The following article is based on British reports dealing with German
tactics in Tunisia. The reports emphasize the fact that because of the nature of
the terrain, the tank played a less important part in the Tunisian fighting than in
desert action but the mortar was used extensively. Since the Germans are exceptionally
adept in the employment of this weapon it may be expected that the mortar
will be widely used in the European theater (see Section II, p. 47).
In considering the reports from Tunisia two points should be borne in
mind: (1) tactics varied with the morale and efficiency of units, particularly in
patrol activities; (2) during the later stages of the campaign the Germans were
handicapped by a shortage of tanks, ammunition and gasoline, and throughout the
campaign they suffered from a shortage of artillery.
The following are extracts from the British report:
* * *
Night operations by anything more than a fighting patrol were exceptional
and first light was the favorite time for attack. However, German teaching based
on experience in Russia has stressed the necessity of avoiding this rigidity in the
timing of attacks.
Night approach marches of from 10 to 20 miles were made frequently
prior to attacks. Infiltration was often skillfully executed but sometimes the
Germans advanced in close formation. Reserves were seldom kept back to influence
the course of battle.
Forward positions were thinly held, with sometimes two companies holding
a frontage of 1,500 to 2,000 yards.
Knolls were always mutually supporting within company positions. A system
of well-coordinated observation posts, equipped with machine guns, allowed a
large proportion of the troops to rest by day at the foot of the reverse slopes,
while at night the forward elevations (the day OPs) were held by platoon or section
outposts. These OPs were usually 500 to 1,000 yards forward of the main positions.
Observation posts usually possessed good communications facilities,
both laterally and to the rear. Outposts sometimes signalled to the rear with
Antipersonnel mines, with tripwires near tracks and on likely patrol
approaches, were employed.
Machine guns were sited down reverse slopes to engage attacking infantry
approaching another objective. Defilade positions and concealment were good. The
enemy made considerable use of alternative positions.
Counterattacks were either preceded by machine-gun or mortar fire
already registered or they were made immediately from the reverse slope of the
When the Germans have sufficient forces at their disposal they will always
attempt a counterattack before the attackers have time to organize.
The Germans undertook the usual demolitions and road blocks. Apart
from these, the counterattack at chosen points on the axis of advance had excellent
delaying effects. These counterattacks can prove costly to inexperienced troops
advancing with more zeal than prudence.
In close contact, the Germans did not patrol offensively at night, nor did
they attempt deep reconnaissance. Many patrols were 30 to 40 strong, and they
often moved at night in close formation, which made them vulnerable to
ambush. However the Germans relied on their strength and made little attempt at
Often the Germans established advance positions for the purpose of
surprising British patrols on the move. An ambush would be prepared early in
the night, sometimes far in front of the German lines if a wide area existed
between opposing forces, and any British patrol which used the same route
continuously paid the penalty.
When the Germans made raids with patrols of platoon strength, their
technique was to penetrate and then open fire with grenades and light machine
guns, capturing prisoners in the confusion caused by the surprise attack.
The German always tries to outflank his enemy. This has been seen
even in the preparation of an ambush or in the method of holding even a farm or
a group of buildings where a machine-gun cross-fire is created by means of guns
sited adjacent to the farm or buildings. The German particularly believes that
both from the tactical and morale points of view, attempts should be made, whenever
possible, to fire on the opponent from the rear.
In Tunisia the Germans continued their deceptive practices, using, among
others, the following ruses:
The speaking of English words and orders on patrol and during night attacks;
Placing a second mine tripwire where a person might step while trying to avoid the first wire;
Answering British Very lights with exactly the same signal, often causing confusion, to the enemy;
Placing a row of Tellermines on the surface of a road, backed by another row well-concealed 100 yards farther on.
When in close contact, the Germans use many snipers. At close quarters
the Germans use smoke grenades to aid themselves in escaping from difficult
At the beginning of the Tunisian campaign, "Tiger" tanks were used with
great boldness. When the tank commanders were sure that their flanks were
secure they drove straight on. The "Tiger" tank must be regarded as a
formidable weapon. Given adequate flank protection it adds very effective weight
to German fire power.
In defense, these tanks were well-sited in covered and defiladed
positions. PzKw 3's and 4's were used extensively to protect the
flanks of the "Tigers."
Tank recovery was often effected with speed and courage. Disabled tanks
were towed away by other tanks. When the Germans held the battlefield, tractors
were brought up and the area was cleared of both German and enemy tanks in a
very short time. When night came as much as a company of infantry was used to
hold off our patrols or to stage a diversion while recovery was in progress.
The standard of concealment of German artillery was uniformly high and
many alternative and dummy positions were used. German counterbattery fire
Eight-eight millimeter guns were used normally in batteries of four, often
with two or three batteries supporting each other. Self-propelled antitank guns
were used from hull-down positions to give covering fire to tanks as they went
into the attack. These guns were also used against British reconnaissance
units, withdrawing before an outflanking movement could be carried out. A
roving 88-mm gun was used. Dumps of ammunition for it were placed at
In Tunisia, the most important fighting qualities revealed by the Germans
were boldness, thoroughness of organization, a high standard of technical proficiency
and a detailed preparation in all operations.