Sturmgeschütz School – Choose the StuG Life


We all know, the old proverb: “You don’t
choose StuG Life, the StuG Life chooses you.” Well, in case you are one of the chosen ones,
I got my hands-on information for you. Namely from the “Sturmgeschütz School Teaching
Staff” (Sturmgeschütz Schule Lehrstab), which in October 1943 published a leaflet
(“Merkblatt”) for the crews of the Sturmgeschütze. I looked at it and selected some crucial and
interesting aspects for you. Now, the crew of a StuG consisted of 4 men,
whereas most panzers had a crew of 5 men. Accordingly, the leaflet is structured along
the different crew members, the commander, gunner, loader and driver. So, let’s start with the instructions for
the Commander or Geschützführer, which literally means “gun leader”. One section is about combat versus tanks. It is noted that the prerequisite for engaging
enemy tanks is knowledge about them. Namely, their vulnerable spots, technical
specifications and characteristics “Eigenarten”. In case enemy tanks were detected, it was
crucial to report them via radio, yet also to stay calm. Additionally, the leaflet states:
“2. Eyes everywhere, not only observe the foremost
tanks, but right, left, even backward. Do not disregard tanks at a greater distance. The best method is always to let the enemy
tanks run up to a lurking position at a good shooting distance and take them under fire. The Russian tank generally sees less well. 3. Do not open fire too early from favorable
positions. Effective distance is generally not more than
1000 m. The rapid trajectory gives a very favorable
beaten zone, accordingly, bracketing method [a method for adjusting fire].” This underlines the use of the StuG as an
ambush vehicle for which it was initially not intended, as the name clearly indicates. The leaflet continues:
“4. In a difficult situation it depends on who
shoots first; therefore the whole crew must be able to work fast, but calm and confident. Technical advantages of the enemy, such as
the turning turret, have to be replaced by smooth cooperation and intrepid operation. 5. Have confidence in one’s own weapon. In any case, the decisive factors are the
spirit and skill of the crew and the performance of the gun. The Russian is defeated in most cases.” Here is particularly interesting the German
focus on skill and mental capabilities. This is strongly related to the German Army
Regulation 300 “Truppenführung” – Unit Command, which contained the primary guidelines
for the German Army for the Second World War. In which it is noted:
“Victory often is won by the stronger will.” Another important aspect for the commander
was “Munitionstaktik” or “ammo tactics”, it gives a short overview over the capabilities
and limitations of the different shells: “Save armor-piercing shells for their real
purpose. Pz.Gr. 39: for use at all distances. Pz.Gr. 40: greater penetrating power, but
only for close distances. Do not use at distances over 800 m if possible. Hollow charge : good penetrating power and
blasting effect against living targets, but long flight time and large dispersion. Smoke [literally fog] shell: as directing
shots, for blinding and setting houses on fire. Explosive shell: Shoot with delay if possible. Good effect against living targets in areas
or also for bunker busting. (Mine effect.) In case of emergency also has an effect against
tanks. (Jamming of the turret.)” One aspect that is often forgotten and glossed
over in popular discussions is the importance of communication and coordination. Their importance becomes rather apparent if
we consider the following passage: “1. Every commander must see his honor in reporting
much and well. He must always know that he is the most important
reporting organ of the front line. Therefore: Eagerness to report.” Note that I stumbled across the word „honor”
rarely in German instructions and manuals so far. Additionally, the precision of one’s speech
is also crucial: “2. The reports must be militarily accurate and
absolutely reliable. Guesses and assumptions must be expressly
designated as such.” The commander is also reminded that he should
keep the bigger picture in mind and report information that might be important to the
leadership, there is an explicit reference to the so called “Auftragstaktik” which
is usually translated as “mission-type tactics”. For these it is crucial that the subordinate
leader understands the commander’s intent, so the “why” is central. Additionally, the superiors tell their subordinates
leaders what to do, but provide quite a lot of leeway in how the objective is achieved:
“3. Always try to report the essential according
to the intent of the mission. What must the leadership know? What is of decisive importance for the success
of the battle?” There are more points, like reporting if the
situation did not change, since this also allows the leadership to draw conclusion. Additionally, the commander is instructed
to train his radio man in a way that in the heat of combat, he should be able to translate
simple words from commander into meaningful messages, which requires that the radio man
possesses an understanding of the tactical situation. Furthermore, the commander must be able to
handle the radio on his own: “The commander must in any case be able to
operate the radio himself. It is good, if he can pass on important messages
himself and receive important commands himself. He can thus talk to his platoon commander
or battery commander, thus avoiding mistakes and saving valuable time.” So, let’s move on to the gunner, who was
also the second in command. One of his crucial tasks was to get the StuG
combat ready, this meant getting the optics ready for use and the gun. As you might have noticed from photos the
guns of tanks and assault guns are often fixed in place with travel locks during marches. The instruction notes that completely removing
the locking mechanism of the gun too early can misalign it and even damage the ball bearings. During combat the gunner was obviously responsible
for aiming and firing. Now, this process seems rather simple in computer
games yet also in historical footage, since we see professionals at work and the footage
is usually from propaganda units. To give you a mere glimpse on how much coordination
between the crew members was actually required, here are the basic steps:
“a) Let the cross level adjusted roughly. b) Set the distance and type of projectile
ordered by the commander on the attachment. c) Search for target according to the commander’s
target address and prepare it. d) Have the cross level finely adjusted. e) Direct the target exactly again and [give]
‘Ready’-message to the commander. f) After ‘Fire’ of the commander and ‘Ready’
of the loader, press the trigger. g) When firing, keep an eye on the gunner
sight and observe the impact carefully. h) Side correction after own observation. Adjust the distance correction according to
the commander’s specifications.” Of course, this was according to the book,
in combat this might have been different. Yet, particularly noteworthy is that the gunner
should correct horizontally, whereas the commander corrected vertically Also note that here it
is assumed that the driver already aligned the StuG properly. Next, let’s look at the loader, who was
also the handyman of the StuG, which included being the radio man. We already mentioned the travel locks, yet
something that is rather rarely known are the caps for protecting the barrels from dust
and other particles. Every StuG should have 5 of those caps in
stock. It is noted that they could be shot through,
yet with a few exceptions: “If [the gun barrel is] frozen, do not fire
explosive grenades. In case of hollow grenade, always remove muzzle
cap first.” Furthermore, it seems that the plan on how
to storage the ammunition within the StuG was under the discretion of each commander:
“Place ammunition according to a plan determined by the commander. Armor piercing shells always at hand. Only store armor piercing shells in the ammunition
box of the commander (motor box). No hollow charge and explosive shell. Danger of explosion!” The Loader was responsible to inform the commander
on his own how much ammo was left, since this was crucial for the ammo tactics. Now, during combat the main job of the loader
was of course loading the gun, but he was also responsible for defending the StuG against
anti-tank infantry: “The loader must always be ready to fire anti-tank
infantry with hand grenades and submachine gun. Close combat weapons should therefore always
be kept at hand.” Similarly, he was also responsible for coordinating
with the infantry. “The loader must be constantly informed of
the attack direction, target and infantry unit with which the assault guns cooperate. He must know the structure of the assault
gun unit and the names of the platoon and assault gun commanders. He must be able to act as a radio operator
in all events and incidents.” Remember, unlike the Panzers, originally the
Sturmartillerie (Assault Artillery) was part of the artillery arm and a supporting arm
of the infantry. Be sure to check out my video for the history
of the German Sturmartillerie here. Now, let’s look at the interesting tasks
for the driver. Let’s start with the starter, namely the
electrical ignition system. A few weeks ago I released a video on my second
channel about starting the Panther tank at Militracks 2019 and one person asked why they
used the manual intertia starter and not the electrical one, well, one part of this of
course might be show, but we should not forget that WW2 equipment was of quite different
quality and there are always operational hazards as well. The leaflet notes the following:
“Starting by inertia starter, only in really necessary cases with electric starter, never
with electric starter immediately after refueling (danger of explosion! The whole rear armor can blow up [literally
fly into the air]).” Similarly, the driver is instructed to drive
next to the road if possible, to spare the running gear. Additionally, he should not turn in depressions
and keep an eye out for them the whole time. General Mud also gets an indirect mention
in the instructions: “In spring, take special care when passing
from sunny to shady spots. In Russia, this often means an unexpected
change in the composition of the soil (frost – mud).” Since an assault gun has no turret, the driver
job comes with more responsibility, since he must position the chassis to allow the
gunner to engage most targets. This is reflected especially by this point:
“In the case of unexpectedly appearing, life-threatening targets (anti-tank gun or tank) that are not
detected in time by the commander, he [the driver] will independently move the assault
gun in the target direction.” Now, when it comes to up-close and personal
combat, the driver similarly to the loader also has to defend the StuG:
“For close range defense, he always carries a submachine gun at hand, with which he can
also shoot out of the observation slit.” Yet, it does not stop here, he should also
support the commander when attacking trenches and enemy positions:
“When rolling up trenches and enemy positions, he can use his submachine gun to effectively
support the commander.” Another key task for the driver was how he
reacted to dealing when the StuG was hit. If, the StuG was hit critically in a way that
it was not suitable for combat anymore aka a mission kill, but still able to move, he
should deploy smoke and try to move the StuG out of harm’s way. If this was not possible, the StuG should
be left immediately, yet also picking up small arms and ammunition. After leaving the StuG cover should be taken
near the StuG. Then, it was crucial to observe if the StuG
was stilled fired upon. If not and it was possible to approach the
StuG, it should be repaired, and the battery commander should be informed. Note that the commander had similar instructions
for abandoning a StuG, yet with a different focus:
“If you’re forced to bail out, don’t forget your handguns. Muddle through as an infantryman. If the assault gun can no longer be saved,
it must be blown up. Under no circumstances may it fall intact
into enemy hands (radio documents).” Another issue were of course fires. And yes, the plural is very important there,
because the distinction between the different types of fires and the suggested course of
actions varied widely: “1. In the event of a carburetor fire, the loader
must shut off the fuel supply. Then turn the engine as high as possible to
empty the carburetor. A fire on the bottom of the hull looks very
bad at first. Keep calm! No immediate danger. Extinguish with a fire extinguisher, sand
and water. 2. In case of fire caused by enemy action, switch
off the engine immediately if possible (if you don’t have to take cover first), to prevent
the fire from spreading quickly. Get out immediately and extinguish the fire. 3. If the cartridges have caught fire, there
is no rescue. Disembark – run away!” As you can see, the carburetor fire was portrayed
as limited threat, whereas an ammunition fire was seen as fatal. Well, so, if the next time you are chosen
for the StuG Life, you know what to do. So, no more excuses, except for the “I just
followed orders” one. Anyway, if you like well-sourced content like
this, consider supporting me. Sources are in the description. Thank you for watching and see you next time!

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