Sunday, December 31, 2006

Out of ammunition, still on the sixth day

While the remnants of the 3rd RTR were fighting with the South Africans, they could see the crossing Germans taking casualties and losses. Occasionally, a soft vehicle would be hit, and the passengers would bail out, as the vehicle would burn. Once, Robert could see a Pzkw III explode. The turret was popped off with the force of the explosion. Suddenly, Robert's pantleg was pulled, and he heard that they were out of ammunition. Very quickly, the entire group of Stuarts was in the same situation. They were ordered to stay in position, with the guns. They sat for ten minutes, while the battle passed them. The 3rd RTR commander then ordered them to pull back to where he was, 100 yards behind the line. They were ordered to slowly reverse, and not make any sudden motions, so as to not demoralize the troops who were holding the position. Despite the gradual movement, the infantry was still dismayed at their departure. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Still on the sixth day: ready to be attacked

Still later on the sixth day of the Crusader Battle, Robert Crisp was back in a Stuart. The Germans seemed to be preparing to attack the South African Brigade, where the remnants of the 3rd RTR had sought shelter. The battalion commander had the few remaining Stuarts take position, facing out, positioned between 2pdr antitank guns. The antitank guns were still on their portees, firing over the back end. They were facing south, towards the impending attack. A gunner explained to Robert that they had been constantly on the move, during the day, and that they kept their guns on the portees, as the ground was too hard to dig in, anyway. They could see a German combined arms force approaching, with about 20 tanks in the lead. They realized that the Germans would cross some distance away, headed northwest towards Sidi Rezegh. They started firing, as the range closed, and they took fire. The 2pdr to the right was hit on the shield, which broke apart, and the gunner at the sight was brutally killed by the pieces. They removed his remains and commenced firing, again. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The exposure of the 4th South African Brigade was a shame and a disgrace

I put the blame for the exposure of the 5th South African Brigade on General Gott, the 7th Armoured Division commander, and probably on General Norrie, the 30th Corps commander. The South African Military History site has a page about this episode and the sad result. The situation arose because neither General Gott nor General Norrie understood what was happening on the ground. Both proceeded as if nothing were wrong, when they had already come close to losing the battle, by dispersing their forces and allowing the concentrated Afrika Korps to decimate them in turn.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Robert rejoined his unit, still on the sixth day

Later on the sixth day, Robert rejoined his unit, the 3rd RTR, or its remains. In the South African leaguer, he saw Stuarts and then found his Colonel. He found that A and B Squadrons were out of touch. Robert was told that both the other 4th Armoured Brigade battalions, the 5th RTR and 8th Hussars, were in similar straits. They believed that there were strong enemy forces to the south and southwest. They had been ordered to stay with the South Africans and to support them against attack. General Gott, 7th Armoured Division commander, seems to have started to understand how desperate and perilous the situation was. Robert told his battalion commander how he had lost his tank. He told him that he would like to go and recover the tank he had just abandoned. He Colonel told him to use one of his HQ troop tanks. While they were eating and brewing up, Robert heard that the armoured cars had seen the enemy approaching. The Stuarts were distributed "between the antitank guns". There orders were to fight the enemy to keep them out of the leaguer. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

After running out of petrol on the sixth day

After Robert Crisp's Stuart ran out of petrol in a dicey situation, he and his crew, along with the recently freed British prisoners started to frantically wave at the second Stuart. That second Stuart was starting to withdraw, not realizing that they were in trouble. The other tank commander finally realized that they needed help, and headed towards them. When that tank arrived, they discovered that they were without a tow rope. They finally had to jump on board the other tank, from the 5th RTR, and tney took off, headed away from danger. They had left their erstwhile German prisoners, who suddenly were prisoners no more. They were approaching friendly lines, and while the tank commander looked back, they were in danger of charging into those lines. The tank commander realized the problem and had his driver abruptly stop. Robert and his companions didn't stop, however, and landed on the ground, in front of some "puzzled antitank gunners". This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The survival of the Stuart as a battle tank up to July 1942 is amazing

Given the 37mm gun, the survival of the Stuart as a battle tank up to the fighting in early July 1942 is amazing. The 37mm gun at least had capped shot, so it had a chance of penetrating German face-hardened armour at close range. As we responded to the question about the British armoured brigades in early July 1942, the lists of tanks that included show that the Stuart was still a factor. That is probably due, in part, to the losses that had been incurred in the fighting since May 1942 and the continued supply of Stuarts sent to the Middle East. They still were superior in mechanical reliability and mobility to any other tank to date. They were finally eclipsed by the arrival of Shermans and relegated to the reconnaissance role for which they were intended.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Back to Brazen Chariots: Robert Crisp gets a German field gun

Robert Crisp ordered his gunner to fire at the nearest German field gun. That gun was being repositioned and the barrel lowered to fire at his tank. As Robert said: "The Jerries never had a chance". Before they had actually got the gun trained at his tank, the gun was fired by someone in a panicked state. The shot missed, over their heads. Robert's gunner took about three seconds to get a bead on the target and fired. He could almost immediately see the red hot metal on the gun, where the 37mm shot had hit. Two men were left for dead, while the other raised one arm in surrender and hobbled off. A second Stuart arrived and that caused all the remaining Germans to surrender. A couple of British prisoners, apparently tankers, jumped from a truck and ran towards them. He contemplated abandoning the prisoners when German tanks appeared and he put the prisoners between him and the tanks. Robert's tank suddenly ran out of fuel. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Armoured Brigades on 26 June 1942

Perhaps by looking at the composition of the 4th Armoured Brigade and 22nd Armoured Brigade on 26 June 1942, we can see close to what they a week later. This is what Note 1, from page 289 of Vol.III of the Official History says:

4th Armoured Brigade, Brigadier Fisher
1st RTR
6th RTR
8th RTR
one squadron, 9th Lancers

22nd Armoured Brigade
3rd County of London Yeomanry
4th Country of London Yeoman

There was also the 2nd Armoured Brigade, which was re-equipping
and was not in the field. In the event, the Queens Bays joined
the 22nd Armoured Brigade on 28 June, instead.

The 4th Armoured Brigade and 22nd Armoured Brigade on 3 July 1942

I was looking to see if I could name the regiments in the two armoured brigades, the 4th and 22nd, in early July 1942, but the best I can do is to list their tank strength. The 4th Armoured Brigade had 18 Grants, 33 Stuarts, and 12 Valentines. The 22nd Armoured Brigade had 20 Grants, 28 Sutarts, and 8 miscellaneous cruiser tanks. These must have been the remnants of various marks of Crusaders, A13 Cruiser Mk.IVA, and whatever was left from the A10 Cruiser Mk.IIAs (presumably). This is drawn from Note 1 on page 343 of Vol.III of the Official History.

Forces involved at Ruweisat Ridge, starting 14 July 1942

Pardon the jump in time, but I had received a question about the forces involved in the fight in July 1942 near Ruweisat Ridge. General Auchinleck was in command, and he wanted "to break through the enemy's centre and destroy his forces esat of the track El Alamein--Abu Dweis and north of the Ruweisat Ridge". 13th Corps and 30th Corps would be involved. The west end of the ridge would be taken by 13th Corps while 30th Corps would take the east end. They had artillery, but initially, the assault would be done without artillery fire, apparently to achieve surprise. 30th Corps had the 5th Indian Brigade, from the 5th Indian Division. 13th Corps had the 5th NZ Brigade "on the right" and the 4th NZ Brigade "on the left". General Gott decided that they should arrive at their objectives at 4:30am on 15 July. The 1st Armoured Division was to the left of the NZ Division. The division had 2nd and 22nd Armoured Brigades. In addition, "Wall Group" would support 30th Corps. The units involved were:

Wall Group, Brigadier Waller

3rd Regiment, RHA
2 batteries of the 104th Regiment RHA
one battery 11th HAC Regiment RHA
11th Field Regiment RA (less one battery)
Composite Guards Battalion
(from 3rd Coldstream Guards and 2nd Scots Guards)
1/4 Essex Regiment
9th Rifle Brigade
detachments of the 1st Royal Northumberland Fusiliers
and 1st The Buffs

2nd Armoured Brigade
6th RTR with one squadron from the 10th Hussars
3rd/5th composite RTR
9th Lancers with one squadron of the 2nd Royal Gloucestershire Hussars
(46 Grants, 11 Stuarts, and 59 Crusaders)

22nd Armoured Brigade
3rd County of London Yeomanry
the Royal Scots Greys (only arrived in the afternoon)
(31 Grants, 21 Stuarts, and 23 Crusaders)

This is drawn from pages 347 to 349, including notes, from Volume III of The Mediterranean and Middle East (September 1941 to September 1942) "British Fortunes reach their Lowest Ebb" (1960).

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Robert Crisp decides to attack on the "Sixth Day"

On the sixth day of the Crusader Battle, Robert Crisp had seen German field guns firing on some unseen target. He resolved to attack them, especially after seeing that the guns seemed unprotected. Robert looked around and saw a Stuart. He went over to the tank and found a lieutenant from the 5th RTR. He told him to follow him in the attack. Robert remembered that he was low on fuel, but decided to go forward with the attack. The circled around and came up behind the German field guns. The advanced at 30mph and waited to see if the Germans saw him. Only at 150 yards was he noticed. The Germans panicked and Robert had his driver stop at 50 yards and told the gunner to open up with the Browning MG. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Friday, December 22, 2006

A break in the action on the sixth day

Robert Crisp, after capturing the German armoured car, was going to line up with the other Stuarts on the edge of the B-Echelon leaguer, when his tank came to an abrupt halt. They were out of fuel. He told his crew to "dismount" and he went to ask the South Africans if they had any petrol. The South Africans were short of fuel, as well, but gave Robert a "four-gallon tin". The petrol was not the high-octane stuff that the Stuart really needed, but he took it back to the tank. He was amazed to see his new driver. The driver was in a panic, having been in action "for the first time". He was running in circles. Robert came up and gave him a kick, and this seemed to calm him. Robert told the driver to take the tin and pour it into their tank. As they were looking into the distance, they saw three vehicles drive up and stop "two miles away". They saw "a troop of German field guns going into action". Robert and his companions saw that the Germans were firing "towards the Sidi Rezegh escarpment", which was to the north. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Robert Crisp's gunner gets a Pzkw III

On the sixth day of the Crusader Battle, Robert Crisp had commandeered a 4th Armoured Brigade HQ signals tank, and headed the tank off towards a roaming Pzkw III that had blundered into the 5th South African Brigade "B" Echelon. The driver apparently knew how to drive, as they were headed in the right direction and he heard the gunner load the gun. The gunner was able to fire, although he took three shots to get a hit, but the hit. He saw the "tracer go into the engine louvers", which caused a fire and the German crew to bail out. They wanted to surrender to Robert, but he motioned them towards some nearby South Africans. He reached the rest of the battalion on the south side of the leaguer. He immediately got involved in a fight with some crossing German tanks and vehicles. He saw three German armoured cars nearby and headed for them. He cornered one which surrendered. A South African Marmon-Herrington armoured car approached and they escorted the German into the leaguer. Robert was afraid that someone would fire on them, but they were able to enter the leaguer without incident. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A flap (on the sixth day of the Crusader Battle)

On the sixth day, as the small group of 3rd RTR drove across the desert, they ran into a large mass of transport that was in a panic. Robert Crisp, still riding in his adjutant's Stuart, realized that they were South Africans. The transport was "rushing" to the "north and east". The adjutant warned Robert to jump off, as they were going to fight German tanks. He did so and found he was in the "5th Brigade 'B' Echelon". He looked and saw Panzer III's and II's and saw why they were in a panic. While the South Africans went into their slit trenches, Robert headed "for the nearest Honey" (Stuart). He jumped on a tank that proved to be from the 4th Armoured Brigade HQ. The tank proved to be the signals tank, which had never fired a shot. Robert ordered the enlisted tank commander out and took over from him. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Victoria Cross winners at the Battle of Sidi Rezegh

Ian Paterson, on his 7th Armoured Division site, has a page devoted to the three "Victoria Cross winners" at the Battle of Sidi Rezegh. The winners were:
  1. Brigadier John Charles ("Jock") Campbell, Support Group commander
  2. 2nd Lt George Gunn (posthumous), 3rd RHA
  3. Rifleman John Beeley (posthumous), 1st KRRC

Lt Gunn fought an anti-tank gun from a portee until he was shot dead. Rifleman Beeley single handedly attacked a German anti-tank gun while he carried a Bren gun. He killed or wounded the entire German gun crew, and this allowed his platoon to advance.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The sixth day of the Crusader Battle: "Totensonntag"

The Deutsche Afrika Korps called Sunday, the sixth day of the Crusader Battle, Totensonntag, after the day "in the German church calendar". The day was fated to be a "bad day" for South African troops. During the night, more Stuarts arrived so that by morning, the 3rd RTR had seven tanks. The battalion remnants was sent off on a compass heading to nowhere. As day broke, they could see columns of smoke in the distance. Robert Crisp was riding on the battalion adjutant's tank, wishing he had his own tank. He didn't want to be a spectator to the Battle of Sidi Rezegh, which he didn't expect to last long. The came upon a densely packed unit which proved to be "the H.Q. area of the 5th South African Brigade". Robert jumped down and immediately saw some of his fellow South African crickateer friends. He had a chance for a quick shave and then his adjutant called to him that ehy needed to roll. They were to keep on the compass heading, to join up with the 4th Armoured Brigade HQ. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Robert Crisp on the fight at Sidi Rezegh

Robert Crisp had long wondered about why the Germans had not rolled over the Sidi Rezegh airfield and kept on going. There was nothing in their way but knocked out British tanks. Eventually, Robert was able to read the German war diaries, where he found the answer: they had run out of fuel and ammunition. In Britain, on the morning of the sixth day, newpapers blared Australian General Blamey's comment that "Britain has won the tank battle in Libya". Too bad it was not true. Robert Crisp remembered that wild day. He only felt fear twice: once when he saw the line of German tanks approaching and the second was when he looked back, and did not see the rest of his battalion. Finally, he was annoyed as the mismanagement of the battle that left that small band on the airfield without the support that should have been there. The night between the fifth and sixth days of the Crusader Battle, Robert slept "alongside the adjutant's tank". He felt lucky to still be alive. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

"Withdrawal from the gun positions on the edge of the airfield"

After the end of the war, Robert Crisp read the account in the Royal Artillery Commemoration Book, written by Brigadier Hely about "Withdrawal from the gun positions on the edge of the airfield". The Germans had advanced across the airfield, and the German infantry were almost onto the guns. The Brigadier said that suddenly, British "light tanks" (Stuarts) came hurtling into the fight, firing their guns, and this allowed the gunners to hook their gun tractors to the guns and tow them out of the battle. Robert says that the Rifle Brigade account made it seem as if a whole regiment was in the fight with Jock Campbell, when it was just a few tanks, at most a troop. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Late on the fifth day of the Crusader Battle

Alec Gatehouse was ready to go and recover his HQ from the Germans. At this point, Robert Crisp was glad to be able to not participate. Brigadier Gatehouse was determined, however, and assembled "about a dozen Honeys" and went looking for the HQ. Robert Crisp says that the small "armoured phalanx" "had a wild Guys Fawkes encounter with an enemy column". They were not able to recover the 4th Armoured Brigade HQ. By this time, night had fallen in the desert. There was little light, but he could see men walking through the machine gun fire. He saw the Medical Officer with "Cape coloreds". He realized that they were a South African brigade. The remnants of the 3rd RTR camped in the night. He wondered what had happened to his friend, Tom Eynon. Later in the war, in Normandy, Robert had written an account of the fifth day and the fight at Sidi Rezegh for a British newspaper. In response, he received a letter from Tom. Robert was relieved to hear that he was alive. When he met Tom at Ipswich station, he found Tom walking on crutches with only one leg. He had lost his leg at Sidi Rezegh when his tank had been hit while following Robert and Brigadier Jock Campbell. Tom's driver had been killed, and when he went around to inspect, the tank rolled forward over his leg and then moved off with his "crew hanging onto the side". The Germans had rescued him and taken him to a hospital. He was exchanged by the Germans about three years later. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

A page from the 4th Armoured Brigade history

A page from The History of the 4th Armoured Brigade, Chapter Two, includes a narrative of the Battle of Sidi Rezegh, and the brigades involvement there.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Generals Gott and Norrie frittered away their tank strength

Reading Robert Crisp's account of the first five days of the Crusader Battle, I was struck by how easily Generals Gott and Norrie frittered away their tank strength. General Gott, the 7th Armoured Division commander seemed to ignore basic teachings about warfighting, and sent his tank brigades off to fight unsupported. Even worse, the brigades were apparently broken up into the battalions, at least based on the story in Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots, about the experience of the 3rd RTR. Generals Gott and Norrie almost lost the battle by the end of the fifth day, in fighting around the Sidi Rezegh airfield. That battle wrote off the 7th Armoured Brigade and caused it to be withdrawn from the Western Desert. Only by aggressively recovering and repairing tanks, as well as by supplying spare tanks were the 22nd Armoured Brigade and 4th Armoured Brigade able to continue the battle.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Robert Crisp's tank is knocked out

Robert Crisp finally got in contact with his battalion CO. He told him about the 70 German tanks and that the battalion should line up on the eastern side of Sidi Rezegh airfield, facing the German tanks. When some tanks arrived, two immediately fell into the "anti-tank ditch". The battalion CO eventually told the battalion to gather on the escarpment. Robert's tank started taking fire, and then he could tell that something was wrong. His tank was on fire. He and his crew bailed out, taking what they gather up off the hot metal. Suddenly, he saw his friend Harry Maegraith. He and his crew were also climbing up the escarpment. Harry told Robert how the battalion had encountered the 5th RTR, and in all they dust, no one could see. They finally circled. Robert and Harry finally saw a few Stuarts ("Honeys") drive up. It was their battalion CO. As they were talking, Alec Gatehouse drove up in his Stuart. He told them that his brigade HQ (the 4th Armoured Brigade) had been overrun by Germans. As there were only four Stuarts in the 3rd RTR, he went looking for the 5th RTR. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Robert Crisp's fight, alone with his crew, at Sidi Rezegh

Robert Crisp and his crew were left on their own to fight a large number of German tanks. His gunner was able to knock out a Pzkw III, whose crew bailed out. The capped 37mm shot could penetrate, but did not do that much damage. Robert's gunner and loader were doing good work. His driver was left to be scared at the odds, and was leaning as far as he could from the open vision slit. The tank would rock at hits by shots that did not penetrate and from the 37mm firing. Robert called on the radio to his battalion CO: "Hullo JAGO, JAGO one calling". The call was not acknowledged, so perhaps no one heard. After a bit, when he could see the 25pdr shells falling, he told his gunner to stop and told his driver to "go like hell". This fight occurred on 22 November 1941. They zig-zagged across the field at high speed, until they were free. They slowed as they got across the field and then stopped so Robert could decide what to do next. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Charging towards the Sidi Rezegh airfield with Jock Campbell

Robert Crisp and his companions followed Brigadier Jock Campbell in a wild charge towards the Sidi Rezegh airfield. Robert wasw able to speak briefly with his battalion CO and told him that there were friendly forces on the east side of the airfield and that he would be too late to help, if he arrived in 15 minutes instead of 10. Robert thought that they were somewhere near Point 176 on the map. They raced past infantry men and gunners, who waved encouragingly at them. The followed the touring car driven by the blonde driver with the brigadier (Jock Campbell) holding the blue and white flag (blue stripe on top and white on the bottom). They past burning Crusader tanks, along with a few knocked out German tanks. Artillery fire started to rain down on the rapidly moving Stuarts. Robert thought it miraculous that the touring car escaped a hit. The car stopped at the western side of Sidi Rezegh airfield, and Robert told his driver to halt. Brigadier Campbell motioned to follow. Robert gasped at the 60 to 70 German tanks ahead. They could see the gunfire from the tanks. Robert told his gunner to pick a tanka and start firing until he knocked it out. He saw his buddy Tom's Stuart swerve wildly and then lost sight of it. There was no sign of his brigade and his "spirits dropped" when he realized that he was alone in a field of knocked out tanks. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Saturday morning at Sidi Rezegh: the 5th Day of the Crusader Battle

Robert Crisp, the 3rd RTR, and the remainder of the 4th Armoured Brigade were headed for Sidi Rezegh airfield. The airfield was occupied by the remnants of the 7th Armoured Brigade and the Support Group. The two German armoured divisions, the 15th and the 21st Panzer Divisions, were attacking from the southeast, intent on destroying British forces. Due to the rising smoke columns marking the battle, Robert Crisp altered course towards the smoke, so that he was pointed correctly. They could see burning Crusader tanks and men digging slit trenches and widely scattered motor transport. Robert was able to get his battalion CO and he was told to treat anything he saw on airfield as an enemy. Apparently, the Germans had retaken the airfield and destroyed the defenders. Bob and his companions apparently saw British prisoners being held, as well. Bob wrote "On the other side of the depression the opposite escarpment was full of men, less active than those below". As Bob and his companions decided what to do, a touring car with a tall, lean brigadier pulled up. The brigadier asked him if he was in charge and what his unit was. Bob told him "Third R.T.R., 4th Armoured Brigade". The brigadier responded that there was a German tank moving in from the west and that he was needed to fight the tank. Bob tried to tell him to wait for the whole brigade, but the brigadier, the legendary Jock Campbell, told Bob there was not time to wait, and they needed to move now. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The fifth day of the Crusader Battle for Robert Crisp

The first half of the fifth day of the Crusader Battle saw the Stuarts off on three "wild-goose chases". There was never even any time for brewing tea. By 1:30pm, the entire 3rd RTR, with C Squadron in the lead, was to head off "on a bearing of 283 degrees". The Battalion CO told them that other British tanks were under attack, and needed their support. The battalion was short of men and tanks, so the organization was rather ad hoc. Another officer was acting as Robert's troop sergeant. Instead of another wild-goose chase, the bearing lead them towards an ongoing battle. They could see columns of smoke, and tanks moving. They were the remnants of the 4th Armoured Brigade. With the 3rd RTR, they now numbered about 100 tanks, the largest armoured force left in 30th Corps. They found that they were headed for the battle at Sidi Rezegh. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Generals Norrie and Gott didn't understand how bad their situation was, perhaps four days into the Crusader Battle

By about four days into the Crusader Battle, General Gott, the 7th Armoured Division commander, and General Norrie, the 30th Corps commander did not understand the dire straits they had reached. They still thought that 7th Armoured Brigade and 22nd Armoured Brigade had more strength left than they actually had. General Cunningham, 8th Army commander, had much better information than the others, and he was extremely nervous, with good reason. Gott and Norrie were still issuing orders as if they had more force left than they did, so that put them in a very bad position in the battle around Sidi Rezegh airfield was fought. That caused some very unnecessary infantry losses, as South African and New Zealand infantry brigades were left exposed to German attack. They did not have much chance against the concentrated panzer divisions, in a classic German sword-shield-battle. They used tanks to attack infantry and anti-tank guns to fight British tanks. Robert Crisp would be eventually severely wounded, in one case, by 50mm PAK38s.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

From late on the fourth day of the Crusader Battle

As darkness was about to fall, the 3rd RTR had received word that they should be prepared to mount an attack on a column of enemy transport that "moving to the northwest". The order to attack never came, night fell, and they went back to their camp. But Rommel had changed his agenda. Now, he was sending the two armoured divisions against the British to destroy them. He had decided to take the Sidi Rezegh airfield, south of Tobruk. In the night, before the fifth day dawned, all the troop commanders were pulled together, out of a sleep, to meet with their commanding officer. The plan for the morning was that they would attack an enemy camp. They would be supported by a Royal Horse Artillery troop. They moved out at 4am, but the Quad gun tractors of the RHA were bogged in a swamp created from the last rain. That meant that by the time they reached the enemy encampment, there was nothing there but signs of vehicles. They attacked a group of vehicles, but they proved to be abandoned. This had happened in the early morning light, when visibility was poor. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Light on the fourth day of the Crusader Battle

As the sky got light, Robert Crisp and his compatriots could see a rapidly moving column of transport. They must have been German, as they suddenly turned to the west. A battle erupted on the right. Robert Crisp was in C Squadron, 3rd RTR, and by mid-morning, they were moved to support A and B Squadrons. Robert heard that the second-in-command of B Squadron had been killed. Robert later found that his tank had been hit from behind by friendly fire. They found that they could always fight Italian M13/40s, German Pzkw IIs and armoured cars with Stuarts. They learned that they would have trouble with Pzkw IIIs and Pzkw IVs in a straight-on fight. They had to be beat "by subterfuge". Robert learned that the Stuart could take 20mm shot hits from Pzkw IIs with impunity. He also realized that the German tankers "were some very windy soldiers". This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The night, after the BBC announcement

Once the Germans had heard the BBC announcement about the Crusader offensive, they totally changed their posture at night. The British continued to sit quietly at night, hoping to avoid attention. The Germans lit up the skies so that they could seen any approaching British forces. This, at least, allowed the British to know where the Germans were, which was a positive development. Robert Crisp got his troop up before dawn, as they were to reconnoiter north, ahead of the battalion (the 3rd RTR). Robert's breakfast consisted of a hard biscuit with marmalade, while his men ate breakfast inside their tank. Everyone was on edge, at the start of the fourth day of the Crusader offensive. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Robert Crisp says that the BBC gave away vital military secrets to the Germans

About 9pm on the third day, the British troops in the desert heard the BBC announce "The Eighth Army with about 75,000 men excellently armed and equipped, has started a general offensive in the Western Desert with the aim of destroying the German-Italian forces in Africa". Robert Crisp says that the Germans also heard the broadcast. Until then, he says, they had not known that there was a "reconnaissance-in-force". Rommel now knew that this was the feared offensive that he could not believe could be mounted. Rommel had his forces essentially sit for two days while he tried to gather intelligence on what the British were doing. The worst aspect of British operations in the first three days is that they had dispersed their armoured formations into the separated brigades that were inferior to the concetrated German armour, with its supporting anti-tank artillery, mobile field and medium artillery, and motorized infantry. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The third days proves to be very confused and problematic

The 3rd RTR, at daylight on the third day of the Crusader Battle was being shelled from somewhere unknown. The battalion was forced to disperse without the opportunity for brewing tea. They heard a report of tanks attacking their right flank, so they took position, hull down, to fight. A half hour later, they got a report of tanks on the left flank. Neither attack materialized. The battalion sat in place for two hours, and could see vehicles refueling in the distance. No one could tell if they were British or German. At noon, they received word that an enemy combined arms force was being organized to the north. They were told that the RAF would bomb this force. From their position, the men of the 3rd RTR could not see that any bombing was happening. Suddenly, there was a real attack, hitting B Squadron first. They reported 100 German tanks attacking. B Squadron, along with some soft vehicles came rushing into A Squadron. They wanted to keep on going, and A Squadron commander threatened to shoot those who did not turn and fight. Robert Crisp saw the enemy, and thought that there were 40 to 60 tanks, not 100. Robert Crisp thought that his troop needed to move, but did not want to move back. He moved to one side with his men, to be hull down behind a ridge. He could see that the attack had fizzled, due to the 3rd RTR moving out of their way. The Germans commenced milling around, aimlessly. Two other Stuarts had joined Robert's troop. He saw several armoured cars, presumed them to be German and moved closer to attack with the accompanying Stuarts. He turned suddenly to the left, but someone did not see his hand signal, and they collided with his tank. Robert's drive squadron was bent and his tank had to be towed back to the battalion leaguer. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Robert Crisp on the third day of the Crusader Battle

By the third day of the Crusader Battle, the British had been able to bring their armoured forces into the planned positions. From this point, the situation was to become worse. The Germans had not reacted the way the British plan had anticipated, so they were forces to make some changes. One immediate problem is that rumours were flying through the armoured battalions that Crusaders and Stuarts were no match for the German Pzkw III and IV tanks. Crews were also starting to dread the German 88mm FLAK guns that were being used in the anti-tank role. Robert Crisp says that after a week into the battle, the calculation became that it took three Stuarts to beat one Pzkw IV. Throughout the battle, the German use of sword and shield tactics, where they used forward anti-tank guns to fight the British tanks and used their tanks against British soft transport and infantry was used with impunity, as the British had not immediate answer about what to do to defeat that tactic. This is base on the account in Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

There should not be any surprise about Robert Crisp seeing Bardia

The copy of Brazen Chariots that I have shows a map of teh Crusader Battle. Bardia is less than 10 miles north of the eastern end of the Trigh Capuzzo. In the chase after the attack on the motorized transport on the Trigh, Robert's squadron ran farther north and he and his troop came up to the drop from the plateau down to the sea, overlooking a town. The map shows that the town he saw had to be Bardia, just to the northwest up the coast from Sollum. And yes, the Stuart tank was a good adversary for German armoured cars and light tanks. The Stuart was fast enough to compete with the armoured cars and had a better gun and greater speed than the Pzkw IIs that the Germans were using. They also had a few of the very inadequate Pzkw Is with just machine guns. At least the Pzkw II had a 20mm cannon.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The end of Robert Crisp's second day of the Crusader Battle

While the mechanics worked loudly on Robert Crisp's Stuart, he tried to sleep. They were not able to finish the repair to his tank, so he and his crew had to transfer to a new tank. This would not be the last time that this happened. Randolph Churchill had gotten wind of Robert Crisp's exploits, and put out a dispatch that said that "Bob Crisp, the South African fast bowler, had got the first hat trick of the Crusader campaign by knocking out three enemy tanks with three shots." Robert seems to have been mildly amused by the exaggeration. He had gotten one tank and two armoured cars, but that was close enough. The diary of the German 3rd Reconnaissance Unit recorded that they had encountered very fast British tanks, and had to retreat at high speed to escape, while they were still under fire. The British had "forced the unitl farther north over the Trigh Capuzzo and the first escarpment". This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The NZ account of the "Sunday of the Dead"

The online NZ official history is really useful. They have Chapter 10 devoted to the "Sunday of the Dead" (or Day of the Dead). This talks about the battle leading up to the surrender of the 5th SA Brigade in the Crusader Battle.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Events of the second day in retrospect

When Robert Crisp had tracers shot into the air, the fuel truck found them, and his troop was able to refuel. They apparently followed the fuel truck back to the battalion leaguer. Robert Crisp briefed the battalion commander, who was pleased with the results of the raid on the transport on the Trigh Capuzzo. It transpired that the other half of C Squadron was still missing. They showed up after sunrise on the third day. The battalion commander told them that the 8th Hussars had been heavily engaged in the afternoon of the second day, and the brigade commander had been looking for reinforcements for them. The other officers described the 8th Hussar's fight to Robert. The battalion adjutant described the 8th Hussars attack as "It looked like the run-up to the first fence at a point-to-point". The cavalry units were apparently not used to fighting with tanks, and they very quickly took many losses while learning the lessons. Robert Crisp returned to his tank to find the LAD crew at work on his tank. He found that his tank had "a whole bogie wheel shot off". This based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Official History (on the Crusader Battle): "Cruwell's Attack"

This must have been on 23 November 1941. Rommel had intended that General Crüwell join the 5th Panzer Regiment with the 15th Panzer Division, but General Crüwell made a command decision to send the 15th Panzer Division "to meet the Ariete Division". The 7th Support Group was in the unfortunate position of being in the 15th Panzer Divisions path, so it was "scattered". Teh next victims were the transport for the 5th South African Brigade. They succeed in hitting back, while taking considerable damage. The 15th Panzer Division joined the Ariete Division "north-east of Bir El Gubi". They 5th Panzer Division also arrived on the scene, but the planned joint attack did not start until 3pm, an hour later than had been hoped. The plan was to hit the South African troops with "150 tanks". The 22nd Armoured Brigade had tried to support the South Africans, but they were overcome and went into the German bag. The 22nd Armoured Brigade lost another third of its meager 34 Crusaders. The Germans paid for their success, as they lost between 60 and 70 tanks. The German personnel casualties were quite great. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

A link promoting the book Bomber Pilot, by Don Macintosh

Alastair sent me a link to this page promoting Don Macintosh's book about his experience in World War Two, called Bomber Pilot. Alastair interviewed Don Macintosh about his experience flying bombers in the RAF in WWII, and has audio as well as a transcript.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Second Day: lost

After their encounter with anti-tank guns, and their escape, Robert Crisp and his campanions were lost. Their squadron and the 3rd RTR were nowhere to be seen. Robert's friend, Harry McGreath, had tried to radio their commanding officer, with no luck. The day was getting late, and the sun would set soon. They were getting short of fuel, and didn't relish getting stuck, alone. Fortunately, to the south, they saw a group of armoured cars. They approached, and the cars proved to be a patrol from the King's Dragoon Guards. The KDG men had recognized the distinctive "Honey" profile, so they knew that they were friendly. The armoured cars were part of the screen for 30th Corps. The young subaltern gave them rough directions to the 4th Armoured Brigade HQ, and they drove off. Suddenly, Robert's Honey ran out of gasoline (he would have said "petrol"). They all stopped and formed a circle with guns pointing outward. The night was interrupted when Robert's radio operator was able to raise their commanding officer. He sent a fuel truck to them. They established radio contract with the officer in the vehicle, who asked them to fire tracer into the air. They did, and he found them. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Attack on the convoy on the second day of the Crusader Battle

This is Robert Crisp's account of the second day of the Crusader Battle.
When the A and C squadrons of the 3rd RTR reached they Trigh Capuzzo, the came over the hill and attacked. C squadron had sixteen tanks, side by side, and they were ordered to attack the head of the column. Robert Crisp knocked out two armoured cars and what must have been a Pzkw II light tank. They came across a third armoured car that had been abandoned. There was a pool of gasoline underneath, so they shot tracers and set the whole thing on fire. The bulk of the column had escaped over the escarpment to the north. They had moved past the Trigh Capuzzo and came to an steep decline. Robert Crisp took his tank to the edge and looked down. He could see the Mediterranean Sea and a town. He realized that he was looking at Bardia. His friend, Harry McGreath called to him to watch out for the anti-tank guns. Robert Crisp felt his tank shake and heard a bang. He called to his driver to reverse, to get out of the guns' sight. When he stopped, he looked and saw a puff of white smoke. He heard something whizz by his head. He knew that they had to leave where they were. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The start of the Second Day of the Crusader Battle: Robert Crisp

The beginning of the second day of the Crusader Battle saw B Squadron of the 3rd RTR being sent off to support the King's Dragoon Guards, who used South African Marmon-Herrington II armoured cars at this date. Robert Crisp's unit was sent north a couple of miles and then sat for two hours, which allowed them to cook breakfast. Eventually, the entire 3rd RTR was orderd to move to the east towards Bir Gibni to intercept an "enemy column moving south". This was the beginning of many random moves towards rumoured enemy movements that more often than not, were bad information. They heard news of B Squadron, apparently was engaging "7 tanks and 3 armoured cars". The battalion was being fragmented, and A and C squadrons were sent off to the Trigh Capuzzo to engage 200 enemy vehicles. The Trigh Capuzzo was far to the north, so they had a long journey. When they reached the vicinity, they looked over the crest of the hill, saw the column, protected by a few tanks and armoured cars, and then attacked. C Squadron was to attack the head of the column, and that was where Robert Crisp headed. This is based on the account in obert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The initial movement to the west from The Wire

This is Robert Crisp's account of the first day of the Crusader Battle.
After they had crossed the border at "The Wire", the British armoured force moved west. Robert Crisp says that they had a reconnaissance screen consisting of armoured cars from the South Africans, the 11th Hussars, and King's Dragoon Guards. He expected that there would be no surprises. By evening, they stopped and the Stuarts had to refuel, as the radial engines used a great deal of fuel, which gave them a rather short range. As the battle progressed, where there were "swift movements", the fuel consumption would become very significant. In any case, on the first day, they moved 65 miles from their last refueling and were south of Gabr Taieb El Esem. They lay at Point 185 on the map. So went the first day of the Crusader Battle. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Robert Crisp early on the first day of the Crusader Battle

This is Robert Crisp's account of the first day of the Crusader Battle. After the 4th Armoured Brigade had brewed their morning tea, they started to move. The time was right after 7am. By the time they had crossed The Wire, they reached the first of the petrol dumps which had been placed for refueling. Each "Honey" (Stuart) filled up and then the unit proceeded. Robert Crisp says that they moved in "battalion open-order formation". The tanks were still concealed beneath their 3-ton truck camouflage. They were ordered to "drop sunshields" at 3:30pm. That allowed their radio antennas to be raised. Near the end were the "twin yellow pennants" that were for identification for British tanks. One unanticipated feature of the battle was that British tanks often lowered their antennas to allow them to better hide behind a rise, and Robert Crisp speculated that this probably led to British tanks shooting at each other. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots.

Monday, November 20, 2006

This blog's purpose

The purpose of the Panzer Abwehr blog is to summarize the literature that is relevant to armoured warfare in World War II and to point out relevant resources on the Internet. I am not currently actively researching this area, except in the sense that I am getting a closer reading of the literature that I have had in the past. Covering the literature in this way gives me an opportunity to comment on the topic, as I have built up a certain amount of expertise, as I had spent close to 20 years in my previous studies. I have had an interest in writing a book or articles for publication, but I would want to be in a position to add to the knowledge of the topic. At this point, there has been so much work done that a further work seems somewhat redundant.

I am currently summarizing two works: Vol.III of Major-General Playfair's book History of the Second World War -The Mediterranean and Middle East and Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Crossing "The Wire" in the early hours of 16 November 1941

This is from Robert Crisp's account of the start of the Crusader Battle.
Robert Crisp says that late on 15 November 1941, the British forces moved up to "The Wire". While they waited, demolitions exploded, breaking the barrier. They moved under a complete radio silence. Almost immediately, they were engulfed by a thunderstorm that moved down from the north. The Stuarts had their "sun shields" to help keep them dry. At daylight, the column moved forward, including the 3rd RTR and Robert Crisp. Early on, they asked for and received permission to brew hot tea. They called it a "brew". Robert Crisp says that they used gasoline to heat the kettles. There was an attempt to prohibit this practice, but the authorities backed off, when they recognized the importance of letting the troops brew their tea. After 18 November and the start of the offensive, Robert Crisp says that with any lull in fighting you would hear: "Hullo JAGO, JAGO Two calling. May we brew up?" He says that the Germans heard what was happening and at one point, near Bir el Gubi, they heard a German voice say: "Hullo BALO, BALO calling. You may brrrew up" That drew a big laugh from the 3rd RTR. This is based on Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Back to Brazen Chariots: 13 November 1941

On 13 November 1941, the commanding officer came and briefed the 4th Armoured Brigade on the coming operation. The officers watching the presentation marked on their maps in crayon the details that were presented. They went back and briefed the troops on what they had heard. The plan was that the 4th, 7th, and 22nd Armoured Brigades would cross the border, through "The Wire", supported by the New Zealand an South African divisions. They would be to the south, while most German and Italian forces were in the north, near the coast. The idea was that the armoured brigades would move across the Axis lines of communication back to Benghazi. The hope was that the Axis armour would attack the armoured brigades, which would be will-sited, in defensible positions. The 4th Armoured Brigade would be in the center, with the 7th and 22nd Brigades on their flanks. The prospects greatly excited the troops, as it seemed like a good plan. Too bad it was not executed as designed. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A remark on the last

We need to remember that when General Cunningham found out the depth of the crisis and what had happened to his armoured forces, he was all but incapacitated. When General Auchinleck found out the state of his army and that Cunningham was not able to command, he took over and won the Crusader Battle.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Corps and Army did not know the true state British armoured forces on 22 November 1941

I suspect that if the 7th Armoured Division commander, General Gott, 30th Corps commander General Norrie, or the 8th Army commander knew the true state of the armoured force, they would have panicked and quite rightly so. We can be amazed that General Gott did not know what had happened to his brigades up to this point, but he did not. From his level and up, they were oblivious to the heavy losses that had taken. They continued to order units around as if they were whole. General Cunningham had decided that the New Zealand Division should move towards Tobruk, and told the 13th Corps commander to hold the border area with minimal forces. The 30th Corps would be ready to fight the German armour in the decisive battle. Rommel, meanwhile, ordered the DAK to attack towards the Ariete Division, catch the British armour between them, and defeat it. General Crüwell modified the plan to use the artillery and infantry from the 21st Panzer Division as the anvil and have the Ariete Division, 15th Panzer Division, and 5th Panzer Regiment be the hammer with which they would break the British armoured forces. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The 4th Armoured Brigade Stuarts are fitted to look like 3-ton trucks (lorries)

While the 4th Armoured Brigade Stuarts were at Abar Kenayis, they were fitted with tubing and burlap to make them look a bit like 3-ton trucks (lorries). The cover name for the camouflage was "Sunshields". Robert Crisp's assessment was that in the initial movement forward, the camouflage must have worked, because Rommel did not realize that what he describes as 600 tanks had moved up close to his forces. In the first week of November, the brigade moved forward to Hallequat, to the south of the coast road that ran towards Sollum from Sidi Barrani. In the run up to Hallequat, the rubber blocks in the Stuarts' tracks was damage by the "hard limestone outcrop". John Harding, later a Field Marshall, ordered Alec Gatehouse to take a damaged rubber block to show General Auchinleck in Cairo. Auchinleck responded by ordering every Stuart in rear areas to be stripped of its track blocks, which would be sent to the 4th Armoured Brigade to repair the tracks. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Back to the Official History on 22 November 1941

We will mix in some of the Official History, alongside Brazen Chariots. On 22 November 1941, 70th Division was able to expand his outward penetration. General Norrie had instructed General Scobie not to go to far, until the battle at Sidi Rezegh was resolved. Back at the border, the New Zealanders had taken "Fort Capuzzo and Musaid, cut the Bardia water pipe and all the enemy's telgraph and telephone lines". The ended up astride the Bardia-Tobruk road. They 7th Indian Brigade and infantry tanks had a success. Two of the Indian battalions had taken Sidi Omar Nuovo and most of the Italian Omar. The infantry were supported by the 42nd RTR and one squadron of the 44th RTR. They lost 37 infantry tanks, however, in the effort. These were lost to a combination of anti-tank guns and mines. The Germans had dug in 88's, and these continued to dominate the Btitish infantry tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Robert Crisp got jaundice, which gave him a two-week vacation

After going out and firing their guns, when the 4th Armoured Brigade returned to Beni Yusef, Robert Crisp had jaundice. That gave him a two-week vacation in "the 15th General Hospital, on the Nile opposite Gezira Island". He got to eat good food and recuperate in relative luxary. He could look out at the dhows on the Nile and the 3rd RTR moved forward to the Siwa track for the coming offensive. He rejoined his unit there. They had formed up about 90 miles to the east of the border ("The Wire"). The barbed wire fence had been built by the Italians in an attempt to keep the wandering Arabs out of Libya. The Wire was guarded by a series of strong points. The Italians occasionally patroled on their side, while the British kept up continuous patrols. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Getting ready for battle in early October 1941

The 4th Armoured Brigade was training, in early October 1941, in "the barren spaces west of the Cario-Fayoum road". Robert Crisp says that they were having "battle-practice with live ammunition". He says that they thought that the German 88mm gun could hit a tank at 3,000 yards, while they had the 37mm pop gun that could only reach about 1,200 yards. He says that in fact, they found that the effective range of both the 2pdr and 37mm guns was much less than the 1,200 yards that they had been told.

Robert Crisp had an idea that he wanted to try, to see if he might be able to get close enough to fire without being knocked out. He figured that he would not be able to fire from a moving tank, so he thought that if he could use the mobility of the tanks in his troop to close with the enemy. His idea, which I know is sound, was to have his gunner keep his sight on the target while moving, and when the tank stopped, the gunner would fire. This was to be an automatic procedure, happening without any further orders. Experience in battle practice indicated that this idea could work.

This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The 4th Armoured Brigade

Robert Crisp says that the 4th Armoured Brigade was continuously involved in the Crusader Battle for five weeks. He says that Alec Gatehouse kept records that showed that they were continuosly engaged for two weeks, "with an average of two battles a day". They they went "without rest or maintenance" during this period. The brigade had traveled 1,700 miles, with individual tanks covering as much as 3,000 miles. They lost 172 tanks knocked out, from a total strength of 163 tanks, all Stuarts. Robert Crisp says that he alone lost six tanks. By the end of two weeks, they must have been exhausted, running on adrenaline alone, as Robert Crisp says that commanders got about 1-1/2 hours sleep per day. By the end of the Crusader Battle, Rommel's tank strength had been reduced to 58, from a starting number of about 400. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A new army and the 4th Armoured Brigade

Robert Crisp mentions that the 3rd RTR and the 4th Armoured Brigade starting having stream of VIP visitors. They included Lt-General Cunningham, and oddly, the Maharajah of Kashmir. Robert and his comrades could tell that something was happening to cause this. They eventually found out that the new command was formed, called the 8th Army, with General Cunningham as its commander.

Within the 8th Army, the 4th Armoured Brigade was organized as an all-arms brigade group, with tanks predominating. There were the three armoured battalions, a troop of the RHA (equipped with 25 pdrs), "a detachment of the Scots Guards", and "antitank and antiaircraft units". Alec Gatehouse was the brigade commander, and he was actually a tank officer, rather than a converted cavalryman. Robert Crisp says that the 4th Armoured Brigade was the first all-arms "combat team" in the Army. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

The "new urgency"

The 4th Armoured Brigade was located far enough from Cairo to not receive much news about what was happening. Robert Crisp says that they were "astonished" at Wavell's removal and replacement with General Auchinleck. Robert says that A squadron's major had served under General Auchinleck in India and said of him: "Bloody good chap, the Auk". The remoteness of their location was not appreciated and was considered to be an unnecessary hardship.

By the end of September, the 3rd RTR was completely equipped with Stuarts and had a full complement of men. The new battalion commander was "Bunny Ewins", and he confirmed Robert Crisp as a captain and "second-in-command of 'C' Squadron". He still commanded a troop of "Honeys" as he called the Stuarts. He appreciated the better pay received as a captain. A lieutenant's pay had cramped his lifestyle.

This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The 4th Armoured Brigade is formed

At the end of August 1941, the 3rd RTR joined the 8th Hussars and the 5th RTR to form the 4th Armoured Brigade at Beni Yusef. Beni Yusef was located 20 miles past Cairo, apparently towards Libya. The time was spent in re-equipping and training on the new tanks and equipment. They had American techicians to help prepare the Stuarts. The British wanted 14 modifications made to better fit British needs. Robert Crisp had to censor his batman's letters home, to his great amusement. The batman must have been a Scot, as he referred to someone he called the "auld-wife". An officer of the Scots Guards who visited said that this referred to the batman's mother-in-law. After a three week stretch without a letter home, Robert Crisp prodded his batman to write. The batman wrote a letter to his wife blaming the carrying ship having been sunk for the three weeks without a letter. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The "Honey"

Robert Crisp put his crew into a new Stuart and took it out for a spin. He took the tank to the sandy desert and did things like try to lose a track. He also found that the Stuart could make 40mph. I am not sure if they had removed the governor, or what. Most British tanks were governed down to a rather low speed to reduce the chances of mechanical failure, as well as breaking a track. Robert Crisp instructed his driver Whaley to "make a few fast turns", and the Stuart responded without a problem. He finally told Whaley to attempt to "shed on eof these tracks". They found that the tracks always stayed on the tank. When they arrived back at the camp, Whaley dubbed the Stuart: "It's a honey, sir". Robert Crisp says that from then on, the Stuarts were known as honeys. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots.

Ian Paterson has a page that shows the 7th Armoured Division organization as changes happened over time

Ian Paterson has another page that gives the changing organization of the 7th Armoured Division from late 1939 until the Normandy campaign in 1944. This sort of information is at least a starting point for wargamers.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The 3rd RTR will get Stuarts in late summer of 1941

The 3rd RTR had somewhat more than 60 tanks when they were sent to Greece. All were lost, and only their machine guns were stripped. Robert Crisp did not think much of British tank design. His description was that the cavalry had undue influence in the process, so fast, lightly armoured vehicles were the result. In reality, the story was more complicated than that. There was a push to get vehicles into production before they had become mechanically mature. The British track design was also very fragile. Robert Crisp says that American technicians arrived to receive the Stuarts and take them into service. The Stuarts proved to be very robust and mechanically sound. The American track design was much stronger. The Stuarts were powered by aircraft radial engines, and this resulted in a very short, high silhouette. The Stuart's gun was the inadequate American 37mm and several Browning machine guns. The Stuart's other virtual, besides reliability is that the frontal armour was greater than that on British cruiser tanks of the time. The track links had big rubber blocks in them. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Robert Crisp decided to volunteer for the LRDG in July 1941

In July 1941, Robert Crisp had tired of enforced idleness and had talked with some New Zealanders about the Long Range Desert Group. That seemed like the perfect place for some excitement and danger. Robert spoke with Colonel Prendergrast, the LRDG commander, who promised to ask for his transfer to the unit. In a few days, the battalion adjutant for the 3rd RTR informed Robert Crisp that he wasn't going anywhere. They needed trained tank crews for the coming offensive, and that would keep him with the 3rd RTR. Gradually, his situation improved. Many new men joined the unit, to make up the losses from Greece. They learned that they would be equipped with American M3 light tanks, nicknamed the Stuart. Until the Stuarts arrived, they were training with A10s and A13s, along with a very few surviving A9s. The main problem with these vehicles was their mechanical fragility. Most of the tanks lost in Greece were due to "broken tracks or other mechanical breakdowns". This is base on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The beginning of Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots

In July 1941, Robert Crisp was playing cricket in Cairo. He was very well-known in the sport and enjoyed the attention that a good player received. He was a South African, and had been a professional cricket player before the war. In July, there were many soldiers in Cairo. The abortive Operation Battleaxe had failed, and that left the army in the position of rebuilding and training. Only in May 1941, Robert Crisp and the remnants of the 3rd RTR had returned from the disaster in Greece. The battalion had been reduced to a few hundred men. After a short rest, the battalion was pulled into providing protection to the airfield at Heliopolis. They were reduced to the petty occupations of an idle unit. They were fortunate, however, to enjoy the amenities of the rear area in Egypt. Robert Crisp was newly promoted to Captain, a rank he had previously held, three months after being commissioned in June 1940. Robert Crisp put his promotion to his playing cricket for South Africa, while his battalion commander had played cricket for Hampshire. After the Greek disaster, and the losses in officers, Robert Crisp had regained his rank. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots.

I probably need to add Brazen Chariots to my list of books to summarize

This period in the Crusader Battle is well-covered in Robert Crisp's classic book Brazen Chariots. I realized that I should summarize the book for readers, as not many people are likely to have recently read the book. I highly recommend the book, as Robert Crisp provides a good narrative about his service in the 3rd RTR up to the time his Stuart was knocked out by 50mm PAK 38's during the Crusader Battle. He has a vivid description of the incident where the 4th Armoured Brigade was overrun, in the night (presumably) by the Germans. Alec Gatehouse, the brigade commander, was able to escape, but the soft vehicles in the headquarters were taken by the Germans. That put the brigade out of touch with the division commander, corps commander, and army commander until 24 November 1941.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The 7th Armoured Division was in dire straits by the 22nd of November 1941

After their encounters with the combined German panzer divisions, the 7th Armoured Division had minimal armoured forces left. The Germans had reclaimed Gabr Saleh and moved to retake Sidi Rezegh. The 7th Armoured Brigade had been further decimated and now had only 10 tanks left by the end of 22 November 1941. The 22nd Armoured Brigade had only 34 tanks. The remaining strength of the 4th Armoured Brigade is somewhat unclear, but the Germans had at least claimed to have captured about 50 Stuarts when overrunning the brigade. The Germans now had an overwhelming superiority in tanks, with 173 tanks left after the day's battles. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

More events from 21 November 1941

Orders had been issued for the 4th Armoured Brigade and 22nd Armoured Brigade to attack the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions, but they never were able to do so. That allowed them to eliminate the 7th Armoured Brigade as an effective fighting force. The ill-timed breakout attempt from Tobruk ran into some resistence from Germans, but not as much as was expected from the Italians. 70th Division, in the execution of the breakout plan ran into the as not-unexpected dug in besiegers fighting from behind barbed wire and minefields. The 1st RTR and 4th RTR, along with the 2nd Black Watch succeeded in taking the "Tiger" area in intense fighting. A major mishap that occurred in the process was when the 15th Panzer Division ran into the leaguering 4th Armoured Brigade and succeeded in dispersing the brigade. Alec Gatehouse remained free, but the brigade was temporarily eliminated as a coherent fighting force. In Brazen Chariots, Robert Crisp describes this event. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ian Paterson has a good narrative of events in the Crusader Battle

On the Battles 1941 page, Ian Paterson has a good narrative of events in the Crusader Battle. The page is very ambitious, covering all actions for the 7th Armoured Division in 1941. His assessment of the situation on 23 November 1941, early in the day seems quite accurate:

By dawn on 23rd November, 7th Armoured Division was in considerable disarray. The 4th Armoured Brigade was scatted everywhere, the 7th Armoured Brigade had only 15 battle worthy tanks, with the 22nd Armoured Brigade reduced to 34 Crusaders. The Support Group was virtually non existent. If the Division was to survive these scattered and battle weary elements needed to be concentrated.

General Gott had completed the scattering of his division that had been partially planned by 30th Corps and the army commander. That enabled the Germans to overwhelm the scattered pieces.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The situation after four days of the Crusader Battle

We have seen that General Gott's deviation from the plan expended the 7th Armoured Brigade without really achieving anything substantive. He allowed the two German panzer divisions to fight the unsupported 7th Armoured Brigade. Rommel's plan was working. He had ordered General Crüell to use the concentrated German panzer divisions against the British armoured brigades, individually. General Gott played into Rommel's hands by fighting with the 7th Armoured Division brigades dispersed. Ordering the breakout from Tobruk without having defeated the Germans, as planned was a major error that almost cost the British the battle. As we shall see, the situation eventually got so out of control that General Auchinleck intervended and won the battle.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The 7th Support Group on 21 November 1941

The 7th Supprot Group was heavily engaged on 21 November 1941. The Support Group commander was Brigadier "Jock" Campbell. The 7th Support Group, at this date, consisted of the following units:

1st Battalion, KRRC
2nd Battalion, The Rifle Brigade
3rd Regiment RHA (anti-tank)
60th Field Regiment, RA
one battery of 51st Field Regiment, RA

This is based on the footnote at the bottom on page 45, in Vol.III of the Official History.

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. 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.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The British won the Crusader Battle

The Official History summaries the Crusader Battle by saying that the British won the battle, relieved Tobruk, but it took longer than planned, and by the time the battle was won, the British had "exhausted themselves". The battle took place between the border, as far south as Fort Maddalena, and Tobruk, including towards the south to Bir el Gubi. The stretched out over two weeks, as the British initial thrust misfired, and they were confused and ineffectual for some time, really until General Auchinleck intervened. The area is pretty much ideal for armoured warfare, except near the coast, where there is the escarpment and poor going. The ground inland is quite good for tanks and vehicles, except when there is rain. Near the coast is the Via Balbia, the coast road built by the Italians. Much of the important fighting occurred near the Sidi Rezegh airfield. On the British side, almost the entire army was now motorized, even the infantry. The infantry divisions drew their transport from a pool, while motorized units had integral transport. 30th Corps was completely motorized while the 13th Corps had units that were not. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, September 29, 2006

More thoughts on Rommel

Rommel was trained in infiltration tactics in the Great War, and was a skilled practitioner, as he proved on the Italian front. Infiltration tactics really formed the basis of armoured warfare, as practiced by the Germans in WWII. Patton understood them, and largely adopted the concepts. He, especially, of the Allied generals, was a master of mobile warfare, and the use of armour. Montgomery was not. He required material superiority, and fought in set piece battles. He detested spontaneous, unscripted operations. That was because he was ponderous in thought and always wanted to be in control. The Germans had many who understood the principles. General von Manstein applied them in the 1940 campaign against France, even though he did not command armour. I believe that he commanded an infantry corps. Von Manstein proved himself a master of the form, able to function as a very high level commander on the Eastern Front.

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