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"Minefields in Desert Terrain" from Intelligence Bulletin, January 1943

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following U.S. military report on Axis methods of laying minefields in the North African desert during WWII was originally published in the Intelligence Bulletin, January 1943.

[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 the Axis technique of laying minefields in the North African desert. It must be emphasized that an important Axis purpose in laying minefields is to create and spread fear among United Nations troops. Cool heads and common sense, as well as a sound understanding of enemy methods, are therefore "musts" for all personnel.


Although the Germans and Italians use several types of mines in desert warfare, including captured mines as well as those of Axis manufacture, it has been reported that the enemy recently has shown a preference for the following:

a. German Teller Mine

This is a 19-pound antitank mine containing 11 pounds of explosive (tolite). It is shaped like a disk, 12 inches in diameter and 4 inches high. The firing pressure is about 350 pounds.

b. German "S" Mine

The "S" mine is an anti-personnel weapon containing 1 pound of tolite and 350 steel shrapnel balls. It is cylindrical, 4 inches in diameter, and 5 1/2 inches high. "S" mines may be fired either by push-igniters or pull-igniters. These mines are buried, but when they are fired, they are thrown about 3 feet above the ground before detonating.

c. Italian "B4" Mine

This is a 3 1/3-pound anti-personnel mine containing 1/4 pound of T.N.T. and scrap metal fragments. It is cylindrical, 3 inches in diameter, and 5 inches high. In use, B4 mines are concealed, but not buried. A trip wire is attached to the trigger of a B4. When the wire is tripped, it releases a striker, which fires the mine.

d. "Wooden Box"

A new and unusually effective type of mine has been encountered during the present Egyptian-Libyan offensive. The mine consists of a wooden box containing nine blocks of guncotton and measuring about 18 inches in length, with inside dimensions of the box given as 11 by 8 by 2 1/2 inches. The mine is fitted with a sensitive detonator, which is activated by about 35 pounds pressure. Since the mine is made of wood, the British probe for the mine with a bayonet, instead of using their regular mine detector. This is done with the bayonet at an angle to the surface of the ground, rather than perpendicular.


Most minefields are laid in patterns. Prisoners of war state that these may vary considerably, and that they are decided upon by the officer in charge of a particular task, who must take into consideration local conditions and the type of defense that is contemplated. Among the patterns very frequently encountered are the "regular pattern" and the "regular pattern offset."

a. Regular Pattern

This is the most common. Mines in a row are spaced at equal distances, with equally distant rows, and with the mines of one row equally spaced between the mines of the previous row. A variation in this method is to vary the distances between rows. In no reported case, except for scattered mines, has the distance between mines in a row been unequal.

b. Regular Pattern Offset

By means of a pacing drill, a certain variety is introduced into the regular pattern. The distance between mines in any one row is equal, but one row is slightly offset from the previous row, and the next row is again offset by a different distance. Once a few mines have been located, the pattern soon becomes apparent and mines will be found where expected.

c. Random Mines

In front of most regular minefield belts, and particularly in front of gaps, there may be found mines scattered at random and unmarked. These are either continuous at very wide and irregular spacing, or in groups more closely spaced but not laid in any pattern inside a group.


The average spacing observed between mines in a row is 6 yards; it has never been less than 3 yards and seldom greater than 10 yards, except in scattered fields. The commonest distances observed between rows are 5 yards and 10 yards.

Shallow minefields usually consist of from two to four rows of mines. Deep minefields generally consist of several belts of mines with considerable distances between belts, and with seldom more than eight rows of mines in any one belt. A single belt may be of any depth up to 200 yards.


Often the front edge of forward minefields is not marked. The rear edge normally is marked by some form of fence, usually with a trip wire on short pickets, although cattle-fence, concertina wire, and rock piles are sometimes used. Instances of unmarked rear edges have been reported. The distance between the front fence, if there is one, and the rear fence may be anything from 100 to 800 yards.

A common marking is a single row of concertina wire running along the center of a field parallel to the rows of mines. In a large minefield there may be several unmarked rows of mines in front, then a row of concertina wire, more mines, then concertina wire, and so on, finishing up with a row of concertina wire on the rear edge.

Only one case has been reported of continuous wire running irregularly within a field. Little information is available regarding signs used to mark fields, except those mentioned under "Gaps" (see par. 7, below). It is believed that a skull of crossbones indicates the presence of anti-personnel mines or booby traps.

In rear areas enemy minefields may be expected to be well marked with cattle fences and warning notices in German and Italian.


No booby traps have been found fitted to captured British mines used by the Axis. Fields of Teller mines have been found, with a number of the mines fitted with booby traps. In one case Teller mines were in groups of 20, with about one-third fitted with pull-igniter traps and one-third with push-igniter traps. Teller mines, each fitted with a pull-igniter and a loop of wire projecting above the top of the mine as a trip wire, have also been found, but it has been the exception rather than the rule to find booby traps attached.


Increasing use of the Italian B4 anti-personnel mine was noted during September, 1942, before the British Eighth Army cracked the El Alamein line. These fields contained some "S" mines, but mostly the B4's. Spacing of B4 and "S" mines ranged from 7 to 10 yards between mines in a row. The layout usually consisted of mines and wooden pegs set alternately, 4 to 5 yards apart, with trip wires from the mines running to the wooden pegs on both sides of each mine.


Little information is available about gaps through minefields, but the following conditions were reported from Egypt:

a. Width

Widths of 7 and 10 yards were observed.

b. Method of Closing

Gaps are usually closed by means of two or three rows of Teller mines, with boards placed on one or all of the rows to insure detonation of mines if a vehicle attempts to pass through. Normally, gaps are kept closed.

c. Marking

In the northern sector of the El Alamein line, two types of gap markers were found:

(1) Painted signs.--Painted signs (see fig. 1) may appear on either side of a gap.

[Figure 1. Painted Minefield Signs.]
Figure 1.

(2) Luminous tubes.--Luminous tubes 1 inch long have been placed on the tops of mines to mark a route for patrols. These tubes are visible 3 yards away.

d. General

It is reported that gaps are a favorite place for laying Teller mines without any marking wire or signs. Gaps are sometimes protected by unmarked groups of mines scattered in front of the gap.


One report states that the minefield is usually 215 yards to 325 yards in front of the main line of resistance, is covered by fire, and is observed by outposts. In another report the distance from the main line of resistance to the main minefield is given as varying from 215 yards to 1,080 yards. A listening post was also located by a patrol 100 to 150 yards behind a minefield. It definitely can be stated that it is the enemy's practice by day to cover all main minefields with small arms fire from close range, and by night to maintain anti-lifting patrols and outposts, often located within the minefield itself.


Until recently most mines were laid on the surface. Now a greater proportion of fields have the mines buried, but mines are often badly concealed so that by daylight their positions can, with practice, be located by eye. This should not be relied upon, however.

Teller mines, and sometimes captured British mines, have been found laid two or three on top of one another. The bottom mine may be laid upside down. Such groups are occasionally booby-trapped.


A most important point to remember is that the forward edge of a main minefield is often unmarked. Furthermore, whether the main field is marked or unmarked, there may be some scattered mines laid at random and unmarked in front of this field. Also, enemy minefields normally consist of several shallow belts laid in depth, with considerable gaps between belts rather than in one belt consisting of a large number of rows.


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