Average distance of engagement

Discussion in 'General' started by micromoose, Dec 27, 2012.

  1. micromoose

    micromoose Junior Member

    I got to wondering recently what the average distance of engagement was in the ETO. Normal infantry weapons such as the Enfield, Mauser & Garand have effective ranges of around 400-500yds but obviously this bears little resemblance to actual engagement distances. There are so many variables such as terrain and visibility that would have an effect that may make my question seem senseless but to assume the offensive in open rolling countryside and the defenders in the buildings of a village, at what sort of distance would the defenders engage?
    Many thanks,
    stolpi likes this.
  2. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    I think normally the 'enemy' reaction would be layered and growing in intensity. First he would open up with indirect fire (mortar & artillery); then (heavy) machine guns & probably direct fire from (tank)guns and as a last resort light MG's and small arms fire (rifles...). Distances for these weapons varied.
  3. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    I was reading the Osprey guides to infantry tactics in NWE and Italy, and they had some comments about this. Contrary to our movies, American infantry didn't use SMGs much in these theaters; one American division commented that an SMG was only useful "if you caught a Kraut in a closet." That of course implies that the average range of engagement would be more than 100 yards (max SMG). In some terrain, however, like the bocage and the Hurtgen Forest, ranges would be fairly close.

    Stolpi is right about layered response though. By 1944 the tank-infantry team was the basis of Allied tactics, and I don't think that the Germans would be anxious to let the tank part of that team get too close.

    I am sometimes a little puzzled by the way that terrain (and thus range) didn't always match up to the TOE armament for Allied units; perhaps Allied soldiers were puzzled too. I haven't found much on this at all, but I wonder if units didn't keep some extra non-TOE weaponry around in order to tailor their stuff to the range, terrain, and mission.
  4. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Each terrain had its own type of approach. Inside a forest the ranges were quite close.

    From my recent BFT to Moyland with the Dutch Military, I learned that the Germans would put up a flexible defence and defend a wooded terrain in depth. The forest edge mostly was only thinly held, with a main defence further backwards inside the forest and in between a flexible defence build on small groups, half squads or even two men parties, that would ambush the enemy, withdraw and ambush again; a tactic called 'Jagdkampf' (hit-and-run). These small groups concentrated on the probable lanes of advance through a forested area, which, generally, are limited in number, since an attacking force inside a forest mostly tends to concentrate on one or two lanes. At Moyland the German paratroopers operated from main defences, which were located on the backward side of the wooded features, which were comparatively save for shell fire. At least it was there that we found most of the trench systems. See http://www.ww2talk.com/forum/ww2-battlefields-today/50511-veritable-clearing-moyland-wood.html. More than once the paratroopers withdrew, only to strike back from another angle or even encircle the Canadian formations.

    I don't know where to find them, but most of your questions probably will be answered by consulting the tactical manuals of those days and by closely studying small unit actions.
  5. Wills

    Wills Very Senior Member

    Known as rear slope defence, this keeps you out of line of sight of your enemies weapons systems only indirect fire can be used against you. As an infantryman my training and instincts are to select defensive positions where I can force my enemy into a killing zone if that means I catch him as he breaks the horizon that is OK if I have placed my in depth position to engage him from my flanks and in depth so that I can move back through my rearguard and reform in another selected position to repeat the process with what was my rear now in a position to cover a new killing zone. There are times when infantry tank cooperation works - in close country the tank commanders are not going to be happy fighting blind and I do not want to tie up my units acting as tank protection in close country. Contact between armies is rarely army to army the advance units - recce and fighting patrols with support and air are more likely to be in contact. There is nothing new in these tactics. One of those where good map reading skill helps, if you can scan a map and using contour lines envisage where you have dead ground preferably with a double slope or saddle. Where your enemy has to go down from the horizon and you can use the second rise in ground level. Training in the Beacons - Wales!

    Reverse slope defence - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  6. stolpi

    stolpi Well-Known Member

    Thanks Will - Rear slope ... that's the word. Even Wellington used it succesfully in his battles against the French!

    Also the Germans, in forest defence, tended to commit the entire unit in the defence, without withholding a subunit as reserve. The uncommitted subunits on the flank, or part of them, would act as counterattack force.
  7. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    I wonder if it would be fair to say the 'average' distance (not all distances before anyone moans) got further as the war went on. Certainly in 1940 most of the accounts I read seem to be UCAP (less than 100 meters) with many a 'Fix Bayonets' being shouted.
  8. sapper

    sapper WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    One real fact, was that you seldom saw your enemy.They and we, knew the results of that. Often it would be burst of Bren where you thought he was.
  9. Drew5233

    Drew5233 #FuturePilot Patron 1940 Obsessive

    One real fact, was that you seldom saw your enemy.They and we, knew the results of that. Often it would be burst of Bren where you thought he was.

    Well that adds weight to my argument-In 1940 it was the other way around probably due to the general lack of ammo and wanting every round/shell etc to count ;)
  10. Wills

    Wills Very Senior Member

  11. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

  12. micromoose

    micromoose Junior Member

    This is all interesting stuff. Thanks especially to Wills for the link to the pdf.

    The question was so expansive that I didn't think for a moment there would be a definitive answer but I guess pulling the above comments together, with little cover you would be looking at anywhere between 100-400yds for small arms fire.
  13. BrianM59

    BrianM59 Senior Member

    My dad was a tank (AVRE) gunner and when, as kids, we asked him if he ever killed any Germans, he used to joke that he never saw any. Later on, talking to him and his tank driver, as Sapper says, they would more often fire at where they thought Germans were - BESA-ing every tree and hedgerow and through gaps or even at bends in roads that didn't feel right.

Share This Page