The effective use of Allied ground-attack aircraft against German troops
and armored vehicles, especially tanks, has led the Germans to place great
emphasis on defensive measures.
In the Polish and French campaigns, German machine-gun and cannon fire from
low-flying attack planes caused great damage to military equipment and many
casualties to personnel. Similar tactics were effectively employed at the
outset of the Russian invasion. However, the Soviets concluded that a heavy
concentration of small-arms fire would not only damage or destroy the
planes, but would also bolster the morale of the troops by keeping them
in action. Accordingly, the Russians proceeded to stress this form of
defense. The results were encouraging, inasmuch as many German planes
were damaged or shot down by rifle fire concentrated on their vulnerable
under parts. The Germans countered by increasing the armor on their
attack planes, which reduced personnel losses but did not entirely
prevent structural damage.
In one instance in Africa, an eye-witness reported the destruction of
three Italian planes in 5 minutes by small-arms fire. In another case, the
Germans claim to have brought down a Soviet plane with an automatic
2. GERMAN INSTRUCTIONS
On their own account, the Germans have endeavored to impress their
troops with the absolute necessity of employing all available fire power
against ground-attack planes. The following instructions appear to have
had wide distribution among the German troops in Africa:
"Low-level air attacks have once again led to serious losses. In spite of
this, troops still fail to seize the opportunity of destroying the enemy
machines. Frequently no sort of defense is put up, and the enemy's task
is thereby rendered easier.
"It has been proved, however, that heavy losses both of personnel and
planes can be inflicted by the use of infantry weapons. Airplanes are
sensitive and are partly crippled by hits on the engine, gasoline tank,
ammunition, and so forth. Considerable success is attained when a pilot
is put off his aim or when a plane has become a semi-casualty.
"Enemy fighters have a habit of flying very low and climbing only just before
attacking. For this reason they cannot be picked up by the Air Warning Service
sufficiently early to allow our fighters to arrive in time. The fire of all
available weapons, including rifles, is therefore the best means of defense
in such cases."
The Germans devised the following methods to beat off low-level attacks:
"a. Concentrate the fire of all weapons not immediately
engaged in ground defense.
"b. Open fire on the planes before they attack you; open with a burst
and follow it up with rapid rifle fire.
"c. Meet the attacking plane with a hail of bullets.
"d. Don't fire on diving planes at a range greater than 2,000 feet, because
it is useless and serves only to give away your position to the enemy.
"Every soldier—no matter to which arm of the service he belongs—must
be determined to destroy the attacker from the skies.
"Not only is small-arms fire a strong deterrent to enemy pilots, but a few
bullet holes in an airplane may keep it in the repair shop for many days."
(Note. The British, in their defense of Tobruk, proved that small-arms fire
can be effective against low-flying aircraft. In one period, rifles and
Lewis-type machine guns accounted for nearly half the bombers brought
down. One captain rigged a twin Lewis gun outside his office and was
officially credited with six planes shot down.
Another of Tobruk's small-arms defenders was "Tiny," a very husky naval
gunner who came into the harbor aboard a small British warship. Fifteen Nazi
dive bombers attacked the ship, and she settled down in the harbor with
all guns blazing. Her shattered superstructure still remained above water
and Tiny and his mates got permission to remain aboard to get their
revenge. Whenever the bombers came over they scrambled to the poop and
let the enemy have it with their machine gun.)