Charles J. Smith, and Mr. George W. Garand of the Writing and Translation Section. Although the original German source material has undergone considerable revision, every effort has been made to retain the point of view, the expression, and even the prejudices of the original.

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