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German Methods of Warfare in the Libyan Desert
Military Intelligence Service, Information Bulletin No. 20, July 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.]

Section I. German Methods1

In all operations enemy methods must be carefully studied and considered. The following paragraphs contain a description of the way in which the enemy is likely to operate if he has a free hand. They are the result of recent experience and must be studied objectively to discover how we may best take advantage of the enemy's methods in order to enhance the offensive powers of our own troops and to profit by his mistakes. A close study will also disclose many opportunities for local offensive action on our part even when the initiative has temporarily passed to the enemy.

Whether acting on the defensive or the offensive, the enemy covers his front with a protective screen of armored car patrols supported by the other elements of his reconnaissance units, which include a motorcycle company, antitank troops, and a few infantry guns. In each of his armored car companies he has a proportion of 8-wheeled armored cars which he uses to support his lighter armored cars. Occasionally he employs a few tanks in support of his reconnaissance elements, and in some reconnaissances light tanks entirely supplant armored cars. These reconnaissance detachments are very active and highly trained. The information which they pass back is usually accurate, and they report not only our movements but those of their own units. Skill and determination, knowledge of the terrain and changing road conditions, along with the ability to deal effectively with small mixed columns, including tanks, are necessary both to pierce this screen and to prevent enemy reconnaissance detachments from penetrating our own protective screen.

When the enemy has decided to attack, he first makes a very thorough reconnaissance, probing the position from all directions to test its strength, and endeavors to induce the defenders to disclose their dispositions by opening fire. During this period his observation posts keep close watch and note the location of guns or antitank guns which disclose their position so that these may be dealt with when the main attack begins.

Having decided where to strike, the enemy next brings forward his tanks supported by some motorized infantry. He covers this move by a screen of antitank guns, and endeavors to bring his forward elements to within some 2,000 yards of his objective. At this stage he may be expected to refuel his tanks under the cover of his forward detachments.

Choosing a time when the position of the sun will most favor his attack, the enemy then proceeds to carry out his final preparations. He first engages our antitank guns and artillery with his Mark IV2 tanks and supporting guns; meanwhile, Mark III3 tanks form up for the assault and frequently challenge the defended area at different points in strong compact formations. Then, having decided where to launch his main thrust and having endeavored to reduce the power of the defense by the fire of his Mark IV tanks and artillery, he launches a strong attack with his Mark III tanks followed by motorized infantry and guns direct on his objective. In addition, the enemy often directs at least one column containing tanks, artillery, and motorized infantry on some important locality in our area, such as the field maintenance center. There may be one or more of these thrusts. As a rule, the Germans try to develop a pincer movement, the two lines of advance converging on the final objective. An attacking column will move fast and straight to its objective irrespective of events elsewhere.

If one of the enemy's tank columns succeeds in penetrating and overrunning any part of the defenses, motorized infantry, carried forward to within a few hundred yards of the objective, rapidly endeavor to mop up and consolidate the position. The infantry is closely followed by machine guns and antitank guns, and every effort is made to turn the captured position as quickly as possible into a defense area or series of defense areas, with all-around defense against any form of attack. As the enemy often launches his attacks in the late afternoon in order to have the advantage of the sun at his back, the light will generally have begun to fail by the time the action is completed. The best opportunity for a counterattack is undoubtedly as soon as darkness has fallen. Experience has shown that the German particularly dislikes this form of attack, and counterattacks launched at night have almost invariably succeeded at little cost in recovering ground lost during the day.

If, by his attacks, the enemy forces us to carry out a general withdrawal, he will follow up, as a rule, with the whole of his armored forces as long as his administrative resources permit. When be becomes separated from his supply elements, he will probably attempt to continue the advance with battle groups that are really mixed columns and usually include some tanks. These columns are boldly and skillfully handled and always aim at outflanking our rearguards. During the German advance in the Western Desert in January 1942, these battle groups were concentrated on one axis. Such action is typical of German tactics, concentration of effort being a principle the German rarely, if ever, fails to follow. Speed is another characteristic of the action of his armored forces.

In defense, the enemy chooses the most suitable ground for combined action by infantry, machine guns, antitank guns, artillery, and tanks. He usually constructs a series of defense areas capable of all-around defense against any form of attack. These areas are in such depth as his resources permit. His tanks will be found echeloned in depth on the most dangerous flank, or located so as to protect weak points in his defensive system. His artillery will be placed where it can support either his defense areas or his tanks if they are launched in a counterattack. On more than one occasion, he has disposed his tanks in two separate groups and has used the two groups to execute a pincer movement against our attacking troops. When used in such a counterattack, his tank columns are accompanied by artillery, machine guns, and motorized infantry, and they operate on the same general lines as in the attack. The garrisons of his defense areas fight stubbornly and cannot as a rule be maneuvered out of position.

When the enemy has decided to withdraw, first of all he thins out his transport. He does this skillfully, and the operation is often hard to detect. As often as not, his tanks then move forward, either to form a protective screen, to carry out a demonstration of considerable force, or to launch a definite counterattack to cover the withdrawal of the remainder of his force. This often takes place in the evening, and during the night the whole force withdraws, leaving only reconnaissance elements supported by a few guns to hold up our patrols in the morning. These enemy patrols are normally provided by the reconnaissance units, who then resume their role of forming a protective screen.

The German does not fight a delaying action with his main forces. He will form small battle groups, which correspond to our mobile columns, to support his reconnaissance units and to act as rear guards, but his main forces—which, in case of withdrawal, will probably include all his tanks—will break off the engagement completely and move quickly to the next area in which he has decided to offer serious resistance.

In any type of operation, the enemy can be expected to employ wide-ranging raiding parties consisting of detachments of motorized infantry with a few guns. These raiding parties endeavor to operate against our landing grounds, headquarters, and communications. Unless adequate protection is provided against them, they can cause serious dislocation. They are particularly menacing to advanced landing grounds and transport columns.

The above notes have been based on recent experience with German operations in the Western Desert. Knowledge of them will often give a definite indication of what the various activities on the enemy's part foreshadow. It must not, however, be assumed that the enemy will always pursue precisely the same tactics. He is adept at ruses, and, though stereotyped in some respects, he has shown that he can adapt his tactics to changing situations. The most obvious recent example of this is his new technique for using Mark IV tanks to neutralize our artillery and antitank guns before an attack, which he adopted as soon as he appreciated the power of our 25-pounders (3.45-inch gun-howitzers) in an antitank role.

This review of the enemy's methods shows only too clearly the close attention he pays to adequate preparation, concentration of effort, speed of action, and close cooperation between all arms. To defeat him, we must do the same.

1. This section is taken from a British pamphlet on tactical doctrine. It reveals the German methods which have been experienced by the British in Libya.
2. The German Mark IV is a medium tank of 22 tons, carrying a crew of five. Armed with one 75-mm. gun and two light machine guns, it has been used primarily as mobile close-support artillery in desert warfare, although the reported substitution of a more powerful 75-mm. gun may return the tank to its normal role; the maximum speed is 31 m. p. h. It has eight small bogie wheels and four return rollers. See War Department TM 30-450, Handbook on German Military Forces, December 17, 1941, pp. 165–166, for pictures of this tank.
3. The German Mark III is a light medium tank of 18 to 20 tons. Originally it was armed with one 37-mm. gun and two light machine guns, but in most cases the 37-mm. has been replaced by a 50-mm. Its maximum speed is 28 m. p. h., but it is more maneuverable than the heavier Mark IV. For pictures of this tank, see WD TM 30-450, Handbook of German Military Forces, pp. 164–166.

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