During the Second World War, soldiers often had ample time, and itelligence information, to plan for an enemy's attack. Also, they had to the benefit of being able to build extensive fortifications with the help of heavy equipment. In reenacting, however, it is rare that we can build heavy fortifications due to site digging restrictions and the lack of implements. Also, we sometimes have little time to prepare to receive attacks since we often see an enemy coming in the distance only moments before they arrive.
In order to overcome the loss of these normally reliable aids to a defense, the Gruppenfuhrer (squad leader) can use several tactics to his advantage. First, stay out of sight. In many cases, a defense has to be erected after meeting an enemy, especially when it is a superior force. In order to stay out of sight after contact has been made, simply drop back to a good position that is out of sight of the enemy. Usually, an unexpected brush with an enemy force will surprise them as much as you. Use their confusion to your advantage and pull back to a good spot and let them come to you. Once the enemy is out of sight, you can then begin your defense. The German tactical manual proscribes a skirmish line for defenses by squads. We will stick with this method as it is also effective for reenactment battles. The ground you choose should be as open as possible in the front. Also, there should be obstacles on the flanks that will either prohibit the enemy from passing through or will slow the enemy enough so that only one man needs to be covering each flank. Also, if time permits, you can fortify your position so that the enemy will be slowed while within your fields of fire. Fallen branches are usually easy to move and often slow the enemy's movements since most reenactors choose to go around obstacles of this kind. Finally, choose high or level ground as low ground will cost you your squad rather quickly.
Once the best ground available is found, you can now position the men of the squad. In doing so, take into consideration the equipment available. Unlike the assault, grenades are not essential to a hasty defense. More important to holding a position is rapid fire. If you have an MG at your disposal, then it should be your #1 asset. The rest of the squad can act as schutzen (riflemen) unless you are just set on the idea of having an asst MG'er. Analyze the approaches in front of your position. The enemy will usually come by the easiest path. If you have just fallen back into your position, the enemy may well take the same path you just did, prepare for this contingency. Assign ample fire coverage for all avenues of approach while ensuring that the MG, or most rapid fire element available, has the largest schussfeld (field of fire) in the squad. Make sure that your flanks are covered. Ideally, one man can cover each flank with his Mauser while still being able to fire to the front of the position.
Once you have assigned areas to each of your men, you (or they depending on time) should choose their individual fighting positions. The Gruppenfuhrer ,or soldier, should select a position that is as hidden from the enemy as possible. To do this, one must first understand the line of sight principle. Briefly, it states that the human eye translates large objects (treelines, ridges, etc) into simple planes to help process information. This means that it is difficult for humans to see objects that lie behind the first row of trees in a forest, or objects behind a ridge. This means that soldiers should be positioned directly behind objects that will break up the lines of the enemy's sight. Example: instead of hiding behind a tree that is the in the first line of woods, move to the second row. The enemy will see the first row very easily and will not be able to see clearly into the second line. This is why seeing is so difficult in the woods. Use this to your advantage! Next, soldiers should remember to always stay in the shadows while fighting. This makes a huge difference. Never be in the sunlight when there are shadows available. This principle, coupled with distorting the enemy's line of sight can, at times, make soldiers nearly invisible, even in relatively open spaces.
After the soldiers have been placed, they should then choose two alternate fighting positions that are within bounding distance of each other (remember 3 seconds per bound.) Be sure to remember the shadows and line of sight rule for all three positions. Also make certain that the positions you choose do not compromise the necessary fields of fire that the Gruppenfuhrer expects to be covered. The three positions should form a triangle with two positions forward towards the enemy. The third position should be in rear of the first two. During combat bound from the front position to the rear position before moving up to the other front position. This serves to confuse the enemy about your position and number during the firfight. The MG is also advised to select alternate positions since MG's tend to attract lots of enemy fire. But, the MG'er should decide whether or not to expose himself, even briefly, for the benefit of a better position. With the men positioned, the squad should be ready to fight. As the enemy approaches, the Gruppenfuhrer must decide whether or not to set a long firing range, or a short firing range for his squad. The long firing range will see his men firing at the enemy almost as soon as the enemy targets appear. This usually causes the enemy to haul ass and try to reassess their advance. Very few casualties are caused by defending squads that fire long distances. Although, setting a long firing range often helps to slow an enemy's advance since they usually do not get a detailed idea about your position and whereabouts. Alternately, the Gruppenfuhrer can set a short firing range and allow the enemy to close before firing. This is somewhat more dangerous as it allows the enemy more of a chance of seeing the squad before they are fired upon. If they come too close, there is the further danger that they will be able to storm your position before your sqaud's fire can take sufficient effect. This danger comes with the balance that it tends to yield more casualties from the enemy and may even open an opportunity for a counter-attack.
Once the enemy has gotten over its initial shock of having found you (possibly again,) they will either come back, go away, or go around. Very few reenactos even attempt to bypass a position, and most are too foolhardy to realize when they should and shouldn't attack, so prepare for a fire-fight. If you have chosen to fire on the enemy from a distance, use the short respite you will get to move your MG to the best spot to fire on the enemy now that you know where they are, more or less. Once they reappear, maintain a steady fire with your schutzen and issue a few sporadic bursts with your MG when the opportunity is right. This kind of fire will no doubt help bring reinforcements your way since no one in their right mind wants to miss a fire-fight. If the enemy is close to your position when you first open on them, you won't get a break after they learn of your presence. Now is the time to use the few grenades you have and then open on them with everything you have. If they have been depleted and don't appear to have immediate support, counter-attack, take your prisoners, and get back into your positions. In either case, long or short, the schutzen should be periodically bounding from position to position. They should further be firing as steadily as possible. If you are worried about the $$$ of all those shells, just remember that if you think like a nerdy accountant, you will most likely fight like a nerdy accountant.
Hold your position as long as you can. If ammo runs out, run away. The
enemy will probably not follow quickly. Keep to your orders, though. If
you are to fight to the last man, then make plans to dig in and die. If
your overall objective is to advance, then look for a way to counter
attack. Future articles here will deal more specifically with the
fire-fight, and how to prepare a position in detail.
submitted by: Karl Welsch, 43er Sturm Pionier Bn.