A detailed set of German combat orders issued to a
company in North Africa affords an excellent illustration
of enemy defense technique, as well as insight
into the way the tasks of smaller units are outlined
and coordinated. Every platoon and squad, and almost
every support weapon, is discussed separately
and fully. For the sake of brevity, the contents of the
orders are summarized and are grouped under appropriate
The first words of the order were "The company
will hold its position to the last man." Each sub-unit
received its own assignment. The left platoon was
to "neutralize and destroy the attacking enemy" [British]. The
right platoon was already in its assigned
position, where it had received its orders; the heavy
mortar section had already been given two prearranged
fire plans for the two halves of its front; the
antitank rifle 41 was not to engage British armored
vehicles at more than 200 yards; the antitank guns
were to bring the British tanks to a standstill in front
of the main line of the company defensive area; and
company headquarters was to use all available personnel
to form a strongpoint (Stutzpunkt) in the
event of an enemy penetration (Einbruch).
As is customary in German orders, the information
given under "Intentions" contained a few tactical
hints, as well. Thus the left platoon was encouraged
to site its reserve machine guns in an enfiladed position,
and its reserve squad was to fire between the
forward squads. The right platoon was to have a
listening post near the fence which surrounded the
position; the post would withdraw as soon as the British
attacked. The machine guns were to open up
without orders as soon as they observed an attack developing.
Designated snipers were to aim at commanders.
The reserve machine guns were instructed
to fire between the forward squads, and the remainder
of the reserve was to give supporting fire in depth.
The center platoon's fourth squad was to become a
"counterattack group" and was not to open fire except
to deal with British troops who had actually
penetrated. The center platoon's antitank rifle was
forward, between the center and right squads. The
heavy mortar squad was reminded of the customary
role of the mortar, and was advised to fire with the
sun at its back. The antitank gun was given the
ranges beyond which it was not to fire--namely, 200
to 300 yards in the case of medium and heavy tanks,
and 600 yards in the case of light tanks. For reasons
of concealment, firing at British ground positions was
forbidden. The antitank gun commander was ordered
to observe the fall of his fire from a flank position, and
the ammunition handlers, except when they were
needed for their normal duties, were to join in the
infantry fire fight. During action, all-around observation
was to be maintained. The gun commander was
instructed to prepare a range card, and to require his
crew to learn it by heart.
The company's position was apparently surrounded
by a single-apron or double-apron fence. The British
positions (given separately in each sub-unit's orders)
were from 150 to 450 yards away. On the German
side of the wire, the arrangement of the minefield appears
to have varied. The left platoon's minefield consisted
of a row of booby traps 3 to 4 yards from the
wire, a minefield proper 40 yards behind this (3 to 4
yards between rows, 2 to 5 feet between mines), and
three independent mines between the two fields. The
right platoon's minefield consisted of four rows spaced
alternately (4 yards between rows and 5 rows between
mines). The center platoon's minefield was known
only vaguely to the company commander, but in front
of its right squad the minefield was 30 yards from the fence.
The left platoon had a trip-wire in front of its fence,
but no explosives in the fence itself; the right platoon
had explosive charges hung in the fence, and these
were detonated by a cord from the position; the center
platoon had four to six grenades in its portion of the
fence, to be fired in the same way.
From the orders, it seems evident that the details
of siting minefields and booby traps were left to the
discretion of individual platoon commanders.
The left platoon's position was not described in the
orders, but its total frontage was given as 300 yards.
Attached to the center squad was the antitank rifle,
model 41, covering a sector which ran through the whole
The right platoon's position consisted of three trench
systems, arranged like a wide arrowhead. The squad
occupying the trench system at the left had an antitank
rifle. A reserve section was held at platoon headquarters
with runners, and with the reserve (fifth)
machine gun and antitank rifle.
The center platoon had three squads forward, while
the fourth was 130 yards southwest of platoon headquarters.
The heavy mortar squad had an observation
post between two of the forward squads and a fire
position 500 yards in rear of the observation
post (and 80 yards to the right of company headquarters).
5. SENTRY SYSTEM
The left platoon had two men on guard by day. At
night (from 1900 to 0600 hours), there were two
men per machine gun and two men in each of the
listening posts put out by the three forward squads.
The right platoon had one post per position (including
platoon headquarters) by day, and at night two
men per machine gun plus two sentries, who were allowed
to rest in the position but who were required
to know the light signals and the password.
The center platoon had one observation post per
squad manned by day, with the "counterattack group" manning
an observation post between the center and
right squads. At night the center platoon had two
men per machine gun. One of these was to be the
squad leader or his second-in-command. The antitank
riflemen maintained one man in a position between
the center and right squads. On the left (open)
flank, all squads in turn maintained two men with
grenades in an abandoned antitank gun-pit northwest
of platoon headquarters. The heavy mortar squad was
to keep one man at the mortar by day and two at
night. A man remained at the antitank rifle day and
night; he was relieved every two hours. One man by
day, and two at night, maintained continuous observation
by the antitank gun. At dawn the gun commander
was to stand to.
Reserves of ammunition were dumped behind or in
each position. The right platoon had one "echelon"
of ammunition at platoon headquarters and two "echelons"
with its squads. The heavy mortar squad's
ammunition was dug in near the mortar pit. The
antitank rifle's ammunition was hidden in holes within
a radius of 30 yards from the position. The antitank
gun's ammunition was similarly hidden, but in
such a way that the gun crew could lay its hands on
the right kind, even at night. (There were 11 cases
of armor-piercing and 4 cases of high-explosive
There was a warning against bunching at the issuing
point. As a precaution against harassing fire by
British artillery, containers were to be distributed
at some distance from the vehicles which brought
them forward. It was noted that 8 days' reserve
rations were buried near platoon headquarters in each
Intercommunication was normally to be by light
signal or by runner. The right platoon was reminded
that, in line with normal German procedure, its squad
leaders were to maintain contact with their neighbors.
The antitank gun commander was told to report the
day's observations and any other events to his platoon
commander, at the evening ration-drawing.
9. SAFETY PRECAUTIONS
For firing on fixed lines, wooden stakes were to be
driven in near each machine gun, to mark the permissible
arcs of fire. (All machine guns were given
definitely prescribed arcs.) The antitank rifle was
permitted to fire all around at ranges of 400 yards or
more; along the sector it was covering, it was allowed
to engage armored vehicles at ranges as low as 200 yards.
10. GENERAL INFORMATION
Each position was told in detail the degree and types
of hostile fire likely to fall on its sector, and the distance
between itself and the British position.