Discover more from The Tactical Notebook
Early Experience with Assault Rifles
Reports from the Front
In the spring of 1944, the German Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres), sent out a questionnaire to units which had been equipped with“machine pistol model 43/1,” a weapon that would soon be re-designated as the “assault rifle” (Sturmgewehr.) The responses contained a number of interesting descriptions of squad, platoon, and company battles.
Because they speak for themselves, the translations are presented verbatim, with little commentary. Unless dates are otherwise provided, these reports were written in April of 1944.
Report of the 35th Infantry Division
On the 17th of January, 1944, when 70-80 of the enemy broke into the neighborhood of Salje, the machine pistol platoon of the battalion - with 25 men equipped with model 43/1 machine pistols - was employed for a counter-thrust. Each machine pistol gunner had seven magazines with a total of 210 rounds.
The enemy, who at the beginning had defended himself stubbornly, was obliged to flee as the machine pistol platoon attacked with “hurrah,” firing their machine pistols as they ran. The success came through the great moral effect achieved by bursts of fire from 25 machine pistols fired at the run. In the battle, which lasted some 20 to 30 minutes, the machine pistol platoon was so low on ammunition that a carefully prepared enemy counter-attack was not without success.
Although the machine pistol model 43/1 is, in the first instance, to be used as a weapon for semi-automatic fire, success in the counter-attack is mostly gained only when the moral effect is overpowering. This is mainly achieved through bursts of fire while moving. Therefore, the provision of 720 rounds per weapon is seen as insufficient.
Report of Lieutenant Ahnen, Third Company, Division Füsilier Battalion 35, 35th Infantry Division
About 2200 hours, the Russians, 220 strong, broke into our positions on both sides of the road in a sector 300-400 meters wide, occupied the foremost trench with two heavy machine guns and 100 men, and pushed towards the second [German] position with two heavy machine guns and 120 men.
The machine pistol platoon (three NCOs and sixteen men), reinforced with three assault guns, was sent forward to counter attack.
One squad (one NCO and five men) mounted on the assault guns reached the break-in position and contained the attack.
Upon the arrival of the other two squads, the whole platoon attacked the enemy frontally shouting hurrah, with two squads to the left of the road and one squad to the right of the road. With the fire support of the assault guns and short bursts of fire from the machine pistols, this [attack] succeeded in pushing the enemy back to the most forward [German] trench. Because heavy machine gun, light machine gun, and rifle fire was directed towards the platoon, it was forced to hit the deck. After a short burst of surprise fire (Feuerüberfall) from the assault rifles and the whole platoon (one magazine per man), the most forward trench was taken by assault.
In the mean time, the enemy had moved himself in the trench to the left of the road. The machine pistol platoon wheeled about and rolled up the trench with cries of hurrah and short bursts of fire. One squad was in the trench and one squad was [on the surface] along each side. Because of a lack of ammunition the retreating enemy could not be taken under fire.
Report of the 45th Infantry Division
On the 24th of February, 1944 a machine pistol squad [of ten men], together with a light machine gun squad (M.G. 42), operated for the first time as a counter-attack force. The Russians had broken in to the German main line of resistance and had established themselves in heavily wooded terrain. The counterattack from the left flank therefore succeeded in completely surprising the enemy.
Despite the enemy’s superiority in numbers, the break-in was consolidated in 30 to 40 minutes and the main line of resistance was once more in our hands. In the place where we broke in alone, 30 dead Russians were counted, the rest, who attempted to escape across a no-mans land entirely devoid of cover, were completely cut to pieces by the accurate rapid fire of the machine pistol squad. The firefight was, in general, carried out in the semi-automatic mode. Prisoners later reported their opinion that, because the moral effect was so frightful, the attack had been carried out by an entire machine gun battalion.
After consolidating the position, each rifleman possessed almost one full [30 round] magazine. Thus, in a three-quarter hour fire fight, some 1,600 rounds were fired from 10 machine pistols model 43/1!
Report of the 15th Infantry Division
The division had 120 machine pistols model 43 at its disposal. In each of two grenadier regiments one whole company and, in one grenadier regiment the regimental assault platoon was uniformly equipped with this weapon.
No technical defects were discovered in this weapon.
In this division tactical lessons for the employment of machine pistol units could only be collected for defensive combats and counterattacks that were limited to terrain objectives.
In the defense, the weapon has especially proven itself. Through the rapid rate of fire and the strong firepower squad nests could shoot to pieces even strong enemy assault units even at the closest ranges. According to our experience, the Russians creep forward in darkness and fog until they are as close as possible to our battle positions. The garrison firing with [bolt-action] rifles and, at most, a light machine gun is too slow and immobile. A break-in can often not be stopped. The rapidity of fire and the handiness of the machine pistol model 43 overcomes these defects.
Experience has shown that more and more in decisive moments the firepower of the squad disappears at a single stroke when the light machine gunner is hit.
The disadvantage of the short range of the machine pistol model 43 as compared to the light machine gun can be compensated for by putting some heavy machine guns in the main line of resistance [Hauptkampflinie] with the mission of long range destructive fire.
[Note the presumption that the men armed with machine pistols will be located forward of the main line of resistance. Note also the German assumption that units - like a heavy machine gun working with a machine pistol squad that might be hundreds of yards away - can cooperate even though they are not in direct contact.]
The employment of machine pistol units in counter-thrusts or counterattacks has led in every case to full success. Working forward has been made easier by the agile and quick fire of all riflemen.
In breaking-in the moral effects on the enemy of the bursts of fire of all available weapons is of striking importance.
In the employment of the machine pistol model 43, special emphasis must be placed an ammunition tactics and fire discipline. In long lasting attacks there is a danger of running out of ammunition and, as a result, tactical reverses.
The means of fixing a bayonet to the machine pistol 43 would be useful.
Report of the 1st Infantry Division
The machine pistol 43 has, in the withdrawal battles of the past five weeks, overwhelmingly proved itself and shown itself to be the universal [Einheits] and future weapon of the infantry. In contrast to all other battalions and because of its being armed with the machine pistol, the first battalion of Grenadier Regiment 43, entirely equipped with this weapon, has, been been able to carry out greatly successful counter-attacks.
The already ordered rearming of the entire Grenadier Regiment 43 cannot, because of the muddy weather and the retreat cannot be carried out.
I recommend therefore that in the course of the refitting of the entire infantry of the 1st Infantry Division and their reorganization in the way already proposed to the Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres), that is to say, in each battalion:
a. Each rifle company [organized] as a pure direct fire company, [equipped] with machine pistols model 43 and a machine gun platoon of four machine guns model 42.
b. Each former machine gun company [organized] as a pure indirect fire company, [equipped] with eight 81mm mortars and four 120mm mortars.
The First Battalion of Grenadier Regiment 43 is already organized in this fashion.
Report of the Third Company, First Battalion, Grenadier Regiment 43, 2 December, 1943.
A 200 meter long muddy trench and a 800 meter long combat wall (Kampfwall) made up the [company] position, which had been established in a swampy woods...The enemy lay 60 to 100 meters away in trenches and behind a palisade of his own.
At the beginning the enemy was, as a rule, quiet, but his activity increased after a successful raid by our company two kilometers into his main position. He strengthened his position and its garrison. For three weeks, as a rule every two or three days, he sent strong assault teams, supported by artillery, anti-tank guns, and mortars, forward against our main defensive line. Small Russian reconnaissance patrols ran towards our lines. Ten of our own reconnaissance patrols were, during the time of these attempts, send forward against the enemy main line of resistance to find information and reconnoiter.
The company, which had a combat strength of 85 men, was pulled out of position for three days and rearmed. Instead of the twelve light machine guns [which it had had before], four, which were employed as heavy machine guns, were retained. The rest of the company was equipped with machine pistol model 43/1.
The troops returned to their old position without any special training in their new weapons. The twelve former light machine gun positions were occupied by the four light machine guns and machine pistol men. These [positions] did not have to be modified as the fields of fire of the new weapons were close to those of the light machine guns... [Note that this is at very close range. At longer ranges the different ballistic characteristics of the new weapons would result in very different fields of fire.]
In the defense few major changes in either tactics or the organization of the position took place...The great importance of its [the assault rifles] being handier than the light machine gun in combat at close ranges is easy to see, especially in the repulse of sudden, unforeseen enemy attacks. The easy mobility [of troops armed with assault rifles] in counterattacking an enemy breakthrough in our own trenches cannot be overlooked.
For reconnaissance patrols the weapon proved itself because of its resistance to being clogged by dirt or sand...Because of its vulnerability to dirt, the former reconnaissance patrol weapon, the machine pistol model 1940, cannot be compared to the machine pistol model 43/1.
In the attack the machine pistol 43/1 has demonstrated to an even greater degree its superiority over other weapons. An attack was carried out by the entire company against a position that had been held by the enemy for three-quarters of a year and constituted one of the corner stones of his defensive system. The position was penetrated and the company thrust two kilometers into the enemy’s main battle area, made prisoners, destroyed bunkers and positions, inflicted casualties on the enemy, and captured booty before returning to the jumping-off positions.
Source: U.S. National Archives, Microfilm Series T-78, Reel 769.