3rd Armourd Brigade Destroyed in the Desert

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Re: 3rd Armourd Brigade Destroyed in the Desert

Post by Urmel » 08 Jul 2013 22:28

ClintHardware wrote:The brigade proved to be more mobile than the Afrikakorps in reaching Tobruk and within days was nearly as equal in strength again as what was still operational of Panzer Regiment 5. For a skeleton that is not a bad performance.
1) The Brigade was running away. That's easier than pursuit, and you tend to be faster than a pursuer who has to worry about being ambushed.
2) The strength within a few days had nothing to do with anything 3 Armoured Brigade performed. 11 cruisers were shipped in and 18 Matildas arrived by road. Without these, the Brigade would not have been able to field a squadron of medium tanks. The credit for this miraculous recussitation goes entirely to others outside the Brigade, namely D Squadron 7 R.T.R. and the Royal Navy. If D Squadron had taken longer on their road march, and the Thurland Castle had been sunk, 3 Armoured Brigade would have been left with a very small number of tanks. Sheer bloody luck it didn't happen, combined with other people's performance, for which 3 Armoured Brigade can take zero credit.

Finally, there's a 1-word description for an armoured brigade without tanks: 'useless'.
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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Re: 3rd Armourd Brigade Destroyed in the Desert

Post by ClintHardware » 09 Jul 2013 10:46

Urmel


I am limiting the dates because the bulk of 3rd Armoured Brigade was being re-assigned to other formations in Egypt as it was also being re-equipped there. Not only did the Afrikakorps failure to halt capture and destroy the brigade but Afrikakorps was now laying siege to the tactical fragment deemed necessary to remain to defend Tobruk.

2AD was cannablised in Egypt due to a lack of tanks as I have said before.

Here is another clue that MG8 were destined to be part of the battle that everyone keeps referring to as a reconnaissance.

Oberstleutnant Gustav Ponath, Maschinengewehr Bataillon 8
31 Mar. Order to attack. Panzerjäger Abteilung 605 at BREGA. Outflanking movement in the south by Aufklärungs Abteilung 3. (WO 201/353)

I do not want to be right. I am not wanting to win anything. I am very surprised by the data, the timings and the lack of signs of a lasting provable victory that Rommel seemed to thin he had achieved.

The ultimate indicator is that every fighting unit in 2AD remained fighting in North Africa after the disbandment of the armoured brigade less, and support group less and no longer needed Divisional HQ. 2AD was cannabilised because it was made redundant by 1) insufficient tanks in theatre, 2)the formation of 32nd Army Tank Brigade and 3) 1st AD arriving with tanks.
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Re: 3rd Armourd Brigade Destroyed in the Desert

Post by Urmel » 09 Jul 2013 11:06

ClintHardware wrote:Hi Brevity

The DAK War Diary is anything but detailed and misses out many positive and negative parts of the events of the 31st March - it is not even a complete summary.
It's a Corps level diary. Look at Corps level diaries on the Commonwealth side, they are the same, and not meant to be detailed. How good they are depends on the diary keeper to a large extent. Also, the Germans had a habit of requesting sub-units to submit combat reports after the event. These would be appended and provide the detail.
ClintHardware wrote:Not only did the Regular 1st Royal Northumberland Fusiliers record the quantity of schutzen in the last attack on 'A' Company and 11 Platoon from 1st RNF as being from two battalions but MG8 who were behind MG2 and joined them in the last attack also recorded their presence.

War Diary 1st Tower Hamlets Rifles
1735 BEAM [Battalion HQ 1st THR]
HOVO [‘Y’ Company, 1st RNF] reports 2 Bn Infantry attack being mounted coast NORTH of DEVONPORT. TANKS reported IN Area. (WO 169/1159)

A German Account of Maschinengewehr Bataillon 8
“The enemy in front of us withdraws slowly at first, then flees back and by dusk we are 35km east of Mersa el Bregha on the track to Gtafia. Further we can not go as two British batteries pin us down (104th R.H.A.). Motorcycle patrols and Leutnant Wendland’s platoon, reinforced by an anti-tank gun recce out towards El Gtafia and Bir el Medfun, so we are very well informed about the positions and movements of the opposition.” (23)
ClintHardware wrote:Oberstleutnant Gustav Ponath, Maschinengewehr Bataillon 8
31 Mar. Order to attack. Panzerjäger Abteilung 605 at BREGA. Outflanking movement in the south by Aufklärungs Abteilung 3. (WO 201/353)
Where does it say MG 8 actually attacked anything? You maybe able to infer this from the first half sentence of the first quote, but that is not certain. I would expect your proof that they did attack would be in the sentences before your quote starts. As for the second quote, what were they to attack? Note also that they are pinned down at dusk 35km east of Brega, i.e. close to Ridotta Gtafia, and not by infantry but by guns.
ClintHardware wrote:The attack on Mersa Brega was a divisional attack with air support and they failed to capture anything of significance after 12 hours of fighting. They were facing sections and single platoons at any one time from just 3 Motor Companies, 12 Vickers MG detachments, 'J' Battery 3rd RHA (six 2-Pdrs and three 37mm Bofors) and the sixteen 25-Pdrs of the 104th RHA.
a) By dusk M.G.8 was 35km east of Brega. Which was presumably the point, rather than capturing ground at Mersa el Brega. I'd call that a success, and I am sure the German commanders weren't massively unhappy.
b) Furthermore, the defensive force you outline is quite strong, especially in a prepared position. The attacker's superiority (even if we accept MG8 participated in it) was really not that much. 2 battalions against one. 16 25-pdrs and 9 AT guns are a good artillery complement, and as the Germans found out at Sidi Omar in November, 25-pdrs could make short work of an attacking tank force. How much artillery support did the Germans have?
ClintHardware wrote:Had Mersa Brega been outflanked
Well it clearly was based on what MG8 wrote, so no need to make it a supposition.
ClintHardware wrote: and 3rd Armoured Brigade smashed attempting to halt the flanking move, and had 2nd Support Group then been cut off and forced to surrender you would have a German victory.
If you excuse the humour... So this was not a victory, and the Germans lost all the way to the gates of Tobruk? Is this the desert version of the Black Knight of Monty Python (let's call it a draw) :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKhEw7nD9C4

This kind of view reminds me of the German post-war assessment of the Eastern Front, where the Red Army lost every engagement, from Moscow up to the gates of Berlin. :)

Now to be serious again, I don't disagree at all that there has been far too much legend about North Africa, and that this gets repeated again and again, and Rommel continues to be highly overrated. I think he would have been an excellent division commander, but he never managed to shake off his platoon leader habits, and this made him unsuitable to higher command.

I also fully agree that Rommel's first offensive was a major strategic mistake, which in the end doomed the Axis to fight in an untenable position far to the east of their supply base, and sunk any hope they might have had to win the war in North Africa. But this is not news. The German official history outlined this in 1984 (http://www.randomhouse.de/Buch/Das-Deut ... 226967.rhd), and Halder seems to have been able to see it while it was going on, which is why he sent Paulus to North Africa to try and get a grip, and then tried to more or less reign in Rommel by bringing in Gause. But this does not mean that the commanders in Cairo or London could, or had indeed planned for it, since they 1) did not know about the German plans to attack Russia, and 2) had no insight into the supply situation of the Axis forces in North Africa.

So yes, strategically the first offensive was not a victory. But there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that operationally and tactically the Axis forces wiped the floor repeatedly with the Commonwealth forces until Rommel was stupid enough to try to take Tobruk on the run. What I find absolutely mystifying is that they managed this not once, but twice (Jan 42).
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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Re: 3rd Armourd Brigade Destroyed in the Desert

Post by Urmel » 09 Jul 2013 12:19

One other note. Lt.Col. Keller (acting Colonel at the time we discuss) was never given another combat command appointment as far as I can see, and was placed as supernumerary with full pay on 21 Oct. 42, and was removed from the officer reserve with the substantive rank of Lt. Col (to which he had been promoted on 2 Oct 1939) (and honourable Brigadier, whatever that might mean) in August 1949. He was mentioned in despatches in the wash-up list of 30 December, which covered February to July 1941, and the whole of Middle East, Greece, and East Africa. There's a man who did not have a good war.

Just to be clear, I do not presume that there was any kind of fairness in this.
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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Re: 3rd Armourd Brigade Destroyed in the Desert

Post by Urmel » 09 Jul 2013 15:01

ClintHardware wrote:The ultimate indicator is that every fighting unit in 2AD remained fighting in North Africa after the disbandment of the armoured brigade less, and support group less and no longer needed Divisional HQ. 2AD was cannabilised because it was made redundant by 1) insufficient tanks in theatre, 2)the formation of 32nd Army Tank Brigade and 3) 1st AD arriving with tanks.
In my view, that's a pretty meaningless standard, especially in Commonwealth units which had LOB just for the purpose of re-building a regiment if it all went pear-shaped at the sharp end. This would be more relevant if you could state how long it took for each unit to enter battle again, because that gives a measure of disorganisation and the impact the loss of equipment had.
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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Re: 3rd Armourd Brigade Destroyed in the Desert

Post by ClintHardware » 09 Jul 2013 15:44

The War Diaries do not indicate panic or and any great disorganisation. Units in Egypt were delayed getting back into battle by a lack of AFVs and transport not because of the defeat myth. Neame and Gambier-Parry have been made to look foolish and incompetent in post-war histories but when you look at the logic they employed with the resources to hand you realise that historians using easily found memories of tired soldiers (Gunner Len Tutt for one) have written off whole events that had a weakening ripple effect on Afrikakorps operations battles to come.

Brigadier H. B. Latham’s own report provides a summary of 2nd Support Group’s achievements. Section 2 and his Summing Up are quoted here:

AN ACCOUNT OF THE OPERATIONS CARRIED OUT BY THE 2ND SUPPORT GROUP IN CYRENAICA FROM MARCH 31ST TO APRIL 7TH 1941


2. POLICY IN THE EVENT OF WITHDRAWAL.

It was expected that in general the enemy would follow the main road to BENGAZI.
The Support Group was to delay his advance as much as possible up to AGEDABIA after which the axis of retirement of the 2nd Armoured Division was to be ANTELAT – SCELEIDIMA – MSUS. The K.R.R.C. which were expected to arrive on April 4th were to retire up the main road towards 9th Australian Division deployed on the line TOCRA – REGIMA .

It was hoped that opportunities might occur of attacking the enemy in the flank during a NORTHWARD movement or of at least cutting off his transport echelons.

All wells had been blown or prepared for demolition. All dumps cleared and the main road cratered at several points NORTH of kilo 810.

MSUS was well stocked with petrol and food. (WO 169/1147)


Sheet 24.

TO SUM UP

In eight days the units of the Support Group had retired 435 miles.

They had engaged a much more powerful enemy on five occasions and had at least inflicted on him as many casualties as they had suffered .

No guns had been lost in spite of the close range fighting that “J” R.H.A. was involved in and the Coy of the Marine Bn Free French had had few casualties.

The 2 guns of 1 L.A.A.Bty were in action all day and every day. They towed one gun on its brake drums for over 50 miles rather than abandon it . Their A.A. shooting was uniformly good and it was only the absence of spare barrels that rendered them partially silent at the end.

1 R.H.A. was practically never engaged which was a pity as they gave me the impression of being a highly trained unit.

104 R.H.A. fought most gallantly but their state of training precluded them giving of their best and with fine personnel I would recommend the inclusion in this unit of one or two good regular officers.

The M.G. Coy, Northumberland Fusiliers was a highly trained and well commanded unit who did invaluable work. Their gallantry at MERSA BREGA enabled the Right Wing to withdraw. The brunt of the fighting fell on the 1st Bn Tower Hamlet Rifles who were very well handled by Col. SHIPTON throughout.

They proved the very high state of training they had reached and I cannot speak too highly of the work carried out by their Scout Platoons it is most unfortunate that these should have suffered so severely. The spirit and cheerfulness at all times shown by all ranks of this Bn was a tonic to all who saw them engaged.

None of these very fast moving operations could have been carried out successfully if the signalling of both of my own H.Q. and in units had not reached a high standard. It is due to Lt. BALLILIEU, Middlesex Yeomanry, and the unit signal officers that so very few failures in communications occurred. (WO 169/1147)
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Re: 3rd Armourd Brigade Destroyed in the Desert

Post by Urmel » 09 Jul 2013 16:11

ClintHardware wrote:The War Diaries do not indicate panic or and any great disorganisation. Units in Egypt were delayed getting back into battle by a lack of AFVs and transport not because of the defeat myth.
I'm sorry, but again it was not a myth. The division was defeated - they didn't just waylay those tanks and couldn't find them again. :) I never mentioned panic by the way.

I would include lack of AFVs and transport under 'disorganisation' in a 100% motorised armoured formation.
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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Re: 3rd Armourd Brigade Destroyed in the Desert

Post by ClintHardware » 10 Jul 2013 14:28

Well I am not going to change your mind Urmel.

Some transport was lost within 3AB and 2nd Sp Gp and of course the elements of Div HQ not able to break out of Mechili on the 8th April (half did get out with half of the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade). However, the division retreated using its own transport so that is another indication of a motorised formation still motorised, and within hours of entering Tobruk 3AB was taking over the few tanks there - so at best it was tankless for two days and then very sparsely equipped.

The reason 3AB was not fully re-equipped within Tobruk was down to the need to reduce numbers present for ration purposes and to not waste AFV trained men on an infantry role at which they would be second best and likely to be killed (hence evacuation of significant proportions of 3AB and 2nd Sp Gp by sea to Alexandria). The lack of tanks in the Middle East is witnessed by the formation of 32nd ATB 5 months later and arriving only as a tankless HQ superimposed onto the 3AB's skeleton and then reinforced.

In terms of panic: there was panic caused by the retreat and by a lack of information on the march and it was increased by the change of direction. However, the records show that it was short term and mostly during the 3rd and 4th April. But thereafter units were sorting themselves out, hence the 104th RHA resting on the 5th. The Derna rearguard had some difficult hours, but again, once underway Tobruk was three hours away.

Had the 3AB and 2nd SP Gp been forced to surrender I would agree with you Urmel.

The reason I began this topic was to test how voracious is the need to not test accepted versions. It has been very useful to do so. The book I am completing will present the data found at the National Archives and in sixty five plus reference books we generally know as a group and leave the readers to make their own deductions and find whatever data they can to test against it. My opinions are not in the book.

Some of you have wanted to widen the topic to later months but the limitation remains because this topic is about 3rd Armoured Brigade's "destruction" phase. If you have anything you want to challenge about the 80 plus damaged panzers and the reduced state of Panzer Abteilung Hohmann please do so.

Here is another interesting quote, this time after the escape from Mechili. It is from (WO 169/1438):

‘M’ Battery 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery
9th April. Soon after dawn [an enemy] B Echelon was bumped and about 30 prisoners, mostly Boche, were taken without any resistance. Later in the morning a Henschel flew over and must have spotted the column, but the expected squadron of Messerschmidts [sic] did not appear.

Got Bir Ascher near Signali was then recognised by a sign board and it was then decided to make for El Adem, hoping to meet an enemy patrol on the way. Hardly had the column left the Got, than an enemy staff car was overtaken and joined the column with its three occupants: an Austrian under officer and two young Germans in their teens.

Eventually the 11th Hussars (Capt A. Roberts’ Sqdn) were bumped to the relief of everyone, and they led the column into (Brigadier Gott’s) Support Group & “D” Bty.
(WO 169/1438)

A ‘B’ Echelon taking Afrikakorps prisoners is surprisingly at odds with the legend of the German advance on Tobruk.
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Re: 3rd Armourd Brigade Destroyed in the Desert

Post by Urmel » 10 Jul 2013 15:04

Here's an easy challenge on the 80 tanks. Overclaiming. It was absolutely rife. From memory, I have instance where the British side describes a heroic fight with significant losses to the enemy, while the Germans don't even mention it. On the other side, you have the Germans claiming that the attack on a workshop was a massive battle. :)

http://crusaderproject.wordpress.com/20 ... pair-shop/

On a 'B' Echelon taking POWs, I'm not surprised, it's just a measure of the confusion and indeed the speed of the D.A.K. advance.

I'm perfectly willing to change my mind on the destruction of 2 Armoured Division/3 Armoured Brigade by the way, and you have convincing evidence in this regard. I draw a firm line in the sand when you start questioning that there was even a defeat.
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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Re: 3rd Armourd Brigade Destroyed in the Desert

Post by ClintHardware » 10 Jul 2013 18:15

Urmel wrote:Here's an easy challenge on the 80 tanks. Overclaiming. It was absolutely rife.
Yes I agree completely about over claiming. My list is only a list of what was claimed because of appearances. I suspect that very few panzers between 24th March - 14th May were ever complete write offs except for those well on fire etc. I believe that nearly all Panzer Regiment 5's non-operational panzers were recovered and that Panzer Abteilung Hohmann was composed of panzers made fully operational by cannabalising parts from those recovered. I can not prove this.

The missing panzers (those not with Hohmann and not with the Stab of Panzer Regiment 5 at Tobruk, seem to total about 80 - 90 and Column A of my list almost matches that figure. This is not hard evidence it is only indicative.

When you deduct the 42 panzers counted and fought by the 3rd and 4th RHA on the 13th May 1941 at the border, from the total panzers with Panzer Regiment 5, the figure left almost matches those not elsewhere. I believe but can not prove that the missing panzers were in effect constructive losses and gathered as scrap for the moment. BUT that 80 - 90 total would lessen when more spares arrived to produce more runners from recovered battle damaged panzers.

5th RTR thought they had destroyed 12 on the 2nd April of which only 4 seemed definite. I am sure the German figure is right for the day which was 3 or 4 IIRC. The German panzer crew man who said what a terrible battle it had been on the 2nd April had probably seen a lot of crew casualties from partial penetrations and spalling of the inner plates struck by 2-Pdr A.P.Shot. 5th RTR had a lot of panzers to shoot at and would have hit most of those they could shoot at. The figure of 12 would have been those who behaved as though knocked out possibly because of injured crew, and thus tying in with the German witness.
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Re: 3rd Armourd Brigade Destroyed in the Desert

Post by ClintHardware » 10 Jul 2013 19:34

Just found this from 'B/O' Battery's War Diary. I think Leutnant Schorm was over-stating the case so I believe it is indicative rather than hard evidence of what I have been saying about constructive losses.

Leutnant Joachim Schorm, 6./ II. Panzer Regiment 5
“14/4/41 : Major Hohmann said how fortunate that the Regt has managed to survive once again. .....Yes! The 2nd Bn lost 10 tanks, 3 med tanks with 7.5 guns from 8 Coy alone. Many dead many wounded many missing. Things went badly with 8 M.G. Bn when they tried to attack A/Tk guns, and Lt and Hy guns. The Regiment had all its doctors taken prisoner. The Regt is to all intents and purposes, no more The 5 Light Div has had to take the defensive. .. Last night Tommy attacked the aerodrome near us.”
(WO 169/1436)

When he says Regt I am assuming he is referring to his regiment and not MG Bataillon 8. I could be wrong though. Any thoughts?
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Re: 3rd Armourd Brigade Destroyed in the Desert

Post by Urmel » 10 Jul 2013 21:51

I'd bet money he is referring to the tank regiment.
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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Re: 3rd Armourd Brigade Destroyed in the Desert

Post by nmao » 11 Jul 2013 15:52

Just want to say i'm loving this thread and all the great info.
If there is interest, i can try and post some analysis of PzR5 losses, mainly from Jentz and some other sources.

regards,

-Nuno

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Re: 3rd Armourd Brigade Destroyed in the Desert

Post by ClintHardware » 11 Jul 2013 23:40

Hi nmao

I began with Jentz in composing my three column list but I may have missed something so by all means go for it.

Clint
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Re: 3rd Armourd Brigade Destroyed in the Desert

Post by ClintHardware » 11 Jul 2013 23:58

Eleven 5th RTR A13s were confronted by some 60 panzers on the 2nd April and as they each carried 87 rounds 2-Pdr and had not yet been in a fight since Major Pritchett shot up three panzers on the 31st March, it is very likely all A13s were fully laden with A.P. Shot giving a total of some 1000 rounds to fire at those panzers. I think many panzers were liberally hit with multiple rounds but many partially or wholely shattered during penetration hence the few confirmed KO.

It seems that I. Panzer Regiment 5 had attacked 2nd Support Group and then II. Panzer Regiment 5 later attacked 5th RTR. These are the opening moments:

H.Q. 3rd Armoured Brigade
1715. 5 R Tanks reported large mass of tanks and vehicles with crews on outside 2 – 3 miles distant.

1730. 5 R Tanks were warned that vehicles were probably 6 R Tanks, expected to be in that area.

H.Q. 3rd Armoured Brigade, Appendix B
By the time our tanks had reached this position the enemy had left behind some vehicles, which appeared to be lorries, and had pushed further forward a column of about 60 vehicles. There was further talk on the air about the identity of this column and the fact was then brought out that their crews appeared to be riding on the outside and carried no flags. Lt. Ramsey said, “They must be enemy as they have wireless masts on their side”. The presence of these vehicles were reported to Bn. H.Q. and by them to Bde. Bde reported “Be careful they are not the 6th Bn. who may be on your front.” This was passed on to Major Winship and passed on by him to his Sqn.

Identification was also a concern for Leutnant Schorm and 6. Kompanie:

Leutnant Joachim Schorm, 6./ II. Panzer Regiment 5
“1800 hours. On higher ground about 1,000 metres away I see vehicles. We halt for observation. No doubt about it, they are tanks. British or Italian? Kompanie commander radios to us: ‘Assume enemy tanks.’ ” (WO 169/1436) (WO 201/353)

H.Q. 3rd Armoured Brigade, Appendix B
The enemy force advancing [from] where their lorries had been left, split when about 3000 yards from our tanks. 30 to 40 vehicles came straight for us in arrowhead formation and a separate column broke away to our right. When the enemy were 1200 yards away Major Winship gave the order “Stand by to open fire at 800 yards.”
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