Artillery Order of Battle, Tobruk Fortress, 5 November 1941

The OOB below is from the war diary of the Commander Royal Artillery (CRA) of Tobruk Fortress (TobFort) command, which was provided by the divisional command of British 70 Division. 70 Division was reinforced by a number of artillery regiments, and the Polish Carpathian Brigade, which in turn included the Polish Carpathian Artillery Regiment.

The OOB does not include the ‘bush guns’ which were captured Italian equipment used by the frontline infantry battalions. I do believe however that the 100mm guns included in the OOB are captured Italian materiel.

What is noticeable otherwise is the mix of guns. There are eight different types. What is also noticeable is the very low number of heavy calibre guns. Essentially just 4x 149mm, also the 4.5” guns and 60-pdr were also considered ‘medium’ by the Royal Artillery. The besieging Axis forces were far better equipped with heavy artillery, which would have given them a fair advantage in particular in counter battery work.

The gun total was 88 field guns of various calibres and 16 medium guns on 5 November. This compares to 72 25pdr field guns in a typical infantry division at the time. The total was broken down as follows:

64x 25pdr

8x 18pdr (A.Tk. – but were used also for thickening up barrages)

8x 4.5” hows

8x 75mm (not sure if these were captured Italian, or the venerable French mle1907, I presume the latter)

4x 149mm

4x 4.5” guns

4x 60pdr

4x 100mm (I count these as medium, and would presume they are captured Italian equipment. There were six of these guns still in service with TobFort in February 1941 – see here) On 16 November, 20 new 25pdr guns were received by the fortress, which had to be assembled first. They were landed from what the war diary says was a minelayer, but probably were A-Lighters and a storeship. They were assigned as follows:

12x Polish Carpathian Artillery Regiment, where I presume they replaced the 8x 75mm and 4x 4.5″ howitzers.

8x 144 Field Regiment (where they replaced the 18pdr which went in reserve and pure anti-tank roles, and were immediately committed) The rapid deployment of these guns shows that there were no reserve field guns in the fortress.

Regarding A.Tk. guns from 149 A.Tk. Rgt, these are not mentioned in the document, but I would presume that this was a 48 gun regiment, with 3 troops of 4 guns to each battery, for a total of 48 guns. The artillery statement for 8 Army of 4 November gives this regiment 40x 2pdr and 9x 18pdr, with another 8 guns being in transit to Tobruk, which would confirm the organisation as a pure 2-pdr regiment with the 18-pdrs attached as supernumeraries to the regiment. When 144 Fd. Rgt. retired 8 18pdr guns, this would have meant there were enough 18pdrs to make up a full battery of 16 guns, similar to the other 64 gun regiments. The war diary of 149 ATk Rgt refers a few times to portees and towers, indicating that it actually operated both the 2pdr (which would have been porteed) and the 18pdr (which would have been towed).

While this indicates that this is all the AT of Tobruk this is not the case. While 149 A.Tk. Rgt. controlled the AT of TobFort, there was a considerable amount of AT guns in the three AT companies under the infantry brigades, and then the ‘bush guns’ within the infantry battalions, although their AT value would have been negligible to non-existant.

The table is reduced from the original table, I have removed the location statements, and merged troops into batteries where they had the same equipment, even if they were at different locations.

Unit Troops Equipment
H.Q. R.A. 70 Div. n/a n/a
     
1 Rgt. R.H.A.    
A/E Bty A, E 8x 25pdr
B/O Bty B, O 8x 25pdr
     
104 Rgt. R.H.A    
339 Bty A, B 8x 25pdr
414 Bty D, E 8x 25pdr
     
107 Rgt. R.H.A.    
425 Bty A, B 8x 25pdr
426 Bty C, D 8x 25pdr
     
144 Fd. Rgt. R.A.    
389 Bty A 4x 100mm
  C 4x 18pdr (A.Tk.)
390 Bty E Lt Sec 4x 18pdr (A.Tk.)
  E Rt Sec 4x 4.5” guns
  F 4x 60pdr
     
Polish Arty Rgt    
I Bty A, B 8x 25pdr
II Bty D 4x 75mm
  E 4x 25pdr
III Bty G 4x 25pdr
  H 4x 75mm
IV Bty C, F 8x 4.5” Hows
  J, K 4x 149mm
     
149 A.Tk. Rgt   40x 2pdr, 9x 18pdr
Z 433 Bty    
433 Bty    
X 432 Bty    
432 Bty    
     
C.B. Office   Counter Battery
Composite Bty
(4th Survey Rgt.)
Flash Spotting Trp
Sound Ranging Trp
 
Captured Guns in Use by 13 Corps, 17 February 1942

Captured Guns in Use by 13 Corps, 17 February 1942

Background

One of the interesting things in the desert war was that both sides liberally scrounged weapons from the other side, and used them. Most famous for that are usually the Germans, who seem to have taken a deep liking to Allied tanks, and of course motor vehicles. But also the Australians used captured Italian tanks (which did them no more good than they did their previous owners, when the Axis forces attacked in early 1941), and of course the famous ‘bush guns‘ in Tobruk, pictured below.

TOBRUK, LIBYA. 1941-08-27. MEN OF THE 2/17TH INFANTRY BATTALION USED THIS CAPTURED ITALIAN FIELD GUN TO SEND 75 MM. SHELLS BACK TO THEIR FORMER OWNERS. THEY WERE KNOWN AS THE “BUSH ARTILLERY” BECAUSE THEY WERE CONVERTED INFANTRYMEN. THIS GUN CREW IS WAITING TO GO INTO ACTION. AWM

Less well known however is the use of captured guns by other Empire forces. At the end of the CRUSADER operations in February 1942, the use had grown to such proportions that the artillery command of 8 Army felt compelled to issue a note to 13 Corps on the matter, including a table of guns currently in use. I reproduce it below. Incidentally, when the Germans evaluated Empire guns after the Gazala battles in May 1942, they wistfully noted that the 5cm Pak 38 had good penetration success against the Panzer III, at considerable range.

What the note indicates is that the Empire troops seem to have had less strict regulations regarding booty equipment than at least the Germans. During the counter-offensive in January 1942, the German command issued strongly-worded orders which forbade units to acquire booty material. Never mind that these weren’t obeyed religiously, they still threatened court-martials for men or officers defying them. On the other hand, this could also indicate the more urgent need for the Axis command to utilize captured weapons and equipment, in order to alleviate the fairly dire supply situation.
For the Empire, it appears clear that guns held a particular attraction, especially LAA, in order to thicken air defense (since it was Empire policy during CRUSADER not to put a fighter screen above the army units, but rather to carry out strategic interdiction), and A/Tk, since the 2-pdr was becoming a more marginal weapon around this time, and since the Axis A/Tk weapons were of comparatively high quality.

TOBRUK, LIBYA. 1941-04. MEN OF 8 BATTERY, 2/3RD LIGHT ANTI AIRCRAFT REGIMENT, PREPARING A SITE FOR THEIR 20/65 BREDA 20MM CANNON. THIS UNIT WAS EQUIPPED WITH CAPTURED ITALIAN GUNS. LEFT TO RIGHT: BOMBARDIER P ROBERTS, GUNNER J W CROFT, GNR R V INCE AND GNR J BUNTZ. (LENT BY MR R K BRYANT) AWM

 

WESTERN DESERT, EGYPT. 1942-07-30. CHOKE-BORE GERMAN 47.32 MILLIMETRE ANTI-TANK GUN BEING INSPECTED BY REGIMENTAL SERGEANT-MAJOR P. LAWSON, OF 2/32ND AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY BATTALION. AWM

 

Headquarters,

Royal Artillery,

13 Corps.

 

17th February, 1942.

 

Dear

 

I attach a list showing the “foreign” guns now in use in the Corps; I think it is fairly accurate, though I have seen no returns yet from many units of the Armoured Division or Armoured Car regiments etc., whom I know to have many more, e.g. the K.D.Gs have at least three 28/41mm German A/Tk guns.

 

The trouble is they can usually only carry very few rounds of ammunition with their unauthorised weapons, when these are expended or if one of the tyres gets punctured, the gun is thrown away.

 

Incidentally it is a bit of a sidelight in the transport situation when they can carry such guns in addition to their proper W.E.

 

I can’t help feeling that we ought to get the whole of this captured gun racket tidied up, and when saying this, it is with no desire to deprive units of weapons which they evidently now feel are essential for their safety.

 

To my mind, certain factors govern it and force us to decide which types of captured equipments are worth retaining.

  1. The number of such weapons captured.
  2. If of dual purpose, the best primary role to use them in.
  3. The ammunition stocks held by us.

If we examine the attached list on these lines, we see the following:-

  1. The 105mm Italian is one of the best field guns used against us.
  2. The 75mm Italian especially without sights is useless to anyone as a fd gun and a danger as an A/Tk weapon.
  3. The 50mm German A/Tk is a real good weapon but will be neglected if doled out as at present, and it is recommended that it be withdrawn and if ammunition is reasonably plentiful, it be used in the place of 18-pdrs to complete some of these 64 gun A/Tk Regts.
  4. The 47/32mm Italian A/Tk is the most common of all and seems to have plenty of ammunition. Its not a bad A/Tk weapon.
  5. The 37mm German proved to be a failure against our tanks hence the 50mm.
  6. The 25mm French is not a bad weapon at all and there may be a good many of them. But is ammunition available.

From this it would appear as if we ought to go all out on:-

The 105mm Italian in a Field role.

The 50mm German )

The 47/32mm Italian) in an A/Tk role

The 25mm French )

But none know here the stocks of ammunition held. If we go on as we are, the ‘Q’ staff will go “nuts” and end by supplying the wrong type of ammunition.

 

 

Yours

 

Brigadier E.J. Medley, O.B.E., M.C.

Headquarters, R.A.

Eighth Army

 

CONTINENTAL GUNS IN USE

Type

Calibre

Country of Origin

Numbers in Use

Remarks

Notes

Field

105 mm

Italy

6

Tobfort Very good, 14,000 yards
Field

75 mm

Italy

6

5 N.Z. Bde. Unreadable
Field

C.75 mm

France

24

Free French ?
           
A/Tk

C.75 mm

France

20

Free French ?
 

50 mm

Germany

8

3, Poles.
5, 1 Armd Div
Very Good
 

47/32 mm

Italy

47

12 Free French;
8 NZ Bde;
6 38 Inf. Bde;
6 Armd Div; 17 4 Ind. Div.
Not bad.
 

37/45 mm

France

3 (12)

Poles ? unreadable
 

37 mm

Germany

18

Poles Unreadable, could be ‘not good’
 

25 mm

France

25 (20)

2, 4 Ind Div; 17 TOBFORT;
6, 1 Armd. Div.
Not bad. No. unreadable.
 

20 mm

Italy

6

5, 57 LAA;
1, Poles.
Dual Purpose
LAA
           
LAA

20 mm

France

4

Free French  
 

20 mm

France

8

Free French  

Large E 008282 1

General Brink, accompanied by General Stanisław Kopański, the CO of the Carpathian Rifles Brigade, inspecting a shell of a captured German Pak 38 anti-tank gun, which is now used by Polish troops. The gun, covered by a camouflage net, can be seen in the foreground. IWM E8282