North African strategy if Britain does well in Far East in 42

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North African strategy if Britain does well in Far East in 42

Post by Fatboy Coxy » 26 Nov 2022 19:32

I’m currently writing a What If, that see Britain doing much better in Malaya/Singapore on the beginning of war with Japan.

The question I pose here is, with Britain holding Japan somewhere near the Malaya/Thailand border, with Japan facing logistical problems restricting her advance, what might Britain’s strategy be in North Africa.

Keeping with the historical path for a minute, the British 18th Division is being diverted to Singapore, the 1st Australian Corps is being shipped to Java, expected to arrive in March 42, and the Desert Air Force is being stripped of units for the Far East.

Operation Crusader is over, as was historically, but with the expected sucking of yet more resources to the Far East, what does Britain do in North Africa. They still need to supply Malta, which at the moment, with the capture of Cyrenaica, has become much easier. But Cyrenaica is hard to hold, and having been chased out once, are they likely to appreciate that they’ll be pushed out again. Do they ignore the coming German counter attack, hoping to muddle through, or can they take the strategic option of falling back to Halfaya Pass, leaving a strong garrison in Tobruk, like they did last year.

Making that decision early means a proper defence of Tobruk can be mounted, using the knowledge of last year to help prepare. But what troops might they choose to garrison the stronghold, and can the Navy again supply it, given their own losses last year. Can much be done to help Malta before this retreat and can Brooke persuade Churchill to act early and avoid a bad defeat in North Africa?
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T. A. Gardner
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Re: North African strategy if Britain does well in Far East in 42

Post by T. A. Gardner » 26 Nov 2022 20:16

Well, this needs more context and details before one can start to assess what might happen if the British hold Malaysia. The questions are:

Does the DEI still fall, especially the island of Sumatra?
Do the Japanese still push into New Guinea?
What happens in Burma?

The Axis also--unknown to them--will be facing a second front in N. Africa come November 1942 as the US presumably would still do Torch and take the Vichy French colonies. So, this is about an eight-month window at best.

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Re: North African strategy if Britain does well in Far East in 42

Post by Fatboy Coxy » 26 Nov 2022 20:50

OK, more context, but the window we are working in is Jan-Mar 42.

Japanese advance is much slower that was historically, Borneo and Celebes fall but by end of March 42, Java and Sumatra not been assaulted.

Because Japanese are stalling Malaya, there is no crossing of the Sittaung River in Burma, so Burma remains mostly in British hands.

The Japanese will pursue an advance into New Guinea, but this will also be slower due to logistical problems.

So there is time to supply, build and support the ABDA command, which is whats going to suck out resources from North Africa.
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Re: North African strategy if Britain does well in Far East in 42

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 27 Nov 2022 04:40

Fatboy Coxy wrote:
26 Nov 2022 20:50
...

So there is time to supply, build and support the ABDA command, which is whats going to suck out resources from North Africa.

Theres a variable. OTL the Brits conceded the Pacific to the US after the DEI defense collapsed. If the defense of the DEI holds up they Brits still might dump that one on the US, since they are still fighting a campaign in Maylasia & perhaps Sumatra. everything east of Maylasia/Sumatra may become the US responsibility.

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Re: North African strategy if Britain does well in Far East in 42

Post by T. A. Gardner » 27 Nov 2022 08:44

The problem for the British if Malaya is held but Sumatra is lost is supplying a half dozen divisions or more that are holding Malaya. Sumatra could be held by one or two Japanese divisions and with several IJNAF bomber squadrons could make resupply of Malaya very expensive in terms of shipping. The RN doesn't have the resources to commit to escorting convoys there, and they'd be required on an ongoing and regular basis to keep the troops in supply.

Malaya doesn't have the necessary oil and refineries to keep the RAF flying, so that has to be imported too. On the whole, Britain holding Singapore becomes a huge liability if the DEI falls, and that is very likely to happen.

The British can't expect the US to commit any sizable contingent of troops to relieving Singapore either. The US in 1942 simply doesn't have the transport to do that, even if they have the troops.

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Re: North African strategy if Britain does well in Far East in 42

Post by EwenS » 27 Nov 2022 10:59

Fatboy Coxy wrote:
26 Nov 2022 20:50
OK, more context, but the window we are working in is Jan-Mar 42.

Japanese advance is much slower that was historically, Borneo and Celebes fall but by end of March 42, Java and Sumatra not been assaulted.

Because Japanese are stalling Malaya, there is no crossing of the Sittaung River in Burma, so Burma remains mostly in British hands.

The Japanese will pursue an advance into New Guinea, but this will also be slower due to logistical problems.

So there is time to supply, build and support the ABDA command, which is whats going to suck out resources from North Africa.
The problem I’m seeing with this is that I can see nothing that would slow down the eastward thrust of the Japanese advance beginning at Davao on Mindanao on 19 Dec followed by Celebes and Borneo in Jan. The conclusions pre-war were that the inner DEI islands were essentially not defendable. Hence Britain had minimal forces in Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo. The policy was destroy the oilfields and retreat inland to fight a guerilla war. For the Dutch, their defences were based on Java, which is where the bulk of their forces were.

So I still see the Japanese arriving to the east of Java at the end of Feb 1942. And at least that part of the invasion of Java going ahead as historical. The assault on southern Sumatra and western Java probably doesn’t happen as historical from mid-Feb with resources diverted to supporting Japanese Forces in Northern Malaya.

Once the Japanese become established in Thailand / Northern Malaya the Malacca Strait is closed to reinforcement of Singapore by sea. That leaves Sunda Strait between Sumatra & Java. Once that comes within range of Japanese aircraft, resupply of Singapore becomes next to impossible.

So long as the refineries around Palembang southern Sumatra remain in Allied hands, and provided the tankers can continue to sail, then there should be plenty of fuel for the RAF and Dutch Air Forces.

As for Burma, that depends on how much effort the Japanese need to divert. Just what went to Sumatra/western Java? Or support for Burma as well?

This is a good map summarising the various prongs of the advance
http://www.emersonkent.com/images/dutch ... 1_1942.jpg

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Re: North African strategy if Britain does well in Far East in 42

Post by Fatboy Coxy » 27 Nov 2022 11:33

Carl Schwamberger wrote:
27 Nov 2022 04:40
Fatboy Coxy wrote:
26 Nov 2022 20:50
...

So there is time to supply, build and support the ABDA command, which is whats going to suck out resources from North Africa.

Theres a variable. OTL the Brits conceded the Pacific to the US after the DEI defense collapsed. If the defense of the DEI holds up they Brits still might dump that one on the US, since they are still fighting a campaign in Maylasia & perhaps Sumatra. everything east of Maylasia/Sumatra may become the US responsibility.
Initially, everything east of Malaya/Sumatra is going to be covered by the Australian I Corps in Java, and god knows what else can be found to defend the Island chain towards Australia. Quite when and how far the Americans commit to I can't say.
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Re: North African strategy if Britain does well in Far East in 42

Post by Fatboy Coxy » 27 Nov 2022 11:35

EwenS wrote:
27 Nov 2022 10:59
Fatboy Coxy wrote:
26 Nov 2022 20:50
OK, more context, but the window we are working in is Jan-Mar 42.

Japanese advance is much slower that was historically, Borneo and Celebes fall but by end of March 42, Java and Sumatra not been assaulted.

Because Japanese are stalling Malaya, there is no crossing of the Sittaung River in Burma, so Burma remains mostly in British hands.

The Japanese will pursue an advance into New Guinea, but this will also be slower due to logistical problems.

So there is time to supply, build and support the ABDA command, which is whats going to suck out resources from North Africa.
The problem I’m seeing with this is that I can see nothing that would slow down the eastward thrust of the Japanese advance beginning at Davao on Mindanao on 19 Dec followed by Celebes and Borneo in Jan. The conclusions pre-war were that the inner DEI islands were essentially not defendable. Hence Britain had minimal forces in Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo. The policy was destroy the oilfields and retreat inland to fight a guerilla war. For the Dutch, their defences were based on Java, which is where the bulk of their forces were.

So I still see the Japanese arriving to the east of Java at the end of Feb 1942. And at least that part of the invasion of Java going ahead as historical. The assault on southern Sumatra and western Java probably doesn’t happen as historical from mid-Feb with resources diverted to supporting Japanese Forces in Northern Malaya.
Agree with this
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Re: North African strategy if Britain does well in Far East in 42

Post by Fatboy Coxy » 27 Nov 2022 11:36

Hi T A Gardner, Sumatra can't fall while both Malaya and Java are held. I agree with your view on US capabilities.
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Re: North African strategy if Britain does well in Far East in 42

Post by Fatboy Coxy » 27 Nov 2022 11:40

Thanks for your replies, but Guys, I'm asking about what the British do in North Africa
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Re: North African strategy if Britain does well in Far East in 42

Post by Kingfish » 27 Nov 2022 12:18

A Commonwealth hold in SE Asia might have a material effect on the Arctic convoys, which in turn has a material effect on what is supplied to Africa / Asia. I'm sure Britain would place the emphasis towards defense of her own holdings rather than territory in Russia.
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Re: North African strategy if Britain does well in Far East in 42

Post by EwenS » 27 Nov 2022 13:15

Fatboy Coxy wrote:
27 Nov 2022 11:40
Thanks for your replies, but Guys, I'm asking about what the British do in North Africa
I don’t see that it changes anything in North Africa.

Operation Crusader and Rommel’s counter offensive see saw back and forth across the desert between Nov 1941 and before the line stabilises around Gazala in Feb 1942. Both sides then need to regroup and re-equip. By then the decision has been made to withdraw the two Australian divisions and 7th Armoured Brigade (which ended up in Burma instead of Singapore or Java, can’t remember which offhand). 18th Div was diverted while en route to the Middle East. There are no other troops to spare in the Middle East. The next reinforcing divisions don’t sail from Britain until mid-year 1942. It takes about 2 months plus planning time to move anything from Britain to the Indian Ocean area.

Strategically nothing has changed. North Africa is key to keeping the Suez Canal and the Middle East oil fields. It also helps keep Turkey out of the war on the Axis side, and therefore closes a back door route to the Middle East.

As for the RAF and RN same situation. All that could be spared was sent.

So if Malaya holds on a bit longer the cupboard is bare. Ultimately same result just takes longer.

In fact the Burma position could be worse. A slower Japanese move to take Rangoon, leaves the British Army stranded in central Burma when the monsoon strikes, unless it simply abandons the country.

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Re: North African strategy if Britain does well in Far East in 42

Post by EwenS » 27 Nov 2022 13:22

Kingfish wrote:
27 Nov 2022 12:18
A Commonwealth hold in SE Asia might have a material effect on the Arctic convoys, which in turn has a material effect on what is supplied to Africa / Asia. I'm sure Britain would place the emphasis towards defense of her own holdings rather than territory in Russia.
On the other hand keeping Russia in the war is strategically important as it ties a large part of the German Army down and again stops a German breakthrough into the Caucasus later in the year.

In late 1941, Britain prioritised Russia over the Far East in spite of the increasing threat in the Far East. By early 1942 the LL to Russia was starting to flow from the US. The significant British contribution was to escort it there.

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Re: North African strategy if Britain does well in Far East in 42

Post by Kingfish » 27 Nov 2022 14:47

EwenS wrote:
27 Nov 2022 13:22
On the other hand keeping Russia in the war is strategically important as it ties a large part of the German Army down and again stops a German breakthrough into the Caucasus later in the year.
I never suggested otherwise.
That said war is nothing if not a study in compromises and this WI allows us to look at one that Britain would certainly be forced to make.
In late 1941, Britain prioritised Russia over the Far East in spite of the increasing threat in the Far East.
You would agree that priority would have been reevaluated had the British held in Malaysia?
By early 1942 the LL to Russia was starting to flow from the US. The significant British contribution was to escort it there.
Wiki has Britain supplying 3K Hurricanes to Russia via LL. I'm sure the resident bean counters can attest to the accuracy of that total, and what was actually available during the WI time frame. I would expect the number would have been a significant boost to the air defenses.
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Re: North African strategy if Britain does well in Far East in 42

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 27 Nov 2022 19:26

Fatboy Coxy wrote:
27 Nov 2022 11:33

Initially, everything east of Malaya/Sumatra is going to be covered by the Australian I Corps in Java, and god knows what else can be found to defend the Island chain towards Australia. Quite when and how far the Americans commit to I can't say.

Parts of the Pensacola convoy were diverted from the Philippines to Australia & DEI in January 1942. Task Force 6814, a division size group of separate regiments and battalions, was embarked from the US east coast to the A Pac 23 January 1942. A complete infantry division was embarked for S Pac a little after that.

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