The impact of terrain on British operations and doctrine in

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The impact of terrain on British operations and doctrine in

Post by Andy H » 18 Sep 2014 16:03

Hi

I hope this is of some interest, worth downloading

http://pearl.plymouth.ac.uk/pearl_jspui ... 777phd.pdf

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Re: The impact of terrain on British operations and doctrine

Post by Urmel » 18 Sep 2014 16:54

Hmmmm...

First of all, it is simply not true that until now terrain hasn't received attention. Quite on the contrary, in my view.

Secondly, I find it hardly credible to not mention the successful Axis Jan 42 counter-offensive in more than one sentence, since this was a prime example of the influence of terrain on tactical, operational, and strategic level.

Thirdly, it was Kippenberger, not Kippenburger.
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 impact of terrain on British operations and doctrine

Post by Andy H » 18 Sep 2014 23:59

Hi Urmel

It seems the thesis is to be the basis for a book by the same gent due out in 2015
http://www.helion.co.uk/published-by-he ... -1943.html

Though the spelling mistake is regrettable its hardly devastating to the narrative!
The German angle could have been explored more, but given the focus was upon British Ops & Doctrine its hardly surprising I would suggest!
Your more in the know than I on this area of ops, so if there are other books dealing with specifically with terrain and its impacts, I would be interested in seeing them, thanks in advance.

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Andy H
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Re: The impact of terrain on British operations and doctrine

Post by Urmel » 19 Sep 2014 07:25

I haven't seen anything deal specifically with terrain, but my point is rather to say that it hasn't received attention until this book comes along to enlighten us is besides the point. I think e.g. Tuker's 'Approach to Battle' deals with it, and it was (at least amongst more serious students of the theatre) always well understood that terrain drove the operations (e.g. the fact that there was no defensible line between the border and Agheila).

So I take issue with the basic premise.

With the counteroffensive I wasn't looking for an analysis of the German view, but rather how the combination of the absence of a defensible line east of Agheila, and the failure to subdue the border garrisons, combined to lead to the British defeat, while the nature of the terrain east of Benghazi rescued 4th Indian Division. Rather than a bland one-sentence statement that it happened.

As for Kippenberger - well, I am probably a bit anal-retentive about this, but that's quite a bad one by Mr. Dandy. ;)
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 impact of terrain on British operations and doctrine

Post by Urmel » 20 Sep 2014 21:35

I must say, the more I read, the more displeased I am. I must repeat I find the whole notion that this terrain issue hasn't been addressed fairly bizarre. After all, what is military planning about if it's not about studying maps and the impact the landscape has on operations? So you would expect the mostly military writers (some of whom reached quite exalted heights of rank) covering the campaign, many of which either were there (such as Carver or Tuker, and Jackson in Tunisia), or at least visited it (such as Rob Lyman)

Simple factual errors and typos:

p. 21: Lt. General Brink was not the commander of 5 South African Brigade, but of 1 South African Division. 5 S.A. Brigade was commanded by Brigadier Anderson.

p. 33 The distances are completely off for the major places. Benghazi - Tobruk is not 170 miles but 230 miles as the crow flies, and probably 300 by road. Benghazi - Tripoli is not 400 miles but closer to 600 by road, if not more. Again, in a thesis about terrain I would expect this to be correct.

p. 31 A claim is made that Benghazi discharged 30,000t/month for the Axis. Depends on when, but the data I have shows that in mid-41 this was seen as the maximum realisable rate, and realistic would then be lower. It is possible they achieved this sometime in 1942. http://rommelsriposte.com/2011/06/01/ca ... ours-1941/

p 68: it's the wadi Faregh, not Feragh. Again, in a thesis about terrain, one should try to get the terrain feature names right.

p. 76: General Godwin Austin, not Austen.

p.77: Axis equipment errors. Mk. III Specials were in North Africa in January 1942 and participated in the Axis offensive. This is quite wrong. The first ones arrived at the front in March. I have no idea what is meant by a battalion of 30 AT guns. Without looking at it in detail, I also very very seriously doubt that the Axis had 300 serviceable aircraft available to it. The Italians reported 158 serviceable on 21 January, while the Germans report about 26 (out of 70) serviceable Me 109 on 13 January (no report thereafter) and 30 out of 55 Ju 87 available on 18 January. Let's say half each of 2.(H)/14 and III./LG1 were available, for another 10 planes, and that gets you to a total of 66 German planes. Even if 100% of the German planes are available you don't get to 300 total for the Axis.

p. 82: Colonel Kriebel, not Kreibel.

p. 85: Sidi Azeiz, not Sidi Aziez. But in fairness seems a one-off.

p.102: the British received 2,100 new tanks before the start of CRUSADER. Err, definitely not. They started the operation with about 800 tanks, including the old ones that had survived the previous 12 months. They received just under 1,184 tanks between July 1941 and January 1942. Of these, 397 were received after CRUSADER started. So the new tanks received totalled 787, a bit more than 1/3rd of what the author claimes.

http://rommelsriposte.com/2014/02/23/br ... uary-1942/

p. 103: Allied aircraft strength was not 500 at the start of the operation, that's a gross underestimation. The whole Middle East had 950 planes (including u/s). Of these, 474 were serviceable modern fighters, another 271 were serviceable modern light bombers, and 118 were serviceable modern heavy bombers.

p. 105: the additional air units were brought in from Greece, not Sicily.

p. 105: the Axis did not suffer from a petrol shortage, so this wasn't the cause for the delay of the attack on Tobruk. They had been missing important force elements, in particular artillery, but also infantry.

p. 105: I maybe mistaken, but I do not believe that all South African armoured cars were under 1st S.A. Division.

Substantial errors:

p. 30: The objectives for CRUSADER were not 'Tobruk and the western airfields'. The objective was the destruction of the Axis armour, to be followed by the occupation of Cyrenaica, and a second stage (ACROBAT) to follow, being the invasion of Tripolitania. Quoting from Ritchie's report on the planning of CRUSADER: 'The capture of Tobruk was incidental to the plan.' That is a big error in my view when the whole purpose of your work is to assess the terrain implications on operations. Essential what 8th Army did here was completely leave terrain out of the operational objectives.

p.65: footnote and remark by Tuker about the defensibility of the Djebel. i) I believe this refers to January 1942, not April 1941; ii) Tuker makes the point that this would only work if a mobile force remained active in the desert, a point omitted by the author.

p. 73: I have to correct my earlier criticism, the author does actually look at the retreat in early 1942. I do not agree that others have not noted the importance of terrain. Foremost amongst the others would be Tuker, who the author cites, and who very clearly set out how the terrain made it impossible for the 4th Indian Division to hold the Djebel, once 1st Armoured Division had been taken apart in the desert. But there are other authors as well.

General comment on this section: the author does mention the supply situation, but does not mention that it was the continued resistance of the border garrisons far behind (which was of course very much aided by terrain) that had a material contribution to this, by forcing supply columns to take a wide detour to the south. I rate this a crucial oversight.

p. 84: author's view that the escarpment at Halfaya-Sollum forces an attacking force to split. This is of course not so. It is only the case if you want to attack Halfaya frontally. In CRUSADER attacking forces were not split by the escarpment because they all attacked south of it.

p. 87: The author's conclusion is that BREVITY failed because terrain showed the weakness of British assault doctrine. Err, I beg to differ. My view is that i) I am not sure that there was such a thing as a 'doctrine' in the British army in those days, but regardless, if there was, it probably didn't stipulate ii) to attack a widely dispersed enemy with forces that were considered too weak. So what BREVITY actually showed was that penny-packeting wasn't going to beat the Axis. The terrain was incidental. It could have been spaghetti junction near Brum, and the WDF would still have had its rear-ended handed to it.

p. 100: The analysis of the importance of Sidi Rezegh is fundamentally wrong. The author also provides the wrong citation reference (it's page 19, not 31 of the 7th Armoured Division report), and has clearly not understood the paragraph. In his view it is the airfield that is the key ground. He writes 'the airfield became a focus for British commanders because it was an important Axis supply route, and its capture would force the Luftwaffe further away from the battlefield.' The only reason the airfield became a focus was that that was where they got to on the 19th, and where they didn't get off again on the 20th or 21st. The airfield was neither a supply route, with supplies in the period being flown to Derna (primarily), or Gambut, nor even a Luftwaffe airfield - it was occupied by Italian fighters. Also, with the British advance, El Adem, which remained operational, had become sufficiently close to the frontline, as had the airfields in the Gazala/Tmimi line, for the Axis not to require airfields even further east as jumping off grounds.

I leave it at that for tonight.
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 impact of terrain on British operations and doctrine

Post by ClintHardware » 24 Sep 2014 06:23

I downloaded the thesis and looked at the Mersa Brega 1941 related elements and there are half described elements in almost every section. For example in his definition of a Jock Column begins:

Jock Columns – formed by Lieutenant-Colonel J.C. Campbell in 1940, to utilize his artillery batteries more offensively against Axis positions, when holding a front-line position.

Well not quite. Columns were formed not just by Jock - it was a British method of creating a highly mobile self supporting all arms group to intercept enemy positions and movements across a large area with economic use of resources until a stronger force could be assembled to eliminate the enemy's ability to fight. They patrolled ahead of the present locations of the main force and bases of supply.

In the war diaries you can read that Columns were understood by all officers at every level to be too weak to be anything but a temporary method of confronting the enemy and causing whatever damage might be possible, and yet historians latch onto Columns as being a way to infer that the stupid British dispersed themselves instead of fully confronting the enemy in concentration and ending the war. Umm....no they always wanted to fight concentrated to overwhelm the enemy but when they lacked kit and men on the ground they formed columns whilst a better solution was being assembled.

I get the feeling that theses (or is it thesi ?) are marked for structure and methods rather than content because the marker probably does not know the content to any depth.

I also get the feeling that publishers tell authors of books that "You really must point out in several chapters that the British were stupid because it sells... OK ?". AND "Just write a summary to save our costs and leave out all that DEEP detail you found - no one wants to read it" By the way, I am laughing as I write this.
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Re: The impact of terrain on British operations and doctrine

Post by Urmel » 24 Sep 2014 08:55

ClintHardware wrote:I get the feeling that theses (or is it thesi ?) are marked for structure and methods rather than content because the marker probably does not know the content to any depth.
Quite. Basically I would have failed the author for his PhD on the basis of this thesis, it doesn't cut the mustard. I find the hypothesis shaky, and the research full of errors.

Even if we accept the hypothesis however, from as far as I have read in the thesis, there seems to be little in the way of demonstrating this in it. A lot of 'the British performance was also affected by [technology/supply (with little exploration of how supply itself was impacted by terrain)/doctrine/lack of intelligence/attrition/command and control/strength ratios/etc]' follows the discussion of the impact of terrain. Which then leads me to conclude that yes, combat is affected by the terrain over which it is fought. One example of this is a short discussion of how the British armour went into leaguer at night, leaving the battleground to the Germans. As far as I know this was still done in Normandy, so terrain had nothing to do with it. It was actually a relatively sound practice from the point of view of the armoured forces, and shows a complete disregard for holding terrain (but no discussion of this). It was of course also desastrous in terms of letting the Axis forces off the hook time and again, and by placing all those tanks in a nice, indefensible pattern, with their only protection being the vast space of the desert. As 8th Hussars and 4th Armoured Brigade HQ found out when their leaguer was bumped at night.

Here's a classic sentence in this regard (p.106): "The terrain also influenced the fighting at Sidi - Rezegh when the 6th RTR captured the airfield but was drawn into attacking Axis positions on the ridge above." To which my inner valleygirl has this to say: 'well d'ah!'. The whole point was to take the ridge, not the airfield, because it would enable connecting with the TobFort forces once they break out. But of course, if one makes the mistake of seeing the airfield at the bottom of the valley, rather than the ridge overlooking it as the key ground...
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 impact of terrain on British operations and doctrine

Post by Brevity » 25 Sep 2014 07:07

ClintHardware wrote:Jock Columns – formed by Lieutenant-Colonel J.C. Campbell in 1940, to utilize his artillery batteries more offensively against Axis positions, when holding a front-line position.

Well not quite. Columns were formed not just by Jock - it was a British method of creating a highly mobile self supporting all arms group to intercept enemy positions and movements across a large area with economic use of resources until a stronger force could be assembled to eliminate the enemy's ability to fight. They patrolled ahead of the present locations of the main force and bases of supply.

In the war diaries you can read that Columns were understood by all officers at every level to be too weak to be anything but a temporary method of confronting the enemy and causing whatever damage might be possible, and yet historians latch onto Columns as being a way to infer that the stupid British dispersed themselves instead of fully confronting the enemy in concentration and ending the war. Umm....no they always wanted to fight concentrated to overwhelm the enemy but when they lacked kit and men on the ground they formed columns whilst a better solution was being assembled.
Hey Clint

The idea of Jock Columns went contrary to the concept of Schwerpunkt, and as such, was very obviously wrong.

But if you disagree, then let's look at Operation Crusader for example. The proper way of waging mobile warfare turned out to be something like - attack relentlessly, every day, unless troops are exhausted, in this case briefly stop to reform, then keep attacking again. If you have enough troops to form a few Jock columns, you should form a major combat group instead and attack, this way you can actually achieve something useful.

British liked the Jock Columns so much because they were easy, while carrying out the proper offensive was, sadly, too hard.

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Re: The impact of terrain on British operations and doctrine

Post by ClintHardware » 25 Sep 2014 15:55

Columns were formed as needs required they were not used instead of fighting concentrated but because at that moment they could not.

Can you give us an Operation Crusader example to mull over? Do we need a new Topic to fight this one to death?
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Re: The impact of terrain on British operations and doctrine

Post by Brevity » 25 Sep 2014 22:13

ClintHardware wrote: Do we need a new Topic to fight this one to death?
I'm up


This is from Murphy and he wrote it back in 1961

"Behind these, four Jock Columns formed up on a wide arc guarding the FMCs, each strong enough to rebuff curiosity but not to fight a pitched battle. They each consisted in the main of about two companies of infantry with field and anti-tank artillery, and were useful in the present circumstances in that they could cover a large area of ground against light enemy forces; but they needed some way of concentrating quickly under unified command against any major threat which might present itself, and no such way was provided. This was the persistent weakness of this Jock Column policy and much colourful publicity, sentimentally associated with the gallant ‘Jock’ Campbell after whom the columns were named, only served to hide it and present these columns as giant-killers, which they were not. Once the enemy concentrated, the Jock Columns could inflict scratches on him but no serious wounds. In this manner most of the remaining strength of the Support Group and much of 22 Guards Brigade was dissipated, the rest being committed in direct defence of the FMCs."

Where were all these columns when the New Zealand Division has been overran between 28 November - 1 December? They had 4 days to intervene while DAK was disorganised, barely functioning and very vulnerable to attack from the south.

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Re: The impact of terrain on British operations and doctrine

Post by Urmel » 25 Sep 2014 23:31

Can you guys take it outside on the columns? New thread would be good, it's a better topic that deserves to be discussed in detail.
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 impact of terrain on British operations and doctrine

Post by Urmel » 25 Sep 2014 23:40

Back to the topic there is this on p. 107, sourced to Joly 'Take These Men' (who is a good source: http://rommelsriposte.com/2014/03/03/a- ... ld-return/):
British doctrine proved weak when Armoured Regiments disengaged because of their practice for replenishing of fuel and ammunition, the 3rd RTR initially assisted 1st South African Division’s defence on low ground but was ordered away to replenish leaving the isolated Infantry Brigade which was later overrun.
While this is factually correct in its assessment (although there were good reasons for the policy), the example given is unfortunately quite wrong, and again shows bad research. So instead of looking into Joly's book, let's have a look in a proper source, such as... oh how about the war diary of 3 RTR?

http://rommelsriposte.com/2014/09/25/to ... f-3-r-t-r/

What is clear from this is that:

1) 3 R.T.R. fought with the South Africans throughout 22 and 23 November, regardless of what kind of orders it received, so the faulty doctrine had nothing to do with the South Africans being overrun. Unless of course someone believes the 16 tanks of 5 R.T.R. that were held back throughout the day could have made a difference... But in any case, what the author claims and insinuates, did not happen.
2) The order received was not for 3 R.T.R. to leaguer, but rather for 3 R.T.R. to move towards the leaguer of 7 Support Group, and protect its right flank (and this was the instruction received from 7 Armoured Division)
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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