The British Army Adapts to American Warfare

Violent confrontation at Bunker Hill

In America the evasion of the sugar tax was so successful that Parliament lowered the tax, in hope of undercutting smugglers’ profits, but squandered the goodwill by vigorous efforts to collect the lower tax. Colonial consumers recognised that the ultimate aim was to establish a precedent for more taxes later on. A national boycott made everyone aware that the colonies had to stand together, as they later did against the Stamp Tax; and the symbolic protest against the Tea Tax led to Americans becoming a nation of coffee drinkers.

At what became known as the Boston Tea Party, men disguised as Indians boarded ships with cheap tea belonging to the East India Company and dumped it into the harbour. Parliament was so outraged that it sent regulars to occupy Boston and then closed the harbour, effectively shutting the economy down. American militia units began to drill, and threats were made against anyone speaking on behalf of the crown.

This led eventually to a sortie from Boston to seize American weapons and gunpowder, then to a violent confrontation at Bunker Hill. Sending redcoats straight at the crude colonial fortification overlooking Boston was a mistake, but General William Howe (1729-1814) had assumed that Americans would never stand against regulars; he sent British regulars to chase them away.

Howe learned from the engagement not to attack American earthworks head on again—Americans lacked the training and self-confidence to take on British formations in the field, but they knew how to dig, and once in their trenches, they knew how to hold them.

The common assumption that the British army stubbornly held to traditional line tactics while fighting in America—and therefore lost key battles such as Saratoga—has been challenged by Matthew Spring in With Zeal and Bayonets Only, the British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-83. General Howe’s means of countering American earthworks was to manoeuvre so that when his men came in on the flank, the defenders had to come out and fight, or run away, or be slaughtered. Running was the usual choice. Militiamen’s reluctance to stand firm against redcoats left George Washington in such fury that several times he threw his hat to the ground, yelling at the fleeing men, and courting death in their place.

Washington’s response to the British flanking attacks was to build longer and more elaborate defensive lines, to replace his militia units with Continentals as much as he could, and to withdraw when he saw his men wavering. If he could get the British units to stop and exchange fire, his Continentals could inflict almost as many casualties as they took, and American riflemen could pick off the officers. This was something Howe could not afford—his men were both difficult to recruit and expensive to replace. America, in contrast, had a ‘bottomless’ supply of manpower, and at the war went on more and more men enlisted in the ranks of the Continental Army or state militias. Howe had expected loyalists to join him in large numbers. That did not happen.

Eventually, the British developed an effective response to the American strategy of entrenchment. This was to emphasise light infantry tactics that were rarely used in the European wars. Each regiment (roughly 400 men) was divided into ten companies, two being flank companies which served as light infantry; as the war went, more and more companies were trained to fight a more open order in ranks only two deep, to take shelter behind trees when necessary, and to move swiftly through woods. The critical moment came when the redcoats were forty yards away, when they would fire a quick volley and charge at a run with their bayonets. This almost always flushed the Americans out of even well-designed trench works. The speed and daring were intimidating, and the redcoats’ practice of bayoneting the wounded and those who tried to surrender made them greatly feared. The redcoats were especially brutal toward riflemen, whose marksmanship killed so many of their comrades.

One problem, not mentioned by Spring, was that men in trenches knew they would be slaughtered once redcoats began thrusting bayonets down at them. Forty years before, Maurice de Saxe, the foremost French marshal, had his men build walls of logs or stone to avoid this fate. A fence of logs wasn’t always practical in America, but every man knew how to use a shovel. (For more on this, read my Bayonets and Scimitars.)

The redcoats were not uniformly veterans, but they had an experienced core that brought recruits along quickly, and since recruits in America could not leave the army to tend crops or care for their families, within months they knew their business. As a result, they were much better trained than the Americans, and their belief in their invincibility made them confident.

This is important because although the redcoats won almost every pitched battle with the Americans, the war was lost from the beginning. Politicians and generals misread the depth of American dissatisfaction, and every effort they made to coerce the colonials antagonised them more. General Howe had rejected advice to make war on the American people because that would have turned the whole seaboard into a gigantic Ireland, where one-third of the army was usually stationed to keep the populace from rising. America was too big for that; the government could not afford it.

Since Howe and his successors could not afford to lose men, they preferred manoeuvre to frontal assaults. This frustrated junior officers and his Hessian allies, who yearned for a chance to finish off the Yankees in one great battle; all too often they watched Howe manoeuvre into a position to attack at dawn, only to find the well-constructed fortifications abandoned when morning came.

The redcoats adapted to the challenges of the American woodlands, the lack of roads, and insufficient local foodstuffs, but they were never able to finish off the American armies, which kept coming back at them until finally they were able to meet them on more equal terms.

Spring’s account puts yet another end to the myth of the Minuteman being equal to a trained professional. ‘Another end’ is the way to say it because the myth keeps coming back again and again. Washington had proved that an effective army had to be trained and equipped in much the same way that European armies were organised, because there had to be a final battlefield victory. With French help he achieved this in 1781 at Yorktown. An America without an army would be at the mercy of foreign invasion and Indian attack forever. And foreign troops exposed to guerrilla tactics can become angry and vengeful in a hurry, much as the Indians already were.

Why Independence was Necessary

Too often historians think the American Revolution was about taxes. In reality it was because Americans refused to be reduced to second class subjects. Anthony Scotti, Jr’s powerful short book, Brutal Virtue, the Myth and Reality of Banastre Tarleton, demonstrated this while trying to prove the opposite. The name Tarleton probably means little to readers outside of South Carolina, but few citizens of that southern state would fail to recognise it.

Movie-goers of 2000 might have seen The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson, in which the hero tried to remain neutral in the conflict, but was inevitably drawn in by Tarleton’s misdeeds. This reflected Scotti’s argument that patriotic propagandists used him to illustrate why Americans had to join the fight, but that Tarleton was really no worse than anyone else. This perhaps credits patriot propagandists too much. Those who knew Tarleton best either loved him or hated him; he was lucky not to have been hanged.

Another movie, Sweet Liberty (1986), made an additional point. A comedy written and directed by Alan Alda (who also had the lead role except when being upstaged by Michael Caine and Michelle Pfeiffer), the story centred on a small-college historian who had written a scholarly study of Tarleton’s famous meeting with Mrs. Mary Slocomb, and who was frustrated by the director’s efforts to turn that into a love story. When Tarleton came to Mrs. Slocomb’s farm to burn it, he asked where her husband was and whether he was a rebel. She retorted, ‘He is in the army of his country, and fighting against our invaders, and therefore not a rebel.’

The banter apparently lasted for most of the several days that Tarleton rested his men at her farm. She cooperated to the extent of feeding and housing his men, but probably not by sharing her bed. He responded to her courtesy by not burning her house and barns.

Every observer of the colonial scene agreed that South Carolina and Georgia were more loyalist than the other colonies. This was partly because the plantation owners with numerous slaves and the commercial class selling tobacco, rice and indigo saw themselves much like English nobility and merchant capitalists. However, without British armed assistance, the loyalists could not challenge patriot control of politics.

This changed when Cornwallis was sent to Charles Towne (as it was known then) with 14,000 redcoats and Hessians; after a long siege he forced General Benjamin Lincoln to surrender the city and his 5,000 men. It was the greatest defeat the Americans had suffered yet—the loss of an entire army.

Cornwallis set out to occupy the countryside, but he found it difficult to locate guerilla forces such as those of the Swamp Fox, Francis Marion. His answer to this problem was to recruit loyalists for a mixed light cavalry and mounted infantry body that he called the British Legion; he named as commander the brightest cavalry officer in the army, young Banastre Tarleton.

The British Legion became famed (or infamous) for its long, swift marches and deadly attacks. It would fall on patriot forces at dawn, slaughtering the sleepy men, or charge unsteady units so suddenly that the men would fly for their lives. Not that many got away. No man on foot can outrun a horse. Tarleton would demand that patriot regiments surrender, and if they did not, his men would kill everyone they caught. In short, like the French suppressing Algerian rebels between 1954 and 1962, his operations were a model of tactical efficiency, but a strategic blunder.

The green uniforms that the British Legion wore were a symbol of pride, but also of what was wrong with British policy. Britons chose to believe that all Americans were dirty, lazy and cowardly. Therefore, they were not worthy of holding government posts or being allowed to buy commissions in the army. They were not even allowed to wear red coats.

A far-sighted government would have made George Washington into a professional officer and rich Americans into aristocrats. But no, the government saw Americans as the equivalent of the Irish, the Scots, and South Asian Indians, that is, as a lower class of human being. When Americans complained that taxation policies and changing the royal charters were reducing them to slaves (something they knew something about), more than a few Britons thought that would be a good thing.

Benjamin Franklin had gone to London as a lobbyist for the government of the Pennsylvania Colony. World-renowned scientist, philosopher and humourist, honoured by British universities, he was nevertheless repeatedly humiliated by the government ministers. Before he returned to America he wrote a satirical tract, ‘Rules by Which a Great Empire May Be Reduced to a Small One.’

The lesson is a hard one, easily understood but hard to apply when one sees the rudeness of frontier conditions and the seeming incompetence of the people there, but it is a manner of common courtesy—treat people with respect. This is especially difficult for those who consider themselves aristocrats, far above the common people.

Machiavelli warned princes not to make themselves hated. Cruelty is well used if applied decisively for a short period, then stopped. Secure your position and use your power to benefit your subjects. In that way your subject will be doubly thankful—first for having ended the violence, then for the benefits of peace and a few royal favours. The British lacked an army equipped to follow this path, so they began mildly and become more ruthless as the years passed. George III would have been better off if he had followed the advice of his Whig critics, to leave the Americans alone.

Military victories cannot win a peace alone. Without either a large occupation army or a sizeable number of loyalists who can take over the governance of the region, no outside army can hold a people down forever. There is always some other outside army and navy that will come to the aid of the rebels that inevitably arise.

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Panzer II Part I

Panzer II

The Panzer II was the common name for a family of German tanks used in World War II. The official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen II (abbreviated PzKpfw II). Although the vehicle had originally been designed as a stopgap while more advanced tanks were developed, it nonetheless went on to play an important role in the early years of World War II, during the Polish and French campaigns. By the end of 1942 it had been largely removed from front line service, and production of the tank itself ceased by 1943. Its chassis remained in use as the basis of several other armored vehicles.

History

In 1934, delays in the design and production of the Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks were becoming apparent. Designs for a stopgap tank were solicited from Krupp, MAN, Henschel, and Daimler-Benz. The final design was based on the Panzer I, but larger, and with a turret mounting a 20 mm anti-tank gun. Production began in 1935, but it took another eighteen months for the first combat-ready tank to be delivered.

The Panzer II was the most numerous tank in the German Panzer divisions beginning with the invasion of France, until it was supplemented by the Panzer III and IV in 1940/41. Afterwards, it was used to great effect as a reconnaissance tank.

The Panzer II was used in the German campaigns in Poland, France, the Low Countries, Denmark, Norway, North Africa and the Eastern Front. After being removed from front-line duty, it was used for training and on secondary fronts. The chassis was used for a number of self-propelled guns including the Wespe and Marder II.

Design

Armor

The Panzer II was designed before the experience of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 showed that shell-proof armor was required for tanks to survive on a modern battlefield. Prior to that, armor was designed to stop machine gun fire and High Explosive shell fragments.

The Panzer II A, B, and C had 14 mm of slightly sloped homogenous steel armor on the sides, front, and back, with 10 mm of armor on the top and bottom. Many IIC were given increased armor in the front. Starting with the D model, the front armor was increased to 30 mm. The Model F had 35 mm front armour and 20 mm side armor.

This armor could be penetrated by towed antitank weapons such as the Soviet 45mm and French canon de 25 and canon de 47.

Armament

Most tank versions of the Panzer II were armed with a 2 cm KwK 30 55 calibers long cannon. Some later versions used the 2 cm KwK 38 L/55 which was similar. This cannon was based on the 2 cm FlaK 30 anti-aircraft gun, and was capable of firing at a rate of 600 rounds per minute (280 rounds per minute sustained). The Panzer II also had a 7.92 mm Maschinengewehr 34 machine gun mounted coaxially with the main gun.

The 2 cm cannon proved to be ineffective against many Allied tanks, and experiments were made towards replacing it with a 37 mm cannon, but nothing came of this. Prototypes were built with a 50 mm tank gun, but by then the Panzer II had outlived its usefulness as a tank regardless of armament. Greater success was had by replacing the standard armor-piercing explosive ammunition with tungsten cored solid ammunition, but due to material shortages this ammunition was in chronically short supply.

Later development into a self-propelled gun carriage saw the mounting of a 5 cm PaK 38 antitank gun, but this was seen as insufficient for the time, and the larger 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) was installed as an effective stop-gap. The main production antitank version was fitted with a 7.5 cm PaK 40 which was very effective. Artillery mounting began with a few 15 cm sIG 33 heavy infantry guns, but most effective was the 10.5 cm leFH 18, for which the Panzer II chassis became the primary carriage for the war. Most of these versions retained a pintle mounted 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun for defense against infantry and air attack.

Mobility

All production versions of the Panzer II were fitted with a 140 PS, gasoline-fuelled six-cylinder Maybach HL 62 TRM engine and ZF transmissions. Models A, B, and C had a top speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). Models D and E had a Christie suspension and a better transmission, giving a top road speed of 55 km/h (33 mph) but the cross country speed was much lower than previous models, so the Model F reverted back to the previous leaf spring type suspension. All versions had a range of 200 km (120 mi).

Crew

The Panzer II had a crew of three men. The driver sat in the forward hull. The commander sat in a seat in the turret, and was responsible for aiming and firing the guns, while a loader/radio operator stood on the floor of the tank under the turret.

Variants

Development and limited production models

Panzer II Ausf. a (PzKpfw IIa)

Not to be confused with the later Ausf. A (the sole difference being the capitalization of the letter A), the Ausf. a was the first limited production version of the Panzer II to be built, and was subdivided into three sub-variants. The Ausf. a/1 was initially built with a cast idler wheel with rubber tire, but this was replaced after ten production examples with a welded part. The Ausf. a/2 improved engine access issues. The Ausf. a/3 included improved suspension and engine cooling. In general, the specifications for the Ausf. a models was similar, and a total of 75 were produced from May 1936 to February 1937 by Daimler-Benz and MAN. The Ausf. a was considered the 1 Serie under the LaS 100 name.[citation needed]

Specifications

  • Crew: 3
  • Engine: Maybach HL57TR with 6 gear transmission plus reverse
  • Weight: 7.6 tonnes
  • Dimensions: 4.38 m(l) x 2.14 m(w) x 1.95 m(h)
  • Speed: 40 km/h
  • Range: 200 km
  • Communications: FuG5 radio
  • Primary armament: 2 cm KwK 30 L/55 gun with TZF4 gun sight, turret mounted
  • Secondary armament: MG34 7.92 mm machine gun, coaxially mounted
  • Ammunition: 180 20 mm and 2,250 7.92 mm carried
  • Turret: 360° hand traverse with elevation of +20° and depression to -9.5°
  • Armour: 13 mm front, side, and rear; 8 mm top; 5 mm bottom

Panzer II Ausf. b (PzKpfw IIb)

Again, not to be confused with the later Ausf. B, the Ausf. b was a second limited production series embodying further developments, primarily a heavy reworking of suspension components resulting in a wider track and a longer hull. Length was increased to 4.76 m but width and height were unchanged. Additionally, a Maybach HL62TR engine was used with new drivetrain components to match. Deck armor for the superstructure and turret roof was increased to 10–12 mm. Total weight increased to 7.9 tonnes. Twenty-five were built by Daimler-Benz and MAN in February and March 1937.

Panzer II Ausf. c (PzKpfw IIc)

As the last of the developmental limited production series of Panzer IIs, the Ausf. c came very close to matching the mass production configuration, with a major change to the suspension with the replacement of the six small road wheels with five larger independently sprung road wheels and an additional return roller bringing that total to four. The tracks were further modified and the fenders widened. Total length was increased to 4.81 m and width to 2.22 m, while height was still about 1.99 m. At least 25 of this model were produced from March through July 1937.

Panzer II Ausf. A (PzKpfw IIA)

The first true production model, the Ausf. A included an armor upgrade to 14.5 mm on all sides, as well as a 14.5 mm floor plate, and an improved transmission. The Ausf. A entered production in July 1937.

Panzer II Ausf. B (PzKpfw IIB)

Introducing only minimal changes to the Ausf. A, the Ausf. B superseded it in production from December 1937.

Panzer II Ausf. C (PzKpfw IIC)

Few minor changes were made in the Ausf. C version, which became the standard production model from June 1938 through April 1940. A total of 1,113 examples of Ausf. c, A, B, and C tanks were built from March 1937 through April 1940 by Alkett, FAMO, Daimler-Benz, Henschel, MAN, MIAG, and Wegmann. These models were almost identical and were used in service interchangeably. This was the most widespread tank version of the Panzer II and performed the majority of the tank’s service in the Panzer units during the war. Earlier versions of Ausf. C have rounded hull front, but many vehicles of Ausf. C were up-armored to fight in France. These have extra armors bolted on the turret front and super structure front. Also up-armored versions have angled front hull like that of Ausf.F. Some were also retro-fitted with commander’s cupolas.

Panzer II Ausf. F (PzKpfw IIF)

Continuing the conventional design of the Ausf. C, the Ausf. F was designed as a reconnaissance tank and served in the same role as the earlier models. The superstructure front was made from a single piece armor plate with a redesigned visor. Also a dummy visor was placed next to it to reduce anti-tank rifle bullets hitting the real visor. The hull was redesigned with a flat 35 mm plate on its front, and armor of the superstructure and turret were built up to 30 mm on the front with 15 mm to the sides and rear. There was some minor alteration of the suspension and a new commander’s cupola as well. Weight was increased to 9.5 tonnes. 524 were built from March 1941 to December 1942 as the final major tank version of the Panzer II series.

Panzer II Ausf. D (PzKpfw IID)

With a completely new Christie suspension with four road wheels, the Ausf. D was developed as a cavalry tank for use in the pursuit and reconnaissance roles. Only the turret was the same as the Ausf. C model, with a new hull and superstructure design and the use of a Maybach HL62TRM engine driving a seven-gear transmission (plus reverse). The design was shorter (4.65 m) but wider (2.3 m) and taller (2.06 m) than the Ausf. C. Speed was increased to 55 km/h. A total of 143 Ausf. D and Ausf. E tanks were built from May 1938 through August 1939 by MAN, and they served in Poland. They were withdrawn in March 1940 for conversion to other types after proving to have poor off road performance.

Panzer II Ausf. E (PzKpfw IIE)

Similar to the Ausf. D, the Ausf. E improved some small items of the suspension, but was otherwise similar and served alongside the Ausf. D.

Panzer II Part II

Panzer II Ausf. J (PzKpfw IIJ)

Continued development of the reconnaissance tank concept led to the much up-armored Ausf. J, which used the same concept as the PzKpfw IF of the same period, under the experimental designation VK1601. Heavier armor was added, bringing protection up to 80 mm on the front and 50 mm to the sides and rear, with 25 mm roof and floor plates, increasing total weight to 18 tonnes. Equipped with the same Maybach HL45P as the PzKpfw IF, top speed was reduced to 31 km/h. Primary armament was the 2 cm KwK 38 L/55 gun. 22 were produced by MAN between April and December 1942, and seven were issued to the 12th Panzer Division on the Eastern Front.

Panzerkampfwagen II ohne Aufbau

One use for obsolete Panzer II tanks which had their turrets removed for use in fortifications was as utility carriers. A number of chassis not used for conversion to self-propelled guns were instead handed over to the Engineers for use as personnel and equipment carriers.

Panzer II Flamm

Based on the same suspension as the Ausf. D and Ausf. E tank versions, the Flamm (also known as “Flamingo”)used a new turret mounting a single MG34 machine gun, and two remotely controlled flamethrowers mounted in small turrets at each front corner of the vehicle. Each flamethrower could cover the front 180° arc, while the turret traversed 360°.

The flamethrowers were supplied with 320 litres of fuel and four tanks of compressed nitrogen. The nitrogen tanks were built into armored boxes along each side of the superstructure. Armor was 30 mm to the front and 14.5 mm to the side and rear, although the turret was increased to 20 mm at the sides and rear.

Total weight was 12 tonnes and dimensions were increased to a length of 4.9 m and width of 2.4 m although it was a bit shorter at 1.85 m tall. A FuG2 radio was carried. Two sub-variants existed: the Ausf. A and Ausf. B which differed only in minor suspension components.

One hundred and fifty-five Flamm vehicles were built from January 1940 through March 1942. These were mostly on new chassis but 43 were on used Ausf. D and Ausf. E chassis. The Flamm was deployed in the USSR but was not very successful due to its limited armor, and survivors were soon withdrawn for conversion in December 1941.

5 cm PaK 38 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II

Conceived along the same lines as the Marder II, the 5 cm PaK 38 was an expedient solution to mount the 50 mm antitank gun on the Panzer II chassis. However, the much greater effectiveness of the 75 mm antitank gun made this option less desirable and it is not known how many field modifications were made to this effect.

7.62 cm PaK 36(r) auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf. D (Sd.Kfz. 132)

After a lack of success with conventional and flame tank variants on the Christie chassis, it was decided to use the remaining chassis to mount captured Soviet antitank guns. The hull and suspension was unmodified from the earlier models, but the superstructure was built up to provide a large fighting compartment on top of which was mounted a Soviet 76.2 mm antitank gun, which, while not turreted, did have significant traverse. Only developed as an interim solution, the vehicle was clearly too tall and poorly protected, but had a powerful weapon and was better than what the Germans had at the time.

7.5 cm PaK 40 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II (Marder II) (Sd.Kfz. 131)

While the 7.62 cm PaK 36(r) was a good stopgap measure, the 7.5 cm PaK 40 mounted on the tank chassis of the Ausf. F resulted in a better overall fighting machine. New production amounted to 576 examples from June 1942 to June 1943 as well as the conversion of 75 tanks after new production had stopped. The work was done by Daimler-Benz, FAMO, and MAN. A much improved superstructure for the 7.62 cm mounting was built giving a lower profile. The Marder II became a key piece of equipment and served with the Germans on all fronts through the end of the war.

Leichte Feldhaubitze 18 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II (Wespe)

After the development of the Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II for mounting the sIG 33, Alkett designed a version mounting a 10.5 cm leichte Feldhaubitze 18/2 field howitzer in a built-up superstructure. The Panzer II proved an efficient chassis for this weapon and it became the only widely produced self-propelled 105 mm howitzer for Germany. Between February 1943 and June 1944, 676 were built by FAMO and it served with German forces on all major fronts.

Munitions Selbstfahrlafette auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II

To support the Wespe in operation, a number of Wespe chassis were completed without installation of the howitzer, instead functioning as ammunition carriers. They carried 90 rounds of 105 mm caliber. 159 were produced alongside the Wespe. These could be converted by installation of the leFH 18 in the field if needed.

Panzerkampfwagen II mit Schwimmkörper

One of Germany’s first attempts at developing an amphibious tank, the Schwimmkörper was a device built by Gebr Sachsenberg which consisted of two large pontoons that attached to either side of a Panzer II tank. The tanks were specially sealed and some modification to the engine exhaust and cooling was needed. The pontoons were detachable. The modified tanks were issued to the 18th Panzer Regiment which was formed in 1940. However, with cancellation of Operation Sealion, the plan to invade England, the tanks were used in the conventional manner by the regiment on the Eastern Front.

Panzer II Ausf. L (PzKpfw IIL) “Luchs”

A light reconnaissance tank, the Ausf. L was the only Panzer II design with the overlapping/interleaved road wheels and “slack track” configuration to enter series production, with 100 being built from September 1943 to January 1944 in addition to conversion of the four Ausf. M tanks. Originally given the experimental designation VK 1303, it was adopted under the alternate name Panzerspähwagen II and given the popular name Luchs (Lynx). The Lynx was larger than the Ausf. G in most dimensions (length 4.63 m; height 2.21 m; width 2.48 m). It was equipped with a six speed transmission (plus reverse), and could reach a speed of 60 km/h with a range of 290 km. The FuG12 and FuG Spr a radios were installed, while 330 rounds of 20 mm and 2,250 rounds of 7.92 mm ammunition were carried. Total vehicle weight was 11.8 tonnes.

LIMITED PRODUCTION, EXPERIMENTS AND PROTOTYPES

Panzer II Ausf. G (PzKpfw IIG)

The fourth and final suspension configuration used for the Panzer II tanks was the five overlapping road wheel configuration termed Schachtellaufwerk by the Germans. This was used as the basis for the redesign of the Panzer II into a reconnaissance tank with high speed and good off-road performance. The Ausf. G was the first Panzer II to use this configuration, and was developed with the experimental designation VK901. There is no record of the Ausf. G being issued to combat units, and only twelve full vehicles were built from April 1941 to February 1942 by MAN. The turrets were subsequently issued for use in fortifications.

Specifications

  • Crew: 3
  • Engine: Maybach HL66P driving a five speed transmission (plus reverse)
  • Weight: 10.5 tonnes
  • Dimensions: length 4.24 m; width 2.38 m; height 2.05 m
  • Performance: speed 50 km/h; range 200 km
  • Main armament: 7.92×94 mm MG141 automatic rifle, turret mounted with TZF10 sight
  • Secondary armament: 7.92 mm MG34 machine gun, coaxially mounted
  • Turret: 360° hand traverse
  • Armor: 30 mm front, 15 mm sides and rear

Panzer II Ausf. H (PzKpfw IIH)

Given experimental designation VK903, the Ausf. H was intended as the production model of the Ausf. G, with armor for the sides and rear increased to 20 mm and a new four speed transmission (plus reverse) similar to that of the PzKpfw 38(t) nA. Only prototypes were ever completed by the time of cancellation in September 1942.

5 cm PaK 38 auf Panzerkampfwagen II

Planned as a light tank destroyer, the first two prototypes were delivered in 1942 but by then their 50 mm gun was not sufficient and the program was canceled in favor of 75 mm weapons.

Brückenleger auf Panzerkampfwagen II

After failed attempts to use the Panzer I as a chassis for a bridge layer, work moved to the Panzer II, led by Magirus. It is not known how many of these conversions were made, but four were known to have been in service with the 7th Panzer Division in May 1940.

15 cm sIG 33 auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II (Sf)

One of the first gun mount variants of the Panzer II design was to emplace a 15 cm sIG 33 heavy infantry gun on a turretless Panzer II chassis. The prototype utilized an Ausf. B tank chassis, but it was quickly realized that it was not sufficient for the mounting. A new, longer chassis incorporating an extra road wheel was designed and built, named the Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen II. An open-topped 15 mm thick armored superstructure sufficient against small arms and shrapnel was provided around the gun. This was not high enough to give full protection for the crew while manning the gun, although they were still covered directly to the front by the tall gun shield. Only 12 were built in November and December 1941. These served with the 707th and 708th Heavy Infantry Gun Companies in North Africa until their destruction in 1943.

Bergepanzerwagen auf Panzerkampfwagen II Ausf. J

A single example of an Ausf. J with a jib in place of its turret was found operating as an armored recovery vehicle. There is no record of an official program for this vehicle.

Panzer Selbstfahrlafette 1c

Developed in prototype form only, this was one of three abortive attempts to use the Panzer II chassis for mounting a 5 cm PaK 38 gun, this time on the chassis of the Ausf. G. Two examples were produced which had similar weight to the tank version, and both were put in front-line service, but production was not undertaken as priority was given to heavier armed models.

Panzer II Ausf. M (PzKpfw IIM)

Using the same chassis as the Ausf. H, the Ausf. M replaced the turret with a larger, open-topped turret containing a 5 cm KwK 39/1 gun. Four were built by MAN in August 1942, but did not see service.

VK1602 Leopard

The VK1602 was intended as a 5 cm KwK39-armed replacement for the Ausf. L, with a Maybach HL157P engine driving an eight speed transmission (plus reverse). While the hull was based on that of the PzKpfw IIJ, it was redesigned after the PzKpfw V Panther, most noticeably with the introduction of fully sloped frontal armor. Two versions were initially planned, a lighter, faster 18 ton variant and a slower, 26 ton vehicle; the former was abandoned at an early stage. Subsequently, work on the first prototype was abandoned when it was determined that the vehicle was under-armed for its weight, and versions of the PzKpfw IV and -V could serve just as well in the reconnaissance role while being more capable of defending themselves. This vehicle never received an official Panzerkampfwagen title, but it would have been called the “Leopard” had it entered production. Its turret design was adopted for the SdKfz 234/2 Puma.

Development of the Hoplite Structure

A shift in ancient Greek social and political organization resulted in the emergence of the hoplite military structure, which represented the land- owning classes with a stake in society, replacing the aristocratic military caste that preceded it. The Greek Dark Ages (1200-1800 BCE) had been characterized by horse-mounted warriors representing the wealthier strata of Greek society. The hoplite reform that emerged at the end of this period resulted in the inclusion of citizen- farmers of the evolving city-states, which while granting political representation also required military obligations for the defense of the state. The hoplite structure also created new tactical military strategies exemplified by the phalanx.

For 300 years, between approximately 650 and 350 BCE, the hoplite military structure dominated the Greek world. During this period, no other military tactic was able to engage the Greek phalanx effectively. The phalanx consisted of a close formation of heavily armed warriors, characterized by their round shields known as hoplons. They also carried a long spear, usually as long as the height of the soldier. In terms of armor, they would have a breastplate, which made them vulnerable at the neck and at the groin. It did not provide any protection for the back. Hoplites would also have greaves to protect their legs, from their kneecaps to their ankles. A Corinthian helmet would cover most of their face but would allow limited eyesight for close combat. Leather padding would create a level of protection for the hoplite, but a strong enough impact could still cause considerable bodily harm.

The main difference between the hoplite phalanx and previous and subsequent military procedures in ancient Greek tactical formations is the efficient combination of military service with the civilian sense of duty to the nation-state. The inclusive and egalitarian nature of the phalanx placed friends, family, and locals fighting for the defense of the community and for esprit de corps. Rather than reliance on a caste of elites fighting in a small-scale engagement, the phalanx pitted citizen-soldiers from one polis (city-state) against another. The auxiliary forces in the form of archers and skirmishers were typically formed from the lower strata of the city-states and did not command much respect in the hoplite ranks.

Distinctive military traditions emerged as a result of the development of the hoplite organization. Among the most famous example is the city- state of Sparta, renowned for the military prowess and the lifelong commitment of its hoplites. Young boys would enter military training at the age of five and carry on in military life past middle age. The spirit of fighting for the honor and glory not only of the city-state but also for family honor was important for Spartans. The weight of the armor necessitated Spartans to maintain a proper physique, which resulted in intense physical preparedness in the form of gymnastics and an intense exercise regime. Strength and agility were necessary to be able to carry heavy armor while engaging in battle. Other Greek city-states maintained comparable rituals to those of the Spartans in regard to physical preparedness.

Bibliography Hanson, Victor Davis, ed. Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience. New York: Routledge, 1991. Lendon, J. E. Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity. New Haven, CT: Princeton University Press, 2005. Martin, Thomas R. Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.

The Nature of Hoplite Combat

The Greek Military Revolution I

The Greek Military Revolution II

Nineteenth-Century Military Theory-Clausewitz and de Jomini

Napoleon on Military Education Napoleon was a great believer in a formal military education and, unlike most of his contemporaries, believed that it went beyond the mechanics of laying guns or building fortifications. Whereas most nations were content to focus on the technical skills in their service schools, Napoleon stated: “Tactics, the evolutions, the science of the engineer and of the artillerist can be learned in treatises, much like geometry, but the higher art of war is acquired only through the study of history of the wars and battles of the Great Captains, and from experience.” The formal study of military history thus became a central theme in the service academies of the empire.

HIS695160 Helmuth Carl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, 1898 (oil on canvas) by Lenbach, Franz Seraph von (1836-1904); 85.5×69.5 cm; Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Germany; (add.info.: Helmuth Carl Bernhard Graf von Moltke (1800-1891)
); © DHM; German, out of copyright

Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (1800-1891), chief of the Prussian General Staff during 1857-1888, organized and oversaw the German triumph over France. His preparations for war in the late 1860s, which gave the Prussian army strategic and tactical command methods to fight on broad fronts, enabled Prussia and its German allies to mobilize with an unprecedented speed and efficiency in the war with France. This combined with superior tactics and artillery provided an advantage that the French could not overcome. Von Moltke also oversaw actual field operations, including the siege of Paris. His clashes with Bismarck about the actual role of the civilian leadership in wartime offered a foreshadowing of far more serious civil-military clashes among German leaders during World War I.

In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, military theorists attempted to unlock the secrets of Napoleon’s success and to understand the nature of war in light of the changes that those years had wrought. If Napoleon’s genius could be understood, it was hoped, it could be emulated, and future generals could achieve the same victories. Explanations for Napoleon’s success came to be broadly divided into two groups, whose leading theorists were Antoine-Henri de Jomini (1779-1869) and Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1831).

Jomini, born in Switzerland, served in Napoleon’s army as a staff officer under French Marshal Michel Ney from 1802 until 1813, when he defected to the Russian army and was given the rank of lieutenant general prior to the Battle of Leipzig. Jomini’s theories on war were distilled in his most famous work, Précis de l’Art de la Guerre (Summary on the Art of War), published in 1838, although his ideas had changed little from his first writings on military strategy in 1803. He argued that wars could be explained rationally and that they could be understood by a simple formula that he felt was derived from Napoleon’s methods of warfare. The key to victory was offensive action to combine superior forces against weaker enemy forces at a decisive point. For Jomini, war was a scientific enterprise best understood on scientific principles. Such a focus excluded social, political, and logistical factors and also ignored the human component of war, such as the potential for human error. For Jomini, war was a limited exercise that would be decided by simple decisive actions in battle. Thus, any country could match Napoleon’s success simply by adopting his methods on the battlefield. Jomini’s theories had an appeal to the conservative states that reasserted themselves after 1815, as they were eager to learn the secrets of Napoleon’s military success without having to also adopt the social and political changes that the French Revolution had set in motion.

Clausewitz was a Prussian officer who, after a series of Prussian defeats at the hands of Napoleon, was a leading reformer of the Prussian army between 1807 and 1811. When King Fredrick William III of Prussia bowed to Napoleon’s demands for assistance with his invasion of Russia, Clausewitz and other reformers resigned their commissions to assist the Russians. After aiding the liberation of Prussia, Clausewitz was made the director of the Prussian war academy, a post he held until 1830, a year before his death in 1831. His most famous work, Vom Kriege (On War), was published posthumously by his widow in 1832.

Clausewitz’s theories were in many ways fundamentally opposed to those of Jomini. Whereas Jomini narrowly focused on the battlefield, Clausewitz argued that war could not be separated from social, political, and cultural factors. No longer could war be the exclusive preserve of a narrow band of professionals. The Napoleonic Wars had shown that war would now involve the common people of the country as well through nationalist enthusiasm and mass recruitment. Since war now had a greater capacity for escalation and involved entire populations clashing with each other, it was imperative that political leaders enter into war with specific objectives. War itself was not to be seen as an end but rather as the means to the achievement of political goals. Moreover, in contrast to Jomini’s scientific and rational principles, Clausewitz emphasized modern war’s chaotic nature. Wars and battles were uncertain and unpredictable and were waged by men who were subject to the full range of human flaws, to say nothing of the fog of war itself. Thus the morale of soldiers and officers was vital in order to push forward to victory despite the human errors and confusion that could occur on the battlefield. According to Clausewitz, although war should only be entered into with specific objectives, once it began it had to be waged thoroughly and ruthlessly. The enemy’s armies had to be confronted and destroyed, the enemy’s capital occupied, and its government and people brought to their knees. In essence, modern warfare involved unlimited means to limited ends.

In the first decades after the Napoleonic Wars, Jomini’s theories held sway over military strategists, influencing the generalship in such conflicts as the American Civil War. However, the string of Prussian victories in the late 1860s and early 1870s, culminating in the triumph over France in 1870-1871, saw the emergence of Clausewitz. Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891), the Prussian chief of the General Staff and the architect of Prussia’s victories, had been a student of Clausewitz at the Prussian war academy and had adopted Clausewitz’s theories in his strategies and in his reorganization of the Prussian army. By training officers to think independently and to act as they felt appropriate to further the overall strategic aim, each element of the army would be able to coordinate actions without explicit direction from the high command. This decentralization of the command structure was a means by which the disorder of the battlefield could be overcome. The other major powers were eager to unlock the key of the Prussian victories and turned to Clausewitz’s theories on war. Thus since the 1870s Jomini’s theories have been almost entirely forgotten, while Clausewitz has remained at the forefront of thinking on war into the twenty-first century.

Bibliography Gat, Azar. The Development of Military Thought: The Nineteenth Century. Oxford, UK: Claren- don, 1992. Paret, Peter. Clausewitz and the State. Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1976.

Improving the B.E.2c

Ongoing research at Farnborough revealed that wings with outwardly raked tips were, at the speeds at which aeroplanes then operated, considerably more efficient than any other wing tip shape. Similarly, it was known if wings were superimposed as in a biplane, each affected the efficiency of the other reducing lift and increasing induced drag. Yet the ideal arrangement, the monoplane, if employing the shallow aerofoil sections of the day, required so much additional bracing to maintain rigidity that any aerodynamic advantage was lost. The best compromise was to reduce the span of the lower wing, eliminating struts and wires, and to increase the span of the upper wings, bracing the overhang from kingposts.

A new variant, the B.E.2e, was designed with a new, smaller horizontal tail and with wings following the new arrangement, the span of the upper wing increased by four feet and that of the lower wing reduced by six feet. The wings were rigged at a constant angle of incidence without any washout as the new raked tips were thought sufficient to prevent wing tip stalling. The ply covering to the top and bottom of the fuselage was eliminated and wire bracing substituted. Some fuselage members were changed from ash to steel tube, principally to alleviate problems experienced in obtaining sufficient supplies of good quality ash.

In February 1916, B.E.2c, 4111, was test flown fitted with the new wings and the improvement in both speed and climb was quite dramatic. Lateral control was considered to be ‘very much better’ and landing ‘more easy’. The prototype was first tested fitted with an experimental up-rated RAF1b engine, achieving a top speed of 97 mph, boosting expectations of its improved performance. Since it was decided that this engine was not to be put into production, 4111 was fitted with a standard production 90-hp RAF1a (No. 22971/WD1009). Thus powered, the B.E.2e was 10 mph faster than the B.E.2c and this, together with the improvements in handling, was more than sufficient to ensure that it was put into production as soon as possible. Not only were a total of 1,000 examples placed on order with various contractors, but instructions were given to those building the B.E.2c and B.E.2d to fit the improved wings and tailplane. However, when the completed machines were received, complications arose for it was realised that manufacturers were producing three different machines. All had the same wings and tail surfaces, and looked very similar, but each had a different fuselage. To simplify the matter, especially when it came to the ordering of spares, it was therefore decided that the designation B.E.2e would apply only to those machines built entirely to the new design. Those that had originally been ordered as B.E.2c with the original fuselage would be designated B.E.2f and those with the B.E.2d fuselage would be known as the B.E.2g. Around 200 of each variant were eventually produced. The new wings were viewed with some suspicion, pilots wrongly thinking them structural unsound and a rumour circulated that the extensions would be damaged by violent manoeuvres. Experience proved this to be untrue and confidence in the new type returned.

B.E.2c in a Ground Attack Role

A B.E.2c fitted with armour plate to the forward fuselage as protection against small arms fire from the ground.

The employment of the B.E.2c in a ground attack role, especially during the Battle of the Somme, inevitably led to aircraft being lost to small arms fire from the ground. Perhaps to avoid further accusations that crews were being sent to war in inadequate aeroplanes, a scheme was devised where the forward fuselage was fitted with sheet steel armour plate from the nose to the rear of the pilot’s cockpit. The slab-sided armour, which did nothing to improve the machine’s streamlining, weighed around 440 lbs and seriously handicapped the machine’s performance. Nonetheless, at least fifteen machines were fitted with the armour and saw service on the Western Front. 2028, which had originally been built by Sir Armstrong, Whitworth & Co. Ltd., was with 6 Squadron by 9 September 1916 as an armoured machine. 2122 went to 8 Squadron and at least one example served with 15 Squadron, remaining in service until the spring of 1917 carrying out ground attack and special reconnaissance missions. Other examples known to have been fitted with armour include 2713-2716 and 4093.

Change of Desert Command

BRITISH ARMY NORTH AFRICA 1942 (E 15295) Winston Churchill shaking hands with Lieutenant General Ramsden, commanding 30 Corps, while visiting the El Alamein area, 7 August 1942.

Lt General Bernard Montgomery, GOC 8th Army, standing in front of his personal Grant tank, 5 November 1942. He had commanded the first major victory against the Germans and was about to become world famous.

While Rommel had no doubt that Auchinleck had halted Panzerarmee Afrika’s advance, Winston Churchill did not share that view. Instead Churchill saw the July battles from a perspective that owed much to his political position. He had returned from the United States where he had learned, from Roosevelt, of the fall of Tobruk, to face a ‘no confidence’ vote in the Commons. Although that vote was defeated, Churchill believed that military failures had been responsible for its having been tabled and considered that he needed a victory. That Auchinleck gave him such a victory, albeit of a defensive nature but of strategic significance, during July did not impress the prime minister. The stubborn Irish general had lost the confidence of his prime minister for his ‘refusal to accept … prodding’ and had ‘received a form of ultimatum’ on 12 July, warning that, unless Rommel was defeated, Auchinleck’s northern front, now under threat from the German advance in the Soviet Union, would not be strengthened. Yet, on 17 July, Rommel told the Italian High Command: ‘Any more blows like today and I do not anticipate being able to hold the situation.’

One of Auchinleck’s biographers commented that:

Churchill remained unable to see the fight for Egypt being won almost under his nose, and even Brooke [the CIGS] held fears for the desert battle and his friend’s grip upon it. When, on 27 July, Auchinleck put the Eighth Army on the defensive once more, Churchill considered his signal announcing the decision to be ‘very depressing’.

By contrast Auchinleck was not depressed but planned an offensive to evict Rommel from Egypt. He was making plans for training and reinforcing Eighth Army for that operation, in which he was supported by his fellow-Irishman and acting chief of staff, Major General Eric Dorman-Smith, known as ‘Chink’. Chink had been at the Auk’s side during the retreat to Alamein, providing him with much advice and a seemingly-endless fund of optimism. (Dorman-Smith is usually criticized by writers of this period, often taking their cue from some of his contemporaries who had axes to grind. On the other side, Auchinleck’s supporters do not always acknowledge Chink’s work. Fortunately, an excellent and balanced biography of Chink, by Lavinia Greacen, Chink, does much to set the record straight.) Sir Francis de Guingand, whose abilities as a staff officer were identified first by Auchinleck, although his name is more closely connected with Montgomery, wrote of this period:

to put the record straight – for there has been much controversy over this point – a great deal of the Staff’s time was taken up in carrying out the studies necessary for producing plans for a future offensive against Rommel.

On 27 July Dorman-Smith produced an ‘Appreciation of the Situation in the Western Desert’, presenting a remarkably accurate picture of forthcoming events. This appreciation, which noted Eighth Army’s object as being ‘The defence of Egypt by the defeat of the enemy forces in the Western Desert’, included a summary of the existing situation, factors affecting operations – including comparative manpower and armour strengths, as well as morale and ground, political considerations and the linkage to the Russian front – summaries of courses open to both armies and of tactical techniques and future organization. He concluded that Eighth Army was committed temporarily to a defensive battle: it lacked the strength to dislodge the enemy and required reequipment and training before being fit for offensive operations. Since neither side was likely to be reinforced strongly on land during August, he argued that no immediate offensive by either was likely, but an Axis offensive was possible towards the end of August. Provided there was no change in the land and air situation, Eighth Army would receive reinforcements of two armoured and two infantry divisions about mid-September, which might allow a new Allied offensive in late-September.

One factor omitted by Dorman-Smith was the supply of Sherman tanks from the United States. Dorman-Smith quotes Eighth Army’s heavy tank strength as ‘some 60 Grant tanks’ with another sixty due in early-August, but with no further tanks coming until September. However, Roosevelt had already promised 300 Shermans to Churchill and these, with a hundred M-7 105mm self-propelled howitzers (known as ‘Priests’ in British service, the soubriquet deriving from the mounting for an anti-aircraft machine gun which resembled a pulpit. A British-designed and built self-propelled 25-pounder, on a Valentine tank chassis, was already known as Bishop, ‘for no accountable reason’ while the clerical theme continued with a Canadian variant, Sexton, a 25-pounder on a Ram chassis, and a self-propelled 6-pounder anti-tank gun, known as Deacon.) were en route from the USA, travelling in seven fast ships, one of which was sunk, to Egypt. Dorman-Smith seems to have been unaware of the promised Shermans which began arriving in Egypt at the beginning of September. They were not ready for battle until October; some units received new tanks on the opening day of the final battle.

Dorman-Smith’s Appreciation has been criticized by a number of writers, most of whom choose to quote in isolation to advance arguments that ignore the document’s main message. They also choose to ignore other factors that do not suit their own arguments, including the efforts made by Auchinleck and Dorman-Smith to improve training and, especially, co-operation between arms. Auchinleck has often been pilloried for allowing Eighth Army’s formations to fight in small packets. Chief among his critics was Montgomery, who claimed that it was he who ordained that divisions should fight as divisions and not be broken up. Apart from the fact that divisions were broken up under Montgomery, it was Auchinleck and Dorman-Smith who espoused the principle that ‘battles are best fought by divisions fighting as divisions or, better still, corps fighting as corps; but mobile divisions and corps’.

Pitt points out that battlegroups were created at this time, giving the erroneous impression to some that the Jock Columns of 1941 had returned. However, the purpose of these battlegroups was to create mobility and ensure, as far as possible, that immobile infantry would not be retained at the front.

To promote better co-operation between arms, Auchinleck had already established a higher war course at Sarafand for officers likely to become divisional commanders, had expanded the Staff College at Haifa (adding an RAF wing to it) and had grouped in one area in Palestine all the tactical and weapon-training schools in Middle East Command ‘to ensure that a uniform doctrine, which took account of the characteristics of all three arms and was attuned to modern conditions, was taught under a single direction’.

Such changes take time and although there were improvements on the ground – artillery being used to much greater effect through concentration – these were not always noticeable to the average soldier. Animosity continued between infantryman and tankman, between tankman and gunner and between gunner and infantryman.

Air co-operation, however, was good. The airmen had provided excellent support in the withdrawal and, once the battle had become clearer on the ground, became an invaluable part of Eighth Army’s fighting strength. Although Luftwaffe elements had been transferred to support Rommel, the RAF dominated the skies over the battlefield and was also providing first-class intelligence through tactical reconnaissance missions flown over enemy lines, much of them by the Hurricanes of No.208 Squadron RAF. Farther afield, RAF bombers continued pounding Axis supply ports while torpedo-bombers harassed convoys carrying supplies for Rommel.

In theory the Axis logistical situation should have been much better than that of the Allies: for the German and Italian armies, supplies had only to be ferried across the Mediterranean from Italy to North Africa whereas British supplies had to be shipped from the United Kingdom, North America, India or the southern hemisphere Dominions via South Africa to the Suez canal. However, the theoretical smoothness of the Axis logistical machine was abraded by the presence of a very hard piece of grit in its workings: Malta. We have seen how, after the fall of Tobruk, the Axis strategic imperative should have been the conquest of Malta but that Rommel persuaded the Führer otherwise and had been permitted to carry out Operation AIDA, which Auchinleck had stopped at El Alamein. Now Rommel’s panzers thirsted for fuel that was being despatched to the bottom of the Mediterranean by the RAF and by British submarines operating from Malta, while his soldiers were short of food, clothing and ammunition for the same reasons. Captured British stores could only provide so much. Malta was strangling the Axis endeavours in North Africa. Hitler and his generals would have done well to recall Napoleon’s axiom that ‘I would rather see the English on the heights of Montmartre than in possession of Malta’.

Those endeavours had also suffered from errors made by German planners. Taking Italian advice, they had not sent diesel-engined vehicles to Africa, although such engines were better suited to desert conditions than petrol engines. Nor, initially, had they adapted their vehicles, including tanks, for desert conditions while their soldiers never achieved the same level of familiarity with desert conditions as did their British counterparts. Among the worst examples of bad German planning was the failure to supply fuel oil for cooking or workshop furnaces, relying instead on wood shipped from Italy in space that could have better used. Even though many of these problems had been overcome by the summer of 1942, they reveal a logistical weakness that cannot be laid entirely at Rommel’s door.

Having read and accepted Dorman-Smith’s Appreciation, although he initially refused to agree it because ‘it did not contain a sufficient offensive spirit’, Auchinleck then sent off his own, regular, report to London in which he noted that ‘We must now stand on the defensive and recruit our strength for a new and decisive effort’, which was not likely before mid-September. Winston Churchill, far from pleased with this prediction, decided to fly out to Egypt and assess the situation himself. Brooke, already planning such a trip, had suspected that Churchill was ‘very intent on following along close behind me if possible’ and learned on 30 July that ‘Winston had decided to follow me at once to the Middle East’. Churchill had wanted Auchinleck to come to London but the latter had refused to do so while fighting raged along the El Alamein line. Now the two would meet in Egypt.

Brooke arrived in Egypt a scant thirty minutes before Churchill and began a round of visits and meetings, including one with Auchinleck. He also met General Corbett, Chief of the General Staff in Cairo, with whom he was unimpressed, deciding that he was not fit for his job. Since Corbett had been suggested as a possible Eighth Army commander by Auchinleck, this, in Brooke’s view, was an unfavourable indication of Auchinleck’s ability to select men, which confirmed Brooke’s ‘fears in that respect’. However, the suggestion had been that Corbett should take over on a temporary basis until a new army commander was appointed; Auchinleck proposed that the man to fill this post should be Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery. Although he had not enjoyed good relations with Monty in Britain, the Auk considered Montgomery to be the best man for the field command in the Western Desert.

Churchill’s visits to Eighth Army’s tactical HQ behind Ruweisat Ridge and the RAF HQ at Burg el Arab left him with the impression that the RAF was much better organized than Eighth Army. At Ruweisat the prime minister breakfasted with Auchinleck in the latter’s spartan surroundings, a wire cage surrounded by flies, whereas luncheon in the RAF mess at Burg el Arab had been brought specially from Shepheard’s Hotel and there was ‘white napery, gleaming silver, brandy in goblets’ and a cooling breeze from the nearby Mediterranean. Such contrasting meals helped shape Churchill’s attitude to the commanders in the Middle East.

Of one thing Churchill was already convinced: Auchinleck’s place was in Cairo, not at the front with Eighth Army which needed a new commander. Auchinleck agreed with him, having already suggested Montgomery for the role. Churchill, however, was advocating that command should go to Lieutenant General ‘Strafer’ Gott, who had been on active service in the Middle East since the beginning of the campaign. Brooke interviewed Gott, who he felt needed a rest and was too tired to assume command of Eighth Army, but Churchill’s view prevailed. Gott was appointed.

At one stage Churchill had even suggested that Brooke should take over Eighth Army but, although tempted, the CIGS considered that his duty lay in remaining in his existing post. In his discussions with Brooke, the prime minister suggested that Auchinleck should be removed as C-in-C Middle East. Since he felt that Auchinleck might keep Montgomery, his favoured candidate for Eighth Army, on too tight a rein, Brooke was inclined to agree. Their choice of replacement was General Sir Harold Alexander, another Irishman and Churchill’s favourite general. Unwilling to dismiss Auchinleck outright, the decision was made to divide Middle East Command with a new Near East Command, headed by Alexander, under which Eighth Army would serve, and a redrawn Middle East Command, encompassing Persia and Iraq, under Auchinleck. However, the war cabinet, while agreeing to divide Middle East Command, insisted that that title should be retained by Alexander’s command, to avoid confusion in the eyes of the public, and that the title ‘Persia-Iraq Command’ be adopted for Auchinleck’s area of responsibility.

News of the changes was delivered to Auchinleck by a staff officer. In a subsequent meeting with Churchill the Auk declined the Persia-Iraq Command, believing that the division of the original Middle East Command would prove impracticable in the event of crisis and that his appointment to a command with much reduced responsibilities

would look to the public too much like the appointment of an unsuccessful general to an operational sinecure – a policy of which he would thoroughly disapprove had it happened to anyone else …

By the time Auchinleck learned of the planned changes, Gott was dead, killed when the aircraft in which he was flying was shot down by a German fighter. Brooke’s first choice, Bernard Montgomery, was to command Eighth Army. Auchinleck would retire to India, although he would be appointed C-in-C India less than a year later. His chief of staff, Eric Dorman-Smith, was to go also: Brooke disliked him intensely, as did many others, and a subsequent episode in the Anzio beachhead would destroy Chink’s career. Thus did the men who had stopped Rommel, saved Egypt and the Middle East, bow out physically of the history of the desert war; but their ghosts continue to haunt discussion of that war.