National Archive Files Relating to Sinking of ORP Kujawiak

National Archive Files Relating to Sinking of ORP Kujawiak


ORP Kujawiak was a British-built Hunt Class destroyer, transferred to the Polish navy in exile in April 1941. On 16 June 1942, at the end of Operation Harpoon, a supply convoy to Malta, she struck a mine outside Grand Harbour, killing 13 of her crew. She sank before she could be towed to safety.

Two folders with messages related to her sinking have been preserved at the UK’s National Archives in Kew. Based on the cover page, I expect these documents to be scheduled for destruction in 2022, 70 years after her sinking. In order to preserve them, they can be downloaded from my Dropbox by clicking here.


Survivors of the Polish Navy destroyer ORP Kujawiak, sunk by a mine in the  Operation Harpoon in the Mediterranean, come ashore at Greenock, still  wearing tropical kit, 24 June 1942. (IWM A10363)



HMS Eridge was a sister of ORP Kujawiak. She is shown passing the French battleship Lorraine, which was part of the French fleet in Alexandria harbour. Of note in the picture above is the wrong description. She was hit by a Regia Marina MAS motor-torpedo boat, not a German one. She was so badly damaged that she was never repaired, but used for base duties in Alexandria, and finally scrapped in 1946. The picture shows the arrangement of the main turrets and the central AA 4-barrel Pom-Pom gun quite well.

Lorraine was not active at the time, and had been disarmed. She was a 1910 vintage dreadnought that had been modernized between the wars. In December 1942 the ship joined the Free French forces and was put back into service, providing fire support to amphibious operations in the Mediterranean.

Editorial Note – Numbering/Naming Corps and Units

Editorial Note – Numbering/Naming Corps and Units


In recent discussions regarding the correct approach to identifying Corps in publications it was noted that the correct way is to use Roman numerals, due to historic precedent and Corps always having been numbered in this way. As a general rule, this is wrong. As a specific rule, for WW2, it is also wrong.

Different armies did it differently, and post-war, but not immediately, the standard of Roman numerals emerged. It has something to recommend itself, particularly when writing a large and complex history of a major campaign, such as the Russo-German war, where individual divisions almost don’t matter. But that also doesn’t make it a universal requirement, and it is important to note that rather than helping the reader, such standardization can confuse them.

It is also important to note at this stage that it’s up to every author to do as they please or as their publisher guidelines require. What I have an issue with is any claim that only Roman numerals are right, and the implication that anyone not doing it that way is doing it wrong. 

The British Army

The historical case is quite clear here, thanks to Jonathan Prince on Twitter. In World War 2, British Corps were numbered in Arabic numerals. The rules for this are contained in the British Army’s Field Service Pocket Book No.2 (FSPB 2). The 1941 edition of this book can be found on the most excellent Vickers MG site at this link. There was a difference depending on the medium – a report or a message, for example.


Field Service Pocket Book No. 2, 1944 edition. Via Twitter Richard Fisher @vickersmg

It is this style that our books will follow, even though, as you will note from the examples below, it wasn’t universally followed at the time.

  • Armies:
  • Reports: written out (Eighth Army)
  • Messages: 8th Army
  • Corps
  • Report: 13th Corps
  • Messages: 13 Corps
  • Division (as Corps)
  • Brigades (as Corps)
  • Regiments
  • Numbers as Corps
  • Names as in FSB 2, abbreviated after first mention
  • In messages, abbreviations as in FSB 2.

The end result would be:

  • Long version: Right Flank Company, 2nd Scots Guards, 20th Guards Brigade, 7th Armoured Division, 13th Corps, Eighth Army
  • Short version: RF Company, 2 SG, 20 Gds Brig, 7 Armd Div, 13 Corps, 8th Army.

The Western Desert and Axis Corps When writing about the Western Desert in 1941, there is another issue in the form of potential for confusion with the Axis corps. During the period of Operation CRUSADER, there were up to four Axis Corps in action, three Italian, and one German. The Italian corps used a mix of Roman numerals (of course) and names, while the German corps used a name.

  • Italian
  • X Corpo Armata (10th Army Corps), abbreviated X C.A.
  • XXI Corpo Armata (21st Army Corps),  abbreviated XXI C.A.
  • XX Corpo Armata di Manovra (20th Mobile Corps),  abbreviated C.A.M.
  • German
  • Deutsches Afrika-Korps (German Africa Corps, abbreviated D.A.K.)

So the issue with using XIII Corps and XXX Corps for the British rather than 13 Corps and 30 Corps is that in the Western Desert, it is not helping, but rather adding to the confusion. The correct usage at the time was 13 and 30 for the two Empire Corps, and using Arabic numerals clearly distinguishes them from both the Italian, and the German Corps. This is not the case in other theatres.

Furthermore, there is no potential for confusing them with divisions, since neither the British 13th, nor the 30th Division served in the Western Desert.



And yes, I know I said there is no right or wrong way, but this still jars, because it is ahistoric. Helion Books via Twitter.

Historical Precedent

To anyone who has spent time looking at primary documents, it is clear that ‘historical precedent’ cannot refer to either usage during the war, or indeed post-war useage in all Official Histories (the Australian Official History is using Roman numerals for British corps). It must refer to usage which crept in with increasing standardization due to NATO language, is my guess. That in my view makes it an anachronism. It is a defensible one in many cases, but it doesn’t appear so when writing about the Western Desert, where all that can be said for it is that it follows a style guide that is aligned with NATO. It looks odd, if not wrong, and there really isn’t a historic reason to use it.


The below examples are from our collection, or have been taken from Twitter posts or the official histories, in which case the origin is identified.  They clearly demonstrate that the weight of historical precedent is on the side of Arabic numerals for British Corps, throughout the war and into the immediate post-war period up until the creation of NATO.



Contemporary Message header, from Eighth Army to various recipients, 22 November 1941. collection.


1942 report on operations on the Libyan/Egyptian border to reduce Bardia and Halfaya, 30 Corps. Note that while this is a report, and should presumably use “30th”, it doesn’t do so. collection.


Eighth Army operation order No. 23, December 1941. collection.

Screen Shot 2020 01 25 at 3 01 29 PM

December 1942 map of deception arrangements, El Alamein. collection.

Screen Shot 2020 01 25 at 2 54 25 PM

Contemporary diagram of signals arrangements for counter-battery, 30 Corps, El Alamein. collection.


Particular of contemporary situation map, El Alamein 1942. collection.


Situation Map, January 1945. Note use of Roman numerals for US XIII Corps. UK 8 Corps in the upper left corner. Via Twitter – Gareth Davies


UK Official History 


New Zealand Official History, NZETC.


Operational Account Covers, 1945 or later, via Twitter, Alan Pollock


Operation Order, Operations Varsity and Plunder, 1945. Via Twitter, Alex Collins

Air War Publications – New Article

It’s that time of the year again, the time where I have to plug my friends at Air War Publications. They just published the first part of the 2-part e-Article on 2.H/14, the German close-range aerial recce unit that worked hard to provide intel to the staff of Panzergruppe Afrika.

Examples of the intel provided are below:

Written reconnaissance report (in this case from the long-range recce outfit 1./F121)

Visual interpretation of enemy situation from the air (probably from 2./(H)14, see comment by Andrew below.


Luftwaffe mechanics working on a dis-assembled Hs126 close-range recce plane. From Pinterest.

You can find it at this link:

Air War Publications – E-Articles

As always, the article is very well researched and written, and contains a number of rare pictures. Well worth the very low price for anyone interested in the war in North Africa.

Full disclosure: I reviewed the article and contributed data and (I think) some pictures to it. I have no financial interest in plugging it here.

School of Tank Technology Reports on Italian Tanks

School of Tank Technology Reports on Italian Tanks

Nuno has very kindly put the original reports on the Italian tanks online. You do unfortunately need a SCRIBD account to be able to read them.

These are the reports that were produced by the UK School of Tank Technology in Chertsey, who undertook detailed examination of captured Axis and gifted Allied tanks, e.g. the Soviet KV-1 and T34 models. They are illuminating because they tell us what experts thought in the day, rather than through the distorted lens of 70 years onwards.m13

Report Cover Page

M11/39 at this link (for completeness – this tank did not serve in CRUSADER)

M13/40 at this link (the medium tank that equipped Ariete armoured division in CRUSADER)

Happy reading.

The Other Ultra – Article

While not directly relevant to the CRUSADER period, this is a very good read by an expert on the subject. Highly recommended.–Signal-Intelligence-and-the-Battl.aspx

Here’s something (in Italian) about a Regia Marina wireless operator:

Happy reading!

Useful Resource for Researchers – Luftwaffe Grid Converter

Andrey from the 12 o’clock high forums has gone through the trouble of putting a grid converter for the Luftwaffe Gradnetz grid system online at this link:

It is a superb help for anyone who (like me sometimes) has to figure out where the Germans sent air recce, or where they saw something.