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.

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s