German Operations Order
following article was written by Lou Brown and originally printed in Volume IV, Number 5
(Sep-Oct 1994) of Kettenhunde, the newsletter of a re-enactment group in the
northern United States who portrayed Feldgendarmerie-Trupp (Mot.) 200. Some sections
have been rewritten by the webmaster.
In "war movies," battle plans are usually
laid out by the hero in a half minute of generalized pontification followed by the
memorable phrase: "You all know what we have to do, now let's go do it."
In real life, the truth is that everyone doesn't know what to do, and a mechanism for
telling them what to do, as well as when (and, to some extent, how) is very necessary for
effective fighting. Modern armies utilize the "field operations order" as
an effective method of ensuring the coordination necessary for effective fighting.
A derivative of Napoleon's field
orders, the modern operations order contains those elements of information necessary to
synchronize and conduct the fight. The German approach to operations having been
somewhat "individualistic" (i.e., the subordinate was expected to achieve the
mission given to him in his own way), German operations orders tend to be somewhat less
structured that those used in the US Army. Somewhere in the order, the following
elements (considered the minimum necessary for the conduct of operations) were supposed to
Often, "full" orders
were not necessary (e.g., when updating or slightly changing a mission). The
organization of the partial order (called a FRAGO -- fragmentary order -- in US usage) is
the same, except that elements are omitted which either have not changed or are not
necessary to the order.
The operations order was
accompanied by a "Schema" (diagram, in English). In English, this is now
referred to as an "overlay" because it is drawn on a transparent substance and
"laid over" the map. The Schema shows, at a minimum, the graphic measures
used to control operations (e.g. unit boundaries, objectives, etc.) as well as known or
suspected enemy positions.
Operations orders under field
conditions are generally given orally (following the format) at battalion level and below
and in writing at regiment/brigade and above (written orders are nonetheless
"briefed" to those receiving the order if circumstances permit). Orders
can be written at any level if time permits, often if only to aid the commander in orally
What follows - in the format in
which it was written - is a translation of an operations order written by Oberleutnant
Georg Michael (shown at right), a company commander in Schützen Regiment 26 for a dismounted attack in the
USSR on 28 June 1942. (This regiment was part of the 24th Panzer Division, famous
for having been formed from the 1st Cavalry Division. The Schützen regiments were
the motorized infantry component of the panzer divisions, and between late 1942 and early
1943 would be renamed as Panzergrenadier regiments. The 24th Panzer Division, with
its "leaping horseman" for a divisional emblem, was destroyed in the
fighting at Stalingrad in the seven months following the attack described here).
As a unit with cavalry
traditions, Michael's regiment was divided into Squadrons rather than Companies, though
there was no real distinction in terms of equipment or organization other than the name.
Despite only being a set of Squadron orders, Michael still wrote them out, probably
simply because he had the time to do so.
Explanatory notes follow the
translation of the order itself and are indicated in the text by superscript numerals.
Oberleutnant Michael won the
Knight's Cross on 19 January 1941 and the Oakleaves to the Knight's Cross on 25 January
1943 for actions in Stalingrad, where he was critically wounded and evacuated. He
had been promoted to Rittmeister (captain in a cavalry unit) on 1 December 1942.
The action described below did
not go exactly as planned - they never do. The most important part of planning is,
however, ensuring that everyone understands the mission. While Michael's plan did
not unfold as he envisioned it in the order, he and his company nonetheless achieved the
objectives assigned them and, thus, fulfilled the intent of the order.
Military operations, contrary to
popular conceptions, don't just happen.
Sample Map Diagram
Below is a sample map diagram - this is not the
diagram that would have accompanied Michael's operations order, given below, but shows
what a typical German diagram may have looked like, using period map symbols.
||These crosses show how the "overlay" is
aligned with the map; the numbers refer to gridlines and the crosses are lined up overtop
of the intersection of these gridlines.
|At right is a graphical representation of
the Schema shown above.
6./Schützen Regiment 26
Squadron Command Post, 24 Jun 1942
ORDER FOR THE ATTACK AFTER ASSEMBLY
||1:50,000 Schtschcigry, Pokrowskoje
||1:100,000 Kursk, Tim
||1:300,000 Stary Oskol
||Enemy: oral briefing on field fortifications with
"Flanders Walls" and bunkers using the enemy overlay. No mines have been
a) coordinated on both flanks, attacks enemy to the west of and in Truchatscheka at
morning twilight (G-Day and X-Hour to be announced) from assembly area east of Ssemenowka
under supporting fire of all heavy weapons to secure, with the first objective, the
southern approach to Truchatschewka and the second objective, Nordhang 247.7 north of
b) Axes of advance on order.
Report according to map 1:100,000. Use compasses to avoid misorientation.
Compass bearings on order.
c) Right neighbor I./SR 26
Left neighbor II./SR 21
d) Attached to the battalion:3
1 platoon of
3 demolition teams 2./PzPi 40
1 mortar battery
1 battery Heavy Projector Rgt. 2
ground support aircraft
e) commence fire at X-hour (to be announced)
f) next battalion command post location is in the ravine by
ruins, thereafter possibly following behind 6th Company
||6th Company is on the battalion's right flank next to 5th
Company (7th Company in reserve)4
attached 2 demolition teams 2./40
1 assault gun platoon (2 armoured vehicles) for the 1st objective
one mine sweeping team from 8th Company
1 forward observer I./AR 89
1 platoon leIG 8th Company
Objective: crossroads with bunker
2nd Objective: southern approach to Truchatschewka
||Assembly for attack:5
a) At 22.00 on "G-1" Brakebusch platoon and a heavy MG platoon and one
demolition team, moving with combat reconnaissance in depth, reach the forward boundary of
the assembly area and organize outposts and dig in with
heavy MG squad Hilmer right
heavy MG squad Lichte left
In the event of a Russian attack, prevent enemy penetration into the assembly area.
b) The remainder of the company, in order
company headquarters and communications with forward observer and
Löhrke platoon (assault platoon) with one demo team
Lt. Keiler platoon (reserve platoon) and 2 heavy mortars
heavy antitank rifles
closing by 23.00, dig in, in deep-arrayed attack formation (beside or behind each other on
||Security of the assembly area by heavy weapons and
artillery already in place there
||Course of the attack:6
||Divisional artillery preparation
|X to X+4 minutes
||Mortars on bunkers and positions to 6th Company's front
|X and 1 to X+1-1/2 minutes
||1 battery of heavy projectors on obstacles in front of 5th
|X until X+4 minutes
||2 batteries III./AR 89 on enemy to 6th company's front
|X + 1-1/2 minute
||Brakebusch platoon begins combat reconnaissance
1. Where are obstacles?
2. Where is bunker?
3. Blow or breach the first obstacle
||Shift light artillery 100 metres
Shift heavy artillery 200 metres
departure of assault gun platoon
employment of assault gun platoon
(Löhrke platoon) on order
||Company aid station in bunker by the ruins
Unteroffizier Donath in charge
a) deliver 10 blankets on G-1 at 19.007
b) platoons establish wounded nests
a) Krupp supply truck (ammunition)
Motorcycle w/sidecar (Obergefreiter Böhm)
Motorcycle w/sidecar (Obergefreiter Gettkant - medical vehicle)
direction: Unteroffizier Leder (coordinate with Oberwerkmeister (Maintenance
b) Empty vehicles
battalion leader Lt. von Quast8
company leader Wachtmeister Berger
March order: armoured portions
applicable vehicles of the tank regiment
remainder of I. Battalion with combat trains
remainder of II./SR 26 with combat trains
||Illumination level V9
white - - we are here
shot in a specific direction - - there, enemy pocket of resistance
red - - enemy attacking, request artillery
green - - shift fires
violet or blue - - tank warning
whistling starshell - - gas alarm
- in the ravine in the centre of sector. Is marked.
company - 6 carriers with mortar ammunition follow after attack begins.
ammunition truck and motorcycle w/sidecar follow by bounds.
before attack begins, via wire to battalion.
after attack begins, squad radio between foremost platoon and company headquarters,
Gustav device to battalion.
||Prisoner collection point:
Also graves registration at 1st bridge in Ssemonowka10
||Attack begins on order
Commander = 1
4 platoons = 4
Trains = 2
War Diary = 1
tot = 8
Oberleutnant and Schwadronschef11
maps is very important to ensuring that everyone is "playing off the same sheet of
music." It is very unpleasant to find that the overlay you have been given for
an operation doesn't "fit" the map you are using because they are different
Standard convention in
naming German units was for companies to be identified by Arabic
numerals (1, 2, 3...), battalions to be identified by Roman numerals (I, II, III), and for
regiments to be identified by an abbreviation followed by Arabic numbers (JR for Jäger
Regiment 23, etc.). Bear in mind that common practice in German handwriting
was to write "J" for both "I" and "J", when handwriting on
overlays and maps, thus JR would be used for both Infantry Regiment and Jäger Regiment..
This was only partially due to the German handwriting fonts used at the time, according to
which these two did not differ in shape but in position. This was taught in schools until
the 1950s. The other motive for this was to not confuse Roman letters, which of
course uses the capital 'I" very frequently.
Since the companies in a regiment were numbered consecutively
across the battalions, it was unnecessary to list both company and battalion number.
The I Battalion generally contained 1, 2, 3 and 4 Companies, II Battalion 5, 6, 7 and 8
Companies, and where present the III Battalion contained 9, 10, 11 and 12 Companies.
Therefore you would only need to designate the Fifth Company as 5./JR 23 or the Second
Battalion as II./JR 23.
Paragraph 2 gives an easily understood friendly situation;
who is on the flanks and what other "friendlies" are doing, as well as the
mission of the next higher headquarters in the chain of command. In the US Army it
is doctrine to provide the mission for the next two higher echelons - a
company order would therefore contain the mission for both the battalion and the
regiment. The second objective mentioned in para 2a, "Nordhang 247.7" is a
hill. The Germans identified hills by their elevation in metres. In Michael's
orders, the name "Nordhang" was an additional identifier assigned to the hill by
the Germans themselves.
Schützen regiments generally consisted of only two
battalions of infantry (1-8 companies) and a third battalion consisting of specialized
support weapons (infantry guns, mortars, anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns, etc.)
In this case, the 9th Company contained sIG, or "schwere Infanterie Geschütz" -
heavy Infantry Guns used. Support was also provided by divisional units, in
this case the Second Company of Panzer Pionier (Armoured Engineer) Battalion 40, and the
First Battalion of Artillery Regiment 89.
In infantry/schützen regiments, every fourth company was a heavy
weapons company, equipped with mortars and machineguns to support the other three
companies of the battalion, hence no reference to the 8th Company - one can presume its
weapons would be covering the attack. The reference to light infantry guns (leIG)
probably refers to one guns from one of the regimental weapons companies.
In paragraph 4,
Michael explains how the company will get from their assembly area
to the attack position (the last covered and concealed position
before "jumping off." The occupation by Brakebusch's platoon affords security for the remainder
of the company's move, and the company digs in already arrayed in the attack formation.
The order of march prevents the confusion of everyone moving -- or trying to -- at
Paragraph 6 outlines Michael's "vision" of how the attack will go down.
The order is slim on actual details concerning how the action will be fought. This
is not unusual in orders to units which have worked together for some time; they develop
what almost amount to "plays" as one would find in a sports team ("just
like we did it the last time") which are executed depending on the situation's
similarity to others the unit has experienced. In this case, whatever attack
formation ordered in paragraph 4 placed the units where Michael wanted them and,
therefore, tells everything the unit needed to know about "how to fight."
The rest of the order addresses items which are not so "routine."
Paragraph 7 is
interesting in the order to each platoon to deliver 10 blankets to
the battalion aid station. Platoon medics set up "wounded
nests," a place to which wounded were evacuated to be administered
first aid and either returned to the fight or evacuated to the
company aid station.
Paragraph 8b is
extremely interesting. Michael's company was motorized (only
the First Battalion was "armoured", that is to say, mounted in
armoured halftracks). Since the attack was dismounted,
someone had to get the company's vehicles married back up with the
troops on the objective (as did the rest of the battalion).
The task was important enough for the battalion to assign a Leutnant to
take charge of and move the empty trucks. (Assignment of an officer was a sure sign
of something being important to the Germans; they didn't have a lot of them, and didn't
waste the ones they did have.)
Paragraph 9 refers to the amount of
illumination during hours of darkness. This is
extremely important to a night move. (The US Army uses a
percentage, with a moonless night generally about 10-20%; a full
moon affords 70-100% illumination.) Given the short night (para 2b) and time of year, one would expect that level V is fairly high.
The visibility ratings I through X in Roman numerals were
used (Arabic numbers 1-10 were used by the Navy, and in fact also often by the army
artillery) corresponding to the standard Meteorological scale in use at the time.
The scale was measured in nautical miles (seemeile or sm in German):
25sm (about 50 kilometers)
10 sm (about 20 km)
5sm (about 10 kilometers)
2sm (about 4 kilometers)
1sm (about 2 kilometers)
0.5sm (about a kilometer)
Anything less than 50 metres
Coloured flares were common signalling devices
in the German Army and combat leaders carried small handheld flare guns for this purpose.
The designation of the
"1st bridge in Ssemonowka" as both a POW and
Killed in Action collection point is unusual; in the US Army, the two were generally not
mixed if for not other reason than to prevent POWs from seeing the effectiveness of their
actions. In Commonwealth forces, the Company Sergeant Major was generally responsible
for POW collection and organizing his company headquarters troops into ensuring
ammunition, water, fuel and food flowed forward, and that prisoners and casualties of all
types flowed backwards and were properly tended to.
The term "schwadronchef" was used similarly to "kompaniechef"
in non-mounted units. It designated an officer in command of a company/squadron.
If Michael had been only an acting or temporary commander, his title would be
"schwadronführer" or Squadron Leader.