Battle of El GUBI - 19 Nov 41

Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by Tom OBrien, Jul 11, 2021.

  1. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    I thought I'd post up details from some British war diaries relevant to the operations on 19 November 1941 at El Gubi. Going to start with that of 2 Royal Gloucestershire Hussars (WO169/1397 – 2nd Royal Gloucestershire Hussars):

    18 November 1941 RIDOTTA MADDALENA

    General Intention.
    22 Armd. Bde. will advance one up, 2 R.G.H. leading, 4 C.L.Y. left, 3 C.L.Y right, and secure a battle position in the area BIR DUEDAR 432362.

    0600 Regiment advanced with 51 tanks, the following Officers:- [...]
    N.C.Os and men. 582.
    A.1 and ‘B’ Echelons in rear.

    0810 Crossed wire into LIBYA South of RIDOTTA MADDALENA with air support.

    0950 Refuelled from petrol dump put down by R.A.S.C. under direction of Maj. H.J. Mylne the previous night.

    1630 Completed an advance of 76 miles to Map. Ref. 436343 [BU SHIHAN] without meeting any sign of opposition. Moved into close leaguer and replenished.

    1630 Made contact with Major A.T. Smail, 11th Hussars, who informed us of 10 enemy tanks 5 miles to our front. Failing light prevented action that night.

    19 November 1941 BU SHIHAN
    Advance continued 0700 hrs, with 11th Hussars as screen. H Sqn. leading, F Sqn. right, G Sqn. left.

    4 enemy tanks reported by 11th Hussars (identified as 4 Italian M.13’s North West of Pt. 181 423368). These were dealt with by H Sqn. 11th Hussars reported 18 tanks with Artillery to the north – H Sqn. knocked out 6.

    Regiment was ordered to advance North towards BIR EL GUBI. Here some 100 M.E.T. were encountered by our leading Squadron. There was no opposition and a considerable number of Italians gave themselves up. Shortly after this a force of M.13’s was encountered on our left flank. These were successfully dealt with by G Sqn. and H Sqn.

    1300 – 1330 (Approx)

    3 C.L.Y. were ordered to assist 2 R.G. H. on right flank. Regiment advanced three miles North of BIR EL GUBI and 2 Squadrons became engaged with a very large force of enemy tanks estimated at between 140 and 160, plus numerous concealed Anti-Tank positions. H Sqn. was held up by strong A/T and Artillery positions on the left and did not join until late in the afternoon. Wireless communication with 22 Armd. Bde. broke down at 1530 hrs and was continued at 1630 hrs. For at least 2½ hrs heavy fighting ensued.

    1630 Regiment withdrew to reorganize two miles South of BIR EL GUBI. While withdrawing through GUBI Anti/Tk. fire was encountered from Italian personnel who had previously surrendered but had re-manned A/Tk. Guns mounted in lorries and engaged our withdrawing tanks from the rear.

    1730 All runners had been withdrawn. Close leaguer was ordered at Pt. 181 – 423368 where A.1 under 2/Lt. T.H. Lawton replenished petrol and ammunition.

    Tank strength at start – 46.
    Tank strength at 1530 hrs – 16.

    Officers missing at 1900 hrs.
    Major J.W. Saleby F Sqn.
    Capt. G.C.M. Playne F Sqn.
    Lt. G.L. Clay F Sqn.
    Capt. J. Paterson G Sqn.
    2/Lt. G.T. Honeysett H Sqn (Subsequently reported as killed in action).
    Lt. J.N. Harper G Sqn (Subsequently reported as killed in action).

    Officers Wounded. Lt. Col. N.A. Birley, Capt. W.A. White, Lt. T. Elder Jones.

    N.C.Os and Men.
    Missing 17 Wounded. 16 Killed. 9.

    And a map to illustrate the route the regiment took during 19 November from the same source.

    D2 - El Gubi - 2 RGH.JPG


  2. MarkN

    MarkN Banned

    Hello Tom,

    Have you analysed the movements against the map and wondered whether this is indeed the path that 2 RGH took?

    From the map, 2RGH went over the top of the Italian Bersaglieri anti-tank screen, through the 132.Tank Regt laager area and out the other side. They then turned round and retraced their path where they came back through the Italian position from reverse.

    If true, the Italians really didn't put up much of a show and where there for the taking. Completely.
  3. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Not sure how you can get to that conclusion? They lost 30 tanks in the process of doing this. That's hardly 'there for the taking'?

    All the best

  4. MarkN

    MarkN Banned

    Hello Andreas

    You are absolutely right.

    The idea that a single British armoured regiment could roll-up an entire Italian armoured division is ludicrous. To quantify this for ease of understanding, nobody in their right mind can expect 200 men fighting from the inside of 50 tanks to finish off a 13,000 or so strong combined arms formation. Completely bonkers!


    However, if the 2 RGH narrative and map of their movements is correct, a British armoured regiment drove over the organized dug-in anti-tank defences of 8th Bersaglieri, then drove through the 132nd Tank Regiment duelling with them in the process, turned round and repeated the process in reverse. In performing this manoever, Ariete managed to inflict less than 30 tank casualties upon them.

    The take-away is that Ariete did not perform very well at all. To begin with, all they had to contend with was that regiment and one other running an almost identical attack profile then, later, a third brought onto a flank. What little artillery support the British donkey wallopers had was uncoordinated and sporadic. Ariete was hardly being swamped by a vastly superior force and suffering from too many targets!

    Had the British attempted a 'proper' coordinated attack on Ariete, it is difficult to see them seeing out the day in any form as an effective fighting force.

    Ariete was not there for the taking by the 200 men of 2 RGH fighting from the inside of their lightly armoured Cruiser tanks, they were there for the taking by a reasonably scaled and competent combined arms force.

    Gubi on the 19th of November is an example of British command incompetence snatching historical ignominy from the jaws of battlefield glory.
  5. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    No disagreement there.

    All the best

  6. MarkN

    MarkN Banned

    And therein lies, for me, the interest in this event.

    What can we learn from the actual performance of 22 Armoured Brigade and Ariete Division beyond the knowledge that that not doing very well delivers poor returns. Hardly earth shattering!

    For me, all the interest lies in understanding how the two found themselves in that position and performing that way. And that's a study of doctrine, thinking and prior training.

    How on earth did somebody think sending 400 men in 100 lightly armoured Cruiser tanks - unsupported save for another 200 men in another 50 identical tanks in reserve - against a complete enemy all-arms armoured division, organized and dug in, was a smart move? Somebody thought it was a jolly good idea and that thought was based on their prior experiences, training and military education and culture.

    Understanding the Italian side of the story I suggest is a less divisive and less controversial discussion.

    Edited to add.
    The common response to my interest usually involves the word "Hobart" and/or words "tank gurus" or "tank mafia". While being a convenient soundbite, it is a rather daft and ill thought out and inaccurate response.
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2021
  7. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Hi, and now from 3 County of London Yeomanry (WO169/1398);

    17/18 November 1941
    22nd Armd. Bde was disposed in leaguer about 2 miles South of Guaret Azza 551301 with the 3 Armd Regts in front. 3 Sharpshooters right at Garet El Gawani, 2 R.G.H. centre, 4 Sharpshooters left. The mixed column was behind 4 Sharpshooters and the Echelon brigaded in rear.
    Ariete Division was reported to be at BIR EL GUBI with 138 M.13 tanks.
    7th Armd Div was to advance one up, 4 Armd Bde right, 7 Armd Bde centre, 22 Armd Bde left, 7 Sp. Gp. on Div centre line behind Battle H.Q.
    3 CLY O.O. No.1 was issued, in which the Regiment was ordered to secure a battle position in area Pt. 175 435354. They were to advance one up, ‘A’ Sqn leading on Regtl. centre line. Centre line was one mile north of Bde centre line, on which marched 2 R.G.H. leading. Bde centre line was Pt. 207 527295 – Pt. 82 508293 – Pt. 178 486303 – Pt. 179 452331. W/T silence was ordered until first contact.
    All tanks were painted with three vertical bands, centre band red, other bands white. In order to deceive the enemy they were fitted with a camouflage structure which made them look like M.T. vehicles. These were known as sunshields.
    The tank strength was 48 A.15 Cruisers.
    The Regiment moved off at 0610 hours with 46 tanks, and crossed the frontier wire about 0830 hrs, having covered a distance of about 30 miles. It had been ordered to refuel in the area 478305 between 0900 hrs and 1030 hrs, and for this purpose was to be met by guides under 2nd/Lt P.W. Pearson at a point on the centre line due NORTH of Pt. 180 493298. Dumping was not completed until 0930 and 2nd/Lt. Pearson was then ordered to guide the RASC lorries back to the frontier wire. Afterwards he then proceeded to the meeting point, which he reached at 1000 hours, by which time the Regiment had passed. The Regiment, having seen no guide, and having halted at 1000 hours at 481308 was able to find the dumps, and refuelled by 1130 hrs. Battle positions were reached without event by 1615 hrs. During this time no wireless messages were received from Bde and it was assumed that this was due to a deliberate policy. The other Regts were not in sight. Capt. S. Buxton who was following the Regiment in charge of ‘A’ Echelon saw 2 R.G.H. in rear. On arrival patrols were sent out which reported 11 tanks, probably German Mk IIIs, retiring rapidly to the N.W. in the failing light. Shortly before dusk a L.O. from Bde arrived who stated that efforts had been made all day to get in touch with wireless but without success. The Regiment was ordered to return about 7 miles and leaguer at Pt. 173 437343. The location of Bde HQ was given as 435344. Efforts were made throughout the night to find it, without success. The Regiment was not refuelled that night owing to mechanical breakdowns, only tanks came into leaguer.

    19 November 1941
    At 0830 hrs Lieut. S.W. PEEL arrived with orders from Bde to move forward to the original battle position and at 0908 hrs the Regiment was ordered to go on to BIR DUEDAR 432362 when [sic: where?] it took up battle positions and remained until 1340 hrs. The Regiment was then ordered to get in touch with, and move up on the right of 2 R.G.H., who were reported heavily engaged round Pt. 181 423369. It advanced with A Sqn leading, C right, and B left, but finding no sign of 2 R.G.H. at Pt. 181 continued towards BIR EL GUBI. At 1500 hrs the leading Tp. of A Squadron (2nd/Lt. A.R. LINDSAY) reported five M.13 tanks in the area 421372 and Lieut.Col. R.K. JAGO ordered Major G.G.L. WILLIS commanding ‘A’ Sqn to attack. The strength of ‘A’ Sqn was at this time 13 tanks. Two tanks under 2nd/Lts. A.W. Henderson and P. Hargreaves were sent up on the left to draw the enemy's fire, and Mr. Lindsay was ordered by Major WILLIS to attack from the right. Supporting fire was given by Major WILLIS from his Sqn. H.Q. at about 1000 yards. The action was completely successful, all five tanks being knocked out by Mr. Lindsay's tp - and then set on fire. 25 prisoners were taken from the tanks and sent back under scout car escort together with 22 infantry and artillery prisoners. During this action ‘C’ Sqn had been ordered to move up on the right of ‘A’ Sqn, and ‘B’ Sqn, consisting of five tanks under Major GODSON, Capt. VAUGHAN, Lieut. J.C. HOLCROFT, Sgt GREGORY and Sgt MEDLAR, to remain in a hull-down position 1500 yards behind ‘A’ Sqn, to observe the left flank of the Regiment and to watch for 2 R.G.H. From 1500 hrs wireless touch was lost with ‘B’ Sqn. This Sqn advanced from hull-down position to reconnoitre and was engaged by heavy anti-tank gunfire from the fort at BIR EL GUBI. Almost at once Major GODSON's tank was hit and the track blown off. The tank continued to fire for a while and was then hit on the turret and silenced, Major GODSON and his operator both being wounded.
    Immediately after this Mr. HOLCROFT's tank, which had gone further forward was hit on the turret at close range and all the occupants (Mr HOLCROFT, Tpr MAMMEN and Cpl DIXON) killed, except the driver, who brought the tank out of action. Sgt. HANSFORD and Cpl REDDISH treated Major GODSON's wounds under fire and evacuated him from his tank. He was brought out of battle by a tank of 2 R.G.H. In the meantime Capt. VAUGHAN's and Sgt. MEDLAR's tanks were hit by anti-tank gunfire. At 1650 the Regiment received orders to encircle GUBI and accordingly rallied at Pt. 181 423369. ‘B’ Sqn was still silent and did not come to the rallying point. The Regiment advanced to 42037 and deployed facing West. Visibility was becoming bad and at 1750 orders were received to close leaguer in the area 424375.


  8. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    And this from the war diary of 4 CLY (WO169/1399):

    18 November 1941
    The Regiment moved out from the Quarret Azza area with 48 Tanks in accordance with Operation Orders.
    The approach march to the wire went without incident and the refuelling on the other side went according to plan. 2/Lt. Somervell’s arrangements for the refuelling were excellent.
    A few Tanks dropped out on the way. The Regiment took up battle positions in the area 435340 and lagered [sic] there for the night.

    19 November 1941
    Continued the advance at first light to take up battle positions in the area Gueret Hamza. On arrival there proceeded towards El Gubi as Intelligence reports stated that the Arutte [sic] Divsn. was in that area.
    A large concentration of enemy transport was reported in the El Gubi area with some tanks and guns.
    Orders were received to attack this formation.
    Ourselves on the left, 2 RGH on the right and 3 CLY right reserve.
    The Regiment moved into battle with A Sqn. leading, B on the left and C on the right. Almost immediately A Sqn. encountered very heavy gun fire, mostly from field guns cleverly concealed in the mock transport. B Sqn. were sent round to work past on the left flank. After the shelling A Sqn. became engaged in a tank battle. At this stage C Sqn. were sent in on the right flank to try and clear up the gun position in the transport. They encountered very heavy anti-tank and artillery fire.
    In the smoke and dust the fighting was very confused and it was difficult to get a clear picture of the tank v tank battle. Towards the end of the battle about 12 Italian light tanks came in from the west and were successfully engaged by the RHQ tanks, about five being knocked out. The battle lasted about two hours, after which the C.O. ordered the regiment to rally as casualties appeared to be heavy and little impression could be made against the gun position. Artillery support was called for but did not materialise until too late.
    “C” Sqn. were the heaviest sufferers. Lt. Hankey, 2/Lt. Somervell & Lt. Count J. de Bendern and 23 Other Ranks being left behind on the battlefield. All believed to be missing and not killed.
    Tpr. Rollinson of A Sqn. was wounded.
    We lost eight tanks and it was estimated that about 20 of the enemy tanks were put out.
    2/Lt. MacColl showed great bravery in going back into the battle and rescuing Lord Cranley whose tank was knocked out.
    The Regiment lagered [sic] for the night in area Pt. 169 (421368).


  9. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Important to note that even with this piecemeal information we get to 41 tank losses across the brigade.

    2 RGH = 30
    3 CLY = 3 (but not complete)
    4 CLY = 8
    Total = 41 minimum

    This should hopefully settle the debates over whether the brigade really lost 52 tanks.

    The 7 Armd Div message log has the Brigade reporting '52 broken tracks' at the end of the day. Make of that what you will.

    All the best

  10. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    I found a little more of interest in the 4th CLY war diary which I thought I should add to the thread:


    4th C.L.Y. “A.1. Echelon” – O.C. Capt. F.R. Sutton.

    18 November 1941

    Time of Start 0645 hrs. Vehicles: C.O’s Utility; Major Aldridge’s Utility (punctured, left on C/L0; M.O. with 2 water carts (strayed from “B” Ech.), 15-cwt Ambulance; Dodge 8-cwt.
    Arrived wire at BP 86 – crossed wire at 84 at 0850 hrs.
    Arrived refuelling dump 1035 and followed Regtl. C/L. Noted and reported location of all A.F.Vs halted on way with positions of fitters.
    After dark reported at Rear Bde. for supply column found Lt. Clapp who had lost his petrol trucks – stayed at Rear Bde., waiting for petrol till first light.

    19 November 1941

    On Capt. Tatton’s orders took 5 full R.G.H. trucks, petrol to Regt. Moved forward with Regt. “B” Sqn. in action at Pt. 169. My column just behind with Lt. Dyas 15-cwt wireless truck, M.O. Ambulance, C.O. Utility with Mr. Williams. M.O. treated Capt. Elder Jones broken arm and interrogated Italian prisoners.
    In evening Regt. withdrew to reform – I returned via Adv Bde to fetch echelons. No sign of Rear Bde so returned 15 miles on C/L when met two larger columns of S.A. Tps. who were severely dive-bombed. Still unable to locate petrol, ammo. or rations so returned to Regt. to see that I had not missed them. Returned again to Adv Bde for news of echelons.
    Regt. 29 strong.

    If the war diary is correct in saying that the Regiment lost 8 tanks (I assume meaning to enemy action) on 19 November, this suggests that 4 CLY also lost about 10 tanks to breakdown on the way up to the fighting area and during the movements on 19 November. It's just a pity that Capt. Sutton's report of halted AFV's isn't included in the war diary. Although I completely get the fact that they were a bit busy!


  11. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Came across this You Tube clip (1h 16m) yesterday, added 14/10./2021 and not watched fully yet: The Battle of Bir el Gobi . Note on this website it appears as Gubi and Gobi!

    the text states:
  12. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    I provided Giulio with some material. He's a solid guy.

    All the best

    Chris C likes this.
  13. Flamula

    Flamula Member

    If you put co-ords 31°32'41.4"N 24°01'33.4"E into google, (or bing maps, map quest, google earth) and go into the satellite option of the map there, you'll be on top of the Northern side of the Bir El Gubi earthworks, there is quite an extensive network of these dugouts and trenches visible which you can zoom and follow around. I've had a look at the 19th Nov route map posted above and have lined up what is now wadi ash shu'bah as the prominent wadi which matches not far to the west of El Gubi.

    It's tricky to tell which craters in the landscape correspond to which confrontation as it was a very busy place for a while, and the Trig el Abd which was a major route, runs right through here towards Bir Hakeim. In addition to the November operations. Between 3 and 7 December 1941 the British attacked the Italian positions here as part of Operation Crusader, having failed to take the position two weeks earlier. The Italians had since dug in and it is possible that it is predominantly those lines which can clearly still be seen today on the map imagery.
    andy007 and Andreas like this.
  14. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Thanks, hadn't done that. The typical lozenge style defense is clearly visible.

    All the best

    Flamula likes this.
  15. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    davidbfpo and Flamula like this.

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