British/Commonwealth performance

The Allies 1939-1945, and those fighting against Germany.

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Post by Reb » Fri Feb 06, 2004 10:06 am

Rich

True enough. I meant that Sherman was an MBT in the general but not specific sense of the term. Your explanation is better than mine!

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Post by sid guttridge » Fri Feb 06, 2004 10:12 am

Hi Reb,

Ow! Yes, you have hit a sore spot as regards British wartime tank design. We also had a genuinely competitive tank by the end of the war - the Centurion - but it arrived just too late to see action.

The story of Lee-Grant-Sherman development includes good examples of Anglo-American co-operation. Canadians used the basic American design for their Ram tank and, as you noted, it was the British who first put a decent gun in the Sherman's turret. (I suspect the US got its captured 88mm gun in 1942 from the British).

There are other examples of such Anglo-American co-operation in the armaments field. For example, the Mustang was designed to a British specification and was powered by a British-designed but American-built engine. At least one American airborne radar was essentially a direct copy of a British design.

The hang-over of this broad range of wartime co-operation is still with us in the shared intelligence pooling still occuring between the USA, UK and Australia. I don't know if Canada and New Zealand are still in the loop. No other countries are so open with each other.

I still cannot see where the British regimental system was a real problem. I can see its advantages in terms of strong unit identity and with it some advantages in morale and cohesion. Have you any possible examples of it obstructing British military development?

It certainly doesn't take Nazi regime to create conditions for a fully professional army. In fact, a fully professional army is the norm historically in all Anglo-Saxon countries. Britain has only had conscription in peacetime from 1938-39 and 1945-1960. The USA from 1945 to the mid 1970s. Otherwise our tradition is of small, fully professional armies.

The downside of this compared with countries practicing universal conscription includes that there are few or no major standing formations in peacetime and very few reserves. As a result, our armies are traditionally on the back foot at the start of wars.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Post by Freiritter » Fri Feb 06, 2004 10:53 am

Hello all,

It makes a lot more sense about British/Commonwealth armies now. So, the British Army was organized for colonial police actions and internal security within the colonies. I really don't see much of a problem with the British regimental system, other than the fragmented nature of the Army establishment and I can see Sid's point of unit cohesion and esprit de corps this system could produce. Also, could the 76.2mm Sherman be a M10 gun mated with a Sherman chassis? This seems to be a good stop-gap upgrade to the original Sherman, pending a new tank design. True, I had heard that the Sherman did make a good impression on the DAK troops in the Desert, that was before newer tank designs were fielded and then, the 88mm FLAK still could keep the Sherman at bay. Also, about your point Reb on the lack of British coordination: I think Von Mellenthin had mentioned that British forces reacted slower than their German opponents and didn't exploit opportunities that could have developed. The ANZACs, I heard, were some real tough hombres in the Desert. I'm not sure about the South Africans, though. If I remember right, I think maybe the British had trouble with their Indian troops, perhaps morale problems. Another note: I've seen a TOE for an U.S. Army medium tank battalion, circa 1943 maybe, and it lists an assault gun company (?) of 105mm Shermans. What is the purpose of an assault gun in an armor unit? Were they mobile artillery in support of the tanks?

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Post by Reb » Fri Feb 06, 2004 11:28 am

The South Africans were good, when they were good. After a while heavy casualties induced in them a cautious attitude since the white population there was very small and not all supported the war. Robert Crisp makes a few interesting comments about that in his lovely 'Brazen Chariots.' Crisp was himself from RSA.

Since Sid and others have made such interesting points about the Brit regimental system I will withhold further comment until I put my ideas in order - there were plus and minus factors in that and I hate in a way to argue against it since I'm a great believer in tradition. I think perhaps Sid was correct in saying the problems I noted were more of an interservice thing than as a result of a regimental system. I remain convinced however the Brit Army could have used a good shake up - however, in time of war you use what you have.

The Sherman 105 was exactly as you deduced. As I recall each tank div had 18 of them in the late war reorg. Sort of a rich man's Stummel!

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Post by Rich » Fri Feb 06, 2004 1:28 pm

Freiritter wrote:Also, could the 76.2mm Sherman be a M10 gun mated with a Sherman chassis?
No, the M-10 Gun Motor Carriage was originally a modified Sherman chassis mated to an ope-top turret containing a M-1 3" antiaircraft gun. The 76mm (not 76.2mm) in the Sherman was a heavily modified M-1 3"
antiaircraft gun designed specifically for use in an enclosed turret.

[quoteAnother note: I've seen a TOE for an U.S. Army medium tank battalion, circa 1943 maybe, and it lists an assault gun company (?) of 105mm Shermans. What is the purpose of an assault gun in an armor unit? Were they mobile artillery in support of the tanks?[/quote]

It gets back to my original comment, the tank battalion was intended to support assaults by infantry or to act as a pursuit and exploitation force. The 105mm "assault gun" was designed to enhance the tank battalions capability to do the first. Each Tank Battalion, Medium was to have six, three in an Assault Gun Platoon that was part of Battalion Headquarters and one each to the three Tank Company, Medium, Headquarters. In practice many battalions grouped all six together as a platoon under battalion headquarters, but that varied. The standard armored division did have 18 originally in it's three battalions, but the 2nd and 3rd AD under the "old" organization had none until they were given a theater allocation of 27 in the fall of 1944. Also, as of 28 November the M4 105mm also officially replaced the M-8 75mm assault guns assigned to the three armored infantry battalions of the division, for an additional 9 (3 per battalion).

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Post by Freiritter » Fri Feb 06, 2004 3:36 pm

Another question: where there rivalries among the British/Commonwealth forces, such as: Australians vs. New Zealanders and British Canadians vs. French Canadians? Thanks for the info on the assault guns, guys.

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Post by John Kilmartin » Fri Feb 06, 2004 6:14 pm

Freiritter,
Could you be a little more specific as to what you mean by rivalry. If you mean was there some friction between anglophone canadians and francophone canadians that was definitely the case.During the second world war there were no all french speaking brigades in the CASF. I count four infantry brigades that had at least one french speaking battalion and all three infantry divisions had at least one. There was also a french speaking armoured regiment in the 1st Cdn Division.
I can't be sure but I would think there would have been just as much friction in the Indian Army between different ethnic groups if not more.
' Strip war of the mantle of its glories and excitement, and it will disclose a gibbering ghost of pain , grief, dissappointment and despair'

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Post by Freiritter » Fri Feb 06, 2004 6:38 pm

Well, perhaps rivalries like siblings would have, one upping each other, friendly or not so friendly competition and ribbing. In a sense like U.S. Marines have for other American service branches. Maybe also friction. I've heard that some Afrikaaners had hoped for a British defeat and subsequently didn't support the war. I'm sorry for the confusion, I should try to be more specific.

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Post by Martin Schenkel » Fri Feb 06, 2004 7:01 pm

I think it is a common misconception that British commonwealth forces were inflexible and rigid at the tactical level. Certainly when compared to the German Army they were relatively inflexible, but the Germans were the undisputed masters of Kampfgruppe tactics, and while British abilities couldn't match the Germans, they were still better at it than many people think. Any nation compared to the German Army was rather inflexible and rigid in their tactical organisation.

Is Carolina a bad football team, because they lost in the Super Bowl? No, it's just that New England was a better team.

Some have mentioned the colonial police factor, but this is precisely one of the factors that IMHO that helped to provide a good deal of tactical flexibility. Commanders in far flung corners of the empire operated with a large degree of independance, and all services were typically represented in any given colonial posting. In particular, the groups fighting in the frontier of India operated as all arms organisations.

Regimental rigidity has also mentioned, however it should be noted that Brigade and (in particular) Battalion commanders were largely given a free hand in organising their subordinate units. Tables of organisation and equipment (known as War Establishments -> WE) were really only intended as a guideline, and as long as he didn't go above (in terms of weapons and men) what a specific WE laid out, a commander could re-arrange the resources at his disposal in any way he wanted. Certainly the WEs were established through experience and research, and generally represented a solid basis for organisation. While the real number of companies and squadrons in a given battalion were strictly limited, because of the need for more officers and NCOs. However, company and squadron organisations often differed wildly from the WE.

All arms in- flexibility is another myth IMHO. While it appears to have been a problem in the mid-war period, if you study actual operational and tactical groupings for the later part of the war (late 43 on especially), you find all arms battle groups as the rule, not the exception.

I think the real problem of British Commonwealth performance (with a few exceptions) was inflexibility in senior commands, and up until only late in the war, generally inexperienced troops. I think it is fair to claim, that British Commonwealth troops succeeded greatly in spite of their senior commanders.
"Subjugating the enemy's army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence" - Sun Tzu

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Post by Martin Schenkel » Fri Feb 06, 2004 7:11 pm

John Kilmartin wrote:During the second world war there were no all french speaking brigades in the CASF.
None that served overseas, if that's what you mean. There are several instances of home defence brigades with 3 french speaking battalions.
"Subjugating the enemy's army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence" - Sun Tzu

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Post by Martin Schenkel » Fri Feb 06, 2004 7:28 pm

Freiritter wrote:Well, perhaps rivalries like siblings would have, one upping each other, friendly or not so friendly competition and ribbing. In a sense like U.S. Marines have for other American service branches. Maybe also friction. I've heard that some Afrikaaners had hoped for a British defeat and subsequently didn't support the war. I'm sorry for the confusion, I should try to be more specific.
I don't think the rivalry was too serious. Certainly alot of friendly competition (who can get to the hill first, etc.), but I think there was a large degree of Commonwealth comraderie. There may have been some hard feelings, since most British units were made up of conscipts, while overseas Commomwealth formations were mostly (if not exclusively) made up of volunteers. This volunteer vs. conscipt relationship is typical in all armies past and present. Probably the biggest problem, was that few (if any) Commonwealth formations would want a British officer as its commander. For instance, a Canadian Division was always commaded by a Canadian officer, no matter what the circumstances, or lack of 'competent' senior commanders. This also created a political problem, as usually the senior national commander in a given theatre answered directly to his own government (sometimes via an overseas national HQ, like in the Canadian Army). In exteme circumstances, the senior commander could refuse orders from a higher command, if he felt the order wasn't 'politically sound', after consulting with his own government. However, I don't know of any significant events where this occured. The British, I think, felt the Commonwealth troops were perhaps a bit politically unreliable because of this, and had the theatre command been fully integrated, senior British commanders might have felt more comfortable giving certain orders to Commonwelath units. But in the end, Commonwealth untis did their duty like the rest.

One unique feature of the Commonwealth regimental system, is that regiments of different nations create alliances with one another, becoming what might be called sister regiments. The alliance system was instituted to create inter-commonwealth comraderie, as well as often facilitating training, and sometimes giving active/former service members a sort of regimental home away from home. The alliance system was created in 1904. It probably helped to avoid alot of serious rivalry between Commonwealth armies.
"Subjugating the enemy's army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence" - Sun Tzu

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Post by sid guttridge » Sat Feb 07, 2004 4:33 am

Hi Guys,

There is a danger of projecting todays attitudes onto the peoples of the white Commonwealth sixty years ago.

Sixty years ago the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand populations had less pronounced national identities. It is a moot point as to when each began to think of themselves as anything other than Colonial Britons, but is certain that the residual sense of common Britishness was much more powerful then than now.

The South Africans were rather different. For a start half the white population was not of British origin and most of the total population were disenfranchised black Africans. South African servicemen were initially only enlisted for service in Africa. This meant that they could not be compelled to go to Italy.

Due to the statistical quirk that one of its two expeditionary divisions was captured at Second Tobruk, the South Africans suffered the highest proportion of prisoners of any Commonwealth Army, including the Indian.

By contrast, white Rhodesians suffered the highest death rate as they were virtually all of British origin and volunteered in exceptionally high numbers. Their entire small army contingent fought in North Africa, whereas no other Commonwealth army sent such a high proportion. As a result, the colony's losses were exceptionally high. In fact, the British got so worried that much of the white adult male population of Rhodesia might be wiped out in a single action that they were dispersed amongst British units.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Post by nigelfe » Sat Feb 07, 2004 5:58 am

There's a lot of comments I could make on the last few posts but I'll limit myelf. In passing I'll point out that there is a view that there are national ways of warfare. Interestingly it's been recently pointed out that while at staff college Quetta in the '20s Slim had studied the Russo-Japanese War 1904 and realised the Japanese way, which he successfully exploited in 1944-5. It's also fairly clear that the Brits had great respect for one characteristic of the German way - the rapid counter-attack, this is why they invariably consolidated after capturing an objective instead of trying to exploit their success.

In no particular order:

Afte WW1 the Brit comds realised that they would never again be allowed profligate use of mens' lives. This led them to a different style of warfighting.

Very few non Brit/Indian troops outside the W Front in WW1, only Brit & Indian in Mesopotamia, only Brit in Italy and Balkans, only S African, Brit and a few Indian in E Africa, overwhelmingly Brit at Gallipoli + a few NZ and rather more Aust, same in Palestine.

Although tank vs tank first happened in 1918 during the second great German offensive at Armentieres, the idea that the tank is the primary anti-tnk weapon is post WW2. In WW2 the anti-tk gun was the primary anti-tk weapon (although the Sovs declared that all arty guns had an anti-tank role), of course 'primary' does not mean 'only'.

The idea that 'all arms' fighting was alien to Brits is untrue, British doctrine emphasised all arms. However, there was a problem of infantry-tank cooperation in NW Europe due to pre DDay training, although there were also well developed inf-armour unit relationships that worked very well. A good case has been made that the source of the problem was poor wireless comms within inf bns. The root cause probably being that unlike armour and arty such comms weren't innately vital to inf plus the extent of training needed for wireless operators and their casualty rates.

Conversely the Brit artillery arrangements were second to none. The bty comd with bn/regt and arty regt comd with bde was vastly superior in terms of all-arms cooperation to, for example, the US system of artillery commanding itself from the rear with junior officer LOs accompanying the supported units. Then you can add the proprietorial attitudes of some US div comds that prevented higher than div arty concentrations.

The idea that 2 NZ was a 'PzG' div is a joke. In 1944 they converted one inf bde to tks (no inf) and using assorted units created a replacement inf bde. Late that year they added a single tpt coy with Kangaroo APCs, there were no lorried inf bns. In comparison Brit and S African armd divs in Italy added a second inf bde in mid 1944, giving them an armd bde incl motorised inf and 2 lorried inf bdes (and had Kangaroos available). Which looks closer to a PzG? Note to that when 2 NZ went to 4 bdes they did not add a 4th NZ arty regt, although the Brits supplied one. In fact all the Cwth formations placed significant reliance on Brit arty to boost their firepower. Even the Cdns who had 2 AGRAs only mustered 6 medium regts between them. In 1945 2 NZ Div had more Brit arty under comd than NZ!

There are perhaps two other important features of the Brit way of warfare. First, since the 19th Century Brits staff were trained that logisitc considerations governed the art of the possible and outweighed tactics. Second, in WW2, that firepower beat mobility.

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Post by Reb » Sat Feb 07, 2004 7:26 am

A Joke?

The NZ Div WAS for all intents and purposes a PG Div by the time of First Alamein (or before). You can debate the org aspect but it was a) the first inf div to have organic armour, b) you say it had no lorried inf but in the desert it was typically motorised (see Mersah Matrah with Freyburg shooting at the door of his truck as he lead the div out of a trap), and c) it had the ATTITUDE of PG Div which caused it to be used as such by the Brit commanders.

You can dress a hog up in coveralls but it remains a hog. The NZ div had the dash required of PG Div and conducted itself as such despite setbacks like having its armoured bde wiped out during Monty's little game of Balaclava at Alamein and being burned up in silly positional attacks at Cassino.


I judge military forces by the attitude of their enemies. It was plain to the Germans as early as Crete that the NZ Div was an elite. It dawned on the British as well - as early as Crusader. However because of some strange compartmentalist attitude the Brits had I tanks and cruiser tanks and at Crusader NZ Div was supported by I tanks and hence a static force
in the minds of sum. By Mersah Matruh it was no longer considered a static force!

Luckily for the Brits, they had in Auchinleck a commander of stature who got things organized pretty well before Monty showed up with all the camera man. Utilizing NZ Div as a Mixed Group (PGD) quasi armoured formation was Auchinleck's doing and it served 8 Army well.

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Post by Freiritter » Sat Feb 07, 2004 7:03 pm

Hello all,

Hmm, I feel it is my responsibility to clarify things and offer apologies. I certainly do not mean to throw mud onto the Brit/CW forces of WWII. When I spoke, I spoke on what I knew at the time, and if caused trouble, I'm sorry, and I'll try to correct. Now, it was mentioned that the battalions and regiments had experience in the colonies with tactical flexibility and initiative. I stand corrected. The use of all arms, yes, the Brit/CW used all arms, what I do know about the Desert campaign does mention this. About the different national groups within the CW, I had an inkling that a common Britishness was felt by the white Dominions and nations, but I wasn't sure. On the subject of losses, I don't mean to throw mud. Britain/CW and the European Allies had suffered tremendous losses in WWI and subsequently were mindful of these experiences. So, maybe the coordination troubles between the branches were symptomatic of teething troubles, rather than fundamental flaws, being an issue of combat experience early in the war. Also, the British tendency to consolidate the hold on an objective would be a good counter to the German doctrine of immediate counterattack. Anyway, I hope there's no hard feelings.

Cordially,

Freiritter

P.S.: I heard that the Firefly tank was a British mod of a Sherman tank mated with a 17 pdr gun. What was the role of this tank and how did it measure up to German tanks?

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