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
 

Book Review – To the Last Round

To the Last Round is an oral history of the South Nottinghamshire Hussars (107 Royal Horse Artillery) by the Imperial War Museum’s oral historian, Peter Hart. Like his other books this is very readable, and very strongly focused on giving a voice to the men who served in the regiment during the war.

The book starts with the beginning of the war, and takes the reader through to the 6 June 1942, when the regiment was overrun by German tanks at the ‘Cauldron’.

The book is primarily based on the interviews with the men, which are well woven into a relatively sparse narrative about the campaign. The focus is always on the personal experience. While there are some errors in the overall narrative (such as ascribing the first name ‘Clive’ to General Claude Auchinleck), these do not detract from reading.

Where the book stands out is in the insight it gives the reader about the conditions in occupied Tobruk, from the boredom of being in a fortress under siege, to the terror of constant bombardment. There are a number of photos, with most of them portray photos of the men who were in the regiment.

The book ends on the Gazala battles, where many men of the regiment died firing their guns to the last moment, in a heroic but pointless last stand.

I can not recommend this book highly enough to anyone who wants to know what the war in the desert was like for the men who fought it.

 There are two interesting stories connected to Ray Ellis, who was with the regiment at Tobruk, and during its last battle at this and this link.