Thursday, June 30, 2005

By mid-December 1940, the focus had shifted to Bardia

The RAF flew 150 sorties against Bardia from December 14th to 19th. In conjunction, Wellingtons from Malta operated against Italian airfields in Libya. They destroyed some 44 aircraft. The 16th Infantry Brigade moved up to the southern side of Bardia while the 16th Australian Brigade moved to the southwest side. The 7th Armoured Division moved to block any relief efforts from Tobruk. Meanwhile, supply depots were set up. One line was along the coastal road while another followed the line of the escarpment. The transport received reinforcements from captured Italian trucks. Meanwhile, Sollum fell to the British on Decmeber 16th. This was convenient because it provided a small seaport close to the front.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The arrangements after December 11th, 1940

When Major-General Mackay and the 6th Australian Division arrived, they would have as additional forces the 16th Infantry Brigage and the 7th RTR, along with artillery. Their first task would be to capture Bardia. The orders for the 7th Armoured Division were to move between Tobruk and Bardia. On bright aspect of the previous week's action was that the RAF totally dominated the air against the Regia Aeronautica. The RAF used Gladiators for giving air cover in the field while the Hurricanes were used against Italian forces to the west of Bardia. The RAF and RAAF were quickly expending their supply of Gladiators. The bag for December 9th to 11th was impressive:
  1. 38,300 Italian and Libyan prisoners
  2. 237 guns
  3. 73 tanks (L3/33, M11/39, and M13/40)
  4. More than 1000 vehicles
This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The results of December 11th and 12th, 1940

The British offensive had almost driven the Italians from Egypt by December 12th. The only Italian position still held was blocking Sollum and there was a force at Sidi Omar. The next step was to send mobile forces to block the road between Tobruk and Bardia. In the meantime, the offensive had progressed so well that General Wavell felt confident enough to follow his plan to withdraw the 4th Indian Division and send them to the Sudan, removing a large part of the attacking force. They would be replaced by the 6th Australian Division. They would have the opportunity to take Bardia, when they had arrived. The British 16th Infantry Brigade would stay and continue the offensive. At this point, Wavell was conducting the anti-Blitzkrieg: instead of reinforcing success, he stripped away what made the success possible. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Monday, June 27, 2005

December 11th, 1940 Operation Compass

On December 10th, the 7th Armoured Division, with cruiser tanks lent to Selby Force, operated with armoured cars, mobile artillery, and light tanks. They were at least crossing the coastal road. December 11th saw the 7th Armoured Brigade assaulting Buq Buq, and capturing a large number of Italian troops and artillery. The 4th Armoured Brigade was intended to be sent to Sofafi, but didn't receive the word in time, so that the Cirene Division was able to withdraw, umimpeded. The 7th Armoured Division Support Group found that the Cirene had withdrawn from Rabia and Sofafi during the night of 10-11 December. The day was still successful, as Selby Force and the 6th RTR fought the 1st Libyan Division, which had given their surrender at 1pm. By nightfall, the 4th Blackshirt Division had also surrendered. This is from the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

British Armour on December 9th and 10th, 1940

The Matildas of the 7th RTR were a critical piece of the assault on Nibeiwa. Sadly, on leaving Nibeiwa, after the victory, 6 Matildas ran into a minefield and were lost. There 6 Matildas to assault Tummar East. While the 4/6th Rajputana Rifles were held up by Italian tanks , the Matildas got into the camp. Meanwhile, the 4th Armoured Brigade was providing cover for the 4th Indian Division. The 11th Hussars spread out to the west, as a screen. The 7th Hussars, with light tanks (perhaps Lt.Mk.VIBs) moved across the road between Sidi Barrani and Bug Buq. The 7th Armoured Division Support Group covered the south, while the 7th Armoured Brigade was kept in reserve, awaiting developments. On December 10th, 10 Matildas from the 7th RTR supported the 16th Infantry Brigade's advance on the road network to the west. They blocked the exits from Sidi Barrani from the south and west. General Beresford-Peirse ordered to them to attack Sidi Barrani before dark. He sent armoured support from the 7th RTR and the 2nd RTR to operate to the west (the left flank?). This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

After the fall of Camp Nibeiwa

After Nibeiwa and Tummars were overrun, but before Brigadier Selby was told about the outcome, he sent forces to attempt to block the escape route from Maktila. Sadly, they were too late, and the British forces eventually learned that the 1st Libyan Division had escaped in the darkness. By late afternoon, General O'Connor was wondering what had happened, and as he had received no word, he drove to the Tummar West Camp to meet General Beirsford-Peirse. They would send the 5th Indian Brigade against Tummar East. The 16th (British) Infantry Brigade was sent to the west to block the coastal road that led to Sidi Barrani. The 7th RTR and two field artillery regiments were also sent in motion. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Official History has some good photos from December 1940

The Official History, Vol.I, between pages 280 and 281, has some good photos from December 1940. One is "A burnt-out British tank which had become bogged in a salt marsh near Buq Buq in December 1940". The tank is probably a Lt.Mk.VIB, although it could be a Lt.Mk.VIA. The next photo is an aerial view of Sollum, showing the harbour and rising escarpment in the background. Another shows a truck, perhaps a gun tractor, towing an Inf.Mk.II Matilda up the road towards Halfaya Pass. There is also a picture of the river gunboat Aphis in Sollum harbour, where she had landed water for the army. Another photo shows burnt out and sunken ships ain the harbour at Bardia, where the Aphis had provided gunfire support on December 17th, 1940. Another photo shows Italian L3/33 light tanks abandoned on the hill above the harbour at Bardia. In another photo, you can see black smoke rising from the harbour at Tobruk. In the last photo of this series, you see the burning and sunken armoured cruiser San Giorgio, a survivor from the pre-dreadnought era.

The assault on Camp Nibeiwa

At 7:15am on December 9th, 1940, the assault on Camp Nibeiwa commenced. There was a 72-gun barrage from the 4th Indian Division artillery while 2 squadrons from the 7th RTR rolled towards the northwest corner of the camp. These were Inf.Mk.II Matildas. They were supported by 31st Battery, Royal Artillery. On the flanks were Bren carrier from the 2nd Battalion The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders and 1/6thRajputana Rifles. The 20 Italian medium tanks and a few light tanks were quickly taken. The camp was quickly divided the camp into quarters and artillery was used, firing point-blank, to silence holdouts. The 5th Indian Brigade and 25th Field Artillery Regiment (without the 31st Battery) attacked the Tummar West camp to the west of Nibeiwa.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A small tidbit about the attack on Bardia in January 1941

The 6th Australian Division was eager to attack Bardia. Their sole fear was that the Italians would escape before they could attack. For the attack, General Mackay was given "120 of the 154 available guns". The 7th RTR was also there for the assault. They had managed to get 23 tanks running. Their main problem was lack of spare parts. They were equipped with Inf.Mk.II Matilda tanks. The 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, a machine gun battalion was also available for the assault. The only available unit not to take part was the 16th Infantry Brigade, a British unit.

Another look at the initial operations in Compass

Vol.I of the Official History also has information about initial operations in Compass. Selby Force, commanded by Brigadier Selby, had a strength of about 1,800 men. This was apparently all that could be provided with transport. These were drawn from the garrison at Mersa Matruh. They were to be a blocking force between Tummar and Maktila. The monitor Terror and the gunboat Aphis bombarded Maktila. Another gunboat, the Ladybird, fired on Sidi Barrani. The camp at Nibeiwa was scouted by the 2nd Rifle Brigade, which was looking for the best approach. They found that the best spot was where a road entered the camp on the northwest corner. The Fourth Indian Division, commanded by Major-General Beirsford-Peirse, had moved into position about 15 miles from Nibeiwa. On the night of December 8, 1940, one brigade (11th Indian) moved forward with the 7th RTR to a position near Nibeiwa. The 7th Armoured Division was far to the southwest, ready to block any rescue effort.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The experiment with mixed squadrons in October and November 1940

The British experimented with mixed squadrons in an attempt to provide useful short range reconnaissance and ground support to the offensive. No.208 squadron was equipped with 8 Lysanders and 4 Hurricanes. No.3 RAAF squadron was equipped with 8 Gladiators and 4 Gauntlets. There was also one flight of No.6 squadron equipped with just 4 Lysanders. The lesson had been learned in France that Lysanders needed fighter escort to be effective. The idea was to integrate fighters and reconnaissance (or Army cooperation) aircraft into squadrons. It was also an opportunity to train fighter pilots in the art of reconnaissance. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Mid-October 1940: decisions about air strength in the Middle East

By mid-October, the Chiefs of Staff decided that with the focus on the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, that air strength must be augmented, and quickly. Existing squadrons would be rearmed with newer aircraft and squadron strength would be increased from 12 to 16 aircraft. The Sunderland squadrons would have their strength increased to six aircraft. They would send 48 Blenheim IVs and 24 Hurricanes every month. They would fly out 23 Wellingtons to replace Bristol Bombay bomber-transports. They would send 227 Mohawk fighters to the Middle East as well as 149 Martin Maryland aircraft, instead of the planned 75. The Marylands did not start to arrive in Africa until December 12th, so that setback plans. The RAF also found, when Mohawks started to arrive that they were unsuitable for combat, due to their low performance. They were diverted to India and South Africa for training, instead. In December, RAF losses were mounting, at least partly due to the Italian explosive bullets. Even when aircraft were not lost, they could be put out of action for a while because of damage from the explosive bullets. Despite the RAF situation, General Wavell decided to mount the Compass operation anyway. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Even in 1940, the Germans were preparing to intervene in North Africa

During the summer of 1940, the Italians kept begging for German equipment, but the German preferance was to send their own troops, instead. The initial plans were for two armoured divisions and one motorized division. The Germans were focused on the Suez Canal, and thought it unlikely that the Italians would be able to capture it. The General staff dispatched General von Thoma to Libya to survey the situation. The 3rd Panzer Division was to make preparations to be sent to North Africa. General von Thoma submitted an unfavorable report, and the 3rd Panzer ceased their preparations.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The air component of Operation Compass

Operation Compass, the attack on Italian forces, had a strong air contingent, given the remoteness of the region. They had 48 fighters and 116 bombers. They included two Hurricane squadrons and one Gladiator squadron. Of the bombers, there were three Blenheim squadrons, three Wellington, and one Bombay squadron. Air Commodore Collishaw commanded the force from his headquarters at Maaten Baggush. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Reinforcements, temporarily, for the 11th Hussars

In October, the RAF No.2 Armoured Car Company arrived from Palestine to reinforce the 11th Hussars. They almost certainly were also equipped with Rolls Royce armoured cars. Very likely, they were the 1924 pattern. The served alongside the 11th Hussars from October 1940 through February 1941.

Air reinforcements for Malta in early October 1940

The decision was made to bring Malta's air strength up to one full squadron of Hurricanes and 12 Martin Maryland maritime reconnaissance aircraft. The chiefs of staff wanted to start bombing Benghazi, but there were not adequate resources available. Blenheims from Egypt were out of range. The No.216 Bomber Transport squadron was needed as transports, so they could only be diverted to bombing by impacting their transport duties. In the first two weeks of October, the Hurricanes in Malta were able to stay active. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Air power to be sent to Greece: late 1940

The British commanders planned about what air units could be sent to aid Greece. This started about November 4, 1940, when instructions arrived. The commanders found that what could be sent would be limited by the availability of suitable airfields. The main problem was the lack of all-weather airfields. The terrain was very unsuitable, as well, for constructing new airfields. To protect what airfields there were, General Wavell was to send AA artillery. That would initially be one heavy and one light AA batteries. After that, three Blenheim squadrons would be sent. One of these was actually a mixed squadron of bombers and Gladiators. One additional fighter squadron equipped with Gladiators would be sent. As the Hurricane inventory reached the critical point, a second fighter squadron would then be sent. Egypt would be stripped to the bare minimum, if not below that level. Given the hindsight we have about how forelorn an operation this would be, the risks that were taken seem reckless, in the extreme. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

June 11, 1940 and beyond

The British put out a covering force to be ready for the commencement of hostilities with Italy. The 11th Hussars, equipped with Morris AC9 and Rolls Royce Model 1924 Mk.I armoured cars, were spread out across the desert as much as 40 miles from the coast on June 11th. That night, they crossed the border and took surprised Italian outposts that weren't aware that war had been declared. The 7th Hussars and 1st/KRRC moved up to the border, and on June 14th, took Fort Capuzzo. Fort Maddalena fell to the 11th Hussars. On the 16th, a squadron of the 7th Hussars and J Battery, RHA, routed a column of 17 Italian light tanks, guns, and infantry and captured all the tanks.

As early as June 11th, the Italians commenced bombing Malta. Malta had never received the planned AA artillery outfit. Instead of 112 heavy and 60 light AA guns, they only had 34 heavy and 8 light. They did have the famous three Gladiators named Faith, Hope, and Charity.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Western Desert

The area where the combatants moved and fought in 1940 would become known as the Western Desert. The Western Desert actually refers to the Western Desert of Egypt, but the British forces came to call the entire area on either side of "The Wire" as the Western Desert. "The Wire" was what the British forces called the Italian-erected triple barbed wire fence that marked the border between Egypt and Libya. From the sea to the Libyan plateau, the land rose to 500ft above sealevel. The rise was called the escarpment, as it was a rough stretch that restricted movement from the shore to the plateau. The terrain is covered by a thin layer of "clay or fine sand" over "limestone rock". The land is very rocky, which could make travel difficult. What water there was could be "found in deep wells and those cisterns known in service Arabic as 'birs', which date from Roman times". This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History, and the quotes are from page 115.

The RAF was active following the commencement of war with Italy

Flying from Egypt, Blenheim I's had a limited reach into Libya. For example, Benghazi was beyond their range. Right before they were at war, the British moved No.202 Group to Maaten Gaggush. 26 Blenheims attacked an airfield at El Adem. Three of the attacking aircraft were lost. In a repeast attack, 18 Italian aircraft were destroyed or damaged. In a dawn attack the next day, nine Blenheims attacked Tobruk and among other targets, damaged the old cruiser San Giorgio. A few days later, when the Army took Fort Cappuzo, just beyond the border, the RAF supported the attack with Gladiators and Blenheims. After the initial burst of activity, the limited resources of the RAF caused them to have to drop back to harrassing attacks with single aircraft. Short range reconnaissance over Italian lines was done by Lysanders, while longer range reconnaissance was handled by Blenheims. Fighter support was still limited to Gladiators, as Hurricanes had not yet arrived in the desert. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Count Ciano on the Italian ultimatum to Greece in 1940

In a note quoted in Vol.I of the British Official History, Count Ciano noted in his diary on October 22, 1940 that "Naturally it (the ultimatum) is a document that allows no way out for Greece. Either she accepts occupation or she will be attacked." Despite the Italian charges in the ultimatum, the Greeks had maintained a strick neutrality prior to the Italian note. Because of that, the British had no real idea about Greek troop deployments or what they planned. In Alexandria, the British commanders met to plan what to do about establishing a British presence in the strategic island of Crete. The initial plan was to establish a fueling station. The fleet would escort store ships and auxiliaries to Suda Bay, in the northwest. This is based on the account in the Official History.

On August 15, 1940, Italy attacked Greece

Hostilities opened between Italy and Greece with the torpedoing of the Greek cruiser Helle on August 15, 1940. The Greeks suspected an Italian submarine, but had no proof. General Metaxis asked what help Greece could expect from Great Britain on August 22. At that date, Britain didn't have any available forces to deploy to Greece. British forces, such as they were, were committed to defending Egypt. The actual Italian invasion was delayed, while they inquired what the German reaction would be. The Italian note was only delivered on October 28, 1940. Within hours, Greece and Italy were at war "through no fault of her own". This based on the account in the British Official History.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

RAF planning in early August 1940

The decision was made that the highest priority was to rearm existing squadrons rather than divert aircraft to new squadrons. By the end of September, the plan was to have "five medium bomber squadrons, three fighter squadrons, and one bomber transport squadron would be reamred with modern aircraft: a total of 84 Blenheim IVs, 60 Hurricanes, 12 Wellingtons and a small quota of replacements." The SAAF would receive 24 Hurricanes, where they would form new squadrons. From the French orders from the Glenn Martin company, there were 150 Marylands available. The Middle East and the SAAF would divide these. Immediately, three Marylands would be diverted to use for long-range reconnaissance. Three more Marylands were sent to Malta to use for spares. More aircraft were in transit. 24 Hurricanes had been sent around the Cape. They were close to arriving in Egypt. 36 were in transit to Takoradi. 24 Blenheim IVs had arrived in Egypt by way of Malta. Antoher 24 were in transit to either Takoradi or Egypt. Six Wellingtons were newly arrived in late August. Desperate measures were required after the fall of France. One step was to use Takoradi as an arrival point in Africa for aircraft. They were then sent on to Egypt by air. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Air Chief Marshal Longmore's srequirements in 1940

Air Chief Marshal Longmore took over command of RAF forces in the Mediterranean and Middle East in May 1940. The Air Ministry informed him in July about what they might be able to send him. They would send him 12 Hurricanes, 12 Lysanders, and 12 Blenheim IV aircraft immediately. The target shipments every month were:
  • 12 Hurricanes
  • 12 Blenheim IVs
  • 6 Lysanders
In three weeks, he had lost 10 Blenheims and 11 Wellesleys. The Wellesleys were being replaced by Blenheims, and the Wellesley was disappearing from the inventory. Longmore sent his estimate to the Air Ministry of his requirements: 35-50 Blenheims and at least 24 Hurricanes every month. He also needed a long range reconnaissance aircraft. The American Glenn Martin Marylands eventually filled that need. He also needed a torpedo-reconnaissance aircraft for use from Malta, and needed a replacement for the Lysander, which had proved to be unsuitable for the conditions. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Italian attack on September 13, 1940

On September 13, 1940, the Italians attacked British forces in Egypt. They bombarded Musaid with artillery, and then advanced up the coast road. The British had expected the Italians to outflank them from the desert, but the Italians were concerned that the British were more at home in the desert than they were, so they didn't make the attempt. Count Ciano wrote that "Never has a military operation been undertaken so much against the will of the Commander" (quoted in the Official History). He was writing about Marshall Graziani.

British opposition was limited to the following units:

  • 3rd Coldstream Guards,
  • C Battery RHA
  • later, a portion of F Battery, RHA
  • one section of 25/26th Medium Battery, RA
  • one company 1/KRRC
  • 1 machine gun company from 1st Royal Northumberland Fusiliers
They were commanded by Lieutenant-Coloonel J. Moubray. They were able to inflict some casualties with artillery fire, along with air attacks, but the Italians easily captured the barracks and then to advance along the road to Sollum. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Major-General Percy Hobart

Correlli Barnett criticizes Major-General Percy Hobart as the source of the mistaken idea that "tanks should fight other tanks". That was not the German way, although they often did fight other tanks, at least on the Eastern Front and later, on the Western Front, after there was one. Rommel used the "Sword and Shield" approach where armour was the sword and the shield was his anti-tank weapons. The 88mm FLAK36 was his key weapon in the shield, although the 50mm PAK38 was also highly effective, at least against the British cruiser tanks that Rommel's forces faced.

But Percy Hobart was a maverick and a champion of mechanized warfare. I would treat him better than Correlli Barnett. He was tossed out of the British Army by Archibald Wavell, after Hobart's commanding officer wrote an "adverse report" about him. When confronted on this incident later, Wavell could not adequately explain his dismissal of Hobart. This was the same mindset that later forced out Eric Dorman-Smith, another mechanized warfare expert.

Through the efforts of Winston Churchill, Hobart was returned to the army, although only in an organizing and training role, for which he was well-suited.

Trevor Constable has a paper about Hobart in the Journal of Historical Review. I have drawn upon that, as well as Correlli Barnett, in my discussion here.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Operation "Brevity"

The Brevity was planned to have an attack by three columns commanded by Brigadier Gott. The column that would cut through the desert to flank the German positions on the border would have the 7th Armoured Brigade Group with only two squadrons from the 2/RTR totalling 29 cruiser tanks. They were to advance to Sidi Azeiz, WSW of Bardia. The 22nd Guards with 2 squadrons from the 4/RTR (with 24 Inf. Mk.II's) would attack Halfaya Pass. The 2/Rifle Brigade and the 8th Field Regiment would block the coast road, stopping any eastward advance from Sollum. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

The Tiger Convoy ships (May 1941)

The actual fast (15 knot) transports used for the Tiger Convoy were the Clan McChatton, Clan Lamont, Clan Campbell, Empire Song, and New Zealand Star. The Empire Song was mined and sunk, taking with it 57 tanks and 10 Hurricanes. The original totals for the convoy were 295 tanks and 53 Hurricanes. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

There are some good websites about the war in the Western Desert in 1940-1943

I went looking for information about the Tiger Convoy with a new search engine (Temoa) and found some good sites. For example, there is this page titled "Engagements-1941" that must be 7th Armoured Division-centric, given the red desert rats insignia at the top. The Tiger Convoy tank list that I am seeing is something like this:
  1. 135 Matildas
  2. 82 Crusader tanks
  3. 21 light tanks (I believe that these were Lt.Mk.VIC's)
I need to keep looking, as I am not certain about the cruiser tanks being all Crusaders.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

British tank strength in Egypt in September 1940

The British official history points out something that I had not realized, but should have, that the Italian medium tank designations included their size in tons. For example, the M11/39 was an 11 ton tank and the M13/40 was a thirteen ton tank. British intelligence knew that they were facing Italian medium tanks of both sorts, but didn't know numbers. The British, in the September 1940 timeframe had something like 85 cruiser tanks, of which 15 were in the shop. The British tanks were 12-1/2 and 14 ton vehicles. British offensive operations by air, at this time, had been limited to a nightly bombing raid by a single Bristol Bombay aircraft on targets at Tobruk. Typically, these were ships and fuel tanks. As Italian air operations increased in tempo, the RAF started bombing with their three available bomber squadrons, Nos. 55, 113, and 211. The British had grand plans for reinforcing Egypt and the Middle East, but shipping the men, equipment, and supplies around the Cape would take time. This set the scene for the consideration to ship immediate reinforcements with the Hats operation.

Operation Hats in August 1940 and other reinforcements for the Middle East

The decision was made to send reinforcements to the Middle East. Churchill was presented with a list of units and equipment that would be included in the shipment. They included the following:
  • 3rd Hussars with light tanks
  • 2nd battalion of the Royal Tank Regiment with cruiser tanks
  • 7th battalion of the Royal Tank Regiment with 50 infantry tanks
  • 48-2pdr anti-tank guns
  • 20-Bofors 40mm light anti-aircraft guns
  • 48-25pdr guns
  • 500 Bren guns
  • 250 0.55in Boys anti-tank rifles
  • 50,000 anti-tank mines
  • 300 tons of spare parts and equipment
The navy was preparing an operation to reinforce the Eastern Mediterranean, so the plan was to include four 16 knot transports carrying the supplies and vehicles. The operation was called "Hats", and involved the Mediterranean fleet and Force H, based at Gibraltar. The navy became increasingly concerned about risking the fleet to escort a convoy at 15 knots, and their view eventually prevailed, causing the army convoy to be sent around the Cape, to arrive in late September at Suez. After the Prime Minister saw the success of Hats, minus the tanks and equipment, he insisted in 1941, on sending them through the Mediterranean in the Tiger Convoy. This is based on Vol.I of the Official History and Winston Churchill's Their Finest Hour.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Correlli Barnett referred to General Godwin-Austin as an "eighteenth century kind of general"

We now jump back to the crisis in the Crusader battle. General Cunningham, the Eighth Army commander had lost his nerve, on understanding that he had lost control of the battle, and that the British situation was increasingly desperate. British tank doctrine was fatally flawed, since the British view was that "tanks fought tanks". The Germans, as I have already written, used their tanks against the opposing soft transport and infantry, and used their anti-tank guns to engage the British armour. Cunningham's BGS was Brigadier Galloway. He had sent him to speak to one of his corps commanders, Lieutenant-General Godwin-Austin, who commanded 13th Corps. Galloway broached the subject of a withdrawal to Egypt, and Godwin-Austin reacted violently, saying that he couldn't ask Bernard Freyburg and the New Zealanders to stop their attack. The officers and men under Cunningham's command conspired to keep the attack going until General Auchinleck could arrive and stabilize the situation. Cunningham could no longer function as army commander. This is based on the account in Correlli Barnett's book, The Desert Generals.

This should be helpful

I have seen this, and have probably mentioned it previously, but I continue to be pleased with the existence of war diaries for units such as the 11th Hussars, who were stalwarts in the war in North Africa against Rommel. I'm not sure that I understand who is behind this site, but it seems quite useful. I've not spent too much time reading it yet, but I can see where it might answer some questions about the individual units.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

December 1940 in Libya

In the attack on Camp Nibeiwa, soemthing like 20 Italian medium tanks were caught outside the camp and shot up by the passing Inf. Mk.II's. They moved into the camp and created chaos. The Italians were caught by surprise, and some troops immediately surrendered. Most fought well, but by 8:30am, the fight was over. Over 2,000 men were prisoners and 35 medium tanks were captured. The attacking forces then headed for the Tumman camps. General O'Connor left his BGS at headquarters and headed for the action. Brigadier Caunter was left to command the 7th Armoured Division as General Creagh had been forced into the hospital because of "an abscess on his tongue". After the initial attack on December 9th, only 8 Inf. Mk.II Matildas still were runners. Selby Force did not do as well, and "allowed the Italians to escape from Maktila". This is based on the account in Correlli Barnett's book The Desert Generals.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Operation Compass in December 1940

General Wavell gave his approval on December 5, 1940, for the attack on the Italians in Libya. The field commander was General O'Connor, who had prepared his troops for this moment. The army had trained for 6 months with the attack in mind. The attacking force was not large. They had the 4th Indian Division and the 7th Armoured Division. The 4th Indian Division was provided with 57 infantry tanks (Inf. Mk. II Matildas). There was also a battlegroup called "Selby Force" after its commander, Brigadier Selby. The attacking force consisted of 36,000 troops. The attack was launched on December 7th, 1940. O'Connor's plan was to move forward in two moves. The first would put them part way into the desert. The second would position them for the attack. In the strange happenings of the times, in five days, General Wavell intended to withdraw the 4th Indian Division for use in Eritrea. He didn't want to spoil O'Connor's concentration by letting him know ahead of time. On the morning of December 9th, the attack began with the 4/7 Rajput Regiment assaulting Camp Nibeiwa.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The race to Sidi Barrani

General O'Connor and Eric Dorman-Smith struck out across the rough ground behind the 7th Armoured Division. O'Connor wanted to be present to assure that the 7th Armoured Division was sufficiently active and pursuing opportunities. As they crossed the broken ground, they saw a trail of broken down tanks, and O'Connor became increasingly concerned. Eventually, the ground smoothed out, but the dust got worse. The 11th Hussars reached Msus first, 60 miles from the road. Brigadier Harding visited General Creagh's headquarters, now located at Msus. They decided that they needed to send out another group, headed further south, to increase the odds of cutting off the Italians before they escaped. The 11th Hussar's commander, Colonel Combe, led the new group that included some of his armoured cars. They headed for Antelat. O'Connor caught up the the 7th Armoured division HQ at Wadi Azzin. He received the news that Colonel Combe and his group had reached Antelat at 10:34am. It was empty, so they moved on to Beda Fomm. This is based on the account in Correlli Barnett's book, The Desert Generals.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The situation in February 1941

The Italian commander, Marshal Graziani, concluded that they must abandon Cyrenaica and evacuate their forces to defend Tripolitania. They would fall back to Syrte and concentrate there. General O'Connor's forward headquarters was located at Bomba. His staff included his Brigadier General Staff, Brigadier Harding and Brigadier Eric Dorman-Smith, who had arrived on January 29th. General Wavell had send Brigadier Dorman-Smith to document the campaign and write a study for future reference. The situation was getting tense, as reinforcements had not arrived and they were down to 50 cruiser tanks as runners. O'Connor dispatched Brigadier Dorman-Smith back to Cairo to ask permission to advance further. The goal was to cut off the Italian retreat. General Wavell gave permission to move forward, and Brigadier Dorman-Smith arrived back at Bomba to witness the action. On February 4th, the 7th Armoured Division with 50 cruiser tanks and 8 light tanks advanced from Mechili. They headed out across the rugged terrain towards the coast near Beda Fomm. This is based on Correlli Barnett's account in The Desert Generals.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

General Cunningham in East Africa in early 1941

General Cunningham attacked Italian Somaliland from Kenya, starting on February 10th, 1941. He had four infantry brigades in his force. On February 22, he fought a battle against six Italian brigades and indiginous troops, and beat them. When his enemy melted away, Conningham advance 200 miles to capture Mogadishu (a familiar name to us, as this point). Since he had no opposition, he marched his troops 700 miles to Ethiopia (which the British called Abyssinia). The British were already attacking the Italian positions in Eritrea, so this put Cunningham's forces in the Italian rear. After resting three days, he set off again. After itermediate stops at Harrar (March 26th) and Diredawa (March 29th), his troops entered Addas Abab on April 6th. General Auchinleck was so impressed by Cunningham's performance that he appointed him to command the 8th Army. The problem was that Cunningham was thrust into a role and environment with which was new to him. He had not commanded mechanized troops, and the desert was different from East Africa. This is based on the account in Correlli Barnett's book The Desert Generals.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Russians had a much better sense of what a tank should be like in 1939-1941

The Russians who issued the specifications that led to the development of the KV-1 and T-34 tanks had a much better understanding what a battle tank should be like than their counterparts anywhere else. Germany was still building tanks that automotively were adequate but which were underarmed and underprotected. They still had too many Pzkw I and II tanks even by June 1941. If the Russians had had a good professional army, they would have slaughtered the Germans in 1941, but instead, Stalin had killed most of the competent soldiers, so they were run over by the Germans. When the Germans attacked, the front collapsed.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Rommel's initial reaction to Crusader

In November 1941, Rommel had been preparing to attack Tobruk. General Cunningham had wanted to hit Rommel after he had attacked, but the political pressure from Churchill was overwhelming. When Rommel recognized the tremendous British buildup, in preparation for Crusader, he altered his dispositions. He stationed the 21st Pz. Div. at Gambut. He had the 15th Pz. Div. be ready to reinforce them. From Bardia to Sidi Omar, he built a defensive position manned by the Italian Savona division and German anti-tank units. The area was heavily mined. The Italian armoured division, the Ariete, was positioned at Bir Gubi, which Rommel expected would be on the British flank. Churchill sent Generals Auchinleck and Cunningham a message (quoted in The Desert Generals):

For the first time British and Empire troops will meet the Germans with an ample supply of equipment in modern weapons of all kins [sic]. The battle itself will affect the whole course of the war. Now is the time to strike the hardest blow yet struck for final victory, home and freedom. The Desert Army may add a page to history which will rank with Blenheim and Waterloo. The eyes off all nations are upon you. ALl our hearts are with you. May God uphold the right!

Correlli Barnett wrote that Cunningham was not fit to command, as he was near a nervous breakdown, from the strain of combat since February. Being thrust into an unfamiliar environment, mobile warfare in the desert, simply increased the strain.

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.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Correlli Barnett said that Battleaxe was the antithesis of Sidi Barrani

Correlli Barnett argues, in The Desert Generals, that Battleaxe was lost on the first day. They had attacked Halfaya Pass and had been repulsed, primarily by the dug in 88mm guns. Correlli Barnett puts the blame on the lack of inspired leadership. At Sidi Barrani, the British were lead by General O'Connor, who was a brilliant leader in the field. In Operation Battleaxe, they had mediocre leadership, and failed. Still, the real cause of failure was Churchill's pressing Wavell to attack too soon. The result was that most of the tanks pushed through the Mediterranean in the Tiger Convoy were left on the battlefield when the British retreated. Churchill was in his worst manic-depressive mode, and when Battleaxe failed, he reacted by relieving General Wavell. I am an admirer of Churchill, but the 1940-1942 period in the Mediterranean and Middle East shows him at his worst. O'Connor's gains were lost because of going into Greece. Up until the Greek operation, General Wavell had waged a successful campaign against Italian interests in Africa, and was close to defeating them. After Greece, the Germans came in and the British position was in sharp decline, despite the British having a sense that they could beat the Germans, if properly armed and supplied.

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