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"Defense Against Ground-Attack Planes" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   Report on German defense tactics against ground-attack aircraft in North Africa, from the Intelligence Bulletin, May 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.]



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 pistol.


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.)


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