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"German Methods of Armored Attack by Small Units" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following British comments on WWII German attacks by small armored units in the Western Desert 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 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 intelligence reports.

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.

[German Armored Box: Sketch A and B]

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 such positions.

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).

[German Armored Box: 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.


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