Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Taking chances in early 1941 in the Western Desert

While embarking on Churchill's and the War Cabinet's latest adventure, General Wavell was ready to take extreme chances with the defense of North Africa. He would lose his bet, in the event. There were many complications. The 2nd Armoured Division had recently lost its commander. Major-General Tilly had died suddenly after arriving in the Middle East. He was replaced by Major-General Michael Gambier-Parry, who had been in Greece. He was to become a prisoner of war, along with some notable officers from the campaign against Italy. As we have noted, the 2nd Armoured Division was split into two parts. As the Official History notes, the best part was sent to Greece. The Western Desert defense was left to one weak armored brigade and one-and-a-half motorized infantry battalions. The one infantry division was "static". The 2nd Armoured Division brigades had only two tank battalions or regiments in each. We have the situation where you had the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Tank Regiment and the 3rd Hussars, a cavalry regiment. They were the same sort of unit, in practice, but with different sorts of names. General Wavell's idea for adding strength to the brigade left in Libya was to create the 6th Battalion of the RTR (usually called the 6th RTR). The unit would be equipped with captured Italian tanks, probably M13/40 tanks. Although not mentioned, the 6th Australian Cavalry Regiment received a mix of Italian M11/39 and M13/40 tanks. There is a picture that shows them with large, white Kangaroos painted on them. The decision was made to add the 3rd Indian Motor Btigade to the forces in Libya when they had completed their training. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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