4. DEVELOPMENTS IN DESERT WARFARE

1. TANK AND ARTILLERY TACTICS

The Germans have developed a new method of combining tanks with 88-mm and 50-mm guns for an attack. The procedure is for a wave of tanks to charge in close to a United Nations position and then crisscross until a dense cloud of dust rises. After this, a second wave of tanks comes up in the dust, accompanied by the 88-mms and the 50-mms, which entrench themselves in wadis or, wherever possible, behind abandoned vehicles. While the dust is settling, the guns open fire from these close ranges with considerable effect. The Germans rarely ever fire directly at the front of opposing tanks; they wait for angle shots and try to hit the tanks on the side.

2. BREAKING TRAILS THROUGH MINEFIELDS

The Germans have two methods for going through minefields:

(a) They lay a smoke screen and send in engineers to plot a trail through the minefield, locate mines in the passageway with mine detectors, and detonate the charges.

(b) Or, behind an artillery barrage, they send a tank over the trail selected. The tank goes ahead until its tracks are blown off by exploding mines. A second tank then tows the first one out, and resumes the forward drive until its own tracks, in turn, are damaged. A third then comes to tow the second, and the process is repeated until a trail through the minefield has been established. The Germans usually get through at a cost of three or four tanks. Since the only damage these suffer is the loss of their tracks—which the German recovery system can repair in three or four hours—the Germans do not regard minefields as serious obstacles in the desert. It should be noted that the Germans use anything and everything to pull tanks off the field. The recovery and maintenance system operating in Libya has been so well developed that it can repair 10 tanks a day.

3. AIR-GROUND RECOGNITION

The Germans usually have accurate air-ground recognition. First, ground troops release a chemical smoke, often pink, which can be seen at 10,000 feet. Artillery then fires on the target. Planes observe the fire and bomb the area where the shells are falling.

4. SLIT TRENCHES

It has been found that slit trenches are an absolute necessity in case of bombing or artillery fire. Personnel in them are in very little danger from bombers unless they score a direct hit on the trench.

5. TRANSPORTATION

There are few long marches in the desert; nearly everything is now on wheels. On or near the front there are some foot movements, but even these are not practical over long periods. Thousands of trucks must be used, creating special problems.

Vehicles behind the lines are not dug in, but scattered at least 200 yards apart. Thus arranged, they make poor targets for aircraft since it is impossible to damage two trucks with a single bomb—and bombs are too expensive to use one per vehicle.

Excepting a small section for the driver to see through, the windshields of trucks are often greased lightly so that the dust will blow against them and stick. Sometimes they are painted. This prevents the windshield from reflecting light. The windshields are necessary to protect personnel from wind and dust.

In the daytime most trucks are kept out of artillery range.

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The difficulty of supplying the Afrika Korps can be seen from this 1941 study of the trucks trundling their way to the front.

6. SUPPLY

The Germans advance with supplies for 5 days in their trucks. On the fifth day the emptied trucks turn back, and a freshly loaded group replaces them.

7. EFFECT OF WEATHER

Most German soldiers are accustomed to temperate weather, and have to adapt themselves to the dry desert heat. To United States soldiers from Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and the California valleys, dry heat is no novelty. Military observers agree that the heat of the African desert, although not the last word in comfort, has been exaggerated by newspaper correspondents.

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