Despite its near-legendary status in military history, the actual organization and composition of the German Afrika Korps (DAK) in 1941-42 has rarely been discussed in much detail (an exception being work by George Nafziger). In Osprey's Battle Orders #20, Italian historian Pier Paolo Battistelli sets out to describe the organization, doctrine, training, tactics and equipment of the Afrika Korps. Overall, this is a very good volume and worth the price, but the Battle Orders series continues to suffer from lack of standardization. When you buy one of these volumes, you never know quite what you are going to get and Afrika Korps is no exception. First, the subtitle makes it unclear if it is covering the period from April 1941 or June 1942 to November 1942 - it actually begins with February 1941 and the bulk of the volume focuses on the first year of the Afrika Korps. Second, like several other volumes in the BO series, this volume does not provide a comprehensive order of battle for the Afrika Korps, so non-divisional assets are pretty much ignored. Despite this awkward structure, this volume does provide a very detailed look at the individual divisions that made up the Afrika Korps.
After brief introductory sections on combat mission and training, the author launches into a 30-page section on unit organization. This section consists primarily of line and block charts of the divisions in the DAK, as well as discussions of their evolutions. Several of the author's points are quite interesting. First, the divisions Germany sent to North Africa in 1941 were not elite formations, but rather ad hoc units just formed or put together from odds and ends; there was no standard organization for these units. Second, the requirements of desert warfare meant that the DAK had a much larger motorized component than a typical corps fighting on the Eastern Front. Unlike operations in Europe, the DAK could not use horses for logistics and foot infantry was near useless. Third, the DAK organized its infantry battalions with a much higher proportion of anti-tank weapons and heavy weapons than used in Europe. Some sub-units, like the motorcycle battalions (which performed superbly in the USSR in 1941) proved poorly suited for African conditions and were disbanded. Similarly, the divisional reconnaissance battalions proved far too weak for combat in North Africa and were significantly strengthened with other attachments.
The next 18 page section on tactics is supported by 10 maps (Ras el Mdauuar 30 April 1941; Sidi Rezegh 22 November 1941; Belhamed 1 December 1941; Benghazi 29 January 1942; flank march at Gazala 26 May 1942; El Mreir 21 June 1942; Alam Halfa 30 August 1942; 21st Panzer Division crossing the minefields 30 August 1942; 21st Panzer Division's defense of Deirel Taffa 30 August 1942; 15 Panzer Division at El Alamein 2 November 1942) and discusses the evolution of the DAK's tactical doctrine. While some of the maps are a bit complicated, they are well done and often display units done to battalion or brigade level. This section is fairly interesting and demonstrates that the DAK was capable of painful setbacks as well as great victories. The 13-page section on weapons and equipment focuses on tanks, infantry weapons, AT/AA guns and other vehicles used by the Afrika Korps. Unfortunately, this section is the most disappointing since there is no real discussion of artillery or engineer equipment, although they clearly played a major role at Gazala and El Alamein. The section on C3I is good, noting Rommel's dependence on SIGINT in 1941. The final sections on unit status lists armor strengths at various times.
This volume gives a good overview with some keen insight into particular aspects of the DAK, but it omits some important areas such as artillery, engineers, reconnaissance troops and supply troops. If just one of the many line and block charts had been deleted, there would have been space to discuss combat support units. Keeping in mind that the BO series has yet to produce a volume on Second World War German panzer divisions, the lack of regimental or battalion organization information is disappointing. Readers who are not familiar with German military terminology will find this book non-user friendly, since the author is a purist who prefers to use "Abteilung" to "battalion", "leichte" to "light", "nachricht" to "signal", "sanitats" to "medical", etc. In sum, this book is a handy reference tool for the military specialist or researcher, although it is far from comprehensive.