Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The fight on the Trigh Capuzzo

The attack to the north, diminished, due to the need to fight the Germans, had the 1st KRRC on the right, and the 6th RTR on the left, with a company of the 2nd Rifle Brigade. The artillery support was given by hte 3rd RHA and the 4th RHA, along with the 60th Field Regiment, RA. The 7th Hussars and 2nd RTR had to fight the two panzer divisions. Jock Campbell commanded the attack to the north, while Brigadier Davy was in command of the 7th Armoured Brigade, fighting the Germans. The infanty reached their objecte, while the 6th RTR took heavy losses. Despite that, the remnants were pulled into the main battle, along with the 2nd Rifle Brigade. By the end of the fight, by "late in the afternoon", the brigade only had 28 tanks running. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

I am starting to have serious doubts about General Gott

Given General Gott's activities in the first few days of the Crusader Battle, he seems not suitable for higher command. If he had not been killed in an aircraft crash in August 1942, he was the designated Eighth Army commander. Instead, Bernard Law Montgomery was designated as the new commander, which despite his shortcomings, was capable of achieving success.

Monday, October 30, 2006

A three day battle at Sidi Rezegh started on 21 November 1941

The battle at Sidi Rezegh started on 21 November 1941, and lasted for three days. The Official History says that it was the most intense combat yet seen in the Western Desert. A telling point is that four Victoria Crosses were awarded for heroism in this battle:
  1. 2nd Lt G. Ward Gunn, RHA
  2. Rifleman J. Beeley, the KRRC
  3. Captain P. J. Gardner, RTR
  4. Brigadier J. C. "Jock" Campbell, commander of the Support Group
Over night on November 2oth/21st, the 7oth Division initiated the breakout from Tobruk that had been ordered. General Gott's plan was for the 7th Armoured Brigade and Support Group "to attack northwards from Sidi Rezegh airfield to secure part of the ridge overlooking the Trigh Capuzzo". When the objective was gained, the 6th RTR was to join with the forces breaking out of Tobruk. At this point, the 15th Panzer Division and the 21st Panzer Division arrived. That forced the 7th Armoured Division to fight them, without the Support Group, which was committed towards Tobruk. In fact, the 7th Armoured Brigade only had 2nd RTR and the 7th Hussars to fight the Germans. The 6th RTR "lost three-quarters of its tanks, mainly to guns onthe opposite ridge". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

While General Gott was making moves, he was not in touch with 70th Division in Tobruk

On 20th November 1941, General Gott, 7th Armoured Division commander, was making big plans, but he was out of touch with 70th Division, in Tobruk. 70th Division, with the 32nd Army Tank Brigade, was about to execute the plan to create a defended corridor out of Tobruk. German aircraft were starting to become involved in the battle, as the landing fields had dried out sufficiently for them to operate. That brought them into contact with the British air operations, which were in progress, attacking the western-moving Axis units. 20 November was the first appearance in the desert of fighter bombers, in the form of Hurricanes equipped with eight 40lb bombs. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Changes in the Crusader plan may have created some of the problems

General Cunningham had approved the change in the plan that called for 70th Division to attempt a breakout prior to the big armoured battle. Prior to the engagement between the British and German armoured forces, the British "were confident of the outcome". After all, there were six British armoured battalions against four German battalions. The 7th Armoured Brigade was "out of the picture", so instead of an overwhelming British superiority, there was a more moderate superiority. Also a change in plans, the 1st South African Division would be used piecemeal, instead of concentrated. One brigade would go to Sidi Rezegh, another would face the Italians at Bir el Gubi. As all this was decided, the 15th Panzer Division (135 tanks) encountered the 4th Armoured Brigade. The 22nd Armoured Brigade had not arrived, yet, and the British were fortunate to only have 26 Stuarts "lost or damaged". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

20 November 1941

The two German panzer divisions moved east. At first, General Crüwell did not realize that there were only armoured cars before him. The 21st Panzer Division had to halt, as they had run out of fuel, and needed more ammunition. General Crüwell wanted to continue the advance the 15th Panzer, but Rommel wanted him to wait until the 21st. Despite Rommel's wishes, General Crüwell decided to send the 15th Panzer Division forward, looking to make contact with the British. He wanted the 21st Panzer Division to go forward to them in the night. The Official History says that the Germans were reacting to the British advance as General Auchinleck had anticipated. British tactical signals intelligence warned General Norrie of 30th Corps that both panzer divisions would attack the 4th Armoured Brigade. General Norrie ordered the 22nd Armoured Brigade to come up to support the 4th. The 1st South African Division would be left in front of the Ariete Division to keep them away from the battle. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The forces for the breakout attempt from Tobruk on 20 November 1941

The forces for the breakout attempt from Tobruk were the 32nd Army Tank Brigade and the 14th Infantry Brigade, with supporting artillery:

32nd Army Tank Brigade Brigadier Willison
C Squadron, The King's Dragoon Guards
1st RTR
4th RTR
D Squadron, 7th RTR

14th Infantry Brigade (part) Brigadier Chappel
2nd York and Lancaster Regiment
2nd Black Watch

16th Infantry Brigade Brigadier Lomax
The 2nd King's Own

Supporting Artillery
1st Regiment RHA
104th Regiment RHA
107th Regiment RHA
144th Field Regiment RA

2nd Field Company RE
54th Field Company RE

This is drawn from Note 2 on page 43 of Vol.III of the Official History--The Mediterranean van Middle East (September 1941 to September 1942): British Fortunes Reach Their Lowest Ebb (1960).

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The German plan to encircle the British on 20 November 1941

The start of an encircling movement by the Germans consisted of moving the 15th Panzer Division east and sending the 21st Panzer Division to Sidi Omar, to block a southward retreat. The Axis forces on the Egyptian frontier would bar that direction.

General Cunningham had visited 30th Corps HQ and left with "the impression that the enemy might be trying to slip away". General Cunningham had heard that the DAK HQ had
moved in the general direction of Tobruk, having been at Bardia. General Gott had moved up to Sidi Rezegh. General Gott had the idea that he was thinly opposed, so he thought that the Support Group might move up to meet 70th Division, if they would sortie from Tobruk. This would involve discarding the plan of destroying the Axis armoured forces before attempting a breakout. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Plans for the second day of the Crusader Battle

With the 7th Armoured Brigade doing well at Sidi Rezegh, General Cunningham sent the Support Group there, as well. He sent the 1st South African Division towards Bir el Gubi, and told them to prepare to send one brigade to Sidi Rezegh. He left the 22nd Armoured Brigade to "to operate north of Bir el Gubi" and left the 4th Armoured Brigade at Gabr Saleh. At the end of 19 November, the British finally had Rommel's attention, and he told General Crüwell "to destroy them". The Germans intended to concentrate against each of the British brigades and destroy them one-at-a-time. The British would pay for dispersing their forces. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The 30th Corps fought these dispersed actions

If 30th Corps had been kept concentrated, they might have well swept the field in the early days of the Crusader Battle. Instead, their strength was squandered in these separate fights against comparable Axis forces. At this stage, 13th Corps only moved forward to the enemy positions and did not attack. The navy, in the form of the Dido class cruisers Naiad and Euryalus, "bombarded the Halfaya defences". Fortunately for the British, as this stage, the weather to the west still kept the Axis air force from flying. This all apparently happened on 19 November 1941. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Composition of the British armoured brigades

In notes on page 40 of Vol.III of the Official History are given the compositions of the British armoured brigades in the Crusader Battle:

22nd Armoured Brigade
2nd Royal Gloucester Hussars
3rd County of London Yeomanry
4th County of London Yeomanry
C Battery, RHA
one troop of the 102nd (Northumberland Hussars) Anti-Tank Regiment, RA

7th Armoured Brigade
7th Queen's Own Hussars
4th Regiment, RHA (less one battery)
one troop of the 102nd (Northumberland Hussars) Anti-Tank Regiment, RA

4th Armoured Brigade Group
8th King's Royal Irish Hussars
2nd Regiment RHA
102nd (Northumberland Hussars) Anti-Tank Regiment, RA, less one battery
2nd/Scots Guards

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Rommel finally responds to the initial British moves

The DAK commander correctly realized that what they were seeing was the start of a major British offensive. As that was contrary to what Rommel wanted to see, he refused to make a major response. He did allow the 15th Panzer Division to move near Gambut and the 21st Panzer Division to provide support to its reconnaissance unit that "were being chased by the King's Dragoon Guards" (KDG). The battlegroup sent was called the "Stephan Group", and had 80-90 tanks and artillery. They were sent towards Gabr Saleh, but along the way, they "ran headlong into the 4th Armoured Brigade Group". This happened about 4pm. Robert Crisp's 3rd/RTR was supporting the KDG, so the two remaining regiments were about equal to the Germans. The Germans came off better than the British, as the 4th Armoured Brigade lost 23 Stuarts, compared to very few German losses. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

General Gott ordered the 22nd Armoured Brigade to attack

General Gott arrived to see the situation where the 22nd Armoured Brigade approached Bir el Gubi. He ordered the brigade to attack the Ariete Division, which was sitting there. Unfortunately, the brigade only had one 25pdr battery in support. By the time the brigade broke off the attack, they had lost 25 Crusaders. They had destroyed 34 Italian tanks and damaged 15 more. They had also destroyed 12 Italian guns. The 7th Armoured Brigade captured the Sidi Rezegh airfield along with 19 Italian aircraft. This caused the 90th Light Division troops on the escarpment a good deal of concern. General Cruwell believed that this was the start of a British offensive, although Rommel would not believe that could be the case. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The British sacrificed a great deal of good will from the Commonwealth nations in 1941, including the Crusader Battle, when the New Zealanders and South Africans suffered needless losses. I am sure that Churchill was chagrined, that this would have happened. Politics, on a global scale, drove much of what Churchill wanted to do in the war. When Russia was attacked and driven back by the Germans, he wanted the British army in the Middle East to respond. Churchill’s desire for action ignored the realities of the British position in North Africa, where the newly arrived equipment and troops were not ready for action. General Auchinleck successfully resisted, but at some cost to his favor with Churchill. Churchill was also very aware of the tendency among the British senior officers, such as Bernard Law Montgomery, to be slow to move and to required overwhelming superiority in men and material. Churchill could contrast that with Rommel’s opportunism and willingness to act when the occasion demanded. Even while the British had waited to be better prepared, the South Africans and New Zealanders took their lossed in the Crusader Battle. New Zealand responded with a request to withdraw the division in early 1942.

The page on the New Zealand Divisional Cavalry describes another view of the Crusader Battle. The story of the South Africans being overrun is described, although it says that in the process, the German armour suffered.

The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre has some good pictures of the Sidi Rezegh battlefield

One excellent resource for the war in North Africa, and the Crusader Battle, is the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre. They have a page with some good pictures of the Sidi Rezegh battlefield. With that are some maps that help to put the scene in context. There are also a number of narratives, such as that for the 24th NZ Battalion.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The situation at the beginning of the Crusader Battle can be explained

We have left the offensive at the start of the Crusader Battle with the British having advanced and the Germans and Italians having not responded with any counter-movements. I suspect that left General Cunningham very worried, as he was outside of his expertise, and he had followed bad advice. Simple movements, without engaging were not sufficient to get Rommel's attention. His subordinates might have responded to the British moves as the British had hoped, but Rommel was in denial, and would not believe that a real offensive was underway. If the British had wanted a response from Rommel, they would have needed to actually attack at some key points. They should have pressed on to the Sidi Rezegh airfield and taken it, and threatened to break into Tobruk. That would have gotten Rommel's attention, and the battle would have started in earnest. Instead, the British forces had advanced and stopped. And that left the British without an obvious "next move".

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The German reaction to the initial moves in the Crusader Battle

Rommel was so fixated on attacking Tobruk that he dismissed the initial British moves, starting on 18 November 1941, as "a reconnaissance in force". The Afrika Korps commander, General Crüwell, that that the movements portended an offensive, but Rommel was determined to not change his dispositions. That left the 15 Panzer Division between Tobruk and Gambut. The 21st Panzer Division was situated "to the west of Sidi Azeiz". They were to cover the units on the frontier, such as at Halfaya Pass. The Ariete division was to cover the Axis flank, to the desert side. It was positioned at Bir el Gubi. This was all planned to support the coming assault on Tobruk. In fact, Rommel had no intention to move his divisions in response to the British advance. The 7th Armoured Division was left with its brigades dispersed. The 4th Armoured Brigade was positioned to protect 13th Corps on the frontier. Because the ultimate objective for the 7th Armoured Division was to be Sidi Rezegh, the 7th Armoured Brigade was headed in that general direction. That left the 22nd Armoured Brigade, with the Yeomanry regiments to take Bir el Gubi. The Support Group was to be used for either of the 7th or 22nd Armoured Brigades, depending on circumstances. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

18 November 1941: the start of the battle

The offensive started on early 18 November 1941 with the 30th Corps rolling across the frontier with Libya. With no opposition, they easily reached their initial objectives by evening. That did not prevent them from losing tanks to mechanical breakdowns. This is the status by the end of 18 November:

Unit Tanks at start Runners by end of 18 November
7th Armoured Brigade 141 119
22nd Armoured Brigade 155 136
4th Armoured Brigade 165 not known but few breakdowns

The Stuarts were much more mechanically reliable than the British tanks, so the 4th Armoured Brigade finished 18 November a nearly full strength, although we do not know the exact number of runners.

On 18th November, the 13th Corps just moved up close to the enemy forces. The weather had continued to be poor, but had the advantage that German and Italian aircraft were kept on the ground. However, British air reconnaissance was also affected, due to low visibility. That left General Cunningham wondering what to do next, as the initial movements had not provoked a response. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Some more thoughts about Lt-General Alan Cunningham

Lt-General Alan Cunningham's tenure as 8th Army Commander was a failure. I suspect that he had embraced the mystique of armoured warfare in the British army, and thought that somehow, different rules applied than he knew, that he relied on others' advice. I suspect that he felt almost paralyzed to be thrust into a position that involved commanding something that he didn't know anything about. British army doctrine about armoured warfare, in late 1941, was sadly mistaken. The key pieces of information that could have made General Cunningham successful was knowing about "sword and shield" tactics, as devised by the Germans, and that his experience with highly mobile warfare could be transfered to the situation in North Africa. He had just arrived in North Africa after conducting a brilliant campaign in East Africa, and that had been what had impressed General Auchinleck to appoint him as the new 8th Army Commander. I believe that General Cunningham must have relied on advice about to fight the Crusader Battle, and that advice was sadly mistaken, being based on bad doctrinal ideas. When General Auchinleck realized that the battle was going badly, and the army was running without adequate direction, he stepped in and, ultimately, won the battle. After this, Churchill had complete confidence in Auchinleck as a field commander, and really didn't want to have anyone else commanding the 8th Army in the field.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

An excellent page that includes an account of the Sidi Rezegh engagement in the Crusader Battle

There is an excellent page, apparently written by Ian Paterson, about the 7th Armoured Division during 1941. On that page is an account of the continuing action at the Sidi Rezegh airfield, during the Crusader Battle, to the immediate southeast of Tobruk. Some of the information nuggets here:
  1. New tanks involved included the M3 Light Tank, the Stuart or "Honey" and the Valentine Inf. Mk.III tank
  2. The 11th Hussars was equipped with Humber armoured cars for the battle
  3. The 4th Armoured Brigade was totally equipped with Stuarts (not new news)
  4. The 7th Armoured Brigade had mostly Crusader tanks, but still had some A.10 and A.13 tanks, as well
  5. The 22nd Armoured Brigade had all Crusader tanks

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The M3 Stuart tank used by the 3rd/RTR in the Crusader Battle

In Brazen Chariots, Robert Crisp talked about receiving new M3 Stuart tanks from America about August 1941. He mentioned that they were powered by radial engines, which must have accounted for the high silhouette. The Wikipedia entry confirms the radial engine. As I have come to expect, Wikipedia has a useful entry on the Stuart tank. The entire 4th Armoured Brigade was apparently equipped with Stuarts for the Crusader Battle. Robert Crisp described traveling at very high speed over the desert, so they must have removed the governor, which would have restricted the speed to 36 mph (58 km/hr). He had described driving the Stuart over 40 mph. The Stuart had mobility and mechanical reliability greater than any British tank of the time. Prior to the Greek campaign, the 3rd/RTR had been equipped with early British cruiser tanks (probably A9's and A10's). They left these in Greece, and Robert Crisp fantasized about Greek refugees taking refuge from the elements in the abandoned tanks. OnWar.com has a very complete specification for the Stuart.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Robert Crisp's account of the Crusader Battle gives you a good idea of the confusion and lack of control

One of my favorite books about the war in North Africa is Brazen Chariots, written by a tank commander, Robert Crisp. He was a South African with the 3rd/RTR and had fought in the abortive Greek campaign. His account of the Crusader Battle ends with his Stuart being knocked out and he was seriously injured by German 50mm PAK38's. Early on, the army commander had lost control of the battle, and Robert Crisp gives a good impression of the confusion and the hard-fought battle at Sidi Rezegh.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The navy intended to draw attention away from the Crusader offensive

The decision had been made to run a simulated convoy from Gibraltar, through the Mediterranean Sea. The idea was to draw the Axis air forces away from the battle area. The simulation started on 16 November. The Mediterranean Fleet sortied from Alexandria, Force H sailed from Gibraltar, and Force K sailed from Malta. Some merchant ships were included, to make the simulation look like a genuine convoy. The army started to move at midnight on 17 November 1941. Not for the last time, a commander had an idea about what the enemy would do and how they would react, and would ignore what was really happening. In this case, Rommel was sure that the British might react to his impending attack on Tobruk, but that a major offensive was not pending. His only screening forces were the two armoured car formations, the 3rd Reconnaissance and the 33rd Reconnaissance Units. The Crusader Battle was planned to start on 18 November, and Rommel only had his light forces in front of the British. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The British forces for the Crusader Battle

The British had a assembled a great army for the Crusader Battle, and placed great hopes on the outcome. This list of forces is drawn from Vol.III of the Official History: The Mediterranean and Middle East, Vol.III (September 1941 to September 1942), subtitled "British Fortunes reach their Lowest Ebb":

30th Corps (Lieutenant-General Norrie)
Orders: "To advance north-west, find and destroy the enemy's armour,
and protect the left flank of the 13th Corps"
7th Armoured Division (Major-General Gott)
7th and 22nd Armoured Brigades
4th Armoured Brigade Group (Brigadier Gatehouse)

Orders: "To protect the communications of the 7th Armoured Division
on the west and south-west; later to capture the
Sidi Rezegh ridge"
1st South African Division (Major-General Brink)
1st and 5th South African Infantry Brigades

Orders: "To protect the communications, supply dumps and landing
grounds in the 30th Corps' area"
22nd Guards Brigade (Brigadier Marriott)

13th Corps (Lieutenant-General Godwin-Austen)
Orders: "To pin down and cut off the enemy's troops on the
Egyptian frontier; later to advance west"
New Zealand Division (Major-General Freyberg)
4th, 5th, and 6th New Zealand Infantry Brigades
4th Indian Division (Major-General Messervy)
5th, 7th, and 11th Indian Infantry Brigades
1st Army Tank Brigade (Brigadier Watkins)

Tobruk Garrison (Major-General Scobie, 70th Division commander)
Orders: "To make a sortie when ordered"
70th Division (Major-General Scobie)
14th, 16th, and 23rd Infantry Brigades
Polish Carpathian Infantry Brigade Group (Major-General Kopansky)
32nd ARmy Tank Brigade (Brigadier Willison)

Oasis Force (Brigadier Reid)
Orders: "To secure Jarabub, advance to protect landing-ground 125,
and seize Jalo"
29th Infantry Brigade Group
6th South African Armoured Car Regiment

Army Reserve
2nd South African Division (Major-General de Villiers)
3rd, 4th, and 6th South African Infantry Brigades

Saturday, October 07, 2006

For the British, at least, wireless communications were unreliable in late 1941

In the British army, pre-war parsimony had led to inadequate spending on communications equipment. In North Africa, with the fast movement and large battlefields, this caused commanders to lose communications at critical times with the forces engaged in battle. That contributed to General Cunningham's loss of control over the battle in late November 1941. There were factors such as inadequate number of channels. At night, fading frequently occurred. They also found that there was often neither the time nor the means to charge radio batteries. In tanks, everyone had assumed that tanks would be constantly on the move, and able to user their engines for recharging batteries. What actually happened was that tanks spent much less time with their engines running, so that their radio batteries had to be charged with external battery chargers. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Eric Dorman-Smith

Eric Dorman-Smith was an Irishman who served in North Africa from 1940 until August 1942. Basil Liddell-Hart liked him very much, and heaped praise on him. He was originally on General Wavell's staff, and was involved in planning in support of General O'Connor's offensive in late 1940 and early 1941. He became a close advisor to General Auchinleck, by 1942. When Auchinleck was removed in August 1942, Dorman-Smith was removed, as well. He was apparently not liked by the establishment soldiers. Dorman-Smith seems to have been best suited as a staff officer, not a commander in the field. He eventually failed at field command, at the brigade level, when he was forced into that role. I have wondered how much of his difficulty was created by prejudice against the Irish, but more likely, it was prejudice among the "good old boys", like Neil Ritchie, against "geeks" (although that term probably had not been invented, yet). For Eric Dorman-Smith was a "geeky" guy. He was very intellectual and creative, rather than so much as "man of action". Wikipedia has a page about him. He is also well-treated in Correlli Barnett's book, The Desert Generals.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

"Strafer" Gott

William Gott (nicknamed "Strafer") was another colourful figure who fought in North Africa, with British forces. General Gott was actually Churchill's choice to commande the 8th Army in August 1942. General Gott was killed in an air crash on 7 August 1942, so Churchill turned to Bernard Law Montgomery, launching him to fame. Wikipedia has a page on Strafer Gott. He apparently arrived in Egypt in 1939, as a Lieutenant-Colonel in command of the 1/KRRC (King's Royal Rifle Corps). As a brigadier, he commanded the 7th Armoured Division Support Group. He eventually commanded the division. He was promoted to Lieutenant-General and given command of 13th Corps by early 1942, which was a good match, given General Gott's infantry background. If he had actually commanded 8th Army in battle, we might be better prepared to judge whether General Gott was just a competent officer, or something more. I have trouble knowing how good he was, on the basis of what I have read.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Jock Campbell and "jock columns"

The war in North Africa in WWII produced some colourful characters. One is Brigadier Campbell, nicknamed "Jock", as his name was John and he was Scottish. Wikipedia has a page about him. He was an artillery commander, a Lieutenant-Colonel, in the 7th Armoured Division Support Group at the start of the war (Royal Horse Artillery). He eventually won a VC at Sidi Rezegh, during the Crusader Battle, on 21 November 1941, not many days after the start of the offensive. One of his inventions was the "Jock Column". The Jock Column was a small combined arms force with all arms, although the armour was typically armoured cars. There also could be field artillery, anti-tank artillery, and infantry with integral transport. There is an interesting piece about the 2nd New Zealand Division jock columns in 1942. The more conservative officers in the 8th Army did not think much of dispersion and the use of ad hoc formations such as jock columns. I believe that jock columns disappeared as a factor after Montgomery's arrival on the scene.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Wikipedia has a good piece in infiltration tactics

Again, Wikipedia has a literate piece on a subject. This time, the topic is infiltration tactics. We find that a French officer had described the tactics in a pamphlet published in 1915. The Germans captured a copy in 1916, and recognized that this was a "breakthrough idea". The Germans only used infiltration for the first time in September 1917, on the Eastern Front. They used an infiltration-based attack to raise the seige of Riga. In October 1917, Rommel participated in an infiltration attack on the Italian front, which was very successful. Rommel was involved with these ideas very early in their introduction. They formed the basis, really, for the rest of his military career.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The British lacked adequate air reconnaissance at the start of the Crusader Battle

The British only had three squadrons of trained reconnaissance pilots operating in the tactical reconnaissance role. To make matters worse, the first two days of the battle had rain. Ordinary fighter and bomber aircrew were less familiar with the terrain and the way the armies operated in the desert. With the vehicles operating dispersed, and indeed, possibly intermingled with enemy vehicles, telling what was happening in the battle was difficult. That feature of the operation left General Cunningham pretty much blind as to what was happening. All he knew was that the plan was for 30th Corps to move forward and stop, and wait for an Axis attack that never came. Once that happened, the situation deteriorated rapidly. The mistake was that 30th Corps did not advance towards a position that would have threatened the Axis position and would have brought an immediate ripost from Rommel. Part of the problem was that Cunningham relied on "experts" in armoured warfare who were anything but experts. The may have served for some time in armoured units and taken part in battles, but they were using equipment and doctrine unsuited for modern, mechanized warfare. The equipment part was less critical, as the German tanks were less than ideal, but the Germans used the right doctrine and were lead by an expert in the field, in Rommel.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Axis mechanization situation prior to the Crusader Battle

The Axis armoured divisions (15th Pz Div, 21st Pz Div, and Ariete) all had their infantry completely equipped with integral transport, as did the Trieste motorized division. The German division that was in the process of forming in North Africa, tentatively called the Afrika Division, but to come the 90th Light Division, was without transport. The Italian infantry divisions did not have enough transport to be mobile. They were reduced to moving by foot. With these units and the British units, the Official History says that there were as many as 30,000 vehicles about to be in the battle area, upon commencement of the Crusader Battle. The presence of airpower required the use of dispersion, so that there easy targets were not presented to the enemy. The Germans moved in more compact, but still dispersed formation, while the British tended to be widely dispersed under most circumstances. At night, the units would be drawn together to form "leaguers" that were more defensible. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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