18. ENEMY MINEFIELDS AT EL ALAMEIN

The following U.S. military report on German and Italian minefields at El Alamein was originally printed in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 19, February 25th, 1943.

Information concerning the type, layout, and marking of enemy minefields in the El Alamein area has become available from British sources. There is as yet no information as to whether this general method of mine laying was also followed in the Axis retreat from El Alamein.

a. Pattern and Spacing

The minefields were laid in belts, each belt consisting of two to eight rows of mines. Shallow minefields might have only a single belt of mines consisting of from two to four rows; deep fields might have several belts of mines with considerable distance between belts.

The belts themselves might be anything up to 200 yards deep, with an additional danger area consisting of widely scattered mines up to 250 yards in front of the belt. The back of the belt was usually marked with a fence; the distance from this fence to the front fence (if any existed) was anywhere from 100 to 800 yards.

No standard pattern for laying mines in the belts appeared to be used. However, from the mass of data that was available, it was found possible to classify the patterns broadly as follows:

(1) Regular Pattern

This is the most common. Mines in a given row are spaced at equal distances; there is an equal distance between rows; and the mines of one row are equally spaced between the mines of the previous row. A variation in this method is to vary the distances between rows. In no reported case, except for scattered mines, has the distance between mines in a row been unequal.

(2) Regular Pattern Offset

By a system of pacing, a certain variety is introduced into the regular pattern. The distance between mines in any one row is equal, but one row is slightly offset from the previous row, and the next row is again offset by a different distance. Once a few mines have been located, the pattern soon becomes apparent and mines will be found where expected.

(3) Random Mines

In front of most regular minefield belts, and particularly in front of gaps, there may be found mines scattered at random and unmarked. These are either continuous, with very wide and irregular spacing, or in clumps more closely spaced but laid to no pattern inside each clump.

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Rommel at work in his command half-track during June 1942.

The above patterns usually resulted in a density of a little less than 1 mine per yard of front. Densities up to 2 mines per yard were generally not found except when blocking roads, trails, or defiles.

The spacing between the mines in a given row is from 3 to 10 yards, with the average spacing being 6 yards. As noted in (1) above, in no reported case, except for scattered mines, has the distance between mines in a row been unequal.

The most common spacing between the rows themselves is reported to be usually about 5 yards or 10 yards.

b. Marking of Field

The front edge of forward minefields is often not marked. The rear edge normally is marked, usually with a trip wire on short stakes, though cattle-fence, concertina wire, and stone cairns are sometimes used. Cases have been reported of the rear edge being unmarked.

A common marking is a single row of concertina wire running along the center of a field parallel to the rows of mines. in a large minefield there may be several rows of mines in front unmarked, then a row of concertina wire, more mines, then concertina wire, and so on, finishing up with a row of concertina wire on the rear edge.

The marking of fields by furrows, commonly used at Tobruk, has only once been reported at El Alamein, and in that case the field was a dummy one.

Only one case has been reported of continuous wire running irregularly within a field. It is believed that skull and crossbones indicate the presence of antitank mines or booby traps.

In the rear areas, enemy minefields may be expected to be well marked with cattle-fences and warning notices in German and/or Italian.

c. Marking of Gaps

Little information is available about gaps through minefield; but the following data have been reported.

(1) Width

10 yards in one case, and in another.

(2) Method of Closing

Usually two or three rows of Tellermines (antitank) with boards placed on one or all of the rows to insure detonation of mines if a vehicle attempts to pass through the gap over the boards, which are normally concealed by a shallow cover of soil.

(3) Marking

In the northern sector, two types of gap markers have been found:

(a) Painted signs, as in sketch, on either side of the gap.

[German Minefield Marker]

(b) Luminous tubes 1 inch long placed on the tops of mines to mark a route for patrols. These tubes are visible 3 yards away.

(4) General

It is reported that gaps are a favorite place for laying Tellermines without any marking wire or signs. Gaps are sometimes covered by groups of scattered mines laid up to 2,000 yards in front of the gap, and unmarked.

d. Types of Mines

German, Italian, French, and British mines were all used by the enemy at El Alamein. Relatively few booby traps were found in the minefields, and the traps found were almost invariably attached to German Tellermines. Antipersonnel mines (usually Italian B4's) were found at times, generally as a single row laid in front of the outer wire of a minefield. The antipersonnel mines were spaced from 7 to 10 yards apart, with wooden pegs driven between the mines, these pegs being used to attach the trip wiring from the mines on each side of the pegs.

e. Tactical Siting

One report states that the minefield is usually 200 to 300 yards in front of the MLR, and covered by fire and listening posts. In another report the distance from the MLR to the main minefield is given as varying from 200 to 1,000 yards. A listening post was also located by a patrol 100 to 150 yards behind a minefield. It can be definitely stated that it is the enemy's practice by day to cover all main minefields with small-arms fire from close range, and by night to maintain antilifting patrols, as well as listening posts often located within the minefield itself.

Comment: It should be realized that the above information applies to the enemy mine tactics at El Alamein. It is to be expected that his tactics will change from time to time as a result of experience, expediency, change in terrain, or change in command personnel.

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