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"Enemy Engineer Delaying Tactics" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following military report on enemy delaying tactics was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 26, June 3, 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.]


A recent report gives a brief summary of some engineer lessons that were learned during the advance of the British Eighth Army from Benghazi to Tripoli. The operations during the advance demonstrated very clearly the effectiveness of skillfully placed mines and booby traps in delaying an advancing enemy, even though in most cases the obstacles were not covered by fire.

The enemy delaying tactics included demolition of bridges and culverts and the systematic cratering of causeways and roads, wherever defiles occurred through sand dunes, steep rock, or sabakha.* The delaying effect of demolitions was greatly increased by mines and booby traps. The clearing of the latter imposed a heavy task and a very great strain on the engineer units, which were already heavily committed in overcoming the demolitions.

All physical obstacles were liable to be associated either with heavy charges or antipersonnel mines. Barbed wire on stakes was in one case dragged across the road, and to each stake there was attached a pull-igniter in a prepared charge. A barrel obstacle over a culvert was heavily charged and wired, so that removal of the barrels destroyed the culvert and produced another obstacle. The sowing of craters with "S" mines (antipersonnel), and the concurrent mining with antitank mines of diversion on either side, was a profitable enterprise of the enemy sappers. It resulted in very considerably extending the time taken to clear a passage. The "S" mines were placed in the spoil on the lip of the crater. Tellermines were carefully placed in a radius of 50 yards on either side of the road on the line of likely diversions, and in many cases this minefield was again protected by "S" mines.

Enemy minelaying showed every evidence of free improvisation, and little evidence of well-rehearsed drills or consistent policy. Spacings, patterns, wiring-in, and booby-trapping all varied widely, and many minefields were laid at less than the minimum safe spacing to avoid blast or sympathetic detonations.

Concealment of buried mines proved a major factor in determining the delay imposed. Many hundreds of mines were detected by eye and lifted without resort to detectors, recently disturbed earth providing the necessary clues.

Enemy demolition work in ports, while elaborate and fairly effective, was misdirected.

The destruction of side-cut roads on steep hillsides was not fully effective when large charges were placed by shafts sunk on the uphill side of the road. It has been shown that the addition of a smaller charge on the downhill side destroys any "shoulder" on which a repair road could be built. The Germans omitted to do this in one instance, and no retaining walls were required for immediate repairs.

Enemy failure to destroy certain water reservoirs was of great assistance to the advance. In view of the excellent results obtained from boring rigs, mere demolition of sources cannot impose much delay.

*A smooth, flat, often saline, plain, sometimes covered after a rain by a shallow lake.


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