Monday, April 30, 2007

Back to the Official History: 27 November 1941

We are now back in the Official History, starting at 27 November 1941. The 7th Armoured Division Support Group had been broken up into "Jock columns", after sustaining serious losses. Early on 27 November, General Gott had ordered the 22nd and 4th Armoured Brigades to head for a column moving towards Gasr el Arid. The 22nd Armoured Brigade was to get in front of the enemy column while the 4th Armoured Brigade hit the flank. Sadly, the action lacked coordination between the brigades. The "column" they attacked was actually the 15th Panzer Division with about 50 tanks. Of the attackers, the 22nd Armoured Brigade had 45 Crusaders while the 4th Armoured Brigade had 77 Stuarts. The Germans responded to the attack by putting their anti-tank guns out front, backed by the divisional artillery. Concurrently, RAF medium bombers attacked. The King's Dragoon Guards reported seeing German losses from the bombing. British artillery had effectively been engaged. The 4th Armoured Brigade group had two batteries of the 2nd RHA, and the 102nd Northumberland Hussars Anti-Tank Regiment RHA (without one battery). The 22nd Armoured Brigade had C Battery, 4th RHA and D Battery, 102nd (N.H.) Anti-Tank Regiment, RHA. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The end of Brazen Chariots

We are finally at the end of Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots. The benefit to me is that I have read the book much more carefully than I ever have previously done. Robert Crisp ends, saying that he had a long gap in his memory, from when he was at the Tobruk hospital, in the midst of the chaos. He eventually ended up in a hospital, which actually had female nurses, "between Fayid and Geneifa on the edge of the Great Bitter Lake". The nurses were interested in the Fleet Air Arm pilots who were convalescing, but whose boisterous voices jarred Robert's injured head. At least, a male nurse got him the "blue ointment" needed to remove the crabs. There was a specialist there, Professor Smith, from Edinburgh, who was puzzled that Robert had complained that his big toe hurt (from his brain injury). The good professor, who saved Robert's life, gave Robert a lecture on needing him to want to live. Robert, of course, very much wanted to live. He did want to be left alone, though, when he was feeling badly. Eventually, Robert had developed an infection in his mastoid, and Professor Smith needed to operate on him. When they took him into the operating room, the nurse "reassuringly" asked him for his next of kin information. The book ends with that incident. This is based on Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Friday, April 27, 2007

At the Tobruk Hospital

Robert Crisp says that the Tobruk Hospital was in dire straits. They had too many men to treat for the available facilities. Robert was laid on a stone floor, until someone died. He was then lifted onto the bed that was still warm. The next morning, two senior medical officers checked him over and decided that they needed to put a tube into his head wound, so it could drain. They hoped to send him back to Alexandria on a hospital ship. While they were recording Robert's "name and number", a young man who was waiting died. They made sure that he was dead and then removed his body. There was a long line of men waiting for an X-ray. When he was returned to the hospital ward, there were many new wounded men on the floor, waiting for treatment. The nights were punctuated by bomber attacks and AA fire. They were primarily 40mm Bofors guns. There were also some heavier guns that opened up when they were attacked by Stukas. One man broke and went wild, fighting some imaginery enemy. The orderly saw him and immediately went for help. They restrained the man and he was removed. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.


In Robert Crisp's book, he described how they would use the radio callsign "Jago" (I may be misunderstanding its use). They would say "Jago Jago". I wondered at the origin of the word. From Ian Paterson's site, I noticed the mention of Lt-Col R. K. Jago, apparently commander of the 3rd County of London Yeomanry. Ian Paterson mentions him in the section about the Crusader Battle, and the fighting on 19 November 1941 near Bir El Gubi. Ian says that the 22nd Armoured Brigade, of which the 3rd CLY was part, lost about 40 Crusaders to anti-tank gun fire. As we have seen, the 50mm PAK38, suitably emplaced, could be quite deadly to British tanks. The low silhouette made them easy to hide. This doesn't explain the use of "Jago" by the 3rd RTR, but at least provides a possible origin for the word.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Robert Crisp arrives for medical care

Robert Crisp finally stopped traveling and was received by a medical facility. A RAMC Major came out to see him, while he was unloaded. He had asked Robert if he wanted a drink. Robert interpreted that to mean a whiskey to kill the pain. Actually, the doctor was thinking of tea or broth. Robert took the tea. Doctor Keller turned out to be a gynecologist in civilian life, but he was to operate on Robert (successfully, it turned out). Robert learned that he had a round in his head, near the brain. He was congratulated on surviving this far. Because of Robert's condition, they would have to use a local, rather than a general anesthetic. Robert had to be awake through the surgery, while they dug around in his head. The doctor showed Robert the "lead", after it was removed. Robert says it was the size of "one of the large 'Ally' marbles". Robert was at the Tobruk hospital. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

I am skeptical about the value of smoke, fired by CS tanks

Ian Paterson has a photo of an A10CS tank with A Squadron, the 3rd RTR, practicing firing smoke. I believe that this tank carried a low velocity 75mm guns, only suitable for firing smoke or HE. I am skeptical that a close support tank with this size gun could fire a useful smoke round. Perhaps I am wrong, and would have welcomed the presence of smoke, if I had been with them, with the 4th Armoured Brigade, in Cyrenaica in late 1941.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Later on the "last day"

The commander of the 3rd RTR informed Robert Crisp, late on "the last day", that they were planning on sending Robert back to the Nile delta on a plane. That was at least what they had hoped to do. In the event, that was not to be. Robert asked, again, about Harry Maegraith. They just said "He's all right. Don't you worry about him" (he had died from the round that wounded Robert). The next morning, Doctor MacMillan checked on Robert and found that he was able to converse intelligently. "Doc" broke the news that they couldn't arrange a plane. He was to go the rear with the "B Echelon". He was to ride for fifty miles in the ambulance, only able to sit up. He could neither lay on his left side nor his right side. The bad news was that sitting up made him sick to his stomache. That was even worse. Robert could hear the radial engines of the Stuarts being started as he waited. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

A German strategic withdrawal in late 1941

Rommel was more concerned with keeping the core of his fighting force intact, in late 1941, than in holding ground. He was very unhappy, though, with losing his forces on the Libyan-Egyptian border. He had made an attempt to relieve them, but his strike force was too depleted to have a reasonable chance of success. has an interesting summary page that includes the major milestones in 1940 to 1942. While the focus is on the naval campaign, this at least helps to summarize the actions.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Daimler Armoured Car

Since I have been wargaming the campaign in North Africa since the early 1970's, I was very familiar with the Daimler armoured car, with the 2pdr guns. I used some model of it in miniatures games. I was thinking about British armoured cars, as the last part of Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariot mentions them. I am still curious as to which type the Royal Dragoons used. The Wikipedia page for the Daimler armoured car says that the 11th Hussars had the type in service in North Africa. The catch is "on what date?" The Daimler armoured car (this is a Mk.II) has a very familiar look to military buffs:

I wondered if I had used an Airfix Daimler in gaming. It seems like I had used a CinC Microarmor Daimler, thirty years ago, but I don't see one on their site.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The German forces seem to have pulled out of Gazala after C Squadron, 3rd RTR, attacked them from the rear in December 1941

We are at the point of finishing summarizing Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots. In the last action, Robert was seriously wounded and his friend Harry Maegraith, an Australian, was killed. The attack by C Squadron, 3rd RTR, succeeded in its purpose, which was to cause the Germans to withdraw from Gazala, and to relieve pressure on the 4th Indian Division, them commanded by Frank Messervy, I believe. This was in mid-December 1941, in western Cyrenaica.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The wounded Robert Crisp on "the last day"

Robert Crisp was headed back towards the 4th Armoured Brigade, after he was severely wounded. They lied to him about Harry Maegraith, but Robert guessed that he was dead. In fact, Harry had been killed by the same round that had wounded Robert. Robert's gunner cradled Robert's head while they drove. He told Robert that the medical officer, Doctor MacMillan was driving towards them in an armoured car. Robert realized that he had a chance of living, after thinking he was dying. Still, he was in extreme pain. He could feel the pain from the wound on the left side of his head. He heard a vehicle drive up, but it was just the "petrol lorry", to refuel the Stuart. Robert could hear Doctor MacMillan's voice. His driver, Whaley, told Robert "You'll be O.K. now, sir". The doctor decided that they had to take Robert out "through the front". They got him out through the flap onto a stretcher, and he was relieved to be able to straighten his legs. Robert said: "Hell's bells, Mac, it feels as though my bloody ear's been torn off". The doctor replied: " the least of your troubles". This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The attack on the last day

The decision had been made to attack the four German tanks on the way to attack the German rear at Gazala. The Germans didn't try to fight, but fled, but two were apparently knocked out in the initial fight. The fight brought the Germn line to life, and the tank men could see the Germans furiously reacting to their assault. They could see the command vehicle go over the ridge, seeking cover. Guns were being repositioned so as to be able to fire at Robert Crisp's squadron. They could see nine or ten Pzkw IVs move into position and start firing HE at them, at long range. Robert saw a Stuart disabled by a 75mm HE round and bail out. It was Harry Maegraith and his crew. Robert headed for them and picked them up. Robert ordered his driver to turn left and suddenly, he was hit in the head and nearly blacked out. Robert thought he was dying. When Robert woke, his gunner told him that they were on the way back to meet the medical officer. Captain Joly had taken over command of C Squadron after Robert had been incapacitated. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Official History for the December 1941 Gazala Battle

From the British Official History, Vol.III, I learned that the "Indian Division" in Brazen Chariots was the famous 4th Indian Division, a unit with a good reputation. Sadly, the Official History did not mention specifically the action that is described in the last chapter of Brazen Chariots. There is a reference to a battlegroup with one squadron, but that was the extent of what they had. About all they said was that because of the fuel shortage, the 4th Armoured Brigade was not in a position to influence the Gazala battle, and General Gott, the 7th Armoured Division commander at this date, decided that it was not possible to get a fuel convoy to the brigade in time, and they were too exposed, where they were located behind the German line at Gazala, so he ordered them to pull back, so that they could safely replenish. I will cover this more, later.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The plan of attack on the "last day"

On the "last day" of Brazen Chariots, the plan of attack for Robert Crisp's C Squadron was to swing north, behind the German lines and then race at full speed, firing at the enemy until they reached the northern edge of the German lines at Gazala, and then turn left and escape. The idea was that the Germans were all pointing their guns towards the Indian division, and that they would have to turn them around to be in a position to shoot at the speeding Stuarts. Robert figured that this sort of reckless attack was the sort of thing that was so sudden, that they had a good chance of pulling it off. Before they started, Robert noticed four tanks very close to them. One was a Pzkw III and the rest appeared to be Pzkw IVs. A minute or two later, the squadron accelerated to high speed and attacked. Robert asked that they take out the German tanks on the way. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The New Zealanders have some good pics of Gazala in December 1941

If have not looked there, the New Zealanders have some good pics of the operations at Gazala in December 1941. For example, there is a 2pdr portee of the sort that accompanied Robert Crisp. If you are new to the topic, you might not realize that 2pdrs "en portee" could be fired from the vehicle. The older, smaller portee still allowed the gun to be fired while being carried. "Battle Honours" has a 2pdr portee model.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Early on the last day of Brazen Chariots

On the last day of Brazen Chariots, the small battlegroup centered around C Squadron, 3rd RTR, headed off towards the enemy position at Gazala. Robert Crisp instructed his radio operator to at least get the Stuarts on the net. He was not concerned that they had trouble talking with the Royal Dragoons. The sun rose red ahead on their course. They could see the enemy tanks and guns grow, as they got closer to Gazala. As they got close, Robert could see this enormous command vehicle. Robert thought that must be Rommel's captured AEC command vehicle that he had taken early in his first campaign. Rommel called it the Mammoth. The little force got within about two miles, seemingly without being noticed. They saw the artillery pointing east and noticed a Pzkw IV drive by, but the commander did recognize them, as close as they were. Robert had been able to stay in communication with the 3rd RTR commander, but could not reach the armoured cars or portees. Worse yet, he could not reach the Brigade major, Silvertop. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Robert and his men headed out at 6am on "the last day"

On Robert Crisp's last day, fighting in the Crusader Battle, he and the rest of C Squadron moved out at about 6am. Once clear of the camp, they formed into their formation: in the lead were "three troops of Honeys (Stuarts) were in line abreast" ahead of Robert. To his left was one squadron of the Royal Dragoons, with armoured cars. Behind Robert was Alec Gatehouse's brigade major, David Silvertop, in his armoured car. Behind him were the 2pdr anti-tank guns on their portees. Leading up the rear was a 3 ton lorry. That vehicle was loaded with highly inflamable fuel. They were finally under way towards their objective at 6:30am. Soon, they lost the ability to communicate by radio. As the morning progressed, they passed Bir Temrad, which had been reduced to rubble. By 10am, they could see shapes in the distance. They slowed, but kept moving forward, and the silhouettes of tanks and guns became discernable. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The final chapter of Brazen Chariots is ominously called "The Last Day"

We are now up to the last chapter of Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots. The last chapter is called "The Last Day". No wonder that Robert had a great deal of forboding leading up to the "last day". They woke Robert right before 5am. He got up and went to the battalion headquarters to see the Colonel. The Colonel, the 3rd RTR commander, was just washing. They walked out and were taken to see Alec Gatehouse, 4th Armoured Brigade commander an "his brigade major, David Silvertop". Robert heard Alec Gatehouse mention the dreaded words "reconnaissance in force". Robert's C Squadron, a Royal Dragoons squadron, and a troop of 2pdr guns on portees would conduct the operation to attempt to relieve the pressure on the Indian division. Robert's squadron was to be the force in the reconnaissance. They arranged the details of where they would drive and they agreed that they would start at 6:30am. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Later on the 28th day of the Crusader Battle

Robert Crisp, late on the 28th day of the Crusader Battle, had an opportunity to be sent to the rear. Dr. MacMillan was very concerned about the fact that Robert's foot would not heal, and continued to bleed. Robert told the doctor that if the foot was still a problem by the next night, he would go back for attention. Later, he saw the orders for the next day's operations. The orders were that tanks of C Squadron would receive all available fuel. Apparently, they would be the only part of the 3rd RTR involved in whatever was planned for the next day. An NCO woke Robert, but it was only 11pm. He informed Robert that he was to report to the "command car at 0515 hours tomorrow" with the battalion commander. The colonel asked if Robert would pick him up at 5am. Robert asked to be woke 15 minutes before that. The fateful last day of Brazen Chariots was set. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Friday, April 13, 2007

As we get to the end of Brazen Chariots...

As we approach the brutal end of Brazen Chariots, it is worth reflecting on the differing approaches to fighting tanks between the British and Germans. The British still wanted to fight tanks with tanks. That is probably now the modern style, generally, although the hand-held or vehicled-mounted, rocket propelled anti-tank missile or grenade is a major factor. The German practice, in 1940 to 1943 was still to generally fight tanks with anti-tank guns. They had two lethal weapons. One, the 88mm FLAK guns adapted for fighting tanks was a major threat, and could defeat the armour on any British tank. The 50mm PAK38 was also very potent. The gun had an extremely low profile, making it difficult to see, if there was an effort to conceal it. That meant that they often had the element of surprise, and could suddenly hit unsuspecting tanks and knock them out. The British still were thinking in terms of using tanks to fight tanks in 1939 to 1942. They really did not have good tanks suitable for that sort of action, but that was still the doctrine. They lacked a suitable anti-tank gun until the appearance of the 6pdr in 1942. Under the right circumstances, the 2pdr gun could penetrate a German or Italian tank, but it was not guaranteed. The American 37mm gun on the Stuarts fired an even lighter shot, but the combination of muzzle velocity and capped shot meant that they probably had a better chance at the normal ranges than the 2pdr, which in 1941 lacked capped shot.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Humber armoured car

I had wondered if "The Royals", the Royal Dragoons, might have been equipped with Humber Armoured cars by December 1941. The Royal Dragoons scouted for the 4th Armoured Brigade on their move to outflank the Axis position at Gazala in mid-December. One additional question is if they had Humber Mk.Is or Mk.IIs. Wikipedia has a Humber page.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Later on 15 December 1941

As they were moving north behind the Axis positions at Gazala in the afternoon of what must have been 15 December 1941, Robert Crisp heard a report from the Royal Dragoons that they were being attacked by about 20 vehicles with 75mm guns. B Squadron, 3rd RTR, was sent off in that direction. They heard on the radio the sound of making contact and a "long-range engagement". Night fell and they formed a leaguer, but this time, they had an infantry screen and men on watch on each tank. At the nightly "Situation Report", Robert heard that the Indian division was being heavily attacked by German tanks from Gazala. They heard a report from a broken down lorry that 7 Italian vehicles had approached but had fled when they realized that they had found a British vehicle. There was also a report of a large movement to the east, south of them. Robert interpreted that as indicating that the Germans did not realize that there was a British armoured brigade in their rear. The only problem is that the tanks of the 4th Armoured Brigade were almost out of fuel. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Ian Paterson also talks about the "Axis Withdrawal" in December 1941

Ian Paterson, on his 7th Armoured Division site, has a narrative about the Axis withdrawal from around Tobruk in December 1941 that Robert Crisp is discussing in Brazen Chariots. Ian's narrative is at a higher level, necessarily, as Robert is talking about his personal experience while Ian is giving an overview. Ian also discusses, specifically, the period in mid-to-late December, which is useful in "Clearing Cyrenaica". The date we have reached in Brazen Chariots is 15 December, so this falls into the latter section.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Royal Dragoons scouting for the 4th Armoured Brigade

On 15 December 1941, when the 4th Armoured Brigade was heading north, they had the Royal Dragoons ("The Royals") scouting for them. The Royals ran onto soft, swampy ground and were stuck. While they were stuck, the Germans were shelling them. The passed them and drove 32 miles in four hours. They reached Bir Halegh Eleba by 3pm. The 4th Armoured Brigade formed a square with the 3rd RTR facing north, the 5th RTR facing east, the Royal Gloucester Hussars facing west, and the Tower Hamlet Rifles facing south. They had armorued cars and Bren carriers on the corners of the square. The Tower Hamlet Rifles were new to the 4th Armoured Brigade. Robert had not seen them before. The 4th Armoured Brigade was sitting to the west of the Axis forces. They saw "a single German reconnaissance plane" overhead, which made one pass and then headed to the north "in a great hurry". This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

The situation in December 1941 near Gazala

After General Auchinleck backed off from direct involvement in the Crusader Battle, the operation went back to the normal British haphazard mode. Auchinleck had installed Neil Ritchie as the 8th Army commander, as Auchinleck wanted to switch back to theater commander, which he felt was what he had been appointed to be. Because of that, Rommel was able to fight a successful rearguard battle that enabled his forces to eventually withdraw to El Agheila, only to rebound in the new year back to Gazala. At least, the Germans and Italians at Bardia and Halfaya were put in the bag. Some 30,000 prisoners were taken. Wikepedia has a Crusader Battle page with some of the details.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The 4th Armoured Brigade on the move (the 27th and 28th Days?)

The 4th Armoured Brigade had orders to move in the afternoon of what was probably the 27th day of the Crusader Battle. The brigade was in regimental groups (they were stilled called battalions at the time). Robert Crisp actually uses a date, for a change. On the 14th of December 1941, they moved 21 miles to the south-southwest. They received word that on 15 December, they would be moving to the "north to Bir Halegh el Eleba". They drove fast so as to cover 15 miles in an hour. They arrived by 5:30pm. The men received word that they would be driving to the west at 15 mph, for about 35 miles. As it turned out, C Squadron, 3rd RTR was in the lead of the brigade. They left at 7am, heading west. After a two hour drive, they reached "a steep escarpment" which didn't appear on Robert's map. They reached the bottom and watched the replenishment lorries grapple with the escarpment. By 10am, they headed north for the coast, expecting to encounter the Afrika Korps. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

The New Zealand Official History, online, has a nice map of Gazala in December 1941

The online Official History for New Zealand has a nice map of the advance of the 27th MG Battalion to Gazala from 11 to 16 December 1941. One feature of Brazen Chariots is that it is mostly lacking maps. I happen to have a paperback edition that has some illustrations that were added to the original, but the book depends on the narrative, rather than illustrations.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The 9pm BBC broadcast

During the evening of one of the days between the 23rd and 28th day of the Crusader Battle, in December 1941, Robert Crisp asked his radio operator to tune into the 9pm BBC broadcast. The radio operator turned the volume up and let his headphones hang over the side of the tank. Everyone who was awake gathered around and heard the announcement that Robert had been awarded an immediate Distinguished Server Order (DSO). Robert was said to be a lieutenant and acting captain. The announcer mentioned that he was a former South African Test cricketeer. To Robert, the British love of cricket explained why he was mentioned in the broadcast. In the morning, they heard that there orders were to move almost due north to the south end of the Indian division's position before Gazala. Robert immediately assumed that they intended to use the 4th Armoured Brigade Stuarts as if they were infantry tanks, which they weren't, as they lacked the necessary armour. They were joined by the Gloucester Hussars and then they drove north. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Robert Crisp was starting to be afraid

Robert Crisp says that during the period of days 23 to 28 of the Crusader Battle, he felt afraid, as he sensed that he had ceased to be invulnerable to injury. Up to the, like George Washington, he felt that he could not be harmed, which gave him a special edge over the enemy. That afternoon, they watched a Ju87 attack on the supply convoy coming to replenish the 4th Armoured Brigade. In this forward position, they had moved beyond the range of fighter cover. The lack of air cover reminded Robert of their experience in Greece, operating under German air superiority ("the bad old days"). Soon, a vehicle with ammunition exploded. Robert left the evening meeting with the 3rd RTR commander in an unhappy mood. He still had crabs, as the gasoline seemed to have not gotten rid of them. His foot was still was bleeding, although slowly, so that he noticed it when he walked. The 3rd RTR commander, a Colonel, would report to the brigade commander for a meeting at 7:30am, the next morning. Robert thought that whatever was planned would be so bad, that the more senior officers did not want them to know until the time had arrived to move. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The 4th Armoured Brigade at Gazala in December 1941

Robert Crisp says in Brazen Chariots that the decision was made by the army commander to use the 4th Armoured Brigade to hit the Axis position at Gazala that had blocked an Indian division. The brigade drove forward at 9:15am to start their move 15 miles forward. They had a leisurely drive at 10 to 12 miles per hour. When Alec Gatehouse returned from his meeting with the army commander, fifty German tanks were seen approaching the brigade. The tank report turned out to be mistaken, as the "tanks" turned out to be camels, instead. Robert Crisp was feeling increasingly concerned about the immediate future. He had survived a series of battles since November, when the Crusader Battle had started. He was growing tired of the battle and seeing his companions killed in the process. He had so far escaped serious injury by small margins. Perhaps his time was running short. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Blocked at Gazala

Rommel was able to make a stand at Gazala, and the attacking Indian division was unable to overcome the Axis forces. The Afrika Korps troops and artillery, backed by the remnants of the armoured forces, including the two panzer divisions, were able to hold their position. That situation got the attention of the 8th Army, and they changed the orders for the 4th Armoured Brigade. They no longer were to be withdrawn to Egypt, but would help with the assault on the force at Gazala. The 4th Armoured Brigade was ordered to advance to the west-southwest about 15 miles. Robert Crisp says that would position the brigade between Gazala and Bir Hakeim (or Bir Hacheim). Robert's opinion was that they were being positioned to turn the Axis position and attack their rear. While Alec Gatehouse was away, the 3rd RTR commander was in charge of the brigade. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots. By the way, this is a nice picture of an A9 CS tank from earlier in 1941. THis is from the Desert Rats site. This is the rear of a 3rd RTR A10 CS tank from the same site.

So how did the British almost lose the war in North Africa?

Given that the British succeeded in beating the Axis forces, including the Deutsche Afrika Korps in the Crusader Battle, how did they reach the low point of the campaign in July 1942? My assessment is that they were in that situation due to trying to keep operating the way that they had in November 1941 and earlier. They wanted to fight with their forces dispersed, rather than concentrated and the commanders were out of touch with the situation at any particular moment. They had beaten the Italians by fighting a rapidly moving battle, much of the sort that Rommel employed so effectively, with the commanders near the front and in communiction so that they were aware of the changing complexion of the battle. The reasons that the British forces won the Crusader Battle was the General Auchinleck had taken control, and he followed the normal principles: he was aware of what was happening, he used the British strengths, and he resisted the temptation to disperse the army into small groups scattered across the desert. The problem was that Auchinleck was the theater commander and he wanted to operate at that level. There were no other officers with the experience and skill that he had in the theater. Churchill immediately sensed that Auchinleck could win the war in North Africa against Rommel. While Rommel had many strengths, he took massive risks and often got into trouble because of it. He finally reached his match in Auchinleck at the First Alamein, and was stopped. It was just a formality to have General Montgomery put together a new force to launch his patented set-piece battle and push the Axis forces back to Tunisia, where they surrendered. Montgomery was not a flashy genius. He just would not lose battles, which was what was needed by the time he was appointed 8th Army commander.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Ian Paterson has a good narrative about the South African armoured cars

Ian Paterson, on his 7th Armoured Division web site, has a good narrative about the South African armoured cars. The initial version was a two-wheel drive vehicle, the Marmon-Herrington Mk.I, and Ian says that 135 were built. These were used in the East African campaign. The Mk.II had four wheel drive and was used in the desert in the Crusader Battle by the 1st King's Dragoon Guards (the KDG). 887 were built. The Mk.III had a somewhat more advanced design and 2,260 were built. Ian says that the Mk.I also had four wheel drive, but I thought that from reading the classic book, Springboks in Armour, that the Mk.I was two-wheel drive. There were later versions that were supplanted by the more advanced British designs that came into service in later 1942 and beyond. In my wargaming, I gave an armoured car regiment 13 cars, one being a commander's vehicle and then with three four-car squadrons. I used a one-to-four ratio between vehicles in the game and in the real world.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Later in the day on the 25th day of the battle

While the 3rd RTR was preparing to move at 8am the next day, the other two regiments rejoined the 4th Armoured Brigade. Robert Crisp says that the brigade was almost back to the original strength that it had at the start of the Crusader Battle. While they were waiting, Robert realized that he was starting to itch, terribly. Nothing he could do would cause the itch to stop. When Dr. MacMillan rebandaged his foot, Robert asked him to check him. The doctor told him that he had crabs, and asked where he had encountered "the Bedouin girl". Robert realized that crabs must have come from the silk pajamas. The doctor informed Robert that they didn't have any blue ointment to apply and suggested he try applying gasoline. Robert tried it and was in intense pain, with the gasoline touching the sores in his skin. I believe that this all happened late on the 25th day of the battle. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

The A13 Cruiser Mk.IV and A10 Cruiser Mk.II

The battles around Sidi Rezegh seem to have marked the departure from the field of the Cruiser Mk.IV and Cruiser Mk.II tanks which were still in service with the 7th Armoured Brigade, up to that time. Wikipedia has a page the A13 that seems reasonably accurate (Cruiser Mk.IV). I had trouble finding the A10 Cruiser Mk.II page, as my search wasn't using the Roman numeral II correctly. They also have a reasonable photo, although grainy, of a Cruiser Mk.IIA. It is possible that a few Cruiser Mk.IIACS (close support) tanks might have survived after this date.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Early on the 24th day of the battle

After Robert Crisp's close brush with a spent anti-aircraft round, he was ordered to "send out patrols" from C Squadron on a reconnaissance out to the "north and northwest" to the 10 mile limit and back. Just "two or three miles out", Robert was startled to see a tank "nestling in the scrub". He approached and saw that the tank was "an abandoned Crusader". Robert rescued the officer's valise with his name on the leather bag. He could see that the crew had hastily abandoned the 22nd Armoured Brigade tank. Robert's driver, Whaley, figured out that they had "run out of gas", as we Americans would say. By 3pm that day, the patrols were recalled to hear some amazing news. The buzz was that the 4th Armoured Brigade would be withdrawn, so that it could be sent to "another front". 3rd RTR would stay, until "relieved by the Royal Gloucester Hussars". Robert decided to celebrate by putting on the silk pajamas from the letter valise. He slept in luxury for the night and then returned the pajamas to the valise. He wrote a note to the owner, "explaining what I had done". This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

In the night between the 23rd and 24th days of the battle

Late on the 23rd day of the Crusader Battle, the 3rd RTR received seven new tanks. The crews would be arriving during the night. The men felt a great relief, knowing that the action had slowed and they would not be under constant threat of death, for now. They were even allowed to brew tea, before nightfall. A reorganization was underway, with the replacements. Robert would now command C Squadron, with the three squadrons each having 12 Stuarts. Harry Maegraith had received a package of food from Australia, and at dawn, Robert Crisp and Harry moved off together to share the package. The relaxation was interrupted by the sound of an air raid, and AA guns firing. Suddenly, the heard something coming towards them. They hit the ground and then heard the "thump" of something hitting. When they looked up, the others were laughing. Robert was not laughing, becuase a spent AA round had only missed him by two feet. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

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