Friday, November 28, 2008

British expectations circa 20 May 1942

General Ritchie actually foresaw that the Axis attack would go south around the end of the British defensive line. General Auchinleck thought that would be a possibility, but really expected that Rommel would feint to the south and attack through the defensive line. Whatever happened, General Auchinleck wanted to keep the British armour concentrated. The uncertainty, however, led the other commanders to position the 7th Armoured Division further south behind Bir Hacheim while the 1st Armoured Division was north, to the southwest of Tobruk, near El Adem and Knightsbridge. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The British defences in the Desert in late May 1942

The British forces, in late May 1942, were spread across the desert. The 1st South African Division, with the lost brigade replaced by the 9th Indian Infantry Brigade Group sat to the immediate west of Gazala and stretched a short distance from the coast. One their flank was situated the 50th Division. The 150th Brigade, from the 50th Division, was located further southeast, leaving a gap defended only by the minefield. The 1st Free French Brigade Group lay isolated and exposed at Bir Hacheim far to the south. To their east, about 15 miles, sat the two armoured divisions (the 1st and the 7th). This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

May 1942

The downside of having the huge stockpile of fuel and supplies at Belhamed was that the base was really too far forward. That meant once the battle started, the British were forced to use forces to defend Belhamed rather than to be able to fight as the battle flowed. Already by 10 May 1942, General Auchinleck was informed that the British needed to fight in May, and as soon as possible, as a German offensive was imminent. The army was still not really prepared to fight. General Ritchie's forces were widely spread across the desert, generally out of supporting distance. The Free French at Bir Hachiem, were hung out 13 miles from the 150th Infantry Brigade and six from the 69th Infantry Brigade. With their forces spread out wide, they relied heavily on minefields to block the gaps. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

British preparations up to 25 May 1942

General Auchinleck had hoped to be able to build up the British army in the Western Desert to the level that they would be superior in strength to the Axis army. He did not want to be pushed into a premature action where the strength that they had would be squandered. To be ready for the planned offensive, the British had built three forward bases: Tobruk, Belhamed, and Jarabub. Belhamed was the largest with 26,000 tons of supplies. Tobruk had 10,000 tons and Jarabub only had 1,000 tons. The coastal railroad was pushed forward so that the railhead was now up to Capuzzo. By late May, they had reached Belhamed, although the railhead was still incomplete and temporary. By the 25 May 1942 date, they had 80% of the supplies that were needed, although they only had two thirds of the fuel that they wanted to have on hand. The shortfall was created by the loss of fuel ships to attacks on the run west along the coast. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Grants and 6pdr anti-tank guns by May 1942

As Grants arrived in the desert, the expedient measure was taken of mixed armoured regiments. A portion of the regiments were equipped with two Grant squadrons and one Stuart squadron. Another variant organization had two Crusader squadrons and one Grant squadron. The plan was for some armoured brigades to have all Grants and Stuarts, while others would be equipped with Crusaders and Grants. The armoured divisions still had two armoured brigades, as the new organization with one armoured brigade and one motor brigade was still just a plan and had not been implemented. In the event, the Germans attacked before the British were ready. The best British equipment were the Grants and the 112 6pdr anti-tank guns which had arrived. At least the three British armoured brigades were up to strength in tanks at the time of the Axis attack. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New equipment in the Desert in early 1942

The British had received Crusader II tanks with thicker armour but still very unreliable mechanically. They still did not have capped armour piercing rounds to deal with German face-hardened armour. Only the American Stuart tanks had capped armour piercing rounds, but only of 37mm caliber.

The Germans started to receive new Pzkw III tanks ("Specials") with the 50mm Kwk L60 gun developed to deal with the Russian T-34 tanks. While most of the Pzkw III tanks on hand only had the 50mm KwK L42 guns, they had 19 of the Specials by the beginning of the Gazala battle.

The one bright spot for the British is that they now were receiving American-made Lee tanks (they were generally called Grants, but the first arrivals were actually named the General Lee tank). The Lee and Grant tanks had a hull-mounted 75mm gun in a sponson. The gun was medium velocity, but fired a useful HE round which was useful against German soft vehicles, infantry, and artillery. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Reorganizing the army in the desert

General Auchinleck had been displeased with the lack of coordination between infantry, armour, and artillery during the Crusader battle. He made organizational changes to reshape units more in line with what the Germans were thought to use. Armour divisions no longer would consist of two armour brigades and a support group, but would have one armour brigade and one motor brigade, with supporting artillery at the division level. Infantry brigades and motor brigades gained artillery which had been segregated in the past. The infantry tanks were kept in the Army tank brigades, not attached to divisions. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Desert Air Force from February to May 1942

The Desert Air Force needed time, just like the Army, for "rest, refitting, and training". There problem was that there was no time for anything but intensive operations. Those operations proceeded with difficulty for a number of reasons. The new Hurricane Mk.IICs with four 20mm cannon mechanisms were clogged by dust. Kittyhawks had problems with their Allison engines and were difficult for Hurricane pilots to learn to fly. From early February 1942 to late May, "nearly 14,000 sorties" were flown. At the cost of almost 300 aircraft lost, the destroyed "89 German and over 60 Italian aircraft". All this occurred during the lull in ground operations following the German advance from El Agheila after the Crusader Battle. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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