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"Occupation of a Position at Night" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following account of the destruction of a German infantry battalion in North Africa during WWII is taken from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 16, Jan. 14, 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 importance of preliminary reconnaissance in the occupation of a position at night is clearly shown in the following account of the destruction of a German infantry battalion in Libya last June.

The battalion (with only two companies, the 9th and 10th) arrived at a new position at 0230, and began at once to dig in, leaving a space of about 500 yards between the two companies for the 11th Company, which was to come up later. No reconnaissance of the area was carried out "because of the darkness of the night." When dawn came the battalion commander immediately became aware that the company positions were completely dominated by those of the enemy. The two companies in fact found themselves in very close contact with British positions; the Germans' field of fire was limited to a few yards, and they were completely overlooked from the front, the left flank, and the rear. The space left clear for the 11th Company was found to be occupied by a knoll which prevented visual communication between the two companies.

The British immediately opened up an intensive fire of all weapons, which prevented the withdrawal of the battalion and cut the telephone communications. They followed this up by sending out tanks and armored cars which outflanked and overran the 9th Company. The artillery in support of the 9th Company tried to lay down defensive fire, but was in a low position from which it was unable to bring direct fire to bear, and was neutralized by British counter-battery fire.

The British artillery was then concentrated on the 10th Company. When the dust and smoke thrown up by the artillery fire had subsided, the company found about 20 tanks and armored cars on top of it, their fire completely nullifying the weak counterfire from the position. The commander of an antitank gun, who managed to get off a few rounds, was heard shouting to his company commander that the armor-piercing shells were bouncing off the tanks. Thus the 10th Company was overrun.

British armor then advanced on the battery position, capturing the Adjutant (who was wounded), other officers of the battalion headquarters, some men, and the few artillerymen who had stayed with their guns. Only a few appear to have escaped.

The Germans attributed their destruction to:

(a) Lack of day reconnaissance of the position to be occupied;

(b) Lack of information about the British positions;

(c) Absence of the 11th Company, which prevented the formation of a position in depth or any system of visual signals between the two forward companies;

(d) Extreme fatigue of both officers and men;

(e) Lack of artillery support;

(f) Overwhelming enemy superiority in artillery and armor used in close cooperation.

It was therefore concluded that infantry should not be used in open ground against armor unless strongly supported by artillery, so sited as to be able to use direct fire against enemy armor approaching from any direction; nor should infantry be used without the support of armored vehicles.


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