Article – 4 Armd Bde against KG Stephan, 19 Nov 41

Background

The draft article linked below offers a new view on the first armoured clash of Operation CRUSADER, and comments are welcome. It raises questions regarding the traditional view of Operation CRUSADER, in particular regarding the planning stage on the Empire side, and the assessment of this first battle of the US-built M3 Stuart tank, and the combat performance of British tank regiments.

Click here to download the article: 4 Armoured Brigade on 19 Nov

stuarts.jpg

Stuart Tanks of 8 Kings Royal Irish Hussars on maneuvers in the western desert, August 1941

3 thoughts on “Article – 4 Armd Bde against KG Stephan, 19 Nov 41

  1. Good work, following the actions of BOTH sides gives a clearer picture.

    Hope the following notes I took from Public Record Office file WO.199/3190 on American Tanks, filed under records from the 1st Armoured Division in the UK may be useful. They are only a precis as time did not allow me to record them verbatim nor get them copied as I was there in a Saturday which is early closing day for them.

    Letter dated 5th August 1941 on a short trial of the American M3 Light Cruiser. Suspension better than M2 (presumably M2A4) due to longer wheelbase and sprung idler. Performance was good, gearbox and steering excellent and very simple to operate. Gear lever was awkward to use, and tank needs footbrake or handbrake. Fighting compartment hard to use as everything ends up on the floor. Turret and gun mounting similar to M2 and very impracticable as it needs two men to operate, one for traverse and one to elevate, a slow and complicated process. Transmission also gets in the way. Lap gun only suitable for spraying. No internal communications and noisy inside so a loudspeaker may not be useful.
    Summary – M3 fast and reliable, some ingenious new principles employed. Impracticable as a fighting tank, turret and fighting compartment need a complete redesign. Might be used for training if it can be fitted with radio and internal communications, or for airfield defence in place of Light Tanks.
    15 July 1941 US Light Tank M.2.A.4 recently issued to 22nd Armoured Brigade. No ammunition stowage, no radio sets or internal communications, or spare parts.
    A report dated 8 August 1941 stated that M2A4 and M3 light tanks were not battle worthy and that it was not fair to ask a unit to go to war in them.
    Another report of 8 August 1941 by 9th Lancers to 1st Armoured Division and 2nd Armoured Brigade (note – 2AB was part of 1AD) – sponson guns and hull lap gun (which it was noted had no sights) were not thought to be useful, better to rely on the coaxial 37mm and machine gun and the antiaircraft machine gun. Lack of a turret basket meant that crew had to play “general post” when the turret was traversed more than 45 degrees right or left. Vision was poor, shutters could be either open or closed with no half-way position. Hull front flaps for driver/co-driver could not be closed from the inside, and it needed a strong man to open them. The tank was very noisy inside which made controlling the crew and using the radio difficult. Interior stowage was totally inadequate. Ammunition was not easy to access, there was no provision for water inside (note – British tanks usually had some form of water tank in the turret), no interior lights. Gun mounting does not appear to be proof against bullet splash. Unarmoured air cooling intake was thought to be vulnerable.
    Conclusion – Tank not adaptable to tactical and gunnery training of armoured regiments in the Royal Armoured Corps. Not even suitable as a command tank for troop leaders.
    Letter 19 November 1941 on American Light Tank Trials.
    Doubts were expressed on the performance of rubber block tracks after the experiences of 4th Armoured Brigade in the Western Desert. After training in the Nile Delta area and driving 400 miles they seemed OK although there was a fine patchwork of cracks and even wear, the 70 mile approach march Kenayis to Nebeiwa showed rapid wear with deep cracks and chunks of rubber torn away, with the edges of the blocks coming off. After another 100 miles running in training, the pads were very cut about and their life seemed to be shortened.
    Middle East Experimental Establishment trials showed wear of about 3/8″ after 1200 miles, after that cracks developed along the line of the track pin bosses. To prevent this, pads were reversed at 1000 miles but after 200 miles more running on rough ground including jagged rocks they started to break up.
    Western Desert trials by 4th Armoured Brigade with badly worn tracks showed that they were still serviceable after 280 miles in the Kenayis/Nebeiwa area and were still usable after 800 miles.
    UK trials included 2500 miles of “normal running” and then 200 miles on “bad going”, although they were worn and had lost parts of the pad they were still serviceable.
    The conclusions drawn were that while the tracks looked bad, their real performance was better than metal tracks as used on British tanks.

    Also some notes from the Southon Papers at the Tank Museum, he was Battalion Technical Officer to 3RTR in the early war years. Following is a press clipping with his comments.
    Where I cannot read what he wrote I have marked the word as —

    EGYPTIAN MAIL Wednesday, July 30, 1941
    Fast American Light Tanks In Western Desert (Note 1)
    London, Tuesday
    Speedy American tanks are now churning the timeless sands (Note 2) of Egypt in final tests before encountering the enemy on the Libyan front, writes Mr G H P Anderson, special war correspondent of the Associated Press in the Middle East.
    “These 18-ton light cruiser tanks are believed to be as fast as anything the Germans and Italians possess” he declares. “When certain planned modifications are completed (Note 3) they should be able to give an excellent account of themselves under the most difficult desert conditions.”
    Comfort Of Touring Car
    “With an American sergeant (Note 4) at the controls I rode in one of these tanks during its final tests. Zig-zagging at high speed with a miniature duststorm in our wake we bounced over sand and rocks with almost (Note 5) the comfort of a touring car. A group of black-capped British tank officers watched approvingly.
    “These American tanks, which are larger than the British model of the same class, carry a deadly group of machine-guns similar to those installed in Spitfire and Hurricane fighters, (Note 5) in addition to heavier (Note 6) armament thus making them formidable weapons when they charge across the desert making reconnaissance for heavier armoured formations. (Note 7)
    “Their work, like that of destroyers with a fleet, is to go forward as a scouting screen until the main body of the enemy mechanised forces is encountered and then to withdrawn (Note 8) at high speed to enable heavier tanks to engage the enemy. Note (9)
    Rubber Tracks
    “These are the fastest tanks we have yet had” a major told the Associated Press correspondent, “and their great speed should make them a difficult target for the enemy anti tank gunners. Their motors are extremely accessible and can be changed within a few hours if they suffer damage, while the tracks, which are made of rubber can be reversed giving them an extended period of wear without entailing the tanks’ return to the repair depot” – N.E.B. (Note 10)

    Southon’s comment –
    (1) — not in not very near either
    (2) about all they are good for
    (3) so I should ruddy well think
    (4) — Sgt Grant?
    (5) atta boy!! @ 450 rds/min what a hope and no AP
    (6) 1 37mm QF gun, — SA, what bilge
    (7) Where?
    (8) to [sic] true
    (9) [refers to whole paragraph] Eye wash — — — definitely qualifies for leather medal
    (10) Will it? Thats all you know

    One small detail. Stuarts were not much use as Kangaroo personnel carriers due to their small size but turretless ones were used for reconnaissance in Italy and NW Europe.

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