Post-CRUSADER – Guidelines for the use of 88mm AA guns in the D.A.K.

The following instruction was issued on 22 May 1942, just before the start of the Gazala campaign. It is interesting in terms of lessons learned, and likely intended to serve as a reminder to commanders who had served in the D.A.K. for a while, as well as instruction to newly arrived commanding officers. It shows well the multi-tasking roles assigned to the heavy AA batteries. A bit of new information to me is about the speed discrepancy between the 8.8cm gun prime movers and the reconnaissance battalion vehicles.

The instruction can be read against a similar British document at this link.

C o p y

SECRET

Deutsches Afrikakorps, H.Q. 22 May 1942

Ia/Flak No. 661/42 sec

Guidelines for the Use of AA Batteries

I. Heavy AA Battery 8.8cm

A) General:

The heavy AA battery 8.8cm is equally useful for the task of:

a) AA batterie
b) Tank accompanying battery
c) Ground target battery, especially at a range of 8-14km

From its anti-air firing position at least half the guns can immediately engage tanks and ground targets. The re-grouping of the other guns for engagement of tanks will only require a few minutes. When tasks of tank or ground target engagement are expected, a more linear or trapezoid placement can be chosen from the start, which will bring almost all the guns into fire immediately.

Smashing successes are to be obtained in all three tasks in the most easy manner when the 8.8cm battery is tasked together.

The assignment of single 8.8cm guns to infantry units often leads to an early loss of the guns since they offer too large a target in the forward line.

On assignment to Reconnaissance Battalions the prime movers cannot sustain the speed of the mostly much faster moving Reconnaissance Battalions, breakdowns of prime movers and loss of the guns are therefore the consequence. The assignment of heavy A.A. batteries to Reconnaissance Battalions is therefore to be restricted.

B) On stops of more than 30 minutes duration, refueling, resting, concentration etc. the heavy battery enters into air defense position as a matter of course.

C) On concentration of tank forces the 8.8cm batteries are to be held back initially and only shortly before the start of the attack to be pulled into the tank concentration.

D) During spreading out. Heavy A.A. batteries are most usefully put between the 1st and 2nd waves of tanks. The battery commanders should as much as possible be assigned a command tank with  a radio.

E) The use of the 8.8cm tank accompanying battery is generally on one wing of the tank force, to achieve flanking impact.

II. 2 cm AA Battery:

The 2cm batteries of the AA artillery are less useful for defense against surprise enemy strafing attacks than the self-propelled AA companies of the Army.

On the other hand, they can fire from a fixed position foundation with much higher hit probability against air and ground targets than the guns fitted on top of self-propelled mounts and trucks.

The use of 2cm guns against armoured cars only promises success under 800m of distance.

On stops the 2cm guns go into firing position in all cases. During combat moves the 2cm guns are as far as possible to be placed on the outside of the combat groups.

For the Deutsche Afrikakorps

The Chief of the General Staff

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A soldier examines a German 88mm gun believed to have been knocked out by the RAF in the Western Desert, 10 September 1942. (Courtesy of the IWM)

Captured Guns in Use by 13 Corps, 17 February 1942

One of the interesting things in the desert war was that both sides liberally scrounged weapons from the other side, and used them. Most famous for that are usually the Germans, who seem to have taken a deep liking to Allied tanks, and of course motor vehicles. But also the Australians used captured Italian tanks (which did them no more good than they did their previous owners, when the Axis forces attacked in early 1941), and of course the famous ‘bush guns‘ in Tobruk, pictured below.

TOBRUK, LIBYA. 1941-08-27. MEN OF THE 2/17TH INFANTRY BATTALION USED THIS CAPTURED ITALIAN FIELD GUN TO SEND 75 MM. SHELLS BACK TO THEIR FORMER OWNERS. THEY WERE KNOWN AS THE “BUSH ARTILLERY” BECAUSE THEY WERE CONVERTED INFANTRYMEN. THIS GUN CREW IS WAITING TO GO INTO ACTION

Less well known however is the use of captured guns by other Commonwealth forces. At the end of the CRUSADER operations in February 1942, the use had grown to such proportions that the artillery command of 8 Army felt compelled to issue a note to 13 Corps on the matter, including a table of guns currently in use. I reproduce it below. Incidentally, when the Germans evaluated Commonwealth guns after the Gazala battles in May 1942, they wistfully noted that the 5cm Pak 38 had good penetration success against the Panzer III, at considerable range.

What the note indicates is that the Commonwealth troops seem to have had less strict regulations regarding booty equipment than at least the Germans. During the counter-offensive in January 1942, the German command issued strongly-worded orders which forbade units to acquire booty material. Never mind that these weren’t obeyed religiously, they still threatened court-martials for men or officers defying them. On the other hand, this could also indicate the more urgent need for the Axis command to utilize captured weapons and equipment, in order to alleviate the fairly dire supply situation.

For the Commonwealth, it appears clear that guns held a particular attraction, especially LAA, in order to thicken air defense (since it was Commonwealth policy during CRUSADER not to put a fighter screen above the army units, but rather to carry out strategic interdiction), and A/Tk, since the 2-pdr was becoming a more marginal weapon around this time, and since the Axis A/Tk weapons were of comparatively high quality.


TOBRUK, LIBYA. 1941-04. MEN OF 8 BATTERY, 2/3RD LIGHT ANTI AIRCRAFT REGIMENT, PREPARING A SITE FOR THEIR 20/65 BREDA 20MM CANNON. THIS UNIT WAS EQUIPPED WITH CAPTURED ITALIAN GUNS. LEFT TO RIGHT: BOMBARDIER P ROBERTS, GUNNER J W CROFT, GNR R V INCE AND GNR J BUNTZ. (LENT BY MR R K BRYANT)


WESTERN DESERT, EGYPT. 1942-07-30. CHOKE-BORE GERMAN 47.32 MILLIMETRE ANTI-TANK GUN BEING INSPECTED BY REGIMENTAL SERGEANT-MAJOR P. LAWSON, OF 2/32ND AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY BATTALION.

Headquarters,

Royal Artillery,

13 Corps.

17th February, 1942.

Dear

I attach a list showing the “foreign” guns now in use in the Corps; I think it is fairly accurate, though I have seen no returns yet from many units of the Armoured Division or Armoured Car regiments etc., whom I know to have many more, e.g. the K.D.Gs have at least three 28/41mm German A/Tk guns.

The trouble is they can usually only carry very few rounds of ammunition with their unauthorised weapons, when these are expended or if one of the tyres gets punctured, the gun is thrown away.

Incidentally it is a bit of a sidelight in the transport situation when they can carry such guns in addition to their proper W.E.

I can’t help feeling that we ought to get the whole of this captured gun racket tidied up, and when saying this, it is with no desire to deprive units of weapons which they evidently now feel are essential for their safety.

To my mind, certain factors govern it and force us to decide which types of captured equipments are worth retaining.

  1. The number of such weapons captured.
  2. If of dual purpose, the best primary role to use them in.
  3. The ammunition stocks held by us.

If we examine the attached list on these lines, we see the following:-

  1. The 105mm Italian is one of the best field guns used against us.
  2. The 75mm Italian especially without sights is useless to anyone as a fd gun and a danger as an A/Tk weapon.
  3. The 50mm German A/Tk is a real good weapon but will be neglected if doled out as at present, and it is recommended that it be withdrawn and if ammunition is reasonably plentiful, it be used in the place of 18-pdrs to complete some of these 64 gun A/Tk Regts.
  4. The 47/32mm Italian A/Tk is the most common of all and seems to have plenty of ammunition. Its not a bad A/Tk weapon.
  5. The 37mm German proved to be a failure against our tanks hence the 50mm.
  6. The 25mm French is not a bad weapon at all and there may be a good many of them. But is ammunition available.

From this it would appear as if we ought to go all out on:-

The 105mm Italian in a Field role.

The 50mm German )

The 47/32mm Italian) in an A/Tk role

The 25mm French )

But none know here the stocks of ammunition held. If we go on as we are, the ‘Q’ staff will go “nuts” and end by supplying the wrong type of ammunition.

Yours

Brigadier E.J. Medley, O.B.E., M.C.

Headquarters, R.A.

Eighth Army

CONTINENTAL GUNS IN USE

Type

Calibre

Country of Origin

Numbers in Use

Remarks

Notes

Field

105 mm

Italy

6

Tobfort Very good, 14,000 yards
Field

75 mm

Italy

6

5 N.Z. Bde. Unreadable
Field

C.75 mm

France

24

Free French ?
A/Tk

C.75 mm

France

20

Free French ?

50 mm

Germany

8

3, Poles.

5, 1 Armd Div

Very Good

47/32 mm

Italy

47

12 Free French;

8 NZ Bde;

6 38 Inf. Bde;

6 Armd Div; 17 4 Ind. Div.

Not bad.

37/45 mm

France

3 (12)

Poles ? unreadable

37 mm

Germany

18

Poles Unreadable, could be ‘not good’

25 mm

France

25 (20)

2, 4 Ind Div; 17 TOBFORT;

6, 1 Armd. Div.

Not bad. No. unreadable.

20 mm

Italy

6

5, 57 LAA;

1, Poles.

Dual Purpose

LAA
LAA

20 mm

France

4

Free French

20 mm

France

8

Free French

8th Army Medium Artillery Stats 4 November 1941 (major update 19 June)

The information below is from WO169/949, which can be found in the National Archives in Kew, and German sources which can be found at NARA, in Washington, in particular the D.A.K. war diary.

It is quite interesting to see the medium artillery situation in the Middle East at this date. While a lot of ink has been spilled looking at the tank situation, and the technological problems faced by the Commonwealth, much less analysis has been made on the artillery, apart from the anti-tank guns, of course. This is probably in part because at least in the field artillery sector, and in the light anti-air sector, the Commonwealth was quite superior to the Axis forces. I am indebted to my friend Jon who pointed this out to me.

For field artillerty, the Commonwealth 25-pdr field gun was a superb gun, which served well in a dual role, as demonstrated by e.g. 1 Field Regiment at the Omars on 25 November, and also of course in the field artillery role. This superiority was noted by the Germans, who recognised that Commonwealth field artillery was a nuisance. While the Axis divisional artillery had superior calibre, and in particular the Italian 105mm field gun was recognised by the Commonwealth as a very good gun, the large numbers, range, versatility, and mobility of the 25-pdr were hard to beat.

In the anti-air role, the 40mm Bofors AA gun was also a very good alround design, and superior to the 20mm light AA guns fielded by the Axis forces. In the CRUSADER period it doubled as anti-tank gun, when required.

Commonwealth vs. Axis

In the field of medium and heavy artillery however, the Commonwealth was severely lacking. Heavy artillery, there was none at all, and for medium artillery, there were few guns, and more than half of them obsolete. The Axis forces on the other hand had some superb guns in Africa in this sector – the captured French 155mm GPF gun, the Italian 149/40 gun, the 17cm K18 gun, and the 21cm Mortar 18. They only had small numbers of these, but still more in total than the Commonwealth could field. Furthermore, most of these guns were concentrated under the Army artillery command Arko 104, while the Commonwealth medium regiments were penny-packeted to the Corps, and often operated on a battery basis. The reason for this was of course that the Axis was planning a major assault on a fortress, and had brought in a siege train to undertake it. Below the army artillery, the standard heavy piece of German divisional artillery, the 15cm heavy howitzer 18, while outclassed inRussia, was superior to the Commonwealth 6″ howitzer as well.

On 4 November the Commonwealth forces reported a total of 126 medium guns in the Middle East, 28 of which were the modern 4.5″ gun  , while the remainder were the obsolete 6” howitzer, the even more obsolete 4.5″ howitzer, and 18 155mm howitzers. 11 4.5″ howitzers were in the Western Desert, 10 in Tobruk, and 1 with the L.R.D.G. 16 of the 155mm howitzers, were with 1 Australian Corps, and another 2 155 mm howitzers with the schools in the Delta area. It is likely that of the remainder at least 16 6″ howitzers of 64 Medium Regiment were not in the Western Desert, but also rather in Syria with 1 Australian Corps. Thus the total of available medium guns in the Western Desert was brought down to 63, or a bit more than half the number of Axis mediums. Most of these guns were obsolete.

At the same time, while there is some confusion, Panzergruppe Afrika and the Italian forces appeared to be able to field up to 115 medium guns (>105mm), of which a large part were of superior quality to the Commonwealth guns. It was this discrepancy which contributed a lot to the problems the Commonwealth forces were facing in the static fighting around Sidi Rezegh, and the Tobruk corridor.

Some information on the guns

I am indebted to Nigel Evans’ superb site on the Royal Artillery for much of the information here.

The Commonwealth 4.5” gun, which equipped one regiment and one battery at the time was better in some aspects compared to the German 15cm sFH, such as its superb range. It was outclassed however by the Italian Ansaldo 149/40 gun. The 4.5″ gun lacked destructive power and range by comparison, with a shell and explosive weight of only about half of that of the Ansaldo, and there were in any case not enough of the guns around. It’s main use was for counter-battery, and while it was certainly superior to the German 10cm K18, which served the same role, it could not compete with the heavier Axis pieces such as the 17cm K18, and the Ansaldo 149/40 guns.

A Section of 4.5 Medium Guns : near Reigel Ridge, Cyrenaica, May 1942

 

 The 6″ howitzer was one of the weaker medium guns in theatre at the time. It fired a relatively low-weight projectile, and its range was not impressive. During the desert war it was replaced by WW1 vintage 155mm howitzers (see below) and then 5.5″ guns.

6″ Howitzer during Operation COMPASS

During the period, about 100 155mm Howitzers M1918 of WW1 French design (but modernised between the wars, e.g. to enable being trailed behind trucks) were in the process of being delivered to units as lend-lease by the USA, but these were not in the Western Desert yet. On 4 November they were equipping only an Australian medium regiment, 2/13, in Syria. A further 12 were already in ordnance depots, and 78 were en route with various convoys. By 12 February, only one regiment, 64 Medium Rgt. RA had been re-equipped with 16 of these howitzers, and 2 4.5″ guns.

A French-built 155mm howitzer of 212 Battery, 64th Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, 23 July 1942.

The 4.5″ howitzer was probably the weakest medium gun (in fairness it is more a field gun, rather than a medium, despite its calibre of 114mm being a bit more than the standard 105mm) in service in the desert. It’s relegation to the static role in Tobruk says as much. It was a pre-WW1 design which had been modernised in the 1930s to enable truck-towing. It’s range was only 6,600 yards, and the shell weight was only 37lbs.

The guns go off as the crew of a 4.5 inch Howitzer of the 2/1st Field Regiment RAA are given the order to fire during the cooperation artillery shoot with 107th (SNH) Royal Horse Artillery at the Bir Asley Artillery Range.

The distributionof these guns in the Middle East on 4 November 1941 was as below:

Regiment/Gun Type 4.5” Gun 6” Howitzer 155mm Howitzer 4.5” Howitzer
7 Medium Rgt. RA

16

67 Medium Rgt. RA

16

68 Medium Rgt. RA

8

8

Tobruk Fortress

4

10

L.R.D.G.

1

Western Desert Total

28

24

11

64 Medium Rgt. RA

16

2/13 Medium Regiment RAA

16

Free French

1

Syria/Palestine total

16

16

1

Schools

2

AIF Reinforcement Depot

8

R.A. Base Depot

1

Ordnance Depots or in transit to depots

4

37

12

19

Delta

4

37

14

28

Advised on convoys and released

16

86

 

Total

48

77

116

40

To be sent to India

18

16

What the table makes clear is that while the Commonwealth was deficient on 4 November 1941, it was also foreseeable when this situation would improve considerably, and at least in numbers, if not in quality, the Royal Artillery in the Middle East was due to become superior to its opponents.

French 155mm Schneider guns – revisited

The question of where, when, where from was discussed a bit in this older post.

I have now been able to look through 7 Support Group’s war diary. The Intelligence Summaries (I.S.) of this diary are of very great value.

Intelligence Summary No.7, containing information up to 0800 hours 17 Dec 41 contains information on captured guns which is given below. This confirms that the Canon de 155 Mle.1917 was in fact used by the Germans during CRUSADER, a question that had hitherto been open to some extent.

5. ENEMY EQUIPMENT. (From 7 A.D. I.S. Nos.53 and 54)

(1) The following guns, the late property of 61 Inf. Regt. and 46 Mot. Arty. Regt.[1], have been discovered around 372432[2].

Nineteen Hotchkiss 25 mm.[3]

Eight 47/32s.[4]

Two 20 mm AA A/Tk

Four 87/27s[5]

Four 155mm FRENCH guns.

There are also four 47/32 at 465439[6] and another 155 mm gun at 364443[7], of unknown ownership.

(2). The four FRENCH 155 mm reported above were made by PUTEAUX, and had evidently been used by GERMANS, as the FRENCH directions were supplemented by GERMAN translations. One had the date 1918 on the carriage and 1925 on the breech. Of those seen one was destroyed but two at least appeared to be in working order and one of them was being salvaged.

These guns, according to P.W’s[8], came from TUNISIA where they were acquired by the Armistice Commission[9].

 

[1]Both regiments belonged to the Trento motorised division, indicating that the guns were captured at the northern end of the Gazala line, where a large part of the division was captured.

[2] In the Gazala line, on a line north-west of Acroma.

[3] These could theoretically also be the new German heavy ATR called schwere Panzerbuechse 41, a 28/20mm heavy squeeze-bore anti-tank rifle, although this is unlikely if they were really captured from the Italians. On the other hand, I have not come across Hotchkiss 25mm A/Tk guns in the Italian forces.

[4] The standard anti-tank gun of the Italian army, designed by Boehler in Austria and manufactured under license by Breda.

[5] Probably around Gazala or Tmimi.

[6] Should be 75/27.

[7] Probably a typo, since this position would be in the Mediterranean, north of Gambut. It is likely to be 439465, at Bu Amud in the former positions of Bologna division in the encirclement ring, and these guns were probably abandoned early on in the breakout.

[8] Prisoners of War

[9] The Armistice Commission was a German military commission charged with supervising the armistice arrangement with France, and to procure goods and services for the German armed forces in France. It was established as part of the Armistice of Compiegne.

Canon de 155 Mle 1917 Schneider C – who used them?

During 1941 Vichy France supplied 20 heavy howitzers of the type Canon de 155 Mle 1917 Schneider C to the Axis forces in North Africa. It is possible that at least part of these were in action during CRUSADER.  This particular gun was a very popular gun, in use by many armies between the wars, and also serving with the US Army in the late 1930s and early 40s (although I am not sure if any saw service overseas).  It was however obsolete by 1940, due to the very short range it had (only 11,900 metres), compared to more modern guns such as the Soviet 152mm gun-howitzer ML-20 (>17,000 metres) or the British 5.5″ gun which entered service in 1941 (about 15,000 metres). Shell weight at 43kg was similar to the German sFH18, as well as the Soviet and British guns.

The French army, after mobilisation in 1940, had 535 of them available for service, according to David Lehmann’s PDF document 1939-1940 French Armament (available at this link).  After the end of the campaign, and the conquest of Greece and other countries using this gun, it was put into German service as sFH15,5cm 414(f) (heavy field howitzer 155mm 414(f) where the (f) indicates the country of origin.  It was also in use by the Regio Esercito as Obice 155/14, where 14 indicates the barrel length in multiples of gun calibre diameter.  Since both Axis forces active in North Africa were familiar with this gun, it is not clear to me who would have used it.

Request for information:

I would appreciate any information on:

1) which army received the guns;

2) which units used them;

3) where they were used; and

4) for how long they served the Axis forces in North Africa before they were lost.

Many thanks in advance!

Update: According to Jason Long on the Italianisti Group, 12 of the guns served in Heereskuestenartillerieabteilung 533 in North Africa. While the choice of such a short-ranged gun is unusual for a coastal defense purpose, I guess it comes down to beggars not being able to be choosers. The use in coastal defense is also confirmed by Jeff Leser.  From looking at Jason’s Gazala battle OOB, it appears that by May 42 many more of these guns had made their way to Libya, but on the other hand, HKA 533 by this time did no longer have any of them on strength, instead it was equipped with captured 25-pdrs. Whether that meant they had lost them in the retreat from Tobruk, or whether they had traded them in, is a mystery at this stage.

Update 2:

Today I came across an ULTRA intercept stating that on 17 Nov. 41 4 of these guns left Tripoli for the front on 4 lorries of supply column 2/148.

A picture provided by Manuferey from the AHF below, the picture my late grandfather took outside Leningrad could no longer be linked. The picture shows that these guns were not modernised for motor towing. Instead they had to be loaded on the back of a heavy track using ramps.

155mm Schneider C howitzer imported from Tunisia, in use by German artillery in the desert

Counter battery observation

One aspect of artillery combat that is close to my heart is counter-battery observation. My grandfather spent the war in Russia doing this kind of job. It essentially consists of locating enemy gun positions by day and night using sound ranging, and by night using flash ranging, and to guide their own artillery to fire on it.

In Africa, the Germans had Beobachtungsabteilung 11 doing this (probably under Arko 104 – more on this in the future), and a battery of 15th Panzer, Beobachtungsbatterie (Pz) 33 (326), which was under Panzerartillerieregiment 33.

For the British, this work was done by 4th (Durham) Survey Regiment R.A. You can download their history here.

Below is a map of the observation posts of 33 (326) outside Tobruk, taken from Froben’s book “Aufklärende Artillerie”.  This system observed the western edge of the siege lines.  The ‘Flugplatz’ is the Gambut airfield.  The ‘Achsenstrasse’ is the Axis bypass road constructed by the Italians to ensure that supply could continue to run even though Tobruk had not been taken, and the Via Balbia continued to be blocked. ‘Panzergraben’ is the tank ditch.