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

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.

large

A9 Cruiser Mk I tanks of 1 R.T.R. 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).

Not a good day at the office – 1 RTR and the first day of the Tobruk breakout

Not a good day at the office – 1 RTR and the first day of the Tobruk breakout

I have previously written a bit about the Tobruk break-out from the German side at this link. Today I have had a moment to go through the war diary of 1 RTR, who provided the cruiser tanks of 32 Army Tank Brigade (32 ATB). The copy is from the Tank Museum in Bovington, but can also be found in the UK National Archives. There are some interesting narratives in there which I transcribe below.

But first to recap:

(1) Task: 1 RTR was to support the breakout together with the Matildas of 4 RTR and ‘D’ Squadron 7 RTR. On 21 November, 32 ATB’s task was broken in two separate operations, A and B. 1 RTR’s task during A was to raid enemy HQ at 428420 (no name, later WALTER), and strong posts at 428418 (FREDDY) and 426414 (WOLF/GRUMPY, actually at 426415), or in other words, “raid the extreme left flank near the Bardia road”, partially passing through objective TIGER once this had been taken (4 RTR Operation Order No.4 – Operation A ‘Capture of TIGER’, in WO169/1413). During B it was to participate as part of 32 ATB in the capture of Ed Duda (425409).

The map below (from WO169/1413) shows the role of 1 RTR in the first stage of the break-out. This was a relatively deep break into the Axis defense, with no support from infantry. A classic cruiser tank role, and it was as such that it was approached, with C Squadron ordered to move at 25 mph (40 km/h) towards its objective.

Tracemap of 32 Army Tank Brigade’s Breakout Plan. Rommelsriposte.com Collection

The method adopted by 1 RTR was to send C Squadron in the lead at high speed towards the most important objective, the HQ at 428420. B Squadron was to deal with FREDDY, and A Squadron with WOLF. Once B and A Sqdrns. had finished with their task they were to move to the help of C Squadron in subduing the HQ. The regimental plan therefore foresaw a three-way split in the already not generous tank strength, and the Brigade plan foresaw that the regiment would move broadside on to any enemy guns located along the Axis bypass road, presumably protected by its speed. It did not work, as the narrative will show, and C Sqdn, while achieving a deep break-in, never got anywhere near its main objective. Instead, the regiment’s strength was insufficient to even deal with one of the secondary objectives, and it suffered heavy losses.

(2) Tank state: According to WO216/15 by mid-October the Tobruk garrison (and by implication 1 RTR) had 28 cruiser tanks, of which maybe one or two were with Brigade command. According to the war diary of 1 RTR, these were of the A9, A10, and A13 varieties. Additionally, they had a good share of 32 Army Tank Brigade’s 40 light tanks. According to the war diaries, 4 RTR had 6 of these, and ‘D’ Squadron 7 RTR seems to have had 2, leaving up to 32 for 1 RTR, although it is likely that many were on duty in other parts of the fortress, and maybe a more likely number is 20 – but that is speculation. It also appears from the narratives below that in 1 RTR squadrons, cruisers and light tanks were mixed. The provenance of these tanks dated back to Operation COMPASS in December 1940, and they were much wizened. They had retreated into the Tobruk fortress (or had already been there) during the first re-conquest of Cyrenaica and Marmarica by the Axis in March/April 1941, and had remained there. This may explain their poor mechanical state, with many mechanical failures being reported on the approach to the battle. For those interested in the technical aspects of tanks, this site has a good overview of these marks of cruiser tanks. Of particular interest is that the sub-turrets on the A9 and A10 cruisers were actually used in this operation – I have often read that they were used for stowage due to lack of crew.

(3) Enemy information: the information on which the plan was based was quite faulty, since it did not realize that German troops had moved into the area through which the breakout was supposed to happen, in advance of the attack on the fortress. The operation order states that the area was defended by the BOLOGNA division, with about 2,000 men and about 30-40 artillery guns plus some medium artillery in the sector to be attacked.

Maps below show the intended course of the regiments of 32 ATB during four stages of Operation A, and the location of objectives given to the breakout formations. These locations were renamed during the operation. The narratives below refer to the first objective names.

Objectives of the Tobruk Breakout. Rommelsriposte.com Collection

 

Overview of Objective Locations for the Tobruk Breakout

Original Name

New Name

Map Name

Map Reference

Tugun Sleepy Bir Bu Assateub

418418

Lion Bashful Bir Ghersa

421415

Jill No name North of Pt. 145

422419

Tiger Sneezy Square

423417

Butch Dopey Bir Suesi

422420

Jack Happy – actually 425419 West of Pt. 146

424419

Freddy Freddy Square

428418

No name Walter Square

428420

Wolf Grumpy – actually 426415 HQ in Square

426414

Based on map in WO169/1417, and 32 ATB Operation Order No.12 in WO169/1413

Extract from War Diary of 1 RTR for 21 November 1941.

Regt formed up in FAA according to plan and on time. [this was between 2h12 minutes and 1h56 minutes before the start of the operation, depending on which element of 1 RTR we talk about]

0620 Arty programme commenced and brought immediate reply from enemy heavy guns.

0630 Zero for operation.

0634 Regt advanced from FAA through heavy shell fire and made for perimeter. Some delay in crossing bridges which were blocked by slow-moving traffic. C sqn got to Start Line on time.

0700 RHQ crossed Start Line. C sqn well ahead and out of sight in dust and smoke.

Proceeded towards Tiger 423417

0710- Held up by enemy minefield east and west across front. Gap made at 4 ? 244189 by

0915 KDG Regiment passed through in order C, A, RHQ, B sqn and proceeded south-east.

0935- Held up, with the exception of C sqn on a very southerly course towards Wold (426415).

1300 Remainder of regiment under shellfire the whole period but no tanks hit.

1300 Ordered to advance to Freddy 428418. All three sqns arrived at objective together, but were beaten off by anti-tank fire. Forward rally ordered in 426417. As regiment was forming up to move to rear rally, enemy artillery came into action about 2000yds due south hitting two of A sqn tanks. Regiment withdrew through gap by Jill to rear rally arriving there 1600 hrs.

1630 Ordered to FAA. Replenished.

A sqn narrative of battle. Appx 10

B sqn narrative of battle. App 11

C sqn narrative of battle. App 12

Map; 1:50,000 Tobruch series Sheet 3 Tobruch

1 RTR Squadron Narratives of Action on 21st November 1941.

Narrative by C sqn as compiled from information received from remaining tank commanders .

1. Sqn crossed Start Line on time in open formation. Order of March – 10 Tp, II, SHQ, 9 Tp. Visibility was very poor. After about two miles leading tp hit a minefield east and west in sq 420418. Four tanks hit mines, remainder of sqn circled and withdrew to enable OC to form new plan. T 15223 (Sgt AshwelI) was the first to strike mine. It was immediately hit by anti-tank fire and crew dismounted (less Tpr Clark, who was sniped and fell back in the tank, dead). T15250 (Sgt Frost) then also struck a mine, the crew dismounted, Tpr Spencer being killed in front of the tank. Both of the above crews were captured but were released by our infantry later in the day. T 9186 (Sgt RendelI) and T 15222 (Lt ElIison) were also mined.

2. Sqn rallied west of Jill 421419 with seven tanks. After a pause, proceeded north then east and passed through gap made in enemy minefield by Sqn KDG at about 42244189. From gap sqn moved in south-easterly direction on a course east of Tiger 421417. Anti-tank guns in vicinity were silenced by I tanks. MG post with anti-tank rifle probably north east corner of Tiger was put out of action by Sqn Leader. Continued on course until six enemy guns were sighted, when sqn formed battle line and went straight for them firing as fast as possible. The sqn advanced to within 100 yards of the position then turned left into line and withdrew about 600 yards to a semi-hull-down position. It is believed that the sqn disposed of the gun crews and that at least two direct hits were scored on guns. Observation from this position showed no further movement round the guns so sqn moved south with the guns on the left. Gun position about 42604168. I tanks closed on guns as C sqn proceeded south. Sqn approached Wolf (426415) which showed as a lot of tents to the left front. These were m/gunned and shelled. At about 42584158 sqn turned east for about 600 yards, then south-east passing through dug, but not wired, positions. Sqn turned north-east here, the right flank tank passing through the position which had four field guns and twelve anti-tank guns unmanned. On the course north-east sqn slowed down for anti-tank mines and proceeded until well in range of Freddie (428418) Sqn approached to within 400 yards then withdrew south-east and halted. Suddenly anti-tank fire from Freddie hit three tanks; T 15218 (Sgt Turner) caught fire and was evacuated. T 9188 (Lt Hayter) was hit four times and T 9171 once, wounding Major Benzie the sqn leader. The sqn withdrew, including the last-two-mentioned tanks. T 15238 (Lt Dawson) went back under heavy fire and rescued the crew of the burning tank. At this point regiment was ordered to forward rally, the sqn joining RHQ in a wide sweep well clear of Freddie.

Account by 2 i/c A sqn.

0330 hrs. Squadron formed up in leaguer area. (0403 hrs. Head of sqn passed start point (Rd Junc EI Adem-Bardia) on time. T 5961 (Lt. Richards) broke a track.

0515 hrs. Arrived on forming up line after having had to make detour round an artillery bty in action. This maneouvre resulted into T 2147 (Sgt Whitlam) running into B 2 minefield and damaging a track and bogie wheel.

0634hrs. Started for SL after C sqn and as the white tapes led only to the gap arranged for C sqn, A sqn followed them after passing through B 2 minefield and crossed the anti-tank ditch by the same bridge that they used. T 9248 (Lt Geheve) broke down just inside the perimeter with gear-box trouble.

0700 hrs- Crossed start line.

0720 hrs. Arrived in neighbourhood of enemy-occupied san gars at Trig 145 and heard C sqn reporting that they were held up by mines between Jill and Tugun. No 1 tp (Lt Young) proceeded to shoot up the posts to allow our infantry who were lying in extended order to the north-west to advance. During this manoeuvre T2260 (Lt Manby) ran into a minefield and sustained damage to tracks and suspension. A little later T 2069 (Sgt Shields) and T 2281 (Cpl Bamford) had the same trouble. Later T 2281 was hit by a thermite shell and caught fire. Tpr Bennett was killed. Two light tanks had actually found a gap through this minefield (but this was not known at the time) when RHQ ordered a rally to the north. Before returning Sgt Shields’ tank killed the crews of the mg posts around him.

0500 hrs [probably 0900 hours, typo in transcribed document I guess]. Rallied with the regiment in the area north-west of Jill. Lt. Manby’s crew returned on foot to the perimeter carrying an officer from 4 RTR and taking with them Tpr Boyd the sub turret gunner in T 3505 (Cpl Cameron) whose place Lt Manby took for the remainder of the action. (Owing to fire the crews of the other two light tanks which had been knocked out – Sgt Shield and Cpl Bamford – did not leave the neighbourhood of their tanks until later in the day)

0905 hrs. (approx) Ordered to advance to the area north of Tiger to try and work round to the west side of that locality and so get on the original course for phase I. When due north of Tiger sqn came under heavy artillery fire from the west and the light tanks in front were held up. T 2375 (Sqn Commdr, Major Sir F G L Coates Bt) was hit twice by artillery fire. Cpl Beukes was killed, Major Coates and Cpl Watts wounded. Major Coates got into Sgt-Major Alexander’s tank and was taken back out of the fire. Cpl Watts, who had managed to get out of his tank, was unconscious on the ground, but believed dead at the time.

0945hrs. Sqn withdrew about 500 yards north. Sgt Corbett went back in his light tank and rescued Cpl Watts under fire, bringing him back to an infantry stretcher party. Capt. Plaistowe took command of the sqn. T 5961 rejoined from Start Point. Sqn moved about 1200 yards east and halted behind RHQ.

1300hrs. Advanced towards Freddie. Formed battle line with Capt. Plaistowe in centre. Saw C sqn about 2000 yds to the south in the neighbourhood of Wolf also advancing east. Saw personnel moving in area Freddie. Sqn Rear Link intercepted message from OC C sqn ordering his sqn not to open fire as troops in front were believed friendly. This information was passed to Capt Plaistowe who ordered A sqn to cease fire and take up hull-down positions about 900 yards from Freddie. Capt Plaistowe advanced to find out who was in front and received two direct hits from an anti-tank gun in Freddie. The sqn brought fire to bear on Freddie whilst C sqn attacked from the south. C sqn, however, was held up by anti-tank fire and the attack was stopped. The regiment was ordered to forward rally on RHQ about 1000 yards south-west. A sqn to cover the withdrawal of B and C. Lt. Young reported a column of lorried infantry, two heavy armoured cars and some guns about 2000 yards due south.

Lt. Richards took command and, leaving the light tanks in position, took four cruisers (two on either side of him) to give covering fire, advanced to T 9220 (Capt Plaistowe) and brought back Capt Plaistowe seriously wounded, and Tprs Billings, Clark and Williams slightly wounded. Tpr Nicol the driver was killed.

The sqn started back to join RHQ. Guns previously reported by Lt Young opened up a heavy and accurate fire on the sqn which was then in the rear as the regiment moved towards Jack – T 7219 (Sgt Corbett) received a direct hit. Sgt Corbett,Tprs Crighton and Ratliff were killed. Tprs Bracey and Lynch were wounded.

T 2559 (Sgt Burgess) received a direct hit. Sgt Burgess was killed and Tprs Roberts and Mottram slightly wounded. The withdrawal continued.

At Jack the two leading tanks captured about 40 prisoners, the trenches in this area not having been mopped up. At the same time a minefield was encountered and T 5962 (Sgt McGregor), with all the rescued members of other crews on the outside, ran into it. At the same time T 3503 (Lt Richards) ran off one track when manoeuvring out of the mined area.

The crews of all tanks lost, and the prisoners, were collected in the vicinity under Lt Richards.

1600hrs. Sqn are rear rally in area Butch From there to original FAA. One light troop remained behind to do protection to RHQ in area of Jill.

Lt Richards, after repairing the broken track, handed over the prisoners to the consolidating infantry but remained behind to look after our own wounded. OC sqn (Capt H C Forster) ordered Lt Richards to rejoin unit, leaving his sub turret gunner to care (Lt Manby) [?}to care [sic] for the wounded.

1800hrs. Lt Manby obtained a lorry from the infantry who had consolidated the position at Jack, and started back to the perimeter bringing all the wounded with him.

Sgd H C Forster Capt, 1 RTR

Account by Sgn Commander B sgn.

0515hrs. The squadron formed up on the left edge of the Regimental Assembly Area. T 7214 (A9) and T5928 (A 10) and the Sqn Comdr tank T 4168 (LT) failed to arrive owing to track trouble. The Sqn Comdr changed to T 2000 (LT).

0640hrs. Moved off towards start line. B sqn’s gap in B2 minefield was neither lit up nor taped and could not be found, therefore B sqn followed C, A and RHQ through the same gap and subsequently used the same perimeter wire gap and anti-tank ditch bridge.

0700hrs. Crossed startline. T 5937 broke track on start line.

0700-0910hrs. B sqn remained in dispersed formation ½ mile south-east of start line. The situation was extremely vague as B Sqn Commdr’s No 9 set could only receive RHQ c1early and C sqn faintly and none of the reports of minefields were received. It was not until 0830hrs when the Brigade Commdr halted his A9 cruiser nearby that a clear picture was obtained.

-915hrs. B sqn was ordered to follow the remainder of the regiment through a gap made in the minefield at Jill. T 5937 was repaired by this time and T 4168 rejoined the sqn at 0900hrs. Just south of this gap B sqn overtook RHQ and were preparing to follow C and A. Three-quarters of a mile south-east of the first minefield there was a second running approximately parallel to the first. When about 25 yds short of this the commander of the leading B sqn tank T 5937, Lt R W Edwards, was fatally wounded by a sniper and almost immediately his tank was blown up on the minefield. As there were 2 armoured cars, 3 I tanks and 3 cruisers already on the minefield and those tanks of A sqn which had been successful in getting through were held up a short distance south-west of the minefield, B sqn stopped and asked for further orders. The orders were to wait in present location with RHQ.

0945-1330hrs. Remained in area three quarters of a mile south east [of] Jill with RHQ. During this time the Sqn Commdr’s tank was put out of action by a 25-pdr shell. None of the crew were hurt.

1330hrs. B sqn ordered to go [to} the assistance of A and C sqns who were having difficulty with Freddie. B sqn ran in line ahead with all sub-turrets and co-axial guns traversed left and shooting into Freddie, from A sqn who were due west of Freddie to C sqn who were due south. On arrival at c the sqn turned about and carried out the same shoot in the opposite direction.

1400hrs approx. A German 88mm gun came into action 3000yds south of the regimental area and orders were given for the regiment to withdraw to area Jill. This was carried out without tank or personnel casualties to B sqn. A sqn were not so fortunate.

1530hrs. B sqn ordered to rally on RHQ in area Bir Suesi. Owing to difficulty in finding minefield gaps and recovering 3 cruisers and 2 light tanks of the sqn, which had broken down with engine or transmission trouble, the Sqn did not arrive at Bir Suesi until 1640hrs.

The next day the regiment reported a tank state of 5 Cruisers A9/A10, 3 Cruisers A13, and 13 light tanks. Cruiser tank losses due to mechanical failure and enemy action would therefore have been at least 19 tanks (assuming only 1 cruiser was used by Brigade command), given that at least some of the mechanical failures, such as broken tracks, were probably repaired during the night, and that these tanks would have been available the next day.

Total losses of 32 ATB would therefore come to 19 cruisers, 10 Matildas in ‘D’ Squadron 7 RTR, and 22 to 24 Matildas in 4 RTR, for a total of 51 to 53 tank losses for the day.

1 RTR lost a number of personnel killed and wounded, but none missing on 21 November. A Sqdn had the highest losses, with 7 killed and 10 wounded. B Sqdn. only lost Lt. Edwards, and C Sqdn had 2 killed and 1 wounded. Additional losses may have occurred in the light tanks and regimental HQ. The names and numbers below are the best I can pull together (unknown means I can not place them in a squadron):

Killed

Capt. W.R.Hughes (unknown)

Lt. Edwards (B Sqdrn)

Sgt. S. Burgess (A Sqdrn)

L/Sgt. C. Corbett (A Sqdn)

Cpl. L. Beukes (A Sqdrn)

Tprs. W Spencer, C. Clark, (both C Sqdrn) T. Nichol, I. Bennett, Crighton, Ratliff (all A Sqdn) and A. Rowe (unknown)

Wounded

Majors Sir. F.G.L. Coates Bt.* (A Sqdrn), W.G.S. Benzie (C Sqdrn)

Capt. F.D. Plaistowe (Acting Sqdrn Cmd. A Sqdrn after Major Coates Bt. had been wounded)

Lt. H.J.Ellison (unknown)

2/Lt. N.W.D.Doman (unknown)

Cpls. G. Watts (A Sqdrn), D. Seeden, W. Walpole  (both unknown)

L./Cpl. R. Hammond (unknown)

Troopers Billings, Clark, Williams, Bracey, Lynch, Roberts, Mottram (all A Sqdrn), F. Cornforth (unknown)

The number of killed on 21 November (12) is almost twice as high as the total killed suffered for the rest of CRUSADER (7). 21 November also accounted for 1/3rd of the listed wounded of the operation, 10 out of 30, although including the slightly wounded, the number comes to 17. It is notable that 3 squadron commanders were amongst the wounded.

* Major Sir Frederick Coates (2nd Baronet of Haypark) was probably only an acting Major, since by 1943 he is mentioned as a Captain in the 6 RTR war diary. After the war he rose to command the RAC’s school of tank technology with the rank of Colonel, and retired as a Brigadier. He died in 1994, aged 78 (see this link).

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.