Both large and small units operate over wide desert
expanses. The lack of cover necessitates great dispersion,
which in turn requires each unit to provide its own
Constant use is made of both ground and air reconnaissance units. Even the side which is weaker in air strength carries on air reconnaissance. Forward ground reconnaissance is usually executed by armored cars. Frequently German armored car patrols are supported by tanks, in a ratio of one tank to two armored cars, to provide sufficient fire power to overcome hostile patrols and outposts and thus extend the depth of observation. Once contact is gained by the Germans with an armored force, it is kept under observation even though the German armored units may have withdrawn. As a result, German armored units have been able to avoid battle when conditions were not favorable, to make night attacks against bivouacs, and even to surround hostile bivouacs during the night with antitank weapons and destroy the armored vehicles from close range in the morning.
b. Methods of Observation
Although the desert is not completely flat, suitable vantage points for observation posts are never very high. This lack of height, together with the heat waves rising from the hot sand and rocks, sometimes reduces visibility in the desert. Mid-day is the least satisfactory period for observing fire.
Both sides endeavor to gain what high ground does exist in the desert. It has been noted that the German infantry in Libya, as elsewhere, have launched attacks for the purpose of obtaining observation posts for their artillery. In one instance such an attack was made to gain ground only 3 feet higher than the surrounding terrain.1 Similarly, German artillery officers have been known to ride on top of tanks in order to gain height for observation.
In both German and British armored divisions the
artillery has its own armored vehicles for observation
posts. However, even artillery with unarmored troops
utilizes methods similar to those of the armored divisions.
Forward observers are well out in front with those covering
forces, armored cars, or carriers which are deployed for
reconnaissance and outpost duty. Often these mobile
OP's must be with the armored-car screen, and they are
then in an armored car or scout car. Many British
officers have spoken highly of the
The British have found it to be impossible to assign tanks to artillery for OP purposes. But they do have arrangements whereby each regiment of tanks modifies and, on occasion, reserves for artillery observers a certain number of tanks.
A problem of observation was revealed in one fast-moving
situation which occurred during the winter of
In addition to the armored OP's, gun towers have been used to gain height for observing fire. These OP ladders are used both as dummies to draw fire and for observation. They are mounted on trucks or may be removed quickly and set up at an OP. The British observing towers are generally about 25 feet high. The Germans have a two-piece telescoping tube mounted on the side of their armored OP, which can be cranked up into observing position. To employ these gun towers effectively there must be a number of them--at least one to each four guns. These, like the tanks and the slight rises in the ground, aid in overcoming the flatness of the desert.
Other difficulties arise in the desert which only keen
eyes and training can surmount. There is the real problem
which a forward artillery observer has in identifying
his own bursts among the dust and heat waves when other
units are also firing. Judging distance in the desert is as
difficult as on the ocean. Lack of familiarity with the
size and appearance of armored vehicles at various ranges
is a frequent cause for misjudging distance. The fact
that the enemy opens fire does not inevitably mean that
the enemy is within range, for he can misjudge distance
also. But it is even more important to remember that all
tanks are not equipped with the same type of gun.
German tanks armed with
2 British troop is equivalent to U.S. battery.