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"Improvement of Defensive Positions" from Intelligence Bulletin, October 1943

[October 1943 Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   The following is a report on the improvement of German defensive positions in North Africa based on orders issued by Gen. von Arnim, commander of Fifth Panzer Army. This article is from the October 1943 issue of the U.S. 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.]



Last February Col. Gen. Jurgen von Arnim, then in command of the Fifth Panzer Army, issued from his headquarters in Tunis a significant order regarding the improvement of German defensive positions. This order not only touched on certain German weaknesses in the defense, but, in laying down methods by which they were to be corrected, showed a practical application of German doctrine to actual field problems.

At the beginning of the order, von Arnim said, "The improvement of positions still remains far below minimum requirements." He declared that temporary improvement of a position was not enough, and ordered that all defensive works be sited and built up (1) in anticipation of large-scale fighting, and (2) to provide concealment from hostile artillery and air observation. To insure uniform interpretation of his instructions, von Arnim summarized them in the following outline.


a. Requirements

(1) The forward boundary of the organized defense area must enclose the various positions which will be decisive in the defense of the combat outpost area.

(2) It must protect the most important observation posts.

(3) It (the terrain at that point) should be as unfavorable as possible to hostile tanks seeking to reach the position.

(4) It must remain in the hands of the defenders at all times.

b. How To Fulfill the Requirements

(1) The main dispositions should not be placed too near the forward boundary, lest hostile artillery fire reach them too easily. The majority of the automatic weapons should be forward. The riflemen should be behind them—removed from direct hostile fire and ready to counterattack. [See paragraph 2a (2) of this section.]

(2) The forward boundary of the organized defense area will be defended chiefly by fire from flank positions, which in turn are concealed from the hostile line and which will be protected by hand-grenade action against any frontal assault. Barbed wire is to be placed so far forward that a well dug-in enemy to the front cannot get within hand-grenade range of our foxholes.

(3) The selection of observation posts is decisive. These must have a field of observation which includes not only the forward boundary of the organized defense area, but the hostile outpost area, as well. These observation posts are not to be occupied initially; they will be occupied only at the start of a major action.

(4) Even if the hostile force does not at first place fire on our important positions, this is by no means an indication that it has not discovered them and will not concentrate on them at the beginning of the attack. Therefore, exercise caution when approaching the position, and especially within the position itself.

(5) Foot paths often reveal to hostile air observers an otherwise well camouflaged position (observation posts, command posts, field aid stations, and so on).

(6) Complete defense against hostile tanks must be insured by the prepared and coordinated employment of all means at our disposal: by mines (where antitank guns cannot be employed); by antitank guns (where concealed gun positions and a good field of fire of 0-1000 yards are possible) and by artillery.

(7) The reinforced defensive positions should consist of a deep, narrow hole for every two men. Stone walls will not be used.


a. How Depth of the Position Is Achieved

A defensive position in depth is achieved by:

(1) All-around defense of all observation posts and of all platoon, company, battalion, and regimental command posts.

(2) The construction of defensive positions in the areas of units designated for the counterattack. See paragraph 1b (1). Consider the reserves on the unit boundaries.

(3) All-around defense of all firing positions (heavy machine guns, mortars, infantry howitzers, and artillery).

b. How Defense of the Position Is Insured

Defense of the position is insured by:

(1) Our ability to shift the fires of our heavy weapons and employ them against the hostile force after it has penetrated our lines, and our ability to lay down defensive fires in front of our own centers of resistance. This must be taken into account in the selection of observation posts and firing points.

(2) Communication with subordinate and higher units and with command posts on the right and left as well as with forward outposts. The system of communication (telephonic or visual) must be so planned or improved that there will always be at least one means of communication functioning, even under heavy hostile fire. These communications are to be tested immediately and continuously improved, so that weaknesses can be determined and remedied.

(3) Security of the approach roads (concealed from the opposition), which may be used by the reserves in advancing to areas of counterattack against hostile penetrations. As soon as the opposition begins to lay down preparatory fires, these roads and the projected assembly areas of the reserves must be inspected daily to make certain that they are situated in areas which are exposed to little or no hostile fire.

(4) The supply of the sectors and subsectors, each according to the capabilities of the established strong points, with ammunition, water, first-aid equipment, tobacco, and food. It must be insured that, even when there is a complete one-day failure of supply from rear to front, the defenders of strong points will remain in good fighting condition. In the event of an enemy penetration, the strong points which have not yet been surrounded are to be immediately supplied with ammunition from the still-unbroken front. Upon their ability to hold out depends the successful continuation of the battle and the rapid retaking of the lost parts of the organized defense area.

(5) The simultaneous cooperation of all supporting weapons against definite targets. Whenever the occasion permits, test firing will be conducted by the artillery and sector commanders. One round will be fired from each position upon a given command or at a definite time.


Maps or overlays will be made by regiments and higher units to indicate the following:

a. Minefields, including antitank-gun positions and effective fields of fire.

b. Command posts and observation posts, (with the types of communication between them shown in color).

c. Especially advantageous observation posts (shown in different colors, with the terrain visible from each post always in the same color as the post itself).

d. Supply dumps (with munitions, water, and so on in different colors).

e. The positions of artillery, infantry guns, and mortars, including the fields of fire.

f. The principal areas in which hostile artillery fire will fall (shown on overlays).


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