After Beda Fomm

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Norm
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After Beda Fomm

Post by Norm » 10 Nov 2013 11:18

[Split from "The "lost" battle of Mersa el Brega, Libyan desert, 31 March"]

Hi Tom

Of course you are quite correct 3-tonners, and indeed large quantities of transport of all types, would have been crucial if any advance on Tripoli were to be made. However, my reference to I tanks was in relation to a proposal made at the time for a force to be landed in rear of the Italian forces holding Tripolitania; those forces that is that were in and above the Gulf of Sirte. My proposition was that after Beda Fomm O’Connor could, and should, have gone on take Tripoli and that if he had decided to do so there were enough I tanks still operational to load somewhere in the region of 25 on to the A lighters which were built for the job and then transport them along the coast and unload them, perhaps, within 50 miles of Tripoli. We of course will never know what effect the appearance of 25 I tanks, suitably supported of course, turning up on the outskirts of Tripoli would have had on the Italian garrison but as the Italian troops were by this time terrified of the Matildas it is not, I would suggest, impossible to conclude that the garrison troops in Tripoli might have folded just as the garrisons of Bardia and Tobruk had collapsed. If, of course, this had happened then 3-tonners, at least not in great quantity, would not have been needed.

That being said I am intrigued by your obsession with 3-tonners as I am also quite obsessed in this regard, well not just by 3-tonners I have to say but by the whole issue of vehicles sent to the Middle East. A claim made by Wavell throughout his time in command was that he had insufficient transport to carryout the many tasks he had been given. However, when you look at the UK production stats and follow through the shipments of vehicles sent to the Middle East and add to these figures the huge amount of transport already in the Middle East before the war started and the vehicles which arrived with units, over and above UK supply, and then add in the 3,000 or so vehicles captured from the Italians it is difficult to conclude that the few divisions Wavell deployed could possibly have been short of transport. Anyway if you know where I can get sound information on the amount of vehicles Wavell had and what resources he received I would be very interested to read it.

Regards Norm

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Urmel
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Re: The "lost" battle of Mersa el Brega, Libyan desert, 31 M

Post by Urmel » 10 Nov 2013 11:33

I think that's now turning into a What-If, and not a good one. :)
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

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David W
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Re: The "lost" battle of Mersa el Brega, Libyan desert, 31 M

Post by David W » 10 Nov 2013 13:13

Norm.

I think perhaps that you under estimate the wear & tear that the desert roads, sand, dust & extreme temperatures inflicted on the softskins.

Many more would have been needed than usual to transport the Divisions in N.A than in the low countries.

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Urmel
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Re: The "lost" battle of Mersa el Brega, Libyan desert, 31 M

Post by Urmel » 10 Nov 2013 14:36

David W wrote:Norm.

I think perhaps that you under estimate the wear & tear that the desert roads, sand, dust & extreme temperatures inflicted on the softskins.
Roads? There were no roads other than the Via Balbia. We are talking desert tracks. Norm also underestimates the distances, and indeed the need to transport everything by truck, including water, while in Europe railroads took up a lot of the task.

When 29 Indian Infantry Brigade elements came in from their operation in February 1942 all their vehicles were ready to go to the junkyard, apparently. The desert was an unforgiving environment to 1940s trucks.
David W wrote:Many more would have been needed than usual to transport the Divisions in N.A than in the low countries.
It's just not comparable in any meaningful way. Just look at the German vehicle numbers, which came to just under 5 motor vehicles per man in autumn 1941, and they were still short at that rate. Just for 8 Army you would have needed about 20,000 motor vehicles at that rate in late 41, and the further you move from your supply base, the more this increases, at an exponential rate I believe, since your need for vehicles is driven by daily capacity (which is impacted by longer travel times) and the need for fuel to carry fuel, so the useful load diminishes the further out you go, at the same as the number of trucks on the move increases. By February 41 the main supply base was probably Matruh, if not further east (I seriously doubt they had Tobruk up and running, and Bardia was useless).

The distance Matruh - Agheila on the Via Balbia is about 1,000km I am guesstimating. That's 10 times the distance Calais - Lille.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

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David W
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Re: The "lost" battle of Mersa el Brega, Libyan desert, 31 M

Post by David W » 10 Nov 2013 15:21

Urmel.
I am quite aware of the surfaces that were available to drive upon. My use of the expression "desert roads" was careless and misleading.

Quote"
It's just not comparable in any meaningful way.
Unquote"

That's more or less what I said!

Tom from Cornwall
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Re: The "lost" battle of Mersa el Brega, Libyan desert, 31 M

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 10 Nov 2013 21:13

All of which makes the US Official Historian's description of the rate of advance of 8th Army towards Tunisia in 1942-43 as "pachydermal" completely laughable and displays total ignorance of military reality. I expect Tedder told him what the word meant though... :lol:

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Tom

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Urmel
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Re: The "lost" battle of Mersa el Brega, Libyan desert, 31 M

Post by Urmel » 10 Nov 2013 22:07

David W wrote:Urmel.
I am quite aware of the surfaces that were available to drive upon. My use of the expression "desert roads" was careless and misleading.

Quote"
It's just not comparable in any meaningful way.
Unquote"

That's more or less what I said!
Just emphasising it, certainly not disagreeing with you!
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

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Re: The "lost" battle of Mersa el Brega, Libyan desert, 31 M

Post by Gooner1 » 11 Nov 2013 12:20

Urmel wrote:I think that's now turning into a What-If, and not a good one. :)
I like this What-if :D

I seem to recall the KRRC (or it might have been the RB) motoring back to Alexandria all the way from El Agheila in their own transport and suffering no more than a handful of breakdowns (or it might have only been only one or three).

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Re: The "lost" battle of Mersa el Brega, Libyan desert, 31 M

Post by Urmel » 11 Nov 2013 12:28

On the coast road, one presumes?
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

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Re: The "lost" battle of Mersa el Brega, Libyan desert, 31 M

Post by Gooner1 » 11 Nov 2013 14:21

One would.

Of course it wouldn't matter how much MT is still serviceable if they got Tripoli.

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Re: The "lost" battle of Mersa el Brega, Libyan desert, 31 M

Post by Norm » 11 Nov 2013 15:55

Hi Urmel and David

Thanks for your comments but I have to say I can’t see how any of your contributions advance our quest for knowledge. Urmel writes in response to my last post “I think that’s now turning into a What-if, and not a good one”. I don’t even understand what you are trying to say I am not very good at riddles or cryptic crosswords so perhaps that’s why I don’t understand but I would say clarity of question and answer are essential on a site like this. So if you could belittle me and criticise me in a more understandable fashion I would appreciate it.

Now David, funnily enough, and I know this will come as a big surprise to you, I fully understand the wear and tear that vehicles were exposed to in desert conditions. I am an engineer by trade and if I might be so bold as to say, a very good one, so let us be clear I understand how worn mechanical equipment can become in a sandy environment.

Next David you say “Many more [trucks] would have been needed than usual to transport the divisions in N.A. than in the Low Countries”. Very good go to the top of the class couldn’t agree more. However, why you make the analogy is a mystery to me as I never even mentioned a comparison between divisional transport needs in N.A. and those in northern Europe and that is because, even I, dummy that you think I am, after nearly forty years of research, have gathered that the two regions are completely different. It goes without saying in a region with virtually no metalled roads and hardly any railway that a division, many miles from its supply hub, would need a higher issue of transport than a similar unit operating in Europe where there were railways, canals, rivers, high capacity ports, air transport and thousands of miles of metalled roads. Indeed I say in my opening response to Tom, not that you will have read it, “3 tonners and large quantities of transport of all types would have been crucial if any advance on Tripoli were to be made”.

Now Urmel turning to your contribution and your statement that I don’t understand the distances involved: YES I DO. I know exactly how far it is from Cairo to Mersa Matruh and from Matruh to Tobruk and from Tobruk to Benghazi and from Benghazi to Agheila and importantly from Agheila to Tripoli and all the other towns, villages and water holes that became significant in the progress of the Desert War. Moreover I fully understand that virtually everything units needed to survive and fight; water, food, ammo and petrol had to be carried by truck. However, distances between supply hubs and end users varied as did the going, the condition of the vehicles and the amount and carrying capacity of the supply echelons.

In regard to my claim that O’Connor could have gone on to Tripoli and your and David’s counter claim that lack of transport or the condition of the transport, or the distances involved, or all three, would have prevented a forward move I would remind you that when the advance was stopped at Agheila the main elements of O’Connor’s forces turned round a drove 1,000 miles back to Cairo. If they could do that then why could they not go on the 450 miles to Tripoli? Nor did he have to rely completely on truck borne supplies coming all the way from Matruh. For a start off he did not arrive at Agheila completely devoid of supplies or short of vehicles. Both 7AD and 6AID had enough supplies and vehicles for their immediate needs, the Australians had just captured and taken into their ownership over 700 vehicles at Tobruk, moreover 7AD had just captured an Italian column at Beda Fomm of over 1,000 vehicles many stacked high with food and petrol. Furthermore there was abundant water at Benghazi, Derna, Tobruk, Mersa el Brega and Agheila and, when they advanced, there was a good water source at Sirte all they had to do was drink it fill their water bottles with it and refill their water trucks with it; not difficult.

David please note, Tobruk was opened almost straight away after its capture, moreover within a few days of the Beda Fomm battle the Royal Navy were able to land 2,500 tons of petrol and 3,000 tons of other supplies at Benghazi, this info was taken from Raugh, p 123, but there are loads of sources which confirm supplies were quickly landed at Tobruk, Derna and Benghazi after their capture. In addition a petrol and ammunition supply point was quickly established at Derna. Furthermore, the Navy guaranteed to land double the amount of supplies they were already landing at Tobruk if they were needed. The Navy’s view on supply was that although it would not be easy they were confident that they could supply O’Connor’s army of two divisions if he decided to advance on Tripoli.

Urmel what relevance has the state of an Indian brigades transport in February 1942 got to do with a possible advance on Tripoli by two divisions in February 1941? The transport of the Indian unit could have been only good for the junkyard for a whole host of reasons none of which might apply to the transport O’Connor had. The Indians might have been issued with old and worn transport to start with. The vehicles might have been old pattern and less robust than later models. They might have been engaged on a particularly arduous assignment in an area with no roads or over terrain which was particularly rough. The region in which they were operating might have been beyond the reach of their maintenance crews or the crews might have been killed. The trucks carrying them might have gone over a cliff or the spares lorry hit a mine and vital equipment lost. There is also the possibility that there was not much wrong with 29 Brigades vehicles. It might be worth remembering that this was just the time when large amounts of new powerful easy to drive and very comfortable (relatively) US vehicles were arriving in the Middle East. The 29th would not be the first unit to exaggerate the poor state of their equipment if it helped them get their sticky little mitts on better gear.

Sorry to go on but in my view this site should be a site where informed, intelligent and interested people engage in reasoned debate on serious issues not a knock about points scoring ill informed rant. What good does it do to criticise someone for saying there were roads, plural, when we all know that it was just a slip of the pen. How does it inform debate to just say that such and such a unit was in this condition therefore you may take it from me that this applies to all units? If we make sweeping statements they should be backed up with facts or at least informed reasoning. It is no use saying the Germans needed just under 5 vehicles per man in autumn 1941. Where did this information come from what units were involved did this figure include tanks, motor bikes and support units? On what basis is the calculation made that it would have taken 20,000 vehicles to move 8 Army in late 1941 and what relevance does it have to the amount of vehicles required by O’Connor anyway? And again where does this information come from?

And if you all know so much why not tell me how many trucks were in the Middle East before the war broke out? How many arrived per month after the declaration of war? What was the average wastage rate? Which units arrived with vehicles and which without? How many trucks per month came from the US, Canada, South Africa and India? What were the vehicle requirements of an infantry or tank division in the Western Desert in 1940/41/42/43? How many trucks were there in a second or third line transport company and what vehicles did they use 3 ton/5 ton/10 ton?

Answering these questions with some clarity would, at least in my view, make a start on establishing how transport functioned at various times in the desert war; making ill informed petulant outbursts never will.

Regards Norm

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Urmel
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Re: The "lost" battle of Mersa el Brega, Libyan desert, 31 M

Post by Urmel » 11 Nov 2013 16:00

Norm - there's a different sub-forum for What Ifs. It's clearly labelled. What-Ifs should not be discussed in the main forums.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

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Re: The "lost" battle of Mersa el Brega, Libyan desert, 31 M

Post by Norm » 11 Nov 2013 17:18

Hi Urmel you have confused me again! I have no idea what you are talking about I have made no reference to a What if. I was asked about Matilda tanks on Crete and gave a factual answer. After that it was pointed out that 3 tonners would have been needed to go on to Tripoli and I agreed but felt it was reasonable to place my view on why i mentioned to Matildas in context. I have no desire to discus what if O'Connor had decided to try for Tripoli I already know the answer so what would be the point. With regard to my last post I have not posed, as far as I can see, any what ifs there either. I have posed a series of questions, however, and I eagerly await your and Davids reply.

Regards Norm

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Re: The "lost" battle of Mersa el Brega, Libyan desert, 31 M

Post by Urmel » 11 Nov 2013 17:30

The What-Ifs are: i) 'what if O'Connor had loaded 25 Matildas on A-Lighters and shipped them to Tripoli and ii) what if O'connor had kept going instead of stopping at Agheila.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

The CRUSADER Project - The Winter Battle 1941/42

Norm
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Re: The "lost" battle of Mersa el Brega, Libyan desert, 31 M

Post by Norm » 11 Nov 2013 18:44

Hi Urmel
I have gone back over my reply to Tom and nowhere do I say to him “What if” O’Connor had loaded 25 Matildas on A-lighters and shipped them to Tripoli”. Nor did I ask for his opinion, or anyone else’s for that matter, on whether “O’Connor, instead of stopping at Agheila, could have gone on to take Tripoli”. I only mentioned the possibility of a move on Tripoli to try and explain why I had referenced I tanks and not mentioned 3-tonners which were, of course, as Tom rightly pointed out very important. The bulk of what I wrote was in relation to vehicles and how essential they were. I went on to set out my views on the amount of vehicles I considered had reached the Middle East, were already in the theatre or were captured. I asked for comment on this issue, and reiterate my request here, but I refute the insinuation that I was posing “What if” questions. However, I will pose a “What if” question now “What if” you answered my questions; that would be good.

Regards as ever Norm

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