From The Desert To The Baltic, G.P.B "Pip" Roberts

Discussion in 'Books, Films, TV, Radio' started by Jaeger, Aug 13, 2010.

  1. Jaeger

    Jaeger Senior Member

    Of the many books I ordered in the summer Pip Roberts book was the one I was looking forward to the most.

    To me Pip has been a bit of an enigma. The best British armoured commander, and battle laurels from the early days in the desert to the end in Northern Germany. I have however never read anything about him to understand what or why he was so great.

    I hoped that his book would lift the vail and let me see if he indeed was such a cracking commander. I hoped the book would shed some light on what made him stand out from the rest.

    It did.

    Pip starts his book with Chapter 1. Italy declares war.
    It really sets the pace for the book.

    Pip work as a staffer for the first part of the campaign. This would stand him in good stead later. He got to know a lot of competent commanders, and some important decision makers in the staffs. More important than that; cumbersome methods of command, and difficulities of supply and navigation was observed at first hand.

    This part of the book has a good narrative. I had some problems in relearning the staffsystem (rank and functions) the British used then since I am reared on the G system adopted throughout NATO. I think an uninitiated layman could keep track of the functions with more ease than me. Nevertheless in this part of the book we come close to Pip. He has to send his pregneant wife and young daughter to South Africa, and we get the feel of the hardships in the desert.

    Next up is active command. 3rd RTR. This part of the book is fantastic. You get the first hand narrative of a CO Armd regiment.

    This little bit is from the command tank during the Gazala battle in May.

    Peter, tell Brigade we cannot hang on here much longer, either there will be notheing left, or we will be cut off, or both. Driver, advance slightly into line with the other tanks. 75 gunner, enemy tank straight ahead receiving no attention- engage. First shot just over- come down half-a-tank height. Still over - come down a whole tank's height. Good shot - that got him - same again. 'Hullo! there is a dashing Boche on the left, he has come right forward against C squadron who have withdrawn a little- just the job the 37mm. '37 gunner traverse left, traverse left, - on; enemy tank broadside on 500 - fire! 37 gunner - good- have a couple more shots and then get ready with the co-ax.

    The experience of beeing CO for a regiment and later an Armoured brigade builds on Pip's overall outlook of how to fight with armour.

    I was surprised to learn how quickly the British commanders chopped and changed their techniques on combined arms. The let down in quality of kit is well known, but the quality of leadership and doctrine needs to be adressed in many books.

    This was for me what I wanted to learn. In many books the British Armour units have been damned. This book offers a different approach. Yes some of the old cavalry men had shortcomings, but the squadrons and regiments fought genuine combined arms. The tanks themselves had their faults, the artillery was towed, and there was no satisfactory armoured transport for the lorried infantry, but the lads were trying.

    Pip goes on to command the 7th armd div. (acting) and the 26th armd bde 6th Armd div. 30 Armd bde (in England for four months) and finally the Black Bull (11th Armd div)

    I'd say that by the time Tunis has fallen Pip has completed his narrative of what it is like to command an armoured division.

    The Normandy and beyond bit narrates the Black Bull. Pip tells the story in much the same way that Horrocks does in "A Full Life". Tidbits and special stories are told, but the broad strokes are left to "brilliant" books by other. (as a matter of fact these reccomondations have left me with a largish wish list on Amazon)

    Pip ends his book with a tribute to Monty. Nobody at the time could have won Alamein, and nobody could have won the invasion of Normandy.

    The next issue is the Armoured division. It is interesting to note the tactical handling and the organisation of the Armoured division.

    we lacked two things; the first a gun in all tanks at least as good as the 17pdr, and armoured vehicles in which to carry the infantry brigade.

    Having read French "Raising Churchills Army" and Harrison Place "Military training in the British Army, 1940-1944." I felt that this book became invaluable as a mean to look behind the statistics and top down view.

    I consider the book a bit of a gem, and it will be oft quoted to young officers in the future.

    Chris C likes this.
  2. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Pip Roberts was all you can say of him - and when he was Brigadier in Command of 26th Brigade OF 6th Armoured Div before Tunis - NOT the whole Division - he often relaxed by playing a piano he had installed in a three tonner -

    the 3rd Tanks which he commanded very well was the subject of the tale of the Corporal doing maintenance on his tanks who was asked by a passing Brigadier as to "what was going on "? - the corporal answered - "oh the usual Sir - 3rd versus the 3rd" !
    Confused the Brigadier asked him to explain -"The usual Sir - 3rd Tanks vs the 3rd Riech !"

    It must be recalled that the early Tank Regiments in the desert were officered by Cavalry types such as Lumsden et al who still fought Tank Battles like they still had horses and were smitten by the "Charge of the Light Brigade" syndrome - Rommel took advantage of this by allowing his MkIII's & VI's to drag their coats - the British would charge - the Panzers would side step opening up a battery of 88mm's - end of charge !
    It took Monty until Medenine to get rid of that concept along with Lumsden and others - finally came up with the Cab rank blitz of Air and Tanks in the battle of El Hamma - and the final battle from Medjez to Tunis / Cap Bon - that then became the norm of Tank tactics in NWE - and why the three Tank Divisions did so well in the swan to Brussels - Antwerp etc.

  3. Jaeger

    Jaeger Senior Member

    Tom Canning. Corrected the 6th Armd div to 26th armd bde.

    A most interesting character, and a prime example of the quality men coming up through the ranks.
  4. RemeDesertRat

    RemeDesertRat Very Senior Member

    Sorry to drag up an 'old' thread, but when looking for recommendations on which books to read WW2talk is the place to look!
    Could someone confirm that "Pip" Roberts was O.C. 22nd Armoured Brigade from July 1942 to January 1943? Thanks.
  5. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    To the best of my knowledge - Pip Roberts was indeed Brigade Commander of 22nd Armoured - after the Gazala Gallop - through the Wadi El Halfa battle - El Alamein all through until around the El Hamma battle in Southern Tunisia when he went off to Command 26th Armoured bde of 6th Armoured Div for the last push to Tunis - then went off to the Uk for 30th bde and 11th Armoured Div
  6. RemeDesertRat

    RemeDesertRat Very Senior Member

    Thanks, Tom - now if only I can find a copy that doesn't cost the earth! 100+ US dollars on amazon, no luck on ebay or abebooks.
  7. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Is there much about CRUSADER in the book?

    All the best

  8. RemeDesertRat

    RemeDesertRat Very Senior Member

    Managed to find a copy on fleabay, a 20 page chapter covers the Battleaxe and Crusader operations.
  9. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books


    All the best

  10. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Reme -
    a better account of Pip Roberts and his command of 22 AB can be found in Barrie Pitt's trilogy - vol 3 Monty's command....
  11. RemeDesertRat

    RemeDesertRat Very Senior Member

    Reme -
    a better account of Pip Roberts and his command of 22 AB can be found in Barrie Pitt's trilogy - vol 3 Monty's command....

    Thanks, I have read it many moons ago, but not got a copy of my own, it's on my to buy list.

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