British and US tank deliveries to Egypt July 1941 to January 1942

In previous posts I have provided information on German (at this link) and Italian (at this link) tank deliveries to North Africa. At the request of David, here’s an overview of tank reinforcements sent to Egypt. It is broken down by convoy, except for the US deliveries, for which this information is not available. Here instead I have used the closest report to month end (they were issued weekly to the Prime Minister), taken the ‘in theatre’ number for that report, and substracted the ‘in theatre’ number for the previous month-end report. So e.g. for end July 40 M3 Light are reported ‘in theatre’, while for end August 109 are reported. August deliveries are therefore 69. It’s not perfect, but in the absence of convoy information it’s the best I can do. I hope readers find this useful.

What is clear from the table below is that the allied supply chain outdelivered the Axis chain by a very considerable margin during this period. In fact, it delivered more tanks in these six months than the Germans managed in the more than two years they shipped tanks to North Africa! The convoys that did this were the W.S. series (nicknamed ‘Winston Specials’). You can find detailed information about the movements and arrival times at this link or at this link. I noted in particular the delivery of 60 M3 light tanks on W.S.12, the only ones to come to Egypt via the UK. I wonder who decided on that…

What is shocking however is to compare the number of deliveries with the number of tanks operational on 7 February, in this older post, and that is where it becomes clear why this high level of deliveries was desparately needed to stay in the game in North Africa.  With 1,184 tanks delivered, and another 356 on hand, substracting the 100 that had been sent to Burma with 7 Armoured Brigade, but adding another 66 M3 Medium that had arrived in the interim, leaves a total of 1,506. Yet on 7 February only 350 were operational, i.e. less than had been operational on 2 July 1941, while another 893 were estimated to undergo repairs and maintenance, and 36 M3 Light were with 10 Armoured Division in Palestine, making for an estimated total of 1,279. This implies 227 total losses, but this was quickly revised upwards, to an estimate of 390 (180 Crusader (sic!), 130 M3 Light, 80 I-tanks). I believe to these losses have to be added the losses of 7 Armoured Brigade and 1 R.T.R., which were equipped with older Cruiser marks, and this would increase losses by another up to 150. By 9 February GHQ M.E. had decided that older Cruiser marks were no longer considered for the tank strength return, since they had become obsolete and/or so worn out not to matter anymore on the battlefield. Total losses of about 540 cruiser and I-tanks sounds believable to me.

In terms of types, I would guess about half of the UK I-tank deliveries would have been Matilda II, the other half Valentines. For the British cruisers, most if not all of them would have been Crusaders, I would guess.

Convoy

 

Month of Arrival

M3 Light (Medium)

UK Cruiser

I-Tank

Light Tank Mk. VI

Armoured Cars

W.S.8b 07/41 12 14
W.S.8x 07/41 50 50
W.S.9 07/41 20 20 251
US 07/41 402
W.S.10 08/41 21 30 251
US 08/41 69
W.S.10x 09/41 1663
US 09/41 53
W.S.114 10/41 30 60 35 501
US6 10/41 152(2)
W.S.12 11/41 60 124 52 35 831
US6,7 11/41 9(1)
US6 12/41 97(11)
W.S.12z 01/42 55 381
Totals  By type 480(14) 478 226 65 221
Totals 1,184 tanks
227 Light tanks and ACs

1 Humber Armoured Cars (probably Mk. I), could also include a small number of Daimler Armoured Cars

2 Includes 4 M2A4, mentioned here for completeness.

3 22 Armoured Brigade

4  Remainder 1 Armoured Division

5 AA tanks with Besa Quad MG mounts, belonging to 1 Armoured Division, but lent out on arrival to 1 Army Tank Brigade.

6 Number in brackets are M3 Medium tanks received in theatre during the month.

7 8 M3 Light reported as ‘lost at sea’

On a side note, Churchill was not a happy man about the situation with conflicting tank strength reports, as shown by this rather cranky note of his:

Prime Minister’s Personal Minute – Serial No. D223/1

Colonel Jacob.

Where are the 120 odd [tanks] which were to have arrived on the 8th [July], and where are the rest of the first 60 Americans? Why did the Minister of State say the other day “We have only 100 tanks fit for action” when you show 211? Are these figures telegraphed from Cairo, or do you make them up here, or do the War Office.

W.S.C.

23. 7. 41

Colonel Jacob probably thought ‘Ouch!’ when he read this.’ His reply then explained the matter a bit further, and is quite clear in what probably went on regarding the difference, explaining that the difference probably related to tanks unloaded from W.S.8(b) and (x), but not yet received by a depot in the Delta, tanks undergoing minor repairs, and excluding the tanks in Tobruk. Still, poor Colonel Jacob could probably have done without this…

8th Army’s Order of Battle and Tank Strength after CRUSADER – 7 February 1942

On 7 February 1942 the War Office in London reported to the Prime Minister on the state of forces in North Africa,as it was known at the time in London. The document can be found in WO216/15 in the National Archives in Kew. The document shows how much the main units which participated in the battle had suffered.

Disposition of Troops in Cyrenaica & Egypt
Sector Command Formation Remarks
(a) Western Desert
(i) 13 Corps
1 S.A. Division Less one Brigade
4th Indian Division [Should be: less one Brigade]
200th Guards Brigade
150th Infantry Brigade Group
Free French Brigade Group
Polish Brigade Group
Six Armd. Car Regts.
Reserve column from 1st Armd. Divn. Under command H.Q. of 1st Support Group.
(ii) Reserve in forward area
1st Armoured Divn Less Reserve column and 200th Gds. Bde.
Temporary Composition of division is:
H.Q.
2nd Armd. Bde.
Composite Rgt. From 22nd Armd. Bde.
200th Gds. Bde.
1st Support Group
38th Indian Inf. Bde.
(iii) In Frontier and Railhead area under command of H.Q. 30th Armd. Corps
1st Army Tank Brigade
2nd S.A. Divn.
7th Indian Inf. Bde. Reorganising
(b) British Troops in Egypt
(i) At Mersa Matruh
5th S.A. Bde. Reorganising
(ii) In Delta and Canal Areas
2nd N.Z. Divn. Reorganising and training
7th Armd. Divn. Less 7th Armd. Bde sailing for Far East – reorganizing and re-equipping
22nd Armd. Bde ex 1st Armd. Div Re-equipping
32nd Army Tank Bde Elements only; awaiting reorganisation
3rd Indian Motor Brigade Shortly arriving from SYRIA as reserve for VIII Army.
Two British infantry battalions Including one M.G. Battalion
Three Indian State Forces battalions
One Czech Infantry battalion
2nd Armd. Divn Remnants only; awaiting reorganisation

The same document also gives the tank situation in the Middle East, and it is here that we can see very clearly the hammering the Commonwealth forces had received in the recent operation, but also the effort that was made to rebuild them. A document in the same folder, from mid-October, shows the expectation that by 1st November the 8th Army would be able to field 508 cruiser tanks (340 British of varying marks, 168 US M3 tanks) and 150 infantry tanks, and this number almost certainly excluded the 95 British tanks in Tobruk (28 Cruisers and 67 Matildas).

A more detailed document from around the same time gives the following figures, including Tobruk: Cruisers British 372 + 29 immediate reserve; Infantry Tanks 189 + 38 immediate reserve; Cruisers US 166 + 32 immediate reserve; light tanks 94. Total Cruisers and Infantry Tanks: 628. Tanks under repair/inspection and unloading in the Delta: Cruisers British 66; Infantry Tanks 48; Cruisers US 91; light tanks 14. Total Cruisers and Infantry tanks under repair/inspection and unloading: 205. Total number of tanks in North Africa (excl. light tanks) therefore 833.,of which 75% were available for the operation.

This shows that by February the number of tanks in North Africa had risen to be higher than before CRUSADER, but that the number of operational tanks had reached a low. One book-keeping item to keep in mind is that 7 Armoured Brigade was sent off with 106 M3 tanks (if I recall correctly) to the Far East. Had that not been the case, the number of operational tanks would have been more comfortable to Middle East command in Cairo.

Distribution of Tanks in Egypt and Cyrenaica as known in War Office on 7.2.42
Status Cruisers Infantry Tanks Remarks
Serviceable Tanks
Cyrenaica
2nd Armoured Bde. And composite Regiment from 22nd Armoured Brigade 128 Including tanks handed over by 22nd Armd. Bde.
Frontier Area
1st Army Tank Bde. 111
Delta Area
4th Armd. Bde 106
Base Ordnance Depots 5 Ready for the field by 15th February
(b) Tanks in Command not accounted for above (i.e. tanks under repair and being made desertworthy and in use as training vehicles) 654 239
Estimated total in Egypt and Cyrenaica 888 355
Note: Exact figures for tank casualties are not known in The War Office. The above figures are therefore based on estimates only.