Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Even more on the 12th Day of the Crusader Battle

General Ritchie ordered the 4th Armoured Brigade to help secure the lines of communications to the NZ Brigade, "to follow the South African brigade on its move towards the airfield and 'keep a lookout'". Robert and his companions could see the gradual movement of the SA vehicles heading west. They could see "heavy gunfire" to the north, and could hear bombs explode. They only now realized just how dominant the RAF was in the air. They saw Douglas Boston bombers flying over in groups. In the distance, they could seem them under heavy AA fire, as they were over Axis formations. They could hear the sound of bombs exploding. Late in the morning, they heard that their "friends on Sidi Rezegh" were being threatened by tank attack, and they ready to help fight the enemy. Only the brigade's artillery and a squadron from 5th RTR were actually sent. This was typical of the near fatal tendency to distribute the British tanks and use them piecemeal. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

More on the 12th Day of the Crusader Battle

Robert overheard a 4th Armoured Brigade staff officer tell the 3rd RTR commander that "Uncle George is all right, and Uncle George's boys are all right". Uncle George referred to George Brink, 1st SA Division commander. They said that they couldn't get Dan Pienaar, Uncle George's nephew and 1st SA Brigade commander, to fight. Robert was sympathetic, since the 5th SA Brigade had been lost a short time before at Sidi Rezegh. Robert says "that Dan Pienaar may have overdone the inpretation of suggestions not to risk any more disasters". The 4th Armoured Brigade, despite being immobilized, was theoretically giving the 1st SA Brigade protection. This gave 4th Armoured Brigade a break when it was very welcome. Robert says that what would have been best was to concentrate the British armour for a fight south of Tobruk to settle the battle. Instead, they wasted time with small actions, widely separated. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Robert Crisp on the start of the 12th day of the Crusader Battle

On the night between the 11th and 12th days of the Crusader Battle, the 3rd RTR was not resupplied as they had expected. They were almost out of fuel by the start of the day, but still had to disperse to reduce the target for air attack. Robert thought that they were extremely vulnerable at that point. Robert says, however, he eventually learned that the Germans were in worse shape than they were. Robert blames the British poor performance on lack of experience, as well as the lack of "proper equipment, mental as well as material". The 3rd RTR sent out a patrol to see if they could find the supply column. Since the troops were idle, while waiting to be resupplied, they "brewed up". The battalion had shrunk since the day before. They were down to 14 Stuarts at this point. They had lost "half of 'A' Squadron" while heading for camp. C Squadron was down to four Stuarts, with Robert, "Harry Maegraith, a sergeant and a corporal". This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Rommel's thinking in late November 1941 is pretty amazing

Given Rommel's reputation and obvious skill, his continued mistaken thinking in November 1941 is amazing. He was fixed on what he believed that the British would do, and when evidence emerged to contradict that, he refused to believe, at first. He also had such a low opinion of the British, that he expected that the "Dash to the Wire" would panic them and cause them to withdraw, leaving him in possession of Eastern Cyrenaica and Tobruk. He was very close to being correct, if Claude Auchinleck had not intervened and stopped the British from reacting as Rommel had expected. Furthermore, Rommel had objectives that he wanted to achieve in the frontier area which were not realistic, given the critical nature of the situation around Tobruk. Fortunately for the Germans, General Cruewell was very savvy and level-headed, and finally convinced Rommel that they needed to return to the area around Sidi Rezegh and Tobruk, as they were about to be in trouble in that location.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The DAK withdrawal from the frontier

This is also from the Official History. The 115th Motorized Infantry Regiment was sent to attack at Sidi Azeiz. They "overran the headquarters of the 5th New Zealand Brigade". They were able to resupply from the captured supplies. The rest of the 21st Panzer Division headed west from Bardia and were blocked by the 22nd NZ Battalion, a machine gun company, some field artillery, anti-tank artillery, and AA artillery, with transport. The 21st Panzer Division had to move south to the Trigh Capuzzo to make progress to the west. At Sidi Omar, "the 5th Panzer Regiment and 3rd Reconnaissance Unit filled up with captured petrol". They then attacked the 4th Indian Division, but ran into trouble and withdrew. They eventually joined the 15th Panzer Division and were able to refuel from British vehicles that had been captured. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

From the Official History: the Axis forces on 26 November 1941

When Rommel visited the DAK HQ, the commander wanted to return to the area around Tobruk, but Rommel disagreed. He wanted to defeat British forces near the border. The challenges were the the 15th Pz Div was low on supplies and fuel. They drove towards Bardia to resupply. On the way, the encountered a NZ unit at Sidi Azeiz. General Cruewell decided that meant that more British forces were headed towards Tobruk. He also received a report from Lt-Col Westphal that the Boettcher Group was under attack, again. General Cruewell decided to hit the New Zealanders with 15th Pz Div. The 15th Pz Div commander decided to push through to Bardia, so he could refuel. The fought their way through the "28th (Maori) Battalion". While all this was happening, the Ariete Armoured Division was "about fifteen miles west of Fort Capuzzo." By the end of the 26th, Rommel had changed his mind and agreed with General Cruewell that they were needed back in the vicinity of Tobruk. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A short bibliography for the war in North Africa in 1939 to 1943

Perhaps there might be some readers who would be interested in a short bibliograph for the war in North Africa (and East Africa and Greece) in 1939 to 1943:
  • Gavin Long, AUSTRALIA IN THE WAR OF 1939-1945: TO BENGHAZI, 1952
  • Gavin Long, Australia in the War of 1939-1945, Series One, Army : Volume 2, Greece, Crete and Syria, 1953
  • Barton Maughan, Australia in the war of 1939-1945: Series One, Army, Vol III - Tobruk and El Alamein, Adelaide, 1966
  • Harry Klein, Springboks in Armour: The Story of the South African Armoured Cars in World War II, 1965
  • Ronald Walker, Alam Halfa and Alamein, 1967
  • Dan Davin, Crete (Official history of New Zealand in the Second World War, 1939-45)
  • J. L. Scoullar, Battle for Egypt: the Summer of 1942. Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War, 1939-45, 1955
  • W. E. Murphy, Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939-45. The Relief of Tobruk

Thursday, February 22, 2007

More from 25 November 1941 from the Official History

We have gone back to Vol.III of the Official History for more action from 25 November 1941. Rommel had intended to send the 33rd Reconnaissance Unit on a raid to Habata, but they never got started, as they were under heavy air attack and lacked supplies, especially ammunition. By the end of the day, they had lost 20 vehicles to the air attacks. All the German units near the frontier were well within range of British day bombers, so they suffered from attacks from Blenheims (probably Nos.11, 14, 45, and 84 Squadrons, as well as the Free French Lorraine Squadron) and Marylands (Nos.12 and 21 Squadrons). Another factor was the presence of the New Zealand brigade at Gambut, which prevented German fighters from operating far enough forward to provide air cover. Also, Brigadier Dan Pienaar's 1st SA Brigade fought the Ariete Division "west of Gabr Saleh". Later, Panzer Gruppe Afrika heard that Bottcher Group was under attack near Bel Hammed. By midnight, the situation had calmed, however.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The end of the 11th day

Rommel and his troops took advantage of the nightly British withdrawal from the battle sites. He was able to bring his armoured forces together for a strike to recapture Sidi Rezegh. The New Zealand brigade sat in the area, unsupported for the moment. By this time, repeated attempts by British armour to relieve them were repulsed. Robert and his fellows did not know this, and he thought that the commanders must not known what was happening, either. After a lunch break, the 4th Armoured Brigade drove towards Sidi Rezegh, protecting the 1st South African Brigade's flank as they went. They encountered an enemy battlegroup with tanks and transport. The 4th Armoured Brigade was content to fire at them at long range, to no result. As darkness fell, the abandoned the field drove south to a leaguer area. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

General Ritchie was as oblivious as the other commanders to what was happening

After the 4th Armoured Brigade had grown back to two tank battalions, the 3rd RTR and the 5th RTR, General Ritchie had notified 30th Corps that they should make a major effort to keep the enemy forces from escaping to the west. This just shows how out of touch he was. Rommel had no plans, at this stage, to move west. He was preparing to destroy the New Zealanders at Sidi Rezegh. Rommel was determined to prevent them from joining up with the forces in Tobruk. The British had allowed Rommel to concentrate his armoured forces on the tenth day. They were now moving west towards Sidi Rezegh while the Ariete Division moved "north from El Gubi". The Germans had been free to concentrate because every night, the British withdrew to leaguers, rather than staying on the ground they had captured. Robert Crisp and his fellows were not aware of any of this, as they only knew what their commanding officer told him, and he may not have known more than he told them. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Robert Crisp's tank was penetrated by German guns

Given that Robert Crisp's Stuart was penetrated by German tank guns six times while fighting Pzkw IV, Pzkw III, and Pzkw II tanks, the hits must have been from Pzkw III's firing 50mm KwK 38 L42 guns. Their penetration, while firing APBC shot was:

Range Penetration
500m 45mm
1000m 35mm
1500m 27mm
2000m 21mm

This is from a page "German AFV in Normandy". I don't know accurate they are, but they seem plausible. Now, we will look at Stuart armour (from I the thickest armour on the front was 38mm, but most was 25mm that could be penetrated out to 1500 meters. The 38mm could be inside of 500 meters, if the angle were not to acute.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Robert Crisp back at 4th Armoured Brigade HQ

After the sharp fight on the 11th Day of the Crusader Battle, Robert Crisp and his squadron drove back to 4th Armoured Brigade HQ, which had been in sight, the entire time of the action. When he got back, he went to Alec Gatehouse, the Brigadier, who started to berate him for fighting at long range. Robert pointed out that while Brigadier Gatehouse might have thought that he fought at fought at long range, but he had six holes in his tank from German AP shot. Alec Gatehouse was a lot nicer to Robert after Robert told him that. Brigadier Gatehouse told Robert that he had recalled the 3rd RTR and 5th RTR to HQ. Dr. MacMillan was already there at HQ, and congratulated Robert for his performance in battle. Dr. MacMillan had recommended that Robert take a break from fighting, but he could see that Robert was doing well again, so there was no need. The remainder of the 3rd RTR eventually returned, minus three Stuarts lost that morning in a fight. The 4th Armoured Brigade was now back to having two battalions, somewhat reduced. The 8th Hussars were still off, operating independently. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots. I estimate that the 11th day was 28 December 1941.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The 5th Panzer Regiment on 25 November 1941

Rommel had redirected the 5th Panzer Regiment on 25 November 1941 and had them attempt to push north towards Sidi Omar and beyond. The blundered into British artillery and were stalled with the loss of some tanks. General Messervy could see the action from his HQ. Later in the afternoon, the 5th Panzer Regiment tried to push north again, and were eventually forced to withdraw, due to the heavy artillery fire. They had only 25 tanks left, after losing 18 in their failed attempt to move north. The second attack was met by artillery near the 7th Indian Infantry Brigade. There wre the 25th Field Regiment, the 68th Medium Regiment with 6in howitzers, "a Battery of the 2nd South African Anti-Tank Regiment", and LAA guns from the 57th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery. The latter were probably Bofors 40mm guns. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Back to the Official History: 25 November 1941

As you may or not may recall, Rommel changed his plans when the Ariete Division had not arrived at the front. He sent the 15th Panzer Division towards Sidi Omar and Sidi Azieiz. He ordered the 21st Panzer Division away from the frontier area, heading west. Rommel had a small force in reserve. Rommel grabbed the 5th Panzer Regiment, which General Cruewell had sent to rejoin its division. He turned the regiment to the north, where it encountered the 1st Field Regiment, which lost five guns. By the end of the day, the 5th Panzer Regiment had lost 18 tanks, leaving it with only 25 runners. The 15th Panzer Regiment still had 53 tanks, but they were spread out, due to supply problems (presumably, running out of fuel). One German success occurred when a force drove into the No.50 Maintenance Centre and either captured or dispersed soldiers from the unit. The Germans left the area by afternoon and the Centre returned to normal operation. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The action on the 11th day continued

Robert Crisp and his squadron were in a fight with 10 German tanks. They had just knocked out a Pzkw II and saw the driver bail out. Suddenly, a Stuart was hit on the sprocket and was disables. The crew bailed out and hid behind the tank. Robert motioned for them to run over, but they stayed behind the tank. Brigade doctrine forbade picking up crews, but Robert wanted to get them, anyway. They were a good distance away, about 200 yards. The action continued and Robert was sure that his tank had taken a number of hits. They were still outnumbered by the Germans. He could see the 4th Armoured Brigade HQ, several miles away. Robert's squadron was being pressed hard, so they gradually backed towards the HQ. Fortunately, the Germans did not press them. Robert could see a Pzkw IV pick up the crew of the knocked out Stuart. After a few more minutes, the Germans withdrew. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

A useful "War in the Desert!" timeline for 1941

A website, World War 2 Timelines, has a useful timeline for events in the "War in the Desert!" for 1941. The granularity is fine enough to show the sequence of events for every few days. This actually shows the fighting in other parts of the theater, such as East Africa, which makes the timeline more complete.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The New Zealand page on Operation Crusader

The New Zealand History Online site has a nice page about Operation Crusader. I like their description of the outcome of the battle:

Operation Crusader was a victory of sorts, although tactically Rommel prevailed. He smashed the British armour and inflicted heavy losses on the infantry in front of Tobruk, but in the end, conscious of his weakened state and supply problems, he pulled back to El Agheila, leaving the battlefield to the battered Allies. The British relieved Tobruk and headed westwards in pursuit. By 24 December Benghazi was back in Allied hands.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Stuart tank as a main battle tank

The American Stuart light tank used by the 4th Armoured Brigade in the Crusader Battle was never intended to be used they way they were used in the Western Desert. They still were used in the cavalry role for raiding transport columns, but they were mainly used interchangably with Crusaders as what we call now, main battle tanks. I would guess that the reason that the Stuart survived in that role until July 1942 is that the 37mm gun was pretty potent. That seems to have been mainly due to having APC shot, while the 2pdr shot, at this stage, lacked a cap. The 37mm could penetrate the face-hardened German armour, such was we just saw in Robert Crisp's description of the action against a dozen Pzkw II, III, and IV tanks.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Heading off, again for a fight

Robert Crisp's conversation with Alec Gatehouse was interrupted, as they were told that there were tanks headed their way, from the north. Robert got his five tank squadron assembled, and they drove off towards the German tanks. He could see that the enemy were Pzkw II, III, and IV tanks, about a dozen of them. The Pzkw IIs were screening the medium tanks. The Germans had hoped for a more positive response, as Robert and his tanks just sat and waited. Robert's squadron was outnumbered about two-to-one. He hoped that they would leave the brigade alone, but the Germans advanced towards them. At 900 yards, Robert's Stuarts started firing their 37mm guns. Very quickly, two German tanks were knocked out and the crews bailed out. The Pzkw IVs in the rear starting firing their 75mm guns, apparently with HE rounds. As the Germans approached, Robert decided that they needed to withdraw, to keep out of range of the 50mm guns of the Pzkw IIIs. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots. This all happened on the 11th day of the Crusader Battle.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

After the fight on the 11th day

The was after the action with German truck-borne anti-tank guns, still early on the 11th day of the Crusader Battle. When the crew of the truck that was hit by the 37mm round, fired from Robert Crisp's tank, had bailed out and surrendered, the nearby Germans all chose to do the same thing. They all climbed on the tanks. Since Robert Crisp had no idea where the 3rd RTR had gone, he decided to go to the 4th Armoured Brigade HQ and leave the German prisoners for them to handle. He looked around and could see what he thought was the HQ and drove towards that spot. When he got there, Brigadier Gatehouse was "cross" and was not thrilled with the Germans. He asked Robert what he had been doing when he should have been fighting German tanks. Robert explained that they had knocked out four anti-tank guns and that the prisoners were mostly anti-gunners and that taking them prisoner was better than leaving them to knock out Stuarts tomorrow. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

An action on day eleven of the Crusader Battle

Robert Crisp was sent off to attack motorized infantry to the northwest. He took has five tank squadron and headed off in that direction. He ran into a unit of enemy vehicles and soldies, including anti-tank guns in portee, such as how the British used 2pdr guns from their vehicle. Robert's commanding officer came on the radio to tell them to head off on another bearing, but Robert's squadron was embroiled in this action with the anti-tank guns and was not in a position to disengage. Every Stuart in Robert's squadron was firing their machine guns, and soon, their opponents had their fill and pulled out to withdraw. Robert's tank chased a truck that was ignoring the machine gun fire. He ordered the tank to stop so that the gunner could fire the 37mm gun at the truck. The truck was hit and stopped, the crew bailing out and surrendering to them. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The start of the 11th day of the Crusader Battle

Robert Crisp's damaged tank was taken away in the night, and they had brought in tanks, crews, and supplies. He was apparently still in charge of C Squadron, the 3rd RTR. The C Squadron strength had been restored to five tanks, since the replacements had arrived. On the morning of the 11th Day, C Squadron, with Robert in charge and with Harry Maegraith in support, headed back to the Trigh Capuzzo. They reached the crest of the escarpment and surveyed the view. There were only tracks and no men or vehicles to be seen. Robert decided that they were west of the previous day's battle. As he considered what to do, his C.O. radioed him, recalling the squadron. As they drove back, he saw some Stuarts circling some trenches. He could see the mounds of dirt that had been formed from digging. The Stuarts proved to be from the 5th RTR, also in the 4th Armoured Brigade. Robert found some frightened German infantrymen in the trenches. He motioned them to get out and then gave them to the 5th RTR men. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The night of the tenth day of the Crusader Battle

When Robert Crisp was ready to go to sleep on the night of the tenth day of the Crusader Battle, Dr. MacMillan brought him two pills and some brandy. The idea was to allow Robert to sleep, even after the trauma of earlier in the day. After the war, Robert read the war diary of the German Artillery Regiment 33. They wrote about a sudden attack on "the supply vehicles in the rear of the division". They popped into the area, quite suddenly, and started firing their guns and machine guns into the transport. Two artillery batteries, the 6th and 8th, turned their guns around, but the thick dust obscured their vision. When a tank ran immediately in front, they fired "over open sights". They very quickly knocked out ten tanks. The fighting took place "at point blank range". That was apparently the story of the destruction of the 3rd RTR's C Squadron, which Robert had commanded. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Robert Crisp had decided to go on the operation

Robert Crisp had decided that they would go on the operation, which was another attack on transport on the Trigh Capuzzo. His driver and radioman were pleased at his choice. He drove along behind the other squadrons. Robert kept looking for any sign of survivors from the C Squadron tank crews. On their right, they could see gun flashes from German and Italian field guns. Harry Maegraith followed providing cover to Robert and his crew. Already before 5pm, the sky was red. At 5pm, they were recalled to the 3rd RTR HQ to "replenish". After dark, the battalion moved three miles to their usual camping area to form a leaguer. Robert asked his Colonel if he might make the early patrol, so he could look again for men from his squadron. The Colonel agreed, as long as Robert stayed south of the Trigh Capuzzo and stayed in radio contact. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The doctor examined Robert Crisp

After Robert had spoken with his commanding officer (for the 3rd RTR), Dr. MacMillan examined him. He found that Robert had a marble-sized piece of metal that was stuck into his big toe. He treated that and then asked to examine Robert's head. He carefully went through his hair and extracted small fragments from his head. While he was doing the examination, Robert was thinking about the lost men from his squadron. At one point, he went into shock, and broke down. Robert finally washed in cold water and had the basin poured over his head. He started to recover at that point. Robert heard that his gunner had only flesh wounds and would recover. Robert went back to his tank to be with his crew. Men from the HQ were talking with Whaley, the driver, and examining Robert's tank. There were six holes in the armour. Robert heard that the missing squadron had rejoined the battalion, after many days. They were about to be sent out for another attack. Robert was presented with a decision. They didn't have a gunner, but Robert decided to go with them. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Monday, February 05, 2007

From Brazen Chariots: returning from battle, Robert Crisp returned to the 3rd RTR HQ

Robert Crisp returned to the 3rd RTR HQ. He encountered another squadron commander, smoking his pipe and sitting in his tank, as his 37mm gun was fired at high elevation for long range. Robert felt like he was one of those who did not support his attack, and had contributed to the loss of his squadron. He screamed at the officer, and then realized that he would not be able to hear him, with his headset on his ears. Robert would probably be glad, later, that the officer did not understand him. Still, the officer had a guilty look, like he understood. Robert called ahead and asked for a medical officer to stand by to treat his wounded gunner. When they stopped, and the Dr. MacMillam walked out, Robert jumped down and started to run. Instead, Robert fell, and realized for the first time that he had been wounded in the foot. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Into 25 November 1941 in the "Dash to the Wire"

Apparently, in the night of 24 to 25 November 1941, both Rommel and General Crüwell were almost captured. The battle was very fluid, but the British were hampered by the abrupt withdrawal of tactical reconnaissance from the front, due to the German movements. General Auchinleck was still with General Cunningham at the 8th Army HQ, so he was aware of the situation on the ground. Auchinleck had a firm hand on the battle, and he had the 13th Corps troops at Tobruk to stand their ground and continue with their operations. They cobbled together a force to defend the railhead at Misheifa against a German force headed in that direction. They had the 4th Indian Division stand their ground, while the 5th Indian Brigade would move to the Misheifa to defend the railhead. The 2nd South African Division was to be alerted to the dangerous situation. Units arriving at the border were to be brought together with the troops still defending the wire. 30th Corps sent the 22nd Guards Brigade to protect the No.62 Field Maintenance Centre. The 4th Armoured Brigade formed a leaguer to the north, and were joined by the Support Group and the remnants of the 7th Armoured Brigade. They were located about 16 miles north of the maintenance center. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Rommel's plan for 25 November 1941

Rommel informed General Crüwell about his plans for the next day at about 5pm on 24 November 1941. Rommel intended to encircle and destroy all British forces at the frontier. 21st Panzer Division would move across the border and turn on the British rear. 15th Panzer Division would attack to the north along the wire. The Italian Mobile Corps, with the Ariete and Trieste Divisions, would advance towards Fort Capuzzo. Rommel would have the 33rd Reconnaissance Unit make a deep penetration to cut the British supply line at Habata. Rommel had already taken charge and sent the 21st Panzer Division, minus teh 5th Panzer Regiment, advancing on Halfaya Pass. The 5th Panzer Regiment was running late and was left at Gasr el Abid until morning. The other forces, such as the 15 Panzer Division, were still to the west. 15th Panzer Division was 15 miles west of the border area. Ariete was away to the west at Bir el Gubi. Trento was apparently sent to El Adem on 24 November. Rommel's briefing left General Crüwell unhappy, as he could see many difficulties in Rommel's planned movements. Not only were the distances to be covered rather substantial, but how would the units be supplied? This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, February 02, 2007

After reading Robert Crisp's lament, I wonder if the lack of senior officers present played a part in the British failures in the Crusader Battle

I read Robert Crisp's account of the failed attack by C Squadron, when had expected to be supported by at least the rest of his battalion. We might recall the Battle of Sidi Rezegh, where at least Jock Campbell was present (he was a Brigadier) and directing the troops. Contrast that with these small actions with up to a brigade size tank unit, the senior officers did not seem to be present, directing operations. Instead, pieces of units were sent off on some operation and left to fend for themselves. Their senior officers only found out the status after the survivors returned to the headquarters. I wonder how much this was a factor. The Germans tended to have senior officers present, commanding battlegroups, and directing the troops from the immediate vicinity. That had been more the system under General O'Connor, in late 1940 and early 1941. You had battlegroups such as Combeforce that had a senior officer present and directing operations and providing leadership. The only problem was that Rommel went through a lot of generals in 1941 and 1942 who were mainly killed. After all, Generals O'Connor and Neame were both put in the bag, when they were driving around, close to the front. Also, Jock Campbell was killed, driving around in the forward areas, when his car drove off an escarpment.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

After he lost his squadron on the tenth day

After he had escaped, Robert Crisp wondered what he might be able to do. He stood up and waved his beret, hoping that a survivor might make a break for his tank. Instead, he heard bullets whiz by and then heard the machine gun fire. He gave up and told Whaley, his driver, to head back to the battalion. They drove back through the ravine which became shallower as they proceeded. They were finally dumped onto the plateau. Robert looked at his watch and saw that only 17 minutes had elapsed since they had attacked. He saw a Stuart in the distance and they drove in that direction. He was surprised, when they got close, that the commander was his friend Harry Maegraith. Harry explained that they had a blocked fuel line and had been stopped. Harry inquired as to how the attack had played out. Robert was sobbing as he finished telling the story of the attack. He asked Harry where the other tanks had been, and Harry explained that they had held back and just watched as his squadron had attacked and been decimated. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

The tenth day was 27 November 1941

I would imagine that the tenth day of the Crusader Battle was on 27 November 1941, as the first day is usually stated to be 18 November. Our current position in Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots, is still on the tenth day. The Wikipedia page about the Crusader Battle is worth reading again, as the story seems to be told accurately. I need to check the dates, but the important facts seem to be correct.

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