"Town Clearing" - Clearing Gennep and Goch
Operation Plunder, Rhine Crossing, March 1945
"Notes on Town Clearing" written by Lt Col JA GRANT-PETERKIN, DSO, O.C., 1 GORDONS
These notes are written on the experiences of a Battalion which has taken part in clearing two large towns, GENNEP and GOCH, against a determined and organised enemy. One town had been heavily bombed, but the other had not, civilians had been evacuated from both. The lessons learned shows that the principles as laid down in Inf Trg Pt VIII are sound as far as they go.
More than any other operation, very careful and detailed planning is necessary before launching any unit or subunit into a defended town. Large-scale maps, enlarged air photos and particularly in low obliques are necessary so as to determine the key buildings upon which it is likely the enemy will base his defence. He does not hold every house or factory, but those from where he can obtain a good field of fire and in particular those from where he can stop any encircling movement to his rear.
The ideal is for each section to be able to see exactly which buildings it is to clear before crossing the start line.
It is essential that each subunit starts from a very firm base, has a small compact object, usually a key building on which the Comd that has made a personal visual reconnaissance before starting.
With his rifle company, it has proved that it is unwise to have more than one subunit working at one time and that the Comd of the succeeding unit or subunit must be right forward with the attacking Comd to see the result and carry out his own reconnaissance. As always too, a reserve must be kept to deal with the unexpected posts which suddenly come to life.
The noise and echoes of street clearing are disconcerting and men must be always on "qui vive" to try and locate the enemy - the most difficult factor of all. It is essential that they fight lightly clad and without the small pack and pick and shovel, which catch in window frames cellar doors, etc. A rifle and bayonet, the Bren, a liberal supply of grenades stout hearts and a very high standard of leadership are all that is required. The degree of control that leaders must keep within these operations must be great. Individuals and sections must be kept to their objectives are not allowed to chase the odd German.
It has indeed been learned by bitter experience that town clearing is a tedious and most tiring operation which cannot be hurried.
3. DAY OR NIGHT
It has been proved that even in complete darkness infantry can seize a limited objective in a town and completely clear that area, provided it is kept small. It is perhaps the best way to get a footing in a defended area, to rush it immediately the artillery concentrations lift in the darkness, and catch the enemy whilst he is still below ground. Large-scale clearing operations are not possible in the dark as it is impossible not to bypass enemy -- a principle -- who come to life with daylight and cause damage and confusion out of all proportion to their numbers. Searchlights are not of any great assistance in a town.
4. SUPPORTING FIRE.
Before zero, the greatest weight all the artillery is required, but at zero and afterwards it should be lifted from the objectives to the far outskirts of the town, as it is disconcerting to troops clearing to hear explosions in front of them, and also drowned to noise of snipers if fired in close support. However well-trained, in a street it is impossible to say with accuracy whose shell it was and the effects of a 25 pdr on a house is not sufficient to warrant its use in the close support of troops clearing in a town. 4.2 mortars on the other hand of valuable as the bombs reach the ground floor: they, because of their danger area, naturally are best used on the back end of the town.
Fire movement by infantrymen remains as important as ever, and the 77 grenades has proved its great usefulness to cover street crossings.
5. TO BOMB ON NOT TO BOMB.
From the infantryman point of view, heavy bombing has every disadvantage and no advantage, unless carried out immediately before the assault. Then air photos loose some of their values and the danger area for heavy bombs precludes the immediate rushing of the objective as the last bomb falls. Craters and rubble preclude the use of tanks, crocodiles or wasps and make the evacuation of casualties even more difficult; it makes the drill of clearing through the back gardens impractical and clearing houses from the top impossible. It also makes the enemy's task of hiding and camouflaging himself many times easier; his snipers always preclude the use all bulldozer till very late in the operations.
From our experience in clearing a town not bombed, to one that has been heavily bombed, there is little doubt that the infantryman would ask the airman to go elsewhere, particularly as he does not kill or even fight the defenders the infantry and is getting to meet.
6. ENEMY METHODS.
We have found that the Germans we have met, mostly paratroopers, have concentrated and fought from the key buildings, and then from the ground floors; only the odd Spandau snipers have been up a story or two. Booby-traps were not met with in any large numbers, mines were, however laid in and about their demolitions, key rd junctions and in some gardens, but the latter were usually marked.
7. THE RESULTS OF EXPERIENCE.
Thinking back on our experiences, the points that we were especially note are perhaps:-
(a) how slow at operation it is and how quickly troops get tired.
(b) the smallness to the objectives a platoon can take the certainty,
(c) the immediate effect of "flame warfare" - this was no surprise, but the speed with which the enemy reacted was.
(d) the great additional difficulties the after effect of heavy bombs made for the infantryman.
8. PRINCIPLES OF TOWN CLEARING.
Lastly, the principles we will work on for the next German town we clear-
- 1. Always plan to the last detail and brief each soldier visually if possible. Each man must know this particular role in the platoon drill.
- 2. Start each operation from a very firm base.
- 3. Never operate more than one platoon at a time within a company area.
- 4. Keep a reserve ready, but don?t keep troops hanging about waiting their turn under fire. Once down they are sometimes difficult to get up again.
- 5. Limit your objectives severely and base your operations on the key buildings.
- 6. Never, bypass an enemy post - this does not apply to cut off troops if sent wide round the whole objective.
- 7. Fire and movement applies as much as ever - use flame whenever possible.
- 8. Don't overload the soldier.
- 9. Pray that the troops are in great heart, eager to destroy the enemy in yet another German stronghold, for without the highest fighting spirit being present, the best plans may buy the leaders will be of no avail.