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"Recent Developments in German Tactics" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   A report on recent developments in German tactics in North Africa and Russia, from the Intelligence Bulletin, April 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.]



In increasing their precautions against British counterbattery fire in North Africa, the Germans have resorted to the following tactics:

a. Daytime harassing missions fired from roving gun positions in the open.

b. Adjustments made by using one or two guns sited on a flank of the battalion position.

c. The fire of both light and medium batteries directed into the same area simultaneously so as to make it harder for the opposition to locate these gun positions.

d. As many as six batteries fired at once, so as to confuse the opposition's sound ranging.


United Nations observers in Russia report that the German Armored Force has recently used the tactics described below.

a. General Characteristics

All arms cooperate closely. Everything depends upon the success of the tanks, which are used in mass. Reconnaissance of weak points, flanks, and gaps is very carefully performed. Speed is stressed. Orders are very detailed, but local commanders are allowed full scope.

b. Surprise

Surprise is achieved through secrecy, rumors, and false orders. Tanks are maneuvered in an area where the main blow is not to be delivered. Not only real tanks but dummies, mobile and immobile, are kept in evidence at one part of the front, while the main striking force is concealed elsewhere.

c. Psychological Methods

On occasion, paratroops with automatic weapons have been dropped behind the Russian lines at the moment of the tank attack.

Parachutists or motorcyclists try to seize nerve centers.

Troops who succeed in reaching the rear of the Russian defenses use indiscriminate fire in an attempt to disrupt morale.

d. Advance

While the leading detachments go forward, the main body follows in march column. When resistance is met, the leading detachments deploy on a wide front. Strong reconnaissance units are sent out to the flanks. However, the main body remains in march column.

e. Attack

A spearhead formation is usually employed; that is, motorcyclists and assault weapons go forward. A tank regiment follows, with two battalions up, if the front is expected to be from 1 to 1 1/2 miles wide. Panzer Grenadiers (armored infantry) are deeply echeloned behind these elements. The remaining infantry either advance far to one flank, or remain concentrated in the center, ready to widen any gap that may be made.

f. Avoiding Frontal Attacks

Frontal attacks are always avoided. German tanks have come to respect fire from Russian antitank guns; therefore, if there is a strong antitank defense, the German tanks give up the attack. The Germans then make a show of preparing for a second attack in the same place, while they search the front for spots that are weak in antitank defense.

g. Defense

Defense by German armored forces is very elastic. Towards dusk, detachments of Panzer Grenadiers move forward in front of the main line of resistance to create an impression that the edge of the defensive zone is further forward. The remainder prepare the main line of resistance. A number of tanks are dug in on this line. When the defensive zone preparations have been completed, most of these tanks withdraw to assembly points in the rear, to prepare for a counterattack; only a few PzKw III's or PzKw IV's remain dug in, to serve as pivots of fire.


A German Army document, based on German experiences in defending against Russian tank attacks, includes recommendations for the improvement of defensive methods. These recommendations are contained in the extracts given below.

a. Use of Tanks

We [German forces] should keep our tanks in reserve as far as possible, and use them in close formation against flanks of the Russian tanks as soon as the direction of the attack is clear. Our tanks must always be prepared to act without delay. Previous reconnaissance of covered approaches is necessary. Long-barreled 75-mm and 50-mm pieces have good effect when used from the flank. Concentrated fire must be placed on individual enemy tanks.

b. Use of Antitank Guns

Defiladed gun positions are desirable. Fire should be opened as late as possible. It should be opened even when there seems to be little chance of success; the enemy tank will be impeded and usually will swing away. Antitank guns must be made mobile so that they can be massed at the point where the Russian tanks are attacking. An allotment of half-tracked tractors is essential.

c. Use of Artillery

A well organized warning system and constant readiness to fire must be insured. Individual guns in good condition must be disposed in readiness, preferably 100-mm guns with special Rotkopf (red top) ammunition. Gun tractors are necessary in order to transfer guns quickly to the sector threatened by the tank attack.

Antitank defense by 88-mm flak has the advantage of achieving a satisfactory penetration performance against all types of tanks. However, a marked disadvantage of the 88-mm guns is their great height, which makes them quickly recognizable. Also, their positions cannot be changed readily.

d. Use of Infantry

When Russian tank attacks have been accompanied by infantry, our own infantrymen who have allowed themselves to be overrun in their positions have had great success against the Russian infantry following up behind. Our troops who have dug themselves in well have suffered very few casualties, whereas companies which have abandoned their positions have had much greater losses. For this reason it is essential to dig in deeply and quickly, using every possible means. Above all, troops should remain in the positions and allow the enemy tanks to go past. All centers of resistance must be equipped with Molotov cocktails, explosives (prepared charges and antitank mines), and, if possible, with flame throwers.


The German defenses of the coastal town of Bardia consisted, wherever the ground was suitable for armored force vehicles, of an antitank ditch 3 feet deep and 6 feet across, with an especially steep slope on the side that the British tanks would approach. A short distance from the ditch, and nearer Bardia, was a wire fence, consisting of a double line or a double apron on wooden posts—in either case, approximately 3 yards deep. This ditch and fence combination described an arc around Bardia. Between the fence and the town itself, there was a series of 83 strongpoints about 500 yards to 800 yards apart—describing still another arc. As a rule, antitank mines were laid on the British side of the ditch, although sometimes the mines were laid between the ditch and wire.

Each strongpoint was wired in and, except where the terrain was naturally unsuited to tank use, surrounded by an antitank trap. The strongpoints, which were made of concrete, were semicircular in shape with an opening at the rear, and consisted of 3 to 5 positions for automatic weapons. In most instances the tank trap surrounding a strongpoint was a ditch 9 feet across. The ditch had a steep slope and a concrete lip on the side that the British tanks would approach, while the other side was faced with stone and had a concrete lip. The entire ditch was covered with thin (1/4 inch) lath planking, which in turn was camouflaged with dust and pebbles. The tank traps were sited within hand-grenade range of the positions. Artillery defense was lacking in depth. Reserve positions consisted of low stone walls, or boulders grouped around a natural hollow.


a. In North Africa, the Germans have repeatedly attempted to attract the attention of British patrols by unnecessarily loud talking and whistling, as well as by rattling tin cans and tools. While this is going on, German patrols try to outflank the British patrols.

b. A British patrol in the El Alamein area found that the Germans had hung bells on wire obstacles, to serve as an alarm device. (Note subparagraph 2j (11) of "German Combat in Woods," page 14.)

c. Booby traps have been found attached to concertina wire fences, to give warning of the approach of British patrols. Although few details are available, it appears that the explosions caused by these traps were not very great. It has been suggested that the traps may have consisted of Eier (egg) grenades with the screw caps removed and the igniter strings tied to the wire fence. This type of booby trap has been found in connection with abandoned vehicles.

For a device of this kind to work satisfactorily, it would be essential for the body of the grenade to be secured firmly. The standard igniter for the grenade has a delay of about 4 1/2 seconds. The effect of the "egg" grenade is mostly blast.

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