The following report is from a lecture by a British colonel who recently
returned from the Middle East where he commanded the artillery of a corps in
the Western Desert. His lecture was based on both personal experience and
a. Composition of German "Box" (Moving Defense Area)
The box is the part of the column which is inside the solid line in sketch C. The
box varies in size, but if an armored battalion is the basic unit, it might
contain the following combat troops, in addition to the service elements:
One battalion of motorized infantry, usually
carried in half-tracked, lightly armored vehicles;
One battalion of 50-mm antitank guns;
One battalion of 88-mm antiaircraft-antitank guns;
One battery of 150-mm close-support infantry
guns, sometimes on self-propelled mounts;
One battalion of field artillery.
On the move or in the attack, the guns within the box are disposed as
shown in sketch C. Infantry guns and field guns are usually kept
in the box only when the defensive is assumed.
In size, the box is approximately 2 miles deep and has a front
of 800 yards. The 88-mm gun, though it has proved a very effective
antitank gun, is primarily included in the box to protect the
lightly-armored vehicles from air attack.
b. The Method of Advance (see sketch A)
On very flat country, the distance between the reconnaissance unit and
the leading echelons of tanks is from 5 to 10 miles; the distance between
the 1st and 2nd echelon of tanks is 1 mile, and the distance between
the 2nd echelon of tanks and the box is 2 miles.
The whole force is directed towards some terrain feature, which, if
captured, will force the enemy to fight on ground chosen by the attacker.
Over normal terrain, each portion of the column moves from high ground
to high ground by bounds. Each echelon of tanks is supported by artillery
which moves in the rear of the tanks.
c. Tactics if Attacked on the Move
When British tanks are reported to be advancing to a fight, the box halts
and takes up a position for all-around defense. As the British tanks advance, the
reconnaissance units fall back, and the two echelons of tanks deploy on a wide
front (see sketch B). If the enemy continues to advance, the Germans continue
the retirement to position B (sketch B), and force the enemy to
attempt a breakthrough against one of the flanks of the box.
If the enemy decides to attack the German left flank, the troops on the
left of the box at position B fall back to position C. The enemy tanks, if they
pursue, are then not only engaged frontally by the German tanks from
position C, but are caught in flank by AT and AA guns of the left side of
the box. Finally, the tanks to the right of the box at position B swing
around and engage the attackers in the rear.
If artillery has accompanied the tanks in the advance, it may either
continue to support them, or enter the box to stiffen its antitank defense.
d. Attack Led by Tanks Against an Organized Position
In general, the Germans assume that the defenders have seized and
occupied the best positions; hence, they attempt to overwhelm him and take over
The German commander usually launches a frontal attack against one
center of resistance. The attack might be developed in the following
way (see sketch C).
Phase I: The German commander will reinforce his reconnaissance unit
with tanks deployed on a wide front and drive in the covering force, until the
enemy is approximately 2,500 yards from the main line of resistance.
Phase II: A careful reconnaissance will then be carried out by a senior
commander in a tank.
Phase III: The German covering force deploys as follows:
Tanks, generally Mark IV's, take up a hull-down position on a ridge, or
high ground, and with the fire of their machine guns attempt to pin down the
defenses. They may engage AT guns that are visible with their 75's. Under
cover of this fire, 50-mm AT guns, heavy machine guns, and close support
150-mm infantry guns are also deployed in an attempt to knock out the AT guns
of the defense, or to kill their gun crews.
Under the cover of fire of this covering force, the attack forms in rear as follows:
(1) Three rows of tanks about 50 yards apart, each row approximately 150 yards in
rear of the one in front.
(2) When the tanks are in position, the box forms up in rear as shown in
sketch C, the infantry all riding in vehicles.
Phase IV: At H hour, the whole force moves forward at about 15 mph, depending
on the ground. As they pass through their covering force, the tanks
begin to fire, not so much with a view to hitting anything, but for the
psychological effect and to keep the defenders pinned down. On arrival
at their objectives, some tanks drive straight through to the far side
of the objective, while others assist their infantry in mopping-up
operations. The infantry does not usually dismount until they arrive at the
objective, when they fan out and use tommy guns extensively.
Phase V: When the attack is successful the covering force moves forward into
the captured area to stiffen the defense. The tanks are usually withdrawn and
serviced near what has now become their rear area.