"British Junior Officer Tells Combat Experiences" from 'Intelligence Bulletin' Aug 43

I found this on Lone Sentry: British Junior Officer Tells Combat Experiences (WWII U.S. Intelligence Bulletin, August 1943) - apologies if it's been posted before but I thought some may find it interesting.

The following letter from a British platoon commander in North Africa to one of his friends in an officers school in England discusses German and British tactics, and makes a number of valuable suggestions. It is reprinted here for the information of American junior officers who may face similar combat problems.

Dear Tom:
You asked in your letter for a few "tips from the front." Here they are.

In attack, get your platoon going on location of fire, observation, and intelligent use of all available information. Our initial tendency (and it wasn't altogether the platoon commander's fault) was to rush into the attack without a really thorough reconnaissance, and without going over with the noncoms every bit of information we had about the enemy's positions. Once you're in it, it's hell's own game trying to see where the bullets are coming from, unless you have a fair idea where the swine ought to be. Even then, it's not so easy.

We have lost a lot of officers through platoon commanders being too eager and moving right up with their leading squad. You can fight your platoon a darned sight better by staying in a position from which you can maneuver your reserve (that is, your two rear squads) when you have seen what fire is drawn by the leading squad. The same applies to company commanders, of course. Practice lots of frontal attacks. Boche positions are so invariably mutually supporting that platoon flanking attacks are damned hard, especially as the bloke you are after is probably supported by medium machine-gun fire from somewhere out of range of your light machine gun.

Approach marches are important. You nearly always have several miles to cover, probably in the dark, before you reach the place from which the attack starts. The condition in which your men reach that assembly area is going to make a whole lot of difference in their performance when the big moment comes. If the march has been a scramble, and if they are rushed into the attack as soon as they arrive, morale will be low. If the march has been orderly, with plenty of time to check up on everything and rest the men at the assembly area, they will start off confident and be much more likely to do a good job.

Defense took rather a back seat at home—we were supposed to be "assault troops"—but, assault troops or not, most of your time will be spent in defense, because whenever you are not actually attacking, you have to be in a position to defend yourself. So it is well worth studying. However huge an area of country you are given, in placing your troops imagine that you have only three-quarters of your platoons. Put your spare quarter aside as a mobile reserve; then forget all the books and put the rest wherever your own common sense and your knowledge of Boche habits tells you. Whenever possible, you want to be on reverse slopes—any movement on forward slopes brings the shells down, and it is not easy to stay still all day. If the ground forces you to take up forward slope positions, keep the absolute minimum at battle posts to observe, and the rest in cover until you are attacked. It is then that your fire control comes in. The first time, unless you have been warning your men daily, everyone will blaze off at any range at the first Boche to appear, giving all your positions away. It is much more satisfying to let the Jerries come up a bit, and then catch them wholesale on some open stretch. If by chance they knock out one of your posts and start getting in among you, you can thank God for the quarter you kept in reserve and start your counterattack straight away. If you have got a counterattack properly rehearsed with supporting fire, and so on, for each of your posts, you should be able to get it in almost as soon as they arrive, or, better still, get them in a flank as they advance.

In defense by night, the squad sentry should man the Bren in the same trench with the squad leader. The squad leader has his Tommy gun, a couple of grenades, and a Very pistol with plenty of cartridges, and is ready for anything. If a Boche patrol attacks, they will let off lashings of automatic fire at random, to draw yours, and when they retire, it will be under cover of mortars. The answer is, stay still and hold your fire until you can pick a certain target. At Djebel Abiod we were attacked by a patrol some fifteen strong. They fired literally thousands of rounds without causing a casualty. We fired about twenty rounds, and killed an officer and two enlisted men. I don't think it's worth chasing a retiring patrol—they want you leave your trenches, so as to catch you with their mortars. Instead, you can sometimes guess their line of retreat and chase them with your own mortar fire.

The best patrolling troops we have come across are the Moroccan Goums, whose success as compared with any European unit is phenomenal. Even against the best of the Germans, they never fail. Why are they better than we are? First, because they are wild hillmen and have been trained as warriors from birth. Second, because the preparation of their patrols is done with such detailed thoroughness. No fighting patrol is sent out until its leaders have spent at least a day watching the actual post they are after, and reconnoitering exact routes and so forth. If the leaders are not satisfied at the end of the day, they will postpone sending out the patrol, and will devote another day to the preliminaries. Some of our men are a little too inclined to think of a patrol at four or five in the afternoon, and send it out that same night, To be worth a damn, a fighting patrol must start off with an odds-on chance of two-to-one—not six-to-four or even money, but a good two-to-one bet. To make this possible, your information has got to be really good and up to date.

As regards composition of fighting patrols, there is a wide divergence of opinion. In this battalion we go on the principle of maximum fire power with minimum manpower, and our patrols have usually consisted of an officer, a noncom, and nine men—in other words, an assault group consisting of an officer, three grenadiers, and three Tommy gunners, and a support group of a noncom and three Bren gunners. The type of reconnaissance patrol which has produced the best result is the one composed of an officer or sergeant and two men who go out at night, remain awake and observe all the next day, and return during the second night.

Slit trenches deserve a paragraph all to themselves. A few days after we landed, we spent literally a whole day at Tabarka being dive-bombed and machine-gunned from the air. This went on intermittently all the following week at Djebel Abiod, plus more than enough shelling. Since then, the men have dug slit trenches automatically, even if they arrive at a place soaking wet at three in the morning. Their trenches are a full 5 feet deep, too. Anyone will tell you tales of miraculous escapes due to slit trenches—shells landing a couple of feet away without hurting the bloke inside, and so on. I don't think you could ever shell our battalion out of a position—if only because we know we are safer in slit trenches than out of them.

Incidentally, machine-gunning from the air is perfectly bloody—worse than bombing or shelling. The accuracy of it is something I never imagined. An unopposed fighter can guarantee that he'll hit a solitary car. But, on the other hand, if you have dug good slit trenches, you don't suffer casualties from this type of attack, and you find that, after all, the noise was the worst part of it.

The Boche does much more air reconnaissance than we do. Every morning "Gert and Daisy" take a look at us, and if camouflage is bad, I suppose a photo of our positions goes into the album. You can almost tell how long a unit has been out here by looking at its camouflage.

It is worth learning something about antitank mines. There are usually plenty to be had, and if all your men can lay them, you are ready for the enemy's tanks almost as soon as you get into a new position. If you're lazy and wait for the Royal Engineers to lay them, you may never be ready! All our men carry Hawkins antitank grenade-mines.

Somebody once said, "Warfare consists of boredom punctuated by occasional moments of excitement." This is absolute rot! When you're living out in shocking weather, with nothing but a gas cape over your head and with thirty men expecting you to okay their letters for censorship, dish out NAAFI (Navy, Army, and Air Force Institutes) stuff, make the best of the rations, and get them gear from the "Q," there's too much to do to get bored. When you, in turn, have got to see that they are always ready to fight, that they are in good heart, that they are clean and healthy, and that the noncoms are doing their jobs, you may get fed up but never bored.

Discipline is the hardest and most important thing to keep going. You and the noncoms spend 24 hours a day with the men, and discipline is almost certain to slacken if you're not on your guard. I find that the best way is to keep a strict routine, however rotten the conditions. That is, I stipulate a definite timetable for everything which must be done daily. If you keep a firm hold on the men in these small day-to-day things, you'll find that you've got them under control when the trouble starts.

Finally, remember that "there are bad officers but no bad troops." This is horribly true. We have often seen it out here--second-rate men fighting magnificently because they were under a first-rate officer, and vice versa. It makes you realize the vital importance of your job. Motto—"It all depends on me."
A strange mixture of British and American military terms in that letter.
A strange mixture of British and American military terms in that letter.
If you look at the original source - a US briefing bulletn - then it is completely understandable if some of the terms have been translated in to 'American'.
If you look at the original source - a US briefing bulletn - then it is completely understandable if some of the terms have been translated in to 'American'.
Just being a little sceptical, Google this and it turns up on the site you quoted, two bulletin boards and within the instructions to a computer game.
An interesting read. Regardless of it's origins it's content goes to show that the fundemental basics don't change much over the years.

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