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"Methods of Employing Tanks with Infantry" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   Notes on German employment of tanks with infantry against U.S. forces in North Africa, from the Intelligence Bulletin, July 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 following notes on German tactics in the Tunisian campaign have been compiled by the commanding officer of a U.S. armored infantry battalion. They deal with the German use of tanks with infantry in the attack, and with lessons learned and methods practiced by our troops. It should not be inferred, however, that either the German or American methods described here are standard. They were adapted to meet specific situations. As always, local factors and the decisions of individual commanders must be taken into account.


On one occasion we were defending some rolling country, with our front lines forming an L, our left flank anchored on a river, and our right flank anchored on a mountain.

The Germans, after several days of intermittent artillery fire, attacked the eastern part of our defensive line with wave after wave of infantry. When this did not succeed, they dive-bombed and strafed a secondary hill which was holding up their attack. This did not break our position, so they attacked with tanks (see fig. 1).

Twelve tanks began working between our left flank and the river, six tanks began working toward the bend in our lines, and 20 tanks began moving toward our right flank between the right of C Company and the mountain. The group of 20 divided itself into a group of 12, which continued to move ahead, and a group of eight, which worked around the left of C Company. All the tank movements were very slow and cautious.

I believe that the 12 tanks working between our left flank and the river succeeded in infiltrating to some extent. Earlier in the day, when elements of B Company were counterattacking to restore a part of A Company's position, they had occasion to fire at a haystack and out wobbled a Pz. Kw. 6. This tank was well behind A Company's lines. Actually, the group of 12 did no great damage; however, they threatened our flank, later causing us to withdraw A and B Companies.

The six tanks which attacked the bend in our lines apparently never got onto our position. Their mission seemed to be more one of diversion, to attract our attention. However, these tanks may have been stopped from coming onto our position when we placed the fire of our 75-mm assault gun on them.

The 20 tanks which approached our right flank, later splitting into groups of 8 and 12, moved at a good speed until they were within several miles of our position. The 12 tanks which approached our right flank moved cautiously to within 1,000 yards of our position, and then halted in line, facing us. Our artillery fired on them, and an artillery duel then took place. (These tanks, as events later proved, were endeavoring to decoy our tanks into the flanking fire of concealed and camouflaged 88-mm antitank guns.) Our 37-mm antitank guns and an assault gun fired on the German tanks, and they returned the fire. They made no effort to advance nearer than 1,000 yards. They had a certain amount of defilade, but many of the tanks were fully exposed. The eight tanks moving toward the left of C Company advanced very cleverly through draws and depressions until they finally penetrated our position and overran the artillery and infantry positions, forcing C Company to withdraw. These eight enemy tanks occupied the ground, but did not pursue the infantry. In the action thus far, approximately six German tanks were knocked out.

[Figure 1.]
Figure 1.

At this time our medium and light tanks came to our rescue around both sides of the mountain on our right flank, and immediately attacked the 10 remaining tanks out of the 12 which had stopped 1,000 yards from the right flank of our position (see fig. 2). These tanks were bunched closely together in line and facing our oncoming tanks. The German tanks immediately withdrew about 1,000 yards to a defiladed position. As our tanks advanced, they came under fire of camouflaged 88-mm guns to their right flank. To the best of my knowledge, about six of our medium tanks and two light tanks were knocked out, with no loss to the German tanks. The German tanks stayed well behind cover and fired only a few times. The battle ended at nightfall, and our tanks withdrew.

The remainder of the eight tanks which overran our artillery and occupied C Company's position remained in that position and took a distinctly minor part in the battle, firing only a few times.

*         *         *         *         *         *

In this operation (see fig. 1) the enemy attacked with his infantry and was successful in getting some of his infantry onto A Company's position. In the rear of the position, A Company had half-track vehicles. These were immediately used to launch a counterattack: the .30-caliber gun mounted on the half-track provided fire, and the track itself was employed to run over the enemy's personnel and his light machine-gun positions. The use of these half-tracks in a counterattack to regain a position proved highly effective.

[Figure 2.]
Figure 2.


After several days of very heavy rains, movement across country was extremely difficult. Vehicles of every type were in constant danger of bogging down in the mud. We occupied a mountain (see fig. 3). At our left was a river, then a broad open plain, then a highway, then another plain, and then a large mountain range.

About 15 German tanks attacked, moving down the highway in column, with not more than 10 yards between tanks. They moved at a speed of only 2 or 3 miles per hour, and the German infantry kept up with them. The Germans were cautious. They seemingly fired at every little bush or terrain feature which might possibly conceal a gun, although there were no American or British troops in that particular area between the river and the mountain range. On the right flank of the enemy tanks, between the highway and the mountain range, the German infantry advanced in a deployed formation, covering the entire space between the highway and the mountain range. The German infantry continued to advance at the walk, and finally disappeared out of sight, in the direction of Medjez-el-Bab. The tanks continued to advance down the highway, but when they came to a junction with a road leading to the river, four German tanks moved down that road to the river bridge. There they halted on the road, and fired on some of our medium tanks, which were in defilade across the river. Before withdrawing, the German tanks apparently fired until they were out of ammunition. So far as I know, no damage was done to their tanks or to ours. The range from our defensive position to the highway was too great for antitank fire. The range from the bridge to our tanks was well within effective range for fire.

[Figure 3.]
Figure 3.


In front of our defensive position, we had a minefield extending from the river to a ravine (see fig. 3). Out in front of that was a large hill mass. Between the river and the hill mass, the Germans moved out to attack our position. They attacked in many waves of infantry; each wave was a line of section columns or platoon columns. Dispersed through this deployed infantry formation were 10 to 15 German Pz. Kw. 3's and Pz. Kw. 4's, advancing with the infantry and firing directly on our position. The ground was extremely wet, and the tanks moved very slowly. In fact, at tines they scarcely seemed to be moving at all. They approached to positions near the minefield, where they stopped and shelled us for a while. Then they turned to the left, moved along in front of the minefield, and disappeared to our right flank. Because of the emergency of the situation, we had laid part of the minefield by daylight, and it is quite possible the Germans knew its exact location. The infantry advanced with the tanks until the former was only a short distance from the minefield. At this point the infantry was broken by our fire, and moved into the hills, disappearing to our right flank.

Because of the threat on the other side of the river (indicated in Operation 2a) to envelop our left flank, we were then ordered to withdraw to new defensive positions. By nightfall we were no longer in contact with the enemy.


Defensive positions in this battle were held by the French. The Germans launched a frontal attack on Rebaou (see fig. 4) with infantry supported by direct fire from tanks moving with the infantry. Several Pz. Kw. 6's were used in this attack. At the same time the Germans attacked Faid from the north and west with infantry. Rabaou was taken during the morning. The tanks broke through the minefield and moved as shown in figure 4. After rounding Ksaira Mountain, they made no attempt to attack the village of Sidi-Bou-Zid, which was the French headquarters, but headed directly for the main pass through the mountains at Faid. Their movement across the large open space from Ksaira to Faid was quite slow. When the German tanks were within 1,000 to 2,000 yards of the village of Faid, they began to shell the village and the pass. After about 30 minutes of this, they moved into the village. The defensive positions on either side of the pass were thus completely surrounded.

[Figure 4.]
Figure 4.


We were occupying hill "C" (see fig. 5) and attacked hill "A" with infantry only. The attack was successful on "A" and a number of prisoners were taken. Although we had only light machine guns, rifles, and light mortars when we occupied "A," we immediately directed our fire upon hill "B." After a few minutes, a white flag was raised on "B," and enemy troops began pouring out to surrender. Just as they reached the foot of "B," two German tanks moved out of a shallow gully and covered us on hill "A." Surrender of the enemy on "B" stopped. The tanks then forced us to withdraw, and we lost hill "A" and "B" and the prisoners on "B." The tanks fired machine guns and 47-mm high explosive at us. Since we had no antitank weapons at hand at the time, we were forced to give up hill "C."

In other words, the German tactics had consisted of hiding several tanks in a defensive position so that a counterattack could be launched. The counterattack was successful because when we reached the position, we were carrying only machine guns, rifles, and mortars. As a result, the Germans had armor and weapon superiority.

[Figure 5.]
Figure 5.

Another U.S. military observer, commenting on this action, points out that a plan of attack should provide for aggressive defense measures to hold captured ground which is certain to be counterattacked, and that these measures should automatically include aggressive antitank defense.


We occupied a defensive position in the sand dunes, cactus patch, and nose of Hamra Mountain (see fig. 6). The enemy occupied Lessouda Mountain, Sidi-Bou-Zid, and the mountain range east and south of Sidi-Bou-Zid. The country was open and flat. The distance from Hamra to Lessouda was about 10 miles.

Early in the morning six German tanks moved out to a position (see point X in fig. 6) several miles in front of our position. The tanks were closely grouped. We placed artillery fire on them, and they moved just outside our range. They maneuvered all day in the vicinity of this position, moving laterally back and forth across our front, but not coming any nearer to our own position. At 1500 the number of tanks increased to about 12. They still continued to group themselves closely and to move about on our front, attracting our attention but not advancing on our position. Shortly after 1500 a large column of 20 to 30 tanks was discovered moving to our left flank. These tanks were moving very slowly so as not to raise any dust. They were taking advantage of all possible defilade, and in general were moving on the lowest ground. Movement must have been under way for a number of hours. Shortly after this, a column of about 15 tanks was noticed moving slowly to our right flank; it was taking advantage of defilade and whatever cactus cover was available. No infantry or accompanying guns came up with these tanks. It was purely a tank attack. Until darkness, a battle took place on our position between the enemy tanks and our tank destroyer guns (we luckily had several with us), our 37-mm guns, and some of our medium tanks. Our infantry was with-drawn when the battle seemed to be developing into a tank versus tank affair. In this action we lost two tanks, and the enemy lost six. We were ordered to a new defensive position; this movement began at nightfall.

[Figure 6.]
Figure 6.

Shortly after the withdrawal started, the 10 or 12 tanks that had been moving about on our front all day began to attack straight down the highway. Firing erratically, they approached our new defensive position, causing a great deal of confusion and disorganization until they were finally driven off by the direct fire of our artillery.

It is believed that the Germans attempted to use the tanks at our front to attract our attention in order to sneak the other tanks around both flanks in a double envelopment. Then, after dark, these tanks were ready to launch a night attack, using the highway as an axis.


One of our companies, occupying high ground, was attacked and driven from its position. Behind the position we had three light tanks which had been assigned to the battalion, as well as three light tanks from a light tank platoon which had been attached. These six tanks were immediately used in a counter-attack. We succeeded in driving the enemy from the high ground and in reoccupying it.


The day after Operation 4 took place (see fig. 5), the attack was repeated. This time our infantry was accompanied by light tanks. At first our infantry was pinned down by small-arms fire while moving from hill "C" to hill "A." The tanks were immediately moved forward to bring machine-gun and 37-mm high explosive fire on hill "A" at point-blank range. Our infantry moved immediately behind these tanks, successfully occupied hill "A," and captured a number of prisoners.

An attack was then launched on hill "B." The entrance to the dugout on hill "B" faced the right end of hill "A." Our light tanks began to pour 37-mm high explosive into the entrance of the trench, and the enemy immediately surrendered.


Several unsuccessful attempts had been made to take a small hill with infantry alone. Finally, two tank destroyers (M10) and several light tanks were moved into a position from which the hill was almost within point-blank range. They began to shell the hill with a terrific amount of direct fire. This was most successful, and our infantry promptly occupied the hill.


In my battalion we had one light tank with each infantry company. The purpose of this tank was twofold:

First, it was to be with the infantry company at all times—especially to sit behind it on a defensive position and remain in readiness to counterattack to restore the position. In an attack, enemy infantry is traveling light when it reaches and takes a position, generally arriving with only rifles, light machine guns, and light mortars, and with few antitank weapons or none at all. Thus if an armored vehicle or tank is available for use in a counterattack against the enemy, it will almost always succeed in forcing him from the position. We did this in Operation 6 by using tanks, and in Operation 7 by using half-tracks. The Germans had successfully used the same method against us in Operation 4.

Second, a tank accompanying infantry in the attack, firing directly with machine-gun tire and especially high explosive, is paralyzing in its effect upon the enemy. Also, infantry can follow it closely. It has been found that this fire, directed point-blank at enemy positions, is exceedingly difficult to live through. We employed it successfully in Operations 7 and 8. Without this direct fire, the hill would probably not have been taken. The Germans once employed this direct fire against us, but it failed—partly because we were holding a strong defensive position at the time. However, they have employed it successfully against other units, and seem to be skillful at coordinating this direct fire with their infantry advance. In the Gafsa-El Guettar region they used it successfully against infantry elements. The Germans moved their tanks with their infantry, placed direct fire on the American position, and forced our men to keep down until the German infantry and tanks were on our position.

In an effort to escape the effect of this type of direct fire, as well as observed artillery fire, there was a tendency in Tunisia to defend the forward slope of a hill at night and to defend only the reverse slope during daytime. The Germans are very good at this business of reverse-slope defense, and our units at the front simply adopted the method. It works in the following manner:

A few automatic weapons are placed on the forward slope of the hill to make the attacker fight his way to the top. A large part of the defending force is dug-in on the reverse slope of the hill with machine guns sighted to fire on the crest. When the attacker arrives at the crest, these guns are immediately fired as he exposes himself on the skyline. The bulk of the infantry on the reverse slope is immediately used in a counterattack against the attacker, who usually is in a poor state of organization when he arrives at the top of the hill. Counterattacks may be delivered over the crest of the hill, or else around the sides of the hill in a double envelopment.

The Germans have used this form of defense on many occasions. An outstanding example was the battle of Longstop Hill (east of Medjez-el-Bab). An officer who took part in this action tells me that there were four ridge lines, which the Germans were occupying. The first three were defended rather lightly, and the last ridge was the main defensive position. There were enough automatic weapons dispersed on the slopes of the forward ridges to make the attackers fight their way up. As soon as the top of the first ridge had been taken, all guns on the second ridge were laid and fired on the crest line of the first ridge. Thus the attackers had to fight their way down the slope of the first ridge to get to the forward slope of the second ridge, and so on, until the last ridge line was reached. When the crest line of the last ridge had been reached, it was found that the Germans had the bulk of their force on the reverse slope, where their machine guns were sighted for grazing fire toward the crest. As the attackers came over this crest, they came under the grazing fire of these machine guns. They were counterattacked by the German infantry occupying positions on the slope; as a result, our attack was beaten off, and we sustained heavy losses. Reverse-slope defense involves making a number of difficult decisions: the best line on the reverse slope to defend from, where to place the automatic weapons on the forward slope, when to counterattack, and whether to counterattack over the top of the hill or around the side of the hill in an envelopment.

The whole purpose of reverse-slope defense is to shield oneself from the direct fire of assault guns and tanks and against observed artillery fire. In fact, it seems to be the only satisfactory defense against this type of attack. Naturally, the employment of antitank guns on reverse slopes and secondary ridges is a vital part of the reverse-slope defense.

In line 2, page 44 of Intelligence Bulletin No. 8, for April 1943, "30-mm" (a typographical error) should read "50-mm." Also, it has been established that the No. 13 Company of the German infantry (and Panzer Grenadier) Regiment has six 75-mm infantry howitzers, as well as two 150-mm infantry howitzers. Therefore, "6" should be substituted for "9" in line 18, page 45 of the same issue.

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