I have previously written about Sunshields and their use in Operation CRUSADER at this link. Going through Jentz’ “Tank Combat in North Africa” and a fortuitous google search later, I am a bit wiser.
Camouflage use was wide-spread in the desert, while at the same time, lorries or other vehicles were converted to look like tanks. Given the inability to hide forces completely from the ever-prying eyes of aerial reconnaissance, the next best thing was to make them look like something they were not. This was often accompanied by fake radio chatter, with e.g. a dummy-tank battalion being assigned some extra radio sets to fake operational radio traffic. This happened at the start of Operation CRUSADER, when Eighth Army intended to make the Axis believe that a major tank force was concentrated far to the south, at Giarabub Oasis. Two fake tank battalions were based there, moving around dummy tanks to be spotted by the regular Italian air force reconnaissance, while a Phantom Regiment patrol was providing fake radio traffic.
In the course of looking for something completely different, I have come across this rather instructive picture showing the design of a sunshield for a Matilda II tank, in this case T6974 ‘Dangerous’ of 4 R.T.R., also with a rather nice eye painted on the turret. The tank looks like it might still have European camouflage, even though it is quite heavily weathered. In the background we can see a captured Italian light tank L3/33 or 35 and to the right what might be the back of a Daimler Dingo armoured car.
‘Sunshield’ split cover, one half on, one half off a tank in the workshops at Middle East Command Camouflage Development and Training Centre, Helwan, Egypt, 1941. Courtesy Wikipedia.
The picture shows quite well the rather clever design, with the ability to simply drop the two halves of the camouflage installation. I presume these were then collected by rear services for future use. The sunshield is supposed to look like an AEC Matador heavy truck and in my view it does a reasonable job at this. It is also nice to note the Caunter camouflage scheme applied to the camouflage installation.
AEC Matador Heavy Truck, IWM Duxford Land Warfare Hall. Courtesy Wikipedia.
From Jentz it appears that the first use of these camouflage devices was during Operation BATTLEAXE.