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"Road Discipline; Action by All Arms vs. Planes" from Intelligence Bulletin, October 1943

[October 1943 Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   The following article describes German efforts to improve road discipline in response to Allied ground-attack aircraft. The article includes translations of orders issued by Field Marshal Rommel and General von Arnim to try to remedy problems with Axis methods in North Africa. This article originally appeared in the October 1943 issue of the U.S. Intelligence Bulletin.

[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 relation between the Germans' faulty road discipline and effective attacks on their columns by United Nations aircraft is thoroughly apparent to the German High Command. For some time the German Army has been attempting to remedy the unsatisfactory dispersion of its columns, both on the march and at halts. Also, as a natural corollary, it has been insisting on a vigorous defense against attacking aircraft by weapons of all arms. That German traffic posts and patrols in Tunisia allowed units to expose themselves needlessly was indicated by Field Marshal Rommel in January 1943, when he wrote the following order, which sharply expresses his opinion on this subject.

I personally have observed a considerable lack of traffic discipline, especially along the Via Balbia. I request the commanding generals, as well as the commanding officers of independent units, to remind their units again of the necessity for absolute compliance with traffic discipline.

Especially, I do not wish to see any columns halting or resting on the roads. Roads must under all circumstances be kept clear during any halt. This applies even to single vehicles. A congregation of motorized troops on roads is simply an impossible condition. Such an assembly must always be off the road, and the vehicles dispersed.

Those who disregard this order—or the forthcoming regulations for traffic discipline—will be very severely punished. I assure you that I will punish any violation that I may happen to see, insofar as it concerns members of the German Armed Forces.


The vulnerability of thickly clustered vehicles and tents was stressed by General von Arnim in April 1943, when he issued specific regulations designed to insure better dispersion and to reduce the casualties caused by United Nations aircraft. The von Arnim order, which follows, makes it clear that the German forces in North Africa had not been carrying out Marshal Rommel's instructions any too faithfully.

On my flights over the new positions today, I saw unbelievable sights, not only there, but stretching far to the rear. Vehicles and tents were huddled together in very small spaces, such as small woods, narrow draws and wadis, and so on. This inevitably increases the heavy casualties inflicted by hostile aircraft.

I order:

1. Tents must be 100 yards apart.

2. Vehicles must be parked away from a road, and must be 50 yards apart.

3. Only one vehicle may be parked near a house, and then only on the shady side.

4. When vehicles are obliged to halt briefly on a road, a distance of 30 feet between vehicles will be scrupulously maintained.

5. If vehicles parked on the side of a road overlap any part of the road itself, no further parking will be allowed, and no vehicles will be parked on the opposite side of the road.

6. When a motor convoy is parked, a traffic post must be established 30 yards ahead of the column, and another traffic post must be established 30 yards to the rear of the column.

7. Columns must not stop on bridges, on curves, or in towns; single vehicles may park on side streets in towns, but not on a main highway.

I require that all traffic posts and patrols be especially vigilant in carrying out the above regulations.


a. General

Logical sequels to the foregoing orders regarding road discipline are the German Army memoranda reminding all arms that, once they are properly dispersed, they must use every means at their disposal to defend against attacks by hostile aircraft, and that even the infantry rifleman must be prepared to deliver fire against low-flying planes. The extracts which follow have been taken from several German Army memoranda, but have been rearranged for easier reference, under the headings "Self-protection," "Standard Procedure for Firing," and "Rifle Fire against Low-flying Aircraft."

b. Self-protection

(1) The activity of the opposing air units is directed against all the resources of the German Armed Forces. It is therefore the duty of all soldiers of all arms to combat hostile planes.

(2) Hostile aircraft can attack only when they can see you, your weapon, your vehicle, or your tent. Avoid being detected from the air. The best way to keep from being seen is to blend yourself with the natural surroundings—in other words, remember the value of camouflage.

(3) Incomplete camouflage is better than none. But bad camouflage—that is, employing contrasting colors or creating telltale shadows—is much more dangerous than no camouflage at all. Shadows and contrasting colors are the first things that attract the attention of aircraft.

Camouflage must be changed continually, in accordance with the surroundings, the weather, and even the time of day. Moreover, the individual is responsible not only for himself, but for cooperating with his fellow soldiers to maintain perfect camouflage.

(4) On marches, at halts, in rest areas, while alerted, when attacking, or when defending—the leader must remember to keep his units deployed, to disperse columns and marching groups, and to maintain a proper distance between groups, as well as dispersal to the flanks. The preparation of gun emplacements for heavy weapons; as well as the work of readying assault guns, tanks, and other vehicles for combat, must be carried out near woods, groves, or orchards, beside haystacks, in town alleys or gardens, or wherever the surroundings suggest a practical camouflage plan.

(6) Marches and other movements, even those of small units, should be executed at night as much as possible. Do not permit crowds to form. Never permit halts at crossroads, squares, or narrow places. Maintain strict blackout discipline. If the opposition releases flares, stop marching, halt all vehicles, and hold draft and pack animals—allow nothing whatever to move.

(6) Bombing and strafing by hostile planes cannot be successful if you have dug adequate cover against fragmentation. This goes for you, your weapon, and your vehicle. Remember to dig foxholes when you are engaged in tactical situations—even when you are in transit, and your halt for work or rest is temporary. Never dig a foxhole beneath any vehicle other than a tank.

c. Standard Procedure for Firing

(1) On marches the leader will assign at least one man per platoon as an air sentry. If troops are transported by carrier, at least one air sentry per carrier will be assigned.

(2) Twenty-millimeter self-propelled antiaircraft guns will always be ready for combat. Motorized troops must have their antiaircraft machine guns on the trucks and ready for combat. Rifles will always be kept at hand and ammunition will be distributed.

(3) Weapons must be camouflaged. Fire only if a hostile plane is within range of your weapons.

(4) If an air attack is imminent, cannoneers will not leave the "azimuth-setter" seat; machine gunners will not leave their posts.

(5) Cannoneers and gunners will not be used as air sentries.

(6) Each target must be combatted by weapons of several types. Designate a gun or machine gun to be on the alert so that fire can be opened at a moment's notice. Fire should be concentrated on the target by platoons or by machine-gun squads.

(7) Keep calm. Act cautiously, but quickly, to repulse all attacks. There must be no such thing as "air terror."

d. Rifle Fire against Low-flying Aircraft

Although attacks by low-flying aircraft have repeatedly caused serious losses, units often fail to take advantage of their opportunities to destroy hostile planes. Lack of any kind of defense merely makes it easier for these aircraft to accomplish their missions.

It has been proved that rifle fire can cause attacking planes heavy losses in men and matériel. Aircraft are very fragile, and may be grounded for a considerable time by hits in the motor, fuel tank, magazine, cable, and so on. You accomplish an important defensive purpose, then, when you prevent a pilot from directing his fire properly or when you damage his plane.

Hostile pursuit bombers frequently approach at a low level and start to gain altitude only just before they attack. When they do this, they cannot be picked up by our air-raid warning sentries early enough to permit our own fighters to arrive in time. Under these circumstances, the fire of rifles and other weapons not otherwise employed in the ground fight must he concentrated against the attacking aircraft.

It is best to open with a salvo, and to follow this with rapid rifle fire. The object is to greet the attacker with a cone of flying steel.

Rifle fire directed against aircraft flying at an altitude of more than 600 yards is ineffective, and serves only to give away one's own position.

No aircraft is invulnerable. Therefore, in line with the classic principle that attack is the best defense, every German soldier must be indoctrinated with the determination to shoot the attacker out of the sky.


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