Wednesday, March 21, 2007

So why were the British so badly led in December 1941?

British and Commonwealth soldiers and, indeed, many brigade and division commanders in 1941 were quite competent and seemingly as good as their German counterparts. Bernard Freyberg and Alec Gatehouse are examples. General Gott had a much poorer record, as his mishandling of the 7th Armoured Division near Tobruk was almost fatal. As it was, he squandered the divisional strength. The 30th and 13th Corps commanders are probably as much to blame as Gott. Alan Cunningham was probably better than those who reported directly to him, but he seems to have felt out of his element and relied too much on his subordinate commanders who supposedly had armorued and desert experience. The strain finished him off by late November and Claude Auchinleck replaced him abruptly, when he realized that Cunningham was in terrible shape, and almost not functional.

General Auchinleck put in motion the steps that would win the battle for the British and then backed out again. He felt that being in direct command of the 8th Army was inappropriate for him, despite the fact that he was the only suitable officer present, and appointed Neil Ritchie, a staff officer, to command the army. This would prove to be a great mistake and would result in nearly losing the campaign in mid-1942. I have wondered if General Auchinleck thought that commanding the army was beneath his dignity, given his rank and position.

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