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"The Germans in CombatAs Seen by the British" from Intelligence Bulletin, October 1943

[October 1943 Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   The following article contains the combat experiences of British officers and enlisted men who fought against the Germans in Tunisia. The article originally appeared in the October 1943 issue of the Intelligence Bulletin.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin publication. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]



In a series of informal discussions, a number of British officers and enlisted men who fought the Germans in Tunisia have made useful comments on German combat methods—and on certain British procedures as well. Some of these soldiers were experienced, but many had just seen action for the first time. The following extracts from their remarks will be of special interest to U.S. soldiers who have not yet faced the Germans in battle.

Adjutant, Parachute Battalion:

The Germans have a habit of shifting their positions daily. We were badly "had" because of this. Sometimes we had to carry 3-inch mortars 10 miles across country, and then, when we shelled a place where the Germans were supposed to be, we found that they had moved. As a result, we merely gave away our own position....

The Germans didn't seem to do much night patrolling. At first, we had very little difficulty in taking then by surprise. One of our parachutists got up to a farmhouse where there were a lot of Jerries. He planted a bomb in a room where they were sleeping, and got out without waking anyone. A Jerry stopped him in the passage outside and said, "What are you doing here?" Our man stuck a gun in the Jerry's ribs and explained the situation. Our parachute blouse is very much like the German uniform, and this German wouldn't believe it wasn't all a joke—until he was shot.

By the way, here's a point I'd like to stress: if you're going up a hill where Germans have been, look out for mines set with pull-igniters. The Germans plaster the place with them.

Lieutenant, Field Co., Royal Engineers:

Our job was mainly lifting and laying mines, building battalion positions, and marking roads with white stones and so on, to make night driving easier. What a lot of people don't realize is that under these conditions all headlights are forbidden and that all movement must be done at night. Thanks largely to all the road marking, the accident rate wasn't bad.

We also spent a lot of time checking against maps. By the way, we soon found out that the thickness of a road line on the map doesn't necessarily have any relation to the width or quality of the actual road itself.

In the future one thing I'm going to concentrate on like hell is night training. Most work in connection with mines and bridges is done at night. We found it absolutely necessary, when close to the enemy, to have some means of looking at maps without showing a light. In an attempt to solve this problem, we devised a portable case (see fig. 4). It's very simple—just a "compo" ration-box lid, with a wire framework supporting a little canvas tent affair, which has two eyeholes and two armholes. A flashlight is clamped into a wooden cross-bar support at the back. We found the whole thing extremely practical....

Trip wires leading to mines are a hell of a problem. The Germans like to place them in underbrush. During a march, your legs and feet get less and less sensitive to what they brush against, and if you aren't alert, you're likely to crash into a trip wire and detonate a mine—very likely an "S" mine set with a pull-igniter.

[Figure 4. Portable Device for Map Reading at Night.]
Figure 4.—Portable Device for Map Reading at Night.

Battery Commander, Royal Artillery:

Gunners should give more thought to the question of defending themselves. Ninety percent of the time, gunners are without infantry protection, whether in battle or on the road. This point becomes very significant when you are continually threatened by German patrols at night. Gunners have a great tendency to attract the Germans' attention by talking. The Germans creep up, sling a few grenades, and get away. My men weren't guilty of this, but I know of a number in other batteries who were.

German shelling soon taught us the necessity for improving our gun-pit digging.

Company Commander, Hampshire Regiment:

It's difficult to know what to do when the Germans give themselves up during an attack. You'd sometimes find that half a group would go on firing, while half were making signs of surrender. You've got to watch out that the ones who raise their hands to surrender don't pick up their rifles and fire at your back when you've gone past them.

The Germans move about more than we do. We seem to be rather static-minded. The Germans will occupy a position and then leave it for an entire day and night, but this doesn't necessarily mean that they don't intend to come back....

Private, Parachute Battalion:

There were two small woods, one behind the other, about a mile in front of our lines. The nearer one was reported clear, but the other was supposed to be used by a German platoon coming up to patrol at night. Our platoon was sent out as a combat patrol.

We went by the route marked on the map (see fig. 5). The ground was covered with low bushes, so we couldn't help making a certain amount of noise. Even so, we were able to come quite close to two German sentries, whom we found in the first woods—to our great surprise. We got down and listened. We could hear the sentries walking about and talking. They were pretty careless. One kept blowing his nose. I should say that they were just the other side of the hedge, within about 15 yards of us.

[Figure 5. Combat Map.]
Figure 5.

If they had been more wide-awake, they would have had us cold. The mere fact that they were there at all was unpleasant enough for us. We weren't expecting to meet them until we got to the second wood, but here they were in the first. Then we heard another bunch on the other flank, making enough noise to indicate much greater strength than our platoon could profitably attack. So we retired.

One thing this experience taught me is that you can't always rely on information brought in by a patrol the night before.

Gunner, Royal Artillery:

I used to laugh at slit trenches, but at a particular place one saved my life. We had dug a good deep slit trench beside our gun. It was just getting dark, and we had fired the last round of the day, when two Ju 88's spotted us. The battery executive yelled, "Get into the slit trenches." Most of us were fortunate and got in quickly. The others, I'm sorry to say, were either killed or wounded. So the narrower and deeper the slit trench, the better.

Private, Parachute Battalion:

The Germans knew approximately where we were, but they didn't know our exact position. There were a lot of dead bodies lying about, and some of the boys started looking for loot—revolvers, binoculars, and so on. The Germans got our exact position, of course, and gave us hell with mortars, killing nearly every man. So here's a piece of advice: leave the loot alone, and don't move about there the Germans can see you—they're sure to give you hell if you do.

Private, Infantry Battalion:

We were to start the big attack on the main Tunis road at early morning on 22 April, but the Germans attacked us at dawn on the 21st. We were in a wadi, when we were surprised by about 30 Germans. They were very good soldiers, too. How they got around our forward company, which was A Company, nobody knows. But this put them right between A Company forward and battalion headquarters, which was in the wadi with all our tracked vehicles.

The enemy was occupying our observation post, which was about 900 yards from battalion headquarters. Our C.O. sent C Company into the attack, but they couldn't move the Germans, who were holding a forward slope. So the C.O. had the mortar platoon lay a smoke screen while C Company withdrew. However, he also placed his light machine guns out and sent in B and D companies, with bayonets fixed. I had read about the Jerries not liking the sight of cold steel, and it turned out to be true—they were putting up their hands before our company was within 50 yards of them. It was a grand sight to see our men going in with the charge, which I saw from the wadi, as I was with the Antitank back at headquarters.

Then the second-in-command sent down for four drivers to bring in four trucks left behind by the Germans. We went over the top of the hill, from which the Jerries had been moved, and we could see the trucks about 400 yards away. When we were within 10 yards of them, an enemy machine gun and snipers suddenly opened up. They got my chum. Seeing no cover, I dropped down in the tall grass. Probably because I remembered what I had been taught about crawling, I'm here to tell the story.


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