Friday, March 31, 2006

Syria, the Free French, and a deteriorating military situation

By early May 1941, the British position in the Middle East and Mediterranean area was very precarious. The Germans had succeeded in setting the British back, and were looking for openings where they might create further chaos. Iraq was in the process of erupting, Greece had fallen, and Rommel had achieved a success that was unwanted by his superiors in Germany. His victories and created a problem, as the high command in Germany had wanted him to take a defensive posture, prior to the attack on Russia.

Already by 12 May, German aircraft had started to land in Damascus. With the force sent to Iraq, General Wavell was left with nothing to send to Syria. A new force needed to be found. The candidate seemed to be the 7th Australian Division. They had one brigade still in Tobruk, but they were ordered to leave Mersa Matruh and head for Palestine. The 5th South African Brigade and the Polish Brigade were their replacements.

The Free French commander, General Catroux, had portrayed that the French would let the Free French and British walk into Syria. In fact, intelligence proved that the French had taken up positions, ready to defend against an incursion. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Syria increasingly becomes an unstable situation

In November 1940, a very strong pro-Vichy commissioner, General Henri Dentz, was appointed. As the year moved towards and end, more Germans arrived in Syria. The Free French had tried to promote their cause in Syria, but only succeeded in riling the French and Syrians. General de Gaulle visited the Middle East in April 1941. Everyone was opposed to using British forces in Syria, and they were stretched to the breaking point, already. After the fall of Greece, the commanders in the Middle East worried about the Germans making an airborne landing in Syria. Meanwhile, the situation in Iraq had gone critical, and General Wavell was forced to take command of that operation. By 12 May 1941, intelligence arrived that German aircraft were landing in Syria. The German arrival prompted the Turks to move troops up to the Syrian border. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Syria becomes unstable

The situation in Syria was already unsettled, starting with the armistice in June 1940. The French split into Vichy supporters, with pro-German sympathies, and the Free French. The Polish Brigade, with some Free French crossed from Syria into Palestine to continue the fight. Syria had an ongoing problem with "civil unrest", because the local populace thought that the expected movement to give them self-government was moving too slowly. By 1 July 1940, the British had announced that they would not allow Syria to be occupied by any "hostile power". In late August, "the Italian Armistice Commission arrived in Syria". General Wavell was already making noises that there were no forces that could be spared for Syria. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Resolute action paid off in Iraq

General Wavell had not wanted to deal with Iraq, but the high command in London (the Defence Committee) had rightly forseen that vigorous action was required to keep Iraq from becoming a major problem. General Wavell, the theater commander was overruled, and a force was dispatched to Iraq under strong leadership. The action of the local officers and the newly arrived force kept the situation in Iraq from spinning out of control. The attitude of soldiers and airman was enthusiastic, and with plenty of initiative, they overcame the Iraqi forces. The Germans and Italians like the idea of Iraq being in revolt, but the reality was that they could do little to help, as they were totally unprepared. What they were able to do was "too little, too late". The British were fortunate to be finished in Iraq when they were, because Syria was about to explode into crisis. This is my editorializing over the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, March 27, 2006

German aid to Iraq from Syria

The initial German solution to sending aid to Iraq was to run trains from Syria. Four trains loaded with munitions were sent to Iraq before "a few enterprising Frenchmen" blew up the "bridge near Tel Kotchek". That stopped further shipments by rail.

German reconniassance aircraft arrived in Syria in early May. They flew on Mosul on 11 May. The commander, Major Axel von Blomburg, was shot down and killed by mistake by Iraqi AA fire when he approached Baghdad at low level. The plan to send air aid to Iraq included 14 Me-110's and 7-He-111's from Fliegerkorps VIII. Some transports would also be sent. The Germans eventually suggested to the Italians that they send help, as well. Accordingly, 12-CR42 Falco fighters "arrived at Mosul on 27th May". By the time of Rashid Ali's exit from Iraq, the Axis had lost 14 Me-110s, 5 He-111s, and 3-CR42s.

This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The German plan to cause trouble in Iraq

By 24 March 1941, Foreign Minister Ribbentrop thought that the time was ripe for military action in Iraq. The main difficulty was supplying the Iraqis with weapons. On 3 April was Rashid Ali's coup d'etat. The decision had been made by 17 April what arms were available to be sent to Iraq. On 18 April, the British landings in Basra occurred. The Germans hoped that the conflict in Iraq would lead to a general Arab uprising, which the Germans were ready to recognize and to support. Only by 6 May had the Germans decided to send weapons from French stocks in Syria. This was the day that the siege of Habbaniyah was lifted. Support for the Iraqis would be sent by air from Syria, if the Iraqis could hold out long enough. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Arab situation in the Middle East in 1940-1941

The Germans had maintained contact with dissadent Arabs in the Middle East from before the start of the war. Even though the Iraqis had a large group sympathetic with the Germans, the Iraqi government had broken diplomatic ties in September 1939. After the French collapse in May 1940, the Germans still made no effort to have influence in Syria, even though that seems to have been a natural possibility. The Italians, not Germans, sent an armistice commission to Syria. However, there was unrest among Arabs wanting to be free of British rule. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem had tried to negotiate a deal with the Germans to recognize the Arab states as being independent. He had proposed that they send out agents from Syria to create unrest in Palestine and Transjordan. It was only in January 1941 that the Germans sent a man to Syria to assess the situation on the ground. This is based the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Iraqi collapse

The British forces were struggling to approach Baghdad while Habbaniyah was being hammered by German aircraft. Lt-Colonel Ferguson's force had arrived about eight miles north of Baghdad on 28 May 1941. They pushed back a night attack and then advanced another four miles. Brigadier Kingstone's force had been hung up at a canal, but by 30 May had a bridge across. These delays actually served the British interests well, as the Iraqi's had heard rumours that exaggerated the British strength. On 30 May, General Clark heard from his commanders in Egypt that Rashid Ali had left Iraq and crossed into Iran (which Churchill insisted on calling Persia). The British ambassador in Baghdad was finally able to communicate and said that the Iraqis had advanced with a flag of truce and asked for a meeting. An armistice was signed , ending hostilities. In the campaign, the RAF had lost 28 aircraft, 34 men killed and 64 wounded. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The advance on Baghdad on 28 May 1941

Ramadi was occupied by a "considerable force of Iraqis", and there was another one south of Fallujah. Since General Clark preferred not to have these in his rear, he hoped they would surrender, if they were bombed. However, that was not sufficient.

On 28 May 1941, Brigadier Kingstone's force had advanced quickly, as they were on a hard, "flinty" desert plain. They had to fight an action at Khan Noqta, and then "a few miles further on". They found a working telephone, and an interpreter spread misinformation, hoping to panic the Iraqis. They ended the day 12 miles from Baghdad, but facing a blown bridge and having a canal to cross.

This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Planning to attack Baghdad

The next step was to plan the attack on Baghdad. General Clark ruled out an attack from the south, by road, as that would mean passing through the "holy city of Karbala". The alternative was to send to forces. Brigadier Kingstone would advance on the main road to Baghdad. Lt-Colonel Ferguson and the Household Cavalry Regiment would circle to the north. The Arab Legion was already in place to the north, having cut the Mosul-Baghdad railway. Brigadier Kingstone's force was delayed by flooding, and the need to get vehicles across unbridged waterways. They also had to contend with German air raids. The northern column crossed the Euphrates on the night of 27 May 1941 "and disappeared inot the desert". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bill Roggio has a good map that shows Habbaniyah

Bill Roggio is a blogger who is reporting from Iraq. In a post, he has a map that shows Habbaniyah, Baghdad, Fallujah, and Ramadi. You need to click the thumbnail to see the details.

The capture of Fallujah

The RAF softened up Fallujah with bombing raids, starting on 18 May 1941. Early on 19 May, 57 aircraft hit Iraqi positions around Fallujah. A final attack was made at 2:45pm, and then Captain Graham led his Assyrian company on an attack against Fallujah. They were covered by 25pdr fire. The defence of Fallujah proved to be a paper tiger. Thre was only token resistance and about 300 Iraqi prisoners were taken. The strike evoked a response from German aircraft, which bombed and strafed Habbaniyah, "destroying or damaging several aircraft and causing a number of casualties". The Iraqis attacked Fallujah "two days later", hoping to retake the town. The town was defended by two companies of the King's Own and Levies. Brigadier Kingstone arrived and took command. Kingcol was alerted, in case they were needed. After a second attack, "two companies of the 1st Essex Regiment arrived in time to repel it". They inflicted heavy casualties on the Iraqis, who withdrew. Aircraft from Habbaniyah attacked Iraqi reinforcements moving forward and driven back. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A divergence from the current thread

This is off on a tangent from the current thread, but there is a good Russian site that has photos from the "Tank Museum in Kubinka".

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The plan to proceed in Iraq from 18 May 1941

The air commander in Iraq was hurt in an automobile accident, so he was succeeded by Air Vice-Marshal D'Albiac, returned from Greece, and having been assigned to command in Palestine and Transjordan. He flew into Habbaniyah on 18 May 1941. That was concurrent with Kingcol's arrival there. He found that Colonel Roberts, commanding the Habbaniyah garrison was planning on attacking at Fallujah, hoping to take the bridge intact. Three columns were moving towards the objective, made more difficult by flooding. The first column consisted of the RAF Rolls-Royce armoured cars, one company of Levies, a small group from the 2/4th Gurkha Rifles, with some captured Iraqi howitzers crossed the Euphrates at Sin el Dhibban. The second column, consisting of one compnay of the King's Own, was flown to Notch Fall. They were tasked to conduct operations "against the Baghdad road from the north". The third column consisted of one company of Assyrian Levies, along with one troop of 6 25pdrs from Kingcol (the 237th Battery R.A.). This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Kingcol moved into Iraq on 13 May 1941

Kingcol moved into Iraq on 13 May 1941. Advanced elements reached Rutba by nightfall. Those in Habbaniya recommended to Brigadier Kingstone that he approach Habbaniya from the South and avoid Ramadi. A German aircraft had attacked the column and had caused a few casualties. The principal problem was caused by the vehicles, particularly, the heavy lorries, not being desert-worthy. The heaviest bogged down, because they broke through the surface crust. They only reached the Habbaniya area by 18 May. Fortunately, the RAF had succeeded in writing off the Iraqi air force by repeated attacks against its bases. The remaining threat would now be from German aircraft from Erbil and Mosul, as well as from Syria. In response, the RAF was given permission to hit airfields in Syria, even though there would probably be French aircraft damaged in the process. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The flying column, Kingcol

Brigadier Kingstone, commander of the 4th Cavalry Brigade led Kingcol, the "flying column" that that move the 500 miles across the desert. Kingcol had about 2,000 men and 500 vehicles, and was a combined-arms force, according to the current parlance. The units that comprised Kingcol were:

HQ and Signals, 4th Cavalry Brigade
the Household Cavalry Regiment
237th Battery, Royal Artillery
one anti-tank gun troop, Royal Artillery
one troop, 2nd Field Squadron, Royal Engineers
one detachment from Boring Section, Royal Engineers
two companies, 1st Essex Regiment
a detachment of the 166th Light Field Ambulance
3rd Reserve Motor Transport Company, RASC
552nd Motor Transport Company, RASC
8 armoured cars from No.2 Armoured Car Company, RAF

This is based on the account and information in Vol.II of the Official History of the War in the Mediterranean and Middle East.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The attack on Rutba

Before Habforce could move into Iraq, an attack was made on Rutba. The fort at Rutba was occupied by Iraqi police. Rutba was attacked from the air by Blenheims from No.203 Squadron on 9 May 1941. On 10 May, part of No.2 Armoured Car Company RAF arrived. They found that the Iraqi police had left the fort during the night. The politics of the situation were such that a squadron of the Transjordan Frontier Force refused to take part. However, the Emir Abdullah of Transjordan had ordered the Arab League to take part, and they performed well during the campaign. Habforce was delayed, as the 1st Cavalry Division so far only had one motorized brigade, the 4th. The rest were still horsed cavalry. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Further plans for Iraq

After General Wavell had been given responsibility for northern Iraq, against his wishes, he still persisted in recommending a negotiated settlement with Rashid Ali. Raschid Ali had already revealed his Axis ties, so Wavell's proposal made no sense. The Chiefs of Staff believed that the arrival of British forces in Basra had forced Rashid Ali's hand prematurely. In their opinion, strong action could solve the problem. Since the seige of Habbaniyah had been lifted, due to the action on the night of 5-6 May 1941, that greatly simplified the task. On 8 May, General Wavell took command in southern Iraq, as well as the north. Lt-General E. P. Quinan, the new commander on the ground, was told to establish a sold base in the Basra-Shaibah area and to prepare for reinforcements. The Indian government had actually wanted more vigorous action, and had ordered General Quinan accordingly. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

General Wavell stops being cooperative

General Wavell had acquiesced with many things to which he might have objected more vigorously. Now, on something that seems obviously the right thing to do, he balked. On 2 May 1941, the Defence Committee, in Britain, decided that the Middle East should be in control of operations in Iraq. General Wavell immediately started whining about the prospect and recommending negotiating with the Axis sympathizer, Rashid Ali. Thankfully, he was overruled, and he was told to go through the motions of preparing what would look like a large force to send to Iraq. What there actually was that was available was one mechanized brigade from the 1st Cavalry Division (incomplete in equipment), one field regiment, one motorized infantry battalion, "three machanized squadrons of the Transjordan Frontier Force". The combination would be called "Habforce". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The immediate end to the siege at Habbaniyah

On the night of 5 May 1941, King's Own Rifle Regiment partols staged a raid on the Iraqis surrounding Habbaniyah. On the following morning, the British found that the Iraqis had abandoned part of the plateau and had left a great deal of "arms and equipment for which a good use was soon found". RAF Rolls Royce armoured cars advanced up the road towards Fallujah, and ran into Iraqi forces. These were attacked and driven out by levies and troops form the King's Own Rifle Regiment. They were supported by Audaxes from Habbaniyah. A column was seen advancing from Fallujah in the afternoon of 6 May and they were bombed and straffed by forty aircraft. The results were ammunition explosions and vehicles burning. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The second, third, and fourth days of British air attack in Iraq

The British assessment of the first day was that the Iraqi artillery was less of a threat than feared and there seemed to be no imminent threat of attack by the surrounding forces. That allowed the Air Officer Commanding to change his operation plan to include attacks against the Iraqi airforce and the Iraqi supply lines. On 3 May 1941, the British hit "the Rashid airfield", the road connecting Habbaniyah and Baghdad, and the forces besieging Habbaniyah. On 4 May, the effort against the Iraqi airforce, and a small German contingent, intensified. This day, 8 Wellingtons from No.37 Squadron hit Rashid airfield. They were intercepted by Iraqi fighters, but took no losses. Blenheim fighters from No.203 Squadron were used in low-level strafing attacks against Rashid and Baghdad airfields. They had an escort of two long-range Hurricanes sent from Egypt. They also hit Mosul airfield where some German aircraft were based. On 5 May, attention returned to the Iraqi forces besieging Habbaniyah, when one Wellington from No.37 Squadron and four Blenheims from No.203 squadron hit them, along with the aircraft from the training school at Habbaniyah. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

On 30 April 1941, Iraqi troops headed west from Baghdad

The British commander in Habbaniyah was notified by the British embassy in Baghdad that Iraqi forces were headed west from the city. Immediately, the aircraft at the school were dispersed and armed with bombs. The natural next step for the British was to send aloft reconnaissance aircraft. They reported that something like two Iraqi battalions were on the plateau and equipped with artillery. The Iraqi commander sent a message at 6am, demanding that air operations at Habbaniyah cease immediately. The British commander sent a reply that any interference "would be treated as an act of war". Air reconnaissance showed that the Iraqis were growing in strenght and that Iraqi troops were in possession of Fallujah. The situation put the British in a difficult position. The British sent reinforcements of 8 Wellingtons to Shaibah with another 10 to follow. Fortunately, on 1 May, word was received from London that the British forces had permission to launch an air attack on Iraqi forces. The British attacked the Iraqis at dawn on 2 May. They had 33 aircraft from Habbaniyah and 8 Wellingtons from Shaibah. The Iraqi air force responded and a battle ensued. The Iraqis had some superior aircraft, primarily Italian-built (SM79 bombers, Ba65 ground attack aircraft, and Northrup 8a figher-bombers). The British at Habbaniyah had done well with what they had. They lost 5 aircraft destroyed and others were out of service. They had 13 killed and 29 wounded. Nine of these were civilians. Two more aircraft, Vickers Vincents from Shaibah, were lost while attacking targets to the north of Shaibah. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Preparations for combat at Habbaniyah in April 1941

The British, at Habbaniyah in Iraq, fully expected to be engaged in combat in a short time. Three aircraft types were fitted to carry bombs. Hawker Audaxes were originally intended to carry the small 20-lb. bombs, were modified to carry two 250-lb. bombs. The Fairey Gordons received the same modification. The Oxford trainers were not intended to carry bombs, but they were fitted to carry the 20-lb. bombs. The Royal Air Force had 18 of the 1924 pattern Rolls Royce armoured cars, and those were used to patrol the road to the east, towards Falluja. Aircraft carried out reconnaissance to the east.
Despite the impending disaster Greece, a further 6 Gladiators were sent to Habbaniyah, so that there were a total of 9 available. British women and children were evacuated from Baghdad and first taken to Habbaniyah. From there, they were flown to Shaibah. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Habbaniyah in April 1941

The story of Habbaniyah has echoes from the present. Habbaniyah is located 50 miles to the west from Baghdad. The road from Baghdad to Habbaniyah runs through Falluja, where the road crosses the Euphrates river. Habbaniyah is named for the lake near the Euphrates. Flying boats were able to land in the lake. The road running to the south connects to Karbala. To the west, along the road running to Haifa is Ramadi.

There were 1,000 airmen at Habbaniyah, along with "1,200 Iraqi and Assyrian levies", about 9,000 European, Indian, and Assyrian civilians. The facilities included the school, an "Aircraft Depot with repair shops, a Supply Depot, fuel and ammunition stores, and a hospital". The place had a watertower and a power station. The Official History said that the base was "almost indefensible". This is based on the account in the Official History.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Troop movements into Iraq in April 1941

The British decided to increase their strength in Iraq, following Rashid Ali's coup. On 13 April 1941, the cruiser Emerald arrived, followed by the aircraft carrier Hermes and then another cruiser. On 16 April, under the guise of moving troops through Iraq to Palestine, the British started to move troops into Iraq. The first was the 1st King's Own Royal Regiment on 17 April. On the 18th, "the 20th Indian Infantry Brigade, 3rd Field Regiment R.A., and the Headquarters of the 10th Indian Division" started to move into Iraq. the 10th Indian Division's commander, Major-General W.A.K. Fraser, was put in charge of the troops in Iraq. A second Indian brigade was to move into Iraq, as well. When Rashid Ali found that the British were going to ignore his demands, he decided to move against Habbaniya. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The coup in Iraq on 31 March 1941 destabilized the situation further

The Iraqi regent fled to the RAF facility at Habbaniya on 31 March 1941, and he was flown out, landing at Basra and embarking on HMS Cockchafer. Rashid Ali staged a coup and with four other officers, and named himself head of the new government on 3 April. In answer, the Chiefs of Staff in Britain wanted to intervene, but the theater commanders opposed such a move.

The RAF had the following forces in Iraq:

At Habbaniya:

No.4 Service Flying Training School,
equipped with 32 Hawker Audaxes, 8 Fairey Gordons, 29 Airspeed Oxfords,
3 Gloster Gladiators, 1 Bristol Blenheim I, 5 Hawker Hart trainers
one flight

At Shaibah:

No.244 Bomber Squadron, equipped with Vincents

The Iraqi airforce had about 50 0ar 60 aircraft. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The situation in Iraq was getting worse by September 1940

The situation in Iraq had deteriorated by late September 1940. The Iraqi Prime Minister was sympathetic to the Italians and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who had been expelled from Palestine, was plotting with the Germans. The Iraqi army seemed sympathetic to the Germans and Italians, as well. The British hoped to send a mission to Iraq, headed by someone known to and respected by the Iraqis, but it never happened. By early 1941, the situation had deteriorated further. There was a new, Pan-Arabist Prime Minister, a political crisis, and "a threat of civil war". General Wavell did not want to be involved, and asked if India could control any operations that were required. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Iraq in WWII, the background

Iraq had been a Turkish province until after WWI. Interestingly, Iraq was the first of the former Turkish province to become independent. Britain had a treaty from 1930 that required Iraq to come to Britain's aid in the event of a war. The only British left in Iraq after 1937 was the RAF training facility at Habbaniya. In September 1939, the King of Iraq was four years old, with his uncle governing as Regent. The uncle, Amir Abdul Illah, was pro-British. The Germans were expelled and diplomatic ties were severed. Italy was a different matter, and "the Italian Legation at Baghdad became the centre of Arab Nationalist and anti-British agitation." On 1 July 1940, the British decided that one brigade of the Indian division tasked with oil field protection in the Middle East should be sent to Basra, in southern Iraq. The British Viceroy in India and the commanders in the Middle East were opposed, as they thought that tensions would be exacerbated. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The 6pdr ATG story

As mentioned, the 6pdr ATG development was started in April 1938. By June 1939, the project received a higher priority, and a prototype gun was ready for testing by June 1940. The British General Staff, in their infinite wisdom, decided that they needed to produce large numbers of the obsolescent 2pdr ATG, rather than smaller numbers of a really effective gun. In late 1940, converting one gun factory to produce 6pdrs was considered, but since they might only initially receive 100 6pdr guns in the rest of the year, when they might receive 600 2pdrs. Quantity production of the 6pdr commenced in November 1941 and by May 1943, perhaps "100 guns had reached the Middle East". The Official History points out that the 40mm 2pdr was superior to the German 37mm gun, but that gun was obsolete by 1941, and the 50mm PAK38 was in fairly wide use. The Official History also points out that the Germans had produced the 50mm L/42 gun for use in their tanks, although this was not as good at the 50mm ATG coming into service. With the shortcomings of the 2pdr in the anti-tank role, the 25pdr gun-howitzer was pressed into service against tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History. As early as April 1941, development of a much larger gun, the 17pdr (a 76.2mm gun), commenced.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The British tank situation by early 1941

The British had all but ceased experimentation with tanks during the 1930's. Prior to the development of the 2pdr ATG, which was high velocity, the only tank gun available was the medium velocity 3pdr 47mm gun. The Medium Mk.III and its predecessors was armed with that gun. As early as April 1938, the development of the 6pdr 57mm gun was started, but it was not pursued with much energy. In the 1930's, the light tank series continued in development. By 1935, the Lt.Mk.V entered service. The following year, the first Lt.Mk.VI tanks entered service, with production being reduced by 1940. The first cruiser tank, the A9 Cru.Mk.I entered service in 1937. 125 were built. From 1937 until 1940, the small, machine gun-armed Inf.Mk.I was produced. They saw some service in France in 1939 and 1940. The A10 Cru.Mk.II started life as a "heavy cruiser". 100 were ordered in July 1938 and a further 75 in September 1939. The A13 Cru.Mk.III (and later the Cru.Mk.IV and IVA) were inspired by Lt-Col. Martel's visit to Russia, where he saw the fast Russian BT tanks with the Christie suspension. About 50 Cru.Mk.III were built, and some saw service in France in 1940 and later in North Africa. The best infantry tank of the early was was the Inf.Mk.II Matilda. 2,987 were eventually produced. The were (inappropriately) pressed into service with the armoured divisions as there was often no alternative. The Cru.Mk.IV and IVA were built in much larger numbers, as 655 were produced. They provided the core of the 7th Armoured Brigade in North Africa. The Cru.Mk.V Covenanter was a failure and was only used for training, except for special purpose vehicles. The next cruiser tank, the Cru.Mk.VI Crusader went into service in 1941. A total of something like 5,300 were eventually built. British tanks were only starting to mature by 1943, around the end of the North African campaign. Before that, the army had to do the best they could with an odd assortment of vehicles. This is inspired by a passage in Vol.II of the Official History and draws heavily upon Chamberlin and Ellis's old book about British and American tanks.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The 88mm guns in Battleaxe

In Battleaxe, in June 1941, the Germans employed the 88mm gun to great effect. They were effective beyond their small numbers. Near Halfaya were perhaps five guns. Near Hafid ridge, there were four pitted against the 7th Armoured Brigade. The 8th Panzer Regiment was supported by another four 88's. The Official History says that the 50mm PAK38 was also very potent in Battleaxe. Already, they were firing the arrow shot, with a tungsten core covered by an aluminum cover that could compress and fit against the side of the gun without doing appreciable damage. In this period when the German tanks were not fitted with an effective armour piercing gun, they let the anti-tank guns attack the British tanks and used their tanks against infantry and soft vehicles. This was standard doctrine in the Deutsche Afrika Korps. This is based, in part, on data from Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

More analysis of the Battleaxe failure

The attack on the border areas near Halfaya Pass had some implications. For the infantry attack to succeed, the infantry tanks would be required, as there was insufficient artillery available. The problem was that the rush to attack precluded time for infantry and tanks to train together.

A battle with German tanks was a certainty, and the logical thing to do would be to pull the Matildas into that battle, as they had the same gun as the cruiser tanks but had superior armour to anything on the battlefield. That meant that the commanders needed to establish good coordination between the 7th Armoured Division and the 4th Indian Division. For that to be assured, General Beresford-Peirse would have needed to be positioned forward, close to the battle. But he was further back, due to limitations to the British communications equipment. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

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