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"Miscellaneous" from Intelligence Bulletin, June 1943

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   The following intelligence article reports on German counterattack tactics in North Africa, engagement of a British observation post, tank-borne infantry, reaction to British use of smoke, flak, defense of villages, and demolition precautions. The original article appeared in the June 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.]




The following notes deal with German counterattack tactics employed on the Mareth front in Tunisia from March 21 to 23.

a. Use of Tanks

In an attack against certain British positions, German tanks were not used in direct cooperation with the infantry. Instead, the tanks assembled—a maximum of 20 at a time were observed—and began to move in mass toward the British. After covering a short distance, they split into groups of three. Each group worked its way forward on its own, always attempting to reach the British flank. The groups advanced by bounds, moving from one hull-down position to another, and halting at each to shell and machine-gun the British positions.

b. Infantry

Detrucking under the concealment afforded by palm trees in the tank assembly area, the infantry worked its way forward stealthily, making good use of ground. Snipers were very active, and protected the infantry's advance in an efficient manner. The mission of the infantry always appeared to be to gain possession of commanding ground, from which British positions could be observed and made untenable.

c. Fire

In preparing for the attack, the Germans made extensive use of mortars. The fire was intense and accurate, and gave evidence of extremely good observing.

The Germans often fired tracer ammunition to indicate, to heavier guns sited further back, which targets were especially worth attacking.

In one instance, when the British had captured a position and had shown a success signal, the Germans sent up a white Very light. German artillery at once placed fire on the lost position.

d. Panzer Grenadiers

It is reported that at least one attack in which Panzer Grenadiers took part was completely broken up as a result of British medium (U.S. heavy) machine-gun and 75-mm mortar fire, and that casualties were numerous.

At Zaret Sudest a German position, which apparently was held by a company of Panzer Grenadiers, was the scene of heavy hand-to-hand fighting in the communication trenches, of which the Germans made full use, throwing hand grenades and sniping at close range.


On one occasion in North Africa a British observation post was engaged by seven enemy tanks, of which only six fired. The seventh, the commander's tank, was at the halt about half a mile away. After one of the six tanks had got the observation post's range, all began to fire for effect. They were employed rather like a 6-gun battery, with the commander's tank apparently controlling the others. The range was 7,000 yards.

British 25-pounders (88-mm gun-howitzers) responded with heavy fire. The enemy then attacked the observation post with 15 tanks and two 75-mm guns. As soon as the enemy fire was effective, one of the tanks placed its fire behind the observation post while the remaining tanks carried out a flanking movement.


The Germans have been known to follow a wave of tanks with a second wave carrying infantrymen, 15 to a tank. The general rule has been for the infantrymen to jump off as close to their objective as the nature of the terrain and hostile fire permit. It is reported that under favorable circumstances, they may ride on the tank until it is within 30 to 10 feet of the blind side of a pillbox, for example.


A message from a German army to a corps indicates German response to the use of smoke—in this instance, by the British.

In case the enemy makes use of smoke, units must immediately open fire with machine guns and artillery on the area where the smoke is. We have found from experience that the enemy moves his infantry forward and carries out concentrations, movements, and replacements under the concealment afforded by the smoke. In such cases intense machine-gun fire obtains excellent results.

As far as our resources permit, our own troops must use smoke to conceal their own movements.


Although a Flak (German antiaircraft artillery) unit in the field remains subordinate to the German Air Force in all matters of administration, it is operationally subordinate to the commander of the army unit to which it is attached. The use of Flak in cooperation with the army is highly flexible, and the scale and method of employment vary, often on short notice, according to the tactical situation. When Flak units are assigned to divisions, first consideration is usually given to armored and motorized components.

All Flak guns up to and including the 88-mm are dual-purpose, and when units are attached to the field army, they carry armor-piercing and percussion-fuze as well as time-fuze ammunition.

[Figure 5.—Combat Score on German Flak Gun Shield]
Figure 5.—Combat Score on German Flak Gun Shield

In all the campaigns of the present war, Flak units have been active in the front lines, where the heavy guns, in particular, have been used increasingly against armored vehicles, artillery positions, and fortifications.

Flak gun crews are permitted to paint a record of their successes on the shields of their guns (see fig. 5). The Germans feel that this encourages a competitive spirit which not only strengthens morale, but which leads directly to greater efficiency on the part of the crews.


As a rule, if the Germans believe that a town or village in their possession is likely to be attacked, they prepare it for all-around defense. In the outskirts of the populated area, they generally construct a belt of field defenses around the town, with ditches, minefields, and other antitank obstacles protecting all approaches, and with every obstacle covered by fire according to a well coordinated plan.

Within the populated center itself, the German defense plan is based on the theory that in all street fighting, the element of surprise is important. Certain buildings are transformed into fortified strongholds, and several such buildings, capable of mutual fire support, become a center of resistance. Streets and houses which are outside these zones are covered by small-arms fire.

The ground floor of a fortified point is usually reserved for such heavy weapons as guns, antitank guns, and mortars. Artillery and mortars are also emplaced in parks, gardens, and courtyards, where the Germans believe that they can be especially effective in repelling tanks. Tanks may be placed in ambush inside barns or other buildings; also, they may be cleverly dug-in around the outskirts of the town to cover possible avenues of tank approach.

Heavy and light automatic weapons, snipers, and grenade throwers are dispersed throughout the upper floors of buildings and on roofs.

If one or two buildings of a fortified zone are lost, the Germans try to counterattack vigorously before the opposition has had time to consolidate its gains.


The Germans now include as part of their normal equipment means of destroying anything which should not be allowed to fall into our hands. In addition to their regular ammunition, guns are allotted charges to be placed in the barrels so that the equipment may be thoroughly demolished. Drivers are equipped with grenades to destroy their own vehicles. Company headquarters keep on hand a bottle of gasoline to pour over all classified documents. They also have another incendiary bottle, not unlike the phosphorous bomb used in close combat against tanks. Just in case this does not function, a box of matches is kept in reserve. The German theory is that if they allow us to capture anything intact, their loss is double—we gain a tank, for example, while they must call for a replacement.


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