July 3, 2014

Ten Commandments for Using Tanks

General der Panzertruppen Gustav von Vaerst succeeded Generaloberst Hans-Jürgen von Arnim as commander of the Fifth Panzer Army in North Africa. While in command von Vaerst issued a list of ten “commandments” regarding the employment of tanks:

1. The tank is a decisive combat weapon. Therefore, it should not be used except in a center of gravity and on appropriate terrain.

2. The tank is not a lone fighter. The smallest tank unit is the platoon, and, for tasks of considerable importance, the company.

3. The tank is not a weapon to accompany infantry. Forcing its way through the enemy, it enables the infantry to follow it closely.

4. The tank can take, and mop up a sector, but it cannot hold the sector. This is the task of the infantry, supported by its heavy arms, antitank weapons, and artillery.

5. The tank is not an artillery weapon which can long harass an enemy from a firing position. The tank fights in movement, and subjects its targets to fire for a short while only.

6. The task of the infantry is to neutralize hostile antitank weapons and quickly follow up tank attacks, so as to gain the best possible profits from the tactical and moral impact.

7. The task of the infantry is to give fire support to the assault of the tanks, to neutralize hostile artillery, and to follow up the progress of the tank attack by coming up behind the tanks quickly to obtain a decisive effect. The task of the supporting artillery is to protect the flanks of the attacking tanks by fire, keeping pace with the advance.

8. The task of the armored infantry is to follow up closely the attack of the tanks, so as to be able to intervene immediately in the battle of tank against tank.

9. The mission of the engineers is to open up passages through the minefields, under the protection of the tanks. This makes it possible for the tank attack to start anew.

10. At night, the tank is blind and deaf. Therefore, the task of the infantry is to protect it with their arms.

The British GHQ, Middle East Forces commented on von Voerst’s “commandments” as follows:

It is considered that, with the exception of Nos. 2 and 3, these "commandments" are sound common sense, based on fundamental principles.

Number 2 is interesting, however, since it reflects the opinions of von Arnim, von Thoma, and Stumme (all now prisoners of war), who fought in Russia, where they acquired the habit of using their tanks in "penny packets." A platoon consists of five tanks, and a company consists of 17 Pz. Kw. III's, 18 Pz. Kw. IV's, or 8 Pz. Kw. VI's. Rommell would never have agreed to the company being split, and would normally have preferred to use the battalion, or even the regiment, as the unit of attack, just as we ourselves would.

Number 3 is debatable. Against weak antitank defense and no mines, this method would be effective. However, the action at Medenine, in the Mareth line area, and all action after that showed that we are as well equipped with antitank guns as the Germans are. Because of this, the Germans will be compelled to rewrite their No. 3 "commandment" and use their tanks much as our Eighth Army has been doing recently.

2. Generaloberst Hans-Jürgen von Arnim (right) greets 
General der Panzertruppen Gustav von Vaerst at Radès in Tunisia on 7 May 1943. 
After a few days they both became POWs.

U.S. War Department, Military Intelligence Service, Intelligence Bulletin, Vol 01, No 11. 1943.
U.S. War Department, Military Intelligence Service, Intelligence Bulletin, Vol 02, No 05. 1944.

Photo attribution
1. http://www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de/Personenregister/V/VaerstGv-R.htm
2. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-787-0502-34A/Hurtmanns/CC-BY-SA-3.0-de, via Wikimedia Commons