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

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. The document 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
4th Indian Division [Should be: less one Brigade]
200th Guards Brigade
150th Infantry Brigade Group
Free French Brigade Group
Polish Brigade Group
Six Armd. Car Regts.
Reserve column from 1st Armd. Divn. Under command H.Q. of 1st Support Group.
(ii) Reserve in forward area
1st Armoured Divn Less Reserve column and 200th Gds. Bde.
Temporary Composition of division is:
2nd Armd. Bde.
Composite Rgt. From 22nd Armd. Bde.
200th Gds. Bde.
1st Support Group
38th Indian Inf. Bde.
(iii) In Frontier and Railhead area under command of H.Q. 30th Armd. Corps
1st Army Tank Brigade
2nd S.A. Divn.
7th Indian Inf. Bde. Reorganising
(b) British Troops in Egypt
(i) At Mersa Matruh
5th S.A. Bde. Reorganising
(ii) In Delta and Canal Areas
2nd N.Z. Divn. Reorganising and training
7th Armd. Divn. Less 7th Armd. Bde sailing for Far East – reorganizing and re-equipping
22nd Armd. Bde ex 1st Armd. Div Re-equipping
32nd Army Tank Bde Elements only; awaiting reorganisation
3rd 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
2nd Armd. Divn Remnants only; awaiting reorganisation

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).

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 (excl. light tanks) therefore 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 had reached a low. One book-keeping item to keep in mind is that 7 Armoured Brigade was sent off with 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.

Distribution of Tanks in Egypt and Cyrenaica as known in War Office on 7.2.42
Status Cruisers Infantry Tanks Remarks
Serviceable Tanks
2nd Armoured Bde. And composite Regiment from 22nd Armoured Brigade 128 Including tanks handed over by 22nd Armd. Bde.
Frontier Area
1st Army Tank Bde. 111
Delta Area
4th 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.

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

  1. Pingback: British and US tank deliveries to Egypt July 1941 to January 1942 | The Crusader Project

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