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"Antitank Tactics as Seen by U.S. Combat Personnel" from Intelligence Bulletin

Comments on German antitank tactics in North Africa from members of U.S. armored divisions, from the Intelligence Bulletin, July 1943.

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

  

ANTITANK TACTICS AS SEEN BY
U.S. COMBAT PERSONNEL

The following comments on German antitank tactics in Tunisia are from members of a U.S. armored division. It is believed that these descriptions of the enemy in action will be of interest and value to junior officers and enlisted men.

1. A BATTALION COMMANDER

German antitank gunnery in Tunisia made our reconnaissance a particularly tough job. The Germans dragged up their big 88-mm guns and dropped them in position behind their tanks. Usually a crew dug its gun in a hole 12 by 12 by 6 feet deep, virtually covering up the shield and exposing only the barrel of the gun. We found these guns especially hard to locate. (In fact, they can break up your whole show if you don't pick them up in time.) Apparently the Germans used mats to hide the muzzle blast. Once we hunted three days for a gun, which was within 1,000 yards of us, and then found it only by spotting the personnel approaching the gun position.

Generally, the Germans tried to suck us into an antitank-gun trap. Their light tanks baited us in by playing around just outside effective range. When we started after them, they turned tail and drew us within range of their 88's. First, they opened up on us with their guns in depth. Then, when we tried to flank them, we found ourselves under fire of carefully concealed guns at a shorter range. We've just got to learn to pick off those guns before closing in.

When the Germans went into position, they hid their guns and tanks in anything available, including Arab huts. Then they dressed their personnel in Arab garb so that these men could go to and from their positions. Usually the Germans tried to draw us within a 1,200-yard range. They frequently used machine guns to range themselves in, and we ducked their shells by watching that machine-gun fire. When they were moving, they shot at anything that looked suspicious, and generally knocked down every structure in sight. (We thought this a good idea, and followed suit.) Sometimes the Germans got the range with high-burst smoke shells. But when we saw three of those in a line, we took off. We had discovered that it was the high sign for the Stukas.

One evening several Mark[1] IV's followed a British tank column right up to their tank park until a 25-pounder battery spotted the strangers on the tail of the column and blew them off the road.

Later the lieutenant; colonel was asked a question about the use of tanks in action. He said:

The Germans towed their 88's behind their tanks. (Maybe they brought up 75's, or both; I know they brought up 88's.) They towed them up and dug in. Their tanks came out and attracted our attention, and, until we caught on to their tricks, the tanks led us right between the guns, got behind us, and gave us the works. We learned not to form the habit of going for the first 88's which shot at us. There were likely to be several much closer up. The first 88 that barked and the first tank were generally bait, and we had to refrain from plunging at them. When they staged any night attack or late evening attack, and neither side pressed the fight, the Germans put their 88's in No-Man's-Land way ahead of where their tank positions were. In one instance their tanks were within 1,000 yards of a pass, but their guns were 4,000 yards ahead of the pass.

Four 88's, if dug in, are a match for any tank company. They are the most wonderful things to camouflage I have ever seen. They are very close to the ground. [2] You can watch the fire coming in; little dust swirls give the guns away and show how low they are. The projectiles just skim over the ground. The pit is 12 by 12 by 6. The gun looks like a pencil or black spot. The shield is level with the piece, and all you can really see is the tube. In Tunisia the crews, dressed in Arab clothes, did everything they could to camouflage positions. Our artillery found that it could get them out with high-explosive. When a tank gun could find them, it could get them out, too.

Over 1,200 yards there was no use in worrying about the 88. Its fire bounced off our medium tanks at that range. Under 1,200 yards, we took care to watch out. His gunnery stank at long ranges. In general, I felt that our men were better.

We soon learned to pick off the leader of a tank group. After a while we were able to tell which was the leader, because of certain differences in behavior. When we got one of their commanders, the other tanks stopped and seemed sort of dazed.

One day I had an interesting experience. Ten German tanks were sitting on a ridge, shooting at half-tracks. They had been at my left rear and I hadn't seen them. There were Mark IVs, some Mark IIIs, and a Mark VI. They stopped on the crest and did a right flank and started to get in column. The Germans sometimes put a Mark VI in the middle and the others on the flanksó-always making one flank heavier than the other, however. We picked out one and hit him, and he stopped. We burned the next one. Then the Mark VI, which I had thought was a Mark IV, came close. The Mark VI tanks are hard to identify, but have a more or less square outline with an offset box on the side.[3] We bounced four rounds off the front of him. Then another tank came up right along side of him, and it was easy to move a hair's breadth to the left and pick him off. (We had no AP, so I know an HE will crack a Mark IV. You should shoot low, and it will ricochet and kill them in the turret, or damage them so they will be of no use.) We had to move out of it when the Stukas appeared.

Whenever Stukas came along, the German tanks sent up colored flares to identify themselves. Then, with three smoke shells, they marked a target for the Stukas.

The Germans used a lot of high-burst ranging. I noticed that the artillery was likely to fire a round, apparently getting the range from the map, and get one overhead and then drop right down on us. It was comparatively easy to dodge an 88, because they started with machine-gun bullets. When they began hitting us, we moved suddenly to the right or left to avoid the fire.

2. A COMPANY COMMANDER

When you fire on the German tanks, they play a lot of tricks. When we fired on them in Tunisia, they stopped, leading us to think that we had knocked them out. When we turned around on something else—wham, they opened up on us!

It would really be worth your time over in the States to shoot at your men at night with tracer bullets. In Tunisia the Germans used tracers and sometimes raised hell with our troops. Tracers throw a hell of a scare into you, anyhow; each one looks as though it's headed straight for you. The Germans are cracker-jacks at night fighting, I might add.

I'm also concerned about another question of tactics, which is probably none of my business. We had always been taught that the Germans attacked at dawn or in the early morning light. Actually, just to confuse us, they were even more apt to hit us at dusk, when there was only half an hour of light left in the sky. Then they threw everything they had at us—including their star shells and Very lights—in an attempt to put us on the run.

3. A TANK COMMANDER

I think that a battalion of infantry trained to operate at night could slip into a German tank park and really raise hell. One night, after we had been burned out of our tank during action, we made our way to within 30 yards of a parked tank, thinking it was an Arab hut. The Germans don't seem to worry so much about security at night.


[1] A British designation that Americans often use instead of the German Pz. Kw. (Panzer Kampfwagen).

[2] See Intelligence Bulletin No. 9, page 59, for sketch of an 88-mm AA/AT gun, dug-in.

[3] For a description of the Pz. Kw. 6, with sketches, see Intelligence Bulletin No. 10, pp. 19-23.


The September 1943 Intelligence Bulletin contained the following correction:

In Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. I, No. 11, p. 29, par. 3, a U.S. Army officer was quoted as saying: "Over 1,200 yards there was no use worrying about the 88. Its fire bounced off our medium tanks at that range." It has since been established, however, that German 88-mm guns constitute a danger to U.S. medium tanks at any range up to 5,000 yards.

 

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