Armor in the Middle East

The U.S. Military Intelligence Service issued the “Campaign Study” series during WWII to summarize lessons from the various campaigns. Written by U.S. observers in the Middle East, Notes and Lessons on Operations in the Middle East (Campaign Study, No. 5, January 1943) drew a number of conclusions about German and British armor operations in North Africa.

In order of importance, the desirable characteristics of armored vehicles are (1) firepower, (2) mobility and mechanical reliability, (3) armor.

The British infantry tank and the U.S. M4 have relatively the same armor. But the British tank with its 2-pounder (40-mm) armament is undergunned; also, it possesses low tactical mobility and is mechanically unreliable. The M4, with its 75-mm high muzzle-velocity gun is effective against German tanks, possesses high tactical mobility, and is mechanically reliable. The M4 is a superior tank; the British infantry tank, because it lacks the first two characteristics, is almost worthless except for a few special operations.

Only after adequate firepower has been provided, and a high degree of mobility, accompanied by mechanical reliability, has been developed, is heavy armor plate for vehicles justifiable. When the first two characteristics are attained, such armor as does not interfere with mobility and reliability should be placed on the vehicle.

Armor is far less important than is generally supposed. Two years’ observation has indicated that if the tank compartment is penetrated, escape of the crew is usually impossible. Even though the tank does not burn, the German shell bursts after penetration, and the explosion destroys the crew. If the tank catches fire–and this is frequently the case–escape of the crew is impossible.

On the other hand, the same field observation indicates that chances of survival in an unarmored vehicle are almost as good as in an armored one, since the moment an unarmored vehicle is attacked the crew can abandon it. The same order of importance applies even more strongly to self-propelled artillery, where light armor is desirable but not essential.

In the race between armor and guns, guns are in the ascendancy.

In 1939 and 1940, German Panzer units overran Poland and Europe; the Allies’ antitank guns could not stop a tank. In 1940, General O’Connor’s infantry tanks were impervious to Italian artillery and antitank weapons. During the past 2 years, however, in the desert and elsewhere, there has been a steady increase in the power of antitank weapons. Today both the British and the Germans have weapons which will stop any tank.

This increase in the effectiveness of antitank guns has caused the tank to become a weapon of opportunity, to be used only against objectives which it can easily and quickly destroy. In such a role the tank is becoming more and more dependent on other weapons.


Signals Intelligence in Operation Torch

The following report on Allied signal intelligence during Operation Torch and the campaign in North Africa is reproduced from “Intelligence Lessons from North Africa, Operation Torch” by the Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, Allied Force Headquarters, March 1943.


20. Any review of the lessons learnt in this campaign in the functioning of Signals Intelligence (British: Wireless Intelligence, generally known as Y) can be divided into three parts:

a. Before landing,
b. After landing and
c. General.

It is proposed to consider the subject under these three heads.

21. Before Landing.

The outstanding lesson learnt was the need for dispatching complete units in the first follow up and not dividing them into roughly two halves between convoys 2 .and 3. This precaution had been taken to avoid the risk of the total loss of the unit, but it is now seen that by dividing the unit or units among several ships of the same convoy the same insurance against total loss is achieved. The advantages are that in the early stages of any campaign the maximum amount of Y cover is necessary as no other day to day source of intelligence exists, and also that the enemy being less security minded when his plans are interfered with, more is given away, all of which may be of exceeding value as the campaign develops. Considerable pressure would have to be exercised on the branch responsible for loading tables, but the advantages of a complete Y unit to the formation commander are such that the highest priority for its inclusion entire should be obtainable.

22. After Landing.

a. Assignment.

As 5 Corps did not land in the first follow up, the Corps Y unit (B-type Section) was attached to 78 Div H.Q. This arrangement worked extremely well, and the smallness of the Div I Staff was compensated by one of the I.O.’s of the Section estimating the value of Y intelligence in terms of I(a). Whenever the same problem arises, it is recommended that the Corps B-type Section be attached to the senior Division acting in quasi Corps role until such time as Corps H.Q. have landed. This is preferable to keeping the unit back until Corps H.Q. have landed partly for the reasons mentioned in para. 21 and partly because no Y unit can produce intelligence the moment it sets up house. This is due to the necessity for sorting the traffic heard (since all major wireless bands are full of’ traffic, much of which can be, heard even when the transmitter is many hundreds of miles away). The two mobile D/F trucks now part of every B-type Section have a considerable part to play in this preliminary sorting process.

b. B-type Section (1942).

The revised B-type Section (1942) is an undoubted improvement on the 1941 edition. This has only been partly evident so far, as the Section with 5 Corps is on the old establishment as regards personnel and transport but on the new one as regards equipment. Had the Section been completely on the new establishment it would undoubtedly have produced more; if not better, results. The strain on too few operators coping with increased sets has resulted in a certain amount of: sickness-due to overkeenness on their part.

c. Communications.

The need for adequate communications facilities between all Sections of the Y Service cannot sufficiently be stressed. Y must be provided with its own W/T communications as quite apart from the need for passing intelligence (in high grade cypher) it cannot function properly unless technical information is continually passing between all its units and I(s) at higher levels. The normal Signals channels can sometimes cope with the intelligence side, rarely with the technical information which is often required in the form of “question and answer”.

A further point is that communication should be authorized from the start with G.H.Q. of adjacent theater or theaters. Owing to special cyphers for Y intelligence issued to this H.Q. not being made available to G.H.Q. Middle East, much valuable assistance from Mideast in the early stages could not be received.

d. Siting of Units.

The siting of Y units provided many difficulties owing to the mountainous nature of the ground. Not until recently has a general move forward of higher formations taken place so that the problem has constantly been where to site units so that they fulfill their two main functions

(1) of taking the traffic required.

(2) of passing it in shortest time to the Intelligence Branch of the formation to which assigned.

The only general answer possible is that units may have to be sited near a lower formation than is customary, reporting over their own links to the higher formation to which they belong. (The alternative of a Signal Center does not work well in practice as the lines are usually overloaded no matter what priority is assigned to Y units.)

23. General.

The following points of a more general application are grouped together for convenience though not necessarily inter-related.

a. Inclusion of ‘veterans’.

An immense advantage would accrue in any future operation by the inclusion of personnel from units with battle experience on the strength of new units first coming out. Experience counts more in Y work than is generally realized. A judicious interlarding with Mideast personnel in units fresh from home would have been of great value in this operation.

b. I a Training for I.O.’s.

Y I.O.’s trained in U.K. need to be more Ia minded. A detailed Order of Battle knowledge is an invaluable asset to any I.O. and more stress on this might be laid. It is also necessary for the Y I.O. to know what is, and is not, important to Ia so that his choice of information to pass back immediately may be right. So much of the intelligence produced by Y is ‘scrappy’ (due to difficulties of reception, new or only partially broken codes and the like) that the selection of the right ‘straw’ to indicate the wind is not always apparent. It is recommended therefore: that all I.O.’s in Y should at some period — preferably after being Y trained — serve an attachment of some weeks duration at Ia of a formation, preferably Corps or Division.

c. Intelligence School.

Soon after the start of any operation such as this provision should be made at G.H.Q. for a small “Intelligence School” to read all logs from Y units in the theater, to produce wireless network diagrams from them to check callsigns serial and row changes and generally to be responsible for the longer term W/T I. Sections in the field have little opportunity for more then short term W/T I and in times of battle practically none at all. Investigation into map reference systems, code systems, and the like cannot be undertaken locally but must be done centrally. This is a very real need and should be catered for in any future operation. This party should normally arrive simultaneously with the Army A-type Section.

d. Pool of Reinforcements.

An adequate pool of reinforcements should be drawn up and included in all future operations. In this theater only two W/T I Other Ranks were provided and were absorbed soon after landing leaving no reinforcements whatsoever. On the Signals side the scale is also too low and requires reconsideration. Any loss of personnel through enemy action or sickness is immediately reflected in the operational output of the unit. The ideal solution would be the dispatch of one complete B-type Section over and above those assigned to Corps. This unit could then relieve Corps Sections in rotation either in whole or in part and provide all grades of reinforcements as required.

e. American Y Units.

All the above remarks have been confined to British units as the participation of complete American units in this theater has not yet materialized. The American Section with British W/T I personnel has acquitted itself well in spite of many handicaps due to faults inherent in the general organization of American field Y units. This subject is one however which needs to be investigated at a higher level and a joint American-British Committee might well at some later stage be charged with examining the problem in the light of British experience and American difficulties.

24. Conclusion.

In the main the plans made, the training of the units and the results achieved have been entirely satisfactory. The improvements suggested above are chiefly concerned with detail and should without undue difficulty be capable of realization.

25. I.S. Staff at Army H.Q.

It is considered that only one I(s) Staff Officer is needed at Army H.Q. until the arrival of the A-type Section.

26. Water Trailer for A-type Special Wireless Section.

A-type Special Wireless Section has a strength of 54 all ranks and only sixteen 2-gallon containers to hold drinking water. For technical reasons, the section is often sited in remote areas where the problem of obtaining drinking water is great.

It is considered that a water trailer is essential for the section.


Captured Material in North Africa

Analysis of captured German and Italian equipment, particularly newly encountered panzers such as the Tiger tank in Tunisia, remained a priority for Allied intelligence and ordnance teams throughout WWII. The following brief summary of these efforts is taken from “Intelligence Lessons from North Africa, Operation Torch” by the Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, Allied Force Headquarters, March 1943.

Captured Material

The problem of getting back captured material is a difficult one as fighting units do not have the technical ability to decide what should be sent back and are usually too busy to make the necessary arrangements. In Tunisia, the situation is further complicated as most captured equipment is at once handed over to the French to make up shortages.

The War Department is shortly sending out a team of ordnance personnel trained in the examination of enemy material, to work under the Intelligence Branch at Allied Force Headquarters. It is proposed to have a portion of this team well forward, to be sent to any part of the line where active operations are taking place. They will be responsible for discovering what material has been captured and for ensuring that it is evacuated to the rear as early as possible. The remainder of the team will be at Allied Force Headquarters under the Technical Intelligence officer to arrange for photographs, measurements and dispatch to U.K. or U.S.

It is recommended that similar teams be organized in future for British expeditions with transport including at least one 30 cwt. truck for the removal of material.


New Book: Panzer III in North Africa

Workhorse Panzer III in North Africa in WW2 
New book release from Oliver Publishing.

Battleline I: Workhorse—The Panzer III in North Africa
by Claude Gillono
Over 50 black-and-white photographs and 5 pages of full color illustrations. Part of the Firefly Collection.


Vehicle Signs and Shoulder Titles

The following short remarks on vehicle unit markings and unit uniform markings was printed in “Intelligence Lessons from North Africa, Operation Torch” by the Office of Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, Allied Force Headquarters, March 1943.

Vehicle Signs and Shoulder Titles

Formations and units should arrive in the theater without vehicle signs and shoulder titles. There has been some evidence that formation moves towards the front have been traced by this means.

It is considered that Army Commanders should be empowered to replace vehicle signs and shoulder titles when considered necessary for the purpose of traffic control or morale. Generally speaking, they can, from a security point of view, be replaced sooner in Army and Corps Troop units, as these cover a wide area.


Rocket Run

Rocket Run was a booklet prepared by the Historical Section, Headquarters, North African Division, Air Transport Command, for passengers traveling on the Division’s “Main Line” from Casablanca to Karachi.

Rocket Run: North African Division, Air Transport Command North African Division, Air Transport Command

Route Map:
Casablanca Map
Bengazi Map
Cairo Map
Karachi Map

sPzAbt. 501 Organization

The following table shows the organization of sPzAbt. 501 in Tunisia. This organization is consistent with existing photographs, however, considerable disagreement remains among researchers on the tactical numbering of the panzers in the command Trupp of each Kompanie.

[Updated with discovery of a photo of Tiger #02 and #213.]

In the chart below:

  • Black icons = photographic evidence.
  • Grey icons = no photographic evidence.
1st Kompanie
12 (?)
13 (?)
2nd Kompanie
22 (?)
23 (?)

An original German report lists the tactical numbers of all nine Tigers in 1. Ko. including Tiger #11.

Thomas Anderson in “Des Tiger dans les Djebels” identifies the following panzers as confirmed (“Numéros confirmés par photographies ou rapports originaux”): 01, 02, 03, 04, 07, 111, 112, 113, 114, 121, 122, 123, 124, 131, 132, 133, 134, 141, 142, 143, 144, 213, 222, 223, 231, 232, 233, and 242.


Misc. Comments on the Tigers of sPzAbt. 501 in Tunisia

sPzAbt. 501 received 20 Tigers—2 Tigers in September 1942, 8 Tigers in October, and 10 Tigers in November. The Tigers of the 501st were transferred to Tunisia between November 1942 and January 1943. Two Tigers served in the Stab [01 and 02], 9 Tigers in the 1st Ko. [11 (source: Jentz), 111, 112, 121, 122, 131, 132, 141, 142] and 9 Tigers in the 2nd Ko. [21, 211, 213, 221, 223, 231, 233, 241, 243). The Tigers of the 1st Ko. and 2nd Ko. were extensively modified and are easily distinguished from other units.

For a good selection of sPzAbt. 501 Tiger photographs, see Tiger im Focus – sPzAbt. 501.

Photographic Record:

  • Only one confirmed photograph of a Stab Tiger exists (01), so the exact features of the Stab Tigers are unknown. [Note: a photograph of Tiger 02 has been discovered.]
  • Identifiable photographs exist of all the 1st Ko. Tigers except Tiger 11. Tiger 121 is unique among the 1st Ko. Tigers in having the shovel mounts on the front glacis plate.
  • Identifiable photographs exist of 2nd Ko. Tigers 231, 241, and 243. Tiger 231 and 243 carried spare track links on the lower front plate, while Tiger 241 did not.
  • In February 1943, the 501st was redesignated as the 7th Ko. and 8th Ko. of 10th Panzer Division. Presumably the 1st Ko. Tigers were also renumbered at this time, although no photographic proof exists that the Tigers were renumbered before the additional reorganization described below. For example, a photograph exists of Tiger 142 during Operation Ochsenkopf alongside photographs of renumbered 8th Ko. Tigers.
  • The Tigers of 2nd Ko. were renumbered as 8th Ko. and identifiable photographs exist of 813, 823, and 833. 823 is noteworthy in having the reinforced mantlet. 833 is noteworthy in having the new hinged front mudguards.
  • After the heavy losses in Operation Ochsenkopf, the Tigers were consolidated into a single company and renumbered as 7th Ko. Identifiable photographs show Tigers 712 [formerly 2 Ko.], 724 [formerly 112 as recognizable from battle damage], 731 [formerly?], and 732 [formerly 1 Ko.].

Tiger Characteristics:

The following characteristics are visible in photographs of Tigers of the unit:

No. Cross Size New Mud Guards Reinf. Mantlet Front Shovel Notes
01 small ? N ?
111 large ? ? ?
112 large N N N
121 large N N Y
122 large N N N
131 large N N N
132 large N N N
141 large N N N
142 large N N N Destroyed near Beja.
UNK1 large N N Y Destroyed near Beja.
UNK2 small N N Y “Heidi” on front plate.
UNK3 small N N ? Tiger painted behind headlight.
22? ? N Y ?
231 ? N ? ?
241 ? N ? ?
243 ? N ? ?
811 ? ? ? ? Destroyed turret photographed near Beja.
813 small ? ? ?
82? small N Y Y Photographed on road near Sidi Nsir. May be same as 823.
823 small N Y ? Destroyed near Beja.
833 small Y N ? Destroyed near Beja.
843 Turret shell destroyed near Beja.
712 small Y N Y Aberdeen Tiger. Formerly 2 Ko.
724 large N N N Formerly 1 Ko. Tiger 112 (from battle damage).
731 large N ? N Norbert? Characteristics of both formerly 1 Ko. and 2 Ko.
732 large N ? ? Formerly 1 Ko.


Tiger Grave at Beja [Updated]

The kernel of the following map originated with discussions started on several Internet forums related to WWII German armor, especially the lengthy discussions in the Missing Lynx Axis WWII Discussion Group.

Tiger Grave at Beja






































Photograph Sources:
P1 – P24: LIFE Images.
P25: Missing Lynx Axis WWII Discussion Group.
P26: Missing Lynx Axis WWII Discussion Group.
P27 – P28: Militaria Forums
P29: Online auction.
P30: Missing Lynx Axis WWII Discussion Group.
P31: Missing Lynx Axis WWII Discussion Group.
P32: Online auction.
P33: Missing Lynx Axis WWII Discussion Group.
P34: “The Red Bulletin,” Vol. I, No. 5, April 14, 1945. [Link]
P35 – P38: Online auction.

Video of sPzAbt. 501 Tigers in Tunisia

At least one video exists of the Panzer IIIs and Tigers of sPzAbt. 501 in Tunisia. The video footage of the unit crossing a stream can be found on YouTube at:

A photographer was also present at the crossing and several well-known photographs of the scene are in the Bundesarchiv collection on Wikipedia: 101I-788-0017-02, 101I-788-0017-06, 101I-788-0017-09, 101I-788-0017-19, 101I-788-0017-20.

Video was also taken of the Tiger grave at Beja by U.S. cameramen. This video footage can also be found at YouTube at: The footage clearly shows the location of the Tiger turret at the front of the destroyed column.