German Squad Tactics & Organization in World War 2


Time to take a look a German Squad Tactics in World War 2. Two important points, first a squad rarely acted alone on the battlefield, it was used in coordination with other squads of its platoon and/or company. Second, the main source for this is the US Manual “German Squad in Combat” from the Military Intelligence Service released in January 1943. It is a partial translation of a German publication and using other sources, I could correct some small errors and inconsistencies, nevertheless take everything with a grain of salt, especially since manuals and combat realities often differ.

The German Squad

Let’s begin with organization and armament.

Structure and Armament

The German Infantry Squad in World War 2 for the most part consisted of 1 squad leader and 9 infantry men, thus a total of 10 men.
Initially all men besides the machine gunner and his assistant were equipped with the “Karabiner 98 kurz”, the German standard rifle, even the Squad leader, yet around 1941 he was issued a MP40 submachine gun with 6 magazines of 32 shots each.
The machine gunner was equipped with an MG 34 and later on with an MG42, he was also issued a pistol and an ammo drum with 50 rounds.
The assistant gunner carried 4 ammo drums with 50 shots and a weight of 2.45 kg each. Additionally, one ammo box with 300 rounds weighing 11.53 kg. He was also issued a pistol.

There was also an ammo carrier assigned to the machine gunner, whose job was to carry and supply ammunition. He carried two Ammo boxes with 300 rounds each. Unlike the assistant he was issued a rifle not a pistol.

Note that the “German Squad in Combat” indicates a pistol instead of a rifle as a weapon for the ammo carrier, but it seems that this is incorrect and is probably from an old layout, when the squad consisted of an LMG and rifle team. (Sources: Buchner, Alex and
Now, each rifleman had around 9 clips for his rifle with 5 shots each, thus 45 rounds. This was the regular amount, according to Buchner more rounds were issued in case of a combat situation. Also the second-in-command was armed the same way as regular rifleman.
Note that the men except for the squad leader were numbered, whereas the machine gunner was the “Schütze 1” or rifleman number 1, which gives a good indication of his importance.

Hence, in total the squad had 1 light machine gun, 1 submachine gun, 2 pistols, 7 rifles and several hand grenades, which were issued depending on the situation. (Sources: Buchner, Alex: Handbuch der Infanterie 1939-1945, S. 15-16; German Squad in Combat: p.1-3 ; Töpfer: p. 5-7; Bull: p.23-24)

Roles/Duties and Responsibilities

The roles/duties and responsibilities of each squad member were as follows:
The Squad leader was commanding the unit, he directed which targets the LMG should engage and if the combat situation permitted also the rifle fire. His responsibilities outside of combat included that the equipment of the unit was in order and that enough ammunition was available.(The German Squad in Combat: p. 1)
The Second-in-Command was his assistant and was in command during the absence of the Squad leader. His responsibilities were to communicate with the Platoon Commander and also adjacent squads, thus he was vital for the coordination. (The German Squad in Combat: p. 3)
Next is the Machine Gunner, he operated the light machine gun and was responsible for taking care of the weapon. (The German Squad in Combat: p. 2)
His assistant would help him with setting up the MG, supply ammo and assist him in combat. Usually he would be left of the gunner or to his rear. He had to be ready and close enough to support the gunner with tasks like changing the barrel or fixing jams. And in case the gunner couldn’t continue operating the LMG the assistant would take his role. He was also responsible to take care of the weapon. (The German Squad in Combat: p. 2-3)
The ammo carrier was responsible for inspecting the ammo, refilling fired ammo belts and checking for left ammunition in case of a position change. He usually stayed in the rear and in cover, but could act as a rifleman if necessary.( The German Squad in Combat: p. 2-3; Töpfer: p. 6)
The regular rifleman’s duty was to participate in combat with his rifle and bayonet. The riflemen formed the assault part of the squad. Thus, if necessary assaulting the enemy position with grenades and bayonet. Although not officially designated, they would also serve as ammo carriers to a varying degrees. Additionally, some were designated grenade carriers and/or throwers.( The German Squad in Combat: p. 2-3; Töpfer: p. 6)


Now let’s take a look at formations. The basic close order formations were the squad line or “Reihe”, the squad column or “Kette” which was basically a 90 degree turn of the previous and of course the Squad in March order. (The German Squad in Combat: p. 4)
As you can see the machine gunner with his assistants is always at the very front, he was the key member of the squad, which is also indicated by his designation “Schütze 1” or “infantry man number 1”. (base man) (The German Squad in Combat: p. 5)
These were the close order formations that were not suited for dangerous situations.

Squad Column Extended Order – Schützenreihe

Close-Order formations were abandoned if the situation changed due to terrain, hostile activity or other circumstances. The basic extended order formations were the Squad Column or “Schützenkette”and the Skirmish line or “Schützenreihe”. The squad column in extended order was not a straight line, instead the soldiers used terrain for cover, although the principal order of the line remained. Note that the second-in-command was at the end, ensuring that the squad stays together. (The German Squad in Combat: p. 5-6)

Skirmish Line – Schützenkette

The skirmish line was used if the firepower of the whole squad was necessary. In this case the riflemen move to the left and right of the machine gunner, who remained at a central position. The forward half of the riflemen moved to the right and the other half to the left. Alternatively, an echeloned right or left deployment was also possible, in this case the all men moved to the right or left of the machine gunner. The distance between the men was about 3.5 m ( 12.5 ft) (Original: 5 paces). Note that the squad leader had no fixed position in the formation.
Generally speaking, there was a standard approach for everything, like the squad line formation or how to deploy into a skirmish line. This means that any deviations from the standard must be explicitly ordered. (The German Squad in Combat: p.5- 8)


In terms of leadership the translated manual states that leading by example is essential. It is explicitly stated:
“In order to be a leader in the field, a superior must display an exemplary bearing before his men in the moment of danger and be willing, if necessary, to die for them. The weak and vacillating are then guided by his example and by his disregard of self in accepting privations and dangers.” (The German Squad in Combat: p. 10)

Squad in Offensive Combat

Now, let’s take a look at the squad in offensive actions. It is very important to note, that the squad in offensive combat would not act alone, but as an element of its platoon. Note that each platoon contained usually 4 squads. So let’s look at the different stages of offensive combat.

Stages of an Attack

The stages are as follows: development, deployment, advancing, attack and penetration. Note that most other sources use less stages and the transition from one stage to another can be quite fluent or blurry. (German Squad in Combat: p. 32-47)


The development phase is the first step in the preparation of an attack. The rifle company left their marching route and broke up into 3 platoons. Those platoons themselves separated into 4 squads. Yet, the squads remained in close formation. The machine gun and other important equipment was now carried by hand and on carts anymore. (German Squad in Combat, p 32-33)


Next was the Deployment phase, which was about organizing the troops into combat formations. Usually, the squad was deployed right after the deployment of the platoons. The squad leader may have received his orders directly from the platoon leader or acted independently based on the mission of the platoon. (German Squad in Combat, p 35-36)


Now, since the units were now in battle formations the advance phase began. The advance was ideally performed in squad column with the light machine-gun on the front. This would allow rearward supporting machine guns and other weapons to fire safely past the advancing squads.
If the squad was under effective enemy fire, the squad needed to use its own fire to support its movement by achieving fire superiority. Fire and movement should be employed, which means that one part of the squad fires to cover the movement of the other part of squad. This principle can also be used on a larger scale, where one squad covers another squad. (German Squad in Combat, p 36; Töpfer: p. 20-21)
If areas were covered by enemy artillery fire, they would have been avoided if possible, if not these areas needed to be crossed during firing pauses in quick rushes. Generally, it was recommend to use rushes, when the situation and enemy fire did permit them. (German Squad in Combat, p. 36-37)


Following a successful advance of the squad, the attack phase commenced. Although the difference is not so obvious at first, since both stages may include firing upon the enemy and also advancing. Yet, during the advance phase firing is only employed if it is necessary, whereas in the attack the firing was usually a crucial element.

Initially the fire fight was started by heavy weapons from supporting units, like artillery, infantry cannons and heavy machine guns, these weapons focus on the destruction or neutralization of strongpoints. The squad’s machine gun was also used, the riflemen depending on the situation. Yet, it is noted:
“[…] it is not the task of the riflemen to engage in fire fights of long duration in order to gain fire superiority. In the attack, in the final analysis, it is the vigorous shock power of the riflemen with bayonet which overcomes the enemy.”(German Squad in Combat, p 39-40)

Hence, at this point the squad still advanced. Generally, the squad should move as much forward without firing as possible, only if this wasn’t possible anymore it should engage the enemy. (German Squad in Combat, p, 39- 41)


The final stage is the penetration into the enemy positions. It is usually initiated around 100 m away from the enemy positions. (Töpfer: p. 21)
“In penetration, the whole group rushes or fires as a unit. If possible, the platoon leader employs several squads advancing from various directions against the objective. In this way the defensive fires of the enemy will be scattered. This form of attack is no longer carried out by the squad, but by the platoon.” (German Squad in Combat, p 42)

It is important the maximum amount of fire is provided during an assault. For this reason the LMG should be positioned to fire into the enemy position without risking friendly fire. If such a position is not attainable, the LMG should be used during the assault and fired from the hip. Furthermore, neighboring units should provide additional firepower and/or support the assault by a complementary attack from another direction.
Once the riflemen closed in on the enemy position, the designated grenade throwers on command would use their grenades and the squad stormed the position under the lead of the squad leader. (Töpfer: p. 21; German Squad in Combat, p 42-43)

Example for an Assault on an enemy position

To give you a better idea, how two squads with supporting elements would assault an enemy position, here is a little illustration, based from an original German manual from what I can tell, but the document I got it from provided no direct reference.

Here you can see the German positions on the left side and a fictional enemy on the right. Both positions are reinforced by barbed wire. There is a mortar pit with a light mortar and in the not visible rear position another light and heavy mortar are available. The mortars would attack the following areas of the enemy position. To support the attack the two heavy machine guns would be positioned on the flanks. In the center a squad with a light machine gun would fire at the enemy position. The assault itself would be performed by two assault squads that were supported by light machine guns, the first squad would directly assault the enemy position, whereas the second one would attack the rear and cut it off from reinforcements. (Töpfer: p. 21)
Once the assault was successful, the squad leader would ensure discipline and prepare for a potential counter-attack.



Töpfer, Harry: German Tactical Manual

Bull, Stephen: World War II Infantry Tactics – Squad and Platoon

WWII German Map Symbols by James Byrne

Oberkommando des Heeres: Hinweise für die Ausbildung der Infanterie auf Grund der Erfahrungen des Ostfeldzuges, H. Qu. O.K.H., 1.3.1942

[US Army] Anti-Tank Company – Tactics & Organization – World War 2


Time to cover anti-tank tactics and principles, for this I took a look at the War Departments Field Manual 7-35 from March 1944 that covers the anti-tank company and other anti-tank units in an US Army Infantry Regiment. So let’s examine the company before we dive into the overall defensive setup, tactics and how to properly deploy a defensive position with anti-tank mines.
So let’s get started.


An US Army Anti-Tank company of an infantry regiment consisted of a Company headquarters, 3 anti-tank platoons and an anti-tank mine platoon.
The company headquarters had 35 men, each anti-tank platoon 33 men and the anti-tank mine platoon 31 men.
In terms of equipment, the headquarters company had 2 jeeps, 2 0.75 ton weapons carrier trucks and a 1.5 ton cargo truck. Each anti-tank platoon had 1 jeep, a .50 cal machine gun, 3 trucks, 3 anti-tank guns with 57mm and 3 bazookas. The anti-tank mine platoon had 1 jeep and 2 trucks.
So let’s take a look at the whole company, in total the anti-tank company had 165 men, 9 anti-tank guns, 9 bazookas and lots of other stuff.
American Infantry Division – Anti-Tank Company for Rifle Regiment – 26 February 1944 – Table of Organization 7-19

Relationship to Regiment and Battalions

Note that the anti-tank company was part of the infantry regiment, which also consisted of 3 infantry battalions, which themselves had their organic anti-tank units, namely an anti-tank platoon each.

Now, these battalions had all their own assigned areas to defend, which were themselves located in the regimental zone. Thus, regimental anti-tank company was used to support the anti-tank units of the battalions. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p.92-93)

As stated in the field Manual:
“Frequently, one platoon of the regimental antitank company is employed to reinforce or add depth to the antimechanized defenses of each front-line battalion, and provide protection to its flanks (see fig. 12).” (FM-7-35 March 1944: p.93)

Function & Mission

Hence, the main function of the anti-tank company was to provide protection against enemy tanks in coordination with the battalion’s anti-tank platoons. To achieve this, the primary missions were reinforcing the front-line battalions to deepen the anti-mechanized defense and to protect the flank or rear of the regiment. Secondary missions were attacking enemy observation posts, fortifications, gun emplacements or other enemy positions. Note that if during a secondary mission a primary mission appeared the anti-tank units should switch without order to the primary mission, meaning engaging enemy armored and mechanized troops. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p.13-14)

Firing and Cover Positions

Now, something about how the defense was organized. There are three firing positions, the primary, supplementary and alternate position.
“The primary firing position is the position from which the gun can best execute its primary mission.” (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 14)
So let’s take a look at a specific situation. For instance this could be covering an approach. Now, since there are usually more approaches to cover, supplementary positions were necessary. A supplementary position is a firing position that can cover an area that can’t be covered by a primary position. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 16)

An alternate firing position is an additional position to a primary or supplementary position that covers the same area and thus can conduct the same fire mission. This alternate position allows to perform the mission even if the respective primary or supplementary position is under fire. It must be reachable with the gun drawn by hand, yet far enough to avoid being affected by fire directed at the primary position. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 16)

Additionally there should be cover positions near the firing positions, to provide protection for personnel and equipment not engaged with the enemy. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 16)

The usual construction order is to first build the primary emplacements, then followed by the alternate positions for these and then the supplementary emplacements and their alternates. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 101) Additionally, dummy position should be constructed, these should be located at least 140 meters away from any true position. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 154-155)


Now, if you should ever setup an anti-tank position on your property or somewhere else, the manual contained two interesting bits that grasped my attention. First off, during the excavation of the position you should employ a camouflage net to avoid detection from the air. But as always the devil is in the details, when you use a camo net, be sure that it touches the ground everywhere, because if it doesn’t, it will throw a large shadow that makes it quite visible from the air. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 243) And second, after firing your gun several times, you should consider removing the blast marks in front of your gun. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 247)

Area of Responsibility & Engagement Rules

Now, for better coordination and organization, usually each unit was assigned a sector of responsibility, the size was dependent on the terrain, visibility and proximity of additional units. Ideally, these sectors should overlap with the sectors of adjacent units. The unit leader was responsible for observing the assigned areas. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 124)
In order to provide effective fire and prevent giving away the positions too early, there were several rules in place. First the unit leader defined the ranges at which enemy vehicles should be engaged. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 124-125) Second, approaching hostile recon and decoy vehicles should not be fired upon, unless the superior commander ordered this explicitly, e.g., for an anti-tank platoon the company commander and if the platoon was attached to a battalion the battalion commander. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 124-125) This prevented giving away the positions of the guns prematurely and furthermore, the enemy should be engaged when he had committed his main force.
In order to provide proper ranges, the squad leader for each gun was responsible creating a reference sheet, which he also copied for the platoon leader. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 160-161) Let’s take a short look at an adapted version of such a range card contained in the field manual.
Now, such a reference sheet was rather simple, it contained the position of the gun. An indicator for the magnetic north and various reference points with names and distance from the gun.

Defensive Combat

Let’s take a closer look at the defensive organization and tactics of the anti-tank units. The field manual has a quite interesting view on defensive combat stated under the point “defensive doctrines”:
“The general object of defensive combat is to gain time pending the development of more favorable conditions for undertaking the offensive, or to economize forces on one front for the purpose of concentrating superior forces for a decision elsewhere.” (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 91-92)

As you can clearly see, the defense is seen as a temporary situation until an offensive is possible or as a deliberate action in one area to provide the necessary forces for an attack in another area. Thus, on a strategic scale an offensive stance seems to be the determining factor.
“72. MISSION. The principal mission of the antitank company of a regiment defending a sector of the battle
position is to reinforce or add depth to the antimechanized defense provided by the organic antitank weapons
of front-line battalions, and to protect the flanks, and, if necessary, the rear, of the regimental sector.”
(FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 92)

Anti-Tank Mines

Now, one element in discussions about anti-tank operations that is often commonly neglected is the usage of mines. In defending an area against tanks mines can play a crucial part. Yet, mines are often misunderstood, the most important thing about mines is that they are first and foremost an area-denial weapon. This means, the enemy should be discouraged to use the mined areas and thus divert his approach into an area that is chosen by the defending side, which should allow an effective usage of the anti-tank guns and other weapons. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p.93)
Now, minefields don’t stop a professional army. The manual stated that mine fields must be laid in small arms range (50 to 450 meters) of an organized position. Furthermore:
“A mine field must be defended by fire to be effective. Undefended mine fields delay the enemy only for the relatively short time it takes to bypass them or to remove enough mines to permit passage.” (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 176)

Additionally, there should be a certain safe distance between friendly position and mine fields, furthermore they should not be laid in areas that are assigned for defensive artillery fire. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p.96)

Besides funneling an enemy attack into certain areas, mines could also be used to increase the resistance of outpost, by properly mining the approaches of an outpost the defending units could withdraw and lower the chances of being overrun.
Furthermore, in case of an enemy break through, a properly mined regimental sector would prevent the enemy tanks from moving freely and thus denying them to fully exploit their advantage. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p.95)

Example of a position with road block and mines

Let’s take a look an example position from the manual that uses mines and roadblocks to defend an area.
The road block is covered by the gun and also small-arms fire from infantry. The gun is positioned that it can cover the road and other approaches suitable for tanks. The mines are in range of small arms fire to prevent their removal, furthermore the infantry also protects the gun from enemy infantry. Additionally, rocket teams nearby provide additional protection from attacks on the flanks and rear. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 180)
Furthermore, if during an attack a tank comes within or below a range of 270m, all personnel not serving the gun or already attacking enemy foot troops, should employ rockets or other weapons against the enemy tanks. (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 27)
The manual states: “Doors and turrets, if open, offer particularly favorable targets to small-arms fire, as do also vision slits and periscopes. Should tanks succeed in approaching close enough to warrant such action, incendiary grenades, antitank bombs, and smoke grenades may be used. Fire is continued until defenders are forced to take cover to avoid the crushing action of tanks.” (FM-7-35 March 1944: p. 27)


To summarize, each battalion defended its sectors with their organic anti-tank defenses, whereas the regimental anti-tank company provided additional protection on the flanks and/or in the depth.
The use of anti-tank mines, natural and artificial obstacles was central in setting up a proper defense. In case of an enemy attack, it was important to wait until the enemy committed its main force. Additionally, firing at lone recon vehicles was performed only in accordance with the commander the anti-tank unit was attached to. These measures ensured that the positions weren’t given away prematurely and that the maximum firepower could be used once the enemy reached an effective firing range.


FM 7-35 Antitank Company, Infantry Regiment and Antitank Platoon, Infantry Battalion

Niehorster – US Army Infantry Division Anti-Tank Company 1944

Nafziger Collection – US Army Infantry Division Anti-Tank Company 1944