July 23, 2014

German Rearguard Tactics in Tripolitania, 1942-43

1. An 88mm gun towed by a 5t. Half-track.
After the battle of El Alamein Rommel conducted a fighting withdrawal and saved Africa Korps from total destruction. During this long retreat his rearguard played a vital role in shielding the main body from Montgomery’s clutches. To succeed in that, the Germans were observed using the following methods.  
  • The foundation of the rearguard positions was always the 88-mm antiaircraft-antitank guns, with a 50-mm core.
  • In support they had: long-range artillery (105's, 210's, and 75's on self-propelled mounts), tanks, infantry (very well equipped with machine guns and mortars), and engineers.
  • In the initial stages (open desert) the rearguard screen was at first deployed over a very wide front. They used their artillery (including 88's firing frontally) at extreme range to hold up the British Eighth Army's advance and to force it to deploy. They used mines (including dummy minefields) effectively for the same purpose.

  • They showed their tanks and moved them about, to attract the attention of British tanks and observation posts while they were concentrating their antitank guns in the British line of advance. They then withdrew their tanks to defiladed positions.
  • They did not attempt to withdraw their antitank guns until twilight (in some cases, not until after dark), when they invariably moved their tanks forward to cover the withdrawal of the guns.
  • Theirs 50 mm's were always defiladed, except in the close country south of Castel Benito (Tripoli Idris International Airport), where they relied on natural cover and concealment.
2. The Castel Benito airfield at Tripoli, under attack by USAAF bombers in early 1943.

  • They always had a covered line for withdrawal of their antitank guns.
  • They sited their infantry to protect their antitank guns against infantry attack. The protection was achieved by machine-gun and mortar fire from the flanks, not by men in front of the guns.
  • In an action south of Castel Benito, excellent use of both natural cover and natural tank obstacles was observed when siting their guns. However, the damage inflicted to the enemy was negligible, since they preferred to hold up the British by firing at extreme range, rather than waiting until they could be certain of a "kill.''

3. An overview of Rommel’s retreat from El Alamein to Tunisia.

U.S. War Department, Military Intelligence Service. Intelligence Bulletin Vol. 1, No. 11. 1943.

Photos attribution
1. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-783-0109-19/Dörner/CC BY-SA 3.0 de, via Wikimedia Commons
2. USAAF, via Wikimedia Commons
3. Unknown