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.

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