1. METHODS OF OBSTRUCTING AIRDROMES
The Germans and Italians are expert at rendering
airdromes temporarily or permanently unserviceable,
and have employed a number of methods of obstructing
and destroying airfields and landing grounds from
which they have been forced to withdraw.
Vehicles, heavy construction equipment, logs, drums
filled with rocks, and other movable obstacles are placed
on runways and landing areas to prevent Allied forces
from using them and, at the same time, to keep them
available for the Axis. Nearby areas which might also
be used for landing are blocked with more permanent
obstacles, such as steel posts, cables, timbers, and ditches.
When an airdrome can no longer be defended, it is
demolished by explosives, plowed up or scarred with deep
trenches, and then liberally sown with mines and booby
In North Africa the roads in the vicinity of certain
abandoned Axis airdromes were found to have been
mined very carefully to delay the Allied advance and
give the Germans time to destroy the surfaces of their
landing fields. The thoroughness with which the landing
fields themselves were mined varied greatly; some
had received only slight attention, whereas others had
been mined in the most elaborate manner possible (see
On one airdrome the ground was furrowed in patterns
resembling giant fingerprints. Effective furrows were
also cut by a small metal wedge about 8 inches wide,
with the cutting edge leveled back at 45 degrees. Ordinary
plows were also used. Z-shaped trenches and
irregular bomb craters were found in another field; and
in still another, the runways had been crossed with
trenches and the landing ground further obstructed by
wrecked aircraft, motor vehicles, and the familiar emergency
device of barrels filled with rocks. The Axis of
course destroys its hangars whenever this is possible.
Several types of booby traps are likely to be planted
before an airfield is abandoned (see fig. 1). For
example, mines made up of several charges packed in
a wooden box, and the whole buried in a landing strip,
may be booby-trapped in as many as three ways. The
lids of these improvised wooden box mines are open
about 3/4 inch. The box explodes if it is lifted, or if
the lid is either lifted or stepped on. "S" mine crates
may be buried in the ground, with metal spikes
protruding to damage tires, and fitted with anti-lifting
devices. Gasoline, oil, and water cans and drums may
be partly buried in the runways, and similarly fitted
with anti-lifting devices. (See Intelligence Bulletin
No. 10, pages 7-12 for additional details.) Booby
traps are also fitted to the movable parts of abandoned
planes and vehicles.
Temporary obstructions, such as barbed wire, fences,
and logs, have been observed on temporarily unused
fields in France, Belgium, and Holland, and also on
portions of active fields. Another portable obstruction
now greatly favored by the Germans is an arrangement
of beams or metal rails, lying crossed on the
ground, or standing and secured near the top, like the
poles of an Indian wigwam. All these obstacles, of
course, can be cleared when the fields are needed, and
replaced when the occasion demands.
A semipermanent type of obstacle which has been
observed in occupied countries consists of an upright
tree fixed in a cement block. Such obstacles are
sometimes supplemented by stakes driven into the
ground at irregular intervals, and the approaches to
the field closed by networks of barbed wire. In one
instance an airfield had been completed, and then
evidently found unsuitable; it was made unserviceable for
landings by a series of evenly-spaced trenches 16 inches
deep. Large felled trees, which take an appreciable
time to remove, are also used as semipermanent obstacles.
|Figure 1.—Abandoned Axis Landing Field in Libya (showing positions and types of mines and booby traps).|
2. DELAYING TACTICS (TRIPOLITANIA)
In Tripolitania the Axis handled its rearguard skillfully
during the withdrawal. The following notes are
of interest as an illustration of the enemy's methods.
a. The foundation of his rearguard positions was
always the 88-mm antiaircraft-antitank guns, with a
b. In support he had: long-range artillery (105's,
210's, and 75's on self-propelled mounts), tanks,
infantry (very well equipped with machine guns and
mortars), and engineers.
c. In the initial stages (open desert) his rearguard
screen was at first deployed over a very wide front. He
used his artillery (including 88's firing frontally) at
extreme range to hold up the British Eighth Army's advance
and to force it to deploy. He used mines
(including dummy minefields) effectively for the same
d. He showed his tanks and moved them about, to
attract the attention of British tanks and observation
posts while he was concentrating his antitank guns in
the British line of advance. He then withdrew his
tanks to defiladed positions.
e. He did not attempt to withdraw his antitank guns
until twilight (in some cases, not until after dark),
when he invariably moved his tanks forward to cover
the withdrawal of the guns.
f. His 50-mm's were always defiladed, except in the
close country south of Castel Benito, where he relied on
natural cover and concealment.
g. He always had a covered line for withdrawal of
his antitank guns.
h. He sited his infantry to protect his antitank guns
against infantry attack. The protection was achieved
by machine-gun and mortar fire from the flanks, not by
men in front of the guns.
i. In an action south of Castel Benito, he made
excellent use of both natural cover and natural tank
obstacles when siting his guns. However, the damage
inflicted was negligible, since he preferred to hold up the
British by firing at extreme range, rather than waiting
until he could be certain of a "kill."
3. "TEN COMMANDMENTS" FOR USING TANKS
A Fifth Panzer Army order signed by Lt. Gen. Gustav
von Vaerst (now a United Nations prisoner) lists
ten "commandments" regarding German employment of tanks:
a. The tank is a decisive combat weapon. Therefore, it
should not be used except in a center of gravity and on
b. The tank is not a lone fighter. The smallest tank unit is
the platoon, and, for tasks of considerable importance, the company.
c. The tank is not a weapon to accompany infantry. Forcing
its way through the enemy, it enables the infantry to follow it
d. The tank can take, and mop up a sector, but it cannot hold
the sector. This is the task of the infantry, supported by its
heavy arms, antitank weapons, and artillery.
e. The tank is not an artillery weapon which can long harrass
an enemy from a firing position. The tank fights in movement,
and subjects its targets to fire for a short while only.
f. The task of the infantry is to neutralize hostile antitank
weapons and quickly follow up tank attacks, so as to gain the
best possible profits from the tactical and moral impact.
g. The task of the infantry is to give fire support to the assault
of the tanks, to neutralize hostile artillery, and to follow up
the progress of the tank attack by coming up behind the tanks
quickly to obtain a decisive effect. The task of the supporting
artillery is to protect the flanks of the attacking tanks by fire,
keeping pace with the advance.
h. The task of the armored infantry is to follow up closely
the attack of the tanks, so as to be able to intervene immediately
in the battle of tank against tank.
i. The mission of the engineers is to open up passages through
the minefields, under the protection of the tanks. This makes
it possible for the tank attack to start anew.
j. At night, the tank is blind and deaf. Therefore, the task
of the infantry is to protect it with their arms.
(Signed) Von Vaerst.