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"Some German Tactics in Tunisia" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following report on German tactics in Tunisia was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 38, November 18, 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 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:

*          *          *

a. Attack

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.

b. Defense

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 colored lights.

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 captured position.

When the Germans have sufficient forces at their disposal they will always attempt a counterattack before the attackers have time to organize.

c. Withdrawal

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.

d. Patrols

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 concealment.

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.

e. Summary

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 positions.

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 was ineffective.

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 suitable points.

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.


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