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The Development of German Defensive Tactics in Cyrenaica—1941
Military Intelligence Service, Special Series No. 5, October 16, 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 sound defensive system existed in the German Army prior to the Libyan campaign, but it had to be expanded and altered to meet special conditions existing in the desert. The German doctrine of defense, which formed the basis of the system developed in Libya, may be summarized as follows:

(1) Effective fire is more important than cover.

(2) The object of the defense is to wear down an attack before launching a counterattack, generally with armored troops.

(3) Reconnaissance must be made to discover enemy intentions and to screen one's own positions, which are organized in depth.

(4) A linked fire plan must cover the entire front.

(5) Most of the fire should be concentrated to cover the stützpunkt2 which is the key to the position and the objective toward which the enemy is likely to put forth his main effort.

(6) A series of mutually supporting centers, each capable of all-around defense, must be organized in depth.

For the defense, troops are disposed in three main positions:

(1) Vorgeschobene Stellungen, or advanced positions.

(2) Gefechtsvorposten, or battle outposts.

(3) Hauptkampflinie, or chief battle line, corresponding to the U.S. main line of resistance. This main defensive position is designed to be held until the counterattack.

In a paper written in early June 1941, a German major lamented the fact that "Our people know next to nothing about the construction of defenses. We have scarcely any exercise in this phase of warfare in our peacetime training. The junior commander does not realize that positional infantry warfare is 60 percent with the spade, 30 percent with the field glasses, and only 10 percent with the gun." In the same paper the major indicates his belief in the superiority of British camouflage and deception.

This criticism was apparently well founded, for the plans for defenses in the spring of 1941 indicated the inadequacy of German defensive training at that time.

In the first German defenses in Libya there was a purely linear fire plan—that is, with units bivouacked within a thin ring of weapons, and weapons, if grouped at all, bunched without variety. This was natural; probably for the first time since they were formed as units, the Germans found themselves seriously on the defensive after their first failure at Tobruk. They regarded this defensive phase as purely temporary; units were to be covered by an artillery barrage of two batteries over the defiladed tanks of one regiment, part of one machine-gun battalion, and two engineer companies.

A captured document dated May 15 shows a plan of defense for Fort Capuzzo. The antitank guns are strung out in a straight line on the road front. Defense is all-around, however, and there is an advanced position. The only specific roles in defense are assigned to artillery and antitank guns. Counterattack is the master thought in all these documents and infantry defense is a role left (in one paragraph) to an unpopular Italian battalion.

2 Militärisches Wörterbuch, a German dictionary of military terms, defines Stützpunkt as "A strongly constructed and armed point in a defensive position which is capable of being defended when the enemy has forced his way into the defensive position and is able to attack the position from the flanks of the break-through. One must be careful that the stützpunkt is well camouflaged in order that it may not be prematurely recognized and neutralized by fire."
     Because of the difficulty of giving an exact and concise translation of Stützpunkt in U.S. tactical language, the German word is used throughout this bulletin.

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