July 7, 2014

German Anti-Tank Tactics in Tunisia

A U.S. Battalion commander, in Tunisia, comments on German Anti-Tank Methods.

German crew preparing an 88 dual-purpose gun firing position
German crew preparing an 88 dual-purpose gun firing position. Notice the kill rings.

The 88

German antitank gunnery in Tunisia made our reconnaissance a particularly tough job. The Germans dragged up their big 88-mm guns and dropped them in position behind their tanks.

Usually a crew dug its gun in a hole 12 by 12 by 6 feet deep, virtually covering up the shield and exposing only the barrel of the gun. We found these guns especially hard to locate. Four 88's, if dug in, are a match for any tank company. They are the most wonderful things to camouflage I have ever seen. They are very close to the ground. You can watch the fire coming in; little dust swirls give the guns away and show how low they are. The projectiles just skim over the ground. The gun looks like a pencil or black spot. The shield is level with the piece, and all you can really see is the tube. Apparently the Germans used mats to hide the muzzle blast. Once we hunted three days for a gun, which was within 1,000 yards of us, and then found it only by spotting the personnel approaching the gun position.

When the Germans went into position, they hid their guns and tanks in anything available, including Arab huts. Then they dressed their personnel in Arab garb so that these men could go to and from their positions.

The Tank Trap

Generally, the Germans tried to suck us into an antitank-gun trap. Their light tanks baited us in by playing around just outside effective range. When we started after them, they turned tail and drew us within range of their 88's. First, they opened up on us with their guns in depth. Then, when we tried to flank them, we found ourselves under fire of carefully concealed guns at a shorter range. We've just got to learn to pick off those guns before closing in.

The “tank trap” tactic
2. The “tank trap” tactic.

Range Finding Methods

Usually the Germans tried to draw us within a 1,200-yard range. They frequently used machine guns to range themselves in, and we ducked their shells by watching that machine-gun fire. The Germans used a lot of high-burst ranging. I noticed that the artillery was likely to fire a round, apparently getting the range from the map, and get one overhead and then drop right down on us. But when we saw three of those in a line, we took off. We had discovered that it was the high sign for the Stukas. Whenever Stukas came along, the German tanks sent up colored flares to identify themselves. Then, with three smoke shells, they marked a target for the Stukas.

When they were moving, they shot at anything that looked suspicious, and generally knocked down every structure in sight. We thought this a good idea, and followed suit.

In high burst ranging the check point is located in the air by the intersection of two lines of sight. It is used whenever a suitable terrestrial check point is not available within transfer limits of the target or when, for any reason, observation upon such a check point is impossible.

German 88 mm guns at the  Royal Military College of Canada
3. Two German 88mm anti-tank guns war trophies at the Royal Military College of Canada.

Wicks, R. M., Lieut. "A Practical Method of High Burst Ranging." The Field Artillery Journal 03 (May-June 1933): 249-53.
U.S. War Department, Military Intelligence Service. Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 11. 1943.

Photos attribution
1. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-443-1574-23/Zwilling, Ernst A./CC-BY-SA-3.0-de, via Wikimedia Commons
2. author
3. Martin St-Amant, via Wikimedia Commons

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