The importance of preliminary reconnaissance in the occupation of a
position at night is clearly shown in the following account of the destruction of a
German infantry battalion in Libya last June.
The battalion (with only two companies, the 9th and 10th) arrived at a new
position at 0230, and began at once to dig in, leaving a space of about 500 yards
between the two companies for the 11th Company, which was to come up later. No
reconnaissance of the area was carried out "because of the darkness of the night." When
dawn came the battalion commander immediately became aware that the company
positions were completely dominated by those of the enemy. The two companies in
fact found themselves in very close contact with British positions; the Germans' field
of fire was limited to a few yards, and they were completely overlooked from the
front, the left flank, and the rear. The space left clear for the 11th Company
was found to be occupied by a knoll which prevented visual communication between
the two companies.
The British immediately opened up an intensive fire of all weapons, which
prevented the withdrawal of the battalion and cut the telephone
communications. They followed this up by sending out tanks and armored
cars which outflanked and overran the 9th Company. The artillery in
support of the 9th Company tried to lay down defensive fire, but was
in a low position from which it was unable to bring direct fire to
bear, and was neutralized by British counter-battery fire.
The British artillery was then concentrated on the 10th Company. When
the dust and smoke thrown up by the artillery fire had subsided, the company
found about 20 tanks and armored cars on top of it, their fire completely
nullifying the weak counterfire from the position. The commander of an
antitank gun, who managed to get off a few rounds, was heard shouting to
his company commander that the armor-piercing shells were bouncing off
the tanks. Thus the 10th Company was overrun.
British armor then advanced on the battery position, capturing the
Adjutant (who was wounded), other officers of the battalion headquarters, some
men, and the few artillerymen who had stayed with their guns. Only a few
appear to have escaped.
The Germans attributed their destruction to:
(a) Lack of day reconnaissance of the position to be occupied;
(b) Lack of information about the British positions;
(c) Absence of the 11th Company, which prevented the formation of a
position in depth or any system of visual signals between the two
(d) Extreme fatigue of both officers and men;
(e) Lack of artillery support;
(f) Overwhelming enemy superiority in artillery and armor used in close cooperation.
It was therefore concluded that infantry should not be used in open ground
against armor unless strongly supported by artillery, so sited as to be able to use
direct fire against enemy armor approaching from any direction; nor should
infantry be used without the support of armored vehicles.