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"Western Desert equipment 1941 till early 42" Topic

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Khazi Kwarteng19 Feb 2023 7:34 a.m. PST

A little difficult to get exact info,so hopefully many a fine fellow will be able to help.

When was the Vickers light tank actually not used in Armoured division battalions ?
What was its function in a armoured brigade with its machine gun armament ?
Were they mixed with heavier A9s and others?

When did British infantry start supporting their Armoured Battalions, what was their role in say 7th armoured division ?
Did British Cruisers really act like cavalry and charge around on their own?

Did the Matilda mainly operate with infantry or was it sent out mainly without infantry support?

When did the German 50mm atg appear ?
Were all early German atg 37mm ?

The Panzer 3 , when was it equipped with the longer 50mm gun ?

Panzer 2 used through out 41 ?

What was a make up of mid and late 41 German tank battalions?

Besides the Italian M13/40 were other types still used in tank battalions?

When did the Italians start using their 90mm anti aircraft gun in a tank role ?
Was it occasionally, always or exaggerated?

More to come .

Rich Bliss19 Feb 2023 8:25 a.m. PST

Get a copy of this book


It will answer all your questions.

Khazi Kwarteng19 Feb 2023 8:57 a.m. PST

Thank you, l have ordered, but it still would interesting to have some answers in the meantime.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP19 Feb 2023 9:11 a.m. PST

Might take a look at Forczyk's Desert Armour, though it stops at the end of 1941.
A few off-hand:
--There's a regiment of Mark VIb's in 7th Armoured Brigade as late as Operation Brevity. But starting with Brevity and continuing on through Crusader, they start showing up in "I" tank regiments at about two per troop of Matildas or Valentines. I can't tell yet whether as command vehicles or scouts.
--Throughout the Desert War, the British tended to keep regiments either cruiser or "I" tank, not both, but they were homogenous by squadron, not necessarily by regiment. I've seen mixed cruiser regiments as late as Alamein. As for function, I believe you'll find a machine gun on a Mark VI shoots up infantry and soft skin vehicles almost as well as a machine gun on an A-13.
--Forczyk has 77 Pzkw II's on DAK strength at the start of Crusader--fewer than Pzkw III's, but more than Pzkw IV's.
--Italian tank battalions were normally Carri Medi or Carri Leggeri, not mixed.

Personal logo Dye4minis Supporting Member of TMP19 Feb 2023 10:51 a.m. PST

Best I have found is by Thomas Jentz. "Tank Combat in North Africa".

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP19 Feb 2023 11:51 a.m. PST

Some Pz II varieties lasted out the whole war in various roles.

Personal logo Doctor X Supporting Member of TMP20 Feb 2023 12:47 a.m. PST

Best I have found is by Thomas Jentz. "Tank Combat in North Africa".

+1 to this

Martin Rapier20 Feb 2023 12:52 a.m. PST

As above, you need a book(s) for this stuff. From a wargaming Pov, Frank Chadwick 'Benghazi Handicap' is excellent and covers most of your questions.

Briefly, the Vickers Lights were usually mixed with other types, although they had some close range AT capability with their HMG armament.

The Support Group in 7AD was supposed to occupy and hold ground to provide a point of manouvre for the armoured brigades. No the cruisers didn't 'run around on their own', but the brigades, which were large, did operate fairly independently. Some brigade groups had integral motor battalions.

Matildas and Valentine's were usually used for infantry support, but were sometimes used as improvised armoured regiments eg in Battleaxe.

Pz III specials were available in small numbers (19 in total) at Gazala in 1942.

Lots of Pz II. A 'typical' DAK panzer battalion would have an HQ platoon, recce platoon (Pz II), two light companies with three platoons of Pz III and one of Pz II, and a medium company with three platoons of Pz IV and one of Pz II. Exact number of platoons and companies varied with vehicle availability.

Khazi Kwarteng20 Feb 2023 8:07 a.m. PST

Thank you ,

Did the motor battalion support directly the Cruiser tank battalion/brigade as combined arms ?

HMS Exeter20 Feb 2023 7:37 p.m. PST

I crossed this sand years ago. I found the problem was that books were authoritative, but not super detailed, while board games could be super detailed, but weren't authoritative.

I spent a small fortune buying a 2 book set on British OOBs in WWII that offered little detail. The best I was able to find was the scenario book for the SPI Monster Game, Campaign for North Africa. Chapter and verse, soup to nuts, both sides, arty and armor. The only weak spot was that it didn't help much with recce unit vehicles.

Your "Combined arms" question really cuts to the heart of the war in the western desert. Tho it was entirely unintentional, the war in the desert was the crucible in which the Brits tried one combined arms model that failed, adapted, and tried again, until the Germans finally forced them to get it right.


Blutarski21 Feb 2023 11:01 a.m. PST

I can recommend some references that may be helpful -

> "Tobruk"
> "El Alamein"
> "Dilemmas of the Desert War A New Look at the Libyan Campaign"
All the above by Michael Carver -
Field Marshal Lord Carver was Chief of the Defence Staff from 1973 to 1976. In the Second World War, he served in North Africa, Italy and North-West Europe , finishing in command of an armoured brigade at the age of 29. In a subsequent distinguished career, he was successively Commander-in-Chief Far East, and Chief of the General Staff.

"Combat and Morale in the North African Campaign The Eighth Army and the Path to El Alamein"
by Jonathan Fennell -
Lecturer in Defence Studies with King's College London, at the Airmen's Command Squadron, RAF Halton.

- -

In brief, there was little or no formalized combined arms doctrine conjoining the Armor and the Infantry branches. Armor was descended from the Cavalry arm of the British Army and conducted themselves on the basis of highly mobility and independent action, whereas the infantry was often left behind in static positions. The problem that arose was that neither branch could act with full impact without the cooperation of the other. Armor would inevitably run into German anti-tank screens and lacked the attached infantry and artillery support to counter them. The infantry on the other hand, operating alone with their mass of wheeled transport and artillery train, were highly vulnerable to German armor while on the move (hence the static fortified "Box" tactics at Gazala).



Bill N21 Feb 2023 12:23 p.m. PST

Besides the Italian M13/40 were other types still used in tank battalions?

Most of Ariete's tank battalions were equipped with L3s in March of 1941. IIRC there was still one L3 battalion as late as Crusader. Italian tank battalions were also equipped with M14/41s and possibly M15/42s. Since those were updates of the M13s I am assuming that is not what you mean. To my knowledge Semoventes were not used in the tank battalions in the Western Desert.

When did the German 50mm atg appear ?

I believe 5th light had some 50mm atgs when it landed at Tripoli in 1941.

Were all early German atg 37mm ?

If by "early" you mean early Western Desert, then no. 5th Light brought some towed 50mm atgs. There were also Panzerjaeger 1s that had 47mm guns and there were the 88s which had already proven themselves as antitank weapons.

Martin Rapier22 Feb 2023 11:46 a.m. PST

The German towed AT companies were a mixture of 37mm and 50mm AT guns.

Khazi Kwarteng22 Feb 2023 11:36 p.m. PST

I have bought a couple of book recommendations and they have helped.
Tank formations cleared up.

German towed A)T were they mixed from their entry ?

Still don't really understand how the motor battalion of 7th Armoured was handled and it's exact role through out 41 ?

7th Armoured using Matilda tanks on occasion .These were cross attached ?
Did infantry combine with them when they were
used by 7th Armoured division?.

Those heroic tank charges without any support
in a cavalry style by British armour, are they true ?

Martin Rapier23 Feb 2023 1:06 a.m. PST

During Battle axe, Matilda Regiments were used as an ad hoc armoured brigade as there weren't enough Cruiser tanks. So no, they weren't used for infantry support.

The motor battalions were used in exactly the same way the Germans used their Schutzen battalions, to occupy ground taken and act as a pivot of manouvre. Half the German 'infantry' were MG battalions, singularly unsuited fir anything except holding ground.

The British just weren't very good at combining the elements of the division, so the tanks tended to wander off on their own. The AT guns were sited to protect the infantry element, not kill tanks, and the artillery was parcelled out in dribs and drabs.

So yes, British tank brigades often operated without close support from artillery, Infantry, AT guns and engineers. In the desert, the tank was king, and the Panzer Regiments also went swanning off on their own, crunching unfortunate infantry units under their tracks. They weren't as obsessed with dispersion as the British though, and were quite happy to conduct 'tank battles' from behind pakfronts.

foxbat23 Feb 2023 2:58 a.m. PST

23rd Tank Brigade made an unsupported charge at a Pak front during the 1st battle of Alamein. Out of the 140 tanks they started with, 166 had been KOed when they pulled back.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP23 Feb 2023 7:11 a.m. PST

Well technically you would include the M11/39 in an answer about Italian tanks. The 1st and 2nd Tank Battalion "M" had 37 of these tanks each. They would see combat during Operation Compass from December 1940 until February 1941 just making your 1941 time limit.

Annenim23 Feb 2023 9:04 p.m. PST

Can someone make an answer to the above questions?

dino game

AndreasB24 Feb 2023 12:43 p.m. PST

There isn't a simple answer to these numerous questions, and that is even more so as things changed quite a bit between 1941 and 1942.

For example, in CRUSADER not every armoured brigade had a motor battalion attached. Many would have a weak motor company, and fail to use it (e.g. 22 Armoured Brigade at Bir el Gobi).

After Brevity, Mk. VI lights fulfilled a number of support roles. Scout, local protection, liaison battlefield taxis. There were also a few Mk. VIc, the AA variety.

German 50mm ATG came from day one, and from late 1941 were present in low-triple digit numbers. 37mm also were delivered up to this point, and also used by the Italians alongside the Boehler 47mm. The Germans also used sPzB41, which did perform reasonably.

After COMPASS the only Italian medium tanks were M13/40 in 1941, but there were still battalions equipped with L3 light tanks until the end of the year, when they all seem to have been lost.

I have a lot of stuff on my site which you may find of interest, including some info specifically targeted at war gamers.

All the best


Khazi Kwarteng25 Feb 2023 4:36 p.m. PST

You have a brilliant blog , thank you Andreas.

An armoured brigades motor battalion,did it close support in the desert as in Normandy 3 years later.
Are there any instances of this ?
In Others words did combine with the armoured brigade in attacking or defending?

AndreasB27 Feb 2023 7:07 a.m. PST

Thanks for the compliment.

In 1941 that integration didn't exist, and the Support Group was an independent pivot point. Later in 1942 they tried it by making the Brigade the maneuver element, which was just a misbegotten idea to start with.

In fairness though, rather than infantry, in the desert the integration of tanks and artillery was the critical factor for success. Again something the British army didn't seem to understand.

All the best


Blutarski27 Feb 2023 7:19 p.m. PST

From what I have read of the period in question, another contributor to the shortage of indirect fire artillery support among British divisions was the number of 25-pdr batteries being detailed off from the artillery regiments and pressed into service as ad-hoc towed anti-tank units.


Khazi Kwarteng27 Feb 2023 11:52 p.m. PST

Thanks ,

the support/pivot group how did it function in 41/42'British armoured division in the desert ?
What was its role and any examples of what it did ?
Was any parts farmed out or did it act as own formation ?

Did the German panzer divisions use support at this time , operate with Pak fronts in defence? Or combined with any elements ?

Gus51RM28 Feb 2023 11:01 p.m. PST

I too am very interested in North Africa, 1941 to Gazala in May 1942.
3 great books to get:
Benghazi Handicap by Frank Chadwick; Tank Combat in North Africa by Thomas Jentz; Feb 1941 to Jun 41; and Rapid Fire, Guide to the NA Campaign Feb. to Jun. 1941 by Colin Rumford.
Currently I am using Chain of Command, 1:1 Skirmish level, 20mm figs mainly from AB Figures-DAK and WDF and Mirilton Italians and some French Foreign Legion from lesarmess obliees.
If you want more details leave me a message with an email contact.

Khazi Kwarteng02 Mar 2023 7:12 a.m. PST

Gus ,
I am not a supporting member so l think l can't personal message.

I have the Benghazi book .
I will game grand tactical using 8/10mm.
So l want lots of formations and to act together.
Any info l would be very grateful.

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