Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by paulyb102, Feb 18, 2005.
Phantom definitely operated in CRUSADER with Eighth Army.
All the best
Do you know what happened to them or why Phantom does not appear on the Jocelyn El Alamein orbat?
I can look it up, but not at home right now.
All the best
From the HUGO column war diary. Entry for 19 November:
The column advanced in support of B Squadron 11 Hussars at first light and engaged 9 M13 tanks and some Honeys at about 0700 hrs. These withdrew northwards followed up by B squadron and FOOs of Hugo Column. Soon after the FOOs and advanced HQ came under considerable shell fire from a dug position at about Pt.176 425364 and withdrew slightly on the reappearance of the 9 M13 tanks. The tanks and position was engaged by artillery fire and at almost the same moment the leading regiment of 22 Armoured Brigade came up on the right flank. A liaison officer was despatched to them to try and secure cooperation for a joint plan but in spite of this they advanced without warning. After a brief and bloodless engagement with another regiment of the same brigade, they routed the 9 M13s destroying 2 and the enemy artillery and infantry retired to Gubi.
The advance continued and encountered a very large concentration of m MET in the Gobi area. These were engaged by artillery and in return the carrier platoon B Company was fairly heavily shelled. 22 Armoured Brigade again advanced but again went into action without asking for artillery support and the Gubi area was soon obscured by dust and smoke so that no further observed shooting until the tanks came out again. Column commander was summond to regimental HQ 11 Hussars while this action was in progress. He was there told that 22 Armoured Brigade had captured Gubi and was ordered to send B Company in to collect prisoners. He passed on these orders to Captain Franklyn commanding B Company, by wireless. Captain Franklyn however, could see that Gubi was still full of life and producing heavy artillery and anti-tank fire and very rightly countermanded this order. 22 Armoured Brigade withdrew to reform at about 1600 hours reporting that they had destroyed at least 60 Italian tanks and lost about 25 themselves. 5 ME109 straffed the column very mildly at 1630 but caused no casualties.
Hugo column remained in action until last light and then sent in a patrol from 5 platoon B Company to investigate our disabled tanks and to report whether Gubi was still occupied.
Patrol under 2/Lt Wrigglesworth found 2 disabled A15 tanks, one of which did not appear to have been investigated by the enemy. While doing this they heard a party approaching and captured one prisoner. They reported that Gubi remained occupied at 0100 hours with much noise movement and shouting, and sounded in a fairly disorganised state.
Our our own tanks were also slightly disorganised at last light, 4 CLY being almost dry of petrol and 4 cripples of both 4 CLY and RGH spent the night in our column leaguer having failed to find their own.
Apparently Phantom wasn't too popular after CRUSADER so were first packed off to Syria. Eighth Army replaced them with the 'J' service, which did a lot of the same things and was eventually incorporated into GHQ Liaison. H Squadron served during CRUSADER.
All the best
All the best
thanks - most interesting. In my humble opinion that narrative adds some evidence to suggest the engagement at El Gubi was more complex than much of the historiography would have us believe. It also provides evidence of a somewhat confused command structure and the disorganised state of the British forces on the evening of 19 November which might go some way to explain the disparity between the reports of 22 Armd Bde’s losses that day.
Did you find that in the Support Group diary?
I can't comment on the histography part as my reading has been limited to the contemporary documents and reports, the official histories and a handful of internet discussions such as this. I tend not to take much away from the latter for obvious reasons and it was many years ago that I last read the British and German OH. Sadly, never read the South African.
That just leaves me with the contemporary documentation on which to base my own opinion which, as seems to be common these days, is no way to understand history.
I don't think there was a command structure problem, and 22 Armd Bde seems to have had working comms with all relevant HQs. Can't blame this on dodgy comms like BATTLEAXE.
What I do discern is quite a bit of confusion as to who was supposed to be doing what and when and some dreadful decision-making along the way. Whilst 203 Bty certainly did blast away, it was completely independant to 22 Armd Bde effort despite Cairn's attempts to coordinate. Scott-Cockburn does not appear to have given any task to Cowan's column, under his direct command, the entire day.
Campbell had the task of being prepared for two eventualities, and seems to have made up his own mind to do the latter in the absence of higher direction.
I don't have the war diary for HQ 1 SA Bde, but Brink's post-op narrative is quite detailed on what they were tasked for and when. He records HQ XXX Corps ordering, at 1600, 1 SA Bde to secure Gubi by 1800 but then cancelling the order at 1715. In other words, they were not being tasked to attack Gubi with 22 Armd Bde but clear up after the job had been done. It got cancelled when HQ XXX Corps recognised Ariete had not been beaten or run off. Moreover, they only got warned of this being a possibility at about the time Campbell decided to take 7 Spt Gp north.
I don't think the engagement itself was any more complex than expected. The complexity, I think, is in trying to understand just what Scott-Cockburn was up to and how he thought his efforts were going to achieve a winning outcome.
Then there is the complexity in trying to understand what Gott was up to as well ordering him to attack and not insisting he make use of 7 Spt Gp whom he specifically put on stand-by for just such an engagement.
I know the tank charge at Gubi is often blamed on the "Hobart" effect - which always brings out a giggle and a turning down of the volume. Your comment about the notion that somebody thought Ariete would just turn and run at the sight of a tank charge seems to have far greater credibility. It is noted in the documents surprise when the gunners of 8th Bersaglieri turned their guns around to shoot at the rear of 22 Armd Bde's tanks after their forward positions had been overrun. Apparently, they were all supposed to be POWs!!!!
I agree with this. It was blind arrogance and tactical and command incompetence based probably on bad doctrine. Nothing more complex. The Itees were to be bumped off el Gubi and then be escorted to the back. The idea that they might hit some Italians who didn't want to play ball never entered their heads. Balotta took Scott Cockburn for a tutoring session in all-arms combat that day, but it clearly didn't stick.
Given the known issues with the historiography of CRUSADER, which started as early as the afternoon of 19 November, the published OHs are at best a useful crutch and at worst utterly misleading. You need to go back to the original documents, of all three sides, to get an idea of what was really going on.
I believe (correct me if I am wrong) you are looking for some redeeming feature in the cluster of fcuks that was 22 Armoured Brigade's action. It might help if you, instead of continuing to ask for material from others, set out in detail what exactly YOU think happened, what kind of correct decisions were made by Scott Cockburn, and why it wasn't as bad as it has been passed down to us.
Because, to repeat, while I am not an expert, needlessly sending two unsupported armoured regiments into an unreconnoitered enemy position that you knew or should have known (if you had paid attention to your intel briefing) was occupied by the enemy for days looks like incompetence to me. I have yet to see any evidence that could dissuade me from that view. But I'm willing to entertain it, if it were presented.
All the best
I just happened to come across this document in the Canadian archives and thought it might pertain to this topic.
The first page of seven is shown below and can be found at
War diaries : T-6676 - Image 1124 - Héritage (canadiana.ca)
I can think of at least two "redeeming features" of 22 Armd Bde's effort at Gubi. Unfortunately, when understood in the wider context they serve to amplify the criticism of the less than redeeming aspects.
There remains a bit of confusion over the exact movements of the various units and thus the locations of of the various engagements within the main battle.
8th Bersaglieri's three infantry battalions, its anti-tank companies, some of the field artillery from 132 Arty Regt and detachments of light tanks from 32 Tank Regt had been deployed and dug-in in depth in an arc south and south-east of Gubi covering the likely approach of a British advance. Part of this position was sited behind a minefield.
To their rear, to the north and north-west of the Gubi hamlet, the armour of the three tank battalions of 132 Tank Regt were to be found ready to move out east or west to come round onto a flank of any assaulting force or south to stiffen the defence. Patrols were out in front of the defences to screen and provide warning of impeding attack.
In total, the Ariete division was comparable in size and firepower to a combined 22 Armd Bde / 7 Spt Gp force.
A first reading of the British war diaries suggests the armoured attack got stopped by the 8th Bersaglieri short of Gubi. The second reading suggests the armour got through this position and into the hamlet of Gubi itself. A map in the 2RGH documents indicates they pushed on through Gubi and through the 132 Tank Regt laager before executing a 180 and returning back over the same ground.
The first redeeming point is, I suggest, that to have driven right through the Ariete position (twice) nobody can fault the courage and determination of these donkey wallopers in their first taste of combat. Cruiser Tanks should not have been used against such a defended position, but they went over the anti-tank defences, through the tanks and out the otherside.
When it became apparent that the tanks were overrunning the 8th Bersaglieri and their anti-tank defences, 132 Tank Regiment was detailed to sally forth to counter attack. Cue tank v tank battle on or about the Gubi hamlet.
The second redeeming point is, I propose, is that the British unit and sub-unit commanders proved more adept at handling their tanks than the Italians. Accounts from both sides suggest it was the Italians that came off worse in this part of the battle. Even Scott-Cockburn seems to have brought 3CLY into this part of the battle at the right place at just about the right time.
Putting these two together, I'd argue Ariete was there for the taking in toto. An opportunity to remove one of the three axis armoured divisions in one hit at, possibly, minimal cost to own forces.
And therein lies what I see as the root of where criticism ought to be directed. There has to be some better purpose to overrunning an enemy position than demonstrating ones own bravery and a bit of flair in tank manouver. Scott-Cockburn seems to have lost the plot. Or, Gott and/or Norrie above him.
The donkey wallopers of the three tank regiments had done more than could be expected of them in assaulting the position with some degree of success. But to what end? What exactly was the point of their effort? That is why I shine a bright spotlight onto Scott-Cockburn in particular and Gott/Norrie to a lesser extent.
Interesting though that Norrie kept his job, Gott was promoted and S-G sacked. Norrie failed to co-ordinate the move of his divisions, Gott failed to co-ordinate the actions of his brigades and both contributed to the British cruiser brigades being separated from each other and assigned tasks beyond their individual means.
As Andreas suggests, I need to go back to Kew to get more war diaries (I’ve got the 22 Armd Bde regiment diaries and several of the Bde echelon diaries - recovery and light repair section for eg) but will pull the Bde Hq, 11 Hussars and those of other supporting arms in future and see if any more clarity emerges for me.
Was the B Coy in the extract you provided from 2 RB? I need to do some more digging there as well to see if I can understand the signals net between all these British units. 22 Armd Bde was obviously on the same net as its armoured regiments and back up to Division. I’m curious though as to how many of the other units were on the same net.
But in the absence of a transcript of what Gott said to Scott-Cockburn that morning, we cannot be completely sure that it didn't go something like this:
Scottie, I want you to take your tanks through the Eyetie position and out the otherside. Don't bother about stonking them first, or following up with infantry. Trust me, the buggers will run the moment they see your tanks.
Moreover, since Norrie had co-located his HQ with Gott's at the time, we can't be sure the idea didn't start with him.
On the balance of probabilities, I believe the Gubi problem lies prinipally with Scott-Cockburn.
Yes. Hugh Cairns (from 2RB) commanding the mixed column hence named HUGO column.
PS. Check your PMs.
Which is a completely fair position to take. I, on the other hand, have more sympathy for Scott-Cockburn. First battle, first time up the blue, an inexperienced brigade and staff, a perhaps surprising task, a probably confused picture, a mission beyond his means, a convenient scapegoat? Maybe?
I also understand Andreas’ position and freely admit that I haven’t studied Scott-Cockbun’s next battles in any detail, and it may well be that my sympathy is proven overly generous by further study. Stranger things have happened than me being proved wrong.
That Norrie kept his job is one of those eternal mysteries to me, since he effed up both tasks he was given (destroy the German armour/take Bardia/Halfaya). Gott's promotion needs to be seen in the context of Godwin-Austen's sacking and the cluster of fcuks that was the Eighth Army reaction to Rommel's counterstrike.
If either of these people had been semi-competent, they could have deleted both Ariete and PR5 from the Axis roster of forces on the afternoon of 19 November, and won CRUSADER right there and then.
You may find this interesting: https://crusaderproject.wordpress.c...operation-fate-of-empire-commanding-officers/
All the best
Ps. DM me your email.
Those may well have been contributing factors, but do not change the actions, the decisions nor the persons making those decisions. Inept remains inept even though inexperience may well have played a part in why he was inept.
There are still many questions about Gubi that will be forever unanswered. Not everything 'wrong' at Gubi was soley, if at all, down to Scott-Cockburn. But, in the absence of evidence that somebody else explicitly told him to do exactly as he did, he bears full responsibility for how 22 Armd Bde was handled that day. That's not scapegoating, that's understanding history.
For me, the take-away is not that the British did so poorly at Gubi - on reflection, they did incredibly well - but that Ariete was there for the taking. It was an opportunity missed. I don't agree with Andreas that Balotta 'schooled' Scott-Cockburn in anything: his anti-tank defences were overrun by thinly-armed Cruiser tanks and his own tanks then got beaten.
My sympathy lies not with Scott-Cockburn but the gallant donkey-wallopers that took on a tank division, overran it, and withdrew in reasonable order all things considered for no apparent reason. Just what was the point?
Answering my own question here.
The 30 Corps GS diary states 22 Armd Bde "was ordered" to attack Gubi.
All the best
I don't mean to appear rude, but what have all these posts about Op Crusader got to do with Montgomery? Are you suggesting that Norrie or Gatehouse could have won El Alamein or is this thread drift, however interesting.
Any chance of moving these posts or answering the OP?
OP = The topic
I suppose we ended up here as we were talking about the ups and downs of British command practice in the Western Desert and how practice doesn’t always seem to make perfect!
This is a strange thread though as it’s normally a debate about Montgomery that highjacks other threads - is this the first thread about Montgomery that has been highjacked by Scott-Cockburn?
By the way, have you read Niall Barr’s article about the liaison between Montgomery and Patton in Sicily? “Between Patton and Montgomery”. War in History 2019 but also on the King’s College site as well I think. It also tells us much about Alexander’s relationship with Montgomery.
I'm sorry this bothers you so much, even though technically speaking the OP also asked about 'other generals'. Also, if you want moderators to split a topic out, just maybe, you know... ask the moderators. There's a PM function for that.
But whatever. I thought this was a polite and educational discussion. But I bow to the thread police and go back to lurking. Wouldn't want to be a bother.
All the best
Separate names with a comma.