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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 VII. Organization of Defense1

5th Light Motorized Division—10 July 1941

The following summary of the principles controlling the organization of defense in the African theater of war is taken from orders issued by the German Africa Corps, based upon its experience gained at Tobruk and Sidi Omar.

"The tendency to form a thin, unbroken line for the defense of broad sectors, instead of a series of defense areas organized for mutual support, must be combated.

"The smallest defense areas will be built around a heavy weapon, if possible an antitank weapon, covered by machine gun, rifle, or machine pistol. The positions of the three weapons are to be connected by a crawl trench. Blueprints showing the method of carrying this out will be distributed down to companies.

"Particular care must be taken to incorporate in the plan the tents of the defense area personnel so that the holes cut for the tents can later be included in the connecting trenches. In subsequent stages, the shelters built for the defenders must be made splinterproof. The principle aim must be to combine fighting and living quarters in one position, for only thus can there be constant and immediate readiness for action. All junior commanders must be instructed in person that every position must be laid out according to this principle, whether it is a question of the organization of a planned defensive position or merely a temporary digging in during the course of an attack.

"Several such small-unit defense areas form a platoon defense area. The unit areas must be organized in breadth and depth and checkered so that all intermediate ground is covered by fire.

"The depth of the platoon defense area depends upon the width of front allotted to it. The minimum for a series of checkered section defense areas is a total depth of 100 m. (110 yards). The aim should be, however, to have three lines of checkered defense areas, one behind the other, with a total depth of 200 m. (220 yards).

"The company is organized into three platoon defense areas which either are organized in depth one behind the other without intervening spaces or else lie side by side with intervening spaces (for the defense of a wider front). In the second case, care must be taken that the intervening spaces between platoons are covered by fire or blocked by mine fields.

"If, in exceptional circumstances, the company is employed in isolation to form a defense area capable of all-around defense, the three platoons will be organized in a triangle, according to the ground, as follows:

[Three platoons organized in a triangle]

"The gaps between the platoons will be covered by fire or closed by mines according to the size of the company defense area.

"An organization similar to that of the platoons in a company can be applied to the companies in a battalion.

"All attached weapons, 88-mm. dual-purpose guns, artillery, etc., must be included to form pockets of resistance within the battalion defense area.

"Care must be taken in laying out the defense area that the commanders of weapons which operate together will have the necessary close contact with each other. The battle headquarters of the infantry, artillery, and 88-mm. dual-purpose gun commanders should be placed close together, as the infantry commander will often have to visit the headquarters of the artillery or 88-mm. dual-purpose guns. Forward artillery observation posts should also be placed close to the company commander of the infantry in whose sector they are operating. Reliance should not be placed on technical means of communication which usually break down at the critical moment.

"When time permits, the construction of dummy positions is of great importance.

"Early camouflage of all works is essential. On air photographs of the positions at Tobruk all the defense areas are clearly distinguishable. Mounds of earth thrown up must be planed off so as to cast no shadows. They must not stand out from the surrounding ground when looked at either from the ground or from the air. The camouflaging of communication trenches is particularly important.

"It is a mistake to attempt to link individual defense areas together by means of long communication trenches. Air photographs show this to have been tried in some places. These communication trenches weaken the power of resistance of the areas, since the personnel of the unit is insufficient to defend them, and they afford the enemy an opportunity of penetrating into the trench system under cover of darkness or a sandstorm.

"Mining is particularly important in the case of the small unit defense areas, which are usually broad. The following areas may have to be mined:

       "Small gaps within defense areas;

       "Large gaps between defense areas.

"Every care must be taken to mark mine fields clearly in order to prevent their becoming a hindrance and even a danger to our own operations.

"The safest way of marking mine fields is to lay them inside wire obstacles. Since this type of obstacle can be clearly recognized by the enemy, the field must be covered by fire to protect it against mine-lifting operations.

"Mine fields can also be marked by plowing a furrow or by laying trip wires. These last two methods make it difficult for the enemy to recognize the mine fields, but they do not exclude the danger that our own troops (patrols, etc.) may come upon the mine field unawares, especially at night.

"The method of marking a mine field must therefore differ according to the tactical conditions. At times the method will be laid down by Division.

"It is particularly important to mark clearly gaps left for an advance of our armored forces. The 200th Engineer Battalion and the 5th Tank Regiment are asked to put forward suggested methods to Division.

"I ask all commanders and junior commanders to familiarize themselves and the troops under their command with these principles during this period of calm, so that they may become common knowledge and common practice."

(Signed) von Ravenstein.

1. This is a translation of a German document captured in Libya. In this translation principles governing organization of defensive positions are discussed. The German builds his defense about his basic weapon, usually an 88-mm. dual-purpose gun if possible. He does not fit his weapons into a preconcieved defensive layout. To insure readiness for action, living quarters and fighting quarters are combined. Dummy positions are essential and communication trenches are frowned upon. Mining is all-important.

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