[Lone Sentry: Artillery in the Desert]
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Artillery in the Desert, Military Intelligence Service, Special Series No. 6, November 1942
[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the wartime U.S. War Department publication. 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.]


a. Introduction

Suitability of position for accomplishing the mission assigned, and also cover and camouflage, are sought by the artillerymen in the desert as elsewhere. Since cover is practically impossible to obtain in most desert positions, the main concern in selecting a gun position is the suitability of the soil for digging pits and the possibility of arranging for mutual support with other units.

b. Terrain

Both sides make excellent use of those few accidents of the ground which occur in desert terrain. Maximum use is made of folds of the ground both to advance and to conceal tanks, artillery, and antitank weapons. Artillery and antitank guns have frequently been cleverly concealed in ground where the terrain was unfavorable for tank action.

Quick concealment from both the ground and air is obtained by digging gun pits and using light-colored camouflage nets. Gun pits which have no parapet, being flush with the surface of the ground, are more easily concealed than those which have. When possible, therefore, both Axis and United Nations troops distribute the soil and refrain from building a parapet. Gun pits are dug to permit all-around fire.

Often a diamond formation with sides of about 800 yards is employed for a regiment of four batteries. This enables the batteries to be mutually supporting. The guns within each battery are sited in semicircular fashion, 60 to 70 yards apart.

On going into action, the British consider the priority of tasks to be:

(a) Concealment from ground and air;
(b) Digging of slit trenches;
(c) Digging of gun pits, command posts, etc.

Rapidly occupied positions may not be the best available. Therefore, reconnaissance for more satisfactory gun positions is always carried out in such circumstances, and a move is made as soon as possible. In the event of a severe shelling, batteries move to alternate positions if the new positions will still give the necessary mutual support.

c. Dispersion

Both dive-bombing and strafing aviation seek out artillery units for attack, as they are profitable targets. To defend against such attacks, either cover or dispersion is necessary. Since sufficient cover is not usually available, the dispersion of vehicles has been great--200 yards between vehicles being normal. Units spread out in this fashion offer no target for air attacks. When the enemy air force has been inactive, the distance between vehicles is sometimes reduced. This is done to insure better defense against tank attacks and to obtain more control over units. A New Zealand division, while in defense of the Sidi Rezegh-Belhamed area, reduced the distance between its vehicles because of the small amount of cover available, and vehicles at 50- to 60-yard intervals did not suffer undue casualties during artillery bombardments. Undoubtedly casualties would have been severe if there had been an enemy air attack on that occasion.

d. Camouflage

In the desert every gun is dug into a pit if time permits, and covered with a net; every tent is set in a pit and camouflaged; and even each tank has a canvas top placed over it to make it look like a truck. All vehicles are painted with nonglare sand-color paint, and all glass is smeared with oil or a glycerine solution, and then dirt is thrown on these surfaces. Only a narrow unsmeared slit on the windshield is left to obtain vision. Wheel tracks are everywhere and cannot be disguised or obliterated.

A liberal application of dull yellow paint--the color of the sand--has been found to be the best method of rendering both artillery pieces and motor trucks less visible in the desert. The outlines of a piece are broken by the use of scrub and sand mats. The barrel and cradle are sometimes painted a dull sandy color, except for a 1-foot diagonal stripe of light brown or green to break up the pattern of the gun. Motor vehicles carry camouflage nets, which are stretched taut from a central position on the roof of the vehicle at an angle of not more than 45°, and then pegged to the ground and covered with threaded screen and bleached canvas, or with pieces of sandbags 50 to 70 percent of which are painted dull yellowish white. The vehicles themselves are painted cream white, broken by irregular patches of light brown or green. The object is to neutralize dark shadows by an equivalent amount of dull white. Germans and British have adopted this sand color as camouflage. During recent operations German tanks were painted black, evidently to aid their antitank gunners in quick daytime identifications while also serving as night camouflage.

As a security measure and to prevent unauthorized persons gaining information regarding the identification of units and movement of troops, by observing motor transport movements, the practice of marking vehicles with unit designations has been discontinued. A code system, employing color and combinations of colors with numbers to indicate various tactical organizations has been adopted.

[Figure 13: British 6-inch howitzer in a dug-in position]
Figure 13.--British 6-inch howitzer in a dug-in position

[Figure 14: Diagram of one method of camouflaging and emplacing a British antitank weapon]
Figure 14.--Diagram of one method of camouflaging and emplacing a British antitank weapon

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