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

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

Post by ClintHardware » 27 Nov 2019 11:02

Mark
The German items in English or German are of interest to me. If you can make a list I would like to see it and I am sure others would too.
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Re: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by Gooner1 » 27 Nov 2019 12:33

From the diary of Lieutenant Stewart, C Squadron 11th Hussars (armoured cars)

16th June, the enemy would have been from German 5th Light Division

"We got shelled from the outskirts of the battle and beat it with dust from the shells whipping up round our heels. From some way back – where we still got shelled – we watched the smoke of battle ebb and clear and the noise die away. We saw about 50 vehicles, guns and infantry, line up …. suddenly our own tanks came down … and waded into this lot who retreated, leaving any amount of kit behind and one or two lorries burning. I was asked by the tank major to reconnoitre for anti-tank guns … I saw the whole column had moved back a bit and that there was a mass of men moving about.
I was then joined by two gunner Observation Posts who were, as usual, completely without fear. They proceeded to shell the concentration to hell so I went forward again, only to run into about 50 tanks coming down from the north. They halted and I was having a good look when shells arrived really close. My driver tried to engage the gear without declutching, and finally started started with a jerk which almost broke my neck. Got back to the O.P.s who were still merrily shelling away at the column at Sidi Omar."

Final action of the day
“The gunners on my left were showing remarkable courage and audacity, above all the 2-pounders on portees which stuck it nobly till the last moment against a special detachment of tanks which came out to deal with them. The main body went N.E. And in the gathering dusk a tremendous tank battle took place which was fascinating even if a little dangerous to watch. One could see the tracer hitting the ground and rebounding high into the air, and hear the constant sound of the movement and noise of the guns. I saw the head of their column turn back, and as night came down finally I went right forward and watched them leaguering.”

Next morning.
“As the light came up I saw about 150 vehicles, about 60 of which were tanks, along the ridge to the north-east. They appeared happy and comfortable, while we felt harassed and sleepless; but we had some food and felt better. Then the attack started again; 3 tanks came after me and shelled me out of position; I nearly got between the two tank formations but pulled out in time and went off to a flank where I could observe well. Suddenly there was the most appalling bang and shells began going off all around us with stimulating accuracy – stimulating because they were from our guns!
Again we withdrew and again the anti-tank guns showed great but fruitless gallantry. And so we watched them back to Sidi Suleiman where the Boche halted …"

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

Post by ClintHardware » 27 Nov 2019 14:58

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

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 28 Nov 2019 20:38

Hi,

Sorry, but isn't it a bit disingenuous giving this thread a title of "Major" Roberts assessment?

It was nothing of the sort, it was Major-General (Retired) Robert's assessment in 1987 having pondered over the battle for 40-odd years and, probably, having read plenty of historical accounts of the battle. A contemporary account by Major Roberts would be much more interesting and would actually tell us what was understood about the battle from those who had fought it and were going to have to fight the next round.

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

Post by ClintHardware » 28 Nov 2019 21:47

Hi Tom
May be, but he was a Major at the time and experienced what he did, and as he did, because he was a Major in the presence of various General ranks. Imagine a Major-General hanging on the end of a long line.... Also I did not add in his later short assessment because it was not relevant to June 1941.

I also wanted to see if any of you recognised him and some did.

Personally, having spoken to and discussed matters with senior officers as an equal, I do not complicate my work with histories of later promotions unless it is relevant. I do not cover arguments of what officers thought unless it is immediately relevant to a moment under fire in combat. I will never write up Wavell, Auchinleck or Montgomery in the way every over-arching summary level history does because I find it tedious and such facts are well known or accessible from somewhere else. But this is only my opinion - others will do what they want.
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Re: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by Urmel » 28 Nov 2019 22:18

I think you're missing the point.
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: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by MarkN » 29 Nov 2019 00:19

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
28 Nov 2019 20:38
Sorry, but isn't it a bit disingenuous giving this thread a title of "Major" Roberts assessment?

It was nothing of the sort, it was Major-General (Retired) Robert's assessment in 1987 having pondered over the battle for 40-odd years and, probably, having read plenty of historical accounts of the battle. A contemporary account by Major Roberts would be much more interesting and would actually tell us what was understood about the battle from those who had fought it and were going to have to fight the next round.
Quite so.

However, for me two intetesting details stand out. First, this account sythnesizes very well Roberts' own recollections with, what appears to be, historical reality. That's quite rare. He adeptly infuses his own thoughts - perhaps several decades in gestation - arround the historical details as appearing in the contemporary documentation.
I think you're missing the point.
And by a very wide margin. Which brings me neatly to my second observation.

Roberts does not just have the experience of a lowly Major G2 in 1941, he also has the experience of commanding a division in 1944. By the time he writes this assessment, he has alot of resources, personal experience and understanding to draw upon. So, to make such a critical assessment of so many things and so many people is really quite remarkable and highlights just how bad things were. And from the horses mouth to boot.

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

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 29 Nov 2019 19:31

ClintHardware wrote:
28 Nov 2019 21:47
I do not complicate my work with histories of later promotions unless it is relevant.
And you don't think that the 40 years between 'Battleaxe' and when his autobiography was written are relevant?
MarkN wrote:
29 Nov 2019 00:19
to make such a critical assessment of so many things and so many people is really quite remarkable
Really? After 40 odd years? Montgomery was making those sort of criticisms at the time... :idea:

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Tom

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

Post by ClintHardware » 29 Nov 2019 20:15

Not sure I did miss the point. I wanted the detail of the then events with him only with the powers of a Major.

I do not think BATTLEAXE went as badly as claimed because the Aces were not in British hands as we are supposed to think they were. Much equipment and transport was missing for certain units. The main Ace was the German and Italian development of various stutzpunkte which were mostly strong enough on the 15th June to derail the various formations' intentions.

In my opinion, and it is only an opinion and made with hindsight, not enough resources were readied to take Halfaya and not enough attention was taken of intelligence reports of heavy weapons and demolitions firing in that key area which should have attracted several O.Ps. like that of the 2nd Rifle Brigade on the 12th May at Point 10 on the coastal plain: logging every movement and piece of equipment seen and/or heard. A silent unsupported infantry attack based on O.P. intelligence and guides in the darkest hours would have gained more mileage in the initial stage. Not sure how they could have silently arrived close enough to do so. This is only an opinion and may be wildly wrong. It worked for the 2nd Scots Guards during the night of the 15th/16th in another location.

Going back to Roberts: Wavell and Berefords Peirse may have chosen to not step on the toes of the officers present. If the artillery could not resolve or buy time to change the situation then withdrawal was obvious - did they need to state the obvious? Or were both Generals were incompetent? The pre-war British Army was too small and too tightly funded to allow the promotion of incompetents - competition for promotion was fierce. Was it possible that two incompetent Generals could be present in the same office truck at the same time? I really doubt that.

Armoured warfare at the time of BATTLEAXE was still very new for the British and there was much to learn. The contemporary lack of concern in unit reports and diaries about Flak 88s stands out between the 24th March - 14th June because contact with these weapons had been seriously limited. They were watched on the 14th April coming through the perimeter at Tobruk and getting into action while Lee Enfields were aimed carefully for right moment to open up and liquidate the crews who never got to fire their 88s. During BATTLEAXE the Flak 88s were still not causing any great concerns recorded in unit war diaries. Major Molesworth of the 31st Field Regiment during the 15th - 16th June did express professional interest in them but he wasn't sure what they were and then he kept silencing them with 25-Pdr shells - about four times IIRC. 'C' Squadron 4th RTR spent 4.5 hours in front of the Flak 88s at Halfaya on the 15th June with lethal consequences but not for all of the Matildas present. How did a few Matildas survive hours near Flak 88s when it should have been over in seconds for all of them? I don't have a full answer just scraps of information. Lieutenant-Colonel O'Carroll was not an eye witness - he was miles away listening to the radio.

Flak 88 concerns did come later after much clearer contact.

I don't have much time this week to respond to responses - sorry.
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Re: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 29 Nov 2019 21:01

ClintHardware wrote:
29 Nov 2019 20:15
Not sure I did miss the point. I wanted the detail of the then events with him only with the powers of a Major.
That's not what you've got though, is it? You've got the recollections of Major General Roberts of an event 40 years old and recollected through the prism of all his subsequent war time experience and all the subsequent historiography and whatever research he did to prepare his book.

What you definitely haven't got is a contemporary record by the G2 of 7th Armd Div.

I'm not saying that his book is irrelevant, what I'm suggesting is that is should be viewed with due historical diligence. You may have done that, I don't know - but even that wouldn't change my opinion that the title of this thread is disingenuous.

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Tom

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

Post by MarkN » 29 Nov 2019 22:09

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
29 Nov 2019 19:31
Really? After 40 odd years? Montgomery was making those sort of criticisms at the time...
It is remarkable in two respects...
1) its allegedly all nonsense, and we're both barking up the wrong tree ;)
2) Roberts should write that about those he served with/under - Montgomery critiqued from outside and above,
...and unremarkable in one...
1) it took serving under Montgomery to see the light. I am sure Roberts would not have seen things in that light in 1941.

:lol:

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

Post by MarkN » 29 Nov 2019 22:11

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
29 Nov 2019 21:01
What you definitely haven't got is a contemporary record by the G2 of 7th Armd Div.
I suspect the 7ArmdDiv WD is in fact Roberts' work as G2. If anybody knows his handwriting it is easy to verify as the WD is handwritten.

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

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 29 Nov 2019 23:33

Mark,

Could you post up an example page? I’ve got a couple of handwritten letters from him somewhere on a laptop.

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Tom

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

Post by ClintHardware » 30 Nov 2019 05:56

Tom: Yes but there is a difference between events recorded and insight later attributed to events. My interest is in the former. If I use his quote elsewhere I will remove the latter and clearly state that it was not written contemporaneously. I haven't used his quote elsewhere.

Mark: I do not use contemporary information to prove Theories that I may have because Theories are usually wrong in some respect right at the moment they are formed in thought. Doctrines are broken during contact with the enemy.

I do test topics and items on this forum to see if they are wrong and how badly items/topics are received here. Doctrine and Theory seem to be important to you but in the early war years almost everything was being modified by contact with the enemy. The pre-contact and then contact interest me.

Whilst examining BATTLEAXE I have found British documents recording incidents of panzers firing at tanks on the move, a Major complaining that a previous 2-Pdr HE ammunition request had not yet been fulfilled and a note that Germans were now using British methods (I doubt the Germans would agree with that). My point is that during contact every held belief and understanding about what happened is usually amended to some extent and such amendments may never occur again or be commented on/recorded again even if they did occur.
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Re: Major G. P. B. Roberts' assessment of BATTLEAXE

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 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

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