[Lone Sentry: The Development of German Defensive Tactics in Cyrenaica, WW2 War Department Publication]
[Lone Sentry: Photos, Articles, and Research on the European Theater in World War II]
Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Contact: info@lonesentry.com

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.]


By the beginning of November, as the long lull was drawing to a close, proposals of ideal stützpunkte were advanced by both the 1st Battalion of the 115th Motorized Infantry and the 2d Battalion of the 104th Motorized Infantry. Their dimensions were 1,760 yards front by 2,200 yards depth for the 1st Battalion of the 115th Motorized Infantry; 1,760 yards front by 1,320 yards depth for the 2d Battalion of the 104th Motorized Infantry. The difference was due to much stronger lateral protection provided in the second plan. It is interesting to compare these plans with those of Point 207 on the frontier, where 770 by 600 yards were given as the dimensions of a company position, and 400 by 175 yards as those of a platoon position.

All these systems met the requirements of the trefoil, both in organization and in weapons. The 1st Battalion of the 115th Motorized Infantry had a two-company front, each company being 880 yards wide. The heavy weapons in the rifle companies were well forward, with the heavy machine guns on the flanks, the light antitank guns in the center of the front line, and two heavier antitank guns immediately behind them. The bulk of the antitank guns, however, were in pairs in the front line of the rear company, in front of pairs of heavy mortars interspersed with pairs of heavy machine guns, all controlled by the Führer schwerer Waffen (the officer commanding the battalion of heavy weapons).

[FIGURE 2.--The main antitank effort of a German position, placed to cover the most likely avenue of tank approach.]
FIGURE 2.--The main antitank effort of a German position, placed to cover the most likely avenue of tank approach.

The 2d Battalion of the 104th Motorized Infantry Regiment had more support; it was reinforced by an antiaircraft battery of four heavy and two light guns, a light antiaircraft platoon of four guns, and an antitank company of six heavy and four light guns. Two rifle companies were placed on the flanks and strengthened by dividing the antitank weapons of the antitank company equally between them. Each forward position (four on each flank) had an antitank gun, and the remaining light guns were stationed well to the rear. As usual, light machine guns in pairs protected heavy weapons. The heavy weapons company of the battalion (less its two infantry guns, which protected the front of battalion headquarters) protected the rear. Once more antitank guns were in the front line. The heavy machine-gun company was divided between the center of the front, the rear, and the flanks; and a group of six heavy machine guns protected the rear of the heavy antiaircraft battery which formed a concentrated mass 440 yards broad in the center of the front (where it seems that it would present an excellent target for artillery). The exposure of the heavy antitank guns both contrasted with the methods of the 1st Battalion of the 115th Motorized Infantry and marked a change from the practice of the 2d Battalion of the 104th Motorized Infantry Regiment in May and June 1941.

The defensive line on the frontier had been completed, or at least was as near completion as it would ever be. The principal features of this line were--

(1) The main stützpunkte were Libyan Omar, Omar Nuovo, Got Adhidiba, Qabr el Qaha, Alam Abu Dihak, Halfaya, and Point 187.

(2) These stützpunkte were held by mixed troops.

(3) They were held in either company or battalion strength, and in the latter case they were to be subdivided into company positions, each with all-around defense down to include platoons.

(4) The distances between the main stützpunkte were 1 1/4, 2 1/2, 3 1/8, 2 1/2, 1 1/2, and 3 1/8 miles--thus each could support its neighbors or cover the intervals with artillery.

(5) Distances between the company positions within the main stützpunkte varied between 1/4 and 5/8 mile in general.

(6) A deep mine field with only nine openings covered the whole front between Halfaya and Sidi Omar.

(7) In front of the mine field were eight vorgeschobene stützpunkte (advance posts). Each depended on the main position in front of which it lay. Their distance from the mine field varied from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 miles and from the main positions, 1 1/2 to 3 miles.

(8) Immediately in front of these positions for a depth of 3 1/2 miles was the artillery barrage zone of the main positions.

(9) In this there were three bands, each 1 1/4 miles wide, to allow patrols to maneuver.

(10) These patrols lay at three points (Qaret Abu Fans, Sidi Suleiman, and Bir Nun), respectively 4, 4, and 4 1/4 miles from the main stützpunkte, and were the most advanced OP's.

It should be noted that in a very strong battalion and company position like Alam Abu Dihak there were six or seven 88-mm guns.

There is only one complete report of how such a position resisted the offensive of November 18--the remarkable record of Lieutenant Schon, whose 12th Oasis Company held out at Libyan Omar until November 30, then retired to Got Adhidiba with 80 survivors from his original 150 men. His company and attached antiaircraft destroyed 17 infantry tanks and five armored cars. He had to withdraw because the food supply had run out and because all his antiaircraft and antitank guns had been knocked out by British artillery and tanks. From Schon's account the following principles can be deduced:

(1) The vorgeschobener stützpunkt (advance post) was commanded by a noncommissioned officer with 11 men, 1 antitank gun, 1 light mortar, 2 light machine guns, rations for 5 days, and emergency rations. Its mission was to observe, not to draw fire. There were three telephone wires running to the 12th Oasis Company, the Italian battalion, and the Italian artillery (attached to the oasis company for the defense of Libyan Omar). In fact, the post remained unspotted from November 18 to 23, and only withdrew on the main position a day after the main battle started. The post was able to observe behind British lines.

(2) The main stützpunkt was manned by the 12th Oasis Company, consisting of 4 officers, 24 noncommissioned officers, and 112 enlisted men, disposed in 10 positions--one for each section and one for headquarters. The supporting arms, some of which may have been placed with the neighboring Italian battalion, were very strong: six 75-mm field guns; two or three 88-mm guns and two 75-mm antiaircraft guns; three 37-mm antitank guns; four heavy machine guns and ten light machine guns. There was ammunition for 3 days and food and water for 8 days. Radio communication also was established with the 300th Battalion and the 3d Reconnaissance Unit.

Schon's record shows that the reconnaissance unit was forced to withdraw in the first 2 days, and that the envelopment of Libyan Omar began on November 20. On that day the 88-mm gun destroyed a British OP at a range of 3 1/2 miles, south of Libyan Omar; later it fired at vehicles at a distance of half a mile.

On November 22 the main attack began. Omar Nuovo had fallen very easily in the morning, and the British tanks then came over to Libyan Omar, where three of the four Italian companies surrendered with little resistance. The assault on the German positions began late in the afternoon, and the 88-mm guns knocked out 17 infantry tanks before dark. As usual, the 88-mm guns were vulnerable to British artillery, and a combination of artillery and tanks silenced them just before nightfall. At this range, the smaller antitank shells (presumably including 37-mm) were bouncing off the infantry tanks. Then night fell and the attack was called off.

During the night one 88-mm and two 75-mm guns were repaired, and the next morning the position was ready for battle again, with 100 German infantrymen, 38 antiaircraft crews, and 130 Italians.

These troops were continually cheered up by propaganda. The Army News (Wehrmachtbericht) was taken regularly on the radio and the news given to the troops. The German successes in other areas were rapidly communicated to the Italians as well, and this tended to relieve the feeling of helplessness before British tanks which Schon noticed among Germans as well as Italians.

Nevertheless, the troops were always expecting to be relieved; there was no idea of holding out indefinitely. A counterattack by German tanks would settle the battle. It was therefore a great day on November 26 when German tanks appeared over the horizon, and the men were puzzled when the tanks did not relieve the position.

Libyan Omar was now plastered by British artillery, and on November 25 and 27 the last antiaircraft positions were knocked out. Schon then requested orders from the 300th Battalion to evacuate the position. He was told to hold out, and promised either speedy relief or supply by air, but neither of these was forthcoming. Between November 27 and 30 he repulsed an attack by Indian infantry.

Conditions were very unpleasant, as nobody could move outside of the position in the daytime because of the snipers, and the command had to be on guard all night, growing stiff with cold. Rations and water were very short. After the infantry attack the positions were attacked by a pair of infantry tanks, which eventually smashed every heavy weapon but were unable to hold their gains because (to the surprise of the Germans) they were not followed by infantry. Schon now asked for permission to retire, as further resistance would involve only an "unnecessary sacrifice of blood." He got the permission, and reached Got Adhidiba (where there was another German company) after a forced night march.

Salum, the supply base of the 12th Oasis Company, had been cut off from the Omars since November 19, when the Italian supply transport broke down. Since that time the position had received no food. Twelve days, therefore, was probably the limit of any of the frontier positions without supply from base.

Here again, the total reliance of the enemy on 88-mm and 75-mm antiaircraft guns and the vulnerability of these guns to artillery fire, are apparent. There was an unusually long-range opening in this battle, but the concealed observational role of the advanced stützpunkt was probably characteristic of the seven positions along the frontier.

Unfortunately there are no records of the enemy's defensive methods at Tobruk and Gazala, and only a few sketches of units in the retreat, when they had lost much material and personnel. The 155th Motorized Infantry Regiment had a vorgeschobene Beobachtungstellung, or advanced OP, and boldly stuck its four 88-mm guns on high ground in the main body. A more detailed plan shows that in the hurry of retreat the unit forgot its doctrine on all-around defense. Antitank weapons were used well forward with the exception of the four 88-mm guns. Nineteen were in the front and on the flanks, and only three in the rear.

9 See The Battle of the Omars, Information Bulletin No. 11, Military Intelligence Service, April 15, 1942; The British Capture of Bardia, Information Bulletin No. 21, Military Intelligence Service, July 25, 1942: and The Libyan Campaign, November 1941 to January 1942, Campaign Study No. 1, Military Intelligence Service, August 15, 1942.

[Back to Table of Contents, WWII German Tactical Doctrine] Back to Table of Contents