Eighth Army versus Rommel; Tactics, Training and Operations in North Africa 1940-1942 by James Colvin

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This is James Colvin's first book and is based on research undertaken for his MA. It is an academic work in that it is sourced and draws on primary sources. His academic tutor was Matthais Strohn, and this work displays rigour and insights informed by someone close to the British Army.

The book does what is says on the tin, and covers tactics training and operations. However, its real strength is the clinical examination of the culture of the British and Indian Army and how this hampered the commanders and staff of the Eighth Army in developing effective tactics.

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The author pieces together the thinking that led to the ineffective tactics and the influence of the Indian army approach to armoured warfare. It is worth reading alone for the exposition of the thinking of Tom Corbett, Eric Dorman Smith and Francis Tuker and how this led to a battlefield of boxes. Much of this is new analysis and adds a new dimension to any thinking about the desert war battles.
The author is related to two Gunner veterans of the campaign. One relative is the ill fated Beresford Peirse quotes extensively from the papers of his relative Robin Dunn,, an HAC officer during the campaign. However, the Gunners themselves escape critical review without mention of one question often asked. Why didn't the British use Heavy Anti Aircraft guns in a similar way to the Germans 88?

The 261 page work is illustrated with relevant sketches and photographs.

It should be on the reading list of anyone interested in the war in North Africa 1940-1942 or in the wider British Army of that period.

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The AA Regiments in Home Forces were aware of the anti tank and ground role capability of the 3 inch 20 cwt and 3.7 Inch AA guns since after Dunkirk. Routledge's History of AA mentions that orders went out in July 1940 for HAA emplacements supporting airfields to allow for engagement of ground targets. Alanbrooke's diary mentions his struggles between May and September 1941 to use AA guns in the anti tank role. 103 HAA had a secondary anti tank role from July 1941.

The problem the British had in making use of Heavy AA was that we had separated AA from field artillery and focused AA efforts on the air defence of Great Britain. Brooke as C in C home forces was high enough up the chain of command to get what he wanted. No one did that in the Middle East. It would have taken Wavell or Aukinleck to take a personal interest in this detailed tactical problem.

as I recall, the solution to the shortage of true AP rounds was to set the AA round time fuse ‘long’, a hefty chunk of steel travelling at a very serious clip was going to do any tank of the day a serious mischief.
Moving smartly onwards to later in the war, the 3.7 proved to be a very effective ground bombardment weapon, good round, long range, accurate, high ROF.
 
From What I have read, the 'armour charge' mentality was partly cavalry, partly doctrine, partly desparation (to fill gaps), possibly from having seen the Germans Blitzkrieg, but also due to the utter inferiority of our armour (early war), the guns could usually not penetrate the Germans, and the only chance of success was to charge to get to the rear (rather than perhaps feigned retreat onto an anti tank trap.)
driving poorly armoured tanks into any kind of defence with even barely adequate defences was suicide. Rommel lost 1/2 his tanks on one attack on Tobruk. I believe the churchill and Matilda did have heavy armour, but perhaps the answer was artillery, observers, and air, and of course plenty of recon.
The desert was difficult because if you defended in a box, the enemy could go around and hit your supply columns, without supply you died, and our armour was not capable of hunting the enemy on the move.
Looks like an interesting book.
To me Tanks seem more important as an exploitation weapon later in the war, and tank charges were often brutally crushed. Albeit spg or sp-at could be hugely valuable.
Of course if Tanks make the enemy dig in, that in itself helps pin them.

I have also read that our AA was used mostly in the middle east to protect the vital ports and installations, and also that the mount for the 3.7 inch was not well suited to Anti - Tank, but not verified these sources.
The biggest problem in the middle east to me seemed to tracking down the marauding columns of Germans when they got loose, our fixed defence boxes seemed to chew up the Germans and Italian attacks.
An imobile 3.7 inch may not have assisted much with chasing down superior German tanks.

open to critiq / more information.
 

TC20

Clanker
From What I have read, the 'armour charge' mentality was partly cavalry, partly doctrine, partly desparation (to fill gaps), possibly from having seen the Germans Blitzkrieg, but also due to the utter inferiority of our armour (early war), the guns could usually not penetrate the Germans, and the only chance of success was to charge to get to the rear (rather than perhaps feigned retreat onto an anti tank trap.)
driving poorly armoured tanks into any kind of defence with even barely adequate defences was suicide. Rommel lost 1/2 his tanks on one attack on Tobruk. I believe the churchill and Matilda did have heavy armour, but perhaps the answer was artillery, observers, and air, and of course plenty of recon.
The desert was difficult because if you defended in a box, the enemy could go around and hit your supply columns, without supply you died, and our armour was not capable of hunting the enemy on the move.
Looks like an interesting book.
To me Tanks seem more important as an exploitation weapon later in the war, and tank charges were often brutally crushed. Albeit spg or sp-at could be hugely valuable.
Of course if Tanks make the enemy dig in, that in itself helps pin them.

I have also read that our AA was used mostly in the middle east to protect the vital ports and installations, and also that the mount for the 3.7 inch was not well suited to Anti - Tank, but not verified these sources.
The biggest problem in the middle east to me seemed to tracking down the marauding columns of Germans when they got loose, our fixed defence boxes seemed to chew up the Germans and Italian attacks.
An imobile 3.7 inch may not have assisted much with chasing down superior German tanks.

open to critiq / more information.

That simply isn't true.
 
The standard 2lb, aka 40mm, tank gun was quite capable of biting contemporary German tanks.
FWIW, 95% of tanks never fired an AP round in their lives in WWII. Mobile protected artillery supporting the infantry was their main game. Which was a bit of an issue in the early years as we omitted to supply many tanks with HE rounds.
 
Photex, That is very interesting, I had only recently looked into CS tanks, and it seemed like not very many were made.
Do you have a source for 95% never firing AP rounds, because I thought it wasn't till the US tanks came in that non infantry tanks were properly equiped with he rounds.
If I rephrased my comment on British tanks to the 1941, 1942 time period would it be more accurate, I tend to think of the early part as it the early part of the battles with Rommel in the desert, I do understand this is skipping the wildly successful time against the Italian army, and of course the 1940 retreat.
 

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