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"Miscellaneous (German)" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   Miscellaneous section from the July 1943 issue of the Intelligence Bulletin, covering "Methods of Obstructing Airdromes," "Delaying Tactics (Tripolitania)," and "Ten Commandments for Using Tanks."

[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.]

Methods of Obstructing Airdromes, Delaying Tactics (Tripolitania), Ten Commandments for Using Tanks


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 traps.

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 fig. 1).

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).]
Figure 1.—Abandoned Axis Landing Field in Libya (showing positions and types of mines and booby traps).


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 50-mm core.

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 purpose.

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."


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 appropriate terrain.

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 closely.

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.

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