Thursday, March 31, 2005
The Australian Official History (probably from On to Benghazi), says that Australian forces in the Mediterranean and Middle East were reorganized so that the best troops could be sent to aid Greece, when the Italians invaded. The indicates that the Commonwealth forces were serious about the effort to support the Greeks. It was not meant to be a half-hearted demonstration, but was a serious attempt to turn back an Axis assault. It was a forlorn effort, but I can understand the attitude that any Axis attack must be met with a strong force.
Wednesday, March 30, 2005
The 2nd Armoured division was dispatched to the Middle East in November 1940. When they arrivied, the King's Dragoon Guards (KDG) was converted from light tanks to armoured cars. The rest of the 1st Armoured Brigade was deployed to Greece in what proved to be a forelorn effort. The 2nd Armoured Division was left with only part of its support group and the 3rd Armoured Brigade to stand against the newly arrived Germans. The 1st Armoured Brigade returned with only personnel, after abandoning its tanks in Greece. Robert Crisp, in his book Brazen Chariots, fantasized about Greek refugees huddling in the tanks that they had left behind. He was an officer in the 3rd RTR. Later in 1941, they replaced their lost Cru.Mk.I and Cru.Mk.II tanks with the American-built "Honey" tank (the M3A1 Stuart light tanks).
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
General Wavell was still the theater commander in February 1941. He had just fought a successful campaign in the Western Desert against the Italians and an unsuccessful effort in Greece. The forces available included:
- Western Desert, he had: 7th Armoured Division (worn down) and 6th Australian Division.
- Egypt: 2nd Armoured Division (incomplete), 6th Division (forming), the New Zealand Division, and the Polish brigade group
- Palestine: 7th Australian Division and 9th Australian Division (incomplete)
- Eritrea: 4th Indian Division and 5th Indian Division (in combat at Keren)
- East Africa: 1st South African Division, 11th African Division, and 12 African Division (ready for combat at Kismayu)
Monday, March 28, 2005
When Italy attacked Greece in late 1940, the Greeks were in trouble, as while they had a good-sized, well-trained army, they were abominably equipped. The British responded by sending troops to the island of Crete and aircraft to mainland Greece. The British hoped to send three Blenheim and two fighter squadrons. They would be supported by two AA batteries. A convoy embarked at Alexandria on 15 November, bound for Greece. The result of diverting resources to Greece was that General O'Connor's offensive in North Africa was to be slowed and then halted. This allowed time for Germany to send Rommel and the leading elements of what became the Deutsche Afrika Korps, which had arrived by February 1941. The forces sent to Greece were mostly lost, except for the men, when the Germans came in to save the Italians. Units like the 3rd RTR left their A9 and A10 tanks in Greece. Robert Crisp, in Brazen Chariots, gives a short summary of his experience in the Greek debacle and withdrawal.
Sunday, March 27, 2005
The Italian forces defending Tobruk on 20 January 1941 were about 25,000 soldiers with 232 artillery pieces (field guns, medium guns, and heavy artillery), 48 heavy AA guns, only 24 anti=tank guns, with 25 medium and 45 light tanks. The attacking British force was down to 69 cruiser tanks, 126 light tanks, and 12 Inf.Mk.II tanks by 16 January. A few units (3rd Hussars, 7th Hussars, 1/RTR, and 2/RTR) were brought up to strength by transferring remaining tanks from other units (8th Hussars and 6/RTR).
Saturday, March 26, 2005
My OOB for the 22nd Guards Brigade in the Western Desert was:
- HQ: 1 scout car, 1 Bren carrier, 1-4.2in mortar and crew, and 1-truck
- 1st Guards Battalion: 1-3in mortar and crew, 2 carriers, 12 infantry with rifles, and 2-trucks
- 2nd Guards Battalion: 1-3in mortar and crew, 2 carriers, 12 infantry with rifles, and 2-trucks
- 3rd Guards Battalion: 1-3in mortar and crew, 2 carriers, 12 infantry with rifles, and 2-trucks
- 2nd Field Regiment: 4-25pdr (1:6 ratio to real life) and 4-quad gun tractors
- 2nd AT Regiment: 6-2pdr ATG and 6 portees
Friday, March 25, 2005
A field regiment was originally equipped with 4.5in howitzers and 18pdr guns. As 25pdr production was still ramping up, 18pdr carriages were converted with 25pdr gun-howitzer barrels. This was the "18/25pdr". A field regiment had a complement of 580 officers and men. They were armed with 75 pistols, 113 rifles, 14-LMG, and 13 Boys anti-tank rifles. After the collapse of the front in May 1940, they apparently fought as infantry on the way to withdrawal at Dunkirk.
Thursday, March 24, 2005
The first British infantry tank was the Matilda I, based on World War One ideas. It had a low speed, heavy armour and only a machine gun. 140 of these 11 ton vehicles were built. They served in France with the 1st Army Tank Brigade, with the BEF. Those in France were lost in the debacle and withdrawal from Dunkirk. The collapse in France in May 1940 emphasized their shortcomings. The successor was the Inf.Mk.II Matilda. Its strongest feature was its relatively heavy armour, at least for the time. That was what had made it so potent at Arras, during the counterattack against Rommel's 7th Panzer Division. They also did well in the initial stages of the war in the Western Desert, in North Africa. A total of 2,987 Matildas had been produced, when production was stopped in August 1943. The problem with the Matilda was the cast hull that prevented the tank from being up-gunned to the 6pdr or 75mm gun.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
The British had mostly obsolete tanks in service in 1936. They were just starting to arm with new weapons, most of which were still just a specification, not even a prototype. Total strength was 375 tanks. Of these, 304 were obsolete types, mostly Vickers medium tanks. The only "modern" tanks were 2-Medium Mk.III, 22-Lt.Mk.V, and 47 Lt.Mk.VI. The last was just entering service. Prototype for the new tanks under development was produced by April 1936. This was the A9 Cru.Mk.I. Production deliveries only started in January 1939, despite the early appearance of the prototype. Later in 1936, the prototype heavy cruiser, the A10 Cru.Mk.II also appeared. The first production was only ready by December 1939. The A13 Cru.Mk.III prototypes were only ordered at the end of 1936. This was the first really useful tank. The A13 actually started to roll off the assembly line as early as December 1938, before the earlier models.
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
The Churchill tank (Inf.Mk.IV) was first taken into action by the Canadians at Dieppe on 19 August 1942. They were used by the Calgary Regiment of the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade. Obviously, for many reasons, Dieppe was not a resounding success, and its outcome stopped any futher adventures of this sort, despite their appeal. Another early deployment of the Churchill was with the 7th Motor Brigae, who had 3 Churchill III tanks about this same time, in the Western Desert.
Monday, March 21, 2005
Following the British victory at Beda Fomm, over the Italians, the British were reduced to 12 cruiser and 40 light tanks still in running condition. The all the light tanks were in the 3rd Hussars. The 6th RTR was requipped with Italian tanks. They had about 60 M13/40's. My source says that they were practically new with "only a few hundred miles on their speedometers". General O'Connor was convinced that he could go forward and take the rest of Libya, but he was not allowed to do so. Instead, on February 12, 1941, the Germans arrived, and gradually built up their forces. I need to figure out where my photocopies came from, so I have not been able to ascertain the exact source, yet. It is very likely the official history of the war in the Mediterranean and Middle East.
Sunday, March 20, 2005
Finally, on 20 February 1941, King's Dragoon Guards troop commanded by Lt. Williams had an encounter with shots enchanged with German armoured cars, with the leading units of the German Afrika Korps. The KDG as equipped with Marmon-Herrington Mk.II's with a MG and an anti-tank rifle. The Germans were almost certainly equiped with a 20mm gun and MG's. The German commander in this engagement was, interestingly enough, captured in November, during the Crusader battles. When the Germans started to actually, push, the British positions in Libya collapsed, and Tobruk ended up besieged and the main British front was on the Egyptian border.
Saturday, March 19, 2005
The 8th Hussars were stationed in Egypt at the outbreak of the war in September 1939. They were in the process of mechanization, but they were only partially equipped. They initially had 11 Lt.Mk.III's and 7 Lt.Mk.VIB's, which were given them by the 7th Hussars and 6/RTR, when then got better equipment. I can imagine that their plight was not unusual, at this stage, when production was only just starting to ramp up. They had only been converted to a cavalry light tank regiment at the beginning of 1939, but it could not be implemented until equipment became available.
Friday, March 18, 2005
I always like to see details about unit establishments. Duncan Crow has the establishment for cavalry regiments in India in 1939. The 17/21st Lancers is an example of such a unit. The unit establishment included 21 officers and 460 men. Its equipment included:
- 15 scout cars
- 12 8-cwt trucks
- 19 15-cwt trucks
- 11 carriers for personnel
- 41 light tanks (some variety of Lt.Mk.VI)
- 22 30-cwt trucks
- 2 water tank trailers
- 1 motorcycle
- 1 van
- 1 recovery tractor
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
In 1928, Australia had ordered 5 British medium tanks (something like the Medium Mk.II). They did nothing else until 1935, when they finally ordered eleven Lt.Mk.VIA tanks. They did not arrive until 1937, when Australia followed with an order for 24 more tanks. During the 1930's, they also built some Australian designed armoured cars. These were in use by the outbreak of war in 1939. The Australian divisional cavalry regiments sent to the Middle East ended up being equipped with a hodgepodge of equipment, everything from Italian M11/39 and M13/40 tanks, French R35's, and a variety of British and eventually, American-built tanks (the Honeys).
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
Apparently by the time that the British arrived in Tunisia, they were using the big AEC Mk.I armoured cars. Duncan Crow's book has a photo of AEC Mk.I's from The Royal Dragoons arriving in Enfidaville. The great size is evident from the man walking in the background. The Mk.I had a Valentine turret with a 2pdr ATG and a Besa MG. Apparently is was only later in 1942 that the AEC starting to enter service, along with the Humber Mk.III.
Sunday, March 13, 2005
By early 1940, cruiser tank production was ramping up in Britain. The decision had been made to equip both brigades of armoured divisions with cruiser tanks, instead of one brigade with cruisers and the other brigade with light tanks. Three types were rolling off production lines: the A9 Cruiser Mk.I, the A10 Cruiser Mk.II, and the A13 Cruiser Mk.III, soon to be superceded by the A13 Cruiser Mk.IV. The A9 had adequate speed, but had only thin armour and the antiquated machine gun turrets. The A10 was too slow (15 mph), but had thicker armour and the Besa machine gun, rather than the older water-cooled model carried by the prototype. The A13 had very good mobility and thin armour. The Cruiser Mk.IV had better protection, including spaced armour on the turret. The cruiser tanks were so new and so few in number that almost no one had any experience with them and their capabilities. There were only a total of 284 tanks in the six tank units in May 1940. Of these, as I have previously written (I think), 134 were light tanks of various marks. The Queens Bays had an odd collection of equipment: 4-A9, 3-A10, and 22-A13, plus 21 Light Mk.VIC tanks. At least the Lt.Mk.VIC had the 15mm MG, rather than the 0.50in watercooled model.
Saturday, March 12, 2005
The 12th Lancers, an armoured car regiment stationed in France was equipped with the Morris CS9/LAC. Some of these also served with the 11th Hussars in Egypt. The 11th Hussars also had larger numbers of Roll-Royce 1924-pattern cars updated with an open-topped turret, armed with the Boys anti-tank rifle, a Bren gun, and a smoke discharger. One of the classic pictures of the war in North Africa shows a 1924 pattern car, in camoflage paint, "at the wire", on the border between Egypt and Libya. Starting in late 1940, the Marmon-Herrington Mk.II car appeared in the attack on Italian Abyssynia. There were also small numbers of the Mk.I car, which appeared as early as May 1940. The first modern car, the Guy Mk.I was produced in small numbers, there being 101 produced. The Humber Mk.I was a slightly larger version of the Guy, as it had the same layout and hull shape. The later Mk.II as a good vehicle that saw service in the Western desert.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
"The Old Gang" was typical of how Winston Churchill operated. He was very much a relationship person. He pulled together the tank pioneers from World War One to build an assault tank. They were thinking too large and too slow. They produced two prototype TOG tanks. The requirement was essentially that for the KV-I, to build a tank that was shell-proof and capable of crossing heavily shelled ground. The TOG tank looked very archaic. Pulling together The Old Gang didn't work out. One of their vehicles was used to mount the 17pdr gun in a Challenger turret. This was the TOG-2 tank. The TOG-2 was preserved at Bovington, at the RAC museum, at least in the early 1970's, and probably is still there, along with many other prototypes, including the A.9 and A.10.
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
On 3 November 1937, the Cavalry was notified that five regiments would be converted to mechanized units. The famous 1st Kings Dragoon Guards only arrived in Britain from India in December. They eventually were renown for their service as an armoured car regiment, equipped with the South African-built Marmon-Herrington Mk.II's, at least at first. But in 1937, they started to convert to light tanks. They formed part of the 1st Light Armoured Brigade, converted from the 1st Cavalry Brigade. Their sister units were the 3/Hussars and 4/Hussars. The 2nd Cavalry Brigade soon was converted, as well. The 2nd brigade was probably unique, in that the same units stayed together until 1945, up to the end of the war. They were the Queen's Bays, the 9th Lancers, and the 10th Hussars. In the early months, there was much turmoil. The venerable 17th/21st Lancers became a light tank regiment with 54 tanks. At that date, they were still in India, apparently. Already, there was furious preparation for war, despite all the outward appearances that the government wanted peace. It made no difference, whether the units were in Britain or India. War preparations had started, with the focus on modernization and mechanization.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
The Canadians built a sort of "knock-off" of the American medium tanks. They called it the Ram, and the Mk.I only had the British 2pdr gun, but the Mk.II had the more potent 6pdr. The Canadians had originally bought all the obsolete American tanks, just to have some real equipment, but they gradually adopted British tanks. The Canadians produced Rams from 1941 until 1943. The Ram actually used the American M3's 400 HP engine, and the running gear and hull shape also strongly resembled the American vehicles. About 50 were built with the 2pdr gun as the Mk.I, and the rest were Mk.II's. 1,899 were built in Canada from 1942 to 1943. The Canadians continued to build tanks after the Ram. They built specialist tanks and the Sherman-look-alike, the Grizzly, with a 75mm gun. They Canadians mostly used British and American tanks, especially the Sherman and the Churchill.
Monday, March 07, 2005
The Guards Armoured Division took part in Operation Goodwood over July 18-20, 1944, when an entire British armoured corps was assembled. There were a large number of Cromwells involved. Duncan Crow has a good picture of a sister division, the 7th Armoured Division with Cromwells. The Guards Armoured Division were formed in June 1941 the 5th and 6th Guards Armoured Brigades with the 2nd Household Cavalry as the armoured car regiment. The 5th Guards Ar. Bre. had the 2/Grenadier Guards, the 1/Coldstream Guards, and the 2/Irish Guards with the 1st Motor battalion of Grenadier Guards. The 6th Guards Armoured Brigade had the 4/Grenadier Guards, 3/Scots Guards, the 2/Welsh Guards, with the 4th motor battalion of the Coldstream Guards. That did not last, as the armoured divisions were reorganized in 1942 to have only one armoured brigade. The 6th Guards Armoured Brigade became an independent tank brigade. In Europe in 1944, the Guards had the 32nd Guards Brigade as their motor brigade. The Guards Armoured Division was disestablished at the end of the war. I continue to rely on Duncan Crow for this, as I still don't own a copy of "Joslen", but need to buy one.
Sunday, March 06, 2005
The Cavalry regiments were not excited about giving up their horses for motor vehicles. The 9th Lancers, in 1936, were commanded by Charles Norman (later a Major-General and commander of the 8th Armoured Division). Their initial equipment were Carden-Lloyd carriers which were very unreliable when run for any distance. They carried out exercises around Tidworth with their carriers. At the end of every exercise, the countryside was strewn with broken down carriers with their cavalrymen occupants. A mobile meal service was created to feed them while they waited for the recovery services to retrieve them. By 12937, they had the earliest light tanks, along with a very few Lt.Mk.V's, which were a better vehicle. Their main drawback was that they had just been returned from Egypt, as they needed repairs to be operational again, after ingesting sand. Such was the life of a newly-mechanized cavalryman.
Saturday, March 05, 2005
The 1/King's Dragoon Guards (1/KDG) were part of the force besieged within Tobruk up until the Crusader battles freed them. Apparently, the siege lasted 8 months. The 1/KDG were nominally the 2nd Armoured Division's armoured car regiment. They were equipped with Marmon-Herrington Mk.II's during this period. There is a classic photo of a 1/KDG Marmon-Herring Mk.II taking a near miss in November 1941, when they were part of the breakout. There is a page on the British Land Forces website for them, filled with links. They were first mechanized in 1937, when they acquired light tanks. In 1939, they became part of the Royal Armoured Corps. In the process of reducing the British Army, they were merged with the Queen's Bays, another storied cavalry regiment.
Friday, March 04, 2005
Christy's tanks revolutionized tank design. His designs were adopted by the British and Russians in large scale. The Americans just toyed with the ideas, and abandoned them (perhaps because Christy was an American). The first British Christy tank, the A13 Cruiser Mk. III was delivered in December 1938. The original Cruiser Mk.III lacked the spaced armour on the turret, but the Cruiser Mk.IV had it, although it was still using the obsolescent water-cooled machine guns. The Cruiser Mk.IVA had the more modern aircooled machine guns that were used thereafter in British tanks (at least during WWII). The A15 Crusader was a more advanced development, and had five instead of four road wheels, like the Russian T34. The A15 was better, but was still not up to world standard. It was only with the Cromwell (based on some earlier developments) that they started to be viable. It wasn't until the Comet that the type was fully developed, and by then, it was obsolete, as the breakthrough Centurion design was in prototype stage.
Thursday, March 03, 2005
The British 3.7in AA gun never really played a part in the anti-tank battle during the critical period. My guess is that the Anti-Aircraft establishment was strong, and took steps to be sure not to lose control of their guns. The mounting was not suitable for the anti-tank role, even less so than the German 88mm FLAK36, which was on a pedestal mount with an improvised shield. The 3.7in gun lacked a suitable sight and ammunition. Meanwhile, the 88mm FLAK36 had been used in the anti-tank role as early as 1940 and perhaps before that. When the 88mm FLAK41 entered service, it was clearly a dual-purpose gun, as the mounting had a low silhouette, and had an integral shield. It still maintained its AA role, as it was pivoted very far back on the piece, so that there was little need for clearance beneath the barrel. The 88mm FLAK36 was the best weapon the Germans had against the Inf. Mk.II Matilda, which was largely impervious to the lesser guns, although with special ammunition, the 50mm PAK38 could defeat them. Robert Crisp's Stuart, in November 1941, was easy pickings for a 50mm PAK38, as its armor was much thinner.
In much of our gaming in the latter 1970's and early 1980's, we exclusively were fighting battles in Libya and Egypt. The British player quickly found that the 25pdr was a big contributor to being able to effectively fight. The 2pdr, whether on portees or on tanks, had to be used at close range to be effective, and for side shots, at best. The British might send an attack with A.13's (Cru.Mk.IVA) against the German or Italian flank and start shooting with relativel rapid 2pdr fire, hoping to cause damage before being forced back with losses. The main advantage of the 2pdr was rate of fire, and the ability, when close enough, to penetrate side armor. Woe to the British who got caught in an 88's line of fire. The 88mm FLAK36 had a good rate of fire, and could penetrate even the Inf.Mk.II's frontal armor, most of the time. The British had to rely on the 25pdr field gun for longer range A/T fire.
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
The 4th Armoured Brigade was considerably moved around and restructured. Occasionally, it was a "Light Armoured Brigade" (whatever that was). In November 1940, it was part of the 7th Armoured Division and had 7th Hussars, 2/RTR (minus one squadron), 6/RTR, a battery of the 3/RHA, and a single squadron from the 3rd Hussars. By November 1941, in time for the Crusader operation, they had 8th Hussars, 3/RTR (Robert Crisps's battalion), 5/RTR, 2/Scots Guards, and the 2/RHA. They probably were in "Light Armoured Brigade" mode for Crusader, as we know that they were equipped with American-built Stuart tanks with 37mm guns and high speeds (for the British).
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
I just realized that Duncan Crow mislabeled a photograph of the 6th Australian Divisional Cavalry dating from January 1941 (page 51). They were largely equipped with captured Italian M11/39 tanks, although they also had M13/40's, as well. These had a 37mm gun in the hull and a MG in the small turret. The tanks were marked with white kangaroos, to distinguish them as Australian. To Benghazi, page 219, says that they had a total of 16 Italian tanks in A squadron. They expanded that one squadron into three, by giving one troop 6 tanks and the other two with 9 carriers each. Sources:
- Duncan Crow, British and Commonwealth Armoured Formations (1919-46), 1971.
- Gavin Long, To Benghazi, 1952, reprinted with corrections in 1961.