Motor Transport Organisation and Numbers in 8 Army, November 1941

In a thread on the Axis History Forum (see here) Tom and Norm raised some good questions on the supply and use of trucks by Allied forces in North Africa.

The questions Tom and Norm raised are below:

  1. How many trucks were in the Middle East before the war broke out?
  2. How many arrived per month after the declaration of war?
  3. What was the average wastage rate?
  4. Which units arrived with vehicles and which without?
  5. How many trucks per month came from the US, Canada, South Africa and India?
  6. What were the vehicle requirements of an infantry or tank division in the Western Desert in 1940/41/42/43?
  7. How many trucks were there in a second or third line transport company and what vehicles did they use 3 ton/5 ton/10 ton?

All good questions, with not a lot of answers in my research. But what better way to remember the start of Operation CRUSADER 72 years ago than talking about the unsung workhorses of the war, the trucks and lorries, and their drivers. This post is building on an older post at this link. A word of warning, I am no logistics expert, and there are likely a number of errors in this, which I would be happy to see corrected. This post may well leave people more confused than they are now, but I’d really be very grateful for further explanations.

Having said all that… Supply of everything was the domain of the R.A.S.C., the Royal Army Service Corps, which made sure that any form of supply would be delivered to the units in order to keep them functioning. The R.A.S.C. consisted of companies at Brigade level (lowest level I can make out) up to Army level. At the battalion level, drivers and supply platoons would be members of the actual unit, not the R.A.S.C. There was also the R.A.O.C. or Royal Army Ordnance Corps, but I believe they did not drive munitions around, but would be happy to be corrected.

Supply Needs

The supply challenge for 8 Army is laid out starkly below:

The supply problems were gigantic. Gathering for battle were 118,000 men—almost the entire population of Wellington city—and 17,600 vehicles. Soldiers would eat each day 200 tons of food. Every day the vehicles carrying them would use 1,500 tons of petrol and oil; guns and rifles would need 480 tons of ammunition a day, and 350 tons (79,400 gallons) of water would be wanted. Altogether the Army would need 2,972 tons of supplies every day. From No. 4 and 6 RES M.T.

The general supply need outlined above is however maybe better understood by an example of a more manageable formation with a specific task. In this case, the planned advance of Bencol in December 1941 from the area south of Tobruk to capture Benghazi. During this advance it would not have been able to draw on any dumped supplies. The calculations are outlined below. So, in order to maintain from Tobruk in Benghazi a force as follows:

22 Guards Brigade

2 infantry battalions (motorised, 2 Scots Guards and 3 Coldstream Guards)
1 Field Regiment (24x 25-pdr guns)
Royal Engineers
1 Anti-Tank Battery (12x 2-pdr portee guns)
1 Light AA Battery (12x 40mm Bofors light AA guns)
1 Light Field Ambulance
1 Armoured Car Regiment (Marmon Herrington or Daimler)
2nd Line Transport
Total 5,354 men, 1,152 motor vehicles.

Daily requirement was calculated as follows.

86.7 tons total, consisting of:

48.4 tons rations and POL
23.3 tons ammunition
15 tons water

Supplied from Tobruk, this would require 289 lorries, or about 2.5 3-ton coys of 120 lorries each, assuming a 10-day turn-around on the Tobruk-Benghazi run (700miles return). The assumed daily distance that could be covered was only 70 miles. This was due to short daylight hours, the need for substantial dispersion in order to protect the vehicles from air attack, and regular breaks. This example should put the 17,600 vehicles, of which maybe 2,000 were fighting or direct fighting support vehicles of various types (tanks, scout cars, Bren gun carriers, gun tractors) into perspective. Basically, the planning assumption was that one transport company of 120 3-ton vehicles could ensure 360 tons of supply per day over a distance of 35 miles. For every additional 35 miles, another company with 120 3-ton trucks was needed.

Now for some definitions. For the purpose of this post, I shall largely ignore tractors and passenger cars. So what are trucks and lorries in 1940s British military parlance? Ellis’ British Army Handbook has the following definitions for vehicle types:

 

  • trucks are <1 long ton carrying capacity (1,016kg)
  • lorries are >30 cwt long ton (presume a long cwt = 1,524kg)
  • a van is a truck with a fixed top
  • a tractor is a towing vehicle

I presume that if a manufacturer had proposed a vehicle with a load-carrying capacity >1,016 but <1,524kg, some War Office bureaucrat’s had would have exploded.

Furthermore from Ellis, on what is 1st/2nd/3rd line transport:

 

  • 1st line transport is transport integral to a unit, responsible for picking up stuff from a delivery point within the divisional area
  • 2nd line transport is transport used to move stuff from rendez-vous points and depots to the delivery points for a unit
  • 3rd line transport is transport used to move stuff from a supply column/refilling point or Corps petrol park to a rendez-vous or petrol refilling point

 

My guess is that in 1941 the system may have been slightly different, since Ellis seems to describe the system in the UK, which may well have been based on the system that was developed for CRUSADER.

 

The desert supply was based on the following in autumn 1941:

 

  1. Railhead at Mersa Matruh for 8 Army and harbour at Tobruk (for TobFort)
  2. Field Maintenance Centres (FMC) in the desert, consisting of a number of sub-centres

 

The supply base (railhead/harbour) would be controlled by a Sub-Area. I believe in the case of 8 Army this was Sub Area 88, which was later lost when Tobruk fell in June 1942. From the railhead onwards a Line of Communications (L. of C.) Column, commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel, would control the transport, consisting of Reserve Motor Transport (RES M.T.) and specialised companies for water, petrol, ammunition, to the Field Maintenance Centre (FMC = Supply Column/Corps Petrol Park), from where divisional transport would take over.

 

An important innovation for Crusader campaign was a Corps organisation for co-ordinating supply and maintenance of the fighting formations, known as a field maintenance centre. This would contain an FSD, a field ammunition depot, a petrol, oil and lubricants dump, a water point, a prisoner-of-war cage, a field post office, a NAAFI/EFI store (for canteen supplies), and other services, all functioning independently but making economical use of a common labour and transport pool and subject to the headquarters of the FMC for the initial layout of the whole area, the marking of routes and traffic control, local administration, security, and general co-ordination. Each corps had several of these FMCs, those of 13 Corps numbering from 50 upwards and those of 30 Corps numbering from 60 upwards, with the chief components similarly numbered. Thus 50 FMC, just inside Egypt and three miles east of the frontier wire at El Beida, included 50 FSD, 50 FAD, and so on. As it happened this FMC had a NZ headquarters—’A’ NZ FMC—and the co-ordination was therefore carried out by New Zealanders, although the dumps and services were operated by troops from the United Kingdom. The headquarters of another NZ FMC—’B’—was at that time waiting at 50 FMC to move forward and set up 51 FMC some 20 miles west of Sidi Omar. Some idea of the enormous size of these installations can be gained from the fact that 50 FMC covered an area of 35 square miles. So wide was the dispersion and so effective the camouflage that a German armoured division later drove through the northern fringe of this area without realising that the supplies and services for the whole British corps lay within its reach. New Zealand Official History – Supply Company

 

In terms of organisation, I believe that any of the 2nd Line could be integral to a unit or formation, or be assigned to it from a pool, while 3rd Line would always be assigned from the pool, usually in the form of a Line of Communication Column(s) to a Corps, which would have a number of RES M.T. under command, or individual Res M.T. Coys to a division. Army and Corps commands would normally have a pool of load-carrying units, called Reserve Motor Transport Companies (RES M.T.), which they would be able to assign to lower formations as required, e.g. to deal with shortcomings in supply, and/or to supply rapid advances. Those RES M.T. retained by the formation would be 3rd Line transport. Apart from general transport (which could be used for anything, including carrying personnel), 8 Army also had specialised units that were dedicated to the transport of water, petrol, tank transport over longer distances, and ammunition.

 

1st Line transport

 

Some information on first-line transport in cruiser regiments and a fully motorised reconnaissance regiment is below. First, from 3 CLY War Diary (Cruiser regiment) for October 41 – the numbers and types what they went into battle with, I have no idea if that was what they were supposed to have. They would call these their ‘B’ vehicles. ‘A’ vehicles were those meant to be fighting, i.e. tanks and scout cars. Note that this should not be confused with ‘A’ and ‘B’ echelon – most of the vehicles could be in ‘A’ Echelon I should think, if they were assigned such. By comparison, 2 Royal Gloucester Hussars reported 112 ‘B’ vehicles.

Vehicle Type

Number Present

3-tonner lorries

66

3-tonner fitter lorries (mechanics store)

2

15-cwt trucks

18

15-cwt water trucks

4

15-cwt office truck (should be van?)

1

8-cwt trucks

2

Total trucks and lorries

93

Utilities

8

Wireless Transmission van

1

Light Vehicles

9

Total ‘B’ Vehicles

102

War Diary, 3 CLY, Oct. 1941


So for 22 Armoured Brigade, of which 3 CLY and 2RGH were part, just the three cruiser regiments would get you to about 300 lorries and trucks, and the Brigade R.A.S.C. company would add another 160 or so, for a total of 460 for the Brigade. So for four cruiser/army tank brigades outside Tobruk we would get to 1,800 or more lorries and trucks in 1st Line and Brigade 2nd Line transport alone.

Next example, the Central India Horse Reconnaissance Regiment of 4 Indian Division. It’s ‘B’ vehicles consisted of 114 trucks and lorries, and 20 other vehicles, so about equal to an armoured regiment. It’s ‘A’ vehicles were 21 carriers, presumably the India Pattern, which was a wheeled light scout car. It presumably had more vehicles because all the infantry in the regiment had to be completely motorised.

 


An Indian Pattern Carrier Mk 2A named ‘Dhar IV’, 10 April 1942. From the IWM, via Wikipedia.


For the artillery, Nigel Evan’s excellent site at this link is a key source. For a 3-battery regiment I count 82 trucks/lorries in 1st Line, excluding the tractors (and only 60 trucks/lorries for a 2-battery regiment) Based on the artillery order of battle, I have 10×3 battery, 9x 2 battery, including Tobruk. Furthermore 88 trucks for a medium regiment, of which there were two. Total first line trucks for these units would be 1,536, although some of them would have been in Tobruk, so with fewer vehicles in 1st Line, one would presume.

 

At this point we are getting close to 3,000 trucks and lorries just for 1st Line transport already, without considering the infantry battalions, AT-regiments, LAA/HAA units, 2nd and 3rd Line divisional transport the Corps and Army pool. As an example below, the table outlines the supply troops under 7 Armoured Division in November 1941:

7 Armoured Divison Supply Troops Nov. 41

Unit

Notes

H.Q. 7 Armd Div R.A.S.C.

 

7 Armd Div Tps Coy

53 Coy

7 Armd Bde Coy

 

22 Armd Bde Coy

 

7 Armd Div Sup Gp Coy

550 Coy

1 Lt A.A. Regt R.A.S.C. Section

 

C Transport Coy

(less Det) Tank Transporters

30 Res M.T. Coy

 

Source: War Diary GS Branch, 30 Corps

 


A British Army 15-cwt truck throws up a cloud of sand and dust while moving at speed along a desert track in North Africa, 1 November 1940. Source: IWM

A Scammell tank transporter named ‘Snow White’ carrying an A9 Cruiser tank to the workshops for an overhaul in the Western Desert, 18 July 1941. Source: IWM

2nd and 3rd Line Transport

During CRUSADER, apparently 120 lorries of unspecified type per RES M.T. line company, either 3, 5, or 10 ton, although the New Zealand Official History states that establishment was 147 3-ton vehicles. In mid-December, 13 Corps and 8 Army pools together accounted for 22 3/4 transport coys in 13 Corps and 8 Army pool, i.e. 2,730 trucks at 120 trucks per company. 30 Corps held another five companies in its pool, or another 600 lorries. RES M.T. companies assigned to divisions are presumably not part of the pool, and would be extra.

Extrapolating Ellis’ system would make it 3rd Line transport gets stuff from the railhead to the FMCs, and thence to the rendez-vous points and depots. 2nd Line then gets stuff to the unit delivery points in the divisional areas. This would fit with the assignment of e.g. 2 L. of C. Column to 30 Corps, with 5 RES M.T. coys, or at least 600 lorries, under command. The column was responsible for general deliveries to 30 Corps during the operation.

 

H.Q. 30 Corps R.A.S.C.

 
 

346 RES M.T.

No. 1 L. of C. Column

3 ‘P’ Division Companies (Supply, Ammn, Petrol)

No. 8 Water Tank Coy

No. 2 L. of C. Column

5 RES M.T. Coys

No. 3 L. of C. Column

6 Water Tank Coys (no. 1-6)

No. 38 RES M.T. Coy

No. 5 L. of C. Column

3 L. of C. Coys (5,6, 39)

4 DID (?) (4 HAA Bde, 44, 52, P)

4 FMC (D, E, F, G)

Source: War Diary, G.S. Branch, 30 Corps

 

Composition of 2 Line of Comms Column Oct/Nov 41

Unit Name

Former Name

1 RES M.T.

19 General Transport Company (G.T.C.)

5 RES M.T.

97 G.T.C.

15 RES M.T.

922 G.T.C.

36 RES M.T.

240 G.T.C.

37 RES M.T.

241 G.T.C.

Source: War Diary, 2 L. of C. Column (courtesy of Tom O’Brien)

 

Each company consisted of an H.Q., 4 transport, 2 increment, and 1 workshop platoon.

 


An open-topped CMP (Canada Military Pattern) 3-ton truck and motorcycle of 11th Royal Horse Artillery (Honourable Artillery Company), 1st Armoured Division, 22 April 1943. From the IWM via Wikipedia.


Further Reading

New Zealand Official Histories:

Petrol Company

4 and 6 RES M.T.

Supply Company

From Tom O’Brien comes this transcript of the war diary of 22 Armoured Brigade R.A.S.C. company, the Brigade’s transport company.

1 October 1941 On Board H.M.T. ORION
Ship Anchors at 1400 hours. E.S.C. comes aboard and gives order of marching off ship. The Company leaves after first unit – 22 Armd Bde. H.Q. Sqn. Men have to wait three hours on ferry whilst four other units disembark. Shore reached at 1900 hours. O.C. is waiting to meet the Company. The men are given some tea and eat their haversack rations which have been issued on board. E.S.O. gives entraining order for Mob Centre, Qassassin. On arrival at 0400 hrs, 2 Oct, the Company is met by M.T. and taken to tented camp.

2 October 1941
O.C. reports to Mob Centre and is loaned one three ton vehicle for Company use, he having to return Staff Car he had been using whilst with Brigadier. At 1600 hrs O.C. calls Company Parade. Casualties due to sickness from time of embarkation to today, is four drivers. Capt. Budgen goes to Cairo to make banking arrangements for Company and draw air mail letter forms for men.

3 October 1941
Company Parade at 0800 hrs followed by Arms Drill and short Route March.
1415 1415 hrs – kit inspection.
Capt. Wells goes to Suez with party of drivers to trace possible Company vehicles which may have been on other ships in the Convoy. Disembarkation Order had been marks [sic] ‘Company with M.T.’ It is hoped they may be able to bring back Coy. Office equipment.

4 October 1941
Company Parade 0800 hrs. Route March. Working Parade 1400 hours.
Company paid money drawn on Field Cashier. Still without Imprest Number.
Two three tonners and one staff car taken on charge. Loads of G.1098 stores coming forward daily from Suez. Capt. Wells at Port with party of drivers to collect vehicles which may have been in Convoy.

5 October 1941
Church Parade at 0840 hours.
Company draws 19 x 3 ton Chevrolets, 2 Dodge trucks, 4 x 15 cwt Bedfords.
Col. Eccles, 2 Lt. Fld. Amb. O.C., and Capt. N.C. King, Brigade RASC Officer arrive to enquire about their transport from Mob. Centre. Major Bailey goes to 2nd Echelon to deposit documents.
2/Lieut. B.S. Baker and Baggage Party rejoins the Company, having forwarded G.1098 stores without loss.

6 October 1941
Authority arrives for Company to draw from V.R.D. 20 Chevrolets and 14 Motor Cycles. Capt. G.N. Budgen goes to Cairo to arrange collection.

7 October 1941
Capt. J.W.A. Wells (W/Shops Officer) and 2/Lieut. B.S. Baker collect vehicles from 10 V.R.D. Most vehicles only done a few miles.

8 October 1941
Training Programme is carried out. Vehicles and kit are handed over by Workshops to Sections.

9 October 1941
Sections continue Company Training Programme. Section Officers start short runs across Country with Prismatic Compass. Waiting for an issue of Sun Compasses with which to start training. One or two Air Mail letters are coming through for the Company.

10 October 1941
All drivers of vehicles are issued with Paint Brushes, and commencement is made with Camouflaging. Workshops Section draws Fitter’s Tool Kits from 6 M.T.S.D.
Major Bailey goes to Cairo to attend conference in connection with increased W.E. of Company to deal with Brigade attached Units.
Capt. N.C. King arrives with six Universal Sun Compasses which are very welcome for training purposes.
Coy. provides party under Capt. R.P. Brown for collecting Tank Transporters at Port Said, for delivering to Mob Centre, RASC.
2/Lieut. P.F. Edmiston leaves with vehicles for 2 Lt. Fd. Amb. at AMIRIYA.
Camp Comdt inspects Camp – impresses on drivers importance of correct lashing of canopies.

11 October 1941
Major L.S. Bailey receives official notification that the W.E. of the Company is to be increased due to the Brigade strength being increased by one motor battalion, 1 R.H.A. Regt., 1 Anti-Tank Regt., 1 Field Park R.E., 1 Field Sqn R.E. The Company will be increased by 110 men, 53 load carrying vehicles, 2 Dodge Staff Vans.
It is decided that the Ammunition and Petrol Sections will be duplicated and known as ‘A.1’ and ‘A’2’ and ‘B.1’ and ‘B.2’ Sections.
Pay Parade at 1400 hours. Each man handed Air Mail card and Green Envelope.

12 October 1941
Coy. Parade 0830 hours. At 0900 hours, Coy. falls in with towels and haversack ration for bathing at Ismalia. Company is detailed to provide Mob. Centre Mobile Party daily, proving a handicap on Company while we try to work on vehicles drawn and continue with our training.

13 October 1941
C.I.M.T. lectures to Company in hourly classes to all drivers on special points of desert maintenance. One period for Officers. A good lecture and a lot of useful tips and information gained.
Major L.S. Bailey receives orders to report to Brigade H.Q. on 14th Oct. Authority received for drawing a further 53 Chevrolets, 1 Humber 4-Seater and 3 Bedfords 15cwt.
Mob. Centre detail for tomorrow:-
1 Officer, 2 Sergeants, 23 men – Mobile Party.
1 Officer, 50 Drivers – Suez.
1 Sergeant, 20 men – V.R.D.
2 Corporals, 12 men – Fatigue Party, Mob Centre.

14 October 1941
Major L.S. Bailey leaves 0700 hours for Brigade H.Q.
Capt. J.W.A. Wells Workshop’s Officer draws 1 Technical vehicle, 1 Stores Vehicle, 1 Breakdown Vehicle from 9 V.R.D.
Company on Route March.
Camp Commandant inspects location and orders that 400 gallons on a ‘B’ Section Lorry, carried for Company use, should be buried.

15 October 1941
P.T. 0600 hours. Company Parade 0800 hours. Company sick today totals 12. The large sick parades of the first few days now adjusted itself.
Today’s Mob. Centre duties:-
1 Officer and 80 Drivers, 9 V.R.D.
2 NCO’s and 12 Drivers – Fatigue Party.
1 Offr, 2 Sgts, 20 Dvrs – Mobile Party.
2/Lieut. J.G. Harrison rejoins Unit, having been in No.2 General Hospital for seven days.

16 October 1941
P.T. 0600 hours. Company Parade 0800 hours. Route March in morning.
Workshops spray for camouflage, all canopies in H.Q. and W/S Sections.
Warning Order for move is received. Company is still without Water Trucks or trailers.
Capt. G.N. Budgen reports to Mob. Centre to receive date of departure. No satisfaction received as to Company obtaining water carrying vehicles or 2 gallon cans. Very few items still to be drawn from Ordnance.

17 October 1941
P.T. 0600 hours. Company Parade 0800 hours. Route March.
Workshops spraying ‘A’ Section vehicles. All Bren Guns Motley Mountings fitted on Company Defence Trucks. CQMS loads one vehicle with heavy stores. Sections load G.1098. One HQ vehicle in workshops having half of available space fitted for carrying small canteen stock. All drivers on vehicle maintenance. A good deal of work required on new Chevrolets drawn, due to careless assembly. All nuts finger tight.

18 October 1941
Usual Company Parades. Pay Parade 1345 hours. Morning given to maintenance. ‘B’ Section canopies finished. Orders received from Mob. Centre for all available vehicles to load with petrol.
12 x 2½ tonners to Shell Depot, Suez. Officer i/c Capt. Brown.
48 x 2½ tonners to Petrol Depot, El Kirch.
Officer i/c Loading 2/Lt. Baker. Officer i.c 2/Lt. Holliday.

19 October 1941
Major L.S. Bailey returns from HQ 22 Armd Bde.
92 O.R’s, 2/Lt. P. Warner and 2/Lt. A. Fairhead join Unit from Mob Centre.
Authority for increase of vehicles received. Company drew 53 Fordsons, 3 Bedford Defence Trucks and one Staff Car, Movement Order received for Company move to AMIRIYA.
A further draft of 24 O.R’s received at 1930 hours.

20 October 1941
The Company breakfasts at 0430 hours and leaves under Major L.S. Bailey at 0530 with 307 O.R’s and 90 vehicles. Capt. G.N. Budgen and 2/Lt. C.J. Holliday, 160 O.R’s and 70 vehicles, left as Rear party. 2/Lieut. C.J. Holliday goes with R.E’s stores and 53 Fordsons. Company sleeps at WADI NATRUH.

21 October 1941
Rear Party leaves EL TAHAG at 0500 hours. Company delivers loads and takes up position in new location. HQ, B, C and D Sections camp 15 miles from AMIRIYA. ‘A’ Sectoin at IKINGI.

22 October 1941
Company commences to supply Units in Bde with rations and petrol.
All sections taking part in RASC Meeting Point for practice.

23 October 1941
Major L.S. Bailey leaves for Bde HQ to attend an administration exercise.
A small number of nets drawn and a start it made to garnish them.
Total rations supplied by ‘C’ Section today, to five units, is 2,754. Petrol delivered 4,724 gallons.

24 October 1941
Further units move into area. Arrangements are made for drawing rations from 10 D.I.D. – a saving of mileage and time will be effected. ‘A’ Section commence to fill up with amn for C.L.Y. CQMS draws last of desert equipment. Company is paid and Canteen opened, which is much appreciated by men. All drivers and spare drivers garnishing nets.

25 October 1941
Brigade starts to move into area. 3 C.L.Y. first to come in. Their supply vehicles break down on way to RASC pt, and then, later in the night, have to collect from this Company’s location. Brigadier calls and warns Company that vehicles unpainted and nets ungarnished must be finished.
Rations delivered 3407; Petrol, 3,512 gallons.
2/Lieut. P.P. Edmiston goes to Cairo to draw M.T. stores and returns in the day.

26 October 1941
All personnel working on nets and W/Shops camouflaging canopies. From today, the Company is only to supply rations to the Brigade. Attached Units to draw direct themselves from D.I.D. ‘B’ Section still supply them with petrol.

27 October 1941
Major L.S. Bailey returns from administrative exercise. Petrol Pt opened from 0930 to 1130 for Units attached to Bde. All the units to use RASC replenishing Pt.

28 October 1941
‘A’ Sec. joins Coy from IKINGI. Five Units make use of the arrangement whereby Units may detach one man to this Unit to check Unit ration levels.

29 October 1941
Bde A.P.O. attached to this Company. One Wireless Truck on loan from Bde Signals. Capt. Budgen collects last of controlled items during the day.

30 October 1941
R.A.S.C. R.P. changed from 1630 hrs to 1000 hrs. Supply Section draws twice a day to adjust supplies to new times.

31 October 1941
Coy is put on water discipline; ½ gallon for mens’ personal needs; ½ gall. To Cookhouse; 1 gall. held as storage by “C” Section; 4 gallons on vehicles reserve.

2 thoughts on “Motor Transport Organisation and Numbers in 8 Army, November 1941

  1. Andreas,

    Interesting stuff. I will have another read tomorrow and see if I can add anything else. The HAA Regts had separate RASC Sections under command. I’ll see if there is any mention of numbers and types of vehicles.

    Regards

    Tom

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