British Army - doctrinal development

Discussion in 'General' started by Chris C, Apr 29, 2024.

  1. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    Hi all,

    I was reflecting on some things to do with doctrine.

    From what I have researched, the British Army did not start using self propelled anti tank guns with any theoretical doctrine, but left it to regiments to determine best practices which were incorporated into a booklet released in January 1945

    This is a bit more vague, but I recall reading that 21AG started the campaign in Europe with a similar lack of doctrine for tank-infantry cooperation. Were lessons learned collected into a similar work?

    Also was this process in some way formalized? That is, that doctrine was to be created from the bottom up? Did any (high level!) document stipulate this process?
  2. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    You might want to begin by looking at Timothy Harrison Place, Military Training in the British Army, and also at John Buckley's books. As I recall, there was a growing tendency over the course of the war to standardize procedures. "Lessons Learned" were summarized officially as early as the Bartholomew Report of 1940 and continuing on in Tunisia and later.
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  3. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    I started looking again at Buckley and it seems more there was a lack of consensus prior to Normandy.

    Thank you for the reference to Price's book!
  4. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Harrison-Place - from what I remember - hand-waves away the Gunners on the basis that everybody agreed they were good, but there's no analysis as to why or how they were different to the infantry and armour.

    As for the last two, I humbly submit this for consideration:

    Tank-Infantry Co-operation in the British Army, 1935-1949

    The two key points are that it's unsullied by any opinions of mine and it includes the 1949 manual that - you'd hope - reflects the lessons learned throughout the war.

    Anti-tank doctrine: I would start from the assumption that SPs were to have been treated exactly the same as towed guns (though that may have meant something different things to the old desert hands).

    Obviously, M10 and the like offered alternatives. I'd expect the 1945 notes to have clarified the 'rules' for turretted SPs, as well as hints and tips. Is it something you've actually found?
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  5. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    MarkN, late of this parish, used to make the argument that the British generally did have doctrines (as set out in their Army Training Instructions and Military Training Pamphlets) but rarely conformed to them, at least during the first half of the war.

    I haven't looked at this in any detail, but from what little research I have done, I think he was probably correct. For example, "Army Training Instruction No.3 - Handling of an Armoured Division", issued in May 1941, states of the divisional Motor Battalion that:

    "The main task of the motor battalion is to restore mobility to the armoured units when they are engaged by anti-tank defences which cannot be dealt with by armoured action alone. This task involves the quick deployment of an adequate force of dismounted troops equipped with their own mortars, anti-tank weapons, and light automatics, and supported by the fire of armoured units in the vicinity."

    It also states that:

    "The decentralization of R.H.A. and anti-tank guns to assist armoured brigades will often be necessary for attacks on enemy localities. Such attacks will generally be carried out by motor battalions."

    This seems to be setting down the principle of combining arms when dealing with static defensive positions, so the tendency for armoured regiments in the desert to make unsupported attacks on enemy gun lines was due to ignoring doctrine rather than having no doctrine. Of course this issue is somewhat clouded by the fact that Middle East Forces may not have been issued with the latest pamphlets being produced by the War Office at home.
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  6. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    Okay, I might have to spring for it then! :D

    In a word, yes. I'm afraid I'm operating from memory as I don't have anything close to hand, but in 1943 there was an anti-tank tactics pamphlet issued with just about the most limited mention of self-propelled artillery and what it might do. The 1945 pamphlet is specific to SPs (as I recall) and emphasizes their bold use. So it really seems like something that built up from nothing, although actually it built from the towed gun doctrine.
  7. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Chris and readers,

    I am aware that after the fall of Tobruk in June 1942 there was a 'Court of Inquiry' or 'Court of Enquiry' which covered the period 6/10/1941-8/7/1942. See Post 12 in: Fall of Tobruk

    Curiously the TNA documents until recently had never appeared here; namely WO 106/2234 and 106/2235 (300 pgs.).

    The 'lessons learnt' appeared in a 30 Corps document, dated 22/6/1942 and one point for example:
    See Photo 550 (amongst 100+ copied pgs) in: Post 140 in: Deir el Shein sources - July 1942
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  8. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    For what it's worth, in the 1939 period James Colvin (in Eighth Army Versus Rommel) ascribes the idea of the infantry and artillery acting separately from the tanks to Hobart:

    "In the absence of any official doctrine for handling armoured forces, he prescribed his own philosophy of mobility as a force multiplier... for his 1939 training season, Hobart accordingly decided to concentrate on dispersion, flexibility, and mobility rather than assault tactics on defended positions. A battalion of infantry supported by a battery of artillery could play the role of 'tank marines' to protect the tanks as necessary when undergoing repairs or refuelling, and would be organized into a Pivot Group, providing the 'pivots of manoeuvre round and between which naval strategy and tactics will be applied to land operations' as advocated in Fuller's RUSI Gold Medal prize essay of 1919." (p77)

    The source for this seems to be 15/11/8/1 Armoured Division Training report, May 1939, from the Liddel Hart Centre of Military Archives, but the latter quote at least is from Fuller's essay.
  9. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    There is though the dichotomy between Army Tank brigades and Armoured Brigades. In regard to the former, this is from MTP 22, Tactical Handling of Army Tank Battalions, Part III, from 1939:

    "Adequate support from artillery, infantry and aircraft during the advance is essential to enable tanks to overcome modern anti-tank defence.

    The plan for an attack in which infantry tanks are employed must take into account the requirements set out above. In return for consideration of these principles, tank commanders must be ready to adjust their plans in detail to the needs of the other arms."

    It seems to me that combined arms cooperation was envisaged from the start for the tank brigades, and a somewhat more loose conception was soon evolved for the armoured brigades. For example MTP 41 - The Armoured Regiment from 1940, envisages an unsupported attack on static defensive positions, but by May 1941 ATI No.3 has the artillery and infantry joining in.

    So I think there was "doctrine" there from the beginning of the war, but it wasn't widely applied. I also think "doctrine" seems to be quite a vague term that isn't very well defined. There are no British Army documents called "Doctrine for an Armoured Brigade", but surely the training pamphlets were doctrine. And how do they compare with what was issued within the German army?
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  10. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    Does anyone know if training pamphlets were produced for the use of APCs (Kangaroos) or flame vehicles? Bridging vehicles?
  11. idler

    idler GeneralList

    Two out of three:
    WO 231/290 10 Army Training Instruction No. 10: Tactical Handling of Flame-Throwers: 194
    WO 231/292 12 Army Training Instruction No. 12: The Employment of Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs): 1948
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  12. idler

    idler GeneralList

    I think that's why 'doctrine' gets overused in academic works - it can mean whatever you want it to mean.

    Oversimplifying it a bit, I tend to think that US doctrine aimed to be a standard solution to a problem, while British doctrine was a standard approach to solving a problem. Neither is inherently wrong, but the former is more applicable to small unit tactics for inexperienced, quickly-raised citizen armies (which is why we needed battle drill to plug a gap). The latter makes more sense where experience can juggle the compromises between principles to best effect (i.e. NEPTUNE v 'this is what we always do in the Pacific').
    The Germans could then be said to occupy the sensible middle ground, expecting the staff to think and the soldiery to react. It certainly seemed to work a fair amount of the time (despite a tendency to sink under its own sexy-sounding terminology) but could still be learned and turned against them, e.g. bite and hold.
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  13. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    I hope these images will be legible. Here is the cover and a page from 1943:


    And the principles governing SPs:


    There is really not a lot of discussion about them. Better for consolidating after an attack, and very suitable for a defensive reserve, but the author(s) clearly weren't willing to opine without any real experience, and at this point there wasn't really any to draw on.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2024
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  14. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    Then in 1945 we get -


    And the beginning of comparatively much more detailed discussion.


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  15. idler

    idler GeneralList

    You can sense the Gunners are trying to be flexible and helpful, but don't quite know where the line should be drawn.

    Are Jock column and portee tactics missing links that need to be considered in SP's doctrinal development? Was there a crossover with the reserve/harassing/sniping roles?
  16. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    I would have to check if the 1943 booklet addresses those.
  17. papiermache

    papiermache Well-Known Member

  18. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    The Army Training Instructions (ATIs) do tend to be quite short and snappy, which is perhaps why more US orientated commentators dismiss them as defining doctrine. Military Training Pamphlets (MTPs) can be more meaty in terms of content, but even then certain of the early war and pre-war MTPs might be barely ten pages. I've not made a determined study of them but of the ones I've tracked down copies I've formed the opinion they were more guidelines than immutable instructions. Some stress in the opening few paragraphs that much will depend on local factors and the resources available when it comes to tactical handling, with commanders having to make decisions accordingly, which strikes me as being some ways away from the popular picture of officers being constrained in terms of personal discretion and having any trace of individual thought ruthlessly suppressed.

    I did pick up a copy of the 1948 ATI on APCs and it is again one of the shorter efforts. It does recount wartime experience with Kangaroos and Rams but does I think look forward more to the anticipated post-war APCs, which proved to be some way off appearing as it turned out.
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  19. Sheldrake

    Sheldrake All over the place....

    I have covered a bit of artillery doctrine in Gunners in Normandy (2020) and D Day Gunners (2022) I am in the process of completing a Duel book for Osprey on the 17 Pounder SP v Jagdpanther, which does include material; on SP anti tank doctrine.

    It all depends what you mean by "doctrine". By and large the British Army did have training manuals. These were often very good on technical subjects or single-arm tactics. Higher formation guidance as per FSR was often quite vague and abstract. It seems to have been implicit that field commanders had extensive latitude do adapt doctrine as the circumstances changed. This way of thinking may well be due to deployment worldwide against a wide range of enemies, terrain and climate.

    The defenders of the British and Commonwealth approach to doctrine John Buckley, Terry Copp and Marc Milner have stressed that this supported a degree of low-level innovation at tactical level. With regard to SP anti tank guns, Artillery Training does indeed treat SP guns as towed anti-tank guns, but harder to conceal. However, in the field the 3inch and 17 pounder SP M10 were found to be far more useful than the towed 17 pounder "coastal artillery". This was a practical rather than school finding, and not always circulated. In the history of 5th (A & SH) 91 Atk Regt RA Denis Falvey described how when deployed to support 15 Scottish Div at the start of Op Bluecoat his battery were left on the start line because no one knew what to do with them. He decribed felling like yokels at the farm gate as the Churchills of the 6th Guards Armoured Brigade set off to lead the attack. He wrote that six months later they would nto have made that mistake, as their attack led them onto Jagdpanther that could not be penetrated by the Churchill 6 pounder and 75mm guns. Later the M10s were used as assult guns and close support artillery by the 6th Guards Armoured Brigade - all against the RSA Book, ,.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2024
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  20. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian

    Extremely minor note - I think that's the 91st?

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