Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The two British issues to consider in late 1940

At home, the primary British concern was to defend the home islands from German invasion. The Germans had triumphed in the west and had their army available for an invasion of the British isles. In the Middle East, the goal was to defend the Mediterranean theater and Africa from Italian attack. The Italian invasion of Greece did not bring the Germans into the battle in the Middle East and southeastern Europe. The Greek Army was able to successfully defend against the initial Italian attack from Albania. Everyone was concerned about the German presence in Hungary and Rumania. Everyone knew that on a whim, the Germans could change the complexion of the war in the Mediterranean Theater. On 6 January 1941, Anthony Eden informed Churchill that they had intelligence that indicated that the Germans were planning an attack on Greece. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Into a new volume: Greece, Crete and Syria

In the volume "Greece, Crete, and Syria", we go back to 1941, starting in the spring and going into early summer. This was a period when Australia became much more involved with decision making. This was also a period when Australians commanded significant forces in the field. We start in Greece, in March 1941. At the beginning, the Greek and British forces had defeated the Italian army. As the Italians faltered, the British and Commonwealth forces knew that they would soon face the Germans in combat. The Italian attack on Greece in October 1940 eventually brought the Germans and British into battle against each other. The Italians had hoped for a quick and cheap victory in Greece, but they found themselves in a very different situation. After the Italian attack, the British deployed aircraft to Greece in support of the Greek army. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

We are going to be summarizing Greece, Crete and Syria, by Gavin Long

My son gave me several volumes of the Australian Official History. I plan on summarizing, next, Gavin Long's Vol.II: Greece, Crete and Syria. This volume is from the Army Series of the Australian Official History of World War II. As you may remember, we summarized Vol.I, To Benghazi, some time ago. Volume II starts with the disastrous Greek campaign, where the 6th Australian Division served in the ANZAC Corps under the command of General Blamey. After the withdrawal from Greece, a few Australian units fought in the battle for the island of Crete in May 1942. The volume concludes with the Syrian campaign, where the Commonwealth forces captured Syria from the Vichy French. I find the process of summarizing interesting volumes to be very educational. I end up doing a detailed reading that I would have not otherwise done, and a pace where I can absorb the material.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Gazala front, in retrospect

When the two armies faced each other at Gazala, they were both well-supplied and of similar strength. When the Axis forces were at Gazala, they could be supplied by road from Tripoli and by supply ships arriving at Benghazi. The British were also well-supplied from Tobruk, by the rail line, and by road from the east. With the British being defeated in the Gazala battle, the situation became fluid and Rommel was able to take Tobruk and then, ultimately, to push all the way to El Alamein. At El Alamein, Auchinleck was able to fight a defensive battle, where he was able to stop the forward progress of Rommel's army. As the British fell back to the east, they were more easily supplied, plus new equipment, units, and reinforcements arrived in greater quantity. They started to receive the new American Sherman tanks, with a good medium velocity 75mm gun in a turret. From the UK, they started to receive the 6pdr anti-tank gun in increasing numbers, along with newer marks of British tanks. This marked the turning point in the war in North Africa. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The period from November 1941 to September 1942

Volume Three of the Official History (The Mediterranean and Middle East) covers the period of November 1941 until September 1942. The volume started with the Crusader battle and ended with the Battle of Alam el Halfa. At the beginning, General Auchinleck was forced to intervene in the battle and defeat Rommel's forces. At the end, he was no longer theater commander, being replaced by Harold Alexander, and the 8th Army commander was now Bernard Law Montgomery. The advantage of having Montgomery was that he knew how to win battles and how to find them in very static, very confined battle fields, such as was the situation at El Alamein. Montgomery closed out this volume with a victory, where his plans were based on those of Auchinleck, and where dug-in British tanks, mostly Grants, outfought the Germans. The pace of change in the Desert was very great by September 1942. A great deal of new equipment was arriving and there were fresh units and reinforcements arriving in time for the next battle. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Infantry tanks

The Battle of Alam el Halfa, in early September 1942, was the swan song of the Matilda infantry tank in the desert. The Matilda had a cast hull and could not be easily given a larger turret ring and gun. The easiest thing to do was to obsolete the tank and move on to newer designs. The Valentine, on the other hand, was a different situation. Like the Matilda with the 2pdr gun, the 2pdr Valentine was also obsolete. In the case of the Valentine, the tank could be modified with a larger turret ring and could be given a 6pdr or 75mm gun. The Valentine VIII and IX were armed with the 57mm 6pdr gun. The Valentine XI had the 75mm gun. The Valentine was gradually withdrawn from British service, but continued in service with the Russian army. The Russians appreciated the good armour and like the small size, as they were smaller targets and may have been more easily concealed. Chamberlain and Ellis say that 8.275 Valentines were built. The Valentine X was built in 1943 and the XI built in 1943-1944, also according to Chamberlain and Ellis. This is based on Vol.III of the Official History and Pictorial History of Tanks of the World 1915-45 by Peter Chamberlain and Chris Ellis.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

An assessment of the Battle of Alam el Halfa

For the Axis forces, the Battle of Alam el Halfa indicated that their hopes of breaking through to the Nile Delta were at an end. For the British, the battle inspired new hope and confidence. The British army had a new commander, had beaten the Axis forces in a battle, and were pleased with the performance of the air force. The Navy, for their part, in conjunction with the air force, were inflicting great damage on the Axis supply line. The Axis forces were being starved of all the supplies and reinforcements that would have kept them competitive. Instead, they were slowly starved of resources, which meant that it was only matter of time before they were pushed back. This sort of battle, on a fixed front, with little movement was where Montgomery excelled. To fight his sort of battle, he needed a strong force, but that was what he would have for the battle that would bust the front open and push the Axis back to the west. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History, along with my analysis.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The battle ends after a week of fighting in early September 1942

At the end of the Battle of Alam el Halfa, we can compare the losses of the combatants:

1,859 men killed, wounded, or missing
33 guns, 298 vehicles, and 38 tanks lost

1,051 men killed, wounded, or missing
22 guns, 97 vehicles, and 11 tanks lost

1,750 men killed, wounded, or missing
15 anti-tank guns and 67 tanks lost or damaged
(31 Grants and 21 Valentines used as infantry tanks)

This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A costly attack

The attack by the New Zealand Division, in the end, achieved little except to cause heavy losses to the units involved. The enemy hardly noticed the attack, being much more affected by the air effort during the attack. The attempt to close the minefield gaps failed miserably. The 132nd Infantry Brigade had 697 killed, wounded, and missing. The New Zealand losses were smaller, but still considerable. The one bright spot was the air operations during 2 and 3 September 1942 over the battlefield. The five hundred Allied aircraft engaged flew an average of five sorties per aircraft. The Americans used their B-24 Liberators, B-25 Mitchells, and P-40F Kittyhawk IIs in support of the British air effort. The attacks were followed by an Axis wirhdrawal to the most western minefields. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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