The following report was made after observation and inspection of the
system of wire nets used by the Germans in North Africa.
The German use of wire communication is very flexible, and the extent
of use varies according to the time available, conditions, and the tactical
At periods when the troops are not engaged in active operations, a complete
wire net is laid, and radio is used only by forward patrols and as an
emergency means in case of interruptions and excess traffic over the wires.
Wire is not used as a means of communication during periods of inactive
operations when mounted messengers are available. In forward areas, the
Germans take every precaution against interruption of messages sent over the
It is definitely known that in at least one German battalion, the orders
issued to it specified that operational traffic was to be sent by telephone or
telegraph until the latest possible moment: i.e., until the lines were cut by
enemy action, and only then was radio to be used.
The following notes concern the wire network of the German Afrika Korps
from June to October 1941. During this period there were no important
operations; hence, what follows probably shows the fullest extent to which wire
has been used in Africa by the Germans.
b. Wire Nets
The wire nets for a large unit like the Afrika Korps may be divided into four classes.
(1) Local lines to the individual staff officers, corps headquarters, and
(2) Lines direct to lower units, corps troops, corps artillery etc., which
are controlled directly by corps headquarters.
(3) Lines to the main units (divisions) under the command of the corps
headquarters. These units themselves had large switchboards, through which
corps headquarters could communicate directly with the regiments and
battalions of the particular division.
(4) Lines to large centrals at fixed geographical points, such as Capuzzo,
Gambut, and Gazala. These centrals were not in any unit headquarters, but
provided a medium whereby corps headquarters could contact organizations not
directly connected with it.
It must be noted, however, that there is no very clear distinction between
(3) and (4) above. There are frequent instances of division switchboards acting
as intermediaries between corps headquarters and non-corps divisions, or even
of fixed centrals doing this, in addition to their normal function as the central
exchange for their own regiments. Thus, in July and early August, the Trento
Division switchboard carried the Afrika Korps communications to the Afrika
Korps headquarters' switchboard at Gambut and Acroma, and to other Italian
divisions such as the Brescia and Pavia (none of the Italian divisions belonged to
the Afrika Korps.) In June, the Afrika Korps actually had no direct wire to the
German divisions under its command. These were contacted through the Trento
switchboard. Similarly, in September, the Bologna Division had nearly all the
German heavy artillery units as subscribers, while at the same time the Afrika
Korps headquarters' switchboard provided wire to the XXI Italian Army Corps,
the Brescia and Littorio Divisions, and fixed centrals at Acroma and Gazala.
Furthermore, no distinction is made in the circuit diagrams between unit
switchboards and fixed centrals.
Another interesting fact about the function of unit switchboards is that
comparatively minor units frequently had more important units as subscribers. In
August, for example, in the 15th Armored Division's wire net, the
1st Battalion, 33d Flak Regiment was the central for both the 15th Motorcycle Battalion
and the 104th Motorized Infantry Regiment.
c. Extent of Afrika Korps Wire Communications
The comprehensive wire net developed after a period of static warfare
can be shown by taking each of the four categories separately.
(1) Local Switchboard
In July there were some 21 lines from the Afrika Korps staff switchboard. The
subscribers were either individual staff officers, or the officers of the
various sections of the staff. Five or six additional lines were used for
communications personnel (wire maintenance sections, etc.).
(2) Lines Direct to Corps Switchboards
The number of these lines varied according to circumstances. At one
period in December, the Afrika Korps seems to have been acting as a fixed
exchange for the Italian division at Bardia, and this involved a number of extra
lines to installations and detachments. Normally, however, there were about six
of these lines, and the units served were AA batteries protecting the
headquarters, corps signal battalion, the intercept company, the air cooperation
headquarters, and at some periods a reconnaissance unit and an airfield.
(3) Lines to Unit Switchboards
These lines again varied considerably. In June, 1941 the Afrika Korps
had no direct lines to its own divisions. Instead, these were contacted through
the Italian Trento Division. In October, there were direct lines to switchboards
of all three German divisions, and the corps headquarters, while all Italians
units were contacted through fixed centrals.
(4) Lines to Fixed Centrals
Early in the period the Trento Division acted as the most important fixed
central in the network, and the corps had direct lines also to central
exchanges at Gazala and Acroma. During July and early August, the Trento Division
and Capuzzo were the only centrals (apart from those of the German divisions)
to which the Afrika Korps was directly linked. In mid-August the Bologna Division
took over the complete role of the Trento Division. But in September and
October, Afrika Korps had direct lines to two fixed centrals, Gambut and
Capuzzo, which acted as intermediaries to all units not on the German division
exchanges. These centrals correspond with the "North" and "South" sectors into
which the Germans divided their main defensive area.
In the final stage of development of this network, after 3 months of position
warfare, Afrika Korps had local lines for its various staff sections and
staff officers, direct lines to six or seven corps troops units, lines to the
switchboard of the corps headquarters, and of all three German divisions, whence
lower echelons and units could be called, and finally lines to two large fixed
centrals at Gambut and Capuzzo through which they could contact the main
Italian units, smaller fixed exchanges, and other German units not covered by
the corps wire net.
d. Divisional Wire System
A similar development is shown by the circuit diagram of the 15th Armored Division
for the same period. There was a staff switchboard with up to 20 lines: direct
lines to small units (AA, communication, medical companies, etc.); lines to
main units, whence smaller organic units could be contacted; and lines to main
exchanges like the Afrika Korps, or to Gambut for rear and lateral communications.
e. Subsequent Examples
Another circuit diagram showing the communications of the 155th Light Infantry Regiment
from April 20, 1942 is interesting as an example of the German wire system.
The Afrika Korps had moved shortly before the date mentioned above, and from the
new position had communications only with the 15th Armored Division, 109th Motorized
Infantry Regiment, and an Italian division. The old switchboard had not been moved, and
was connected to the new one through a fixed central. This central and the old corps
switchboard together provided the new installation with a means of communicating to
the 21st Armored Division and other units.
The 90th Light Division, the unit to which the 155th Light Infantry Regiment
was attached, had communication to the rear only to the XXI Italian Army Corps, to
which command it was at this time attached. No lines to the front were
shown from the 90th Division, and a radio net including the 155th Light Infantry Regiment
is shown on this circuit diagram.
The 155th Light Infantry Regiment was amply supplied with forward wire lines, but
had none to the rear except indirectly via a battery of the 611th Antiaircraft
Battalion to the 104th Motorized Infantry Regiment, and thence to the
Afrika Korps. The 155th Light Infantry Regiment had the following wire circuits:
(1) A staff switchboard with lines for the regimental commander, adjutant, signal
detachment, observation post, etc;
(2) Lines from the switchboard terminating at telephones to the supporting
artillery troops and antitank units;
(3) Lines to switchboards running to the two battalions of the regiment
simplexed for telegraph.
The battalions had their own local staff lines and lines direct to company headquarters.
f. Forward Wire Communications - Infantry Battalion
Two circuit diagrams of the 1st Battalion, 115th Motorized Infantry Regiment, dated
May 27 and June 16, 1941, respectively, show the wire net of an infantry
battalion in the front line in Libya.
The earlier diagram shows rear and lateral lines from battalion headquarters to
regimental headquarters, a neighboring battalion, and an artillery battery. On
the later diagram there is an additional line to the 2d Battalion, 115th Motorized
Infantry Regiment. On both dates, the line to regimental headquarters was
simplexed for telegraph.
Communications within the battalion were, at the earlier date, as follows: lines
from battalion headquarters to 1 and 3 Companies, and radio communication
to 2 Company. Both 1 and 3 Companies had lines to 2 Company, and each company
had a line to an attached mortar Or machine-gun section. In addition, battalion
headquarters had lines to two observation posts manned by elements of the
heavy weapons company, and from one of these, there was a line to a platoon
of the cannon company.
By June 16, the three companies had been compressed to two, a "Left" Company
and a "Right" Company, each with one platoon in front. Lines to platoons and
sections of the heavy weapons company no longer went back
from company headquarters, but forward from rear observation posts, and an
additional line was provided from battalion headquarters to an engineer platoon. The
radio net from battalion headquarters to 2 Company was no longer shown.
The 33d Artillery Regiment's wire communications were shown in a circuit
diagram to be as follows:
(1) A switchboard with a line back to division headquarters, and local
lines to the staff officers;
(2) A second switchboard with lines to each of the three battalions and
to the observation posts.
Radio was used for communication between command vehicles of the regiment, and the
battalion commanders and observation officers in tank-supporting artillery
units; wire cannot be used for these purposes.