Oasen Bataillon z.b.V. 300

That’s be Oasis Special Purpose Battalion 300, in English. This peculiarly named unit proves that the Wehrmacht was not averse to a practical joke being played on its soldiers, since they probably never got anywhere near an Oasis. Instead of being based in a palm-studded Arabic paradise with tough war-like men on horses and beautiful women wearing veils they found themselves in dusty and stony dirtholes on the Libyan-Egyptian border, until they were forced to surrender in January 1942.

I understand the battalion was formed in summer 1941 in reaction to General Paulus visit to the desert in April/May, when he found the defensive position on the border too weak.[Correction to follow below]. The battalion was formed in response to a request made by the D.A.K. HQ to O.K.H. on 30 March, for garrison troops for oases through the desert, such as Gialo. The original request asked for five independent companies. The thinking was that these companies could act as flank and rear-area protection for traffic links and water supply points.

The battalion consisted of soldiers who had been to Africa before the war. While it is often given as part of  Division z.b.V. Afrika (later 90th Light Division), I think that at least for this battle any association with the division was purely administrative, and honestly I don’t think there was much of a connection at all. See e.g. the OOB of Division zbV at this link. No mention of Oasis Battalion 300. In the Panzergruppe OOB it is given as being directly under command of the Panzergruppe HQ. It would be interesting to see who first came up with the idea they were under Division zbV.

The battalion consisted of a battalion HQ, and five (on paper) identically equipped rifle companies, numbered 2., 6., 10., 12., and 13. The only explanation I can come up with for the peculiar numbering is that each of the comapnies was supposed to form the nucleus of a battalion, if it was planned to extend the battalion to a regiment later, with 13 company providing the nucleus for the support companies.

From the order of battle of Panzergruppe, September 1941. The document shows the planned (but not necessarily real) organisation and heavy weapons equipment of the five Oasenkompanien.

Each company had 12 light machine guns, 3 light mortars (50mm), and 6 light anti-tank rifles (7.92mm). The  12 light machine guns were more than a normal battalion would field, and indicates that either there were either 12 sections (could be three in four platoons, or four in three platoons), but the three mortars indicate three platoons), or six sections with two light machine guns each. The reported company strength of 152 of all ranks (see here) makes me think it was probably a case of  12 sections of nine or ten men each, but I’d be happy to be corrected on this. Regardless, it was a considerable amount of firepower for a company, and in line with lessons learned in the desert up to this point. What it wasn’t though was strong in anti-tank firepower. In consequence, in position the companies of the battalion were supported by Italian and German artillery, including 88mm AA guns. The article at Lone Sentry is very good in describing the situation.

The last remnants of the Oasis Battalion 300 went into Commonwealth captivity when General Fedele de Giorgis surrendered his forces on 17 January 1942, with the last organised elements surrendering in Sollum on 12 January, apparently. The battalion was not reformed to my knowledge, and provided little more than a footnote to the overall battle.

15 thoughts on “Oasen Bataillon z.b.V. 300

  1. “The battalion consisted of soldiers who had been to Africa before the war.”
    “The last remnants of the Oasis Battalion 300 went into Commonwealth captivity when General Fedele de Giorgis surrendered his forces on 17 January 1942.”

    … and with it, all the men who had prior expeirnce of the desert. Thus the risk of forming special purpose units then using them for banal purposes.

    • Pure speculation, but I think this probably shows some of the naivete of the German Army’s personnel planners in Berlin, who seem to have had little conception of the desert. I highly doubt that there was a need for specifically trained (beyond the basics) or experienced troops in this setting. I can understand why they formed the Afrika-Rgt. out of former members of the French Foreign Legion, but this battalion puzzles me.

      • Andreas,
        as a line formation, I agree. There are too many examples of regular combat units from all four corners of the world operating quite successfully in the desert environment, as long as they had /some/ time for acclimatisation, their kit was broadly suitable, and they were logistically supportted to a reasonable degree.

        However, in any environment, especially extreme ones, I think there is certainly a place for highly trained and or experienced personnel. Whether it be for things like the LRDG or Gebirgsjagers, or something more banal like providing advice or expert knowledge about the location of roads, water, landmarks, local contacts and customs and culture, whatever.

        By concentrating all their guys with this experience in one unit, then using them as a single formed unit in an exposed location, the Germans pretty much ensured they wouldn’t be around for any other purposes should the need arise.

  2. Nice find!

    Still, I don’t think a special unit would have been required to hold any of these Oasis. 🙂

    All the best

    Andreas

  3. The company numbers for the Oasis companies were those of the Wehrkreis from which each company was raised. The number of LMGs in the company is the standard infantry allocation, which was one per rifle squad plus a “floater” at platoon — three platoons with 4 LMG each = 12 guns. 12 LMG and 3 light mortars is right for a standard rifle company; it’s the number of light AT rifles which is high — two per rifle platoon instead of just one. I bet that’s because they were intended to operate in a semi-isolated environment.

  4. Pingback: A Hard Lesson Learnt « The Crusader Project

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