Video: Inside the Chieftain’s Hatch – the A10 Cruiser

For the armourati, here is one of the Chieftain’s tank videos, this one featuring the A10 cruiser, which operated in CRUSADER with 7 Armoured Brigade’s 7 Hussars, part of 7 Armoured Brigade, 7 Armoured Division, and 1 R.T.R., 32 Army Tank Brigade, Tobruk Fortress. Some also served as HQ tanks.

The A10 were remnant tanks which had been delivered to Egypt quite a while before the operation, and were not considered up to current standards anymore. They went into action because of a lack of numbers. Their deficiency in every material aspect is demonstrated by the fact that the one squadron operating with 7 Hussars was lifted to the jumping off position on D-1 on transporters, while the A13 and A15 went on tracks. Moreover, the A10 was too slow to bring German tanks to battle, which means that they (being also outgunned) could not serve a conceivable purpose on the battlefield.

Episode I:

Episode II:

Personal Diary – Major Ling 44 R.T.R.

Came across this one today through a link on ww2talk. Very good read. The CRUSADER section starts on page 5, where he has lost the date (second column). Can be found at this link (pdf).

I have previously posted about the 44 R.T.R.’s role in the famous night attack on Belhamed at this link. I will post accounts on the battle outside Tobruk in the coming days.

A brief history of the regiment during the war can be found at this link.

Major Ling has his own entry in Tank Men by Robert Kershaw, at this link. He was promoted to Major on 13 December 1941,

His private papers are preserved at the IWM with a description at this link.

Happy reading!

A note on tank losses in CRUSADER

On a blog I follow (at this link), the question about tank losses in CRUSADER was raised. It’s one of those that seems easy, until you dig into it. a bit more. Since I have done a bit of the digging, here’s my view, by the armies involved. The below is from memory, and serves to illustrate the problem, not to provide an answer.

A few things need to be considered. First, what is considered a ‘loss’ differs at the tactical and operational scale. Tactically, a loss is a tank that is no longer able to participate in battle. This includes damaged but repairable and technical breakdowns, as well as destroyed and captured intact tanks. At the operational level, the first two categories are only losses if the damaged/broken down tanks cannot make it to the workshops, or if the workshops with them in are lost to the enemy. Both of the latter cases often, but not always, happened to the Germans, and probably the Italians. So over an operation lasting weeks, a tank could be lost more than once, if it was damaged, brought to the workshop, repaired, and returned to fight another day, and be lost again. Operationally, the easiest way to look at this is to pick a start date, check the tank inventory, add any known arrivals during the period of the operation, pick an end date, check the inventory, and do the maths. It’s more difficult in reality but still straightforward, if you have all the information.

The use of the numbers is of course completely different. To the commanders on the field, tactical losses mattered, and the reason for them wasn’t necessarily that important. A tank that’s gone is gone. This affects the ability to conduct operations, in some cases severely. For example, within four days of starting the counteroffensive in January, the Germans lost almost half their tank force, even though their written off tank numbers are miniscule (that’s a recurring theme across all theatres they fought in, by the way). 

For historians on the other hand, the operational losses are what matters, since they allow the researcher to evaluate the battle performance in relative terms. It is also a great topic of debate to make the Germans look better than they were in terms of battlefield performance, as in ‘yes they lost, but look at how much it took to take them down…’. More seriously though, operational loss numbers were used to inform high-level planning, so in the case of CRUSADER, the very high British losses drove considerations of the required numbers to be able to attack again.

So with all this said, here is my view of tank losses in CRUSADER.

1) The Germans

This is the most straightforward of the bunch. We have the starting numbers, we have daily tank states through to 30 January (so all that matters), and we know how many tanks arrived as replacements. So anyone who has done a fair amount of research can feel confident not just about how many tanks the Germans lost, but also what their daily tank strength was. There were few repair returns during the battle, and most tanks that went to the collection points or workshops were simply lost when these were overrun in due course. The Germans received about 100 replacement tanks in December and January, and fielded about 100 tanks in mid-January. My estimate therefore is that the Germans lost all of their 255 runners that they had at the start of the battle, and the total loss figure could be a bit higher once we account for returns from workshops. In addition the Germans lost another 45 tanks sunk in the Gulf of Taranto. The German official number is 220 tanks lost, or 85%, excluding those sunk.

2) The Italians

Here matters get more difficult. The easy question is: how many light tanks did the Italians lose (they fielded a good number of CV light ‘tanks’ (really glorified MG carriers, some equipped with flamethrowers). The answer is: all of them (about 180 or so, I think). The Mediums (all M13/40 during CRUSADER) are where we have conflicting information. What we know is:

a) The initial tank state of Ariete
b) Arrivals during CRUSADER

Where things get hazy is how many mediums were held with a rear unit in Agedabia, but it was probably low teens, up to 20. Now… the official Italian history claims that 63 were lost. I don’t believe that for one second. In my view, almost all of the Italian mediums with Ariete were lost. The reason for this is that after Ariete reaches Agedabia, it has only about 20 runners left, according to its war diary, but at this stage it would have been reinforced by the training tanks, and possibly the 24 tanks arriving at the end of November. Returns from workshops are unknown. By mid-January Ariete is fielding 80 mediums, and it had received about 80 reinforcements. So if someone asked me, I would peg Italian medium losses at over 130 tanks, and consider that a low-ball estimate. In addition the Italians lost another 52 tanks sunk in the Gulf of Taranto.

3) The British

Here things get far more difficult. We know the starting state, we know the end state, and we know how many were held in initial reserve. What we don’t know is how many were added on top of the initial reserve from convoy arrivals in Egypt, and how many of those tanks available in February 1942 are due to returned repairs and or convoy arrivals. We also don’t have consistent numbers on a daily basis. An additional problem is that the same tank may have been lost more than once. For example, 35 M3 tanks are lost when the HQ of 4 Armoured Brigade is overrun. At least 8 of these are recaptured by the New Zealanders a few days later. What happened to these then is anyone’s guess. There are numbers for tanks lost as of 9 January, which come to about 800, and to which another about 150 need to be added for the losses of 2 Armoured Brigade in January. This is just about 100 tanks short of the starting state on 17 November, which was 1,038 of all medium types. On 8 February, the tank returns reported that 1,123 tanks were either repairable or awaiting evacuation, destroyed, or fit/unfit in Ordnance Workshops in the Delta, which means that total losses would have been about 100 higher than the starting date..

 

So, my rough estimation is that compared to a total of about 1,450 tanks at the start of the battle, almost 1,500 tanks or thereabouts were lost, ignoring light tanks, MG carriers and armoured cars. Of the losses, about 2/3rd were lost by the British, and the remainder by the Axis, who also lost about 100 tanks at sea. All forces lost almost the totality of their tank numbers from the start of the battle, if not more. These tank losses, in particular combined with the comparatively low personnel losses, make CRUSADER a fairly extraordinary operation, and one of the larger tank battles of the war.

New Book on Desert Air Force in 2017 by Ken Delve

Disclaimer: I have no commercial motive in posting this.

Looks interesting:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Desert-Air-Force-World-War/dp/1844158179/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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Image from Amazon

You can preorder now through the US Amazon site.

https://www.amazon.com/Desert-Air-Force-World-War/dp/1844158179/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

This is a comprehensive reference to the structure, operation, aircraft and men of the 1st Tactical Air Force, or Desert Air Force as it became known. It was formed in North Africa to support the 8th Army and included squadrons from the RAF, SAAF, RAAF and eventually the USAAF.

The book includes descriptions of many notable defensive and offensive campaigns, the many types of aircraft used, weapons and the airfields that played host to these events. The five main sections of the book include a general historical introduction and overview, operations, operational groups, aircrew training and technical details of each aircraft type. Lengthy annexes cover personnel, the squadrons in World War II, accuracy of attacks, orders of battle for each wartime year, maps of airfield locations and numbers of enemy aircraft downed.

It’ll be interesting to see what Mr. Delve used as sources for accuracy of attacks, and numbers of enemy aircraft downed. I’m hoping for a positive surprise!

Guestpost: William Richard ‘Dick’ Hughes, KIA 21 November 1941

Editor’s Note: this blog is open to guest contributions relating to Operation CRUSADER in particular, but also more generally the desert war. I am very pleased that the first such contribution is about rememberance. One of the outcomes of our work on this blog has been to clear up personal histories for some family members of those who remained in the desert, or who died without talking very much about their experiences. We are grateful to Zeb for having taken the time to provide the post below, and look forward to contributions from other guest authors. Please contact us through the blog if you are interested.

Capt. William Richard ‘Dick’ Hughes, 1 R.T.R.

William Richard ‘Dick’ Hughes was an ordinary, middle-class Englishman, who was caught up in the horrors of war, and sadly died years before his time.

Captain Hughes, a prewar territorial soldier, was part of the 1st Battalion Royal Tank Regiment (1 RTR) when he was killed during the first day of the Tobruk Breakout. For details of the 1 RTR’s actions see at this link. He does not seem to have been assigned to a specific squadron, and it is possible he served with regimental HQ when he was killed.

Hughes was born on 11 March 1912, at his Essex Home, the son of Oswald (a bank clerk) and Elizabeth Hughes. He was educated at Dulwich College between March 1925 to July 1928. While at the College, he had his first experience of the military – being a Cadet with the College’s contingent of the Junior Division of the Officers Training Corps (OTC). This tradition is still carried on by the College’s Combined Cadet Force, today. After leaving school he joined Barclays Bank (West Kensington Branch), presumably his father’s bank, where he remained until the outbreak of War.

Hughes clearly enjoyed his time with the OTC, because he applied to join the 23rd Battalion of The London Regiment, part of the Territorial Army, on 20 August 1934 – being Commissioned a Second Lieutenant in that Battalion on 26 September. He later won the ‘Brigade Cross Country Run’ in 1936! Being promoted Lieutenant on 26 September 1937, he transferred to the 42nd Battalion of the Royal Tank Corps[1]. Hughes’ final promotion was to  Captain on 7 June 1939.  Whenever war is imminent the Territorial Army (now the Army Reserve) will be compulsorily mobilised. So as with the rest of the Territorial and Reserve forces, Hughes was mobilised on 1 September 1939 and  reported for duty on the same day.

His first posting was as to No 286 Transit Camp, being appointed joint Commanding Officer on 29 January 1940. He embarked, on 16 February, to go to France as a member of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) – being appointed Commander of another Transit Camp at Le Havre. Hughes’ returned to England and was posted with the 56th Training Regiment at Catterick, on 7 July 1940. At this point, Hughes’ was offered a post ‘on the Staff’, which he refused thinking it was a job for an older man.  Hughes didn’t remain ‘at Home’ for long. Wanting to see some action, he volunteered for front-line duty, and on 3 January 1941 embarked to go to the Middle East theatre[2].

Once Hughes’ arrived there, he joined the 1 RTR on 27 March 1941. When events in the western desert moved unfavourably against the Empire forces a few days later, 1 RTR was urgently thrown into the Tobruk fortress to shore up its defences. It then remained continuously engaged in the fortress defense until the breakout operation in late November. Thus after defending Tobruk for 7 ½ months, Hughes’ was Killed in Action on 21 November, the first day of the breakout. That day, it is believed that he was tasked with bringing forward the fuel and ammunition trucks; it is thought that he was killed from fire from one of the German strongholds, which caught the trucks out in the open.

largeA9 Cruiser Mk I tanks on the move near Tobruk, 12 September 1941. Courtesy of the IWM Photography Collection, Catalogue No. E5547.[3]

Just before going to Le Havre, Hughes’ gave his mother a lace handkerchief. Some years after the War, she gave this handkerchief and a RTR sweetheart’s broach to her son’s niece, Sarah Hughes. Still with the handkerchief, is a small note from her detailing the gift and the death of Hughes’, a ‘brave and gallant gentleman’.

His medals laid unclaimed until 2006, when they were issued to Hughes’ great nephew in Australia, by the UK Ministry of Defence. The medals and the handkerchief provide a fine memorial to a brave and gallant man, who died aged 29, who had the opportunity to sit in a cushy number back in Britain, but chose to go the Front, and in doing so served his Country with distinction.

Zeb Micic

Contact the author directly: zeb.micic1 [AT] gmail.com

[1] 42 R.T.R. also served with distinction in Operation CRUSADER, having reached the desert in October 1941. It was in fact closely involved in opening the corridor to Tobruk, and had Capt. Hughes survived the first week of the operation he would likely have met some of his old comrades in arms.
[2] Probably on the Winston Special convoy WS5B, see at this link. The convoy arrived in Suez on 3 March 1941
[3] These would have been 1 R.T.R. tanks since all Cruiser tanks of the garrison were concentrated in 1 R.T.R.

2-pdr HE rounds – again

The general view on the issue of 2-pdr high-explosive (HE) is that there was none, and that the guns were only equipped with armour-piercing (AP) rounds. While sometimes one comes across references to 2-pdr HE (see e.g. at this link), these are vague and from memory, written years after the fact. So you can imagine my surprise when I came across a short statement in the war diary of 11 Royal Horse Artillery (R.H.A. – the famous ‘Honourable Artillery Company’ of the City of London), in which German tank methods and ways of dealing with them are discussed.

2-pr H.E.

15. The 2-pr H.E. has been used most effectively against soft vehicles but it is doubtful if there is much more in the country.

11 R.H.A. was a 25-pdr regiment, but it would have worked closely with 2-pdr equipped AT regiments during January 1942, when the Allied forces were operating in mixed columns. Nevertheless, this report does not pertain to operations during the Axis counter-offensive. The relevant appendix is part of the February 1942 war diary. The report was issued by HQ R.A. 1 Armoured Division on 20 January 1942, so it would be based on experience in fighting up to that date.

The document can be found in Kew, under WO169/4560. I’d be interested in comments on this.

Thanks to user ‘idler’ on WW2talk, here is a link to the 2-pdr equipment page with ammunition production statistics.