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Trench Warfare


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#1 Earthican

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 04:04 PM

At one time I wrote that the fighting in Western Europe in late 1944 could be called the battle of the villages (where in 1917 it was the battle of the trenches). This becomes clear with a quick read of any of the volumes of the US Army official history. For the Americans this involved a lot of preparation artillery followed by one or more attempts to advance the infantry against a hopefully stunned defender. Factors that led to this were the stout stone buildings and poor off-road conditions further cut by many streams. So towns, and the roads that passed through them, became key tactical terrain for the mechanized armies.

I wondered how did this differ in Eastern Europe. Often described as "open steppe" cut by dry gullies. And then there are the vast forests and marshes. Later I learned the typical village was constructed of wood and roads were generally dirt without gravel. So I imagine the value of the roads and villages was mostly for navigation and aligning hastily assigned defensive lines. Except in winter, hilltops and reverse slopes, along with river lines, may have had more defensive benefit than villages.

In various readings on the war in Eastern Europe, I've come across descriptions of fairly elaborate trench systems used by both sides. A Google image search will yield many photos of German and Red Army soldiers in trenches. For confirmation of this one can read this Tactical Trend issued by the US Army:

Lone Sentry: German Position Warfare Reverts to Trench Lines in the East (WWII Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 51, October 1944)

Still I was curious how this worked in detail and hoped to find some aerial photos of trench systems, similar to those from the First World World. So far no luck, the closest I have come is this sketch from the memoir of a German soldier.

(attached below)

A Kindle edition found here:

Zwischen Nichts und Niemandsland (German Edition): Hans Jürgen Hartmann: Amazon.com: Kindle Store

With this thin piece of evidence I hoped modern satellite and period maps could fill in the details not found on the sketch. Good News: there is fairly good coverage of this area both in satellite and period maps. Bad News: they do not shed much light on the battle, in fact, it is hard to determine what exactly this sketch depicts. Much has changed on the ground -- whole villages seem to have moved -- and maps, even if accurate, rarely match a soldier's ground-eye impression.

More information available here with Google Translate:

Google Translate

A post by Berezina near the bottom of the first page has three modern ground photos. The village is Barishevka (English), the German unit involved is 342.Infanteriedivision around March 1944 along the Pronya River.


Without going into the long search to find this area (involves Google Maps not labeling these small villages and the Cyrillic spelling of their names seems to have changed), I have attached sketches of my best guess interpretation. All open for re-interpretation from anybody with additional information or a better eye.

Any additional information on this action, or any action involving trenches, would be appreciated.

Attached Files



#2 Gebirgsjaeger

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 04:16 PM

Interesting Thread! And much more interesting for the reason that in todays Armies you always learn how to dig Trenches and this in times of high mobility warfare!
Regards, Ulrich

Horrido!

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#3 The_Historian

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 04:35 PM

This could be an interesting study.:cool:
Regards,

Gordon

#4 Earthican

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Posted 13 May 2012 - 06:10 PM

So my first question to any would-be experts, did the US Army Tactical Trends get it right? Did the Germans switch to a linear defense strategy based on trenches? This seems wrong to hold a long line when one is short of troops, mobile or not. Also requires a tremendous amount of labor and time to develop. Maybe those portions of the front were just static for a prolonged period and commanders sought to keep the Landers busy.

I know Hitler ordered all ground to be held at all costs so it stands to reason that he also thought trenches worked so well in 1917 let's try that again.

Then again, trenches worked well for the Red Army at Kursk but I think they had the forces for in-depth defense.

Still one wonders....

#5 Triple C

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Posted 14 May 2012 - 09:31 PM

My guess is that in the absence of sizable reserves and/or mobile troops, a defense in depth can be counterproductive as the opposing force could easily infiltrate past the Main Line of Resistance or even punch right through it and roll you up. I don't think infantry counterattacks made by Category III troops had a chance of achieving anything against exploiting armor other than adding to their own casualties.

Because the critical component of mobile reserves no loner existed, depth could not be achieved anyway, and what units you had designated as reserves would be simply devoured. David Glantz gave the failure of defense in depth in USSR a short one paragraph comment in When Titans Clashed. Certainly, when the manpower simply was not available linear defense is not a matter of choice but necessity.

An example would be the relative success of the West Wall and Metz defensive lines in slowing and attriting the Americans. These often had no depth compared to what the Germans had for the Normandy Battles. The point is not to permit the enemy from developing a tactical break-in into an operational breakout with combined arms forces that the Germans were too ill-equipped and -armed to defeat.

Edited by Triple C, 14 May 2012 - 09:59 PM.


#6 belasar

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Posted 14 May 2012 - 10:51 PM

It is often said that military commanders are prepared to fight the last war, so Hitler's time in the trench's must have had a impact. Saying that though he embraced Tanks when he first saw them so he wasn't purely a last war guy either.

His fixation on holding any groun once taken took a huge toll on manpower from the winter 1941 on. If you look at a map representation of German positions at any given point and compare that to what reserves are 'available', it is often easy to see where a withrawl to a shorter line based upon good defensive ground would have freed up considerable formations.

Wars are rarely fought in black and white, but in infinite shades of grey

(Poppy is occasionaly correct, or so I hear)

#7 Triple C

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Posted 14 May 2012 - 11:14 PM

Even with reserves of infantry strength freed up from the fortress regions, foot mobile infantry divisions were no match against mechanized corps.

#8 Earthican

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Posted 15 May 2012 - 03:34 PM

I think the alternative tactics here are linear defense versus strongpoint defense. A defense in-depth always requires more than the minimum forces for a given frontage. Both the LD and SPD can and should be fortified as a force multiplier.

A SPD would concentrate on critical points, such as the few good highways, and somewhat allow the attacker to use poor terrain knowing (or hoping) strong and deep penetrations cannot be made until the highways are secured. Bad weather such as late fall and late winter can aid a SPD. Use of airpower, and to a lesser extent artillery, to interdict these penetrations would also be necessary.

The use of shorter lines with river obstacles, even if it means giving up ground, would have aided either defense tactic.

#9 leccy1

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Posted 15 May 2012 - 10:06 PM

I have the Osprey book, German Field Fortifications 1939-45, part of their Fortress range.

Its a good place to start when looking at Field Defences and layouts.

Fixed defences seem much better covered and I have

German Defences in Italy in WW2 (Osprey, Neil Short)
German Defensive Batteries and Gun Emplacements on the Normandy Beaches (Schiffer Military, Karl Heinz & Michael Schmeelke)
Fortress Europe Hitler's Atlantic Wall (Allen Publishing, George Forty)

#10 phylo_roadking

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Posted 16 May 2012 - 12:54 AM

Strangely enough I was looking through a couple of old Classic Military Vehicles earlier, and although certain nations had them pre-WWII, and several of them hung on to them and updated their technology for anything up to a decade after the war ended....IIRC the Soviets held on to their automated trench diggers longer than anyone else ;)

A legacy of their WWI experience, perhaps....?

"Et Dick tracy, il est mort? Et Guy LeClair?"


#11 leccy1

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Posted 16 May 2012 - 10:46 AM

Strangely enough I was looking through a couple of old Classic Military Vehicles earlier, and although certain nations had them pre-WWII, and several of them hung on to them and updated their technology for anything up to a decade after the war ended....IIRC the Soviets held on to their automated trench diggers longer than anyone else ;)

A legacy of their WWI experience, perhaps....?


We (British Army) still had our LMD (Light Mobile Diggers) in the 1990's, they were replaced by the back hoe's on the Hydrema LWT (Light Wheeled Tractor) who's bucket was the width of our trenches.

Attached File  7596.jpg   230.99KB   12 downloads

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#12 Earthican

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Posted 16 May 2012 - 07:14 PM

I tend to think the trenches that the Soviets encountered in the central sector in late 1943, were the result of the static front in 1942 when the German main effort went south.

My impression is that Soviet trenches appeared when they knew the German objective such as Leningrad, Moscow, Rostov and the Crimea.

Photo searching around the Internet turned up pictures of a preserved trench near Kiev. Since these are commercial images I have not posted any.


Also turned up this 1986 study of German defensive operations 1941-42 from the US Army CGSC. It has a section on strongpoint defense. In an operational sense, this article seems to contrast a positional defense to an elastic defense (pre-war German doctrine).

Standing Fast: German defensive doctrine on the Russian front during world war II

Also has this intriguing statement:
..."When attacking enemy armor, German infantrymen preferred the protection of continuous trenches, since these gave them a covered way to scuttle close to the tanks without undue risk of detection."

#13 Triple C

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Posted 18 May 2012 - 01:23 AM

I think the Wehrmacht's shortage of tanks and heavy weapons made strong point defense difficult. If you look at US Army's Rhineland Offensive in 1945, US infantry-armor groups took defended towns by methodically reducing it with overwhelming firepower and taking them with relatively light losses even though the defenders often equaled the attackers in number. Rather than having strong points strung out tenuously along roads, it seems to make more sense to try to prevent a breakthrough in the first place. As the German manuals notes, armor, motorized infantry and artillery were indispensable for elastic defenses to work, and the retreat to linear tactics were probably the best way to deal with a bad situation.

#14 Triple C

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Posted 18 May 2012 - 01:40 AM

For example at the eve of Bagration most German infantry divisions in Army Group Center was totally devoid of armor pieces. It is hard for me to see what isolated infantry could accomplish if the enemy rampaged at will through their lines of communication and had enough firepower to kill them where they stood.

#15 Earthican

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Posted 18 May 2012 - 06:42 PM

As the text points out, the strongpoint defense is not a preferred tactic. It comes about because a given force can only be stretched so far before it is no more than a security line. The old adage that "he who defends everything, defends nothing" applies.

And while tanks are mobile cross country, the trucks they rely on to bring them fuel and ammunition need passable roads. Hold or interdict the roads and penetrating armor loses its ability to move though the rear areas.

That said, the strongpoint defense could only delay a determined attack. As the critical strongpoints are isolated and reduced, a penetration of real operational depth is achieved.

As early as the winter of 1941 this was the situation that the Germans found themselves in as they advanced east in an ever widening front. And as they retreated west, losses in troop strength made it such that their defensive possibilities never improved.

#16 Volga Boatman

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Posted 20 May 2012 - 10:37 AM

German infantry doctrine between the wars emphasized TIME above all else. Time was something that their infantry tacticians cherished. It was said of the Soviets that no other armed force was better at throwing up fixed defences in what the Germans regarded as a very short space of time. Defense was said to 'solidify' as the days or even hours passed from movement back to static. Inertia always set in after movement due to logistical considerations. When these problems could be overcome quickly, a 'rolling' offensive could be generated, one where the defensive position/s were not given the time factor they needed to become much of an obstacle. One can see this occurance quite clearly in October of 1914, as the fluidity of the advance was compromised by logistic factors, allowing the scrabbly and shallow defensive systems to be worked to the point where inertia set in again. Of course, in 1914, once this inertia came to pass, it was very difficult to 'get a roll on' once more.

Tacticians from all nations between the wars studied this problem and attempted to reimpose offensive movement from a fixed position.

The great thing about a trench is that it can and should be wide enough to present a formidable obstacle to AFVs attempting to rush the position. But, the primary purpose was to protect the delicate protoplasm of the soldiers themselves from the one weapon that could make all the difference. Artillery was more than a little lethal to troops exposed, so digging in at the end of the day's operational movements became second nature to infantry practice.

It was nothing new, of course. The Roman Army used fixed positions as a 'force multiplier', enabling them to defeat opponents many times their own size. Each Legioniary also carried wooden stakes in their gear for this reason alone. When archeologists uncovered ancient battlesites like Georgovia and Alesia, they were quite amazed by the very variety of Roman fixed defensive thinking. Add to this their formidable artillery of the day, and you have the equivalent of modern artillery. The ammunition for these weaapons was often purpose made by the Legions themselves. When digging at Masada, the calculations made based on the size of the fixed siege lines and the sheer number of artillery ammunition discovered at the base of the cliff enabled archeologists to not only estimate correctly for the first time the size of the Roman force encamped around Masad, but to accurate tell just how long the siege took to successfully prosecute, a period of time that was much shorter than described by Josephus.

All in all, a fascinating topic, and one that has been neglected with the passing of memories associated with the 14-18 conflict. The nature of defensive warfare then, and the terrible amount of artillery used in that war obviously gave many strategests nightmares, just as it did the unfortunates that had to live in these open sewers for months on end. In fact, fixed positions often bring on a local policy of 'live and let live' for the units facing one another. The British Army tried to combat this by staging many a 'raid' specifically so this mental torpidity would not spread the longer that these fixed positions remained in place. All it did was to garner more casualties for sometimes little or no result, which adversly affected morale far worse than 'live and let live' ever could. This aspect of trench warfare was most prevalent in French held sections of the line, and was noticably absebt in Russia, both in 14-17, and in 41-45.

Just to reiterate, the Russian soldier, given enough time, could turn even the most dire of swamps or bog-holes into an elaborate defensive position in both wars. German doctrine sprang from this desire to not allow the 'front' to 'solidify, so that their towed artillery could continue to throw the defenders out of one position after another, generating movement upon movement, which when reserves were added, could restore mobility to even the most fixed of fields.
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#17 Earthican

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Posted 27 May 2012 - 06:42 PM

I found some confirmation of where the 342.ID (see post #1) was in February 1944. This original situation map shows them southwest of Smolensk.

http://www.gutenberg...29Feb44a_lg.jpg
[large file]

Other maps found here:

A European Anabasis — Western European Volunteers in the German Army and SS, 1940-1945

Attached clip of the 342.ID sector.

Attached Files



#18 Earthican

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Posted 15 February 2013 - 08:14 PM

Now I am now reading about the US attacks on the Orscholz Switch of the Westwall. The author has done some research on the defenses that include "communication trenches". They are described as three to four feet deep. The location and orientation of these trenches puzzle me.

Some of them run through the middle of forests and often parallel to the front line. I can understand a trench that runs out into an open field to connect a strong point that has good fields of fire. This protects messengers and carrying parties from direct observation and fire. But, through the middle of the woods, even in winter, there much less chance of observation so the effort to construct these trenches seems a bad use of limited labor.

Communication trenches that run parallel to the front (between strong points) seem to invite the enemy to use them to approach the strong points. It seems it would be much better to use a "star pattern" to connect strong points with trenches running generally perpendicular to the front.

The attached is actually an aerial photo of the defenses/trenches facing the British and Canadians in VERITABLE. But these have the same "problems" I cited above.

I am still looking for aerial photos of German or Soviet fighting trenches.

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#19 Mahross

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Posted 20 February 2013 - 08:53 PM

An interesting thesis on the British Army and trench warfare was completed at Oxford last. Hopefully this will get published at some point.

Brown, Gavin, ‘Dig for Bloody Victory: The British Soldier's Experience of Trench Warfare, 1939-45’, PhD Thesis (University of Oxford, 2012)

Here is the abstract:

'Most people's perceptions of the Second World War leave little room for static, attritional fighting; instead, free-flowing manoeuvre warfare, such as Blitzkrieg, is seen as the norm. In reality, however, much of the terrain fought over in 1939-45 was unsuitable for such a war and, as a result, bloody attritional battles and trench fighting were common. Thus ordinary infantrymen spent the majority of their time at the front burrowing underground for protection. Although these trenches were never as fixed or elaborate as those on the Western Front a generation earlier, the men who served in Italy, Normandy, Holland and Germany, nonetheless shared an experience remarkably similar to that of their predecessors in Flanders, Picardy, Champagne and Artois. This is an area which has been largely neglected by scholars. While the first war produced a mountain of books on the experience of trench warfare, the same cannot be said of the second war. This thesis will attempt to fill that gap by providing a comprehensive analysis of static warfare in the Second World War from the point of view of British infantry morale. It draws widely on contemporary letters and diaries, psychiatric and medical reports and official documentation - not to mention personal narratives and accounts published after the war - and will attempt to interpret these sources in light of modern research and organise them into a logical framework. Ultimately it is hoped that this will provide fresh insight into a relatively under-researched area of twentieth century history.'
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#20 Earthican

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Posted 04 March 2013 - 06:34 PM

I suppose if one added up all the slitters and foxholes from North Africa to central Germany the amount of excavations might equal the trench lines of the Western Front.

I was just reminded that the trenches on Anzio were very extensive.

#21 Earthican

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Posted 06 May 2013 - 07:50 PM

Recent reading of Ziemke (where else but HyperWar) has answered my question of how the Germans -- and probably the Soviets too -- could find the troops to dig miles of trenches.

"Work on the PANTHER position would require 400,000 civilian laborers."


Also, I discovered in my boxes of books "to be read" a small pile of translated German memoirs, including Armin
Scheiderbauer's, under the English title "Adventures in My Youth".  It has a number of battles for the trenches and even a period of supervising the construction of trenches for Infanterie-Division 252.



#22 urqh

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Posted 06 May 2013 - 08:01 PM

And in some cases the peasants did not get rations...or fed at all unless they dug.


British Army 1939-1945 - World War II Tribute Video

 

 

[URL="http://youtu.be/Zbp_4XBmD4w"]

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 





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