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"German Air Support of Tanks in Africa" from Tactical and Technical Trends

A report on Luftwaffe air support for armored units in North Africa, from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 24, May 6, 1943.

[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.]


GAF air commands normally detail air liaison officers (Fliegerverbindungsoffiziere, or "Flivos") to the headquarters of Army divisions and higher units, to ensure that army requests for air support and air reconnaissance are properly transmitted to the air headquarters concerned.

However, the experience in the Libyan campaigns indicated that properly coordinated air support of armored units required the assignment of a GAF officer to armored combat echelons below division headquarters. Such an officer must be an experienced pilot, capable of rapidly estimating the weight of air attack necessary to support a particular field operation, and capable of directing the concentration of this attack on any given target at the moment which the tank commander determines to be most advantageous.

In this way, air strength can be utilized to its maximum effectiveness, avoiding the dispatch of large formations to deal with small targets or of insufficient numbers to cover large and scattered objectives. During an attack against a moving target, a liaison officer with flying experience can best direct the aircraft. He controls them by radio from a vantage point where he can watch, and if necessary, follow up the target.

In Tunisia, up to December, 1942, the GAF liaison officer had not operated directly with the armored combat echelons, but had been depending on information supplied by the commanders of subordinate armored units. Since this information frequently proved unreliable for purposes of effective air support, the air command decided to appoint one of their own officers for direct liaison with the combat echelons. This officer rides in a liaison tank, which operates in the second wave of tanks, near the tank of the armored unit commander.

Assuming, for example, that an attacking tank regiment of an armored division is held up by enemy resistance and immediate air support is needed, the procedure would be as follows. The regimental commander consults with the air liaison officer, and a decision is made as to the air support required. The request for air support is then transmitted by radio to the headquarters of the Fliegerführer (officer in charge of air operations in the area); this message is simultaneously received at the headquarters of the armored division. The message should include the position and type of target to be attacked, the estimated number of aircraft required, the type and height of cloud cover, and the possible opposition to be encountered.

The Fliegerführer then orders, from the airdrome nearest the scene of action, such air support as he thinks necessary, and notifies the liaison officer when the formation is about to take off. Direct communication between the liaison officer and the aircraft is established after the formation is airborne. The liaison officer directs the planes to the target by radio. If, meanwhile, the target has changed position, he indicates its new location. Radio contact is also maintained between the liaison officer, the commander of the tank regiment, and the other tanks.

Comment: The above information seems to bear out reports from other sources concerning German practice in recent operations, and as such, is considered to be worthy of credence.


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