For the gamers: Tank Variants Available during CRUSADER

I thought it might be useful to put up a list of tank types that I am aware of were available to the opposing forces during CRUSADER. Particularly in the German case, I am not 100% sure about the sub-variants, but the general capability is clear. Happy to be corrected on all this, as always.

Updated with Peter Brown’s input as per comment below, 5 June 2018

1) British

  • Cruiser A9 (only Tobruk garrison and HQ tanks)
  • Cruiser A9 close support tank with 3″ howitzer
  • Cruiser A10 (only Tobruk garrison and 7 Armoured Brigade or HQ tanks)
  • Cruiser A13 (Called Mark IV by the Germans, only Tobruk garrison and 7 Armoured Brigade
  • Cruiser A15 (Cruiser Mk. VI Crusader – not in the Tobruk garrison, called Mk.VI by the Germans)
  • Cruiser A15 close support tank with 3” howitzer
  • US M3 General Stuart (only 1 and 4 Armoured Brigade)
  • Matilda IIa (known as Mark II to the Germans)
  • Matilda IIa+
  • Matilda II close support tank with 3” howitzer
  • Valentine Mk. I (only 8 R.T.R.)
  • Light tank Mk.VIb
  • Light tank Mk.VIc
  • Light tank Mk.VI AA variant

2) Italian

  • M13/40 medium tank
  • M14/41 medium tank (from January 42)
  • Light tank L3/33 (CV-33)
  • Light tank L3/35 (CV-35)
  • Light tank CV-33 and CV-35 flamethrower variant
  • Semovente da 75/18 self-propelled gun on M13/40 chassis (from January 42)

3) Germans

  • Panzer Ia
  • Panzer Ia engineer support
  • Panzer Ib
  • Kleiner Befehlswagen (command tank based on Panzer I)
  • Panzerjaeger I
  • Panzer II
  • Panzer III F/G/H/J, short 50mm gun (50L42 only)
  • Grosser Befehlswagen (command tank based on Panzer III)
  • Panzer IV D/E/F, short 75mm gun (75L24 only)
  • Captured Matilda II
  • Captured US tank M3 General Stuart (for a short time during Sidi Rezegh)
On the German side, the long-barreled Panzer III with the 50L60 and the Panzer IV with the 75L42 guns did not arrive until March 1942 at the earliest, and first saw action in the Gazala battles starting at the end of May 1942.
On the British side, I do not see any A9, A10, and probably few if any A13 after CRUSADER. I am not aware of any A9 or A10 fighting with 2 Armoured Brigade in January 1942.
Oasen Bataillon z.b.V. 300

Oasen Bataillon z.b.V. 300

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.

From the order of battle of Panzergruppe, September 1941. The document shows the planned (but not necessarily real) organisation and heavy weapons equipment of the five Oasenkompanien.

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.