First a bit of context. 2 RTR was orignally in 7th Armoured Brigade, and was one of the experienced tank regiments (i.e. battalion) in 8th Army. Its tanks were older Cruiser Mk. IV, which had reliability problems (the squaddie assessment would probably be that they were ‘shagged’). Like the rest of 7th Armoured Brigade, this regiment was hard hit in the initial tank battles of Operation Crusader, losing many vehicles due to enemy action and breakdown, and it was withdrawn to the Delta for rebuilding on 2 December, with the exception of a squadron (company) made up of the remaining tanks of the regiment. It was not to return to the desert for a while, since it was sent to the Far East in January 1942.
Thanks go to the Tank Museum in Bovington for making the transcripts of the war diaries available. They are an invaluable help to researchers, and I would like to encourage anyone looking for war diaries to contact their library.
The operations outlined below are quite interesting in the context of Crusader. Neither involved heavy fighting for the tanks, and there we have the problem of both of them. The first, on 1 December, aimed (as far as the 4th Armoured Brigade was concerned) to “extricate the New Zealand Division from its predicament at Belhamed. What they failed to realise was that Freyberg, the New Zealander’s commander, was not interested in being extricated, but in tank support to smash the attack on his division. When this was not forthcoming, he withdrew into Tobruk. The second, 6 December, was in the opinion of the tanks to “cover” the attack of 11th Indian Brigade (4th Indian Division) on Bir el Gubi. This attack failed in its main aim, to dislodge the Italian forces in el Gubi, with very heavy losses in the face of resistance by a battalion of Young Fascists (Giovanni Fascisti). This stand has become to Italians what Rorke’s Drift is to the British. And rightfully so – the utter failure by the British command to concentrate a Brigade of infantry and a Brigade of tanks to deal with a battalion of infantry is still difficult to believe. While 2 RTR talks about a successful attack, this only refers to one part of the attack, on the supply dump.
On this morning Composite Regiment, 22 Armd Bde was formed under the command of Major J W Dickens 3 CLY, consisting initially of a Regimental HQ of 3 tanks, and two squadrons each of 15 tanks, under the command of Major Yule and Major Rudkin MC respectively.
Lt Davidson with A Echelon, excepting three 6-ton lorries and one 8-cwt truck, left the field on this day. On arrival at 4th Armd Bde HQ. The Composite Regt formed third regiment. On this afternoon the regiment was in reserve and Bde leaguered as a whole south of Sidi Muftah (438394).
4th Armd Bde moved north to aerodrome area with the object of extricating the NZ forces. Composite ?Regt carried out the duties of protection left, while 5 RTR contacted the NZ Bde NE of the aerodrome. The operation which involved heavy engagement by 5 RTR was not however carried out, and the Bde drew south to its former area later in the day.
At 1630 hrs NEMO was ordered to move to Bir Berraneb (443374) via Bir Regham (440380), in order to intercept a force of MET with A/Cs which had been reported west of that area.
Dec 2nd and 3rd. No activity.
At 0500 hrs the Bde moved to area NE of El Gubi and in the afternoon moved north to Esc-Scerghi (421398 ) to take up a defensive position against a threat which did not materialise, although slight shelling was encountered from NW. At dusk the Bde moved back to El Haid where the composite regiment was reinforced by a further squadron from 22 Armd Bde under Major Lord Cranleigh, bringing the total strength of the Regt to 49 tanks.
4th Armd Bde moved back to Bir Berraneb owing to reports that enemy tanks had moved east towards Bardia. The day uneventful and that evening regiments went into separate leaguers for the first time.
4th Armd Bde moved into area pt 181 (427377) to cover the attack of 11 Indian Bde. on El Gubi. Composite Regt was moved protection right and an enemy column was encountered in the area pt 181. A successful attack was made by NEMO threatening the right flank of the column, and ARTHUR the left and centre. Only slight contact was made and the enemy made off hurriedly in a NW direction.
In the afternoon the Regt moved N to Esc-Scherghi and to assist him in the area NW of that place. No contact was made with the enemy except through the medium of shellfire.
4th Armd Bde moved to harass the enemy column now on the defensive in the area Bir el Gubi. At 1100 hrs NEMO was detached to 3 RTR in order to carry out a flank attack from the south.
The attack was fairly successful, was covered by Artillery fire very accurately placed from the east. NEMO was able to close in to 1000 yds at the nearest point, and to get in 10 mins of comparatively unimpeded fire before heavy artillery fire forced the squadron to withdraw. Distinguishing targets was difficult, as there were a number of derelict tanks, including one Mk IV, placed probably intentionally in position. At 1500 hrs, NEMO was sent on along offensive patrol south of El Gubi to Bir Reuid (399383). Owing to the necessity for replenishing petrol and ammunition and the difficulty in distinguishing friend from foe in the half light, the move was a complete failure, and the squadron rejoined the regiment in leaguer at about 2230 hrs at Bir El Dleuna (424371).
The Bde continued its harassing role, moved N W from Bir el Gubi to the area (404378 ). NEMO was not engaged.
Bde continued moving NW to Pt 185 (381407) in order to cover the western approaches to El Adem while the main attack was progressing. Later in the day the Bde moved east and then north to area 399409 where late in the evening contact was made with the enemy at long range by 3 RTR. The Bde leaguered 3 miles north of this place, which was then occupied by the Indian ?Div.
Bde moved to area 380412, composite regiment was now reduced to 21 effective tanks, NEMO being 9 tanks strong, and the following morning all personnel of 2 RTR were relieved by personnel of 4 CLY.