8th Army’s Order of Battle and Tank Strength after CRUSADER – 7 February 1942

8th Army’s Order of Battle and Tank Strength after CRUSADER – 7 February 1942

Background

On 7 February 1942 the War Office in London reported to the Prime Minister on the state of forces in North Africa,as it was known at the time in London. The document can be found in WO216/15 in the National Archives in Kew. It shows how much the main units which participated in the battle had suffered.

Disposition of Troops in Cyrenaica & Egypt
Sector Command Formation Remarks
(a) Western Desert
  (i) 13 Corps
    1 S.A. Division Less one Brigade
    4 Indian Division [1]
    200 Guards Brigade [2]
    150 Infantry Brigade Group [3]
    Free French Brigade Group  
    Polish Brigade Group  
    Six Armd. Car Regts.  
    Reserve column from 1 Armd. Divn. Under command H.Q. of 1st Support Group.
  (ii) Reserve in forward area[4]
    1 Armoured Divn Less Reserve column and 200 Gds. Bde.
      Temporary Composition of division is:
      H.Q.
      2nd Armd. Bde.
      Composite Rgt. From 22 Armd. Bde.
      200 Gds. Bde.
      1 Support Group
    38 Indian Inf. Bde. [5]
  (iii) In Frontier and Railhead area under command of H.Q. 30 Armd. Corps
    1 Army Tank Brigade  
    2 S.A. Divn.  
    7 Indian Inf. Bde. Reorganising[6]
(b) British Troops in Egypt
  (i) At Mersa Matruh
    5 S.A. Bde. Reorganising[7]
  (ii) In Delta and Canal Areas
    2 N.Z. Divn. Reorganising and training
    7 Armd. Divn. Less 7 Armd. Bde sailing for Far East – reorganizing and re-equipping[8]
    22 Armd. Bde ex 1 Armd. Div Re-equipping[9]
    32 Army Tank Bde Elements only; awaiting reorganisation
    3 Indian Motor Brigade Shortly arriving from SYRIA as reserve for VIII Army.
    Two British infantry battalions Including one M.G. Battalion
    Three Indian State Forces battalions  
    One Czech Infantry battalion  
    2 Armd. Divn Remnants only; awaiting reorganisation[10]

Notes

[1]The division had fought all of Crusader and all three of its Brigades, 5, 7, and 11 had suffered heavily.
[2]The Brigade would not have been in a good state.
[3]New arrival, fresh troops.
[4]These units were around Tobruk and the Libyan/Egyptian border. The list is missing ‘E’ Force.
[5]New arrival, Tobruk garrison.
[6]The brigade had escaped (barely) from Benghazi, losing about 20% of its strength there. 
[7]The brigade had been overrun at Sidi Rezegh. 
[8]Only two regiments were sent. See below.
[9]The division was only made up to its full tank strength by mid April 1942.
[10] This was the division that had been overrun in April 1941 during the Axis advance. It never was reformed.

Crusaderrepaired

Large E 007014 2

 

Tank State

The same document also gives the tank situation in the Middle East, and it is here that we can see very clearly the hammering the Commonwealth forces had received in the recent operation, but also the effort that was made to rebuild them. A document in the same folder, from mid-October, shows the expectation that by 1st November the 8th Army would be able to field 508 cruiser tanks (340 British of varying marks, 168 US M3 tanks) and 150 infantry tanks, and this number almost certainly excluded the 95 British tanks in Tobruk (28 Cruisers and 67 Matildas).

 

Distribution of Tanks in Egypt and Cyrenaica as known in War Office on 7.2.42
Status Cruisers Infantry Tanks Remarks
Serviceable Tanks      
Cyrenaica      
2 Armoured Bde. And composite Regiment from 22 Armoured Brigade 128   Including tanks handed over by 22 Armd. Bde.
Frontier Area      
1 Army Tank Bde.   111  
Delta Area      
4 Armd. Bde 106    
Base Ordnance Depots   5 Ready for the field by 15th February
(b) Tanks in Command not accounted for above (i.e. tanks under repair and being made desertworthy and in use as training vehicles) 654 239  
Estimated total in Egypt and Cyrenaica 888 355  
Note: Exact figures for tank casualties are not known in The War Office. The above figures are therefore based on estimates only.

A more detailed document from around the same time gives the following figures, including Tobruk:

  • Cruisers British 372 + 29 immediate reserve;
  • Infantry Tanks 189 + 38 immediate reserve;
  • Cruisers US 166 + 32 immediate reserve;
  • light tanks 94.
  • Total Cruisers and Infantry Tanks: 628.

Tanks under repair/inspection and unloading in the Delta:

  • Cruisers British 66;
  • Infantry Tanks 48;
  • Cruisers US 91;
  • light tanks 14.
  • Total Cruisers and Infantry tanks under repair/inspection and unloading: 205.

Total number of tanks in North Africa:

  • All types, cruisers and I tanks (excl. light tanks): 833, of which 75% were available for the operation.

This shows that by February the number of tanks in North Africa had risen to be higher than before CRUSADER, but that the number of operational tanks was lower, even though it was still substantially higher than the Axis tank numbers. Nevertheless, in the forward area the numbers of tanks were about even with possibly a slight numerical advantage to the Axis, and more importantly, the quality of tanks would have strongly favoured the Axis forces.  Not a comfortable situation, and again the lack of fuel supply meant that the Axis could not exploit this situation.

One book-keeping item to keep in mind is that 7 Armoured Brigade was sent off with two regiments and 106 M3 tanks (if I recall correctly) to the Far East. Had that not been the case, the number of operational tanks would have been more comfortable to Middle East command in Cairo.

Order of Battle of 7 Armoured Brigade for Operation CRUSADER

Order of Battle of 7 Armoured Brigade for Operation CRUSADER

7 Armoured Brigade

The Brigade had a short and exciting (in the Chinese curse sense of the word) Operation CRUSADER. Mauled at Sidi Rezegh just days after the operation started, it was withdrawn from battle and returned to the Delta, except for some smaller composite units that remained engaged in the battle for another fortnight, such as composite squadron NEMO of 2 RTR.

A10

A10 Cruiser tanks in the Western Desert, 1 November 1940.(IWM E1001) By 1941 these tanks were obsolete and worn out, but continued to serve as command tanks at Brigade and Division level, and as frontline tanks in 7 Armoured Brigade and TobFort.

From the report written after the battle, here is some information that may be of use to wargamers. This OOB differs from Nafziger’s OOB for the battle which can be found at this link. The most important difference is the absence of the Northumberland Hussars (102 AT Rgt. RA) from this OOB. Maybe someone can comment on that.

Order of Battle – 7th Armoured Brigade 18 November 1941

(based on WO201/514)

Unit Commander Equipment
Brigade HQ Brigadier Davey Cruiser Mk.II (A10) tanks
3 Squadron 7 Armoured Division Signals Major H.W.C. Stethem  
7 Hussars Lt.Colonel F.W. Byass DSO MC (killed at Sidi Rezegh) Cruiser Mk.II (A10 – one squadron), Mk.IV and maybe Mk.V tanks
2 Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) Lt.Colonel R.F.E. Chute Cruiser tanks (mix of Mk.IV and Mk.V)
6 RTR Lt.Colonel M.D.B. Lister (killed at Sidi Rezegh) Cruiser tanks (no confirmation, probably Mk.V)
LRS (Light Recovery Section?) Cpt. N. Barnes  
OFP (Supply??) Cpt. C.C. Lambert  
Reconnaissance Section Capt. T. Ward  
‘A’ & ‘B’ Sections 13 Light Field Ambulance Capts. Hick and Williamson  
4 Royal Horse Artillery (less one battery) Lt. Col. J. Curry  
F Battery RHA Major F. Withers MC 8 25-pdr
DD Battery RHA Major O’Brien.Butler 8 25-pdr
‘A’ Company 2
Rifle Brigade
Major C. Sinclair MC  
Det. 4 Field Sqdn Royal Engineers Corporal Lee (sic!)  
‘A’ & ‘B’ Troops 1 Lt. AA battery 1 Lt. AA Regiment Royal Artillery Major Edmeads Bofors 40mm light anti-aircraft guns

The total number of tanks on this day was 129, consisting of a mix of various cruiser marks. While difficult to disentangle, it appears that 26 Cruiser Mk. II (A 10) which formed one squadron in 7 Hussars and equipped Brigade HQ, and at least 16 Mk.IV (A13 Mk.II), which seem to have been primarily in 2 R.T.R., 16 of which had been issued as replacements for 16 Mk. IV tanks which had to be sent to base workshop in October, and were reported ‘unfit for action’ by the commander of 2 RTR, because they were missing essential kit, but they were nevertheless taken along. Other shortages reported were wireless (throughout the Brigade) and Bren guns (particular in 6 RTR which had issued theirs to the Polish units going to Tobruk in October). Mechanical reliability seems to have been a serious issue – on 19 November 7 Armoured Brigade was down to 123 tanks, and on 20 November to 115, without really having seen much combat.

Training state was reported good except in Squadron and Troop maneuver, which was restricted by mileage restrictions and the wireless silence before the operation.

Any comments on the above, in particular relating to the tank composition, would be very much welcome. Note there are discrepancies between the original report and various information found on the web.

Submarine Supplies to North Africa – May to November 1941

Submarine Supplies to North Africa – May to November 1941

Background

Submarines played a minor but interesting role in the supply of Axis forces in North Africa, even before the Regia Marina’s emergency programme of November. Throughout the campaign they delivered fuel, ammunition, and rations. The small amounts of fuel supplied by the submarines were nevertheless valuable. For example, a single run by a Cagni class submarine could supply sufficient aerial fuel to keep the Luftwaffe planes in North Africa flying for one day. Nevertheless, the value of 1kg of supplies landed in Bardia was estimated to equal 6kg of supplies landed in Tripoli, so even the small loads were worth it.

While surface vessels were tested, Bardia was too exposed for a regular service, and too close to Empire airfields. See this older post for an experiment with small steamers at this link. Submarines by comparison had the advantage of stealth, and they were small enough to use the smaller harbours along the coast, such as Derna, thereby reducing the need to spend fuel on forward transport, or to slot into capacity-constrained harbours such as Benghazi with additional supplies. They also consumed far less fuel then destroyers or even cruisers which were also used.

This was not risk-free. Two large Italian submarines were lost on supply missions during CRUSADER, Carraciolo (sunk on 11 December by depth charges from Hunt-class destroyer HMS Farndale after a failed attack on a Tobruk convoy) and Saint Bon (sunk on 5 January by HM/Sub Upholder south of Sicily). Both of them were large ocean-going submarines of the Cagni class. 

When Bardia was invested in November 1941 during the early phase of CRUSADER, submarines were used to evacuate officer prisoners of war, such as Brigadier Hargest, commander of 5 New Zealand Brigade, who was captured on 27 November 1941 when his Brigade HQ was overrun, and high-ranking Italian officers or specialist Italian and German personnel who were evacuated to serve again when it became clear that Bardia was a lost cause.

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General Rommel at Bardia, 1941, with Italian submarine Zoea moving in the channel below. Rommelsriposte Collection.

 

Request for an Overview

On 21 November the German Navy Command (Seekriegsleitung) in Berlin requested from the Commander Naval Transport Italy (Seetransportchef Italien) an overview of German army supplies transported by submarine to North Africa, probably in the context of the ongoing supply crisis due to the interception of the BETA or Duisburg convoy during the night 8/9 November by Malta-based surface units of the Royal Navy.

On 28 November the Seetransportchef responded with an overview that unfortunately does not contain dates, and for most of the missions fails to name the submarine. It is nevertheless of interest.

On 6 February 1942 an update was provided which gave additional information. It is important to note that Italian supplies are not included in these volumes, and neither are those of the Luftwaffe.

The documents are translated below.

Berlin W 35 the 21 November 1941

Tirpitzufer 72-76

Fast Memo (Schnellkurzbrief)

To

Seetransportchef Italien

Rome

For the submarine transports carried out until now a list has to be supplied immediately, including the names, dates of leaving and entering harbor, and the type and volume of goods transported.

[…]

High Command of the Navy

Skl Qu.A. Via 10419/41 geh.

 

SECRET!

Quartermaster Rome                                        28 November 1941

(Army)

No. 6466/41 geh.

To

Seetransportchef

Rome

Referring to the meeting of Oberlt. Vogel and Lt. Kostas, Qu Rom sends the attached list of submarine transports thus far.

 

1 Attachment                                            The Quartermaster

Signed

 

SECRET!

Quartermaster Rome

(Army)

Supply Runs with Submarines thus far with supply for the Army (starting in May [1941])

No

 

Fuel

Ammunition

1

 

75

2

 

72.2

3

 

75

4

 

67.1

5

 

78.9

6

 

43

7

 

68.6

8

 

88.4

9

 

33.7

10

 

53

11

 

53.5

12

 

55

13

 

58

14

 

47

15

Zoea

56.3

16

Corridoni

17.6

65.7

17

Atropo

59.4

18

Saint Bon

140

19

Cagni

140.2

20

Atropo

56.8

21

Atropo

57

22

Saint Bon

133

5

23

Cagni

139

5

24

Millo

134

6.8

25

Micca    

26

Saint Bon

137

2.3

   

1,014

1,009.5

 

Seetransportchef Italien Rome, 6 February 1942

B.Nr. Geh. 841/1942

 

To

German Navy Command Italy

Attn. Lt.Commander Stock

Attached we submit an overview of submarine transports during the year 1941.

 

Submarine Transports

Total supply since start (10 May 41 to 31 December 41):

1,086 tons fuel

1,072 tons ammunition

203 tons rations

No supplies were shipped in the month of September.

From 20 November to 30 December the following were shipped in 8 voyages:

675 tons fuel

9 tons ammunition

203 tons rations

Italian submarines transported until July only ammunition for the army (about 1,000 tons), from August to end of November fuel and a small volume of ammunition (900 tons fuel and 20 tons ammunition).

During December primarily Italian rations were transported, and at the end of December 4 voyages brought:

139 tons fuel

203 tons rations

for the German Afrikakorps.

Putting Submarine Supplies into Context

To get an overall idea of the volume of submarine supplies compared to other measures, it is useful to look at the files of a single harbour loading unit. In this case the Seetransportstelle Brindisi, reporting on traffic ex-Taranto for the month of December.

Total supply was 12,116.6 tons, in the following categories:

259 men

100 vehicles

6 motor cycles

1,326 tons for the German army

359.5 tons for the German navy

10,431.1 tons for the German air force

Seven submarines were loaded for a total of 440 tons of army supply. By comparison, the cruiser Cadorna brought 233 tons and 88 men in one voyage, while 6 destroyers brought 49 men and 315.9 tons of supplies.

This article at Regiamarina.net gives a nice overview of Italian transport submarines.

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General Rommel and German army and navy officers meeting Italian Submarine officers of the crew of Zoea, Bardia, 10 August 1941, on the occasion of the first submarine transport to Bardia. Rommelsriposte Collection.