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!

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.

Panzerarmee Intelligence Assessment, 24 January 1942

Panzerarmee Intelligence Assessment, 24 January 1942

Enemy Behaviour on 24 January 1942

The 1st Armoured Division which is encircled by German – Italian formations in the area east of Agedabia suffered extremely heavy losses during the reduction of the cauldron and in its attempts to break out, especially in the area south of Saunnu. During this operation were destroyed or captured (during the time 21 – 24 January 1942):

  • 143 tanks and armoured cars
  • 80 guns
  • Ground troops shot down 14 planes
  • 1,000 prisoners brought in

10hussars

2 Armoured Brigade 10 Hussars refueling a M3 Stuart tank during operations in January 1942. Rommelsriposte.com collection.

According to aerial and radio reconnaissance the command of 1st Armoured Division is in the area of Msus in the evening hours of today – there are about 700 vehicles in the area – and the heavily hit formations of 1st Armoured Division are in the area north-east of Saunnu – Antelat. No movement noted for the mass of 4th Indian Division. Reinforced reconnaissance forces in the line Sceleidima – Solluch – Ghemines. Weaker forward forces in the line north-west of Antelat – Beda Fomm – Si. Abd el Asti. Aerial reconnaissance reports no specific movements area Bardia – Tobruk – Mechili.

Cruiser Tank Breakdowns and the Battle of Uadi al Faregh

Cruiser Tank Breakdowns and the Battle of Uadi al Faregh

Background

In previous posts (at this link, at this link, and at this link), I had written something about the reliability of the Crusader tank, and the other cruiser tanks used in the desert.

Tank Losses at El Haselat

I have now come across a letter to the Brigade commander of 22 Armoured Brigade, presumably a response from an office in Cairo to what might have been a complaint about the mechanical reliability of the Cruiser tanks. 

The letter (in WO169/1294 – WD 22 Armoured Brigade 1941) deals with the impact of the long-distance  approach march of 22 Armoured Brigade from the re-organisation area south of Gabr Saleh, where new tanks were drawn, to the operational area south of Agedabia.

Assessment

While the letter has the sound of a poor workman blaming his tools, there is some truth in the matter. Tank casualties to breakdowns were heavy, accounting for about 1/3rd of the fighting strength of the Brigade during the approach march and battle, considering the total number of tanks, but almost half of the Cruiser tanks (the American M3 Stuarts were much more reliable, but not considered fit for mainline action anymore).

As the crow flies, the approach march was at least 600km (ca. 400 miles) rom the railhead at Sidi Barran, and in reality considerably more since the Brigade had taken a rather convoluted approach to the battle area. 

Regardless of the cause, by the end of the year, 22 Armoured Brigade, which had started out a week before with 76 cruiser tanks and 40 M3 Stuarts, retained 8 cruisers and 21 of the original Stuarts (9 Stuarts rejoined from a detached squadron during the battle). The last week of the year had been a disaster for the Empire tank forces. 

2rghmap

Approach March, 2 Royal Gloucestershire Hussars, December 1941. TNA Kew, W)169/1397 2 RGH War Diary. Rommelsriposte.com Collection

Subject: Reconditioning of Cruiser Tanks

To:- Bde Commander, 22 Armd Bde

From:- B.O.M.E. [1]

4 Jan 42

The reason for the large number of cruiser tank casualties due to mechanical troubles in the last battle and approach march[2] was undoubtedly due to the fact that 90% of the tanks have exceeded the designed mileage before a complete overhaul becomes necessary. This overhaul mileage was assessed at 1200 miles and prior to the last battle most of our tanks had exceeded 1200 miles and many 1500[3].

The above fact reacted in two ways. First, there was a large scale failure of water pumps, air compressors, and main fan drive sprockets due to wear or length of service. Secondly, owing to inadequate supply of new parts for the above assemblies, “cannibalisation” was carried out among parts which although at the time still function had already performed as many hours of service as the parts they replaced.

This method could only afford temporary relief and obviously in the case of tanks still operating with the Brigade fitted with such parts, no estimate of remaining life can be given with any degree of confidence.

Furthermore, at this stage, it is doubtful if fitting new water pumps assemblies etc., will appreciably lengthen the present life of the tank as cases are occurring more frequently of tanks becoming Z casualties repeatedly with different fault on each occasion.

Field

RHA/RAH

(Sgd). R.H.ARBUCKLE

Capt.

R.A.O.C. [4]

[1] Presume this to be ‘Bureau of Ordnance, Middle East’, but happy to be corrected

[2] The ‘last battle’ was the battle in the Uadi al Faregh between Christmas and New Year in the Uadi al Faregh, in which 22 Armoured Brigade received a savage beating at the hands of the Axis forces.

[3] Puts the service interval on my A4 in perspective. Although it too has coolant pump issues!

[4] Royal Army Ordnance Corps – the branch of the British army dealing with keeping stuff functioning (there was a reorganisation in 1942).

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.

Lieutenant McGinlay’s DSO

Lieutenant McGinlay’s DSO

Appendix to the War Diary of 7 RTR, which was in the Tobruk fortress during the battle. Many thanks to the Tank Museum for their great work in transcribing these, and the very courteous handling of my requests to get them copied in pieces and shipped to France.

32 A. Tank Bde. 70 Division 8 Army 

Unit – 7 R Tanks

Rank and Name: Lieut. McGinlay, Alexander Oliphant

Recommended by Major J.R. Holden, DSO

Honour or Reward DSO.

TOBRUK – 22nd to 30th November 1941

Lieut McGinlay was in action continuously from the night 21/22 November to the morning of 30th November. During this time he performed his duties with the utmost gallantry and was largely responsible for three successful attacks on enemy strongpoints.  On two separate occasions he led the tanks to a startline on foot when under the most intense artillery and mortar fire, with a complete disregard for his own safety.  He has acted as troop leader, liaison officer, reconnaissance officer and even F.O.O. and at all times has been absolutely reliable. His magnificent courage and unquenchable cheerfulness have been unsurpassed.  His leadership and advice have been first class at all times.

Sd/J.R.Holden, O.C. “D” Sqdn. 7th Bn., Royal Tank Regiment

Matilda1

Matilda tanks lined up and ready to move off near Tobruk, 12 September 1941. Picture shows Matilda II tanks of ‘D’ Squadron 7 R.T.R. lined up while exercising (photoshooting) inside the Tobruk Fortress (IWM E5541) 

His Bar to the MC was gazetted on 24 February 1942, his original MC was numbered 140577.

Addition:

Following contact with the daughter of the late Major ‘Jock’ McGinlay MC and Bar, it turns out that somebody higher up the foodchain in 8th Army decided that a DSO might be too much, and the decoration was downgraded to an MC. A difficult to understand decision, unless one presumes that what Lieutenant McGinlay did was somewhat expected of a troop leader.

It appears from some further research that a DSO for a junior officer was seen as an indication that this officer had just about missed a recommendation for a Victoria Cross. Given that this recommendation came from a very experienced Squadron Leader, who himself had been in command at the very tricky action against 15 Panzer at Capuzzo/Pt.207 during BATTLEAXE, it speaks very well of Lt. McGinlay.

Lt. McGinlay was wounded during the last stand of 4/7 RTR outside Tobruk in the desastrous Gazala battles, and captured in hospital when Tobruk fell. He returned to the Royal Armoured Corps in Italy in 1944, commanding Churchills after his escape from captivity, and fought until the end of the war.

See also this post about some information from the Major McGinlay’s papers.

I would still be interested to hear what became of Major Holden DSO.