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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 IV. Lessons from Libya1

The first part of a captured German document deals with motor vehicles. The following is a summary:

Motor cars have proved unsatisfactory in the desert. The light cross-country car (Volkswagen) can get through any terrain except shifting sand dunes. Medium and heavy cross-country cars can cross any type of country. Trucks (Opel Blitz "S" and Ford V8) do not stand up well on long desert drives, but show few complete breakdowns. Twin wheels have been found to be unsatisfactory, as stones get jammed between them. Armored cars are satisfactory. Panzer Kraftwagen I2 is considered too weak and slow, breaking down frequently. Panzer Kraftwagen II is useful when employed as a reconnaissance vehicle or as a command car. Panzer Kraftwagen III was found to be satisfactory after the new broad tracks were introduced. Panzer Kraftwagen IV is entirely satisfactory. Likewise, the half-track carriers and the armored carriers for motorized infantry have proved to be satisfactory.

The only vehicle which has mastered all types of cross-country going is the half-track carrier. It can surmount dunes of shifting sand with a 40 percent gradient, without difficulty or help.

Tanks, also, have mastered any country that has been met in desert warfare, except dunes of shifting sand, and can cross even these if of low gradient. Vehicles with all-wheel drive can cover all types of ground encountered to date—for example: Sand, loose stones, stretches of flat desert—provided that there is no gradient over 25 percent and the sand is fairly firm. Shifting sand dunes can generally be circumvented. The assistance of British perforated sand-channels proved very useful for vehicles stuck in soft ground. Vehicles and motor cars with rear-wheel drive are confined to tracks—if these are badly cut up, other ways must be found. Stretches of country which are impassable for the usual tropical vehicles are rare.

Fuel consumption on roads is no higher than in Europe. On desert marches it is 50 percent higher for wheeled vehicles, and 30 percent higher for full or half-track vehicles. Oil should be changed more frequently than in Europe—at least every 1,000 km. (625 miles).

The following three sections are of special interest and are reproduced in full:


"All arms have proved satisfactory to date, and it has also been ascertained that with proper care and belt-feeding, no serious stoppages occur on mnachine gun No. 34.3 Owing to the dust and dirt, arms must always be kept dry and polished.

"The 50-mm. (2-inch) armor-piercing high-explosive and nose-fuze shells (Kopfgranaten) go straight through all enemy tanks up to a range of 300 m. (330 yards). Mark IV and Mark VI can be dealt with by the 50-mm. tank gun at all ranges.

"Ammunition consumption in tank encounters is high. The reasons for this are: The good visibility and the resulting opportunity for pursuit; opening fire too early; and shooting at retreating tanks when they are out of effective range.

"Owing to the extensive use made by the British of Infantry Tank, Mark II (over 100 in the Battle of Salum on June 15 to 17, 1941), the weapons which can be relied on to pierce this tank come into the foreground. In the first line should be an 88-mm. (3.46-inch) antiaircraft gun and a 50-mm. (2-inch) antitank gun No. 38, also a 20-mm. (0.79-inch) antitank gun No. 41. These form the skeleton of the defense; the 88-mm. antiaircraft gun is also used in every offensive operation. Teller mines are extensively used."


"The following tanks have been used by the British to date:

"Infantry tank, Mark II; cruiser tanks, Mark IV and Mark VI. There has been much emphasis in reports on the good cooperation between British tanks and artillery (85-mm. (3.40-inch) and 105-mm. (4.20-inch)) which is very mobile as close-support artillery.

"Artillery fire is usually very accurate and is often directed by three armored cars. Fire is accurate even against moving columns, and when it is opened, the troops are much worried. In general no serious effect was produced on the tanks, except for the discomfort caused by the closing of the slits.

"The effect of fire by the tanks themselves was not usually great, as the British fire chiefly on the move.

"An effective opposition to British tanks is produced by the quick formation of a fire front or by approaching to effective range. The lack of coordination and determined leadership is felt. All English tanks can be effectively engaged within the range of our guns (50-mm. (2-inch) tank guns), in which connection it is noteworthy that the infantry tank is easily set on fire and the cruiser tank, Mark VI, is very thinly armored. On the other hand, the cruiser tank, Mark VI, can be pursued with difficulty, since this vehicle (Christie type) has an extraordinary high speed of 50 to 60 km. (30 to 37 m. p. h.). To engage these tanks effectively at longer range, the employment of sufficient 88-mm. guns is needed; these guns can also knock out the infantry tank at long range.

"Targets on British tanks are: The skirting, which buckles easily (protective covering); the stern; the driving sprocket; the tracks; and the lower corners of the turret.

"Beware of British trucks, for the British mount ATk (antitank) guns on them with which they open fire unexpectedly over the stern or the engine. The British carry out dashing (reconnaissance) patrols by means of wheeled AFV's (armored fighting vehicles) and on foot. They also appear from the desert to make thrusts deep into our rear lines, launching shock troops or attacking our rear columns with fast-wheeled armored fighting vehicles.

"The laying of mines at defiles (passes and gaps in wire) must be expected. In doing this, British patrols use small rubber-tired hand-carts and rubber-soled shoes. Mines are also dropped by aircraft in the shape of thermos-flasks and boxes painted to look like tinned food with German markings.

"British air attacks should be met with fire from all light arms. The English are particularly sensitive to the 20-mm. (0.79-inch) gun."


"In the desert, close reconnaissance must be pushed far ahead.

"Targets can be recognized exactly only during the morning and evening. In the middle of the day, the light is so dazzling, because of the heat, that all outlines are completely blurred and distorted—tanks appear like bushes, bushes like tanks, and so on—and much practice is needed.

"In parts of the desert with wadies up to 30 miles long, the flanks of columns marching lengthwise up the valleys must be covered by a platoon or company on the ridge; when crossing the valley, close reconnaissance must always be carried out as far as the next ridge. Panzer Kraftwagen II is too slow for this, and also too weak; use Panzer Kraftwagen III and IV.

"In general, the principles of tank combat have justified themselves entirely and are to be applied unaltered. The North African desert is ideal tank country with unlimited space for maneuvering. Battle formations in large units (regiments or brigades) and tank battles up to a depth of 100 km. (62.5 miles) are possible everywhere. Now that the medium squadron is armed with the 50-mm. (2-inch) gun, it is not necessary to employ it in a forward position; it should be kept immediately under the control of the battalion commander; and only when the battle has developed clearly, should they be thrown in at the critical point. In the desert, the broad battle order proved effective (two light squadrons ahead, medium in the rear) in a regiment, and battalions should be disposed one in rear of another. Owing to dust and artillery fire the distance between tanks should be raised to 100 to 150 m. (110 to 165 yards)—hence a gyroscopic compass in each tank. In an attack, enforce alternate fire and movement, since the desert tempts one into attacks on the move. In contrast to the English, we still lack mobile close-support artillery.

"Mark II is the British infantry tank which has a speed of about 25-km. (15 miles) per hour. The armor on the front is 80 mm. (3.15 inches) backed by concrete, and it carries a 40-mm. (1.6-inch) gun. The British generally use these tanks in a close formation of a front of fire, which is most effective when high-speed fire is directed against the skirting of opposing tanks. An equal number of Panzer Kraftwagen III should thrust at full speed, without stopping to fire, at the flank of the enemy tanks until they are within a range of 300 m. (330 yards), and then open fire, using alternately A. P. H. E. (armor-piercing high-explosive) shells and A. P. (armor-piercing) nose-fuze shells. (Infantry tanks are easily set on fire—50-mm. (2-inch) shell pierces clean at 300 m. (330 yards).

"The use of lightly armored vehicles for supplies of ammunition and fuel should be sought, for the range of tank units is cut down perpetually by lack of supplies. In most cases trucks could not get through to the fighting tank units, whereas lightly armored fast vehicles could easily have reached them."

1. Taken from a captured German document issued by the School of Armored Troops at Wuensdorf, dated October 16, 1941, on Lessons from the African Theater of War.
2. For characteristics of German armored vehicles, see War Department TM 30-450, Handbook on German Military Forces, par. 99.
3. Dual purpose; caliber 7.9-mm.; maximum rate of fire: on bipod, 110 to 120 rounds per minute; on tripod, 300 to 350 rounds per minute. For other characteristics, see War Department TM 30-450, Handbook on German Military Forces, par. 77.

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