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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 the night of August 2/3 the Meduaaur salient of Tobruk, from which the 115th Motorized Infantry Regiment and the 2d Battalion of the 104th Motorized Infantry Regiment had not yet moved, was attacked by the British. German documents give a fairly complete story of this assault.

The right and left flanks of the salient were attacked by three companies drawn from two Australian battalions. The extreme position on the left flank was taken, but was recaptured by the Germans on the following day, August 3. German losses were 30, British much higher.

The first defensive measure, at least of the 2d Battalion, 115th Motorized Infantry Regiment, was barrage fire. Just after the report that the enemy had broken in behind the position on the right flank, all telephone communication was destroyed. The battalion at once sent out two patrols to see if the next position was held, and heavy machine guns concentrated their fire around the flank position. It was found that the British had used one company and an engineer platoon in attempting to make routes through the mine field protecting the right flank, but had been stopped with many casualties by heavy machine-gun and mortar fire and then had been driven back by small-arms fire. German casualties were 4 dead and 6 wounded.

The commander of the 115th Motorized Infantry Regiment reported that he observed 18 British field artillery batteries in action, delivering extremely heavy fire for 2 hours. He said that if the attack on the right had concentrated on silencing heavy machine guns in the supporting positions, the British thrust might have succeeded. The British company in the center was halted when it stumbled into the German mine field. On the left, which was defended by the 2d Battalion of the 104th Motorized Infantry Regiment, the British bypassed the mine field and crossed the gap between the 2d Battalion of the 104th Motorized Infantry Regiment and the Brescia Division without being observed. The report of the 2d Battalion of the 104th Motorized Infantry notes that they were wearing rubber-soled shoes and were heard neither by the forward listening posts nor by the sentinel to the west of the position.

Meanwhile, British field artillery had scored five direct hits on another position, and it was taken from the rear. The six wounded survivors of the garrison leaped into the antitank trench and tried to recapture the central position with grenades, but found that they were not strong enough. An immediate counterattack by part of the battalion reserve also failed because of British artillery and Italian machine-gun fire from the left. When British tanks were reported the Germans brought up their mobile antitank reserves, but the next day the position was recaptured. German losses were 18 killed and 32 wounded.

This encounter added little to German defensive doctrine--the value of intersecting antitank trenches had again been shown and once more British field artillery had proved to be effective against defensive positions. On the basis of its experience, the German command issued elementary instructions in defense to the 3d Battalion of the 268th Infantry Regiment, which arrived in Africa on August 16. Stress was laid on the early preparation of positions in an advance, and the newcomers were instructed to build positions for the covering party and OP's before establishing positions and headquarters for the main fighting force. They were next to build obstacles, then crawl trenches and shelters, and finally dummy positions. Antitank trenches were to be dug at 55-yard intervals across areas where enemy tanks were likely to penetrate. Alternate positions were to be constructed 55 to 65 yards from the original positions. Very vaguely, an ideal company position was suggested with light machine guns and antitank guns disposed along the front line. The directive also gave camouflage instructions.

An equally elementary document, coming from Tobruk on September 30, ordered rations to be stored for 2 days (prompted by the experience of Halfaya) against the danger of encirclement. A company order, this document shows that the total width of the left platoon sector was 330 yards and that it had only one antitank gun (these new units were notoriously weak in antitank defense by German standards). The left platoon was ordered to lay down a light machine-gun barrage if attacked in darkness, sandstorm, smoke, or fog. Each forward section had a night listening post 500 yards from the enemy position. For an unexplained reason, the antitank gun crew was given rations for 8 days. Dummy positions behind platoon headquarters were being shot up by the British artillery. There is no data on the width of the right platoon sector, but there was an interval of 165 yards between headquarters and sections, 40 yards from sections to the wire, and 75 and 100 yards on the right and left flanks. Antitank rifles were distributed to the left and right sectors and to headquarters. There was a light machine-gun barrage, and snipers were ordered to concentrate on enemy commanders and forward machine guns. The mine field in front of the platoon was laid in four rows, checkerwise, with intervals of 4 yards between rows and 5 yards between the mines in each row. Behind it was a fence mined with concentric charges which could be exploded by pulling a wire in the position. (The British position was between 275 and 330 yards away.) In the center platoon area (the company had three platoons up) as in the right platoon area, there were three squads forward and two back, and each forward squad was equipped with two antitank rifles. Heavy mortars had firing positions 550 yards to the rear, near company headquarters. The antitank gun with the left platoon was to destroy British tanks at ranges of about 220 yards. Antitank guns were to stop the enemy attack before it reached the main line of resistance, and were to use high-explosive shells against infantry who broke the line. Fire was not to be opened against light tanks at ranges of over 330 yards; antitank guns were to hold their fire until the tanks approached to within 220 yards.

About mid-August the Meduaaur salient was taken over by the new and rather unsatisfactory troops of the 155th Motorized Infantry Regiment (including the 3d Battalion of the 268th Infantry Regiment, which on October 21 was relieved by the 7th Bersaglieri Regiment). The southeastern sector of Tobruk was not the important sector in view of the German preparations for the attack in November.

The 1st Battalion of the 104th Motorized Infantry Regiment had been resting, but on October 26 it again took over Halfaya from the 3d Battalion of the 347th Regiment.8

[Map No. 3--The Gazala Sector]
Map No. 3--The Gazala Sector

8 It is interesting to note that though it was a motorized infantry battalion, it had not yet any motor transport of its own. Any estimate of the functions and capacities of the two motorized infantry regiments in Africa (the 104th and the 115th) should take into consideration that for months they had a purely static position role. It is from their experience that we get the most elaborate German defensive practice.

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