United Nations observers in Libya have reported
that there are four principles that German armored
units seldom fail to consider before advancing to
a. The primary role of the tank is to kill infantry.
b. The machine gun is therefore an important weapon of the tank.
c. The tank can be successful only when it is used in conjunction with all arms.
d. Tanks must be used in mass.
As a result of these views, the Germans will not fight
a tank versus tank battle if they can avoid doing so.
Moreover, their tactics are always based on having their
armor move with other arms, in close support, in the
form of a "box" or moving defense area.
2. THE BOX
The box is that part of the German column which
appears inside the solid lines in figure 2. It varies in
size, but if an armored battalion is the basic unit, the
box might contain the following combat troops, in
addition to tank ground crews and other service troops:
1 battalion of motorized infantry, usually carried in
half-tracked, semi-armored vehicles; 1 battalion of
50-mm antitank guns; 1 battalion of 88-mm
antiaircraft-antitank guns; 1 battalion of 150-mm
close-support guns, sometimes on self-propelled mounts; and
1 battalion of divisional field artillery. Under these
circumstances, the box would be approximately 2 miles
deep, with a frontage of 200 yards.
On the move or in the attack, the dispositions of the
guns in the box are as shown in figure 2; that is, the
antitank and antiaircraft guns guard the flanks and the
front. The infantry guns and field guns usually are
inside the box only when the defensive is assumed.
The 88-mm, although a very effective antitank gun,
is included in the box primarily to protect the
"soft-skinned" vehicles from air attack.
3. METHOD OF ADVANCE (see fig. 1a)
Over flat terrain the distances between the various
elements of the German column are approximately as
follows: between the reconnaissance unit and the first
echelon of tanks, 5 to 10 miles; between the first and
second echelons of tanks, 1 mile; and between the second
echelon of tanks and the box, 2 miles. The whole
formation is directed toward an objective which, if
seized, will force the opposition to fight and thus become
engaged on ground of German choosing.
On normal terrain each element of the German column
moves from high ground to high ground, and the
separate echelons of tanks are supported by field
artillery, which moves behind them.
|Figure 1.—German Armored Force Tactics.|
|Figure 2.—German Armored Force Tactics (continued).|
4. METHOD OF FIGHTING IF ATTACKED ON THE MOVE
As soon as United Nations troops are reported to
be advancing and contact appears imminent, the box
halts and takes up a position for all-around defense. This
can be done very quickly because of the type of
formation it uses while on the move. As the United
Nations tanks advance, the German reconnaissance unit
falls back, and the two echelons of German tanks deploy
on a wide front, as illustrated in figure 1b, position "A."
If the United Nations troops continue to advance,
the Germans retire to position "B," and force the
opposition to attempt to break through one flank.
If the opposition attacks the German left flank, the
troops on the left of the box at position "B" fall back
to position "C." If the opposing tanks pursue, they
not only are engaged frontally by the German tanks
from position "C," but are caught in the flank by the
antitank and antiaircraft guns protecting the left side
of the box. The tanks of the German right flank at
position "B" then swing around and engage the
attackers in the rear. If the artillery has accompanied
the tanks in the advance, it may either continue to support
them or may enter the box to increase its antitank
5. ATTACK LED BY TANKS AGAINST A SINGLE DEFENSE AREA
The Germans realize that it usually is impossible for
an attack in depth to pass between two defense areas
or to cross the front of one defense area to attack
another. The attack is therefore launched approximately
"head on." Such an attack may be carried out
in the following way:
a. Phase 1
The Germans will reinforce their reconnaissance
unit with tanks deployed on a wide front, and will drive
their covering force ahead until it is approximately
2,500 yards from the "crust" of the opposition's
defense area (see fig. 2).
b. Phase 2
A most careful reconnaissance of the defender's positions
will then be carried out by a senior commander
in a tank, to decide which defense area to attack. In
Libya last winter, when British defense areas were not
necessarily sited on high ground, a great deal depended
on whether the Germans could get a position about
2,000 yards from the British front on which to deploy
the German covering force. In figure 2 it is assumed
that the Germans found this, and are going to attack
defense area "B."
c. Phase 3
The covering force now deploys as follows: Tanks,
generally Mark IV's, take up a hull-down position on
the ridge, and with the fire of their machine guns
attempt to pin the defense. They may engage visible
antitank guns with their 75-mm's. Under cover of this
fire, 50-mm antitank guns, heavy machine guns, and
close support 150-mm infantry guns are also deployed
in an attempt to knock out the antitank guns of the
defense or to kill their crews.
The majority of the weapons in the deployed covering
force are dependent on direct laying and therefore
can be blinded by smoke.
Under cover of the fire of their covering force, the
Germans form their rear in the following manner:
(1) Three rows of tanks, with about 50 yards
between tanks and about 150 yards between rows.
(2) When the tanks are in position, the box forms
in the rear, as illustrated. The infantry ride in their
d. Phase 4
At zero hour the entire formation moves forward at
about 15 miles per hour, depending on the terrain. As
the tanks pass through their covering force, they
begin to fire, not so much with a view to hitting
anything as for psychological effect.
Arriving at defense area "B," some tanks drive
straight through to the far side, while others assist the
infantry in mopping up. The infantry usually do not
dismount from their carriers until they arrive in
defense area "B," when they fan out, using Tommy guns
e. Phase 5
If the attack is successful, the covering force moves
forward into the captured area to stiffen the German
defenses that are being established there. The tanks
generally are withdrawn and serviced near what has
now become the rear of the former defense area.
It takes 2 or 3 hours to prepare and stage such an attack.
If the attack proves successful, no minor counterattack
is likely to drive the Germans out. Their defense
is very rapidly organized, inasmuch as all the
weapons they require are immediately available.
Such attacks are now being beaten off, and it is apparent
that in the future they will not succeed without
considerably increased artillery support.
The whole form of the attack has been reduced by
the Germans to a "battle drill."