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Source: U.S. War Department "Handbook On German Military Forces"
(Mar'45) TM-E 30-451
Officially released from restricted status by the U.S. Army Center
For Military History.
Section II. RECONNAISSANCE
The purpose of reconnaissance and they types of units employed to obtain information are
similar in the U.S. and the German Armies. German tactical principles of reconnaissance,
however, diverge somewhat from those of the U.S. The Germans stress aggressiveness,
attempt to obtain superiority in the area to be reconnoitered, and strive for continuous
observation of the enemy. They believe in employing reconnaissance units in force as a
rule. They expect and are prepared to fight to obtain the desired information. Often they
assign supplementary tasks to their reconnaissance units, such as sabotage behind enemy
lines, harassment, or counter-reconnaissance.
Only enough reconnaissance troops are sent on a mission to assure superiority in the area
to be reconnoitered. Reserves are kept on hand to be committed when the reconnaissance
must be intensified, when the original force meets strong enemy opposition, or when the
direction and area to be reconnoitered are changed. The Germans encourage aggressive
action against enemy security forces. When their reconnaissance units meet superior
forces, they fight a delaying action while other units attempt to flank the enemy.
Reconnaissance is classified by the Germans as operational, tactical, and battle
reconnaissance - corresponding to the U.S. distant, close, and battle reconnaissance.
2. OPERATIONAL RECONNAISSANCE (Operative Aufklarung) Refer Diagram A
Operational reconnaissance, penetrating over a large area in great depth, provides the
basis for strategic planning and action. This type of reconnaissance is intended to
determine the location and activities of enemy forces, particularly localities of rail
concentrations, forward or rearward displacements of personnel, loading or unloading areas
of army elements, the construction of field or permanent fortifications, and hostile air
force concentrations. Identification of large enemy motorized elements, especially on an
open flank, is important.
Operational reconnaissance is carried out by the Air Force and by motorized units. Aerial
photography units operate at altitudes of 16,500 to 26,500 feet. Since missions assigned
to operational air reconnaissance are generally limited to the observation of important
roads and railroads, reconnaissance sectors and areas normally are not assigned. The
motorized units employed for operational reconnaissance have only directions and
3. TACTICAL RECONNAISSANCE (Taktische Aufklarung)
Tactical reconnaissance, carried out in the area behind the operational reconnaissance,
provides the basis for the commitment of troops. Its mission embraces identification of
the enemy's organization, disposition, strength, and antiaircraft defense; determination
of the enemy's reinforcement capabilities; and terrain reconnaissance of advance sectors.
Air Force reconnaissance units and motorized and mounted reconnaissance battalions are
employed for tactical reconnaissance. Their direction and radius of employment are based
upon the results of the operational reconnaissance.
b. AIR RECONNAISSANCE.
Tactical air reconnaissance is normally made from altitudes of 6,500 to 16,000 feet. As a
rule, air reconnaissance units are assigned specific reconnaissance areas, the boundaries
of which normally do not coincide with sectors assigned to ground units. Reconnaissance
planes generally are employed singly.
c. GROUND RECONNAISSANCE.
Sectors of responsibility are assigned to ground tactical reconnaissance battalions. In
order to make them independent or to facilitate their change of direction, battalions may
be assigned only reconnaissance objectives. In such instances, boundary lines separate
adjacent units. The Germans avoid using main roads as boundary lines, defining the sectors
in such a way that main roads fall within the reconnaissance sectors. The width of a
sector is determined by the situation, the type and strength of the reconnaissance
battalion, the road net, and the terrain. In general, the width of a sector assigned to a
motorized reconnaissance battalion does not exceed 30 miles.
d. ORDERS FOR TACTICAL RECONNAISSANCE.
Refer Diagram B
Orders issued to a reconnaissance battalion or it's patrols normally contain, in addition
to the mission, the following:
(1) Line of departure
(2) Information concerning adjacent reconnaissance units
(3) Sector boundaries or direction of operation.
(5) Phase lines.
(6) Instructions for transmission of reports.
(7) Location of immediate objectives whose attainment is to be reported.
(8) Instructions regarding air-ground liaison.
Time of departure, route, and objective of the main force.
e. TACTICAL RECONNAISSANCE PROCEDURES.
When a motorized reconnaissance column expects contact with the enemy, it advances by
leaps and bounds. The length of bounds depends on the cover the terrain offers as well as
on the road net. As the distance from the enemy decreases, the bounds are shortened. The
Germans utilize roads as long as possible and usually use different routes for the advance
and the return.
The reconnaissance battalion commander normally sends out patrols which advance by bounds.
Their distance in front of the battalion depends on the situation, the terrain, and the
range of the signal equipment, but as a rule they are not more than an hour's travelling
distance (about 25 miles) ahead of the battalion. The battalion serves as the reserve for
the patrols and as an advance message center (Meldekopf), collecting the messages and
relaying them to the rear.
Armored reconnaissance cars, armored half-tracks, or motorcycles compose the motorized
reconnaissance patrols, whose exact composition depends on their mission and on the
situation. Motorcycles are used to fill in gaps and intervals, thereby thickening the
reconnaissance net. When the proximity of the enemy does not permit profitable employment
of the motorized reconnaissance battalion, it is withdrawn and the motorized elements of
the divisional reconnaissance battalion take over.
Divisional reconnaissance battalions seldom operate more than one day's march (18 miles)
in front of the division, covering an area approximately 6 miles wide.
4. BATTLE RECONNAISSANCE. (Gefechtsaufklarung)
Battle reconnaissance as a rule is begun when the opposing forces begin to deploy. All
troops participating in battle carry out battle reconnaissance through patrols, artillery
observation posts, observation battalions, and air reconnaissance units. The information
obtained on the organization and strength of the enemy provides the basis for the conduct
of the battle.
b. ARMORED CAR PATROLS.
The Panzer division dispatches armored reconnaissance units equipped with armored vehicles
and numerous automatic weapons. The armored reconnaissance unit is fast and has a wide
radius of action. Armored car patrols normally are composed of three armored
reconnaissance cars, one of which is equipped with radio. An artillery observer often
accompanies the patrol so that in an emergency fire can be brought down quickly.
This type of patrol usually is organized for missions lasting one to two days. Tasks are
defined clearly, and nothing is allowed to interfere with the patrol's main objective. If
enemy forces are met, action is avoided unless the force is so weak that it can be
destroyed without diverting the patrol from it's main task. If enemy action is
anticipated, the patrol is reinforced with self-propelled guns and occasionally with
tanks. Engineers and motorcyclists are often attached to the patrol to deal with road
blocks and demolitions.
While scouting a woods, a favorite German ruse is to drive the leading car towards it's
edge, halt briefly to observe, and then drive off rapidly, hoping to draw enemy fire that
will disclose the enemy positions. At road blocks, the leading car opens fire. If fire is
not returned, men dismount and go forward to attach tow ropes to the road block. If
necessary, the patrol dismounts and proceeds with machine guns to reconnoiter on foot. A
patrol is never split up, but in open country distances between cars may be as much as 200
to 300 yards.
c. OBSERVATION BATTALION AND AIR RECONNAISSANCE.
The German observation battalion locates enemy artillery and heavy weapons positions by
sound and flash ranging and evaluated aerial photographs. The Air Force assists in
battalion reconnaissance by observing the distribution of the enemy's forces, his
artillery, bivouac and movements, reserves, tank assemblies, and any other special
occurrences behind the front. In general, air battle reconnaissance is executed under
d. BATTLE RECONNAISSANCE PATROLS (Spahtruppen)
Refer Diagram B
The Germans send out reconnaissance patrols consisting of a noncommissioned officer and
three or four men, to get such information as the location of enemy positions and
minefields. They generally avoid contact and retreat when fired on.
e. COMBAT PATROLS (Gefechtsspahtruppen or Strosstruppen)
These consist of at least one noncommissioned officer and eight men, but are usually
stronger. As a rule, the combat patrol is commanded by a sergeant who has under him 15 to
20 men, organized in two equal sections, each commanded by a section leader. These are
raiding patrols, and their mission often includes bringing back prisoners of war. Since
Allied air supremacy has neutralized German air reconnaissance to a great extent, the
Germans have placed increased importance on prisoners of war, especially officers, as a
source of information on enemy strength, dispositions, and intentions. Combat or other
types of patrols are often sent out to test the strength of enemy outposts. If an outpost
proves to be weakly held, the patrol attacks, occupies the position, and remains there
until relieved by troops from the rear. If the patrol is strongly garrisoned, the patrol
attempts to return with a prisoner of war.
f. SPECIAL PATROLS (Spahtruppen mit besonderen Aufgaben)
These vary in strength in accordance with their special mission. Special patrols are sent
to carry out such tasks as demolitions, engaging of enemy patrols that have penetrated
German positions, and ambushing enemy supply columns.
g. MISCELLANEOUS RECONNAISSANCE.
Engineer patrols are employed to reconnoiter approaches to fortified areas, defiles, or
rivers. Artillery patrols, usually consisting of an officer and a few mounted men,
reconnoiter routes of approach, observation posts, and firing positions.
h. TERRAIN RECONNAISSANCE. (Gelandeerkundung)
The Germans place great emphasis on terrain reconnaissance, realizing the influence
terrain has upon the conduct of operations. Most of their usual reconnaissance missions
include terrain reconnaissance tasks. Terrain may be so important at times as to require
reconnaissance by special units. Ground and air reconnaissance units give special
attention to the road net - its density, condition, road blocks, mines, and demolitions -
as well to the terrain itself, particularly tank country.
i. EQUIPMENT AND SUPPORT.
The Germans equip their ground battle-reconnaissance patrols with machine pistols and one
or two light machine guns that are used to cover the patrol's approach or withdrawal.
Engineers often are attached to guide a patrol through German minefields and to clear a
way through enemy wire or mines.
Artillery support is given in the form of harassing fire put down just before the patrol
reaches its objective. Sometimes the artillery fires into adjacent sectors to mislead the
enemy as to the actual area to be reconnoitered. In other instances, artillery and mortars
that have registered during the previous day shell during the night the area to be
reconnoitered. As soon as the barrage is lifted, the patrol advances under cover of
machine-gun fire from flanking positions.
Riley "Runamuck" Triggs