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"Tactics of German Antitank Artillery" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following is a brief report on German antitank tactics, gun positions, and company tactics in Africa from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 32, August 26, 1943. The Wehrmacht used a variety of artillery, antiaircraft, and dedicated antitank guns in the antitank role during WWII.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. 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 following summary from British sources gives some recent information on the German antitank tactics. It includes notes on the theory of this type of fighting and on actual experiences from battle areas.

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a. Antiaircraft Artillery in Antitank Role

A german artillery general writing in a newspaper article, stated that the AA artillery has long outgrown its original role. It has, indeed, still to undertake the AA protection of the forward positions and lines of communication, but these duties are carried out, as it were, on the side. Elements of AA artillery are now placed in the main line of resistance, and kept in a mobile condition. Their chief purpose is antitank defense, which they carry out by allowing the tanks to close to very short ranges. The first round should be, and often is, a direct hit on a vital spot. Furthermore, units of AA artillery may be also used as field artillery. They are placed in the field artillery area from 2,000 to 4,000 yards behind the main line of resistance, have their own OP's and perform all the normal artillery tasks.

b. Simultaneous Use of Various Calibers in AT Defense

Two papers, apparently from the German tank school, dealing with antitank tactics on the Russian front, state that 37-mm AT guns, although adequate against most Russian tanks, must be used in conjunction with 50-mm and, where possible, with 88-mm guns. AT guns should be concentrated in centers of resistance.

The papers also stress that long fields of fire are often a disadvantage; the ideal field of fire is that of the effective (not the maximum) range of the gun. Enfiladed positions, and positions on reverse slopes are becoming more important. Dummy positions are very important in making the heavy Russian tanks waste the small issue of ammunition carried. Mines in front of the guns are useful in view of the Russian habit of making small raids at night in tanks equipped with blinding headlights or searchlights.

At night always, and by day usually, a 37-mm AT gun with hollow-charge ammunition should be kept ready for action. Camouflage must be good, and fire held till the last moment, as more than one shot is scarcely ever possible.

c. Layout of Gun Positions

A British antitank regiment has supplied some interesting notes on the layout of the enemy antitank defenses in Africa.

(1) In general, gun pits appeared to be sited with no attempt at defilade; there were few instances of guns being in mutual support of each other. The 88-mm pits and the majority of pits for the 47-mm Italian guns were in the main line of resistance. There did not appear to be much depth in the layout of either of these types. The 20-mm Breda guns were in the rearward emplacements, thus giving a certain degree of depth to the position.

(2) Two 88-mm pits were examined, both well up in the main line of resistance--one was in fact sited in an opening in the foremost double-apron fence, about 50 yards in front of which was a low trip-wire. The gun was sited to fire straight to the front down a valley, to a distance of about 3,000 yards. Both AP and HE shells were found in this pit. The second pit was similar, but did not have as long a field of fire.

(3) Only two 47-mm pits were found in which there had been any attempt to get defilade from the front. None of these is considered to have been well-sited. In the majority of cases, pits were found (often in pairs about 50 yards apart) in the main line of resistance and sited to fire straight out over the wire, which was, on an average, 40 to 50 yards distant.

d. Company Tactics in Africa

(1) Tactics in a Static Role

The German antitank company commander is given a sector to defend, which he sub-allots to platoon commanders. Each gun in a platoon is then given a definite sector within which the No. 1 of the gun has complete freedom of action. Fire was not controlled by the company commander. Rapid changes of position were possible only with the aid of tractors which were kept as near as possible to the gun positions. There were no drag-ropes on the guns and manhandling beyond a few yards was exhausting.

(2) Formation When Advancing

The company formation was for the three platoons to advance in line of platoons. Two guns in each platoon were forward, about 200 yards apart, and the third gun in support 200 yards behind, and equidistant between the forward guns. The distance varied, however, to suit the ground. When cooperating with, and protecting the flanks of tanks, a liaison officer was assigned to the tank unit by the antitank battalion.

[Comparison of German 75-mm, 50-mm, and 37-mm antitank guns]


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