Thursday, April 05, 2007
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.