almark pub 1971 - afrika corps 1941-42 [chamberlin & ellis]

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  • 8/3/2019 Almark Pub 1971 - Afrika Corps 1941-42 [Chamberlin & Ellis]

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    ABOVE: A Volkswagen Kfz 1 of a motorised infantry battalion on ascouting mission near Gawla in the summer of 1942. (IWM-HU5606).

    ~ ( r i k a 1L{orpsGERMAN MILITARY OPERATIONS INTHE WESTERN DESERT, 1941-42

    Peter Chamberlainand

    Chris EllisDrawings by Kenneth M. Jones

    ALMARK PUBLISHING CO. LTD., LONDON

    http://historyarm.in.ua/http://historyarm.in.ua/http://historyarm.in.ua/
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    1971, Almark Publishing Co. Ltd.Text Peter Chamberlain and Chris EllisArtwork Kenneth M. Jones

    Al l rights reserved. No part of thispublication may be reproduced,stored in a retrieval system, ortransmitted by any means,electronic, mechanical, o rby pho tocopying without pr ior permissionfrom the publishers.

    First Published - January 1971Reprinted - October 1971I SB N 0 855240180

    Printed in Great Britain byVale Press Ltd., M i t ~ h a m , Surrey CR4 4HR,for the publishers. Almark Publishing Co. Ltd.,270 Burlington Road, Ne w Malden,Surrey KT3 4NL, England.

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    Th e P zKpfw I II was numerically and tactically the most important tankused by the Afrika Korps. Here a pzKpfw II I Ausf H with th e rell'ospectively f it ted extra frontal armour is seen during Rommel's big offensiveof January 1942 whi ch resul te d i n t he re- taki ng of most of Cyrenaica.Fast movement of armoured uni ts f rom p lace t o p lace made the most ofRommel's limited tank forces against superior odds (IWM-HU560l).

    IntroductionTHE war i n t he Wes te rn Desert actually started in June 1940 when Italydeclared w ar on Bri ta in . L ibya was an I ta li an colony bordering Egyptwhich was g ua rd ed by a sma ll Br itish for ce. British t roo ps t ook t heinitiative in the first few months of the war. The 10th Ital ian Army movedponderously 60 miles into Egypt in mid-September 1940 under the commandof Marshal Graziani. British strength i n Egypt was expanded meanwhilef rom the original 7th Armoured Division by the addit ion of three Common-wealth divisions, forming the Western Desert Force. On December 9, 1940,the British started a well-planned and brilliantly conducted offensive againstthe numerically s uper io r I ta li an Arm y and this resulted in a sweep ingconquest of Cyrenaica, including the taking of the important towns ofBardia, Tobruk, and Benghazi. The Italian Army was virtually eliminatedby the f ir st week in February with the cap tu re of 130,000 m en a nd a bighaul of equipment.Whi le this c ampa ign was at its height, Hitler became a la rme d a t t he

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    political consequences of an I ta li an def ea t a nd d et erm in ed t o send inGerman re-inforcements. At this s tage there was no long-term planningfor German military operations in North Africa t hough t he Chief ofMobile Forces, General Von Thoma, had had exp lo ra to ry but inconclusivetalks on this subject with the Italians as early as October 1940. However,it was not unt il J ul y 1941 that the long term strategic possibilities of thecampaign (ie, the conquest of Egypt and taking of t he Suez Canal) wereconsidered. Earmarked for d

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    ABOVE: Generalleutnant Erwin Rommel was formall y appointed to' command German t roops in L ibya ' on February 6 , 1941, and arrived inTripoli on February 12. A large pa ra de wa s held in Tripoli shortly after5th Light DivisiiJn had arrived in early March. Here Rommel, w ith anitalian general, Cnspects men of 5th Light Div is ion in the ir newly issuedtropical uniforms. On t he right are tank crews with 'death' s head' badgeson t he ir lapel s ( see colour drawing, cover). Note that the officers wearcaps a nd t he men forage caps-later caps became almost universal wear(lWM-HU5632). BELOW: Rommel' s map caravan (st il l i n markings forthe Pol ish campaign) a nd h is Sd Kfz 251/6 command vehic le ( st ill i nFrench campaign markings) parked on t he beach during the subsequentmove to Cyrenaica.

    First German d iv is ion to arr iv e i n North Africa was 5 th Light Division,made up of el.en:zr;nts f rom 3 rd Panzer Division and v ir tual ly a reducedscale panzer diVISIOn. Th e mov e to T ri po li f rom Southern France tookplace over February 15-20, 1941, though the last of the tanks d id not arriveunti l March 11. ABOVE: PzKpfw 11 and a PzKpfw 1 Ausf. A (right) beinge:nbarked. They have tail smoke emitters and still carry t he o ld 3. PZ-Div.sign. The PzKpfw I is a regimental staf f off icer's vehicle (IWM-STT359).BELOW: M ~ 0/ a m.otor-cycle recce. unit , sti ll in f ield grey, are ferriedashore at Tnpoh. Their machines are just visible left and t he riders wearbreeches instead of trousers (IWM-HU5598).

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    During March 1941 Rommel moved 5 th L ight Division from Tripoli eastalong the coast road to the Cyrenaica front ier. ABOVE: Leichter Panzerspahwiigen Sd Kf z 222 and VW Kubelwagen of a motorised infantrycompany leaving Tripoli wav ed o ff b y the local populace. Al l the vehiclesare overpainted sand-yellow and carry the appropriate tactical symbol(IWM-HU5620). BELOW: A company of PZKpfw II I Ausf G pass throughSirte watched by local residents. These vehicles are still grey but the crewswear tropical dress. Note the jerricans on th e turret roofs (IWM-GER724).

    The black leather equipment and thestandard Mauser Kar 98 7.92mm rifleare shown. The braces of the leatherequipment were frequently discardedin desert conditions.8

    An infantry gefreiter (lance corporal)shown here in typical fightingo rd er f or t he summer of 1941. Hereshorts and boots are worn, but alterna ti ve wear we re the bre eche s shownon page 25. When new the tropicaluniform was a very l ight o li ve greellshade, but this washed and faded aliivery quickly to a more neutral tone.

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    H . % i ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ S i j " d i l i i , i i i i . ~ . "rayf.. 8.1l'ramp ~ S S \LLJ.4-__5. o l ...O )

    MILES \\G'fRENAICA11

    BELOW: Rommel's initial three-pronged advance into Cyrenaica t oo k t heAfrika Korps to the Sollum-Halfaya l ine in two weeks of swift movement.Dates are given in abbreviat ed form on the sketch-map. Tobruk was by-passed and besieged.

    The fi rst clash with Bri tish troops took place on ~ h . e aft.ernoon of March 31when a German t an k patrol encountered Brtl lsh. l Il fa.ntry on the ElAgheila-Marsa Brega road. The area was he ld only 1Il bngade strength bythe British how ev er w ho wi th dr ew a ft er s ome s ho rt sharp encounters.On Apr il /, Rommel'ordered h is t an ks o n to A g ~ d a b i a where t h . i ~ PzKpfwI Ausf B is seen approaching the town. and passl.ng . w r ~ c k e d Bntlsh trucksand t he evacuated camp. Note the whi te cross, lIldlcatlllg fresh water, onthe jerrican. (IWM-MH5549).

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    ABOVE: March 21, 1941, found reconnaissance units up by the Cyrenaicaborder a t E l Agh ei la wait ing for the main e lements of 5th Light Divisionto arrive. Here is a forward observation posit ion with a Schwerer Panzerspahwiigen (8 rad), Fu, Sd Kfz 232 dug in and with radio mast erected.(IWM-GER607). BELOW: Rommel' s first offensive move was to cap turethe bot tl e-neck coastal route through Marsa Brega on March 31. Here aninfantry patrol moves cautiously forward along the sand dunes that eveningto probe the Brit ish defences. This lightly held posit ion was swiftlyevacuated by the British that night, however (IWM-MH5551).

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    ABOVE: Rommel' s advance continued since he f ound only light resistancefrom the withdrawing British. The three-prong advance started on April 3,wh en t he 3 rd R ecce. B at tal io n was sent racing up the coast road toBenghazi. Her e t he unit's Sd Kfz 222 armoured cars approach the townpas sing nat iv e t ra ff ic e n rou te. Note t he f re sh ly paint ed Afrika Korpsemblem now displayed o n t he vehicles (IWM-MH5556). BELOW: Anothercolumn was sent across the deser t towards Mechi li on Apr il 4. Note (leftbackground) the use of a captured British truck (IWM).Schwerer Panzerspiihwagen (8 rad), Fu, Sd Kfz 232 figure prominently inseveral pictures on these pages. The extensive use of these well-equippedfast radio vehicles provided the Afrika Korps with superior communicationsintel ligence in the deser t. Monitoring t he Bri ti sh rad io net s kept Rommelwell informed of the enemy's tactical movements.

    ABOVE: The British strongholds of Msus and Mechili-'Beau Geste' styleforts-were captured by the deser t c .o lumn in the lat te r case l ~ i t h a falselyraised dust c loud to make the attackzng force look larger than It really was.Briti sh forces, wh ic h we re holding Cyrenaica only lightly, meanwhilegradually withdrew to the Egyptian border leaving Tobruk cut-of f andbesieged. Here a Sd Kfz 251 half-track is seen at Msus w ith a bat ta li oncommander and hi s s ta ff ( lWM-GER626) . BELOW: Elements of theItalian Ariete Div is ion we re under Afrika Korps command . HereBersaglieri talk with armoured car crews during the push across the deser t(IWM-NA5567).

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    MIL E S50 100I I

    GYRENAICAFor t he n ex t mon th , apart from Rommel's attempts to overun Tobruk anda small att ack (Operat ion Brevi ty ) by t he Bri ti sh , both sides consolidatedtheir positions. On June 15, 1941, the Bri tish Western DesertForce opened alarge offensive, Operation Battleaxe, against t ~ German S.ollum-Halfayal ine with the object of outflanking it and movtng on to rel ieve Tobruk. Bygreat ly superior tactics, however, the Afrika Korps repul sed the attack.A feature of t he off ensi ve was the attempt to. take the important Halfay'aPass. Here Rommel, fo r t he first t ime, u sed hiS 8 .8cm Flak 18 guns dug 111i n sangars as most ef fect ive anti -tank guns, a surprise to the British, whichoutranged the Bri ti sh tanks . Here crews wor k o n o ne of t he guns pri or t othe British attack-note their helmets on the sangar wall (IWM).

    ABOVE: Whi le the British held Tobruk against several determined attacksby Rommel, the rest of the Brit ish forces moved back t o Egypt . Late inApril 1941 Rommel's t roops occupied Sollum across the Cyrenaica-Egyptborder. Here a Fiat/Spa TL37 artillery tractor and 77mm model 28 gun ofth e Italian Ariete Division crosses the frontier wire and anti-tank ditch nearSollum (IWM-HU5618). BELOW: The Fieseler Fi 156 Storch STOL aircraft was widely u sed as a spOiler and liaison aircraft (Rommel had hisown personal Storch) . Here a motorised infantry patrol r ests by a 'picketedaircraft. Nate the captured Chevrolet 15 cwt t ruck used b y t he i nf an tr y(IWM-MH5569).

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    LEFT: The British attack in theBattleaxe operation was confused andloosely co-ordinated from the start.Rommel used h is two d iv is ions (5thL ig ht a nd 15th Panzer) skilfully toend up out fl anki ng t he Bri ti sh 7 thArmoured Division and nearlysucceeded in cut ti ng them off . Heretanks of 8.Pz-Regt rnove up to theallack on June 17 (IWM-MH5588).

    ..........__................. _..,...... __ __

    Sketch-map on prev ious page shows a great ly s impl if iedgeneral dis po sitio n for th e Battle axe and Crusaderoffensives. Bri tish advances are s hown b y b ro ke n lines,lVith dat es in abbre vi at ed f orm. For h ig hl y detailedtactical accounts of these batt les see 'The Tanks' (Vol. 2)(Liddell Hart. published by Cassell).

    RIGHT: T he n ext big Bri ti sh off ensi ve was OperationCmsader in November 1941. By this time the Bri tishWestern Desert Force had been greatly expanded, andlVas re-named 8th Army on September 26. The Britishfielded 14 tank regiments with over 750 tanks. Againstt hi s the German forces, nolV known as PanzergruppeAfrika (of which Afrika Korps was a part), had 320tanks of which 146 were Italian and of dubious value.The Bri tish at tacked with two Corps on November 18.1941, catching Rommel ofl h is guard as he prepared foranother attack on Tobmk. The Bri tish tanks al lacked in'cavalry' style and suf fered big losses from well-sitedGerman 8.8cm and 5cm anti -tank guns. About 300Bri tish cruiser tanks were lost, some also by mechanicalfailure. After 5 days hard fighting in t his bat tl e (S idiRezegh), Rommel was down to about 100 tanks. As acounter-attack Rommel personally led his tanks in aslVeeping dash for the front ier, outf lanking the Bri tish inthe process. This is a scene at the height of the SidiRezegh battle as PzKpflV 11s pull in to refuel(lWM-MH5594).

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    The 17cm KI8 was t he largest g un us ed by the Afrika Korps. It had arange of 29,600 metres. This one is in act ion in November 1941, just beforethe Bri tish 'Cl 'l lsader ' o ffensive , being used to she ll the Tobl' llk garrison(IWM-MH5599).

    BELOW: Though Panzergruppe Afrika had won a moral victory againstsuperior odds in the Sidi Rezegh fighting, many tanks had been lost andfuel and supplies were exhausted. Through December therefore they withdrew gradually across Cyrenaica to El Aghei la to r egr ou p f or a new offensive. Note the captured Australian Chevrolet 15 cwt truck in thi s v iew of amotorised infantry regiment on the coast road near Gaz ala (IWM).. ....

    Sometimes little mentioned in mil itary his tories , both sides in the desert warmade extensive tactical use of aircraft. Air operations played a key rolein support of t he b ig tank battles, in particular the vicious Sidi ~ e z e g h(Crusader) operations. On November 23, 1941, as Romn:el began hiS o u ~ -flanking counter-attack, these Iu 87Bs (Stukas) were seiling of f on a S O I " t 1 ~to bomb the tanks of 30 Corps which was concentrated east of Blr Gubl(IWM-MH559l).

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    ABOVE: A PzKpfw IV Ausf D dur ing the January 1942 offensive, showing the rear smoke emitter and a plain white outline type cross(IWM-MH5553).BELOW: The turning point in the German's fortunes came with the battle ojAlam HaIfa where Rommel t ri ed to out fl ank the heavi ly defended Britishline (left). This move had been anticipated, however, and the 7th and lathArmoured Divisions repulsed the attack. Rommel was subsequently obligedto withdraw his fo rc es due to lack of fuel and ammunition. In October theBritish offensive a t A lame in began under General Montgomery-virtuallya 'steam-roller' at tack by forces vast ly superior in numbers of tanks, guns,and t roops. The breakthrough which started t he l on g German retreat toTunisia is shown right.

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    t'.'-_ _ Allied I I ~ e s " / ' . : . ~ ' :, '".:~ : ' : ' : ' :

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    E;ATrU;. OF "EL ALAMEli\lXX X CORPS2 . ' : , ; ~ ~ T c . ~ . C ~ ~ MIl.lOS?L ~ : ~ ~ ~ f - - - , - - - , - - IO10 /5 20 25, I I I

    o A ~ i s f ' ' ' ' ~ I ~ ; ' ' n . s! ! Z l A : ! , ~ d Po;r1;"M

    - BATTLE. OF--- ALAN HALFA -

    ABOVE: A div is ional command post. The Sd Kf z 251/6 half-track of apanzer division commander (displaying the appropriate metal commandpennant), pictured during Rommel's offensive of January-February 1942.The general (in sun helmet) is partl y hidden leaning against the vehicletal king to staff off icers. Note the white outl ine cross on the half -track(IWM-HU5596). BELOW, LEFT: General CruelVell , the Afrika Korpscommander in summer 1942 (lWM-HU5609). BELOW, RIGHT: Generalfeldmarschall Rommel, commander of Panzergruppe Afrika at t he sametime (IWM-HU5625L

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    LEFT: Leutnant of in fa nt ry in th es la ndar d issue tro pical dress withbreeches and long desert boots . Thelaller were often modified by CUllingth em d own to a nk le length. Olivegreen shi rt and tie were iss ued forwear under the tunic.

    RIGHT: Arti llery unterof fizier in thecommon hot weather dress of shirt andshorts. Note that NCOs' a nd otherranks ' c aps l ac ked the fu ll tlll:n-upsof off icers' caps a ~ l d had stltch.edseaming only fOl"l1u.ng dummy sidelum-ups. Cap here IS washed a lit t onell/ral fabric shade.

    'Afrika Korps' cuff title w?rn onlower right sleeve of tumc.

    ABOVE: The Alamein period is wel l documented and saw the final majorconfrontation between the British and Germans in the Western Desert. ThisFlak 18 was avenin a t A lame in a ft er put ti ng up a spi ri ted performancecovering th e coast road. Note the 'kill' mar ks a nd t he emp ty shell cases(IWM-BM21224). BELOW, LEFT: Digging a personal 'foxhole' for thenight (IWM-MH5834). BELOW, RIGHT: Digging out British mines; notealso the wire cutters (IWM-MH5863).

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    ,t .. "'-J,

    I

    ABOVE: MG34 team in an out-p os t at Alamein (IWM-MH6328).LEFT: Reloading a 17cm K18 IIIJanuary 1943 during I ~ n g rc:rz.gebombardment of advanclllg Bntlshtroops (IWM-MH6330). BELO!f':Afrika Korps bandsmen w e a n ~ gleather music pouches and W l t ~feldwebel rank badges on theIrepaulettes. They also we ar th.eCrimean campaign shield on theIrleft arms (IWM-NA2666).

    LEFT: Infantry unteroffizier(NCO) and schut ze ( pr iv at e) i n as li t t re nch a t the Alamein period.The bleached sandbag helmetcovers worn in British fashion werenot common (IWM-HU5624).ABOVE: Panzergrenadier ober-gefreiter (corporal) of 15th PanzerDiv is ion, wearing 1ron Cross 2ndClas s r ibbon. Eas t Front Medalribbon, and infantry assault badge(lWM-NA1816).

    ABOVE: Infantry rifle s qu ad o n the march in December 1942 after theretreat f rom Alamein , all wearing the service greatcoat. Note the extremefading of the caps (lWM-HU5589).

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    ABOVE: Widely used by motorised infantry reg imen ts as wel l as mostoth.er a r m ~ was t he famous Volkswagen Kf z I Kubelwagen (LeichterP e l s O J ~ e n k l a f t w a g e n ) . Those used by the motor is ed infan try norma ll y hadover-sized desert tyres (see page l), but the vehicle shown here has normaltyres.

    LEFT: General feldmarschal l ErwinRommel in 1942 as commander ofPanzergruppe Afrika, tropical dress.ABOVE, TOP ROW: Tropical helmetworn by infantry schutze (private)and steel helmet worn by signalsunterfeldwebel (sergeant). Helmet wasoften painted 'sand-yellow' or wornwith a cover . ABOVE AND RIGHT'Tropical forage caps as worn b;panze r troops , w it h arm-o f- se rv ic ewaffenfarbe (pink).28

    ABOVE: Widely used b y bot h infantry and panzer uni ts was the Kf z IS(Horch) staf f carlpersonnel carrier.. This. vehicle displays the Afrika Korpsand 21. pz-Div. symbols but retains the original dark grey in which vehicleswere delivered at Tripoli. BELOW: I ii 1942 the much improved PzKpfw II IAusf M was the most powerfully armed of the Afrika Korps tanks witha l ong Scm gun and smoke dischargers. It had extra stowage boxes andair f ilt ers in i ts t ropi cali sed desert f orm. This v eh ic le is i n t he s tandardplain dark yellow finish.

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    ABO V E : A 10.5cmLeichte Feldhaubitze 18L/28 with i ts Sd Kfz Zl3 ton t ow ing v eh ic le inthe earl y weeks of thecampaign. RIGHT: 5cmPak 38, a major anti-tankgun t ype, w ith i ts Sd Kfz >.10/1 t on tow ing vehicle.

    LEFT: Major SP gun in usewas the 15cm s.l.G. 33(schwerer i n f an t e r i e geschutze-heavy infantrygun) which was mounted ona lengthened PzKpfw Zlchassis. BELOW: Sd Kfz 9heavy 18 ton half- track and60 ton trai ler wa s u sed inthe important tank recoveryrole. German designationwas Bs Ah 642 (Chamber-lain Collection).

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    ABOVE: The other important SPglln type was the 15cm s .F .H. 13(schwerer feldhaubitze-heavy fieldhow it ze r) o n t he Gw Lr. S. (f)chassis. Designated Sd Kfz 13511it 'was popularly called the Lorrainea ft er t he or igi n of i ts capturedFrench chassis. (IWM-FLM174l).

    Of necessity the Afrika Korps had to uti li se captured.British ~ q u i p m e n tto overcome its own persistent shortages. At least one artillery regiment waswho ll y equ ipped with ex-British25 pdr gun-howitzers. The twoviews abo ve sh ow a Germanmanned 25 pdr i n act ion and asuitably marked 'Quad' tractor and25 pdr equipment ' on the march '.RIGHT: A famous item ofcaptured equipment was Rommel'scommand car Mammut ('Manmoth'), an AEC Dor c h e s t e racquired at Mechi li . It was laterused by the commander of 21.PzDiv. whose emblem and tacticals ign (on black patches) can be seenhere.

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    ~ - r u , J l S

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    The Western Desert theatre of operations with main supply ports, and sitesof major battles indicated by ship and tank symbols respectively. Tripoliand Tunis campaigns after Alamein will be covered in a later 'WehrmachtIllustrated' publication.

    WEHRMACHTILLUSTRATED .'@rrman

    In preparation'Panzer-G renadier', 'Panzer-artillerie',zerkampfwagen', 'Half-Tracks', andother titles.

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    'Panmany

    $. R.GORDONDOUGLAS

    ALMARKPUBLICATIONS

    Almarl< PublicationsAlmark Publishing Co. Ltd.publish numerous books ofmilitary interest including thetitle shown above. See modelpress advertisements for thelatest titles. A full list is available direct from the publishersin return fo r a SAE. (Addresson page 2).

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    WEHRMACHT'-,..:r......._ .._- " . ",'- ...., ,: ~ ~ ~ ' ~ 7 'ILLUSTRAT'ED'

    ~ f r i k a 1!orpsA pictorial guide to German military'.operations in the Western Desert,1941-42

    "'ty~ P e t e r Chamberlain and Chris Ellis1.: . _ , ~

    'Vjehrmacht I l lustrated' is a series of books. 1Iiding a . pictorial record of Germantary operations and equipment in' Id War 2

    -Rommel made several abortiveatterriyts /0 tak,e,.bf-sieged Tobruk in

    ~ ,", ., ~ ' - ~ - - ' : ; ; - 4 - P ! i ' ; I A A Y - " ~ f ' f J ' 4 r " ' ' ' H e r e a lO.5cm, . Leichte Feldhaubitze 18/40 L/28 is seenin action firing against the beleagueredgiiiTison at this period (IWM-MH5568),. , . ~ - : ~ - -

    Front coverRIGHT: A leutnant of panzer TrOOpS,SlImmer 1942, in the typical casualcombat wear of the period, completewith neck scarf. Note the metal panzer'death's head' badges worn on thelapels (shown inset).LEFT: Typical winter wear was eitherthe greatcoat or the ordinary servicetunic worn over tropical shirt andtrousers. This is an infantry unterfe!dwebel (sergeant) with BergmanMaschien Pistole.

    ALMARK