troops moving anti-tank gun into position during street fighting
in Ortona, 21 December 1943.
|Photo by Terry F. Rowe.
Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada,
In action an infantry battalion commander, for example, would receive
orders from his brigade commander to carry out an assignment. To carry
it out he would formulate a plan based on his specific task and reconnaissance
of the ground, and then hold an "O" or Orders group to convey
instructions to his officers. The plan would depend, in part, on the dispositions
of friendly and enemy troops as well as the supplies and supporting weapons
available-for example, a plan might be dependent on tactical air support
In basic terms, an objective or objectives would be chosen, usually some
tactically or strategically important feature like a ridge or a town.
The use of ground for concealment and to allow the greatest amount of
covering fire to be brought to bear was of utmost importance while troops
proceeded from assembly areas to the "forming up place" or FUP
and thence into battle. Supporting artillery fire plans would be drawn
up to help cover movement by forcing the enemy to keep his head down.
The infantry used fire and movement tactics to manoeuvre, i.e. one sub-unit
would fire to cover the advance of another. By these methods the attackers
would close to their objective, where unless the enemy had withdrawn,
close-quarters fighting would ensue. Assuming the attack to be successful,
the next steps were consolidation-reorganization of survivors and preparation
of defences to repel counter-attacks-and "mopping-up" to clear
the area of any remaining enemy soldiers. One of the key concerns in both
the selection of objectives and the preparation of defences once objectives
were reached was to ensure that anti-tank guns could be swiftly moved
up, as German doctrine called for defence in depth with lightly-held front
line positions which would, upon penetration, be immediately subjected
to armoured counter-attack. A reserve force would always be maintained
to allow some flexibility in the execution of the commander's plan. It
is important to remember that despite the text-book methods laid down
in training manuals, casualties, the fog of war, and not least the enemy
often played havoc with the most carefully thought-out plans.
Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in action over a rise,
near Valguarnera, Sicily, 20 July 1943. Enemy heavy trucks
are ablaze in the distance.
|Photo by Frank Royal. Department
of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-163670.
It having been recognized that linear defences like the trench lines of
the Great War would be unable to withstand a modern attack, British doctrine
during the Second World War prescribed a system of defended localities where
the ground commanding a given area would be manned by infantry and their
supporting arms, setting up positions of all-round defence to prevent the
enemy from moving through that area. A mobile reserve was to be maintained
to counter-attack any enemy penetration. Front line positions, therefore,
were not continuous as in the earlier war, but fluid and mutually-supporting.
As with the selection of objectives in the attack, defensive positions were
determined in accordance with the anti-tank plan. Defensive methods included,
aside from the obvious weapons fire, concealment and camouflage to gain
surprise, use of ground-particularly reverse slope positions-to allow freedom
of movement without fear of enemy observation, deception techniques such
as the use of "dummy" defences, observation posts to gain information
about the enemy, outpost lines forward of main defences to create depth,
and the building of obstacles covered by fire, such as minefields or anti-tank
barriers, to channel the enemy into areas more favourable to the defenders,
the goal being to "[lead] the enemy into areas where he can most effectively