Increased mechanisation in the British Army from 1942

Discussion in 'Weapons, Technology & Equipment' started by Chris C, Mar 13, 2022.

  1. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    In the tank development thread, ceolredmonger wrote:

    Simply focusing on the failings of individual tank designs is distracting. After action reports fed back to policy makers from North Africa were not just full of criticism of the tanks - they emphasised the need for mobilisation, flexibility and coordination of supporting units especially Royal Engineers Field Companies. The realisation that the individual characteristics of the tanks was less important than ensuring they could get into action and remain there on their own terms was key to setting up in-theatre combined ops training - followed by application in the UK. In 1940 putting motorised infantry in 4x4 trucks was controversial, in 1942 providing them with armoured transport became a theme. Similarly getting artillery, field and anti-tank, mobile and armoured became obvious. 1943 became the year of change in attitudes.​

    I was hoping here to spin off some side discussion about these points. Are there reports related to the need for increased mechanisation in 1942 based on experiences in the field? Or any books discussing this evolution in thought?

    I do know that the Tank Board took up the subject of self-propelled artillery in June 1942. On 2 July Major-General Weeks sent a followup memo which makes this clear:

    What I really tried to say was that we wished the Ministry of Supply to examine any project which would result in giving us SP Artillery, utilizing an existing chassis such as Valentine, Matilda, Crusader, or Cromwell, and mounting either 6-pounder, 25-pounder, 3” 17-pounder or 3” 20-cwt guns.i

    i. Weeks, Ronald. “Memo to the Secretary of the Tank Board”, 2 July 1942, WO 185/6, The National Archives of the UK
  2. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Someone has posted the text of the Bartholomew Report here. I recall distinctly reading somewhere in it that self-propelled artillery (specifically anti-tank) was considered desirable. After all, the British had experimented with the Birch Gun already.
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  3. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    Yes, I've got that! And a good quote from somewhere (possibly Moving the Guns) about how that might have put the RA off self-propelled guns for a while.

    If I knew an extra something about why in 1942 they started to look at SPs again, which came out of battle experience rather than simply the improving state of the army mechanically (re-armament after Dunkirk completed) - plus the increased weight of the 17-pounder - that would be an interesting additional angle.
  4. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    The German experience of CRUSADER certainly drove home the point on needing mobile, armoured guns. The British made the same point as early as 10 December 1941 in 'Lessons from Operations - Cyrenaica No.2'

    All the best

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  5. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    Is that up on the Crusader Project site? (I'll take a look.)
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2022
  6. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    No, not posted.

    I think I got it from Don Juan, if he is okay I can post it here.

    All the best

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  7. idler

    idler GeneralList

    From The Development of Artillery Tactics and Equipment:

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  8. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    Thank you very much idler, that is most helpful.
  9. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    Am I right in remembering that the report went rather unheeded, though? (I think I could get it from Don Juan if I asked nicely.)
  10. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    This was just an immediate lessons learned document. ME HQ then went through a process over subsequent months collating evidence and observations, which were reviewed by the relevant line departments, before being turned into official documents. Some of this is distilled in the training pamphlets which came hard and fast after CRUSADER (the first appeared in September 1941, but the pace then picked up), and I presume it went to Whitehall. But the bureaucratic process didn't keep up with developments of the battlefield.

    There's a PhD waiting to be written on the way battlefield lessons were i) generated and ii) applied in the British army.

    All the best

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  11. DogDodger

    DogDodger Member

    Although more focused than on the entire British Army, "Montgomery and his Legions:" A Study of Operational Development, Innovation and Command in 21st Army Group, North-West Europe, 1944-45 - White Rose eTheses Online talks a bit about how lessons migrated up and down the chain of command and were integrated into 21st Army Group's doctrine.
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  12. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    It's okay with me!
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  13. BFBSM

    BFBSM Very Senior Member

    You might consider reading Military Training in the British Army, 1940-1944: From Dunkirk to D-Day by Timothy Harrison Place (ISBN: 9780714680910), it is based on his PhD while at the University of Leeds. It, if memory serves me correctly (a re-read is needed), details the processes of generation and implementation of the battlefield lessons. (Also referencing a number of the documents at Kew.)
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  14. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    Yes, that's a useful book.
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  15. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    It is a useful book as it provides some useful sources. Unfortunately, however, his view of pre-D-Day training is somewhat skewed, in my 'umble opinion, because of the limited survey of infantry battalion war diaries. I haven't got the book to hand at the moment, but if I recall correctly he doesn't reference any of the battalions of 59 Infantry Division. I've looked at 3 or 4 of the battalion war diaries from that division and they include much evidence of what training was actually being conducted. Weekly training tables, exercise orders, etc, etc. Much of this has been weeded out (or was never included) in the war diaries of say 43rd Division. He used that absence of evidence to question the rigorous nature of pre-Normandy training whereas the evidence in the 59 Division diaries suggests that the training was pretty full on.

    The thud just heard is me climbing down off my soap-box. ;):D


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  16. idler

    idler GeneralList

    A point missing from these extracts but mentioned elsewhere was a desire for armour. As the context was artillery tractors, we're not in the realms of Stugs, simply a degree of protection of the equipment from hostile field artillery or a spattering of machine gun fire.
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  17. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    Agreed. In my research I obtained (thanks to Don Juan) a report from someone at the School of Artillery who went to Normandy during July. One of the problems referenced about the 17-pounder and the desire for an SP was:

    "the vulnerability of the gun and detachment when moving forward to reorganise. This is partly due to the towing vehicle being unarmored."

    (Another problem was that the FAT was really not powerful enough for the job.)

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