The German army was widely considered to be one of the best in Europe in 1914, and during the First World War it maintained that reputation. Towards the end of the war the Germans were credited with inventing storm trooper tactics, also known as ‘Hutier tactics’, which were then used in the initially very effective spring offensives of 1918. However the previously accepted idea that these tactics were developed on the Eastern Front in 1917 and then unleashed in the west in 1918 is no longer entirely accepted. This book brings together a collection of contemporary documents that cast a light on the changing nature of German tactics. Most of them are German – instruction manuals, reports, guides to using individual weapons etc, with a few Allied documents added.
We start with ‘The Spade War’ of 1915, which looks at the conventional type of trench warfare (along with some fairly fanciful suggestions for attacking by digging a secret trench right up to the enemy front line). Other documents from 1915 include a report on how to carry out an attack on a fortified position and instructions on how to use the flame thrower. From 1916 we get a German report on a trench raid and instructions on how to use the machine gun. For 1917 we get a report on the use of the grenade and on minor infantry tactics. 1918 starts with a British report on recent German tactics, German instructions on the use of the anti-tank rifle and the attack in positional warfare, reflecting the changes in the fighting by that stage.
These documents demonstrate that the German army was determined to learn from its experiences on the Western Front. The guidance on using individual weapons is detailed and based on experience, and even the 1915 report on offensive methods begins with an examination of failed French attacks, in an attempt to find out what not to do. Plenty of histories refer to German tactical developments, but it’s really useful to be able to read a collection of their own training documents, which give a much clearer idea of what they were trying to achieve on the battlefield.
1 - Introduction
2 - Der Spatenkrieg: The Spade War
3 - Proposals for Technical Methods
4 - German Instructions for the Employment of Flame Projectors
5 - Trench Raid Report
6 - Machine Gun Instructions
7 - Nahkampfmittel
8 - Minor Tactics
9 - Notes on Recent Fighting
10 - Anti Tank Rifle Instruction
11 - The Attack In Position Warfare
Editor: Dr Stephen Bull