Saturday, March 31, 2007

Air attack

As the German air effort intensified, the started making fighter sweeps against the tanks and RAF bombing effort. Robert and his men witnessed a Douglas Boston start descending with trailing smoke. There was one parachute and they saw the plane go into a vertical dive into the ground. Immediately after that, they saw some fighter aircraft flying at low level, headed straight for them. Robert and his crew dived into the bottom of their Stuart and they could hear the machine gun bullets hitting the hull. They looked up out of the open hatch and could see the black crosses on the underside of the wings. Air attack was an unwelcome development. Robert and the other soldiers had assumed that only the B Elements would be attacked, and now they were also on the list of targets. When they reached the rendezvous point at dusk, they found that they would be camping close by, rather than off in the desert. Robert interpreted that as meaning that the immediate area was considered "safe". I believe that this occurred on the 23rd day of the Crusader Battle, now in December 1941. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Early on the 23rd day of the battle

The men of the 3rd RTR dreaded the coming day, as they expected to be ordered to stage a frontal attack on prepared positions. When they heard that the battalion commander had been ordered to report to the brigade HQ, they hoped that this development meant that they would receive a reprieve on the frontal assault. They were shocked when they were informed that they were to sit where they were for the next three or four days and to not venture beyond 10 miles from their position. When Robert ventured out in his Stuart, he saw that the Germans had withdrawn in the night. The Germans had left a certain amount of debris and loot behind them when they evacuated. Robert investigated a tent and could see that it had been a "casualty clearing station". Robert found a bed frame in the corner and took it. The metal frame interfered with radio reception, but Robert decided to keep the frame, anyway. The German air operations intensified and Ju-87 divebombers hit them every day. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

A colour photo of a Polish Wz.29 armoured car

This colour photo of a Polish Wz.29 armoured car was taken by the Germans in 1939. The photo appears on a web page dedicated to this armoured car, with career, more photographs, and specifications.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rates of fire

From my previous wargaming, I think that I remember that the American 37mm gun on the Stuarts had a somewhat higher rate of fire than the British 2pdr gun, used as an anti-tank and tank gun. The 37mm gun also had the advantage of firing capped AP shot, at a time when the British 2pdr gun lacked capped ammunition. In 1970's and into the 1980's, I have done extensive gaming of the North African campaign, using one tank piece or gun per four real tanks. That way, a British unit such as the 3rd RTR, with nominally 52 tanks would be represented by 13 tanks in the game. A field regiment would have 6 25pdr guns, when it actually had 24 guns. We found that ratio worked reasonably well. We finally used a modified version of the Campaign for North Africa order of appearance. It had to be modified due to a few errors that were discovered through research.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ian Paterson has a nice Marmon-Herrington Mk.II armoured car photo

On his 7th Armoured Division web site, Ian Paterson has a very nice side view photo of a South African-built Marmon-Herrington Mk.II armoured car. This was the sort used by the King's Dragoon Guards.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

On the 21st day of the Crusader Battle

Tbe 4th Armoured Brigade had arrived at Bir Belchonus with no mishaps along the way. The force was dispersed, with the 5th RTR being sent to deal with some Italian M13/40s. The "composite squadron" from the 22nd Armoured Brigade was sent off on another operation. The 3rd RTR commander asked Alec Gatehouse if they might have breakfast. Gatehouse allowed them to brew up and cook. They were sent off to the northwest, after eating, at about 9am. Along the way, Robert rescued some handwritten papers from a knocked out Matilda. Later in the day, they ran upon another position with anti-tank guns. This time, they were engaged with 25pdrs. Robert had the chance to read the papers and found that they were poetry. He later found that they had been written by Captain Browne of the 7th RTR. He had been taken prisoner by the Germans. In camp, Robert had the nightly ritual of having Doc MacMillan rebandage his foot. Robert was told that the would be sent you early to find the 22nd Armoured Brigade squadron, which was thought to be "several miles" from where they were camped. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

We are nearing the end of Brazen Chariots

We are getting close to the end of Brazen Chariots. When we finish summarizing it, we will flop back to Vol.III of the Offial History of the War in the Mediterranean and Middle East ("Playfair"). I am still assessing where to go from there. I am interested in a close reading of Springboks in Armour, the book about the South African armoured cars and there are several volumes of the Australian Official History that might be interesting.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Late in the day on the 20th day of the battle and the start of the 21st

After they had rescued the sergeant and his crew, Robert Crisp and Harry Maegraith took them to the battalion headquarters. Due to the season, it was getting dark at 6pm and the fighting gradually stopped. The three squadrons all drove to the 3rd RTR "rallying point". From there, they drove another three miles "to the southeast and safe harbourage". Robert's tank "was one of 4 Honeys that had to be evacuated that night for repairs". During the night, they brought in replacement tanks, including one for Robert. Before they fell asleep, the soldiers heard that they would be moving "at dawn to Bir Belchonfus". They had been in that area before, south of El Gubi. In the morning, they drove to Bir Belchonfus "without serious incident". As usual, the tanks were not used as brigades, but the battalions were sent off on various independent operations. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

By the afternoon of 6 December 1941

Robert Crisp says that the planned attack by the 4th and 22nd Armoured Brigades was stopped, after several Crusaders and a Stuart were knocked out by the German anti-tank guns. They had been running their engines "for over six hours", so they needed to refuel. After an abortive attempt to bring the refuelling trucks forward, they had to send the brigade to the rear, by troop, to refuel. Robert says that he found a great deal of stress relief by leaving the firing range that they were in, "even for ten minutes". There were rumours of a large movement of Axis vehicles northward. They received unwelcome word, a bit later, that Brigadier Gatehouse wanted the 3rd RTR to make some sort of move ("a demonstration against the enemy") to see what sort of response they got. "'C' Squadron was well out on the left flank". As they were getting ready to move, they heard that there were several Pzkw IIIs that appeared to be probing around the flank. They went out and saw them, and saw that they were trying to rescue infantry who were caught in forward trenches. As they saw infantry, Robert, Harry Maegraith, and "his troop sergeant" opened fire. They hit one Pzkw III and saw the crew bail out. Soon, there was black smoke from the hatch. Another Pzkw III fired at them, and then had all three Stuarts shooting at it. They had knocked the second tank out, as well. Soon, they had attracted a good deal of unwanted attention, and accelerated towards their own position. When they arrived, Harry told Robert that his "sergeant's had it". They could see the disabled Stuart, and the shellfire it had attracted. Robert radioed his squadron commander to tell him what had happened. Suddenly, Harry called at Robert. He saw the missing crew running for their position. They pulled them aboard their two tanks and left the area. Robert's Stuart had its water tanks holed and was missing an entire bogie wheel pair. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The worst sort of battle

Right after talking with General Norrie, Robert Crisp was called back to his Stuart by the radio operator. The 3rd RTR commander was calling, ordering them back to the battalion. Robert reflected on the bad information that must be available at the rear army headquarters that was behind some strange orders. They were sent off on a another bearing. They had just gone a short distance when they ran into the "worst sort of battle". They were supposed to attack enemy tanks, but these were sheltering behind an anti-tank gun screen, reinforced by artillery. The battalion lost four Stuarts in that many minutes. They were finally able to get into cover where they were out of the direct line-of-fire. They could see German and Italian tanks concentrating in the rear. Both sides just sat and waited, firing at long range. Meanwhile, the accompanying Royal Horse Artillery 25pdrs were laying down a barrage. Robert conducted a personal reconnaissance, wiggling forward. He could see the telltale indications that the enemy were refueling. On the basis of Robert's report, Brigadier Gatehouse ordered an attack in concert with the 22nd Armoured Brigade. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A small armoured car at Sidi Rezegh

On the 19th day of the battle, Robert Crisp was sent off to watch for the supply column coming to replenish the 3rd RTR. He went up to his favorite spot on the Sidi Rezegh escarpment and immediately saw a small vehicle coming from the northern side of the airfield. The vehicle looked like a very small armoured car and Robert had his gunner load the 37mm gun. Robert radioed the HQ and they told him that anything on the field might be enemy. He still felt uneasy and finally could see two men, one of whom "wore a peaked cap, a sheepskin jerkin and a coloured scarf". Robert recognized him as a "Desert Army officer". He told his gunner to unload the weapon. The officer in the car identified himself as General Norrie, the 30th Corps commander. General Norrie informed Robert that they would be moving from the immediate area, as the "corridor's open to Tobruk", and "had been since yesterday evening". General Norrie shook Robert's "hand again and drove off to the southeast". This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

6 December 1941

As the day progressed, Robert Crisp had pulled the stuck Volkswagen staff car out of the sand and had his troop corporal escort the Germans to the 3rd RTR HQ. Right after that, he saw some armoured cars, which proved to be from the 6th SA Armoured Car Regiment. They told Robert that some Germans ran through their unit, and the South Africans had knocked out two German tanks. Late in the day, the 3rd RTR was sent to support a Jock column which was expecting a German tank attack. The attack never happened, but night had fallen before the 3rd RTR could head for camp, which happened by 10pm. The 3rd RTR commander told Robert to tank his troop out at "first light" to watch for the replenishment column. They headed off early, and near sunrise, they had reached the Sidi Rezegh escarpment. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

On the 18th day, and after

The 18th day (5 December 1941) was pivotal. The new style of camping was liked. The 4th Armoured Brigade still did not understand that the battle had shifted dramatically. They were were just dealing with their own concerns. Doc MacMillan was concerned that Robert Crisp's wounded foot was still bleeding. The doctor threatened to send Robert to the rear, if they didn't succeed in stopping the bleeding. Doctor MacMillan finished rebandaging Robert's foot in time to catch the "9 o'clock B.B.C. news". They were an hour later, where they were in Libya. They were up early on 6 December. Robert says that the 6th was the 19th day of the battle. They were ordered to move out, with the 3rd RTR in the lead. They were headed just north of due west. The other two squadrons contacted thirty tanks. Robert guessed that they were Italian, as they quickly withdrew. Suddenly, a Volkswagen was seen headed for them. As soon as the Germans saw Robert's tank, they stopped and raised their hands in surrender. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

So why were the British so badly led in December 1941?

British and Commonwealth soldiers and, indeed, many brigade and division commanders in 1941 were quite competent and seemingly as good as their German counterparts. Bernard Freyberg and Alec Gatehouse are examples. General Gott had a much poorer record, as his mishandling of the 7th Armoured Division near Tobruk was almost fatal. As it was, he squandered the divisional strength. The 30th and 13th Corps commanders are probably as much to blame as Gott. Alan Cunningham was probably better than those who reported directly to him, but he seems to have felt out of his element and relied too much on his subordinate commanders who supposedly had armorued and desert experience. The strain finished him off by late November and Claude Auchinleck replaced him abruptly, when he realized that Cunningham was in terrible shape, and almost not functional.

General Auchinleck put in motion the steps that would win the battle for the British and then backed out again. He felt that being in direct command of the 8th Army was inappropriate for him, despite the fact that he was the only suitable officer present, and appointed Neil Ritchie, a staff officer, to command the army. This would prove to be a great mistake and would result in nearly losing the campaign in mid-1942. I have wondered if General Auchinleck thought that commanding the army was beneath his dignity, given his rank and position.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The 18th day of the battle

On the morning of the 18th day of the Crusader Battle, the 4th Armoured Brigade headed east, to Robert's surprise. They went back to Bir Berraneb, where they had spent a good deal of time. They were to wait for the outcome of fighting around Bir el Gubi, where the 22nd Guards and an Indian brigade were engaged. That fighting did not proceed favorably, as Rommel counterattacked with his remaining armour in the panzer divisions. The Indian brigade retreated towards the 22nd Guard Brigade. Rommel had hoped to fight the British armour, but they were inexplicably camping at Berraneb. This was on the afternoon of 5 December 1941, according to Robert Crisp. At least the British armour was preserved and the Indian brigade escaped serious casualties. Meanwhile, the Italian commander, General Bastico, informed Rommel that the supply lines had been disrupted from Italy, and there would be no major seaborne shipments, for the present. Rommel then informed the Italian general that German armoured strength had fallen to 40 runners from the original 250 tanks. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Robert Crisp's gunner

On the 17th day of the Crusader Battle (3 December 1941?), when Robert Crisp spoke with his wounded gunner, his gunner asked Robert how he had done. Robert was sorry to lose his gunner, as he was a good man who had done well. Robert assured the gunner that he had done well. Robert says that "the good ones" want to know how they had performed, as they wanted to do well. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Shot at from El Gubi

The 4th Armoured Brigade had run up to the Trigh Cappuzzo, and then the C Squadron from the 3rd RTR had sent west to find the enemy artillery. They found more than they had bargained for, as Robert Crisp's tank was hit by anti-tank fire. He had started to shoot his machine guns at the anti-tank gun, when his gunner was injured by a hit. At that Robert ordered his driver to reverse as quickly as possible, and get them out of range. Robert radioed ahead for medical attention for the gunner. He saw the other tanks in the troop backing out as he had taught them, and was pleased that the new men had learned from him. Robert and Whaley inspected the tank, looking for the hits. In one case, there was a 37mm shot, embedded in the armour. The armour protection had held. In another case, there was a small, round hole into the tank. They realized that a rivet had been hit and had been melted and gone into the tank. That was what had wounded the gunner. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Late 1941 and early 1942: a bit like a year later

After the second battle of El Alamein, Rommel was able to execute a gradual withdrawal to the west. Something similar was true in the ending of the Crusader Battle, as well. The main difference was that after El Alamein, the Axis forces were in more serious strategic difficulties, as Russia was going badly and the Americans were landing in Morocco. All Rommel could do then was to withdraw to Tunisia and know that "the game was up". In December 1941 and January 1942, Rommel could stage a careful retreat, eventually back to El Agheila, for a temporary breather and then stage a fresh attack back to Gazala. Because of the general ineptitude of British generalship, Rommel still would come close to winning in North Africa, in the early summer of 1942.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Axis retreat begins

By 3pm on the 17th Day of the Crusader Battle, Robert Crisp and his fellows learned that there was major German withdrawal from near Bardia. Robert says that Rommel had given up on the hope that he could rescue his troops trapped on the frontier. In response, the 4th Armoured Brigade was ordered to advance to the north. The 3rd RTR was on the left, during the drive northward. The 3rd RTR was in a vulnerable position, as the Ariete Division was in a position to attack, if they had wanted to do so. Usually, they were not concerned about artillery fire, but on this occasion, the shellfire was so heavy that they were constantly on the move to try and evade the enemy artillery. C Squadron, 3rd RTR, was sent out "on the left" to find and attack the enemy artillery. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The start of the 17th day of the Crusader Battle (3 December 1941?)

By the start of day 17 of the Crusader Battle, the character of the operation changed dramatically. The frantic dashing around the battlefield, back and forth, had ceased. Instead, they were involved in assaulting rearguards, turning movements, and deep penetration. Robert Crisp writes that the troops sensed they had won the battle, and received a boost in morale and energy form that realization. The 3rd RTR had driven away from their camp to their initial position "by 7 o'clock". The received notice that this had not turned into a route, as "the leading squadron ran slap into an antitank screen, and had four Honeys knocked out". Robert Crisp was happy to not have been the target and sat while the 25pdr guns fired on the anti-tank position. The Germans were reduced to responding to tank force concentrations by firing artillery, rather than attacking with tanks forces. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Towards evening

Robert Crisp had been sitting all afternoon, observing the big German force moving eastward. As the sun was setting, he was dismayed to see two German tanks headed his way. He called to his crew, and they got on board the tank. Robert instructed his driver, Whaley, to slowly reverse, so that they could try not to attract attention. Robert thought that the fire that they had used to brew up might have attracted the Germans. Suddenly, Robert's Stuart gave the tell-tale signal that they had run out of fuel. He was somewhat relieved when he saw the German tanks stop, about 400 yards away. Robert called on the radio, letting them know at the battalion, that he had run out of fuel. His new Squadron commander called to tell Robert that he would personally come and tow him in to camp. After "Withers" had arrived and hooked them up, they were being towed back. At that point, they realized that they had left their kettle and tea behind. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots. This seems to have been the evening of the 16th day of the battle, probably 2 December 1941.

Ian Paterson also tells the story of events, starting on 2 December 1941

One Ian Paterson's "Battles 1941" page, he also tells the story about events that comments on 2 December 1941. He says that the Germans had decided by then to withdraw from the Tobruk seige and to abandon their garrisons on the frontier. From Brazen Chariots, it seems that the Germans may have made one last attempt to rescue their troops on the frontier, given that Robert Crisp saw the force heading east. Ian says that the German withdrawal only started on 5 December, and was a well-conducted operation, not a rout. I estimate the 2 December 1941 was the 16th day of Operation Crusader, which is the way that Robert Crisp generally speaks of the date in Brazen Chariots.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The 3rd RTR is built back up in strength

The 3rd RTR was at Bir Berraneb for two days (perhaps the 15th and 16th days of the battle). Fresh troops and tanks brought the 3rd RTR to 40 tanks. Robert Crisp now became second-in-command of C Squadron, with an experienced soldier, a former Sergeant Major who was commissioned, as the squadron commander. They were briefed on the immediate plans, which were for the 4th Armoured Brigade to assist an Indian brigade and infantry tanks in taking El Gubi and northward. The 4th Armoured Brigade was to move to a position between El Gubi and El Adem. They were to protect the infantry from attack by Axis armoured forces. While they spent the day, sitting their, C Squadron, 3rd RTR was on the northern edge. Robert took off to look around to see what might be nearby. Robert saw a large number of tanks and vehicles headed east from Sidi Rezegh. Robert contacted his CO, but was told to sit and watch. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Chapter 23 Sidi Rezegh is Lost makes interesting reading

We are very fortunate that New Zealand has made thei official history available online. Chapter 23 "Sidi Rezegh is Lost" makes very interesting reading, because it highlights the sad state that the 8th Army was in, due to the poor performance of the army commander, the 13th and 30th Corps commanders, and General Gott, 7th Armoured Division commander. The command issues were aggrevated by difficulties in communications, partly due to inefficiencies introduced by poor cryptographic systems. This indictment from the New Zealand Official History is particularly telling: "Both Corps remained out of step with events and tended to guard against the previous rather than the current emergency".

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The 15th Day: 1 December 1941

Robert Crisp says that the 15th day of the battle was 1 December 1941. This and the next day involved seemingly aimless movement which never brought them to combat. Robert says that the British soldiers became aware that they were winning the battle and that there was a future for them, rather than death and defeat. Robert realized that he wanted to survive and live, and that it was a real possibility. Robert says that Howard Kippenberger, the New Zealand officer, then a Lt-Colonel, told about being a prisoner, after the Germans reoccupied Sidi Rezegh. Later a General, Kippenberger told a story about when "a German artillery officer limped up to him in the captured dressing station in which he had been made a prisoner". The German officer told him that they Germans had lost the battle, that their "losses are too heavy". This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

It is quite telling that the 4th Armoured Brigade was the last tank unit in the 7th Armoured Division by 29 November 1941

Ian Paterson's narrative about "Battles 1941" summarizes that story quite well about Operation Crusader, as well as the other battles in 1941 in the Middle Eastern theater. It says a lot about the state of the 8th Army and British leadership that by the end of 29 November 1941, they had expended all the armoured forces in the 7th Armoured Division (and 30th Corps), except Brigadier Gatehouse's 4th Armoured Brigade, which included Robert Crisp and the 3rd RTR. I place much of the blame squarely on General Gott, who squandered his division, piecemeal, by scattering them across the desert in squadron and battalion actions for the first two weeks of the Crusader Battle. By the time they were needed, there were few tanks left. The Germans concentrated and presented a major problem, because of that. Fortunately, their supply situation was bad and the RAF and SAAF had air superiority over the battlefield. Otherwise, the situation would have been even worse.

Monday, March 12, 2007

After reaching the rallying point on the 14th day of the Crusader Battle

Robert Crisp, and his friend Harry Maigraeth reached the rallying point for the 3rd RTR without incident. They kept expecting to hear about enemy tanks, but they never did. It was the New Zealand official historian and General Howard Kippenberger who later told Robert that the Germans seemed close to breaking. After the battalion had reached the rallying point, the situation was calm enough that they were able to top off with fuel. They had not fired their guns at all. They spent the rest of the day watching the air battle, where German Stukas (Ju-87s) tried to bomb, but were intercepted by British fighters. Many were shot down. After the Greek catastrophe, they enjoyed seeing the Stukas in distress. In Greece, the Germans had air superiority, and the Stukas had made their lives miserable. Robert and Harry knew that the British pilots would return to a secure place, where they had many amenities, and might taste the pleasures of urban Egypt, such as the Hotel Metropolitan or Shepheard's. In the desert, the Germans and Italians were back in possession of Sidi Rezegh. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Wikipedia has a page on Bernard Freyberg

The legendary Bernard Freyberg commanded the New Zealand Division in Greece and North Africa. He had fought in WWI, where he won a Victoria Cross at the Battle of the Somme, in 1916. He had previously fought in the Dardenelles campaign, where he had been wounded. Robert Crisp told the story in Brazen Chariots about meeting General Freyberg. He certainly was a brave and capable man. Wikipedia has a biographical page about him. He was an adopted New Zealander, born in England, but "moved to New Zealand at the age of two". A Hungarian site has a large photo of him.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Brazen Chariots: with General Freyberg on the 14th Day

Still on the 14th day of the Crusader Battle, while shielded by a knocked out Matilda, General Freyberg conferred with his officers from the New Zealand Division. He got into a staff car, covered with men, and started to drive down the Trigh Capuzzo, headed east. From the west came a column of men, all German infantry. They looked very unkempt and appeared to be very dispirited. Robert's immediate reaction was to call for help to attack them. They were now about 500 yards from him. Robert spoke to his CO, commanding the 3rd RTR. Robert Crisp was surprised to learn that they were surrounded and would have to break out. They would meet about three miles south of Sidi Rezegh. Robert and Harry were resigned to withdrawing with the battalion. Robert thought that the German infantry did not look like he had expected they would, if they "had just won another Sidi Rezegh battle". Robert later spoke with the New Zealand war historian, and he told Robert that his impression, and that of then Lt-Colonel Kippenberger was that the Germans "morale was very near the breaking point". This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

27 November 1941

Early on 27 November 1941, armoured cars from the King's Dragoon Guards were in position near the Trigh Capuzzo and saw a column driving up the road. General Gott reacted by sending the depleted 22nd Armoured Brigade and the 4th Armoured Brigade to attack. The column driving up the road was the 15th Panzer Division, heading west. When they were attacked, they immediately deployed into "battle formation", with artillery and anti-tank guns supporting the remaining tanks. The 4th Armoured Division had 77 Stuarts at the start of the day. The 22nd Armoured Brigade had 45 tanks, probably all Crusader I and II tanks. Both British armoured brigades had artillery and anti-tank guns attached. Their opponent, the 15th Panzer Division had been depleted to the point where they had under 50 tanks left of all types. The 21st Panzer Division, not involved in this action had 24 tanks while the Ariete Division, which had not been heavily engaged, still had 100 tanks, probably all M13/40s. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Having a lot of details about equipment for units is really useful for gamers

Before I had acquired the first four volumes of the Official History of the war in the Mediterranean and Middle East, I was reduced to making up OOBs for units, down to the regiment and battalion level. Of course, the only way to extract the really useful information is to grind through the volumes, page-by-page, taking notes. Vol.III is especially useful, for the information about what tanks and guns were assigned to units in the Crusader Battle, and Battleaxe, before that. Much of this is in notes at the bottom of the page, so a very careful examination is required to get it all. I have been sure to list what I found in the Official History volumes in this blog, so you should be able to go through the archive pages to find the data.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

From the Official History: action around Sidi Rezegh

Rommel's Dash to the Wire greatly affected the British ability to move supplies forward to the New Zealand Division, which only had two brigades near Tobruk. British intelligence learned that the Ariete Division and Afrika Korps were returning to the Sidi Rezegh area. The 13th Corps commander, General Godwin-Austen, could see that the New Zealand Division and 70th Division would be fortunate to hold their positions, much less advance. General Godwin-Austen asked the 8th Army commander for reinforcements and received the 1st South African Brigade. With air operations on 27 November groudned by bad weather, protection of the New Zealand Division was left to the remnants of the 7th Armoured Division, under command of General Gott. The 7th Armoured Brigade had been so depleted, the brigade was "withdrawn to Egypt". For the time being, the Support Group operated Jock Columns, raiding as they could. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

What forced Rommel to withdraw from the frontier

The Official History tells the story about what happened that "forced General Rommel to withdraw from the frontier". On 24 November, the Germans were moving in a southeastern direction, towards the frontier. There was a counter-movement afoot, however, in that the 13th Corps commander had sent the New Zealand division towards Tobruk. They were accompanied by 86 Infantry tanks in the 1st Army Tank Brigade. The 8th RTR had 49 Valentines and the 44th RTR had 37 Matildas. The New Zealanders had left the 5th NZ Brigade in the frontier area, but the other two headed west. The 6th NZ Brigade moved up across Sidi Rezegh, but was stopped there, and ended up in disarray, while the 4th NZ Brigade moved up to Zaafran, just east of El Duda. If the New Zealanders succeeded in taking their objectives, 70th Division "would break out and join them". By noon on 26 November, the New Zealanders were held up, so 70th Division attacked El Duda with the 32nd Army Tank Brigade, supporeted by the 1st Essex Regiment and a company of Northumberland Fusiliers. The forces succeeded in taking El Duda, Behamed, and Sidi Rezegh. This created fresh difficulties for the German forces and specifically, the DAK. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

British artillery in 1940 and 1941, that you might need to use against tanks

In 1940 and 1941, there were still many 18pdr guns and 4.5in howitzers in service. As the war progressed, you were less likely to see these in Europe and North Africa as they were replaced by 25pdr gun-howitzers, but in more remote locales, as well as in the local defence role at home, you would still see them. The 18pdr actually could fire an AP shot, although only at about 1,625 ft/sec. With such a gun, you would be looking for side and rear shots against Pzkw III and IV tanks. You would still have a chance with armoured cars, half tracks, and Pzkw I and II tanks. I was not able to get to the actual page, but Google has a cached page with data.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Early on the 14th Day

With the sun rising on the 14th day of the Crusader Battle, Robert Crisp led his troop forward in the "protection front" role. Sidi Rezegh was still littered with knocked out vehicles, as when Robert had last seen it. Robert could still see the image of Jock Campbell and his blonde driver. Robert was surprised that Point 175 was occupied by Axis forces. He could see Germans beyond the New Zealanders who they had come to support. Robert and his troop reached the southern escarpment at about 7:30am. At 8am, they were ordered forward to connect with the New Zealanders. He was to find the NZ commander and tell him to withdraw, falling back behind the tanks. Robert got out with Harry Maegraith and looked around. He recognized Bernard Freyberg, sitting. Robert told Harry to wait, and walked across the airfield towards the New Zealand Division commander, a man who was already famous. Robert introduced himself and saluted. General Freyberg told him to get in the trench, but Robert stayed up and delivered his message. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

NZETC has a nice selection of pics from Sidi Rezegh

The NZETC site has a page of photographs and maps from the New Zealanders at Sidi Rezegh. Ian Paterson's narrative of the battle at Sidi Rezegh is still one of the best and useful that is easily accessible. The only issue that I have with it is that you have to scroll to that section, as you cannot link directly to it. On NZETC, there is a page for 21 Battalion that includes a narrative about Sidi Rezegh.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The NZ Division was in trouble at Sidi Rezegh on the 14th Day

On the 14th day of the Crusader Battle, poor generalship on the British side had left the New Zealanders at Sidi Rezegh in dire straits. What was worse, from Robert Crisp's perspective, was that the 4th Armoured Brigade had been sitting, as they had been left in a covering role, rather than moving towards Sidi Rezegh. By the time the 4th Armoured Brigade was ordered to move quickly to Sidi Rezegh "to assist the withdrawal of the New Zealanders". Robert says that he and his fellow soldiers were surprised at how grave the situation was. The 3rd RTR was stationed on the right, as they drove to Sidi Rezegh. They were already underway, as the sun rose. Soon, Robert and his troop were at the top of the Sidi Rezegh escarpment, looking over the battlefield where they had fought alongside Jock Campbell, eight days before. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots.

Experience from extensive gaming of 1941 to early 1942

I have extensive experience of "gaming" the war in North Africa from 1941 to early 1942. The main experience has been that the British must rely upon their artillery to effectively fight, due to the inadequate performance of the 2pdr gun, fired AP projectiles. Since they did not use the 3.7in AA gun in the anti-tank role, you primarily needed to use the 25pdr guns in the direct fire mode. They had range and hitting power to be effective. The main issue with using them that way was that it diminished their effectiveness in the traditional artillery role, where longer range, indirect fire was the rule. You were reduced to attacking German armour with British tanks from the side and rear, and hoping for the best. You had to close the range to a dangerous degree to be effective. That is why you would form artillery barriers with a combination of 25pdr gun-howitzers and 2pdr anti-tank guns. There were still a few 18pdrs left in the field, so you could use those, as well.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Robert Crisp says that he and the other soldiers wanted the decisive battle with German armour that had been planned

The new plan for the remaining 30th Corps armour still did not forsee that there would be a decisive battle fought with the German panzer divisions. Robert Crisp says that he and the other soldiers were disappointed, as they were ready for a final battle, fought to decide the outcome of Operation Crusader, where the British would either end up "being buried in the sand" or hailed as heroes in Cairo. Instead, they would continue "their role of protection". The 13th day continued with little action. They could hear sounds of battle in the distance, but they were left uncommitted. That night, they heard that "5th Royal Tanks had had a considerable set-to with Ariete Division away on our left flank, and that Paddy Doyle's squadron of Honeys had knocked out sixteen M13s". Robert says that he still could not understand why the 4th Armoured Division was not use to attack the Ariete Division. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The night between the 12th and 13th days of the Crusader Battle

Robert Crisp and his companions had a long drive to the leaguer area in the dark. They had headed south, with the German positions illuminated with bright lights, behind them. The soldiers in the brigade all had their radios tuned to radio stations in Europe and the Middle East. The men needed to stay awake, so staying up and listening to the radio was one way to accomplish that task during the drive. If someone fell asleep, they could take the tanks behind them off into the night, where they would be lost. After driving slowly for three hours, and covering ten miles in the process, they reached their leaguer area,. They arranged their tanks into a defensive formation and then tried to get some sleep. At midnight, the squadron commanders were summoned for a meeting with the 3rd RTR CO. He told them that the remaining tanks in 30th Corps were to be concentrated under Alec Gatehouse's command. With reinforcements, 4th Armoured Brigade strength would rise to 120 tanks, including the last 25 Crusaders from 22nd Armoured Brigade. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Moving north on the 12th day

The 4th Armoured Brigade was ordered to push north by 2pm on the 12th day of the Crusader Battle. As they drove through an area filled with burnt and wrecked tanks, guns, and other vehicles, Robert Crisp recognized this as the site of the Totensonntag battle, about 7 days before. As the brigade drove north, the 3rd RTR was positioned on the right side. The left side of the brigade was where all the action was, as they fought tanks from the Ariete Division moving to join the Germans. Robert says that between 3 and 6pm, that the tanks were sent off north, south, and west. He says that the only reason that they were not sent east was that there was no British infantry nearby. Robert's tank never fired a shot, or even saw anything at which to shoot. At night, the brigade retired to a leaguer, after an interminably long drive. This is based on the account in Robert Crisp's book Brazen Chariots.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The close of the Crusader Battle

The Italo-German forces involved in the Crusader Battle, were apparently beaten back by the assertive use of infantry and artillery. The British tank force continued to be frittered away in small actions that never allowed the force to be concentrated to fight the Axis armoured divisions. I was amazed at the narrative in the last part of Robert Crisp's book, where he described how the 4th Armoured Brigade was still being used in small pieces, in late November 1941, on the 12th day of Crusader.

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