Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

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MarkN
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Re: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by MarkN » 30 Nov 2019 15:37

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
29 Nov 2019 23:33
Could you post up an example page? I’ve got a couple of handwritten letters from him somewhere on a laptop.
Here is a sample page.

Image

I've taken the liberty of posting the one covering the visit of Wavell and Beresford-Peirce.

Additionally, here are excerpts from the 4th Indian and 7th Armoured Division after-battle reports concerning the visit/withdrawal.

Image

Image
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Contemporary documentation indicates 7th Armoured knew that 4th Indian were already on the move before Wavell and Beresford-Peirce arrived. If Roberts' recollection of the meeting is accurate, and that withdrawal of the 7th Armoured Division was not discussed/authorized, that's a serious indictment of all attendees.

Ref your PM. I am collating the documents I have to send to Urmel. You'll get access too. ;)

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Re: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 30 Nov 2019 17:09

Mark,

Many thanks for those snippets - I'll see if I can find that Roberts letter I think I copied - first of all though, I've got to remember where the hell I would have copied it. Liddell Hart Archives seems to ring a bell

The 7th Armd Div report flatly contradicts Roberts' later account though, doesn't it? The account in Raugh's book suggests that it was Messervy's unilateral decision to withdraw that concerned Wavell and that he thought that was a call that should have come from WDF - is it possible that Roberts conflated the two decisions?

Regards

Tom

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Re: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 30 Nov 2019 18:20

Hi,

This from WO169/1016 suggests that some of the communications failures described by Roberts were recognised by the technical signals types!
Wo169-1016 - Battleaxe Signal Failures.jpg
Regards

Tom
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Re: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by MarkN » 30 Nov 2019 18:30

Hi Tom,
Tom from Cornwall wrote:
30 Nov 2019 17:09
The 7th Armd Div report flatly contradicts Roberts' later account though, doesn't it? The account in Raugh's book suggests that it was Messervy's unilateral decision to withdraw that concerned Wavell and that he thought that was a call that should have come from WDF - is it possible that Roberts conflated the two decisions?
One of the key problems identified was a serious communications problem - especially HQ WDF with div HQs. It boils down to distance, HQ WDF being located too far behind the fighting. Given that distance is known, and presumably the capabilities of their wirelesses, one has to question why this had not been identified before the battle and a solution - at least an alternative if the original system fails - put into place. Basically, poor sigs plan has alot to answer for.

Given that, l suspect that Messervy did indeed take the decision to withdraw uniliaterally because he was unable to get through to WDF for guidance/confirmation. But that's not to say he kept the decision to himself. The evidence clearly shows he informed HQ 7 Armd of his decisions in good time. 7 Armd were certainly not left in the lurch. The actual withdrawal was clearly coordinated.

What is not known is when Beresford-Peirce and Wavell came to learn of the decision: before they left HQ WDF, enroute, or did they get it from O'Moore-Creagh when they arrived at 7 Div Advanced HQ?

What was Wavell most troubled by? Can't say for sure. But, interestingly, the two double barrels are sacked and a recently promoted Colonel gets to carry on. Seems to indicate to me who Wavell though could still cut the mustard.

Roberts? He seems to have had a bit of bee in his bonnet on this issue. I mean, he goes out of his way to critique the author of the division's history with the obvious inference that he got it wrong and l know better because l was there approach. Yet, as we see, the divisional history is true to the evidence.

Possible explanation? Roberts indicates that he was not actually a party to the meeting itself; he was as far away as the headphones lead allowed. Did he hear - clearly - every word spoken? He job was to man the radio not evesdrop. Now, comparing O'Moore-Creagh's performance in BATTLEAXE to COMPASS, it's a different commander. Roberts infers he was indecisive and unwilling to make decisions even after being urged by his GSO1 or get forward to sort out the problems. Not like COMPASS at all where he identified and took it upon himself to start the Beda Fomm dash. I see a possibility that O'Moore-Creagh was suffering similarly to Cunningham a few months later. Burned out. Could it be that after Wavell and Beresford-Peirce had left, the O group lead by O'Moore-Creagh thereafter - attended by Roberts - was a a confused, contradictory and pretty wishy-washy affair that Roberts (mis)interpreted in the way that he did?

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Re: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 30 Nov 2019 21:43

Mark,

There are some similarities between Roberts' handwritten letter from May 1944 and the handwritten page from the 7th Armd Div war diary. For example:

The "d's" look similar:
Roberts - d.PNG
And the looped 'l'?
Roberts - l.PNG
And the lower case 'p' is very similar:
Roberts - p.PNG
Overall, and I am certainly not a handwriting expert, I'd say there was a good chance that Roberts did write that page from the WD.

Regards

Tom
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Re: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by ClintHardware » 01 Dec 2019 08:53

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
30 Nov 2019 11:59
Hi,
ClintHardware wrote:
30 Nov 2019 05:56
Tom: Yes but there is a difference between events recorded and insight later attributed to events.
Well Ok, but I would submit that an account written up 40+ years after the event does not consist of "events recorded" but events recollected. I don't know what primary or secondary sources Roberts had to hand when he wrote his account. Do you?

For example, in Harold Raugh's book about Wavell in the Middle East, there is a very brief but different account of the meeting between Wavell, B-P and Creagh in which the decision to retreat was presented as a fait accompli as Messervy had already decided that he must retreat.

Regards

Tom
But what was Raugh's source ?

And I would contest that an account written 40+ years later, if it is the first such account written by that witness, is that witness' record of events and may also include insights later attributed to events. It would be better to have had an account written earlier but it still might not differ in respect of events.
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Re: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by Urmel » 01 Dec 2019 09:10

It absolutely isn't. That's really bad history, and a misunderstanding of source classification.
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: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by ClintHardware » 01 Dec 2019 09:42

And in respect of communications back to Beresford Peirse they worked then failed then worked but so what? The lack of operational tanks and the timings of the German attacks against those holding Capuzzo generated their perceived necessary decisions made by Messervy and his staff.

The unit war diaries indicate that the course of Battleaxe during the three days was steered by the stutzpunkte, tasks and routes chosen in the initial attack, subsequent attacks decided upon on the 15th (Hafid Ridge in particular comes to mind) and the declining numbers of tanks remaining operational at any hour in the fighting upon which decisions were actually based. The Tank v Panzer fighting during the 17th is by its nature a different battle/skirmish although part of the history of the third day of BATTLEAXE.

At a battalion/regiment and brigade level Beresford-Peirse appears irrelevant throughout the operation after overseeing the planning, and Wavell even more so. And once the units were committed what effect could they have had with the operational tanks remaining?

If there had been another armoured brigade held in reserve under B.P's control then he would have had later relevance and maybe he would have decided to be much closer to the action.

In hindsight from the perspective of 2019: Once the taking of the Halfaya Pass had failed then the operation had failed, but a secondary operation could have existed within the plan to encourage the panzers on to withdrawing British guns to destroy as many as possible as far east as favourable terrain allowed. Instead of attempting to seize and hold objecives perhaps the primary aim should always have been to seize and destroy knocked out panzers to enable the next operation to be easier.
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Re: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by Urmel » 01 Dec 2019 11:17

Well that’s what the operational aim was in CRUSADER. So full marks for lessons learned, even though there are zero marks for the implementation.
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: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 01 Dec 2019 12:49

ClintHardware wrote:
01 Dec 2019 08:53
But what was Raugh's source ?
For the details of the decision to withdraw he references both Wavell's despatch and also 'Wavell, quoted in Maule, p.123'.

For 'Battleaxe' more broadly, he references WO201/357, the Creagh papers, LHCMA, PREM3/287/1, Eden diary, Playfair, an interview with Harding, Roberts, p.46, a letter written by the GSO1 of 4th Indian Division in 1961, etc.

The latter is interesting, as Lt-Col (at the time) Bateman wrote in 1961:
From recollection, I do not think we laid blame on either the Force Commander (BP) or the C-in-C - generally the best test of battle nonsense. Rather, there was general realisation that, for unknown reasons, the C-in-C and everyone else had been bounced into a very stupid, ill-conceived, ill-prepared, and impromptu operation.


Whether you agree with Bateman's opinion, it is clear that his recollection in 1961 of the feeling in 4th Indian Division's HQ differs from Roberts' recollections in the 1980's of the feeling in 7th Armoured Division's HQ.

Regards

Tom

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Re: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by MarkN » 01 Dec 2019 15:16

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
01 Dec 2019 12:49
For the details of the decision to withdraw ....
Timed at 1059, Wavell sent a sitrep from HQ WDF back to his CGS in Cairo. The message indicates that HQ WDF is still not aware of Messervy's decision/orders to withdraw his formations and that the decision on whether to stand or retreat (based upon sitreps of German movements and effort) has still yet to be made. He notes that he is awaiting an aircraft to take him and Beresford-Peirce forward to meet O'Moore-Creagh.

This is 15 mins after HQ 7 Armd Div logged their receipt of the message from 4 Indian Div that withdrawal was being implemented.

Is it possible that Roberts' memory has conflated the idea that they were not advised in advance of the decision to withdraw 4 Indian Div with a decision not being made until after the meeting with O'Moore-Creagh?

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Re: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by MarkN » 01 Dec 2019 15:50

And now to show just how helpful, but also contradictory in areas, evidence can be...

The WDF WD notes Wavell and Beresford-Peirce leaving HQ WDF at 1110.

The very next entry, timed 1115 notes 4 Indian Div reporting danger of being cut off due to withdrawal of 7 Armd Div and saying it was essential that 22 Gds Bde be got out via ... The same entry also notes 7 Armd Div reporting 4 Indian Div's withdrawal.

[MarkNote: this information is probably unknown to Wavell and Beresford-Peirce as they had just left. Was it relayed to them inflight?]

Entry timed 1127 shows HQ WDF (Harding in charge?) reporting to GHQ Cairo that 4 Indian Divs withdrawal starting at 1045.

[MarkNote: if Wavell and Beresford-Peirce were not informed enroute, it is likely news of the withdrawal was given to them by O'Moore-Creagh. That probably explains the grunts!!! Everybody knew about the ongoing withdrawal except the Force Commander and the CinC ME.....]

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Re: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by ClintHardware » 01 Dec 2019 17:32

Very Interesting items Mark and Tom.
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Re: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by Gooner1 » 04 Dec 2019 13:47

Given how quickly the Germans were reading British signals traffic at this time it was probably an advantage that permission to withdraw wasn't asked for.

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Re: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by Gooner1 » 09 Dec 2019 13:23

Roberts again, though during the Gazala battle. 27th May 1942 his first day in action in a tank as CO of 3RTR. The regiment by now down to 7 Grants and 10 Honeys.

Makes you think how SOL it was to be in a tank without HE ..

“We had a quiet time for the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon; various vehicles could be seen moving in different directions but no organised body. But then at something like 4 p.m. About half a dozen vehicles appeared moving in line ahead and a couple of small vehicles, two or three lorries and a big thing in the middle. On their present course they were going to cross our front about 1.500 to 2,000 yards away. All binoculars were riveted on them and suddenly it was clear that the 'big thing' in the middle was an 88mm being towed by a lorry. The Grants were told to hold their fire until the column was opposite us and to commence firing HE when it did. It was clear that the enemy did not know who we were.
Then, as the column was still moving I opened fire. The enemy column stopped and there was terrific activity around the 88; they were going to get it into action. My first shot was well over and then the other tanks opened fire. The 88 had to be disconnected from the lorry and then the 'feet' put down to take the weight off the wheels. It was clear that it was going to be a close thing whether we would hit the 88 first before he could shoot at us, and at that range, say 1750 yards an 88 could be very effective.
He was getting very close, the other enemy vehicles had pushed off and the 88 decided to call it a day and reversed his 'action' process and went off too – and pretty fast. I regret to say that there were not, as far as I know, any casualties inflicted on them.”

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