11. EMPLOYMENT OF ANTIAIRCRAFT FORCES WITH A GERMAN PANZER DIVISION IN LIBYA

The following report on German antiaircraft batteries with the 15th Panzer Division was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 8, September 24th, 1942.

A captured order of the 15th Panzer Division of the Afrika Korps, dated May 25, 1942, affords an interesting example of the division commander's employment of the antiaircraft forces at his disposal.

The order calls for the assembly of the 15th Panzer Division in an area 6 miles north of Rotunda Segnali (northwest of Bir Hacheim) in preparation for an attack. The attack actually began on May 26, and, it may be recalled, was the opening blow in Marshal Rommel's offensive which led to the capture of Tobruk and the Axis advance into Egypt to the El Alamein-Qattara Depression line.

In forming for the attack the 15th Panzer Division occupied a central position, the 90th Light Division being on the right and the 21st Panzer Division on the left.

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Rommel and Generalmajor von Bismarck during a staff conference in the Libyan desert during mid 1942.

a. The 15th Panzer Division was organized for the attack as follows:

(1) Armored Group

The attack was headed by one tank battalion, immediately followed by the other tank battalion supported by a company of engineers and a light battalion of field artillery (twelve 105-mm howitzers).

(2) Reconnaissance Group

This group, which was employed to protect the right and open flank of the division's advance, was composed of the antitank battalion and the armored reconnaissance unit.

(3) Support Group

Composed of the medium battalion of the division artillery (twelve 150-mm howitzers) with a battery of 210-mm howitzers attached, the main divisional headquarters with supply and medical units, and the bulk of the engineers, this group advanced immediately behind the tanks.

(4) Infantry Group

Bringing up the rear were the motorized infantry regiment, supported by the other light battalion of field artillery, and the tank-recovery elements.

b. The antiaircraft forces at the disposal of the division were as follows:

(1) Luftwaffe AA Units (part of the German Air Force)

(a) AA battalion staff.

(b) One heavy AA battery (six 88-mm guns and two 20-mm guns).

(c) One light AA battery (twelve 20-mm guns).

(d) One light AA battery less one platoon (nine 20-mm guns).

(2) Heeresflak Units (part of the Army, or ground forces)

One AA company (12 light guns).

(See this publication No. 7, page 7, for description of the distinction between Luftwaffe AA units, the main German antiaircraft arm, and Heeresflak units, which belong organically to the ground forces.)

c. These antiaircraft forces were allocated by the division commander as follows:

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d. The following points of interest arise from the above dispositions:

(1) Chain of command is from the AA battalion staff (attached to the staff of the division) through the heavy and light battery staffs with the armored group, and the light battery staff with the support group.

(2) The heavy battery is seen in a dual role. In the approach to battle it provides antiaircraft protection, turning to the ground role in support of the tanks when the battle starts.

(3) The light batteries protect the division and AA battalion staffs, the field artillery, the engineers, and the heavy AA battery against low-flying attack. The ground role is secondary.

(4) The AA company gives protection against low-flying attack to the motorized infantry and reconnaissance groups.

(5) The forces mentioned in the orders of the division do not comprise an entire antiaircraft battalion, the missing elements being two heavy batteries and one platoon of a light battery. This is significant as reinforcing the view, based on other information, that a considerable force of heavy antiaircraft guns (no doubt accompanied by a few light guns for close protection) was operating as an independent antitank group.

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A British Matilda tank captured by the Afrika Korps in 1942 trundles across the Libyan desert under the flag of its new owners.

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