Saturday, June 21, 2008

Richard O'Connor

I was reading the Wikipedia entry for General Sir Richard O'Connor, who beat the Italians in Operation Compass that took Cyrenaica from the Italians, starting from late 1940 and ending at Beda Fomm. What interested me was that O'Connor served under J.F.C. Fuller, as brigade major of the Experimental Brigade, from 1921 to 1935. General Fuller was an early advocate for the use of combined arms forces, including armour, artillery, infantry, and aircraft in support. O'Connor had this mysterious knowledge about mobile forces that I could not explain.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Royal Air Force in the Desert from February to May 1942

The end of the Crusader Battle left the RAF to rebuild. They had suffered great losses in the battle during a transition period when some aircraft types were out of production while their replacements were slow in arriving. As the Hurricane I had lost its effectiveness, there were not many Hurricane IIs in the pipeline. This was the case for a number of aircraft:

Old Model Status New Model Status
Hawker Hurricane I outperformed Hawker Hurricane II slow in arriving
Curtis Tomahawk production ended Curtis Kittyhawk few arriving
Martin Maryland production ended Martin Baltimore few arriving,
needed modifications
Bristol Blenheim IV engine troubles Douglas Boston engine troubles

One positive move was the arrival of Consolidated Liberator and Handley Page Halifax heavy bombers in the Middle East. They were much more capable than the older Vickers Wellington medium bombers. They belonged to the original twin-engined heavy bomber category that had gradually become obsolescent. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Malta and North Africa in May 1942

The Middle East commanders continued to obliviously send communications to Britain that greatly incensed the prime minister and the Chiefs of Staff. For example, on 9 May 1942, they stated that they thought that the loss of Malta would not be fatal to the position in North Africa, as long as the supply lines through the Indian Ocean remained open. The restated their opinion, which proved correct, that an attack without adequate force strength would result in the loss of the attackers. If there was no reserve, Egypt would be lost. They did acknowledge that the Axis forces seemed to be grouping for an attack on the Gazala line. The Middle East commanders thought that such an attack risked the loss of significant Axis strength and might even open the way to a successful counterattack. The Prime Minister would have none of it, however: "We are determined that Malta should not be allowed to fall without a battle being fought by your whole army for its retention". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Chiefs of Staff and Prime Minister force premature action

The Prime Minister and Chiefs of Staff refused to acknowledge that the army in North Africa was seriously out-matched by the Axis forces in May 1942. They were back to the late 1940 mentality that thought that the army needed to go forward when needed, regardless of the consequences. Strategic factors outweighed the facts on the ground. General Auchinleck was also concerned about the situation in the Far East and was fully prepared to go in the defensive so that more forces could be sent East. The concern in Britain, though, was that Malta was very vulnerable and could be easily lost. They felt that such a loss would seriously compromise the entire Commonwealth defense posture. Therefore, the army had to attack soon to relieve the pressure on Malta and allow air forces to operate closer in support. Those in Britain also had reason to expect an Axis attack in North Africa in June and wanted to forestall that attack. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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