Following the retreat behind the Gazala line, it was a time for 8 Army to review the experience of the previous three months of fighting. Reports were written, and lessons learned prepared in a systematic way. These are today held at the UK’s National Archives at Kew.
On 20 February, Brigadier R. Briggs of 1 Armoured Division’s 2 Armoured Brigade (he would later rise to command the division) issued his report on the experience of his brigade in the short but violent counter-offensive of January/February 42. This battle will be the subject of our first book. Below are some interesting views on the performance of his brigade’s main armament, the Crusader Mk. VIa and the US-built M3 Honey tanks.
The clear view that the Crusader is a better tank then the M3 Honey is of interest, when compared to the report of 4 Armoured Brigade on 3 December 41, which states that the M3 Honey had held up ‘splendidly’ after 15 days of fighting, while the A13 and A15 British cruiser tanks (the A15 being the Crusader tank) were ‘not so good’ (message GD8 GHQ Liaison Sqdrn. to GHQ, 3 Dec 1941, TOO 1440 TOR not given).
(a) Crusader Mk. VIa
This proved itself satisfactory as a battle tank, within certain limitations. These limitations are as follows:-
(i) The inadequacy of the 2 pdr gun.
(ii) Insufficient thickness of armour, especially in front.
(iii) A variety of leaks in oil, water, and air systems, many of which occur in places so inaccessible as to require Workshops resources and many hrs for repair. Neither are available in the desert.
(iv) Failure of the engine cooling fan drive to stand up to the work required.
(v) Relatively short life of certain components, notably compressors and swash pumps.
(vi) The Cruiser tank can be, and was, overdriven beyond its capacity; several engines seized while tanks were used for essential fast recce.
(b) General Stuart
The General Stuart proved itself more sound than the Crusader, and required far less maintenance. The air-cooled engine did not overheat, and naturally, gave no anxiety about water leaks. It stood up well to fast work. Its limitations are:-
(i) The inadequacy of the 37mm gun.
(ii) Insufficient armour, especially in front.
(iii) Its design for use by a comd who is also a gunner makes it a dangerous battle tank. It is considered that one offr and a crew of 9 L were lost for this reason. In Cruiser action a tank must have a separate comd and gunner. In this respect the Valentine fails.
(iv) No platform to the fighting compartment makes a crew slow to fire, except to the front.
(v) A bad gun platform on the move. Inadequate telescope sight.
The Crusader is considered to be a better battle tank than the General Stuart. Armd regts should consist entirely of Crusaders until a better tank is produced.
(c) Scout Cars
Both 2 pdr and the 37mm gun are inferior to German guns. Until this disparity is rectified, we must be prepared for the inevitable heavy casualties. This is applicable in action against both German tanks and German A Tk guns.
The disparity has led to the inclusion of 25 pdr guns in an Armd Bde in an A Tk role. As the accurate range of the 25 pdr in this role is limited to 1500 yards by their inferior telescope sights, their co-operation with tanks has not been as successful as was hoped. In all three cases, 2 pdr 37 mm and 25 pdr – the telescope sights are inferior to German instruments. If full advantage is to be taken of the 75 mm in the General Grant tank, and of the 6 pdr gun when it arrives, better telescopic sights are essential.
All out amn is solid. It is therefore designed solely for tank v tank action. In many cases our tanks were engaged at long range by A Tk guns before German tanks came into action. We have no accurate long range reply to this. A proportion of HE for use against A/Tk gunners would have helped.
All forms of smoke were used with success. […]
There are a few interesting points in this report:
1) Only solid shot on issue, also for the 37 mm. Until now I believed that this gun was issued with both solid shot and HE.
2) The need for fast recce, and consequent overdriving of the Crusader. That’s an interesting tactical insight, and shows the ‘need for speed’ in the desert.
3) The points about the quality of the gun sights are important, particularly in the desert where long-range engagements were regularly possible.
Amn = ammunition
A Tk A/Tk = anti-tank
Bde = Brigade
HE = high explosive
Mk. = Mark
pdr = pounder