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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.]



On July 27, possibly dissatisfied with the standard of work done by the 5th Light Division, Rommel ordered the 15th Armored Division to take over the fortification of the frontier. A completely new plan was mapped which included reestablishing the frontier defenses as they existed when broken by the British offensive of November-December 1941. To help man the line, the 10th and 13th Oasis Companies were brought forward on June 22 (the 2d and 3d Oasis Companies were already there). These were placed for a few days at Capuzzo, and then, together with the 8th Machine-Gun Battalion, the 15th Motorcycle Battalion, and the 1st Battalion of the 104th Motorized Infantry, over the whole system.

The line ordered was: from Sidi Omar to Halfaya, inclusive, four stützpunkte of battalion strength and three intermediate stützpunkte of company strength, the whole divided into two building sectors, the West Sector in charge of the 104th Motorized Infantry Regiment (commanded by the experienced Colonel von Holtzendorff), and the East Sector in charge of the 15th Motorized Infantry Brigade. The East Sector was divided into two subsectors, Halfaya (battalion stützpunkt 4 at Halfaya and company stützpunkt 4a at Point 187, to the southwst) and Qabr el Qaha (battalion stützpunkt 3 at Point 207 and company stützpunkt 3a, 2 miles northwest of Alam Abu Dihak). The west sector was divided into two subsectors, Got Adhidiba (battalion stützpunkt 2) and Sidi Omar (battalion stützpunkt 1 at Libyan Omar, and company stützpunkt 1a at Omar Nuovo). Great speed was enjoined; reconnaissance of all these positions was to be completed on June 26, and building was to begin the following day.

Libyan Omar and Omar Nuovo were allotted the 8th Machine-Gun Battalion, the 10th Oasis Company, a battery of artillery, three 88-mm and eight 20-mm antiaircraft guns, and some antitank guns of unspecified caliber.

Got Adhidiba was allotted an Italian battalion, the 13th Oasis Company, two 88-mm and four 20-mm antiaircraft guns, and a battalion of artillery, in addition to two engineer companies for constructing the position.

Point 207 and the nearby company position were allotted the 15th Motorcycle Battalion, the 2d Company of the 104th Motorized Infantry, the 2d Oasis Company, two 88-mm and four 20-mm antiaircraft guns, ten antitank guns, and a battalion of artillery, as well as two engineer companies for the construction of the position.

Point 187 and Halfaya were allotted three companies of the 1st Battalion of the 104th Motorized Infantry, the 6th Oasis Company, four 88-mm and five 20-mm antiaircraft guns, six antitank guns, and a battalion of artillery.

One earlier weakness in the stützpunkt system was mitigated by an order to stock each position with two full echelons of ammunition, 2,000 gallons of water, and rations for 6 days. Emergency concealment was stressed in orders which required all motor transport to be kept more than a mile from the positions, or, in the case of gun tractors, to be dug in at the gun emplacements. Holtzendorff ordered that Libyan Omar be built in a form more linear than the trefoil, "because we have no mines for the position." He admitted that the plan differed from Rornmel's idea of the advanced position at Gazala (Bir el Heial), as the reinforced squad areas (antitank gun with two machine guns) lay 220 yards apart. At Got Adhidiba, where there were mines, he had carried out the trefoil in companies and platoons.

There were 22 antitank guns, mostly Italian 47-mm guns, with the infantry units Libyan Omar and 16 at Got Adhidiba.

The Omar Nuovo area was laid out as a battalion stützpunkt after an Italian battalion of three companies joined the defenses. The position was laid out in German trefoil and held by about 720 men with four 65/17 guns and eighteen 45-mm mortars. Initially there was no antiaircraft or antitank defense.

Security was systematically organized. Each subsector was to send forward once or twice at different times each day a motorized antitank patrol, and also to send another patrol to make contact with the adjoining positions on the left. During the daytime subsectors were to maintain OP's, and at night double listening posts were to be established. These posts would be 5/8 mile forward and would have the special job of reporting any sound heard. Each was allotted a motorcycle messenger. They were to be withdrawn only at daybreak, or during mists or sandstorms. All patrols were to warn the stützpunkte of a surprise attack by long bursts of fire, and were to return to their stützpunkt from the rear. Platoons were organized to support each other with fire, and field artillery developed defensive barrage plans. A map of the 13th Oasis Company at Got Adhidiba shows its three platoons dispersed at 1,000-yard intervals.

Holtzendorff gave ranges for opening fire as follows: 88-mm guns, 1,650 yards; antitank guns, 440 yards; 20-mm antiaircraft guns (concentrated on infantry and heavy machine guns), 440 yards; all infantry weapons, 440 yards.

Rommel was displeased by the linear positions at Libyan Omar, where the 8th Machine-Gun Battalion had laid out trefoils of one heavy weapon and two light machine guns along the three sides of an empty triangle. Holtzendorff and Major Teetz, who commanded the new oasis battalions, went there to modify the defenses by new section sectors according to the principle of defense in depth. Defense groups were shifted so that machine guns were more than 40 yards from supported antitank weapons. An interesting note by Holtzendorff shows that German defense theory was becoming standardized in detail: The 8th Machine-Gun Battalion has the sketches for the laying of section stützpunkte at Ras el Meduaaur, but not the second sketches for the laying of platoon and company stützpunkte at Gazala. This is apparently because these positions took a rather different form in the Meduaaur sector, owing to their combination with fixed fortifications. The Gazala sketches are being issued to all units.

Finally, on July 1, the 15th Armored Division started building a large mine field in front of the stützpunkte. Gaps were marked in various ways: some with red and yellow paint on stones, others by lines of gasoline cans.

Shortly after July 12 an order signed by Rommel shows that the 8th Machine-Gun Battalion and the 15th Motorcycle Battalion were to be replaced by Italian units, the Savona Division taking over the entire front except for Halfaya and Point 187. The only German troops to remain in the Italian sector were the 2d, 10th, and 13th Oasis Companies, and antiaircraft units. These were to stiffen the defenses of Alam Abu Dihak, Libyan Omar, and Got Adhidiba, respectively. German antitank guns were replaced by Italian, and the artillery in each stützpunkt was increased by one or two batteries.

Even so, Rommel was not satisfied with the all-around defense of Point 187, and strengthened it with another oasis company, presumably to hold the beach extending north to Salum. The antitank defense was augmented by the addition of some 75-mm antitank guns. Halfaya had become a company stützpunkt, and a string of immobilized tanks used as pill boxes were placed to strengthen the line Qabr El Gaha--Halfaya--Point 187. (This idea seems to have been Rommel's own.) Halfaya was to get one 88-mm gun and three 75-mm antiaircraft guns, while Point 187 was allotted one 75-mm antiaircraft gun.

The system was completed by the construction of battalion-strength positions at Point 187, Halfaya, Alam Abu Dihak, Qabr el Qaha, Got Adhidiba, Omar Nuovo, and Libyan Omar, with a line of vorgeschobene stützpunkte (advance posts) about 2 miles in front of them. Until November the only contact with British forces was by the German reconnaissance unit, whose job it was to discover changes in the British armored car outpost line and to defeat British reconnaissance. During this period an almost continuous mine field was laid along the defense line.

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