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"Armored Force Tactics in the Middle East" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   An observer's report on German armored tactics in North Africa, from the Intelligence Bulletin, February 1943.

[Editor's Note: The following article is wartime information on enemy tactics and equipment published for Allied soldiers. In most cases, more accurate data is available in postwar publications.]




United Nations observers in Libya have reported that there are four principles that German armored units seldom fail to consider before advancing to attack.

a. The primary role of the tank is to kill infantry.

b. The machine gun is therefore an important weapon of the tank.

c. The tank can be successful only when it is used in conjunction with all arms.

d. Tanks must be used in mass.

As a result of these views, the Germans will not fight a tank versus tank battle if they can avoid doing so. Moreover, their tactics are always based on having their armor move with other arms, in close support, in the form of a "box" or moving defense area.


The box is that part of the German column which appears inside the solid lines in figure 2. It varies in size, but if an armored battalion is the basic unit, the box might contain the following combat troops, in addition to tank ground crews and other service troops: 1 battalion of motorized infantry, usually carried in half-tracked, semi-armored vehicles; 1 battalion of 50-mm antitank guns; 1 battalion of 88-mm antiaircraft-antitank guns; 1 battalion of 150-mm close-support guns, sometimes on self-propelled mounts; and 1 battalion of divisional field artillery. Under these circumstances, the box would be approximately 2 miles deep, with a frontage of 200 yards.

On the move or in the attack, the dispositions of the guns in the box are as shown in figure 2; that is, the antitank and antiaircraft guns guard the flanks and the front. The infantry guns and field guns usually are inside the box only when the defensive is assumed.

The 88-mm, although a very effective antitank gun, is included in the box primarily to protect the "soft-skinned" vehicles from air attack.

3. METHOD OF ADVANCE (see fig. 1a)

Over flat terrain the distances between the various elements of the German column are approximately as follows: between the reconnaissance unit and the first echelon of tanks, 5 to 10 miles; between the first and second echelons of tanks, 1 mile; and between the second echelon of tanks and the box, 2 miles. The whole formation is directed toward an objective which, if seized, will force the opposition to fight and thus become engaged on ground of German choosing.

On normal terrain each element of the German column moves from high ground to high ground, and the separate echelons of tanks are supported by field artillery, which moves behind them.

[Figure 1. - German Armored Force Tactics.]
Figure 1.—German Armored Force Tactics.

[Figure 2. - German Armored Force Tactics (continued).]
Figure 2.—German Armored Force Tactics (continued).


As soon as United Nations troops are reported to be advancing and contact appears imminent, the box halts and takes up a position for all-around defense. This can be done very quickly because of the type of formation it uses while on the move. As the United Nations tanks advance, the German reconnaissance unit falls back, and the two echelons of German tanks deploy on a wide front, as illustrated in figure 1b, position "A."

If the United Nations troops continue to advance, the Germans retire to position "B," and force the opposition to attempt to break through one flank.

If the opposition attacks the German left flank, the troops on the left of the box at position "B" fall back to position "C." If the opposing tanks pursue, they not only are engaged frontally by the German tanks from position "C," but are caught in the flank by the antitank and antiaircraft guns protecting the left side of the box. The tanks of the German right flank at position "B" then swing around and engage the attackers in the rear. If the artillery has accompanied the tanks in the advance, it may either continue to support them or may enter the box to increase its antitank strength.


The Germans realize that it usually is impossible for an attack in depth to pass between two defense areas or to cross the front of one defense area to attack another. The attack is therefore launched approximately "head on." Such an attack may be carried out in the following way:

a. Phase 1

The Germans will reinforce their reconnaissance unit with tanks deployed on a wide front, and will drive their covering force ahead until it is approximately 2,500 yards from the "crust" of the opposition's defense area (see fig. 2).

b. Phase 2

A most careful reconnaissance of the defender's positions will then be carried out by a senior commander in a tank, to decide which defense area to attack. In Libya last winter, when British defense areas were not necessarily sited on high ground, a great deal depended on whether the Germans could get a position about 2,000 yards from the British front on which to deploy the German covering force. In figure 2 it is assumed that the Germans found this, and are going to attack defense area "B."

c. Phase 3

The covering force now deploys as follows: Tanks, generally Mark IV's, take up a hull-down position on the ridge, and with the fire of their machine guns attempt to pin the defense. They may engage visible antitank guns with their 75-mm's. Under cover of this fire, 50-mm antitank guns, heavy machine guns, and close support 150-mm infantry guns are also deployed in an attempt to knock out the antitank guns of the defense or to kill their crews.

The majority of the weapons in the deployed covering force are dependent on direct laying and therefore can be blinded by smoke.

Under cover of the fire of their covering force, the Germans form their rear in the following manner:

(1) Three rows of tanks, with about 50 yards between tanks and about 150 yards between rows.

(2) When the tanks are in position, the box forms in the rear, as illustrated. The infantry ride in their carriers.

d. Phase 4

At zero hour the entire formation moves forward at about 15 miles per hour, depending on the terrain. As the tanks pass through their covering force, they begin to fire, not so much with a view to hitting anything as for psychological effect.

Arriving at defense area "B," some tanks drive straight through to the far side, while others assist the infantry in mopping up. The infantry usually do not dismount from their carriers until they arrive in defense area "B," when they fan out, using Tommy guns extensively.

e. Phase 5

If the attack is successful, the covering force moves forward into the captured area to stiffen the German defenses that are being established there. The tanks generally are withdrawn and serviced near what has now become the rear of the former defense area.

f. Conclusions

It takes 2 or 3 hours to prepare and stage such an attack.

If the attack proves successful, no minor counterattack is likely to drive the Germans out. Their defense is very rapidly organized, inasmuch as all the weapons they require are immediately available.

Such attacks are now being beaten off, and it is apparent that in the future they will not succeed without considerably increased artillery support.

The whole form of the attack has been reduced by the Germans to a "battle drill."

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