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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 II. German Tank Tactics


"On the withdrawal of our tanks (British), German Mark IV tanks advanced and came hull down on our 25-pounders, which they engaged. The Mark III's hung back behind the Mark IV's and advanced on our guns under cover of the fire of the Mark IV's.

"Fire orders and orders to the gunners appeared to be given by voice and not through I. C. (intelligence control) system. The commander of the unit was in a Mark II tank. He kept 60 to 80 yards behind the line, cruising backwards and forwards, and his radio control appeared to work very well. There was another Mark II apparently carrying a F. O. O. C. (Forward Observation Officer Command). The tanks were supported by 88-mm. (3.4644-inch) dual-purpose guns towed by tractors;2 they kept close behind the tanks and advanced with them by bounds. No observation-post truck was visible, so that it was certain that the observation post must have been on a tank. When the tanks withdrew, the guns remained and gave them covering fire until all had gone; they then withdrew themselves and were very quick in coming out of action."


The German armored force unit has a high proportion of very effective antitank and antiaircraft artillery. German tactics involve close coordination of tanks and artillery, with the artillery serving as antitank guns. The artillery is placed well forward and is advanced from its initial positions by bounds with the forward movement of the tank force. Withdrawal from action is customarily covered by artillery or antitank guns which themselves withdraw after the tanks have cleared. British armored units have suffered heavily on many occasions when they have been thus lured into the range of Axis artillery.

When a high-ranking British officer was asked why the R. A. F. had not more frequently attacked definitely-located concentrations of miscellaneous transport, undoubtedly supply vehicles of German armored units, he stated that the high proportion of antiaircraft artillery which was customarily placed in protection of such concentrations made low-elevation attacks too costly and that the difficulty in clearly determining the identity of the concentration made high-elevation air attacks too dangerous to the British ground forces.

The German armored force, even the smaller units when operating alone, is a well-balanced, self-contained fighting unit. Its tank weapons and its antitank and antiaircraft weapons have been designed to outrange the weapons of their opponents.


"At about 1000 January 21, 1942, I was captured by two German armored cars. Their advance was going pretty well just then; so they had no time to take us back. Later, we were taken to HQ, where we were asked a few questions and searched. I was then put in a saloon (sedan) car in which we followed the battle all day at a distance varying from 200 yards to 1 1/2 miles behind the tanks.

"The German force consisted of about 35 tanks, half of which were Mark IV's; 8 field guns rather larger than our own 25-pounders; 4 medium guns; at least 4 antitank guns; 4 antiaircraft guns; 1 eight-wheeled armored car; 2 light armored cars; and 1 A. F. V. (armored fighting vehicle). Immediately behind came about 10 trucks—all containing fitters (mechanics)—in one of which I traveled.

"The tanks were divided into two groups which advanced together or one at a time, depending on the opposition they encountered. They advanced by bounds and usually halted in horseshoe formation. When they advanced, two guns were advanced with each group, leaving two in action. When they came up against opposition, the guns with the tanks dropped into action beside them. When the advance continued, the rear two guns leap-frogged.

"There was considerable German air activity and the cooperation between ground and air was close. Messages were dropped on three occasions which I saw, and there must have been others. The ground-to-air recognition signal is a magenta-colored (purplish red) smoke cartridge fired from a special smoke projector. The Germans also draped red swastika banners over some of the vehicles. The medium guns followed us about 1 1/2 to 3 miles behind. I never saw them in action. No precautions were taken against air attacks, vehicles constantly being closely bunched.

"The advance halted about 1730, and at about 1815 we went into night leaguer (bivouac). The tanks formed a vast circle facing outwards, with everything else in the middle. They did not close right up as do our close leaguers, but every vehicle was about 50 to 75 yards from the rest. Patrols were circling the leaguer all night, and white Very lights were sent up every few minutes. Next morning they stayed where they were, not opening out at all. 'B' Echelon4 came up on a long crocodile, nose to tail, and the tanks were refueled. The petrol (gasoline) was all brought up in 50-gallon drums and was decanted from these into the ordinary 5-gallon cans. This was considerably slower than our method of distribution, but there appeared to be no waste.

"After refueling, the tanks moved off in a northwesterly direction, followed by 'B' Echelon. I was placed in a Dodge 8-cwt. antiaircraft truck, following 'B' Echelon. While they were towing out a bogged three-tonner, the four men in the truck were all on the ground together; so I got into the driver's seat and dashed off flat out through the rest of 'B' Echelon and escaped.

"The German morale appeared to be very high, in spite of the fact that the Germans had been retreating steadily since Salum. They had no doubt that they would finish off the war in Africa very quickly, and the whole war quite soon. Their propaganda has been very successful, and they said that we had lost 400 tanks at Tobruk. The food was very good and much more varied than we got.

"There were about two Italian tanks from the Ariete Division which came into the leaguer. One of the Italians came up and talked to the Germans in my truck and also to me. They seemed certain that the Ariete Division would get through very quickly to Alexandria and Cairo. The Germans regard the Italians as rather a joke and are very contemptuous about their fighting qualities.

"They had a large number of British vehicles in use with their forces. Nearly half their 'B' Echelon was British, and they also had a lot of 8-cwts. Their own gun tractors are very efficient, having two wheels in front and tracked bogies behind. I saw one towing a gun through soft sand, and behind the gun a 3-ton truck."

1. Quoted from the report of a wounded British tank officer whose statement is based on his personal observation.
2. Although the 88-mm. (3.46-inch) gun is basically a dual-purpose weapon, as mounted on its model 201 trailer and towed by a tractor, it has an elevation of only -3° to +15°. Consequently it is limited to ground targets unless removed from its mount.
3. This is a report based on experiences as a prisoner of war in Libya.
4. Supply trains.

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