One for the Wargamers – OOB of Italian XXI Army Corps

One for the Wargamers – OOB of Italian XXI Army Corps

Below a table showing how the Italian XXI Army Corps was structured for the attack on Tobruk, dated 18 November 1941. My thanks to Michele who found this in the Italian archives.

XXI Corpo Armata was commanded by General Enea Navarini, who unlike many other Italian commanders remained with his command from 1941 to 1943. It was a relatively powerful formation, with over 200 field and medium guns, 19 rifle battalions and a good number of support battalions. The Corps participated in all the major battles of North Africa.

For the planned attack on Tobruk, the Corps was subordinated to Panzergruppe Afrika, together with the D.A.K., and it was supposed to play a crucial role in the attack. It had been reinforced for this, e.g. by the addition of the 31st Assault Engineer Battalion. It is however of note that while it had a lot of guns, most of them were quite out of date, with design dates for guns ranging back to 1890. Furthermore, the light guns of the Italian infantry divisions simply could not deliver the weight of fire and/or range required to support typical combat in World War 2. Nevertheless, it had substantial firepower, and if a troop of British tanks were to encounter the truck-mounted naval 76/40 guns, it probably wouldn’t have made the tank commanders feel better to know that it was first designed in 1898.

A WW1 vintage 152/37 heavy gun[1] being transported on a trailer in North Africa. This was a standard mode of transport for guns which had not been modernised with rubber wheels between the wars. Note that this form of transport did nothing to the mobility and agility of the guns. Source: Wikipedia

Italian Artillery Positions, Tobruk, 18 Nov 1941.

Italian Artillery Positions, Tobruk, 18 Nov 1941. Roman numerals are the Group, Arabic the Regiment. Trento and Bologna sectors only. Red line indicates position of main defensive line. Source: Attachments to War Diary of Corps Artillery Command, XXI Army Corps (Click on the link to open better picture in new window)

While it may appear weak in anti-tank (47mm Boehler) and anti-air (20mm Breda) guns, these were part of the support battalions in infantry regiments, so the Corps as a whole would have been reasonably well equipped with these weapons, although the Corps had only a very small floating reserve for allocation in critical situations, and none left once that had been parcelled out prior to the attack taking place.
It lacked armour however, and in fact for its role in the attack on Tobruk requested a German medium tank company in support. Nevertheless, as a operations in October around the seizure of the Bir el Azazi had shown, armour was quickly brought up from the frontier in support of operations around Tobruk. A note on the number of guns – this is always an extrapolation by me, assuming 4-gun batteries (bty) were standard throughout. More importantly though, in a few cases I also had to make assumptions on the number of batteries in a group (I assume it’s always 3 batteries/group). I would welcome corrections on this. Some other questions I would be interested in are the number of companys (coys) and tanks in V Light Tank Battalion, and the number of companies in XXXI Assault Engineer Battalion. I also assumed that both Regia Marina units were equipped with truck-mounted guns.

Order of Battle XXI Army Corps 18 November 1941
Command Level/Unit

Type

Strength

 

Guns

Comment

Origin

Corps Troops
VI Group Lancieri Aosta Cavalry Machine Gun Squadrons          
V Battalion Carri ‘L’ CV33 Light Tanks          
IV Battalion Carri ‘L’ dto 2 coys        
Corps Artillery
16 Corps Artillery Regiment XV Group 105/28 3 bty  

12

Obsolete Italian
  XLIV Group 105/28 3 bty  

12

Obsolete Italian
  XLIX Group 105/28 3 bty  

12

Obsolete Italian
5 Artillery Regiment  XX Group 149/35 3 bty  

12

Obsolete Italian
  XXI Group 149/35 3 bty  

12

Obsolete Italian
  XXII Group 149/35 3 bty  

12

Obsolete Italian
8 Artillery Regiment XXXIII Group 149/40 3 bty  

12

Modern Italian
  LII Group 152/37 2 Bty  

8

Obsolete Austro-Hungarian
  CXXXI Group 149/28 2 Bty  

8

Modern German
  CXLVII Group 149/28 2 Bty  

8

Modern German
Mixed Regiment XIX Group 149/35 3 bty  

12

Obsolete Italian
  Group 120 Regia Marina 3 SP bty  

12

Obsolete British
Corps Engineers
XXXI Battalion Guastatori Assault Engineers 3 coys        
X Battalion Artieri Pioneers 1 Coy        
Services            
LXV Battalion Collegamenti Signals 1 coy+        
Pavia Infantry Division            
Various units            
Two motorised ambulances            
Pavia Infantry Division
Divisional Command            
Infantry 27 Inf Regiment 2 rifle batt        
    1 support batt        
  28 Infantry Regiment As 27 Regiment        
  XVII Battalion a.a. e c.c. Support        
Artillery 26 Artillery Regiment I Group 100/17 3 bty

12

Obsolete Austro-Hungarian
    III Group 75/27 3 bty

12

Obsolete German
Engineers XVII Mixed Engineer Batt.          
Services            
Reinforcements 3 Light Artillery Regiment II Group 75/27 2 bty

8

Obsolete German
    III Group 75/27 2 bty

8

Obsolete German
    2 batteries 20mm        
  24 Corps Artillery Regiment I Group 105/28  

12

Obsolete Italian
  36 battery 65/17    

4

Obsolete Italian
  90 battery 65/17    

4

Obsolete Italian
  XXXI Batt. Guastatori 2 coys        
  XXVII Batt. Artieri 1 Coy        
Bologna Infantry Division
Divisional Command            
Infantry 39 Infantry Regiment 2 rifle batt        
    1 support batt        
  40 Infantry Regiment 2 rifle batt        
  III/40: 2 platoons 20mm        
    1 platoon 47mm        
    1 MG platoon        
    1 81mm platoon        
  XXV Battalion
a.a. e c.c.
Support        
Artillery 205 Artillery Regiment I Group 100/17 3 bty

12

Obsolete Austro-Hungarian
    III Group 75/27 3 bty

12

Obsolete German
    IV Group 75/27 3 bty

12

Obsolete German
    1 battery 20mm        
    1 battery 47mm        
Engineers XVII Mixed Engineer Batt.          
Services            
Reinforcements 24 Corps Artillery Regiment II Group 105/28  

12

Obsolete Italian
  XXXI Batt. Guastatori 2 coys        
  XXVII Batt. Artieri “Sabratha” 1 Coy        
  1 battery 20mm “Brescia”          
Brescia Infantry Division
Divisional Command            
Infantry 19 Inf Regiment 3 rifle batt        
    1 coy 81mm        
    1 bty 65/17  

4

   
  20 Infantry Regiment 3 rifle batt        
    1 coy 81mm        
    1 bty 65/17  

4

   
Artillery 1 Light Artillery Regiment III Group 75/27 3 bty

12

Obsolete Austro-Hungarian
    IV Group 75/27 3 bty

12

Obsolete German
    1 battery 20mm        
Engineers XXVII Mixed Engineer Batt.          
Services            
Reinforcements   1 Group 100/17  

12

Obsolete Italian
  340 Guardia Alla Frontiera 1 Group 77/28  

12

Obsolete Austro-Hungarian
  858 Bty Guardia Alla Frontiera 1 bty 149/12  

4

Obsolete German
Trento Motorised Infantry Division
Divisional Command            
Infantry 61 Infantry Regiment 2 rifle batt        
    1 support batt        
  62 Infantry Regiment As 61 Inf Rgt        
  7 Bersaglieri Regiment 2 motorised battalions        
  DLI Battalion a.a. e c.c. Support        
Artillery 46 Artillery Regiment I Group 100/17 3 bty

12

Obsolete Austro-Hungarian
    III Group 75/27 3 bty

12

Obsolete German
    IV Group 75/27 3 bty

12

Obsolete German
    1 battery 20mm        
Engineers LI Mixed Engineer Batt.          
Services            
Reinforcements 340 Guardia Alla Frontiera 1 Group 77/28  

12

Obsolete Italian
  1 battery 76/40 Regia Marina 1 SP bty  

4

Obsolete British
  IX Group 105/28 “Trieste” 1 Group  

12

Obsolete Italian
Artillery Strength

Number of Guns 100mm or above calibre

 

220

   

Of which no. of Guns 149mm or above

 

88

   

Number of guns 65mm to 77mm calibre

 

144

   

Source: Attachments to the War Diary XXI Army Corps, Ufficio Storico Esercito

Command Conference, HQ of XXI Italian Army Corps, El Adem, 21 Nov. 1941, from left:
Seated: General Enea Navarini, Commander XXI Army Corps, General Rommel, Commander Panzergruppe Standing: Unknown, Colonel Diesener, German Liason Officer to
XXI Corps, Unknown Italian officer, General Gause, Chief of Staff Panzergruppe – Source: Bundesarchiv, Wikipedia

[1] Italian guns were referred to by their calibre and barrel length in calibres. So the 152/37 was a 152mm (6”) calibre gun with a barrel length of 5m 62.4cm.

A Hard Lesson Learnt

Background

Following the end of the CRUSADER battles and the counteroffensive, Panzerarmee Afrika took stock, and made a number of requests for re-building and improving the capability of the Panzergruppe for the summer. These were wide-ranging.

Of particular note are a very detailed proposal by 15. Panzerdivision for a wholesale restructuring of the tropical (as the German army jargon called it) Panzerdivision, based on the realization that its main combat power lay in the artillery and the tanks, the request to form a leichtes Afrika-Korps by building two light Africa divisions out of 90. Leichte Division, supported by a tank battalion, and a wholesale restructuring of the rifle companies in North Africa.

The history of MG Batl.2 confirms that the change illustrated below was carried out latest on 1 April 1942, when the battalion became the 3rd battalion as Panzergrenadierbatallion in Panzergrenadierregiment 115 of 15. Panzerdivision. The heavy company was dissolved, with one MG platoon added to each Grenadier company, as well as one 81mm mortar and one 5cm AT gun Pak 38. I want to focus on the proposed restructuring of the rifle companies. I have previously written about the plight of these, when faced with an attack by tanks – see here.

At the same time, the (probably) unauthorized increase in light machine guns had itself shown to be effective, as shown in the attack by 2 Black Watch during the break-out from Tobruk – see here. It is interesting to compare the newly requested organization with that of the prior special North Africa organization in the Oasenbatallion 300, which you can find here.

  Oasenbatallion 300 Rifle Battalion Company Reorganisation 1942 (proposed) Rifle Battalion Company Organisation 1941 (estimated)
Number of rifle companies in battalion(1) 5 4 3 (plus one heavy company with 12 heavy MG and 4 heavy mortars)
Number of Weapons in company / battalion      
Submachineguns Unknown 13 52 Unknown  
Light Machine Guns 12 60 18 72 18 57
Heavy Machine Guns 0 0 2 8 0 8
Light Mortars 3 15 0 0 3 9
Heavy Mortars 0 0 3 12 0 6
Light Anti-Tank Rifles 3 15 0 0 3 9
Heavy Anti-Tank Rifles (2) 0 0 3 12 0 0
Anti-Tank Guns (3) 0 0 6 24 0 0
  1. The Oasenbattalion was a special, one-off formation, while the proposed rifle battalion organisation would have applied to the armoured divisions and 90th Light.
  2. These were the far more capable 28/20 sPzB41.
  3. Either 5cm Pak 38, 7.5cm French Schneider m1897, or 7.62cm Russian Zis-3 captured guns. The latter were intended for the companies of 90 leichte Afrika-Division, the former for the companies in 15. and 21. Panzerdivision.

What is immediately noticeable is the significant increase in automatic firepower. Also, the very heavy equipment with anti-tank weapons at company level, and the official disbandment of the heavy company, in favour of parceling out the weapons that it would normally control. Doctrinally, this would indicate a departure from the battalion as core combat formation towards the company.

In the 1941 standard rifle battalion in the Wehrmacht, the main purpose of the heavy company, which held the heavy MGs and the mortars, was to be the central point of fire support to the battalion. Alternatively, in a widely spread out position, the company could be split out into three equally strong fire support groups, and these could be attached to the rifle companies. So in a way, this proposal almost completely removed the possibility of fighting the battalion as a unit.

This was probably the right response to the conditions in North Africa, where individual company or platoon strong-points were far more the norm, and where these were often sited far away from support, simply because of the need to cover large areas with low numbers of troops. In particular the combination of heavy mortars and heavy machine-guns would enable the company to pin attacking infantry at a longer distance. The anti-tank guns could then engage e.g. infantry tanks that are trying to bring the infantry forward again.

Order of Battle – 8th Army, 18 November 1941

In WO216/15 an overview of 8th Army units is given, probably dating to mid-October 1941 which I reproduce here. Based on my research, and on the report by GOC 8th Army after the battle (WO201/2693), I have amended it a bit, with explanations given in the notes.

8th Army (General Cunningham)

13 Corps (Lt.-General Godwin-Austen)

2 New Zealand Division (Major-General Freyberg)

4 Indian Division (less one brigade)* (Major-General Messervy)

1 Army Tank Brigade (less one regiment)** (Brigadier Watkins)

Corps Troops

64, 67, 68 Medium Regiments RA

65, 2 SA AT Regiments RA

A Sqdn 6 SA Armoured Car Regiment

37 RTR (dummy tanks)

30 Armoured Corps (Lt.-General Willoughby-Norrie)

7 Armoured Division (Major-General Gott)***

7 Armoured Brigade (Brigadier Davy)

22 Armoured Brigade (Brigadier Scott-Cockburn)

Support Group (Brigadier Campbell)

4 Armoured Brigade (Brigadier Gatehouse)

1 South African Division (less one brigade)**** (Major-General Brink)

22 Guards Brigade (Brigadier Erskine/Brigadier Mariott)*****

Tobruk Fortress (Major-General Scobie)******

70 Infantry Division (Major-General Scobie)

Polish Brigade Group (Major-General S. Kopanski)

32 Army Tank Brigade (Brigadier Willison)

Fortress Troops

Corps Troops

4 SA Armoured Car Regiment

51, 60 Field Regiment RA

7 Medium Regiment RA

73 AT Regiment RA

 

Jarabub Group (Force E)

29 Indian Infantry Brigade (Brigadier Mariott/Brigadier Reid)*******

38, “F” RTR (dummy tanks)

 

2 South African Infantry Division at El Alamein (Major-General de Villiers)

2 South African Infantry Brigade at Matruh Fortress (Brigadier Poole)

Army Troops

Total Strength:

118,000 men

849 medium, field, and anti-tank guns

529 cruiser tanks

205 infantry tanks

Notes:

* 11 Indian Infantry Brigade, held back at Mersa Matruh

** Probably a regiment held back in reserve

*** Detailed breakdown not in the document.

**** The division consisted of 1 and 5 SA Brigades in the line and 2 SA Brigade at Matruh.

***** Brigadier Erskine was replaced by Brigadier Mariott around 20 October 1941, to let Brigadier Reid take charge of 29 Indian Brigade and the Jarabub Group. I have no idea what happened to Brigadier Erskine, since he seems to be a different Erskine to the BGS 13 Corps.

****** This detailed breakdown is not in the WO document, but from me. The fortress came under command 8th Army on the night 30/31 October, and was under operational control 30 Armoured Corps, which would give the order to start the breakout. Later in the battle it went under control 13 Corps.

******* Only HQ 29 Indian Infantry Brigade and one infantry battalion, otherwise support troops including a lot of armoured cars. Under direct control of 8th Army throughout.

Oasen Bataillon z.b.V. 300

Oasen Bataillon z.b.V. 300

Background

That would be Oasis Special Purpose Battalion 300, in English. This peculiarly named unit proves that the Wehrmacht was not averse to a practical joke being played on its soldiers, since they probably never got anywhere near an Oasis. Instead of being based in a romantic palm-studded Arabic paradise with tough war-like men on horses and beautiful women wearing veils, they found themselves in dusty and stony dirtholes on the Libyan-Egyptian border, until they were forced to surrender following a long siege, in January 1942.

siwa

Fantasy: Siwa Oasis: the Village of Aghurmi (Art.IWM ART LD 2065) image: a desert oasis with palm trees to the left and right with ruins of a large building visible through the trees in the centre background. Two Arab men and two donkeys are visible in the centre of the composition. Copyright: © IWM.

indian Reality: ‘Some of the worst desert known to mankind’: INDIAN FORCES IN NORTH AFRICA DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (E 6940) Men of the 4th Indian Division with a captured German flag at Sidi Omar, North Africa. Copyright: © IWM.

Origin and Attachment

While I originally thought the battalion had been formed for service in the border fortifications following the visit to Africa of General Paulus (of later Stalingrad fame), this was not the case. The battalion was instead formed in response to a request made by the D.A.K. HQ to O.K.H. on 30 March, for garrison troops for oases through the desert, such as Gialo or Marada. The original request asked for five independent companies. The thinking was that these companies could act as flank and rear-area protection for traffic links and water supply points.

The battalion consisted of soldiers who had been to Africa before the war. While it is often reported as part of  Division z.b.V. Afrika (later 90th Light Division), it doesn’t appear that there was much of a connection at all. See e.g. the OOB of Division zbV at this link, which has no mention of Oasis Battalion 300. In the Panzergruppe OOB it is given as being directly under command of the Panzergruppe HQ.

From its formation until just before CRUSADER Division z.b.V. was of course responsible for the border sector, and as such would have had command of the battalion. Once the division was moved to Tobruk to prepare for the assault this relationship ceased however, and the batallion remained behind in the border fortifications. The relationship was probably similar to that of Major Bach’s I./S.R.104, which was under command of and supplied by Division z.b.V., but continued to belong to 5.Panzerdivision. It would be interesting to see who first came up with the idea they were under Division zbV.

Structure and Equipment

The battalion consisted of a battalion HQ, and five (on paper) identically equipped rifle companies, numbered 2., 6., 10., 12., and 13. As Frank Chadwick points out in the comments, this refelected the number of the administrative region (Wehrkreis) in which the company was formed.

Oasenkp

Order of Battle – Oasenbatallion z.b.V. 300. Panzergruppe Africa Report. Rommelsriposte.com Collection

Each company had 12 light machine guns, 3 light mortars (50mm), and 6 light anti-tank rifles (7.92mm). with a reported company strength of 152 of all ranks (see here). As Frank also points out, the number of LMGs in the company is the standard infantry allocation, which was one per rifle squad plus a “floater” at platoon — three platoons with 4 LMG each = 12 guns. Thus, 12 LMG and 3 light mortars is right for a standard rifle company, while it is the number of light AT rifles which is high — two per rifle platoon instead of just one. While this was presumably intended to beef up the AT firepower of the companies, due to the 7.92mm AT rifle being obsolete at this point in the war, the battalion wasn’t strong in anti-tank firepower. In consequence, in position the companies of the battalion were supported by Italian and German artillery, including 88mm AA guns. This article at Lone Sentry is very helpful in describing the situation.

Screen shot 2019 02 06 at 1 48 22 pm

Detail of fortifications on the border at Sidi Omar, from 42 R.T.R. War Diary. UK National Archives, WO169/1421

Fate

The last remnants of the Oasis Battalion 300 went into Empire captivity when General Fedele de Giorgis, the Italian General Officer Commanding Savona infantry division and the border defense sector east was forced to surrender his forces to the 2 South African Division on 17 January 1942. Depite the rather short combat history, the battalion contributed to a stout defense of the border sector, forcing a deliberate reduction in two major operations, and this created a substantial headache for the Empire forces, as I laid out at this link. Prior to that, the last organised elements of the battalion had surrendered in Sollum on 12 January, apparently.

The battalion was never reformed, and provided little more than a footnote to the overall battle.

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

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

Background

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. It 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
    4 Indian Division [1]
    200 Guards Brigade [2]
    150 Infantry Brigade Group [3]
    Free French Brigade Group  
    Polish Brigade Group  
    Six Armd. Car Regts.  
    Reserve column from 1 Armd. Divn. Under command H.Q. of 1st Support Group.
  (ii) Reserve in forward area[4]
    1 Armoured Divn Less Reserve column and 200 Gds. Bde.
      Temporary Composition of division is:
      H.Q.
      2nd Armd. Bde.
      Composite Rgt. From 22 Armd. Bde.
      200 Gds. Bde.
      1 Support Group
    38 Indian Inf. Bde. [5]
  (iii) In Frontier and Railhead area under command of H.Q. 30 Armd. Corps
    1 Army Tank Brigade  
    2 S.A. Divn.  
    7 Indian Inf. Bde. Reorganising[6]
(b) British Troops in Egypt
  (i) At Mersa Matruh
    5 S.A. Bde. Reorganising[7]
  (ii) In Delta and Canal Areas
    2 N.Z. Divn. Reorganising and training
    7 Armd. Divn. Less 7 Armd. Bde sailing for Far East – reorganizing and re-equipping[8]
    22 Armd. Bde ex 1 Armd. Div Re-equipping[9]
    32 Army Tank Bde Elements only; awaiting reorganisation
    3 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  
    2 Armd. Divn Remnants only; awaiting reorganisation[10]

Notes

[1]The division had fought all of Crusader and all three of its Brigades, 5, 7, and 11 had suffered heavily.
[2]The Brigade would not have been in a good state.
[3]New arrival, fresh troops.
[4]These units were around Tobruk and the Libyan/Egyptian border. The list is missing ‘E’ Force.
[5]New arrival, Tobruk garrison.
[6]The brigade had escaped (barely) from Benghazi, losing about 20% of its strength there. 
[7]The brigade had been overrun at Sidi Rezegh. 
[8]Only two regiments were sent. See below.
[9]The division was only made up to its full tank strength by mid April 1942.
[10] This was the division that had been overrun in April 1941 during the Axis advance. It never was reformed.

Crusaderrepaired

Large E 007014 2

 

Tank State

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).

 

Distribution of Tanks in Egypt and Cyrenaica as known in War Office on 7.2.42
Status Cruisers Infantry Tanks Remarks
Serviceable Tanks      
Cyrenaica      
2 Armoured Bde. And composite Regiment from 22 Armoured Brigade 128   Including tanks handed over by 22 Armd. Bde.
Frontier Area      
1 Army Tank Bde.   111  
Delta Area      
4 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.

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:

  • All types, cruisers and I tanks (excl. light tanks): 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 was lower, even though it was still substantially higher than the Axis tank numbers. Nevertheless, in the forward area the numbers of tanks were about even with possibly a slight numerical advantage to the Axis, and more importantly, the quality of tanks would have strongly favoured the Axis forces.  Not a comfortable situation, and again the lack of fuel supply meant that the Axis could not exploit this situation.

One book-keeping item to keep in mind is that 7 Armoured Brigade was sent off with two regiments and 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.

Order of Battle of 7 Armoured Brigade for Operation CRUSADER

Order of Battle of 7 Armoured Brigade for Operation CRUSADER

7 Armoured Brigade

The Brigade had a short and exciting (in the Chinese curse sense of the word) Operation CRUSADER. Mauled at Sidi Rezegh just days after the operation started, it was withdrawn from battle and returned to the Delta, except for some smaller composite units that remained engaged in the battle for another fortnight, such as composite squadron NEMO of 2 RTR.

A10

A10 Cruiser tanks in the Western Desert, 1 November 1940.(IWM E1001) By 1941 these tanks were obsolete and worn out, but continued to serve as command tanks at Brigade and Division level, and as frontline tanks in 7 Armoured Brigade and TobFort.

From the report written after the battle, here is some information that may be of use to wargamers. This OOB differs from Nafziger’s OOB for the battle which can be found at this link. The most important difference is the absence of the Northumberland Hussars (102 AT Rgt. RA) from this OOB. Maybe someone can comment on that.

Order of Battle – 7th Armoured Brigade 18 November 1941

(based on WO201/514)

Unit Commander Equipment
Brigade HQ Brigadier Davey Cruiser Mk.II (A10) tanks
3 Squadron 7 Armoured Division Signals Major H.W.C. Stethem  
7 Hussars Lt.Colonel F.W. Byass DSO MC (killed at Sidi Rezegh) Cruiser Mk.II (A10 – one squadron), Mk.IV and maybe Mk.V tanks
2 Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) Lt.Colonel R.F.E. Chute Cruiser tanks (mix of Mk.IV and Mk.V)
6 RTR Lt.Colonel M.D.B. Lister (killed at Sidi Rezegh) Cruiser tanks (no confirmation, probably Mk.V)
LRS (Light Recovery Section?) Cpt. N. Barnes  
OFP (Supply??) Cpt. C.C. Lambert  
Reconnaissance Section Capt. T. Ward  
‘A’ & ‘B’ Sections 13 Light Field Ambulance Capts. Hick and Williamson  
4 Royal Horse Artillery (less one battery) Lt. Col. J. Curry  
F Battery RHA Major F. Withers MC 8 25-pdr
DD Battery RHA Major O’Brien.Butler 8 25-pdr
‘A’ Company 2
Rifle Brigade
Major C. Sinclair MC  
Det. 4 Field Sqdn Royal Engineers Corporal Lee (sic!)  
‘A’ & ‘B’ Troops 1 Lt. AA battery 1 Lt. AA Regiment Royal Artillery Major Edmeads Bofors 40mm light anti-aircraft guns

The total number of tanks on this day was 129, consisting of a mix of various cruiser marks. While difficult to disentangle, it appears that 26 Cruiser Mk. II (A 10) which formed one squadron in 7 Hussars and equipped Brigade HQ, and at least 16 Mk.IV (A13 Mk.II), which seem to have been primarily in 2 R.T.R., 16 of which had been issued as replacements for 16 Mk. IV tanks which had to be sent to base workshop in October, and were reported ‘unfit for action’ by the commander of 2 RTR, because they were missing essential kit, but they were nevertheless taken along. Other shortages reported were wireless (throughout the Brigade) and Bren guns (particular in 6 RTR which had issued theirs to the Polish units going to Tobruk in October). Mechanical reliability seems to have been a serious issue – on 19 November 7 Armoured Brigade was down to 123 tanks, and on 20 November to 115, without really having seen much combat.

Training state was reported good except in Squadron and Troop maneuver, which was restricted by mileage restrictions and the wireless silence before the operation.

Any comments on the above, in particular relating to the tank composition, would be very much welcome. Note there are discrepancies between the original report and various information found on the web.

Order of Battle Division z.b.V. Afrika (Africa Special Purpose Division), 10 November 41

Order of Battle Division z.b.V. Afrika (Africa Special Purpose Division), 10 November 41

Background

The division that would become famous later as 90th Light Division started its life as a formation of odds and sods, thrown together quickly out of whatever was available while a much more important war raged in the east. During Operation CRUSADER, on 27 November, it was renamed 90th Light Africa Division (90. leichte Afrika-Division), and it was under this name that it would acquire a fighting record that made it well respected by its enemies. But before that, it would be very severely depleted in the two weeks from the start of Operation CRUSADER, so much so that it did not play a combat role in the January counteroffensive in 1942, although it did participate in the advance.

History

The division had originally been formed in June 1941 for service in Africa.  It lost some elements to enemy action during transport across the Mediterranean, and had other elements added to it after arrival. In the end it was a hotchpotch, and lacked vital supply, signals, and logistics elements which would have been standard in ordinary divisions, making it much less combat-capable than the name implies. The lack of motorization was going to be a real problem during the retreat from Tobruk, and probably contributed to the decision to take the division out of the line and send it to Agedabia in early December, two weeks before the general retreat.

The division was  also very weak indeed in artillery (one of its two assigned artillery battalions came from the artillery regiment originally formed for 21st Panzer). Nevertheless that did not matter too much, since it was meant for stationary use on the Tobruk siege front, where it would be responsible for the break-in planned for late November, with all the support (and it was plenty) of the heavy artillery of Arko 104 at its disposal.

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Unknown command post, probably Tobruk-Belhamed sector, November/December 1941. Rommelsriposte.com collection.

Structure

A few remarks about the structure of the organisation, which was peculiar in other aspects as well. It is worth noting that the infantry companies had very high firepower when it comes to light machine guns, including many captured Empire weapons. With the exception of the 3rd battalion 347th Infantry Regiment (III./I.R.347) the rifle companies had double the firepower of the standard rifle company. It is no wonder that the account of the 2nd Battalion The Black Watch of their attack against the siege front on 21st November speaks of the heavy volume of automatic weapons fire they encountered, and that the ridge where it came from became known to them as “Spandau Ridge” (“Spandau” in this case not referring to the Berlin suburb, but the German army light machine gun, a term originating in World War I).

What is also noticeable about the order of battle is the lack of balance in the infantry companies.  The companies in the 155th Regiment are very well equipped for firepower, especially by the standards of the typical German infantry company at the time. With heavy mortars, a lot of machine guns, and two light infantry guns, any strongpoint defended by such a company would have been a serious obstacle to an attack. The companies in the 3rd battalion 347th Regiment are a bit less well equipped, but are still doing okay. On the other hand, the companies in the 3rd battalion 255th Regiment, and especially all companies in the “Afrika” Regiment 361 are much weaker, and according to the war diary, most of the heavy weapons of the regiment seem to have been stuck in Naples when CRUSADER started.

The order of battle below is from the NARA records, and dated 11 November 41. Many thanks to my friend James for getting it.

The interpretation of the hand-written/-drawn OOB would not have been possible without the explanation of the symbols on Dr. Leo Niehorster’s OOB site at this link.

Afrika Artilleriebatallion 361

The Artillerieabteilung did not join the division prior to CRUSADER. It arrived on two Italian navy armed merchant cruisers (Citta di Genova and Citta di Tunisi). See this older entry. Its men were then stuck in Benghazi and without guns. They never joined the siege front.

An interesting question has arisen about the guns of “Afrika” Artillery Battalion 361 – the drawn order of battle clearly shows mountain guns, presumably 7.5cm Gebirgskanone 36, although it is also possible that an older type would have been used for this cinderella formation. But information I recently was made aware of by a fellow researcher shows that captured Russian field guns, presumably the Feldkanone 36(r).

I have my doubts that the first issue of guns to the “Afrika” Artillery Battalion 361 was of this type, but if anyone knows for sure, or has pictures that can clearly be dated to CRUSADER or before, I’d be very grateful. Following CRUSADER, the number of captured Russian guns in the desert became substantial, as this Intelligence Bulleting shows

Order of battle: Division z.b.V. “Afrika”

Divisional Command

Motorised Signals Platoon

259th Motorised Mapping Detachment

155th Rifle Regiment (Schützenregiment 155)

Staff with Signals, Despatch Riders, Engineer Detachments (all motorised)

Three Infantry battalions

Each battalion with:

staff (signals, engineers);

three rifle companies with 18 light MGs, 6 light anti-tank rifles, 2 8.1cm mortars and 2 7.5 cm light infantry guns each; and

one support company with 8 heavy machine-guns and 6 8.1 cm mortars.

3rd Battalion 255th Infantry Regiment (III./I.R.255)

Three rifle companies with 18 light MGs, 6 light anti-tank rifles, no mortars, no heavy anti-tank rifles; and

one support company with 8 heavy machine-guns.

3rd Battalion 347th Infantry Regiment (III./I.R.347)

Three rifle companies with 15 light MGs, 6 light anti-tank rifles, and 2 8.1cm mortars; and

one support company with 12 heavy MGs and 6 8.1 cm mortars.

“Afrika” Regiment 361

Staff

Two Infantry battalions

Each battalion with;

three rifle companies with 18 light MGs; and

one support company with 2 heavy machine-guns.

605th Anti-Tank Battalion (Panzerjägerabteilung 605)

Staff with Signals Platoon (motorised)

Three companies with 5 light MGs and 9 4.7cm ATGs (Czech) on Panzer I chassis, each.

Reconnaissance company

Staff platoon with 3 armoured MG carriers (captured) attached.

One platoon motorised with 6 VW un-armoured cars Kübelwagen.

One platoon armoured cars (tracked? Probably an error)

Artillery Regiment 155 (Artillerie Regiment 155)

2nd Battalion 155th Artillery Regiment (II./A.R.155)

Staff with motorised signals and survey platoon

Three batteries with 2 light MGs and 4 10.5 cm light Field Howitzers 18, no prime movers

“Afrika” Artillery Battalion 361 (Afrika Artillerieabteilung)

Staff with signals platoon

Two batteries with 2 light machine guns and 4 7.5 cm mountain guns each, no prime movers

Engineer Battalion 900 (motorised) (Pionierbatallion 900)

Staff with 1 heavy anti-tank rifle and 1 3.7 cm ATG

Two motorised engineer companies with 12 light MGs each.

Light engineer column (motorised)