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A striking analogy between the attack of a German unit, the 2nd Battalion, 118th Infantry, on 23
May 1940 against a French defensive position in the Sommauthe Woods near La Besace, France, and
the attack of the 3rd Battalion, 358th Infantry, in the Foret de Mont Castre can be made in order to
elucidate further the difficulties of executing certain tactical principles in an attack through dense
The German battalion was ordered to attack the French defensive positions on the N edge of the
Sommauthe Woods and drive the enemy to the edge of the woods approximately 3000 yards to the
south. The attacking battalion was an interior unit. Prior to the attack, reconnaissance revealed that the
French held relatively weak positions near the north edge of the woods. Enemy dispositions further
within the woods could not be determined.
Although the thick mass of trees and shrubs limited visibility to ten or fifteen yards, the German
attack initially moved forward rapidly. Suddenly, the assault elements were met by heavy grenade and
machine-gun fire. The German elements, using similar weapons, pushed forward relentlessly and
aggressively in the face of heavy short-range fire from enemy located in trees and camouflaged
entrenchments. Contact between companies and adjacent battalions was broken. Companies became
lost. The French, consisting of Senegalese troops, constantly counterattacked and attempted to encircle
the Germans. Finally, after suffering heavy casualties, the battalion reorganized and resumed the attack.
Upon its relief, the battalion had advanced some 3000 yards in approximately eight hours.
The similarity of the difficulties imposed on the attack of the 2nd Battalion, 118th Infantry, and
the 3rd Battalion, 358th Infantry, by the concealment afforded the defensive units strongly illustrates
that the principles of control of units, the maintenance of contact, and the aggressiveness of individuals
must necessarily be maintained during an attack through heavy woods. Only in this manner can success
be achieved.
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