The following text and translation appears courtesy of Jack Sheldon and appears in his excellent book “The German Army on the Somme 1914-1916”. The body of text is a very clear and concise precis on raiding and patrolling and the last paragraph will be of particular interest to those among us who collect medals or documents.
A number of commendation certificates are pictured with the text.
Apparently in response to a tasking by Second Army dated the 29th February, General von Stein signed a report entitled ‘Patrolling Experiences’. This was clearly copied out to all major Headquarters within the Army, because it was renumbered by VI Corps and sent down to its own units a short time later. This is a fascinating document, because it indicates the extent to which the German army had had to keep its techniques under constant review, in order to retain the initiative in this type of warfare, once the relief of the French army by the British was completed in the summer of 1915. It also shows how very sophisticated this type of operation had become by this stage of the war and how much attention to detail was required if success was to be assured.
The awarding of certificates like the one pictured was one of the methods von Stein considered essential to stimulate the men's desire to participate in active patrolling between the lines. It is to a man from the 110th Reserve Infantry Regiment of the 28th Reserve Division. The 28. R.D. was one of the divisions hit hardest by the Allied attack on the 1st of July.
There is no set template for patrol operations. This aspect of the art of war is also a variable one. As soon as the enemy establishes the cause of his misfortune, he seeks the means to prevent a repetition. Once he has found a solution, it is necessary to introduce changes to the way such operations are prepared and conducted. In that which follows, will be found an explanation as to how the patrolling methods of XIV Reserve Corps have gradually evolved since the arrival of the British army along the front. When, during the summer of last year, the French army deployed along the Reserve Corps front was relieved by the British army, our troops soon noticed that the new opponents were pursuing a very active patrolling policy, which threatened to rob them of their mastery of the terrain between the two positions. We responded by patrolling very aggressively. Very quickly the German patrols, with their long experience of trench warfare and detailed knowledge of the ground, were able to gain the upper hand and to begin bringing in members of the British patrols dead or alive. In consequence, the British further strengthened their already strong patrols. Sometimes these were found to be forty men strong. Because they continued to have men captured, the British reduced the intensity of their patrolling somewhat. The few patrols that did venture out almost always had strong flank protection and rearguards. In order to be able to go on capturing prisoners and other trophies, we adopted a new procedure. By bringing fire down on the enemy wire obstacle using mortars or earth mortars and, more rarely, artillery, we lured out the British to carry out nightly repair work. They would then be ambushed by our patrols, which were lying in wait for them and some of them would be captured. During all these clashes, our men proved to be superior in their use of hand grenades. Gradually this procedure began to fail. The British either ceased trying to improve their wire, or they introduced ever larger protection parties. This, more or less, brought the capture of prisoners in No Man’s Land to an end, so we then decided to seek out the enemy in his own trenches. It had previously already proved possible on numerous occasions for small patrols to break in as far as the second or third trenches and to bring back prisoners or captured materiel. British sentries who attempted to intervene were dealt with. The improvements to the way enemy sentry duty was carried out, forced us to organise patrol operations on a larger scale. The break-in point and wire obstacles were smashed up with artillery and mortar fire, generally towards evening whilst it was still light. In one divisional area, the destruction of the wire obstacle sometimes occurred some days before the operation. Infantry patrols went forward as it grew dark. Our own artillery had the tasks of neutralising adjacent sectors and enemy batteries which might attempt to intervene as well as isolating the target of the attack by defensive fire. During the first of these attacks, the enemy artillery failed utterly. It opened fire too late, too little and frequently at the wrong targets such as villages behind the front. Gradually it learnt. Defensive fire was far better placed during recent operations. The operations are now better timed during the night, rather than in the evening. The 52nd Infantry Division has already achieved good results in this way. The enemy artillery must be confused by diversions. Operational aims. Most operations have the same objectives. To cause enemy casualties, capture prisoners and war materiel, demoralise the enemy and raise the self confidence and will to win of our own troops. In addition, some operations will attempt to ascertain if the enemy has installed gas cylinders and sometimes attempts will be made to interrupt enemy mining activity by destroying the entrances to galleries. Selection of the break-in point. Special operations, such as determining the presence of gas cylinders or destroying mine entrances leave little room for manoeuvre in the selection of the break-in point, but in all other cases, the following conditions must be fulfilled: Ease of isolating the point by defensive fire, use of covered approaches to and from the target to lessen exposure to artillery and enfilading machine gun fire. Selection of a starting point in our own position, upon which the enemy artillery has either not ranged in his guns at all, or with only partial success… Infantry : There must be exact knowledge of both positions and No Man’s Land based on previous patrolling. In addition, observation through telescopes from rear positions and from the flanks is required, as is study of sketches, panoramas and aerial photographs. The entire operation must be rehearsed on a training facility in the rear area. This should be constructed to be as similar to the target as possible. Every man must know the location of the enemy machine guns. Participation. Only volunteers led by officers experienced in patrolling should be used. The strength of fighting patrols must match the local conditions and size of the task. Within the Reserve Corps this has varied from twenty to one hundred and twenty men. Officers and plenty of NCOs are always used. If there is a heavy preparatory bombardment of the target area, a hard close-quarter battle is not to be expected. It is recommended not to make patrols too large. Depending on the distance between the two positions, rearguards, flank protection and relays are to be pushed forward into No Man’s Land, or held ready in the front line trench. Weapons and Equipment. All participants are to carry good hand grenades. Some of the men should carry rifles and bayonets. The remainder should be equipped with specialised close quarter weapons (pistols, daggers and knives, clubs and sharpened spades). Some regiments use recognition signs such as white armbands, or crosses front and rear. Other units are against any form of aids to recognition. Belt hooks on uniform jackets tend to snag in wire obstacles and are better removed. Puttees and lace up boots are frequently preferred to jackboots, which tend to be pulled off in mud. Everything which could lead to the identification of a unit must be left behind; i.e. all written items, epaulettes and other badges. Unit stamps on clothing and equipment must be obliterated. Some of the men must carry wire cutters and wiring gloves. Some tent halves to carry away dead, wounded and captured equipment are required. If gas shells are used, gasmasks must be carried hung around the neck and tucked into open jackets. No headdress is worn, so as to facilitate masking up. Walking and running in gas masks in the dark must be practised.
Further preparations. Arrange for gaps to be made in our own wire obstacle, or prepare Russian saps, which run beneath it. The gaps should be marked with white cloths. The overall commander and each patrol leader must observe the ranging in of the artillery and mortars. All participants may also observe unobtrusively. The aim here is to increase their confidence in the fire to be brought down by the supporting arms and also to enable them to put forward any special requests that they may have. During rehearsals on the training area, all participants receive supplementary rations. Conduct. The ground and the distance separating the two positions determine whether the patrols form up in the front line trenches or in No Man’s Land. In the case of the latter, there must be flank protection. Sentries in areas where experience shows that they will come under enemy artillery fire, must be placed in bullet proof shelters, where they can observe to the flanks and rear. Our artillery protects the operation by bringing down defensive fire. The assault begins when the commander gives a previously arranged signal. In many cases the patrols advance frontally on the objectives or outflank them, in order to penetrate as quickly as possible to the second and third trenches, which is frequently the first place where the position is manned. Particular trenches are swiftly checked and all resistance is snuffed out. Demands for surrender are shouted in the defenders’ own language down dugouts, cellars and mine shafts. If they attempt to resist, do not emerge, or do not respond immediately, hand grenades are thrown in. The patrols do not enter mine galleries. The orders for the patrol operation must make it clear if they are permitted to enter dugouts. The withdrawal is carried out as swiftly as possible. The period spent in the enemy trenches should not exceed a quarter of an hour. The signal to pull back is given by the commander by whistle, hooter, or similar device. Some units use light signals, but there is a danger of confusion, if the enemy makes use of a similar signal. In fact flares are better used simultaneously at other points for deception purposes. It is important that the glare of these flares does not illuminate the patrol area. Whether the withdrawal route is the same as that used for the approach, or different, is decided on a case-by-case basis and as a result of consideration about where enemy fire is to be expected. Small patrols and medical orderlies man the re-entry points by our own trenches. The dugouts where the patrols reorganise are decided in advance and made known. This is where immediate roll calls occur and casualties are established. At least one dugout is equipped and manned as a medical aid post. The overall commander is informed as soon as all the participants are accounted for. Engineers. It is recommended to reinforce patrols with engineers. They can assist in dealing with obstacles and in grenade battles. The 28th Reserve Division has had success with the use of improvised explosive charges against enemy troops sheltering in mine galleries or deep dugouts. ([These comprise] twelve heavy home-made grenades fitted with twelve detonators and a metre length of safety fuse). They may only be thrown once our own troops have cleared the objective. On the 22nd February on the west front of Fricourt, part of an enemy mine gallery was so damaged by these charges that the enemy has still not resumed work in this part of the mine field. Mortars. Their main task is to blow gaps in the wire obstacle. The production of each gap requires two medium mortars and 30 – 40 rounds altogether. Heavy mortars must be employed against particularly stout obstacles. The mortars must not be permitted to open fire from the starting point of the operation. Ranging can be spread over several days. The enemy must already be used to mortar fire along the entire front, so that he does not pay special attention to this. Numerous alternative firing points for the mortars must be prepared. The distance between the enemy and our own positions is widest along the 52nd Infantry Division front. In order to shorten the assault distances, the division holds its patrols ready to assault as close as possible to the enemy position. Therefore this must be engaged with the greatest possible accuracy. Mortars are more accurate than the artillery. In order to be protected from flying splinters, patrols must take cover in abandoned dugouts, old trenches, deep shell holes or similar. The division only engages the objective with heavy, medium and Albrecht mortars. So far this procedure has been successful, but it could lead to harder close-quarter fighting on the objective, than would be the case if it had been engaged with heavy artillery. In order to reduce as far as possible enemy’s ability to take counter measures, the mortars fire at maximum rate. Artillery: On the Objective. Employ light and heavy field howitzers to prepare the ground for the assault. If the presence of especially strong dugouts is suspected, it is advisable, but not absolutely necessary, to use mortars. The ammunition requirement for a target 200 metres wide by 150 metres deep is about 2 - 300 rounds of heavy ammunition and about the same quantity of light ammunition. The rate of fire per half hour for a light field howitzer battery is 300 rounds. The preliminary bombardment should be as short as possible and not exceed three quarters of an hour. It is better to strive for twenty minutes. These figures provide a guide as to the number of batteries required Defensive Fire. This should prevent the enemy from evacuating the objective, reinforcements from arriving and fire from being opened from the trenches in rear and to the flanks. This fire commences with the start of the operation and continues until the operation commander has had the safe return of the patrols reported to him. The number of batteries required depends on the trench system involved. If the objective is thoroughly smashed up, then there should be few casualties during the close quarter battle. Such casualties can only be produced by the enemy artillery or through fire from trenches to the flanks or rear which overlook the objective. Machine guns are particularly dangerous in this regard. If the objective can be enfiladed from neighbouring sectors, these flanking positions must be brought under heavy fire. If they are very close to the objective, so that they cannot be fired on during the assault, they must be bombarded just as heavily as the objective before the attack. If there is no possibility of enfilading fire, neutralisation by field guns is sufficient. If there are enemy trenches which overlook the objective and from which machine gun fire is to be expected, (though this generally is not a favourable situation), they must be covered by defensive fire from heavy howitzers or field guns. If no machine guns are anticipated, field gun fire is sufficient.
Gas Shells. Choking agents fired in conjunction with fragmentation ammunition are suitable for use when the position is being softened up. Troops not hit by fragments, will be rendered unfit for battle by the choking agent. Shells filled with choking agents were employed by the 28th Division during the operation against the Kronenwerk [Crown Position] on the 9th February and the British ran about the position like headless chickens, offering no resistance. Our patrols, which entered the trenches immediately after the last of the shells had fallen, had to mask up. A Vizefeldwebel who failed to do this collapsed, but recovered quickly after he was hauled out of the trench. After about two minutes masks could be removed. If choking agents are used when the wind direction is unfavourable, it is recommended to cease firing this type of ammunition ten minutes before our infantrymen are scheduled to break in. If the wind direction is favourable, tear gas shells are suitable for use in neutralising flanking positions. This must be mixed with some high explosive, because experience has shown that individual machine guns may still be fired from areas subjected to tear gas fire. The Reserve Corps has no experience about the neutralisation of enemy artillery with gas shells. Enemy Artillery. The enemy artillery must be prevented from bringing down defensive fire on our withdrawing troops. If the operation is a complete surprise to the enemy, comes at a difficult moment and at a place where his artillery is not ranged in, or only partially, and if the operation is conducted swiftly, our attacking groups may well be back in our own trenches before the enemy artillery has opened fire. If it is necessary to select an objective where the enemy is well ranged in – which is always the case with mine fields - or if the enemy batteries open up unexpectedly early, our artillery held in reserve for this purpose, must intervene immediately. In most cases it has proved possible to silence the enemy batteries. This will not always be successful; in which case there will be casualties. It is of the utmost importance, by means of decoy operations in numerous other places, to distract the enemy artillery away from the area of the patrol operation. It is recommended to conduct these decoys with flares and artillery fire simultaneously. Mines exploding also deceive the enemy. Telephones. The commander of the operation must be linked by telephone to the artillery commander, the sector commander and the front line trenches. If the width of No Man’s Land permits assaulting troops to be pushed up near to the enemy position [prior to the operation], it is recommended to run a telephone line forward and to man it with a small patrol, which can keep the commander informed immediately about unforeseen incidents. Machine Guns. These are useful for bringing enfilade fire down on enemy trenches Praise and Iron Crosses. The troops must be so schooled that they themselves demand to go on patrol operations. They must strive to achieve their ambition of capturing as many prisoners and as much materiel as possible and, through their skill, suffer as few casualties as possible. A short report is to be made to Corps detailing every daring example of patrolling. The participants will be publicly praised in a Corps Order of the Day and they will each receive a signed certificate of recognition. If the patrol has been successful, if enemy soldiers have been recovered dead or alive, or if there have been important seizures of materiel, the participants will receive the Iron Cross or other decorations. Whenever there has been a particularly successful patrol operation, there is always a large scale distribution of Iron Crosses. Example: For the operation against the farm buildings near Fricourt on 29th December 1915, two officers and one NCO received the Iron Cross 1st Class, whilst five NCOs and thirty nine men were awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class.
Signed: von Stein”
The Illustration of the soldier is from a set of prints of pictures done by a German soldier or officer named Frost. It is one of 32 pictures in a series he did about the Divisional Sturmkompanie of the 9th Reserve Division on the Somme. The soldier pictured is named "Anders"
The second certificate pictured is a special document for the patrollers of the 180th Infantry Regiment of the 26th Reserve Division. The division caught the full force of the British attack as it defended Beaumont Hamel, Ovillers and Thiepval. When it was relieved in October 1916 the division had lost 10 042 men.
A Variation for an NCO awarded the certificate for a Raid at Verdun in 1917