Innovative Infantry Tactics

      German officers during the first World War did not consider someone a combat veteran until they had two years of fighting experience. Unfortunately, few American military officers have any interest in warfare, while others think that a sniper bullet that once whizzed by or a SCUD which landed a mile away made them a "combat vet" and imparted magical wisdom about warfare which excuses them from professional study.  Frederick the Great described such officers when he remarked:  "Some of my pack mules have experienced three campaigns, but they still don't know anything about waging war."  I am not a combat infantry veteran, but I had a lot of training in the Marine Corps and I've read many books.  I'd like to share five interesting tactics I've read about.

Guaranteed Fire Discipline

     The US Army's 10th Mountain division fought tough battles against the Germans in Italy during World War II.  They would often advance under the cover of darkness and sneak entire battalions within yards of the Germans before discovery.  German sentries would report movement, fire at targets, and flares would be sent up. However, if GIs didn't return fire, it seemed like a false alarm until they were in German trenches.

      They could get very close to the Germans and out of pre-planned artillery fires zones only if they could maintain fire discipline among their well-trained troops.  Anyone who has worked among large numbers of people knows it is almost impossible to prevent mistakes.  In the first few months of combat, whenever the 10th Mountain tried to sneak a couple thousand soldiers up close, some fools would fire an accidental round or two and alert the  Germans.  As they got closer, Germans took some "shots in the dark" to invite combat.  Even though they knew it was a trick, many soldiers would panic and shoot at targets a couple hundred yards away.  They would see the muzzle flashes of a rifleman trying to kill them, and they couldn't resist defending themselves.  Once a regular firefight broke out, all Germans would wake up and join in while their artillery opened fire and the attack was doomed.

     The officers of the 10th Mountain solved this problem.  All soldiers advanced with unloaded rifles and magazines in their pockets.  They carried a hand grenade and could throw it when within range.  This solved the fire discipline problem as entire battalions were usually able to sneak up close to German positions and attack without getting caught in deadly artillery fire.

Smart Urban Fighting

     The complexities of urban fighting have grown tremendously as massive megacities have become common.  During World War II, crafty German fighters bloodied American infantrymen in urban fighting by setting booby traps in doors and windows, or setting up indoor ambushes.

     One Army veteran advised to never enter a door or window if enemy soldiers are thought to be inside.  Use explosives or a bazooka to blast a hole in the wall and rush in.  The enemy was always surprised and somewhat dazed when GIs stormed inside.  In many cases, GIs would secure a block by moving along inside buildings by blowing holes in each wall.

Hidden Fighting Holes

      A World War II US Army manual described a different method of building a two-man fighting hole "foxhole".  Two-man holes are standard because they provide psychological comfort and allow one man to sleep.  However, this Army manual described the advantage of building up a dirt berm in front of the hole.  Each infantryman would cover the angle to his side while relying on adjacent two-man teams to cover their front.  This made it impossible for an advancing enemy to see the infantrymen and made direct enemy suppressing fires much less effective.  

     I have never seen or read this tactic used elsewhere.  It requires great trust in your fellow infantrymen to cover your front, but it places advancing enemy infantrymen in deadly cross fires.  I don't know if this this concept was proven faulty, or just forgotten.  

Outfoxing Guerillas

      A fascinating book is "The Devil's Guard" about ex-Nazis fighting for the French Foreign Legion in Vietnam in the early 1950s.  The Viet Cong guerillas hid among the villagers and were very difficult to identify since they always had local security to warn of approaching French forces.  One tactic the French Nazis developed was for two sharpshooters from the back of a patrol to stealthily drop into the bush as they entered a village.  The column would pass through as the villagers waved or ignored them.  

     After the column faded into the distance, sometimes there was interesting activity.  A few excited villagers would appear from nowhere to discuss things, often with weapons in hand.  Sometimes a villager would set up a radio set,  and often a farmer would retrieve a rifle he had just hidden.  If the column heard their sharpshooters open fire, they would hurry back to the village to investigate, otherwise they would pause to allow the sharpshooters to catch up after dashing around the edge of the village.

Thinking Ahead

     This final story is not really a tactic, but was mentioned by one of my favorite authors, Paul Fussell.  During World War II, the Germans often booby trapped doors when leaving an area.  As a result, GIs learned to carry rope which they used to open the latches of any door before they went inside.  One day, Fussell came upon a couple dead GIs behind the brick well in front of a farm house.  He could see they had been killed by a small explosion and noticed that a rope ran from them to the door latch of the nearby house.  Apparently, a forward thinking German made the effort to wire the booby-trap to explode near the most likely hiding place of someone using a rope to open the door.  Fussell wrote that knew he should cry for the dead GIs, but he couldn't resist laughing.

                           Carlton Meyer



Fighting Holes

I read your article "Innovative Infantry Tactics."  It was a good article.  But as far as the two-man fighting hole you describe, the Army has been teaching that technique for years.  See chapter two of Field Manual 21-75: Chap 2, FM 21-75

When I was in basic training in 1975, it was called the "Dupuy Fighting Position," named after the general who supposedly invented it (or at least he was the guy that insisted that the drill sergeants teach us how to dig it).    

At Fort Dix, they had one range set up with a model rifle squad position consisting of two man foxholes dug in for the defense.  At night, each squad would occupy the position and conduct a defensive live fire exercise.  While one squad was firing, the other squads in the platoon sat in the bleachers and observed.  You could watch the tracers and see a graphic demonstration of the effectiveness of interlocking fires. 

Your article of base closures was also right on target.  Keeping all those bases open is eating up way too many resources that could be better used elsewhere.

Keep up the good work.

                                                                                          Mike Davino

Forts and Foxholes

In your article "Innovative Infantry Tactics" you wrote:

(...) "However, this Army manual described the advantage of building up a dirt berm in front of the hole.  Each infantryman would cover the angle to his side while relying on adjacent two-man teams to cover their front.  This made it impossible for an advancing enemy to see the infantrymen and made direct enemy suppressing fires much less effective. "

Actually the cross-fire defense principle has been developed almost to perfection in the 17th century by Sebastien le Prestre de VAUBAN, who was Military Engineer to King Louis XIV of France. The idea was to protect the guns of the fortresses from suppressing enemy fire (who could, after all, have bigger guns) while protecting the approaches to the fortress itself. This effectively ended the practice of storming the walls of fortresses by the "human wave" tactics. The same idea (of interlocking areas of crossfire) was used in the construction of bunkers in 1920-1939 in Poland (2 machine gun light bunkers) and Czechoslovakia (medium size, machine gun/ light gun bunkers).

Interestingly enough, German engineers of that era seemed to favor heavily armored bunkers firing to the front (a nice example of that is in the huge Miedzyrzecz fortifications ) which proved vulnerable to heavy tanks - non existent at the time of the fortress' construction. It is a nice example of how learning history, and learning FROM history, can greatly benefit the modern soldier.

                                                                                Michal Hachulski MD

Innovative Infantry Tactics

First of all, thank you for your effort in assembling these helpful bits of information. I will forward this throughout my list of contacts and hopefully it will save some lives.  Just wanted to clarify something however, I believe the book about the Nazis in Indochina is called "The Devil's Guard" The Devil's Brigade is the 1st Special Service Forces the served proudly in Italy and Southern France during WWII.  I hope that you can make this correction as it is a wonderful book and the lessons within can save lives as well as making us a more effective fighting

                                                                Floyd Getchell

Ed: Yes, it's "The Devil's Guard".  Another thing they did in that book was to use machine guns with tracers to mark targets at night for aircraft.