Fighting Rommel; The British Imperial Army in North Africa during the Second World War, 1941–1943 9780367265700, 9780367358242, 9780429296017

Fighting Rommel examines how and why some armies innovate under pressure while others do not. Focusing on the learning c

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Table of contents :
Cover
Half Title
Title
Copyright
Contents
List of maps
Preface and acknowledgements
List of abbreviations
Introduction
1 Rommel attacks: Battleaxe and lessons learnt
2 Desert Fox contained: Crusader
3 Triumph of the Desert Fox
4 Second and Third Alamein: the two battles that stopped Rommel
5 Endgame in Tunisia
Conclusion
Glossary
Bibliography
Index
Recommend Papers

Fighting Rommel; The British Imperial Army in North Africa during the Second World War, 1941–1943
 9780367265700, 9780367358242, 9780429296017

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FIGHTING ROMMEL

Fighting Rommel examines how and why some armies innovate under pressure while others do not. Focusing on the learning culture of the British Imperial Forces, it looks at the Allied campaign during the Second World War against the Afrika Korps of Rommel. The volume highlights the hitherto unexplored yet key role of the British Indian Army, the largest volunteer force in the world. It also introduces ‘learning culture’ as a heuristic device. Further, it goes on to analyze military innovation on the battlefield, in victory and defeat. A major intervention in the study of the Second World War, this book will be indispensable to scholars and researchers of military history, especially British and German, battlefield history, and defence and strategic studies. Kaushik Roy is Guru Nanak Chair Professor at the Department of History, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India, and Global Fellow at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Norway.

FIGHTING ROMMEL The British Imperial Army in North Africa during the Second World War, 1941–1943

Kaushik Roy

First published 2020 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2020 Kaushik Roy The right of Kaushik Roy to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Roy, Kaushik, author. Title: Fighting Rommel : the British Imperial Army in North Africa during the Second World War, 1941–1943 / Kaushik Roy. Description: Abingdon, Oxon ; New York : Routledge, 2020. | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2019030506 (print) | LCCN 2019030507 (ebook) | ISBN 9780367265700 (hardback) | ISBN 9780367358242 (paperback) | ISBN 9780429296017 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Great Britain. Army. Army, Eighth—Drill and tactics. | Great Britain. Army. British Indian Army—Drill and tactics. | World War, 1939–1945—Campaigns—Africa, North. | Organizational learning. Classification: LCC D766.82 .R69 2020 (print) | LCC D766.82 (ebook) | DDC 940.54231—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019030506 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019030507 ISBN: 978-0-367-26570-0 (hbk) ISBN: 978-0-367-35824-2 (pbk) ISBN: 978-0-429-29601-7 (ebk) Typeset in Bembo by Apex CoVantage, LLC

CONTENTS

List of maps Preface and acknowledgements List of abbreviations Introduction

vi vii viii 1

1 Rommel attacks: Battleaxe and lessons learnt

11

2 Desert Fox contained: Crusader

43

3 Triumph of the Desert Fox

86

4 Second and Third Alamein: the two battles that stopped Rommel136 5 Endgame in Tunisia

185

Conclusion

228

Glossary236 Bibliography237 Index248

MAPS

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Mediterranean Theatre The Western Desert Cyrenaica, April 1941 Libya, late 1941 North Africa, mid-1942 First Battle of Alamein, 2 July 1942 Battle of Alam Halfa, or Second Battle of Alamein Axis and Allied forces before the Third Battle of Alamein Third Battle of Alamein: Lightfoot Third Battle of Alamein: Supercharge Tunisia: Western Dorsale Mareth Line, March 1943 Akarit, April 1943

xi xii xiii xiv xv xvi xvii xviii xix xx xxi xxii xxiii

PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Fighting Rommel deals with the combat effectiveness of the Eighth Army in general and the Indian formations within it in particular. We ask the question whether the Eighth Army experienced any innovations (in the fields of doctrine, training and tactics) while combating the ‘Desert Fox’ in North Africa from 1941 to 1943. This is a scholarly book and would appeal to those interested in the Second World War, British imperial history and South Asian history as well as practitioners from the field of international relations/security studies. However, books about the Second World War attract a general literate public from all over the world, and Rommel especially is a household name. Since this book is written in an easy narrative style, it will also attract general readers. My humble acknowledgement to the trustees of LHCMA for allowing me to use materials collected from their archives. Sincere thanks to all the other archives both inside and outside India for allowing me to use the materials collected from their holdings for research purposes. I have accumulated a great deal of debt while writing this book. Special thanks to my friends Dr. Gavin Rand of Department of History, Greenwich University, United Kingdom, and Dr. Narender Yadav of Ministry of Defence, Historical Section, New Delhi, for guiding me to the various archives of United Kingdom and India. I am grateful to my PhD scholars, Mr. Arka Choudhury, Ms. Moumita Choudhury and Ms. Priyanjana Gupta, and my two students, Ms. Sohini Mitra and Mr. Dipro Sen, for collecting data on my behalf. Thanks to Ms. Jane Bryan-Browne and Mr. Damien Fenton for copying certain documents for my use from various archives of London and Manchester and the National Archives of New Zealand at Wellington. And thanks to Suhrita for providing continuous emotional support while I was engaged in writing this book. In this regard, I consider myself luckier than Rommel, as Hitler refused to provide him solid moral and material backing when the ‘Desert Fox’ was engaged in fighting the Eighth Army. Kaushik Roy Kolkata 2019

ABBREVIATIONS

ABDACOM AFV AOC APAC AWM BGS BL BOR CAS CCRA CGS C3I CIGS CRA DAK DCGS DDMT DMT FOO GHQ GOC GOI GR I tanks

IJA

American, British, Dutch and Australian Command armoured fighting vehicle Air Officer Commanding Asia, Pacific & Africa Collections Australian War Memorial Brigadier General Staff British Library British Other Rank/private close air support Corps Commander Royal Artillery Chief of the General Staff command, control, communications and intelligence Chief of the Imperial General Staff Commander Royal Artillery Deutsches Afrika Korps Deputy Chief of General Staff Deputy Director of Military Training Director of Military Training Forward Observation Officer General Headquarters General Officer Commanding Government of India Gurkha Rifles Infantry support tank used by the British. They were in general heavily armoured but slow and underpowered, and they had weak mounted cannons. Imperial Japanese Army

Abbreviations  ix

IS IWM LHCMA LOC LRDG MEC MEF MODHS MUL NAM NANZ NCO OKW OODA OP POL POW PRO RAF RHA RPG RTR SLOC VCO WDAF WDF

intelligence summary Imperial War Museum Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives line of communication Long Range Desert Group Middle East Command Middle East Force Ministry of Defence Historical Section Manchester University Library National Army Museum National Archives of New Zealand non-commissioned officer Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (High Command of the German Armed Forces) observe, orientate, decide and act observation post petrol, oil and lubricants prisoner of war Public Record Office Royal Air Force Royal Horse Artillery round(s) per gun Royal Tank Regiment sea lines of communication Viceroy’s Commissioned Officer Western Desert Air Force Western Desert Force

Theatre

Source: Author.

Note: Map not according to scale.

MAP 1 Mediterranean

Western Desert

Source: Author.

Note: Map not according to scale.

MAP 2 The

1941

Source: Author.

Note: Map not according to scale.

MAP 3 Cyrenaica, April

1941

Source: Author.

Note: Map not according to scale.

MAP 4 Libya, late

Africa, mid-1942

Source: Author.

Note: Map not according to scale.

MAP 5 North

MAP 6 First

Battle of Alamein, 2 July 1942

Note: Map not according to scale. Source: Author.

MAP 7 Battle

of Alam Halfa, or Second Battle of Alamein

Note: Map not according to scale. Source: Author.

MAP 8 Axis

and Allied forces before the Third Battle of Alamein

Note: Map not according to scale. Source: Author.

MAP 9 Third

Battle of Alamein: Lightfoot

Note: Map not according to scale. Source: Author.

MAP 10 Third

Battle of Alamein: Supercharge

Note: Map not according to scale. Source: Author.

MAP 11 Tunisia:

Western Dorsale

Note: Map not according to scale. Source: Author.

MAP 12 Mareth

Line, March 1943

Note: Map not according to scale. Source: Author.

1943

Source: Author.

Note: Map not according to scale.

MAP 13 Akarit, April

INTRODUCTION

Why did certain armies innovate under pressure of war but others failed to do so? Innovations in the spheres of doctrines, training and tactics raise the combat/ military effectiveness1 of an army. To go further, why do certain units/formations within an army display greater innovation resulting in increasing combat effectiveness as compared to other units of the same organization? The present volume attempts to answer this problem by making a case study of the Indian divisions vis-à-vis the Australian and the British infantry divisions and the armoured units within the British Imperial Army, which fought in North Africa between 1941 and mid-1943. From the Indian experience, we will try to build up a general theory about innovation within a military organization during combat. And such a model grounded in historical reality will surely have implications for international relations and security studies even today. Many books have been written about the war in North Africa. However, most of the books focus on the British fighting the Germans. The focus of these works is mostly on strategy, tactics and generalship. From the very beginning, British authors built up the Rommel myth. Before the historians, it was Winston Churchill who portrayed Rommel as an extraordinary commander, probably to hide his and the British Army’s failures in North Africa. Field-Marshal Erwin Rommel – nicknamed the ‘Desert Fox’ by the Allied soldiers – is portrayed as a super-general by several scholars.2 In recent times, Rommel’s reputation has taken some beatings.3 A similar historiographical swing is also evident in the scholarship dealing with the Wehrmacht. Initially, the Wehrmacht was regarded by the historians as a superarmy.4 In the second phase, scholars became critical of the Third Reich’s military machine.5 And in recent times, a more balanced view is emerging about the German Army during the Second World War.6 The pendulum has actually swung too much in the opposite direction. True, the Wehrmacht was vanquished in mid-1945. But it held almost the whole world at

2 Introduction

bay for several years. Even in the heyday of victory, the Wehrmacht never enjoyed any substantial numerical or technological edge vis-à-vis its opponents. Definitely, the Wehrmacht was no ordinary army. Rommel certainly was no ordinary commander. Rommel never enjoyed material superiority over the Allies. Still, for almost two years, he was able to run rings around the Allied forces in North Africa. Hence, material superiority alone cannot explain fully the final victory of the Allies over the Axis in North Africa. Besides material superiority, innovative doctrine, sophisticated training and complex tactics, which raised the combat effectiveness of the Allied forces in North Africa, played a crucial role in the final defeat of the Axis forces. The present monograph focuses on these aspects. The Allied forces in North Africa (Western Desert Force, or WDF, and later the Eighth Army) was a multi-ethnic organization. It had metropolitan (British units), dominion (Australian and New Zealand military units) and colonial (Indian) troops. In the new millennium, historians have studied the role of the Australian soldiers and New Zealand troops at Tobruk and in El Alamein.7 But the role of the Indian Army remains in limbo. The Indian Army was partly Indian and partly British. Each Indian division included two to three brigades, and one of them was British. And in an Indian brigade, at least one battalion was British. Even within the Indian battalions, though the rank and file and the non-commissioned officers (NCOs) were Indians, most of the commissioned officers were British. Between the Indian rank and file ( jawans) and the commissioned British officers were the Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers (VCOs). The VCOs, who were Indians, functioned as a link between these two culturally distinct groups. With about 2.5 million men drawn mostly from the uneducated peasants of the countryside, the Indian Army was the largest volunteer force in the world. Largely officered by the British, the Indian Army fought in several theatres against the Axis powers. In 1940 and in early 1941, it bested the Italian Army both in the Western Desert and in East Africa. But in late 1941 and mid-1942, the Indian Army was outfought by the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) in South-East Asia and by the Wehrmacht (Afrika Korps [Deutsches Afrika Korps, or DAK] to be precise) in North Africa. From 1943 onwards, the Indian Army was able to contain and then defeat both the IJA in Burma and the Wehrmacht in North Africa and in Italy.8 There are several scholarly studies focusing on the Indian Army’s confrontation with the ‘Rising Sun’.9 However, we do not have a single monograph dealing with the Indian Army’s confrontation with Rommel’s Afrika Korps (later Rommel’s force was renamed Panzer Group Afrika and finally Panzer Army Afrika). The present monograph is an attempt to fill this historiographical gap. However, this monograph does not merely narrate the combat activities of the Indian Army in North Africa between 1941 and 1943. Nor is the aim here to provide a chauvinistic account of the triumph of the Indian Army in desert warfare. Rather, the Indian units’ activities are deftly woven within the overall operational story of the Eighth Army. By introducing the heuristic device of ‘learning culture’, this volume tries to fuse cultural and operational history and attempts to portray the organizational culture of the Eighth Army. The latter is treated as an institution. An

Introduction  3

institution’s ability to learn from its enemies and to adapt itself by adopting certain new techniques to meet the challenges of the hostile force is an aspect of learning culture, which in turn is part of its institutional/organizational culture. Learning culture generates the learning curve displayed by an organization. Successful adaptation also requires jettisoning old formulas and adopting new elements in order to meet the kaleidoscopic changes on the battlefields. Some of the characteristic features of the learning culture are self-criticism, generation of after-action reports and analyzing them in order to evolve effective countermeasures to tackle the hostile force, dissemination of such strands of thought within the organization, and also the ability to copy some of the elements of the enemy which best suits the organization in order to raise its level of combat effectiveness. There are some studies regarding innovations in the military organizations. Aimee Fox’s monograph addresses the issue of innovations in the British Army during the First World War. She asserts that the British Army was a networked organization, and it learnt from experiences of the different theatres and adopted certain techniques from the civilians attached to this organization and also from the allied French Army. Fox continues that the British military organization had a forward-looking culture and it encouraged both initiatives at the local levels and a modicum of centralized direction under higher headquarters. In other words, the British Army during the Great War represented a balanced mix of centralized and decentralized ethos.10 How far the British Imperial Army was a networked organization is evaluated in this monograph. We have three important books dealing with innovations in the major militaries of the world during the interwar period. One is by Barry Posen. He asserts that a military organization innovates under pressure of defeat and due to interventions by political mavericks. The maverick politician who functions as a wild card enables the forward-looking military officers (who are always in a minority) to come to the fore.11 The essays in the volume edited by Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett rightly note that innovation is a non-linear process. Critical studies of past combat experience, honest self-criticism, rigorous training mechanism and realistic military exercises were some of the factors that generated military innovations in the Anglo-American and German militaries.12 The six essays in the volume edited by Harold R. Winton and David R. Mets concentrate on innovations (or the lack of it) in the five major militaries of the Western world.13 Winton focuses mainly on the role of individual military reformers who occupied the highest echelon.14 In our framework, the focus is not only on the top-level military commanders, but an attempt is made to highlight the crucial role played by the divisional and brigade commanders in shaping the process of battlefield innovations. As regards innovations both during war and peace, we have two books. Stephen Peter Rosen’s monograph studies military innovations in the American and British armed forces both during peace and war during the twentieth century. A clear strategic direction and meticulous collection and proper analysis of intelligence data regarding the hostile forces, claims Rosen, generate innovations in the military.15 An edited volume containing fourteen essays charts the process of military

4 Introduction

transformation in the British Army between 1792 and 1945. Two editors of this volume differentiate between the concepts of innovation and adaptation. I find this distinction not useful. In fact, adaptation and adoption are two crucial elements of innovation. The case studies are mostly empirical. Broadly, the essays in this volume focus on organizational adaptation, budgetary constraints and the presence of an external stimulus in shaping the process of transformation in the military organization. Only one article by Neal Dando in this edited volume covers the ground war in North Africa.16 There is definitely scope for further research on the process of military innovations in the Allied ground force at North Africa. Regarding innovations in the battlefield during the course of the Second World War, we have an article and two monographs. Murray’s article asserts that the German Panzer Revolution was the product of amalgamation of First World War techniques (like fire and movement and decentralized command style) with the internal combustion engine and ideological fanaticism generated by the Third Reich.17 Murray, in his book published in 2011, attempts to tackle the problem of successful adaptations of the armies during combat. Murray’s case studies include the two World Wars and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He asserts that combat effective military organizations were able to adapt their prewar assumptions and concepts to reality. Honest analysis of the past campaigns, maintenance of linkages between the staff officers and front-line officers, making real-time decisions, allowing space in the military organization for the mavericks/genius to operate, were some of the elements which allowed a military organization to innovate successfully during wartime.18 The book by Neal Dando asserts that the Eighth Army’s tank tactics were influenced by the coastal terrain of North Africa.19 However, how the physical geography influenced or obstructed innovations in British armoured tactics is not really fleshed out in his work. Overall, we do not have anything substantial dealing with military innovations in the battlefields of North Africa between 1941 and 1943. Fighting Rommel shows that the Eighth Army in general and the Indian formations in particular experienced innovations, both in the aftermath of defeat and also when flushed with victory. Access to superior material resources did not always generate innovations. At certain junctures, certain individuals (i.e. progressive military officers) played a crucial role in implementing innovative schemes. Forwardthinking military officers were indeed rare in the Eighth Army. Some of them were Lieutenant-General Francis Tuker (Director of Military Training, or DMT, of India and later commander of the 4th Indian Division); Major-General Donald Bateman, a trainer-cum-brigade commander; and Major-General Frank Messervy, who commanded both an infantry division and later an armoured division. The Eighth Army did not have a ‘wild card’ like Adolf Hitler (an important element in Posen’s conceptual framework) for sustaining the innovative cycle. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill would egg on Field-Marshals ‘Archie’ Wavell, Claude Auchinleck and Bernard Montgomery to attack Rommel as quickly as they could. Churchill replaced two theatre commanders: Wavell and Auchinleck. Beyond that, Churchill’s influence on battlefield innovation was not much. Despite experiencing

Introduction  5

relative insulation from political forces, the Eighth Army experienced tacticaloperational innovations. I argue that agency (individuals like Tuker, Auchinleck, Monty, etc.), structure (the institution of Directorate of Military Training in Britain and India, Middle East Staff School, etc.) and the bureaucratic army culture20 played an important role in accelerating the process of learning in the military formations. The elements of army culture which aided innovations include publication and circulation of training manuals plus intelligence reports within the Eighth Army’s corps, divisions and brigades, and the culture of seniors asking for inputs in planning the battle from junior officers. In this monograph, we study the learning culture of the Eighth Army in North Africa by focusing on the following battles: Battleaxe; Crusader (including First Gazala); Second Gazala; First, Second and Third Alamein; Mareth; Akarit; and ­Enfidaville-Garci. The focus of this volume is to evaluate innovation or the lack of it in the fields of doctrine, training, tactics and operation while the strategical framework constitutes the background. Equal attention is given to the hardware (tools of trade/war) and to the non-material aspect of warfare (doctrine/­ conceptualization of combat, training, etc.). Since the Indian formations fought shoulder to shoulder with the Australian, British and New Zealand military formations, this monograph paints the learning culture of the Indian units in relation with the British and Australian formations. We will see that while certain infantry divisions were fast learners, the British armour (for instance the 1st Armoured Division and the 23rd Armoured Brigade) lagged behind in learning lessons from combat. Again, while discussing the learning culture of the Eighth Army, we also take into account its opponent, the Axis forces. The latter were not inert but were also evolving and at times innovating. As regards the Axis forces, my focus is on the German elements. The Italian units were certainly not playthings. But even the best Italian units acted in a supporting role for the spear tip which happened to be the DAK.21 James S. Corum rightly notes that the German General Staff had the habit of critically analyzing past campaigns in order to draw the right lessons for waging future combat.22 We see that this tradition was present in the Afrika Korps. At another level, this volume also compares the Eighth Army (which learnt certain lessons) with Lieutenant-General A. E. Percival’s Malaya Command, which failed to learn anything during 1941–1942. Thus, this volume follows a comparative angle which is grounded in archival data. Historian Alan Jeffreys asserts that the Indian Army was a learning organization. In fact, during the Second World War, the British-Indian military organization displayed a high learning curve in assimilating the lessons of desert, mountain and jungle warfare techniques. Jeffreys focuses mainly on the training manuals to prove his point.23 The present monograph shows the dialectical relationship between command structure, combat operations and the after-action memoranda and intelligence reports. I attempt to show how defeats in the battlefield influenced the training regimen and how innovative training proved its worth during the actual confrontations. I argue that the theory of battle (doctrine) changed as a result of clash with the hostile armies. The theory of warfare adapted itself to changing

6 Introduction

circumstances, and the updated theory resulted in adoption of new techniques of training. The innovations in the training were passed on to the formations through publication of training manuals which were updated regularly. This made possible conception and implementation of subtle and sophisticated tactics which in turn raised the combat effectiveness of certain units in the Eighth Army. At a broader level, this book also takes issue with the assumption that in the desert, the tank was the principal weapon.24 Most of the battles in 1941 and 1942 were fought in the region between El Agheila and El Alamein, around the coastal sector through which ran Via Balbia, the only all-weather coastal road. In the absence of railways, supplies for the armies were dependent on motor transport. Generally, armour conducted encircling movement from the interior of the desert towards the coastal region, where the more or less immobile infantry were deployed. There were no important inland towns in North Africa. Combat for capturing the coastal ports was necessary for supplying the armies. Criss-crossing the desert were trighs (tracks). These tracks were washed away in wet weather as their surface deteriorated and wheeled vehicles bogged down. Where two or more trighs crossed each other, there was a bir (well) or sidi (grave of a Muslim saint). Such junctions occasionally became centres of fighting. Rising above the level of the desert near the coast were djebels (escarpments). Occupation of the djebels allowed domination of some of the trighs and portions of Via Balbia. So combat mostly occurred along the escarpment. Further inland, the deep sand was almost impassable for the wheeled vehicles. Hence, most of the fighting occurred within 50 miles of the coastline. Neither the Allies nor the Axis had the shipping capacity to conduct a seaborne landing behind the hostile front. Our narrative moves at four levels – army, corps, division and battalion – and portrays the dialectical relationship between combat operations and the lessons learnt. Fighting Rommel shows that combined arms tactics (involving armour-artillery-infantry and air force) was essential in the desert and especially in the mountainous regions, infantry-field artillery-close air support (CAS) combination played a crucial role. This book has five chapters. Chapter 1 analyzes the limitations of the Allied ground forces during Operation Battleaxe and how the 4th Indian Division along with the other components of the WDF tried to overcome them. Inadequate cooperation of the air force and field artillery with infantry characterized the WDF’s operation. The British armour fought their own separate battles and launched a futile Balaclava-like charge against the Axis positions defended by all arms. Chapter 2 portrays what lessons were learnt by the Eighth Army after Battleaxe and how far these lessons were implemented by the Allied forces during Crusader. The learning process of the Eighth Army was incomplete. As a result, though Rommel was defeated, his force was not destroyed. The Allied infantry and armour fought separately. The Eighth Army realized the necessity of combined/all arms operation but was unable to implement it. Partly this was due to the heterogeneous character of the British imperial force and the legacy of regimental soldiering. Insular thinking among the various combatant branches of the British Imperial Army was so strong that combined arms operation was not practiced despite it being emphasized repeatedly in the training manuals and intelligence reports.

Introduction  7

Chapter 3 attempts to explain the reasons behind the debacle in the desert in mid-1942. Doctrinal confusion resulting in dissension among the Eighth Army commanders, such as Auchinleck, Lieutenant-General Neil Ritchie, Major-­General A. H. Gatehouse, Messervy and Tuker, was an important factor behind the Allied defeat at the Second Battle of Gazala. Rigid linear defence in the open desert by the Allied commanders proved inadequate against the fluid mobile battle waged by Panzer Army Afrika. Ritchie realized that the Allied armour was no match against the panzers in fast, dispersed running encounters. In reaction to it, static brigade-box-oriented defence emerged. In fact, Auchinleck’s innovative concept of brigade-size perimeter ‘boxes’ along with the use of Jock Columns were ineffective against Panzer Army Afrika. However, the boxes proved to be effective against the lightly armed IJA in Burma during 1943–1944. So not all tactical innovations proved to be combat effective in all theatres. Innovations were region and enemy specific. The Allied victory at the First Battle of Alamein was more due to exhaustion of Rommel’s forces, which were dogged by supply problems. Chapter 4 argues that the Allied victory in the Second and Third Battles of Alamein was due to sophisticated positional warfare tactics backed up by numerical and material superiority. The geography of the Alamein position precluded conduct of mobile battle involving outflanking thrust by the Panzer Army Afrika. But it seems that the British armour was not learning fast enough. Monty’s regime witnessed innovations in artillery tactics, utilization of aerial photos, patrolling and reconnaissance and so forth. But intimate cooperation involving infantry-artilleryarmour-ground attack aircraft for conducting mobile war did not really develop in the Eighth Army. For instance, the armoured divisions and the armoured brigades opposed intimate cooperation with infantry and field artillery. Monty’s tight command system and conservative attitude of some divisional commanders like Gatehouse obstructed innovations in the spheres of doctrine and tactics. So at times the attitudes of the army and divisional commanders could accelerate or even decelerate the process of battlefield innovations. And these factors, to a great extent, were responsible for allowing the successful retreat of the numerically inferior Panzer Army Afrika from Alamein to the Mareth Line. Chapter 5 portrays the fighting at Tunisia by the Eighth Army. Here the paradigm of desert war was replaced with that of mountain war. Taking advantage of the terrain in Tunisia, the Axis forces constructed successive defensive lines centred round the mountainous features. And the Indian infantry, compared to the British infantry, excelled in mountain warfare. In the three battles of Mareth, Akarit and Enfidaville, the 4th Indian Division proved itself superior vis-à-vis the 50th and 51st British Divisions in conducting nocturnal warfare in hilly terrain. This was due to the fighting skill that the Indian formations had developed while combating the Pathans along the North-West Frontier and the experience they had gained against the Italians in Eritrea. Mountain warfare against the technically backward Pathans and militarily ‘soft’ Italians was one thing, but against the stone-cold German ‘killers’ of Army Group Africa equipped with heavy weapons, was another thing. Thanks to the exchange of ideas between the Middle East Staff School, corps

8 Introduction

and divisional commanders and Directorate of Military Training, India, the Indian infantry was able to integrate pack mules, mortars and artillery with infiltration and skirmishing techniques. One can assert that the Indian units of the Eighth Army developed the paradigm of mountain warfare under modern conditions, which was used with great effect in Italy during 1944. I build up the story of the Eighth Army’s combat in the desert and mountain of North Africa with the aid of war diaries of the Indian divisions and brigades, which are available at the Ministry of Defence History Division (MODHS), New Delhi. These war diaries have not been used extensively by scholars. Only official historians have utilized them while writing the bland official history of the Indian armed forces during the Second World War. The official files and war diaries of the British and Indian infantry, artillery and armoured units are available at Public Record Office/The National Archives (PRO/TNA), Kew, and at the Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections (APAC), British Library, London. Private papers of the army, corps, divisional and brigade commanders plus the staff officers, along with that of Basil Liddell Hart which are available at the various archives of Britain (Imperial War Museum, National Army Museum, Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives [LHCMA], London and John Rylands Library, Manchester), are utilized in order to discern the circulation of ideas (or the lack of it) at various levels of the Eighth Army and how it influenced the formulation of battle doctrines and training architecture. Official after-action reports, regimental histories (both published and unpublished) along with divisional and official histories are used to discern the actual pattern of war on the ground. Autobiographies throw some light on the human dimension of combat: how the men and the officers actually felt during the heat of combat. And for analyzing the story from the ‘other side of the hill’, I have used the German formations’ war diaries available at the National Archives of New Zealand, Wellington. Now let us see how it all started with the coming of the German military units in North Africa in early 1941.

Notes 1 Combat/military effectiveness is the ability of a military formation to engage the hostile military units and the capacity to inflict casualties on the latter with the ultimate objective of gaining victory. 2 Desmond Young’s hagiography of Rommel titled Rommel: The Desert Fox (1950, reprint, Glasgow: Fontana, 1989) started the trend. David Irving’s The Trail of the Fox (1978, reprint, New York: Avon Books, 1990) continued this trend by arguing that Rommel’s genius was misused by Hitler. And David Fraser’s biography titled Knight’s Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (1993, reprint, London: HarperCollins, 1994) argues that Rommel was not bereft of strategic sense. The latest biography by Charles Messenger titled Rommel: Leadership Lessons from the Desert Fox (New York: Palgrave, 2009) claims that the Desert Fox was a tactical-operational genius and his method has relevance even today for NATO and US armies. Messenger accepts that Rommel was a very good battlefield general and he could command an army but not an army group, which required political flair. 3 The most damning criticism of Rommel and the German armed forces engaged in the Mediterranean theatre comes from James Sadkovich’s two articles: ‘Understanding

Introduction  9

Defeat: Reappraising Italy’s Role in World War II’, Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 24, no. 1 (1989), pp. 27–61, and ‘Of Myths and Men: Rommel and the Italians in North Africa, 1940–1942’, International History Review, vol. 13, no. 2 (1991), pp. 284–313. Ian Beckett, the British historian, asserts that Rommel was no military genius. He was utterly reckless in his pursuit of personal glory. See Ian F. W. Beckett, ‘Introduction’, in Ian F. W. Beckett (ed.), Rommel: A Reappraisal (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2013), pp. 1–4. A balanced assessment of Rommel is done by the American historian Dennis Showalter in his twin biographies of Rommel and Patton titled Patton and Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century (New York: Berkeley Caliber, 2005). Showalter notes that Rommel was certainly more than a divisional commander. He was a master of improvisation and a tactical genius. Like the German officer corps of his day, he believed that tactical and operational victories would result in a favourable strategic scenario. Rommel’s last assumption, writes the scholar Shimon Naveh in his In Pursuit of Military Excellence: The Evolution of Operational Theory (1997, reprint, London: Frank Cass, 2000), was a serious conceptual limitation of German military philosophy. This trait, according to Naveh, could be traced back to the ideas of the founding father of German military thought, Carl von Clausewitz. 4 One example is J.F.C. Fuller, The Second World War, 1939–45: A Strategical and Tactical History (1948, reprint, New York: Da Capo, 1993). 5 David Glantz’s numerous publications from the 1990s by focusing on the Red Army note the shortcomings of the Wehrmacht in the Eastern Front. See for example David M. Glantz and Jonathan House, When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1995) and David M. Glantz, Before Stalingrad: Hitler’s Invasion of Russia 1941 (2001, reprint, Dehra Dun: Natraj, 2013). More recently, David Stahel’s monographs focusing on the Germany Army in Russia during 1941 point to its limitations in logistical as well as in the tactical-operational spheres. See Stahel, Operation Barbarossa and Germany’s Defeat in the East (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Stahel, Operation Typhoon: Hitler’s March on Moscow, October 1941 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). 6 The best balanced view is provided by the American historian Robert Citino. He shows that the Wehrmacht excelled at the tactical-operational spheres but was characterized by strategic bankruptcy. See Citino’s The Wehrmacht Retreats: Fighting a Lost War, 1943 (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2012). 7 Mark Johnston and Peter Stanley, Alamein: The Australian Story (2002, reprint, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2006); Glyn Harper, The Battle for North Africa: El Alamein and the Turning Point for World War II (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2017). 8 Kaushik Roy, India and World War II: War, Armed Forces, and Society, 1939–45 (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2016). 9 See for instance Kaushik Roy, Sepoys Against the Rising Sun: The Indian Army in Far East and South-East Asia, 1941–45 (Leiden: Brill, 2016); Roy, Tropical Warfare in the AsiaPacific Region, 1941–45 (London and New York: Routledge, 2018). 10 Aimee Fox, Learning to Fight: Military Innovation and Change in the British Army, 1914– 1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018). 11 Barry R. Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine: France, Britain, and Germany Between the World Wars (Ithaca and New York: Cornell University Press, 1984). 12 Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett (eds.), Military Innovation in the Interwar Period (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996). 13 Harold M. Winton and David R. Mets (eds.), The Challenge of Change: Military Institutions and New Realities, 1918–1941 (2000, reprint, Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2003). 14 Harold M. Winton, ‘Introduction: On Military Change’, in Winton and Mets (eds.), The Challenge of Change, p. xiv. 15 Stephen Peter Rosen, Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military (1991, reprint, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1994).

10 Introduction

16 Michael Locicero, Ross Mahoney and Stuart Mitchell (eds.), A Military Transformed? Adaptation and Innovation in the British Military, 1792–1945 (2014, reprint, Solihull: Helion, 2016). 17 Williamson Murray, ‘May 1940: Contingency and Fragility of the German RMA’, in MacGregor Knox and Williamson Murray (eds.), The Dynamics of Military Revolution: 1300–2050 (2001, reprint, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 154–174. 18 Williamson Murray, Military Adaptation in War: With Fear of Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011). 19 Neal Dando, From Tobruk to Tunis: The Impact of Terrain on British Operations and Doctrine in North Africa, 1940–1943 (Solihull: Helion, 2016). 20 The term ‘military culture’ has wider ramifications. Military culture has to include the dialectics between armed forces, state and society. Here, we are concerned with what was happening within the military organization in the battlefield. Hence, for a narrower sense, the term ‘army culture’ is more apt. Army culture is actually the organizational culture of the military institution. For an idea about organizational culture generating military innovations see Theo Farrell, ‘Figuring Out Fighting Organizations: Organisational Analysis in Strategic Studies’, Journal of Strategic Studies, vol. 19, no. 1 (1996), pp. 122–135. 21 Richard Carrier, ‘Some Reflections on the Fighting Power of the Italian Army in North Africa, 1940–1943’, War in History, vol. 22, no. 4 (2015), pp. 503–28. 22 James S. Corum,‘A Comprehensive Approach to Change: Reform in the German Army in the Interwar Period’, in Winton and Mets (eds.), The Challenge of Change, p. 37. 23 Alan Jeffreys, Approach to Battle: Training the Indian Army During the Second World War (Solihull: Helion, 2017). 24 Numerous authors have argued that the desert war was shaped mainly by the tanks. See for instance Irving, The Trail of the Fox; Colonel H.C.B. Rogers, Tanks in Battle (1965, reprint, London: Sphere, 1972); Dennis Showalter, Hitler’s Panzers: The Lightning Attacks that Revolutionized Warfare (New York: Berkeley Caliber, 2009); Dando, From Tobruk to Tunis.

1 ROMMEL ATTACKS Battleaxe and lessons learnt

Rommel! Rommel! Rommel! – What else matters but beating him. —Winston Churchill1

Introduction This chapter discusses the first confrontation of the Allied forces with Rommel’s Axis troops in Libya. Libya was divided into Cyrenaica in the east and Tripolitania in the west. However, the Axis referred to Western Libya as Cyrenaica and the region east of Gazala as Marmarica.2 From February 1941, thanks to German intervention, Axis fortunes revived in North Africa. In response, Archibald Wavell, the British Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East, due to pressure from London, launched two counter-attacks: Brevity and Battleaxe. The 4th Indian Division played a central role in Operation Battleaxe, which was launched in mid-1941 by Wavell against the Axis forces in the Libyan Desert. After heady victories over the Italians in the Western Desert during 1940 and in East Africa in early 1941, Battleaxe provided a critical reality check on the Allied forces. This chapter discusses the Allied forces’ theory and practice of war against the Axis. The Indian formations along with the other Allied formations in accordance with their learning culture, which was part of the organizational culture of the WDF, assessed their limitations honestly. Further, they attempted to understand their enemy’s techniques and copy certain of their methods. But they never resorted to blind copying of the enemy’s methods regardless of consequences. In addition, the Allied formations, after thorough analysis of their own limitations and enemy’s combat methods, tried to evolve certain new techniques to overcome their battlefield limitations against the Germans.

12  Rommel attacks

Enter the ‘Desert Fox’ On 10 January 1941, Winston Churchill informed Wavell that after the capture of Tobruk there was no need to get engaged too far west in Libya. The priority after the recapture of Tobruk was to send reinforcements to Greece against the Axis troops.3 Wavell was also partly in favour of sending a detachment to Greece. It was a strategic mistake of great magnitude. Greece could not be saved. But, if LieutenantGeneral Richard O’Connor’s force had moved forward after the victory at Beda Fomm to Tripoli, then probably the desert war would have been finished in early 1941. The failure of Wavell’s force to capture Tripoli, the last Italian harbour in North Africa, made the German military intervention in North Africa possible. Tripoli, which was the major port in Western Libya, remained the principal Axis supply base till January 1943. As early as 10 January 1941, the X German Air Corps started bombing Malta.4 On 11 January 1941 Hitler issued Directive Number 22, which noted that Tripolitania must be held. Aerial and ground support was to be offered to the Italians to stabilize the situation in that region.5 Hitler chose Lieutenant-General Erwin Rommel, then a comparatively unknown German general, as commander of the German blocking force in North Africa. Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel, son of a schoolteacher was born on 15 November 1891 at Heidenheim in Swabia, a district in Wurttemberg, South Germany. Rommel had commanded a panzer division during the German invasion of France in May 1940. On 6 February, Hitler instructed that the advancing Allies should be blocked in the Sirte Desert with the aid of the 5th German Light Division. On the same day, OKW issued orders for the beginning of Operation Sonnenblume (Sunflower) – the transport of German forces to Tripoli.6 German aim was limited: to send a Sperrverband (a blocking formation) to prevent the total collapse of the Italian position in North Africa.7 On 12 February, the Axis ships started landing tanks of the 5th Light Panzer Division at Tripoli. Rommel arrived at Castel Benito airfield south of Tripoli on the same day.8 On 14 February, personnel of the 3rd Reconnaissance and 39th Anti-Tank Battalions started disembarking at Tripoli.9 At the beginning of February 1941, the Middle East Command (MEC) under Wavell disposed of the following force. In the Western Desert the 7th Armoured Division and the 6th Australian Division were present. The 2nd Armoured Division and the New Zealand Division were in Egypt. The 6th British Division was in the process of forming in the Nile Delta. The 7th and 9th Australian Divisions were in Palestine. The 4th and 5th Indian Divisions were fighting at Keren in Eritrea. And the 1st South African Division, along with the 11th and 12th African Divisions, were in East Africa. Despite the large number of units at his disposal, some of them displayed structural weakness. The 7th Armoured Division had been fighting continuously for the previous eight months and required mechanical overhaul before undertaking further operations. Due to maintenance problems, only a small number of tanks could be maintained at Beda Fomm. The 2nd Armoured Division was a new formation. Major-General J. C. Tilly, commander of this novice division,

Rommel attacks  13

informed Wavell that the tracks of his two Cruiser tank regiments were worn out and the engines required overhaul in the workshops. The 6th Australian Division was a veteran formation. However, both the 7th and the 9th Australian Divisions were partly trained and inadequately equipped. The New Zealand Division was a seasoned formation. But the 6th British Division lacked artillery, supporting arms and comprised a hodgepodge of battalions that had never trained together. After the fall of Keren, Wavell planned to transfer the 4th Indian Division from Eritrea to Cyrenaica. The South African Division was meant to operate only in East Africa. And the two African divisions in terms of training and equipment were not suited for operation in North Africa. Out of the aforementioned available forces, Wavell had to cater both for Cyrenaica and Greece. The ready striking force was sent to Greece. But Wavell was more or less confident because the Italian units were easily destroyed in the previous victorious campaign (Compass) conducted by him.10 However, the German military intervention soon changed the strategic scenario. During mid-February 1941, Hitler admitted to his inner circle that the next two weeks were going to be critical. Rommel himself noted that if the British at that time had moved towards Tripoli, things would have been really messy for the Axis. On 28 February, Hitler told Mussolini that if another two weeks’ time was allowed, then the panzer regiment would arrive and any Allied advance towards Tripoli would fail.11 O’Connor himself believed that he could have captured Tripoli with light forces as the Italian Army in North Africa had completely collapsed by then. Historian David Mitchelhill-Green agrees with O’Connor’s assessment.12 The British military officer turned historian Michael Carver asserts that apart from the Greek ‘misadventure’, Wavell lacked the logistical wherewithal to push O’Connor from Beda Fomm to Tripoli in early February 1941.13 Carver notes that had the victory of Beda Fomm been won ten days earlier, and if there was no Greek misadventure, O’Connor probably could have captured Tripoli before the first Germans arrived on the shores of Africa.14 O’Connor was most likely right. But the Greek intervention prevented any advance by Wavell’s force against the expanding German bridgehead in Tripoli. On 22 February 1941, the decision was taken to send Allied land forces to Greece. Due to Rommel’s proddings, Lieutenant-General Hans Ferdinand Geisler, commander of the X German Air Corps based at Catania in Sicily, started bombing Benghazi, so the British ships had to unload their cargoes at Tobruk.15 Hence, all the available motor transport was used to bring the supplies from Tobruk to the Allied formations deployed in West Cyrenaica. This in turn made the divisions immobile, which made them sitting ducks in case of a German armoured advance. Further, the 2nd Armoured Division had to be supplied from the dumps instead of having its own transport.16 This was a serious issue, because if Axis columns were able to capture the supply dumps then the British armoured division would wither away due to logistical difficulties. The Regia Aeronautica deployed the 5th Squadra in North Africa. Compared to the German and British aircraft, the Italian aircraft were under-gunned but were maneuverable and fast. So the Italian fighters faced the same dilemma like

14  Rommel attacks

the Japanese Zeros during the later stages of the Pacific War. Both were faster and maneuverable but were under-gunned and under-armoured compared to the Allied aircraft. Moreover, the Italian bombers like the Japanese bombers carried small bomb loads.17 The Regia Aeronautica was debilitated by two more factors. Due to lack of spare parts, the level of operability was lower compared to the Luftwaffe and the Allied air force. Worse, many of the Italian fighters like the Italian tanks lacked radios.18 However, by the end of February, the Luftwaffe comprising JU-87s, JU-88s, ME-110s and ME-109s dominated the sky over Libya.19 Against thirty Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft in Cyrenaica, the Luftwaffe threw ninety Messerschmitt fighters and eighty bombers.20 On 4 March, Lieutenant-General Johannes Streich reached El Mugata with the advanced elements of the 5th Light Panzer Division. On 9 March, Rommel informed Berlin that his objective was to capture Cyrenaica and then North Egypt including the Suez Canal. He asserted that he would start advancing in early May.21 Rommel would actually move earlier. The German General Staff, however, had much more limited aims as regards Africa. The German High Command regarded Rommel’s detachment as a blocking force in order to shore up the contracting North African Empire of Mussolini. Hitler feared that total obliteration of the Italian position in North Africa might result in the Allies invading Sicily or the Italian mainland. This might result in the downfall of the Fascist regime and Italy leaving the Axis bloc. Further, the Führer anticipated, total Italian collapse in North Africa would free up a dozen British divisions, which London could use most dangerously in other places.22 Colonel General Franz Halder, Chief of Staff of the German Army, believed that at best Germany could maintain three to four divisions in North Africa. Rommel’s ambition of conquering Egypt would require a big force, which Germany just could not supply across the Mediterranean. Hindsight would prove Halder’s assessment correct. On 21 March, Berlin ordered Rommel to hold his present line and to mount if possible only a limited attack.23 At this time, Rommel’s force was numerically inferior compared to the Allied forces before him. Rommel had only one panzer regiment, two machine-gun battalions, two reconnaissance battalions, three batteries of artillery and a flak battalion.24 However, German superiority lay in the fields of command and doctrine. Rommel’s command style involved leading from the front so that he could influence the course of the battle. Rommel and his senior commanders could lead from the front because they had special command tanks from which the guns were removed and equipped as mobile command posts. In order to enable the divisional commanders to issue orders rapidly, each of them travelled in a vehicle equipped with an ultra short wave radio. They could thus monitor their own tanks’ radios. In contrast, the WDF was short of radios. After taking command in Cyrenaica just before Rommel’s counteroffensive in March 1941, Lieutenant-General Philip Neame was dependent on the captured Italian telephone system and Italian operators for much of his communication. Rommel insisted on a high level of tactical coordination and close cooperation among the tanks, infantry and anti-tank gunners and dive-bombers. He believed in the principle of mass attacks. By striking at

Rommel attacks  15

one point of the Allied line with the bulk of his motorized and armoured troops, the Desert Fox repeatedly defeated numerically superior Allied forces.25 The German battle doctrine in North Africa to a great extent was influenced by Colonel General Heinz Guderian’s concept of armoured warfare. The panzer division moved forward in a series of ‘boxes’. It was different compared to the brigadesize box-oriented static defence practiced by the Eighth Army under Auchinleck. Each German box formed an individual battle group. The different components of the division were stationed within each box. Thus, a box included a panzer battalion, artillery, engineers and so forth. The reconnaissance detachments and antitank guns were located towards the enemy side within the box. The soft-skinned vehicles and the divisional headquarters were located at the centre of the box.26 When the box encountered hostile forces, the former halted and took up position for all-round defence. The German tanks withdrew to either side of the box. As the British tanks pressed their attacks, they were engaged on their flanks by anti-tank guns positioned at the sides of the box. Meanwhile, the German tanks swung round from the sides of the box and attacked the British tanks at the rear.27 Further, compared to Wavell’s multi-national force, Rommel’s German Afrika Korps (DAK) was a cohesive and combat effective instrument. The various nationalities which made up Wavell’s force were from different social backgrounds, had different religions and varied dietary habits, spoke different languages and had different combat motivations. For instance, the Indians were not fighting for patriotism or to save the Western civilization from Nazi ‘barbarism’ but rather because of regimental tradition and their mercenary calling. Again, while the jawans were illiterate and semi-literate small peasants from the countryside, the ‘Tommies’ to a great extent were from the urban slums.28 This was a serious structural flaw in the constitution of the British imperial land force. Napoleon once commented: ‘An army composed of men from different nations will not hesitate to commit foolish mistakes’.29 After Marshal Rodolfo Graziani’s resignation, Italo Gariboldi was the senior most Italian commander in North Africa.30 The Italian Army during March 1941 in North Africa included two corps. The X Italian Corps had the Bologna and Pavia Infantry Divisions and the Ariete Armoured Division with sixty tanks. After the disastrous defeat in the Libyan Campaign during 1940, Graziani concluded that a single armoured division was more powerful than a whole infantry army. However, the Italian armoured force did not register much development in the fields of doctrine and technical capabilities, partly due to corruption at the highest echelons of Italian industrial and military circles and due to weakness in the Italian industrial infrastructure. The Italian L (Light) 3 tank had become obsolete by 1940. The principal Italian tank, the M-13, was under-powered, and many of them did not possess radios. Communication among the tanks through radios enabled the German armour to launch coordinated attack and also to quickly respond to the changing battlefield circumstances. Further, the Italian tanks tended to break down frequently and were constructed using rivets rather than welding. Under the impact of heavy shells, the rivets had a dangerous tendency to pop out, resulting

16  Rommel attacks

in rivet shanks flying inside the tanks, which seriously wounded the crew.31 During the advance to Egypt in late 1940, the Italian armour displayed little initiative and capacity to maneuver. And Italian medium tanks were inferior compared to the British Cruiser tanks.32 So the British commanders did not fear Italian armour. The XXI Italian Corps was made up of mainly the Savona and Brescia Infantry Divisions.33 Most of the Italian infantry had no heart for fighting. They were poorly equipped, poorly supplied, badly fed and under-paid and were led by anti-Fascist and anti-German officers. The rank and file just wanted to go home. However, morale was strong among elite units like the Ariete Division.34 In general, Wavell’s defeat of the Italians had substantially lowered their morale. Rommel rightly noted: The Italian troops had, with good reason, lost all confidence in their arms and acquired a very serious inferiority complex, which was to remain with them throughout the whole of the war, for the Fascist state was never able to equip its men in North Africa properly.35 So the Italian units were unable to conceptualize and implement battlefield innovations. Generally, an Allied infantry division had more anti-tank guns and field artillery compared to an Italian infantry division. A typical British division had three brigades of three battalions each. Generally, an Indian division had two brigades of three battalions each. A British infantry division had about 13,600 personnel and the Australian and New Zealand divisions were 20–25 per cent stronger. A British armoured division had about 9,600 personnel.36 The Allied forces in North Africa during March 1941 were not in good shape. The veteran 6th Australian Division left for Greece and the partially trained 7th Australian Division remained in Cyrenaica. Major-General Leslie Morshead’s 9th Australian Division had never been in action and had just completed its training.37 The 2nd British Armoured Division had only one brigade; its other brigade was sent to Greece. The single brigade present in Cyrenaica had fifty-two Cruiser tanks, and half of them were in the workshops. The 6th Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) was to an extent equipped with captured Italian M-13s. Forward reconnaissance was no more in the hands of the experienced 11th Hussars, who were back in Egypt. The armoured car regiment available was the King’s Dragoon Guards. It was newly converted from horsed cavalry and had no experience in desert warfare. Only in January 1941 did the King’s Dragoon Guards exchange their horses for armoured cars.38 On 24 March, a German reconnaissance unit drove out a patrol of British armoured cars from El Agheila. On 31 March, the 5th Light Panzer Division with seventy light and eighty medium tanks attacked the 2nd Armoured Division’s Support Group’s positions astride the coast road at Mersa Brega.39 When the commander of the forward section of the 2nd Armoured Support Group appealed for reinforcements, commander of the 2nd Armoured Division Major-General M. D. Gambier-Parry (who had succeeded Tilly after the latter’s untimely death) refused. The latter argued that tank reinforcements could not be sent because dusk was

Rommel attacks  17

falling. The 2nd Armoured Division’s Support Group, unlike the more experienced 7th British Armoured Division, was unable to operate in the night.40 During Operation Compass, Wavell’s combat techniques involved march and maneuver in the night.41 The combat capacity of British armour in North Africa had declined during early 1941. Wavell demanded lavish motor transport for conducting war in the desert. He was promised 3,000 vehicles per month. However, only 2,341 arrived in January, 2,094 in February, 725 in March and 705 in April.42 But the point to be noted is that Rommel’s logistics were in worse shape but he still got victories. Between January and March 1941, the RAF Middle East lost 184 aircraft and got only 166 machines from Britain.43 Till the onset of Barbarossa, the Luftwaffe would dominate the Mediterranean. Absence of long-distance reconnaissance aircraft further debilitated aerial reconnaissance on part of the Allies. So Wavell was in the dark about enemy’s intention and troop dispositions.44 Wavell admitted: Actually, the landing of a German Light Armoured Division at Tripoli had begun early in February. I estimated that it would be at least two months after the landing of German forces at Tripoli, before they could undertake a serious offensive against Cyrenaica, and that therefore, there was not likely to be any serious threat to our positions there before May at the earliest.45 But Rommel surprised both his superiors in Berlin and Rome as well as his opponents in the Western Desert. About the attributes of a good commander, Napoleon Bonaparte noted: ‘but the most essential quality for a general is firmness of character and the resolution to conquer at any price’.46 This attribute especially applied to Rommel. Rommel launched an attack on 31 March 1941 at Mersa Brega. Next day, the 8th Machine-Gun Battalion of the 5th Light Division was able to outflank the Allied defence. Instead of launching an immediate spirited counter-attack, the WDF, confused and disoriented due to the unexpected German move, started to pull out, which degenerated into a retreat.47 On 2 April, Streich occupied Agedabia.48 The British officers, like their counterparts in South-East Asia during 1941–1942, could only think of establishing a linear defensive front line.49 Constant outflanking moves by fast-moving battle groups of Rommel’s force resulted in the Allied forces falling back and the dislocation of their rigid and cumbersome command system. The German battle groups, consisting of all arms, were actively supported by Luftwaffe detachments under Fliegerfuhrer Afrika Major-General Stephan Frolich.50 On 3 April, Rommel noted that the Allied troops were withdrawing in haste and were under the erroneous impression that they were being pursued by very strong German forces. Rommel rightly concluded that his use of dummy tanks had an adverse effect on the enemy.51 On the night of 3–4 April, Neame, commander of the Allied forces in Cyrenaica, decided in view of the weakness of the 2nd Armoured Division (which was

18  Rommel attacks

reduced more by mechanical breakdown than by enemy action to twelve Cruisers, twenty light tanks and twenty captured Italian tanks) to withdraw the whole force to the line running across Wadi Derna-Mechili. He ordered the 9th Australian Division to retire to Wadi Derna and the 2nd Armoured Division to Mechili. The 3rd Indian Motor Brigade was moved from Tobruk to Mechili. This Indian formation comprised three motorized Indian cavalry regiments who were yet to complete their training. Men of the signal squadron were new and inexperienced. The wireless personnel had few wireless transmission sets and little practice in using them properly. The regiments were 40 per cent below strength in light machineguns. Each of the regiments had only one anti-tank rifle instead of the established quota of 42. None of the personnel had ever seen Bren guns, and due to shortage of ammunition they had fired few rifle shots before joining the battle. This brigade did not have any armoured vehicles. Nevertheless, this brigade delayed Afrika Korps for 48 hours which in turn enabled the 9th Australian Division withdrawing from Benghazi to move to Tobruk.52 Here, we could pose a counterfactual. If the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade had succumbed earlier, then the German detachments would have reached Tobruk before the 9th Australian Division. And in such a case, the course of the desert war would have been different. With Tobruk functioning as a port for supplying the DAK, Rommel might have entered Egypt. On 4 April, German armoured cars entered Benghazi. Meanwhile, the Allied forces were suffering from command dissolution. From 4 April onwards, due to breakdown of communications and difficulties as regards petrol supply, the headquarters of the 2nd Armoured Division lost touch with its constituent elements and the infantry formations of the Allied forces. The Luftwaffe made a point to attack the wireless vehicles and the petrol trucks. Meanwhile, the Allied position in the Mediterranean was deteriorating. On 5 April, the Wehrmacht attacked Yugoslavia and Greece. On the evening of 6 April, the headquarters of the 2nd Armoured Division reached Mechili. The 3rd Armoured Brigade was supposed to go to Mechili, but due to shortage of petrol the brigade commander made for Derna. He, along with his brigade headquarters and greater part of the brigade, was cut off in Derna and captured. But the armoured cars of the King’s Dragoon Guards and the Support Group were able to escape from Derna to Tobruk. During the night of 6–7 April, O’Connor and Neame were captured by a German patrol near Derna. On 7 April, German motorized elements attacked Mechili. On 8 April, the 18th Indian Cavalry Regiment with the 1st Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) detachment, along with some Australian troops, was able to escape the encircling claws of German advance elements. But the headquarters of the 2nd Armoured Division went into the Axis ‘bag’.53 By 10 April, Bardia was captured by the Axis forces. At this juncture, Wavell made a momentous decision which proved to be an effective one in stopping Rommel’s ‘mini Blitzkrieg’. Tobruk was a deep-water port in Libya with an average capacity of handling 20,000 tons of supplies per month. In Wavell’s own words: ‘I decided that it was essential to hold Tobruk, in order to secure the large reserves of supplies there and to prevent the enemy obtaining the use of the port and water supply for his further advance’.54 Positional warfare and

Rommel attacks  19

siege warfare were the forte of the Allied forces, while the Germans were expert in fluid, fast-paced mobile warfare. The siege of Tobruk would seriously distract and delay Rommel and split up his force. On 11 April, Rommel began the siege of Tobruk.55 By the end of April, Rommel was suffering from supply problems, an issue which would dog him till the end of his ‘African Safari’. The attacks of the Royal Navy and the RAF on the Axis merchantmen in the Mediterranean was the principal factor hindering German build-up in North Africa.56 After the failure of his attack at Tobruk on 3 May, Rommel went on the strategic defensive.57 And Wavell prepared to launch his counteroffensive. On 15 May, the WDF started Operation Brevity. The 22nd Guards Brigade supported by twenty-four Matildas of the 4th RTR, was to attack along the top of the escarpment and capture Halfaya and Capuzzo and move northwards. Below the escarpment, one battalion of the 7th Support Group was to capture the foot of the Halfaya Pass and clear Sollum. And the 7th Armoured Brigade with twenty-nine Cruiser tanks and three columns from the Support Group was to conduct a wide flanking movement to Sidi Aziz, 12 miles behind Capuzzo, and destroy any hostile force if present. The RAF focused on ground-strafing sorties against the Axis supply columns. The Jock Columns did not prove to be of much use against the German force. Historian Dando rightly points out that faulty Allied tactical doctrine was the culprit behind the failure of Brevity. The use of Jock Columns, dispersed armour, artillery and infantry in penny packets on the flanks instead of providing concentrated support for the main assaults against enemy groupings.58 O’Connor had deployed Jock Columns, named for their creator, Lieutenant-Colonel ‘Jock’ Campbell of 4th RHA. Each column consisted of a motorized infantry company, a field artillery battery and some armoured cars. Their task was to harass the Italians and persuade them that they were faced by a much larger force than actually was the case.59 The Jock Columns had been successful against the Italians in 1940, but the Germans were another matter. Despite the failure of the Jock Columns, the British commanders failed to learn the necessary lesson. They were used repeatedly by Wavell’s successor Auchinleck. Habit indeed dies hard. On 16 May, Wavell called off Brevity. On 26 May, after the attack launched by Colonel Herff, the Allied forces withdrew from the Halfaya Pass. On 8 June, the 15th Panzer Division relieved the 5th Light Panzer Division (later renamed the 21st Panzer Division) on the EgyptLibyan frontier and started improving the defences, including the installation of the famous 88 mm anti-aircraft guns which were mainly used as anti-tank guns.60 On 11 June 1941, Hitler issued Directive Number 32, which stated that the war against the British in the Mediterranean would continue after the successful conclusion of Operation Barbarossa.61 However, Barbarossa would run into serious difficulties and meanwhile, the Allied forces attacked in the Western Desert.

Battleaxe Operation Battleaxe started on 15 June and ended on 17 June 1941. On the Allied side this operation involved Major-General Messervy’s 4th Indian Division and the

20  Rommel attacks

7th Armoured Division under Major-General Michael O’Moore Creagh. Messervy had commanded the Gazelle Force in Eritrea and was appointed commander of the 4th Indian Division on 27 April 1941. About Messervy, Major-General Tuker (who succeeded him later in command of this division and finished the war as lieutenant-general) had noted: ‘A fine commander in the field, but lacking technical knowledge of all arms’.62 Battleaxe Operation was under the overall command of Lieutenant-General Noel Beresford-Peirse. The 4th Indian Division had the 22nd Guards and the 11th Indian Brigades and was supported by the 4th Armoured Brigade, which had two regiments of Matildas (a total of 100 tanks). The 7th Armoured Division had the Support Group and the 7th Armoured Brigade. The 7th Armoured Brigade had two tank regiments: one comprising Crusaders and another comprised Cruisers. The personnel of the 7th Armoured Division did not have adequate time to get to know the new Crusader tanks which the Tiger Convoy had brought. The division received the new tanks only on 9 June. The Crusader tank suffered from poor ventilation, inadequate engine cooling and defective gears. Due to the speed and urgency with which it was rushed into production, there was not adequate time for development trials, especially for desert conditions.63 In addition, the 4th Indian Division lacked adequate signalling equipment. Some wireless sets were issued just before the commencement of the operation. This was not good, as the personnel required at least a fortnight’s training in order to become adept in using such sets effectively.64 After their return from Eritrea, the 4th Indian Division did not get the opportunity to conduct any divisional training.65 Further, in Eritrea it was found out that attacks by the Indian and British infantry against strongly defended Italian positions equipped with barbed wire and machine-guns had failed due to inadequate training of the junior officers.66 Worse, in 1941, the 4th Indian Division along with the other Allied units was facing a tougher enemy compared to the ‘soft’ Italians of 1940. It is to be noted that due to extensive milking of the battalions made necessary by the huge expansion of the Indian Army, combat effectiveness of the 9th and 11th Indian divisions declined just before the Japanese onslaught in Malaya in December 1941.67 When the Indian units were milked for raising new units, or when they suffered substantial combat losses, then such units required at least three months of rest in order to allow the recruits to absorb training and consolidate primary group solidarity.68 But the battalions of the 4th Indian Division were not given this opportunity, as immediately after the East African Campaign they were thrown in against Rommel in North Africa. And this, to a great extent, explains the relatively poor combat performance of the Indian troops during Battleaxe. For instance, between 19 January and 27 March 1941, the 4th Indian Division suffered 371 killed, 2,747 wounded, and 155 missing (and probably dead), out of a total of 3,273. The commander of the 4th Indian Division noted: ‘We certainly require a period for rest and reorganization and hope shortly to receive large drafts to bring us up to strength again’.69 But this opportunity was not given to the 4th Indian Division, so its combat effectiveness was lower compared to what was achieved in 1940.

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The RAF contingent for this operation included thirty-six Hurricanes, two Blenheim squadrons, one Tomahawk squadron and one reconnaissance squadron. However, many of the crews were inexperienced.70 Further, the RAF was yet to learn an effective and intimate ground support role. Its cooperation with ground forces in Eritrea was often below average especially when hostile fighters intervened. And W/T (wireless-telegraphy) communication was poor. Aerial photography was not good and the pilots often had difficulties in recognizing the landmarks in the combat zone from the maps.71

Plans Allied intelligence rightly noted that the Axis forces were carrying out extensive defensive works along Halfaya, Sollum and Capuzzo. Fort Capuzzo was surrounded by trenches and a series of defended posts. A series of strong points also protected Musaid Fort. Along the coastal plain around Kafret Habbuni, defensive strong points were dug. One of the limitations of Allied planning was that aerial photos became available quite late (i.e. only from 12 June onwards).72 By early June, Lieutenant-General Walter Neumann-Sylkow commanded the 15th Panzer Division. The 5th Light Division was withdrawn for rest and maintenance in the region south of Tobruk. Along the Sollum-Musaid-Capuzzo area there were three battalions of the Italian Trento Division with one regiment of Italian artillery. Two more Italian artillery regiments were at Bardia. The German element along the Libyan-Egyptian frontier consisted of two battalions of the 8th Panzer Regiment, the 33rd Reconnaissance Battalion, a battalion of lorried infantry, a motorcycle battalion, an anti-tank battalion with twenty-one 37 mm guns and twelve 50 mm guns, one battalion of field artillery and an anti-aircraft battery with the 88 mm guns. The latter were positioned in the dugouts to function as anti-tank artillery. Strong defensive detachments were concentrated along the Hafid Ridge, at Point 206 and at Qalala.73 The overall objective of this operation was to destroy the Axis forces along the Egypt-Libyan frontier, then to advance towards Derna and Mechili and to cooperate with the Tobruk garrison. In phase one, the 4th Indian Division was to destroy the enemy forces along Bardia-Sollum-Halfaya-Capuzzo and the 7th Armoured Brigade was to advance to Hafid Ridge, six miles west of Capuzzo. The aim was to open the Sollum port to Allied shipping. In the first phase, one of the tasks of the 7th Armoured Division was to guard the left flank of the 4th Indian Division. The principal aim of the 7th Armoured Division was to bring into battle the Axis armoured force, destroy them and then advance towards Tobruk. It was assumed that the capture of Musaid, Bir Wair and Capuzzo would provoke the Axis armour to attack the Allied forces. This would give opportunity for the British tank force to destroy the German tanks. The Axis armour during the counter-attack was to be tackled with the aid of both I tanks (meaning infantry support tanks, which included both Valentines and Matildas) and the Cruiser tanks of the 7th Armoured Brigade of the 7th Armoured Division. However, the RAF reconnaissance aircraft

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discovered that an obstacle had been constructed with concrete slabs by the Axis troops at the south of the road from Musaid to the escarpment, just west of Sollum. This posed a problem for the British planners. The issue was whether the British tanks could negotiate this obstacle during their planned attack.74 The British command, while planning the battle, was bedevilled by lack of knowledge about the terrain. Absence of thorough reconnaissance of the terrain before planning the battle proved to be a serious limitation on the Allied side. The Coast Force infantry was to advance along the coastal plain between the sea and the edge of the escarpment. They were to capture Halfaya Pass, and clear the wadis between Halfaya and Sollum. The 2nd Cameroons supported by 4th RTR (15 I tanks) were to move with the Escarpment Force and attack the Halfaya position from the top. The 2nd Cameroons were under-strength. Only on 12 June, a 200-strong draft joined this regiment. Adequate time was not available for the newly arrived personnel to become integrated into the unit and develop an intense personal bond (primary group solidarity), which was essential for generating strong combat effectiveness. Further, the Coast Force infantry was to take over the defence of Sollum, Musaid and Capuzzo once these places were captured, thus freeing the British armour to engage in mobile operations against Axis armour.75 In the second phase, the 4th Indian Division was to advance to Bardia, Menastir and then to El Adem. One of the limitations of the Allied plan was the focus on symmetric response (i.e. aiming to destroy the Axis tanks with British tanks). This limitation of the British theory of combat was present not only at the corps and divisional levels but also at the brigade level. Actually, on the German side, anti-tank guns played the most important role as Allied tank busters. On the Allied side, infantry was assigned a secondary role (i.e. mopping-up operations) while the tanks alone constituted the strike force. Allied planning failed to establish cooperation between infantry, artillery and armour in order to destroy what they considered erroneously as the core of the Axis forces in the desert (i.e. German tanks). The German doctrine at the operational level emphasized that points of resistance had to be bypassed.76 At the tactical level, the German doctrine was that infantry, artillery and tanks should fight as fully integrated parts of a system, and this in turn required maximum cooperation of all arms in order to achieve concentration of force on any chosen target within the shortest possible time.77 The German technique was that anti-tank gunners supported by the panzers were to attack the British tanks, which were frequently not well protected by the infantry. When the British tanks were destroyed or disabled, then the panzers – supported by dive-bombers, anti-tank guns and infantry – advanced against Allied infantry and soft-skinned vehicles.78 The Operational Headquarters of the 4th Indian Division moved to Sidi Barrani on 4 June, followed by the Advanced Headquarters on 7 June and the Rear Headquarters on 13 June. On the latter date, the 22nd Guard Brigade was at Sidi Barrani and the 4th Armoured Brigade was at Abar Abu Safafi. These two brigades constituted the Escarpment Force. The 11th Indian Infantry Brigade deployed at Buqbuq

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formed the Coast Force.79 Detailed orders for the attack by the Escarpment Force were drawn up. The I tanks with artillery support were to attack the hostile positions. The infantry would follow in motor transport and wait at about ten minutes’ distance (5,000 yards) for the signal that the tanks had the enemy-held area under control. Once the tanks had decimated the enemy strong points, then the infantry would move in and occupy the positions vacated by the enemy. The point to be noted is that joint infantry-tank attacks were not planned. Such disjointed tactics had proved effective against the Italians in 1940. The British tanks advanced under artillery cover and the Indian infantry followed 20 minutes later.80 The Italian antitank guns proved useless, and they had no effective tanks to confront the Allied armour. The Italian infantry more or less remained passive. But the situation in 1941 was different. Aggressive German infantry in 1941 with their efficient antitank guns would fight resolutely and the combination of panzers, anti-tank guns, infantry and dive-bombers was more than a match for the British tanks.81 British tactical planning for Battleaxe was defective. From the very beginning of the attack, due to difficulties in signal communication, there was delay in arranging a deliberate attack. Even after 24 hours’ delay, the British commanders were unable to launch a coordinated attack by both the Coast Force and the Escarpment Force.82 What resulted was a haphazard attack in both cases. Things started to go wrong for the Allied forces from the very beginning. During battle, communication between the I tanks and artillery was broken. Further, the infantry was not supposed to fight alongside the tanks but was to wait for the tanks and merely occupy the ground after the enemy had been destroyed. The operating assumption of British tactical doctrine was that the tank was the queen in the battlefield, and that tanks can operate alone. The British commanders missed the point that tanks could only succeed if infantry, artillery and tanks cooperate intimately in what is known as combined arms tactics. Moreover, the I tanks easily broke down and signal communications between the tanks and infantry waiting behind were also severed during the fog of battle. The British were actually following erroneous single arms tactics.

Battle The attack started at daybreak on 15 June 1941 with the advance of the Escarpment Force, the Halfaya Group, Coast Force and the 7th Armoured Division. From the very first day, the 4th Indian Division suffered from communication breakdown. Telephone cables were not available for linking the batteries with the divisional headquarters, which was eight miles behind the front line. Many units lacked wireless batteries and charging sets. Wireless communications failed at critical moments because the batteries had run down. Due to the difficult nature of terrain and absence of trained signallers, it was not always possible to use visuals. Moreover, the division suffered from a shortage of tractors and trailers. Many anti-tank guns lacked telescopic anti-tank sights. And the six-wheel Morris tractors used for pulling anti-aircraft guns frequently got bogged down in the soft sand. Worse, the 4th Indian Division lacked third-line transport. The distance from the field supply

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depots to the Sollum area was about 50 miles of sandy region. It was necessary to capture the Halfaya Pass quickly so that the 4th Indian Division could be supplied along the Coast Road.83 This is not to suggest that the Germans were lavishly equipped with all sorts of equipment and transport. Victory in battle would go to the party able to use whatever hardware it possessed in the best possible manner. The Halfaya Group passed under the command of the Coast Force at 0515 hours in the morning of 15 June. The infantry component of the Coast Force comprised the 11th Indian Infantry Brigade’s two battalions (2nd Marathas and 1st Rajputana Rifles), while the Halfaya Group comprised the 2nd Cameroons of the 11th Indian Brigade along with a squadron of the 4th RTR and a platoon of anti-tank guns. The Coast Force and the Halfaya Group were to capture the Halfaya Pass. The Coast Force was actually trying to capture the Halfaya Pass from below the escarpment and the Halfaya Group was trying to do the same from above. In the Halfaya Group, the 2nd Cameroons moved forward in motor transport behind a squadron of the 4th RTR. This squadron had twelve I tanks. Suddenly, the concealed 88 mm anti-aircraft guns opened up and eleven tanks were damaged. The commander of the 2nd Cameroons failed to obtain support from the 25th Field Artillery Regiment because communication had broken down. At 1125 hours, the 2nd Cameroons began retreating. Tanks advancing and infantry following behind had worked in Operation Compass. But it was a faulty technique: the infantry should have moved with the I tanks. Meanwhile, the Coast Force advanced along the slopes of the escarpment negotiating the wadis and broken ground. This was not tank country per se. The supporting tanks ran into a minefield and four out of the six were put out of action. By conducting prior reconnaissance, the Allied infantry ought to have located the position of the 88 mm guns and enemy minefields. One must accept that infantry-armour cooperation was below average. Once the tanks were out of action, the 2nd Marathas came under heavy Axis artillery and machine-gun fire and suffered casualties.84 Overall, the Halfaya Group and the Coast Force had failed to conduct simultaneous attacks on the Axis defensive position. Moreover, disjointed attacks by the Coast Force and the Halfaya Group were characterized by the absence of intimate cooperation among infantry, armour and artillery. First the tanks attacked and then the infantry advanced while the artillery had remained behind. Such a technique was a sure recipe for defeat. An effective tactic would have been the Royal Artillery’s field regiments keeping the 88 mm guns busy by laying down suppressive fire, and under its cover, the Indian infantry with I tanks following them should have infiltrated the German gun positions. In the afternoon of 15 June, the 31st Field Regiment supported the 4th Armoured Brigade during their attack on Capuzzo. When the I tanks were held up, the Forward Observation Officer (FOO) ensured fire support from the artillery. On 15 June, Capuzzo and Bir Weir were captured by the Allied infantry with few casualties. However, the 7th Armoured Division’s leap to Hafid Ridge failed due to strong enemy opposition. The 7th Armoured Division decided to attack Hafid Ridge the next day. The Allied attempt to capture the Halfaya position with tanks failed and resulted in a large number of tank losses. Allied infantry-tank

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cooperation was abysmal. It was decided to launch a set piece infantry attack against Hafid Ridge the next day. It was believed that bulk of Rommel’s armour was concentrated in this region. Meanwhile, Allied air reports noted that the Afrika Korps was bringing reinforcements forward from the Tobruk area.85 On the Axis side, the 15th Panzer Division was deployed as a mobile reserve and the 5th Light Division was in reserve near Tobruk.86 At 2000 hours on 15 June, the commanders of the 4th Indian Division and the 7th Armoured Division met to review the fluid battle situation. It was decided that the 4th Indian Division should concentrate on clearing the Musaid-Sollum Barracks area while the 7th Armoured Division would clear the Hafid Ridge.87 At 0730 hours on 16 June, the Coast Force started the attack with the 2nd Marathas operating along the lower slopes of the escarpment and the 1st Rajputana Rifles on the left. Both the two Indian battalions were able to advance for 1,000 yards and then they were held up. The 1st Rajputana Rifles’ forward troops were just 500 yards from the road when they were stopped. At 1930 hours, the 1st Rajputana Rifles attacked again along a front of 800 yards behind a heavy barrage of artillery fire. This was in the tradition of infantry attack supported by heavy artillery, a technique which evolved in the Western Front during 1915–1916 and was learnt by the Indian Army in Flanders and in Mesopotamia during the First World War. Soon after the attack started, the commanding officer was killed. The Indian battalions became rudderless when the commanding British officers became casualties because the VCOs were not trained to take up the mantle of leadership. The most senior VCOs were trained to lead only a company. Further, heavy enemy fire from the wadis resulted in heavy casualties in this battalion. So the 1st Rajputana Rifles halted, and the battalion retreated during darkness. It was decided that the troops should rest during the night, and the next day the infantry should infiltrate forward and the enemy strong points would be smashed by bringing down artillery fire on them.88 The technique of launching a nocturnal attack was not mastered by the Indian infantry at this point in time. During the successful attack at Sidi Barrani (10–11 December 1940), the 4th Indian Division had advanced during the night both by marching as well as on motor transport.89 However, the personnel had forgotten this technique when they came back from East Africa to the desert in 1941. The jawans had to relearn this technique again in the course of their war with Rommel. The Luftwaffe attempted to provide logistical support to the Axis troops. From April to June, ghiblis (hot desert winds) blew and temperatures often rose to 138 degrees Fahrenheit.90 During 15–16 June, German JU-52 transport aircraft (nicknamed ‘aunties’ by the grateful German troops) dropped parachutes containing water-filled containers for the Axis troops along Capuzzo and Halfaya. Some of the containers fell among the Allied troops. The 4th Indian Division’s troops were able to capture some 800 gallons of water at Capuzzo. And ME-110s (fighter-bombers) engaged in machine-gunning the Allied infantry and motor transport. However, the Axis troops respected the Allied stretcher-bearers.91 Some sort of chivalry was displayed by both sides. The war in North Africa did not degenerate into the barbaric struggle which occurred along the Eastern Front.

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Early in the morning of 16 June at 0835 hours, the commander of the 4th Armoured Brigade panicked. It reported that the 7th RTR was heavily attacked at Capuzzo and requested artillery support. Five minutes later the 2nd Support Group arrived at Wadi Akrab and was supported by field artillery. The 4th Armoured Brigade supported by 8th and 31st Field Artillery Regiments was ordered to attack the hostile armoured force in front of Capuzzo. On the same day, in the Capuzzo area, the Indian infantry cleared the Musaid and Sollum barracks with little loss. The forward elements of the 22nd Guards Brigade reached the top of the escarpment overlooking Sollum. The Allied tanks were having bad time. The 7th Armoured Division fell back due to hostile pressure. Forward elements of the Axis forces reached Sidi Omar. On that day, Stuka dive-bombers carried out aerial reconnaissance of the Capuzzo-Halfaya area during early morning. These aircraft flew very low and continually altered directions to confuse the Allied anti-aircraft gunners. And in the evening, these dive-bombers returned and accurately bombed the Advanced Divisional Headquarters of the 4th Indian Division and Bir Wair. At 1560 hours, the 22nd Guards Brigade was suffering from an acute shortage of shells for 2-pounder guns. This unit felt vulnerable to an Axis armoured attack. At 2130 hours, the 1st Buffs reported that the I tanks assigned to them were undergoing maintenance and would not be ready before next morning. This infantry battalion felt ‘naked’ against a probable German armoured attack which seemed imminent at that time. The 22nd Guards Brigade asked for I tanks for protection against enemy armour but was informed none could be spared. At 2200 hours on 16 June, the 4th Indian Division’s Headquarters failed to contact the 11th Indian Brigade either through radio or by wireless.92 Ammunition shortages and communication breakdown discomfited the Allied formations. After the failure on the previous day, the Coast Force decided to make another attack on Halfaya Pass with only infantry. On 16 June, the 2nd Marathas and 1st Rajputana Rifles advanced with 2nd Cameroons in reserve. At 1930 hours, the 2nd Cameroons joined in the attack. By evening, the infantry attack had failed.93 Actually, it was doomed to fail from the start due to absence of support from field artillery, tanks and aircraft. Rommel’s response to Operation Battleaxe was to order the 8th Panzer Regiment of the 15th Panzer Division to counter-attack Messervy’s advance elements and for the 5th Panzer Regiment of the 5th Light Panzer Division to execute a wide movement around the left flank to the rear of the 7th Armoured Division. The German attack started at dawn on 17 June. While the 8th Panzer Regiment cut Messervy from the Hafid Ridge, the 5th Panzer Regiment moved towards Sidi Omar. Both the panzer regiments were directed towards Halfaya Pass. At 0550 hours, sixty Axis tanks supported by 240 armoured cars and lorries moved west and north-east of Sidi Omar.94 At the tactical level, the German tanks operated skilfully. The panzers always took care to fire at the sides of the British tanks. The German armoured doctrine emphasized fire and movement. The German Mark IV tanks moved at an average speed of about 20 miles per hour and started firing their 75 mm howitzers (which were effective as anti-personnel weapon) about 3,000–4,000 yards ahead of their

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course. They did not fire at any particular targets, but the moving barrage was aimed to intimidate any Allied defensive pockets or observation posts which lay in their path. Again, when Mark III tanks with their medium guns met opposition from Allied tanks or anti-tank guns, the Mark IVs provided close support with their heavier 75 mm howitzers.95 So, the German panzer doctrine involved not merely cooperation with various arms but also jointness in action among various types of armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs). Just after midnight on 17 June, the 7th Armoured Division requested the 4th Armoured Brigade and the 8th Field Artillery Regiment to move to Bir Nuh so that they could support the 7th Armoured Brigade. These forces planned to counter-attack if German tanks advanced on Halfaya from the western direction. The 4th RTR at this stage had fifteen operational I tanks and the 7th RTR had sixteen operational I tanks. The 7th Armoured Division’s request could not be acceded fully as the 4th Indian Division’s infantry demanded tank support. As a compromise, it was decided that the 4th RTR with the 8th Field Regiment would move to Bir Nuh at 0600 hours on 17 June and the 7th RTR would remain in the Capuzzo area.96 At 1000 hours, the 4th RTR was heavily attacked. At the same time, the commanders of the 22nd Guards Brigade and the 7th Armoured Division believed that besides attacking Sidi Suleiman, the Germans would make for the Halfaya Pass and cut the Allied troops’ line of communications (LOC). Messervy now lost his nerve. At 1030 hours, Messervy ordered the 22nd Guards Brigade to withdraw. On 17 June at 1540 hours, the 4th Armoured Division had twenty-four operational I tanks. At 1700 hours, the 8th Field Regiment was heavily bombed at Bir Nuh by seventeen Stukas, which used anti-personnel bombs. It was almost impossible to dig in to the rocky ground, so enemy dive-bombing proved effective. As a result of this raid, the Allies suffered some 100 casualties. The withdrawal of the 22nd Guards Brigade was successful because of Allied fighter protection (especially by the Hurricanes), which prevented the Axis aircraft from bombing and machinegunning the retreating Escarpment Force; this was also helped by the rearguard action of the 4th Armoured Brigade. By the night of 17–18 June, one of the battalions of the 22nd Guards Brigade was at Buqbuq, another at Alam Hafid and a third at Sidi Barrani.97 Let us look at the travails of the 11th Indian Infantry Brigade. At 1000 hours on 17 June, the Coast Force received information that a detachment of Axis armoured vehicles was heading for Halfaya Pass. At that time, the Coast Force was in Sidi Suleiman, and besides the 11th Indian Infantry Brigade had the Central India Horse, an anti-tank company, two tanks, two artillery regiments and one medium battery. The Coast Force started withdrawing on receipt of the information about the advance of Axis AFVs. At 2015 hours, Axis AFVs and lorried infantry appeared on the scene. In this case, the 25th Royal Artillery Field Regiment gave good support to the Indian infantry. And the German techniques were not flawless. German infantry failed to press its attacks, and in the darkness, the Coast Force was able to escape.98 In this case, lack of aggressiveness on the part of the German infantry and

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effective fire support by Royal Artillery prevented the dreaded panzers from closing in and decimating the Indian infantry. On 18 June, the 11th Indian Infantry Brigade completed its move to Baqqush. On that day the Axis troops dominated the plain from the escarpment. The 3rd Coldstream supported by one troop of the 25th Field Artillery was at Buqbuq. West of the Coldstream was the Central India Horse and one anti-tank platoon of 11th Indian Infantry Brigade and one troop of the 25th Field Artillery. The 1st Buffs was at Sidi Barrani. The 4th Indian Division was ordered to form three columns to watch the coastal front.99 Battleaxe had lasted longer than Brevity. Out of 4,000 personnel of the Escarpment Force, 250 men were lost.100 In total, the Allied forces suffered 1,000 casualties and lost ninety-one tanks and forty aircraft. The Axis losses numbered 700 casualties and thirteen tanks.101 The casualty list was, however, small compared to the gigantic cauldron battles which were occurring in Russia. And after the Allied wrapped up Operation Battleaxe, the Axis troops reoccupied the frontier positions.102

Learning lessons after the campaign Battleaxe had gone badly for the Allied troops. But the Allied forces in accordance with its culture of learning made a deliberate attempt to learn lessons from the ongoing campaign. Interaction between the DMT of India and the 4th Indian Division also strengthened the learning culture of the Indian Army in particular and the WDF in general. Major-General Tuker, the DMT of India, a forwardlooking military thinker, who in the near future would command the 4th Indian Division in North Africa analyzed the lessons of Battleaxe for the Directorate of Military Training in India (which was sending recruits and formations to the Allies in the Middle East) and also to aid the Indian formations deployed in the Western Desert for crafting a suitable battle doctrine backed up by the right sort of training curriculum. Tuker noted four reasons for the failure of Battleaxe: lack of training, inadequate air support, lack of armoured reserve and presence of fortress mentality in the infantry. Tuker had a point when he noted that the RAF had to pay further attention to CAS. He rightly argued that the Stuka dive-bombers were effective in disabling the Allied field guns. David French, the British historian, writes that the RAF was not interested in CAS. The airmen considered providing close battlefield support to the ground troops was too costly in terms of losses of aircraft. Further, in order to justify its own existence as a separate service, the RAF wholeheartedly adopted the strategic bombing option. So the RAF neither had suitable aircraft nor trained pilots for providing CAS during fast-moving battles. In contrast, by 1939, the Luftwaffe had a doctrine and weapons (especially Stukas) for providing CAS to the Axis ground troops. Tuker was right in pointing out that the Allied infantry lacked the right sort of training, which prevented the generation of an aggressive spirit among them. Tuker also noted that the British commanders failed to build up an armoured reserve during the battle. Mishandling of armour was an issue that

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dogged the WDF (later Eighth Army) till the last days of the African Campaign. During a visit to the 7th Armoured Division, Tuker found out that many of the crews were not proficient in firing the tank guns. Further, technical training of the Allied tank crews, he commented, was necessary. Technical training needed to be imparted to the infantry also to cooperate closely and efficiently with armour. In fact, Tuker emphasized that infantry training should train a soldier not merely to handle all sorts of infantry weapons, but should also include lessons to operate W/T sets. He concluded that the men must be trained in new ways which suits the modern battlefield. While Tuker promised to upgrade the training system (both for infantry and the Indian Armoured Corps) in India, Lieutenant-General William ‘Strafer’ Gott emphasized that the battalions and the brigades should impart proper training to the men. And only then could the ‘Hun’ be defeated.103 A serious shortcoming of the British imperial organization was that there was no central apparatus for imparting specialized training to the infantry. Rather, the infantry drafts had to depend on the battalions and regiments for acquiring specialized training. And the battalions and regiments in most cases lacked time, tools and officers with necessary skill to impart specialized training to the newly inducted personnel. Later in Africa and in France, when American tank battalions were attached to the American infantry divisions, inadequate operational and communication compatibility characterized such ‘marriage’ of units.104 The same defect was also present in the British imperial organization. The opponents of the WDF in fact displayed a high learning curve. The Germans were very self-critical both during victory and defeat. Murray notes that the willingness to be self-critical was one of the chief features of the Wehrmacht which allowed it to innovate at the tactical level.105 For instance, Rommel after the stiff fighting around Tobruk in late April 1941 noted that the German infantry’s training was not good for overcoming positional defence and the Italian infantry displayed lack of enthusiasm in battle.106 The German force which came to Africa during February and March 1941 was indoctrinated with offensive zeal. Officers were taught that attack and exploitation were the keys to success in battle. In their service schools they solved ten offensive problems for every one defensive problem. But after their failure before Tobruk during April and May 1941, the Afrika Korps took pains to study positional warfare seriously. But even during learning about positional warfare, the German philosophy was that the object of defence was to wear down the attacker before launching a counter-attack. In mid-May 1941, the 15th Panzer Division issued a directive which noted that one-quarter of each company, battalion and regiment must be kept in reserve for launching a counter-attack.107 The German philosophy for defence in Libya built on the following cardinal points. The objective was to wear down the enemy force before launching a counter-attack with armour. Effective fire was considered more important than taking cover. Reconnaissance was necessary to understand the hostile party’s intentions and to screen one’s own positions which were to be organized in depth. Construction of a series of mutually supporting centres, each of which was capable

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of all-round defence should be constructed in depth. Further, a linked fire plan to cover the entire defensive front was considered essential. Bulk of the fire was to be concentrated to cover the Stutzpunkt. Stutzpunkt meant a strongly constructed defensive position capable of being defended even when the defensive line was breached. Counter-attack against the flanks of the hostile breaching force was to be launched from the Stutzpunkt. And Stutzpunkt was well camouflaged to prevent it being neutralized early in combat by hostile fire. For defensive purpose, the troops were disposed in three main lines: advanced positions, battle outposts and finally the chief battle line or the main line of resistance.108 Murray writes that the decentralized command set up enabled the German Army to absorb important lessons from the after-action reports which were prepared by comparatively junior officers after a campaign.109 In early June 1941, a German major penned a paper in which he noted that the German soldiers knew next to nothing about the construction of defences. He pointed out that peacetime training of the German Army did not emphasize inculcation of defensive techniques. He continued that junior commanders did not realize that positional infantry warfare was 60 per cent with the spade (digging), 30 per cent with the field glasses (reconnaissance) and only 10 per cent with the gun (firing). The major ended his paper by noting the superiority of the British as regards camouflage and deception.110 Credit is due to the German culture of learning important lessons even from the defeated parties. Let us see how the WDF responded to its failings during Battleaxe. First, the WDF tried to understand how to overcome enemy defence during attacks – hostile defence comprising both active and passive measures. The passive defensive measures practiced by the Germans included booby traps and extensive use of mines. The booby traps included a block of explosives covered with waterproof paper, and it resembled a soap. Screwed inside each of them were a detonator and an ignitor. Then, there were thermos bombs. They were like thermos flasks packed with explosives. Slight vibration resulted in their explosion. Occasionally, they were dropped by the Axis aircraft. Some of the Allied tanks which operated with the Coastal Force were put out of action by enemy minefields. The German Teller mines were dangerous. A Teller mine contained 11 pounds of explosives. In addition, the Germans used S Type anti-personnel mines. Each S Type mine weighed about nine pounds and had 350 steel bullets. The German minefields were further protected with anti-tank guns and machine-guns located at the outposts. When the sappers and miners tried to clear a track across the minefields, they came under fire from the machine-guns which were located at fixed positions. These machine-gun posts were further protected by platoons, which provided sentries and carried out daring patrols to prevent any advance by the Allied reconnaissance patrols. Unlike the Italian infantry in 1940, which remained passive in their defended outposts and the no man’s land belonged to the Allied patrols who could observe the layout of the minefields; the German infantry conducted aggressive night-time patrolling which prevented the Allied commanders from getting a clear grasp about the nature and extent of the minefields. As the Allied tanks were stalled by minefields

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which the sappers and miners were trying to clear, the former came under attack from the German anti-tank guns,111 and Axis machine-gunners targeted the sappers and miners. The Allied Intelligence Summary issued after Battleaxe emphasized that the men should examine the ground carefully before advancing and avoid stepping on the mines or fouling the trip wires. Wherever possible, metal detectors and steel shod sticks should be used.112 The infantry was taught the techniques to disarm the German mines. The men were warned: ‘In general, all unoccupied enemy positions should be regarded with suspicion and all disturbed earth, articles of every-day use and pieces of string and wire should be treated carefully’.113 Disturbed patches of earth indicated that the mines were buried there. The overlaying earth was slowly removed and then the mine was deactivated by inserting a two-inch nail in the safety pin hole of the indicator. Then the indicators and the detonators were unscrewed. Finally, the mines were drawn from beneath the ground with the aid of a long string and while pulling it out, the men were instructed to take cover for safety purposes behind the sandbags assorted for this purpose. All these required great care and patience. The Indian infantry became quite proficient in disabling the German mines. For instance, in early July 1941 during a raid carried out by the engineers and 4th Indian Division’s infantry detachment in an Axis minefield in El Adem, 504 Teller mines were disarmed.114 The WDF also drew lessons from the successful defence of Tobruk. A report prepared by the Chief Royal Engineer of the 9th Australian Division was circulated among the WDF on 28 June 1941 for learning the right lessons. The report noted that every defended post should be kept as low as possible to avoid presenting a target to the enemy gunners. If digging was possible for one and a half feet, then no parapet should be constructed. But, if digging was impossible, then the breastwork should be five feet thick at the top. The post must be carefully camouflaged, and the sectional posts were to be wired. The anti-tank ditch should be manned and covered with barbed wire and scrub. Further, booby traps and anti-personnel mines must be planted in the ditch. Moreover, a slit trench for two-man listening posts should be dug between platoon posts near the anti-tank ditch and crawl trenches must be constructed into the ditch from the defended posts. Strong minefields should be established to protect the entrances to the perimeter, and these should be well marked and their positions should be learnt by all the troops to prevent accidents.115 For good reason, the 4th Indian Division was critical of the defence of Baqqush. Critical evaluation of one’s own performance is an important constituent of the learning culture. It was pointed out that the mines which were planted were not properly concealed. The disturbances in the surface due to the careless laying of the mines enabled the Axis troops to identify them and then defuse them. Further, the Axis drivers avoided the mines by observing the disturbances on the surface of the ground and simply drove around them. Again, the junior officers, while establishing the defended posts, constructed obstructions only along the fronts facing the enemy instead of creating all-round defence in the German style. The Allied infantry

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failed to camouflage the trenches with sandbags, sand and earth. It was pointed out that for anti-aircraft defence, the best position for establishing light machine-gun posts was 200 to 300 yards away at the flank of the pillbox. Digging was especially necessary for defence. The Germans agreed wholeheartedly with this point. Where the ground was hard, the troops were told to blast the ground as the Axis troops had done at Halfaya Pass. So an effective enemy defensive scheme was partly copied as part of the learning process. Again, maintaining communications among the various defensive posts during an enemy attack was of cardinal importance. During combat, telephone lines might be cut, wireless may fail, light signals would be useless during the daytime and due to enemy fire, the runners and liaison officers could not be used. The junior commanders were asked to think about this issue. Lastly, every defensive post was ordered to have water stored for prolonged defence.116 The troops were taught to realistically assess the quality of hardware used by the enemy and also to learn from their combat techniques. Rommel was a past master at deception. It was noted that frequently the Germans had carried out deception by using dummy tanks. A dummy tank was actually a wooden superstructure put on the chassis of a Volkswagen car. This was done to generate an inflated idea about the strength of the German tanks and to create a sense of fear among the Allied infantry. Further, it was noted that the armour of the five-wheeled German armoured car was only 5 mm and not 10 mm thick, as previously assumed by Allied intelligence. So these armoured cars were vulnerable to the heavy firepower weapons of the Allied infantry. The German infantry was praised for taking care of their weapons. For instance, they took good care of their machine-guns and when not in use kept them wrapped with dust-proof covers. It was noted that the Germans used a combination of 88 mm guns and 50 mm guns in anti-tank role at Halfaya Pass. The 50 mm gun fired a 6-pound solid shell. Besides firing at the Allied aircraft, the Germans were credited for versatile use of the 88 mm guns against hostile land targets. Against the tanks, the 88 mm guns used solid shells, but when bombarding the Tobruk garrison they used high-explosive shells.117 At times, German battle organizations were also studied in order to counter the enemy better. From the German POWs, the Allied intelligence personnel came to know that the German commanders found that instead of the divisional organization, composite battle groups were more suited for conducting decentralized, fast-paced maneuver warfare in the desert.118 In fact, besides North Africa, along the wide space of the Eastern Front, the Germans used battle groups named after various commanders quite frequently from 1943 onwards. Again, the Allied armoured doctrine as it evolved in the 1930s was faulty. The British Army divided their tank forces into two groups: heavy, slow-moving tanks (Matildas) for providing support to the marching infantry and faster, lightly protected tanks (Cruisers) for exploitation. While the maximum speed of the Cruiser tank was 30 miles per hour, the Matilda’s (A-12 I tank) maximum speed was only 8 miles per hour. In contrast, the Germans used the different types of tanks along with other supporting arms into truly combined arms battle groups. By allotting different functions to the Matildas and Cruisers, the British armoured doctrine impeded combined arms tactics.119

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Not only for defence but also as regards offence, the Allied military organization made a close study of their limitations. Close cooperation between the slow-marching infantry and the Cruiser tanks was found to be almost impossible. These tanks focused on speedy maneuvers which left the infantry far behind. The problem was that there were no armoured half-tracks in the Allied forces, but the Wehrmacht possessed them in limited numbers. At least some officers understood that tanks also required close support by the infantry. During the battle, thirty carriers of the 7th Infantry Brigade were allotted to the 4th Armoured Brigade for close support. But, during advance in midst of a battle, the carriers were almost blinded by thick palls of dust and smoke.120 This problem was identified but not rectified. If the Cruiser tanks were assigned to give close protection to the infantry, then these AFVs had to sacrifice their mobility, which was one of their principal assets. During the first phase of Operation Battleaxe, the duty of the Cruiser tanks was to protect the left flank of the 4th Indian Division. Messervy, commander of the 4th Indian Division, noted: ‘I feel that this must at times have somewhat tied the hands of the Cruiser brigade command while certainly, when the battle ebbed Southwards, the Escarpment Force frequently felt very naked’.121 The 4th Indian Division was neither equipped nor trained to protect itself against enemy armour. For providing close support to the infantry, the Allied forces had I tanks. The I tank or Matilda 1 (an A-11 was actually faster than an A-12) was a slow vehicle with a maximum speed of 16 miles per hour and its main armament was a 2-pounder gun.122 It was found out that during battle, the periscope was useless for observation of fire. Further, it was seen during the course of operation, the crews of these tanks became easily fatigued. Actually, the crews of these tanks had a much harder time compared to the infantry. During the approach to the battle, these tanks travelled slowly and the crews remained confined in small and hot compartments. During battles, they were in the forefront, and between engagements the crews had to carry out the onerous maintenance tasks of repair and refuelling. It was calculated that in order to maintain the I tanks always combat-ready, 50 per cent of the available tanks should be kept ready in the B echelon. These tanks were to function as replacements for the tanks broken down or lost due to enemy action at the forward edge of the battlefield. Moreover, it was noted that the armour recovery organization should be improved, so that no disabled or damaged tanks were left behind in the battlefield. In many cases, the Axis forces captured, disabled and damaged Allied tanks left in the battlefield. Theoretically, the armour recovery organization, it was emphasized, should be capable of handling 25 per cent of the total available tank strength.123 The German tank recovery organization was first class. Their tank recovery units followed closely behind each panzer company and carried out immediate repairs even under enemy fire. For the seriously damaged AFVs, there were loader trucks which were able to remove the damaged tanks from the battlefield to the workshops immediately behind the firing line in order to carry out repairs. Such organization allowed the Germans to overcome their numerical inferiority in AFVs to a great extent. During Battleaxe, the German tank recovery organization was able to

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recover and repair fifty damaged tanks.124 Again, the German tankers laagered very close to the battlefield during the night. This practice spared their tank engines and the drivers from strain and fatigue. In contrast, the British tanks drove back during the night from the battlefield to their base located far away. Thus, after the strain of battle the British drivers had to drive a large distance, and then the next day again had to drive a long way to approach the battlefield.125 Further, such back and forth useless long journeys also overheated the tank engines. The officers of the 4th Indian Division realized that their demand regarding continuous protection of the infantry by the I tanks was erroneous. The I tanks had to be well forward in order to deal with a possible Axis armoured counter-attack. Moreover, these tanks were to be used to deceive and surprise the hostile force rather than being tied too closely with semi-static Allied infantry. The infantry, it was noted, should be well equipped with anti-tank guns and must be prepared to take care of itself. Tuker wholeheartedly supported this position.126 This problem, as the next chapter shows, was rectified to a certain extent during the latter part of Operation Crusader. The Allied infantry also attempted to tackle the problems of cooperating with artillery and armour during a mobile battle. In the morning of 16 June, Capuzzo was defended by field artillery, anti-tank guns and I tanks. About thirty Axis tanks attacked, but the I tanks made the mistake of opening fire at a range of about 1,500–2,000 yards and the Axis tanks turned away. I tanks were impervious to any anti-tank guns, which the Italians used before the German intervention. But the I tanks proved easy meat for the dreaded German 88 mm dual-purpose guns. The WDF command rightly concluded that in future, the I tanks should not open fire at such extreme range against Axis armour. Nor should the I tanks rush blindly towards the German position and get knocked by the 88 mm guns. Rather, the Axis armour should be lured into the range of anti-tank guns, especially the ­25-pounders.127 This was the tactic which actually the Germans followed in the desert against the Allied forces. German doctrine did not advocate a tank versus tank battle. The German tanks advanced to lure the British tanks to pursue them. While withdrawing, the panzers raised a sandstorm and the British tank drivers were almost blinded by dust and sand. But the latter advanced rashly and moved into the trap set for them by the German anti-tank gunners. The German 88 mm gun outranged all types of the British tanks’ guns. British armour was further debilitated by the fact that they launched their attacks in a piecemeal fashion. Most tank attacks went as single regiments and rarely did the attacking front cover a two-regimental width. The British tankers had no idea of the use of mass forces and the regiments carried out isolated ‘cavalry-like charges’ against the German anti-tank gun lines. Thus, the German 88 mm gunners could pick up the British tanks at their leisure.128 In fact, during the frontal charge by the Matildas in broad daylight, the Axis anti-tank guns picked them up at 2,000 yards.129 In contrast, German armour followed the maxim of Guderian that masses of tanks, and not in driblets, should be employed against the enemy.130 In 1944, Field-Marshal ‘Bill’ Slim in Burma noted that the tanks should

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not be used in penny packets against the IJA or to support the friendly infantry. The larger number in which the tanks were used, the better.131 Tuker realized that in comparison to waging war with the Italians, combat with the Germans required more field artillery, especially for bombardment of enemy positions and hostile columns as the RAF was unwilling or unable to take up this task.132 The problem was using the field artillery properly. The British field artillery failed to function as effective tank killers. During the afternoon of 16 June, the 8th Royal Artillery Field Regiment fired 800 rounds but was unable to disable any Axis tanks. Most of the British guns had sacrificed firepower for mobility. In other words, the shells fired by the British artillery were not heavy enough to kill the dug-in enemy troops and hostile armoured vehicles. The 31st Field Regiment with twentyfour 25-pounder guns was allotted to the 4th Armoured Brigade for close and quick support. When the tanks clashed with the panzers, due to dust and confusion, it was found out that artillery could not provide effective fire support to the friendly side. Firepower support would have been more quick and efficient if the officers manning the Forward Observation Posts were given tracked vehicles to move at the same speed with the tanks.133 During Battleaxe, the 6th RTR lost contact with the observation posts (OPs) that were left far behind.134 And the Royal Artillery also demanded armoured tracked vehicles, with bulletproof observation apertures for the FOO in order to provide timely and effective firepower support to the mobile armoured formations. In general, the 2-pounder gun was not favoured by the Allied infantry. For shooting against Axis tanks and any other hostile ground targets, their favourite artillery piece was the 25-pounder gun,135 which then were in short supply. During the course of the battle, it was found out that the rate of marching by the infantry was too slow, and thus a gap opened up between the slow-marching infantry and the tanks. The 4th Indian Division demanded motorized transport, which in turn would raise the mobility and flexibility of the infantry. Not only would motorized infantry be able to keep in contact with the tanks, but also the infantry would arrive at the forward edge of the battle area fresh. However, softskinned motor transport was vulnerable to attacks by the Axis bombers. This in turn required fighter protection. The 4th Indian Division demanded Bofors guns or in its absence multiple pompoms mounted on armoured tracked chassis for cross-country mobility. In the absence of anti-aircraft guns and Allied fighters, the 4th Indian Division came up with some passive defensive measures against hostile aerial bombing. It was laid down that the vehicles should not be bunched together and that the troops and the vehicles should be camouflaged with nets and sandbags.136 This way, the motor transport could evade enemy aerial strafing and bombing. It is to be noted that in 1941 during the campaign against the Italians, Wavell had emphasized the importance of camouflage in escaping the marauding attacks by the Regia Aeronautica. The training programme under Wavell emphasized that during the day vehicles should be kept 200 yards apart. Further, it was ordered that vehicular movement should take place in the night.137 And even when Allied aircraft were available, the problem was to call them quickly during time of need. The Allied infantry divisions’ staff pointed out that

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better liaison between the tactical air force and the ground formations was necessary. And this required more RAF operators both on the ground and in the air. The advanced divisional headquarters of the infantry divisions were given the responsibility to think about intimate cooperation with the RAF. And it was noted that some techniques were required to prevent attacks on the ground formations by the aircraft of its own side.138 This problem was not solved even in the Normandy Campaign during June and July 1944. The problem of maintaining communications during a fluid battle was noted. The corps commanders discovered the ranges of their sets were inadequate and requested supply of better ones. The Number 11 wireless sets with their batteries were too heavy to be carried by marching infantry. Again, there was a grave shortage of telephone cables, wireless units and wireless batteries. Messages by liaison officers proved to be too slow.139 So when wireless failed, the problem of communicating with the subordinate units mounted. The problem was identified but not solved. Sarah McCook writes that the British Army remained weak in the field of electronic communications. The British radio trucks and radio batteries proved inadequate even during the 1940 Norwegian Campaign. Partly this problem was because of inadequate research funds during the interwar era.140 Again, it was found that after three days of continuous operation in the desert, not only the truck engines developed problems, but also the drivers suffered from fatigue, which in turn resulted in a large number of accidents. Dust storms and absence of clear-cut routes in the desert required specially trained drivers who were experts in the use of compasses and maps for navigation. The absence of land features frequently necessitated celestial navigation by the drivers, which in turn required special skill. Tuker in fact wanted all the infantry men to be trained as drivers.141 Overall, the mood among the Allied commanders despite the failure of Battleaxe was upbeat. The senior British officers assessed that the Italian Army’s performance had remained low as it was during 1940. The Italian Army was under-performing, so there was no reason to fear them. Among many other factors, the paucity of leave caused the morale of the Italian soldiers to be lower than that of the Germans. The Italian soldier was given leave out of Africa after completing 30 months of service, but a German soldier could go home after completing 12 months of service.142 In fact, Major-General Donald Bateman, commander of the Middle East Training Centre, noted like Rommel in mid-October 1941: ‘The Italians last year lost confidence in their weapons (one Italian prisoner kicked a C.V. 3 Tank and said “No good – like everything Italian”) and in their organization. The Germans are not likely to do the same’. The German component of the Axis forces in North Africa was rightly considered by the Allied officers as posing the principal threat. However, Bateman somewhat over-optimistically concluded that if pressed really hard, then the Germans would throw in the sponge just like their Italian allies. Here, Bateman was seriously wrong. As the next two years of combat would show, even when pressed to the limit, the Germans fought well and inflicted serious casualties on the Allies. But Bateman had a point when he noted that the failure of the Wehrmacht to destroy Russia completely in late 1941 and supply difficulties would

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cause severe strain for the Germans in North Africa.143 True, the drain in the Eastern Front and inadequate shipping caused severe problems for Rommel. And these factors to an extent allowed Crusader (the subject of the next chapter) to succeed partially, albeit at a great cost.

Conclusion Faulty doctrine and inadequate plus improper training rather than inferior hardware on part of the WDF to a great extent resulted in the Axis victory during Battleaxe. The Axis did not enjoy qualitative or quantitative superiority in the crucial tools of war. True, the German 88 mm gun was an excellent hardware. But innovative German tactical thinking resulted in its use as a dual-purpose gun especially against the Allied armour. Clever use of the 88 mm gun put an end to the invincibility of the I tank, a superiority which the latter had enjoyed against the Italians in 1940. German conceptualization about how to use the tools of their trade and their capability to use them efficiently gave them battlefield victory. However, the WDF and especially the 4th Indian Division displayed a culture of learning by analyzing its past actions and also the enemy’s activities. Some credit is due to the WDF for theorizing how to fight better with infantry combined with tanks and artillery. The Allied high command realized that single arms tactics were not going to be adequate against the Afrika Korps. So we can say the seeds of combined arms tactics were present in the thinking pattern of the WDF in mid-1941. We have seen that the Allied infantry became quite adept in mastering the defensive techniques. So credit is due to them for displaying an open mind and the liberal attitude of learning from past mistakes. However, the issue of mastering the techniques of mobile warfare was another matter. Cooperation among infantry, tanks, artillery, and air during an attack was the principal issue. The WDF noted the deficiencies but failed to eliminate them. As regards the issue of infantry-tank-artillery cooperation during a fluid battle, the Allied forces in general fell far short of the supremely professional Afrika Korps. The Germans did not enjoy any absolute qualitative or quantitative superiority in armour over the British. German superiority lay in their theory and practice of warfare, partly due to their doctrine, command and training. This became evident when General Claude Auchinleck launched Crusader.

Notes 1 Quoted from David Irving, The Trail of the Fox (1978, reprint, New York: Avon Books, 1990), p. 81. 2 Jack Greene and Alessandro Massignani, Rommel’s North Africa Campaign: September 1940-November 1942 (1994, reprint, Cambridge MA: Da Capo Press, 1999), p. 16; David Mitchelhill-Green, Tobruk 1942: Rommel and the Defeat of the Allies (Stroud: History Press, 2006), pp. 11–12. 3 Michael Carver, Dilemmas of the Desert War: A New Look at the Libyan Campaign 1940– 1942 (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1986), p. 17. 4 James Lucas, Panzer Army Africa: The Blistering Saga of Rommel’s Greatest Victory and Most Resounding Defeat (1977, reprint, Dehra Dun: Natraj, 1982), p. 12.

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5 Hitler’s War Directives: 1939–1945, ed. by H. R. Trevor-Roper (1964, reprint, London: Pan, 1966), pp. 98–99. 6 Lucas, Panzer Army Africa, pp. 13–14. 7 Greene and Massignani, Rommel’s North Africa Campaign, p. 44. 8 Barrie Pitt, The Crucible of War: Western Desert 1941 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1980), p. 241. 9 Irving, The Trail of the Fox, p. 80. 10 General Archibald P. Wavell, Operations in the Middle East from 7 February 1941 to 15 July 1941, Supplement to the London Gazette, 3 July 1946 (London: HMSO, 1946), p. 3424. 11 Irving, The Trail of the Fox, pp. 81–82. 12 Mitchelhill-Green, Tobruk 1942, pp. 80–1. 13 John Baynes, The Forgotten Victor: General Sir Richard O’Connor (London: Brassey’s, 1989), pp. 124–125. 14 Carver, Dilemmas of the Desert War. See especially p. 17. 15 Pitt, The Crucible of War, pp. 242–243. 16 Wavell, Operations in the Middle East from 7 February 1941 to 15 July 1941, p. 3427. 17 Akira Yoshimura, Zero Fighter, tr. by Retsu Kaiho and Michael Gregson (Westport, CT and London: Praeger, 1996); Peter Preston-Hough, Commanding Far Eastern Skies: A Critical Analysis of the Royal Air Force Air Superiority Campaign in India, Burma and Malaya 1941–1945 (Solihull: Helion, 2015), pp. 246–253. 18 Greene and Massignani, Rommel’s North Africa Campaign, p. 20. 19 Air Chief Marshal Arthur Longmore, Air Operations in the Middle East from 1 January 1941 to 3 May 1941, Second Supplement to the London Gazette, 19 September 1946 (London: HMSO, 1946), p. 4675. 20 Mitchelhill-Green, Tobruk 1942, p. 87. 21 Irving, The Trail of the Fox, p. 83. 22 Samuel W. Mitcham Jr, Rommel’s Desert War: The Life and Death of Afrika Korps (2007, reprint, New Delhi: Pentagon Press, 2008), p. 14. 23 Irving, The Trail of the Fox, p. 84. 24 Irving, The Trail of the Fox, p. 83. 25 Mitcham, Rommel’s Desert War, p. 15; David French, Raising Churchill’s Army: The British Army and the War Against Germany, 1919–1945 (2000, reprint, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 218, 226. 26 Lucas, Panzer Army Africa, pp. 25–26. 27 French, Raising Churchill’s Army, p. 218. 28 Adjutant-General in India’s Committee on Morale, Part 2, Indian Troops, Discipline, 26 January 1944, L/WS/1/939, APAC, BL, London; Minutes of the Eighth Meeting held at GHQ India New Delhi on 19 December 1944, L/WS/2/71, APAC, BL; Scott Gilmore with Patrick Davis, A Connecticut Yankee in the 8th Gurkha Rifles: A Burma Memoir (Washington, DC, and London: Brassey’s, 1995), pp. 50–61; Timothy Harrison Place, Military Training in the British Army, 1940–1944 (London: Frank Cass, 2000), p. 45. 29 Napoleon on the Art of War, Selected, ed. and tr. by Jay Luvaas (New York: Free Press, 1999), p. 8. 30 Pitt, The Crucible of War, p. 242. 31 Greene and Massignani, Rommel’s North Africa Campaign, pp. 14, 16; David Stahel, Operation Barbarossa and Germany’s Defeat in the East (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 108–109. 32 Field-Marshal Claude Auchinleck Papers, Note to General Wilson by Wavell, 21 September 1940, MUL 121–32, John Rylands Library, Manchester. 33 Lucas, Panzer Army Africa, p. 32. 34 Mitcham, Rommel’s Desert War, p. 16. 35 Quoted from The Rommel Papers, ed. by B. H. Liddell-Hart, with the assistance of LucieMaria Rommel, Manfred Rommel and General Fritz Bayerlein, tr. by Paul Findlay (1953, reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1982), p. 97. 36 Greene and Massignani, Rommel’s North Africa Campaign, p. 25.

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37 Wavell, Operations in the Middle East from 7 February 1941 to 15 July 1941, p. 3425; Raymond Callahan, Churchill and His Generals (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2007), p. 45. 38 Pitt, The Crucible of War, p. 249; Wavell, Operations in the Middle East from 7 February 1941 to 15 July 1941, p. 3428; Callahan, Churchill and His Generals, p. 45. 39 Carver, Dilemmas of the Desert War, p. 21. 40 Pitt, The Crucible of War, pp. 254–255. 41 Auchinleck Papers, Note to Wilson by Wavell, 21 September 1940. 42 Wavell, Operations in the Middle East from 7 February 1941 to 15 July 1941, p. 3428. 43 Longmore, Air Operations in the Middle East from 1 January 1941 to 3 May 1941, p. 4676. 44 Wavell, Operations in the Middle East from 7 February 1941 to 15 July 1941, p. 3427. 45 Quoted from Wavell, Operations in the Middle East from 7 February 1941 to 15 July 1941, p. 3425. 46 Napoleon on the Art of War, p. 66. 47 Niall Barr, ‘Rommel in the Desert: 1941’, in Ian F. W. Beckett (ed.), Rommel: A Reappraisal (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2013), p. 66. 48 Irving, The Trail of the Fox, p. 87. 49 Report drawn up by Major H. P. Thomas, Malaya and Singapore, 30 May 1942, pp. 4–5, CAB 66/26/44, PRO, Kew, London. 50 Neal Dando, From Tobruk to Tunis: The Impact of Terrain on British Operations and Doctrine in North Africa, 1940–43 (Solihull: Helion, 2016), p. 69. 51 The Rommel Papers, p. 109. 52 Major P. C. Bharucha, The North African Campaign: 1940–1943, Bisheshwar Prasad (General Editor), Official History of the Indian Armed Forces in the Second World War: 1939–45, Campaigns in the Western Theatre (Combined Inter-Services Historical Section India & Pakistan, 1956, Printed in Calcutta), pp. 158–163. 53 Wavell, Operations in the Middle East from 7 February 1941 to 15 July 1941, p. 3429. 54 Quoted from Wavell, Operations in the Middle East from 7 February 1941 to 15 July 1941, p. 3429. 55 Dando, From Tobruk to Tunis, p. 36. 56 Pitt, The Crucible of War, pp. 286–287. 57 Major-General F. W. von Mellenthin, Panzer Battles (1955, reprint, Stroud: History Press, 2008), p. 54. 58 Dando, From Tobruk to Tunis, pp. 82, 84. 59 French, Raising Churchill’s Army, pp. 215–216. 60 Carver, Dilemmas of the Desert War, pp. 22–23. 61 Hitler’s War Directives: 1939–1945, pp. 131–134. 62 Lieutenant-General Francis Tuker Papers, Notes by Major-General F. S. Tuker, 6 October 1945, p. 5, 71/21/1/3, IWM, London. 63 Peter Chamberlain and Chris Ellis, British and American Tanks of World War Two: The Complete Illustrated History of British, American and Commonwealth Tanks, 1939–1945 (1969, reprint, London: Cassell, 2004), p. 37. 64 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Communication, pp. 32–33, 601/221/WD, Part 1, MODHS, New Delhi. 65 Alan Jeffreys, Approach to Battle: Training the Indian Army During the Second World War (Solihull: Helion, 2017), p. 94. 66 War Diary of Headquarters 4th Indian Division GS Branch, May–June 1941, Lessons of the Operation, 27 March 1941, 601/221/WD/A-7, MODHS, New Delhi; Brigadier Sukhwant Singh, Three Decades of Indian Army Life (Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1967), p. 56. 67 Lieutenant-Colonel J. Frith, History of the 2nd/10th Baluch in Malayan Campaign, pp. 1–2, 1973–06–121, NAM, London. 68 For the concept of primary group, see Edward A. Shils and Morris Janowitz in ‘Cohesion and Disintegration in the Wehrmacht in World War II’, Public Opinion Quarterly, vol. 12, no. 2 (1948), pp. 280–315.

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69 Quoted from War Diary of Headquarters 4th Indian Division GS Branch, May– June 1941, 4th Indian Division Newsletter, p. 10, 1 April 1941. 70 Dando, From Tobruk to Tunis, p. 87. 71 War Diary of Headquarters 4th Indian Division GS Branch, May–June 1941, Indian Liaison Letter, Serial 5, p. 4, 1 April 1941. 72 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Report on Operations 15–7 June 1941, Information about the Enemy, Report by CRA, Appendix C. 73 Pitt, The Crucible of War, pp. 288–289. 74 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Report by commander 4th Indian Division on Operations in the Western Desert 15–8 June 1941, p. 2, The Plan, Part 2, p. 5. 75 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Report on Operations, 15–7 June 1941, Administrative Notes, p. 1, The First Plan, p. 4. 76 Mitcham, Rommel’s Desert War, p. 11. 77 Lucas, Panzer Army Africa, p. 25. 78 Mitcham, Rommel’s Desert War, p. 15. 79 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Report by commander 4th Indian Division on Operations in the Western Desert 15–8 June 1941. 80 Jeffreys, Approach to Battle, p. 92. 81 Pitt, The Crucible of War, pp. 294–295. 82 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Coast Force, p. 16, The Approach March, Part 3, p. 7. 83 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Communications, pp. 8–9, 11, Report on Operations 15–7 June 1941, Administrative Notes, pp. 1–2. 84 Bharucha, The North African Campaign: 1940–1943, pp. 178–180. 85 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Support of I Tanks by Field Artillery, p. 2, Summary of Situation 2100 hours 15 June 1941, p. 16; Pitt, The Crucible of War, p. 296. 86 Dando, From Tobruk to Tunis, p. 87. 87 Bharucha, The North African Campaign: 1940–1943, pp. 177–178. 88 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Coast Force, pp. 18–19. 89 Jeffreys, Approach to Battle, p. 93. 90 Greene and Massignani, Rommel’s North Africa Campaign, p. 16. 91 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, IS No. 160, 11 July 1941, p. 2. 92 War Diary of Headquarters 4th Indian Division GS Branch, May–June 1941, Summary of Situation, 16 June 1941, July–November 1941, Enemy Methods, p. 34. 93 Bharucha, The North African Campaign: 1940–1943, pp. 182–183. 94 Carver, Dilemmas of the Desert War, p. 25; War Diary of Headquarters 4th Indian Division GS Branch, May–June 1941, Summary, 17 June 1941. 95 War Diary of Headquarters 4th Indian Division GS Branch, May–June 1941, 4th Indian Division Operation Instruction No. 43, 18 June 1941, Appendix 17, p. 3, July–­ November 1941, IS No. 159, p. 2, 4 July 1941, IS No. 160, p. 2. 96 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Dive Bombing, pp. 4–5, Escarpment Force, 17 June 1941. 97 War Diary of Headquarters 4th Indian Division GS Branch, May–June 1941, 17 June 1941, Appendix 15; War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–­ November 1941, Escarpment Force, 17 June 1941, pp. 21–22. 98 Bharucha, The North African Campaign: 1940–1943, pp. 187–188. 99 War Diary of Headquarters 4th Indian Division GS Branch, May-June 1941, 4th Indian Division Operation Instruction No. 43, July–November 1941, 18 June 1941, pp. 23–24. 100 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Report by commander 4th Indian Division on Operations in the Western Desert 15–8 June 1941, p. 25.

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101 Dando, From Tobruk to Tunis, p. 92. 102 War Diary of Headquarters 4th Indian Division GS Branch, May–June 1941, 4th Indian Division Operation Instruction No. 43, 18 June 1941. 103 Tuker Papers, DMT’s Tour, Note C, 18 August 1941, 71/21/1/3; French, Raising Churchill’s Army, p. 35. 104 Allan R. Millett, ‘The United States Armed Forces in the Second World War’, in Allan R. Millett and Williamson Murray (eds.), Military Effectiveness, vol. 3, The Second World War (1988, reprint, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), vol. 3, p. 69. 105 Williamson Murray, Military Adaptation in War: With Fear of Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 126. 106 Pitt, The Crucible of War, p. 285. 107 The Development of German Defensive Tactics in Cyrenaica – 1941, Military Intelligence Service, Special Series No. 5 (Washington, DC: War Department, 1942), pp. 1–2, 5–6. 108 The Development of German Defensive Tactics in Cyrenaica – 1941, pp. 3–4. 109 Murray, Military Adaptation in War, p. 125. 110 The Development of German Defensive Tactics in Cyrenaica – 1941, p. 4. 111 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, IS Nos. 156, 158, pp. 2–3; Mitchelhill-Green, Tobruk 1942, p. 78. 112 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, IS No. 160, Appendix A. 113 Quoted from War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, IS No. 158, p. 3. 114 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, IS No. 158, pp. 2, 4, IS No. 160, Appendix A. 115 War Diary of Headquarters 4th Indian Division GS Branch, May–June 1941, Defence Notes No. 6, Part 2, 28 June 1941. 116 War Diary of Headquarters 4th Indian Division GS Branch, May–June 1941, Defence Notes No. 6, Part 1, 28 June 1941. 117 War Diary of Headquarters 4th Indian Division GS Branch, May–June 1941, 4th Indian Division Operation Instruction No. 43, 18 June 1941, Appendix 17, July–November 1941, IS No. 160, p. 2. 118 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, IS No. 160, Appendix A, p. 3, 12 July 1941. 119 French, Raising Churchill’s Army, pp. 33–34; Chamberlain and Ellis, British and American Tanks of World War Two, pp. 33, 58. 120 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Carrier Support, pp. 26, 28. 121 Quoted from War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Report by commander 4th Indian Division on Operations in the Western Desert 15–8 June 1941, p. 25. 122 Lucas, Panzer Army Africa, p. 27. 123 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Support of I Tanks by Field Artillery, Report by commander 4th Indian Division on Operations in the Western Desert 15–8 June 1941, pp. 2, 25, Points of Interest, Part 5, p. 27. 124 Dando, From Tobruk to Tunis, p. 92. 125 Lucas, Panzer Army Africa, p. 19. 126 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Points of Interest, Part 5, p. 27; Tuker Papers, DMT’s Tour, Note C, 18 August 1941, p. 1. 127 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Anti-Tank Policy, pp. 3–4; Auchinleck Papers, A Method of Attack on an Entrenched Camp in the Desert, Sheet 2 of Appendix B, MUL 121–132. 128 Lucas, Panzer Army Africa, pp. 26, 33. 129 Dando, From Tobruk to Tunis, p. 89. 130 Mitcham, Rommel’s Desert War, p. 11.

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131 Robert Lyman, Slim, Master of War: Burma and the Birth of Modern Warfare (2004, reprint, London: Robinson, 2005), pp. 75–77, 79. 132 Tuker Papers, DMT’s Tour, Note D, 29 August 1941, 71/21/1/3. 133 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Support of I Tanks by Field Artillery, p. 3, Artillery Support, Support of I Tanks by Field Artillery, pp. 2, 26; French, Raising Churchill’s Army, pp. 89–92. 134 Dando, From Tobruk to Tunis, p. 90. 135 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Artillery, p. 28, Anti-Tank Gun, p. 29. 136 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Dive Bombing, Camouflage, pp. 4–5, Anti-Aircraft, p. 29. 137 Auchinleck Papers, A Method of Attack on an Entrenched Camp in the Desert, Sheet 2 of Appendix B, Para 15, MUL 121–132. 138 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Air Cooperation, pp. 30, 32. 139 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Communications, pp. 8–9, Points of Interest, Part 5, p. 27; French, Raising Churchill’s Army, p. 226. 140 Sarah McCook, ‘Communications in the British Army and the Challenge of Technology, 1914–1940’, in Michael Locicero, Ross Mahoney and Stuart Mitchell (eds.), A Military Transformed? Adaptation and Innovation in the British Military, 1792–1945 (2014, reprint, Solihull: Helion, 2016), pp. 184–188. 141 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, Administrative Lessons, pp. 7–9; Tuker Papers, DMT’s Tour, Note C, 18 August 1941; Greene and Massignani, Rommel’s North Africa Campaign, p. 16. 142 Greene and Massignani, Rommel’s North Africa Campaign, p. 15. 143 Major-General Donald Bateman Papers, War on the Libyan Front: A Few Notes for the Beginners, 16 October 1941, 72/117/2/3, IWM.

2 DESERT FOX CONTAINED Crusader

Introduction This chapter deals mainly with Operation Crusader. The first section paints the overall strategic-operational background. The second section focuses on the attempts made by the Allied forces to learn from their past experiences. The last section shows how these new lessons were implemented (if at all) in actual combat against the Axis forces. This chapter shows that the Allied forces enjoying massive numerical superiority were able to defeat but were unable to destroy Rommel’s force. Rommel was able to escape thanks to his penchant for conducting a brilliant mobile retreat. The Allied formations continued their cultural tradition of self-criticism and attempted to update their combat effectiveness by trying to learn new techniques. As we shall see, their attempts though successful in positional warfare fell far short of the high standards, demanded for conducting mobile warfare against the supremely professional Afrika Korps. This chapter also discusses several potentially effective innovations which were blocked by those higher up in the Allied command chain and some erroneous innovative measures undertaken by the Auchinleck regime, which did not raise combat effectiveness of the Allied forces.

After Battleaxe In the immediate aftermath of Battleaxe, there was a sort of lull in the desert. Both sides resorted to patrolling and shelling. No major operations occurred for the next few months. On 1 July 1941, Rommel was promoted to general of the panzer troops and became commander of Panzer Group Afrika, of which the Afrika Korps was a part. Panzer Group Afrika besides the DAK also included two Italian corps.1 In the Tobruk area, both sides resorted to active patrolling and shelling. For shelling Tobruk, the Germans used 88 mm guns, 105 mm guns, 155 mm guns and

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210 mm guns. In addition, the Germans used magnetic mines while setting up minefields. The magnetic mines varied in size, each of them containing between 650 and 1,530 pounds of explosives.2 By the end of June 1941, the Germans had strengthened their defensive positions between the Halfaya Pass and Sidi Omar. The Axis troops strengthened their defence by building observation posts and emplacements with the aid of sandbags. Sandbag fortifications were constructed on the scarp because digging was impossible in this region.3 On 1 July 1941, Churchill warned Auchinleck that he had indeed taken charge of the Middle East Command (MEC) during a time of trouble. The prime minister was eager that the Allied forces should launch an offensive in the Western Desert, but at this stage he left the timing of such an operation to Auchinleck’s discretion. Churchill further pointed out the importance of holding on to Tobruk. The prime minister concluded his telegram by noting that due to German preoccupation with their summer offensive in Russia, at this juncture the Third Reich could not send Rommel large number of reinforcements.4 So Auchinleck should attack as quickly as possible in the Western Desert. Churchill was right. On 22 June, the Third Reich initiated its greatest military undertaking: Operation Barbarossa. Hitler threw 151 German divisions (including nineteen panzer and fifteen motorized divisions) equipped with 3,350 tanks, 7,200 pieces of artillery and 2,770 aircraft (which represented about 65 per cent of the front-line strength of the Luftwaffe). In total, 3.5 million German soldiers were on the march against Russia.5 Hitler was in no position to send any further aid to Rommel for the time being. On 2 July 1941, Auchinleck (nicknamed ‘Auk’), previously Commander-inChief of India, assumed command formally in place of Wavell. Major-General Arthur Smith, who had functioned as Chief of Staff at Cairo under Wavell, continued under Auchinleck.6 The WDF (renamed the Eighth Army) included the XIII and the XXX corps. In General Alfred Reade Godwin-Austen’s XIII Corps, there was Lieutenant-General Bernard Freyberg’s 2nd New Zealand Division and Frank Messervy’s 4th Indian Division.7 Three days after receiving the prime minister’s telegram, Auchinleck summed up the strategic scenario. He responded to Churchill that no offensive would be launched against Rommel till the base (Egypt) was secured. And Syria posed a threat to Egypt. While Churchill considered destruction of Rommel’s army as first priority; securing Egypt against any probable threat from its northern flank was the principal issue for Auchinleck. In hindsight, we can say that Auchinleck over-estimated the danger posed by the Wehrmacht from the Balkans and south Russia to the Middle East. But at that time one had to take in consideration the fact that the German summer offensive in south Russia might succeed and that Army Group South might break through the Caucasus along the northern flanks of the MEC. Auchinleck told Churchill that operations in Syria were going well, but were somewhat hampered by shortages of mechanical transport. A simultaneous offensive against Syria and in the Western Desert would result in disaster in both these fronts. He was probably referring to Wavell being goaded into launching simultaneous operations against Greece and Libya during the first half of 1941, which

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resulted in defeats in both these fronts. For securing Egypt, besides occupation of Syria, Auchinleck was also for strengthening Cyprus to prevent any possible German move from Greece towards this island. Once Syria and Cyprus were secured, then Auchinleck proposed to strengthen the British presence in Iraq. And only then could an offensive be contemplated against Rommel.8 However, he added the following riders: Offensive in Western Desert can be considered but for this adequate and properly trained armoured forces say at least two and preferably three armoured divisions with a motor division will be required to ensure success. . . . Final object should be complete elimination of enemy from Northern Africa but administrative considerations would entail advance by stages so that first objective would probably by re-occupation of Cyrenaica which itself had to be effected by stages.9 So the general was not only asking for more armoured forces, but he also told his civilian superior that his ground force was ill-trained to tackle Rommel. Basically, Auchinleck told Churchill that any early offensive against the Desert Fox was out of the question. And even if an attack was launched in the distant future, there was no question of destroying Rommel completely in a single operation. Two days after receiving Auchinleck’s telegram, Churchill was goaded into action. He replied to his general that the Syrian and Cyprus operations must be finished soon. Churchill insisted that for the British Empire, the principal theatre was the Western Desert. Cyrenaica should be captured not only for protection of the Nile Delta but also to occupy the airfields. From these airfields, the RAF would be able to strangle the Axis sea lines of communication (SLOC) in the Mediterranean. The prime minister had a penchant for military details. Churchill assured Auchinleck that by the end of July 1941, there would be 500 heavy tanks and many light tanks in Egypt. In addition, some American tanks would arrive in July and August. He further pointed out that Auchinleck had thirty-three field artillery regiments and three more were arriving. He wanted to know from his general how the latter planned to utilize the artillery. One could say that Churchill’s discussion of military details with his senior commander might have prodded the latter to think of using the military assets in an innovative way. The War Cabinet planned to send another 75,000 men to MEC, but due to a shipping shortage only 30,000 of them could be sent in the foreseeable future. The prime minister emphasized that Auchinleck must be ruthless and transfer the large number of non-combatants who were at present deployed in the rear areas into the firing line. At present, argued Churchill, Germany would not able to send reinforcements in large numbers to North Africa. But Churchill warned that if Russia collapsed, then Germany by transferring military assets from their Eastern Front would not only be able to send a large amount of materials to North Africa but might also reactivate the scheme of invading Britain. Churchill concluded that the scenario might worsen for the Allies after midSeptember.10 The implication was that Auchinleck must attack immediately.

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For Auchinleck, in the long run the strategic scenario might improve for Britain. Hence he should wait before launching an attack in North Africa. But according to Churchill, in the long run the strategic scenario might worsen for the Allies, and it was best for Auchinleck to attack immediately in North Africa. What Churchill did not point out in this telegram to Auk is the fact that despite the growing Japanese threat in the Far East, Britain was providing the bulk of the available military assets to MEC and not to British-India for checking the Japanese armed forces. On 15 July, Auchinleck responded to Churchill’s misgivings. He told Churchill that Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder (in charge of RAF Middle East Command and later the Mediterranean Air Command) agreed with him that Cyprus must be strengthened.11 Here we find evidence of strategic divergence between the prime minister and Auchinleck. Can we accuse Auchinleck of unnecessarily over-­reacting to the possible German threat from Caucasus? Now, we know that Operation Barbarossa and later Operation Typhoon came to a shattering defeat in front of Moscow. But in the summer of 1941, the military professionals were not so sure. On 16 July 1941 General John Dill, Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), wrote to Auchinleck: Russia has done much better than I expected and I hope that she will go on doing so. But now that the Germans have reached the open country I would fear that the superiority in material, training and command would tell.12 And who can blame Dill? Within 18 days of launching Barbarossa, the Wehrmacht had advanced 600 kilometres inside Russia and destroyed 10,180 Russian tanks and 3,995 aircraft and had inflicted 747,870 casualties on the Red Army.13 Besides strategic dissonance, Churchill and Auchinleck also differed as regards operational objectives of North Africa. One can argue that as regards military operation, a field commander should have the last say and the politician has no business of meddling in matters military. But, in the fog and friction-filled messy reality, such a distinction hardly operates. For Churchill, defence of Tobruk was vital for political reasons; but Auchinleck, looking at the issue from a purely military angle, found Tobruk not so important. And this fact to an extent would influence Churchill’s decision in 1942 to sack him, when Tobruk fell. Unlike Churchill, who wanted to hold on to Tobruk at all cost in case of an Axis offensive in North Africa, Auchinleck opposed this policy. He told the prime minister that supplying Tobruk was costing a lot to the Allies in terms of losses to the air fleet and the naval vessels. He warned Churchill that if Rommel captures Sidi Barrani, then the present scale of fighter protection would not be possible for the naval vessels supplying Tobruk. And in that case the Royal Navy’s vessels supplying the garrison would suffer more casualties and the policy of holding on to Tobruk would become more costly. Auchinleck asserted that it may not be possible to hold on to Tobruk beyond September 1941.14 Here, Auchinleck was unduly pessimistic and indirectly digging his own grave by weakening his cause unnecessarily with the prime minister. However for the time being, Auchinleck had the full support of Dill behind him.

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From strategy and operation, Auk now moved to the issue of military details. He emphasized in the same telegram that the personnel of the six British armoured regiments lacked individual and collective training for the different types of tanks they had to operate. Again, the use of the American tanks required certain modifications of the existing tactical doctrine. And time was required to study and absorb the new lessons. According to Auchinleck, 500 tanks that MEC would have at the end of July 1941 were not enough. He pointed out that conduct of an operation required 50 per cent reserve tanks – of them, 25 per cent would be in the workshops and another 25 per cent for immediate replacement of battle casualties. He also complained that despite the increase of artillery holdings, he lacked corps and army artillery.15 In other words, Auchinleck was demanding more guns and tanks. One wonders if any German general posed such an issue to Hitler, how the former would have fared. We can speculate that this telegram seriously lowered Auchinleck’s stock with Churchill. Besides strategic and operational dissonance with the prime minister, it seems from Auk’s telegram that a defeatist general was asking for more of everything before agreeing to fight. On 19 July, Auchinleck demanded more manpower for MEC. He noted that it was necessary to have reserve in order to cover wastage, which might result from three months’ intense warfare. It was essential, continued Auchinleck, to acquire more manpower from Australia and New Zealand.16 Auchinleck was naïve in this regard. As a responsible theatre commander, he should have assessed the global position much better. Due to the rising tide of Japanese expansion in the Asia-Pacific region; New Zealand and Australia were unable and unwilling to pour more troops to the Middle East. Rather, Australia would pull out troops from the Middle East for homeland defence. On 20 July, Churchill again tried to goad Auchinleck in launching an immediate attack in North Africa by arguing that any possible German intervention from the Caucasus was impossible before the end of September. The prime minister also had his own misgivings about the appointment of Lieutenant-General Noel Beresford-Peirse. Instead, he wanted General Henry Maitland Wilson. Churchill further wrote whether it would be possible for Auchinleck to take direct command of the WDF.17 Auchinleck, however, had a mind of his own. He refused to comply with both the prime minister’s wishes. The next day, Auchinleck retorted a bit angrily to Dill. He said to Dill that there are certain matters in which the theatre commander must have the final say, but the prime minister was interfering. Auchinleck was unable to accept Churchill’s advice to take personal command of the WDF, because he feared that it would distract him from having a detached view about Iraq and Syria.18 In a way, Auchinleck was right. Theoretically, the politicians should lay down the political objectives and the theatre commander should plan military strategy in accordance with such political guidelines. The theatre commander’s job was to function as the interface between the political authorities at home and the field commander commanding the military assets within the theatre.19 Basically, we can discern four levels of war. At the top is the grand strategic level of war. Grand strategy (or national security

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policy) involves the use of national resources to achieve national policy objectives, and this involves the marrying of economic, industrial, political, diplomatic and military means. It is the province of the politicians. The next level is military strategy, which is guided by the political direction. Military strategy is concerned with the resources allocated for military operations. This is the job of the theatre commander. Then there is the operational level of war. This is the area of the field commander and is concerned with planning and implementation of the military campaign. It also forms the connecting link between the tactical level (the level at which battles are fought) and the strategic level.20 The tactical level can be categorized as the sphere of the divisional commanders, because after all, the division remained the basic unit for military operation during the Second World War. In our case, we see that Churchill, like Hitler, was interfering both at the strategic and operational levels of warfare. Auchinleck argued that in case of a German attack, Tobruk could be held for a maximum period of 50 days. The defence of Cyprus was a serious issue for him. Auchinleck wanted the 50th British Division to go there. One can say that Auchinleck was unduly worried with Cyprus. But we must remember that Hitler also retained a substantial number of troops in Norway and the Balkans, fearing possible Allied landings in these regions. Auk harped on whether it would be possible to bring Turkey within the Allied fold, in order to strengthen the security of the northern and north-western flanks of the MEC. In fact, the plan to bring Turkey within the Allied camp was a pet project of Churchill. But Turkey avoided entanglements with both the Axis and Allied blocs. Auchinleck stated further that all the divisions under his command were not yet battle-ready. The 5th Indian Division along with the 6th Australian and the New Zealand Division were in the process of re-equipping themselves. To cap it off, Auk said that he was having problems with the Australian General Thomas Blamey (Deputy Commander-in-Chief Middle East).21 In fact, Auchinleck had provided a plateful of troubles for Dill. About the core issue of launching an attack in the Western Desert, Auchinleck was adamant. On 21 July, he informed Dill: To attack with patently inadequate means is to take an unreasonable risk in the present circumstances, and is almost certain to result in a much greater delay eventually than if we wait until the odds are reasonable. I am afraid I shall be quite firm on this point. . . . Neither front can be viewed in i­solation. . . . As I see it, there is now one continuous front in Asia and North Africa stretching from Afghanistan through Iran, Iraq, Syria and Palestine to Cyrenaica.22 Two days later, Auchinleck informed Leo Amery, the Secretary of State for India, that he wanted more Indian troops in Afghanistan and Iraq for India and MEC.23 Disagreeing with Churchill, for Auchinleck, Rommel was not the main problem but just one of the problems of MEC. The Germans were winning great victories in Russia but were seriously behind their tight time schedule. On 30 July, Hitler issued a directive that Army Group

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Centre would take a strategic defensive stance temporarily and Guderian’s Panzer Group would move towards Ukraine.24 There was no question of launching even a limited offensive in North Africa in the immediate context. On 2 August 1941, the German Navy High Command issued an order based on the Führer’s Directive that an attack against Egypt was to be mounted no earlier than New Year 1942.25 General Italo Garibaldi and later General Ettore Bastico (from 19 July 1941 onwards) commanded the Italian and German forces in Libya. General Gastone Gambara’s XX Italian Mobile Corps included the Ariete Armoured and the Trieste Mobile Divisions. Each Italian armoured division theoretically had 4,858 men and 138 light tanks. Rommel’s Panzer Group Afrika included General Enea Navarini’s XXI Corps (Brescia, Pavia, Trento and Bologna infantry divisions), the Italian Savona Division, General Ludwig Cruwell’s Afrika Korps and Major-General Karl Bottcher’s Artillery Command 104. The Afrika Korps included the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions (in mid-August, the 5th Light Motorized Division was reorganized and renumbered as the 21st Panzer Division) and the Special Service Afrika Division (ZBV Division). The ZBV Division was a small infantry division later renamed the 90th Light. The 90th Light along with the 15th and 21st Panzer divisions constituted the spear tip of Rommel’s force. The ration strength of the 90th Light was 12,000 personnel and between 2,000 and 3,000 motor vehicles. Rommel had 174 tanks (139 Mark IIIs and thirty-five Mark IVs) in his two panzer divisions. Gambara had 146 comparatively useless Italian M-13S tanks. The real killers on the German side were the 50 mm and the 88 mm anti-tank guns.26 In September 1941, the WDF Headquarters became the XIII Corps, which included the 4th Indian Division and the 7th Armoured Division. On 24 September 1941, the Eighth Army came into existence.27 Regardless of Auchinleck’s misgivings, the British enjoyed numerical superiority as regards tanks. The Eighth Army had 724 tanks, 201 of which were thickly armoured infantry tanks and 523 were Cruisers equipped with 2-pounder or 37 mm guns. The 2-pounder guns were not that effective in destroying German tanks.28 During late September, Major-General Leslie Morshead’s 9th Australian Division at Tobruk was replaced with the 70th British Division.29 Meanwhile, Churchill was doing everything possible to strengthen the Eighth Army. Between 1 July and 31 October 1941, Auchinleck received 34,000 trucks, 2,100 AFVs, 600 field guns, 200 anti-tank guns, 160 light and eighty heavy antiaircraft guns, plus 3,700 Bren Guns, 900 mortars and 80,000 rifles.30 Rommel’s supply was nowhere near these figures. Rommel was in no position to fight a long battle of attrition with Auchinleck. Due to British air and naval activities from Malta, the Axis losses in the Mediterranean Sea rose sharply. In July 1941, 17 per cent of the materials sent to Africa were lost, and the figure for August was 35 per cent. During September, 18 per cent of all the supplies sent by sea was lost.31 In October, 50,000 tons of materials and supplies were dispatched to Libya but only 18,500 tons arrived. On 8–9 November, a convoy of seven merchant ships escorted by Italian cruisers and destroyers was wiped out.32 In October, OKW realized that the Regia Aeronautica would be unable to suppress Malta and protect the Axis

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convoys sailing from Italy to Tripoli. So with a heavy heart, the decision was made to strengthen the Luftwaffe in the Mediterranean by transferring air units from the Eastern Front.33

Thinking and learning to fight The Germans may yet produce another completely revolutionary method of war. Let us go to it together and produce it first. —Major-General Francis Tuker 34

American scholar Rosen, after analyzing the US military in the twentieth century, asserts that military officers developed new ideas about the ways wars would be fought in the future and how they might be won. These ideas were not the product of a close study of potential enemies but due to changes in the international security environment. Technological changes which occurred outside the control of the military were another factor behind such innovations. He writes that intelligence about potential enemies was not important behind military innovations.35 Rosen here is writing about peacetime innovations. Such an assertion in case of wartime innovations of the British imperial force in North Africa is not applicable. Intelligence inputs about the enemy force structure were an important causative factor behind military innovations in the Eighth Army. The Allied units in accordance with their institutional culture engaged in selfcriticism and debates for further improvement of their combat effectiveness and also theorized (both the tactical and operational levels of war) to parry the enemy better. Some senior figures of the Eighth Army and the Indian Army noted that an aggressive battle doctrine was necessary to counter Rommel. Churchill would have heartily agreed with them. The doctrinal debates which occurred were indeed a positive feature in the learning process. Just after Battleaxe, Beresford-Peirse pointed out: ‘We are getting defensively minded. The trouble is that most of the defences that we put down are to protect our present infantry formations and the stuff they had with them’.36 Auchinleck had a battle doctrine in mind. He noted: It is quite clear . . . that infantry divisions however well trained and equipped are no good for offensive operations in this terrain against enemy armoured forces. Infantry divisions are and will be needed to hold defended localities after repeat after enemy armoured forces have been neutralized or destroyed but the main offensive must be carried out by armoured formations supported by motorized formations.37 An American intelligence analysis prepared in November 1942 was similar in tone to Auchinleck’s assessment. It noted that only armoured units could carry the fight to the enemy. Even if the infantry units were well balanced, they could only defend

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themselves against enemy tank attacks. The American intelligence document pointed out that a traditional infantry-artillery team could only assume a strictly defensive role.38 Both the American intelligence analysis and Auchinleck failed to perceive that infantry supported by field artillery, armour and ground support aircraft could take the offensive against enemy force. At the operational level Auchinleck, like most of the British generals, assumed that while armoured formations constituted the core of the force in the desert, infantry played second fiddle. Infantry would play a defensive role while the armour would constitute the striking force. The issue of cooperation of all arms at the tactical level escaped Auchinleck’s notice. It was essential for armour, ­infantry and mobile field artillery along with the air force to fight as a coherent team; this resulted in combined arms tactics and was the right formula for success. But such strands of thinking were outside the conceptual domain of the British and American senior commanders. Further, the stunning success of German panzer divisions during 1939–1941 resulted in the spread of an erroneous feeling within the ­British military establishment that infantry played a secondary role in modern battles. Actually, the German military doctrine emphasized the supreme importance of infantry in conducting battles.39 Several serving British officers critiqued the nature of infantry training then in vogue in India. They argued that the training did not prepare them either for mechanized warfare in the Libyan Desert or for jungle warfare in Burma. Two examples could be given. A British officer who had served in the 3rd/9th Gurkha Rifles and had fought in Burma noted in his memoirs that the training lacked any sort of realism. The focus of training was on the drills of picketing as practiced for the North-West Frontier warfare and duties in aid of the civil power. There was an acute shortage of modern weapons and ammunition. So firing during training was represented by waving flags.40 A somewhat similar picture was drawn by John Shipster of the 7th/2nd Punjab Regiment. About the state of training in the Officer Cadet School at Bangalore in 1941, he had written: Our training lacked any sort of realism. . . . I never saw a military radio set at Bangalore. . . . Much of our tactical training was to do with the drills of picketing on the North-West Frontier. Modern mechanized warfare was mentioned only briefly and jungle warfare was not taught at all. The one subject that was taught thoroughly was ‘Duties in aid of the Civil Power’ that is riot drills. . . . There was an acute shortage of ammunition, both live and blank, so on exercises we simulated firing by whirling wooden rattles or waving small flags.41 David French claims that the British Army focused on parade ground drill to teach the recruits obedience. Even the Australian soldiers and officers stationed in the Middle East commented that British discipline focused on producing smart parade ground soldiers. The British officer corps’ assumption was that unless the men were taught strict obedience, their morale would collapse during battle. The emphasis

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was on teaching close order drill in order to generate instant obedience among the soldiers. The British soldiers were not trained to use their intelligence during a firefight. The initiative was squeezed out of the men thanks to over-emphasis on parade ground drill. Elementary fieldcraft was neglected. Further, the British commissioned officers and NCOs lacked initiative. They were not well-versed in platoon tactics. Centralized tactical training in the Wehrmacht produced an officer corps that had a uniform understanding of the German Army’s tactical training. In contrast, in the British and Indian armies, tactical training of the junior officers was decentralized and was left in the hands of their unit commanders. So the quality of training they received varied enormously. Again, unlike the German Army, in the British Army only the leftovers joined the infantry. The most skilled and intelligent men went to the RAF, Royal Navy and the tank regiments. So individual training and the army’s personnel policy were faulty. This was partly related to the faulty doctrine of the British Army that the war would be won by machines while the men would play merely a secondary holding task. British doctrine failed to realize that even a capital-intensive army required a well-trained infantry led by skilled and intelligent junior officers.42 The Military Training Pamphlet (India) Number 19 came out in 1941 and focused on infantry training. It was emphasized that nothing in this pamphlet was to be regarded as a cast-iron rule not to be departed from. As part of the learning culture of the Indian Army, the General Staff of India accepted that further improvements in training were necessary and welcomed criticisms and suggestions from the commanding officers. The aim was that ‘the object of recruit training must be to develop the recruit’s mind and body so that he goes to his unit resourceful, fit and alert’. The objective was not to produce an unthinking automaton, blindly obeying orders and unable to function without them. Rather, the objective is to create a thinking resourceful individual well-trained in weapons and capable of taking advantages of the ground. The recruit was taught to coordinate his efforts with the other team members in the battlefield.43 This culture of updating the pamphlets on the basis of recent war fighting experience, according to Fox, was present in the British Army during the First World War.44 This approach continued during the Second World War and became an essential component of the learning culture of the British Imperial Army in North Africa. The men were encouraged to play games in order to ensure physical fitness. The General Staff India realized that instead of parade ground discipline, more emphasis should be given to fieldcraft in order to raise the tactical proficiency of the personnel. Tarak Barkawi makes the insightful comment that drill is not merely for ceremonies and parade grounds but remains the army’s indispensable pedagogy, its correct execution necessary for combat effectiveness. He continues that battle drill is the modern incarnation of close order drill. It offers a straightforward and practical pedagogy for tactical instruction. Rigid and ceremonial drill was done away with in the new training curricula which came into operation during the second half of 1941. The time devoted to barrack square drill was reduced and more time was assigned to fieldcraft in the training syllabus. In the training syllabus, 39 per

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cent of the working period was given to fieldcraft, 25 per cent to weapons training, 13 per cent to physical training and a mere 6 per cent to drill. Again as part of battle inoculation, the men were accustomed to the sound of firing during their training. The General Staff of India realized that in modern war the infantry had to deal with modern technology. So the recruits were given educational training in order to impart technical skill to the uneducated young sons of the farmers. Further, they were taught Morse code and learnt to drive. However, the problem was that once the recruit was trained in the training battalion, he was sent to the unit where he was assigned. And these units were to provide further specialist training to them.45 But as in the British Army, in the Indian Army the quantum and quality of specialist training which the newly inducted recruits received in the units to which they were assigned varied widely. Major-General Francis Tuker, then DMT of India, started with offering a critique of the dominant paradigm of warfare present in the British Army: The War Office picture is very much . . . with an invasion of North-West Europe before them, a great wave of armour with vehicles pouring over the country, a great umbrella of aircraft. They will fight almost shoulder to shoulder: their moves must at first be of only a few miles and always in contact: they will be forced to lay siege to and reduce great fortified works almost from the outset. With us, the picture is different. We move freely and unopposed over great areas but at the end we may have to conduct our sieges at an immense distance from our bases. Look at a possible operation from Siwa to Benghazi. I do not see how we can expect our organization always to follow the Home plan.46 Tuker wrote about the necessity of conducting combined operations which included elements of land, sea and air units. He emphasized: No commander today can be allowed to think only in terms of his own service. Air operations spread across land and sea. . . . The three services in their higher branches are really one service and might well be made one now with three closely related arms – sea, land and air.47 Tuker continued that in future warfare, mobility was not to be confined to one arm. Tuker said that planning and waging combined operations require combined staff and such operations should stretch over hundreds of miles.48 For the sake of jointness, Tuker opined: We have gone a great deal further than others in striving for an identical battle code for Infantry and IAC [Indian Armoured Corps] and to give Infantry the same type of drill and battle procedure as is used in the armoured corps. We do envisage Armoured Forces, backed by Infantry, supported by the Air, moving over great distances, feinting at the enemy in one place and swinging

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into action in another place many miles distance, that whole force controlled by one man and all speaking the same tactical language.49 So Tuker was demanding establishment of joint staffs for conducting what later came to be known as joint warfare. Joint warfare means combination of all the elements of combat power – land, air and sea – in the planning and conduct of operations.50 About the inter-linkages of combined warfare and joint warfare, Tuker laid down: ‘we should have a staff of Army, Navy and Air Force officers together in one body driven by one man, and our aim on that side is a combined doctrine of war and combined staff to apply it’.51 The manual on joint warfare by the US armed forces was published in 1992 and reprinted in 1995. The then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, John M. Shalikashvili, noted that joint warfare is team warfare. The resulting team provides joint force commanders the ability to apply overwhelming force from different dimensions and directions to shock, disrupt and defeat opponents. To master multifaceted conditions, joint warfare is necessary.52 The objective of the joint force headquarters is to allow the joint force commander to obtain leverage from the interaction of different types of force under his control. The joint force commander and the component commanders under him with their staffs need to integrate and harmonize to get the maximum out of the joint force. Further, establishment of combined staff also results in cross talks and cross-fertilization of ideas to solve combat problems.53 One might say that cross talks and cross-fertilization of ideas greased the operation of the cycle of innovations. Conceptually, Tuker was ahead of his time. Tuker said that jointly infantry and armour should be able to operate over long distances along the depth of the enemy’s defensive system.54 One finds elements of deep battle in Tuker’s reasoning. Shimon Naveh asserts that the concept of deep battle first originated in the Soviet military during the interwar era. I at least have not found any evidence of connection between the Soviet military theorists and Tuker. Probably, the concept emerged autonomously in the two different militaries. In the 1930s, deep battle for the Soviets meant penetration of the hostile defensive system’s forward tactical belt along its entire depth. It was assumed that this sector would be most heavily fortified, and the implementation of the breakthrough stage of the operation was assigned to the infantry. The Soviet theorists were probably influenced by the deep infiltration tactical patterns used by the Germans during their 1918 Spring Offensive in France. Naveh asserts that the Soviet theoreticians were the first to interpret the idea of combined arms tactics in terms of deep battles. Deep battles involved organization of the all arms formations in echelons. And successive echelons were to be used one after another in a series of successive operations for the dislocation of enemy defence throughout its operational depth.55 In October 1941, the 5th Indian Division somewhat like the Soviet Army came up with the concept of penetrating the enemy force by launching attack groups comprising I tanks and infantry organized in three echelons. However, the Indian division was thinking of launching attacks throughout a distance of few thousand

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yards, rather than hundred miles according to the Soviet concept. The first echelon was to pass through the forward defensive localities and suppress the enemy defensive posts (especially the machine-guns) sited in the depth. Then, the second echelon tanks would move ahead of the wave of assault infantry. And the third echelon force was to function as a reserve for use as circumstances dictated. Some of the infantry was to be carried in the carriers for functioning as flank reserve. Once the enemy defensive belt was penetrated then the infantry with anti-tank guns would consolidate the ground gained and the I tanks would be reorganized for launching a counter-attack against the hostile force. It was emphasized that the I tanks were never to be used as immobile pillboxes to assist the infantry in the consolidation phase. The 5th Indian Division’s manual noted that the problem of coordinating marching infantry with I tanks due to their different speed was yet to be solved.56 Here lies the cognitive failure of the British officers. They were designing separate battles for the infantry on carriers plus anti-tank guns and the I tanks, respectively. The carrier-based infantry without I tanks and anti-tank guns would not be able to resist an enemy counter-attack. The carriers with their thin armour were easy prey for the Axis AFVs and anti-tank guns. Moreover, a counter-attack by the I tanks without infantry and anti-tank guns would be vulnerable to combined arms tactics of the Germans. An aspect of the cognitive dissonance of the British officers was the failure to think of marching infantry-carrier borne infantry-anti-tank guns-I tanks-Cruiser tanks acting jointly for penetration of the enemy position, then consolidation of the ground gained and finally exploitation behind the broken enemy line. By 1937, the Soviet Field Service Regulations emphasized that deep battle should involve air action against reserves and rear areas, artillery fire along the entire depth of the enemy’s tactical layout and deep penetration of the hostile force’s tactical layout by groups of long range tanks. One could argue that the British I tanks were designed to perform a somewhat similar role obviously on a smaller scale: supporting infantry penetration against enemy’s defensive belts.57 Tuker noted that land forces could not maintain themselves against a superior hostile air force. Not only the enemy air force would destroy the supply dumps of the friendly land force, but continuous bombardments also had a demoralizing effect on the ground troops. It was essential, noted Tuker, to integrate air and land power for waging a seamless operation. The objective of the joint ground (including mobile armoured force) and air force would be, writes Tuker, to attack the enemy’s LOC and his airfields. Then, the air force should bomb the hostile concentration of ground troops. And once these enemy assets were dispersed to avoid bombing, then they could be attacked and destroyed separately one after another. He wrote that unless the air force was very powerful, it should keep away from the heavily defended enemy localities. Air force for him was a weapon of surprise and opportunity in the battlefield. It should be used to hit the enemy’s weak spots. Both Tuker and Slim were for utilizing air supply in order to shape the dynamics of land battles. During the inter-war period, the Staff College at Quetta in British India introduced air supply missions on the North-West Frontier.58 The air supply

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experiment of this institution probably influenced the thinking pattern of Tuker and Slim. During the 1936–1937 Waziristan Campaign, six RAF squadrons were involved. Khaicol comprising two infantry brigades supported by light tanks and armoured cars got CAS from the RAF. The RAF provided aerial reconnaissance, engaged in aerial photography and resupplying the isolated garrisons. When the Pathans launched frontal charges, the RAF provided fire support to the imperial ground force.59 In July 1940, the Indian Army produced a training pamphlet dealing with the support of ground forces by aircraft in tribal warfare on the North-West Frontier of India. As part of the learning culture of the Indian Army, in the light of recent warfare, this pamphlet was updated and reprinted in March 1941. Though this pamphlet purports to deal with CAS in the North-West Frontier, certain lessons were applicable for conducting war in the desert and in the mountainous regions of Tunisia. CAS involved bombing and machine-gunning the hostile ground troops in support of the friendly ground force. Generally, bomber squadrons were considered unsuited for this task. The use of Allied bombers for tactical role in supporting the ground force to break out of Normandy in 1944 is also critiqued then and later by the military officers and historians. The training pamphlet noted that low-flying aircraft must take into account the dangers posed by aimed rifle fire from hostile troops. The situation would be more dangerous when the enemy ground troops had access to anti-aircraft weapons. This brings into focus the issue of cost-effectiveness. Designation of targets and attacking it as quickly as possible were rightly considered two essential components of effective CAS. This in turn required intimate planning between the ground force and air force commanders and close liaison between the RAF officer and the officer commanding the ground columns. While planning an operation, the air force commander should be consulted, noted the training pamphlet so that the strengths and weaknesses of the tools employed by the RAF become clear to the ground force commander. Then, an air force officer with mobile wireless sets needed to be assigned to each ground force column entering enemy territory. Still, it was noted that incidents of friendly fire might occur at times because it was not always possible for the pilots flying high-speed aircraft to differentiate between friends and foes closely engaged in ground battle.60 Interestingly, Tuker, like the Soviet theoreticians of the interwar period, emphasized the importance of airborne troops in shaping the ground battle. About the airborne forces, Tuker said: This is, par excellence, the closest form of air and land combination. It is the air putting the land forces into a position of advantage. It is a ‘quid pro quo’ for what the land forces do to secure and advance the air bases.61 The Soviets used the term desant, which connotes the idea of descending on the enemy’s depth by an airborne operational movement.62 Auchinleck demanded that a specially trained force of fighters and medium bombers should be kept under the ground force’s control for providing tactical

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reconnaissance and CAS. Auchinleck and Tuker were in fact asking for an army air force. Auchinleck went further and noted that for close cooperation, the Royal Navy should have its own air force also.63 Successive CIGS from Lord Gort to Field-Marshal Alanbrooke all made formal requests for the establishment of a large independent air arm under army control.64 The Luftwaffe was a separate branch of service, but it focused on CAS. While the RAF took three hours after the request was made by a ground force formation to provide air support, the Luftwaffe appeared over the target 30 minutes after a request was made by the DAK.65 The real problem which escaped Auchinleck was not the lack of a separate army air force but rather the fact that the RAF at this time was unable and unwilling to provide CAS to the Allied ground force in the desert. And this comes out in Air Marshal Arthur Coningham’s assessment of the operational scenario. He looked at the military landscape with an eye for an independent role of the RAF in the desert. Coningham was asking for an independent strategic role for his air force. In mid-July 1941, Auchinleck informed Churchill that the chief of RAF disagreed (naturally) with his proposal.66 In a way, the image which Auchinleck unwittingly had created for himself in the mind of the London government was that a defeatist general was unable to get along with the commanders of the sister services. Besides Auchinleck, Churchill also had something to say about the use of air force in ground support operations. On 20 July 1941, Churchill wrote to Auchinleck: It seems Air Force was used as a mere series of small umbrellas spread over our march (columns), and that its large superiority was frittered away in passive defence by standing patrols, instead of being used in offensive strategic combination . . . with army for general purposes of battle.67 Actually, during the First World War, Britain’s air force was subordinated to the British Army on the Western Front. And the British air force was used merely in a tactical role as flying artillery by the army commanders. The airmen counterargued that the air force should be used for better effect on the targets beyond the battlefield.68 In fact, in North Africa, Auchinleck to a great extent merely repeated the old arguments of using air force as flying artillery. But the leaders of the RAF in the Western Desert wanted to use the air force as a strategic arm. Air Marshal Coningham (who survived the Second World War only to vanish mysteriously over the infamous Bermuda Triangle in January 1948) commanding the RAF in North Africa (known as the Western Desert Air Force/WDAF) argued that a mere limited thrust to Benghazi by the Allied land forces would not provide the RAF the necessary airfields in the Tobruk-Bardia area. If these airfields remained in the hands of the Axis forces, then the Luftwaffe would be able to rain down death on the advancing Allied land forces. Moreover, the Germans could transfer aircraft from Greece to these airfields and then the situation for the WDF would indeed be problematic.69 Of course Coningham, being an airman, was looking at the military problem strictly from the air force’s point of view.

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Unlike Auchinleck, who wanted to use the RAF as flying artillery in the battlefield in a strictly tactical role, and Arthur Coningham, who wanted an independent strategic role for the RAF in the Western Desert, Tuker took the middle path. The RAF was to be used beyond the battlefield but with the express objective of shaping the land battle. Tuker had written: Combined Warfare, the warfare that the three Services fight together. Its main theses are that war is today fought by installing one’s areas of bases in such a way as to permit one’s air forces to get a stranglehold on the enemy’s powers of maneuver, and that therefore from the outset the three Services work together to get the air forces into these particular geographical areas.70 While the joint warfare doctrine of the US armed forces in the last decade of the twentieth century focuses on the destruction of enemy’s C3I to create operational paralysis on the hostile force,71 in Tuker’s paradigm this element is missing. Tuker himself wanted a limited strike at the enemy’s LOC, especially against his soft-skinned motor transport by armoured cars supported by aircraft. He rightly noted that the Afrika Korps was perpetually short of trucks.72 On 16 August 1941, aerial reconnaissance found out that the Axis had prepared a large dump at Bardia. Between Sidi Omar, Hafid Ridge, Sidi Aziz, Gambut, Capuzzo and Sollum, it was estimated that the Axis had about 2,500 motor transport vehicles. In order to overcome shortage in motor transport, the Axis used captured British vehicles.73 Tuker continued that the engineers were to be integrated in combined arms operation. The engineers played an important role in destruction of hostile defensive obstacles and creation of defensive structures for protection against the hostile attack. The 1936 Soviet Field Service Regulations noted the importance of the engineers in encounter battle for rapid advance of the attack columns through enemy defensive zones. As a point of comparison, each panzer division had an engineer platoon. Further, combined arms operation, noted Tuker, required proper use of deception and camouflage for creating dissension and confusion in enemy mind.74 Even the Soviet deep operation theory emphasized the importance of active deception measures for paralyzing the enemy.75 Knowing the enemy’s weapons along with their strengths and limitations was part of the lesson learning package. At the tactical level, the 4th Indian Division made a detailed study of the effectiveness of the Axis artillery. Table 2.1 shows the 4th Indian Division’s study of various types of guns used by the Germans and the Italians, their ranges and the weight of projectiles they could throw. Tuker advised that aimless patrolling was bad, and only wearies and sickens the men. He opined that a patrol should comprise artillery, engineers and armour along with infantry in order to ensure jointness. While conducting defence, one’s patrol ought to keep the enemy at arm’s length, and during attack they ought to probe and hit the hostiles in order to cover the staging of the attack. This would set the stage for infantry infiltration of the enemy defence. Further, raids should be carried out against the enemy.76 Tuker’s ideas, partly like the German tactical doctrine, focused on intimate

Desert Fox contained  59 TABLE 2.1 Axis artillery in the desert during August 1941

Type of gun Italian 27 mm Field Gun (Model 12)

Maximum range in yards

Weight and nature of shell

11,200

14 pounds, high explosive and anti-personnel 35 pounds 35 pounds

28 mm 32 mm German 75 mm Infantry Gun 75 mm Field Gun 75 mm Field Gun, Model FK 16 105 mm Howitzer

14,900 14,900

150/170 mm Heavy Infantry Gun 150/220 mm Howitzer 88 mm Anti-Aircraft Gun, dual purpose, used also for tank busting

9,296 16,400 18,000

5,600 10,000 13,000 12,000

10 and 14 pounds 14.3 pounds 13.9 pounds 31.79 pounds, armour piercing, high explosive and time percussion 92.6 pounds 95.7 pounds 19.8 pounds

Source: War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, IS No. 165, Enemy Artillery, 15 August 1941, p. 5, 601/221/WD, Part 1, MODHS, New Delhi.

cooperation between infantry and artillery. For instance, the infantry was to seize and hold the terrain most suitable for artillery observation posts. The movable artillery OPs were to accompany the advancing infantry to provide timely and effective fire support.77 The 4th Indian Division also sent aggressive night patrols. During 1944, in the jungles of Burma, nocturnal patrols by the Indian units would result in area domination.78 In the night of 13–14 July 1941, a fighting patrol and a tank hunting platoon equipped with grenades, tommy guns and other weaponry attacked the Axis posts at El Adem sector. Some Axis troops were also captured. Tuker always emphasized the tactic of attacking German leaguers during the night. On the night of 5–6 August 1941, an Axis leaguer north of Sidi Suleiman was surprised by a patrol from the 4th Indian Division.79 Based on these experiences, the following year’s training manuals further refined the technique of attacking German armoured leaguers during the night. On 12 October 1941, the 7th Infantry Brigade was ordered to construct defence in depth around Sidi Barrani.80 The 4th Indian Division in particular was indeed displaying a learning curve. After Battleaxe, Major-General Messervy, the 4th Indian Division’s commander, emphasized: On no account must our tanks engage the enemy first. Our anti-tank guns must engage the enemy tanks when they came within 600 yards range and knock out all they can. . . . Our tanks will only intervene when enemy are closing in on our anti-tank guns.81

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Effective implementation of this sort of tactical repertoire required close cooperation between infantry, anti-tank artillery and armour. And this could be generated through combined arms training. But this aspect was missing in Auchinleck’s force. To be fair to Auchinleck, there was a Combined Training Centre at Kabrit. One brigade of the 5th Indian Division and two brigades of the 2nd New Zealand Division underwent training there. The Eighth Army’s training mechanism was under the guidance of Deputy Chief of General Staff Major-General N. M. Ritchie,82 who later would lead the Eighth Army. On 15 July 1941, Auchinleck wrote about the state of training in his armour: ‘Battleaxe showed the present standard of training is not repeat not enough and we must secure that team spirit which is essential for efficiency’.83 Actually in July 1941, the British armour was not well trained, nor was its re-equipment complete. For instance, the 2nd RTR trained hard especially as regards mine spotting and learning to drive the armoured vehicles which had arrived by sea. The British armoured crews, like the Germans, used camouflage techniques for deceiving the enemy. The 2nd RTR used canvasses which camouflaged their tanks as lorries in order to avoid attack by Axis air force.84 The 3rd RTR was in the process of rebuilding itself after the twin disasters at Greece and Crete. According to one of its officers, it was without proper tanks and adequately trained crews. In the first week of October, the 3rd RTR participated in battle practice with live ammunition west of the Cairo-Fayoum Road.85 After Dunkirk, the 8th RTR stationed in Kent, UK, participated in anti-invasion and anti-parachute duties. This unit reached Egypt in mid-June 1941. Their first job was to become acclimatized to the desert heat. During July and August, the 8th RTR drove around in their new Valentines and got used to desert living – to the sun, heat, dust, scorpions, vipers and flies.86 Conservative thinking among the top brass occasionally blocked potential innovations despite innovative ideas originating from the lower echelons. For instance, the British had a powerful 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun which the German General Staff Officer F. W. von Mellenthin (who served in Panzer Group Afrika’s Headquarters) thought as powerful as the 88 mm. But, noted Mellenthin, they were not used as anti-tank weapons.87 In April 1942, Tuker wrote a paper emphasizing the use of 3.7-inch anti-aircraft guns against the Axis tanks.88 Even many British tank crews wanted to use the 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun as an anti-tank gun, but such a technique was not inculcated in the Eighth Army. Stuart Hamilton was in B Squadron of 8th RTR. Just before the onset of Crusader, he noted in his autobiography: German 88-mm anti-aircraft gun, now being used in an anti-tank role, and it had a devastating effect on tanks in the desert as it could knock out anything we had at a range of 3,000 yards or more. In retrospect, if only we had used our excellent 3.7-inch ack-ack gun in a similar role what a hell of a difference this would have made in the desert battles on the flat, open and wide areas, but the Powers-that-be unfortunately thought otherwise, if they thought at all.89

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Shelford Bidwell and Dominick Graham claim that the 3.7-inch guns were used to protect the airfields from marauding Axis aircraft. And winning the desert war depended on gaining air supremacy by the WDAF. Further, comment Bidwell and Graham, even if these guns were assigned to the Eighth Army personnel, they would have been unable to use them effectively.90 A curious argument indeed! The Germans used the 88 mm for both airfield protection and in attacking Allied tanks. This flexibility was missing in the officer corps of the Eighth Army. Further, the anti-tank gunners of the Eighth Army could have been intensively trained to use this gun effectively in conjunction with the Allied tanks against the panzers. This innovative scheme was blocked partly because the combined arms concept was alien to the British. They considered a particular weapon suited only for a particular purpose. Another reason was the fact that despite pressure from below, the men in power obstructed it. British historian Matthew Ford writes that the British Army was a conservative, hierarchical organization, and powerful officers had their own agendas which shaped the way in which lessons were interpreted and presented.91 Fox in her monograph asserts that ‘bottom-up’ learning occurred in the British imperial force during the First World War.92 This trend was not present in the British Imperial Army in North Africa during the Second World War. The Auchinleck regime witnessed the introduction of Jock Columns on a large scale in a systematic manner. These columns were small, self-supporting mobile strike forces. The problem was, as Philip Warner notes, that they were too large to be very nimble and too small to handle anything except raiding.93 Like the box formation–oriented defence which was to be practiced at Gazala Line the next year, the Jock Columns proved to be another useless tactical innovation against the Panzer Group Afrika. Not only the MEC but also the India Command made strenuous attempts to learn from past campaigns in order to raise the combat effectiveness of the Indian divisions. On 23 September 1941, Tuker, the DMT of India, noted that it was essential to generate new tactical doctrines. New ideas were to give birth to novel methods of waging warfare, which in turn would require formulation of new training techniques. And then the new tactical doctrines and training curriculum were to be inculcated among the formations deployed overseas. Tuker was dissatisfied with the existing doctrinal manual. He wrote: Field Service Regulations Volume 2, fell to the ground because it never gave the Army a clear picture of what modern war was. On this doctrine of war depends one’s strategy, equipment and organization. I do not think that we should wait for other people. Our problems are clear. We know roughly what we are after.94 Tuker was actually continuing the trend present in the British Army during the Great War. Fox writes in the context of training pamphlets issued by the British

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Army during First World War: ‘Pamphlets were not static either; they were fluid documents, sensitive to the demands of war, and subject to revision’.95 The DMT India for preparing training manual also depended on AITM (Army in India Training Memorandum). The DMT India was also in touch with the Staff School at Haifa which provided details regarding the recent fighting in Iraq and Syria. And these in turn aided DMT India to upgrade its training manuals. Further, training manuals generated by the India Command were also sent to Haifa for circulation among the Allied troops. Tuker noted that it was not adequate merely to copy the enemy’s techniques. In order to beat the enemy soundly, the British imperial force needed to out-think him and also out-build him. He noted that study of the recent campaigns would help one to come up with the right ideas. He referred to the Polish campaign of 1939 and noted that the Poles were defeated because they depended on a linear defence system – a carryover from the First World War. Next, he moved to the French Campaign of 1940 and emphasized that the French dependence on the static Maginot Line resulted in their debacle. The German system of war, according to Tuker was dependent on tanks, motorized infantry and close support aircraft acting in tandem. However, Tuker noted, it would be erroneous to think that the Germans got everything right. That, they were unable to completely master modern mobile war was evident from the fact, wrote Tuker, they were yet to smash Russia and their unnecessary siege of Leningrad.96 Some German generals at least along with several modern historians would agree with Tuker about Hitler’s ‘erroneous’ decision to lay siege to Leningrad. Several modern scholars would agree with Tuker’s assertion about the shortcomings of the German method of conducting warfare. Naveh provides a scathing attack on the Blitzkrieg concept. He claims that Blitzkrieg was merely a tactical formula lacking operational logic. The German focus was on tactical aspects of command and maneuver. Techno-tactical aspects rather than operational level of war remained the main aspect of German officer training. He continues that rather than a coherent operational logic, the German field commanders were guided by tactical opportunism. Failing to take into account the concept of hostile defence in depth, the Germans wrongly believed that encirclement battles would result in the destruction of the hostile force.97 Naveh goes on to say that the absence of operational consciousness in German military thinking which resulted in the shallowness of the Blitzkrieg concept was the product of mainly two persons: first, Adolf Hitler, who created the climate which looked down upon abstract ideas, and second, Carl von Clausewitz, the overhyped father of German military thought. Clausewitz, notes Naveh, wrongly assumed that superior tactics would lead to strategic success: a case of the tail ­wagging the dog. Clausewitz’s poisonous fruit was the idea that superior tactics leading to the encirclement battles (cauldron battle) would generate victory at the strategic plane.98 Naveh was too harsh in his assessment of the German Way of War. I tend to agree with Citino that the German Way of War encompassed war of movement at the operational level.99 We will see throughout this book that the

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Germans might be lagging behind the others in abstract military theories but were winning battles against great odds. Of course, they did not win the war. Superior strategy has to take into account the issue of generating superiority at the tactical plane, and here, the Allies seriously lagged behind. Tuker asserted that the principal aim of the Eighth Army should be to destroy the mobile German field army threatening Egypt. Their armoured elements and air force were to be defeated through indirect means rather than engaging in encounter battles. Probably, Tuker was influenced by Captain B. H. Liddell Hart’s concept of indirect strategy. How far this strategy was applicable against the Afrika Korps is debatable. As far as the Indian Army was concerned, waging modern warfare required, according to Tuker, more emphasis on education and signal communications. Further, strengthening of infantry-armour interface was a necessity. The establishment of Army Cooperation School was rightly hailed as a great step for improving army-air cooperation.100 On the German side, in North Africa, an attempt was made to raise the combat power of the Italian divisions by initiating refresher courses conducted by the German officers.101 Further, the Germans perfected the flexible organization which they had used during Battleaxe. They had rightly hit on the idea that well-balanced, closely integrated teams of armoured forces, infantry, field artillery, engineers, antiaircraft guns and ground support aircraft achieved the best result in the desert environment. They had no set tactical organization. The organization and the relative strength of the different arms in the battle groups changed in accordance with the terrain, the nature of hostile force encountered and the objective of their mission.102 The German battle groups had more punching power compared to the lightly equipped Allied Jock Columns. While the British armoured units carried seven days of supplies with them, the German armoured units carried 14 days of supplies. This in turn raised the range and staying power of the German armoured formations. A panzer division in the desert had a motorized infantry brigade which had a motorcycle battalion. They found out that in the desert terrain, due to lack of good metalled roads, motorcycles were not very useful. So the BMW motorcycles were replaced with Volkswagen scout cars. The Germans laid great stress on reconnaissance. A panzer division had a reconnaissance unit and each unit had two armoured car companies. Forward ground reconnaissance was carried out by armoured cars. Sometimes, armoured cars were supported by tanks in the ratio of one tank to two armoured cars to provide sufficient firepower to overwhelm Allied patrols and to extend the depth of patrolling. Once contact was gained by the Germans with the enemy armoured force, it was kept under observation even though the German armoured units may have withdrawn. So German armoured units were able to avoid battle when circumstances were not favourable to them. Further, thorough reconnaissance by the armoured cars enabled the Germans to make night attacks against Allied bivouacs or to surround Allied bivouacs during the night with anti-tank weapons and destroy them at close range by launching sudden dawn attack.103 Lastly, the DAK developed a series of battle drills that enabled its formations to function at the

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briefest of verbal orders. This ensured speedy response and close coordination of all arms even when communications were cut during battle.104

Crusader Plans Churchill was upset when Auchinleck postponed the date of Crusader from 1 November to 18 November 1941. The postponement was necessary because the South Africans had just received the tanks and Lieutenant-General Charles Willoughby Norrie insisted that they needed some time to familiarize themselves with their equipment. In Battleaxe, due to unfamiliarity with the Crusader tanks, the British armoured personnel had ran into trouble during their encounter with the panzers. The British prime minister here was functioning as an obstruction in the learning attempts of the Eighth Army. Numbers for Churchill meant everything. Auchinleck was unsuccessful in trying to get the message to the prime minister that training, doctrine and battle experience were also very important.105 However, at times, Churchill had something important to say or at least criticized existing doctrines. Whether the prime minister’s interventions had any influence on the innovative cycle of the Eighth Army is unclear. Rosen shows that in peacetime, civilian intervention in the US Army had no effect in triggering innovations. Only if a minority group of forward-looking officers joined hands with those civilians arguing for a particular innovation, then only the military organization registered changes. Otherwise, the effect of civilian intervention on the combat behaviour of the military organization was nil. Rosen continues that changes in the promotion patterns of the officer corps by the civilian leadership which would enable junior officers with innovative ideas to reach the higher ranks is also not possible in peacetime.106 Probably it is possible in wartime because expansion of the army, officer casualties and a sense of emergency allows the civilian leaders to tinker with the traditional promotion pattern. In fact, Churchill changed the Middle East theatre commanders quite frequently till he got victories. And most of the new Middle East theatre commanders created their own teams of officers. So turbulence in the officer corps was much greater in wartime. Probably it had a positive effect in accelerating the innovative cycle. The objectives of Crusader were similar to that of Battleaxe: destruction of Rommel’s force, recapture of Cyrenaica and relief of Tobruk. From 11 November onwards, the RAF under Tedder attacked the Axis supply lines. Meanwhile, the Allies had constructed a pipeline for bringing fuel from Alexandria.107 By 15 November, the Eighth Army was ready for action. For Crusader, Auchinleck possessed 600 tanks, 100,000 men and 5,000 soft-skinned vehicles. The XIII Corps under Godwin-Austen had the 4th Indian Division, the New Zealand Division and the 1st Army Tank Brigade. And the XXX Corps under Lieutenant-General Norrie had the 7th Armoured Division, 1st South African Division and the 201st Guards Brigade Group. The 2nd South African Division and the 29th Infantry

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Brigade Group were in reserve. At Tobruk were present the 70th British Division, 32nd Army Tank Brigade and the 1st Carpathian Polish Infantry.108 Major-General Mellenthin offered a comparative assessment of the Axis and Allied armour. According to him, Auchinleck started Operation Crusader with 748 tanks, of which 213 were Matildas and Valentines, 220 were Crusader tanks, 150 Cruisers of the earlier model and 165 American Stuarts. Panzer Group Afrika had 249 German and 146 Italian tanks. The Italian tanks with their inadequate armour and low-velocity 47 mm guns were inferior to all types of Allied tanks. Of the German tanks, seventy were Mark IIs, each of which mounted only a heavy machinegun and was therefore of no use in a tank versus tank battle. The Germans had 139 Mark IIIs equipped with low-velocity 50 mm guns. This gun was of same calibre as the British 2-pounder gun. Mellenthin goes on to say that the British tanks were better protected than the bulk of German tanks which were Mark IIIs. The Mark III had 30 mm armour, while the nose and hull of Crusader and Stuart tanks were protected with 47 mm and 44 mm armour, respectively. But the core of Axis AFV strength lay in the thirty-five Mark IVs, each of which had a 75 mm gun. However, the 75 mm gun of the Mark IV was a low-velocity weapon of poor penetrating power. Mellenthin noted that though the Germans were forced to use Mark IVs in tank versus tank combat, they were more useful in firing high-explosive shells against Allied infantry and anti-tank guns. In fact, Mellenthin thought highly of the British Matilda and the Germans used five captured Matildas in this operation.109 Even Rommel had high regard for the Matilda. While commanding the 7th Panzer Division (nicknamed Ghost Division) in France during Fall Gelb (Case Yellow) in the summer of 1940, Rommel encountered Matildas (Infantry Tank Mark II) during the British counter-attack at Arras on 21 May.110 A British tank officer noted that the strengths of the Valentine tank were that it had a low silhouette, was heavily armoured (three and a half inches thick armour) and ran on diesel instead of petrol. Compared to a diesel tank, a petrol tank blew up quickly when hit. But the Valentine’s weaknesses were the 2-pounder gun and three men crew. The 2-pounder gun was effective during close quarter tank combat at France in 1940. But it was useless in the flat, wide open desert because a Mark IV panzer with its 75 mm gun could outgun the former. In fact, the Mark IV could knock out a Valentine at a range of 900–1,000 yards, but the Valentine could destroy a Mark IV only at a range of 400–500 yards. And the situation became worse if the Mark IV operated in close cooperation with the 88 mm gun. The latter could pick up the Valentine at 3,000 yards. Though the 2-pounder cannon of the Valentine had a powered all-round traverse, the elevation and depression had to be done by shoulder mounting, which was time-consuming and caused fatigue to the gunner. Further, the Valentine had a three-man crew. It was disadvantageous because the tank commander had to command his tank or troop of tanks or a squadron of tanks and also had to load the gun and work the wireless set. And in midst of a battle, doing these three distinct jobs was almost impossible. In contrast, the Mark IV had a five-man crew. Further, the German tanks were faster than the British ones (except the Stuart, nicknamed the ‘Honey’). While the German tanks

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could move at 20–25 miles per hour, the British tanks could make only 15–20 miles per hour.111 The 3rd RTR were equipped with American M-3 Light Cavalry tanks known as Stuarts. They were definitely better than the A-9, A-10 and A-13 with which this unit was previously equipped. The A series of tanks was infamous for their frequent mechanical breakdowns. In comparison, the Stuart’s engine was much better. The tracks of this tank were effective for operating in the desert. Another advantage was that this tank could move at 40 miles per hour, which was faster than any German tank. But the real problem of this American tank was the fact that its main gun was underpowered like the Valentine. In fact, the British tank men called it a peashooter.112 However, the German tactical advantage lay in the technical superiority of their anti-tank guns and possessing a superior battle doctrine. The German battle doctrine focused on cooperation of all arms. The Germans, as we have seen earlier, used their formidable 88 mm guns for both anti-aircraft and anti-tank purposes. They had only thirty-five such guns which were moved forward to cooperate with the panzers. Further, the high velocity 50 mm German anti-tank gun was superior compared to the British 2-pounder gun. Batteries of 50 mm anti-tank guns and German field artillery cooperated wholeheartedly with the panzers. Thus, the panzer division was a highly flexible formation of all arms and it relied on artillery and infantry both during attack and defence. The Allied forces were yet to conceive and implement such a tactical repertoire. They considered the anti-tank gun as a defensive weapon to be used only against Axis armour. The British failed to use anti-tank guns aggressively while mounting an offensive to destroy German antitank guns accompanying the panzers.113 During Crusader, the Afrika Korps was the only corps-level headquarters available to Rommel. Its purpose was to combine the two panzer divisions into a single mobile formation capable of functioning as a vital tactical reserve during defence and also to operate as the core of any offensive maneuver.114 For 25 miles from Sollum to Sidi Omar, the Axis defensive line was covered with thick mine belts and behind them were deployed battalions of the Savona Division reinforced with German detachments equipped with 88 mm guns. The 21st Panzer Division was stationed south of Gambut ready to deal with any Allied advance across the frontier. The 15th Panzer Division along with the newly formed Afrika Division were deployed against Tobruk. However, the 15th Panzer Division was warned that with 24 hours’ notice it might be redeployed to aid the 21st Panzer Division. Thus, it was inherent in the German plan (unlike the Allied one) of concentrating the AFVs once the direction of enemy attack became clear. The Italian Armoured Corps held Bir Hacheim and Bir el Gubi and covered the approaches to Tobruk from the south. The 3rd and 33rd German Reconnaissance units held the gap between Bir el Gubi and Sidi Omar.115 In the middle of November 1941, Field-Marshal Albert Kesselring arrived at Rome with orders to strengthen the Luftwaffe in the Mediterranean.116 His mandate was to hold down Malta and to ensure security of the Axis convoys carrying supplies from Italy to North Africa.

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In the Eighth Army, the XXX Corps was ordered to destroy the Axis armoured force and to protect the left flank of XIII Corps. The XXX Corps was to cross the frontier in the south and was to carry out a wide encircling movement to the north-west and north with the objective of bringing the hostile armoured force in battle, destroying them and then to reach Tobruk. It was to advance along Trigh Capuzzo to Gaber Saleh. The 7th Armoured Division with three armoured brigades (7th, 22nd and 4th) under Major-General W.H.E. ‘Strafer’ Gott was to capture the airfields of Sidi Rezegh and El Adem, about 20 and 25 miles south-west and south of Tobruk. And the Tobruk garrison would then link up with the XXX Corps, thus forcing the Axis forces to retreat westwards.117 The XIII Corps were to isolate the Axis forces along the Egyptian-Libyan frontier and Bardia from the west. The 2nd New Zealand Division was to establish a road block along Bardia-Tobruk Road. A brigade group was to be sent to Gambut. The 4th Indian Division (5th, 7th and 11th Indian Infantry brigades) was to contain the Axis troops along the coast and to protect the Egyptian border from Sidi Omar to the Coast. This division was to prevent any Axis advance to the south from Sidi Omar. Further, the 4th Indian Division was to cover the right flank of the New Zealand Division. Of the 4th Indian Division, the 11th Indian Brigade was to be deployed along the coastal sector. It was to carry out deceptive measures in order to make the enemy believe that the main attack was coming along the coastal sector.118 In the event, this would not fool Rommel. The 8th Field Regiment was to provide support to the 1st Army Tank Brigade (8th and 44th RTRs). The Allied ground units were ordered to move in the night without using headlights. In fact, Auchinleck had emphasized on training the mechanized columns to move both during day and night. The RAF’s mission was first to win air superiority and then to aid in the destruction of the Axis ground force. Three tentacles of tactical air support control were allotted to the 4th Indian Division: two with the Advanced Divisional Headquarters and one with the 7th Indian Brigade Headquarters.119 Before launching Crusader, Tuker pointed out that in the previous operation, the WDF commanders made the mistake of tying half of their available armoured forces to an infantry division (i.e. 4th Indian Division). So neither could the armoured forces be concentrated nor could the armoured forces accompanying the infantry take advantage of their rapid mobility. Since the armoured forces were not concentrated, the panzers were able to deliver a knockout blow to the WDF. Tuker corresponded with Auchinleck on this issue, and Auchinleck assured him that he wanted to create a mobile infantry division. Again, Tuker pointed out that instead of the I tanks, more self-propelled guns should be used. The latter due to their mobility would be of use in providing firepower support to the crisis points during battle. It is to be noted that a panzer division had one anti-tank battalion of three companies which included anti-tank guns on self-propelled mounts. But nothing came out of Tuker’s recommendation. Instead of providing tanks to support the infantry, the latter, argued Tuker, should be provided either with self-­propelled guns or at least with more anti-tank guns to make them self-sufficient against Axis armoured attack. Tuker said that the tank by itself was not a predominant

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weapon.120 This was a very important point. But unfortunately, Tuker did not elaborate on this crucial issue. Worse, in Operation Crusader, British armour unlike German armour was divided into two corps instead of being concentrated into one mobile, hard-hitting fist. Further, the armour was used in penny packets. For example, the 8th RTR was attached to the New Zealand Infantry Division. And on 21 November, the B Squadron of the 8th RTR was attached with the 23rd New Zealand Battalion to attack Fort Capuzzo.121 It seems that the senior British commanders at least as regards armoured operations were not learning the right lessons in time.

Battle: 18 November–20 December 1941 The only thing that matters is to beat the life out of Rommel and Company. —Winston Churchill122

Unlike Wavell, Auchinleck had taken great care to conceal the concentration of troops before the start of the operation. The British tanks were covered with metal tubing and rolls of hessian (such camouflage devices were known as sunshields), and so they looked like three-ton lorries.123 As a result, Rommel was surprised when Auchinleck attacked. The intelligence unit of the Savona Division had obtained a complete plan of attack from an Allied POW, but when it was forwarded to Rommel, he refused to believe it. On the eve of attack, the British tank crews were in a state of high morale.124 Auchinleck took great care to keep the British armour in good conditions. When Brigadier (later Major-General) Alexander Gatehouse (commander of the 4th Armoured Brigade) found out from the junior tank commanders that the tracks of the Stuarts were damaged during their long journey from the assembly areas to the front, he reported the matter to John Harding, Brigadier General Staff (BGS) of XIII Corps Headquarters. The latter advised him to fly to Cairo and see Auchinleck. After hearing out Gatehouse, Auchinleck immediately ordered that the Stuarts were to be carried to the front line by transporters and ordered the damaged tracks to be sent by railway back to the base depots for repair.125 At 0600 hours of 18 November, the 7th Armoured Division advanced. At 1500 hours, the 6th RTR of 7th Armoured Brigade of the 7th Armoured Division over-ran Sidi Rezegh airfield and captured nineteen Axis aircraft.126 On that day, Rommel’s headquarters was at Gambut, General Cruwell’s headquarters was at Bardia and General Johann von Ravenstein’s 21st Panzer Division headquarters was at Gasr el Arid. On the very first day, the Allied troops advanced about 50 miles. Gatehouse’s 4th Armoured Brigade was protecting the right flank of LieutenantGeneral Norrie’s XXX Corps, which was advancing towards Tobruk. The New Zealand Infantry Division of the XIII Corps was poised to advance to Sidi Omar.127 At 1800 hours on 18 November, Lieutenant-General Alan Cunningham issued orders for the next day. He ordered reconnaissance forces in strength were to be

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sent to Bir el Gubi and the Trigh Capuzzo. Norrie predicted that Rommel would not counter-attack even if Gabr Saleh was captured. Rommel himself believed that the principal Allied attack would come from the south. Every time while attacking an Allied defensive line in the North African desert, Rommel made a feint along the coast in the north and then launched his principal attack with the objective of envelopment of the Allied line by attacking across the open desert from the south. Rommel anticipated that the Allies would also follow such a plan. The Afrika Korps was at that time concentrated between Gambut and Sidi Aziz. Cruwell urged Rommel to send a battle group to Gabr Saleh, but Rommel kept most of his troops concentrated for an attack against Tobruk.128 Rommel believed that the Allied attack was merely a reconnaissance in force. Journalist Roger Parkinson in his biography of Auchinleck rightly notes that Cunningham’s evening orders, which led to the dispersion of the Allied armoured force of the XXX Corps, proved to be disastrous. While Gott’s 7th Armoured Division was ordered to destroy the Italians at El Gubi and then to advance to Sidi Rezegh south of Tobruk, Gatehouse’s 4th Armoured Brigade Group was to protect the right flank of Gott’s division and the left flank of the XXX Corps. The latter corps was to move towards Tobruk along the coast.129 On 19 November, Brigadier G. Davy’s 7th Armoured Brigade was directed to advance towards the ridge at Sidi Rezegh. It was to be followed by the Support Group of the 7th Armoured Division, and the 22nd Armoured Brigade under Brigadier J. Scott-Cockburn moved towards Bir el Gubi. At Bir el Gubi, the Ariete Division, well entrenched with several anti-tank guns, was able to destroy almost half of the 22nd Armoured Brigade’s tanks.130 The 7th Armoured Brigade’s 6th RTR went straight for Tobruk. In the afternoon of 19 November, the 5th Panzer Regiment of the 21st Panzer Division (85 Mark IIIs and IVs) went south to Gabr Saleh. The 15th Panzer Division was ordered to move to the area south-west of Gambut.131 On 20 November, Rommel ordered Cruwell to concentrate his two panzer divisions and destroy the Allied forces within the Bardia-Tobruk-Sidi Omar area. Cruwell for some reason took the Afrika Korps in the easterly direction and vainly looked for British armour along Trigh Capuzzo until he ran out of petrol.132 Gott ordered the assault on Sidi Rezegh Ridge supported by the 5th South African Brigade for 21 November. This brigade had problems in moving towards their target area during the night of 20 November, as they were not trained for nocturnal movement.133 By this day, the fear of panzers and 88 mm German guns spread among the British armoured personnel. Rumour spread among the Allied tank crews that it took three Stuarts to destroy one German Mark IV.134 On 21 November, Cruwell sent his two panzer divisions against the 7th Armoured Division. Norrie wrongly assumed that Rommel was in full retreat. In the afternoon, the 21st Panzer Division had smashed the 7th Support Group. Meanwhile, Cunningham ordered the XIII Corps to go towards Sidi Aziz.135 And the 7th Indian Brigade attacked the Omar position on 22 November.136 On 23 November (Totensonntag/Day of the Dead), at dawn, units of the 21st Panzer Division under

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Cruwell attacked the Sidi Rezegh Ridge from the western direction. By nightfall, the 5th South African Brigade had lost 3,394 men.137 On 23 November, the 4th Indian Division took Sidi Omar and the 70th British Division breaking out from Tobruk was threatening Rommel’s rear.138 Rommel’s style was to lead from the tip of his armoured spearhead in order to inspire his troops to do the maximum and to get a feel of the changing battlefield in real time, which in turn enabled him to shift resources and take rapid decisions. This allowed him to get inside the enemy’s OODA loop. About the inspirational effect of Rommel on his troops, one German officer had noted: Between Rommel and his troops there was that mutual understanding which cannot be explained and analyzed, but which is a gift of the gods. The Afrika Korps followed Rommel wherever he led, however hard he drove them. . . . The men knew that Rommel, was the last man that Rommel spared; they saw him in their midst and they felt, ‘that is our leader.’139 This type of command style had its advantages but also its disadvantages. During critical periods, when the battle was raging, the absence of Rommel and his chief of staff from the headquarters lasted not for one day but occasionally for several days. The decentralized command structure and the capability of subordinates to take responsibility allowed the German command system to function in such times. For instance, from 23 to 28 November 1941, in absence of Rommel and his chief of staff; Mellenthin as Ic and Siegfried Westphal as Ia (Chief of Operations Section) took up the responsibility in the Panzer Group Afrika’s headquarters.140 The British officer corps had neither the training nor the command philosophy for undertaking such tasks. On 24 November, Rommel began his ‘mad dash’ towards the Egyptian Wire/ frontier. The Wire was a fence of barbed wire about 8 feet high and 12 feet thick which stretched from Sollum on the coast southwards to Jarabub for about 200 miles, and was constructed by the Italians to mark the frontier between Egypt and Cyrenaica.141 About Rommel, the famed German panzer operation expert Mellenthin had written: ‘whom I was to learn and honour as one of the outstanding generals of our time, the Seidlitz of the panzer corps, and perhaps the most daring and thrusting commander in German military history’.142 Rommel lived up to his reputation by launching his daredevil thrust against the Wire. Command has two components: managerial and non-managerial. The non-managerial component includes the capacity of the commander to inspire and motivate the troops under his command.143 Rommel had no peers in this regard. Neither Auchinleck nor Monty could match him in this sphere. In the evening, Cruwell was ordered by Rommel to cross the Egyptian Wire/frontier the next day with the 21st Panzer Division and attack the 4th Indian Division in its rear. On 27 November, Rommel returned to El Adem. His dash to the Egyptian frontier had ended in a failure.144 Rommel’s dash towards the Egyptian Wire was considered as foolish by many scholars.145 Actually, it was a brilliant move and the situation for the Eighth Army

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was saved by Auk’s iron nerves bolstered by superior material resources at the disposal of the Allies. Further, the supply situation was really bad for the Axis forces in North Africa. In November 1941, Allied ships, submarines and aircraft sank 77 per cent of the Axis supplies sent to North Africa.146 And this was one of the factors which prevented Rommel from conducting a war of attrition against Auchinleck’s force. So Rommel either had to gamble or retreat. He decided to gamble by his dash to the Egyptian Wire. Meanwhile, Auchinleck had lost confidence on Alan Cunningham. Auk advised the latter to go on sick leave. Cunningham felt that he was treated unfairly by the theatre commander. Auchinleck summed up that Cunningham’s disposition of troops was correct for conducting ‘relentless offensive’, but he was suffering from exhaustion and nervous strain. In fact, when Cunningham was admitted to the hospital at Alexandria, the doctors diagnosed him with nervous strain due to mental exhaustion.147 On 25 November 1941, in place of Cunningham, Lieutenant-­ General Neil Ritchie was appointed as the temporary commander of the Eighth Army. Lieutenant-General Arthur Smith Chief of Staff of MEC was loyal to his superior Auchinleck. So, he raised no complaint about the change of command. But in his subconscious mind, he probably had his doubts about Ritchie’s capability to command the Eighth Army. He wholeheartedly supported Auchinleck’s decision of 1 December about being present at the Advanced Headquarters of the Eighth Army, to offer advice to Ritchie in case the latter needed it. Actually, Auchinleck was breathing down Ritchie’s neck and he was also not totally confident about the command capacity of his new army commander. Smith wrote to Auchinleck that the latter’s presence at Ritchie’s headquarters was not at all a case of unnecessary interference but actually was necessary.148 Ritchie felt confident about the military scenario. In a letter to Messervy dated 28 November, he noted: ‘the general picture in North Africa is quite excellent and the enemy is being very hard put to it to keep going at all’. Ritchie wanted the 11th Indian Brigade to be kept in the army reserve for the probability that it might have to be used in Tobruk. He emphasized that the New Zealand Division was battle weary and he might have to use the 11th Indian Brigade to take its place for taking Tobruk.149 By 28 November, the 4th Indian Division had control of the area up to Bardia.150 On 1 December 1941, Alanbrooke became the CIGS. Alanbrooke in his wartime diaries claimed that immediately after taking over the seniormost position of the British Army, he was clear about strategy. His aim was to conduct the Libyan offensive, clear the Axis from North Africa, open up the Mediterranean and then launch an invasion of Italy.151 Historians still debate whether Alanbrooke had such a clear-cut strategy at that time. However, one thing is sure. Auchinleck had lost his main pillar of support in London. For the time being, Auchinleck was holding well against Rommel’s force. But in the summer of the following year, when Panzer Army Afrika bested the Eighth Army, Alanbrooke would not provide solid support to Auchinleck, which Dill would have provided. On 1 December 1941, the Axis troops were attacking furiously at Sidi Rezegh, and in response the Eighth Army

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was hitting hard at the enemy. Auchinleck surmised that Rommel soon had to go on the defensive.152 However, Rommel had another idea. On 2 December, low clouds and heavy rainfall made aerial reconnaissance on part of the RAF almost impossible. So Auchinleck was not clear whether Rommel wanted to strengthen his position at Sidi Rezegh or wanted to move east of El Gubi.153 On the same day, Rommel attempted a counter-attack. A battle group of the 21st Panzer Division was to move east along Via Balbia and another battle group from the 15th Panzer Division was to move along Trigh Capuzzo track. Arthur Smith asked Auchinleck: My dear Chief. . . . Where are the ‘I tanks’ and what have they done? I feel more than ever the need of keeping up the pressure and harrying enemy communications. Armoured cars and LRDG patrols are evidently doing excellent work in this matter and the RAF appreciates the necessity for dealing with any enemy supply columns.154 The I tanks were useless against the complex German defence centred round tanks, anti-tank guns and infantry. Further, attrition was taking its toll on the British armour. Casualties among the British tank men were high, especially in those units which were in the front line. Take for instance the 8th RTR. It left the UK in April 1941 and disembarked at Suez on 13 June. This unit was attached to the XIII Corps. When Crusader started, this unit had thirteen officers and after the end of the first week, only three of the original team remained.155 The 7th and 22nd Armoured Brigades were so exhausted that Arthur Smith decided that these personnel should be incorporated within the 2nd Armoured Brigade. It would have the additional advantage of the novice 2nd Armoured Brigade having personnel with experience of fighting and navigation in the desert.156 Despite the recent command shuffle and the fact that the Eighth Army was suffering heavy losses, it did not break. And morale remained intact. In fact, the officer corps retained its faith on Auchinleck’s leadership. Two field censorship reports may be cited in this regard. One officer noted: ‘Things have been fairly unsettled here but I hope the worst is now over and that the “Auk” will be able to hit the Hun hard after all. He is such a grand man’. Another officer said: General Auchinleck is now in charge of Eighth Army. He will be capable of dealing with the threat better than anyone else out here. He is a fine chap and seems well respected by the troops. He is showing a good example by roughing it too in the desert; he sleeps at night in the open without a camp bed.157 On 4 December, Auchinleck had written from the Advanced Headquarters of the Eighth Army to Arthur Smith: ‘I am staying on here for a bit. Its d—d cold but most refreshing after Cairo’.158 Auchinleck deliberately created the image that he was a soldier’s general. His culture of command was different from that of the chateau generals of First World War. Douglas Haig’s command culture separated the

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GHQ and himself from the rest of the British Expeditionary Force. He remained aloof from his staff and senior commanders. Haig (which Monty would later follow) believed that if subordinate officers were allowed to express their own ideas then the authority of the Commander-in-Chief would be impaired. Following Haig, the GHQ staff did not visit the front line frequently. Further, Haig was not able to communicate his ideas fully to his subordinates. However, Monty had been able to communicate their wishes to their subordinates clearly. Unlike Monty, Haig left his army commanders (nicknamed ‘wicked barons’ by the GHQ) on their own without much direction and coordination from above. Historian Tim Travers terms it laissez-faire control.159 So Haig followed what could be categorized as an umpire style of command like Lieutenant-General A. E. Percival in Malaya in 1941. In contrast, Monty later implemented a strict top-down command culture. On 2 December, Ritchie flew to Tobruk and saw Godwin-Austen. The latter was confident that Tobruk could be held, as the garrison there had prepared extensive minefields protected by wire and possessed I tanks as reserve for launching counter-attacks against possible enemy breakthrough. And Auchinleck was satisfied with Ritchie’s command performance. Auk wrote to Arthur Smith of GodwinAusten: ‘Neil is handling the affair very well indeed. . . . He is completely confident and knows exactly what he wants. I feel myself that the whole picture is much more purposeful and much tidier that it has ever been before’.160 By 3 December, both Axis battle groups suffered heavily in the hands of the 5th New Zealand Brigade near Bardia and the 4th Indian Division.161 In the night, the RAF heavily bombed the Axis soft-skinned transport around Sidi Rezegh.162 The senior commanders of the Eighth Army were in high spirits, and the situation as regards AFVs was steadily improving in favour of the Allies.163 Churchill was satisfied with the unfolding of Crusader. On 4 December, he informed Auchinleck that a speedy victory was the best possible option, but an attrition-oriented struggle was second best since the Axis could not compete with the Allies in the ‘battle of materials’. The prime minister further notified his general that the recent German retreat at Rostov and Taganrog neutralized any possible German threat on the northern flank of MEC. Churchill concluded by saying that Auk should concentrate on the Libyan battle and win it decisively.164 Churchill was right. By 30 November 1941, German casualties due to their Russian misadventure came to about 743,112 men, which meant about 23.5 per cent of 3.2 million men who had participated in Barbarossa. In the Eastern Front, the German Army was short 340,000 men, which meant about 50 per cent of the combat strength of the infantry. And the ready reserve was only 33,000 infantry available in Germany.165 Auchinleck kept an eye on the tank situation in the Eighth Army. On 4 December, the Eighth Army had thirty I tanks at Tobruk and another thirty at Omars with the 2nd South African Division. Further, the XXX Corps at Gabr Saleh had twenty-four Valentines. In addition, the Eighth Army had 160 Cruisers. Auchinleck’s future plan was to put Lieutenant-General Herbert Lumsden in charge of the 1st Armoured Division and to use it as a strike force, instead of using the 7th Armoured Division which was worn out due to continuous combat with Panzer

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Group Afrika. Auchinleck assumed that Rommel was concentrating his force between El Adem, Sidi Rezegh and Zaafran. After getting supplies from the area north-west of Gambut, Auchinleck concluded that the Desert Fox might attack in the eastern or western direction. It was most likely, Auchinleck informed Arthur Smith, that Rommel would attack in the eastern direction and try to link up with the Axis garrisons at Bardia, Capuzzo and Sidi Omar. Auk continued that Rommel’s tank strength had substantially declined by now. Auchinleck further noted that the British tank situation would only improve with time. Within the next few days, he would receive the 4th Armoured Brigade full of American tanks, another regiment complete with Valentine tanks and one regiment of Matilda tanks. Further, Tobruk was causing problem in Rommel’s rear. The 2nd South African Division had taken from the 4th Indian Division the task of defence of Sidi Omar, Capuzzo and Sollum area. The 4th Indian Division was being redeployed at Gabr Saleh area under the XXX Corps. The 5th New Zealand Brigade was at Menastir. Ritchie, in accordance with Auchinleck’s wishes, also sent the 5th New Zealand Brigade to Capuzzo-Sollum area.166 The fact that tactical ideas of both Ritchie and Auchinleck were similar to a great extent smoothened the functioning of the high command of the Eighth Army. On 4 December, the XXX Corps was concentrating at Gabr Saleh. This corps included the 7th Armoured Division, the 22nd Guards Brigade, the 4th Indian Division and the 1st South African Infantry Brigade. The last formation was to be used for static guard duties as it was not trained adequately for taking mobile role in an offensive. At this stage, Auchinleck did not aim to use the 7th Armoured Division as a hard-hitting column but aimed to disperse its force in Jock Columns. Somehow, Auchinleck had got the strange idea that the Jock Columns were the answer to all of his tactical problems. He wrote to Arthur Smith about the South African Brigade: ‘It was a liability rather than an asset in the recent fighting. As you know, we are changing the organization and it will rapidly find its feet in this “Jock” Column fighting’.167 By 5 December, Auchinleck was confident of going into offensive mode. On the same day, Rommel decided to make a last attempt against El Gubi. Elements of the Afrika Korps clashed with the 11th Indian Brigade. The battle continued into the next day. The Indians were able to hold off the panzers in a static set piece battle. In the morning of 7 December, Rommel told Cruwell that if the enemy was not beaten today, he would retreat back to the Gazala position.168 When Crusader started, Rommel had 412 tanks. After two weeks of combat, the Axis forces had twenty-six operational tanks. Despite the fact that 814 British tanks were knocked out, the Eighth Army unlike the Afrika Korps could replenish its losses.169 On 10 December 1941, the Central India Horse captured Bir El Harmat along with 150 POWs and two anti-tank guns. On the same day, the 4th Indian Division was ordered to bypass Gazala if occupied by the enemy and occupy Tmimi and Bir Halegh El Eleba. The 5th New Zealand Brigade was to mask Gazala if held by the Axis troops.170

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The First Battle of Gazala started on 11 December. That day, to an extent, was a turning point in the history of the Third Reich. On the one hand, the Army Group Centre’s offensive against Moscow collapsed, but on the other hand, Hitler had declared war on America.171 To cap it all, Panzer Group Africa was in dire straits. On 12 December, at Berta in Cyrenaica, Cavallero and Bastico (nicknamed ‘Bombastico’ by Rommel) tried to force Rommel to defend Cyrenaica. But Rommel rightly pointed out that if he tried to hold the high plateau between Derna and Cyrenaica, his force could be cut off by British armour attacking from the south.172 By 15 December, the Afrika Korps had exhausted its ammunition.173 Overall, Axis losses were 13,000 Germans and 20,000 Italians (killed, wounded and prisoners) and over 300 aircraft. The Eighth Army had lost 17,704 men and 278 aircraft.174 And Crusader had succeeded in clearing Cyrenaica of the Axis forces and relieved Tobruk. It was the first victory gained by the British over the redoubtable Rommel. As early as 13 September 1941, Hitler ordered six U-boats to be transferred to the Mediterranean. Soon, another fifteen submarines were also transferred to the Mediterranean.175 Nevertheless, British air-sea mastery of the Mediterranean continued. Due to the heavy losses sustained by the Italian merchant fleet during late November and early December, the Italian Navy suggested abandonment of Africa. But Commando Supremo refused to entertain this issue.176 The overall situation for OKW was grim indeed. In Russia, Operation Typhoon had failed and the Army Group Centre in front of Moscow was in deep trouble. In Africa also, the Axis forces were retreating, but at least Rommel had saved the Panzer Group Afrika.

After-action analysis I would rather wait until we get some of our ‘lessons learnt’ clearer in our minds. —Lieutenant-General Arthur Smith177

A crucial element of the learning culture is identifying the lessons to be learnt while analyzing the past and present military campaigns. And the Eighth Army was doing exactly the same thing. The First Battle of Sidi Rezegh, which occurred on 23 November 1941, displayed the strengths and weaknesses of the armoured forces of both sides. The British tank men found out that the firing by the German Mark IIIs and Mark IVs while they were moving was inaccurate. The British armoured crews derived the conclusion that the German gunners were not adept at firing while their tanks were on the move. Since the British tanks were not fitted with stabilizers, the accuracy of their gunners while their own tanks were rolling was also poor. And the power of the British tanks’ guns was low. In fact, the A-13s (Cruiser Mark III with a 2-pounder gun and each had a four-man crew) guns were too weak to destroy the German Mark IIIs not to speak of the Mark IVs. And, when attacked by British tanks, the German tanks retired and then the pursuing British tanks were effectively destroyed by German 88 mm guns.178 Auchinleck

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noted that the I tanks had suffered heavily at Sidi Rezegh and at Omar in the hands of the German 88 mm guns.179 Auchinleck admitted that the British armour had no counter to the German armoured tactics of their tanks not closing with British tanks but drawing the latter to their anti-tank guns. Moreover, Norrie, Gott and Ritchie all agreed that the 2nd Armoured Brigade required further training for conducting desert warfare.180 Arthur Smith was seriously concerned with the issue of British armour’s capability to defeat German armour. He asked the Deputy Director of Military Training (DDMT) to study the limitations of I tanks and devise means of overcoming them. He also ordered a report on the shortcomings of the I tanks. He wanted to appoint Gott as Chairman of a Committee to find ways to increase combat effectiveness of British armour. Arthur Smith noted: ‘we have got a good deal to learn about handling armoured units on the battlefield’.181 For instance in the afternoon of 19 November 1941, the 8th Hussars made a frontal charge towards the panzers. Some of the British officers in fact sat on top of their tanks with their whips out while frontally attacking the ‘Jerry tanks’. The British armoured officers displayed lot of enthusiasm and dash but little tactical expertise. The net result was great loss among the British tanks and officers.182 Some innovations in the handling of armour did in fact occur in the Eighth Army. Captain Robert Crisp, who was the second in command of the C Squadron of the 3rd RTR of the 4th Armoured Brigade, commanded Stuart tanks. He assessed the strength and limitations of the tanks under his command and came up with right tactics. During Battleaxe, he noted the 88 mm guns opened fire at 3,000 yards. In contrast, the Allied tanks’ 37 mm or 2-pounder guns were effective at 1,200 yards. So Crisp decided to take advantage of his tanks’ superior mobility. But, he found out that shooting while moving was not accurate enough to destroy hostile anti-tank guns and AFVs. So Crisp worked out a method. A hull-down method was not always practicable. Crisp found out that too much emphasis on the hulldown method resulted in a defensive mindset. Once an enemy tank was located, his Cruiser drove fast towards it. The gunner was ordered to keep the cross wires of his telescopic sight on the target. Next the tank would halt for four seconds and the gunner would fire immediately. Then the Cruiser would again move towards the German tank.183 However, this innovation was the product of an individual junior commander. There was no institution in the Eighth Army which could absorb this technique and pass it down to all the armoured units of the Eighth Army. Even Crisp admitted in his memoirs: we were to find no effective answer to the enemy’s use of anti-tank weapons well forward with his panzers. It was a technique that very nearly won him the battle – and many subsequent desert battles in the years to come.184 After Crusader, the British armoured officers accepted that even with their Stuarts and Cruisers they could not tackle the German Mark IIIs and IVs.185 On 2 December, Auchinleck met Freyberg over lunch and they discussed the performance of the New Zealand Division. Auchinleck noted that the New

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Zealand Division, less its 5th Brigade, fought magnificently but were overrun by Axis tanks despite the former possessing I tanks. This occurred because, assumed Auchinleck, the number of I tanks had been substantially reduced due to their attack on Sidi Rezegh. So Auchinleck’s conclusion was that numerical superiority on part of the German AFVs allowed them to destroy the New Zealand formation. It was an erroneous conclusion. The Germans were able to concentrate their panzers and practice combined arms tactics. Freyberg commented that the Germans effectively used their anti-tank guns for blasting the New Zealand infantry. But Freyberg noted that in close quarter combat, the New Zealanders did well with their bayonets. Unfortunately, Freyberg missed the point that modern mechanized war in the desert was not centred round close quarter infantry combat with cold steel. In total, New Zealand Division lost twenty-four guns and about 5,000 men, and Freyberg was able to escape with some 4,000 personnel.186 Both Ritchie and Auchinleck were strangely satisfied with the Jock Columns. Auchinleck credited the Jock Columns for ably covering the concentration of the 4th Indian Division, the 22nd Guards Brigade, the 1st South African Infantry Brigade and the 7th Armoured Division during 2–3 December 1941.187 On 3 December, Auchinleck had noted that the Axis troops were still not cleared from Bardia, Halfaya and Gambut. The enemy supply dumps in these areas needed to be destroyed. Auchinleck noted: ‘Neil hopes his “Jock” Columns, of which a lot are being organized, will deal with this nuisance pretty well’.188 The German defensive points at Bardia, Sollum and Halfaya Pass proved tough nuts to crack for the Eighth Army. At the core of German defence were the 88 mm guns supported by smaller anti-tank weapons. Only when Rommel retreated to Benghazi and food and water stocks in these defensive points were exhausted did they fall to the Allied forces.189 What Auchinleck and Ritchie failed to understand is the fact that the Jock Columns played absolutely no role in the fall of these Axis strong points. On 4 December, Auchinleck noted erroneously that Rommel had failed to move east from Sidi Rezegh due to the activities of the Jock Columns. He and Ritchie ordered the 2nd South African Division and the 5th New Zealand Brigade supported by two squadrons of I tanks to organize several Jock Columns. Their job was area domination and to remove any threat on the LOC and northern flank of the XXX Corps. Auchinleck further ordered the XXX Corps to form Jock Columns with armoured cars and a few artillery pieces. He concluded: ‘Our mixed columns on the whole front Menastir-El Gubi are very offensive and will, I am sure, give the enemy no rest until we can have at him again’.190 Why Auchinleck was so blindly attached to the concept of Jock Columns? Historian Dando writes that this was because the origin of the Jock Column concept could be traced back to the British Empire’s frontier warfare. And the Indian Army was mostly engaged in conducting punitive expeditions along British India’s North-West Frontier. Further, Auchinleck was from the Indian Army. The Jock Columns resulted in dispersion of British armoured units while the Germans won battles repeatedly by concentrating their AFVs.191 It seems that all negative innovations had emerged from the Indian Army. Not all the Indian Army officers were

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supporters of Jock Columns. For instance, Tuker and Messervy critiqued the use of Jock Columns. And to put all the blame for mishandling of British armour on the Jock Columns is also erroneous. For instance, both in Battleaxe and Crusader, the British generals – instead of keeping their armour concentrated – kept a large number of tanks for supporting the infantry divisions. For this conceptual failure, the Jock Column was not the villain. Wavell also used the Jock Columns quite unsuccessfully during Battleaxe. So why were the British generals so attached to them? Actually, the Jock Columns were first introduced in mid-1940. They were the product of sheer necessity for defending the lengthy Egyptian frontier against a numerically superior Italian Army. Artillery and infantry units were organized in Jock Columns to provide an offensive punch to Wavell’s numerically inferior force. The Jock Columns were successful against demoralized Italians in late 1940, especially because the latter lacked effective anti-tank guns and did not practice combined arms tactics. But against the combined arms tactics of the highly motivated Germans, Jock Columns at best had a nuisance value. An effective learning process requires adopting new things and also rejecting several old techniques in order to adapt to the changing reality. In other words, the learning process also includes unlearning several techniques which had proved their worth previously but are useless under changed circumstances. For instance, Slim’s XIV Army had to reject several techniques (which had proved useful for conducting jungle warfare in the Arakan in 1943) when in late 1944 it waged mobile warfare in the plains of central Burma.192 Auchinleck’s team failed to reject techniques which had proved effective against Graziani but were useless against Rommel whose force had altered the format of war. Auchinleck heaped praise on the 4th Indian Division’s training and battle experience. He told Arthur Smith that the capture of fifty-nine guns of all calibres by the 4th Indian Division at Sidi Omar was really a great achievement.193 However, the Eighth Army commanders were not happy with the performance of the South Africans. Auchinleck noted that the South African Division was incapable of containing an attack by the enemy AFVs either in a fluid encounter or in case of a static positional battle.194 Arthur Smith concurred with Auchinleck that they were a bit late in going to aid the New Zealanders when the latter were attacked by the Axis troops at Sidi Rezegh.195 Ritchie, Arthur Smith and Auchinleck considered that the men required more battle training.196

Conclusion The protracted nature of the fighting is a nuisance, of course, but I am quite happy and so is Neil. We will get this stinker down where he belongs before long I hope. —General Claude Auchinleck, Commander MEC197

To a great extent, the problems in Syria, Iraq and Cyprus distracted Auchinleck from the Western Desert. But even then, his achievement was above average. To

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his credit, the command structure performed well. The trio of Auchinleck, Arthur Smith and Ritchie operated without friction. While Auk and Ritchie were of the same mind in the Advanced Headquarters of the Eighth Army, Arthur Smith from GHQ MEF Cairo provided solid support. Crusader was the first victory achieved by the Allied forces against Rommel. Regardless of what would happen in the summer of 1942, in December 1941, Ritchie’s command performance was adequate. What is commendable is the fact that debates about the nature of war to be fought were in full swing within the British imperial military organization. And even a major-general (like Tuker) thought and wrote broadly about the nature of future war. True, several innovations (for instance the Jock Columns) occurred which decreased rather than increased the combat effectiveness of the Eighth Army. But what is important is the fact that innovation (both positive and negative) was occurring. Rather than stagnation and staleness, we see dynamism in the intellectual circuit of the Eighth Army. This itself was a positive feature, as innovation occurs through the trial and error method. Individuals like Auchinleck, the theatre commander; Tuker, the DMT India; and institutions like the Directorate of Military Training India, Staff School Haifa, producing training pamphlets and so forth interacted with each other, thus generating synergy which in turn kept the cycle of innovation moving. As a result, one can discern certain improvements in the battle techniques of the 4th Indian Division in particular and the Eighth Army in general. During Battleaxe, this division was incapable of operating during the night. However, a shift in the doctrine and thorough training enabled this division, unlike the South Africans, to develop the art of sending out aggressive night patrols for attacking the Axis outposts before the onset of Operation Crusader. The Allied troops were displaying professionalism by attempting to learn from enemy methods and adapting to the lethal battlefield conditions by adopting new techniques. The British armour learnt some lessons, but they were not adequate to meet combined arms technique of the Panzer Group Afrika. As evident from the writings of the theatre commander and the person in charge of DMT India who later would become a divisional commander, the Allied forces had made great strides in the field of theory of warfare. But when it came to the sphere of implementation of new techniques, the Eighth Army fell far short of the high standards required to meet the Panzer Group Afrika. Sheer attrition and availability of larger amount of resources enabled the Eighth Army to sustain itself and then push back the Panzer Group Afrika from Cyrenaica. But this proved to be inadequate against the super-professional Afrika Korps, especially as regards fluid mobile battles, as the next chapter shows.

Notes 1 Samuel W. Mitcham Jr, Rommel’s Desert War: The Life and Death of the Afrika Korps (2007, reprint, New Delhi: Pentagon Press, 2008), p. 16. 2 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, IS No. 158, 1 July 1941, IS No. 160, 12 July 1941, Appendix A, p. 3, IS No. 162, 22 July 1941, Appendix 6, p. 3, IS No. 164, 9 August 1941, IS No. 165, Enemy Scheme of Defence, Frontier Area, 15 August 1941, 601/221/WD, Part 1, MODHS, New Delhi.

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3 The Development of German Defensive Tactics in Cyrenaica-1941, Military Intelligence Service, Special Series No. 5 (Washington, DC: War Department, 1942), p. 7. 4 Field-Marshal Claude Auchinleck Papers, Prime Minister to General Claude J. E. Auchinleck, 1 July 1941, MUL 275a, John Rylands Library, Manchester. 5 David M. Glantz, Before Stalingrad: Hitler’s Invasion of Russia 1941 (2001, reprint, Dehradun: Natraj, 2013), pp. 14, 19, 30. 6 Philip Warner, Auchinleck: The Lonely Soldier (1981, reprint, London: Cassell, 2001), p. 81. 7 Michael Carver, Dilemmas of the Desert War: A New Look at the Libyan Campaign, 1940– 1942 (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1986), pp. 29, 31. 8 Auchinleck Papers, For Prime Minister from Auchinleck, 4 July 1941, MUL 275–291. 9 Quoted from Auchinleck Papers, For Prime Minister from Auchinleck, 4 July 1941. 10 Auchinleck Papers, For Auchinleck from Prime Minister, 6 July 1941, MUL 281. 11 Auchinleck Papers, For Prime Minister from Auchinleck, 15 July 1941, MUL 282. 12 Quoted from Auchinleck Papers, J. Dill to Auchinleck, 16 July 1941, MUL 283. 13 Glantz, Before Stalingrad, p. 48. 14 Auchinleck Papers, For Prime Minister from Auchinleck, 15 July 1941. 15 Auchinleck Papers, For Prime Minister from Auchinleck, 15 July 1941. 16 Auchinleck Papers, From Mideast to Troopers, 19 July 1941, MUL 286. 17 Auchinleck Papers, From Prime Minister to Auchinleck, 20 July 1941, MUL 288. 18 Auchinleck Papers, GHQ Middle East Forces to General John Dill, 21 July 1941, MUL 289. 19 Stuart Gordon, ‘Reinventing Command in United Nations Peace Support Operations: Beyond Brahimi’, in Gary Sheffield and Geoffrey Till (eds.), The Challenges of High Command: The British Experience (Houndmills and New York: Palgrave, 2003), p. 148. 20 Mungo Melvin and Stuart Peach, ‘Reaching for the End of the Rainbow: Command and the Revolution in Military Affairs’, in Gary Sheffield and Geoffrey Till (eds.), The Challenges of High Command, pp. 191–192. 21 Auchinleck Papers, GHQ Middle East Forces to General John Dill, 21 July 1941, MUL 289. 22 Quoted from Auchinleck Papers, GHQ Middle East Forces to Dill, 21 July 1941. 23 Auchinleck Papers, GHQ Middle East Force, Cairo to Leo S. Amery, 23 July 1941, MUL 290. 24 Glantz, Before Stalingrad, pp. 76–77. 25 Inside the Afrika Korps, the Crusader Battles, 1941–1942, Colonel Rainer Kriebel and the US Army Intelligence Service, ed. by Bruce Gudmundsson (1999, reprint, Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2016), p. 19. 26 Carver, Dilemmas of the Desert War, pp. 30–1; General Claude Auchinleck, Operations in the Middle East, 5 July 1941–31 October 1941, Supplement to the London Gazette, 20 August 1946 (London: HMSO, 1946), p. 4221; Artillery in the Desert, Military Intelligence Service, War Department, Washington 1942, pp. 3–4. 27 Jack Greene and Alessandro Massignani, Rommel’s North Africa Campaign: Septem ber 1940-November 1942 (1994, reprint, Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1999), p. 25. 28 Carver, Dilemmas of the Desert War, p. 32. 29 Warner, Auchinleck, pp. 94–95. 30 Auchinleck, Operations in the Middle East, 5 July 1941–31 October 1941, p. 4225. 31 Inside the Afrika Korps, p. 21. 32 Major-General F. W. von Mellenthin, Panzer Battles (1955, reprint, Stroud: History Press, 2008), p. 61. 33 Inside the Afrika Korps, p. 21. 34 Lieutenant-General Francis Tuker Papers, DMT’s Address, 23 September 1941, p. 10, 71/21/2/5, IWM, London. 35 Stephen Peter Rosen, Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military (1991, reprint, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1994), p. 57. 36 Quoted from Tuker Papers, DMT’s Tour, Note C, 18 August 1941, p. 2, 71/21/1/3, IWM. 37 Quoted from Auchinleck Papers, For Prime Minister from Auchinleck, Para 9, 4 July 1941. 38 Artillery in the Desert, p. 1. 39 Timothy Harrison Place, Military Training in the British Army, 1940–1944: From Dunkirk to D-Day (London: Frank Cass, 2000), p. 42.

Desert Fox contained  81

40 Scott Leathart, With the Gurkhas: India, Burma, Singapore, Malaya, Indonesia, 1940–1959 (Durham: Pentland Press, 1996), p. 17. 41 John Shipster, Mist on the Rice-Fields: A Soldier’s Story of the Burma Campaign 1943–45 and Korean War 1950–51 (2000, reprint, Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 2002), p. 16. 42 David French, Raising Churchill’s Army: The British Army and the War Against Germany, 1919–1945 (2000, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 48–80; Mark Johnston, ANZACS in the Middle East: Australian Soldiers, Their Allies and the Local People in World War II (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 184–185. 43 Quoted from Military Training Pamphlet No. 19 (India): Notes on the Training of the Infantry Recruit 1941 (Simla: Manager Government of India Press, 1941), p. 3, L/MIL/17/5/2261, APAC, BL, London. 44 Aimee Fox, Learning to Fight: Military Innovation and Change in the British Army, 1914– 1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), p. 83. 45 Military Training Pamphlet No. 19 (India), pp. 1–7; Tarak Barkawi, Soldiers of Empire: Indian and British Armies in World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), pp. 125, 147. 46 Quoted from Tuker Papers, DMT’s Address, 23 September 1941, p. 4, 71/21/2/5, IWM. 47 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Combined Operations – Sea, Land and Air, pp. 222–223, 71/21/2/5, IWM. 48 Tuker Papers, Combined Operations – Sea, Land and Air, p. 223. 49 Quoted from Tuker Papers, DMT’s Address, 23 September 1941, p. 4, 71/21/2/5. Brackets mine. 50 Robert Lyman, ‘The Art of Manoeuvre at the Operational Level of War: LieutenantGeneral W. J. Slim and Fourteenth Army, 1944–45’, in Sheffield and Till (eds.), The Challenges of High Command, p. 91. 51 Quoted from Tuker Papers, DMT’s Address, 23 September 1941, p. 9. 52 Joint Warfare of the Armed Forces of the United States, Joint Pub 1, 10 January 1995, Preface, p. v. 53 Joint Warfare of the Armed Forces of the United States, Joint Pub 1, 10 January 1995, IV-10–11. 54 Quoted from Tuker Papers, DMT’s Address, 23 September 1941, pp. 4, 9. 55 Shimon Naveh, In Pursuit of Military Excellence: The Evolution of Operational Theory (1997, reprint, London: Frank Cass, 2000), pp. 187–189. 56 War Diary of 5th Indian Division, G Branch, 1941, 5th Indian Division Training Instruction No. 3, 1 October 1941, 601/224/WD/Part 1, MODHS. 57 Naveh, In Pursuit of Military Excellence, pp. 190–192. 58 Lyman, ‘The Art of Manoeuvre at the Operational Level of War: Lieutenant-General W. J. Slim and Fourteenth Army, 1944–45’, in Sheffield and Till (eds.), The Challenges of High Command, p. 91; Tuker Papers, DMT’s Address, 23 September 1941, p. 8, 71/21/2/5, IWM. 59 Simon Coningham, ‘Air-Ground Cooperation Between the RAF and the Indian Army in Waziristan, 1936–7’, in Rob Johnson (ed.), The British Indian Army: Virtue and Necessity (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014), pp. 128–134. 60 Military Training Pamphlet No. 6 (India): The Support of Land Forces by Aircraft in Tribal Warfare on the Western Frontier of India, 1940 (Simla: Manager, Government of India, 1941), pp. 1–15, L/MIL/17/5/2247, APAC, BL, London. 61 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Summary of Address by Major-General F. S. Tuker to the Higher War School, October 1941, p. 3, 71/21/2/5, IWM. 62 Naveh, In Pursuit of Military Excellence, p. 193. 63 Auchinleck Papers, For Prime Minister from Auchinleck, Para 9, 4 July 1941; Tuker Papers, Combined Operations – Sea, Land and Air, p. 222. 64 David Hall, ‘Lessons Not Learned: The Struggle Between the Royal Air Force and Army for Tactical Control of Aircraft, and the Post-Mortem on the Defeat of the British Expeditionary Force in France in 1940’, in Sheffield and Till (eds.), The Challenges of High Command, p. 125. 65 French, Raising Churchill’s Army, p. 237. 66 Auchinleck Papers, For Prime Minister from Auchinleck, 15 July 1941. 67 Auchinleck Papers, From Prime Minister to Auchinleck, 20 July 1941, MUL 288.

82  Desert Fox contained

68 Hall, ‘Lessons Not Learned: The Struggle Between the Royal Air Force and Army for Tactical Control of Aircraft, and the Post-Mortem on the Defeat of the British Expeditionary Force in France in 1940’, in Sheffield and Till (eds.), The Challenges of High Command, pp. 113–114. 69 Tuker Papers, DMT’s Tour, Note C, 18 August 1941, p. 2. 70 Tuker Papers, DMT’s Address, 23 September 1941, p. 9. 71 Joint Warfare of the Armed Forces of the United States, Joint Pub 1, 10 January 1995, p. ix. 72 Tuker Papers, DMT’s Tour, Note C, 18 August 1941, p. 1. 73 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, IS No. 166, Tactical Reconnaissance, Equipment, 22 August 1941. 74 Tuker Papers, DMT’s Address, 23 September 1941, p. 8; Artillery in the Desert, p. 2; Naveh, In Pursuit of Military Excellence, pp. 230–231. 75 Naveh, In Pursuit of Military Excellence, p. 242. 76 Tuker Papers, The Preparation of Infantry for Battle, pp. 11–12, 71/21/1/3. 77 Artillery in the Desert, p. 40. 78 Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Betham and Major H.V.R. Geary, The Golden Galley: The Story of the Second Punjab Regiment 1761–1947 (n.d., reprint, New Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1975), pp. 165–166. 79 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, IS No. 161, 20 July 1941, IS No. 165, Organization, 15 August 1941. 80 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, 4th Indian Division Operation Instruction No. 50, 12 October 1941. 81 Quoted from War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, July–November 1941, 4th Indian Division commander’s Tactical Policy, p. 8. 82 Auchinleck, Operations in the Middle East, 5 July 1941–31 October 1941, p. 4227. 83 Quoted from Auchinleck Papers, To Prime Minister from Auchinleck, 15 July 1941. 84 Patrick Delaforce, Battles with Panzers: Monty’s Tank Battalions 1 RTR & 2 RTR at War (2003, reprint, London: Thistle, 2014), pp. 268–269. 85 Major Robert Crisp, Brazen Chariots: An Account of Tank Warfare in the Western Desert, November-December 1941 (1960, reprint, New York and London: W. W. Norton & Co., 2005), pp. 11, 20. 86 Stuart Hamilton, Armoured Odyssey: 8th Royal Tank Regiment in the Western Desert 1941–1942, Palestine, Syria, Egypt 1943–1944, Italy 1944–1945 (London: Tom Donovan, 1995), pp. 1–2, 6; David Mitchelhill-Green, Tobruk 1942: Rommel and the Defeat of the Allies (Stroud: History Press, 2006), p. 47. 87 Mellenthin, Panzer Battles, p. 60. 88 Tuker Papers, The Shape of Things in the Desert, p. 2, April 1942, 71/21/1/3. 89 Quoted from Hamilton, Armoured Odyssey, p. 2. 90 Shelford Bidwell and Dominick Graham, Fire-Power: British Army Weapons and Theories of War, 1904–1945 (1982, reprint, Boston: George Allen & Unwin, 1985), pp. 230–231. 91 Matthew Ford, ‘Learning the Right Lessons: Military Transformation in Crisis and the Future of Britain’s Armed Forces’, in Michael Locicero, Ross Mahoney and Stuart Mitchell (eds.), A Military Transformed? Adaptation and Innovation in the British Military, 1792–1945 (2014, reprint, Solihull: Helion, 2016), p. 257. 92 Fox, Learning to Fight, p. 242. 93 Warner, Auchinleck, p. 102. 94 Quoted from Tuker Papers, DMT’s Address, 23 September 1941, p. 9. 95 Quoted from Fox, Learning to Fight, p. 64. 96 Tuker Papers, DMT’s Address, 23 September 1941, pp. 1–5, 9. 97 Naveh, In Pursuit of Military Excellence, pp. 105–151. 98 Naveh, In Pursuit of Military Excellence, pp. 70–85. 99 Robert M. Citino, The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years’ War to the Third Reich (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2005), p. 89. 100 Tuker Papers, DMT’s Address, 23 September 1941, pp. 1–5, 9.

Desert Fox contained  83

Inside the Afrika Korps, p. 40. Artillery in the Desert, pp. 1–2. Artillery in the Desert, pp. 1–2, 40. French, Raising Churchill’s Army, p. 218. Donald Grey Brownlow, Checkmate at Ruweisat: Auchinleck’s Finest Hour (North Quincy, MA: Christopher Publishing House, 1977), p. 56. 106 Rosen, Winning the Next War, pp. 92–93, 100–101. 107 Brownlow, Checkmate at Ruweisat, p. 58. 108 Warner, Auchinleck, p. 102. 109 Mellenthin, Panzer Battles, pp. 59–60. 110 Mitchelhill-Green, Tobruk 1942, p. 35. 111 Hamilton, Armoured Odyssey, pp. 2–3, 9. 112 Crisp, Brazen Chariots, pp. 16–17. 113 Mellenthin, Panzer Battles, p. 60. 114 Inside the Afrika Korps, Editor’s Introduction, p. 16. 115 Mellenthin, Panzer Battles, p. 62. 116 Inside the Afrika Korps, p. 23. 117 Delaforce, Battles with Panzers, p. 269; Major-General D.R.E.R. Bateman Papers, 4th Indian Division, Crusader, Account of Operations in Cyrenaica 18 November 1941 to 28 February 1942, p. 6, 72/117/2/6, IWM. 118 Bateman Papers, 4th Indian Division Operation Instruction No. 58, 14 November 1941, pp. 1–4, 72/117/2/4, IWM. 119 Bateman Papers, 4th Indian Division Operation Instruction No. 58, 14 November 1941, pp. 5–8, Appendix B; Auchinleck, Operations in the Middle East, 5 July 1941–31 October 1941, p. 4227. 120 Tuker Papers, DMT’s Address, 23 September 1941, pp. 6–7; Artillery in the Desert, p. 2. 121 Hamilton, Armoured Odyssey, p. 9. 122 Auchinleck Papers, Prime Minister to Auchinleck, 4 December 1941, MUL 514. 123 Crisp, Brazen Chariots, p. 23. 124 Hamilton, Armoured Odyssey, pp. 7–8. 125 Crisp, Brazen Chariots, pp. 23–24. 126 Delaforce, Battles with Panzers, p. 269. 127 Brownlow, Checkmate at Ruweisat, pp. 91–92. 128 Brownlow, Checkmate at Ruweisat, p. 93. 129 Roger Parkinson, The Auk: Auchinleck, Victor at Alamein (London: Granada, 1977), p. 123. 130 Brownlow, Checkmate at Ruweisat, p. 93. 131 Carver, Dilemmas of the Desert War, p. 34. 132 Brownlow, Checkmate at Ruweisat, pp. 94–95. 133 Parkinson, The Auk, p. 124. 134 Crisp, Brazen Chariots, p. 41. 135 Brownlow, Checkmate at Ruweisat, pp. 95–96. 136 Alan Jeffreys, Approach to Battle: Training the Indian Army During the Second World War (Solihull: Helion, 2017), p. 94. 137 Parkinson, The Auk, p. 126. 138 Brownlow, Checkmate at Ruweisat, p. 97. 139 Quoted from Mellenthin, Panzer Battles, p. 56. 140 Mellenthin, Panzer Battles, p. 55. 141 Hamilton, Armoured Odyssey, p. 7. 142 Quoted from Mellenthin, Panzer Battles, p. 53. 143 Gary Sheffield, ‘The Challenges of High Command in the Twentieth Century’, in Sheffield and Till (eds.), The Challenges of High Command, p. 3. 144 Parkinson, The Auk, pp. 129, 131. 145 See for instance French, Raising Churchill’s Army, p. 239. 146 Mitcham, Rommel’s Desert War, p. 20.

101 102 103 104 105

84  Desert Fox contained

147 Auchinleck Papers, From Mideast to Troopers, 1 December 1941, MUL 505a. 148 Auchinleck Papers, Arthur Smith to Auchinleck, Cairo, 2 December 1941, MUL 508. 149 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, vol. 2-A, Neil Ritchie to Major-General Frank Messervy, 28 November 1941, 601/221/WD/Part 2-A, MODHS. 150 Jeffreys, Approach to Battle, p. 94. 151 Auchinleck Papers, From Troopers to Mideast, 1 December 1941, MUL 504; War Diaries 1939–1945, Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, eds., Alex Danchev and Daniel Todman (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001), pp. 205–206. 152 Auchinleck Papers, From Mideast to Troopers, 1 December 1941, MUL 505a. 153 Auchinleck Papers, Auchinleck to Arthur Smith, Advanced Headquarters Eighth Army, 3 December 1941, MUL 509. 154 Quoted from Auchinleck Papers, Arthur Smith to Auchinleck, 2 December 1941. 155 Hamilton, Armoured Odyssey, p. 1. 156 Auchinleck Papers, Arthur Smith to Auchinleck, 2 December 1941. 157 Quoted from Auchinleck Papers, Extract from Field Censorship Summary No. 6, 4 December 1941, MUL 515. 158 Quoted from Auchinleck Papers, Auchinleck to Arthur Smith, 4 December 1941, p. 3, MUL 516. 159 Tim Travers, ‘A Particular Style of Command: Haig and GHQ, 1916–18’, Journal of Strategic Studies, vol. 10, no. 3 (1987), pp. 363–376. 160 Quoted from Auchinleck Papers, Auchinleck to Arthur Smith, 3 December 1941, p. 2, MUL 509. 161 Parkinson, The Auk, p. 132. 162 Auchinleck Papers, Auchinleck to Arthur Smith, 4 December 1941, p. 3, MUL 516. 163 Auchinleck Papers, Auchinleck to Arthur Smith, 3 December 1941, p. 3, MUL 509. 164 Auchinleck Papers, From Prime Minister to General Auchinleck, 4 December 1941, MUL 514. 165 Walter Warlimont, Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939–45, tr. from the German by R. H. Barry (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1964), p. 207. 166 Auchinleck Papers, Auchinleck to Arthur Smith, 4 December 1941, MUL 516. 167 Quoted from Auchinleck Papers, Auchinleck to Arthur Smith, 4 December 1941, p. 2. 168 Parkinson, The Auk, p. 133. 169 Mitcham, Rommel’s Desert War, p. 1. Roger Parkinson in his biography of Auchinleck writes that the British lost fewer than 300 tanks. Parkinson, The Auk, p. 140. 170 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, Summary of Events and Information, 10 December 1941. 171 Warlimont, Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939–45, p. 203. 172 Inside the Afrika Korps, p. 26. 173 Mitcham, Rommel’s Desert War, p. 1. 174 Parkinson, The Auk, p. 140. 175 Warlimont, Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939–45, p. 197. 176 Inside the Afrika Korps, p. 24. 177 Auchinleck Papers, Arthur Smith to Auchinleck, 5 December 1941, MUL 519. 178 Delaforce, Battles with Panzers, pp. 272–273, 344. 179 Auchinleck Papers, Auchinleck to Arthur Smith, Advanced Headquarters Eighth Army, 4 December 1941, MUL 516. 180 Auchinleck Papers, Auchinleck to Arthur Smith, 3 December 1941, MUL 509, p. 3. 181 Quoted from Auchinleck Papers, Arthur Smith to Auchinleck, GHQ MEF, Cairo, 4 December 1941, MUL 517. 182 Crisp, Brazen Chariots, p. 39. 183 Crisp, Brazen Chariots, pp. 20–22. 184 Quoted from Crisp, Brazen Chariots, p. 41. 185 Crisp, Brazen Chariots, p. 47.

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186 Auchinleck Papers, Auchinleck to Arthur Smith, 3 December 1941. 187 Auchinleck Papers, Auchinleck to Arthur Smith, 3 December 1941, p. 2. 188 Quoted from Auchinleck Papers, Auchinleck to Arthur Smith, 3 December 1941, p. 2. 189 Artillery in the Desert, pp. 11–12. 190 Quoted from Auchinleck Papers, Auchinleck to Arthur Smith, 4 December 1941, MUL 516. 191 Neal Dando, ‘From “Jock Column” to Armoured Column: Transformation and Change in British and Commonwealth Unit Tactics, in the Western Desert, January 1941 to August 1942’, in Locicero, Mahoney and Mitchell (eds.), A Military Transformed? Adaptation and Innovation in the British Military, pp. 189–206. 192 Kaushik Roy, Sepoys Against the Rising Sun: The Indian Army in Far East and South-East Asia, 1941–45 (Leiden: Brill, 2016), pp. 256–388. 193 Auchinleck Papers, Auchinleck to Arthur Smith, 4 December 1941, MUL 516. 194 Auchinleck Papers, Field-Marshal Smuts to Auchinleck, Secret, 3 December 1941, MUL 511, Auchinleck to Smuts, 4 December 1941, MUL 513. 195 Auchinleck Papers, Arthur Smith to Auchinleck, 3 December 1941, MUL 510. 196 Auchinleck Papers, Auchinleck to Arthur Smith, 3 December 1941, p. 3. 197 Auchinleck Papers, Auchinleck to Arthur Smith, 3 December 1941, p. 3.

3 TRIUMPH OF THE DESERT FOX

Introduction As a result of Crusader, Panzer Group Afrika was defeated but not destroyed. Soon, it emerged like a phoenix from the ashes. In mid-1942, Rommel struck again and won his greatest triumph. Tobruk fell to the Axis and Auchinleck’s battered force retreated to the borders of Egypt. Why and how it happened is the subject of this chapter. The Allied forces were not inert. The various units in accordance with their institutional culture conducted their tradition of self-criticism for further improvement of their combat effectiveness. Further, the British officers theorized and simultaneously trained to fight the enemy better. Production and dissemination of knowledge regarding battle doctrine were aided by the close interaction between corps headquarters and divisional officers (especially gifted individuals like Messervy and Tuker). Further, higher formation/headquarters of the Eighth Army also asked for views of those lower down. It was a positive feature which encouraged the flow of ideas from below to the top and vice versa. The debates and discussion regarding doctrines led to the refinement of training programmes for the troops.

Thinking about doctrine In August 1942, in the MEC there were 190,000 Indian and 270,000 British soldiers.1 For training the men in the right way, a proper doctrine needed to be formulated. GOC Malaya trained the Allied divisions erroneously in 1941 because Malaya Command’s doctrine was faulty. Lieutenant-General Percival’s Malaya Command neither formulated a jungle warfare doctrine nor introduced specialized training.2 Tuker noted that for imparting specialized instruction to a division, either in conducting jungle war in Burma or desert war, at least one month’s hard

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training was required.3 Specialized training probably required specialized doctrine also. How far the Eighth Army under Auchinleck in the first half of 1942 was able to come up with a proper doctrine and specialized training for waging desert war is discussed in this section. The discussion regarding doctrine involved both tactical and (to a lesser extent) operational aspects. Messervy became the commanding officer of the 1st Armoured Division in January 1942, and in March 1942 he became commander of the 7th Armoured Division. Messervy noted that the British soldiers were drawn from the urban areas and they had to be trained in order to fight in the underdeveloped areas like the desert. What he did not mention was the fact that bulk of the Indian soldiery came from rural undeveloped areas, hence by implication they were better suited for combat in the underdeveloped regions of the desert. Messervy emphasized that in the difficult conditions, good leadership by the officers became important in order to generate the ‘will to win’ among the men.4 He made a critique of the Jock Columns in the following words: Care must be taken that temporary organizations, such as mixed mobile columns, introduced for a particular phase of operations, are not perpetuated after the operation for which they were designed has been completed. Such organizations are in the end wasteful of manpower and material.5 However, this critique fell on deaf ears and the Auchinleck regime remained wedded to the use of Jock Columns. Messervy commented that the desert terrain made possible fast-moving armoured battles. He described the linkages between terrain and tactics: A high degree of tactical movement is a feature of desert operations, but it must not be assumed that the desert is necessarily flat and featureless. In many desert areas there are tracts of high broken country and even in comparatively flat areas there are few places which are entirely free from sand dunes or patches of soft sand which may restrict the freedom of maneuver. The need for reconnaissance and up-to-date information about the ‘going’ are important. But the general freedom of maneuver leads to highly mobile operations. There is an increased demand for armoured formations. Infantry, though it fights on foot, is carried to the battlefield by mechanized transport, and into battle by armoured personnel carriers, if available.6 In December 1941, GHQ MEF was thinking about reorganizing the Allied forces in the desert after the failure to destroy Rommel’s force during Crusader. MajorGeneral Gatehouse believed that the tank was the queen of the desert battlefield, and Allied armour’s job was to fight enemy tanks by launching a Balaclava-like charge. Tanks, he admitted, could not deal with anti-tank mines and anti-tank guns.7 Captain Basil Liddell Hart privately did not hold a high opinion of Gatehouse. Liddell Hart considered Gatehouse’s handling of armour during Crusader to

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be below average.8 Worse, Gatehouse believed that the British armour’s tactics was better than the much-vaunted Afrika Korps’ battle tactics.9 It was a classic case of Gatehouse not learning anything from past campaigns. The cardinal error of British armoured theory is the fact that due to the influence of Liddell Hart, MajorGeneral J.F.C. Fuller and Percy Hobart, the British armoured officers continued to think of tank versus tank combat. In contrast, the German armour practiced all arms/combined arms tactics.10 Lieutenant-General Gott and the officers of the 7th British Armoured Division believed in fragmentation of the armoured division into widely dispersed ad hoc groups. Both for offensive and defensive battles, their focus was on mobility and maneuver by these armoured groups.11 The Germans in the desert realized the importance of concentration and using anti-tank guns in conjunction with the AFVs. For instance, on 8 February, the headquarters of Panzer Army Afrika noted that past combat in the desert had taught them the necessity of having more anti-tank guns.12 Some modern historians believe that armoured combat in the desert was like naval engagements involving battleships maneuvering against each other. Mobility was considered to be the keyword for success in combat, and stagnation/positional warfare resulted in defeat.13 Tuker wanted the formation of a mobile corps which would comprise two armoured divisions supported by a lorried infantry division for cooperation with the tanks in a mobile battle. He obviously wanted the 4th Indian Division to be lorry-borne for this purpose. Later, Montgomery would pursue a somewhat similar idea. But rather than the 4th Indian Infantry Division, he had in mind the 2nd New Zealand Division.14 Whether the infantry divisions of the Eighth Army were capable of implementing such a move at this stage of war against a highly mobile and lethal enemy is open to question. Tuker sadly noted: ‘However, GHQ decided to split into brigade groups thus destroying among other things all ideas about concentration in the minds of certain commanders’.15 GHQ’s policy of forming brigade groups would have a disastrous effect during the Second Battle of Gazala. The 4th Indian Division debated both defensive and offensive doctrines. In March 1942, Tuker, commander of this Indian division, noted that the Axis might advance along Bardia, Capuzzo and Sidi Omar. In order to block the enemy’s advance towards Egypt and to allow time for concentration of the friendly force, Tuker noted that the 4th Indian Division, instead of launching costly frontal attacks, should hit the flanks of the enemy’s advance troops or cut their LOC.16 Care was taken to improve positional defence also. Defence in depth was emphasized. Actually, this scheme of defence was partly copied from the Axis defensive layout as studied by the 4th Indian Division in 1941. For defending an outpost, minefields were to be laid out supported by small arms and anti-tank guns. Antipersonnel mines and booby traps were to be used extensively. The brigades were to maintain constant and aggressive patrolling in order to prevent the enemy from obtaining detailed ideas about the friendly defensive scheme. Thanks to the emphasis on patrolling in the training manuals, the Indian infantry became skilled in the

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art of patrolling. The Australians paid tribute to the jawans’ skill in patrol work during the siege of Tobruk. Dummy gaps were to be left in the minefields in order to confuse the enemy. For launching counter-attacks with divisional reserve, gaps in the minefield were to be left for use of the friendly motor transport. And these gaps needed to be marked properly in the maps. In front of their sectors, the brigades were to maintain an outpost line. The task of these outposts was to stop enemy infiltration and to support the observation line. The observation line was to comprise mobile units (i.e. infantry in the carriers) supported by company strength of field and anti-tank guns. However, the observation and outpost line were to fall back in case of a major enemy penetration. The divisional reconnaissance units were to maintain intimate touch with the outpost troops. The whole defensive area was to be divided into several sectors and the sector commanders were ordered to maintain mobile reserve in order to deal with probable hostile parachute and airborne landings. The reserve force under a sector commander theoretically ought to include an infantry battalion, a tank battalion, a field artillery regiment, an anti-tank battery, a troop of anti-aircraft guns and one section of sappers and miners. Further, the reserve detachment, it was noted, should be a composite force and must be able to operate for three days within a radius of 100 miles.17 Thus, a three-tiered defensive scheme comprising static outposts, observation units and divisional reserve detachments was proposed. From late 1941 onwards, the 5th Indian Division laboured under a different philosophy of defence. This division designed defensive positions which could resist attack by hostile AFVs. The guiding principle was that a number of self-contained defensive posts were to be established. Some of these self-contained defensive outposts especially had to protect the company, battalion and brigade headquarters. These defensive outposts capable of all-round defence were to carry on fighting, even if the enemy force penetrated the defensive line. This is somewhat similar to the German Stutzpunkt-oriented defensive system discussed previously. Each platoon-based defensive post in the forward company was to be provided with two pillboxes equipped with Bren guns, medium machine-guns or anti-tank rifles. Further, these defensive outposts were to be connected by narrow slit trenches. In order to harden these trenches, their sides were to be strengthened with stones (difficult to acquire in the desert) or concrete or at least with sand bags. The emplacements for light machine-guns and anti-aircraft guns were to be constructed in such a manner that they should not be easily observable from the air. In other words, both artificial and natural camouflage (to take advantage of the terrain in order to hide the defensive emplacements) was emphasized. The Australian Army manuals also emphasized digging of slit trenches for protection of the infantry from hostile force. However, in the coastal areas, due to the presence of stony ground, digging trenches without explosives or power tools was next to impossible. In addition, the 5th Indian Division’s manual emphasized that dummy positions were to be constructed to deceive the enemy. Some of the defensive positions were to be held with 2-pounder anti-tank guns. It was noted that field and medium artillery

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positions were to be protected with earthwork and accommodation facilities for the crews were to be made within the trenches with concrete. Further, the OPs were to be constructed with concrete. Unlike the Germans, who did not care much for wire defence, it was emphasized that anti-personnel wire supplemented by antitank ditch and anti-personnel mines should protect the forward defensive localities. The shape of the anti-tank ditch was to be irregular and it was to be within the range of enfilade fire from the forward defensive localities in case of an enemy breakthrough. Further, dummy minefields were to be laid down for confusing the attacking enemy force.18 Care was to be taken, emphasized the training manual of the 5th Indian Infantry Division, to protect the headquarter elements. The brigade headquarters defence was to be prepared by the Royal Engineers. Then metalled tracks were to be constructed for connecting the headquarters. The cables were to be buried in order to prevent damage by the tracked vehicles. Overhead lines were considered unreliable. Dug-in bays were to be constructed for providing partial protection to the parked vehicles from enemy aircraft and enemy shelling. The water ration (most important in the desert) was one gallon per man and half a gallon per vehicle. If possible, it was noted, water pipelines were to be constructed behind the defensive positions.19 The 5th Indian Infantry Brigade and the 150th Infantry Brigade were ordered that if the minefields were breached by the enemy troops, then the field guns were to shell the intruders. And if the hostile force continued to advance, then the I tanks would advance to destroy them.20 This defensive scheme was actually put into practice at Gazala. There was a problem with such a defensive outlay. In case the enemy concentrated armour, infantry, anti-tank guns and field artillery supported by dive-bombers to penetrate the defensive belt along a particular point, then a concentrated counter-attack was to be carried out quickly and efficiently by the defensive force. Otherwise, all would be lost. A somewhat similar situation actually developed in the summer of 1942, when the Axis forces attacked Tobruk. Both during advance and retreat, long-distance patrolling and reconnaissance patrols were emphasized.21 The 4th Indian Division tried to evolve a formula for successful withdrawal in case of need. Operational Instruction dated 18 February 1942 issued by Colonel (later Major-General) Donald Bateman GSO 1 of the 4th Indian Division noted: The most difficult part of the withdrawal is to be the initial disengagement. . . . The intention is to withdraw in a divisional formation with the three brigade groups disposed in the shape of triangle with its base towards the enemy. The Reserve Brigade Group at the apex of the triangle at all times be prepared to meet in depth enemy attempt to penetrate.22 One can argue that formulation of such a doctrine for withdrawal enabled the battered force of Auchinleck to escape the jaws of Panzer Army Africa in the first half of 1942.

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Training for war Training is the main thing that wins battles. —Major-General Francis Tuker23

The theatre commander as well as the divisional commanders of the Eighth Army gave serious thought to improving the training regimen. Auchinleck realized that the low level of training in the Middle East was partly due to an informal approach to training and lack of uniformity of doctrine. He requested the appointment of a DMT for the Middle East with the rank of major-general. This individual’s job would be to raise the level of cooperation between armour, artillery and infantry. Major-General John Harding was appointed as DMT Middle East in January 1942.24 Desert warfare necessitated specialized training just as jungle warfare did. Messervy noted that the British Army was trained for combat in Western Europe. But waging warfare in undeveloped areas posed new challenges to the personnel. The scale of welfare available for the soldiers in developed regions would not be available. Again, due to logistical difficulties inherent in the desert, heavy supporting equipment would be in short supply. But this should not generate frustration and lack of initiative among the men. They must be trained to improvise. Both Messervy and Tuker were in favour of giving combat training to the administrative elements. Messervy noted that in the desert the enemy occasionally attacked the rear elements. Hence, all personnel must be armed and trained in the use of arms and should be confident in their ability to fight.25 On 24 December 1941, Messervy, then commander of the 4th Indian Division, congratulated the division for its anti-tank defensive capabilities. Between 18 November and 23 December, the 4th Indian Division claimed to have destroyed fifty-one Axis tanks (the majority being German AFVs). This figure was certainly an over-estimation. On 24 December 1941, Messervy noted: ‘Our infantry too have shown themselves staunch and steadfast in the face of tanks’.26 So this was definitely an improvement compared to the situation during Battleaxe. However, there was no space for complacency. The 4th Indian Division carried on its tradition of studying enemy AFVs in order to improve its anti-tank capabilities. The XIII Corps Headquarters gave a helping hand to the 4th Indian Division in this regard. When Tuker (erstwhile active and energetic DMT of India) took over command of the 4th Indian Division from Messervy on 30 December 1941, he continued the policy that infantry must get rid of the idea about the exaggerated power of the enemy AFVs.27 The 4th Indian Division’s subordinate formations were tasked to gather information about German tanks, especially about the thickness of their armour. If possible, capturing an enemy tank intact was emphasized. Divisional headquarters noted that the vulnerable points in hostile AFVs, especially the Mark IVs, needed to be studied. It was found out by early February 1942 that the front armour of the

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Mark IV (the heaviest tank of Panzer Group Afrika at this stage) was 30 mm thick, and another 30 mm plate was bolted in front for extra protection against shells from Allied anti-tank guns. Continuous training with anti-tank guns for further upgrading the skill of anti-tank batteries was emphasized. In March 1942, 2-pounder guns were issued to the 4th Indian Division in order to train the brigade anti-tank companies.28 As part of the institutional culture of learning, both the corps headquarters and the 4th Indian Division coordinated their attempts in order to learn the enemy’s methods and their weapons. This sort of cooperation was absent in case of the III Indian Corps of Lieutenant-General Lewis Heath and 9th and 11th Indian divisions in Malaya. By early February 1942, both the corps headquarters and the 4th Indian Division realized that besides the panzers, the German anti-tank guns posed a serious threat to the Allied armour. This was due to both the power of the German anti-tank guns and excellent training of the anti-tank gunners. The XIII Corps Headquarters informed its subordinate formations that instead of the 37 mm anti-tank gun, the Germans were now bringing into use the more lethal 50 mm anti-tank gun. Each such gun was able to fire high-explosive projectiles to a range of 2,400 metres and armour-piercing projectiles up to a range of 1,400 metres. And the high-explosive projectiles were especially effective against the machine-gun nests and slits of the pillboxes.29 Tuker, after assuming command of the 4th Indian Division, focused on training. For his penchant for training, one can describe him as ‘Tuker the trainer’. He had written: It is perhaps not generally realized that victory on the battlefield depends far more on the approach to battle than on what is done on the battlefield itself. . . . The approach to battle comprises not only the planning and the staging but also the training of the individual and of the mass for the tasks that lie before them. For the tasks that lie before them – the likely nature of the tasks have to be ascertained. . . . Our first task is to imbue the infantryman with the fighting spirit. . . . The fighting spirit will give him not only the will to fight but what is more important to him and to his war, the desire to fight. . . . The foundation of the strength of an army lies in the weapon-training of its infantry.30 Tuker commented that the Germans possessed a high morale because they believed that they had better weapons and they were better skilled in using such weapons due to their exceptional training.31 Tuker is partly right, because with partially trained troops, it would have been impossible even for a ‘super commander’ like Rommel to carry out complicated tactical maneuvers. The XIII Corps Headquarters was in tune with Tuker as regards the importance of training. The XIII Corps Headquarters forwarded a report about the thorough training of the German anti-tank gunners to the 4th Indian Division’s Headquarters. A German anti-tank gunner was trained in a course which lasted for eight to ten weeks. During the mornings of the first two weeks, they learnt the basic

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principles of gun laying and aiming at a target. The gunners were trained to bring the gun into right position and take aim, all within one minute. The afternoons were spent in towing the guns. The 37 mm anti-tank gun was drawn by two men with ropes and two men pushed from behind. The men had to cover 9 kilometres every day. The last stretch of 4 kilometres was difficult ground with slight rises and many hollows. Then, the men were trained to gauge distance of stationary targets like houses, trees and so forth with open eyes. Aiming and firing of dummy cartridges were then practiced against moving targets. The men had to change the position of the guns frequently in full kit equipped with steel helmets, rifles, haversacks, cartridge pouches and so forth. Finally, 30 minutes were assigned for cleaning the guns. The third, fourth and fifth weeks were mainly spent in imparting theoretical instructions regarding firing practices. Towards the end of the course, the men practiced field firing at tanks moving at a speed of 10 kilometres per hour. The men shot from a distance of 1,200, 1,000, 800, 600 and finally 400 metres. The anti-tank gunnery course, which focused on gun drill, sighting and loading, involved strenuous physical exercises.32 The IJA also emphasized training which involved physical hardships. But the Allied troops in Malaya during 1941 did not train hard,33 and they paid a heavy price when the Japanese attacked. The Allied troops learnt from captured German documents that their anti-tank gunners were thoroughly trained not to open fire too quickly at hostile AFVs. The Axis gunners were instructed to open fire at the heavily armoured Allied tanks only at a range of 800 metres.34 This required strong nerves, which was the product of harsh realistic training. Tuker implemented a rigorous training programme. In April 1942, he noted that the 4th Indian Division should be capable of attacking the German armoured leaguers at night.35 Battle drill for conducting this sort of attack was formulated. Both Tuker and Messervy were proponents of night fighting. Training Instruction Number 6, which was issued in April 1942, depicts in detail the way in which the nocturnal attack was to be carried out. Generally, a German armoured leaguer was protected during the night by infantry supported with medium machine-guns. For attacking a German armoured leaguer, a specially equipped composite brigade was to be organized.36 It is to be noted that in this training instruction, the defect in the Allied doctrine of tanks and infantry fighting their battles separately was not rectified. The training manual did not emphasize that during the nocturnal attack on the German armoured leaguer the assault infantry should be intimately supported by Cruiser tanks and light artillery. On 8 May, the commander of the 5th Indian Division, Major-General A.G.O.M. Mayne was promoted to corps commander in Iraq. For a few weeks, the CRA Brigadier G. M. Vallentin became the temporary divisional commander and then Brigadier (later Major-General) H. R. Briggs became the divisional commander. Briggs was a chain smoker, fierce and quick tempered, who lacked urbaneness, but he was a fine leader in the battlefield. Though he had refused to go to the Staff College, during battle he seldom interfered with the working of his staff and implicitly trusted them.37 Tuker rightly summed him up as ‘a fine commander in the field, but lacking technical knowledge of all arms’.38 When Briggs (previously

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of the 4th Indian Division) took over command of the 5th Indian Division from Mayne, the formation was not very well trained in general and not ready for waging desert war in particular.39 The division was short of signalling equipment, especially telephone cables. Further, the motor vehicles and the guns lacked spare parts. Moreover, the division due to the wide dispersal of its brigades had no opportunity to train together intensively.40 But the 5th Indian Division, like its sister formation the 4th Indian Division, understood the importance of training before participating in battle. Hence, the 5th Indian Division immediately implemented a crash training programme. Messervy emphasized that due to the almost flat terrain of the desert, map reading was difficult. Hence, it was necessary to inculcate special skill to the drivers and soldiers in order to find the way and determine the location of objects observed.41 The drivers were taught the skill of desert navigation with the aid of ‘sun compasses’. The battalions were trained in mine laying and in moving through the desert in formation. Inter-brigade transfer of skill was part of the institutional culture of the Indian Army in the Western Desert. The point to be noted is that there was almost no contact between the battalions in a brigade or between the brigades of Percival’s Malaya Force. In contrast, in North Africa, Reid’s 29th Brigade provided suggestions and advice to the other brigades of the 5th Indian Division. But even the 29th Brigade suffered from inadequate training of the infantry with artillery due to lack of an artillery regiment.42 There seemed to be some development in the sphere of infantry-tank cooperation. Messervy noted that at the Battle of the Omars (November 1941), the infantry of the 4th Indian Division was ably supported by the I tanks of the 42nd and 44th RTRs.43 In August 1941, the Eighth Army’s High Command accepted that a I tank brigade attached with the 5th Indian Infantry Division would be incapable of meeting a strong Axis armoured force comprising fast-moving medium AFVs, armoured cars and anti-tank guns. It was concluded that the Allied infantry and I tank combination would be unable to prevent enemy armour penetration in the rear. It was realistically assumed that at best, the I tank and infantry combination could tackle unarmoured elements of the Axis forces.44 Critical analysis of one’s own capability was a crucial element of the Eighth Army’s learning culture. The British armoured corps was also not standing still. During January 1942, the 1st RTR was lectured on issues of internal security (proved to be almost useless for the forthcoming summer operation against the Axis), anti-paratroop role (another useless piece of advice, as neither the Germans nor the Italians used paratroopers in the desert), camouflage, lessons learnt from the 1941 Libyan Campaign and signals security. May was spent in calibrating the guns in the El Adem area.45 However, the British armoured forces suffered from certain problems. At the end of January 1942, the 10th Armoured Division lacked certain essential equipment, which hampered both individual and collective training of the crews. The main armament of the tanks of this division was the 37 mm guns. However, only 360 rounds of ammunition were received, which prevented thorough training

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of the gunners through practice firing. The commander of this division, Major-­ General J.G.W. Clark, as part of the learning process pointed out that past combat operations had shown that the Royal Army Service Corps and the ordnance formations’ personnel required tactical training with the combat divisions they were to serve. But nothing had been achieved in this regard. This division especially lacked signals equipment and the withdrawal of the Number 9 sets further worsened the scenario.46 Major-General Clark noted: ‘This is a most serious situation as without trained signals no armoured division can function’.47 Throughout MEC, there was a shortage of trained signallers and the Royal Corps of Signals was unable to fill up the vacancies. In addition, the 10th Armoured Division suffered from milking. For instance, in the first month of 1942, 102 trained personnel from the Middlesex Yeomanry were pulled out for duty elsewhere.48 The point to be noted is that Percival’s force in Malaya also suffered from inadequate ammunition for practice, absence of signals equipment and a heavy dose of milking.49 The 3rd Indian Motor Brigade comprised three cavalry regiments (2nd Royal Lancers, 11th PAVO and 18th Cavalry) and the 2nd Field Regiment less the 4th Maratha Battery. This brigade started training from May 1942 onwards. The training regimen was influenced by the Auchinleck regime’s focus on establishing a defensive line by forming a brigade box. The focus of training was to learn the movement and deployment of the motorized brigade as a mobile box.50 Captain A. S. Naravane of the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade writes about the training received prior to the Second Battle of Gazala: In addition to the static defensive we had to learn how to move as a moving defensive box. . . . The cavalry was to be deployed with two regiments covering the brigade front and the third regiment covering the rear of the brigade. The artillery regiment was positioned in the centre. On the move the cavalry units and the guns maintained their relative positions being guided by a brigade major. . . . Several regimental exercises were held to practice units in this complicated maneuver. . . . When the same exercise was carried out at night without the use of lights it became very difficult to keep station and maintain the required speed and direction.51 Overall, we see a lack of uniformity in doctrine and training among the Allied forces. Now, let us see how the Allied forces actually fought with the Desert Fox.

The Desert Fox strikes On 26 December 1941, Lieutenant-General A. R. Godwin-Austen, commander of the XIII Corps, declared in a message to his troops that the traditional ‘Happy Christmas’ message was inappropriate because the Allied troops were required to go on killing the ‘vile pest’ named Hitlerism.52 He could not have been more correct, because soon Rommel would be on the move again.

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Rommel’s counter-attack had been partly possible because thanks to Hitler, German air strength in the Mediterranean was again increasing. On 2 December 1941, Hitler issued Directive Number 38 which stated: In order to secure and extend our own position in the Mediterranean, and to establish a focus of Axis strength in Central Mediterranean, I order, in agreement with the Duce, that part of the German Air Force no longer required in the East be transferred to the South Italian and North African areas, in the strength of about one Air Corps with the necessary anti-aircraft defences.53 Moreover, Kesselring moved ‘heaven and hell’ to reorganize supplies from Italy to North Africa and also to streamline Luftwaffe support for the Axis land force in North Africa. From 28 November 1941 onwards, Kesselring held the dual appointment of Commander-in-Chief South (theatre commander) and of Luftflotte II. Bruno Loerzer’s Flieger Korps II was transferred from Russia. Kesselring realized that the main problem of Panzer Group Afrika was inadequate supply. Hitler had forbidden the use of the port of Bizerta in Tunisia, as the French armistice was not to be violated. Use of Bizerta would have solved the Axis supply problem to a great extent. British aircraft from Malta posed a serious threat to the Italian merchant ships carrying supplies for Rommel’s troops. Kesselring understood that even continuous bombing by Loerzer’s 400 aircraft from Sicily would not be able to totally subdue Malta, so his plan was to invade Malta. Vice-Admiral Eberhard Weichold, the German naval commander in Italy, also supported the plan for occupying Malta. And Kesselring made continuous attempts to persuade Hitler, Hermann Göring (Chief of the Luftwaffe and second man in the Third Reich), OKW, Mussolini and Commando Supremo to launch an invasion of Malta.54 Malta was continuously bombed by the German aircraft, and this made possible an increasing flow of supplies to Panzer Group Afrika. Between 20 March and 28 April 1942, Flieger Korps II had dropped 6,557,231 kg of bombs on Malta. This was more than the amount of bombs dropped on Great Britain during September 1940, the peak period of the Battle of Britain.55 On 18 December 1941 and on 5 January 1942, two Axis convoys arrived in the Libyan ports escorted by Italian battleships. These two convoys did not encounter any Allied aircraft or warships. However, the Italian Navy was running short of oil, so battleships could be used for escorting the convoys only during exceptional circumstances.56 On 17 December 1941, forty panzers were unloaded in Africa. The Afrika Korps fielded seventy operational panzers. With them, between 27 and 30 December, Rommel attacked west of Agedabia. In this confrontation, the British lost sixty-five tanks.57 The tactical and operational effectiveness of the Allied armoured force was somewhat hamstrung due to their bad radio batteries. On 3 January, the 1st Armoured Division was ordered to harass the Axis forces in order to delay their advance but not to get seriously engaged with them. Further, this armoured division was charged with protection of the WDF’s LOC from hostile harassing parties. The 22nd Guards Brigade and the 7th Special Group were especially ordered

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to delay the lead elements of Rommel’s advancing force. On 8 January, the 2nd Armoured Brigade was ordered to aid the two aforementioned armoured formations in case the Axis advanced in strength.58 By mid-January 1942, Panzer Group Afrika deployed 173 operational tanks and 300 aircraft against 280 RAF aircraft.59 On 21 January 1942, Panzer Group Afrika was renamed Panzer Army Afrika.60 Kesselring asserted in his memoirs that Rommel’s decision to attack on 21 January 1942 was the brainchild of the latter’s operations chief, General Siegfried Westphal. At that time, German air superiority fighters dominated the sky and the Stukas were able to operate effectively against the Allied ground targets.61 On 24 January 1942, the 4th Indian Division was warned that withdrawal from Gebel might become necessary in the near future. The code word for withdrawal was ‘Halftime’. The 7th Infantry Brigade was holding the area south of Benghazi. The 11th Infantry Brigade’s job was to prevent the 7th Infantry Brigade being outflanked from the east. The 5th Infantry Brigade was in reserve along Tocra-Barce and El Abiar. This brigade was ordered to secure the routes leading into Gebel from the south. While withdrawing, the formations were tasked to harass the enemy aggressively. The withdrawal was to be accompanied by launching repeated raids and ambush parties against the advancing enemy. Further, during withdrawal, all available stores, vehicles and arms were to be destroyed. If the enemy attempted to infiltrate Gebel from the south, then they were to be counter-attacked by small mobile columns. Inter-theatre transfer of skill was evident in case of the Indian units. The brigades were asked to take up a North-West Frontier–style picketing system in order to prevent infiltration by the Axis infantry.62 On that date, the Queens Bays and the 8th Field Regiment by using artillery fire maintained their position against the Axis forces at Antelat. The 2nd Armoured Brigade acquired fifteen Cruiser tanks. Within two days, seven broke down without firing a shot.63 Mechanical unreliability of the Cruiser tanks was another factor which weakened the combat effectiveness of Eighth Army’s armoured force. The British imperial forces were retreating in all the theatres. During January 1942, the 9th and 11th Indian Divisions were withdrawing against the Twentyfifth Japanese Army of Lieutenant-General ‘Tiger’ Yamashita in Malaya. But the 9th and 11th Indian Divisions, which made up the III Indian Corps under Heath, failed to undertake any aggressive counter-attack against the rapidly advancing nimble Japanese infantry. Instead of undertaking raids and ambushes, they themselves were vulnerable to Japanese infantry’s filleting tactics. Further, Heath’s troops were unable to destroy their food stocks, weapons and vehicles. The Japanese captured these materials in large number and termed them as ‘Churchill ration’; this accelerated further Japanese advance along the Malayan Peninsula.64 On 26 January, Ritchie met Tuker at Benina airfield. Tuker told him that due to the virtual destruction of the 1st Armoured Division, the Allied forces should retreat to the Derna Triangle while destroying all the supply dumps during the course of withdrawal. Then the Allied forces should regroup and counter-attack before Rommel could get large-scale supply through Benghazi. Tuker overlooked the fact that Rommel was a risk-taking commander who would attack

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even without waiting for his supply system to become streamlined at Benghazi. Ritchie disagreed with Tuker and argued that the 1st Armoured Division was not yet finished. Tuker accused Ritchie for ordering slow withdrawal rather than a fast one to Derna Triangle. Tuker then argued that the 11th Indian Brigade along with the 1st Armoured Division should counter-attack south from Charuba and the 7th Brigade should move through Sceleidina Pass. The objective was to bring Rommel’s armour into play by making frontal and flank attacks and to cut his LOC from Msus south of Agedabia. Again, Tuker misunderstood Rommel. This comparatively young German general cared nothing much for the security of his LOC. Tuker was assuming that Rommel thought and operated like a conservative British general like Heath or Percival. Ritchie said that this counter-attack should be started on 29 January, but Tuker replied that time was of the essence and that it should take place on 27 January at the latest. Then Richie ordered Tuker to send a mobile column southward to delay Rommel. Tuker responded by saying that he does not have much faith in such mobile ( Jock) columns. Tuker rightly considered it unwise to disperse the Allied mobile military assets as Jock Columns for harassing the enemy troops. He was for concentration of force – a Clausewitzian principle. In fact, Tuker was so angry with Ritchie that he muttered under his breath, ‘Ritchie is a clown’.65 Despite the not so good performance of the Jock Columns during Crusader, both Auchinleck and Ritchie were confirmed in their erroneous beliefs that Jock Columns were the right answer to the Eighth Army’s problems of handling armour properly against Panzer Army Afrika. In this regard, the Auchinleck regime was unwilling and unable to learn the right lessons. At least Ritchie, unlike Montgomery, allowed his subordinates to air their feelings. Again, Ritchie rang up Tuker and asked for a situation report. Tuker asserted that the 11th Brigade could attack from Carmusa provided they get a regiment of Cruiser tanks. Such an attack would provide time to prepare a defence along the Derna Triangle. However, Ritchie refused. At this stage, the old Valentine tanks were suffering from mechanical breakdowns. Tuker vigorously asserted that if Ritchie continued to put his faith on fixed defence by static infantry then the ‘Boche’ armour would outflank them, and this would result in defeat. Tuker told Ritchie that he should talk with the former’s corps commander.66 Even if Ritchie accepted Tuker’s plan of launching a limited counterstroke with an infantry brigade and one tank regiment, it would not have seriously jeopardized Rommel’s advance. A German composite battle group comprising infantry, armour and antitank artillery would have taken care of it. The British senior commanders were repeatedly failing to concentrate the armour and implement combined arms tactics. On 27 January 1942, Tuker assumed that it was unlikely that a large Axis detachment could operate in the Gebel area due to bad terrain and subsequent maintenance difficulties. The 4th Indian Division’s task was to strike at the enemy’s LOC along Msus-Antelat. The 5th Brigade was in charge of the Benghazi-Barce area, and the 11th Brigade was to protect Maraua and maintain contact with the 1st Armoured Division deployed at El Charuba. On 31 January, German troops moved to the west of Maraua. On 1 February, the 4th Indian Division reverted to

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XIII Corps command. The XIII Corps was ordered to retreat in case of a principal enemy attack and prepare a defensive position around Bir Hacheim and Bir el Gubi. The 1st South African Division was at Gazala and the 4th Indian Division was at Acroma. The 150th Infantry Brigade was at Bir Hacheim. The Axis forces continued to exert frontal pressure and also threatened the southern flank of the 4th Indian Division. As a result, the Allied forces retreated from Derna and Tmimi. However, the sappers of the 4th Indian Division played a commendable role in delaying the Axis advance.67 Tuker was right to raise doubt about Rommel advancing further. In fact, due to supply problems, Commando Supremo and the Duce himself were against any further advance of Rommel. But Berlin decided that the decision about whether the Panzer Army would continue its attack or not was to be left to Rommel. And Rommel was seriously short of motor transport. His Panzer Army had 14,000 motor vehicles and requested another 8,000 vehicles for carrying food and oil as his troops surged forward in Libya. Rome turned down his request for additional motor transport.68 On 2 February, the 11th Indian Infantry Brigade was retreating under Axis pressure. The crossroad junction at El Carmusa was held by two companies of the 3rd/1st Punjab supported by field and anti-tank guns. At 1510 hours, this defensive position was overrun by the German advance elements. Bateman, in accordance with the learning culture of the Indian Army, analyzed the recently fought campaign in order to learn lessons. Bateman noted: the occurrence was due to faulty infantry tactics and lack of training on part of the unit concerned. Enemy infantry in captured 3-ton lorries with some tanks had driven up to our position; the tanks had then disappeared round the north flank, while the infantry, unmolested had moved round our infantry and rushed the gun positions.69 Deception, speed and infiltration on part of the German motorized infantry, plus close support by the German AFVs along with lack of cooperation between Allied infantry-field guns, resulted in this fiasco. On 4 February, Brigg’s 7th Indian Infantry Brigade which was retreating from Benghazi was able to reach the Gazala defensive line.70 The British armour as usual was slow to provide support to friendly infantry retreating under enemy pressure. For instance, on 6 February 1942, the 7th Armoured Brigade was delayed in its move from Antelat to Beda Fomm due to refuelling difficulties and unwillingness on part of the commander to make a rapid move to confront the enemy.71 The 4th Indian Division’s training in cooperation with anti-tank guns and antiaircraft gunnery, however, proved its worth. During the retreat from Benghazi to Gazala, this division claimed to have destroyed three anti-tank guns, eleven Axis aircraft, three armoured cars and ten tanks.72 By early February 1942, the Axis forces came to a stop in front of the Gazala Line. One reason for the cessation of Rommel’s offensive was inadequate supply for his force. For instance in March, instead

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of the 60,000 tons of material necessary, only 18,000 tons arrived.73 On 8 February, Panzer Army Afrika asked Commando Supremo to provide three infantry divisions for taking up the task of defending Cyrenaica. This would enable the Afrika Korps to disengage and rest and recuperate for future offensives. Rommel also asked for more mobile artillery. He evaluated that the Eighth Army would not be ready for attack for another three months. Rommel decided that the next few weeks should be devoted to intensive training of his troops.74 Tuker attempted to formulate an operational doctrine and pointed out the reasons behind doctrinal failures in the British side. He, like Major-General Gordon Bennett (commander of the Australian contingent in Malaya during 1941–1942), argued that the British commanders always thought of linear warfare, which had developed in the Western Front during the First World War. However, linear warfare now, continued Tuker, had been replaced with maneuver warfare. Tuker noted that sadly there was not adequate criticism in the British Army against the conservative thinking about linear warfare, which had maintained its grip over the officer corps. Criticism of the existing methods of warfare is an essential feature of the learning curve. Tuker commented that the XIII Corps had failed to concentrate its forces for either attack or defence during January 1942. The Allied forces were scattered before Agheila, and this enabled Rommel to advance.75

Second Gazala: 26 May–20 June 1942 On 3 February 1942, the Queen’s Bays (2nd Dragoon Guards) were deployed in the Gazala Line. For the next four months, they were busy in laying extensive minefields and digging and improving the defensive positions. Boredom and painful desert sores due to lack of fresh vegetables and fruits were the chief irritants of the Allied troops before the onset of the Axis attack.76 About the desert sandstorm, one British tank man notes in his memoirs: But in March we entered the season of the khamsin, the hot south wind that blew from the heart of the Sahara, rendering everything, whether outside or in the shade, burning hot to touch. Visibility was reduced sometimes to almost zero, by a haze of sand and dust.77 Visibility was also very low in the tropical theatres covered with a lot of vegetation. On 10 February, the 4th Indian Division was ordered to take up position for defending part of the Gazala Line. The Right Sector was held by the 1st South African Division (later it would go to Tobruk) with the Polish Brigade, and the Left Sector was held by the 4th Indian Division. Tuker was not happy with this linear defensive line. He noted: About mid-February Ritchie came down and I spoke to him. I told him that I was apprehensive of this linear position while he was weak in armour. His reply was that he did not agree and that he trusted his corps commander.78

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In mid-February 1942, Tuker assumed that Rommel would try to turn Ritchie’s left flank by attacking south of Bir Hacheim. This would allow Ritchie, if he had a mobile corps supported by lorried infantry, to cut through Panzer Army Afrika’s LOC. In June 1942, Rommel actually attacked south of Bir Hacheim, but Ritchie could not profit from it because he could not concentrate his armour and motorized infantry for a thrust against the Axis forces’ LOC. Then Rommel attacked between the 50th Division and Bir Hacheim.79 The 4th Indian Division had the 5th Indian Infantry Brigade with the 8th Royal Artillery Field Regiment plus the 170th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery and the 11th Indian Infantry Brigade with the 7th Royal Artillery Medium Regiment and the 169th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery. The troops were ordered to focus on concealment and camouflage of the gun emplacements, defensive positions and so forth. The garrison built up a stock of 7 days of food and water, 200 rounds per field gun and 100 miles of POL for all the vehicles. The 11th Infantry Brigade maintained a Jock Column comprising one infantry battalion, one field regiment, one troop of anti-tank guns and one troop of light anti-aircraft guns. Its task was to prevent the enemy from obtaining detailed information about the friendly defensive scheme, to harass the enemy and to launch a counter-attack with two squadrons of tanks. One squadron of the 42nd RTR and one squadron of the 8th RTR were posted as reserve to the Advanced Divisional Headquarters. The mobile Jock Column was under the control of the Advanced Divisional Headquarters. The two Indian brigades were further ordered to conduct vigorous night patrolling and to maintain contact with the 1st South African Division and the 1st Armoured Division. It was assumed that aggressive patrolling would infuse an offensive spirit among the troops.80 The morale of the Allied troops was in decline due to the success of the Axis offensive at the beginning of the year. And Rommel’s success during the January–February 1942 offensive had even buoyed up the morale of the Italian soldiers. Auchinleck was so concerned with the decline of morale in his force that he considered the introduction of the death penalty for desertion in the field and for displaying cowardly behaviour in the face of the enemy.81 Due to political reasons, the death penalty was not introduced by the British politicians. The point to be noted is that in 1941 and 1942, the Indian troops deployed in Malaya and Burma failed to conduct aggressive night patrolling against the IJA, and their morale reached rock bottom. Moreover, in Malaya and Singapore, the battalions and brigades of the 9th and 11th Indian Divisions failed to maintain contact with the friendly formations. Only from late 1943 did the Indian units in Burma have the confidence and capability to conduct aggressive night patrols against the Japanese. So we can say that the 4th Indian Division’s combat effectiveness was higher compared to the other sister divisions of the Indian Army. But even then, whether the 4th Indian Division would be able to cope up with Rommel’s fluid mobile armoured warfare remains to be seen. The task of the 1st Armoured Division was to attack and destroy any Axis elements attempting either to break through the gap between the left flank of the main force and Bir Hacheim and to carry out an enveloping movement

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south of Bir Hacheim. The infantry brigade at Bir Hacheim was to constitute a pivot for armoured maneuver in the southern flank. Further, the armoured division was tasked to prevent the Axis forces from cutting the Allied LOC across Trigh Capuzzo. And the 38th Indian Infantry Brigade was ordered to protect the installations at Tobruk. On 24 February, the 4th Indian Division came under the XXX Corps.82 Late in February, when Tuker met Harding, BGS of the XIII Corps, the former told the latter that the defence of Bir Hacheim was a bad proposition. First, it would draw the reserves of the Eighth Army and this place had no water supply. Tuker continued: ‘I told that Gazala was linear and dangerous to hold with weaker armour. He was not impressed’.83 Tuker, like most of the senior British commanders, was wrong in assuming that Rommel was strong in armour compared to the Eighth Army. The problem with the commanders of the Eighth Army was that their handling of infantry, armour, and anti-tank guns was below the level achieved by the German commanders. By mid-March, about a million mines were laid in front of Gazala, and this prevented the Eighth Army from further strengthening the minefield at Tobruk.84 On 26 March 1942, the 4th Indian Division with the 5th and 11th Indian Brigades was ordered to defend the Sollum Box. While the 5th Indian Infantry Brigade took over the Southern Sector, the 11th Indian Infantry Brigade was deployed along the Western Sector.85 On 15 April, the 5th Indian Division’s Divisional Headquarters and the 9th Indian Brigade moved to the Sollum Box and were reorganized on a brigade group basis. The artillery regiments, field companies of engineers, field ambulances and so forth were placed under direct command of the brigade in question. While the 9th and the 10th Brigades took position on the flat, stony ground near Sollum, Reid’s 29th Brigade was at El Hamra. There were no caves or buildings at Sollum, so the men had almost no protection against the sandstorms. The available water was brackish and salty. Water ration per man was one gallon per day. Many suffered from heatstroke. The only occasional luxury for the men was that they were driven to the Halfaya Pass and then to the seashore for a bath. They took a grenade each in case they met sharks while bathing.86 In April 1942, Tuker had penned a detailed instruction for the 4th Indian Division about the oncoming battle. He argued that mobile field armies should operate from field bases (i.e. fortresses). He called it area warfare. The Axis field bases were protected by minefields, but the Germans neglected the use wires. Tuker emphasized that it was a deficiency which could be exploited by skilful Allied infantry. The battle would be fought by motorized infantry formations with armour at their back or on the flanks. Tuker continued that the destruction of the enemy’s means of maintenance or destruction of his field armies (especially armoured forces) would result in victory. If the former aim was pursued, then it would have definitely resulted in prolonged warfare. And Tuker, in contrast to the dominant opinion in the Eighth Army, favoured the first option. Tuker was against attempting to destroy the German field force in mobile battle at this juncture, because he reasoned that the Germans had superior Mark IV tanks and self-propelled field

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artillery. Actually, the Axis forces had few Mark IV tanks. The problem was that the Eighth Army was unable to concentrate its tanks and use them properly along with other arms. Tuker missed that it was not German armour but combined arms tactics that was the key to German battlefield success. Tuker noted that if it became essential to confront the German field force, then smoke shells and the cover provided by darkness should be utilized. Smoke shells would allow the Allied infantry to close with the Germans and under the cover of night, the British armour should launch attacks. Neither British tanks nor Allied infantry (with the exception of the Indian divisions) were capable of launching nocturnal attacks. Rather, the best option for the Eighth Army at this stage, concluded Tuker, was to use the infantry against the LOC of the Axis forces. Concentration against the Axis maintenance and supply lines, noted Tuker, had the further advantage of debilitating the Axis armoured force, which then would be unable to turn the flanks of the Allied defensive line. So the Allied operational formula should be to focus on defence of the fortresses like the coastal ports from where the strike force would be directed against the enemy’s LOC. In case land communications were cut, the Allied bases should be resupplied by air. Tuker, who was arguing for following ‘indirect strategy’, commented that due to attrition of the Luftwaffe in Russia, the RAF would surely gain air superiority over the skies of the Libyan Desert in the near future and then aerial resupply would be possible.87 With aerial resupply, even the brigadesize boxes (as proved in case of Burma during 1944) could be maintained. But the WDAF in early 1942, due to shortages of transport aircraft, lacked the capacity for carrying out large-scale aerial resupply of the Allied garrisons. In the conference held on 24 April 1942, Rommel was for launching an offensive in May. He argued that the Eighth Army was at present weak but would become stronger in autumn due to a supply of American tanks. Moreover, with the onset of German summer offensive in Russia, the 2nd German Air Fleet might be redeployed away from Africa. In another conference held four days later, Kesselring argued that Malta should be captured by the end of May and only then should the Panzer Army launch its offensive. But in the conference of 6 May, the proposed attack on Malta was postponed and it was decided to go ahead with the ground offensive in North Africa.88 From 13 May 1942 onwards, it became clear to the Allied high command that Rommel was intending to launch an attack. Then Ritchie obtained Auchinleck’s permission to give priority to defence over preparing an offensive thrust.89 The Allied defensive line extended from Gazala near the coast to Bir Hacheim, about 60 miles to the south-west. The Eighth Army (XXX and XXXIII Corps) under Ritchie was deployed in the form of brigades with gaps between them. The brigades were capable of all-round defence. The established doctrine was that if the hostile force penetrated the gaps between the brigades, then they were to be engaged by the mobile forces launched from the mutually supporting brigades. Hence, the gaps between the brigades were called ‘killing areas’.90 On 25 May, the 1st South African Division held the front from the coast west of Gazala to El Hamza. This formation was troubled by desertions. Eastwards from this

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point were deployed two brigades of the 50th British Division and its third brigade (the 150th) had established a strongpoint at Sidi Muftah. The Tobruk perimeter defence was divided between the 2nd South African Division and Fletcher’s 9th Brigade. And of the XXX Corps’ formations, the 1st Free French Brigade under General Marie-Pierre Koenig held the position in the south at Bir Hacheim. The 1st Armoured Division under Major-General H. Lumsden was at Knightsbridge and Messervy’s 7th Armoured Division was deployed further south.91 On 26 May Tuker flew to XXX Corps Headquarters. He was ordered to take command of the left wing of the Allied forces. It comprised the Free French at Bir Hacheim, the 7th Motor Brigade between El Gubi and Hacheim, the 29th Brigade at Gubi and the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade deployed between the 7th Motor Brigade and Bir Hacheim. Tuker called at the headquarters of XIII Corps and discussed the situation with Brigadier ‘Bobby’ Erskine, the BGS of this corps. When Erskine told him that the XIII Corps had to cover 100 miles of front, Tuker was horrified. Meanwhile, the XXX Corps was ordered to stand and fight to the last.92 Tuker in a mood of irritation noted down: They only sat upon and protected sand. No one need attack them; he could always drive round. There was no water inside the posts and all relied on MT [motor transport] convoy for supplies, water and ammunition. I found it difficult to understand why I, who it was well known disapproved of the whole plan and chiefly of its left flank at Bir Hacheim, had been appointed to command this left flank. I had in May issued to my division a short training instruction showing the folly of occupying such positions.93 Doctrine evolved as the war progressed. In May 1942, Tuker issued a paper for circulation among the 4th Indian Division’s officer corps concerning defence in the desert. Tuker noted that the desert has four important topographical features: ports, a tarmac road and railway, escarpments and oases. Combat centred round these regions. Rarely, military operations occurred in the inland areas of limitless sand. Tuker noted: Yet many people wish to plant their defences in the limitless sand . . . defensive posts should not usually be planted in the limitless sand, for they can generally only become a liability in the end, and so far from being a pivot and a strength, they become a magnet and a weakness and all one’s operations have to be devoted towards their relief. They became an anchor against mobility rather than a pivot of maneuver to promote mobility.94 Ritchie had prepared the static Gazala Line because he rightly understood that the Allied armour would not be able to cope with the panzers in fast moving fluid battles. However, Ritchie had no sound plan for counter-attacking if the Germans broke through a particular point of his static defensive line. Tuker in turn wanted that if the Allies were going for a strategic defence, then defence centred round

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the four topographical features (ports, roads, railway and escarpment or oasis) was necessary. In fact, Tuker unlike Auchinleck, was for establishing a defensive line along Tobruk.95 Tuker rightly believed that since the 7th and the 8th Indian Brigades were motorized, tying them down in static position neutralized their strength: mobility. The three motor brigades, argued Tuker, should be used to attack Rommel’s supply lines. Since Rommel’s panzers were perpetually short of fuel, attacking their supply lines would increase the Desert Fox’s problems.96 In the evening of 26 May, Rommel started his offensive. His aim was to envelop the Allied defensive position in the south and then move northward to cut off their forces from Egypt.97 Major (later Colonel) Hans von Luck, commander of the 3rd Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion, writes in his autobiography: Von Bismarck then gave us combat orders and stressed the fact that, by means of a vast night march, Rommel planned to move the whole of Afrika Korps around the south of Bir Hacheim and swing it north, so as to cut off Tobruk and thrust eastward to the Egyptian border. A feint attack in the north on the Gazala position was to deceive the British.98 Against 100,000 men of the Eighth Army, Rommel threw 90,000 personnel.99 Panzer Army Afrika had 560 tanks, but of them only thirty-eight were Mark IVs and 240 were Mark IIIs. The rest were Italian M-13s. In contrast, the Eighth Army had 800 tanks and of them 167 were American Grants.100 To support Rommel’s offensive against the Gazala Line, Kesselring concentrated 260 aircraft. This in turn left only 115 aircraft in Sicily to attack Malta. The removal of German aircraft from the aerial offensive against Malta allowed the island to revive, and in a short time it again became a thorn in Rommel’s logistics. In fact, as early as 9 May, Spitfires were transferred by aircraft carriers and a ship with anti-aircraft ammunition was able to slip into Malta.101 On 10 May, OKW erroneously considered Malta as subdued and transferred a large part of the German air force to the Eastern Front where Operation Blau would soon begin.102 On 26 May, the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade stationed at Point 171 south-west of Bir Hacheim was deployed, with two regiments in the front and one regiment covering the rear and the flanks. This brigade had taken part in the fighting at Mechili in 1941, and after suffering a large number of casualties it was able to escape the claws of Afrika Korps. This formation was reorganized and deployed for combat again in mid-1942. The region consisted of undulating sand dunes. The 2nd Indian Field Artillery Regiment was deployed in the centre. Captain Naravane was commander of F Troop of the 4th Maratha Battery affiliated with the 18th Cavalry Regiment. Naravane waited in a L-shaped trench. The Indian Motor Brigade’s three cavalry regiments were equipped with carriers, which had Bren guns. The thin protective armour of the carriers was effective only against small arms fire. Moreover, the artillery unit had unarmoured wheeled vehicles to tow the guns, instead of being mounted on tank chassis which would have provided greater

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mobility in the sandy terrain. Since the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade had occupied its designated position only during the evening of 26 May, there was no time for preparing dug-in defensive position with wires and mines as laid down in the defensive doctrine taught to them. One anti-tank battery was of course present, but the gunners had just received the 6-pounder guns and they were not yet properly trained to fire this gun. The short-barrelled Mark IV panzers fired anti-personnel high-explosive shells while moving forward, which proved effective against the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade personnel caught in the open in their thinly armoured Bren carriers. The 25-pounders of the 2nd Indian Field Artillery Regiment were effective at 800 yards against the German tanks, but the latter started to fire when the German AFVs were 1,500 yards away. Worse, the German artillery joined in and forced the Allied gunners to keep their heads down.103 This brigade was finally destroyed by the Ariete Division and some tanks of the 21st Panzer Division. The three reasons for the Indians’ collapse were (1) they had no time to dig and prepare a proper defensive position, (2) the absence of anti-tank guns with trained crews and (3) the lack of support by British armour.104 On the morning of 27 May, the Queen’s Bays were ready to move at a moment’s notice. They heard firing in the south and by midday learnt that the Afrika Korps (15th and 21st Panzer Divisions and 90th Light Division) had rounded Bir Hacheim at the southern end of the Gazala Line during the night and had trounced the 7th Armoured Division. Now the Afrika Korps was heading north on the eastern side of the undefended Allied minefields.105 How did the Afrika Korps pass through the Bir Hacheim position so easily? During the night of 26–27 May, the lead elements of the Afrika Korps were closely shadowed by the Allied armoured cars and they sent detailed reports to the 7th Armoured Division’s Headquarters. This would have enabled the 4th Armoured Brigade’s three tank regiments to take position at Bir Hacheim to check the progress of the German AFVs. However, the 4th Armoured Brigade was not informed about the fact that the German armour was rounding the Bir Hacheim flank. It was a case of communication breakdown between divisional headquarters and its subordinate brigade headquarters – a crucial weakness which also bedevilled Percival’s force in Malaya. The 8th Hussars were surprised by the advancing German armour. The 8th Hussars lacked time to take hull-down position and came under hostile fire before the tanks could start their engines. For failing to bring the 7th Armoured Division into action early and efficiently against the outflanking move by the Afrika Korps, Messervy must bear the blame. Messervy’s headquarters made a gross mistake in ignoring the reports filed by the armoured cars of the 12th Lancers and the 4th South African Armoured Car Regiment about the Afrika Korps rounding the southern flank of Gazala Line during the night of 26–27 May.106 Naravane in the early morning of 27 May also reported masses of German AFVs moving around Bir Hacheim. His superior officer, the battery commander George Brook, commented: ‘Naravane always exaggerates’.107 Naravane’s report was blocked by his superior officer. It was a case of lack of trust between the junior and senior officers in the Eighth Army.

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On 27 May, the German attack in Messervy’s words was ‘fast and furious’. By about 0800 hours, the 7th Armoured Division’s Headquarters was threatened by a large party of German troops who were part of a battle group of the 90th Light Division. Messervy ordered the headquarters to retreat 8 miles to the rear. When this rearward movement was in progress, it was attacked by a German column comprising of armoured cars and riflemen. A German 20 mm shell crashed on the armoured command vehicle in which Messervy and his staff officers were travelling. The command vehicle shuddered to a halt and burst into flames. Before alighting from this vehicle, the crew were able to destroy the important papers in the vehicle. The occupants of this vehicle were then taken prisoner by the German soldiers. Before being taken prisoner, Messervy (dressed in shorts) was able to remove his shoulder epaulettes and his badges, so his captors failed to realize that they had indeed captured a high-ranking British officer. Messervy presented himself as an ordinary soldier. A German soldier dressed Messervy’s light wound and commented that he was quite old to be a private. By this time, another British command vehicle was also destroyed by German fire. The CRA of the armoured division was captured and the brigade-major and the staff captain were captured. During the night, however, Messervy along with his ADC were able to give their captors the slip and return to the new headquarters.108 The army commander Ritchie later came to see Messervy. Relations between the two were not good. Ritchie then left to meet the corps commander, Norrie. Ritchie told Norrie that he had lost confidence in Messervy and the latter should hand over command to one of his brigadiers. Messervy subsequently handed over his command and next met Auchinleck. However, Auchinleck supported his army commander Ritchie.109 It must be noted that initially Messervy enjoyed high favour with Ritchie. For the first time, a British officer from the Indian Army had been given command of the two British armoured divisions successively. And Ritchie was right in removing Messervy after the latter bungled on the first and second day of Second Gazala. This effectively marked the end of Messervy’s career in the desert. However, he would make his career in Burma under ‘Bill’ Slim fighting the Japanese. One can sum up that Messervy was an excellent trainer and commander of an infantry division. But he failed miserably in leading an armoured division in fast-moving fluid encounters with the DAK, which practiced combined arms tactics. Panzer Army Afrika had its own share of troubles, but its command system was able to overcome them. On 29 May, Cruwell commander of the DAK flying in his Fieseler Storch (a light aircraft which functioned somewhat like a light observation helicopter for the commanders) over the Gazala battlefield was shot down over the 50th British Infantry Division’s position and was subsequently captured. Alfred Gause was wounded and Fritz Bayerlein took over the post of chief of staff to Rommel. Rommel was at the front leading the troops and out of touch with his headquarters. However, the apparent command vacuum did not result in command dislocation in the Panzer Army. The decentralized, mission-oriented German command system saved the situation. Walther Nehring was flown in to fill up Cruwell’s

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position. The 150th Brigade was holding its position and the minefield was yet not breached. The DAK for supplies was dependent on the exposed route around Bir Hacheim, and the RAF was bombing the DAK, which was moving south in search of its supply convoys. Hemmed in by the minefields in the south and the Allied armoured brigades in the north and east, Rommel concentrated his force in an area came to be known as the ‘Cauldron’. The Axis forces deployed a dense anti-tank screen to counter the disjointed British armoured attacks and the engineers started to cut a gap in the Allied minefields in order to restore communication with the rear echelons of the Axis forces. A German battalion commander, however, noted in his memoirs that the attack by the 1st British Armoured Division was one of touch-and-go.110 A concentrated attack by Allied armour, field artillery and infantry supported by the WDAF would have bundled Rommel out of the Gazala Line, but it never came. The Ariete Division started attacking the Free French at Bir Hacheim from 27 May onwards, and resistance continued till 1 June.111 The fall of Bir Hacheim defended by the Free French and the 150th Brigade Box allowed Rommel to open up a channel for reinforcements and resupply of his force positioned at the Cauldron.112 Historian Niall Barr writes that Ritchie made decisions in slow motion and his passivity resulted in the fall of Bir Hacheim.113 Auchinleck, during Crusader, was at the Advanced Tactical Headquarters to advise Ritchie, and this prevented Ritchie from developing the self-confidence to take decisions quickly in the heat of battle. He referred to Auk for important decisions, and this time-consuming procedure was unsuited for the fast-moving combined arms battle practiced by DAK. On the afternoon of 5 June, Tuker was ordered to leave Sollum and go to the main headquarters at Cairo. Tuker went to GHQ and emphasized to the CGS that the situation was grave and Ritchie had no grasp over the battle and had dispersed the troops and tanks. Tuker implored the CGS to ask Auchinleck to assume direct command in the battlefield. Tuker continued that Auchinleck must launch a counter-attack against Rommel’s rear within the next 48 hours. The CGS asked Tuker if the latter would like to meet Auchinleck in person. Tuker responded by saying that it would not be of any use. Since Ritchie disliked him, and Ritchie was Auchinleck’s ‘blue-eyed boy’, Auk probably would consider Tuker’s views as biased. Further, his relation with Auchinleck had soured during the retreat from Benghazi. In fact, muttered Tuker, Auchinleck had tried to get him dismissed from February 1942 onwards and had avoided contact with him. Tuker also met the DCGS Dorman Smith and said the same thing. But all this came to nothing.114 Operation Aberdeen started at 0250 hours on 5 June. Command problems from the very first dogged this operation. The 7th Armoured Division and the 10th Indian Infantry Division were ordered to launch an attack. However, these two divisions were under two separate corps: the 7th under the XIII Corps and the 10th under the XXX Corps. And there was no coordination among the armoured and infantry divisions. Rather, these two divisions for purposes of this operation should have been placed under a single corps command. Both Ritchie and Auchinleck should bear the blame for this ramshackle command set-up. However, both

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these divisions were ably supported by the Royal Artillery guns.115 On 6 June, British tank strength fell to 170 operational machines.116 On 10 June, only 133 tanks were available in the Allied depots.117 On 12 June, Panzer Army Afrika won the crucial armoured battle between Knightsbridge and El Adem. Rommel then sent the Afrika Korps northwards, which broke Allied resistance around the Knightsbridge area. On the morning of 12 June, the Queen’s Bays Regiment was spread out in a line facing south on the top of the escarpment, a few miles east of the Knightsbridge Box. Peter Willett’s A Squadron was on the left functioning as the flank guard. C Squadron (its ‘Honeys’ were replaced with the far more superior Grants) bore the brunt of the panzer assault.118 The dispersed British tanks were outgunned and outfought by the combined arms tactics of the Germans. On 14 June, Ritchie decided to withdraw his force from the Gazala Line. On the morning of 15 June, Rommel realized that it was too late to cut off the main body of the 1st South African Division, which was retiring from Gazala along Via Balbia to Tobruk. He ordered the 15th Panzer Division to descend the escarpment and reach the sea in order to cut off at least the South African rearguards. The 21st Panzer Division was sent towards El Adem against the 29th Indian Brigade Box. The 90th Light was ordered to capture Belhamed and Gambut in order to isolate Tobruk from the east.119 By 16 June, the total Allied tank casualties came to about 1,009 tanks. The Eighth Army started the battle with 742 tanks and by 15 June had received another 372 tanks. In total, Auchinleck used 1,142 tanks against Panzer Army Afrika.120 Still, the Eighth Army failed to decimate the panzers. Rommel’s battlefield intelligence functioned better than that of the Allies. On 16 June at 1030 hours, the Wireless Intercept Company reported an Allied wireless conversation between the 29th Indian Brigade and the 7th Armoured Division according to which the garrison of El Adem Box was preparing to break out during the night of 16–17 June. This information was immediately passed on to Rommel and the 90th Light Division.121 At 1815 hours, Sidi Rezegh was captured by the 21st Panzer Division. As regards the failure in Gazala, Tuker noted: ‘concentration had already been defeated by splitting the army into brigade groups and permitting Ritchie to disperse his force as never before’.122 Besides Tuker and Messervy, Lieutenant-General Freyberg, GOC of the 2nd New Zealand Division, was also against the dispersal of the formations into Jock Columns and the ‘brigade box’ mania of Auchinleck and Ritchie.123 Despite the hostility of three divisional commanders, the army commander and the theatre commander stuck to their policy of focusing on the Jock Columns and brigade box–oriented linear defensive system. Rosen writes that inappropriate strategic measures may lead an organization to mistakenly increase its efforts, in a vicious circle, at a time when increasing the effort put into old methods only draws the organization deeper into further failure.124 This applies well in case of the Eighth Army’s two faulty innovations. The Jock Columns had been successful in 1940 in the Western Desert against the timid, ill-equipped and ill-trained Italian Army. Brevity, Battleaxe and Crusader proved that the Jock Columns were

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useless against the superbly trained Germans who implemented all arms tactics under an aggressive, risk-taking general. Brigade box–oriented defence had failed in Crusader. Still, the Eighth Army continued to put more and more effort on Jock Columns and brigade box–oriented defence till the end of the First Battle of Alamein. At the Battle of Gazala, the German 88 mm guns and the Italian 90 mm antitank guns played a crucial role in decimating Allied armour.125 The Grant tank, which came into Allied service in the summer of 1942 and was used during the Battle of Gazala, had a more powerful 75 mm gun compared to the I tank. The Grant’s cannon could fire both high-explosive and solid shot, unlike the Valentine British tank whose 2-pounder could only fire solid shot. And the solid shot of the Valentine was not effective against German anti-tank gunners unless the tank gunners registered a direct hit, which was indeed rare. In addition, the Grant was equipped with a 37 mm high-velocity gun which fired armour-piercing shells. But the main 75 mm cannon of the Grant had a limited traverse and it was positioned too low in the hull. Thus while firing, the Grant tank could not take a hull-down position, in order to reduce exposure to hostile anti-tank fire, but had to expose itself almost completely in order to fire its main cannon.126 Thus the Grant offered an excellent target to the German anti-tank gunners. Meanwhile, Axis forces won more victories.

Fall of Tobruk: debating doctrine Tobruk had become an obsession with him (Rommel). —Heinz W. Schmidt127

On 21 June 1942, Rommel captured Tobruk with 33,000 Allied prisoners and a lot of war materials.128 The capture of Tobruk also made Rommel the youngest field-marshal in the Wehrmacht. The fall of Tobruk, like the Allied surrender at Singapore, stunned Churchill. Why did Tobruk fall so easily to Rommel in the summer of 1942, unlike in 1941? In 1941, even after a siege of seven months, the Desert Fox had failed to capture Tobruk. Let us have a flashback. On 15 February 1942, the Axis forces conducted a detailed reconnaissance with armoured cars, tanks and small groups of motorized infantry. Thorough reconnaissance of the ground before launching the main attack was a feature of German battle technique. This Rommel had failed to do during his first attack on Tobruk in April 1941. So the Germans were learning lessons too. The Axis intention on 15 February was to bait the Allied defenders in disclosing their positions. At 1500 hours, the principal Axis attack started. Enemy artillery shelled the Allied anti-tank guns and then the panzers advanced supported by lorried infantry. On 13–14 February, the RAF attacked the Luftwaffe over Tobruk. By 17 February, attrition was also having an adverse effect on the Allied forces. For instance, the 65th Anti-Tank Regiment was 46 per cent under strength and the 57th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment was

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deficient of about 33 per cent of men and equipment. Moreover, the guns were badly in need of overhaul.129 However, Tobruk still held out. In March 1942, Tuker crafted an operational plan which he laid before the commander of the XXX Corps. Somewhat like Churchill, he argued that Tobruk must be defended to the last to prevent the entry of Rommel into Egypt. Tobruk, noted Tuker, should be stocked up and resupplied by sea. The fortress should be prepared to be held for six months. Allied defence must be concentrated around Gambut and Bardia. And Allied armour was to be held in reserve south of the escarpment. Tuker harped on an important point when he asserted that British tanks must cooperate with infantry in an intimate manner.130 On 15 June 1942, Major-General Hendrik Klopper, commander of the 2nd South African Division, was put in charge of the Tobruk garrison, comprising 10,722 South Africans (including 2,000 non-combatants), 19,000 British and 2,500 Indian personnel. The principal formations were the 2nd South African Division (4th and 6th Infantry Brigades), the 11th Indian Brigade, the 32nd British Army Tank Brigade, the 201st Guards Brigade and four Royal Artillery regiments.131 The 6th and the 4th South African Infantry Brigades held the Western and Southern Sectors, respectively, and the 11th Indian Infantry Brigade held the Eastern Sector. The 4th RTR was at the junction of Bardia and El Adem Roads (known as the King’s Cross) and the 7th RTR was near Pilastrino. The 201st Guards Brigade was at the inner perimeter between El Adem Road and Pilastrino.132 Rommel was learning valuable lessons from his past mistakes. In the first half of 1941, he had concentrated his attack on the south-west corner, where the defences were strongest. In November 1941, he decided to attack in the south-east of Tobruk where the defences were comparatively weaker and overlooked by the high ground of El Duda. But Crusader had poured water on his plan. In June 1942, Rommel got his chance and concentrated on the south-east part of Tobruk.133 The Axis attack started at 0630 hours on 20 June 1942 with heavy artillery bombardment and dive-bombing attacks on the 11th Indian Infantry Brigade. Most of the German aircraft available in Africa were thrown at the south-east side of Tobruk where the break in was supposed to take place. The air attack was particularly effective and destroyed some strongly fortified defensive positions. Further, it had an adverse effect on the morale of the 11th Indian Brigade. Immediately after the air raid, the Afrika Korps and the XX Italian Motorized Corps supported by artillery fire launched a concentrated attack on a narrow front. At 0755 hours, the anti-tank ditch was bridged and a 2 km deep bridgehead was established.134 While the 15th Panzer Division infiltrated through the bridgehead, the Ariete Division attacked the western and north-western perimeter of Tobruk. Within an hour, the perimeter posts had been overrun. A counter-attack made by the carriers of the Maratha Light Infantry was stopped by the Axis anti-tank guns. The Royal Artillery and the British tanks did not join in this counter-attack. Klopper and his subordinate commanders were to be blamed for not being able to launch an instant combined arms counter-attack. Then, the Axis forces started advancing towards King’s Cross. At 0830 hours (slow response on part of the Allied command), the

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Coldstream Guards were warned to move towards King’s Cross to attack in conjunction with the 4th RTR. When the Coldstreams arrived they found that the tanks had already been committed to action. Instead of such attacks by single arms, there should have been a counter-attack launched by composite teams comprising of infantry, tanks and field artillery. For disjointed Allied counter-attacks, their commanders must bear the blame. The 7th RTR was ordered to advance towards King’s Cross, but they went into action towards the El Adem Road. The commanders of the Allied formations were fighting their own separate battles and overall control by the garrison commander was missing. By 1300 hours, all the British tanks were put out of action. The Germans counted fifty British tanks knocked out, and the headquarters of the 11th Indian Infantry Brigade around this time ceased to function. Around the same time, Ritchie was at last taking some action. He ordered the XXX Corps to use the 7th Armoured Division to move towards Tobruk to bring pressure on the Axis investing force. The movement of this division was extremely slow and it arrived at 20 miles south of Tobruk in the dark evening. In the late evening, Klopper reported to the Eighth Army’s high command that he could not hold out any longer, nor could he break out because all his transports were lost.135 On 21 June, the Tobruk garrison was concentrated into the western part of the fortress. About the conditions of Tobruk, Peter Willett commander of Number 1 Troop of A Squadron writes in his memoirs: ‘Crammed with retreating troops and transport towards the end of Gazala Battle, the perimeter provided easy targets for the German dive bombers’.136 A few units continued to fight on 22 June.137 The assault of Tobruk resulted in the destruction of fifty Allied tanks and another thirty undamaged AFVs were captured. In addition, the Germans were able to capture large amount of POL and food stocks.138 And these ‘Churchill rations’ would enable the Panzer Army Afrika to drive further east into Egypt. After the fall of Tobruk, Tuker analyzed the shortcomings of the Allied forces in conducting positional defence. The German tactic was to concentrate their force and then use dive-bombers and artillery to smash certain points along the Allied defensive line. And then through these gaps, the panzers penetrated, ­supported closely by infantry. Tuker noted that during the initial period of German ­penetration before the enemy had consolidated their gains, a massive counter-attack should have been launched. It was not done, argued Tuker, due to the absence of a mobile ­counter-attacking force. This in turn allowed the enemy to expand their initial penetration and finally overwhelm the Allied infantry and their 25-pounder guns. He further commented that the lethal 25-pounder guns, instead of being spread out throughout the perimeter in penny packets, should have been concentrated as a mobile reserve to be used against the points of enemy penetration. Further, the commander of Tobruk had put too much emphasis on the passive defensive measures like minefields to stop the German attacking force. And once the minefield was breached, then the British command seemed to have been paralyzed. Worse, liaison between the battalions and higher authorities broke down during the battle.

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The point to be noted is that similar breakdown of communication between the higher authorities and battalion headquarters also occurred during the Allied retreat across the Malayan Peninsula during December 1941 and January 1942 and also in Singapore in February 1942. The Tobruk Command failed to support the infantry (for instance the Gurkhas) in the wadis with anti-tank guns and was unable to launch an immediate counter-attack with the mobile reserve force.139 A rigid top-down command system resulted in an inert Allied response system once the static defences were breached. The lesson learning process based on analysis of campaigns just fought continued unabated in the Eighth Army. The Eighth Army took pains to analyze the Axis combat methods, weapons used and their command doctrine so that they could be countered in the near future. During an offensive, it was noted, the Axis deployed most of the German forces along a narrow front along the main axis of assault. They were followed by the Italian armoured and mobile forces. Simultaneously, the Italian infantry divisions supported by a small number of tanks carried out diversionary attacks to confuse the Allied defenders. The principle of concentration of forces at the decisive point, emphasized the Allied intelligence report, was always to be expected of the German commanders. A night march followed by a rapid advance and attack by tanks after a short reconnaissance was the method of German attack against any opposition encountered along their axis of advance. A typical German column generally comprised eight armoured cars, six tanks, two platoons of lorried infantry, four 105 mm guns, four 88 mm guns, twelve 50 mm guns, twelve 37 mm or 47 mm guns plus captured Russian 76.2 mm or 75 mm guns mounted on Mark I chassis. And when the column stopped to refuel, the flanks were immediately screened by pushing forward anti-tank guns. If the column was strafed by Allied aircraft, then almost every German soldier, including those with rifles, opened up on them. This shows that the morale of the German soldiers during their ‘drive to the Nile’ was high indeed. Defended Allied localities or positions were reduced by concentrating against them in turn. It was accepted that most of the Allied defended localities were not mutually supporting and were vulnerable especially when the mobile force designated for their support had either been destroyed or was in retreat. This deficiency as we have seen earlier was also present in the Gazala Line. Against a particular strong point, the German offensive method was simple but effective. The Germans deployed all their guns in the forward areas for antitank purposes. This was a flexibility of German technique. First, some German tanks advance towards the strong point and then the Allied anti-tank guns opened up. This revealed the position of the Allied anti-tank guns. Then the tanks withdrew and the Germans opened up on the Allied anti-tank guns with artillery and mortars. Once the Allied anti-tank guns were neutralized, a strong German tankinfantry attack occurred. These tanks provided fire support to the Axis sappers who lifted the Allied mines. And if any tanks were hit by Allied defensive fire, then they were pulled away by the recovery vehicles. As during Battleaxe, the German tank recovery mechanism functioned with great efficiency.140

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The intelligence report of the 1st Armoured Division paid tribute to the mission oriented command system of the German force in the following words: Enemy control has been quick and personal. When an objective has been captured the next move has followed without delay, and it has usually been action by the whole available force, not by recce elements. . . . Witness the advance East after the capture of Bir Hacheim, and again after the capture of Tobruk.141 The Eight Army had rightly analyzed the features of the superior German art of war, but whether they could implement proper countermeasures in time is questionable. Luckily for them, the geography of the El Alamein position, the next defensive strong point of the Eighth Army and logistical exhaustion of the Panzer Army Afrika, came into play.

First Battle of El Alamein: 1–27 July 1942 Every attack loses impetus as it progresses. —Carl von Clausewitz142 I am sure that it was a last minute decision to hold Alamein. . . . I know that only the northern part of the position was ready for defence when the army dropped back on Alamein. —Major-General Francis Tuker, commander 4th Indian Division143

Immediately after the capture of Tobruk, Rommel ordered Panzer Army Afrika eastward. Ariete, Trieste and the Littorio divisions reached the area between Gambut and El Duda. On 23 June, the Panzer Army assembled for an outflanking move against the Allied forces in the Maddalena-Sidi Barrani-Sollum area. The attack started at 1700 hours. Rommel’s order for Panzer Army Afrika was to conduct relentless pursuit for the next two days.144 Panzer Army Afrika’s plan was for XXI Italian Corps to attack Bardia frontally and the X Italian Corps along the SollumSidi Omar Line. The DAK plus the 90th Light Division were to make a flanking attack from the south.145 On 25 June, Ritchie was removed and Auchinleck assumed direct command. Auchinleck decided to use Brigadier Eric Dorman-Smith as his chief of staff. Auchinleck flew to the Eighth Army Headquarters at Bagush about 30 miles east of Mersa Matruh and took over direct charge.146 In Tuker’s view, the situation could have been saved if the Auk had taken direct command on 6 June and had a ‘few good men’ as advisors.147 The implication is that Tuker should have been one of Auk’s advisors. Initially, Auchinleck thought that since Rommel would continue to attack, changing Ritchie’s plan would create disorder in the Eighth Army. So Auchinleck stuck to the Ritchie plan of defending Mersa Matruh. However, if

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the Allied forces were cut off in this position, then they would retreat to prevent another Tobruk. Orders were issued that all units were to remain mobile and attack the enemy from all sides. Immobile troops were not to defend localities which will give the enemy an opportunity to surround them. The British armour was warned not to attack unless the situation was favourable to them.148 As far as the formulation of Axis strategy was concerned, 26 June 1942 was an important date, when the senior commanders met at Sidi Barrani. Most of them agreed to support the recently promoted Field-Marshal Rommel’s plan for continuation of the offensive towards Nile. Only Kesselring demurred. He wanted Panzer Army Afrika to stop after the capture of Tobruk and turn the focus of Axis military machine in the central Mediterranean to capture Malta. Kesselring argued that while continuous wear and tear would reduce the striking power of Rommel’s motorized force as it advanced eastwards, the Allies were pouring in resources in the Middle East. Further, in the absence of air bases, the Luftwaffe would be unable to provide ground support to the Axis ground force moving into Egypt. Rommel boasted that he would be in Cairo within 10 days. Cavallero, Bastico and Duce fell in with Rommel’s optimistic plan. Kesselring continued to argue that even if Rommel was able to capture Cairo, then the Allies could launch a counter-attack from Aden and Syria. The deal was clinched in favour of Rommel when a wireless message came from Hitler, snubbing Kesselring not to interfere with Rommel’s plan.149 British military theorist-cum-historian Major-General J.F.C. Fuller asserts that instead of attacking Russia directly if Hitler had attacked ‘Ivan’ indirectly through the Middle East, the Wehrmacht would have been able to grab the oil wells of the Caucasus.150 This remains one of the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ of the Second World War. On 26 June, the 90th Light Division and the 21st Panzer Division exploited the gap between the 10th Indian Division at Mersa Matruh and the New Zealand Division.151 The next day, the New Zealand Division was cut off at Minqar Quaim by an encircling move made by the 21st Panzer Division. On 28 June, a German column comprising armoured cars with machine-gunners riding on them attacked the left flank of the 10th Indian Division and mauled the 4th/13th Frontier Force Rifles. The same day, Fuka fell to the 90th Light Division and the Italians captured Mersa Matruh with 2,000 prisoners and much stores.152 Panzer Army Afrika was advancing. Tuker offered the following critique of Auchinleck Plan: I emphasize here that it was the fixed plan not to fight at Tobruk; to retire to Sollum and for that reason El Hamra was watered and munitioned for three months as part of the Sollum Line. Dan Piennar refused to defend that place and withdrew west, thus once and for all and rightly in those conditions upsetting the plan to hold the linear position from Sollum to El Hamra. Tuker concluded that after the fall of Tobruk, without strong armour, no position including Sollum can be held till the Allied forces retired to Alamein.153 Finally, the Eighth Army made a stand at El Alamein, which is just 70 miles from Alexandria.

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At El Alamein, there was a 40 km gap between the sea and the impassable Qattara Depression, and this narrow gap was heavily defended by the Allied troops. The Qattara Depression is a salt lake surrounded by soft sandy marshes. Maximum depth of the Qattara Depression is 165 metres below sea level. This region was impassable to men and vehicles.154 South of the Qattara Depression, the soft sand of Sahara was present, and this terrain could not be crossed by the military vehicles. So the Panzer Army had no geographical space to carry out its favourite maneuver battle. On 7 July, Field-Marshal Jan Smuts told Auchinleck that El Alamein would become one of the decisive turning points of Second World War.155 Soon Churchill would follow suit. And modern historians are still debating whether El Alamein can be counted as one of the turning points in that war (along with Stalingrad). Despite Tuker’s assertion, some steps had already been taken by Auchinleck to prepare El Alamein as a stopgap defensive position as early as August 1941. At that time, it was noted that if the Axis forces overcame the Allied defensive forces at Matruh and Baqqush, then the best position to check the hostile force from advancing towards Nile Delta was El Alamein. The high command of the Eighth Army noted that one armoured division and one or two motorized infantry divisions were required to defend the El Alamein position.156 Directive Number 1 issued by the Eighth Army on 6 August 1941, actually overestimated the wisdom of the Panzer Army’s High Command. The directive noted: It is not sound reasoning to assume that enemy forces, having advanced so far as the Alamein position, will necessarily be tired, disorganized and thus incapable of giving their best. The Axis High Command would be unlikely to embark on the venture unless, in their usually sound judgement, the troops allotted were fit and ready for the task.157 Actually, when Rommel arrived before El Alamein on 1 July next year, his Panzer Army Afrika was an exhausted force and the WDAF was dominating the sky over Egypt. After all, the top brass of the Eighth Army cannot be accused of making a ‘rational’ assessment. Kesselring was for stopping the Panzer Army Afrika after the victory at Second Gazala and turning Axis attention to the conquest of Malta. But Rommel and Hitler gambled after the Second Gazala victory and decided to strike east to Egypt. Auchinleck in August 1941 had decided to construct a series of ‘fortresses’ (boxes) to defend the Alamein position. The boxes were designed to blunt enemy AFV and infantry attacks. Each fortress was to have minimum of one infantry brigade supported by either one battalion or one squadron of I tanks. The fortresses were to be stocked with sufficient materials in order to make them self-sufficient. It was decided 14 days to one month’s water, food, POL and so forth should be stocked in the fortresses. Each of the boxes lay astride the main lines of approach from the west. One such fortress was named as El Alamein Box or Fortress A, located at the junction of Barrel Route and Alamein Track. Fortress B was at Gebel

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Kalakh, and Fortress C was at Naqb Abu Dweiss at the edge of the Qattara Depression. The Naqb Abu Dweiss Box was astride the passable country along the escarpment north of the Qattara Depression. The fortifications were not completed even in July 1942. The El Alamein Box was dug and partly wired and mined. The Bab al Qattara position was dug but not mined and in the Naqb Abu Dweiss position little defensive work was done.158 The garrisons in these fortresses were ordered not merely to carry out passive defence but also to launch Jock Columns in order to harry the enemy’s LOC. The Jock Columns of the different fortresses were to undertake offensive operation jointly in case of a divisional or corps size counter-attack. Despite the inadequate performance of the Jock Columns during Crusader, they were retained by Auchinleck even at this stage of the campaign. Major-General Howard Kippenberger made fun of the Jock Columns as monthly columns. Each column comprised a battery of 25-pounders and a company of motorized infantry. Kippenberger confirms in his memoir that they did little fighting and could not stop a major offensive by the Axis forces.159 The deficiency of Auchinleck’s defensive scheme was that the boxes might be separately surrounded and cut off by enemy forces and destroyed one by one. Moreover, this scheme accepted that enemy armour might move into the rear of these boxes and create havoc in the Allied defensive system. Thirdly, British armour was scattered in various boxes instead of being concentrated for launching a strong counter-attack against the hostile attacking elements. Auchinleck and his team applied the box-oriented defensive scheme in Second Gazala during the summer of 1942, with disastrous effect. Initially, during First Alamein, the same defensive template operated. However, lack of maneuvering space for the panzers and the exhausted state of the Panzer Army Afrika saved the Eighth Army at El Alamein. Then, material superiority enabled Auchinleck to launch piecemeal limited attritional attacks, which further ate away at Rommel’s small and exhausted force. During the summer of 1942, in order to prepare the Matruh position, about 300,000 mines were sent by GHQ MEF. But later, both GHQ and Freyberg decided to abandon Matruh without a protracted struggle. Of course, without strong armour support (which was not available at that time), Matruh could not be held. Then, GHQ decided to strengthen the Alamein position. But adequate mines were not available for preparing extensive minefields in front of Alamein because most of the mines had been deployed at Matruh.160 And MEF Command was not confident that Rommel’s advancing forces could be checked at Alamein. Tuker noted: I was then sent up the Nile to reconnoiter rearguard positions for a retreat southwards up that river. Indeed, with things as they were, it looked as though it would be inevitable that we should soon be driven on to Alexandria and Cairo and those positions would in the end be needed. It was a most trying atmosphere.161

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Monty further strengthens Tuker’s assertion by saying: The reverses suffered during the summer of 1942 had left the Eighth Army, in the words of Mr Churchill, ‘brave but baffled’. The troops knew that they were worthy of greater things, and indeed the divisions comprised some very fine fighting material. But they had lost confidence in their higher leadership, they lacked a sound battle technique. . . . It was clear that Rommel was preparing further attacks, and the morale and determination of our troops was undermined by plans for further withdrawals. The ‘atmosphere’ was wrong.162 Monty was deliberately overestimating the morale crisis in the Eighth Army in an attempt to denigrate his predecessor Auchinleck. Nevertheless, the idea that Rommel was a super commander was spreading among the Allied soldiers, just as the Japanese infantry being jungle supermen spread among the Allied troops in South-East Asia between 1941 and 1943.163 Rommel-mania spread especially among the British troops. Naravane of the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade noted about Rommel in his autobiography: ‘In fact his name had become synonymous with the Afrika Korps. Amongst the British forces they generally said “Rommel” did this and “Rommel” did that when referring to the moves and counter-moves of the enemy forces’.164 Messervy had warned: ‘The belief must not be allowed to spread that the enemy is superior in any way. Once spread in an army such belief dangerously affects morale and takes a long time to overcome’.165 In general, morale and discipline of the Indian units remained firm and was probably better than the British troops. Low morale of the British troops was due to certain factors and not all of them were the results of Auchinleck’s actions. For instance, the British troops worried about the loyalty and fidelity of their wives and girlfriends back home. This worry was also present among the British privates in Burma. Further, the British troops realized that their pay and rations were worse than those of the Americans and Australians. Lastly, the British troops were civilians in uniform who considered their military service temporary and wanted to go home as quickly as possible once it was over.166 However, racial discrimination by some of the British officers somewhat dampened the morale of the Indian troops. In April 1942, the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade was deployed at Mersa Matruh on the Mediterranean Coast, and the Indian soldiers and officers went to the sea beach for bathing. A British officer told him that this portion of the beach was reserved for the whites and he disliked the smell of the blacks.167 Racial discrimination was also practiced by some of the British officers against the jawans and Indian officers in Malaya and Singapore. And this had adverse consequence on the combat motivation of the Indian component of Percival’s force. This factor partly explains why, after their surrender in North Africa and in Malaya-Singapore, a large number of Indian soldiers joined Hitler’s Legion and the Japanese-sponsored Indian National Army.168 Overall, one could say that a morale crisis had indeed gripped the Eighth Army temporarily. This was the product of high casualties which resulted in breakdown

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of primary group solidarity in certain units, the soldiers’ loss of faith in their generals and in their equipment. Between 27 May and 4 August 1942, the Eighth Army suffered 74,300 casualties. Continuous defeats resulted in further decline of morale. Between May and late July, the Eighth Army suffered 1,700 killed, 6,000 wounded and 57,000 missing. Historian Jonathan Fennell writes that the figure for ‘missing’ soldiers mostly included the Allied personnel who surrendered voluntarily or after offering slight resistance. He concludes that this was a symptom of low morale among the personnel of the Eighth Army. The figure for missing Allied soldiers probably represented the POWs taken at Tobruk. Without motor transport, the defenders of Tobruk had no other option except to surrender.169 One could say that low morale in the Eighth Army somewhat decelerated the process of successful innovation. However, by mid-July 1942, the morale of the Eighth Army had substantially improved due to the increasing support provided by the RAF and the steady control from the top exercised by Auchinleck. The failure of Rommel to break through during the First Battle of Alamein resulted in restoration of morale among the Allied troops. And this occurred under Auchinleck before Monty took over. On 28 June 1942, Auchinleck sent a plan (which he had prepared with MajorGeneral Dorman-Smith) to the CIGS in London which lowered Churchill and Alanbrooke’s confidence in him. This plan created confusion among the senior political and military elites of Britain and has become a bashing point for Auchinleck’s team by Monty’s supporters. This plan noted that in case the El Alamein position was breached, then the Eighth Army less the 1st South African Division was to withdraw along the Barrel Track from Deir el Qattara to Cairo. And the 1st South African Division from the El Alamein Box was to retreat to Alexandria. Lieutenant-General Stone, commanding the Delta Force (mainly the 9th Australian Division), was to defend the western edge of the Nile Delta and then to retreat to Alexandria. If Rommel attacked along the Coast Road, the Eighth Army was to attack his southern flank and rear. And if the Axis forces decided to attack Cairo, then the Delta Force would attack its northern front and rear. Auchinleck noted that in such a scenario, he himself would take over the Eighth Army and the Delta Force from an improvised headquarters outside Cairo.170 The British Army was retreating everywhere from the start of the Second World War. Churchill saw red when he received this plan. He thought that Auchinleck would lose Egypt without fighting Rommel. And Alanbrooke surmised that the defeatist general needed to be replaced with another ‘tough’ guy, obviously by a protégé of his own. Auchinleck could not be accused due to his preparation for confronting the worst possible scenario. Like a rational commander, he was ready to block the enemy at the Alamein position, but if things went wrong then he was planning the possible retreat of the Eighth Army. There is nothing wrong in it. Rommel would follow a similar reasoning during October 1942 when he prepared the Fuka position behind El Alamein in case he had to retreat. Auchinleck was right in arguing that saving the Eighth Army, even at the cost of Egypt, was the most vital thing. A replenished Eighth Army might win back Egypt from the Axis. A stand fast order of fighting to

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the last man and last bullet (similar to that which Hitler later issued to Rommel on 3 November 1942, and the latter did not obey) might result in the destruction of the Eighth Army for no appreciable gain except delaying the Axis forces (if they won at Alamein) by a few days before they reached the Suez Canal. In fact, on 3 July 1942 even Churchill enquired from Auchinleck about the latter’s plan for defence of Egypt in case Rommel burst through the El Alamein position. Though superficially the prime minister expressed confidence in Auchinleck’s leadership, in the same telegram Churchill asked what were Auchinleck’s plans for the defence of the Nile Delta in case Rommel’s tanks advanced beyond El Alamein. Churchill further enquired whether inundations which were planned under Wavell’s leadership almost two years ago had been completed. Churchill ended his telegram in the same tone that he had sent the message to Wavell just before the fall of Singapore. Churchill in no uncertain terms told Auchinleck that Egypt should be defended without any consideration for the civilian population. The defence of Egypt was as important as the defence of Kent or Sussex in case of a German invasion of Britain.171 As regards the worst possible scenario, Lieutenant-General Corbett, Chief of Staff of MEC from Cairo, responded to Churchill’s queries by saying that Rommel’s tanks in case of a breakthrough of El Alamein Line would not be able to maneuver quickly in large numbers due to the waterways and irrigation channels of the Nile Delta. Moreover, a large number of tank-hunting commandos was being trained at the schools and depots for operation against German tanks (in case they breached the El Alamein defence) in the enclosed delta region. Complete inundation of Alexandria was not possible at this stage because the RAF still required the use of the airport in this region. Partial inundation in the Cairo area was being carried out. And negotiations were ongoing with the Egyptian government for total implementation of the inundation scheme. Corbett ended the cipher message by saying: ‘Arrangements have been made to defend the Delta with every available man and all resources’.172 The Eighth Army’s subordinate commanders were indeed divided about whether to make a final stand at Alamein or not. Norrie, commander of the XXX Corps, was for making a ‘last man, last bullet’ stand at Alamein. But Gott somewhat agreed with Corbett about retreating to the Nile Delta if things went wrong during the forthcoming battle at Alamein. Major-General Dan Piennar of the 1st South African Division was for retreating behind the Suez Canal.173 Auchinleck, being a pragmatist, kept all the options open. Montgomery issued the order for making a final stand at Alamein only during the second week of August 1942. By then, the crisis had passed. Panzer Army Afrika had exhausted itself and the Eighth Army was being re-equipped on a lavish scale. Meanwhile, Panzer Army Afrika was advancing but was highly depleted as a result of the exhausting Gazala Battle. On 29 June, the 90th Light Division could only muster 1,679 men and the next day, Afrika Korps had only fifty-five tanks operational.174 But the situation for the Eighth Army was one of touch and go. Kippenberger writes in his autobiography that Gott handed him a note from Corbett. It was written that Auchinleck had decided to save the Eighth Army by retreating

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to the Nile and evacuating Egypt. The South Africans were to retire through Alexandria and the rest down the Desert Road through Cairo. Meanwhile, there was confusion all along the Cairo Road. The staff of the MEC was burning the files and the Royal Navy left Alexandria in a huff.175 It seems that temporarily on 29 June, Auchinleck and his staff had lost their nerves. Defeatist talk was rife among the men of the disorganized units of the XXX Corps.176 But Auk regained his confidence and decided to fight Panzer Army Afrika at Alamein. The state of the Eighth Army was in fact better than Rommel’s over-exhausted Panzer Army Afrika. On 1 July, the Eighth Army at Alamein had 137 tanks with another forty-two in transit. Moreover, 902 tanks were available at the base workshops.177 The 2nd New Zealand Division was in good shape and the 1st South African Division was somewhat depleted, but the 1st Armoured Division was in adequate shape. Battle groups were formed from the 7th Armoured Division and the 5th Indian and 50th British Infantry Divisions. The 50th British Division was organized into three columns, each possessing eight field guns. The well-rested but somewhat under-equipped 9th Australian Division was on its way forward. However, this division’s anti-tank battery had 2-pounder guns instead of the 6-pounders.178 Rommel could not last if he went on a strategic defensive. Viscerally, Rommel realized that the campaign was dancing on the edge of an abyss. For him, it was either now or never. His only hope was that dash, determination, ruthless willpower, bluff and confidence would break the Allied defence and would carry his troops to the Nile, and Hitler gave him full support for this venture. With the advantage of hindsight, we could say that Panzer Army Afrika’s drive to Nile might have succeeded but for the geography of the Alamein defensive line. The First Battle of Alamein lasted from 1 to 27 July 1942. Norrie’s XXX Corps was in the north covering the region from the coast at El Alamein to the Ruweisat Ridge, and Gott’s XIII Corps was deployed in the south. The X Corps (under Lieutenant-General H. Lumsden), which had been badly shattered at Mersa Matruh, was held in reserve awaiting reinforcements.179 On 1 July, the 1st South African Division’s 3rd Brigade occupied the El Alamein Box. The 18th Indian Infantry Brigade, which had arrived from Iraq, was put under the 1st South African Division and was deployed at Deir el Shein. The 1st Armoured Division was deployed between the El Alamein Box and the eastern end of the Ruweisat Ridge. The XXX Corps was ordered to stop the advance by the hostile elements. The XIII Corps with the 1st Armoured Division and the 2nd New Zealand Division was ordered to attack northward against the right flank and rear of the hostile force. In the XIII Corps area, the 6th New Zealand Brigade was forward of Bab el Qattara. The 5th Indian Division’s 9th Indian Infantry Brigade was at Naqb Abu Dweiss and the 7th Motor Brigade was stationed between it and the 6th New Zealand Brigade.180 Auchinleck and Dorman-Smith were learning some lessons after all. During the First Battle of Alamein, they decided to concentrate the artillery for stopping the enemy,181 and Montgomery would carry this innovative technique to its logical conclusion.

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Rommel’s intelligence staff had given their commander a totally erroneous picture about the disposition of the Allied troops. They placed the X Corps and not the XXX Corps in the Northern Sector. German intelligence was not aware that an Indian brigade was present at Deir el Shein. Further, they were unaware that two South African brigades were in the gap between Deir el Shein and the Alamein Box. In addition, they placed the 1st Armoured Division west of the Qattara Box when it was in Ruweisat Ridge. It could be said on behalf of the German intelligence staff that Rommel hardly gave them time to collect information and process the data into a proper picture. Just before dawn on 1 July, Rommel attacked. His plan was that the 90th Light Division was to advance between the El Alamein Box and Deir el Abyad, and then it was to wheel north and cut the Alamein Box. And the rest of the Afrika Korps was to swing south and attack the XIII Corps in the rear. The Italian Trento Division was to attack the Alamein Box from the west and the Brescia was to follow the Afrika Korps. The XX Italian Corps with one armoured and one motorized division was to attack the Qattara Box. Without a thorough reconnaissance, Rommel sent his units into unknown territory.182 Rommel was gambling on the assumption that the unnerved Eighth Army would retreat once they saw the shape of black panzers advancing against them. The 90th Light Division advanced along the northern edge of the Miteiriya Ridge and came up against the 3rd South African Brigade in the El Alamein Box. The 90th Light failed to break through the South Africans and came under heavy shelling from the batteries of 1st and 3rd South African Brigades and the 4th Armoured Brigade.183 In the afternoon of 1 July, the Afrika Korps indeed faced a momentary crisis. At 1530 hours, the 90th Light Division under fire from the artillery supporting the South Africans wavered. Panic gripped the men and several fled to the rear. Such things generally did not occur in the Wehrmacht. And the 90th Light was an elite division. However, the situation was brought under control.184 If morale of the elite German troops was not that high, what was the state of morale among the Italian soldiers? An Allied intelligence summary had noted that in general Italian morale was brittle. The Italian soldiers were generally considered as intelligent but lazy and in general inclined towards peace. During an advance, their morale soared, but when checked, especially in case of heavy defensive fighting, their morale went down.185 Rommel’s attack was dented by the stiff resistance offered by the 18th Indian Brigade at Deir el Shein and the 1st South African Division at the Alamein Box. The 18th Indian Brigade, despite possessing only nine Matilda tanks, fought for eight precious hours. At the end of the day, the Afrika Korps were left with thirtyseven tanks operational out of the fifty-five with which they had started the dawn attack.186 Had these two formations been overrun, the Eighth Army might have retreated from Alamein.187 On 2 July, Leo Amery, Secretary of State for India, expressed complete confidence in Auchinleck.188 During the forenoon of 2 July, Auchinleck assumed that the Panzer Army Afrika might attack the 1st South African Division holding the El Alamein fortress. To forestall the probable enemy attack, Auchinleck himself

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decided to launch a spoiling attack. He ordered the XXX Corps to wheel north with its right flank resting on the Bab el Qattara defensive position and attack the hostile flank and rear. The XIII Corps started its attack in the afternoon using the New Zealand Division and the depleted 5th Indian Division.189 So there was no serious command crisis in the Eighth Army. On 3 July, the Qattara Box was under the charge of the 5th New Zealand Brigade, and the 4th New Zealand Brigade was positioned three miles north of this box. This brigade came under attack from the Ariete Division. Gott assured Auk that his corps would not retreat and would continue to hammer at the Axis forces. However, he informed Auchinleck that maintaining communications among the brigade boxes was difficult and signal communications remained a serious weakness for the Eighth Army.190 The brigade-sized defensive boxes had failed to stop Panzer Army Afrika at Gazala. Still, the Eighth Army’s top brass continued to base their defence on brigade boxes. It was a case of cognitive failure on part of the Auchinleck regime, which was not learning from recent operational-tactical mistakes. Nevertheless, intense RAF support aided in blunting the Axis attack. On that day, the RAF carried out over 150 bomber sorties and more than 500 fighter sorties.191 Churchill tried to micromanage the Battle of Alamein from London, as Hitler was doing from Wolf ’s Lair as regards the Eastern Front. On 3 July 1942, Churchill noted in a terse message to Auchinleck: On the first of July we told you our special information that enemy after feinting at your Southern flank would attack centre of your position about where 18th Brigade lay and thereafter turn Northwards to cut of El Alamein strong point. This is exactly what he appears to be trying to do. . . . How is the 8th Armoured Division getting on and when can it come wholly or partly in action. What is state and position of 9th Australian Division. Have they got all their guns?192 On the very same day, Corbett responded to Churchill’s queries. Two squadrons of Valentines of the 8th Armoured Division driven by personnel of the 1st Tank Brigade had already moved forward to strengthen the Eighth Army. The rest of the personnel of the 8th Armoured Division were still landing. And depending on their physical condition, they would be sent to the front. The 9th Australian Division less one brigade had just arrived at Alexandria and one battle group with twenty-four 25-pounders was sent to the Eighth Army. Attempts were made to make this division mobile. This division was considered to be rich in firepower as it had seventy-two 25-pounders and fifty-five (of them fifteen were 6-pounders) anti-tank guns.193 In contrast, Rommel was getting neither heavy weapons nor petrol. So on 4 July, he called off the attack.194 At that day, Afrika Korps had thirty-six tanks running and was short of ammunition.195 The next day, the New Zealand and the 5th Indian Divisions plus the 7th Motor Brigade continued their northward thrust and occupied El Mreir. However, the XIII Corps’ advance came to a stop due to a stiffening Axis defence. Auchinleck

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lacked the reserves to strengthen the XIII Corps.196 Auchinleck at this stage could check the Axis attack and nibble at the enemy but could not destroy them. On 6 July, Smuts congratulated Auchinleck for stopping Rommel in front of El Alamein.197 However, the first crack in the London government’s confidence in Auchinleck’s leadership became openly visible on that day. On that date, the Vice-Chief of the Imperial General Staff informed Corbett that the fall of Tobruk seemed quite inexplicable after an ‘ineffective resistance’ and capture of so many prisoners and war materials at the port by the Axis forces. This raised a serious question on the fighting spirit of the Allied commanders. So the British Cabinet, noted the Vice-Chief of the Imperial General Staff, wanted the Deputy Adjutant-General to enquire and report on the circumstances which led to the surrender of Tobruk and the conduct of the general in charge of that port’s defence.198 Churchill by this measure was trying to avert criticism from his shoulder to members of Auchinleck’s team. And the CIGS Alanbrooke, unlike Dill, did not stand up against his political master to defend the Middle East theatre commander. On that very day, Auchinleck told Churchill and Smuts that the Alamein Battle was still continuing and he hoped to defeat Rommel.199 On that day, the 5th and 6th Field Regiments opened a 3-hour bombardment to help the attack by the 1st Armoured Division. The artillery bombardment was not very effective because the 5th Field Regiment had not been able to register the hostile targets properly. Again, the tanks were not willing to attack in the dark.200 But one positive thing was evident: cooperation, albeit crude, between field artillery and British tanks. Auchinleck’s policy was to continue to launch limited attacks in order to keep the pressure on Panzer Army Afrika. On 8 July, an incensed Auchinleck wrote to Alanbrooke asking why the Cabinet had ordered the former’s Deputy Adjutant-General to report independently on an operation carried out by his superior. Auchinleck continued that the Cabinet was most welcome to send an independent Committee of Enquiry from Britain. Further, noted Auk, he himself had already ordered an enquiry about the fall of Tobruk.201 On that day, the 15th Panzer Division had thirty-one combat-ready tanks and the 21st Panzer Division had only twenty-six tanks. There were none in the 90th Light Division.202 Actually, Rommel was in a more difficult situation compared to Auchinleck. In order not to surrender the initiative to the enemy, on 10 July, Auchinleck ordered the XXX Corps to capture the Tel el Eisa mounds west of El Alamein. The 9th Australian Division supported by the 1st South African Division launched the attack. However, due to lack of reserves, the attack could not be exploited.203 Ruweisat Ridge is a long, bare narrow ridge with an average height of 180 feet. This ridge ran east and west in the centre of the Eighth Army’s defensive position, so commanding it was of great tactical importance. In the morning of 11 July, British armour had cleared the Alam Nayil Ridge, which is parallel with and 7 miles south of Ruweisat Ridge. The plan was for two infantry brigades to make a nocturnal advance in order to capture an objective 5 miles distant. But due to lack of time, coordination with armour was not possible. It seems that Auchinleck

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in haste was launching small ham-handed single arm attacks. Anti-tank guns were not brought forward, nor were the Axis minefields properly plotted. The 5th New Zealand Brigade started its advance towards its assembly point at 1700 hours. Soon the accompanying tanks came under heavy Axis artillery fire. As a result, the infantry and tanks all got mixed up. Several trucks carrying the Kiwi infantry were hit. Next day, the New Zealand infantry asked for air photos, but none was delivered.204 Absence of air photos also bedevilled Battleaxe. On 12 July, Churchill detailed the grand strategic situation for Auchinleck. The gist of the message was that Auk need not worry about his northern flank. In case of a Soviet defeat in the summer of 1942, a large number of German troops (a maximum of seven divisions) could be sent to Persia or Syria only in the spring of 1943. So Auk should concentrate on defeating Rommel. But if Auchinleck failed to defeat Rommel, then the Allies could only hope that the Russian Southern Front would hold, to prevent any irruption of Nazi force in Syria and Palestine. Churchill was candid that due to the advance of the Japanese in South-East Asia and the presence of Rommel’s army in the Western Desert, the Allies could not send four divisions (Auchinleck actually demanded six) to protect the MEC’s northern flank. And even if these divisions were available, they could not reach West Asia before October 1942. The best way to protect the northern flank of MEC, concluded Churchill, was for Auchinleck to defeat Rommel as quickly as possible.205 On 12 July, Major-General Gatehouse was appointed as the commander of the 1st Armoured Division in place of Herbert Lumsden, who was wounded. Gatehouse told Gott that the armour must be concentrated for a single punch and it would move only after the minefields were cleared by the infantry. Gatehouse would emphasize this point also with Montgomery during the Third Battle of Alamein. The officers of the 2nd New Zealand Division were of course not very encouraged by such an assertion. The infantry officers demanded tank support while clearing the Axis minefields during the break-in phase.206 The learning process continued unabated even in the midst of an ongoing battle. On 13 July Kippenberger, commander of the 5th Brigade of the 2nd New Zealand Division, issued a document containing summary of operations conducted by his brigade from 26 June 1942 onwards. Some ninety copies were distributed to all the platoons by the brigade headquarters. Kippenberger noted that launching a nocturnal infantry attack without thorough reconnaissance of the terrain and full preparation was unwise. He admonished that the troops do not realize how much training, care and forethought were required to get proper cooperation between the infantry and the tanks.207 Here Kippenberger and Tuker were thinking along the same line. On 14 July, the 15th Panzer Division had eighteen combat-ready tanks and the 21st Panzer Division possessed twenty-three battle-ready AFVs.208 However, Auchinleck was not able to exploit his superior tank strength. Philip Warner in his biography of Auchinleck asserts that the attack by the Eighth Army on 20 July at Deir-el-Shein showed that the British armoured formations had not yet learnt the art of close infantry support.209 What Auchinleck did not realize was

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that Rommel’s difficulties were greater than those he was facing. The Panzer Army Headquarters in its log book made the following entry on 21 July: The supply situation is serious, as a result of continual . . . raids by enemy aircraft and warships on German supply installations, mainly at Matruh and Tobruk. . . . Shipping losses have prevented reserve supplies from being built up in the operational areas. . . . Supplies for an offensive operation, however, depend on shipping from Tobruk. . . . This will take some time.210 Due to his low tank strength and inadequate supplies, Rommel could not undertake any large-scale offensive in late July. The supply situation would only deteriorate from this point on for Panzer Army Afrika. This was due to various factors. Rommel initially gambled on a rapid incisive thrust through Alamein. When it failed, the Axis forces were in a disadvantageous position to conduct attritional war. The quick advance of Panzer Army Afrika into Egypt after the Gazala Battle had prevented the Luftwaffe time for building up ground installations and airfields. So the Luftwaffe was unable to provide air support to the Axis ground force in front of Alamein. Further, the Luftwaffe was overstretched and reaching a breaking point. Day and night bombing of the Third Reich by the Allied bombers resulted in stationing of a large number of German fighters for homeland defence, and coupled with demands for air support in the Eastern Front resulted in reduction in strength of German air force in the Mediterranean theatre. On 22 July Auchinleck launched his Australians. The objectives were Tel el Eisa, Ring Contour 25, Makh Khad Ridge and Ruin Ridge. Infantry-tank cooperation failed due to hasty planning, inadequate training and inexperience. On 26–27 July, the 2nd/28th Australian Battalion advanced against Ruin Ridge. They were backed up by the 69th Brigade and the 50th RTR. The Germans were waiting. This battalion’s advance was not well supported by the 69th Brigade. German small arms fire, anti-tank gun fire and anti-tank mines resulted in disruption of the Allied attack. The XXX Corps Headquarters decided to hold back the British tanks. The 2nd/28th suffered 550 casualties, and the mood among the Aussies was that the English infantry had failed and the British tanks had ‘dingoed’. During July, the 9th Australian Division suffered 2,500 combat casualties. The 5th Indian Division and the 2nd New Zealand Division had suffered more casualties.211 Inadequate infantry-armour cooperation and their inability to conduct mobile battle with verve were two problems that would bedevil the Eighth Army even under Montgomery. Thanks to the peculiar geography of the El Alamein position, Rommel could no longer practice fast-paced fluid warfare based on wide outflanking thrusts. The Desert Fox could no longer launch daredevil outflanking thrusts in order to create chaos in the enemy’s command system and take advantage of it by getting inside the Allied command’s OODA loop. And due to the exhausted state of the Panzer Army Afrika, it was in a disadvantageous position to conduct positional attrition-oriented warfare which developed in El Alamein. In attrition-oriented positional warfare, numbers and material

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superiority both matter. The Luftwaffe in the Mediterranean was just not strong enough for the three simultaneous obligations forced upon this organization: providing CAS to Panzer Army Afrika, escorting the convoys across the Mediterranean and conducting a relentless aerial offensive against Malta. It could do only one of these jobs. Since the bulk of the Luftwaffe in the Mediterranean was engaged in supporting Rommel’s offensive (Gazala Gallop), Malta revived. The Axis forces required 100,000 tons of supplies per month. In July, only 20 per cent of the supplies required reached North Africa. Further, the reviving RAF furiously attacked the Axis LOC.212 The Eighth Army had suffered several grievous defeats at Tobruk and at Gazala but was not destroyed. And Panzer Army Afrika had shot its last bolt and running out of steam. Monty or no Monty, Rommel was stopped before El Alamein. Let us pose a counterfactual. What would have happened if Kesselring’s advice had been heeded? If the Panzer Army Afrika had stopped after the victory at Second Gazala, and then the Axis forces had turned its attention to conquering Malta, what then? Nothing much would have happened even if the Axis forces had conquered Malta in the summer of 1942. True, the Axis supply situation across the Mediterranean would have improved. But the British Empire would have been able to replenish the Eighth Army in Egypt quickly and on a larger scale. The Axis air force in Malta would not have been able to stop the Allied landings in French North Africa in November 1942. The Allied invasion force with its massive superiority in airpower and sea crafts would have been able to make landfall in Morocco and Algeria successfully even if the Axis air force had operated from Malta. And caught between two fires, the Panzer Army Afrika would have been defeated probably in Libya if not at Alamein.

Conclusion Can Auchinleck be blamed for putting most of the available mines at Gazala instead of at Tobruk and at Matruh instead of Alamein? Auchinleck during the first phase should have placed most of the available mines at Tobruk in order to strengthen passive defence there. And at Gazala, he should have prepared to fight a mobile defensive battle with his armour and motorized infantry. And in the second phase, he should have placed the rest of the available mines at Alamein instead of Matruh. By this stage, the Allied armour had been destroyed by Panzer Army Afrika. So Auk could not hope to fight a mobile battle at Matruh. The only thing he could hope for was to fight a mobile battle after Rommel had exhausted himself by attacking the Alamein position. During Crusader, Auchinleck defended Tobruk and used his mobile force to attack the Axis forces attacking the above-named port. This ‘hammer and anvil’ strategy worked well in exhausting Panzer Army Afrika, which had to beat a retreat in mid-December 1941. But in the summer of 1942, Auchinleck’s objective was not to defend Tobruk resolutely. Rather, he constructed a linear defence organized around brigade-sized boxes supported by mobile armoured forces. The brigade positions of the Gazala Line were eliminated one by one by

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Rommel, who then unleashed his panzers against the scattered mobile armoured forces of the Eighth Army. But the issue is whether the Eighth Army under Auchinleck or even under Montgomery had the skill to conduct a mobile fluid battle against the German armour. The answer is no. Special training manuals were issued for conducting fast-moving encounter battles by the Allied forces, but the time for practicing such techniques was just not there. Besides inadequate doctrine, the situation was made worse by the ‘mini’ command crisis which unfolded in the Eighth Army during the summer of 1942. Ritchie dismissed Messervy for the right reason but mishandled Tuker. And Ritchie, instead of being supported on the latter issue, should have been removed earlier by Auchinleck. Auchinleck deserves some blame for failing to remove Ritchie much earlier, just as Percival had failed to remove the defeatist Heath from the command of III Indian Corps in Malaya. The retreat of the Allied forces across the burning sandy waste of Cyrenaica was a defeat but not a disaster for the Allied forces. The Allied forces were defeated due to their faulty doctrine as regards maneuver warfare. Failure to concentrate armour and infantry for both attack and defence and reliance on linear defence were the two principal limitations of Allied doctrine under the Auchinleck regime. Even after Crusader and Second Gazala, Auchinleck and his team put their faith in the Jock Columns. And the brigade-oriented defensive boxes which were planned in August 1941 at Alamein influenced the Eighth Army’s defensive scheme during Second Battle of Gazala and at the First Battle of Alamein in July 1942. A point to be noted is that the box formation technique was used by the Indian units with success in Malaya in 1941 and 1942.213 Auchinleck was from the Indian Army. So he probably took up this technique from the Indian Army and applied it in the desert. Against Panzer Army Afrika, the box-formation-oriented defence failed. But Slim used it with great effect against the lightly equipped infantry-centric IJA in Burma in 1944.214 So a piece of military innovation (in this case the box formation) did not have universal validity. What was effective in the jungles of Malaya and Burma against a lightly equipped infantry-centric IJA did not prove to be viable against the combined arms technique of capital-intensive Panzer Army Afrika in the open desert of North Africa. But the Eighth Army, unlike Percival’s army, was not destroyed during the retreat. This was partly because of a high level of training coupled with the culture of assessing one’s own limitations, which was present in Auchinleck’s force. Rommel’s triumph came to an end at the First Battle of Alamein partly due to material-cumlogistical exhaustion of the Axis forces, topographical features of the Eighth Army’s defensive position and also Allied proficiency in conducting positional defence. The Indian divisions made an honest attempt to study their own limitations and attempted to overcome them. Within the Allied forces, the XIII Corps’ Headquarters lent them a helping hand. However, the learning curve proved too steep for them when Rommel conducted mobile war against the Allies. But at Alamein, the Allied troops got a chance to conduct positional set piece battles against the much famed Panzer Army Afrika. As the next chapter will show, coupled with material

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superiority and the techniques perfected for positional set piece battle, the Allied troops would be able to overwhelm Panzer Army Afrika.

Notes 1 Philip Warner, Auchinleck: The Lonely Soldier (1981, reprint, London: Cassell, 2001), p. 130. 2 Alan Jeffreys, ‘The Indian Army in the Malayan Campaign, 1941–1942’, in Rob Johnson (ed.), The British Indian Army: Virtue and Necessity (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014), pp. 177–197. 3 Lieutenant-General Francis Tuker Papers, Letter to General Alan Hartley, 16 October 1942, 71/21/1/3, IWM, London. 4 General Frank Messervy Papers, Warfare in Undeveloped Countries, Part 1 – Desert Warfare, pp. i–ii, 17, LHCMA, London. 5 Quoted from Messervy Papers, Warfare in Undeveloped Countries, p. iv. 6 Quoted from Messervy Papers, Warfare in Undeveloped Countries, p. 1. 7 Tuker Papers, MO to Tuker, 7 and 13 December 1960, 71/21/1/3. 8 Captain Basil Liddell Hart Papers, Correspondence with Major-General A. H. Gatehouse, B. H. Liddell Hart to Gatehouse, 19 June 1954, LH 9/28/42, LHCMA. 9 Liddell Hart Papers, Correspondence with Gatehouse, Gatehouse to Liddell Hart, 22 June 1954. 10 Niall Barr, Pendulum of War: The Three Battles of El Alamein (London: Jonathan Cape, 2004), p. 59. 11 Shelford Bidwell and Dominick Graham, Fire-Power: British Army Doctrine and Theories of War, 1904–1945 (1982, reprint, Boston: George Allen & Unwin, 1985), p. 244. 12 Panzer Army Africa Records, Extracts from War Diary of Panzer Army Afrika, February 1942, 8 February, File 22924/1, WAII, 11/17NANZ, Wellington. 13 David Mitchelhill-Green, Tobruk 1942: Rommel and the Defeat of the Allies (Stroud: History Press, 2006), p. 9. 14 Tuker Papers, Note by Major-General F. S. Tuker, p. 7, 71/21/1/3. 15 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 8. 16 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, Defence Scheme, 14 March 1942, vol. 2-A, 601/221/WD/Part 2-A, MODHS, New Delhi. 17 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, Defence Scheme, Appreciation and General Plan, pp. 1–5; Mark Johnston, ANZACS in the Middle East: Australian Soldiers, Their Allies and the Local People in World War II (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 137. 18 War Diary of 5th Indian Division, G Branch, 1941, Instructions for Construction of Defences, 7 August 1941, Para 1–10, 601/224/WD/Part 1, MODHS, New Delhi; Mitchelhill-Green, Tobruk 1942, p. 46. 19 War Diary of 5th Indian Division, G Branch, 1941, Instructions for Construction of Defences, Para 11–16. 20 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, Divisional Tactical Mining Policy, 17 February 1942. 21 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, Operation Instruction No. 73, 17 February 1942. 22 Quoted from War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, Major-General Donald Bateman, Outline of Withdrawal, 18 February 1942. 23 Tuker Papers, DMT’s Tour, Note C, 18 August 1941, 71/21/1/3. 24 Alan Jeffreys, ‘Training the Troops: The Indian Army in Egypt, Eritrea, and Libya, 1940– 42’, in Jill Edwards (ed.), El Alamein and the Struggle for North Africa: International Perspectives from the Twenty-First Century (Cairo and New York: American University in Cairo Press, 2012), p. 49.

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2 5 Messervy Papers, Warfare in Undeveloped Countries, pp. iv–v. 26 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, Special Order of the Day, 24 December 1941. 27 Tuker Papers, The Preparation of Infantry for Battle, p. 11, 71/21/1/3. 28 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, IS No. 110, 4 February 1942, Summary of Events, 21 March 1941. 29 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, IS No. 117, 20 February 1942. 30 Quoted from Tuker Papers, The Preparation of Infantry for Battle, pp. 1–5. Italics in original. 31 Tuker Papers, The Preparation of Infantry for Battle, p. 3. 32 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, Appendix A to IS No. 113, German Anti-Tank Training. 33 Japanese Military Forces, General Headquarters, India, Military Intelligence Directorate (1942, reprint, Uckfield: Naval and Military Press, n.d.), pp. 3–4; Report on the Fall of Singapore, G. W. Seabridge, 25 April 1942, p. 3, WP(42)177, CAB/66/24/7, PRO, Kew, London. 34 War Diary Headquarters 10th Armoured Division, February 1942, Weekly IS Number 1, 8 February 1942, Part 1, WO 169/4117, PRO. 35 Alan Jeffreys, Approach to Battle: Training the Indian Army During the Second World War (Solihull: Helion, 2017), p. 96. 36 Tuker Papers, 4th Indian Division Training Instruction No. 6, 71/21/2/7, IWM; Messervy Papers, Warfare in Undeveloped Countries, p. 1. 37 Antony Brett-James, Ball of Fire: The Fifth Indian Division in the Second World War (n.d., Uckfield: Naval and Military Press, n.d.), pp. 161–163. 38 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Notes by Major-General F. S. Tuker, p. 5, 6 October 1945, 71/21/1/3. 39 Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 11, 71/21/1/3. 40 Brett-James, Ball of Fire, pp. 163–164. 41 Messervy Papers, Warfare in Undeveloped Countries, p. 1. 42 Brett-James, Ball of Fire, pp. 163–164; Lieutenant-Colonel J. Frith, History of the 2/10 Baluch in the Malayan Campaign, pp. 20–3, 1973–06–121, NAM, London. 43 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, Special Order of the Day, 24 December 1941. 44 War Diary of 5th Indian Division, G Branch, 1941, El Alamein Position, Directive No. 1, 6 August 1941, Para 3. 45 Patrick Delaforce, Battles with Panzers: Monty’s Tank Battalions 1 RTR & 2 RTR at War (2003, reprint, London: Thistle, 2014), p. 87. 46 War Diary Headquarters 10th Armoured Division, G Branch, January 1942, Deficiencies in Equipment, Appendix II, 31 January 1942, WO 169/4117, Part 1, PRO. 47 Quoted from War Diary Headquarters 10th Armoured Division, G Branch, January 1942, Deficiencies in Equipment, Appendix II, 31 January 1942. 48 War Diary Headquarters 10th Armoured Division, G Branch, January 1942, Deficiencies in Equipment, Appendix II, 31 January 1942, February 1942, Appendix VIII, 10 February 1942. 49 Lieutenant-General Lewis Heath Papers, Note on the Malayan Campaign by LMH, Part 3, p. 8, LMH 5, P 441, IWM; Major-General B. W. Key Papers, 11th Indian Division, pp. 1–3, P 456, IWM; Brigadier W. Carpendale, CO 28th Indian Brigade, Report on Operations of 11 Indian Division in Kedah and Perak by p. 1, L/WS/1/952, APAC, BL, London. 50 Major-General A. S. Naravane, A Soldier’s Life in War and Peace (New Delhi: A.P.H. Publishing Corporation, 2004), pp. 67–68. 51 Quoted from Naravane, A Soldier’s Life in War and Peace, pp. 68–69. 52 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, Operation Instruction No. 64, 24 December 1941, Special Order by Lieutenant-General Godwin-Austen commander XIII Corps, 26 December 1941.

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53 Quoted from Hitler’s War Directives: 1939–1945, ed. by H. R. Trevor-Roper (1964, reprint, London: Pan, 1966), p. 163. 54 Kenneth Macksey, Kesselring: The Making of the Luftwaffe (2000, reprint, Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2012), pp. 107, 113–115. 55 Thomas Scheben, ‘Feeding the Fortress: Malta, Summer 1942’, in Edwards (ed.), El Alamein and the Struggle for North Africa, p. 159. 56 Inside the Afrika Korps, The Crusader Battles, 1941–1942, Colonel Rainer Kriebel and the US Army Intelligence Service, ed. by Bruce Gudmundsson (1999, reprint, Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2016), p. 24. 57 Samuel W. Mitcham Jr, Rommel’s Desert War: The Life and Death of the Afrika Korps (2007, reprint, New Delhi: Pentagon Press, 2008), p. 2. 58 War Diary of 2nd Armoured Brigade, Appendix A, 3 January 1942, WO 169/4210, Part 1, PRO. 59 Jonathan Fennell, Combat and Morale in the North African Campaign: The Eighth Army and the Path to El Alamein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 64. 60 Inside the Afrika Korps, p. 27. 61 The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Kesselring with a New Introduction by Kenneth Macksey (1953, reprint, New Delhi: Lancer, 1988), pp. 119–120. 62 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, Operation Instruction No. 67, 24 January 1942. 63 War Diary of 2nd Armoured Brigade, 24 January 1942, WO 169/4210, Part 1, PRO. 64 Brian P. Farrell, The Defence and Fall of Singapore: 1940–42 (2005, reprint, Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus, 2006). See especially pp. 131–134; Colonel J. R. Broadbent to Major-General Rowell, 28 January 1942, p. 2, Gordon Bennett Papers, PR 90/111, AWM, Canberra. 65 Jeffreys, Approach to Battle, p. 96; Tuker Papers, Benghazi January 1942, pp. 5–6, 71/21/1/3. 66 Tuker Papers, Benghazi January 1942, pp. 5–6. 67 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, Operation Instruction No. 68, 27 January 1942, Future Policy, Plan of Withdrawal, 1 February 1942, IS No. 110, 4 February 1942, Bateman, Order of the Day, 7 February 1942. 68 Panzer Army Africa Records, Supply reasons for lull in North Africa, February– May 1942, File No. H 22/249, WAII, 11/17. 69 Quoted from Major-General D.R.E.R. Bateman Papers, 4th Indian Division, Account of Operations in Cyrenaica 18 November 1941 to 26 February 1942, p. 83, 72/117/2/6, IWM. 70 Brett-James, Ball of Fire, p. 171. 71 Liddell Hart Papers, Correspondence with Gatehouse, Liddell Hart to Gatehouse, 19 July 1954. 72 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, Appendix A to IS No. 116, 18 February 1942. 73 Hans von Luck, Panzer Commander: The Memoirs of Colonel Hans von Luck (New York: Dell Publishing, 1991), p. 94. 74 Panzer Army Africa Records, Extracts from War Diary of Panzer Army Afrika, February 1942, 8 and 15 February. 75 Tuker Papers, Notes by Major-General F. S. Tuker, 6 October 1945. See especially p. 5. 76 Peter Willett, Armoured Horseman: With the Bays and Eighth Army in North Africa and Italy (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 2015), p. 42. 77 Quoted from Willett, Armoured Horseman, p. 44. 78 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 7, 71/21/1/3. 79 Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 10. 80 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, Operation Instruction No. 71, 10 February 1942, pp. 1–3. 81 Fennell, Combat and Morale in the North African Campaign, pp. 21, 34–35. 82 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, Operation Instruction No. 72, 12 February 1942, pp. 1–3, Operation Instruction No. 77, 24 February 1942.

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83 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 7, 71/21/1/3. 84 Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 7. 85 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, Operation Instruction No. 79, 15 March 1942, pp. 1–2. 86 Brett-James, Ball of Fire, pp. 160–161. 87 Tuker Papers, The Shape of Things in the Desert, pp. 1–7, April 1942, 71/21/1/3. 88 Panzer Army Africa Records, Extracts from War Diary of Panzer Army Afrika, 1942, 24 and 28 April, 6 May, WAII, 11/17. 89 Michael Carver, Dilemmas of the Desert War: A New Look at the Libyan Campaign, 1940– 1942 (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1986), p. 61. 90 Naravane, A Soldier’s Life in War and Peace, pp. 68, 73. 91 Brett-James, Ball of Fire, p. 173; Fennell, Combat and Morale in the North African Campaign, p. 37. 92 Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 8, 71/21/1/3. 93 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 8. Brackets mine. 94 Quoted from Tuker Papers, 4th Indian Division, May 1942, Note on Defence in the Desert, 71/21/2/7. 95 Tuker Papers, 19 January 1961, 71/21/2/7. 96 Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 9. 97 James Jacobs, ‘The War in North Africa, 1940–43: An Overview of the Role of the Union of South Africa’, in Edwards (ed.), El Alamein and the Struggle for North Africa, p. 20. 98 Quoted from Luck, Panzer Commander, p. 98. 99 Barr, Pendulum of War, p. 13. 100 Robin Neillands, Eighth Army: From the Western Desert to the Alps, 1939–1945 (London: John Murray, 2004), p. 121. 101 Macksey, Kesselring, p. 117. 102 The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Kesselring, p. 122. 103 Naravane, A Soldier’s Life in War and Peace, pp. 68, 75–76, 79, 81, 84. 104 Warner, Auchinleck, pp. 143–144. 105 Willett, Armoured Horseman, p. 47. 106 Willett, Armoured Horseman, pp. 47–49; Neillands, Eighth Army, p. 122. 107 Naravane, A Soldier’s Life in War and Peace, p. 80. 108 Frank Messervy Papers, 28 June 1942, 1/3, LHCMA, London; Heinz W. Schmidt, With Rommel in the Desert (1951, reprint, London: Harrap, 1980), p. 138. 109 Messervy Papers, 28 June 1942, 1/3. 110 Niall Barr, ‘Rommel in the Desert: 1942’, in Ian F. W. Beckett (ed.), Rommel: A Reappraisal (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2013), p. 85; Schmidt, With Rommel in the Desert, p. 138. 111 Remy Porte, ‘The Free French in the Battle for North Africa, 1942: Military Action and Its Political Presentation’, in Edwards (ed.), El Alamein and the Struggle for North Africa, p. 101. 112 Willett, Armoured Horseman, p. 51. 113 Barr, Pendulum of War, pp. 14–15. 114 Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 11, 71/21/1/3. 115 Barr, Pendulum of War, p. 15. 116 Neillands, Eighth Army, pp. 126–127. 117 Barr, Pendulum of War, p. 20. 118 Willett, Armoured Horseman, pp. 56–57. 119 Major-General F. W. von Mellenthin, Panzer Battles (1955, reprint, Stroud: History Press, 2008), pp. 56–57. 120 Barr, Pendulum of War, p. 20. 121 Mellenthin, Panzer Battles, p. 58. 122 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 11. 123 Glyn Harper, ‘ “No Model Campaign”: The Second New Zealand Division and the Battle of El Alamein, October-December 1942’, in Edwards (ed.), El Alamein and the Struggle for North Africa, pp. 73–74.

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124 Stephen Peter Rosen, Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military (1991, reprint, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1994), pp. 35–36. 125 Jack Greene and Alessandro Massignani, Rommel’s North Africa Campaign: September 1940-November 1942 (1994, reprint, Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 1999), p. 9. 126 James Lucas, Panzer Army Africa: The Blistering Saga of Rommel’s Greatest Victory and Most Resounding Defeat (1977, reprint, Dehra Dun: Natraj, 1982), pp. 27, 33. 127 Quoted from Schmidt, With Rommel in the Desert, p. 142. 128 Jacobs, ‘The War in North Africa, 1940–43: An Overview of the Role of the Union of South Africa’, in Edwards (ed.), El Alamein and the Struggle for North Africa, p. 20. 129 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, December 1941–November 1942, Studies of Enemy Methods and Tactics, Appendix A to IS No. 114, 15 February 1942, IS No. 115, 16 February 1942, Relief of Artillery Units, 17 February 1942. 130 Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 7. 131 Mitchelhill-Green, Tobruk 1942, p. 192. 132 General Claude Auchinleck, Operations in the Middle East from 1 November 1941 to 15 August 1942, Supplement to the London Gazette, 15 January 1948 (London: HMSO, 1948), p. 361. 133 Willett, Armoured Horseman, pp. 59–60. 134 Panzer Army Africa Records, Extract from Battle Reports, February–July 1942, 20 June, File No. 34374/1, WWII, 11/17. 135 Auchinleck, Operations in the Middle East from 1 November 1941 to 15 August 1942, pp. 361–62; Panzer Army Africa Records, Extract from Battle Reports, February– July 1942, 20 June. 136 Quoted from Willett, Armoured Horseman, p. 57. 137 Auchinleck, Operations in the Middle East from 1 November 1941 to 15 August 1942, p. 362. 138 Panzer Army Africa Records, Extract from Battle Reports, February–July 1942, 21 June, File No. 34374/1. 139 Tuker Papers, Notes by an Officer from Tobruk, 71/21/1/3. 140 War Diary of 1st Armoured Division, August–December 1942, Appendix A to IS No. 59, Notes on Development in Enemy Tactical Methods, WO 169/4054, Part 1, PRO. 141 Quoted from War Diary of 1st Armoured Division, August–December 1942, Appendix A to IS No. 59, Notes on Development in Enemy Tactical Methods. 142 Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, ed. and tr. by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (1976, reprint, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), p. 71. 143 Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 12, 71/21/1/3. 144 Panzer Army Africa Records, Extract from Battle Reports, February–July 1942, 22–23 June, File No. 34374/1. 145 Extracts from War Diary of 135 AA Regiment, June–December 1942, File No. 79001– 2, 23 June, WAII, 11/17, NANZ, Wellington. 146 Major Alexander Greenwood, Field-Marshal Auchinleck: A Biography of Field-Marshal Claude Auchinleck (Durham: Pentland Press, n.d.), p. 201. 147 Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 11. 148 Greenwood, Field-Marshal Auchinleck, p. 205. 149 The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Kesselring, pp. 123–124. 150 J.F.C. Fuller, The Second World War, 1939–45: A Strategical and Tactical History (1948, reprint, New York: Da Capo, 1993). 151 Warner, Auchinleck, p. 152. 152 Greenwood, Field-Marshal Auchinleck, pp. 206–207. 153 Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 11. 154 Aldino Bondesan,‘Between History and Geography: The El Alamein Project, Research, Findings, and Results’, in Edwards (ed.), El Alamein and the Struggle for North Africa, pp. 117–118; Greenwood, Field-Marshal Auchinleck, p. 206. 155 Field-Marshal Claude Auchinleck Papers, Personal Telegram from Field-Marshal Smuts, 6 July 1942, MUL 970a, John Rylands Library, Manchester. 156 War Diary of 5th Indian Division, G Branch, 1941, El Alamein Position, Directive No. 1, 6 August 1941, Para 1–2.

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157 Quoted from War Diary of 5th Indian Division, G Branch, 1941, El Alamein Position, Directive No. 1, 6 August 1941, Para 2. 158 War Diary of 5th Indian Division, G Branch, 1941, El Alamein Position, Directive No. 1, 6 August 1941, Para 3–6; Barton Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein, Australia in the War of 1939–1945, Series 1, Army (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1966), p. 542. 159 Major-General Howard Kippenberger, Infantry Brigadier (1949, reprint, London: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 138. 160 Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 12. 161 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 12. 162 Quoted from Field-Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, El Alamein to the River Sangro: The Personal Account of the 8th Army Campaign (1948, reprint, Dehradun: Natraj, 2005), p. 3. 163 Mark Johnston, At the Frontline: Experiences of Australian Soldiers in World War II (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1996). See especially pp. 29–30. 164 Quoted from Naravane, A Soldier’s Life in War and Peace, p. 85. 165 Quoted from Messervy Papers, Warfare in Undeveloped Countries, p. iii. 166 J. A. Crang, ‘The British Soldier on the Home Front: Army Morale Reports, 1940–45’, and Gerald Douds, ‘ “Matters of Honour”: Indian Troops in the North African and Italian Theatres’, in Paul Addison and Angus Calder (eds.), Time to Kill: The Soldier’s Experience of War in the West, 1939–1945 (London: Pimlico, 1997), pp. 60–74, 115–128; Kaushik Roy, ‘Discipline and Morale of the African, British and Indian Army Units in Burma and India During World War II: July 1943 to August 1945’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 44, no. 6 (2010), pp. 1264–1265. 167 Naravane, A Soldier’s Life in War and Peace, pp. 71–72. 168 Kaushik Roy, ‘The Indian Army in Defeat: Malaya, 1941–2’, in Kaushik Roy and Gavin Rand (eds.), Culture, Conflict and the Military in Colonial South Asia (London and New York: Routledge, 2018), pp. 188, 202–203; Rudolf Hartog, The Sign of the Tiger: Subhas Chandra Bose and His Indian Legion in Germany, 1941–45 (New Delhi: Rupa, 2001). 169 Fennell, Combat and Morale in the North African Campaign, pp. 24, 38–40; Jonathan Fennell, ‘Courage and Cowardice in the North African Campaign: The Eighth Army and Defeat in the Summer of 1942’, War in History, vol. 20, no. 1 (2013), pp. 99–122. 170 Greenwood, Field-Marshal Auchinleck, pp. 207–208. 171 Auchinleck Papers, From Prime Minister to General Auchinleck, 3 July 1942, MUL 967. 172 Auchinleck Papers, Corbett to Prime Minister, 3 July 1942, MUL 968. 173 Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein, p. 547. 174 Barr, Pendulum of War, p. 39. 175 Kippenberger, Infantry Brigadier, pp. 139–140. 176 Fennell, Combat and Morale in the North African Campaign, pp. 23–24. 177 Barr, Pendulum of War, p. 40. 178 Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein, pp. 541–543, 548. 179 Greenwood, Field-Marshal Auchinleck, p. 209. 180 Auchinleck Papers, Handwritten Note, 1 July 1942, MUL 963; Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein, p. 543. 181 Niall Barr, ‘High Command in the Desert’, in Edwards (ed.), El Alamein and the Struggle for North Africa, p. 201. 182 Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein, pp. 547–548. 183 Greenwood, Field-Marshal Auchinleck, pp. 210–211. 184 Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein, p. 549. 185 War Diary Headquarters 10th Armoured Division G Branch February 1942, IS Number 1, Enemy Morale, 8 February 1942, p. 8, WO 169/4117, Part 1, PRO. 186 Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein, pp. 548–549. 187 Barr, Pendulum of War, pp. 80–82. 188 Auchinleck Papers, Leo Amery to Auchinleck, 2 July 1942, MUL 965. 189 Auchinleck, Operations in the Middle East from 1 November 1941 to 15 August 1942, p. 364.

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190 Auchinleck Papers, Gott to Auchinleck, Handwritten Note, Tactical Headquarters, XIII Corps, MUL 966. 191 Auchinleck, Operations in the Middle East from 1 November 1941 to 15 August 1942, p. 364. 192 Quoted from Auchinleck Papers, Prime Minister to Auchinleck, 3 July 1942, MUL 967. 193 Auchinleck Papers, Corbett to Prime Minister, 3 July 1942, MUL 968. 194 Greenwood, Field-Marshal Auchinleck, p. 212. 195 Barr, Pendulum of War, p. 93; Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein, p. 550. 196 Auchinleck, Operations in the Middle East from 1 November 1941 to 15 August 1942, p. 365. 197 Auchinleck Papers, From DESCHIEF to UNIDEF, 6 July 1942, MUL 970. 198 Auchinleck Papers, From TROOPERS to MIDEAST, 6 July 1942, MUL 971. 199 Auchinleck Papers, From MIDEAST to DESCHIEF, 7 July 1942, MUL 972a. 200 Kippenberger, Infantry Brigadier, p. 150. 201 Auchinleck Papers, From Auchinleck to CIGS, 8 July 1942, MUL 973. 202 Panzer Army Africa Records, Miscellaneous Supply Messages, Reports and Strength States, July–December 1942, 8 July, File No. 33142/5 & 6, WAII, 11/17. 203 Auchinleck, Operations in the Middle East from 1 November 1941 to 15 August 1942, p. 365. 204 Kippenberger, Infantry Brigadier, pp. 156–157, 159. 205 Auchinleck Papers, Prime Minister to Auchinleck, 12 July 1942, MUL 976. 206 Captain Basil Liddell Hart Papers, Notes on Operation on Ruweisat Ridge, by MajorGeneral A. H. Gatehouse, 9/28/42, LHCMA. 207 Kippenberger, Infantry Brigadier, pp. 140, 143, 159. 208 Panzer Army Africa Records, Miscellaneous Supply Messages, Reports and Strength States, July–December 1942, 14 July. 209 Warner, Auchinleck, p. 157. 210 Quoted from Panzer Army Africa Records, Supply Reports, 21 July, File No. 33142/37, WWII, 11/17. 211 Johnston, ANZACS in the Middle East, pp. 168–172. 212 Macksey, Kesselring, p. 123; Antulio J. Echevarria II, ‘ “The Highest Rule”: Rommel as Military Genius’, in Edwards (ed.), El Alamein and the Struggle for North Africa, p. 190. 213 Account of the Malayan Campaign by Captain F. E. Mileham 4/9th Jat Regiment, The Muar River, D1196/33, APAC, BL, London. 214 War Diary of the 20th Indian Division, IS No. 6, 20 May 1944, The Jap Line of Communication, File No. 601/25D/WP/Part 2, MODHS, New Delhi.

4 SECOND AND THIRD ALAMEIN The two battles that stopped Rommel

Introduction How and why Rommel’s Panzer Army Afrika was defeated at the climactic Third Battle of El Alamein are discussed in this chapter. This chapter is divided into five sections. The first section deals with the state of the Eighth Army under Montgomery’s command after the First Battle of Alamein. The next section discusses the Second Battle of Alamein. The third section deals with the pivotal Third Battle of Alamein. Next we discuss how the Panzer Army Afrika was able to escape from Alamein to Tripoli. And the last section analyzes the lessons that were learnt by the various formations of the Eighth Army as part of its learning culture.

Monty in command On 8 August 1942, Auchinleck was sacked by Churchill and on 12 August LieutenantGeneral Bernard Montgomery arrived in Egypt. Montgomery and his acolytes claim that when Auchinleck was removed, the morale of the Eighth Army was at its nadir. Montgomery asserts in his memoirs that when he took over command in the desert, the troops had their tails down and lacked confidence in the higher command. Brigadier (later Major-General) Francis de Guingand, BGS of the Eighth Army, told Monty that the morale of the men and officers was not good and they wanted a clear lead and firm grip from the top. Fennell also writes that Montgomery and Field-Marshal Harold Alexander contributed to the dramatic development of the morale of the troops. Monty through his visits and pep talks was able to restore morale in the Allied forces.1 On 13 August 1942, Monty gave one such pep talk to the officers belonging to the Headquarters of the Eighth Army: I believe that one of the first duties of a commander is to create what I call ‘atmosphere’, and in that atmosphere his staff, subordinate commanders, and

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troops will live and work and fight. I do not like the general atmosphere of doubt, of looking back to select the next place to which to withdraw, of loss of confidence in our ability to defeat Rommel, of desperate defence measures by reserves preparing positions in Cairo and the Delta. All that must cease. Let us have a new atmosphere.2 Tuker disagrees. He had written: The Eighth Army in spite of its terrible handling and losses had, I know, never lost heart and it is a calumny of those officers and men to say that any higher commander then or afterwards restored their spirit. All that they wanted was to be given an opportunity and the order to stand and fight.3 The truth probably lies in between these two extremes. I am not suggesting that Monty was all smoke and no fire. In fact on 13 August, Monty declared that the Eighth Army would never retreat but would fight to the last at the Alamein Line.4 This somewhat strengthened the morale of the men. Fred Majdalany, a British military officer turned historian, notes in his account of Alamein that Monty was able to establish a popular bond with the Australian soldiers.5 No other senior British officer before Montgomery had been able to establish a workable rapport with the senior Australian officers. Mark Johnston, an Australian historian, writes that Montgomery made a deliberate attempt to establish affinity with the common Australian soldiers. For instance, he wore the Australian slouch hat. And the Aussies might have appreciated the British general’s attempt to win them over. The actual impact of Monty on the common Australian soldiers remained limited.6 However, Monty and Percival, unlike Slim, were unable to establish any personal bond with the Indian soldiers. And the Rommel legend continued to have had an adverse effect on the morale of the Eighth Army’s personnel.7 Panzer Army Afrika had four corps and thirteen divisions. And the Eighth Army had three corps and ten divisions.8 When Monty arrived, he had at his disposal the following formations in Egypt: two damaged armoured divisions, the 4th Indian Division (the 11th Brigade lost in Tobruk and the artillery establishment was weak), the 5th Indian Division (suffered serious casualties at Second Gazala), the 10th Indian Division (heavily damaged), the 2nd New Zealand and 9th Australian divisions (refitted and in good condition), the 1st South African Division (fresh), the 44th Division, the 50th Division (it had lost a brigade at Second Gazala) and the 51st Division (training in the Delta region).9 However, Monty’s force was soon growing both quantitatively and qualitatively. During mid-August, 400 Shermans were unloaded at Suez.10 By this time, the Italian Army in Africa was suffering from a manpower shortage. In Italy, criminals who were given a penal servitude not exceeding 5 years were exempted from that punishment if they volunteered for front-line service in Africa. This policy caused considerable consternation among the veterans of Trento Division.11 Meanwhile, the Axis forces was ravaged by disease.12 A serious problem with the German forces under Rommel was that many soldiers became

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incapacitated due to bad sanitation. For instance, between March and June 1941, the Germans lost 12,203 men. Of them, only 3,512 were battle casualties and the rest were struck down by jaundice, dysentery and so forth.13 The German troops were running short of water and medical stores, and this somewhat dampened the morale of some of the units.14 The Indian units took good care of sanitation in the dry sandy terrain of West Asia, which to an extent is similar to the physical geography of North Africa. In Iraq, sand fly fever was prevalent. The commanding officers were instructed to enforce precautionary measures on the personnel under them. Use of sand fly nets was emphasized and the guards during the night were ordered to use mosquito cream. Again, the men were instructed that undue exposure of the body to the sun is dangerous, and might result in heat stroke and heat exhaustion. The men were asked to drink as much water as possible and to take extra salt with their food. The daily water allowance was 5 gallons per man. Further, provision was made for fresh fruits. The authorities noted that unfortunately venereal diseases were rife among the troops in Iraq. Personal hygiene was emphasized among the troops. Deep trenches were used as latrines. Each urinal consisted of two perforated petrol tins which led to a deep soak pit filled with rubble and sealed with earth.15 Such techniques were later followed in North Africa. In the meantime, slight improvement in the quality of German weaponry occurred. They introduced 75 mm assault guns mounted on the chassis of Mark III tanks. Each of the Mark IV had 50 mm thick armour plus another 20 mm plate at their front. These tanks had either the short-barrelled or long-barrelled 75 mm guns. The Germans introduced a new pattern anti-tank gun: the 50 mm PAK 38, which was better than the 50 mm KWK. The former had greater penetrating power. By early August, the Luftwaffe introduced its new generation Focke Wulf 190H air superiority fighters. There was also a gradual shift in the German doctrine. The German officers realized that while panzers and aircraft played the dominant role in mobile war, in defensive positional warfare artillery (somewhat in the First World War–style Western Front battles) assumed great importance.16 And Monty in the near future was going to use mass artillery fire to smash German defensive fortifications at El Alamein. In mid-August 1942, the British tank crews were lectured that CAS would be provided by the Kittyhawks.17 This was a radical development which would pay great dividends during the Tunisian campaign in the first half of 1943. After failing to destroy the Eighth Army in the First Battle of El Alamein, Rommel turned his attention to strengthening his defence. Let us have a look at the Axis defensive system. The Central Sector extended from Sanyet el Miteiriya till Qaret el Abd. The Central Sector’s strong point was the Miteiriya Ridge. This sector was strongly fortified with minefields and a series of strong points. A strong point was surrounded by mines and the troops manning it were equipped with machineguns, anti-tank guns and mortars. The artillery deployed in this sector included 88 mm and 50 mm anti-tank guns. The Southern Sector extended from Qaret el Abd till El Taqa Plateau. The German reconnaissance units and most of the Italian

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armour were located in this region. The minefield was protected with wire. The strong point Qaret el Khadim was protected with a semi-circular minefield and 88 mm guns.18 And the lesson learning process continued unabated in the Eighth Army. The Allies were preparing countermeasures to obstruct possible German defensive techniques. Eighth Army intelligence noted that the Axis might use German assault engineers to disable Allied tanks. The engineers were instructed to remain in their trenches. And when the Allied tanks without infantry support would cross the trenches, these men were to place explosive charges at the rear of the tanks. German assault tactics against Allied strong points were also studied. The Germans attacked always at dawn. After a gap was made in the wire, then teams (each of them usually fifteen men strong) equipped with flamethrowers, explosive charges and machineguns were used to suppress the Allied strong points.19 Monty, unlike Auk, openly declared that the Battle for Egypt would be fought at Alamein. All the troops from the Delta were ordered forward to Alamein. Somewhat rhetorically, on 13 August 1942, Monty declared that the Eighth Army would stand and fight at Alamein and the result would be either victory or death.20 Hitler generally had the habit of issuing such orders in order to put spine in his generals. Monty planned a defensive battle at the Alam Halfa Ridge, about 10 miles south-east of Alamein.21 Montgomery, like Auchinleck, realized that the defence of the Alam Halfa Ridge was of vital importance for defending the Alamein Line. The ridge was in the rear of the Alamein Line and commanded a large area of the desert. The 44th British Division was deployed to protect this feature.22 However, Monty in his memoirs claims that his predecessor had failed to realize the defensive potential of two key features: Ruweisat Ridge and especially Alam Halfa Ridge.23 This is simply untrue. Monty’s preferred tactic was to conduct attrition-oriented battle with his enemy. This was because he knew, first, that the Eighth Army could not wage fast-paced maneuver warfare like the Panzer Army Afrika, and second, the Axis powers could not compete with him in material terms. Scholar Andrew Gordon defines attritionalism in the following words: seeking victory by harnessing the weight of arithmetic when you perceive it to be in your favour. It rests on rational, “estimate-driven” planning (as opposed to skill) and deliberate formalized (or formula-ised) decision making cycles. It also requires the enemy to be either willing or obliged to fight on the same terms.24 Monty, copying the Afrika Korps, wanted to create a crops de chasse comprising two armoured divisions. It was to function as a reserve strike force.25 Monty noted that Rommel’s force consisted of holding troops (mainly Italian infantry divisions) for defending static positions and a striking force comprising the elite 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions plus the 90th Light Division. He noted in his memoirs: ‘I came to the conclusion that the Eighth Army must have its own Panzer Army – a corps

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strong in armour, well equipped, and well trained. It must never hold static fronts; it would be the spearhead of our offensives’.26 Among Auchinleck’s senior officers, Montgomery retained only Major-General John Harding, who was Deputy Chief of General Staff. On Monty’s direction, he produced a plan to create a new corps, which came to be known as the X Corps. It was to include the 1st, 8th and 10th Armoured Divisions and the New Zealand Division. Each of the armoured division was to comprise one armoured brigade and one infantry brigade besides divisional troops. And the New Zealand Division was to include two infantry brigades and one armoured brigade.27 During late August, Allied infantry was conducting aggressive patrolling. The RAF was concentrating on bombing the Axis harbour facilities at Tobruk. It was assumed by the 1st Armoured Division that the Axis forces would remain on the defensive. Or at best, the Axis could launch only limited attacks by some tanks supported by lorried infantry (known as panzer grenadiers) in the near future. It was assumed that small number of German tanks and parachutists might harass the Allied LOC along the Alexandria-Cairo Road. To counter this threat, the Khatara Force came into being. It had the 2nd Armoured Brigade, the 1st Army Tank Brigade and the Yorkshire Dragoons.28 Major-General de Guingand, Chief of Staff of the Eighth Army, asserts in his memoirs that after 28 August, Montgomery was ready for a full-scale Axis attack.29 In a similar tune, Majdalany asserts that Montgomery and the Eighth Army expected Rommel to launch a full-scale attack either on 25 August or shortly after.30 Montgomery himself said that he was ready to meet Rommel’s attack from 13 August onwards.31

Second Alamein/Battle of Alam Halfa: 30 August–7 September 1942 Vauban is come back again. —Major-General Francis Tuker 32

On 22 August 1942, Rommel informed OKH that he was ill and asked for another commander to be sent. Rommel in fact proposed the name of Heinz Guderian. But, at that time, Guderian was in the bad book of Hitler due to the former’s failure in front of Moscow in the winter of 1941.33 On 30 August, Rommel decided to strike. Rommel began the battle with 443 tanks, out of which 200 were Germans. Among the German tanks, twenty-seven were the new Mark IVs and seventy were Mark IIIs refitted with powerful guns. The Eighth Army had 713 tanks, including 164 American Grants. In addition, Montgomery had more than 200 tanks in the rear as reserve.34 In his special order of the day, on 30 August, Rommel declared that they were attacking for the final annihilation of the enemy.35 The petrol situation was extremely bad, even on the first day of the offensive. As an emergency measure, Kesselring made available 1,500 tons of petrol to the Panzer Army from the Luftwaffe stocks.36

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Monty accepted the Auchinleck Plan for defending the El Alamein Line. The region from the coast to the south of Ruweisat Ridge was held by four infantry divisions. And the 10-mile gap from the left of this position to the Qattara Depression was covered by a minefield, behind which was stationed the 7th Light Armoured Division. Montgomery, like Auchinleck, agreed that the crucial position to be defended was the Alam Halfa Ridge, which was 5 miles long and 5 miles behind the main Alamein position. Rommel had to capture this ridge if he wanted to break through the Allied defensive position and reach the coast.37 During the night of 30–31 August, Panzer Army Afrika moved to attack the southern portion of the Allied held El Alamein Front. The main thrust came between the left flank of the 2nd New Zealand Division and the isolated hill named Himeimat.38 Panzer Army Afrika attacked in three columns along an 8-mile front. On the right (extreme south off the Axis position), the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions attacked. The two armoured divisions of the Italian XX Corps were in the centre. And the 90th Light Division was on the left (north of the Axis attack columns). The plan was to break through the British defensive minefield by early dawn. Then, the panzer divisions would race for the coast and the Axis infantry divisions would bottle up the Allied defensive troops. The Axis had underestimated the strength of the Allied minefield in front of their attacking troops.39 During the night, Major-General von Bismarck, the commander of the 21st Panzer Division, was killed by a mine and the Afrika Korps commander General Walther Nehring was wounded during a bombing raid. The loss of two experienced commanders at the beginning of the attack somewhat bogged down the German assault. The XX Corps, after crossing the first belt of enemy minefield, was held up by a second belt. Worse, all the minesweeping equipment of this corps was wiped out by Allied shellfire.40 About 100 Axis tanks penetrated the first belt of Allied minefields. At 0645 hours on 31 August, the Axis tanks turned north-east.41 But they came against an uncharted minefield which was stubbornly defended by the Allied troops.42 By 1 September, Montgomery hoped that the Axis mobile force would not make a wide turning movement towards El Hammam but move northwards towards the Alam Halfa Ridge where strong defences had been erected by the Eighth Army.43 And Rommel complied. Probably, petrol shortage prevented Rommel from going for a longer outflanking thrust around the Southern Sector of the Allied defensive line. Another factor was the delay in breaking through the Allied minefield had given time to Monty to concentrate his armour at Alam Halfa Ridge. Rommel now could not neglect the presence of British armour along his LOC. When the 15th Panzer Division made two unsuccessful attacks on Alam Halfa Ridge, the Axis forces was already suffering from an acute shortage of oil. In fact, at 1400 hours, the 15th Panzer Division had to stop attacking because its AFVs had no petrol.44 When Monty realized that the Afrika Korps had concentrated its main attack between the left flank of the New Zealand Division and Himeimat, he transferred bulk of the Allied armour in this sector. By midday of 1 September, some 400 Allied tanks supported by a screen of 6-pounder anti-tank guns were in this region.45 The light mobile force of the 7th Armoured Division harassed the Axis columns north and

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west of Himeimat. And the RAF continuously bombarded the Axis transports and also provided CAS to the Allied ground troops.46 During the night of 2–3 September, the DAK, the Italian armoured divisions and the 90th Light Division were subjected to very heavy bombing by the British bombers. Continuous bombing both during day and night as well as the absence of Axis fighter cover resulted in drop of morale among the Axis troops.47 During the night of 3 September, the Axis forces started withdrawing westwards. The Luftwaffe was on the defensive but was able to bomb the 10th Indian Division, which was preparing for a thrust against the Brescia Division and the Ramcke Parachute Brigade.48 In the morning of 6 September, the Axis withdrawal was completed. Rommel’s casualties were 2,940 men; fifty-one AFVs were totally destroyed and many more were damaged. The Eighth Army’s casualties were 1,640 soldiers and sixty-seven tanks.49 The Eighth Army, unlike Panzer Army Afrika, could afford such losses. Rommel realized that this marked the end of the offensive by Panzer Army Afrika. Now his only option was to await attack by the Allied troops who were being heavily reinforced.50 Panzer Army Afrika went into a permanent strategic defensive pose. Rommel claimed to have learnt the following lessons from this failed operation. First, when the enemy enjoyed air superiority and possessed heavy bomber formations dedicated to ground support role, then the possibilities of ground action against him (both at the operational and tactical levels) became limited. Superior enemy air power not only prevented reconnaissance, but by disrupting assembly and approach march also reduced the speed of operations. And this in turn speeded up the tempo of enemy’s operation. And in case of armoured warfare especially, tempo is the main thing. In fact, Montgomery himself admitted that day and night bombing of the hostile force by the RAF to a great extent was responsible for Allied victory. Secondly, Monty did not engage in mobile armoured battles against the Axis forces. If he had waged such a battle, the Eighth Army would have been defeated. Rather, Monty relied on his massed artillery batteries and his powerful air force to blunt the Axis attack. Rommel noted that British artillery fire played an important role in blunting the Axis attack. For every single Axis shell, the Allies responded with ten shells.51 When the enemy was attacking along a narrow front, the British artillery by mass fire could extract a heavy toll. This was a technique perfected in France during the latter half of the First World War.

Third Battle of El Alamein: 23 October–5 November 1942 Plans After the failure at the Second Battle of Alamein, Rommel lacked adequate transport to retreat,52 and Hitler would not have allowed him to fall back in Libya. So Panzer Army Afrika stayed put at Alamein. Meanwhile, the Axis forces were strengthening the defensive position of the El Alamein Line, a process which started from late July 1942 onwards. Just before Monty opened the Third Battle of

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Alamein, the Panzer Army Afrika had laid 445,358 mines in the ‘Devil’s gardens’.53 Rommel had prepared extensive minefields and positioned automatic weapons in depth. In Normandy during 1944, Rommel would elaborate on this defensive template. So an attack during daylight, even with artillery support, was going to be costly. Further, the wide depth of minefields along with the presence of booby traps made a night attack almost impossible. So the best solution was to attack during moonlight. Time was required for training the men and especially the crews of the newly arrived Sherman tanks. Hence, an attack during September was ruled out. It was decided to launch the attack during the October moon.54 On 2 August 1942, Auchinleck made a plan which with some modifications was implemented by his successor Monty. The Auchinleck plan involved making a deliberate attack on the extreme north of the hostile position. The enemy was to be deceived by generating the impression that the Eighth Army was to launch attack in the southern side. The principal defensive zone of the Allied position should be in the rear of the El Alamein position and it ought to be ready to meet an enemy attempt to turn or bypass the Allied southern flank. Once the breakthrough of the enemy position was made, then the motorized and armoured forces should be unleashed to exploit the Axis defeat.55 On 28 September, the Eighth Army issued the memorandum named Lightfoot. The next day it was distributed to the commanders down to the level of brigadiers. The 40-kilometre wide battlefield stretched from the Mediterranean Coast in the north to the sand sea named Qattara Depression. The plan issued on 6 October noted the nature of battle to be fought. It was rightly assumed that the battle would involve hard and prolonged fighting. It was noted that the enemy would not surrender but would fight viciously. The plan emphasized that the break in battle would involve crumbling operations. In this phase, the hostile forces would be attacked frontally. Since the Eighth Army was superior to the Panzer Army Afrika in firepower, especially as regards the holdings in tanks, artillery and aircraft, a frontal assault against the Axis defensive belt was considered acceptable. And the Germans were sure to launch a panzer counter-attack in order to check the dents in their defensive line. During these counter-attacks, the Allied forces was to inflict casualties on the attacking panzers in order to exhaust German armour. Having eaten the ‘guts of the enemy’, the troops would prepare for the breakthrough phase.56 In accordance with the plan, in the North Sector, the XXX Corps was to secure a bridgehead through which the X Corps would pass through. The principal aim of the X Corps was to destroy German armour. In addition, this corps was to prevent any interference by Axis armour to interrupt the crumbling operation undertaken by the XXX Corps. The XXX Corps was to advance northwards from the northern flank of the bridgehead using the 9th Australian Division and simultaneously southwards from the Miteiriya Ridge using the 2nd New Zealand, 1st South African and 4th Indian Divisions.57 In the Northern Sector, the dominant feature was the Miteiriya Ridge, a long east-west limestone formation. At its highest point, this ridge was 95 feet high. In a nutshell, the plan was that in the first phase artillery and infantry would smash Axis defensive fortifications. In the second phase, Allied

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armour would exploit the holes made in the Axis defensive line. Thus, Monty’s plan was the opposite of Wavell’s and Auchinleck’s plans of unleashing the armour in the first phase to destroy Axis AFVs and then using Allied infantry in the second phase to occupy and consolidate the ground gained. It is to be noted that Monty’s plan could succeed because the geography of the El Alamein battlefield allowed him to fight a positional battle. In the wide open space of the desert, Monty’s techniques would not have worked. Once the general outline of the battle plan was crafted by Montgomery, the corps commanders were asked to confer in order to flesh out the details and probable difficulties that might emerge in implementing the operation. Francis (nicknamed Freddie) de Guingand attended the corps commanders’ conferences on 7 and 9 October and kept detailed notes in order to brief Montgomery.58 At the corps commanders’ conference on 7 October, the X Corps commander noted that signals and use of R/T were weak points of the Eighth Army. The problem of getting correct information from the front line to the headquarters during combat was noted.59 De Guingand told Montgomery that the commanders of the armoured divisions of the X Corps were unhappy about going through the gaps across the Axis minefields in daylight.60 The armoured divisional commanders insisted that they must not be caught with their formations in the ‘tunnels’ (lanes in the Axis minefields cleared by the Allied sappers and engineers) in daylight. Then, XXX Corps’ officers were asked if the Allied armour was held back, would they be able to withstand a panzer counter-attack in early daylight on their bridgehead. XXX Corps was non-committal on this issue. Then, it was discussed if the XXX Corps’ position against the inevitable German counter-attack could be strengthened by pushing forward bulk of the field artillery. In such a scenario, X Corps pointed out that it would further delay pushing the tanks forward into the bridgehead. Herbert Lumsden pointed out that the first task should be to establish a protective screen of anti-tank guns and armour in order to protect the bridgehead from the inevitable German armoured counter-attack. For this task, it was agreed that an armoured brigade with extra anti-tank guns would be sufficient. And for exploitation westwards, the motor brigades would have to be brought up. Among the armoured commanders, Lumsden was most enthusiastic. He said that the X Corps should advance even before the XXX Corps had completed its task. Among the infantry generals, Lieutenant-General Freyberg noted that his New Zealand Division could not advance south-west from Miteiriya Ridge unless supported by the 10th Armoured Division.61 In the next corps commanders conference held on 9 October, Freyberg demanded more artillery support. It was accepted during the course of discussion that the movement of the 2nd New Zealand Division plus the 8th Armoured Brigade through one lane in the Axis minefield during the night would be difficult. The 51st Division also demanded support of at least one squadron of tanks per infantry brigade during the night. De Guingand noted that the troops and the sappers should be trained intensively in order to deal with the booby traps left behind by the Axis troops to slow down the advance of the Allied forces.62

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Major-General Gatehouse, commander of the 10th Armoured Division of X Corps, was most vocal for delaying the advance of the tanks. But this would have meant leaving the infantry of the XXX Corps at the tender mercies of the inevitable panzer counter-attack.63 Gatehouse assumed that at least 10 days of fighting were required to break through the Axis defensive line. He pointed out that the Axis minefields might be 14,000 yards deep. And for each armoured division, three lanes in the minefields were to be cleared by the sappers and engineers for the Allied tanks to pass through. Each lane was broad enough to enable only one tank to advance at a time. And if by any chance this tank was disabled or destroyed, then the tanks behind it along the lane would be immobilized. If Rommel was able to concentrate his panzer divisions near the points through which the Allied armour was attempting to penetrate, then he could easily launch a counter-attack. In such a scenario, the result would be a horrendous defeat for Allied armour even before the latter had a chance to deploy.64 However, Monty rightly overruled Gatehouse’s depressing premonitions. It must be noted that during the initial phase of Lightfoot, the penetration of Allied armour through the narrow lanes cleared across the Axis minefield was a bit risky. A panzer counter-attack supported by Stuka dive-bombers might have been disastrous. But luckily for the Eighth Army, a concentrated panzer attack did not occur. This was because the weak Luftwaffe was not able to conduct extensive reconnaissance prior to the battle. The WDAF had 500 fighters and 200 bombers in support of the Eighth Army.65 Whenever the Stukas appeared they were turned back by WDAF’s fighters.66 So Panzer Army Afrika Headquarters was in the dark regarding the exact point of entry of Allied armour across their defensive minefields. Hence, substantial amount of panzer reserve were kept in the Southern Sector of the Axis line. Complete Allied air superiority plus inefficient handling of the Axis heavy and medium artillery, allowed large concentration of Allied vehicles and guns without any hostile interference.67 Further, Rommel was not present when Lightfoot was initiated. We can say that though in general Monty was against risk taking, parts of his plan for the Third Battle of Alamein was indeed risky. One could hazard the argument that Monty at times was able to include innovative risky elements within his planning process. Gatehouse critiqued Monty’s plan of battle. He argued that instead of the army commander’s plan of breaking through the heavy minefields in the north, a better option would have been to penetrate through the ‘thin’ minefields along the southern portion of the Alamein Line and then outflank the Axis defence by launching the Allied tanks through open country.68 Easier said than done! At this stage, neither the commanders nor the crews of the Allied armoured formations were trained well enough to successfully fight a fluid, fast-paced armoured warfare. In such a scenario, better training, decentralized command and combined arms tactics would have given even a depleted Panzer Army Afrika a heads-up against the Eighth Army. Semi-static, slow-grinding attritional battle was the only option for Monty, and he followed it. Credit is due to Monty for understanding the limitations of the Eighth Army’s tactical-operational capabilities.

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Training Monty emphasized the importance of training. However, the argument by Nigel Hamilton that before Monty took command there was neither a viable doctrine nor a proper training architecture for the combatants69 is erroneous. The previous chapters have shown that the British Imperial Army as part of its learning culture continuously experimented with doctrines and updated the training manuals in the light of past experiences. Let us have a look at the state of training of at least some of the formations of the Eighth Army which participated in the coming battle. For instance, the 51st Medium Regiment, due to lack of transport, was unable to train for mobile operations since January 1942. Only on 27 October did it start its training. It was assessed that this formation could be used for a static role by 7 November and for a semi-static role by 14 November. Then, the 95th Anti-Tank Regiment had one of its batteries undergoing training for combined operation under 165th Field Regiment at Kabrit with 6-pounders. The Regimental Headquarters and three batteries moved to the Mena area on 9 October for training. Re-equipment of these batteries was incomplete. Only 50 per cent of their 2-pounder guns were being replaced with the more effective 6-pounder guns. It was estimated that the 95th Anti-Tank Regiment would be ready for action by 4 November.70 Monty realized that his artillery and armour were not trained to conduct fluid operations, so he planned to fight a positional battle. In fact, the planning and training for fighting the Third Battle of Alamein was the product of lesson learning exercise. The Eighth Army’s staff analyzed the reasons behind the Axis defeat in the Second Battle of Alamein. They rightly concluded that the Germans relied on the mobility of the armoured force but that their armour lacked adequate space for maneuvering. Instead, the Axis armour was decimated by dug-in tanks, anti-tank guns and fire from 25-pounders and medium artillery. Further, the armoured columns could not negotiate the soft sand quickly in the dark night. Hence, the Axis armoured columns were forced to move during the day when they came under incessant bombing by the WDAF. Rather, the Axis forces should have used their artillery and infantry to punch a hole in the Allied defensive line and through this gap, German armour should have moved forward. However, German infantry and artillery were incapable of conducting such sort of First World War style attritional battle. German infantry and artillery were trained for Blitz attack, which involved cooperation with fast-moving tanks.71 And after the Second Battle of Alamein, the Eighth Army’s infantry and artillery trained for conducting a positional, attritionoriented battle. The Eighth Army’s commanders realized that launching an infantry attack even in the moonlight over the largely featureless desert country defended with mines, booby traps and wires was going to be a difficult, complicated and hazardous operation. The attacking infantry had to gain their objectives and also mop up the defenders behind them. Simultaneously, the sappers had to sweep for mines and clear the lanes across the hostile minefields. Further, the supporting tanks and artillery had to be brought forward in order to contain the inevitable panzer

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counter-attack. All these tasks had to be completed by dawn, otherwise the operation might fail. Success required a high degree of training of all the arms.72 Training creates unit cohesion. Monty no doubt understood the value of sending trained formations into action. The infantry and armoured divisions selected for the coming offensive trained intensively for six weeks. The 9th Australian Division practiced night operations, cooperation with the engineers and the tanks of the 40th RTR for clearing the minefields .73 From 20 September onwards, the 2nd New Zealand Division started a month’s intensive training for the upcoming battle. The New Zealand Division started training under the X Corps. The New Zealand Division with the 9th Armoured Brigade carried out a full-scale divisional rehearsal on 26 September to find out the defects in planning and training in order to rectify them. For realistic training, the New Zealand Division conducted its training in conditions similar to that obtaining at Miteiriya Ridge. Minefields were laid as the New Zealanders were supposed to move through them during actual attack. An artillery programme, approach marches by day and night, marking and lighting of routes and so forth were all provided for as part of the realistic training programme. The guns were moved during the night to positions which had been surveyed previously; they were dug in and then camouflaged. The attack was carried out in moonlight on a two-brigade front in two phases. In each of the brigade fronts, one battalion was given the task of capturing the first objective and two battalions were leapfrogged after an hour’s pause in the artillery barrage. The infantry attack was carried out in accordance with an artillery timed program and a diagram with the artillery timings was issued to the company commanders. Further, smoke and tracers were fired along the inter-brigade and inter-divisional boundaries so the advancing troops could move forward along the right directions. Sappers blew the wires with Bangalore torpedoes and cleared gaps in the minefields. Behind the infantry, anti-tank guns, mortars and machine-guns followed and a regiment of tanks went in support of each brigade.74 Training is the lifeblood of an army. Soldiers obey orders due to the conditioning process, which is inculcated through training. Training leads to habituation and helps the soldiers overcome fear. It emphasizes repetition. Through training, the soldiers practice their individual duties repeatedly until they have been learnt so well that the soldiers can perform them by rote under the most frightful and distracting circumstances.75 So training prepared the soldiers both mentally and physically for the forthcoming danger-filled ‘face of battle’. The brigades of the 2nd New Zealand Division carried out brigade drill. Each infantry brigade also carried out a special exercise in order to attack in cooperation with tanks and artillery. Calibration of artillery was practiced.76 The 2nd New Zealand Division’s GOC noted: ‘The difficulties of the operation were brought out and much was learnt as a result of this exercise which was of value to the Corps Commanders of X and XXX Corps as well as to the Division’.77 Realistic training exercises resulted in lot of sweat among the troops but in the actual battlefields saved lot of blood too. In contrast, Malaya Command was unable to conceive and implement realistic training suited for conducting jungle warfare in the tropical

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conditions.78 We can say that compared to Malaya, realistic innovative training in the Eighth Army under Monty was an important factor which raised the combat effectiveness of his force.

Battle Lightfoot: break-in battle In the evening of 23 October 1942, Lightfoot started with 1,200 Allied guns opening up on the Axis position.79 Centralized control and a centralized fire plan ­characterized the use of Allied artillery. Control of the artillery was vested with Corps Commander Royal Artillery (CCRA). In case any division required artillery support, a request had to be made to the CCRA. Concentration of artillery under the CCRA was a tactical innovation initiated by Monty’s team. The artillery fire plans were made by the divisions; however, the final touch was given by the CCRA. The Axis dispositions were clearly pointed out in large maps for use by the artillery officers. The chalking out of the positions of the Axis defensive strong points was made with the aid of information supplied by the ground observers and patrols. The artillery fire was directed to a depth of 4,000 yards. At 2140 hours (local time), 456 artillery pieces of the XXX Corps opened its barrage. The artillery bombardment disrupted the telephone lines between the Panzer Army Afrika’s Headquarters and its subordinate units.80 Bulk of the artillery of the X Corps was used to support the infantry attacks of the XXX Corps. The attack was made in the moonlight-filled night. For four months, the Axis had prepared the defensive position. A complex defence in depth was created with outposts, battle positions and reserve positions supported by extensive minefields. And panzers were held in reserve for launching counterattacks. The Allied barrage was terrific. Several Axis ammunition dumps and gun batteries were destroyed. Some of the Axis defenders were stunned and a few ran away, leaving behind their weapons. But most of the German soldiers stayed put. Heavy aerial bombing guided by flares added woes to the Axis infantry. The four infantry divisions under the XXX Corps and two armoured divisions of the X Corps in the north constituted the main assault force. The four divisions of the XXX Corps attacked along a frontage of 7,000 yards. They were supported by bombardment from 432 25-pounders and forty-eight medium artillery pieces. At this stage, the concentration of artillery was about one 25-pounder per 17 yards of the frontage of attack. Table 4.1 gives an idea about the enormous expenditure of metals by the 25-pounders for pulverizing the Axis defensive positions. As this table shows, the XXX Corps had the largest number of 25-pounder guns. The 834 25-pounder guns between 24 October and 4 November (12 days) fired over one million rounds. The average expenditure was 102 RPG per day over a period of 12 days. The medium artillery fired an average of 133 RPG per day for 4.5-inch guns and 157 RPG per day for the 5.5-inch guns during this period. As regards anti-tank artillery, the figures were 2 RPG per day for the 6-pounder and 1 RPG

192 288 354 834

49 71 64 63 380 190

317

317

149

448

33 71 84 68

130

524

80 30 103 73

115

573

106 10 58 52

110

650

49 24 159 86

101

710

95 25 48 51

104

830

137 18 209 120

99

889

34 47 90 59

110

1097

309 28 314 208

105

1151

38 37 80 54

102

1231

85 27 123 80

25 Oct. 26 Oct. 27 Oct. 28 Oct. 29 Oct. 30 Oct. 31 Oct. 1 Nov. 2 Nov. 3 Nov. 4 Nov.

28 190 577 317

24 Oct.

Number 25-pounder of guns ammunition expenditure in RPG at various dates

1,231

1,043 578 1,909

Total expenditure in RPG

Source: WO 201/2877, Appendix 1, PRO, Kew, London.

Note: Actual expenditure of ammunition was a bit more because the corps and the divisions had their private dumps which were accumulated before the battle. The rounds available in these dumps were not calculated.

X Corps XIII Corps XXX Corps Total Eighth Army in RPG per day Total RPG during the period Average Expenditure per day

Formation

TABLE 4.1 Ammunition expenditure by 25-pounder guns of the Eighth Army during the Third Battle of Alamein

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for the 2-pounder guns in the Northern Sector. The rate for Bofors anti-aircraft artillery was 14 RPG per day.81 Massive expenditure of Allied artillery shells during Lightfoot reminds one of the Battle of Messines Ridge (3–10 June 1917), when British guns fired 3,258,000 rounds.82 At the right flank of the Eighth Army was positioned the 9th Australian Division under Lieutenant-General Leslie Morshead. The 9th after its staunch defence at Tobruk had been withdrawn, then rested and trained hard at Syria and Palestine. It returned in July 1942 and took part in the First Battle of El Alamein. During the Third Battle of El Alamein, the 26th Brigade formed the right flank of the 9th Australian Division. The 20th Australian Brigade was deployed at the left of the 26th Australian Brigade. The right flank of the 9th Australian Division rested on the Mediterranean near the Tel el Eisa Hill. Here the 24th Australian Brigade launched a diversionary attack. Along with the advancing Australian infantry came the sappers who cleared the Axis minefields. The 9th Australian Division had seventy-two 25-pounders to tackle the Axis armoured counter-attacks. In addition, to this division were attached the 40th and 46th RTR Battalions of the 23rd British Armoured Brigade. These two tank battalions had spent weeks training with the infantry and sappers. However, due to the past experience, the Australian infantry had little faith in the British armoured regiments and their weakly armed Valentine tanks.83 While some armoured units were attached with the assaulting infantry divisions to provide firepower support and protection against enemy armoured attack, the bulk of them were concentrated to function as an independent battering ram for breaching the hostile defensive line. The 23rd Armoured Brigade Group had 194 tanks in four regiments (8th, 40th, 46th and 50th). The 23rd Armoured Brigade Group’s different units were attached with various infantry divisions. Its 8th Regiment was attached to the 1st South African Division, the 40th Regiment was with the 9th Australian Division and the 50th Regiment was with the 51st Highland Division. The various units of the 23rd Armoured Brigade Group moved to the assembly areas in the morning of 22 October. Thanks to the deceptive measures taken, the Axis troops were unaware of the impending Allied attack. The 40th Tank Regiment was ordered to move forward once the hostile forward defensive positions had been neutralized by the Australian infantry and then to support the 2nd/13th Australian Infantry Battalion. The 50th Tank Regiment was to operate in three squadrons. In the north, one squadron was to support the 153rd Infantry Brigade and especially the 5th/7th Gordons. Another squadron was to aid the 51st Highland Division’s attack on the enemy position named Stirling. And the 8th Tank Regiment was to support the forward brigade of the 1st South African Division when requested.84 The XIII Corps launched a diversionary operation in the open region between the Ruweisat Ridge and Qaret el Himeimat. The 7th British Armoured Division and the 44th Division attacked the Axis line between Himeimat and Deir el Munassib Depression, and the 50th Northumbrian Division was poised to attack Munassib on 24 October. The 50th British Division had two brigades (69th and

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151st). Due to heavy losses the division had suffered during the summer battles, the two brigades were not well drilled. Further, these two brigades had a large number of recruits hastily drafted from different regiments. So cohesion in these two brigades was not up to the mark.85 Rommel was in Germany at that time. He was able to resume command in North Africa only on 26 October. This gap of 48 hours, asserts Remy Porte, enabled Montgomery to seize the initiative during Operation Lightfoot.86 Kesselring in his memoirs portrays the atmosphere in the Panzer Army Africa’s High Command in the following words: With the death of the deputy Commander-in-Chief there was an atmosphere of bewilderment at army HQ until Rommel’s return. Anyone who knows how decisive are the first orders in a defensive engagement will have no difficulty in understanding what the loss of General Stumme meant for the whole battle.87 Let us see, what happened in somewhat greater detail. On 24 October, the 9th Australian Division in the XXX Corps was ordered to exploit northwards if their supporting armour was able to get through the gaps in the Axis minefields. Gatehouse was ordered forward to sort out the advance of the three armoured brigades. And the 4th Indian Division (less its 5th Indian Brigade) was ordered to carry out a large-scale raid to distract enemy attention from the main points of Allied attack. In the XIII Corps, it was expected that the 1st Armoured Division would be able to break out in the afternoon. And the 2nd New Zealand Division was ordered to coordinate its operation with the 10th Armoured Division. The RAF reigned supreme over the desert sky.88 The 15th Panzer Division started the battle with 101 anti-tank guns, eight 88 mm guns and fifty-three medium field artillery guns.89 Panzer Army Afrika split up its 15th Panzer Division into several battle groups in order to contain the multiple Allied thrusts. De Guingand noted that this aided the Allied breakthrough, as now the Germans could not concentrate their armour.90 This German defensive technique had actually started in the Eastern Front from December 1941 onwards. As the Wehrmacht was forced on the defensive, the panzer division (combined arms team of armour, self-propelled artillery and motorized infantry) changed from an offensive weapon into a defensive weapon of last resort. It functioned as a fire brigade and utilized its mobility by making lateral moves behind the German front line to move from one crisis situation to another. And its armoured elements were occasionally amalgamated with regular German infantry to constitute battle groups (smaller than division size formation) in order to fill the ruptures along the defensive line.91 The 8th Tank Regiment reported that the Allied infantry had occupied the enemy positions without aid from the armour. But the latter had suffered a few casualties in the Axis minefields. In the north, the 40th Tank Regiment provided fire support to the 2nd/13th and 2nd/17th Australian Infantry Battalions. However,

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Allied infantry and armour failed to capture Stirling on 23 October. The Axis minefields and the dreaded 88 mms defeated them. During the afternoon of 24 October, the 50th Tank Regiment made a diversionary attack towards Stirling to attract hostile fire while the X Armoured Corps attacked frontally. It seems that the latter unit had not learnt much in the course of fighting in North Africa. The 50th Tank Regiment lost nine tanks, but their sacrifice enabled the X Armoured Corps to capture the Axis strong point. At the end of the day, the 23rd Armoured Brigade Group numbered 156 tanks.92 The Eighth Army was conducting a slowmoving slogging match. Not only did the Eighth Army have a large number of tanks and artillery pieces, but even after suffering huge losses they could be replenished. Rommel in the long run would be exhausted. The Eighth Army excluding the replacements available started Lightfoot with 395 Crusaders, 267 Shermans, 196 Valentines, 128 Grants and 128 Stewarts. As regards the artillery pieces, there were 834 25-pounder field pieces, 753 6-pounder anti-tank guns, 521 2-pounder guns, thirty-two 4.5-inch medium guns, twenty-four 105 mm field guns and twenty 5.5-inch medium guns.93 However, in the immediate context, Axis response was violent. In the evening of 24 October, Stirling was reoccupied by the counter-attacking Axis troops.94 Absence of supporting infantry, after the successful attack by the British armour, explains the Allied setback in this region. Inadequate infantry-tank cooperation seemed to be a recurrent failure of the Allied forces from Battleaxe onward and was not rectified totally even during the Third Battle of Alamein. At the end of the day, the 8th and 9th Armoured Brigades claimed to have destroyed fifteen Axis tanks.95 On 24 October, Kesselring flew to the battlefield. He found that the Eighth Army had made significant dents in the defensive minefields of Panzer Army Afrika. General Georg Stumme was missing and Siegfried Westphal was conducting the battle. Rommel was recuperating in Germany due to his bad health. Rommel arrived via Rome in the evening of 25 October.96 On 25 October, Montgomery ordered the XXX Corps to hold the Miteiriya Ridge and to undertake crumbling operations northwards using the 9th Australian Division.97 The Allied forces launched a further attack on Stirling. The 5th Black Watch advanced with the 46th Tank Regiment. The tanks were ordered not to take part in the infantry assault but were to be present in the rear of the infantry. And after the Axis strongpoint was captured, the British tanks were to concentrate west of this position to support the British infantry against enemy armoured counter-attacks. So we see that instead of intimate cooperation between infantry and tanks, both these two services were fighting their separate battles. Stirling was finally captured at 2300 hours. On that day, the 40th Tank Regiment lost a few armoured vehicles due to enemy shellfire, but the position occupied by the 50th Tank Regiment improved due to the arrival of replacement tanks next day.98 During the night of 25–26 October, the 5th Yorks and the 6th Green Howards attacked the strong points named Moor and Cape at Munassib. But, British infantry was stopped by Axis wire and mines and were further hit by their own artillery fire. After suffering heavy casualties, the British infantry in this sector fell back.99 Monty

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cancelled further diversionary attacks in this sector. Even with numerical and material superiority, British infantry just could not demolish the Axis defence in depth. At 0800 hours on 26 October, the 9th Australian Division reported that a considerable number of Axis armoured vehicles were moving forward to launch an attack against the 2nd/13th Australian Infantry Battalion. The 40th Tank Regiment readied itself to provide support to the 30th Australian Infantry. The situation became serious when at 1430 hours, the 9th Australian Division reported that 194 Axis tanks were attacking with artillery. The Australian division had overestimated the number of Axis tanks in the fog of battle. Still, considerable number of ‘Jerry’ tanks was in action against the Aussies. The 275th Field Battery went into action against the panzers. During the night, the Royal Engineers cleared a lane through the Axis minefield, which in turn enabled the 46th Tank Regiment to advance to support the 26th Australian Infantry Battalion. After acquiring replacement armoured vehicles, the strength of the 23rd Armoured Brigade Group at the end of the day came to about 160 tanks.100 The Eighth Army’s numerical edge regarding the number of armoured vehicles it could deploy continued to hold good despite the large number of tank casualties. The Eighth Army started the battle with 1,136 tanks and on 26 October could still dispose of 754 tanks.101 That day was a bad one for Rommel. Two tankers en route to Tobruk carrying oil for his Panzer Army were sunk. The Allied tanks were all congested and remained almost immobile along the narrow tunnels cleared across the Axis minefields. Luckily, the Luftwaffe was fading away from the sky over Alamein,102 and Axis heavy artillery was neutralized by Allied counter-battery fire. On 27 October, it was planned that the Northern Sector of the Alamein Line would be rolled up. Intensive artillery preparations were made in order to support the Australians. Some seventy-two bombers supported the Australian attack, which was not a complete success.103 The 8th Tank Regiment lost four tanks in the Axis minefield. And in the afternoon, the 50th Tank Regiment went to support the 4th Indian Division.104 The Axis put a strong armour attack against Kidney Hill, which was met by the 1st Armoured Division. The 24th Armoured Brigade ran into difficulty in an Axis minefield.105 Though the Eighth Army had lots of tanks, still some of the armoured regiments’ military effectiveness declined due to continuous combat. For instance, from 23 to 27 October, the 3rd King’s Own Hussars was continually in action in the Miteiriya Ridge and suffered heavy losses in tank crews. The replacement crews were not well trained.106 As a result, the combat effectiveness of this regiment declined during the next operation (Supercharge). On 28 October, one squadron of the 50th Tank Regiment remained in support of the 4th Indian Division at Ruweisat Ridge.107 During the night of October 28–29, the attempt of the 26th Australian Brigade and its supporting tanks to advance to the Coast Road did not go well. As the 2nd/23rd Australian Battalion supported by the 46th RTR advanced in darkness, many of the latter unit’s Valentines were blown up by Axis mines. The rest of the tanks were assailed by Axis anti-tank guns. Machine-gun fire obstructed the advance of the Australian infantry. Soon, the infantry and tanks lost contact with each other. However, the

154  Second and Third Alamein

3rd Battalion of the 125th Panzer Grenadier Regiment and 155th Battle Group of the 90th Light Division suffered heavy losses.108 Monty’s ‘crumbling attacks’ were succeeding slowly and at a high cost which however the Eighth Army could afford at this time.

Supercharge: breakthrough battle Rommel, however, behaved just as Monty predicted. Monty was probably unaware, but he was conducting what later came to be known as effects-based operation (EBO).109 As Rommel concentrated most of his resources in the Northern Sector to counter-attack the 9th Australian Division, on 1 November Monty planned to launch Operation Supercharge.110 De Guingand’s memorandum of 26 October 1942 titled ‘Future Plans’ brings out the logic of thinking behind Supercharge: If we go on as we are, sooner or later the enemy will have to employ 21st Panzer Division in the Northern Sector. Once up there, it is difficult to see how he can switch it back to the south. Therefore, it is for consideration whether we should not plan to . . . concentrate all our armour, i.e. 7th Armoured Division, in the North. If 21st Panzer Division leaves the Southern Sector, then there will be, virtually, only Italians left facing XIII Corps. It is a thousand to one against the Italians attempting any major offensive operation, and, therefore, I feel that we have sufficient resources to be able to hold this front defensively. . . . a successful thrust in the North will mean that the enemy troops in the South will eventually ‘fall into the bag’. In the Northern Sector we can either go on ‘crumbling’ the enemy’s defences in the extreme North, or we can aim at placing a force (Infantry) to the west. . . . With our present resources of infantry divisions in the North we should be perfectly capable of holding the main bridgehead, and with X Corps, including 10th Armoured Division and 7th Armoured Division, we should be able to do what we like further west. The above plan would appear to combine the principles of concentration of forces at the decisive point.111 De Guingand was 100 per cent right on one count: the Italian units in this case did not display aggressive offensive postures. This was to a great extent due to shortcomings in their junior leadership. The junior officers had inadequate knowledge about the weapons, small unit tactics and field fortifications. Further, they were unable to read maps properly and incapable of undertaking long marches. So, the junior Italian officers were timid and failed to exercise authority over their men.112 Junior officers of any combat-effective army ought to be adept in these qualities. All the aforementioned qualities were also required from the junior officers for conducting war efficiently in the tropical theatres. Combat, especially in jungle conditions, required a high level of endurance. High heat and high humidity quickly enervated and exhausted physically unfit men.113 Both Gordon Bennett and Major H. P. Thomas, who commanded the Mixed Reinforcement Camp at Singapore,

Second and Third Alamein  155

noted that the Japanese in contrast to the Allied troops displayed a higher level of endurance.114 Overall, the Italian Army was debilitated by poor training, bad equipment and incompetent leadership.115 On 26 October, Montgomery ordered the 7th Armoured Division to move north if the 21st Panzer Division also moved north. And the 9th Australian Division was to continue its attack northwards. The 21st Panzer Division did actually move up from south to the north on that day. On 28 October, Montgomery ordered that the X Corps should be prepared to operate westwards from the left flank of 9th Australian Division on the morning of the next day.116 In the morning of 29 October, command of the Coastal Sector was given to the 90th Light Division under General Graf von Sponeck. At this stage, Rommel’s mobile units were suffering from acute shortages of petrol and his troops were weary due to continuous Allied bombings, both during day and night.117 Just before launching Supercharge, Monty was not certain that it would succeed. On 31 October, Monty called Major-General Gatehouse, commander of the 10th Armoured Division, and asked the latter for his views about the ongoing battle. Monty considered Gatehouse an expert in armour and relied on him for issues regarding armoured warfare during the Second Battle of Alamein. Gatehouse replied that the battle was not going well for the Allies. Monty was then in a depressed mood. Gatehouse elaborated that the lanes across the Axis minefields were expanding very slowly, at the rate of half a mile per night. Since the tanks were almost static, they were suffering heavy losses from enemy fire. Gatehouse recommended that the bulk of the armour should be withdrawn to the rear. Only when a breakthrough was possible should the armour be ordered to go into the open country through the gaps in the minefields.118 Monty rightly did not agree with this plan. Gatehouse’s plan meant keeping the infantry without armoured support and ordering only the infantry to conduct the break-in battle and to use the armour for exploitation of the breakthrough. So combined arms warfare for both break-in and breakthrough battles were not Gatehouse’s formula. However, Gatehouse had reasons to worry because of the tank losses the Eighth Army was suffering. Between 31 October and 1 November, as the Allied and German armour slogged with each other, the former suffered another sixty-six casualties.119 Supercharge was to begin on the night of 1–2 November 1942. The aim was to get the X Corps through the Axis defensive line into open country. The attack was to be carried out by the 151st and 152nd New Zealand Infantry Brigades. Both these brigades were to be supported by units of 23rd Armoured Brigade (equipped with I tanks). The 9th Armoured Brigade Group was to follow closely behind the advancing ‘Kiwi’ infantry and then to push another 2 miles forward of the infantry in order to ‘hold the door open’ for the 1st Armoured Division.120 So the two infantry brigades along with the 23rd and 9th Armoured Brigades were to conduct the breakthrough battle and the 1st Armoured Division was to exploit the breakthrough. The 2nd New Zealand Division attacked at 0105 hours with the 151st New Zealand Infantry Brigade on the right and the 152nd New Zealand Infantry Brigade

156  Second and Third Alamein

on the left. Each brigade covered a frontage of 2,000 metres. They were supported by a battalion of Valentine tanks belonging to the 23rd Armoured Brigade. The 9th Armoured Brigade’s task was to follow the infantry attacks which went to a depth of 4,000 metres. The 9th Armoured Brigade was charged to advance another 2,000 metres, behind an artillery barrage which was to start at 0545 hours. The brigade was to move in three lanes. One squadron of New Zealand cavalry was to follow each armoured regiment for mopping up hostile troops left behind. In the dawn, the 1st Armoured Division was to pass through the 9th Armoured Brigade with the 2nd Armoured Brigade leading, followed by the 7th Motor Brigade and the 8th Armoured Brigade. It was pointed out at the planning stage, that the 9th Armoured Brigade was being asked to operate on too wide a front and its regiments would not be able to provide mutual support to each other in case they were counter-attacked by the Germans. However, Monty accepted the possibility of the 9th Armoured Brigade suffering 100 per cent casualties. Further, he pointed out realistically that the availability of the 1st Armoured Division for immediate support would prevent such a catastrophe from happening in reality.121 When the actual attack took place, two squadrons of divisional cavalry which were supposed to follow the 9th Armoured Brigade’s advance failed in its task. The OP officers lost contact with the armoured regiments. And the armoured regiments fought their own separate battles. The 3rd Hussars suffered heavily due to Axis shell fire. And at dawn, in the Rahman Track, the British tanks were assailed at their front and flanks by heavy German anti-tank fire. The Germans attacked with tanks (Mark IIIs and III Specials) and 50 mm and 88 mm anti-tank guns. The British tanks could not get any help from field artillery battery because all communications with it were cut.122 Let us get a bird’s eye view of the battle. Just before dawn, the A and B Squadrons of the 3rd Hussars arrived on the Rahman Track and immediately came under heavy anti-tank fire. The German anti-tank guns allowed the first three Crusaders to pass and then opened fire at the flanks of the remaining British tanks. If the two squadrons had their motor platoons and infantry laden carriers with them, the German anti-tank guns could easily have been captured. Allied infantry-tank cooperation failed, as usual. The Queen’s Bays (right-hand regiment of the 2nd Armoured Brigade) was in the left rear of the 3rd Hussars. As usual, a German armoured counter-attack developed the moment their defensive line was breached. The German objective was to destroy the breaching force before the latter could consolidate its position. At 1000 hours, the panzer counter-attack came. Elements of the 21st Panzer Division attacked from the west and detachments of the 15th Panzer Division came from the north.123 Though suffering heavier casualties, Allied armour was slowly chewing up Rommel’s lean panzer reserves, which were already running short of precious fuel. Monty’s grinding attack was succeeding even though exploitation by Allied armour through the ‘open door’ was a failure. The Allied armour was able to keep the door open, but was not strong enough to rush through it. During midday of 2 November, the remnants of the 9th Armoured Brigade was amalgamated into a composite regiment and put on the right of the 2nd

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Armoured Brigade. In the evening, the composite 9th Armoured suffered from the high-explosive shells fired by 105 mm and 150 mm Axis guns.124 When Supercharge started, the 9th Armoured Brigade had 123 tanks.125 Within 24 hours, this armoured brigade lost eighty-five tanks.126 Many military professionals critiqued the performance of the 9th Armoured Brigade on 2 November. But General Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma accepted that the battering of the Axis line by this formation broke the back of the Axis defence in this sector. Thoma later recalled that the loss of anti-tank guns seriously jeopardized Axis defence. This Allied attack resulted in the destruction of eighteen Axis tanks along with forty guns plus 400 prisoners taken.127 As evening broke on 2 November, the 1st Armoured Division was still not able to cross the Rahman Track. The British tanks were held by an Axis anti-tank gun line along the Aqqaqir Ridge. It was decided to launch the three infantry battalions of the 7th Motor Brigade against this ridge. At the end of the day, DAK was left with just thirty-five German tanks.128 And the southern end of the Axis held Alamein Line was lightly held. The Pistoia Division had 5,000 men with thirty-six guns and fifty anti-tank guns and the Young Fascists with 2,000 personnel and thirty-four guns were at Siwa. There were another 2,000 men at Matruh.129 On 3 November 1942, at 1330 hours, Rommel received the following message from Hitler: It is with trusting confidence in your leadership and the courage of the German Italian troops under your command that the German people and I are following the heroic struggle in Egypt. In the situation in which you find yourself there can be no other thought than to stand fast, yield not a yard of ground and throw every gun and every man into the battle. . . . It would not be the first time in history that a strong will has triumphed over the bigger battalions. As to your troops, you can show them no other road than that to victory or death.130 Hitler’s message was in response to Rommel’s report that the right wing of the Panzer Army Afrika was pulling out from the Alamein Line. Hitler considered it as a cowardly measure.131 Hitler had forgotten Napoleon’s maxim that God sides with the bigger battalions. Hitler’s rhetoric could not mask the material weakness of Panzer Army Afrika. Hitler himself knew it very well. Probably for this reason, the Führer emphasized the willpower of the German troops and their commander to offset Allied material and manpower supremacy. And the Führer’s message ended with an implied threat: since victory was no more possible, he wanted the commander and his soldiers to die. On 24 October, Panzer Army Afrika had 219 German tanks (Mark II, III and IV combined). On 3 November, twenty-four were left. And next day, only twelve tanks were left operational.132 Against them, the Eighth Army had about 600 tanks.133 In the night of 3 November, Monty planned another infantry attack. The 5th/7th Gordon Highlanders of the 153rd Brigade and the 8th RTR were to capture a part

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of the Rahman Track 2 miles south of Tel el Aqqaqir. The 5th Indian Brigade (1st/4th Essex, 3rd/10th Baluch and 4th/6th Rajputana) and the 50th RTR along with the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were to launch supporting attacks in the morning of 4 November. The Indian attack, which started at 0130 hours, did not go well initially. In the dark moonless night, they were confused by the Axis minefields. And then the Stukas paid them a visit. The Indian infantry would be able to perfect the art of moving in moonless night in Tunisia the next year due to rigorous innovative training. Thanks to support provided by the 50th RTR, the Indian brigade was finally able to reach its objective.134 On 4 November, when Kesselring arrived again at the battlefield, Rommel accused him for encouraging Hitler for sending the no retreat signal. Kesselring placated Rommel and signalled his decision to Hitler asking for a change of his order. Kesselring himself said that due to changed circumstances, the ‘no retreat’ order had been overtaken by events unfolding on the ground. However, Kesselring noted that a mood of defeatism was prevailing in Rommel’s headquarters.135 The 15th Panzer Division along with the Ariete Division was on the right of 21st Panzer Division. A large number of Italians from Trento Division surrendered to the Allies.136 In the afternoon of 4 November, Hitler relented and gave Rommel a free hand to direct ground operations in North Africa.137 The Panzer Army Afrika was saved thanks to Kesselring’s active intervention and Monty’s dithering.

Panzer Army Afrika retreats Monty was awed by Rommel’s reputation. —Lieutenant-General Francis Tuker138

At 1730 hours on 4 November, Rommel renewed his order to withdraw. In the morning of 5 November, both Hitler and Commando Supremo approved Rommel’s withdrawal order. At this time, the Panzer Army Afrika had 5,000 effective troops, twenty tanks, twenty anti-tank guns and fifty field guns. On 5 November, Rommel entered Fuka but saw that there were no prepared defences there,139 so he continued with his retreat. The available motor transport could only support the X Corps till Matruh.140 But considering the weakened state of the German-Italian Panzer Army, a smaller striking force comprising armour and motorized infantry would have been able to surround Rommel’s defeated force. Monty claims in his account that he had planned to cut off the retreating Panzer Army Afrika by swinging his force north to cut the Coast Road at the bottlenecks of Fuka and Matruh. The 2nd New Zealand Division was ordered to Fuka and the X Corps to Matruh. And in the south, XIII Corps formed mobile columns in order to round up the four Italian infantry divisions who were left without transport and with very little food and water.141 On 5 November, Monty ordered the X Corps (the 1st and 7th Armoured Divisions and the 2nd New Zealand Division) to lead the chase. The XXX Corps was positioned

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between Matruh and Alamein. And the XIII Corps was given the task of cleaning up the Alamein battlefield. On that day, the 21st Panzer Division was at Abu Haggag west of Fuka and the 90th Light Division was on the escarpment. The 1st Armoured Division followed along the Coast Road and the 7th Armoured Division was further south. The 10th Armoured Division ordered to advance to Bagush was slow in moving forward. In the morning, the New Zealand Division with the 4th Light Armoured Brigade was moving towards the escarpments at Fuka. On the XIII Corps front, several thousands of Italians without transport waited for surrendering to the Allied troops.142 On 6 November, elements of the Allied pursuit force were just east of Mersa Matruh.143 Monty’s supporters argue that the storm and rainfall on 6 November prevented the RAF from destroying the retreating Axis columns. And the advancing Allied armour got bogged down. Monty himself writes: ‘Heavy rains interfered with my plans. On 7 November the force was bogged in the desert, with its petrol and supplies held up some miles behind. . . . The rain on 6 and 7 November saved them from complete annihilation’.144 De Guingand supports Monty’s position in his memoirs: ‘I doubt whether many people realize how near Montgomery was to destroying the retreating remnants of Rommel’s forces, and that only a most unlucky break in the weather deprived him of this prize’.145 Besides Montgomery himself and his loyal Chief of Staff ‘Freddie’, even the noted historian of desert war Niall Barr accepts that the rainfall allowed Rommel to escape.146 The slushy ground must have also slowed the withdrawal of the Axis columns. When the ground dried after the rainfall on 8 November, Monty forbade any ‘mad rush’ forward. He was apprehensive about the difficulties of supplying the pursuit force and the probability of Rommel hammering his pursuit force badly. At that date, Afrika Korps had only ten serviceable tanks with a limited quantity of fuel.147 On 8 November, when Rommel reached Sollum, he heard that a large AngloAmerican force was heading towards French North Africa. For Rommel, this was the end of the Axis venture in North Africa. On 9 November, Admiral Darlan (Deputy to Marshal Petain), who was at Algiers, instead of trying to defend French North Africa against the Anglo-Americans ranged the French in Algeria on the Allied side. Hitler then took the decision to strengthen the Tunisian bridgehead. The British Army officer turned historian Kenneth Macksey writes that despite Kesselring’s recommendations, between 8 November and 19 November Rommel withdrew as fast as he could from Sollum to Mersa Brega (Agheila). Rommel did not seriously attempt to delay Montgomery’s Eighth Army in order to allow the Axis powers sufficient time to build up the Tunisian bridgehead.148 Nevertheless, the advance of Allied armour was slow and patchy. The 22nd Armoured Brigade of the 7th Armoured Division reached Tobruk on 13 November. Then it halted at El Adem for some days to carry out maintenance and the pursuit was continued by the 7th Light Armoured Brigade. On 23 November, the 7th Armoured Division faced the retreating Afrika Korps between Agheila and Mersa Brega. By this time, Rommel received the Italian Centauro Armoured Division (it had fought in the Yugoslav Campaign) and elements of three Italian infantry

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divisions.149 On 24 November, Rommel had only thirty tanks and forty-eight antitank guns.150 On 29 November, Rommel suddenly appeared at Wolfschanze (Hitler’s Headquarters). He demanded evacuation from North Africa. Hitler received Rommel coldly and stated that the Axis supply situation across the Mediterranean would improve.151 It goes without saying that it did not improve substantially. However, Montgomery over-emphasized his own supply problems. He claimed that all his supplies had to be brought by road from Tobruk. The port of Benghazi was not operating at full capacity. Moreover, the WDAF was demanding lot of stores for itself. Further, Monty claimed that he could not afford to suffer huge losses in infantry in a forthcoming battle due to reinforcement problems. To avoid it, he had to depend mainly on artillery and WDAF for defeating the Axis forces.152 British historian G. D. Sheffield writes that Monty’s approach to battle was shaped by his experience at Messines and Ypres (1917). He methodically prepared for a stage-managed battle and utilized a high volume of firepower in order to save casualties among his infantry. In fact, some of the British infantry battalions in North Africa suffered seventy casualties each per month. However, Sheffield agrees that Monty’s over-cautious approach to battle by allowing the Panzer Army to escape might have lengthened the Second World War and in the long run raised the number of British casualties.153 The Eighth Army planned to attack Agheila on 15 December. However, the Italian infantry started withdrawing on 8 December. Then, the Eighth Army advanced the date of attack to 13 December. Rommel vacated this position in the night of 12–13 December.154 It must be noted that the Agheila position was a good defensive position. This was an area of soft sand and there were only a few tracks through this sand sea. As long as the Axis held these tracks, any advance by the Eighth Army could be held up for a considerable amount of time.155 On 12 December at a military conference, Hitler cruelly mocked Rommel’s actions by telling Colonel General Alfred Jodl (Chief of the Operation Staff of OKW) that the Panzer Army Afrika was always complaining about lack of fuel to advance forward but they seemed to have had enough fuel to retreat backward.156 Jodl however rightly backed Rommel saying to his Führer: I don’t think we can say anything against it here. It’s like a man you are trying to keep alive with some milk and bread – you can’t expect him to compete in the Olympics. He hasn’t received anything for weeks. . . . He has the intention – and is forced by the material situation – to carry out the mission step by step, to gain time for the extension of this position.157 On 16 December, the Allied pursuit force caught up with the Panzer Army Afrika near Merduma. The 7th Armoured Division as usual attacked frontally, while the 2nd New Zealand Division with its armoured brigade went behind the Axis forces and reached the coast. The panzers had only a limited quantity of fuel, and they were able to break through the weak cordon established by the 2nd New Zealand Division.158 The Axis position in both North Africa and in Russia was

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collapsing. On 18 December, the Italian Eighth Army collapsed, thus making the situation for Axis forces in Stalingrad all the more critical.159 On that day, the 4th Light Armoured Brigade delayed by Axis mines and booby traps was at last able to reach Maraua, but the main body of the X Corps was halted at Tmimi.160 On 29 December, Rommel was at Buerat. He now had thirty-six German and fiftyseven Italian tanks against the Eighth Army’s 500 tanks. However, due to supply difficulties, Montgomery could bring into play only the 2nd New Zealand Division, the 51st Highland Division and the 7th Armoured Division. Considering the dire straits in which the Panzer Army Afrika had been placed, the force available for pursuit was more than enough. On 15 January 1943, the 51st Division attacked astride the Coast Road while the 7th Armoured Division along with the 2nd New Zealand Division moved round the right flank of the Axis forces. The 15th Panzer Division fell back towards Tarhuna. And the 51st Division failed to cut off the retreating Axis forces.161 The 4th Indian Division due to its excellent training under the leadership of the aggressive Tuker might have done better. On the same day, the Hungarian Second Army in South Russia disintegrated and further north the German ring around Leningrad was broken.162 By 16 January 1943, Panzer Army Afrika had left Buerat and was moving west of Homs.163 Rommel was right in evacuating Buerat because this position could easily have been outflanked by the Eighth Army. Rather, Rommel could have made a stand between Tarhuna and Homs. On 19 January, the Eighth Army occupied Homs. By this time, the WDAF was using the new landing grounds at Bir Durfan south-west of Misurata.164 So now the Allied bombers could bomb the Axis transport all the way to Tripoli. Rommel had no other option except to retreat to Tunisia as quickly as possible. On 22 January, Panzer Army Afrika pursued by small elements of the Eighth Army evacuated Tripoli,165 and on 23 January the 11th Hussars entered Tripoli.166 Overall, Allied armour pursued Panzer Army Afrika very slowly and hesitantly. The 7th Armoured Brigade was delayed in its advance from Antelat to Beda Fomm due to refuelling difficulties.167 Between Alamein and the Mareth Line, no serious fighting occurred between the Eighth Army and the Panzer Army Africa. During late 1942, not only did Monty enjoy quantitative superiority but also qualitative superiority over Panzer Army Afrika. The technical imbalance between the British armour and the panzers was rectified to a great extent, when the British armoured regiments were equipped with Shermans from the United States. This tremendously boosted the morale of the British armoured crew. Each Sherman weighed 30 tons with a five-man crew and had a top speed of 24 miles per hour. The British tank crew rightly believed that the Shermans were better than the Grants, Stuarts and the Crusaders. And the Sherman was a match for the Mark IV panzer. However, British tanks still feared the German 88 mm guns.168 In addition, the Eighth Army enjoyed enormous quantitative superiority over the Panzer Army Afrika. Still, Alanbrooke in his diary offers justification for Montgomery’s dilatory pursuits. He had written in his diary on 15 December 1942 that rumours were floating that Monty was sticky and would never take risks and would play only for certainties and so forth. He held Coningham and Tedder, the two air chiefs,

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responsible for such rumours. Alanbrooke continued that these two airmen had no understanding of the time-consuming, elaborate administrative management required for conducting a ground war.169 Alanbrooke provided his protégé Monty 100 per cent support but was not so generous with Auchinleck. Overall, Monty failed to trap and destroy Rommel’s ragtag force. Historian Bruce Allen Watson asserts: ‘The inescapable conclusion is that the Panzer Army was Montgomery’s for the taking’.170 Commander of the 4th Indian Division, Major-General Tuker, wholeheartedly agrees with such a view. David Fraser in his biography of Rommel asserts that more than Monty, his subordinates were afraid of pursuing Rommel due to the German general’s fearsome reputation of turning defeat into victory. And Monty’s technique was to gain victory by the application of overwhelming force and not to risk that victory by attempting to pursue the nimble and intelligent foe.171 At this stage of the Second World War, Monty could afford such tactics, but this option was never present for any German generals. Due to smaller economic and demographic resources, the Germans if they were to win had to fight aggressively and quickly, taking great risks with limited amount of high quality military assets. Their style of warfare one American historian has aptly termed as ‘The German Way of War’.172 Sheffield writes that Monty’s 21st Army Group in 1944 was capable of conducting centrally controlled attritional firepower intensive set piece battles. It was an updated version of ‘bite and hold’ operations carried out by General Herbert Plumer’s Second Army around Ypres in 1917. This scenario applied even for Monty’s Eighth Army in late 1942 and early 1943. Montgomery’s policy was to conduct a proper stage-managed battle. Montgomery’s centrally controlled battle was partly influenced by lack of trust in his subordinates. But fluid, fast-paced warfare required Auftragstaktik (directive command or mission-oriented command), which required subordinates who could be trusted to operate with a loose rein.173 Unlike Monty, Slim conducted maneuver warfare in central Burma during early 1945 and was more open in his attitude. Subordinates were allowed to offer friendly criticism to Slim.174 This was unthinkable in the case of Monty. The very fact that Gatehouse criticized Monty’s Lightfoot plan resulted in his dismissal in the immediate aftermath of Alamein.175 Did Monty hate the Indian Army? Tuker believed that his prejudice along with Auchinleck’s failure had put the prestige of the Indian Army at stake in the desert. He rightly noted that the 4th Indian Division was one of the most experienced formations of the Eighth Army. Still this division was placed in the backburner. It remained at the bottom in the list of priority. All the motor transport was taken away from this division. The 31st Field Regiment sent from Cyprus for this division was not assigned to it. While other divisions got 6- and 17-pounder guns, the 4th had to do with the old ‘peashooters’ (2-pounder guns). Tuker claimed that his division was denied a reconnaissance regiment. And he bemoaned that GHQ India did not support his position. The problem was that India was a colony and not a dominion like Australia and New Zealand. Hence,

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GOI’s opinion did not carry as much political weight as the Australian and New Zealand governments. Due to political pressure exerted by the dominions, the British commanders thought twice of dispersing dominion troops among the various formations of the Eighth Army. But India was a political orphan. Hence, the brigades of the Indian divisions could be broken up and received a low priority as regards the supply of latest equipment. Monty not only marginalized Indian Army’s generals like Tuker but also disliked other dominion and even some British generals. For instance, after taking over the Eighth Army, Montgomery replaced Auchinleck’s appointee Major-General W.H.C. Ramsden from command of the XXX Corps. But instead of appointing the Australian Leslie Morshead, Montgomery gave the command to the less experienced Oliver Leese.176 The level of generalship displayed by Leese at the corps level is doubtful, and he would later bungle in Burma during 1945. Nevertheless, Tuker’s claim that if he was allowed to advance after the victory at Alamein, due to the battle skill and knowledge of the desert, the 4th Indian Division would have been able to cut off Rommel at Sollum, is far-fetched.177 True, the 4th Indian Division was more skilled compared to the 50th and 51st British divisions in desert fighting. And Panzer Army Afrika at this stage was a deeply wounded reptile bleeding profusely. Nevertheless, it was a dangerous reptile. It could still lick its enemies very badly. For severing the LOC of Rommel’s defeated force, the Eighth Army required the 4th Indian Division with motor transport and a strong armoured column with self-propelled artillery for intimate support plus dedicated cooperation from the RAF well-versed in CAS. The last two elements were still missing in the Eighth Army. Kesselring noted in his autobiography that in the immediate aftermath of the Third Battle of Alamein, there was pell-mell congestion along the Via Balbia. At Halfaya Pass, there was an opportunity to destroy the semi-stranded Axis columns. But the WDAF was yet to learn to exterminate a retreating ground force.178 Hitler told Jodl: ‘Rommel has become the greatest pessimist and Kesselring a complete optimist’.179 Hitler was right in this regard. Kesselring asserted that Rommel could have conducted a slow and steady retreat which would have denied the harbours of Benghazi and Tobruk to the Eighth Army for quite a long time. This in turn would have facilitated the supply situation of Rommel and increased the logistical difficulties of Montgomery who generally played safe and lacked a strong air transport unit. In fact, Kesselring was for the removal of Rommel from Africa.180 However, Hitler, Kesselring and historian Kenneth Macksey were wrong in accusing Rommel for withdrawing rapidly after Alamein. In late 1942, pessimism was the right ideology for any German general, either in the Eastern Front or in North Africa. Considering the disparity in air and ground force and in the supply situation, Rommel did the right thing in escaping as fast he could with his depleted Panzer Army Afrika. Credit is due to Rommel for withdrawing successfully. And Monty, despite Alanbrooke and De Guingand’s support, is to be blamed for allowing the ‘Desert Fox’ to escape.

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Did Monty’s Eighth Army display a learning curve? The impression we gained of the new British commander, General Montgomery, was that of a very cautious man, who was not prepared to take any sort of risk. —Field-Marshal Erwin Rommel181

Can one discern any improvement in tactical thought and operational ideas of the Eighth Army during the two battles of El Alamein? The American historian Raymond Callahan claims that the bane of the British Army was the fact that the senior commanders retained the right to interpret doctrine as they felt fit. So unlike the German Army, in which the German General Staff had pushed a standardized doctrine, no unified doctrine created under the aegis of the General Staff was present in the British Army. However, from 1943 onwards Montgomery was able to push his own doctrine down the throat of the British Army.182 Let us analyze Monty’s doctrine during the Alamein battles. Why was Rommel able to withdraw his battered army after the failed Second Battle of Alamein? The Allied armour was debilitated by the fact that there was no single armoured doctrine in the Eighth Army but rather several competing doctrines. Let us give an example. While Lumsden was an advocate of use of armour for rapid cavalry-like pursuit in order to destroy the retreating hostile force, Gatehouse was more conservative in his approach. Gatehouse was for slow and steady advance of the armour after the Allied infantry had advanced and the Axis minefields were cleared. And the divergent views about the use of armour also resulted in bad personal relations between Lumsden and his subordinate Gatehouse. After the Battle of Alam Halfa (Second Battle of Alamein), Gatehouse was commanding the 10th Armoured Division, plus the 22nd and 23rd Armoured Brigades. A highly agitated Lumsden asked Gatehouse that when Rommel’s battered force withdrew into Deir el Regil, why Gatehouse’s armour did not pursue them. In Gatehouse’s own words: I informed him that previous to the battle I had had a long briefing by the Army Commander (Monty), and that this had been one of the main points insisted upon-viz. not to be drawn on a wild goose chase to the missiles of waiting 88 mm guns – as Rommel had so often managed to make his enemy do in the past.183 After hearing this reply, Lumsden left the scene, quivering with rage. In fact, Monty accepts in his autobiography that he had given strict orders that the Allied armour was not to be let loose against Rommel’s force.184 Gatehouse’s statement is supported by De Guingand’s account in his autobiography. He narrates: Montgomery called the battle off on 7 September, and would not allow our troops to follow up. At the time some criticism was to be heard, because he did not immediately start a counteroffensive. How wise he was. From the

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point of view of both training and equipment, he realized that his troops were not in a position to undertake operation of this sort.185 In that occasion, Rommel did not have a gun line of 88 mm guns ready to ambush the Allied tanks, if the latter attempted to pursue him. Moreover, some risks had to be taken in battle. And at this stage, the Eighth Army with its huge superiority in tanks could afford some losses. But Montgomery would only fight a closely scripted, slow-motion battle. And even after two years of war, the Allied troops were not able to meet the Germans on equal terms in mobile war. It was indeed a sad commentary on the Eighth Army. The armoured commanders, the Chief of Staff of the Eighth Army De Guingand and Montgomery, all were conservative in their approach to battle. They wanted to fight a tightly controlled centrally directed battle. It was due to the ethos of the British officer corps and their experience of combat in the Western Front during the First World War. One example could be given about how initiative among the subordinate commanders was strangulated. During the XXX Corps’ Lightfoot Conference held on 9 October, the corps commander pointed out that the 4th Indian Division’s task was to strengthen the defence of the Ruweisat Ridge and to carry out a diversionary attack and then if situation permits to advance westwards. Tuker, commander of the 4th Indian Division, was happy with the XXX Corps commander’s plan. Major-General A.W.W. Holworthy, commander of the 7th Indian Brigade of the 4th Indian Division, was extremely eager to carry out aggressive advance if and when opportunity would present itself. This would divert enemy strength from the main axis of Allied attack. Holworthy planned night advance with mortar support after clearing the minefields. His brigade carried out intensive exercise about how to advance through Axis minefields even in a moonless night.186 However, De Guingand noted: I am not very happy about this, and, personally, I feel we should keep 4th Indian Division strongly entrenched holding Ruweisat Ridge. Attacks based on such orders as ‘to advance as opportunity offers’ are often abortive, and I feel that until the enemy really crumples up it is better to keep a solid defence of the Ruweisat Ridge.187 Martin Samuels writes that from nineteenth century onwards, the German Army culture was to use directive-based/mission-oriented military command, which devolved the control of battle to subordinate commanders. The German military philosophy was that combat was going to be chaotic. And the road to success was to be able to operate effectively in this uncertain environment. In contrast, the British command philosophy was that combat was essentially structured and military effectiveness can be generated through maintenance of order. Since combat is going to be chaotic, assumed the German command philosophy, the junior officers should display initiative and flexibility rather than strictly adhering to detailed orders from above.188 De Guingand’s words reflect the British concept of structured combat and

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centralized control from top. American scholar Williamson Murray hits the nail on the head when he writes that the British system did not encourage the flexibility of mind and the willingness to take initiative that are essential for exploitation of breakthrough battles. For exploitation of fleeting battlefield advantages, NCOs and junior officers who possess initiative and drive are necessary, and these qualities were absent in the British Army.189 In fact, Montgomery himself discouraged free thinking and critical attitude among his subordinates and in the officer corps. As early as 13 August 1942, he had told the officer corps in no uncertain terms that he would not tolerate any ‘bellyaching’. By bellyaching he meant that if any officers raised any doubt about orders issued from the top, then they would be thrown out.190 Lumsden and Gatehouse again clashed during the Third Battle of Alamein. When the 2nd New Zealand Division had taken the Ruweisat Ridge assisted by Neville Custance’s 8th Armoured Brigade, the 24th Armoured Brigade was put under Gatehouse’s command. Lumsden ordered Gatehouse that in the morning these two armoured brigades should push west of the Ruweisat Ridge. Gatehouse retorted that the minefields west of Ruweisat Ridge were still not cleared. Moreover, warned Gatehouse, when the Allied tanks would be slowed by the Axis minefields, then the Germans would launch a counter-attack with tanks and anti-tank guns. Lumsden called Monty and complained about Gatehouse’s insubordination. Monty played safe and ordered Gatehouse to push forward west of Ruweisat Ridge with one armoured regiment. Gatehouse complied with the army commander’s order and as a result the armoured regiment was almost wiped out. It was Gatehouse’s turn to complain to Monty about his corps commander. Gatehouse told Monty that since Lumsden always humiliated him, he would not like to serve under him.191 The corps commander and the armoured divisional commander were behaving like two errant schoolboys when a battle was going on. Gatehouse’s tension-filled relationship with Lumsden was not merely the product of personality clashes, but the causative factor ran deeper. It was lack of mutual trust among them. Presence of mutual trust among the commanders was an essential element of mission oriented command. In Gatehouse’s own words: From my first contacts with Herbert Lumsden I got the impression that he was an enthusiastic amateur, but a very dangerous one. He prided himself on his quickness, his mobility with a very small headquarters and his rapid and only verbal orders. Very early on I discovered that if such orders ‘came off ’ he was very quick to take the praise, but that if they did not, he would flatly deny having given them. This is a very serious statement to make, but on the advice of many senior officers in the Cavalry, after one or two experiences of the denials, I made it a point to get any orders he gave me in writing.192 One way of earning the trust of the subordinates is the superior officer owning up responsibility. But sadly this trait seemed to be missing in the higher command echelons of the Eighth Army. Lack of trust between the divisional commander and

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his corps commander and also divergent views about the proper use of armour were important factors in decelerating innovations in the Allied armoured force. Historian Allan Converse claims that Operation Lightfoot was a set piece battle of attrition and step-by-step gradual advance, the kind of battle technique which the British Army had learnt during the later stages of the First World War. Converse notes that Monty believed in the use of all arms as a combined team and emphasized thorough planning and preparation plus training for specific tasks. Such techniques had proved effective during the later stages of the First World War but were neglected in the interwar period and also in the earlier desert battles.193 The above-mentioned format for a closely supervised set piece battle was adequate to defeat but not destroy the agile Panzer Army Afrika. Panzer Army Afrika was still a threat after the First Battle of Alamein. In fact, it would be wrong to assume that only the German elements in this organization were combat effective. The Italians were not playthings. Tuker, who was critical about almost everything and most of the personalities he encountered in his career, had written: I often hear the Italian laughed at as a soldier. He is patchy. But a Folgore regiment gave 44th Division a thorough beating at Munassib in 1942; Dan Piennar told me he found Italians tougher at Alamein than the Germans: 2nd New Zealand Division had good reason to respect the Italians at Takrouna.194 Historian Brian R. Sullivan concurs that the combat motivation of the Italians was stronger during the Second World War compared to the First World War. The training, discipline and morale of the Italian artillery was good. However, this branch was hobbled due to obsolete equipment. Again, some units were really excellent. For instance, the Folgore Paratroop Division was a light infantry division of 5,200 men, and the personnel were well trained and highly motivated.195 Monty decided to initiate a crumbling attack against the extremely combat effective Panzer Army Afrika. It involved using concentrated artillery day and night against the enemy infantry which would force the panzers to come up against the Allied gun line.196 Tuker noted about Monty’s artillery tactics at the Third Battle of El Alamein in the following words: Anyway, Monty’s artillery tactics were anathema to me. At Alamein, with clear air photos of hostile positions, he fired barrages and those on a front of four divisions (9th Australian, 2nd New Zealand, 51st and 1st South African) – a waste of shell. . . . I expected to see all the army artillery, including corps and divisional, concentrated for each division serially. . . . The need was to thrust deep . . . so have to cut through the least number of mines and so get the armour through quickly with full artillery support behind it to tackle the Boche armour. . . . He would have won his battle more easily and quickly in this way probably in 96 hours.197

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But it would be wrong to argue that Monty or the Eighth Army under his leadership learnt no lesson. In contrast to Tuker, the 152nd Infantry Brigade had a different idea regarding artillery support. This infantry brigade claimed that close support artillery fire (by observation) was most useful except during the night when prearranged artillery fire was used. Concentration barrage, unlike Tuker, noted this infantry brigade, was effective if only detailed and accurate knowledge about the enemy’s positions was available. Air photos were of limited help because the Germans invested heavily in concealment and camouflage. Further, the information gleaned from the night patrols was not accurate enough to point out hostile strong points in the maps. Artillery barrage was of use in the desert but not in the mountains (as we will see in the next chapter). Neither barrage nor concentration fire, concluded the 152nd Infantry Brigade’s report, was adequate to destroy the dug-in hostile troops. They were stunned by the artillery fire and then the Allied infantry needed to advance and finish them off. The report concluded that a mix of concentration fire and artillery barrage fire was necessary. Artillery barrage was especially necessary to neutralize any possible hostile counter-battery fire.198 The final word as regards artillery deployment should go to the officers of the artillery branch. Brigadier S. C. Kirkman, a Royal Artillery officer, pointed out that in case of the attack carried out by the 2nd New Zealand Infantry Division, very little was known about the enemy defence. So, the fire plan involved creeping barrage in the First World War style. It started on a frontage of 4,000 yards and moved forward at the rate of 100 yards every two and a half minutes. However, five field and three medium artillery regiments were used for concentration fire of known and likely hostile positions. While nineteen guns were used for creeping barrage, 168 guns were used for concentration fire. The average rate of fire was 2 RPG per minute. This mix of concentration and barrage was successful as the infantry was able to reach its objectives and the Axis guns were silenced. Similarly, in the subsidiary attack carried out by the XIII Corps in the night of 23–24 October, a mix of concentration and barrage fire was practiced.199 So, unlike Tuker who was arguing only for concentration fire, the views of the 152nd Infantry Brigade and the Royal Artillery officer were that instead of merely a concentration fire, a mix of concentration fire and barrage (including creeping barrage) worked best. Monty at Alamein and in Tunisia accepted the 152nd Infantry Brigade and Kirkman’s views rather than Tuker’s concept of artillery plan. On 14 December 1942, Major-General A. Maxwell Royal Artillery as part of the learning process circulated a detailed report about the artillery battle fought at Alamein. This report was circulated among the Commandant of Middle East Staff School, the Commandant of Middle East Junior Staff School, the Commandant of Middle East Training Centre, the Commandant of Middle East School of Artillery, the Director of Royal Artillery, the War Office, the Inspector of the Artillery War Office, the School of Artillery Larkhill and the Master General Royal Artillery GHQ India. The shortcomings of Axis artillery and defensive system were noted. It was noted that wiring of the German positions in the Southern Sector of the front was very strong and comparatively weak in the Northern Sector. In addition, Axis

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use of their medium and heavy artillery was unimpressive. The report pointed out: ‘He apparently made no use of these in any way to counter our artillery, nor did he made use of alternative positions to avoid our counter-battery efforts. In fact, his artillery was most inefficiently handled’.200 It was found out that the shells fitted with air burst fuse fired by the Eighth Army’s artillery proved to be very effective in anti-personnel role. High-explosive shells fitted with these fuses proved effective against the crews of the 88 mm guns. It was pointed out that in future, shells fitted with such fuses should be used in greater quantities in order to neutralize the hostile anti-tank guns.201 The report then next noted some of the problems faced by Royal Artillery in the Third Battle of El Alamein. The Germans used coloured smoke to mark objectives. And frequently it was difficult to distinguish their coloured flares from those used by the British for their own ranging rounds.202 Monty was lucky because geography allowed him to fight a positional static attritional battle. And his technique of centralized control of artillery for smashing the Axis defensive position was effective. And this was not Rommel’s type of battle. His forte lay in conducting fast-moving fluid battles involving maneuver and outflanking thrusts. Eighth Army was unable to practice all arms cooperation. In fact, cooperation among infantry, armour and field artillery remained below average. Hence for destroying Axis defensive positions, Monty went for the second best option: artillery-infantry cooperation. The report by Brigadier Kirkman penned on 24 November 1942 noted: ‘is the value of centralized control of a carefully thought out plan . . . neutralize the enemy, that infantry . . . will be able to gain their objectives without undue casualties’.203 And what was commendable was the fact that the CCRAs of X and XXX Corps cooperated very well. This was essential because the artillery of both these two corps were deployed in the same area.204 Monty took care to situate his own headquarters near the RAF Headquarters. Monty after taking command of the Eighth Army moved the Army Headquarters near the Air Headquarters and brought the AOC (Air Vice Marshal Arthur Coningham) and his senior staff officers into his mess.205 This was similar to Slim’s establishment of the Fourteenth Army’s Headquarters at Comilla, where Air Marshal John Baldwin’s Third Tactical Air Force and Brigadier-General William D. Old’s American and British Troop Carrier Command Headquarters were also located. The establishment of headquarters of the land and air forces at one place resulted in close interaction among them which in turn was the forerunner of the emergence of a true air-land headquarters necessary for conducting joint warfare.206 There is no doubt that improvements did occur in the sphere of CAS. One of the key components of Blitzkrieg-style war was destruction of the command nodes of the hostile force. When the Panzer Army Afrika was retreating, the low-flying aircraft of the RAF made a deliberate attempt to destroy the command vehicles and wireless trucks of the German convoys in order to disrupt the C3I. Let us give some examples. On 1 November 1942, due to loss of Ramcke Brigade’s wireless section, wireless communication between this brigade and Panzer Army Afrika’s Headquarters was severed. Because of continuous bombing and artillery shelling,

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the communications net could not be repaired. The next day, low-flying Allied aircraft destroyed the 605th Anti-Tank Unit’s wireless equipment. On 3 November, the Panzer Army Afrika’s Headquarters due to continuous air and artillery attacks had to abandon several telephone lines. The situation worsened for Panzer Army when on 4 November, it started retreating. Due to loss of the stocks of cable and Quarter-Master General’s wireless transmitter being damaged, Panzer Army Headquarters failed to maintain contact with the battle groups, divisions and the corps under its command. On 5 November, the Panzer Army retreated almost 100 kilometres. Continuous air attacks destroyed all the telegraph poles. Panzer Army Headquarters had almost no contact with its formations. The following day, due to the capture of X Corps’ wireless section along with its headquarters, Panzer Army Headquarters was out of touch with this corps. By 8 November, the Panzer Army had been able to establish tenuous telephone links with its Battle Headquarters at Capuzzo, von der Heydite Battle Group on the escarpment at Sollum and with the supply staff at Tobruk and Sidi Barrani. However, continuous attacks by the low-flying aircraft of the WDAF destroyed most of the telephone and wireless communication net. If the British commanders of the Eighth Army had problems with the Australians and other dominion troops, relation between Panzer Army and the Italian staff was worse. When Panzer Army Headquarters requested telephone cables from the Italian units, the latter refused. Moreover, the Italian signal and engineer officers, in the words of Panzer Army’s signal staff, were unacquainted with the latest communication techniques.207 Despite his acerbic personality, Monty deserves some credit for establishing a smooth working relationship with the dominion generals. Australian historian Peter Stanley writes that Monty, unlike Auchinleck, took care to establish a harmonious relationship with the senior Australian commanders.208 Partly, Monty’s effort to win over the dominion commanders was facilitated by the doctrinal shift. Monty after taking command asserted that the policy of breaking up the divisions into brigades was over.209 On 13 August Monty had ordered that the policy of fighting the enemy in brigade groups, Jock Columns and so forth was to cease. Henceforth, divisions would not be split up but would fight as divisions.210 The Jock Columns and brigade group boxes were rightly abolished. These were indeed positive innovations initiated by the Monty regime. Montgomery’s ‘colossal cracks’ style of battle as practiced in Normandy during 1944 relied on application of overwhelming firepower and set piece advances depending on detailed orders and deliberate preparations. The highly structured battle was fought in accordance with a master plan prepared by the senior command. This sort of battle was practiced partly to save casualties among the British infantry whose morale was considered shaky.211 One can argue that the genesis of the colossal cracks could be traced back to the Third Battle of Alamein. Some units attempted independently to cull the lessons from recent fighting. For instance, the 152nd Infantry Brigade noted an attempt must be made To consolidate all the lessons which we have learned from our actual fighting experience . . . and on which a basis for the battles still to come can be

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formed. Everything in War must be restricted to practical essentials only which should . . . be based on what has been proved to be practical in actual battle experience.212 It was found out that after an Allied thrust into the Axis defensive line, the German reserves launched an immediate counter-attack. This brigade noted that a battle drill was required for organization of the forward localities against a possible enemy counter-attack. An enemy counter-attack would result in heavy casualties among the leaders, Bren gunners and shortage of ammunition among the troops in the forward edge of the battle zone. To sustain the forward localities against the inevitable German counter-attack, it was necessary to keep a ready reserve. Then, the infantry in the forward localities were required to be provided with anti-tank guns in order to neutralize the tanks and self-propelled guns of the Axis counterattacking force. It was noted that the guns during an operation should be divided into three groups: base guns, support guns and forward guns. The first group was to protect the rear base, the second group was to function as reserves and the third group was to protect the infantry in the forward edges of the battle area. The base guns were to include a proportion of 17-pounder field artillery also, and the forward guns ought to be trained to use both anti-tank solid shots and high-explosive shells against the German field artillery and infantry.213 Thus we see that the British infantry’s doctrine was slowly inching towards a sort of crude joint arms tactics involving infantry-anti-tank guns and occasionally field artillery guns. But the role of air support and tanks were completely missing in this scheme. After the Third Battle of Alamein, launching infantry attack in the dark became the dogma. But an advance by the infantry, even with artillery support during the night against the Axis troops, proved to be extremely difficult. It was found out that the use of smoke shells was a double-edged sword. Smoke shells prevented the enemy defenders from observing the advancing infantry and firing at them accurately. But the mixing of smoke shells with high-explosive shells caused a fog of smoke, dust and darkness which confused the advancing Allied infantry. In the flat terrain of the desert, the dogma of infantry attack in the night might still operate, but it was considered doubly dangerous in the hilly terrain of Tunisia, where the Eighth Army planned to fight next. In the fragmented mountainous terrain, close control was more difficult. The British infantry was accustomed to centralized control from above. Decentralized control, which meant junior commanders displaying tact and judgement without looking for clear-cut detailed orders from above, was something which was absent in the British Army. Further, positioning of anti-tank guns and machine-guns in the dark was extremely difficult. However, it was accepted that there were several advantages of a night attack. The German soldiers were less alert during the night compared to the day. Further, the German habit of using too much tracer ammunition during the night gave away the position of their guns.214 We will see in the next chapter that the 4th Indian Division was able to implement nocturnal infantry attack in the mountainous terrain effectively, even without artillery support, but the 50th and 51st British divisions

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failed in this regard. Learning lessons has two parts: finding the right lessons and then implementing them. The British infantry succeeded in the first but failed in the second task. Monty’s leadership might have failed to evolve combined arms tactics in the German style. However, some advance was made towards infantry-armour cooperation. Kippenberger, the no-nonsense ‘Kiwi’ infantry brigadier, notes in his autobiography: ‘To be sure, until Montgomery’s time there was little thought of co-ordination with the armour’.215 However, this process was not completed even under Monty. Supercharge involved a limited sort of joint attack carried out by the infantry supported by tanks and artillery barrage in order to break the staunchly held Axis defensive line. A report about the 9th Armoured Brigade noted: ‘It cannot be overstressed that operations of this nature must be tied up sufficiently long in advance for all the proper “marrying up” of units and netting of wireless sets, etc. to be carried out’.216 In general, it was accepted in the immediate aftermath of the Third Battle of Alamein proper cooperation and coordination between artillery and tanks were missing during the heat of combat. The 9th Armoured Brigade’s report emphasized: and it is no use thinking that any field regiment can take on the job at a moment’s notice. The gunners must train and live with the tanks, so that they get the same outlook and got to know instinctively what is best to do in any situation.217 After-action analysis of both Battleaxe and Supercharge concluded that the artillery OP officers required armour protection in order to keep them functional during combat, which would enable the tanks to call for artillery support. Further, dust and smoke in the battlefield prevented effective artillery fire by observation. Before Supercharge, it was believed that indirect firing of high-explosive shells was ineffective against tanks. But the 9th Armoured Brigade noted that heavy high-explosive shell firing caused casualties among the tank crews and also resulted in a drop of morale.218 The Royal Artillery officers stuck to their views, that even heavy concentration fire of high-explosive shells was generally ineffective in actually destroying the Axis AFVs. However, some of the Royal Artillery specialists did not forgot the importance of morale. Like Stuka dive-bombers, high-explosive artillery fire did little damage to the tanks. But it shattered the morale of the tank crews. Later, in Normandy and during the breakout phase, the rocket-firing Typhoons were unable to destroy the heavy German tanks (Panthers and Tigers). But the rocket firing aircrafts had a negative effect even on the highly trained German panzer crews. Very often, they deserted their Panthers and Tigers, when faced with such inaccurate aerial rocket firing.219 Generally, at the Third Battle of Alamein, when faced with intense high-explosive barrage the German tanks either withdrew or changed the direction of attack. At any rate, such barrages prevented refuelling and

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replenishment of ammunition of the Axis AFVs. And during such high-explosive barrages, the Axis gunners also left their anti-tank guns and sought safety in seeking shelter.220 The German officers were trained for independent action at all levels of command and avoided fixed pattern of action.221 The 9th Armoured Brigade’s internal report also noted the importance of mission-oriented command system. It stated that quick thinking officers will only succeed in fluid infantry-tank-artillery combat.222 Citino writes that the independence enjoyed by the subordinate German commanders under the Auftragstaktik command system, enabled them to implement combined arms tactics in the battlefield.223 At least some segments of the Eighth Army realized the importance of mission-oriented command, but neither could absorb its lessons nor implement them in the battlefield. However, the Allied armour was able to master semi-static attritional war. They had learnt the technique of breaching the Axis minefields and defeating panzer counter-attacks. The 24th Armoured Brigade in its report on the combat during the last week of October 1942 (Operation Lightfoot) noted that the Shermans in hull-down position were able to beat off the counter-attacking force which included panzers (Mark IVs), panzer grenadiers and self-propelled guns (76.2 mm guns on Mark II chassis). Further, the static hull-down Shermans with the aid of the FOOs was able to cooperate and coordinate their action with RHA. And the latter were able to bring down heavy fire on the German AFVs, which were assembling for launching a counter-attack. A similar technique was followed by Monty at the Battle of Alam Halfa and again would be followed by him against Rommel’s attacking panzers at Medenine in the near future. Due to heavy artillery fire, the panzers were forced to open fire at longer range, which was ineffective. And since the hull-down Shermans offered small targets to the German tanks, the cannon shots which came from the panzers were not that effective. Next the Germans laid down a heavy mortar barrage and then retreated behind a smoke screen. The 24th Armoured Brigade noted that especially during the night, the hull-down Shermans required friendly infantry support for protection against marauding enemy infantry. So cooperation among infantry, field artillery and tanks was a must, even in a semistatic battle of attrition. It was noted that fire control was especially important so that all the tanks could fire simultaneously.224 Another point praised was battle drill. The report emphasized: What success we achieved through five days’ hard fighting was largely due to the exceptionally intimate cooperation. . . . This was the result of battle drills worked out and practiced with intimate personal knowledge and enthusiasm for the team. This spirit is the key to successful armoured tactics.225 The battle drill of the British armoured units for moving through the Axis minefield was also praised. The strength and deficiencies in Allied equipment and techniques were noted. The Allied tank crews were full of praise for the Shermans. But, they acidly noted

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that the Crusader tanks proved to be mechanically unreliable and the Cruiser tanks with their weak guns were also unsuitable. Further, it was noted that the .5-inch anti-aircraft gun was prone to jamming. Luckily for the Allied troops, the Luftwaffe was a shadow of its former self during the Third Battle of Alamein. Again, continuous fighting occurred during both day and night. It was noted that many men became exhausted and as a result their combat effectiveness declined. It was pointed out that a relief system ought to have been in place. After a few days of combat, the exhausted soldiers should be moved to the rear base and then returned to the front line again. And the system of lorries bringing hot food to the soldiers in midst of a firefight was highly praised. It functioned as a morale booster. The German selfpropelled guns were considered extremely effective by the 24th Armoured Brigade, and it demanded such guns for itself. From 1942 onwards, the Wehrmacht started mounting captured Soviet 76 mm and German 75 mm high velocity guns on Panzer II chassis. These open topped lightly armoured self-propelled anti-tank guns proved potent T-34 killers on the Eastern Front. Lastly, the road discipline of the retreating Germans was praised. They took care to destroy every disabled vehicle and removed the tyres and wheels before leaving the battlefield.226 To sum up, the break-in phase (Operation Lightfoot) was a throwback to the First World War–style battles of the Western Front. In the long run, the Eighth Army in late 1942 returned to the template of attack practiced by Douglas Haig’s army in 1917. General H. Alexander nicely summed up the plan for Lightfoot in the following words: The operation would begin, therefore, like a battle of the 1914–1918 War, with the assault of an entrenched position in depth and it would not be until that battle had been fought and won that we should be able to proceed to the more swift-moving clash of armoured forces.227 Only intense ground support and battlefield interdiction strikes carried out by the WDAF in late 1942 were new elements present compared to the 1916–1918 battles of the Western Front. And the second part of Alexander’s battle formula (i.e. swift-moving clash of armoured forces) was beyond the capability of the Eighth Army even in late 1942.

Conclusion The Third Battle of Alamein was a crushing defeat for the Axis ground forces. About 30,000 prisoners were taken. Four German divisions and eight Italian divisions had ceased to exist as battle-worthy after 4 November.228 Overall, the German Italian Panzer Army had suffered 50,000 casualties in this battle.229 Till 3 November, the Eighth Army estimated that it had destroyed 282 Axis tanks (including 180 Germans) and 254 guns (including forty-four 88 mm guns). Since, the Axis forces retreated from the Alamein battlefield, they could neither salvage nor repair

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the damaged guns and tanks. In contrast, the Eighth Army suffered only 13,560 casualties. Though the Eighth Army was a multi-national force, the bulk of the total casualties (58 per cent) was borne by the British component, with the Australians coming in second and accounting for 22 per cent of the casualties, and the New Zealanders in third with 10 per cent of the casualties. The Indian Army’s formations played a marginal role at the Third Battle of Alamein. They suffered only 1 per cent of the overall casualties.230 Moreover, the morale of the Allied infantry during the gruelling break in battle remained intact.231 By all means, the Eighth Army had undergone a partial transformation between the not so successful July 1942 battle and the successful early November encounter with the Axis. What were the causative factors behind this shift? The situation in the Eighth Army after the First Battle of Alamein was not as bad as Monty and his supporters would make us believe. The view that Monty had put irons in the hearts of the faltering Eighth Army personnel is overdrawn. A similar case is made by the supporters of Field-Marshal Viscount Allenby. They argue that after the defeats at the First and Second Battles of Gaza, morale of the Allied forces in Egypt reached rock bottom. And Allenby, after taking command through his visits to the front and efficient redeployment of the units, restored confidence in the Allied army. Then Allenby led the Allied forces to repeated victories against the Ottomans in Palestine-Syria. Modern research shows that Allenby’s contribution has been overrated.232 The same applies for Monty. And at times, the lesson learning culture operated independently of Montgomery as part of the long-established tradition of the British Imperial Army. The Eighth Army under Monty learnt certain techniques. For example, compared to Battleaxe, during Third Alamein, the Allied tank recovery organization performed brilliantly. About 530 tanks of the X Corps were disabled during the battle, but, the workshops were able to repair 337 machines.233 This was also partly possible because of the static nature of the battle and the fact that the Axis ground force had vacated the Alamein battlefield. So the Eighth Army could recover the damaged tanks. However, certain lessons were yet to be learnt fully. For instance, tank-CAS and infantry-artillery cooperation and coordination were emphasized, but all arms technique, especially during a fluid battle, was yet to be learnt by the Eighth Army. The Eighth Army’s armour supported by mobile artillery, infantry and the WDAF was not adept in launching long outflanking thrusts at the enemy’s flanks and rear. The British armour was mostly used as a battering ram supported by artillery barrage and infantry in order to break inside the enemy’s defensive line. Centralized control of large number of artillery assets which was a throwback to the First World War Western Front tactics characterized the break-in battle. But exploitation of the breakthrough was beyond the capacity of the Eighth Army. Monty’s Eighth Army could conduct a break-in battle against a staunchly held linear defensive line. With great expenditure of effort, a breakthrough could be achieved. But rapid exploitation of the breakthrough which would result in fluid mobile warfare was beyond the capacity of the Eighth Army. Earl F. Ziemke writes

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about the Soviet operational art during the later stages of the Second World War in the following words: The Soviet technique reduced mobile operations to a standard pattern of breakthrough, exploitation, and pursuit that allowed the forces and the several arms to be employed incrementally and the combined effects of all arms to be secured with a command system that could not conduct a reliably effective, fully integrated combined-arms effort.234 This applies exactly to Monty’s army during and after Alamein. Overall, the learning curve of the Eighth Army was moderate, and Monty by all means was a timid, risk-averse commander. And this allowed Panzer Army Afrika to escape from Alamein to Tunisia. Beyond Monty, certain formations and individuals debated about artillery and armour doctrines and the best mode of infantry attacks. But no standardized doctrine came into existence. Competing artillery, infantry and armour doctrines impaired the learning process of the Eighth Army. Nor was there a mission-oriented command in place. All these factors somewhat decelerated the rate of innovation in the British Imperial Army. Nevertheless, material superiority, aided by the geography of the Alamein position further buttressed by the limited innovations in infantry-artillery techniques suitable for attritional positional warfare saw the Eighth Army through during the Third Battle of Alamein. To sum up, the limited innovations in conducting positional battle which the Eighth Army learnt would have been inadequate if Rommel had the resources of Montgomery behind him. In such a counterfactual scenario, Panzer Army Afrika would have broken through the Alamein position and might have reached Cairo and Alexandria. Simultaneously it is also true that without undergoing the limited innovations in conducting set piece attritional battle, even with material superiority Monty would have been unable to throw out even a depleted Panzer Army Afrika from the Alamein position.

Notes 1 The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Montgomery of Alamein (London: Fontana, 1958), pp. 91, 96–97; Jonathan Fennell, Combat and Morale in the North African Campaign: The Eighth Army and the Path to Alamein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 25. Nigel Hamilton in his massive biography of Montgomery titled The Full Monty: Montgomery of Alamein, 1887–1942 (London: Allen Lane, 2001) writes that Monty transformed the Eighth Army by establishing a homosocial bond and raised the professionalism of this multicultural force to the level of the famed Panzer Army. Glyn Harper in his The Battle for North Africa: El Alamein and the Turning Point for World War II (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2017) is more balanced, but considers Monty’s leadership in Second and Third Alamein battles was more effective than that displayed by Auchinleck. 2 Quoted from Stephen Brooks (ed.), Montgomery and the Eighth Army: A Selection from the Diaries, Correspondence and Other Papers of Field Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, August 1942 to December 1943 (London: Bodley Head for the Army Records Society, 1991), pp. 25–26.

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3 Quoted from Lieutenant-General Francis Tuker Papers, Note by Major-General F. S. Tuker, p. 12, 71/21/1/3, IWM, London. 4 The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Montgomery of Alamein, p. 99. 5 Fred Majdalany, The Battle of El Alamein: Fortress in the Sand (1965, reprint, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), p. 39. 6 Mark Johnston, ANZACS in the Middle East: Australian Soldiers, Their Allies and the Local People in World War II (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 179–80. 7 Field-Marshal Alexander of Tunis, The African Campaign from El Alamein to Tunis, from 10 August 1942 to 13 May 1943, Supplement to the London Gazette, 5 February 1948 (London: HMSO, 1948), p. 843. 8 Simon Ball, Great Battles: Alamein (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), p. 12. 9 Tuker Papers, Further Comments on Montgomery’s Memoirs – by one of the foremost divisional commanders, 31 October 1958, pp. 1–2, 71/21/1/3. 10 Brooks (ed.), Montgomery and the Eighth Army, p. 26. 11 War Diary of 1st Armoured Division, August–December 1942, IS No. 59, Para 6, WO 169/4054, Part 1, PRO, Kew, London. 12 Major-General F. W. von Mellenthin, Panzer Battles (1955, reprint, Stroud: History Press, 2008), p. 55. 13 David Mitchelhill-Green, Tobruk 1942: Rommel and the Defeat of the Allies (Stroud: History Press, 2006), pp. 47–48. 14 War Diary of 1st Armoured Division, August–December 1942, IS No. 61, 22 August 1942. 15 War Diary, 5th Indian Division, 1941, vol. 1, Instruction No. 11, 1 September 1941, Para 6, Instruction No. X2, 8 September 1941, Para 12, Camp Instruction, Appendix D, 8 September 1941, Instruction No. 11, 1 September 1941, Para 6 (f–g), p. 2, MODHS, New Delhi. 16 War Diary of 1st Armoured Division, August–December 1942, IS Nos. 59–61, 22 August 1942, Para 5. 17 Patrick Delaforce, Battles with Panzers: Monty’s Tank Battalions 1 RTR & 2 RTR at War (2003, reprint, London: Thistle, 2014), p. 96. 18 War Diary of 1st Armoured Division, August–December 1942, IS No. 59, Para 1. 19 War Diary of 1st Armoured Division, August–December 1942, GHQ IS No. 804. 20 Brooks (ed.), Montgomery and the Eighth Army, p. 26. 21 Delaforce, Battles with Panzers, p. 95. 22 Major-General Francis De Guingand, Operation Victory (n.d., reprint, Dehradun: Natraj, 2006), pp. 115–116. 23 The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Montgomery, p. 103. 24 Quoted from Andrew Gordon, ‘Ratcatchers and Regulators at the Battle of Jutland’, in Gary Sheffield and Geoffrey Till (eds.), The Challenges of High Command: The British Experience (Houndmills and New York: Palgrave, 2003), p. 32. 25 Majdalany, The Battle of El Alamein, p. 39. 26 Quoted from The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Montgomery, p. 91. 27 Brooks (ed.), Montgomery and the Eighth Army, p. 21. 28 War Diary of 1st Armoured Division, August–December 1942, Office Order No. 28, 21 August 1942, Office Order No. 29, 26 August 1942, Office Order No. 30, 30 August 1942, Para 7. 29 De Guingand, Operation Victory, p. 117. 30 Majdalany, The Battle of El Alamein, p. 41. 31 Brooks (ed.), Montgomery and the Eighth Army, p. 26. 32 Lieutenant-General Francis Tuker Papers, DMT’s Address, 23 September 1941, p. 8, 71/21/2/5, IWM. 33 Kenneth Macksey, Kesselring: The Making of the Luftwaffe (2000, reprint, Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2012), p. 123. 34 Majdalany, The Battle of El Alamein, p. 47. 35 Battle for Egypt, October–November 1942, p. 1, WO 201/425, PRO.

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36 Translations of Germany Army Documents on Operations in North Africa, 1942–43, War Diary of Panzer Army Afrika 28 July–23 October 1942, 30 August, File No. 34373/1, WAII, 11/17, NANZ, Wellington. 37 Majdalany, The Battle of El Alamein, pp. 41–42. 38 De Guingand, Operation Victory, p. 120. 39 Majdalany, The Battle of El Alamein, p. 48. 40 Translations of Germany Army Documents on Operations in North Africa, 1942–43, War Diary of Panzer Army Afrika 28 July–23 October 1942, 31 August. 41 War Diary of 1st Armoured Division, August–December 1942, Office Order No. 30, 30 August 1942, Para 1. 42 The Rommel Papers, ed. by B. H. Liddell-Hart, with the assistance of Lucie-Maria Rommel, Manfred Rommel and General Fritz Bayerlein, tr. by Paul Findlay (1953, reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1982), p. 276. 43 De Guingand, Operation Victory, p. 121. 44 Majdalany, The Battle of El Alamein, pp. 50–1, 57; Translations of Germany Army Documents on Operations in North Africa, 1942–43, War Diary of Panzer Army Afrika 28 July–23 October 1942, 1 September. 45 The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Montgomery, p. 107. 46 De Guingand, Operation Victory, p. 122. 47 Translations of Germany Army Documents on Operations in North Africa, 1942–43, War Diary of Panzer Army Afrika 28 July–23 October 1942, 2 September. 48 De Guingand, Operation Victory, p. 122; The Rommel Papers, p. 281. 49 Majdalany, The Battle of El Alamein, p. 59. 50 The Rommel Papers, p. 283. 51 The Rommel Papers, pp. 279, 284–285. Rommel does not use the word tempo but speed of operation; Brooks (ed.), Montgomery and the Eighth Army, p. 30. 52 Battle for Egypt, October–November 1942, p. 1. 53 Ball, Alamein, p. 15. 54 Battle for Egypt, October–November 1942, pp. 1–2. 55 Niall Barr, ‘High Command in the Desert’, in Jill Edwards (ed.), El Alamein and the Struggle for North Africa: International Perspectives from the Twenty-First Century (Cairo and New York: American University in Cairo Press, 2012), pp. 205–206. 56 Ball, Alamein, pp. 13–14. 57 Ball, Alamein, p. 14. 58 Ball, Alamein, p. 15. 59 Major-General Francis de Guingand Papers, Notes on X Corps ‘Lightfoot’ Conference, 7 October 1941, pp. 1–2, 1/2/5–26, LHCMA, London. 60 Ball, Alamein, p. 15. 61 De Guingand Papers, Notes on X Corps ‘Lightfoot’ Conference, 7 October 1941, p. 2. 62 De Guingand Papers, Notes on XXX Corps Lightfoot Conference, 9 October 1942, pp. 1–3, 1/2/5–26, LHCMA. 63 Ball, Alamein, p. 15. 64 Captain Basil Liddell Hart Papers, Correspondence with Major-General A. H. Gatehouse, Gatehouse to Liddell Hart, Notes on certain aspects of the Battles of Alam Halfa and Alamein, LH 9/28/42, LHCMA, London. 65 De Guingand, Operation Victory, p. 127. 66 Major-General A.W.W. Holworthy, Diary, October–November 1942, 13, 26 October, AWWH4, 91/40/2, IWM. 67 Major-General A. Maxwell, Notes on the Offensive by Eighth Army from 23 October– 4 November on the El Alamein Position, 14 December 1942, Para 2, WO 201/2877, PRO. 68 Liddell Hart Papers, Notes on certain aspects of the Battles of Alam Halfa and Alamein, pp. 3–4, 9/28/42. 69 Hamilton, Montgomery of Alamein, 1887–1942, pp. 774–5. 70 Lightfoot, Telephone Conversations-Reports, Interim Statistics, etc, Note on 51st Medium Regiment and 95th Anti-Tank Regiment, pp. 1–2, WO 201/439, Part 1, PRO.

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71 Battle for Egypt, October–November 1942, p. 1. 72 Battle for Egypt, October–November 1942, p. 5. 73 Johnston, ANZACS in the Middle East, p. 182. 74 Battle for Egypt, October–November 1942, pp. 2–3. 75 William L. Hauser, ‘The Will to Fight’, in Sam C. Sarkesian (ed.), Combat Effectiveness: Cohesion, Stress, and the Volunteer Military (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1980), pp. 188–189. 76 Battle for Egypt, October–November 1942, p. 4. 77 Quoted from Battle for Egypt, October–November 1942, p. 4. 78 Brigadier W. Carpendale, CO 28th Indian Brigade, Report on Operations of 11 Indian Division in Kedah and Perak, pp. 1–2, L/WS/1/952, APAC, BL, London. 79 Harry Tzalas, ‘The Battle of El Alamein: Impressions of a Young Schoolboy in Alexandria’, in Edwards (ed.), El Alamein and the Struggle for North Africa, pp. 236–237. 80 Ball, Alamein, p. 16; Brigadier S. C. Kirkman, Royal Artillery, Notes on the Offensive by Eighth Army from 23 October–4 November on the El Alamein Position, 24 November 1942, Para 1, WO 201/2877, PRO. 81 Kirkman, Notes on the Offensive by Eighth Army from 23 October–4 November on the El Alamein Position, 24 November 1942, Ammunition Expenditure. 82 Robert M. Citino, The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years’ War to the Third Reich (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2005), p. 192. 83 Allan Converse, Armies of Empire: The 9th Australian and 50th British Divisions in Battle 1939–1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 2–5. 84 23rd Armoured Brigade Group, Reports on Operations Lightfoot and Supercharge, 23 October–6 November 1942, pp. 1–2, WO 106/2263, PRO. 85 Converse, Armies of Empire, pp. 5–7. 86 Remy Porte, ‘The Free French in the Battle for North Africa, 1942: Military Action and Its Political Presentation’, in Edwards (ed.), El Alamein and the Struggle for North Africa, pp. 104–105. 87 Quoted from The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Kesselring with a New Introduction by Kenneth Macksey (1953, reprint, New Delhi: Lancer International, 1988), p. 135. 88 De Guingand Papers, BGS Notes on Battle, 24 October 1942, p. 2, 1/2/5–26, LHCMA, London. 89 LIGHTFOOT, Telephone Conversations-Reports, Interim Statistics, etc, 15th Panzer Division Return, WO 201/439, Part 1. 90 De Guingand Papers, BGS Notes on Battle, 24 October 1942, p. 2, 1/2/5–26. 91 Earl F. Ziemke, ‘Military Effectiveness in the Second World War’, in Allan R. Millett and Williamson Murray (eds.), Military Effectiveness, vol. 3, The Second World War (1988, reprint, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 311. 92 23rd Armoured Brigade Group, Reports on Operations Lightfoot and Supercharge, pp. 2–3. 93 De Guingand, Operation Victory, p. 126. 94 23rd Armoured Brigade Group, Reports on Operations Lightfoot and Supercharge, p. 4. 95 De Guingand Papers, BGS Notes on Battle, 24 October 1942, p. 2. 96 Macksey, Kesselring, pp. 129–130. 97 De Guingand Papers, Decisions given by the Army Commander at Conference held at 1800 hours 25 October 1942, 1/2/5–26, LHCMA. 98 23rd Armoured Brigade Group, Reports on Operations Lightfoot and Supercharge, p. 4. 99 Converse, Armies of Empire, p. 8. 100 23rd Armoured Brigade Group, Reports on Operations Lightfoot and Supercharge, pp. 4–5. 101 De Guingand Papers, Tank Position, 26 October 1942, 1/2/5–26, LHCMA. 102 De Guingand Papers, BGS Notes on Battle, 26 October 1942, p. 2, 1/2/5–26, LHCMA. 103 Holworthy, Diary, October-November 1942, 29 October. 104 23rd Armoured Brigade Group, Reports on Operations Lightfoot and Supercharge, p. 6. 105 De Guingand Papers, BGS Notes on Battle, 27 October 1942, p. 3, 1/2/5–26, LHCMA. 106 Reports on Operations, 9th Armoured Brigade, November 1942, 3rd King’s Own Hussars, p. 2, WO 201/554, PRO.

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107 23rd Armoured Brigade Group, Reports on Operations Lightfoot and Supercharge, p. 6. 108 C. E. Lucas Phillips, Alamein (1962, reprint, London: Pan, 1972), pp. 245–246. 109 EBO means that instead of trying to annihilate the enemy, the latter must be hit at the right point with substantial force. And this would result in the enemy dancing to the tunes of the attacker. In other words, if properly conceived, the enemy would do exactly what the commander of the attacking force wanted. Alan Stephens, ‘Effects Based Operations and the Fighting Power of a Defence Force’, in John Andreas Olsen (ed.), On New Wars (Oslo: Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies, 2017), pp. 131–149. 110 Converse, Armies of Empire, pp. 8–9. 111 Quoted from De Guingand Papers, Future Plans, Appendix 5, 1/2/5–26, LHCMA. 112 Lieutenant-General John H. Cushman, ‘Challenge and Response at the Operational and Tactical Levels, 1914–45’, in Millett and Murray (eds.), Military Effectiveness, vol. 3, p. 324. 113 T. R. Moreman, The Jungle, the Japanese and the British Commonwealth Armies at War, 1941–45: Fighting Methods, Doctrine and Training for Jungle Warfare (London: Frank Cass, 2005), p. 13. 114 Operations in Malaya and Singapore, E. E. Bridges, Report drawn up by Major H. P. Thomas, p. 11, 27 July 1942, WP(42)314, CAB/66/26/44, PRO. 115 Brian R. Sullivan, ‘The Italian Soldier in Combat, June 1940-September 1943: Myths, Realities and Explanations’, in Paul Addison and Angus Calder (eds.), Time to Kill: The Soldier’s Experience in the West, 1939–1945 (London: Pimlico, 1997), p. 177. 116 De Guingand Papers, Decisions of the Army Commander given at Conference held at Tactical Headquarters Army at 1990 hours, 26 October, Decisions of Army Commander at Conference held at Tactical Headquarters Army 0600 hours 28 October 1/2/5–26, LHCMA. 117 Phillips, Alamein, pp. 247, 261–262. 118 Liddell Hart Papers, Major-General Gatehouse to Liddell Hart, Notes on certain aspects of the Battles of Alam Halfa and Alamein, 9/28/42, pp. 1–3, LHCMA. 119 Lightfoot, Telephone Conversations-Reports, Interim Statistics, etc, Tank Losses, 10 November 1942. 120 Reports on Operations, 9th Armoured Brigade, November 1942, 3rd King’s Own Hussars, Section 2, WO 201/554, PRO. 121 Reports on Operations, 9th Armoured Brigade, November 1942, HQ 9th Armoured Brigade Group, p. 1. 122 Reports on Operations, 9th Armoured Brigade, November 1942, HQ 9th Armoured Brigade Group, p. 2. 123 Reports on Operations, 9th Armoured Brigade, November 1942, 3rd King’s Own Hussars, pp. 5–6. 124 Reports on Operations, 9th Armoured Brigade, November 1942, HQ 9th Armoured Brigade Group, p. 4. 125 Phillips, Alamein, p. 278. 126 Lightfoot, Telephone Conversations-Reports, Interim Statistics, etc, Tank Losses, 10 November 1942. 127 Reports on Operations, 9th Armoured Brigade, November 1942, HQ 9th Armoured Brigade Group, p. 1; Lightfoot, Telephone Conversations-Reports, Interim Statistics, etc., Telephone Conversation, 1700 hour, 4 November 1942, WO 201/439, Part 1. 128 Phillips, Alamein, pp. 302, 304. 129 De Guingand Papers, Notes on Conference held at Tactical Headquarters Army on 2 November, p. 1, 1/2/5–26, LHCMA. 130 Quoted from The Rommel Papers, p. 321. 131 The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Kesselring, p. 135. 132 The Rommel Papers, p. 336. 133 Alexander, The African Campaign from El Alamein to Tunis, from 10 August 1942 to 13 May 1943, p. 858. 134 Phillips, Alamein, pp. 311, 313–314.

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135 Macksey, Kesselring, p. 130. 136 Telephone Conversations-Reports, Interim Statistics, etc, Telephone Conversation 1700 hours, 4 November 1942, Part 1, WO 201/439, PRO. 137 The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Kesselring, p. 136. 138 Tuker Papers, Further Comments on Montgomery’s Memoirs-by one of the foremost divisional commanders, 31 October 1958, p. 2. 139 Bruce Allen Watson, Exit Rommel: The Tunisian Campaign, 1942–1943 (Westport, CT, London: Praeger, 1999), pp. 25, 29. 140 Alexander, The African Campaign from El Alamein to Tunis, from 10 August 1942 to 13 May 1943, p. 858. 141 Field-Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, El Alamein to the River Sangro: The Personal Account of the 8th Army Campaign (1948, reprint, Dehradun: Natraj, 2005), p. 24. 142 Lightfoot, Telephone Conversations-Reports, Interim Statistics, etc, Telephone Conversation, 1700 hours, 0815 hours, 5 November 1942, WO 201/439, Part 1. 143 Colonel H.C.B. Rogers, Tanks in Battle (1965, reprint, London: Sphere, 1972), p. 177. 144 Quoted from Montgomery, El Alamein to the River Sangro, p. 25. 145 Quoted from De Guingand, Operation Victory, p. 175. 146 Niall Barr, ‘Rommel in the Desert: 1942’, in Ian F. W. Beckett (ed.), Rommel: A Reappraisal (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2013), p. 108. 147 Rogers, Tanks in Battle, p. 177. 148 Macksey, Kesselring, pp. 132, 135. 149 Rogers, Tanks in Battle, p. 178. 150 Watson, Exit Rommel, p. 39. 151 Walter Warlimont, Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939–45, tr. from the German by R. H. Barry (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1964), pp. 307–308. 152 Montgomery, El Alamein to the River Sangro, p. 29. 153 G. D. Sheffield, ‘The Shadow of the Somme: The Influence of the First World War on the British Soldiers’ Perceptions and Behavior in the Second World War’, in Addison and Calder (eds.), Time to Kill, p. 35. 154 Rogers, Tanks in Battle, p. 178. 155 The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Montgomery of Alamein, pp. 90–91. 156 Warlimont, Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939–45, p. 297. 157 Quoted from Hitler and His Generals: Military Conferences 1942–1945, The First Complete Stenographic Record of the Military Situation Conferences, from Stalingrad to Berlin, ed. by Helmut Heiber and David M. Glantz (New York: Enigma Books, 2003), p. 48. 158 Rogers, Tanks in Battle, p. 178. 159 Warlimont, Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939–45, p. 285. 160 Alexander, The African Campaign from El Alamein to Tunis, from 10 August 1942 to 13 May 1943, p. 860. 161 Rogers, Tanks in Battle, p. 179. 162 Warlimont, Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939–45, p. 285. 163 Watson, Exit Rommel, p. 43. 164 Alexander, The African Campaign from El Alamein to Tunis, from 10 August 1942 to 13 May 1943, pp. 862–863. 165 Macksey, Kesselring, p. 143. 166 Watson, Exit Rommel, p. 44. 167 Liddell Hart Papers, Liddell Hart to Major-General Gatehouse, 19 July 1954, 9/28/42, LHCMA. 168 Delaforce, Battles with Panzers, pp. 101–102. 169 War Diaries 1939–1945, Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, ed., Alex Danchev and Daniel Todman (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001), pp. 348–349. 170 Quoted from Watson, Exit Rommel, p. 26. 171 David Fraser, Knight’s Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (1993, reprint, London: HarperCollins, 1994), p. 422.

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172 Citino, The German Way of War. 173 Gary Sheffield, ‘The Challenges of High Command in the Twentieth Century’, in Sheffield and Till (eds.), The Challenges of High Command, pp. 10–11; Brooks (ed.), Montgomery and the Eighth Army, p. 31. 174 Duncan Anderson, ‘The Very Model of a Modern Manoeuvrist General: William Slim and the Exercise of High Command in Burma’, in Sheffield and Till (eds.), The Challenges of High Command, p. 80. 175 Liddell Hart Papers, Gatehouse to Liddell Hart, Notes on certain aspects of the Battles of Alam el Halfa and El Alamein, p. 3, 9/28/42, LHCMA. 176 Johnston, ANZACS in the Middle East, p. 182. 177 Tuker Papers, Note by Major-General F. S. Tuker, p. 13. 178 The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Kesselring, p. 136. 179 Quoted from Warlimont, Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939–45, p. 300. 180 The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Kesselring, pp. 140–141. 181 The Rommel Papers, p. 280. 182 Raymond Callahan, Churchill and His Generals (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2007), p. 15. 183 Quoted from Liddell Hart Papers, Gatehouse to Liddell Hart, Notes on certain aspects of the Battles of Alam el Halfa and El Alamein, 9/28/42. 184 The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Montgomery, p. 107. 185 Quoted from De Guingand, Operation Victory, p. 122. 186 Major-General A.W.W. Holworthy Papers, 91/40/2, IWM. 187 Quoted from De Guingand Papers, Notes on XXX Corps Lightfoot Conference, 9 October 1942, p. 2. 188 Martin Samuels, Command or Control? Command, Training and Tactics in the British and German Armies, 1888–1918 (London: Frank Cass, 1995), pp. vii, 1–3, 5–14. 189 Williamson Murray, ‘British Military Effectiveness in the Second World War’, in Millett and Murray (eds.), Military Effectiveness, vol. 3, p. 129. 190 Brooks (ed.), Montgomery and the Eighth Army, p. 27. 191 Liddell Hart Papers, Gatehouse to Liddell Hart, Notes on certain aspects of the Battles of Alam el Halfa and El Alamein, pp. 2–3. 192 Quoted from Liddell Hart Papers, Gatehouse to Liddell Hart, Notes on certain aspects of the Battles of Alam el Halfa and El Alamein. 193 Converse, Armies of Empire, p. 1. 194 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Some Notes, 71/21/1/3. 195 Sullivan, ‘The Italian Soldier in Combat, June 1940-September 1943: Myths, Realities and Explanations’, in Addison and Calder (eds.), Time to Kill, pp. 177–200. 196 Hamilton, Montgomery of Alamein, 1887–1942, pp. 675–677. 197 Tuker Papers, Notes by Major-General F. S. Tuker, 6 October 1945, p. 3, 71/21/1/3. 198 Discussion on Lessons Learned during the year of fighting from El Alamein to Messina by 152nd Infantry Brigade, Part 3, p. 5, WO 231/16, PRO. 199 Brigadier S. C. Kirkman, Royal Artillery, Notes on the Offensive by Eighth Army from 23 October–4 November on the El Alamein Position, Fire Plans, 24 November 1942, WO 201/2877, PRO. 200 Quoted from Major-General Maxwell, Notes on the Offensive by Eighth Army from 23 October–4 November on the El Alamein Position, 14 December 1942, Para 2, WO 201/2877. 201 Kirkman, Notes on the Offensive by Eighth Army from 23 October–4 November on the El Alamein Position, 24 November 1942, Air Burst Fuses. 202 Maxwell, Notes on the Offensive by Eighth Army from 23 October–4 November on the El Alamein Position, 14 December 1942, Para 5. 203 Quoted from Kirkman, Notes on the Offensive by Eighth Army from 23 October– 4 November on the El Alamein Position, 24 November 1942, Para v.

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204 Kirkman, Notes on the Offensive by Eighth Army from 23 October–4 November on the El Alamein Position, 24 November 1942, Command of Artillery and the Passage of Orders. 205 Brooks (ed.), Montgomery and the Eighth Army, p. 24. 206 Anderson, ‘The Very Model of a Modern Manoeuvrist General: William Slim and the Exercise of High Command in Burma’, in Sheffield and Till (eds.), The Challenges of High Command, p. 81. 207 Translations of Germany Army Documents on Operations in North Africa, 1942– 43, Extracts from German-Italian Signal Report, November–December 1942, File No. 34375/22, pp. 1–4. 208 Peter Stanley, ‘ “The Part We Played in This Show”: Australians and El Alamein’, in Edwards (ed.), El Alamein and the Struggle for North Africa, p. 64. 209 Glyn Harper, ‘ “No Model Campaign”: The Second New Zealand Division and the Battle of El Alamein, October-December 1942’, in Edwards (ed.), El Alamein and the Struggle for North Africa, p. 75. 210 Brooks (ed.), Montgomery and the Eighth Army, p. 23. 211 Brian Holden Reid, ‘Introduction’, Journal of Strategic Studies, vol. 19, no. 4 (1996), p. 6. 212 Quoted from Discussion on Lessons Learned during the year of fighting from El Alamein to Messina by 152nd Infantry Brigade, Part 1, p. 1, WO 231/16. 213 Discussion on Lessons Learned during the year of fighting from El Alamein to Messina by 152nd Infantry Brigade, Part 3, pp. 3, 9–10. 214 Discussion on Lessons Learned during the year of fighting from El Alamein to Messina by 152nd Infantry Brigade, Part 3, pp. 6–7; Samuels, Command or Control?. 215 Quoted from Major-General Howard Kippenberger, Infantry Brigadier (1949, reprint, London: Oxford University Press, 1961), p. 157. 216 Quoted from Reports on Operations, 9th Armoured Brigade, November 1942, HQ 9th Armoured Brigade Group, p. 2. 217 Quoted from Reports on Operations, 9th Armoured Brigade, November 1942, HQ 9th Armoured Brigade Group, p. 5. 218 Reports on Operations, 9th Armoured Brigade, November 1942, HQ 9th Armoured Brigade Group, p. 5. 219 Ian Gooderson, Air Power at the Battlefront: Allied Close Air Support in Europe, 1943–45 (London: Frank Cass, 1998), pp. 103–124. 220 Kirkman, Notes on the Offensive by Eighth Army from 23 October–4 November on the El Alamein Position, 24 November 1942, Effect of Field and Medium Artillery Fire on Tanks. 221 Cushman, ‘Challenge and Response at the Operational and Tactical Levels, 1914–45’, in Millett and Williamson Murray (eds.), Military Effectiveness, vol. 3, pp. 329–330. 222 Reports on Operations, 9th Armoured Brigade, November 1942, HQ 9th Armoured Brigade Group, p. 5. 223 Citino, The German Way of War, p. 90. 224 24th Armoured Brigade, Notes on Operations 23–29 October 1942, Sheets 1–2, WO 201/545, PRO. 225 Quoted from 24th Armoured Brigade, Notes on Operations 23–29 October 1942, Sheet 4. 226 24th Armoured Brigade, Notes on Operations 23–29 October 1942, Sheets 2&3; Dennis Showalter, Hitler’s Panzers: The Lightning Attacks That Revolutionized Warfare (New York: Berkeley Caliber, 2009), p. 200. 227 Quoted from Alexander, The African Campaign from El Alamein to Tunis, from 10 August 1942 to 13 May 1943, p. 851. 228 Montgomery, El Alamein to the River Sangro, p. 25. 229 Fennell, Combat and Morale in the North African Campaign, p. 26; Alexander, The African Campaign from El Alamein to Tunis, from 10 August 1942 to 13 May 1943, p. 858.

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230 Lightfoot, Telephone Conversations-Reports, Interim Statistics, etc, Casualties Eighth Army, 5 and 9 November 1942, WO 201/439, Part 1. 231 Fennell, Combat and Morale in the North African Campaign, p. 46. 232 James E. Kitchen, The British Imperial Army in the Middle East: Morale and Military Identity in the Sinai and Palestine Campaigns, 1916–18 (London: Bloomsbury, 2014). 233 Majdalany, The Battle of El Alamein, p. 143. 234 Quoted from Ziemke, ‘Military Effectiveness in the Second World War’, in Millett and Murray (eds.), Military Effectiveness, vol. 3, p. 313.

5 ENDGAME IN TUNISIA

Introduction The Axis forces in North Africa made their last stand in Tunisia. Tunisia is about 500 miles long from the Mediterranean coast in the north to the Sahara desert in the south. The northern uplands were covered with thick scrub and small forests, especially above the Medjerda River. Southern Tunisia was dotted with oases and salt marshes. The Tebessa Mountains extending from the Atlas Mountains comes all the way from Algeria into Central Tunisia. There are another two hill ranges just below Tunis. The Eastern Dorsale runs from Tunis in the north till Sousse and Sfax in the south along the coastal plain. And the Western Dorsale runs southwest from Tunis to Tebessa in Algeria and then to Kasserine Pass in Tunisia. The Dorsales were barren and covered with scrubs and coarse grasses. The largest salt marsh was Chott el Djerid (also known as Shatt el Djerid or Jerid). It was in South Tunisia. This marsh was bordered on the north-east by another named Chott el Fedjadj (or Fefjaj). Its eastern edge was only 15 miles from the Gulf of Gabes, thus forming a narrow corridor along Southern Tunisia.1 This narrow corridor offered an excellent defensive position (somewhat like the Qattara Depression) for a force occupying Southern Tunisia, against a hostile force advancing from Western Libya. Due to the nature of terrain in Tunisia, the Eighth Army had to replace its paradigm of desert war with a new paradigm of mountain warfare. This chapter deals with three battles: Mareth, Akarit and Garci-Enfidaville. The 4th Indian Division, using its traditional expertise in conducting mountain warfare which it had gained from fighting against the Pathans along North-West Frontier of India with the experience acquired from combating the Italians in Eritrea, was able to forge a set of innovative doctrine and tactics. Adding elements of industrial warfare to the traditional mountain war paradigm, we will see that by early 1943, the Eighth Army in general and the 4th Indian Division in particular were able to wage mountain warfare under modern conditions.

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Training for mountain warfare under modern conditions The first part of this section analyzes the lessons learnt by the Indian units from their combat against the Italians in East Africa and the second part of this section evaluates the mountain warfare training received by the British imperial troops for raising their combat effectiveness. The British and the Indian units had fought the Pathans along India’s North-West (Indus) Frontier for the last hundred years. The Pathans were considered to be ‘uncivilized’ tribesmen. But the Italians and especially the Germans were organized and equipped for conducting industrial warfare in the mountainous terrain. For combating them, the doctrine for modern mountainous warfare was crafted in the Indian Army and then adopted and applied by the Eighth Army. The Military Training Pamphlet Number 7 published by the Indian Army in June 1941 dealt with warfare in the mountainous region between modern armed forces. The campaigns fought in Norway, East Africa, Greece, Crete and the Caucasus were analyzed in order to cull lessons which might be applicable for combat in the mountainous region in the near future. The pamphlet noted: ‘The study of warfare in mountainous country against a modern army must continue and these notes are republished for guidance, with some small amendments consequent upon recent events’.2 Just before the opening of the Tunisian Campaign, the Indian units were below strength and most of their transport assets had been taken away from them during early November and given to those units which were pursuing the defeated Panzer Army after Alamein.3 Nevertheless, the Indian units’ past experience in mountain warfare and the rigorous innovative training which they received saw them through. Now, let us look at the Indian formations’ sojourn at East Africa during 1941. The 4th and the 5th Indian divisions participated in the East African Campaign. The 5th Indian Division learnt to overcome Italian roadblocks on the Asmara-­ Massawa Road on 2 April 1941. The troops learnt aggressive patrolling. The artillery of the 4th Indian Division comprised 18- and 25-pounders along with 3.7-inch, 4–5-inch and 6-inch howitzers. The divisional artillery learnt the techniques of counter-battery fire. Gun pits were constructed, which were deep and narrow, and slit trenches were dug for the protection of the gunners. While advancing to attack, each FOO was given an infantry escort. Close cooperation between the infantry officers and the OP officers became common. The 4th Indian Division by the second half of March 1941 had learnt to attack under cover of artillery concentration, with RAF cover overhead. When the infantry failed to achieve their objectives, then medium artillery and heavy bombing by the RAF softened the hostile defence. So we see a genesis of coordination of infantry-artillery-CAS techniques. The 5th and 11th Indian Infantry brigades operated with pack transport in the hills.4 The Western Desert with its flat sandy terrain required a completely different type of logistics based on trucks. But pack transport was suitable in the Tunisian terrain. Some of the lessons learnt in East Africa like aggressive patrolling, dealing with road blocks, use of animal transport, picketing the hilltops and so forth

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were of use to the Indian troops when they confronted the remnants of the Panzer Army Afrika and later the First Italian-German Army in Tunisia. Major-General Donald Bateman at the Middle East Staff School played an important role in training the Eighth Army units in mountain warfare during late 1942. The objective of this training was to prepare the Allied units in confronting a modern enemy (i.e. the Axis troops) in the mountainous terrain. Bateman was influenced by the Military Training Pamphlet Number 7. This pamphlet differentiated between tribal warfare in the North-West Frontier and mountain war under modern conditions. In tribal warfare, British imperial units faced irregular levies equipped with low-grade weapons. However, in modern mountain warfare, the British Imperial Army confronted not merely regular enemy units equipped with modern weapons but also highly skilled specialized mountain troops like the Italian Alpini units. Such troops were trained as skilled mountaineers. So they could move at high altitudes like the tribal guerrillas of the North-West Frontier, who were skilled mountaineers from birth. Further, the Axis troops trained for high altitude war were also equipped with latest weapons. So, they were able to combine mobility of the guerrillas with firepower of a capital intensive army.5 Bateman noted that the Eighth Army was used to desert warfare. But, in Tunisia it had to conduct a different sort of warfare. Following the tradition of learning culture inherent in the Eighth Army, on 31 December 1942, Bateman noted: As an army we are rather apt to be led astray by new types of warfare, and to indulge in much confused thinking which is normally terminated only by the bitter experience of battle. The problems with which we are now to be faced must be solved by our own foresight, skill, and correct training.6 Bateman was in favour of thorough analysis of past combat experience in Eritrea and the North-West Frontier of India. He noted that whatever the type of ­warfare – desert combat or mountain warfare – the principles of war remained same, but only the methods of their application varied.7 This is true because there were some similarities between desert and mountain war. For instance, both theatres were characterized by poverty of communications and resources (both agricultural and industrial) and restricted water supply.8 The first requirement, noted Bateman, was the capacity of the officers to think in a flexible, unconventional manner and not to stick to a rigid orthodox textbook solution. And well-trained troops could improvise when the landscape of the battlefield changed radically. Further, thorough training also raised the fighting spirit of the troops and their self-confidence when they faced unknown circumstances.9 Bateman was almost repeating the Clausewitzian principles. For Clausewitz, the aim of theory of warfare was not to tell the officers how to act but to aid them in developing their judgement.10 Bateman, like Tuker and the Australian MajorGeneral Gordon Bennett, blamed the faulty rigid tactical training and the examination system for promotion which discouraged the young British officers to think creatively.11

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The first rule for establishing the correct training procedure, noted Bateman, was to study the enemy’s organization, equipment and methods. Then the focus of analysis should be the terrain. The broken precipitous slopes with inadequate communications and resources (both agricultural and industrial) and limited water supply characterized military operations along British India’s North-West Frontier, Eritrea and Tunisia. Lack of communication and resources also characterized the desert and jungle terrains where the British Commonwealth troops fought during the Second World War. A principal requirement on part of the soldiers was physical fitness. It was necessary for conducting war in all the theatres: desert, mountains and especially in the tropical jungles. The broken mountainous terrain or the jungle covered regions resulted in loss of tight control over the troops. This in turn demanded the development of initiative among the junior commanders for commanding the widely dispersed fragmented bodies of troops.12 It required a decentralized command as enunciated by Clausewitz and implemented by the Prussian/German Army from elder (Helmuth von) Moltke (appointed Chief of the Prussian General Staff in 1857) onwards. Clausewitz writes that three-quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty. Officers must make rapid and quick decisions based on assessing whatever intelligence is available on the spot at a certain moment. This in turn requires intellect and determination on his part.13 Michael Howard aptly notes that junior officers likely to find themselves isolated on vast battlefields in a strange and almost intolerable environment can only depend on their inner strength to keep them going and on their common sense to tell them what to do. And in these respects, Clausewitz’s analysis with its emphasis on psychological factors is most important.14 Again, superior mobility vis-à-vis the enemy was a precondition of success in any theatre. Bateman harked back to the North-West Frontier where the Pathans with their inferior arms displayed superior mobility vis-à-vis the British and Indian troops by moving across the mountains. Bateman concluded that superior mobility against a modern enemy in the mountainous terrain could be achieved through superior fieldcraft, logistical support and high quality intelligence which enabled anticipation of probable enemy moves. Superior intelligence gained through thorough reconnaissance also allowed one to use the terrain to greater effect by locating unknown or lesser known mountain tracks and valleys which could be utilized for achieving mobility and concentration of the troops. We will see later that at Mareth, Akarit and Garci-Enfidaville, the Allied troops (and especially the 4th Indian Division) would use data gathered from intelligence with great effect. Acquisition of topographical knowledge regarding the terrain in which the attack was to be launched, was emphasized by Bateman. Collection of information about the physical geography of the region on which war was to be waged was always emphasized by Napoleon Bonaparte. For acquiring mobility, Bateman emphasized the fusion of principles of fire and movement.15 Synthesis of fire and movement was also applicable in case of mechanized war in the desert. However, massing fire in the mountainous terrain was neither possible nor profitable. And movement along precipitous valleys and rocky mountains was difficult.

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Modern mountain warfare required the application of new technologies like air power. Bateman emphasized that airpower should be used to attack the enemy’s installations and communication nodes. In the mountains, against an active enemy dispersed over the difficult terrain, the role of airpower in destroying their logistical hub was definitely limited. In mountain warfare compared to desert war, airpower played a more limited role. Further, Bateman pointed out that combined arms tactics was vital for waging war in the mountains.16 Combined arms techniques were an essential formula for success in all the theatres of war. Cooperation with aircraft, artillery and infantry while fighting in a mountainous terrain was not novel for the Indian Army. In 1936, during the Waziristan Campaign, the RAF bombed the tribesmen while the British and Indian infantry with mountain batteries advanced against the Pathans. Rather than bombing, reconnaissance of the enemy movement by the RAF proved to be crucial. And this holds true for the mountain warfare during the Tunisian Campaign also. In total, some fiftytwo British and Indian infantry battalions took part in the Waziristan Campaign, which lasted till 1937. The infantry was organized in various brigade groups. The logistics were mule-based in the roadless terrain of the North-West Frontier.17 To an extent, in Eritrea, Tunisia, Italy and also in roadless, jungle-covered Burma, the Indian formations used mules for carrying supplies.18 So in mountainous terrain, some forms of non-modern elements of the military system had greater pay-offs. Both in case of traditional mountain warfare and in mountain warfare under modern conditions, infiltration and ambushes played important roles. And a large number of troops were tied up for guarding the LOC.19 Most of the defensive positions in the mountains were immobile. And, outflanking the static hostile defensive positions paid great dividends. British and Indian troops who were veterans of North-West Frontier campaigning were adept in outflanking static enemy defensive positions.20 Bateman asserted that mountainous country favoured defence. Since the attacking party could not utilize his mobility in this terrain, the slow, laborious rush up the hills proved to be a time-consuming, costly affair. Further, the routes of approach were restricted and the defenders who occupied the high grounds had a good observation of them. Of course, Bateman was speaking of the era of warfare before the advent of helicopters. But what about the use of airborne troops and paratroopers in overcoming hill top defence? Surprisingly, the Allies despite possessing air superiority from late 1942 onwards never used airborne troops to overcome Axis defence in the mountains of Tunisia and Italy. Bateman continued that defences in the rocky grounds were generally immune to artillery fire, unless of course pinpoint fire could be directed against the hostile defensive strong points,21 and this was extremely difficult if not outright impossible. What Bateman overlooked is the fact that the terrain was same for both the attackers and the defenders. Neither party could dig easily in the rocky ground. Moreover, rocky splinters resulting from random artillery fire proved to be extremely dangerous for both the attacking party and the defenders. In this regard, Clausewitz rightly has the last word. He writes that it is an illusion to argue that

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mountainous terrain favours defence. True, lack of approaches holds up the attackers. But lack of roads also prevents the defenders from bringing up large reserves against the point of attack. And once the attackers get behind the defended mountain tops, the defenders, fearing their lines of retreat might be severed, have to fall back.22 And we will see that this was what exactly happened to the Axis defenders at Mareth, Akarit and at Enfidaville. Bateman then made a detailed analysis of the Italian defensive scheme as practiced in Eritrea. The Italians held the forward slopes lightly with a few concealed riflemen and light automatics and the main defences were on the highest ground. And they were left unoccupied during the artillery bombardment by the Allied troops. During an advance under artillery cover, it was found out that the attacking Allied infantry could not move nearer than 200 to 300 yards to their artillery shells, due to dangers of splintering rocks. So covering the last 300 yards to the enemy’s defence was a problem. In order to overcome it, artillery tactics registered innovations. Artillery bombardment was deliberately lifted off from the crest occupied by the enemy, to encourage the latter to think that the Allied infantry assault was due. It resulted in the Italian infantry occupying their main defensive line. Allied artillery then started intense firing at the crest line to smash the Italian defensive positions occupied by their infantry. The other technique was to fire smoke shells during the last two or three minutes of artillery bombardment. And under cover of smoke, the Allied infantry advanced to assault the main enemy infantry defence. Bateman reminded the Allied officers that registering distance for a barrage was a difficult proposition in the hills, because the terrain was not flat but sloped at about 45 degrees. The Italians like the Pathans constructed sangars. Anti-tank rifles were used to destroy the Axis sangars.23 Bateman emphasized that nocturnal attack by infantry supported by light pack artillery would be effective in overcoming hostile defence in mountainous region. Major-General B. W. Key who commanded a brigade comprising of British and Indian battalions, during the 1936–1937 Waziristan Campaign had actually practiced these techniques.24 And Tuker, as we will see later, would always support nocturnal infantry attacks against the Axis defensive positions in the mountains of Tunisia. Before Bateman, the General Staff India in its training pamphlets emphasized the importance of using medium artillery, mortars and howitzers along with infantry for attacking hostile troops in the mountain. Moreover, the infantry, it was laid down in the training pamphlets, must be trained for moving and attacking in the night.25 To sum up, Bateman noted that thorough individual training of the infantry soldier and battle drills were the necessary requisites for conducting complex maneuvers in the difficult mountainous terrain.26 The Military Training Pamphlet dealing with extensive warfare by the Indian Army noted that the soldiers going to wage mountain war must be taught to display initiative, self-reliance, cunning and determination. They ought to be trained to work for a long stretch of 48 hours continuously without transport and little water. And they should be roughed up by forcing them to sleep in the open in the mountains during the training period.27 Tuker had

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perfected a type of infantry training in the Indian Army in 1936, which involved first training a soldier individually and then in pairs. The men were trained to move across the countryside even in the dark. However, this sort of training was timeconsuming. It took almost 5 years in order to transform a recruit into a sergeant.28 The battle drills which evolved in North Africa were adopted by General Headquarters India during January 1944, in order to train the British and Indian troops preparing to invade Japanese-occupied Burma. It was a perfect example of intertheatre learning. Drills were held in realistic conditions involving live ammunition. The troops practiced with overhead machine-gun fire and grenade explosion in order to inoculate them to the noise, smoke and dangers of a firefight.29 As regards battle drill, it was noted: The teaching of battle drills undoubtedly proved to be of the greatest value in instilling dash and determination. . . . Battle drill training aims at teaching the basic ‘strokes’. . . . The drills must be intelligently applied in accordance with the ground and the particular tactical situation. There were many occasions when unnecessary casualties resulted from poor leadership because junior leaders followed blindly a set drill and failed to apply it with common sense. Battle drill must be our servant, not our master. Their greatest value is to train troops to react offensively when surprised or when coming suddenly into contact with the enemy. Apart from this, battle drills are basic tactics capable of modification and developments.30 Thus, we see, in accordance with the organizational culture of the British Imperial Army, the past campaigns were analyzed and lessons were drawn and inculcated among the troops through training for conducting future campaigns. How far the British imperial force was able to implement them in Tunisia is an issue to which we next turn.

Mareth line In November 1942, the Wehrmacht was facing a crisis both in the Eastern Front as well as in North Africa. General Friedrich Paulas’ Sixth German Army was engaged in the ‘blood mill’ of Stalingrad. The III German Panzer Corps started retreating in the Caucasus on 6 November. Rommel after using his last reserve to check Monty’s force at Alamein had retreated to the borders of Tunisia. And to cap it all, on 8 November 1942, as part of Operation Torch, an Anglo-American force under General Dwight Eisenhower had landed on the Mediterranean coast of North-West Africa. After an ineffective French resistance in Morocco and Algeria, Eisenhower’s troops moved eastwards towards Tunisia. When Hitler heard the news, he ordered Kesselring to fling in every military assets available. On 9 November, Hitler decided to hold on in Tunisia. On 12 November, Tunis was occupied by the German paratroopers.31 Suddenly, the Führer and the OKW, despite the worsening scenario in the Eastern Front, got hold of enough soldiers and aircraft to occupy

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Tunisia before Eisenhower’s novice troops arrived. One wonders what would have happened if Hitler and OKW had send these additional troops in 1941 or 1942. Probably, the history of war in North Africa would have taken a different course. But Hitler’s decision to hold a Tunisian bridgehead grossly weakened the German position at Stalingrad. On 19 November 1942, the Soviets launched an offensive against Paulas’ force and effectively isolated it on 23 November. The Luftwaffe was forced to divert part of its transport fleet of JU-52s from South Russia to Tunisia. The result was that the Luftwaffe could neither support the Sixth German Army at Stalingrad nor could focus effectively on building up the Tunis bridgehead.32 The opening of the ‘Second Front’ in North Africa by the Anglo-Americans was in Rommel’s mind the beginning of the end for the Axis. With Monty advancing from Libya and Eisenhower banging at the back door of Tunisia, Rommel was for evacuation of the Axis troops from North Africa as quickly as possible. But Hitler refused. He ordered Rommel to hold the Eighth Army as far east as possible and informed Kesselring that he must strengthen the Tunisian Front. Rommel already sick in mind and body due to his sojourn in inhospitable North Africa for two years, and demoralized due to the shattering defeat at El Alamein, was steadily losing faith in his Führer. Nevertheless, Kesselring retained his optimism. Hitler even told Rommel of his plan of capturing Casablanca. Hitler had his own reason for continuing the fight in North Africa. An Italian-German evacuation from North Africa would have seriously degraded Mussolini’s prestige (which was already at a low point in Italy). And this might result in the downfall of the Fascist regime and coming of a new regime which might leave the tottering Axis camp. Secondly, Hitler reasoned that the Allied divisions which would be freed due to evacuation of the Axis forces from North Africa might be used against German occupied Southern Europe: the ‘soft underbelly’ of the Axis.33 Lastly, even if Hitler decided not to send any reinforcements to Tunisia; due to Allied aerial and naval dominance in the Mediterranean, Panzer Army Afrika could not have been evacuated from Libya. According to one calculation, by December 1942, there were 180,000 American troops in North Africa.34 By the end of January 1943, there were 74,000 Germans and 26,000 Italians in Northern Tunisia and 30,000 Germans and 48,000 Italians of the Panzer Army Afrika in Southern Tunisia, as the latter moved towards the Mareth Line.35 There was one silver lining for the Axis forces, however. The Axis had 850 aircraft at Tunisia. In December 1942, the Axis enjoyed air superiority in Tunisia,36 but it was only temporary. The next year, the Luftwaffe would fade out from the African sky. On 26 January 1943, Rommel for the first time inspected the Mareth Line. It ran for 22 miles from the Mediterranean Sea to the Matmata Mountains south of Gabes. This line was originally built by the French from 1936 onwards to stop a probable Italian invasion from the south (Libya). The defensive line comprised a series of old French bunkers. Despite the fact that some of them had 10 feet thick walls, they offered inadequate protection against heavy artillery. However, these bunkers constituted an anti-tank defensive line against an enemy advancing from the south. Further, in the centre there was a steep-sided wadi which could not be

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negotiated by tanks. It functioned as a natural anti-tank ditch. And in the north, there were salt marshes through which tanks could be driven slowly. The problem for the defenders was that there was a high ground in front of the Mareth Line. And this obstructed the view of gunners of the defending Axis artillery. Moreover, if the Allied forces occupied the high ground, then they would acquire good observation to bring down artillery fire on the Axis defenders manning the Mareth Line.37 Rommel was not eager to defend the Mareth Line. He informed Commando Supremo that the defensive stand should be made further west at Gabes, a position between the sea and the Chott Jerid. However, Commando Supremo and OKW ordered Rommel to defend the Mareth Line in order to allow time to build up the Axis forces in Tunisia which in the future would be used to mount an offensive against the Anglo-American armies.38 Initially, Hitler also vacillated whether to take up a blocking position along the Mareth Line or not. But Kesselring’s optimism and reasoning influenced Hitler to order the defence of the Mareth Line. Kesselring’s argument that further retreat to Gabes or Sfax as Rommel was proposing might enable the link up of Alexander’s two armies and the Allied air force would also gain more airfields to bomb intensely the Axis forces bottled up in a smaller region, finally won the day.39 On 28 February 1943, Rommel decided to attack at Medenine, which was 20 kilometres away from Mareth Line. From Medenine, Monty was preparing to attack the Axis-held Mareth Line.40 It was a spoiling attack designed to disrupt Montgomery’s preparations. By 2 March, Monty had completed his concentration of troops, artillery and armour at Medenine and was ready for Rommel’s attack.41 Monty decided to fight a defensive battle. His aim was to smash Rommel’s attacking force and then to go on an offensive. On 6 March, Lieutenant-General Oliver Leese’s XXX Corps had 300 tanks, 350 guns (mostly 25-pounders) and 460 antitank guns (mostly 6-pounders). Rommel fielded 150 tanks, 200 artillery pieces and 160 anti-tank guns.42 Operation Capri started by the Italian General Giovanni Messe (who had commanded the Italian Expeditionary Corps in Russia during the last two years), on 6 March under Rommel’s direction, involved an Axis attack from the high ground of Matmata on Monty’s force. It was an unimaginative and under-resourced campaign on part of the Axis. After losing forty panzers, Rommel stopped the attack at 1700 hours.43 Though Monty did not have time to put in barbed wire and lay a minefield to protect Medenine, his numerical superiority and the dug-in tanks and anti-tank guns combination proved more than adequate in demolishing the German armoured attack.44 German manpower casualties came to about 200 killed and 1,000 wounded. More serious was the loss of panzers, which were difficult to replace. The Axis commanders analyzed this battle and concluded that superior firepower generated by British artillery was one of the principal factors behind the German defeat. In fact, Axis after-action analysis noted that the rate of fire between Axis and British artillery was in the ratio of 1:30.45 Massing superior artillery in a defensive position to smash the oncoming Axis armoured attack was a style practiced by Monty at the Second and Third Battles of Alamein and to an extent

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repeated in Medenine. As in the Second and Third Battles of Alamein, at Medenine, the field artillery comprising of 25-pounders, 4.5-inch and 5.5-inch guns were controlled centrally and were allotted prearranged defensive fire tasks. It could be argued that Rommel could see no alternative besides attacking Medenine in pursuit of his plan to weaken the Eighth Army before Monty himself launched his own attack in coordination with Eisenhower’s troops in Northern Tunisia. The Luftwaffe functioned as eyes of the panzers. But by this time, the German air force was virtually non-existent over the battlefield. Hence, one could speculate that Rommel was unaware of Monty’s preparation at Medenine. Had Rommel known about it, he probably would never have attacked. On 9 March, Rommel handed over command of the Army Group Africa to General Hans-Jurgen von Arnim at Sfax and left North Africa for good.46 Arnim was in command of the Axis Army Group which included his own Fifth Panzer Army in North Tunisia and Panzer Army Afrika (renamed the First Italian-German Army) in South Tunisia. The latter included 50,000 Germans and 35,000 Italians and was commanded by General Messe.47 In total, at Tunisia, Arnim’s Army Group Africa had 120,000 combatants and 150 panzers, facing 210,000 Allied troops with more than 1,200 tanks. Overall, there were 75,000 German and 200,000 Italians (including non-combatants) in North Africa but due to supply problems, the Axis forces was short of food, ammunition and fuel. The German force in North Africa had suffered from inadequate supply from April 1941 onwards, but now the supply problem had reached crisis proportions. The Axis forces needed 140,000 tons of supplies per month but in March 1943 received only 21,600 tons.48 The morale of the Italian soldiers had reached rock bottom due to Allied superiority in armour. Messe tried to motivate his soldiers by issuing an order on 13 March 1943, which declared a cash reward of 1,000 lire and 20 days’ leave for a soldier who succeeded in disabling or destroying an Allied tank. In general, the morale of the Germans was tight but not in all the units. At this stage of the Second World War, Germany was scraping the manpower barrel. In consequence, men of German stock living outside Germany were also conscripted in the Wehrmacht. For instance, the 164th Light Africa Division had Poles of German stock. And they deserted whenever they got the chance.49 On 17 March 1943, the First Army opened its offensive with an attack by General Patton’s II Corps. On the same day, Commando Supremo ordered that Mareth should be defended to the last. Basically, the Mareth defensive line after the modifications initiated by the Axis forces could be divided into three groups. A series of outposts consisted of the fortified towns of Medenine, Bir Sultan and so forth. They were all defended by pillboxes, anti-tank defensive positions and wire. The second group of defence included a series of well-sited pillboxes covering the passes through the Djebel Tebaga at Halluf and so forth. And thirdly, the Mareth Line proper which was based on the Wadi Zigzaou, between the sea and the mountains at Toujane. Pillboxes and tank traps were sited north of the wadi.50 Along the Mareth Line, the wadi was scarped into an anti-tank ditch more than 100 feet wide and 20 feet deep in places. The minefield in the front was 4 miles deep and

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had thick barbed wire and 170,000 mines. And twenty-two French blockhouses functioned as defensive outposts for the Axis troops. The Axis flank on the west beyond the hills was protected by chotts (desert salt lakes). But, this terrain, as Rommel had observed earlier, could be traversed by tracked vehicles.51 And it would be traversed later by Lieutenant-General Freyberg’s New Zealand Corps. Further, to block the way leading to El Hamma and Gabes, the Axis defenders had prepared in the north-west a switch line named Plum between Jebel Melab and Tebaga.52 The defence here was manned by the 90th and 164th German Light Africa divisions and four Italian infantry divisions. The 15th and the 21st Panzer divisions were held in the rear as mobile reserve. Roughly ten German and twenty-two Italian battalions were immediately in front of the Mareth Line backed by thirty-two operational panzers of the 15th Panzer Division.53 The First Italian-German Army had 85,000 men and 142 tanks. Against them, the Eighth Army could field 743 tanks.54 On the night of 16 March, the 6th Grenadier Guards and the 3rd Coldstreams attacked the Axis salient 10 miles from the coast on the road from Medenine to Mareth. Their objective was the cluster of hills rising to 600 feet above the plain and named as Horseshoe. Allied intelligence believed that these hills were lightly occupied by one or two machine-gun posts. Actually, 6,500 men from the 90th German Light Division held this region. A British artillery barrage which preceded the infantry attack and laid down 24,000 shells did little to destroy the defenders. As the British infantry advanced in the moonlit night (Tuker, unlike Monty, liked to attack on moonless nights), they found themselves in a dense minefield. German parachute flares dropped over the British infantry illuminated the attackers and then the German light arms opened up. Caught in a hellish crossfire, the British infantry fell back. The two British battalions had suffered more than 500 casualties against German casualties of fewer than 200.55 Leese’s XXX Corps’ feint attack in the centre of the Mareth Line had failed. The Grenadiers and the Coldstreams had suffered very heavy casualties in the thick minefields laid by the Axis forces.56 Inadequate intelligence which led to underestimation of the strength of the Axis defenders, bad reconnaissance that resulted in failure to identify the minefields, inability of the British battalions to mount a nocturnal attack in the style of the 4th Indian Division and finally ineffectiveness of artillery barrage in destroying the enemy defensive dugouts were the main reasons for the failure of this feint attack. On 17 March, the 50th Division held the north and centre of the Medenine Line and the Guards Brigade was at the south. The 4th Light Armoured Brigade was at Matmata Hills. The 5th Indian Brigade came as reinforcement and the 1st/2nd Gurkhas took to patrolling in order to locate the position of the Axis guns which were shelling the forward outposts of the Allied defensive position.57 Operation Pugilist is the name for Monty’s attack on the Mareth Line. The Eighth Army provided detailed and accurate maps of the region to its divisions.58 Geography is, after all, the ‘mother of warfare’, and this maxim was well understood by the Eighth Army. The plan of attack was that the main blow would be a frontal one, geared to break through the Axis defence near the sea and through this gap, the armoured elements would sweep through. A secondary outflanking move

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was to be made with the New Zealand Division and the 8th Armoured Brigade towards El Hamma in the rear of the Axis defensive line in order to pin down their reserves there.59 The New Zealand Corps (26,000 men and 150 tanks) under Freyberg was sent to the west with the objective of moving through the desert salt lakes and attack the rear of the Axis line. The New Zealand Corps was to move through Foum Tatahouine and pierce the Plum Line and turn the western flank of Axis defence. And Leese’s XXX Corps was to make the frontal attack, just a few miles from the coast along a narrow front. In the XXX Corps’ area, the 50th British (Northumbrian) Division with the 50th RTR was to attack frontally the formidable Axis defence along Wadi Zigzaou. And the 40th RTR was attached with the 51st Highland Division. Once the enemy line was breached in this sector, the X Corps would exploit through this breach.60 The 50th Division was to attack north of the line which was supposedly held by the ‘inferior’ Italian troops. Simultaneously, the 2nd New Zealand Division was to carry out a wide outflanking move to the south of the Matmata Mountains directed towards El Hamma and Gabes. So, the New Zealand Division had to pierce the Plum Line, which was a subsidiary of the Mareth Line. The plan was that the 50th Division during the night of 20–21 March was to secure a bridgehead across the Wadi Zigzaou between the sea and the Zarat Sudest. And then the 4th Indian Division was to pass through the 50th Division and was to capture the Karat village and the high ground in the area of Novarnor. Following the successful completion of these moves, the 7th Armoured Division was to exploit the breakthrough.61 Even if this plan was successful, one corps breaking into the enemy line and another corps taking over the role of breakthrough (exploitation after the rupture of the enemy line) would have proved to be time consuming and confusing. The main Allied attack started on 20 March 1943 after a heavy artillery barrage in the Alamein style. It seems that the Eighth Army had not learnt adequate lessons about the limited effectiveness of the artillery barrage, even after the debacle of 16 March. The Royal Artillery’s 300 guns fired 36,000 rounds. Only one Axis division was seriously hit by the Allied barrage. Most of the shells fell on the Young Fascist Division which held the region 8 miles north of Horseshoe Hills. The 50th RTR attached to the 50th Northumbrian Division had the following tasks: to support the 151st Infantry Brigade in breaching the Mareth Line and to aid the 6th Durham Light Infantry (reserve battalion of this brigade) to expand the bridgehead thus gained. The British infantry was preceded by minesweeping Scorpion tanks which moved towards Wadi Zigzaou. Some of the infantry carried scaling ladders in order to cross the anti-tank ditch, trenches and breastworks constructed by the defenders. The Valentine tanks dumped fascines (bundles of straws and sticks) in order to create tank tracks. By early 21 March, the four British infantry battalions had gained a bridgehead about a mile wide and half a mile deep. In daylight, the Axis artillery started firing on the British infantry in the shallow bridgehead. The British engineers were able to construct a crossing for the tanks over the Zigzaou.62 Early on 22 March, forty-two Valentines were able to cross the wadi. But, their tracks disturbed the fragile causeway so much that no more AFVs could cross over it. Due to extreme difficulties of negotiating the wadi by wheeled and tracked

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vehicles, the Allied troops north of the wadi could not be adequately supplied with anti-tank guns and field artillery ammunition.63 The 15th Panzer Division with thirty tanks and two infantry battalions attacked the British bridgehead. The Valentines with their 2-pounder guns were no match against the panzers. About thirty-five Valentines were destroyed. Due to intermingling of Allied and German tanks, the Allied air force could not intervene. The Axis defenders brought down concentration of mortar and artillery fire on the Allied infantry. By nightfall, the bridgehead was destroyed and the 50th British Division’s 151st Brigade had suffered 600 casualties.64 In the night of 22 March, the 50th RTR was left with only eighteen tanks out of the fifty-one with which they had started the battle during the night of 21 March. Worse, the infantry of 151st Brigade deserted the remaining tanks. And these hapless British tanks came under intense German artillery fire.65 The Eighth Army was yet to learn intimate infantry-tank cooperation. After the Axis counter-attack on late 22 March, an alarmed Leese woke Montgomery at 0200 hours on 23 March and told him that the bridgehead had been lost. Montgomery for the moment lost his composure.66 Basil Liddell Hart writes that once the main frontal attack lost its impetus, Monty like a genius shifted his Schwerpunkt on 23 March, by ordering the 1st Armoured Division to follow the New Zealanders. This move dislocated the Axis defence at Mareth and they retired to Wadi Akarit, which spanned the Gabes Gap between the sea and the hills. On 24 March, the British infantry’s frontal attack at Wadi Zigzaou had failed completely. Further, the New Zealand Corps’ outflanking thrust was checked at Plum. Monty further strengthened the outflanking force by adding the 1st Armoured Division to them. And, continued Liddell Hart, he sent the 4th Indian Division by a shorter route through Halluf.67 Liddell Hart pays no attention to the grim and crucial infantry battle which occurred in the centre of the Mareth Line, an affair to which we will now turn. When the Mareth Battle was in its initial phase, Tuker was tinkering with alternate plans for achieving a breakthrough. He was thinking of advancing through Halluf Pass and crossing the mountain range through Beni Zeltene, thus avoiding the defensive strongpoint of Toujane and Matmata. The Beni Zeltene track was narrow and the air photos showed that it was rarely used. Tuker’s assumption was that the narrow track would be lightly held and was just adequate for using wheeled vehicles. When Leese called Tuker and told him that Montgomery had decided to break through the Halluf Pass and capture Toujane, Tuker provided his alternate plan of attacking Techine rather than Toujane. Information gleaned from the air photos and reconnaissance by 1st/2nd Gurkhas, enabled Tuker to come up with this modified plan. Tuker noted the advantages of his plan over that proposed by Monty in the following words: ‘this plan I thought permit me to turn the enemy flank with a great deal of sweat but avoiding the worst obstacle of heavy opposition’.68 Tuker had written: I considered that by throwing my leading troops out on every single track that led from the further mouth of the Halluf Pass towards the high land between Toujane and Matmata I should undoubtedly find one route which

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would carry wheels and only be lightly guarded. Roughly matters turned out like that. . . . In order to keep the enemy towards Toujane while I slipped through I pushed the 4 Rajputana Rifles out to my right to attack the features which we called later Delhi and Cairo.69 At 1800 hours on 23 March, in a conference held at the Headquarters of the 7th Motor Brigade in the Wadi Zessar, Tuker (commander of the 4th Indian Division) informed his brigade commanders of the new plan approved by the army headquarters.70 Change of battle plans when combat was in full swing shows that the tight, top-down command structure of the British imperial forces was being somewhat decentralized, which in turn aided inflow of new ideas from the level of divisional commander to the army commander. At 1800 hours on 24 March, the 5th Indian Brigade started advancing along the Halluf Road. The 1st/9th Gurkhas were in the lead followed by carriers. The 1st/4th Essex and the 4th/6th Rajputana Rifles started following at 2130 hours. The infantry advance was held back due to the movement of the 4th Light Armoured Brigade which was using this same road for an attack on Djebel Remstia, a commanding feature between the Toujane village and the main road. At 2359 hours, the 1st/9th Gurkhas which till then had advanced without any opposition from the Axis troops encountered a minefield at the entrance of the Halluf Pass. A carrier blew up and then the Indian sappers went into action. At the dawn of 25 March, a major road demolition was encountered at the Halluf Pass. The Axis defenders like the Pathans of Indus Frontier carried on road demolitions. It was estimated that it would take almost 15 hours (an unacceptable delay) to clear and repair the road. Meanwhile, the 1st/9th Gurkhas established pickets along the mountain top in the style of North-West Frontier combat. Further, the Gurkhas sent foot patrols to the Halluf village, which they reported clear of hostile elements. At a conference held in the afternoon of 25 March, Bateman, commander of the 5th Indian Brigade ordered that after the demolition was repaired, the 1st/4th Essex was to advance, with all possible speed and the 4th/6th Rajputana Rifles during the night of 25/26 March was to secure the east flank of the brigade by capturing two strong points which were given the code names Cairo and Delhi, located at the north of the entrance of the Halluf Pass. The terrain was ideal for defence and very similar to British India’s North-West Frontier. All wheeled movements were confined to roads and the passable tracks ran through precipitous country with occasional open valleys.71 The main road to Bir Sultan was passable for the wheeled vehicles. However, all the lateral roads running east from the military road were blocked by demolitions. The 1st/4th Essex advanced with the support of one troop of anti-tank guns, one platoon equipped with medium machine-guns and one battery of 11th Field Regiment. And the sappers of the 4th Field Company continued their work of removing demolitions. Infantry moving with the sappers (who cleared the obstructions placed by the enemy, repaired tracks and constructed makeshift temporary roads) was a technique perfected by the Indian Army during the 1936–1937 Waziristan

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Campaign. At 0600 hours on 26 March, the 1st/4th Essex crossed the anti-tank ditch west of the Halluf village after the ditch in this area was filled up by a bulldozer. The Axis aircraft were completely absent from the scene of action. Faced with fire from the 25-pounders and the mortars, personnel from the Italian Pistoia Division surrendered easily. The 4th/6th Rajputana Rifles occupied Cairo without opposition, but Axis defence at Delhi was stiff. The 7th Indian Brigade’s advance was somewhat delayed, by the presence of numerous minefields. But, it reached the southern end of the military road on the morning of 27 March.72 Tuker, the divisional commander due to the autonomy granted by the corps and army commanders was allowed to alter the latter’s plan, by avoiding Toujane and attacking Techine and thus going behind the Axis forces via Beni Zeltene. On 27 March, the 4th Indian Division had captured the road junction named Hardy and retreat of the Axis troops was in progress. At that time, the 1st Armoured Division was attacking across the Medenine bottleneck. On 28 March, the 4th Indian Division was across the Beni Zeltene Road, and the X Corps was in Hamma area. By dawn of 28 March, the 5th Indian Brigade had captured Techine and the road junction, five miles south-west of Toujane, and pushed patrols over the hills across the Beni Zeltene. While the 1st/4th Essex captured Techine during the night of 27/28 March, the 4th/16th Punjab occupied Toujane. On the night of 27/28 March, the 4th/6th Rajputana Rifles occupied Delhi. The 5th Indian Brigade’s outflanking move to a great extent was responsible for the Axis abandonment of the Mareth Line. This brigade took 400 prisoners (mostly Italians) and suffered only fifty-two casualties. On 28 March, the 1st/4th Essex advanced to Matmata.73 At Mareth, the 4th Indian Division by advancing into Matmata Hills provided an essential link between the main forces on the coastal plain and the mobile forces in the desert. The 50th British Division attacked with Valentine tanks and one 6-pounder gun per troop. This British infantry division unlike the 4th Indian Infantry Division was not trained to take their anti-tank guns in bits and pieces, manhandling them and then reassembling them after crossing the wadi. So the sappers and miners of the 4th Indian Division constructed two ramps over Wadi Zigzaou for the 50th Division’s anti-tank guns.74 As the 4th Indian Division’s 5th Indian Brigade seized the summit of the Matmata Ridge, a brigade of the 7th Armoured Division came across the infantry brigade’s line of march and delayed the latter’s advance. The 4th Indian Division left the main Toujane Road for the 7th Armoured Division. However, the British armour’s advance was slow. Partly, it was also because of the narrow roads. The 7th Armoured Division was able to reach Gabes-Gafsa Road in late afternoon of 29 March. The 8th Armoured Brigade entered Gabes in the afternoon of 29 March and the 7th Indian Infantry Brigade was halted six miles short of the town on the same day.75 Sluggish advance by the 7th Armoured Division allowed many Axis troops to escape. However, the Axis forces did not escape totally unhurt. Between 21 and 28 March, some 8,000 Italians became POWs. The Axis forces’ retreat to Gabes had started by 28 March and continued during the night. The 200th Panzer Grenadier

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Regiment of the 90th Light Division constituted the rearguard. And two battalions of this regiment were completely wiped out during the course of withdrawal.76

Battle of Wadi Akarit Plans After being thrown out of the Mareth Line, the Axis objective was to defend another blocking position in order to prevent the junction of the Eighth Army with the other Allied armies in Tunisia. At that time, the II US Corps was fighting a battle at the rear of right flank of the First Italian-German Army. The II US Corps was trying to move into Southern Tunisia through El Guettar and Gafsa. And the First British Army was hammering at the Axis forces in Western Tunisia. The Axis forces’ next stop in South Tunisia was at Akarit.77 Aerial reconnaissance on 29 March noted that the Axis forces were preparing machine-gun and antitank positions along the Wadi Akarit. Some 350 Axis lorries and several Axis tanks had moved in this area. Interrogation reports from the German prisoners revealed information that the 90th and the 164th Light divisions had between thirty and forty tanks. Further, the 15th Panzer Division had handed over twenty-five tanks to the 21st Panzer Division. Allied air superiority by this time had reached a high level. On 29 March 1943, 550 Kittyhawks were in the air and they destroyed fifty Axis lorries and damaged another 250 trucks. The Axis could concentrate only fifty aircraft between Sfax and El Maou.78 The Akarit Line seemed to be impenetrable frontally. The Axis forces could hold the Akarit Line as long as they were able to check the probable Allied thrust from the Gafsa area. About 20 miles north of Gabes, the almost impassable Fedjadi salt marshes extend for 120 miles inland, and a gap of less than 15 miles separated the beginning of the marshes from the Mediterranean. Across this gap, stands the Djebel Zemlet el Beida, a ridge which divides Gabes from the Sfax Plain. A broad and deep nullah ran between the sea and the high ground. The sides of the nullah were steep and the depth was about 30 feet. Further west, the wadi petered out. As in Mareth, this nullah could be used as an anti-tank moat by the defenders. And this region was held by the Italian Pistoia Division.79 The Roumana Saddleback, about 500 feet in height and a mile in length runs north-west somewhat parallel to the coast. To the west of Roumana, there is a series of rolling hills which extend for two miles before ending at Fatnassa. However, the low rolling ridges which connect Roumana with Fatnassa weakened the position of the defenders. A hostile attacking party could easily traverse this ground and bring the rear slopes of Roumana under fire. The Axis commanders realized this natural weakness. So, in the central sector of their defensive position, the Axis defenders dug an anti-tank ditch 2 miles in length which became an extension of the Akarit nullah running across the base of the rolling ridges. On the western flank of the Axis defensive position, the Fatnassa appeared to be an insurmountable obstacle to an attacking party aiming to pierce the Axis defensive line. Hence, the Axis commanders assumed that the

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Eighth Army would make the main attack across the easier ground along the coastline.80 Overall, the Axis defenders strengthened the coastal strip with minefields where they expected an Allied armoured advance. Further south-west, they dug anti-tank ditches. But the whole region was not intensely mined.81 This was probably because the Axis troops were running short of mines and instead depended on the natural strength of the terrain. Monty’s initial planning was along the lines of Axis generals’ assumption. Monty’s plan was that the principal attention should be given to the coastal sector. The 51st Highland Division was given the task of overrunning Wadi Akarit and opening a passage for the tanks. The 4th Indian Division was given a defensive role. Its job was to protect the left flank of the Allied position, by seizing Roumana and holding it against enemy counter-attacks from the west till the British tanks had completed their mission of rupturing the left flank of the Axis defensive position.82 On 2 April, the divisional commanders attended a conference at the Headquarters of the XXX Corps. At that stage, the 50th Division was not supposed to participate in the forthcoming Akarit Battle. In the evening however, the corps commander decided to use the 50th Division. The first plan involved an attack by the Highland Division on the right and the 4th Indian Division on the left. The X Corps was to be in reserve in order to exploit the breakthrough.83 Tuker disliked this plan for three reasons. First, the Indian division was given a secondary role. And second, occupation of the second highest mountain in mountain warfare was, according to him, a faulty principle. Roumana was dominated by Fatnassa. Thirdly, the main Allied assault along the coast for which obviously the Axis generals were ready, was going to be costly. What would happen if the British tanks failed to break through the coastal corridor? Tuker in turn came up with an alternate plan. He wanted the 4th Indian Division to capture the Fatnassa. If it was captured then, the Axis defensive line along Akarit could be attacked from behind. And in such a scenario, the whole Axis defence would be dislocated.84 From Tuker’s own account, his relationship with Monty was frosty.85 Nevertheless, credit is due to both Tuker and Monty. Tuker should be praised for creating a daredevil innovative battle plan and Monty to his credit accepted Tuker’s input and modified his own plan. So the innovative cycle in the Eighth Army was operating. In accordance with the new plan, the 50th Division was to make a frontal attack along the anti-tank ditch and the rolling ground between Roumana and Fatnassa. Later it would be joined by the 51st British Division. Both these British divisions were to be supported by the 23rd Armoured Brigade. And the 4th Indian Division was to make a night attack, a few hours before the opening of the main assault.86 The Indian infantry was to make a silent night attack without artillery support in order to surprise the defenders. Again, due to the mountainous nature of the terrain, a timed artillery barrage was not going to be of much use. Rather, the plan was when a particular Axis defensive post was encountered by the Indian infantry; concentrated artillery fire should be directed on the former. The Axis defensive posts’ positions were to be located before the attack, through prior reconnaissance by infantry patrols and aerial photos. Each battalion was to be provided with two

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officers for manning the OPs for directing artillery fire. For maintaining liaison between the forward artillery observers, battalion headquarters and brigade headquarters, Number 11 Wireless sets were used. So, we see a sophisticated technique for coordination between infantry and artillery emerging. Once the infantry captured their objectives, then by 0830 hours of 6 April, the artillery (11th and 31st Field Regiments and 69th Medium Artillery Regiment) should be positioned on the forward defensive line and would fire 30 minutes of concentrated fire at the enemy. The anti-tank guns were to be brought forward to establish an anti-tank screen against the expected Axis armoured counter-attack. And the 57th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment was to provide protection against the Axis air force.87 However, the Indian infantry had to penetrate Fatnassa during the initial phase. Fatnassa was indeed a truly difficult obstacle. While approaching at it frontally from the plain, there was the club-shaped pinnacle named Point 275. To its rear was the high escarpment of Rass Zouai, which ran back to Mesreb el Alig. The latter was high ground covered with boulder-strewn slopes. Behind Mesreb el Alig was a canyon. To the east, the mountain ended in a rolling plain near el Meida. The Axis anti-tank ditch ended at el Meida. In front of el Meida, a number of escarpments ran into the plain. Tuker’s plan was the 7th Indian Brigade was to hold Fatnassa and the 5th Indian Brigade would move into the Sfax Plain. Then, if the 5th Indian Brigade could be supported by British tanks, the Axis defensive line would be ruptured in the centre no matter what happened in the coastal plain. So, in accordance with the final plan, the 50th and 51st British divisions were to attack at 0430 hours of 6 April. And the 5th and 7th Indian brigades of the 4th Indian Division were to start their attack during the night of 5 April. In the night of 5 April, the 1st/2nd Gurkhas was to advance towards Fatnassa, and the 1st Royal Sussex was to seize el Meida Kopje at the end of the anti-tank ditch. Platoons of the Rajputana Rifle machine-gunners were to accompany the assault battalions. The 4th/16th Punjabis was to remain as the brigade reserve.88 Tuker writes: ‘My reason for believing the attack on the Zouai Hills to be just feasible was that it must have seemed impossible to the enemy that I could ever scale the heights and deliver a formed attack’.89 So, Tuker assumed that the Axis would defend this region lightly and it turned out to be so. The organizational culture of the Allied infantry formations was to send reconnaissance and fighting patrols before launching the main assault in order to get a feel of the enemy defence. A fighting patrol of the 4th Indian Division on 31 March found out that the Axis outpost line was 200 yards in front of the ditch.90 In Mareth also, the Axis defenders had followed this same technique. The Axis defensive scheme was indeed sophisticated. The outpost line in front of the main defensive line was for reconnaissance and also to detect the actual point of enemy attack. During a principal Allied attack, the outpost line was to fall back on the main defensive line which was designed to hold the enemy advance. And finally counter-attacks were to be launched from the reserves massed at the rear of the main defensive line. In the night of 2 April 1943, the 1st/4th Essex and 1st/2nd Gurkhas sent patrols along the escarpments. They found out that elements from

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the 164th Division and the 90th German Light Division were holding Fatnassa, the intervening rolling ground and Roumana. The 90th Light Division mustered some 6,500 men, with forty-five anti-tank guns and ten artillery pieces. Italian units from Pistoia, Spezia and Trieste divisions were interspersed with German elements. The Trieste Division numbered 3,000 personnel with twenty anti-tank guns. The Young Fascist Division (4,000 men with fifty anti-tank guns and forty artillery pieces) was in reserve, and the 21st Panzer Division was concentrated in close support. The patrol also found out the existence of a minefield near a track where the Germans had planted Teller mines.91 When Brigadier O. de T. Lovett, commander of the 7th Indian Brigade was examining the fantastically difficult terrain of Fatnassa, Tuker commented: ‘Look before you leap, but if you meant to leap, don’t look long’.92 So, the final plan was that the 4th Indian Division would capture the Fatnassa Hills and Jebel Maida and maintain contact with the 50th Division. The 50th Division’s task was to force a crossing in the centre over the anti-tank ditch. The 50th Division was to capture the Hachana Ridge with one brigade. The 51st Highland Division’s objective was Djebel Roumana. The 4th Indian Division’s plan was that the 7th Indian Brigade was to capture Rass Zouai, Djebel El Alig, Djebel Fatnassa and Djebel Meida. And the 5th Indian Brigade was to maintain connection between the 1st/2nd Gurkhas of the 7th Indian Brigade on its left and the 50th Division on its right. The 1st/4th Essex was given the task of establishing two crossings over the anti-tank ditch after the bridgehead had been established by the 50th Division, which would enable that division’s wheeled vehicles to pass through the obstacle. The 1st/9th Gurkhas was to capture Djebel Fatnassa followed by the 4th/6th Rajput Rifles. Fatnassa was cut by numerous deep wadis and the whole region was impassable for wheeled and tracked vehicles. Learning from hard experience, the 4th Indian Division prepared its plan after a thorough study of the aerial photographs and information gleaned from the patrols.93 Tuker was confident that his troops would be able to move and fight over the almost impossible mountainous terrain during night and they were able to do so. This was due to their prior experience of combat along North-West Frontier of British-India and experience gained from fighting the Italians in East Africa during 1940–1941, plus the innovative training they received before 1943.

Battle The battle started with the troops of the 4th Indian Division advancing in the darkness of 5 April 1943 without artillery support in order to achieve surprise over the Axis defenders. The troops advanced towards Tebaga Fatnassa and Mesreb al Alig. On its right, the Highland Division started its attack at 0430 hours of 6 April. The 51st Highland Division was supported by the 40th (less one squadron) and the 50th RTRs.94 However, British infantry was checked by intense Axis artillery and mortar fire. Moreover, the British tanks faced difficulties in crossing the wadi.95 At 0430 hours, the 4th Indian Division had captured Jebel Maida. At 0900 hours, the

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1st/4th Essex took over this position from 1st Rajputana. By 1100 hours, the Axis resistance in this sector was broken. The 5th Indian Brigade on the left flank of the 50th Division followed the 7th Indian Brigade’s advance which swung to the left to meet the counter-attack by elements of the 90th German Light Division. At 1100 hours, the 4th/6th Rajputana Rifles was in the Hachana Ridge.96 Numerous Italian soldiers were captured at El Hachana.97 And despite fierce Axis counterattacks with tanks, the 51st Highland Division was able to hold on to its gains.98 At 0745 hours of 6 April, Tuker informed Brian Horrocks (commander of X Mobile Corps) that the armour should now advance and then turn north and destroy the ‘Boche’ infantry between the 4th Indian Division and the sea. But Horrocks developed cold feet. Instead of being able to move within two hours, Horrocks waited. And the 8th Armoured Brigade failed to exploit this window of opportunity. Tuker then asked the commander of the XXX Corps to ring up the army commander and tell him that X Corps should advance. In the evening, Leese rang up Tuker and told him that preparations were going on for an air and artillery bombardment to start next day in order to clear the way for the advance of the X Corps. Tuker sarcastically replied that there was no strong enemy opposition in front of the X Corps. Rather, the air and artillery bombardment should be directed at the rear of the X Corps to force them to advance right away.99 Besides Tuker, the commander of the 5th Indian Brigade also noted the failure of the British armour to exploit the breakthrough achieved by the Allied infantry. He describes the situation on the morning of 6 April as follows: We were able to outflank the enemy who had been holding up 50th Division . . . The Germans had obviously been surprised on what, to them, must have seemed a secure flank. . . . Their reaction, however, was as usual vigorous. . . . At the time it certainly seemed that these actions were intended to cover a withdrawal. . . . My own view is that the armour could have gone through immediately behind 50th Division . . . about midday . . . and got reports that 4th Rajputana Rifles carriers were operating down into the plain. In fact, at one time we tried to shame the armour to action by offering to lead with our carriers. . . . As regards the subsequent ‘legends’ of counterattacks . . . not one materialized and 5th Brigade . . . overlooking the plain was never seriously threatened from the start.100 The 1st/9th Gurkhas early on 6 April saw that Axis artillery was pulling out. They along with the 1st/4th Essex and 4th/6th Rajputana Rifles waited impatiently for the British tanks to come and could not understand what was holding them up. Tuker bemoaned that if he had a third infantry brigade, he would have pushed it through the 4th/6th Rajputana Rifles and this would have completed the discomfiture of the ‘Boche’. No doubt, the 4th Indian Division had achieved a remarkable victory. Nevertheless, the above assertion by Tuker is definitely an overstatement. Actually the ‘fog of war’ had descended on the Eighth Army’s cumbersome command structure and this organization failed to convert the victory gained by the 4th Indian Division into an overwhelming disaster for the Axis arms. Horrocks’ foot

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dragging to an extent was responsible for incomplete exploitation of the victory gained. The X Corps started moving slowly only at 0700 hours on 7 April.101 By then, it was too late. Thus, we see that both at Mareth and at Akarit, British armour failed to exploit the victory gained by the 4th Indian Division in breaching the Axis defensive line. One redeeming feature was the conscious attempt by the 152nd Infantry Brigade to derive lessons from the Akarit fighting. This formation noted that just after the break in battle, the German counter-attack had been furious. And the Allied infantry needs to learn techniques for blunting the German counter-attack launched with infantry, tanks and self-propelled guns. Further, artillery support was extremely useful in the open and flat desert terrain. However, in the rocky mountainous terrain, heavy artillery was not that important for infantry. But, mortars as the 152nd Infantry Brigade and the 4th Indian Division agreed proved to be of great value in mountain warfare. The 152nd Infantry Brigade noted that a rethink was necessary to solve the issue whether the 3-inch mortars should be decentralized to the companies or should be kept under centralized battalion control. And whether the 2-inch mortars ought to be used as company or platoon weapons, this brigade concurred, is an issue that needs to be debated. Further, to pin point enemy dispositions before the latter could be blasted by mortar fire, thorough reconnaissance of the battleground was necessary. The composition of a reconnaissance patrol operating in the mountainous area, it was noted, required to be chalked out.102 The 5th Indian Brigade’s casualties numbered to 120 men, but it was able to capture several thousand of prisoners from the Pistoia and the Spezia Italian divisions. In addition, this Indian brigade was able to capture fifty guns (of all types over 20 mm).103 At Roumana, some 5,000 Italians from Spezia and Pistoia divisions were captured. If the Axis lost men at this rate, then their resistance in Tunisia was not going to last long. Overall, the military scenario for the Axis after Akarit was indeed grim. Some 9,500 (mostly Italians) Axis soldiers became POWs. The 164th Division was reduced to the strength of a brigade. The Ramcke Parachute Brigade was also highly under-strength. All these units suffered from lack of equipment. The Italian Spezia, Trieste and Pistoia divisions had largely disintegrated. The Young Fascist Division mustered fewer than 2,500 men. And most of the Italian soldiers considered that the Axis position in North Africa was hopeless. However, the 90th Light Division carried out its accustomed role of functioning as the rearguard. At this time, the Axis forces in Tunisia had a maximum of 170 tanks.104 On 10 April, Sfax was occupied by the 7th Armoured Division and the 22nd and 23rd Armoured Brigades were halted for a three-day rest.105 And the Axis troops withdrew further northwards into Tunisia to make their final stand. The Tunisian Campaign in particular and the War in North African in general by this stage was moving to its final and ultimate phase.

Garci-Enfidaville Forward To Tunis! Drive the Enemy into the Sea. —General Bernard L. Montgomery, Commander Eighth Army, 8 April 1943106

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In early April, the situation in the air turned from bad to worse for the Axis. Kesselring was steadily losing the air war over Tunisia. By this time, the Italian units were suffering from an acute shortage of ammunition for their field artillery and machine-guns.107 And the supplies for the Axis forces was reduced to a trickle. On 15 April, the 5th Indian Brigade of the 4th Indian Division moved south of Enfidaville. The 2nd New Zealand Division was facing the enemy along a front of seven miles on its south. General Philippe Leclerc’s force of Fighting (Free) French were around Djebel Fadeloun. And in the west, was the 4th Light Armoured Brigade which established links with the XVIII French Corps in the area of Djebel Fkirine. The Axis forces facing the Eighth Army took up position along the southern edge of the hill ranges bounded by Enfidaville and Cape Bon Peninsula.108 Horrocks underestimated the strength of Axis troops at Garci. He estimated enemy strength at about six battalions. However, the 4th Indian Division’s intelligence found out that the Axis had twenty-three battalions.109 Tacruna covered the eastern approaches of Garci. This place along with Bleida Knoll needed to be captured to advance towards Garci.110 On the night of 16/17 April, in the 5th Indian Brigade, the 1st/4th Essex was on the left flank of 1st/9th Gurkhas and the 4th/6th Rajputana Rifles was in reserve in the south. Djebel Fadeloun was captured without opposition and from this feature the Allied troops could overlook Djebel Garci, the objective of the 4th Indian Division.111 It was a mistake on part of the Axis defenders to give up Djebel Fadeloun without a strong fight. The aim of the X Corps attack was to advance to the line of Bou Ficha. From right to left were deployed the 50th Division, 2nd New Zealand Division, 4th Indian Division and the 7th Armoured Division respectively. The 5th Armoured Brigade was put under the command of the 4th Indian Division. Under command of the 50th Division, came the Guards Brigade and the 44th Reconnaissance Regiment. The former was to attack along the Coast Road and the latter along the coastal strip of sand dunes. The 2nd New Zealand Division was to capture Tacruna. The 4th Indian Division’s plan was that the 5th Indian Brigade was to capture Djebel Garci and advance to the lateral road north of this feature. The S Battery of 149th Anti-Tank Regiment was assigned to this brigade for establishing a protective screen against possible Axis armoured attack. And the 23rd Armoured Brigade with the 7th Indian Brigade covering its right flank was to advance on the left. Thus, we see intimate jointness in the use of armour, antitank guns and infantry had emerged by this time at least in the brigade level. The Wadi Boul which had to be crossed was impassable to wheeled vehicles. In line with the North-West Frontier Warfare, the 7th Indian Brigade used mules and porters for carrying supplies for the troops in the forward edge of the battle area in the mountainous terrain. About 25 per cent of each Indian infantry battalion’s strength was used for carrying ammunition and supplies across the steep, rocky and barren terrain to the forward troops.112 In fact, Bateman in his lecture in the last day of December 1942 to the Middle East Staff School had predicted that while waging war in the mountainous terrain, one-quarter of the available infantry strength will be used up in carrying supplies to the troops in the forward edge of the battle

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area.113 Simultaneously, the 7th Indian Brigade was to capture Djebel Mekker and Djebel Abid. Active patrolling and close study of the aerial photographs of the terrain to be covered were undertaken before the attack commenced.114 The Axis anti-tank ditch ran to the hills north of Enfidaville. The Trieste Division was positioned behind the anti-tank ditch. The weakened Pistoia Division was in the forward slopes of Garci. And the 164th Light Division was positioned behind the Pistoia. In addition, the Germans had deployed the Herman Goering Jaeger Regiment and 961th Engineer Battalion. The latter unit had three engineer platoon and one anti-tank platoon. This battalion had 250 personnel equipped with three 75 mm anti-tank guns.115 During the night of 18 April, infantry of the 4th Indian Division started infiltrating across the rocky knolls. D Company of the Essex Regiment moved through the darkness towards Bleida Knoll. The Rajputana Rifles captured Bleida at 2200 hours. The Axis troops had mortars and machine-guns, but were cut down in close quarter fighting. The Indians used bayonets with dexterity in close quarter combat. By 19 April, the 5th Indian Infantry Brigade was able to capture an almost inaccessible area of hills. This brigade crossed the Wadi Boul and then infiltrated up along the rising ground on the right flank of Garci. A German counter-attack at Point 330 in the dawn of 20 April was thrown back by the 9th Gurkhas. The latter used kukris in carving up the Germans in close quarter fighting.116 The characteristics of mountain warfare were that it was difficult to use heavy weapons and both the attacking and defending infantry got entangled with each other. Firepower and mobility, the two characteristics of German doctrine, were not of much use in the mountains of Tunisia. And in such ‘medieval’ forms of combat involving ‘bear hugs’ among the infantry of both sides, cold steel did play a part. Further, for three days the Allied infantry was able to check Axis counter-attacks and inflicted over a thousand casualties on the enemies. This in turn enabled the New Zealand Division to capture the vital Tacruna feature and capture 300 German soldiers.117 On 21 April, the Axis launched a strong counter-attack along the eastern slopes of Djebel Garci. Axis artillery concentrated on the northern end of Djebel Bleida supported the attack by their infantry. As predicted by Bateman, the Germans made good use of mortars in the mountainous region. About the German Nebelwerfer mortars (German multi barrelled rocket launchers somewhat equivalent to Stalin’s organ pipes’ used by the Red Army in the Eastern Front) used during the 21 April morning counter-attack, Bateman noted: ‘The screaming bomb fired by this weapon is very frightening and is effective over a wide area, especially in this rocky, mountainous country where it is quite impossible to dig in’.118 However, heavy Allied artillery fire drove away the Axis infantry. After all, static defensive battle was a strongpoint of the Eighth Army. For three days, Allied infantry was able to contain the vigorous German counter-attacks partly due to artillery support. Brigadier H.K Dimoline (CRA 4th Indian Division) commanded 222 guns including the very effective 17-pounder anti-tank guns. And the fire control system of the guns had improved from Alamein onwards. At Garci, the artillery intervened eleven times on 20 April, eighteen times next day and nine times on 22 April.119 In the period

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between 18 and 23 April, the 5th Indian Brigade had suffered 301 casualties. In return, the Allies had gained a firm footing at Djebel Garci.120 Overcoming Axis resistance in this terrain was proving to be time consuming. So, the Allied high command decided to pin the Axis defenders among the hills and seize the high ground along the coastal plain with infantry in order to cover the passage of tanks along the shore. On the night of 22/23 April, the 5th Indian Brigade was relieved at Garci by the 51st Highland Division and moved towards the sea behind Enfidaville. This brigade’s new objective was to occupy Tebaga, which is a razor shaped ridge running from east to west some five miles north-west of Enfidaville. If this ridge could be occupied then the Allied armour could deploy for the final run to Cape Bon Peninsula.121

Revised planning for the battle On 30 April, the 4th Indian Division and the 2nd New Zealand Division’s patrols were conducting reconnaissance for launching an operation at Tebaga near Enfidaville.122 Operation Troodos planned in the last week of April involved the capture of Djbel Tebaga. The 7th Indian Infantry Brigade was ordered to conduct reconnaissance. It was ordered to capture Djebel Tebaga in the darkness with 4th/16th Punjab and 1st/2nd Gurkha Rifles. The Rajputana Rifle Machine-Gun Battalion along with an anti-tank battery was to support the assault by the infantry battalions. Meanwhile, artillery concentrations (as wanted by Tuker who was against artillery barrage) were to be fired on the known enemy localities. Aid was taken of the aerial photography to pinpoint the enemy defensive locations. The 7th Indian Infantry Brigade’s left flank was to be protected by the 5th Indian Infantry Brigade. The Zero Hour was fixed at 2100 hours. Further, the X Corps was to prepare a deception plan in order to distract enemy troops from the main thrust of attack. The 51st Division’s deception plan was termed as Backwater. The X Corps’ plan was to break through the Axis defence between Djebel Chabet el Akam and the Sea on 1 May.123 The first phase involved Operation Cholera. It was to be carried out by the 56th Light Division and the 4th Indian Division. The 4th Indian Division’s 5th Indian Brigade was to be supported by the 40th RTR. And the 7th Indian Brigade of the 4th Indian Division was to be assisted by thirteen field artillery regiments and three medium artillery regiments. Initially, an artillery barrage was to be followed by concentration fire. So, Tuker’s objection about the ineffectiveness of artillery barrage (despite the experience at Alamein and Mareth) was not accepted. But, his requirement for concentration of artillery fire was taken into account. So, the Eighth Army was following a compromise formula as regards the artillery fire plan. Hence, the Eighth Army was learning new lessons slowly and partially as it was unable to reject obsolete battle techniques fully. The two Indian infantry brigades while advancing had to clear the area of mines and booby traps. Further, they had to use explosives in the rocky ground to prepare weapon pits for medium machine-guns. In the 7th Indian Brigade, the working parties preparing the weapon pits were to be protected

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by 1st/4th Essex. This was considered necessary because it was assumed that the enemy will launch vigorous infantry counter-attacks. And they were to be tackled with the aid of Bren guns and machine-guns carried by the escorting troops in the forward edge of the battlefield. The 4th Indian Division pointed out that in mountain warfare which they had experienced recently, besides small arms of the infantry, mortars were useful. So, they had to be carried by the forward troops. The point to be noted is that Bateman in his lecture given at the Middle East Staff School during late December 1942 had pointed to the importance of mortars in mountain fighting.124 Actually, the difficult hilly terrain obstructed transportation and assembly of heavy artillery. Further, absence of urban centres and dispersed deployment of the troops (both the attacking party and the defenders) made the mountainous theatre a target poor military environment. So, massed artillery fire was not of much use. Hence, mortars which could be manhandled and carried easily and also could be set up quickly for firing made it an essential fire support weapon for the infantry. This condition also applied for the tropical jungle theatre. In the jungle covered tropical battlefields, Allied infantry found that 3-inch mortars were more useful than field artillery. The 4th Indian Division had been able to digest the recent experience of mountain warfare and was indeed learning crucial lessons. They were informed by the higher authorities, that Kitty bombers would be available with the onset of daylight and if the infantry was able to point out suitable targets, the ‘birds’ will go to action.125 But, this plan of the Eighth Army of advancing along the coast will change soon. At this stage, Monty was sure of victory but he noted that it might be costly and difficult. Monty in his message to the Eighth Army dated 28 April said that the enemy will resist desperately but ‘bit by bit, and part by part’, we will ‘eat the guts out of him’.126 He was anticipating a difficult attritional struggle. Horrocks ordered the 56th Division to capture Djebel Strafi and Terhouna on the night of 28/29 April. The 169th Brigade was inexperienced. An Axis counter-attack on the morning of 29 April resulted in stampede among this brigade.127 A change in the plan of attack was now necessary. On 30 April, General Alexander told Lieutenant-General Kenneth Anderson (commander of the First Army) that the terrain in front of the Eighth Army was extremely difficult to achieve a breakthrough without suffering huge losses. On that day, Alexander came over to see Monty. Monty also agreed with this view. The terrain in front of the First Army was not so mountainous and here the Allied forces, agreed Monty and Alexander, could use their trump card: superiority in armour and heavy artillery. So, both concurred that the First Army should be strengthened by transferring the Guards Brigade, 7th Armoured Division and the 4th Indian Division from the Eighth Army to the First Army. Monty also agreed to transfer Horrocks (an experienced corps commander in his eyes) from his army to the First Army.128 After Akarit, Tuker argued that the main Allied attack should be made between the Pont du Fahs and Medjez el Bab for a quick decision. Tuker wanted the main force to move secretly and with great speed through this area leaving behind a holding force for making feint attack at Enfidaville. He was against an attack along

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the coast. The fact that a divisional commander was thinking about the possible operation of the army shows that creativity of a high order was present in the Allied army. Horrocks ordered Tuker to conduct reconnaissance for an attack along Garci-Enfidaville. Tuker told him about his views regarding an attack near Medjez el Bab. Horrocks said that Monty wanted to advance to the Hammamet beaches in order to stop possible Axis embarkation from Cape Bon Peninsula. Alexander also supported Monty’s plan. Tuker counter-argued that an attack through Medjez (at the western end of the Medjerda Valley) would result in cutting up of the Axis forces in two halves. Tuker ended the conversation by saying that the shortest route to Tunis was through Medjez.129 At Medjez, Horrocks (now commander of IX Corps in the First Army under Lieutenant-General Anderson) called a conference where Major-General John Hawkesworth, the commander of the 4th British Division and Tuker were invited. Horrocks had prepared a plan without making thorough reconnaissance of the terrain. He was for a dawn attack supported by an artillery barrage. Tuker asked for air photos. Then, with his CRA Dimoline, Tuker went for a reconnaissance of the forthcoming battleground. The ground was coarse, weedy and covered with thick grasses. Tuker and his CRA assumed that the men could cover 100 yards in 5 to 10 minutes but the proposed creeping barrage was planned to move forward at the rate of 100 yards in three minutes. Horrocks had made a sort of First World War plan which was implemented by the British Army in France from 1916 onwards: infantry moving behind a timed advancing rolling barrage sweeping the enemy defensive zone in broad daylight. Tuker was against a daylight attack. Moreover, instead of a barrage, Tuker and his CRA were for concentration of artillery fire on particular hostile targets, like enemy defensive positions along the hills, and obliterating them one after another. The 4th British Division reported that the enemy was in considerable strength in front of them and some of their defensive positions were protected with concrete. Tuker and Dimoline agreed that unless the enemy defensive positions in the hills were wiped out one by one by firing concentration of artillery fire instead of the ineffective artillery barrage on them, like all the First Army’s attacks, this attack would also peter out along the forward line of enemy defence. The 4th British Division and the 4th Indian Division sent joint patrols with sappers to locate the enemy minefields.130 Credit is due to the organizational culture in the First Army for sharing information among the various divisions in a corps and also for the practice of two neighbouring divisions jointly conducting patrols to get a feel of the enemy defensive layout. This sort of institutional culture was absent in 11th Indian Division of Lieutenant-General Lewis Heath’s III Corps and Gordon Bennett’s 8th Australian Imperial Force Division in Percival’s army at Singapore during February 1942.131 Tuker’s new plan involved the following features. A night attack was to be launched with artillery support. And artillery concentrations and not barrages (which Monty and Horrocks wanted) were to be fired. Horrocks and Hawkesworth argued that the British infantry was not trained to launch night attacks. Tuker said that a daylight attack would cause lot of casualties. Further, he stated that he was

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ready to attack only with his own division in the night, provided in the morning he gets support from tanks, mortars, anti-tank guns and medium machine-guns. Horrocks refused to accept this plan of depending only on the 4th Indian Division. But, to Horrocks’ credit, he accepted Tuker’s plan of firing concentration and not barrages and also the issue of launching a night attack by the infantry. The air photos came only a day before the attack as in the case of Battleaxe. The issue of tactical reconnaissance by the RAF did not register much innovation in this regard between 1941 and early 1943. Though late, the aerial photos aided CRA of 4th Indian Division to pinpoint the enemy defensive positions. Each 25-pounder gun was assigned 160 RPG, and 200 RPG for each 40 mm gun. The 6-pounder and the 2-pounder field guns were assigned to the divisional second line. Tuker was ordered to stage an attack at 0300 hours on 6 May.132 On 5 May, in the left, the 1st British Division was involved in combat along the broken ground of Boo Huaker. On its right, the 4th British Division was before the Montuarnaud village. Between these two places, there was a small valley with rugged foothills running to the north-east. The 4th Indian Division was to crash between these two British divisions and was to reach the open plain some four miles ahead.133

Operation Strike In the early hours of 6 May 1943, an assault by the IX Corps was launched on a narrow front (3,500 yards) down the Medjerda Valley leading to Tunis. The 4th British and the 4th Indian divisions were to make the initial breakthrough. Then, the 6th and 7th Armoured Divisions waiting behind were to dash towards Tunis. On the right flank, the French XIX Corps was to capture Djebel Zaghouan and on the left, the V Corps was to capture Djebel Bou Aoukaz. In the north, II Corps was to take the high ground around Chouigui and the river crossings at Djedeida and Tebourba.134 Arnim knew the attack was coming in this area. But, he was powerless to intervene actively. His Fifth Panzer Army had fewer than seventy tanks with little ammunition and fuel.135 The main attack started at 0300 hours on 6 May. More than 400 Royal Artillery guns opened up on the Axis targets along Highway 5. Each gun had about 350 rounds while Arnim’s soldiers had on the average twenty-five to thirty rounds. In the Third Battle of Alamein, the figure was one shell for every 30 feet of enemy held ground. During this attack, the figure was one shell for every six feet of the frontage held by the Axis troops. Behind this artillery barrage, the First Army with 400 tanks waited for its move to Tunis as part of the Operation Strike. At 0540 hours, the Allied aircraft started softening up the Axis defensive positions. In the dawn, the 4th British and 4th Indian divisions had breached a two miles wide gap in the Axis defence.136 For the Indians, as at Akarit, the battle had started a day earlier. On the evening of 5 May, the 1st British Division stormed and occupied Boo Huaker feature. At 2100 hours, the 5th Indian Brigade started advancing. The 9th Gurkhas was leading, followed by the Rajputana Rifles and the Essex. Once the 5th Indian

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Brigade achieved its objective, the 7th Indian Brigade was to follow. One regiment of Churchill tanks was attached to each brigade. The Indian sappers and miners cleared the road for the AFVs. A German armoured counter-attack was expected along Boo Huaker. Hence, the Rajputana Rifles was ordered to lay down an antitank screen. The Rajputana Rifles were equipped with 6-pounders and supported by medium field artillery regiments. In addition, the 5th Indian Brigade could call on the assistance of twenty squadrons of bombers and tank busters. But, the war birds could go into action only in the morning.137 By this time, armour-artilleryair-infantry cooperation even at the brigade level had reached a high point. This was definitely an improvement compared to Battleaxe where armour, field artillery and aircraft failed to coordinate their action with the infantry divisions. With an ineffective barrage, a daylight infantry attack by the 4th Indian Division would have been held up by 1,000 Axis troops who enjoyed a good field of fire from their defensive positions. But, the infantry attack in a moonless night completely surprised the Axis defenders. Especially after their defeat in the mountainous region of Akarit, the Axis defenders should have been more careful. At 0720 hours, 6 May, the 12th Brigade was moving towards Frendj. At that time, the German motor vehicles were evacuating Frendj. The 1st/4th Essex which had occupied the high ground threatened the flanks of the Germans at Frendj. The Black Watch established their anti-tank screen. At 0820 hours, the Essex Regiment was able to capture five Nebelwerfers with their crews near Frendj.138 However, once the infantry attack had succeeded, Horrocks again dragged his foot about sending tanks (as at Wadi Akarit). Horrocks had promised Tuker that he would send the 7th Armoured Division at 0700 hours. But, he sent it only at 1100 hours. And at 1600 hours, the 7th Armoured Division had only covered 10 miles and then stopped at Messicault for maintenance reason.139 It seems Horrocks was partially a non-learner. This particular corps commander somewhat slowed down the operation of the innovative cycle in the Allied forces. Nevertheless, considerable autonomy was granted by the corps commander to the divisional commanders. It was another redeeming feature of the Eighth Army which encouraged circulation of new ideas and implementation of innovative plans based on them. In early April, Montgomery had told his troops that he wanted a ‘first class Dunkirk’ for the Axis troops in Tunisia in the near future.140 Thanks to Hitler’s obstinacy about conducting a last ditch defence, absence of adequate number of ships on part of the Axis required for evacuation and complete loss of control over the skies resulted in a situation worse than Dunkirk for the Axis troops at Tunisia during mid-1943. Heavy artillery and air force bombardment coupled with the rupture achieved in the Axis defensive line by the Allied infantry, allowed the 6th and 7th Armoured Divisions to advance. On 7 May, Tunis and Bizerta fell to the British and Americans respectively. Some 250,000 Axis personnel (including Italian non-combatants) surrendered in Tunisia. Of them, some 60,000 were German soldiers. In comparison at Stalingrad, Germany lost 330,000 soldiers. Citino rightly says that ‘Tunisgrad’ was a mini Stalingrad. However, the Tunisian Campaign was no cakewalk for the Allied forces. Despite the Allies possessing material and numerical

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superiorities, thanks to the superior German art of war, the Axis forces was able to inflict 70,000 casualties on their opponents.141

Was the Eighth Army a learning organization? The Eighth Army in general and the 4th Indian Division in particular as part of their learning culture, attempted to analyze the campaigns they had just fought in order to derive lessons and to absorb them to raise their combat effectiveness before starting the next campaign. For instance, the Eighth Army’s Intelligence Summary Number 467 issued on 29 March 1943 and distributed among all the divisions under it noted: ‘Now that the battle for Mareth and the Gabes Gap is over, it may be profitable to review briefly the course of the battle to see its essential shape’.142 The intelligence summary divided the Mareth Battle into three phases: breakthrough, consolidation and finally exploitation of the breakthrough. It noted that the most important contribution of the frontal assault was to hold the 15th Panzer Division in the south-east while the Allied left hook gathered momentum. Further, the American thrust from Gafsa bottled up the 10th Panzer Division. And once the 21st Panzer Division moved south, the Axis had no more reserve to contain the twin Allied thrusts. The most important point is, asserted the intelligence summary, that the Eighth Army was able to shift the Schwerpunkt (centre of gravity of military operation) from the centre of the Mareth Line to the coastal sector. The Axis commanders had to commit most of their available air force and the panzer grenadiers to contain the coastal thrust. Later, the 15th Panzer Division was also sent in this sector. In addition, the 164th Division along with some elements from Spezia Division was also redeployed to support the 21st Panzer Division, to check the coastal thrust. For success to be achieved, noted the intelligence summary, it was essential to conduct an integrated air-land campaign and to take risk at certain times. Due attention was paid to the importance of CAS by the Allied air force especially in ground strafing and tank busting. Added to it was fire from the guns. For artillery firing to be effective, it was noted, good gunnery skill (a product of thorough training) and air photography were essential. Firepower generated by artillery and CAS, noted the intelligence summary, disorganized Axis resistance at El Hamma. The objective theoretically, continued the intelligence summary, should be to conduct nocturnal attack for achieving surprise and Allied armour along with the motorized infantry must always aim to outflank enemy defence. The Axis air force, rightly noted the intelligence summary, was in disarray, but their troops were indoctrinated and well-motivated. Against such troops, accepted the intelligence summary, the friendly attacking force would suffer casualties.143 The intelligence summary was indeed right on this count. Even during the Battle of Garci-­Enfidaville, the German troops were sorely tired but possessed strong morale. As they retreated in Tunisia, they were continuously bombed and machine-gunned by the Allied aircraft. They were weary due to continuous aerial attacks and because they were fighting for a long time. However, they had faith in the superiority of German weapons. They

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believed that Hitler would send Tiger tanks and 88 mm guns in large numbers from Sicily to Cape Bon.144 Historian Ross Mahoney asserts that a transition in the use of Allied air power occurred between the Battle of El Alamein and Mareth. At Alamein, the WDAF was used mainly in an aerial interdiction role. The WDAF conducted attacks on the hostile military infrastructure and concentrations behind the Axis front line. The WDAF was used only in a limited manner in CAS role which involved direct air attacks on the hostile ground forces on the battlefields. However, CAS became the primary role of the WDAF during the Mareth Battle in March 1943. For instance, during Supercharge II, which started on 26 March 1943, light and medium bombers of WDAF launched pattern bombing attacks against predetermined targets. The aircraft provided CAS to the 5th and 6th New Zealand Infantry Brigades and the 8th Armoured Brigade. For close cooperation, Forward Air Controllers were used with the tanks of the 8th Armoured Brigade.145 The intelligence summary issued on 28 March paid due respect to the importance of CAS during the Mareth Battle. A further detailed analysis was issued on 9 April 1943 which analyzed the role of bombing and ground strafing by the RAF during the Akarit Battle. The Axis POWs were interrogated intensively, in order to flesh out their experience regarding CAS by the RAF especially on 26 March. They accepted that the Allied infantry and tank assault had succeeded due to the disorganization caused in the defenders’ rank by the RAF. The RAF’s technique confounded the Axis anti-tank gunners. The planes came too low for the 88 mm guns (heavy flak) to fire. But, light anti-aircraft guns also could not be used. This was because due to continuous strafing, the crews of 20 mm anti-aircraft gunners were seeking shelter rather than aiming and firing their guns at the Allied aircraft. And the Axis infantry was also forced below the ground and could not prepare to meet the advancing Allied infantry. Only one tank was destroyed by aerial bombing. But, the panzer counter-attack was seriously disrupted due to destruction of the supporting soft skinned motor transport by the marauding Allied aircraft. Later, in Normandy it will be seen that the heavy German tanks remained invulnerable to Allied air attacks. But, destruction of the trucks carrying POL and ammunition for the panzers made the latter ineffective.146 Further, tank-anti-tank gun combination was a crucial element of Axis defence. And the Allied air raids resulted in destruction of many 50 mm anti-tank guns.147 Overall, heavy Allied air raids seriously dislocated the stout Axis defence. Besides analyzing the strategic and operational aspects, the intelligence summary issued on 29 March 1943 also focused on the tactical-technical planes. Fox in her monograph writes that during First World War, critical reflection of the French method of war making facilitated learning process of the British Army in the Western Front.148 I argue that during the Second World War, in North Africa, critical reflection of the German method of war also shaped existing knowledge and facilitated learning of the Eighth Army. A serious attempt was made to study the organization of the enemy force, new weapons if any introduced by them in the theatre and finally observation of enemy methods of attack in order to generate

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effective countermeasures. It was noted that the Germans were using a new type of reconnaissance unit. Each unit included four armoured cars, and each of them was a four wheeler and equipped with a 2 cm gun and a machine-gun. In addition, each such reconnaissance unit had four to six eight wheeler armoured cars also. The Allies were impressed with the giant Messerschmitt 323s that enabled the Germans to ferry vehicles and men in large numbers from Italy and Sicily to North Africa. The maximum payload of this huge aircraft was 14 tons and it was powered by six engines which consumed 600 litres of petrol per hour. Each such aircraft could bring an 88 mm gun with its tractor and twenty armed men. It was also observed that the Germans were dropping butterfly bombs with time fuses. The Allied soldiers were warned not to approach such bombs as they could go off 45 minutes after they were dropped.149 There are certain important issues with the above intelligence summary issued on 29 March 1943. The point about ideological indoctrination probably applied only to the German soldiers and some Italian formations like the Young Fascist Division and so forth. Citino notes that one aspect of the German Way of War was the focus on willpower on part of both the officers and the men. They believed that imbalance in men and materials could be made good due to their superior spirit vis-à-vis the enemy.150 We could pose a counterfactual. Since the Eighth Army’s personnel were not indoctrinated with ideological fervour, this organization was probably incapable of incurring huge losses. In 1944, Monty’s 21st Army Group ran into deep troubles in the bocage country of Normandy due to the high rate of casualties it suffered against the resolute SS panzer divisions and there was a subsequent drop in morale among the British soldiers.151 Further, except the 4th Indian Division, none of the British divisions of the Eighth Army were really trained for launching nocturnal attacks (especially along the mountainous terrain), which the intelligence summary demanded. Considering the time the intelligence summary was issued, it was quite modern in its approach as the document was arguing for waging joint air-land campaign which in the 1970s would culminate in the doctrine of Air-Land Battle.152 However, the assertion in the intelligence summary that the Eighth Army was able to shift its Schwerpunkt quickly in accordance with the changing scenario is a bit far-fetched. Schwerpunkt according to Clausewitz, is the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends. And, he is for concentration of all the energies towards this point.153 Since, according to Clausewitz, the principal aim in battle is destruction of the hostile forces, the centre of gravity probably refers to the concentration of enemy’s forces. The British Army’s doctrine was influenced by Clausewitzian semantics and concepts but this institution was unable to conduct fluid mobile battle resulting in annihilation of the enemy’s field force. If we accept the three phases of the Mareth Battle, then the Eighth Army appeared very weak during the third/last phase: exploitation of the breakthrough. One might argue that the Eighth Army’s conceptualization of a battle is also defective. The second phase i.e. consolidation of the breakthrough was probably essential to prevent enemy counter-attacks from succeeding. But, this phase also gave opportunity to the Axis

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forces to organize counter-attacks and simultaneously to pull out their defeated forces from the battlefields. Thus, repeatedly despite being defeated, the Axis forces survived to fight another day. The idea about consolidation of the breakthrough phase was probably the product of the conservative British battle doctrine. Again, the intelligence summary noted that at certain time when the battle was going on, risks had to be taken. But, neither Horrocks nor Leese were willing to take risk. Immediate and rapid pursuit of the enemy forces just after achieving a breakthrough resulting in a fluid battle, required a risk taking attitude on part of the commanders and more subtle command apparatus. Theoretically, while frontal assaults were to pin down hostile forces, the Allied armour and motorized infantry ought to outflank the enemy. But, in practice, as we have seen in case of Mareth, Akarit and Enfidaville, there was lack of synchronization between Allied infantry and armour. This raises the issue how far the lessons derived from analysis of the campaigns fought, were actually inculcated and implemented by the Eighth Army? Tuker had caustically written: ‘Akarit, even more than Alamein, points to the congenital inability of Eighth Army Headquarters to exploit and to pursue. Like Alamein, the battle was only half won’.154 There are some elements of truth in this assertion. For the incapability of the Eighth Army to coordinate infantry-armourfield artillery operations for rapid exploitation, among other things, both the commanders and the command system were responsible. Tuker had contempt for most of his superiors. He had written: Horrocks had little real tactical knowledge or ability. . . . Hawkesworth . . . It was he who, backed by Horrocks, refused for nearly a week to attack at night at Medjez-el-Bab because he said his division was not trained to attack at night (He didn’t seem a bit perturbed at the idea of failure and casualties in a daylight attack). . . . Oliver Leese was a man of little real intelligence, but he would listen when one suggested better ways, e.g. I was ordered to attack Toujae and turn the Boche flank at Mareth: I pointed out the advantages of attacking Techine and he accepted the plan. At Akarit I told him his plan was wrong because it neglected the Zouai Hill on his flank which would sweep his attack away, and I said that however difficult it might be to seize the precipitous features, I would take on the task myself. . . . He agreed after talking to Montgomery.155 Horrocks was so afraid of Monty that unless his divisional commander Tuker would threaten resignation for changing the plan, he would not approach Montgomery.156 The problem was due to Monty’s top down command system. Further, due to Monty’s style of centralizing decision making for fighting a battle tightly controlled from top, the plans for attacking the enemy was prepared by the top echelons. Monty was a control freak. Generally, inputs from subordinate commanders were not taken into account and the top down approach resulted in such plans being pushed down the throats of the divisional commanders. Very few dared to challenge Monty for the security of their careers. And this somewhat obstructed

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the cycle of innovations in the British Imperial Army. Monty followed a risk averse strategy. Following Monty, his loyal subordinates like Horrocks and Leese were also against taking risk, by sending armour for making quick long outflanking thrusts. And this prevented them from exploiting the victories gained by the infantry. But, it must be admitted despite all his faults, Monty and later Horrocks accepted Tuker’s plan for Akarit which was based on ‘out of the box’ thinking and allowed the latter to implement it. Monty in this case, needs to be praised for integrating tactically innovative planning inputs from his subordinate in his overall plan and this resulted in a successful battle. Thus, Monty’s attitude at times slowed the trend of innovative thinking in his force but never eliminated it. In contrast to the First and Eighth Armies, the Afrika Korps operated on the principle of Auftragstaktik (mission oriented command). While the hands as well as minds of the officers of the Eighth Army were tied down by detailed and precise orders issued from the top (Befehlstaktik), traditionally the German Army emphasized decentralized instruction based command. All the commanders of the German Army down to the NCOs were given a high degree of autonomy to work as they saw best within the framework of an agreed operational-tactical concept. Not only the mission oriented command system proved superior in fast moving fluid battles,157 but it also accelerated the learning process in the German military organization through easy flow of knowledge from bottom to top and vice versa. The Eighth Army because of its cumbersome command system and personality of the army commander was a slow learner. But, within this army, some contingents were indeed fast learners. For instance, the 4th Indian Division learnt from the faulty artillery tactics of Monty in Alamein and implemented a more effective artillery fire plan in the Tunisian Campaign. Tuker wrote about innovation in 4th Indian Division’s artillery fire plan: Since June 1942 I had been hard at work with my CRA perfecting the shooting of heavy artillery concentrations with all guns on a pin-point, with fast switches from target to target. By the time of Alamein I had not perfected this technique but was getting on. The trouble was that, being an Indian Division, Monty had me on bottom priority and it was not till about January 1943 that I got my whole Divisional Artillery together. . . . No barrages should have been fired against the enemy’s known defences; concentrations of all guns, serially on targets, would have destroyed them more quickly. It was this method that I used at the Medjerda on 6 May 1943. . . . That example was later followed by other divisions after the African Campaign.158 Actually, the concept of artillery barrage was also evolving with time. Instead of a thin barrage spread over an area, the concept of a tight barrage was practiced. The latter technique involved one shell in every 10 yards of the target. But, concentration firing which involved dropping heavier metal on particular targets over a small time period was more effective. Such targets were previously pinpointed and given code names and then they were smashed by concentrated firing. Divisional and

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supporting corps artillery could bring down eight tons of high explosives in every minute and fire could be switched from one target to another within five minutes. This fire plan was perfected at Garci.159 Tuker’s concentrated fire plan was much more effective than Monty’s practice at Alamein and at Mareth of spreading the artillery in front of all his attacking divisions and spraying fire throughout the hostile front line. Rather, firepower should have been concentrated along a particular corridor in order to break inside enemy defence and then push infantry supported by armour through that lane in order to achieve a breakthrough. Compared to Mareth, at Akarit, the 4th Indian Division experienced innovation in the sphere of infantry combat. At Mareth, the British infantry attacked during full moon and suffered heavy losses. The 4th Indian Division learnt from it and its attack at Akarit in a moonless night completely surprised the Italian and to a lesser extent the German infantry. However, Horrocks at Mareth, Wadi Akarit and Enfidaville failed to support the advancing infantry with tanks. Not only Tuker, but other British officers also complained about Horrocks’ foot dragging for his failure to push armour immediately once the infantry had broken through the Axis defensive line. About Horrocks’ failure at Medjez el Bab, Brigadier (later Major-General) Bateman commander of the 5th Indian Brigade vented his frustration in the following words: I remember well meeting General Horrocks the day before the attack. He knew my brigade had felt very sore about the armour not going through at Akarit. He assured me that this time there would be no delay, and if only we got the objectives, he personally would ensure that the armour got their whips out . . . By first light we had certainly reported success . . . as so far as we could tell there was nothing to stop the armour going through from then on.160 Despite Tuker’s negative attitude towards his superiors, the corps commander and the army commander at times respected and supported his unconventional plans. This allowed the innovative cycle to operate in the Eighth and the First Armies. For instance, after breaching the Mareth Line, Leese confided to Tuker that no other division except the 4th Indian Division could have turned the position through the Matmata Hills. And at times, even Monty gave the 4th Indian Division its due. On 8 June 1943, at Tripoli, Monty remarked that at Enfidaville, when Alexander asked him for two of the best divisions for the First Army, the latter was given the 4th Indian Division and the 7th Armoured Division.161 Partly the innovative plans could be made and then implemented by Tuker because of thorough study of the terrain. And this was possible due to two factors: excellent reconnaissance by infantry patrols and availability of air photos. At Enfidaville, Horrocks had made the plan without thorough reconnaissance of the ground. But, he admitted this shortcoming and then accepted Tuker’s innovative plan. Where the Eighth Army failed was to conduct rapid pursuit of the retreating

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enemy (both at Mareth and at Wadi Akarit and previously at Alamein) by the composite armoured columns. This was due to lack of trust between the divisional and corps commanders, an aspect of absence of mission oriented decentralized command system and also due to faulty tactics. In early April 1943, Allied intelligence got hold of a German document about their battle doctrine. It was circulated among the Allied divisions, so that the latter could digest the lessons from it to copy some of the elements and also could evolve adequate countermeasures against the enemy technique. The German method of attack was based on fire and movement. It was noted that to rely on artillery and then merely to follow it up with infantry was a grave error. It was emphasized that not only artillery but all the possible weapons should be used to generate the maximum effect. The infantry was to use their weapons (mortars, machine-guns, etc) both offensively as well as defensively. In fact, the high rate of fire generated by these two weapon systems should force the enemy to take cover. It was pointed out that the practice of depending on artillery and armour to clear the situation was against the tradition of German infantry. The overall aim would be to coordinate artillery, armour, infantry weapons as well as anti-tank guns to generate all round effect. And for implementing this combined arms tactics, the document ended by saying, combined arms training of the troops was most important.162 Even in the last stage of the North African Campaign, the Allied armies were unable to conceive and implement combined arms tactics like the Germans. Rather, Allied infantry always asked for artillery support assuming that the latter would do their job by eliminating the enemy. In fact, Allied infantry was unable and unwilling to act without artillery support. This problem was not confined among British troops of North Africa but was also common among the American regular infantry in Philippines during late 1944 and early 1945. The American infantry waited for artillery and armour before advancing against stout Japanese infantry centric defence.163 The only exception in North Africa was of course the 4th Indian Division. But, even this division after a successful break-in battle depended on British armour for achieving a successful breakthrough. The infantry divisions of the Allied forces considered the armour as a separate alien branch and frequently blamed the latter for not immediately answering its demand. The doctrine of the Allied infantry was that artillery would smash the enemy and they would merely occupy the ground. And tanks would be available to protect them against panzer counter-attack. Integration of the various weapon systems into a seamless whole was beyond the capacity of the British Imperial Army in North Africa. Further, the Allied forces failed seriously in the sphere of conducting tank battles. If one reads Basil Liddell Hart’s history of British tanks during the Second World War (especially Chapter 8 of volume 2), then it would seem that the British tanks were advancing and outflanking enemy defence. He has painted a picture that from Mareth to Tunis, the British tank forces had a free run and it was the armoured forces which almost singlehandedly won the campaign in Tunisia.164 The reality was much different. Tuker noted: ‘I enquired about First Army tank tactics and heard that they always preceded the infantry and that when a position

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was taken the infantry often retired from it because of shelling and mortaring and left the tanks even at night to hold it. From all I saw, I should say that the battle skill of the First Army was a disgrace to those who trained the officers and men in England’.165 It seems that the Allied commanders had not learnt much even after fighting the Afrika Korps for more than two years. Joint infantry-tank operation, an issue which was repeatedly analyzed in the post battle analyses after the Battleaxe Operation was still not inculcated in general among the Allied forces. At least some British armoured formations in fact tried to discern proper lessons from recent fighting. For instance, the 23rd Armoured Brigade Group after analyzing its Tunisian operations came to the conclusion that for effective cooperation between the infantry and tanks both during day and night, proper battle drill needs to be introduced. Once the battle drill had evolved, then thorough training which involved lectures and use of cloth models needs to be put into practice. Moreover, close personal contact between the infantry and the armour personnel was necessary. Again infantry-tank team required close support from the artillery. It was noted that the practice of improvisation during the battle was poor among the senior commanders. The culprit here seems to be the top down command system. The armoured group’s report emphasized that close contact between the OP officers and forward squadron commanders and between the artillery battery commanders and tank battalion commanders was an absolute necessity. The German 88 mm guns which were pushed forward of the front line to function as Allied tank killers were vulnerable to Allied anti-personnel artillery shelling. The 88 mm gun had a high silhouette and had no cover for crew protection. Finally, it was deduced that the proper answer to German armour was anti-tank guns. But, during an offensive, taking the anti-tank guns through the Axis minefields proved to be difficult if not impossible. Occasionally, the anti-tank guns were hooked with the tractors for crossing the deadly zone swept by enemy fire. But, the Axis gunners took special care to destroy the tractors. And to cover the wide trenches and minefields constructed by the Axis defenders, a combination of Scorpion tanks (for churning out the mines) and Valentine tanks carrying fascines proved to be moderately effective.166 However, even at the end of the Tunisian Campaign, these lessons were not inculcated thoroughly among all the Allied tank formations. In contrast, the Axis armoured force displayed a learning curve. The Germans analyzed the performance of the M-4 Shermans, to flesh out their strengths and weaknesses in order to evolve proper countermeasures. This German document in turn was acquired by Allied intelligence and on 29 March 1943, it was distributed among the Allied formations, so that the latter could come up with countercountermeasures. The German analysis noted that the Shermans moved fast and opened fire against the German tanks at 3,000 metres. However, fire from such a distance had no effect on the German tanks. The 75 mm gun on the Sherman was effective at a maximum distance of 1,800 metres. Further, the German tank crews were trained to take advantage of the undulating terrain to hide their vehicles. It was noted that the Allied tank crews were indecisive and only too late they realized that they were attacked on their flanks by German tanks. This was partly due

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to poor lateral visibility of the M-4. The German tanks were able to close on the Shermans by making flanking advance and destroyed them at a range between 1,600 to 1,200 metres with hollow charge 75 mm shells. Since the armour of the Allied tanks was thinner on their sides, the German tanks’ preferred tactics was to attack the sides of the Allied tanks. From the time of Battleaxe onwards, German tanks were making flank attacks on the Allied tanks, while the latter were intent on carrying out Balaclava like frontal charges and opening fire at enemy tanks too soon and from too far. In early 1943, the Germans were short of long range 88 mm guns, the best anti-tank weapon of the Second World War. However, the Germans possessed the short range 50 mm anti-tank gun. The integrated German tactics was that during an Allied armoured attack, first the German tanks with 75 mm guns would open fire at a range of 1,600 metres and aim at the sides of Allied tanks. Then, the 50 mm anti-tank guns would open fire at a range of 1,200 metres. Since these anti-tanks guns were immobile, they could fire only frontally and they were trained to direct their fire towards the vulnerable hull armour between the tracks of the Allied tanks. Both the German tank and anti-tank crews were warned that even if the enemy opened fire from a longer range, they should keep their nerves and should start firing only when the enemy AFVs was within the designated ranges. An integrated tanks-anti-tank guns combination was a potent German technique from early 1941 onwards. In early 1943, due to shortage of 88 mm guns, German tank tactics witnessed innovation. The instruction manual of the 15th Panzer Division was indeed tougher. It emphasized that if German armour was unsupported by anti-tank guns due to exigencies of the situation, then the panzers must open fire at enemy tanks at a far shorter range, i.e. at 800 metres. Those panzer crews who were able to hold their nerve and close with enemy AFVs for destroying them were given tank hunter’s medal and a special leave of 20 days.167 A point could be made that the Allied tanks were inferior vis-à-vis the German AFVs. The American tanks in general had thinner armour and weaker guns compared to their German opponents. And throughout the Second World War, comments Citino, the American tanks were unable to stand up to German tanks in a one-to-one fight. The same applies to the British tanks. Further, the lightly armoured American tank destroyers themselves got smashed before they could destroy thickly armoured German tanks with big guns.168 Added to technical inferiority, inadequate training and inferior doctrine (refusal to learn from past mistakes), also added woes to the Allied armour.

Conclusion Monty had the tendency of highlighting his own achievements and simultaneously downgrading the contributions of others (especially his subordinates). Somewhat like Monty, Tuker also had the same problem. Tuker overemphasized his personal and his division’s contribution above anything else and had contempt for his superior officers. He failed to take into account the overall context of the battle. Partly, he could be forgiven, because after all though he was a creative thinker, he was a

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divisional commander. Had Tuker been serving in the Wehrmacht which encouraged creative thinking among the gifted subordinates, he would have achieved higher rank and would have commanded bigger formations than a division. But, the fault of self-glorification in Monty cannot be passed over. After all, he was the army commander and in 1944 became the army group commander. On balance, it could be said that Tuker and his 4th Indian Division enabled the Eighth and later the First Army to win quickly and cheaply the three battles discussed in this chapter. After-action analysis was a crucial component of the Eighth Army’s learning process. The Eighth Army was a slow learner, but nevertheless a learner. Several components of the Eighth Army, like the 4th Indian Division was indeed a fast learner compared to other formations of the same army. This was due to presence of certain individuals (dynamic commander and a gifted CRA) and the division’s previous battle experience. At Akarit, the 4th Indian Division displayed a high level of capability in conducting mountain/hill warfare under modern conditions. Their skill in conducting hill warfare was partly due to the experience they had gained in the North-West Frontier of India before the Second World War and in combat against the Italians in Eritrea during early 1941. But, the German infantry in Tunisia compared to the Italians in Eritrea were tougher nuts to crack. Further, the German infantry was backed by mortars, field guns and panzers. Hence, the 4th Indian Division had to evolve an innovative fire plan to smash enemy defensive strong points and then to support nocturnal infiltration by the infantry in mountainous terrain. And this gave rise to mountain warfare under modern conditions. Their expertise in waging mountain warfare under modern conditions would be useful for them when they would fight the Wehrmacht in Italy in the near future. Some credit is due to Bateman for creating a doctrine for mountain warfare under modern conditions and inculcating innovative training in tune with it. In this enterprise Bateman was helped by the training manuals published by General Staff of the Indian Army. But, the other infantry divisions of the British Army were never at ease with mountain fighting and in launching nocturnal attacks. In fact, the performance of the 4th, 50th and 51st British divisions in the battles analyzed in this chapter was below average. And the inability of the British infantry to conduct mountain warfare with élan enabled Kesselring, to hold out in Italy with inferior forces in 1944.

Notes 1 Bruce Allen Watson, Exit Rommel: The Tunisian Campaign, 1942–1943 (Westport, CT and London: Praeger, 1999), pp. 56, 58. 2 Quoted from Military Training Pamphlet No. 7 (India): Extensive Warfare, Notes on Warfare in Mountainous Country Between Modern Forces in Eastern Theatres (Simla: Manager Government of India Press, 1941), Foreword, L/MIL/17/5/2248, APAC, BL, London. 3 Major-General D.R.E.R. Bateman Papers, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade-An Account of Operations from 18 March to 13 May 1943, p. 1, 72/117/3/1, IWM, London. 4 War Diary of Headquarters 4th Indian Division GS Branch, May-June 1941, Liaison Letter, Serial 5, pp. 1–3, 1 April 1941, 4th Indian Division Newsletter, 1 April 1941, IS, 2 April 1941, 601/221/WD/A-7, MODHS, New Delhi.

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5 Military Training Pamphlet No. 7 (India), p. 1. 6 Quoted from Bateman Papers, ME Staff School Lecture, Training for War-Mountainous Country, 31 December 1942, p. 1, 72/117/2/7, IWM. 7 Bateman Papers, ME Staff School Lecture, p. 1. 8 Military Training Pamphlet No. 7 (India), p. 2. 9 Bateman Papers, ME Staff School Lecture, p. 1. 10 Peter Paret, ‘The Genesis of War’, in Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, ed. and tr. by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (1976, reprint, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), p. 15. 11 Bateman Papers, ME Staff School Lecture, p. 2; Telegram from CGS Australia to War Office, The Malayan Campaign, War Cabinet, 4 April 1942, pp. 1–2, CAB 66/23/25, PRO, Kew, London. 12 Bateman Papers, ME Staff School Lecture, pp. 1–2; T. R. Moreman, The Jungle, the Japanese and the British Commonwealth Armies at War, 1941–45: Fighting Methods, Doctrine and Training for Jungle Warfare (London: Frank Cass, 2005), p. 13. 13 Clausewitz, On War, ed. and tr. by Howard and Paret, pp. 101–102. 14 Michael Howard, ‘The Influence of Clausewitz’, in Clausewitz, On War, ed. and tr. by Howard and Paret, p. 35. 15 Bateman Papers, ME Staff School Lecture, pp. 3–4; Napoleon on the Art of War, Selected, ed. and tr. by Jay Luvaas (New York: Free Press, 1999), p. 11. 16 Bateman Papers, ME Staff School Lecture, p. 3. 17 Major-General B. W. Key, pp. 44–5, P 456, IWM, London. 18 To the CIGS London from GS Branch GHQ India, 9 August 1944, Animals, Appendix 16, p. 33, L/WS/1/441, APAC, BL, London. 19 Bateman Papers, ME Staff School Lecture, p. 3. 20 Key, p. 45. 21 Bateman Papers, ME Staff School Lecture, p. 5. 22 Clausewitz, On War, ed. and tr. by Howard and Paret, pp. 421–422. 23 Bateman Papers, ME Staff School Lecture, pp. 5–6. 24 Key, p. 45. 25 Military Training Pamphlet No. 7 (India), pp. 3–4, 18–19. 26 Bateman Papers, ME Staff School Lecture, pp. 6, 8. 27 Military Training Pamphlet No. 7 (India), p. 21. 28 Lieutenant-General Francis Tuker Papers, Tuker to George, 25 November 1966, 71/21/ 2/7, IWM. 29 Tarak Barkawi, Soldiers of Empire: Indian and British Armies in World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), p. 148. 30 Quoted from Infantry Liaison Letter No. 2, Africa, Battle Drills, 4a, L/WS/1/778, APAC, BL, London. 31 Robert M. Citino, The Wehrmacht Retreats: Fighting a Lost War, 1943 (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2012), pp. 2–3. 32 Kenneth Macksey, Kesselring: The Making of the Luftwaffe (2000, reprint, Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2012), p. 144. 33 David Fraser, Knight’s Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (1993, reprint, London: HarperCollins, 1994), pp. 397–398, 401. 34 Citino, The Wehrmacht Retreats, pp. 29, 36. 35 Watson, Exit Rommel, p. 71. 36 James Hudson, ‘Coalition Air-Land Doctrine in the North African Campaign: Moving Towards a Single Concept of Operations, June 1942-March 1943’, in Andrew L. Hargreaves, Patrick J. Rose and Matthew C. Ford (eds.), Allied Fighting Effectiveness in North Africa and Italy, 1942–1945 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2014), p. 23. 37 Rick Atkinson, An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942–1943 (New York: Henry Holt, 2002), p. 420. 38 Martin Kitchen, Rommel’s Desert War: Waging World War II in North Africa, 1941–1943 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), p. 423.

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39 Atkinson, An Army at Dawn, p. 420. 40 Watson, Exit Rommel, p. 106; Shelford Bidwell and Dominick Graham, Fire-Power: British Army Weapons and Theories of War, 1904–1905 (1982, reprint, Boston: George Allen & Unwin, 1985), p. 245. 41 Captain B. H. Liddell Hart, The Tanks: The History of the Royal Tank Regiment and Its Predecessors Heavy Branch Machine-Gun Corps Tank Corps and Royal Tank Corps, 1914–1945, 2 vols., vol. 2, 1939–1945 (London: Cassell, 1959), p. 245. 42 Watson, Exit Rommel, pp. 106, 108. 43 Kitchen, Rommel’s Desert War, p. 440. 44 Liddell Hart, The Tanks, vol. 2, p. 248. 45 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, IS No. 40, 31 March 1943, 601/221/WD, Part 7A/3, MODHS. 46 Kitchen, Rommel’s Desert War, p. 444; Bidwell and Graham, Fire-Power, p. 246. 47 Atkinson, An Army at Dawn, p. 420. 48 Kitchen, Rommel’s Desert War, pp. 440, 445, 447. 49 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, IS Nos. 39, 44, Enemy Methods, 13 March and 6 April 1943. 50 Bateman Papers, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade-An Account of Operations from 18 March to 13 May 1943, pp. 1–2. 51 Atkinson, An Army at Dawn, p. 420. 52 Liddell Hart, The Tanks, vol. 2, pp. 248–249. 53 Kitchen, Rommel’s Desert War, p. 447. 54 Atkinson, An Army at Dawn, pp. 420, 422. 55 Atkinson, An Army at Dawn, pp. 422–423. 56 Kitchen, Rommel’s Desert War, p. 447. 57 Bateman Papers, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade-An Account of Operations from 18 March to 13 May 1943, p. 1. 58 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, IS No. 41, Special Note, 3 April 1943. 59 Liddell Hart, The Tanks, vol. 2, p. 245. 60 Atkinson, An Army at Dawn, p. 422; Liddell Hart, The Tanks, vol. 2, pp. 248–49; 23rd Armoured Brigade Group Account of Operations, Phase 1, p. 2, WO 106/2263, PRO, Kew, London. 61 Bateman Papers, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade, p. 2. 62 Atkinson, An Army at Dawn, pp. 423–424; 23rd Armoured Brigade Group Account of Operations, 50th Tank Regiment Operations, Mareth, p. 2, WO 106/2263. 63 Bateman Papers, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade, p. 3. 64 Atkinson, An Army at Dawn, pp. 424–425. 65 23rd Armoured Brigade Group Account of Operations, 50th Tank Regiment Operations, Mareth, pp. 6–7. 66 Kitchen, Rommel’s Desert War, p. 448. 67 Liddell Hart, The Tanks, vol. 2, pp. 245, 251. 68 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Note on the Mareth Battle; Mareth 50th Division, 71/21/1/3, IWM. 69 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Note on the Mareth Battle, 71/21/1/3. 70 Bateman Papers, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade, p. 4. 71 Bateman Papers, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade, p. 5. 72 Bateman Papers, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade, pp. 6–7; Key, p. 47. 73 Bateman Papers, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade, p. 7. 74 Tuker Papers, Mareth, 50th Division, 71/21/1/3. 75 Tuker Papers, Mareth, 50th Division; Bateman Papers, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade, p. 7. 76 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, IS No. 39, 29 March 1943, Operations, Land, Personal Message from the Army Commander, 8 April 1943. 77 Lieutenant-Colonel G. R. Stevens, Fourth Indian Division (Toronto, ON: McLaren and Sons Ltd., n.d.), p. 217.

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78 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, IS No. 39, 29 March 1943, Operations, Land, Air. 79 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April–May 1943, IS No. 40, XXX Corps Instruction No. 341. 80 Stevens, Fourth Indian Division, pp. 217, 219. 81 Bateman Papers, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade-The Battle of Akarit, p. 1, 72/117/3/1, IWM. 82 Stevens, Fourth Indian Division, p. 219. 83 Tuker Papers, Akarit, 50th Division, 71/21/1/3. 84 Stevens, Fourth Indian Division, p. 219. 85 Tuker Papers, Note by Major-General F. S. Tuker, pp. 7–8, 71/21/1/3. 86 Stevens, Fourth Indian Division, p. 219; 23rd Armoured Brigade Group Account of Operations, 50th Tank Regiment Operations, Phase III, p. 9, WO 106/2263. 87 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, Battle of Akarit, 7 April 1943. 88 Stevens, Fourth Indian Division, pp. 220–1. 89 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 14. 90 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, IS No. 40, Operations, 31 March 1943. 91 Stevens, Fourth Indian Division, p. 221; War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, IS Nos. 41–2, 3–4 April 1943. 92 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, Handwritten Note by Tuker, 71/21/1/3. 93 Bateman Papers, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade – The Battle of Akarit, p. 2. 94 Liddell Hart, The Tanks, vol. 2, p. 252. 95 23rd Armoured Brigade Group Account of Operations, Wadi Akarit, pp. 9–10, WO 106/2263. 96 Tuker Papers, Akarit, 50th Division. 97 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, IS No. 45, Operations, 7 April 1943. 98 Bateman Papers, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade – The Battle of Akarit, p. 3. 99 Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, pp. 14–15. 100 Tuker Papers, Akarit, Statements from my file, 71/21/1/3. 101 Tuker Papers, Akarit, 50th Division. 102 Discussion on Lessons Learned during the year of fighting from El Alamein to Messina by 152nd Infantry Brigade, Part II, pp. 1–2, WO 231/16, PRO. 103 Bateman Papers, 5th Indian Infantry Brigade-The Battle of Akarit, p. 3. 104 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April–May 1943, IS Nos. 45–46, 7 April and 9 April 1943. 105 Liddell Hart, The Tanks, vol. 2, p. 253. 106 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April–May 1943, Personal Message from the Army Commander, 8 April 1943. 107 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, IS No. 53, Operations Air, Identifications, 19 April 1943. 108 Bateman Papers, Operations at Enfidaville, 13–23 April, p. 1, 72/117/3/1, IWM. 109 Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 15. 110 The Tiger Kills: India’s Fight in the Middle East and North Africa (1944, reprint, Uckfield: Naval and Military Press, n.d.), p. 284. 111 Bateman Papers, Operations at Enfidaville, p. 1. 112 The Tiger Kills, p. 296. 113 Bateman Papers, ME Staff School Lecture, p. 4. 114 Bateman Papers, Operations at Enfidaville, pp. 1–2. 115 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, IS No. 56, 22 April 1943. 116 The Tiger Kills, pp. 285–287, 290–291. 117 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, Operations, 22 April 1943. 118 Quoted from Bateman Papers, Operations at Enfidaville, p. 5. 119 The Tiger Kills, p. 293. 120 Bateman Papers, Operations at Enfidaville, p. 6.

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121 The Tiger Kills, p. 297. 122 Tuker Papers, Enfidaville, 71/21/1/3. 123 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, Instruction No. 103, Outline Plan for Operation TROODOS, 25 April 1943. 124 Bateman Papers, ME Staff School Lecture, p. 5. 125 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, Operation Order No. 104; Tim Carew, The Longest Retreat: The Burma Campaign 1942 (1969, reprint, Dehra Dun: Natraj, 1989), pp. 20–21. 126 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, Personal Message from the Army Commander, 28 April 1943. 127 David Rolf, The Bloody Road to Tunis: Destruction of the Axis Forces in North Africa, November 1942–May 1943 (2001, reprint, Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2015), p. 253. 128 Tuker Papers, Enfidaville. 129 Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 15. 130 Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 16. 131 Colonel A.M.L. Harrison, History of 11th Indian Division in Malaya, Chaps. 24–25, pp. 496–497, CAB 106/58, PRO, Kew, London. 132 Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, pp. 16–17; War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, Administrative Order No. 8, 4 May 1943. 133 The Tiger Kills, p. 301. 134 Rolf, The Bloody Road to Tunis, p. 256. 135 Liddell Hart, The Tanks, vol. 2, p. 246; Atkinson, An Army at Dawn, pp. 513–514. 136 Atkinson, An Army at Dawn, pp. 513–14; Rolf, The Bloody Road to Tunis, pp. 256–257. 137 The Tiger Kills, pp. 302–303. 138 Tuker Papers, Medjz el Bab, 71/21/1/3. 139 Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 18. 140 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, Personal Message from the Army Commander, 8 April 1943. 141 Citino, The Wehrmacht Retreats, pp. 104–105, 107. 142 Quoted from War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, IS No. 39, Review of the Battle, 29 March 1943. 143 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, IS No. 39, Review of the Battle, 29 March 1943. 144 Heinz W. Schmidt, With Rommel in the Desert (1951, reprint, London: Harrap, 1980), p. 237. 145 Ross Mahoney, ‘A Blueprint for Success: Army-Air Force Co-Operation and the Battle for the Mareth Line, 19–29 March 1943’, in Hargreaves, Rose and Ford (eds.), Allied Fighting Effectiveness in North Africa and Italy, pp. 31–48. 146 For the use of Allied airpower against German tanks in Normandy see Ian Gooderson, Air Power at the Battlefront: Allied Close Air Support in Europe 1943–45 (London: Frank Cass, 1998), pp. 103–124. 147 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, IS No. 46, RAF Bombing and Ground Strafing, 9 April 1943. 148 Aimee Fox, Learning to Fight: Military Innovation and Change in the British Army, 1914– 1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), p. 152. 149 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, IS No. 39, Organization and Defence, 29 March 1943. 150 Citino, The Wehrmacht Retreats, p. 26. 151 Stephen Hart, ‘Montgomery, Morale, Casualty Conservation and “Colossal Cracks”: 21st Army Group’s Operational Technique in North-West Europe, 1944–45’, and David French, ‘ “Tommy Is No Soldier”: The Morale of the Second British Army in Normandy, June-August 1944’, in Brian Holden Reid (ed.), Military Power: Land Warfare in Theory and Practice (London: Frank Cass, 1997), pp. 132–178. 152 For a system oriented discussion of the Air-Land Battle doctrine see Shimon Naveh, In Pursuit of Military Excellence: The Evolution of Operational Theory (1997, reprint, London: Frank Cass, 2000), pp. 287–322.

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153 Clausewitz, On War, ed. and tr. by Howard and Paret, pp. 595–596. 154 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Akarit, 71/21/1/3. 155 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Notes by Major-General F. S. Tuker, 6 October 1945, pp. 2–3, 71/21/1/3. 156 Tuker Papers, Notes by Major-General F. S. Tuker, 6 October 1945, p. 3. 157 Kitchen, Rommel’s Desert War, p. 430. 158 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Notes by Major-General F. S. Tuker, 6 October 1945, p. 3. 159 The Tiger Kills, pp. 292–293. 160 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Medjez el Bab, Statement by commander 5th Indian ­Brigade, 71/21/1/3. 161 Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, pp. 13, 15. 162 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, IS No. 47, Enemy Methods, 8 April 1943. 163 Gavin Long, MacArthur as Military Commander (1969, reprint, New Delhi: Natraj, 1979), pp. 155, 157. 164 Liddell Hart, The Tanks, vol. 2, pp. 244–258. 165 Quoted from Tuker Papers, Note by Tuker, p. 16. 166 23rd Armoured Brigade Group Account of Operations, Points of Interest Arising from Operations, pp. 14–16, WO 106/2263, PRO. 167 War Diary of 4th Indian Division, GS Branch, April-May 1943, IS Nos. 39, 47, 24 February and 8 April 1943. 168 Citino, The Wehrmacht Retreats, pp. 9, 38.

CONCLUSION

The induction of Afrika Korps during late February 1941 in North Africa resulted in the introduction of a new paradigm of warfare by the Germans. From March 1941 till April 1943, the Germans conducted what could be termed as the German Way of Warfare. It involved maneuver of large armoured units supported by infantry and mobile artillery to launch sudden attacks at the enemy’s flanks and rear. The aim was to gain quick decisive victory by annihilating the hostile field force. German operations were characterized by allowing autonomy to the subordinate commanders who were experts in maneuvering all arms combat teams across wide open space. The flexible command set up encouraged the officer corps to attack at all times, no matter the odds. Shortage of material resources forced the Germans to implement a high tempo aggressive warfare and gambling on outflanking thrusts. The Germans had to gamble to win the war before the material imbalance became just too big. Rommel never enjoyed numerical superiority over the Eighth Army in North Africa. This was not unique, but quite common as part of the German Way of War. In fact, Hitler started Barbarossa knowing that the Soviets had 10,000 tanks (23,767 including the older models), 76,500 guns (including mortars over 50 mm) and more than 7,000 aircraft against the Wehrmacht’s 3,505 tanks, 7,146 artillery pieces and 2,995 aircraft. Many scholars have noted that one of Rommel’s limitations was that he did not pay adequate attention to logistics. German logistics in North Africa was always rickety. Again, this factor was also not unique to the North African theatre of operations. In fact, the German Way of War paid little attention to logistics and gave priority to operations. While planning Barbarossa, the quartermaster staff found out that they could supply the Wehrmacht only till 500 kilometres inside the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, both Hitler and Halder gave green signal to Barbarossa.1 If Rommel had paid full attention to his quartermaster general, then he would have been sitting tight at Tripoli all the time. And in such a scenario, he would

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have been overwhelmed easily by the materially superior Allied forces. Hence, the only alternative for Rommel was to gamble utilizing the Wehrmacht’s superiority in the non-material aspects of warfare (command and techniques of warfare, etc.), before the military imbalance shifted too far against him. And he did just that. Barr rightly sums up Rommel as a master of mobile armoured warfare and an exceedingly daring and bold commander.2 If Rommel was just an ordinary commander and the Afrika Korps was run of the mill military detachment, then both of them would have been crushed by the WDF in late 1941. Rommel and his Afrika Korps would not have been able to carry out the struggle for two years and four months. Despite suffering from numerical inferiority, Rommel’s Panzer Army was able to come up to the frontiers of Egypt thanks to the Germans’ tactical boldness and operational dexterity. The key to German military superiority lay in the fields of software (command, control, doctrine, training and tactics). The entry of Rommel and his application of the German Way of Warfare forced the Allied forces in North Africa to innovate in matters military. This book started with the premise that internal organization of the armed forces and the military organization’s interaction with the structure of combat rather than wider social and cultural values shapes military innovations. So, the social and cultural backgrounds of the Aussies, jawans, Kiwis and the Tommies were not that important as regards innovations in the Eighth Army. In this monograph, we have posed the question whether the Eighth Army experienced a high learning curve or not, by learning and unlearning certain techniques?3 Thanks to certain innovations, the Eighth Army was able to transform itself from conducting single arm oriented tactics to high intensity combined arms tactics especially as regards positional battles to a certain extent. This in turn required adoption of certain techniques in order to adapt to the changing battlefield conditions. As a result, after two tortuous years, the Panzer Army Afrika was bested by the Eighth Army. The Allies in general and the Indian component in particular were slow learners, but they learnt lessons indeed after analyzing after-action reports and through debates and discussions of their own limitations vis-à-vis enemy’s strength in the field. The lessons learnt were inculcated in the ground force, through innovative training, publication of training pamphlets and updating the doctrine. During late 1942, the Allied infantry units in positional battles were capable of stopping the best formations which the Afrika Korps could throw against it. By then, the material imbalance (which was against Rommel even in 1941) had become too large for the Germans to cope. Limited innovations coupled with material superiority caused increasing combat effectiveness of the Allied formations. This resulted in the defeat and subsequent surrender of the Axis forces at Tunisia in early 1943. Murray and Millett rightly point out that a military organization innovates under pressure of defeat and under the leadership of certain individuals.4 While Auchinleck was able to stop Rommel, Montgomery was able to decimate the Panzer Army. Philip Warner claims that Auchinleck was a better general than Montgomery but the former’s main limitation was choice of poor subordinates, because Auk had mostly served in the Indian Army and his experience of the British Army’s officers

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was limited.5 Many other historians repeat this failing of Auchinleck. I challenge this assertion. Auk selected his subordinates from the small pool that was available to him. Ritchie’s performance was as good or as bad as that of Horrocks and Leese. When Horrocks and Leese were in command, due to material superiority of the Allies and unique geography of the Alamein position, the German-Italian Panzer Army was incapable of conducting large scale wide outflanking armoured thrusts. And in North-West Europe during 1944, Ritchie’s command performance was on the same level of that of Horrocks and Leese. The Eighth Army learnt certain lessons only partly. Monty after taking command of the Eighth Army, copying from the DAK proposed the formation of a British armoured strike corps. But, he was unwilling and unable to use this formation in the style of Rommel. Instead of using composite teams comprising of armourinfantry-mobile artillery for conducting rapid pincer like thrusts, Montgomery used masses of tanks supported by centrally controlled static artillery as a battering ram for crumbling hostile defensive positions manned by infantry. In fact, it could be argued that under Wavell and Auchinleck, the British tank commanders launched their AFVs like a reckless cavalry charge against the Axis gun line. In contrast, after learning lessons of their failures, under Monty, the British tank commanders like Gatehouse were unwilling to let loose their tanks even when the enemy defensive line had been broken by Allied infantry-artillery combined arms attack. Learning from Rommel, the Eighth Army also practiced the art of military deception but for different purpose. While Rommel used deceptive measures to project the image of possessing inflated number of tanks, the Allied forces used deception to prevent the Axis forces from locating the numerous British tracked vehicles assembled at particular points for launching attacks. Infantry-armour cooperation especially in a fluid battle remained an Achilles heel for Monty’s Eighth Army. Tuker asserted that the British infantry before the Second World War was badly trained and badly equipped. How far, the British and Indian infantry were able to overcome these twin handicaps? In Tuker’s assessment, the British privates’ performance during this war was nothing great. He continued that both the senior and junior officers were incompetent. They were complacent and lacked battle skills.6 Tuker, Bateman and GHQ India made strenuous attempt to update the training pamphlets in light of recent combat experience and to modify the training regimen. Tuker like most of the British officers of the Indian Army concluded that in the Indian Army, the Gurkha battalions were the best.7 Our account shows that the combat effectiveness of the Gurkhas and the other ethnic infantry battalions like Rajputs, Sikhs and so forth were more or less same. Field-Marshal Archibald Wavell (Commander Middle East, then Commanderin-Chief, India and later Commander of ABDACOM) noted: As regards troops of the 9th and 11th Indian divisions, any faults in their training and experience for the type of fighting to be anticipated must be laid at the door of the Malaya Command rather than on India. Of the five infantry brigades in these two divisions, two had been in Malaya for 14 months

Conclusion  231

before the outbreak of the Japanese war, one for thirteen months, one for nine months and one for 8 months; while the HQ of the 9th Division had been nine months in Malaya, and of the 11th Division 14 months. The 12th Indian Infantry Brigade had been in Malaya for over two years before the Japanese attack. Practically all the battalions in this brigade were pre-war battalions. It is true that these battalions had been subject to the process of ‘milking’, to provide a nucleus of trained officers and men for the formation of fresh units; but the ‘milking’ had been no more severe than, for instance, in the 4th and 5th Indian divisions, which succeeded in maintaining their standard of efficiency in the Middle East theatre of war.8 This was possible, because of the excellent training provided to the 4th and 5th Indian Divisions, both by the Middle East Theatre Command and the divisional commanders. Geography at certain moments favoured both the Axis forces and the Eighth Army. While at Alamein, terrain aided the defence of the Eighth Army; at Mareth and at Akarit, the physical geography favoured the defending Panzer Army. But, at Mareth and at Akarit, the Eighth Army was able to overwhelm the Axis troops, partly due to brute force (generated by material superiority) and partly due to innovative theory and practice of warfare on part of the Allied infantry and artillery. One could argue that the material superiority had a multiplier effect on the innovative theory and practice of warfare as practiced by Tuker at Mareth and at Akarit. However, geography somewhat decelerated innovations in the Eighth Army’s armoured branch. Historian W. Michael Ryan asserts that Britain had an overseas empire. Hence, besides continental war, the British Army also had to give thoughts about conducting war in the underdeveloped colonies. And the possibility of colonial commitment resulted in the evolution of comparatively lighter (less firepower and weak armoured protection) British tank models vis-à-vis the Germans during the interwar period.9 And even during Second World War, Britain was unable to overcome this limitation. This is part of the story. British commanders were unable to conceptualize and implement combined arms techniques and this was the principal villain. Innovations in the British Imperial Army at North Africa were the product of both structure and agency. Fox asserts that the British Army during First World War was a flexible military organization and the ethos of the army allowed and encouraged innovative officers to influence the institutional behaviour.10 This holds true even for the British imperial force during Second World War. While individuals like Kirkman, Tuker, Bateman and Kippenberger encouraged innovative doctrinal ideas and training regimen; institutions like the Directorate of Military Training, Military Training Pamphlets, Middle East Staff School and so forth made possible the wide dissemination of such ideas within the various units of the Eighth Army. What is remarkable is the fact that divisional commanders like Tuker and Messervy thought broadly about the grammar of combat and penned their ideas. Generally, historians of ideas focus on the great military thinkers like

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Machiavelli and Clausewitz. But, here, we have shown that innovative concepts, ideas and techniques generated by divisional commanders (comparatively ‘small men’ of history), also played a role in shaping combat. And at times, individuals do matter. For instance, the 4th Indian Division was a fast learner compared to the other infantry divisions of the British Imperial Army in North Africa. This was mostly due to the presence of cerebral Tuker the innovative thinker, trainer and commander of the 4th Indian Division. Geography and gifted individuals interacted with each other to generate innovation. Experiences gained by the Indian infantry from fighting in the North-West Frontier of India and Eritrea plus the innovative ideas of Bateman and Tuker enabled the 4th Indian Division to come up with the paradigm of mountain warfare under modern conditions. Murray asserts that tight control over every aspects of army’s doctrine by the French generals had a disastrous effect on the process of battlefield innovation. The different opinions on the mobility were excluded from discussion and Maurice Gamelin’s high command became the sole arbiter of the French Army’s doctrine. All articles, lectures and books by the French officers had to get approval before publication. So, every officer got the message and creative thinking did not flourish among the French Army’s officer corps. The result was Gamelin’s concept of methodical battle continued till the disaster of May 1940.11 In contrast, Rosen claims that tight control over the army by the high command is necessary in order to implement innovation. Probably, a balance between providing autonomy to the junior and mid-level officer corps and a sort of loose control by the high command for establishing a centralized homogeneous doctrine and training architecture for the military organization was the best solution. The British Army, says Fox, during the Great War, listened to the dissenting officers and subverted the chain of command when necessary.12 During Second World War, this trend was partly present in the British imperial force. In case of the British imperial force in North Africa, we can say that the mechanism for establishing control over the military infrastructure existed. Nevertheless, Monty never used this mechanism to establish a common combined arms doctrine and a homogeneous training mechanism for the Eighth Army. Actually, the British imperial military organization lacked an unified training mechanism for implementing homogeneous combined arms training to all the formations under its control. However, the high command even under Monty allowed adequate space to the mid-level officers to think and act differently within a certain threshold. And this allowed officers like Tuker and Bateman to think and act creatively. As a result, only certain formations under these commanders and not the whole army performed well. However, there was a limit to what the Eighth Army’s command structure could achieve under Monty. The rigid upward looking command culture of the Eighth Army prevented rapid exploitation of the breakthrough by the armoured forces during the Third Battle of Alamein and at Akarit.13 The British Army’s concept of linear defence had proved successful in France during the First World War. Since, it was a successful formula, the British officer corps clung to it when the Second World War started. However, repeated defeats due to outflanking of the rigid linear defence by the mobile Axis armoured forces

Conclusion  233

in North Africa and by the light infantry of the IJA in the Far East, forced the British to reconsider their tactical cum doctrinal options. Rosen claims that progressive officers’ views and actions were often blocked by their traditional minded colleagues who were always in a majority in the officer corps. And the latter group could be sidelined if the promotion structure of the military organization was restructured.14 This did not happen in the British Imperial Army. Still, some sorts of innovations occurred especially in the infantry and artillery branches (the use of concentration barrages, etc). The pressure of war resulted in casualties among the officer corps and entry of new officers due to expansion of the British imperial force enabled some forward looking progressive officers to reach divisional level command. And they pushed for innovations in the spheres of doctrine, training and tactics. However, the British Imperial Army in North Africa failed miserably in conducting fast moving fluid mobile battles against the nimble Axis armoured forces. This was because British military intelligence made a wrong assessment of the Axis method of conducting armoured warfare. Rosen rightly notes that proper knowledge about the enemy’s method of waging war is absolutely necessary for implementing effective innovations. Misconceptions about the enemy result in faulty innovation.15 Two typical cases of faulty British military innovation at least in the case of Libyan Desert were Auchinleck’s defensive system based on Jock Columns and brigade size box formation. An erroneous British belief was that the panzers functioned alone as the core group. Since, the British officer corps failed to grasp the true nature of composite German battle groups built around combined arms approach; the response of the British armour was ineffective. German tactics in North Africa were in many ways similar to those the Wehrmacht followed in Russia. For instance, the 88 mm guns were used in tank bursting role both in the Western Desert as well as in the Eastern Front.16 And the German tank recovery mechanism functioned exceedingly well both in the North African desert and in the Eastern Front.17 Our analysis of the desert war has shown that the British infantry were not able to learn substantially from the past campaigns. One reason might be the fact that the worst sort of recruits joined the infantry branch. In terms of quality of manpower, the British infantry was in the bottom in the list of priorities. The best human materials joined the technical branches.18 In the American Army, generally the armoured officers felt a general distaste for working with the infantry. The former regarded the latter as undependable and expendable. The American armoured officers preferred shock action and mobility as part of their cavalry heritage.19 To a great extent, this applies also for the British armour in North Africa. Overall, it could be said that though the Eighth Army displayed a moderate learning curve, the German learning curve was much steeper. Despite slow learning, the material superiority in the end tipped the balance against the Axis forces. However, a point of caution is necessary. Mere material superiority would not have been adequate for the Eighth Army to wrest North Africa from the intelligent, supple and nimble German force. Limited learning coupled with material superiority enabled the British Imperial Army to kick out Rommel’s party from North Africa.

234 Conclusion

What indeed were the lessons learnt by the Eighth Army after its sojourn in North Africa? During the Third Battle of Alamein, the Eighth Army came up with the ‘Monty method’ (if at all this term could be used). It involved use of trained infantry supported by centrally controlled artillery to smash static enemy defensive positions through frontal assaults. Tuker had written: ‘This war has shown that infantry, good infantry, is still the most important arm on the battlefield; it is therefore more important to train this arm and to prepare it for battle’.20 In 1943, GHQ India also reached the same conclusion while fighting the IJA in Burma.21 Moreover, the paradigm of mountain warfare as invented by Tuker and Bateman for the 4th Indian Division was used not only in Italy in 1943–1944 but some elements of this paradigm also have relevance for later fighting in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan. The primacy of infantry remains even in today’s ‘dirty wars’. Here probably lies the importance of this volume.

Notes 1 David Stahel, Operation Barbarossa and Germany’s Defeat in the East (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), pp. 80, 113, 119, 125, 127, 132. 2 Niall Barr, ‘Rommel in the Desert: 1941’, in Ian F. W. Beckett (ed.), Rommel: A Reappraisal (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2013), p. 63. 3 For a critique of the use of learning curve as a heuristic device see Julian Putkowski, ‘Tommyrot: The Shot at Dawn Campaign and the First World War Revisionism’, in Michael Howard (intro.), A Part of History: Aspects of the British Experience of the First World War (London and New York: Continuum, 2008), p. 25. 4 Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett, ‘Introduction: Military Effectiveness Twenty Years After’, in Allan R. Millett and Williamson Murray (eds.), Military Effectiveness, vol. 1, The First World War (1988, reprint, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. xiii–xxi. 5 Philip Warner, Auchinleck: The Lonely Soldier (1981, reprint, London: Cassell, 2001), pp. 171–174. 6 Lieutenant-General Francis Tuker Papers, The Preparation of Infantry for Battle, p. 13, Notes by Major-General F. S. Tuker, 6 October 1945, p. 2, 71/21/1/3, IWM, London. 7 Tuker Papers, Notes by Major-General Tuker, 6 October 1945, p. 1, 71/21/1/3. 8 Summary of Comments by Lord Wavell on General Percival’s Despatch on Operations of Malaya Command, Appendix B, p. 1, Percival Papers, IWM. 9 W. Michael Ryan, ‘The Influence of the Imperial Frontier on British Doctrines of Mechanized Warfare’, Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, vol. 15, no. 2 (Summer 1983), pp. 123–142. 10 Aimee Fox, Learning to Fight: Military Innovation and Change in the British Army, 1914– 1918 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), p. 241. 11 Williamson Murray, ‘Innovation: Past and Future’, in Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett (eds.), Military Innovation in the Interwar Period (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 308. 12 Fox, Learning to Fight, p. 249. 13 Chris Mann, ‘The Battle of Wadi Akarit, 6 April 1943: 4th Indian Division and Its Place in 8th Army’, in Alan Jeffreys and Patrick Rose (eds.), The Indian Army, 1939–47: Experience and Development (Surrey: Ashgate, 2012), p. 108. 14 Stephen Peter Rosen, Winning the Next War: Innovation and the Modern Military (1991, reprint, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1994), pp. 9, 20–21. 15 Rosen, Winning the Next War, pp. 29, 45.

Conclusion  235

16 War Diary of 1st Armoured Division, August–December 1942, IS No. 61, 22 August 1942, p. 6, WO 169/4054, Part I, PRO, Kew, London. 17 Niklas Zetterling and Anders Frankson, Kursk 1943: A Statistical Analysis (London: Frank Cass, 2000), pp. 134–135. 18 Williamson Murray, ‘British Military Effectiveness in the Second World War’, in Allan R. Millett and Williamson Murray (eds.), Military Effectiveness, vol. 3, The Second World War (1988, reprint, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 100. 19 Allan R. Millett, ‘The United States Armed Forces in the Second World War’, in Millett and Murray (eds.), Military Effectiveness, vol. 3, p. 69. 20 Quoted from Tuker Papers, The Preparation of Infantry for Battle, 71/21/1/3. Italics in original. 21 Training Divisions, L/WS/1/1364, APAC, BL, London.

GLOSSARY

Auftragstaktik  Directive command or mission oriented command of the German Army. Blitzkrieg  Lightning attacks conducted by the German armed forces during 1939 and 1942. The focus is on combined arms combat and the objective is to disrupt the hostile command system. chott  Salt lake in the desert. Commando Supremo  Italian Supreme Command. Führer  Literally meaning ‘leader’. This title referred to Hitler, who had fused the posts of president and chancellor. jawan  Indian private. khamsin  Desert sandstorm. kukris  Curved knifes used by the Gurkhas. laager  A South African term for a defensive night camp. Luftwaffe  German Air Force. nullah  Dry bed of shallow stream. Panzer  German term for AFV. Regia Aeronautica  Italian Air Force. sangar  Defensive construction made at the top of the crest of the hill with stones and boulders. Schwerpunkt  Literally meaning ‘centre of gravity’. This term for the German officers during the Second World War meant the hostile armed forces. wadi  Dried-up watercourse. Wehrmacht  German armed forces during the Second World War.

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Autobiographies Crisp, Major Robert, Brazen Chariots: An Account of Tank Warfare in the Western Desert, NovemberDecember 1941 (1960, reprint, New York and London: W. W. Norton & Co., 2005). De Guingand, Major-General Francis, Operation Victory (n.d., reprint, Dehradun: Natraj, 2006). Gilmore, Scott and Davis, Patrick, A Connecticut Yankee in the 8th Gurkha Rifles: A Burma Memoir (Washington and London: Brassey’s, 1995). Hamilton, Stuart, Armoured Odyssey: 8th Royal Tank Regiment in the Western Desert 1941– 1942, Palestine, Syria, Egypt 1943–1944, Italy 1944–1945 (London: Tom Donovan, 1995). Kippenberger, Major-General Howard, Infantry Brigadier (1949, reprint, London: Oxford University Press, 1961). Leathart, Scott, With the Gurkhas: India, Burma, Singapore, Malaya, Indonesia, 1940–1959 (Durham: Pentland Press, 1996). Luck, Hans von, Panzer Commander: The Memoirs of Colonel Hans von Luck (New York: Dell Publishing, 1991). Mellenthin, Major-General F. W. von, Panzer Battles (1955, reprint, Stroud: History Press, 2008). The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Kesselring with a New Introduction by Kenneth Macksey (1953, reprint, New Delhi: Lancer, 1988). The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Montgomery of Alamein (London: Fontana, 1958). Montgomery of Alamein, Field-Marshal the Viscount, El Alamein to the River Sangro: The Personal Account of the 8th Army Campaign (1948, reprint, Dehradun: Natraj, 2005). Naravane, Major-General A. S., A Soldier’s Life in War and Peace (New Delhi: A.P.H. Publishing Corporation, 2004). Schmidt, Heinz W., With Rommel in the Desert (1951, reprint, London: Harrap, 1980). Shipster, John, Mist on the Rice-Fields: A Soldier’s Story of the Burma Campaign 1943–45 and Korean War 1950–51 (2000, reprint, Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 2002). Singh, Brigadier Sukhwant, Three Decades of Indian Army Life (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1967). Warlimont, Walter, Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939–45, tr. from the German by R. H. Barry (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1964). Willett, Peter, Armoured Horseman: With the Bays and Eighth Army in North Africa and Italy (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, 2015).

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Biographies Baynes, John, The Forgotten Victor: General Sir Richard O’Connor (London: Brassey’s, 1989). Fraser, David, Knight’s Cross: A Life of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (1993, reprint, London: HarperCollins, 1994). Greenwood, Major Alexander, Field-Marshal Auchinleck: A Biography of Field-Marshal Claude Auchinleck (Durham: Pentland Press, n.d.). Hamilton, Nigel, The Full Monty: Montgomery of Alamein, 1887–1942 (London: Allen Lane, 2001). Irving, David, The Trail of the Fox (1978, reprint, New York: Avon Books, 1990). Long, Gavin, MacArthur as Military Commander (1969, reprint, New Delhi: Natraj, 1979). Lyman, Robert, Slim, Master of War: Burma and the Birth of Modern Warfare (2004, reprint, London: Robinson, 2005). Macksey, Kenneth, Kesselring: The Making of the Luftwaffe (2000, reprint, Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2012). Messenger, Charles, Rommel: Leadership Lessons from the Desert Fox (New York: Palgrave, 2009). Parkinson, Roger, The Auk: Auchinleck, Victor at Alamein (London: Granada, 1977). Showalter, Dennis, Patton and Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century (New York: Berkeley Caliber, 2005). Warner, Philip, Auchinleck: The Lonely Soldier (1981, reprint, London: Cassell, 2001). Young, Desmond, Rommel: The Desert Fox (1950, reprint, Glasgow: Fontana, 1989).

Diaries and published private papers Brooks, Stephen (ed.), Montgomery and the Eighth Army: A Selection from the Diaries, Correspondence and Other Papers of Field Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, August 1942 to December 1943 (London: Bodley Head for the Army Records Society, 1991). Hitler and His Generals: Military Conferences 1942–1945, The First Complete Stenographic Record of the Military Situation Conferences, from Stalingrad to Berlin, eds. by Helmut Heiber and David M. Glantz (New York: Enigma Books, 2003). Hitler’s War Directives: 1939–1945, ed. by H. R. Trevor-Roper (1964, reprint, London: Pan, 1966). The Rommel Papers, ed. by B. H. Liddell-Hart, with the assistance of Lucie-Maria Rommel, Manfred Rommel and General Fritz Bayerlein, tr. by Paul Findlay (1953, reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1982). War Diaries 1939–1945, Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, eds. by Alex Danchev and Daniel Todman (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001).

Government publications Artillery in the Desert (Washington: Military Intelligence Service, War Department, 1942). The Development of German Defensive Tactics in Cyrenaica-1941, Military Intelligence Service, Special Series No. 5 (Washington: War Department, 1942). Japanese Military Forces, General Headquarters, India, Military Intelligence Directorate (1942, reprint, Uckfield: Naval and Military Press, n.d.). Joint Warfare of the Armed Forces of the United States, Joint Pub 1, 10 January 1995. The Tiger Kills: India’s Fight in the Middle East and North Africa (1944, reprint, Uckfield: Naval and Military Press, n.d.).

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Official histories Bharucha, Major P. C., The North African Campaign: 1940–1943, Bisheshwar Prasad (General Editor), Official History of the Indian Armed Forces in the Second World War: 1939–45, Campaigns in the Western Theatre (Combined Inter-Services Historical Section India & Pakistan, 1956, Printed in Calcutta). Maughan, Barton, Tobruk and El Alamein, Australia in the War of 1939–1945, Series 1, Army (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1966).

Published despatches Alexander of Tunis, Field-Marshal, The African Campaign from El Alamein to Tunis, from 10 August 1942 to 13 May 1943, Supplement to the London Gazette, 5 February 1948 (London: HMSO, 1948). Auchinleck, General Claude, Operations in the Middle East, 5 July 1941–31 October 1941, Supplement to the London Gazette, 20 August 1946 (London: HMSO, 1946). Auchinleck, General Claude, Operations in the Middle East from 1 November 1941 to 15 August 1942, Supplement to the London Gazette, 15 January 1948 (London: HMSO, 1948). Longmore, Air Chief Marshal Arthur, Air Operations in the Middle East from 1 January 1941 to 3 May 1941, Second Supplement to the London Gazette, 19 September 1946 (London: HMSO, 1946). Wavell, General Archibald P., Operations in the Middle East from 7 February 1941 to 15 July 1941, Supplement to the London Gazette, 3 July 1946 (London: HMSO, 1946).

Unit histories Betham, Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey and Geary, Major H.V.R., The Golden Galley: The Story of the Second Punjab Regiment 1761–1947 (n.d., reprint, New Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1975). Brett-James, Antony, Ball of Fire: The Fifth Indian Division in the Second World War (n.d., Uckfield: Naval and Military Press, n.d.). Delaforce, Patrick, Battles with Panzers: Monty’s Tank Battalions 1 RTR & 2 RTR at War (2003, reprint, London: Thistle, 2014). Stevens, Lieutenant-Colonel G. R., Fourth Indian Division (Toronto, ON: McLaren and Sons Ltd., n.d.).

INDEX

Note: Page numbers in bold denote tables. 1st/2nd Gurkha Rifles 208 1st/2nd Gurkhas 202 1st/9th Gurkhas 198, 206 1st Armoured Division 98, 101, 125 1st Army Tank Brigade 64, 67 1st British Armoured Division 108 1st Rajputana Rifles 25, 26 1st Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) 18 1st South African Division 12, 99, 121, 150 1st South African Infantry Brigade 74, 77 2nd/13th Australian Infantry Battalion 153 2nd Armoured Division 12, 17, 18 2nd British Armoured Division 16 2nd Indian Field Artillery Regiment 105 2nd New Zealand Division 67, 125, 126, 144, 155, 160, 206, 208 3rd/9th Gurkha Rifles 51 3rd and 33rd German Reconnaissance units 66 3rd Indian Motor Brigade 18, 95, 105, 106, 118 3rd Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion 105 4th/6th Rajputana Rifles 198, 199, 206 4th and 5th Indian Divisions 12 4th Armoured Brigade 20, 22, 26, 27, 35, 68 4th Armoured Division 27 4th Indian Division 20 – 3, 25, 34, 35, 37, 49, 58, 59, 67, 70, 74, 79, 88, 90 – 2, 94, 97 – 100, 102, 104, 185, 199, 201, 205, 206, 232 4th Maratha Battery 105

5th and 6th New Zealand Infantry Brigades 214 5th Indian Brigade 199 5th Indian Division 54, 55, 60, 94, 186 5th Indian Infantry Brigade 90 5th Indian Infantry Division 90 5th Light Division 17, 21 5th Light Panzer Division 14, 16, 26 5th New Zealand Brigade 74 5th Panzer Regiment 26 5th South African Brigade 70 6th Australian Division 12, 13, 16 6th British Division 12, 13 6th New Zealand Brigade 121 6th Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) 16 7th/2nd Punjab Regiment 51 7th and 9th Australian Divisions 13 7th Armoured Brigade 20 7th Armoured Division 12, 21, 23 – 7, 29, 49, 64, 67, 68, 112, 121, 154, 160, 209 7th Australian Division 16 7th British Armoured Division 17 7th Indian Infantry Brigade 99 7th Infantry Brigade 33, 97 7th Royal Artillery Medium Regiment 101 8th and 31st Field Artillery Regiments 26 8th Armoured Brigade 144 8th Field Regiment 27 8th Panzer Regiment 21 8th Royal Artillery Field Regiment 35, 101 9th and 11th Indian Divisions 97

Index  249

9th Armoured Brigade 155, 156, 172 9th Australian Division 16, 18, 31, 143, 147, 153 10th Armoured Division 154 11th and 12th African Divisions 12 11th Indian Infantry Brigade 22, 27, 99 15th Panzer Division 19, 21, 25, 26, 66, 69, 125, 151 18th Indian Cavalry Regiment 18 21st Panzer Division 69, 115, 200, 203 22nd Armoured Brigade 69 22nd Guards Brigade 19, 22, 26, 27, 77 23rd Armoured Brigade 201 23rd Armoured Brigade Group 150, 153, 220 24th Armoured Brigade 173 25th Field Artillery Regiment 24 25th Royal Artillery Field Regiment 27 26th Australian Brigade 150 31st Field Regiment 24, 35 33rd Reconnaissance Battalion 21 40th Tank Regiment 153 50th British Infantry Divisions 121 50th Tank Regiment 152 51st British Division 201 57th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment 110 65th Anti-Tank Regiment 110 90th Light Division 114, 121 149th Anti-Tank Regiment 206 150th Infantry Brigade 90, 99 151st and 152nd New Zealand Infantry Brigades 155 151st Infantry Brigade 196 152nd Infantry Brigade 205 169th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery 101 170th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery 101 Afrika Korps 2, 5, 25, 29, 37, 43, 49, 63, 66, 74, 75, 96, 105, 106, 120, 121, 123, 139, 141, 228, 229 Aggressive German infantry 23 Alamein 6, 116, 141; battle of Alam Halfa, 30 August–7 September 1942 140 – 2; second and third 136 – 84; third battle of El Alamein, 23 October–5 November  1942 142 – 5 Alam Halfa Ridge 141 Alam Nayil Ridge 124 Alanbrooke 71, 162 Allied forces in North Africa 2 American intelligence analysis 50, 51 Amery, Leo 48, 122 ammunition expenditure 149 anti-tank rifles 190

armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) 27, 33, 55, 77, 78, 89, 91, 93, 94, 125, 196, 221 army culture 5 Auchinleck 44 – 8, 50, 51, 56, 57, 60, 61, 64, 65, 68, 70 – 2, 74, 76, 77, 114, 128, 143 Australian Infantry Battalions 151 axis armour 21 Axis Army Group 194 axis artillery 59 axis artillery fire 125 axis minefields 144, 165 Baldwin, John 169 Bardia-Sollum-Halfaya-Capuzzo 21 Barkawi, Tarak 52 Barr, Niall 108 Bastico, Ettore 49 Bateman, Donald 36, 90, 99, 187 – 90, 218 Battleaxe 11 – 42, 60, 63, 175 battlefield innovations 3 battle for Egypt 139 battle of Alamein 136 Battle of Gazala 110 Battle of Messines Ridge 150 battle of Wadi Akarit 200 – 5; battle 203 – 5; plans 200 – 3 Bennett, Gordon 100, 154 Beresford-Peirse, Noel 20, 47 Bidwell, Shelford 61 Blamey, Thomas 48 Blenheim squadrons 21 Blitzkrieg 46, 62 Briggs, H. R. 93 British-Indian military organization 5 Capuzzo 21 Carver, Michael 13 centralized tactical training 52 Churchill, Winston 1, 4, 12, 44, 46, 47, 49, 50, 57, 73, 120, 123, 125 Clark, J.G.W. 95 Clausewitz, Carl von 62, 188, 215 Clausewitzian principles 187 close air support (CAS) 28, 56, 141 Coast Force 24, 27 Coast Force infantry 22 Coningham, Arthur 57 Converse, Allan 167 Corps Commander Royal Artillery (CCRA) 148 Corum, James S. 5 Creagh, Michael O’Moore 20 Crisp, Robert 76

250 Index

Crusader 64 – 75; battle, 18 November–20 December  1941 68 – 75; plans 64 – 8; see also Operation Crusader Cruwell, Ludwig 49 Cunningham, Alan 68, 71 Cyprus 45, 48 Cyrenaica 11 Dando, Neal 77 Davy, G. 69 Derna Triangle 98 Desert Fox 1, 12 – 19; after-action analysis 75 – 8; aftermath of Battleaxe 43 – 50; Crusader 64 – 75; First Battle of El Alamein 114 – 27; second Gazala, 26 May–20 June 1942 100 – 29; strikes 95 – 100; thinking about doctrine 86 – 90; thinking and learning, fight 50 – 64; Tobruk, fall of 110 – 14; training for war 91 – 5; triumph of 86 – 135; see also Rommel, Erwin Johannes Eugen Deutsches Afrika Korps (DAK) 5, 15, 18, 43, 57, 63, 107 – 8, 142, 230 Dill, John 46 – 8 Director of Military Training (DMT) 28, 53, 61, 62, 91 djebels 6 Dorman-Smith, Eric 114 effects-based operation (EBO) 154 Egypt-Libyan frontier 21 Eighth Army 5 – 7, 15, 49, 60, 61, 64, 67, 71, 76, 102, 113, 117, 119, 123, 127, 137, 143, 152, 233, 234; learning organization 213 – 21 El Agheila 6, 16 El Hamra 102 El Hamza 103 Fennell, Jonathan 119 Fifth Panzer Army 211 first battle of El Alamein 114 – 27, 121, 128, 138 first battle of Gazala 75 first battle of Sidi Rezegh 75 First World War 3, 25, 52, 57, 61, 62, 165, 214 Folgore Paratroop Division 167 Fox, Aimee 3 French, David 51 Frolich, Stephan 17 Führer see Hitler, Adolf Fuller, J.F.C. 88 Gabr Saleh 69, 74 Garci-Enfidaville 205 – 13; battle, revised planning 208 – 11; Operation Strike 211 – 13

Garibaldi, Italo 49 Gatehouse, Alexander 68, 145, 155 Gazala 100 – 29 Geisler, Hans Ferdinand 13 German battle doctrine 66 German reconnaissance 16 German tank recovery organization 33 German Way of Warfare 162, 228, 229 Godwin-Austen, A. R. 95 Gott, William ‘Strafer’ 29, 67, 76, 88 Graham, Dominick 61 Graziani, Marshal Rodolfo 15 Guderian, Heinz 15 Haig, Douglas 72, 73 Halder, Franz 14 Halfaya Group 24 Hamilton, Stuart 60 Harding, John 91, 140 Hitler, Adolf 13, 14, 47, 48, 62, 75, 96, 157 Hobart, Percy 88 Holworthy, A.W.W. 165 Horrocks, Brian 204, 210 Howard, Michael 188 Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) 2, 7, 35, 93, 234 infantry-armour cooperation 126 innovation 1 institutional culture 50; of learning 92 Jeffreys, Alan 5 Jock Columns 19, 61, 63, 74, 77, 78, 87, 98, 109, 170 Jodl, Alfred 160 Johnston, Mark 137 joint warfare 54 Kesselring, Albert 66 Kippenberger, Howard 117 Kirkman, S. C. 168 Klopper, Hendrik 111 Koenig, Marie-Pierre 104 learning culture 2, 3, 5 Libya 11, 29 Libyan-Egyptian frontier 21 Liddell Hart, Basil 63, 87, 88, 219 line of communications (LOC) 27, 103 Loerzer, Bruno 96 Lovett, O. de T. 203 Luftwaffe 14, 18, 57, 103, 127 Lumsden, Herbert 73 M-4 Shermans 220 Macksey, Kenneth 159

Index  251

Mahoney, Ross 214 Makh Khad Ridge 126 Malta 96, 103, 115 Mareth Battle 213, 215 Mareth line 191 – 200 Mark IIIs 75 Mark IV 65, 75, 91 McCook, Sarah 36 Medenine 193 Messervy, Frank 94 Middle East Command (MEC) 44, 47, 48, 73, 86, 95, 120 Middle East Force (MEF) 117 military strategy 48 Military Training Pamphlet (India) 52 Military Training Pamphlet Number 7 186, 187 Mitchelhill-Green, David 13 Miteiriya Ridge 147 modern mountain warfare 189 Montgomery: Eighth Army, learning curve 164 – 74 Morshead, Leslie 16, 150 multi-ethnic organization 2 Murray, Williamson 29, 30, 166 Musaid-Sollum Barracks area 25 Naravane, A. S. 95 Naveh, Shimon 54, 62 Nazi barbarism 15 Neame, Philip 14 Nehring, Walther 141 Neumann-Sylkow, Walter 21 New Zealand Corps 196 New Zealand Division 12, 13 non-commissioned officers (NCOs) 2 Norrie, Charles Willoughby 64, 69 Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) 12 O’Connor, Richard 12, 13, 19 Operation Aberdeen 108 Operation Barbarossa 44 Operation Battleaxe 6, 11, 19 – 28; battle 23 – 8; plans 21 – 3 Operation Brevity 19 Operation Compass 17, 24 Operation Crusader 34, 43, 68, 79 Operation Lightfoot 151 Operation Sonnenblume 12 Operation Torch 191 Panzer Group Afrika (Panzer Army Afrika) 7, 86, 90, 96, 97, 100, 101, 107, 109, 112, 114, 115, 117, 126 – 7, 129, 136, 137, 139, 142, 143, 145, 151, 152, 157, 229; retreats 158 – 63

Panzer Revolution 4 Parkinson, Roger 69 Paula, Friedrich 191 Pistoia Division 157 Posen, Barry 3 positional warfare 18 Qattara Box 123 Qattara Depression 116, 143 Queen’s Bays Regiment 109, 156 Ramsden, W.H.C. 163 reconnaissance 15, 29, 63 reconnaissance squadron 21 Regia Aeronautica 13, 14, 35, 49 Ritchie, N.M. 60, 98 Rommel, Erwin Johannes Eugen 1, 12; see also Desert Fox Rommel attacks 11 – 42 Rommel myth 1 Rosen, Stephen Peter 50, 64 Roumana Saddleback 200 Royal Air Force (RAF) 19, 21, 28, 35, 36, 56 – 8 Ruweisat Ridge 124 Ryan, W. Michael 231 Samuels, Martin 165 sea lines of communication (SLOC) 45 Second World War 1, 4, 5, 8, 48, 52, 61, 116, 119, 176, 188, 194, 214 self-criticism 3 Shalikashvili, John M. 54 Shipster, John 51 Sidi Barrani 22, 46, 170 Sidi Muftah 104 Sidi Rezegh 69, 72 Sirte Desert 12 Smith, Arthur 44, 72 – 4, 76, 78 Sollum-Musaid-Capuzzo area 21 South African Division 13 Soviet Field Service Regulations 55, 58 Special Service Afrika Division (ZBV Division) 49 Stutzpunkt 30 Sullivan, Brian R. 167 Syria 45 technical training 29 technological changes 50 Tedder, Marshal Arthur 46 third battle of El Alamein, 23 October–5 November  1942 142 – 5; battle 148 – 58; Lightfoot, break-in battle 148 – 54; supercharge, breakthrough battle 154 – 8; training 146 – 8 Thomas, H. P. 154

252 Index

‘Tiger’Yamashita 97 Tobruk 48; fall 110 – 14 Tomahawk squadron 21 Travers, Tim 73 Tuker, Francis 29, 36, 53 – 8, 60, 61, 63, 67, 86, 88, 98, 100, 102 – 4, 108, 111, 137, 204 Tunisia: endgame in 185 – 227; mountain warfare, training 186 – 91 Vallentin, G. M. 93 Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers (VCOs) 2, 25 von Mellenthin, F. W. 60 von Ravenstein, Johann 68 von Thomas, Wilhelm Ritter 157 Warner, Philip 61, 125, 229 Watson, Bruce Allen 162

Wavell, Archibald 11 – 13, 17, 18, 230 Waziristan Campaign 56 Wehrmacht 1, 2, 18, 44 Weichold, Eberhard 96 Western Desert Air Force (WDAF) 57, 61, 103, 108, 116 Western Desert Force (WDF) 6, 11, 14, 17, 19, 28 – 31, 34, 37, 47, 229 Willett, Peter 109 Wilson, Henry Maitland 47 X German Air Corps 13 X Italian Corps 15 XXI Italian Corps 16 Young Fascist Division 203