Friday, July 26, 2019

Comparing general experience levels in August 1942

The Australian general Blamey "had been a regular from 1906 to 1925". We already knew that Bernard Law Montgomery was a "buffoon" although a very successful one. Montgomery flat out stated that Blamey's characterization of British commanders was correct: that the Dominion officers had not been produced by the British army training and experience system. The Australian historian thought that another issue that was not stated was that Generals Auchinleck and Ramsden had been "difficult" to deal with. The Australian historian then proceeded to examine officers. Freyberg was a former regular army officer. His wartime record was impressive. He was also more senior at Major-General than Alexander, Montgomery, Wilson, and Auchinleck. He was only nine months behind General Wavell. Despite that, Freyberg was still must a division commander in the campaign for Greece, Crete, and North Africa. Only in 1944 was Freyberg appointed to be a corps commander. During 1942 and beyond, major command appointments were decide by the CIGS, Alan Brooke.

There were Australian politics involved, as well. General Morshead wanted to see Brigadier Ramsey appointed as division commander is something happened to Morshead. There was the concern that Brigadier Tovell was senior to Ramsey. Morshead's solution was to have Tovell recalled to Australia and given a higher command. The problem with that solution was that General Blamey had other plans for men. Blamey also wanted to send a Major-General to North Africa to be Morshead's deputy. Morshead asked Blamey to let him approve of a deputy, because Morshead wanted to work with someone who would be compatible with him. Blamey named J.E.S. Stevens as his caondidate deputy to General Morshead. Morshead told Blamey what Stevens would be acceptable to him. We find that the discussion about Dominion officers being corps commanders had a positive effect on the British officers. Montgomery told MOrshead that if General Leese became a casuaty, MOrshead would succeed him as XXX Corps commander. This si based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

General Blamey reacts to the command changes in the Middle East in August 1942

Despite our concerns about General Blamey, he was a tireless advocate for the Australian Army. Blamey's partner in government in August 1942 was the Labour prime minister, Mr. Curtin. After seeing General Morshead perform well in 1941 and 1942, often under great duress, General Blamey took a special interest in promoting Morshead's cause. On 21 August 1942, General Blamey wrote Mr. Curtin, saying that some of the British generals promoted to corps commanders had less experience and success in battle than General Morshead had shown. General Blamey told Mr. Curtin that he felt that General Morshead was deserving of being appointed as a corp commander. Blamey even stated that Morshead being being passed over for corps commander was detrimental to the morale of Australian troops in the Middle East.

The British were apparently saying that only British officers were eligible for corps commander. Here, you had Bernard Law Montegomery asking for Brian Horrocks to be a corps commander. Brian Horrocks had apparently last commanded a machine gun battalion in France, but Montgomery was engaged in promoting Brian Horrocks cause. General Morshead replied back that he was busy commanding the 9th Australian Division to be concerned with having hurt feelings. We can only decide that it was General Blamey had the hurt feelings. Mr. Churchill said his piece, saying that he had great confidence in General Morshead and had asked that he be considered for corps command. General Brooke, the CIGS, had told MOntgomery that he should consider Morshead for corps commander. We suspect that perhaps Montgomery had some prejudice against using Dominion officers as corps commanders.

On 13 September 1941, General Morshead had spoken with General Alexander about corps command, and that corps command had been discussed with the Australian government and General Blamey. We get the sense that Montgomery did had prejudice about Dominion officers, particularly General Morshead for corp commander. Montgomery did allow that General Morshead could command the corps, if General Leese were a casualty. General Montgomery derided officers who were not professional British soldiers. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Once in command, Montgomery laid down the rules to be followed in August 1942

When General Montgomery appeared on the scene, he "stole" two days of command from General Auchinleck. Montgomery did not believe in "Jock columns or battle groups". At least on paper, he wanted to fight divisions as intact units and in a somewhat contradictory fashion, said he would fight brigades as brigades. In the desert, they were used to having brigades as the normal fighting unit. In the past, they had often treated battalions as if they were brigades, but Montgomery was opposed to doing such. He wanted the divisions to hold their ground with no plans to withdraw any further. Montgomery tried an Australian hat but he did not understand how they were worn. Montgomery eventually settled on wearing a beret as his signature headgear. It turns out that Montgomery had an Australian connection, because his father had been Bishop of Tasmania at some point.

He disliked some of what Auchinleck and Eric Dorman-Smith had thought was a good idea. There were not more mentions of "boxes". He also did not like the term "consolidate", which he thought should be referred to as reorganization. Montgomery also wanted to use a real Chief of Staff, unlike Auchinleck's system of using an assistant chief of staff in Eric Dorman-Smith. He also expected when he issued orders that they would be acted upon, they were not to be a topic for debate.

There had been an idea that men should not wear their division insignia ("flashes"). Montgomery disagreed and said that flashes should be worn. Another step was that anti-tank guns should be fired for training the gunners. There apparently had been a concern to conserve ammunition so that six-pounder gunners had never fired their guns.

Montgomery chose to have his headquarters close to the front. Alexander chose to locate a tactical headquarters near Montgomery's headquarters. The Desert Air Force headquarters was also near where Montgomery chose to locate his headquarters. Since Montgomery expected an attack by Rommel's forces quite soon, he got control of the 44th Division, which he put on Alam el Halfa Ridge. Montgomery asked Alexander if he could have General Horrocks in Egypt to command XIII Corps. General Lumsden eventually commanded X Corps. When Churchill returned to Egypt, he was happy with the way that his changes had affected the organization. This is based on the account in Vol. III Of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Auchinleck replaced in August 1942

I have long been an admirer of Churchill or at least his writings. After studying in detail, the events of 1941 and into 1942, I have become aware of his shortcomings. While we have been aware of Auchinleck's shortcomings in 1942, Churchill was pretty much unaware of the merits of Auchinleck. That resulted in his removal and replacement in August 1942. Churchill was unhappy with Auchinleck because of Auchinleck's refusal to act prematurely and attack the Germans and Italians almost immediately. Once Auchinleck was replaced, his successors waited much later to attack. Churchill was an armchair general, much in the manner of Hitler on the German side. In Churchill's case, he had military training as an officer and had commanded troops in the Great War.

We were interested to read General Morshead's take on Auchinleck in the Official History. Morshead wrote to Auchinleck saying "I am very sorry and very surprised that you are going away, and every single member of hte A.I.F. will be as regretful as I am, for we all hold you in the highest regard." Churchill had offered a position to Aucnhinleck, but he declined the offer, as he thought that the proposal was unsound. After being relieved, Auchinleck was off to India. Morshead had a high opinion of Auchinleck, after seeing him in action in late 1941 abd through 1942 up through August. Auchinleck had brought the Crusader battle to a successful conclusion and saved the day, really, although he was helped by the New Zealand division and the Australians. In 1942, when things had gone very badly, he stepped in and stopped the enemy forces at El Alamein, in the first battle there. He was aided by the strong showing by the Australians and the infantry tank units. The cruiser tank units under General Gott did not perform as well. Sadly, Gott's death when his plane was shot down was a blessing in the Bernard Law Montgomery was a much better general and he acquitted himself well for the rest of the war. Montgomery had personal traits that were easy to dislike, being rather vain and cautious. When he was able to fight a set-piece battle, he was very able. He did not show up so well in mobile, quickly-changing situations. Auchinleck and his assistant, Eric Dorman-Smith, had studied Rommel's methods and at least tried to find a formula that would work as well for the British. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Big plans made during July and August 1942

The situation at El Alamein in July 1942 had put Churchill into a panic. He wanted to immediately travel to the Middle East to try and influence events. The CIGS, General Brooke, was much more level-headed than Churchill and he persuaded Churchill to wait while the situation stabilized. Brooke did get Churchill's permission for General Brooke to travel to the Middle East by himself. The news about the American Sherman tanks and self-propelled guns being sent to North Africa was good news, but experienced observers knew that would goad Churchill into demands for an immediate offensive with the new tanks. American officials visited London and met with their British counterparts to discuss strategy for the next year. They agreed to invade North Africa soon and to wait to invade continental Europe.

General Auchinleck's recent communications just inflamed Churchill. Churchill did not want to wait for a new offensive to mid-September. You would have to imagine that made Churchill ready to fire Auchinleck and replace him with a man who would listen to his orders from Churchill to keep on the offensive. Churchill flew into Cairo on 3 August 1942. He had a meeting with General Brooke and General Auchinleck that evening. They wanted to replace Auchinleck as Eighth Army commander, when his actual appointment was as theater commander. Brooke was pretty sharp, he recommended Bernard Law Montgomery as army commander. Churchill wanted General Gott, but Brooke said that Churchill did not know anything about Gott. Churchill resisted Montgomery, since his arrival in the theater would delay Churchill's premature offensive.

A great question to decide was whether to defend the Persian oil fields or to hold Egypt. General Brooke's position was that if the southern Russian front broke, they had to defend the Persian oil fields, even if it meant losing Egypt. Churchill did not really agree with this policy, as he wanted to resolve the situation in North African as the first thing to do. Apparently on 5 August, Churchill and General Brooke visited the 9th Australian Division. Churchill was very complimentary to the Australians, They then visited Eighth Army headquarters and met with General Gott. Churchill was impressed by Gott while General Brooke had his misgivings confirmed. On 6 August, Churchill decided to replace Auchinleck. Churchill wanted General Brooke to take over as theater commander, but Brooke wanted to stay as CIGS. General Alexander would then be the new theater commander with Gott as Eighth Army commander. The Australian historian thought that Gott was responsible for the bad things that had happened. As soon as 7 August, General Gott was killed when his plane was shot down. CHurchill then agreed to Montgomery as Eighth Army commander. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

The situations in the Middle East and in the Far East up to August 1942

In the light of events in the Far East, General Morshead's requests for reinforcements for the Middle East seem extravagant. The Japanese forces in New Guinea were now in position to threaten Port Moresby. General Blamey's position on the situation is interesting. He says that they need another corps of three divisions. The Ausralian Prime Minster, Mr. Curtin, made that request to Franklin Roosevelt. At the same time, Mr. Curtin approved sending the reinforcements that General Morsehead had requested. In the event, circumstances caused Mr. Curtin to change his mind.

In the Middle East, the Eighth Army Headquarters was making contingency plans for bad outcomes that were "dispiriting" to the men. They decided in early August to pull out of the Makh Khad ridge area that they had recently captured. The El Alamein Box would continue to be important fortifications. Auchinleck, at this point, was still commander, and he wanted to reduce the force needed to hold the front line. He wanted time to regroup and prepare for new attacks starting in the middle of September. The 9th Australian Division had different ideas, as they expected the enemy to create a force that might attack as soon as mid-August. You had XXX Corps, ready to hold its positions while increasing the depth of their defenses. The Australian plans were to move the 24th Brigade into the El Alamein Box. Over the course of two nights, they would swap the positions of the 20th and 26th Brigades. The 20th Brigade would occupy the area between Trig 33 and Pointy 26, being in place by August 3. They would be connected to the El Alamein Box and would add minefields to the defenses. The 9th Australian Division would defend the coast with support from the 50th RTR. On Ruweisat Ridge, they had the South African Division touching the 5th Indian Division. You had the New Zealand Division defending the right side of the XIII Corps. Part of the South Africans were in back of the 9th Australian Division.

The high level decision makers were deliberating what they should do next. The British had Mr. Churchill and Sir Alan Brooke as negotiators. The Americans had Franklin Roosevelt and the American Chiefs of Staff. The Americans made a move that would greatly help the British situation in the Middle East. They would send one hundred self-propelled guns and three hundred Sherman tanks. Churchill was to visit the Middle East and meet with Stalin in Russia. We believe that Churchill had lost confidence in Auchinleck and hoped to make a change. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Australian considerations due to events in the Far East in 1942

In May 1942, pulling the 9th Australian Division back home was discussed. The Australian government was eventually convinced to leave their division in the Middle East. The argument was that oil fields in the Middle East were in danger of German attack from the north. If those oilfields were lost, then there would be problems with supplying Australia with oil. We have difficulty in estimating how real the danger was to the oil fields. Certainly, Germany was desperate for oil supplies, so perhaps this was a reasonable argument. On 10 May 1942, there were some 32,700 Australians in the Middle East. That number was gradually reduced by July 1942. In Australia, the decided in July that they needed to send about 6,000 more men to the Middle East to replace losses.

Mr. Churchill's misjudgments in 1941 caused considerable political instability in Australia. The had gone through some quick changes of government following the Greek campaign. They ended up with John Curtin, head of the Australian Labour Party, as prime minister. He stayed in place until he died in 1945. The Japanese attacks starting in December 1941 threw the Far East into turmoil. What concerned the Australian government most was the Japanese invasion of New Guinea in March 1942. The Japanese landed forces on the north coast of New Guinea on 21 July. The Australians eventually realized that their base at Port Moresby, in Papua, was now very vulnerable to Japanese attack. Besides that, Papua is only 90 miles from Australia. The Australian government felt that Churchill and his advisers in Britain were disregarding the situation in the Far East and the dangers there.

By the end of July 1942, at the conclusion of the First Battle of El Alamein, the 9th Australian Division had 2,552 casualties from the fighting. Given that information, Mr. Curtin approved that 3,978 men be sent to the Middle East as reinforcements. Mr. Curtin made the point, though, that his position was still that all Australian forces should return to Australia to participate in the war in southwest Pacific area.The news of reinforcements prompted General Morshead to comment that the numbers sent were insufficient. Morshead wanted to see 6,113 men sent to the Middle East as reinforcements. This is based on account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Retrospective on failures in late July 1942

The extent of the disastrous attack on Ruin Ridge caused General Morshead great unhappiness. He blamed the cautiousness of British armored formations for the failure. They had run into a minefield that had not been found prior to the attack. The minefield was about 900 yards from Ruin Ridge. They also had considerable difficulties communicating. The unit on Ruin Ridge also had no flank protection, so it was very vulnerable to German attack. He especially blamed the 1st Armoured Division for not providing the promised support. The Australians now tended to expect British armor to fight German tanks, while at Tobruk, the Australians would fight infantry with the tanks and then let artillery fight the tanks. That had been a formula which had served them well at Tobruk. At Tobruk, the Australians would "lie low", hold their ground, fight the German and Italian infantry, and let the artillery in the rear fire on the tanks.

The 1st Army Tank Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Richards, has performed well. It was the cruiser tank units, like the 1st Armoured Division, which had confidence problems because they had no faith in the tanks or methods. In the First Battle of El Alamein, infantry won the successes. The German successes were with armor, as their infantry did not fare well fighting the Australians, particularly. Both the Italians and the 90th Light Division had a hard time in the battles such as the attack on Ruin Ridge. The Australian historian placed the blame on commanders, not on the men in the tanks. There had been lack of coordination between the infantry units and the armored units. The historian thought that the minefield issues should be dealt with by giving armored units their own specialist engineers and equipment for clearing paths through minefields.

The Eighth Army had finished July 1942 feeling uneasy, but they had not failed to hold the enemy forces. Fighting under General Auchinleck's command, they had stopped Rommel's army. They had taken Tel el Eisa from the enemy. Rommel no longer had the ability to push in to the British rear areas. The 9th Australian Division had regained their fighting form. They hd grown rusty since Tobruk, but they were now back at their peak. The situation in Australia since May 1942 were such that they were not able to send reinforcements to the Middle East. On 14 July 1942, they had decided in Australia that they could send about six thousand reinforcements to the Middle East. This was about the same time that General Morshead asked for reinforcements. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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