Monday, February 08, 2016

The 3rd Armoured Brigade and 2nd Support Group in March 1941

The apparent British hope was that nothing would happen in Cyrenaica while they launched the Greek campaign. The 3rd Armoured Brigade had three units: the 3rd Hussars, the 6th RTR, and the 5th RTR. Most of the brigade was located at El Adem. The 5th RTR had old cruiser tanks. We believe them to have been A.9 Cruiser Mk.I and A.10 Cruiser Mk.II tanks. They lasted until the Crusader Battle in December. The 6th RTR was to be equipped with captured Italian M13/40 tanks. One squadron was actually at Beda Fomm being reequipped. The plan was to send the rest of the unit to Beda Fomm to get their Italian tanks. Remember that we are talking about March 1941. As we already mentioned, the 3rd Hussars had antiquated light tanks. While there was a newer version, the Light Mk.VIC with a 15mm Besa gun, like the Humber armored car, we believe that the 3rd Hussars had the older Light Mk.VIB tanks with a 0.50in machine gun. As for the 2nd Armoured Division Support Group, they were short of motorized infantry and artillery. They did have two Free French motorized companies as well as the 1/Tower Hamlets Rifles. The Tower Hamlets were very small for a unit that was nominally a battalion. They could field some 250 men to fight. The Support Group also had very little artillery. They had one anti-tank battery, for example. The field artillery was late to arrive. The 51st Field Regiment and the 104st RHA arrived very late in March 1941. The 51st Field Regiment was equipped with Great War vintage artillery. They had 18pdr guns and 4.5inch Howitzers, some of which were under repair. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

The 9th Australian Division relieves the 6th Australian Division in early March 1941

The 6th Australian Division was destined for the Greek operation. That meant that their forward troops in Cyrenaica would be replaced. The 17th Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Savige would be replaced by the 20th Brigade. There was one company of the 2/13th Battalion that was left at Barce so that they could protect the Cyrenaica Command headquarters. The rest of the 2/13th Battalion was positioned at Beda Fomm. The rest of the brigade drove through territory still occupied by Italian colonists. They were headed for Agedabia. At 8th March, the 9th Australian Division headquarters was at Tobruk. General Morshead had gone ahead to Cyrenaica Command headquarters. He was temporarily in charge of the forces in the western portion of Cyrenaica. General Morshead heard from General Neame that the plan was for the 2nd Armoured Division to take responsibility for the forces on the frontier as of 19 March 1941. At that point, General Morshead was supposed to move to Gazala. Mersa Brega, the small place in the sand and marshes, was vulnerable to being out-flanked from the south. The 3rd Armoured Brigade had the 3rd Hussars with 32 Light Mk.VIB tanks to protect the flank. The 6th RTR was being equipped with captured Italian M13/40 tanks at Beda Fomm. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, February 01, 2016

An unfortunate situation in February 1941

General Blamey's desire to send the best Australian troops to Greece meant that the Western Desert was left in a difficult situation. The 9th Australian Division had the most newly-recruited troops and were about to face the Germans. The 20th and 26th Brigades had been taken from the 7th Australian Division, which was their home unit. The Australian Official History mentions that the 18th Brigade wore their 6th Australian Division patches through the rest of the war. Division identity was a meaningful thing, and the former 7th Division brigades had thought that they had lost their better organization and had been moved to a higher numbered division, the 9th. A meeting was held on 26 February where the reorganization was said to be "temporary". The men had been "trained to fight", but their leaders were not yet trained to lead. The 20th Brigade was the first 9th Australian Division brigade to move west. They were mainly moved by train to Mersa Matruh. By 4 March, they had reached Tobruk. Two days later, they were west of Derna. They had passed Benghazi on 8 March. Not much later, the 20th Brigade arrived at Agedabia to take over from the 17th Australian Brigade. The plan was for the 2nd Armoured Division headquarters to be in charge at Agedabia, but they were not in place yet. The 17th Brigade was still in place at Marsa Brega, a name with which we are very familiar, being long-time students of the North African campaign. Marsa Brega had sand dunes, "rolling ground", and marshes. That seems rather unexpected for desert terrain. Brigadier Rimington and the 3rd Armoured Brigade were to protect the area south of Marsa Brega from attack. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Events in early 1941 as the Greek operation started

Events moved faster in early 1941 as the Greek campaign commenced. After General Wynter's illness, the 18th Brigade commander, Brigadier Morshead, was appointed as 9th Australian Division commander. Lt-Colonel Wooten became 18th Brigade commander in Morshead's place. Wooten became a brigadier and Morshead became a Major-General.

Much of the action for Greece started in February 1941. General Wavell informed General Blamey of the plans for Greece right before Anthony Eden and General Sir John Dill arrived in Cairo to start negotiations with the Greek Government. The Greek Government had agreed to a British expedition on 24 February. General Blamey had gotten his way on sending the 6th Australian Division to Greece and kept the 9th Australian Division in Libya. Almost immediately, elements of the 2nd Armoured Division started the process of replacing the 7th Armoured Division in Cyrenaica, the portion of Libya that the British had taken. Lt-General Neame replaced General Wilson as the Cyrenaica Command commanding officer. Neame had been the 4th Indian Division commander from February 1940. In August 1940, he had been appointed as GOC of Palestine and Transjordan. He had wanted to command in the campaign against Italy in late 1940 until early 1941, but had to watch the successful campaign.

General Blamey announced a reorganization of Australian forces on 26 February 1941. The result was that the 9th Australian Division had three brigades, the 20th, 24th, and 26th Brigades. They got their three field regiments and an anti-tank regiment. The 9th Australian Division then had to move quickly to arrive in the Western Desert, as the 6th Australian Division was to go to Greece and needed to be relieved. The 24th Brigade was short, as they only had two complete battalions. The third battalion was still at Darwin in Australia, and would not arrive until April, according to the plan. This is baed on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The 9th Australian Division formed

The two Australian brigades in England in 1940 were the 18th and 25th Australian infantry brigades. The Official History calls them two of the first-enlisted and best-trained of the Australian brigades. General Blamey criticized the decision to combine these brigades with newly formed units. The 8th Australian Division, to be sent to Singapore, lost the 24th Brigade to the 9th Division. They also lost the 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment and field companies to the 9th Division. The 8th Australian Division units were still in Australia in late 1940, but at least they existed. Major-General Wynter, then in England, was appointed as commander of the 9th Australian Division on 23 October 1940. He left England by sea in mid-November 1940. He left the convoy at Capetown and went by air to Cairo. He formed the division headquarters in Palestine on 24 December. They division only had two field regiments and one field company of engineers at first. Even as the units sailed, the division composition changed. When the 25th Brigade arrived in March 1941, it had been reassigned to the 7th Australian Division. General Wynter had to be replaced after he had fallen ill. He was replaced by Brigadier Morshead, who had been the 18th Brigade commander. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Decisions in early 1941 for Greece and Libya

General Wavell, the theater commander in the Mediterranean and the Middle East thought that they would have until May 1941 before they would have to defend against Germans. They did not realize that Rommel would act sooner, even before his commanders were ready. The original plan was to retain the 6th Australian Division in Libya, as they were there best Australian infantry division. They would send the 7th and 9th Australian Divisions to Greece. General Blamey got involved and was able to change the plan, so that the 6th Australian Division went to Greece. General Blamey was concerned that the Greek campaign was so hazardous that they needed their best troops for the mission. The 9th Australian Division ended up being left in Libya on the defensive. The division was formed on 23 September 1940. Most of the units that comprised the 9th Australian Division had been formed for other purposes. There were two Australian brigades in England at this time, and they would be used for the new 9th Australian Division. The division's artillery was found by taking the I Australian Corps field regiments and converting the one medium regiment to field guns. They would form the third brigade in Australia and ship it to the Middle East, along with the other supporting units. Vol.III of the Australian Official History is primarily about the adventures of the 9th Australian Division in 1941 and 1942. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Taking chances in early 1941 in the Western Desert

While embarking on Churchill's and the War Cabinet's latest adventure, General Wavell was ready to take extreme chances with the defense of North Africa. He would lose his bet, in the event. There were many complications. The 2nd Armoured Division had recently lost its commander. Major-General Tilly had died suddenly after arriving in the Middle East. He was replaced by Major-General Michael Gambier-Parry, who had been in Greece. He was to become a prisoner of war, along with some notable officers from the campaign against Italy. As we have noted, the 2nd Armoured Division was split into two parts. As the Official History notes, the best part was sent to Greece. The Western Desert defense was left to one weak armored brigade and one-and-a-half motorized infantry battalions. The one infantry division was "static". The 2nd Armoured Division brigades had only two tank battalions or regiments in each. We have the situation where you had the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Tank Regiment and the 3rd Hussars, a cavalry regiment. They were the same sort of unit, in practice, but with different sorts of names. General Wavell's idea for adding strength to the brigade left in Libya was to create the 6th Battalion of the RTR (usually called the 6th RTR). The unit would be equipped with captured Italian tanks, probably M13/40 tanks. Although not mentioned, the 6th Australian Cavalry Regiment received a mix of Italian M11/39 and M13/40 tanks. There is a picture that shows them with large, white Kangaroos painted on them. The decision was made to add the 3rd Indian Motor Btigade to the forces in Libya when they had completed their training. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Amazon Ad