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"Notes on British Antitank Tactics" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   A brief report on British antitank tactics in North Africa from information collected by U.S. observers, from the Intelligence Bulletin, January 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.]




a. In Depth

Like the Russians, the British are firm believers in distributing their antitank weapons in depth. This not only goes far toward preventing encirclement, but results in "smothering" the tank waves. Whenever possible, antitank defenses—including traps, obstacles, and mines—should be so located that enemy vehicles will be channelized, or caught in positions where they will be subject to flanking fire. The flanks of tank echelons, although often protected by accompanying artillery, are especially vulnerable, partly because the visibility of the tank gunners is severely limited and partly because tank leaders are instructed to dash forward and gain their objective even if this involves dangerous exposure of flanks.

b. Changing Sites

Once a gun has opened fire, its position is given away by the flash, which may be seen both by air and ground observers. Therefore, the only means of protection is a change of position. The coordination of such moves is vastly important, because even one change may upset or alter the defensive layout as a whole. The British recognize that more training is required in the reconnaissance and layout of positions, especially with reference to the selection and coordination of alternative positions. Also, the guns should be so sited that they are defiladed from enemy ground observation. To accomplish this, it is frequently necessary to dig pits for the guns, just deep enough to allow the gun barrels to have traversing room above the ground. Slit trenches are provided for personnel and ammunition.

c. In North Africa

In the North African campaign, the British usually boxed in their battle positions completely with mines, providing an all-around defense. Such minefields, according to American observers, are normally marked with a barbed-wire fence, usually consisting of one to three strands. British-laid minefields along the enemy front were well covered by automatic weapons, while the dead spaces in between were covered by infantry mortars.

The minefields were sited and laid by British engineers.

Other information obtained by our North African observers included the following:

"The normal fire unit is the single gun. Where possible, guns are sited so as to be mutually supporting. A favorite gun position appeared to be behind a slight ridge, defiladed from the front, exchanging fire across the front of a neighboring gun, which, in turn, fired across its front. Some guns, especially 47 mm, are sighted to the rear so as to catch the tanks in their engine compartments or thinner armored portions after they have passed.

"The decision to employ guns on portee or on the ground is reserved to the battery commander.

". . . A typical position for the 57-mm gun is a shallow emplacement similar in plan to the standard emplacement for our 37-mm gun (M3). A low parapet of loose dirt is built up in front of the gun, just high enough to permit the muzzle of the piece to swing through its maximum traverse. Deep slit trenches for the protection of the crew are habitually provided. Ammunition chests are likewise dug in. It was observed that in level, open terrain, such an emplacement provided a high measure of concealment, especially if the muzzle were fully depressed so as to rest on the parapet. By doing this, the characteristic shape of the gun was concealed . . ."

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