Thursday, June 02, 2005

The 8th Army at the start of the Crusader battle

The 8th Army was deployed, ready to attack, by late November 15, 1941. They had about 100,000 troops at the ready, along with 453 cruiser tanks (or equivalent) with the 7th Armoured Division. 166 of these were American M3 Stuart tanks with only the 37mm gun. The rest were mostly Crusader I and II tanks with the 40mm 2pdr gun. There were still a few A13 Cru.Mk.IV and Cru.Mk.II tanks, but they left the scene after Crusader. The American Stuart tanks could make 40mph, if they were ungoverned, but along with the Crusaders, they had governors to increase their mechanical life and reliability.

British intelligence thought that the opposing forces had 272 German tanks and 138 Italian tanks. Of the German, they thought that there were as many as 96 Pzkw II's, with only a 20mm gun. The British assumed that there would be an "armour-to-armour" battle, and that they had superior forces. To bring the Germans to such a battle, the British intended to occupy a position that would bring Axis forces to counterattack. At 6am on November 18th, the 8th Army set out around the Axis flank. They crossed "The Wire" south of Bir Sheforzen, headed towards Gabr Saleh, and then to Bir Gubi and the airfield at Sidi Rezegh. As they moved forward, the British command was perplexed that Rommel had not responded. What did they have to do to bring Rommel into a battle?

This is based on Correlli Barnett's book, The Desert Generals, augmented with what I know from other sources.

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