Eighth and First Army friction

Discussion in 'Higher Formations' started by Chris C, Sep 29, 2018.

  1. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Yeah, they sound vaguely familiar.

  2. Steve Mac

    Steve Mac Very Senior Member

    None that I am aware of. There are some ‘names’ I recognise but they did not serve in NW Europe.
  3. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Interestingly, I've just read in Hamilton's biography of Monty that Alexander's original suggestion was to dispatch Freyberg to oversee the final push in Tunisia, but Monty (in person) talked him out of it, arguing (I paraphrase) that he was a good man but, when it came down to it, not that bright and that Horrocks was a better choice.

    One wonders whether the initial choice might have ruffled fewer feathers.
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2019
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  4. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    How's this for a pithy summing up?

    P7900445 copy.JPG

    Penned by Lieut-Gen Sir Francis Tuker, former commander of 4th Ind Div, which was transferred from 8th to 4th Army for the end in Africa.

    CAB 140-145: Lt-Gen Tuker on Mediterranean and Middle East, Vol 4 Feb 1959-Oct 1961
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  5. HAARA

    HAARA Well-Known Member

    " Sicily looked like a long grey line on the horizon shimmering in the heat. As we got nearer we could make out clusters of white faced houses against the brown and olive of the countryside. Syracuse loomed with its appearance as a fortified port standing serenely above the clear bluey grey of our smooth sea. The quayside was colourful with a line of orange trees and coloured clothes. The quay was busy. Heavy vehicles darting too and fro loaded with wooden crates or crammed with troops. We had to wait our turn and we stood looking at this activity, so like Algiers in its earnestness and bustle, yet so different. There were many of the Eighth Army there too, the people we’d always wanted to meet. Their dress seemed so different somehow, and their manner too, very hail fellow well met. We had come from England but a short while before, straight from a period of intense training – or so it seemed compared with them. Our training was still fresh in our souls, and as part of it only issue clothing was worn. With the 8th we saw many variations never before dreamed of by us. Coloured silk scarves, shirts of blue, grey, and all shades of khaki – tailored trousers and tropical jackets and sun faded peak caps. The old desert boots caught our eyes, a bright ginger suede affair turning down at the ankles. We were impressed because it seemed so naughty and daring to us. Rather as if we were witnessing a fashion parade. We’d seen nothing like this before, and we secretly hoped we’d be allowed to “get away with it”. One or two tried but had their knuckles rapped and we were told that we’d not to go “gor blimey” till we’d been blooded. As Colonel Smith, our Commanding Officer, said, we had to set an example to the population of how smart the British Tommy was. I have wondered if he too would have like to branch out as the 8th did. He loved his red and blue “fore and aft” hat, and carried brightly coloured silk handkerchiefs always, though he did not wear them."

    Extract from "Ever your own, Johnnie, Sicily and Italy 1943-45"
  6. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    A much respected General it's true but not quite sure that he would be in the best position to judge the performance of the 1st Army during the November 1942 to March 1943 period.
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  7. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles


    And I'm not saying it's my own view either.

    There's a lot more in that file, incidentally, but it's mostly handwritten and hard to decipher. I'll get back to you with it when I retire!
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2019
  8. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    That is a wonderful account to go along with that comic of "the Two Types" talking about official uniforms :)
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  9. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    I'd have liked to hear him say that in front of the Argylls who had taken Longstop.
  10. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    An unworthy statement indeed...I'm "sure" he had his reasons.... a few of my Dad's mates from Belfast, Derry, Omagh, Dublin and Cork, as well as London, Glasgow and Cardiff. might well have had a word too, hundreds of these men lie at rest in the cemeteries of Tunisia.

    We should, of course, be remembering with respect all the men who broke the German defensive lines right across the Djebels north and east of Medjez in April 1943.

    The hardy 1st Army lads, brushed themselves down and fought on..all the way from Syracuse to Austria.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2019
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  11. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Here's another perspective on the rivalary.

    SmartSelect_20190303-224138_Gallery.jpg SmartSelect_20190303-224056_Gallery.jpg

    From: The Last Great Cavalryman: The Life of General Sir Richard McCreery. Commander Eighth Army by Richard Mead.
  12. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

  13. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    I don't wish to denigrate Francis Tuker. He was a sharp observer and a good commander. He was also outspoken and he was sometimes wrong. He once referred to the Lee-Enfield as "a club of a rifle," when it was actually one of the two best rifles in general use in WWII (the M1 Garand was the other). Like some others, he had his share of 8th Army parochialism. That said, it is true that 1st Army had a lot to learn when it arrived in Tunisia and it went through a very costly and painful learning period. I read Blaxland's book on the campaign long ago and the early chapters are a depressing tale of one failure or frustration after another. This is a little surprising in the light of the fact that three of 1st Army's five divisions (1st, 4th, 46th) had already seen action in 1940, as had many of the component units of 6th Armoured and 78th. I haven't read any detailed studies on the question but it would seem that training in the UK had failed to keep either the commanders or the troops sufficiently sharp in the two and a half years between campaigns. There is a good book (can't recall title or author) on British military training during the war, and assimilating and disseminating lessons learned from the forces overseas to those in Britain was often a problem. This was not peculiar to 1st Army, of course. The divisions of 8th Army had all gone through similar hard times and difficult adjustments after they reached the Western Desert, and later on those divisions did not always find it easy to adjust to the more difficult and constricted terrain and higher defensive densities of Tunisia, Italy, and NW Europe. 8th Army's April and May attacks (56th Div, 2nd NZ) got nowhere and had to be shut down. Three 8th Army divisions played important roles in 1st Army's final drive, but the remainder of the attacking force in VULCAN-STRIKE consisted of the same 1st Army outfits which had fought all the hard, unglamorous, but very necessary attritional battles for control of the jebels in the weeks prior to the offensive. Both the US II Corps and French XIX Corps underwent costly baptisms in Tunisia at the same as the 1st Army, and it should be noted that all three forces had overcome their most significant problems by the closing weeks of the campaign. For all four Allied forces, Tunisia was the school of the soldier.
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  14. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Well-Known Member


    I think the book you cannot remember is 'Military Training in the British Army, 1940-1944: From Dunkirk to D-Day' by Timothy Harrison Place (Pub. in paperback in 2000). Read it in hardback long ago from a specialist London library.
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  15. Educator

    Educator Junior Member

    Having spent nearly 9 years studying the operations of the First Army in order to complete my book the Battle of the Peaks and Longstop Hill I was very aware of the way Alexander, Montgomery and a range of his subordinates have provided for history and gullible historians a very biased and incomplete view of the performance of both Anderson and the First Army in Tunisia.

    Anyone who has ever served in the Army knows professional rivalries among those who aspire to rise to high command are real. Montgomery was an ambitious and ruthless general officer who aspired to the highest of commands CIGS and achieved it. Given this ambition it is not a surprise that in his writings and papers there is no evidence that Monty felt any British, Commonwealth or US Army commander was ever considered "capable". That view extended to General Slim, by the way, though Bill Slim was by far a more able Army commander, a better officer and a better man. If you don't believe me ask any British Army officer which British General from WW2 they admire most - spoiler alert-- it isn't Monty!

    Anderson was the 4th choice for commander of the First Army after Schrieber, Alex and Montgomery. He refused to write his memoirs and to this day lacks a biographer yet has a long last of detractors. When reviewing the observations of his many detractors for example Eisenhower, Monty, Alex, Patton, Bradley or Leese it is very important to understand their agendas, prejudices and personalities. This does not mean Anderson was without failings or flaws. It is arguable that he was not entirely well suited to be an Army commander. However if you decide not to judge a book by its cover and instead by how good it is then the judgment of the official historians for the Tunisian campaign is worth noting "The Army's achievements are the best witnesses of the qualities of its commander General Anderson a fine soldier". (Playfair and Moloney)

    To me the test of how good or poor a commander Anderson was in Tunisia is that what type of performance Montgomery would have turned in if he had been assigned as expected to be the 1st Army commander and sent straight from England to encounter difficult Allies, lacking air superiority, a vulnerable and long logistics chain, far to few formations, poor equipment, an aggressive and very experienced foe and most importantly serving under an inexperienced arguably incompetent Ground commander (Eisenhower).

    As for the criticism of the training, fighting abilities and battle worthiness of the units that formed the 1st Army (which by the way at the start in November 1942 was really a reinforced division) it is true that at the start the 6th Armoured, 46th and 78th Infantry Divisions had their defeats. Part of this was due to slender resources and over stretch, part to German equipment superiority and partly to political pressure to achieve unrealistic goals. What stands out to anyone who studies the Tunisian campaign is that in this School for the Soldier (a really fantastic phrase by the way used earlier in this thread thanks so much for that) the officers and men of the 1st Army learned their lessons faster and with fewer defeats than their 8th Army counterparts. This is not to be overly critical of the 8th Army for there were many obstacles in their way as well. After defeats in the first 4 months at Tebourba, Longstop and Sidi Nisr /Hunts Gap however the 1st Army bounced back, assimilated its lessons and when properly resourced and supported attacked and defeated the German Army in March in the North at Sedjenane then in April and May in Operations SWEEP and VULCAN. Much has been made of Horrocks and the role of three 8th Army divisions in Operation STRIKE in winning the final victory in Tunisia. The reality is that Operation Strike engaged an German 5th Panzer Army that was already gravely weakened from previous attacks by the First Army, the failure of its abortive counter attack in Lilac Blossom and most importantly Allied air and sea attacks. The final blow near Tunis -Operation STRIKE (which was conceived by and executed under Anderson) and involved both 5 and 9 Corps (with support from the French and II Corps in the north) finished it off.

    Frankly I don't know where Tuker gained his view of the 1st Army's fighting abilities or prior training for at no time did any units of the 1st Army come under his direct or indirect command as GOC 4th Indian Division. In the final operations near Tunis he also worked under the command of Horrocks and for a short period. He was a very capable GOC of a fine division which by the way had experienced the bitter taste of defeat earlier in the desert war where its battle worthiness was tested. He was also terribly opinionated.

    Hopefully this provides a different though more balanced perspective to this debate. I wrote Battle of the Peaks simply because I like Geoffrey Blaxland felt that the 1st Army and its commander had been done a great injustice when their achievements and sacrifices had been airbrushed from history. I believe the time is long overdue for a careful, objective and balanced study to be made of the operations of the 1st Army in Tunisia and perhaps a long overdue biography of Anderson. I suspect when all the facts are known about the problems he faced, and the support he received - his biographer's judgement will be that Anderson was not a Good Plain Cook as Monty so infamously described him, well within hearing of many junior officers thus ensuring his comments would be spread across North Africa (and a example of his very poor judgement as a GOC) but actually a Bloody Good Chef.
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  16. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Good to read another perspective.

    I completely agree that Anderson demands/deserves a biographer, and that Monty's powerful patronage (and cultivation of promising young officers) ensured a surfeit of supporting publications from the War until--at least--the 70s, possibly beyond.

    I can only say that if you write it, i'll buy it!

    (You can't manage a biography of General Sir Alan Cunningham while you're at it, can you?)

    Not sure I put so much faith in the Official History, mind you. Having had a glimpse (no more) of the working papers, they seem typical of 'history by committee'. I know it takes us out of the theatre and off topic, but the correspondence between the historians (I forget which) Jackie Smyth over the Sittang Disaster suggests a rather delicate political negotiation as opposed to any dogged quest for truth.

    Today it would probably be dubbed Maxwellisation.

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