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"Minefields in North Africa" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following comments on British experience with minefields in the desert fighting in Cyrenaica was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 18, Feb. 11, 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.]


The report which follows is the result of British experiences in one of the campaigns in Cyrenaica, as indicated in a British document. Minefields played an important part in this fighting.

a. In Consolidation

Until such time as antitank mines can be brought forward in bulk by night, the early consolidation of a newly captured position can be very greatly strengthened by the laying of a limited number of mines in order to restrict the probable avenues of enemy approach. An armored vehicle in engineer units is desirable for this purpose, though its design offers considerable difficulty, since it must resemble other armored vehicles in the vicinity and still have an adequate carrying capacity (two diametrically opposed characteristics).

b. Records

The campaign in question proved once again the paramount importance of minefield records, and it is clear that this problem received insufficient attention. Casualties were reported as resulting from the absence of records on the location of British antipersonnel mines, and the records kept of the numerous antitank minefields were often far from complete.

c. Marking of British Minefields

It should be noted that the majority of British casualties caused by British antitank and antipersonnel mines were due to carelessness with respect to the marking of the fields and notification of their presence. For this problem, no solution has been found either by the British or by the enemy, whose minefields are often marked by the wrecks of their own vehicles, and the vicinity by the graves of their own men. One difficulty was that there was no standard system of marking the minefields. One of a number of systems suggested was that in rear areas they should be marked with tin triangles painted black and hung on barbed wire, supported on either long or short stakes; it is essential that the stakes be placed firmly in the ground. In forward areas, a 2-inch white tape has been suggested, over-printed every yard with a black triangle and supported on short stakes; the tape would be issued with the mines from the advanced railhead, or packed in each box of mines at the base. The quantities of supplies involved would be considerable.

The decision as to whether minefields should be marked rests with the commander, who should realize that what denotes a minefield to friendly troops may also disclose its presence to the enemy.

d. Clearance of Enemy Minefields

In attacks on fortified enemy positions, mine detectors were used with success, through some difficulty was experienced in their operation in the noise of battle. In addition, they cannot, of course, be used under actual shell fire or aimed small-arms fire. There would appear to be a call for a type of detector with a visual indicator which can be operated from within a tank.

The best method of clearing minefields is still neutralization by hand under cover of darkness. Where mines have to be dealt with during daylight, the operation must be covered by smoke. On the enemy side of the main obstacle, when all surprise had been lost, a gelignite cordtex net was used for clearing lanes for the tank advance.

In one area, as a deliberate operation, 70,000 antitank and antipersonnel mines were cleared, and 100 miles of warning fence were erected; all this was done by 3 field companies in 25 days. Eighty percent of the mines cleared were laid by the enemy, and all had been subjected to shell fire and blast over a long period. Casualties during the 25 days were 16 killed and 13 wounded. This was considered a very fine piece of work under the circumstances.


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