A knowledge of German tactics and methods may serve the dual purpose of turning the
lessons to good account both against the Germans and against the Japanese. It is
already apparent that the latter have studied and applied German methods of warfare.
In the German offensive operations in North Africa which began on May 26, 1942, the
main feature of the German tactical methods, as reported from British sources, were:
(1) Employment of practically the whole of the German forces on the same axis of
attack and on a comparatively narrow front, followed by the Italian armored and
mobile forces. Italian infantry divisions supported by a small number of tanks
were used for diversionary operations. The principle of concentration of force
at the decisive point was, as usual, given primary importance, and must always be
expected of German commanders.
(2) A night approach march followed by a very rapid advance and direct attack by
tanks, after short reconnaissance and preparation against any opposition encountered
on the axis of advance.
(3) Forward deployment and offensive employment of all guns of all types,
including 88-mm guns, in support of tank attacks and against British
counterattacks. Reliable observers report that practically every vehicle, even
staff cars, in the enemy's leading columns was towing a gun or a trailer. A
senior British commander reports that the German column with which he
spent 8 to 9 hours before escaping consisted of:
8 armored cars
two platoons of motorized infantry
4 105-mm guns
4 88-mm guns
12 50-mm antitank guns
12 37-mm antitank guns
4 assorted self-propelled guns.
All vehicles towed guns or trailers.
(4) The enemy was quick to cover his front with antitank guns when tanks were
brought to a standstill or stopped to refuel, and to protect his flanks at all
times with an antitank screen. A threat to the enemy's flanks by British tanks
was immediately met by the deployment of antitank artillery, while the enemy
tanks continued their movement. It was useless to expect that British tanks
would not encounter strong antitank defense in any offensive movement. The enemy
appeared to have a rapid "follow the leader" deployment drill, and a system
of visual control by means of colored disk signals.
(5) The efficiency of the enemy's recovery, repair, and maintenance generally
was evidenced by the speedy renewal of his offensive after his first effort
had failed to achieve his object, and the maintenance of the offensive for
so long and over such great distances. The tactical advantages derived from a
highly efficient system of recovery, repair, and maintenance are obvious.
(6) Enemy control was quick and personal. When an objective had been captured, the
next move followed without delay, and it was usually action by the whole available
force, not by reconnaissance elements or detachments only. This was evidenced
in the advance east after the capture of Bir Hacheim, and again after the
capture of Tobruk.
(7) Defensive positions were reduced by concentrating against them in turn. This is
obviously the way to deal with positions that are out of supporting distance of each
other when the complementary armored formations, for which the defensive positions
serve as pivots, have themselves been forced on the defensive. This is another
example of the firm application of the principle of concentration.
(8) Every effort was invariably made to draw the fire of the defense, especially the
fire of antitank weapons, by the deployment and advance of some tanks. The tanks
which had advanced were then withdrawn, and the enemy concentrated his artillery
and mortars on all the defenders' weapons that disclosed themselves. After a thorough
preparation of this kind, the real tank attack was launched.
(9) A case has been reported of mine-lifting being carried out in the following
way: detachments of tanks advanced to the edge of the minefield and engaged all of
the defending weapons they could see. Engineers then debouched from the tanks and
proceeded to clear mines on foot, covered by the fire of the tanks. Tanks that
were hit were pulled out by other tanks and then replaced, or the whole detachment
withdrew and renewed its activities at another point. (Offensive use of small arms
is the obvious answer.)
(10) Officers who have been in enemy hands, and enemy prisoners, report that ground-strafing
aircraft were always engaged with intensive fire from every available small-arms
weapon, including rifles. No one who was armed "went to ground" on such occasions.