The German 50 mm. Tank Gun and the Crusader Problems

Discussions on WW2 in Africa & the Mediterranean. Hosted by Andy H
User avatar
ClintHardware
Financial supporter
Posts: 756
Joined: 21 Jan 2011 12:17

The German 50 mm. Tank Gun and the Crusader Problems

Post by ClintHardware » 25 Mar 2018 10:53

Hi All

I found this almost comic but really tragic letter which was prompted by Churchill's surprise and anger to re-learn what he had been previously informed about panzers mounting 50 mm calibre guns that were about twice as effective as the 2-Pdr in terms of penetration and range. The Flag references are items included in the documents to Churchill covered by the following letter. The 50 mm gun question also arose alongside the mechanical failures of the Crusader.

The date of this is 15th July 1942 but the file goes back to just after Operation Crusader and the mechanical losses of 22nd Armoured Brigade.

Offices of the War Cabinet
Great George Street. S.W. 1

SECRET.

PRIME MINISTER.
I understand that you were asking what action was being taken against those responsible for the matters which were the subject of an inquiry by the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, a copy of whose Report is contained in D.O. (42)48, attached (Flag ”A”).

2. This Report was considered by the War Cabinet (24.6.42) in your absence. The first part of it dealt with the question –
“Why no report was rendered by the Middle East Command after the battle in June 1941, to the effect that the German tanks were armed with a gun firing a 4½ lb. projectile.”

3. Mr Attlee’s Report show clearly that the existence of this gun in considerable numbers in tanks in Libya was fully reported by the Middle East. Mr Attlee, however, said he could not recollect the question having been brought to the notice of the Defence Committee in discussions before the November offensive. On this point, it has perhaps been overlooked that a telegram (Flag “C”) from the Commander-in-Chief, Middle Est, reporting the existence of the 50 mm. gun in numbers in German tanks in Libya, was circulated to the Tank Parliament, and considered by them at a meeting (Flag “D”) at which, in addition to all the Officers connected with tank design, production, and organisation, the Secretary of State for War, the Minister of State (Lord Beaverbrook), the Secretary of State for Air, the Minister of Supply, and the Minister of Aircraft Production were all present. This was on the 27th May 1941. (At the same time, a rather more detailed report about the German tanks, including the KW.III mounting the 50 mm. gun, and the KW.IV mounting the 75 mm. gun, was brought to your notice in a Minute (Flag “E”) by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff.) It appears, therefore, that the existence in Libya of the 50 mm. gun for firing a 4½ lb. shot was thoroughly well known before the June battle.

4. In his telegram, dated 18th June, (Flag “F”) giving the causes of the failure of the battle, General Wavell made no mention of this gun as a contributory factor: nor, as far as is known, was it referred to by General Auchinleck, either in telegrams, or in discussions during his visit home in August, 1941.

5. Taking all these points into account, there does not seem to be any particular reason why emphasis should have been laid on the 50 mm. gun in discussions subsequent to General Auchinleck’s visit.

6. In the discussion which took place at the War Cabinet in your absence, there seems to have been a suggestion that the sending of copies of operational telegrams to this Office placed the onus for drawing attention to specific points of this kind on the shoulders of the staff of the Minister of Defence. I hardly think this suggestion is tenable, since advice to the Defence Committee on military matters affecting the conduct of operations can only come from the Chief of Staff concerned direct, or through his Service Minister. As stated above, however, the telegram from the Middle East about the 50 mm. gun was circulated by this Office to the Tank Parliament, which appeared at the time to be the appropriate body.

7. In the circumstances , it does not seem that there are any grounds for further action than was taken by the War Cabinet, namely, to draw the attention of Services Ministers to the importance of bringing to notice important developments of this kind.

8. The second part of the Secretary of State’s enquiry dealt with the defects in the cooling system and lubricating system of Crusader Tanks. Here, the answer is broadly, that the people who were responsible for the organisation at the time when these defects developed have, with only one or two exceptions, long since been removed from the organisation dealing with tank developments. Furthermore, as you know, the Minister of Production has in mind proposals for dealing with tank organisation. In the circumstances, I do not imagine that you will wish to give directions that any action should be taken for lapses revealed in this part of the Report.


15TH JULY, 1942 Signed/Initialled EJB
Imperialism and Re-Armament NOW !

Tom from Cornwall
Member
Posts: 2729
Joined: 01 May 2006 19:52
Location: UK

Re: The German 50 mm. Tank Gun and the Crusader Problems

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 25 Mar 2018 20:28

about panzers mounting 50 mm calibre guns that were about twice as effective as the 2-Pdr in terms of penetration and range.
That's not right for the short 50 mm tank gun during Operation Crusader though is it?

Regards

Tom

User avatar
Sheldrake
Member
Posts: 3236
Joined: 28 Apr 2013 17:14
Location: London

Re: The German 50 mm. Tank Gun and the Crusader Problems

Post by Sheldrake » 26 Mar 2018 00:09

I suspect that EJ(?) B might be Sir Edward Bridges the secretary to the War Cabinet reminding Churchill that 1) this wasn't new. 2) No one had hidden the story from him and 3)No one had flagged up the 50mm it from him 4) The (tri service) War Cabinet should not be trying to sort out single serve matters and (not stated explicitly) this particular "action this today" initiated by Churchill is a bit of a wild goose chase. This is a very polite was of saying PM you have got this wrong.

This carefully prepared report does illustrate the down side to the Churchill style of leadership. He would go off the deep end about some matter,which woudl then take a lot of brain power and effort to chase down. He also had very negative attitude to the generals in the field - and by early 1942 was really quite fed up. I suspect Bridges and Brooke as the Chief of the COS bore the brunt of Churchills energy and fury.

In this case Clement Atlee - Deputy PM and leader of HM Opposition was personally involved in this witch hunt. Who would have guessed that this leader of the labour party and founder of the modern welfare state would be reporting on the deficiencies of British Armour in North Africa? It would be like finding that Jeremy Corbyn on this forum...

User avatar
ClintHardware
Financial supporter
Posts: 756
Joined: 21 Jan 2011 12:17

Re: The German 50 mm. Tank Gun and the Crusader Problems

Post by ClintHardware » 26 Mar 2018 08:27

Tom, the KWK 38 L/42 was able to deliver about twice or two thirds more kinetic energy compared to the 2 Pdr at all combat ranges. I have forgotten the energy kinetic figures I worked out years ago as an indicative scale (only indicative).

The 2-Pdr was thus less likely to cause the same extent of damage to pantsers than the KWK 38 could cause to British tanks at every range. But obviously that depended on many other things including the composition of the armour, angle of impact and projectile shatter (if any).

Sheldrake you seem to be on the right track in terms of Churchill's behaviour.

I believe, but do not know for certain, that the known development and expectation of the 6-Pdr being delivered to units perhaps led everyone concerned to know that the gun issue was being addressed and to HOPE it arrived as soon as possible. In addition, the later anticipation of American Medium tanks armed with 75mm guns at some time with units produced the same effect of expecting the threat to be solved or matched.
Imperialism and Re-Armament NOW !

User avatar
Sheldrake
Member
Posts: 3236
Joined: 28 Apr 2013 17:14
Location: London

Re: The German 50 mm. Tank Gun and the Crusader Problems

Post by Sheldrake » 26 Mar 2018 09:25

ClintHardware wrote: I believe, but do not know for certain, that the known development and expectation of the 6-Pdr being delivered to units perhaps led everyone concerned to know that the gun issue was being addressed and to HOPE it arrived as soon as possible. In addition, the later anticipation of American Medium tanks armed with 75mm guns at some time with units produced the same effect of expecting the threat to be solved or matched.
The lack of adequate anti tank weapons in North Africa hampered the Western Desert Force and later the Eighth army until the 6 pounder was available in some numbers.i.e. for a critical year between April 1941 and July 1942 when Rommel ran rings around us. This was not an intractable problem that had to be endured pending production delays, a shrug of the shoulders and the rejoinder "dontcha know there's a war on!" There was a wartime phrase associated with sorting out bureaucratic obstacles to winning the war or making stuff happen. This was "get your finger out" or "extract a digit" and is related to the post war military expressive insult of "sitting with your thumb up bum and mind in neutral."

At the end of 1940 there were over a thousand 3" 20 cwt (76.2mm) AA guns available after their replacement by the 3.7" AA Gun. These were eventually given to the merchant navy (with RM or RA detachemens) or to the USSR. On 18th June 1941 General Brooke, then commander Home Forces noted in his diary that he was disappointed by a demonstration of anti-tank weapons and noted that he would start a campaign to change matters. He insisted that Antitank ammunition was manufactured for the 3.7" HAA - lobbying Beaverbrook to get it into the production schedules. Brooke's concern was that the Germans might land very heavy tanks in a 1941 Op Sealion. By mid July 103 Heavy AA -part of the air defences of Liverpool was designated a field force unit with a dual anti tank and AA Role. None of the usual excuses given as to the unsuitability of British AA guns as anti tank guns will wash. If they were ready to fight Tiger tanks in England it is reasonable to explore why the 3" 20 cwt was not used in the Middle east. There were at least 12 in the Egyptian Army. Arguably a heavy Anti tank Regiment of 24 guns would have been more use that two squadrons of cruiser tanks in Churchill's batch of Tiger cubs.

Why wasn't this done?

Well....

#1 The Middle East Army had not understood the tactical problem as an all arms problem but one of relative tank performance. This is a reflection of the lack of understanding of mechanised warfare and armoured doctrine over influenced by tank enthusiasts. This is why the war cabinet are exercised over the 5cm L42 tank gun.

#2 The AA and Field Branches of the artillery functioned as two separate corps creating organisational obstacles to co-operation.

#3 Attempts to mount 3" 20cwt guns on an tank chassis (part of Brooke's campaign) founder after the RA and RAC fail to put much urgency into
solving the practical problems.

Gooner1
Member
Posts: 2016
Joined: 06 Jan 2006 12:24
Location: London

Re: The German 50 mm. Tank Gun and the Crusader Problems

Post by Gooner1 » 26 Mar 2018 10:40

Sheldrake wrote: The lack of adequate anti tank weapons in North Africa hampered the Western Desert Force and later the Eighth army until the 6 pounder was available in some numbers.i.e. for a critical year between April 1941 and July 1942 when Rommel ran rings around us. This was not an intractable problem that had to be endured pending production delays, a shrug of the shoulders and the rejoinder "dontcha know there's a war on!" There was a wartime phrase associated with sorting out bureaucratic obstacles to winning the war or making stuff happen. This was "get your finger out" or "extract a digit" and is related to the post war military expressive insult of "sitting with your thumb up bum and mind in neutral."
Churchill must take a big part of the blame for the anti-tank/tank gun deficit in the mid-Desert period. It was his decision in Summer 1940 to keep the 2-pdr in production instead of tooling up for 6-pdr manufacture as recommended by the Bartholomew Committee.

MarkN
Member
Posts: 2549
Joined: 12 Jan 2015 13:34
Location: On the continent

Re: The German 50 mm. Tank Gun and the Crusader Problems

Post by MarkN » 26 Mar 2018 11:26

Sheldrake wrote:The lack of adequate anti tank weapons in North Africa hampered the Western Desert Force and later the Eighth army until the 6 pounder was available in some numbers.i.e. for a critical year between April 1941 and July 1942 when Rommel ran rings around us. This was not an intractable problem that had to be endured pending production delays, a shrug of the shoulders and the rejoinder "dontcha know there's a war on!" There was a wartime phrase associated with sorting out bureaucratic obstacles to winning the war or making stuff happen. This was "get your finger out" or "extract a digit" and is related to the post war military expressive insult of "sitting with your thumb up bum and mind in neutral."

At the end of 1940 there were over a thousand 3" 20 cwt (76.2mm) AA guns available after their replacement by the 3.7" AA Gun. These were eventually given to the merchant navy (with RM or RA detachemens) or to the USSR. On 18th June 1941 General Brooke, then commander Home Forces noted in his diary that he was disappointed by a demonstration of anti-tank weapons and noted that he would start a campaign to change matters. He insisted that Antitank ammunition was manufactured for the 3.7" HAA - lobbying Beaverbrook to get it into the production schedules. Brooke's concern was that the Germans might land very heavy tanks in a 1941 Op Sealion. By mid July 103 Heavy AA -part of the air defences of Liverpool was designated a field force unit with a dual anti tank and AA Role. None of the usual excuses given as to the unsuitability of British AA guns as anti tank guns will wash. If they were ready to fight Tiger tanks in England it is reasonable to explore why the 3" 20 cwt was not used in the Middle east. There were at least 12 in the Egyptian Army. Arguably a heavy Anti tank Regiment of 24 guns would have been more use that two squadrons of cruiser tanks in Churchill's batch of Tiger cubs.

Why wasn't this done?
The results in Libya and the Western Desert 1941-42 have little to do with "the lack of adequate anti tank weapons in North Africa". I doubt the results would have been much - if at all - different if all of the 2-pdrs were replaced one-for-one with 6-pdr or even 17-pdr. Not that it was possible, of course. Thus, the argument about whether the 3" could have been better utilized seems to me to be a complete red herring.
Sheldrake wrote: #1 The Middle East Army had not understood the tactical problem as an all arms problem but one of relative tank performance. This is a reflection of the lack of understanding of mechanised warfare and armoured doctrine over influenced by tank enthusiasts. This is why the war cabinet are exercised over the 5cm L42 tank gun.
There is no doubt the British were somewhat behind on the all-arms combat curve. However, I disagree with your reasoning regarding the ME issues and how they supposedly influenced the Cabinet in London as you claim. Who were the "tank enthusiasts" that allegedly meant that all in the ME misread and misunderstood the tactical situation?

User avatar
Sheldrake
Member
Posts: 3236
Joined: 28 Apr 2013 17:14
Location: London

Re: The German 50 mm. Tank Gun and the Crusader Problems

Post by Sheldrake » 26 Mar 2018 11:50

MarkN wrote:
Sheldrake wrote:The lack of adequate anti tank weapons in North Africa hampered the Western Desert Force and later the Eighth army until the 6 pounder was available in some numbers.i.e. for a critical year between April 1941 and July 1942 when Rommel ran rings around us. This was not an intractable problem that had to be endured pending production delays, a shrug of the shoulders and the rejoinder "dontcha know there's a war on!" There was a wartime phrase associated with sorting out bureaucratic obstacles to winning the war or making stuff happen. This was "get your finger out" or "extract a digit" and is related to the post war military expressive insult of "sitting with your thumb up bum and mind in neutral."

At the end of 1940 there were over a thousand 3" 20 cwt (76.2mm) AA guns available after their replacement by the 3.7" AA Gun. These were eventually given to the merchant navy (with RM or RA detachemens) or to the USSR. On 18th June 1941 General Brooke, then commander Home Forces noted in his diary that he was disappointed by a demonstration of anti-tank weapons and noted that he would start a campaign to change matters. He insisted that Antitank ammunition was manufactured for the 3.7" HAA - lobbying Beaverbrook to get it into the production schedules. Brooke's concern was that the Germans might land very heavy tanks in a 1941 Op Sealion. By mid July 103 Heavy AA -part of the air defences of Liverpool was designated a field force unit with a dual anti tank and AA Role. None of the usual excuses given as to the unsuitability of British AA guns as anti tank guns will wash. If they were ready to fight Tiger tanks in England it is reasonable to explore why the 3" 20 cwt was not used in the Middle east. There were at least 12 in the Egyptian Army. Arguably a heavy Anti tank Regiment of 24 guns would have been more use that two squadrons of cruiser tanks in Churchill's batch of Tiger cubs.

Why wasn't this done?
The results in Libya and the Western Desert 1941-42 have little to do with "the lack of adequate anti tank weapons in North Africa". I doubt the results would have been much - if at all - different if all of the 2-pdrs were replaced one-for-one with 6-pdr or even 17-pdr. Not that it was possible, of course. Thus, the argument about whether the 3" could have been better utilized seems to me to be a complete red herring.
Sheldrake wrote: #1 The Middle East Army had not understood the tactical problem as an all arms problem but one of relative tank performance. This is a reflection of the lack of understanding of mechanised warfare and armoured doctrine over influenced by tank enthusiasts. This is why the war cabinet are exercised over the 5cm L42 tank gun.
There is no doubt the British were somewhat behind on the all-arms combat curve. However, I disagree with your reasoning regarding the ME issues and how they supposedly influenced the Cabinet in London as you claim. Who were the "tank enthusiasts" that allegedly meant that all in the ME misread and misunderstood the tactical situation?
I think we may need to agree to differ.

You may be right that the availability of long ranged anti tank guns may not have made much difference - but this is mainly because of the lack of appreciation of all arms co-operation within the British Army. Which was my second point. That the British lost sight of all arms is fair comment. Under O'Conner the Western Desert Force smashed the Italians with all arms manouvre. From 1941 the style was tank charges and the manoeuvring of tank brigades as if they were fleets of ships. Some of this was driven by the imbalanced tank heavy formation structure - the result of influence of the tank lobby. If you look at the Armoured doctrine of the time it is all about tanks -just tanks.There was a dreadful training film made in 1942 called the armoured regiment in battle.

The lack of anti tank guns forced the field artillery to stand in as anti tank gunners. Neither the 25 Pounder and 2 Pounder could engage tanks beyond some 1000 m -well within effective machine gun fire. Anti tank weapons capable of killing a tank at 2,000m would have given the Afrika Korps Panzers a reaspon to be more cautious.

User avatar
ClintHardware
Financial supporter
Posts: 756
Joined: 21 Jan 2011 12:17

Re: The German 50 mm. Tank Gun and the Crusader Problems

Post by ClintHardware » 26 Mar 2018 12:00

Sheldrake wrote:
#1 The Middle East Army had not understood the tactical problem as an all arms problem but one of relative tank performance. This is a reflection of the lack of understanding of mechanised warfare and armoured doctrine over influenced by tank enthusiasts. This is why the war cabinet are exercised over the 5cm L42 tank gun.
I doubt that this is the case because of the tactics practiced 1935 -9th June 1940 and then used on the Italians in September and then again in Operation Compass. The British and Commonwealth formations used the desert environment as a primary weapon without needing to state that they did - hence the intention to wait for the Italians at Mersa Matruh including denying them water as far as they could.

Brigadier Gott did mention the desert as a weapon.

On another point: in two British unit war diaries (IIRC) they refer to the non-75mm German guns as 2-Pdrs, then they learned otherwise - I can't remember which diaries and I do not have the time to check.
Imperialism and Re-Armament NOW !

MarkN
Member
Posts: 2549
Joined: 12 Jan 2015 13:34
Location: On the continent

Re: The German 50 mm. Tank Gun and the Crusader Problems

Post by MarkN » 26 Mar 2018 12:27

Sheldrake wrote: I think we may need to agree to differ.
Perhaps. But I don't feel we're that far off agreement. :wink:
Sheldrake wrote: Under O'Conner the Western Desert Force smashed the Italians with all arms manouvre. From 1941 the style was tank charges and the manoeuvring of tank brigades as if they were fleets of ships. Some of this was driven by the imbalanced tank heavy formation structure - the result of influence of the tank lobby. If you look at the Armoured doctrine of the time it is all about tanks -just tanks.There was a dreadful training film made in 1942 called the armoured regiment in battle.
We both see the same historical events. We both see the same strengths and weakenesses in the British approach. We disagree a bit on the underlying cause(s) of the success/failure. Hence why I asked the key question: who were these (Middle East) "tank enthusiasts" that you feel are responsible for getting it all wrong? How did these alleged individuals manage to overturn during 1941 what they got right during Compass?

It's difficult to understand your conclusion that it was all down to "tank enthusiasts", and to consider the impact of those individuals, without knowing who they were.
Sheldrake wrote:The lack of anti tank guns forced the field artillery to stand in as anti tank gunners. Neither the 25 Pounder and 2 Pounder could engage tanks beyond some 1000 m -well within effective machine gun fire. Anti tank weapons capable of killing a tank at 2,000m would have given the Afrika Korps Panzers a reaspon to be more cautious.
I understand your thought process here and accept your final proposition. However, looking closely at many of the engagements that occured, the British had enough firepower (incl. 25-pdr used indirectly and directly) to force winnable situations and did so on many occasions only for that 'winnable situation' to be thrown away by poor command and control. Commanders not following through and failing to turn the scent of victory into an actual victory. I see the very same mistakes being made by the same commanders even had they had more effective firepower at their disposal. Rommel was no genius, and yet he managed to turn losing hands into winning ones on a regular basis - not because of his brilliance but because the opposition had given up early!

Gooner1
Member
Posts: 2016
Joined: 06 Jan 2006 12:24
Location: London

Re: The German 50 mm. Tank Gun and the Crusader Problems

Post by Gooner1 » 26 Mar 2018 14:09

MarkN wrote:The results in Libya and the Western Desert 1941-42 have little to do with "the lack of adequate anti tank weapons in North Africa". I doubt the results would have been much - if at all - different if all of the 2-pdrs were replaced one-for-one with 6-pdr or even 17-pdr. Not that it was possible, of course. Thus, the argument about whether the 3" could have been better utilized seems to me to be a complete red herring.
I disagree. The battles in the desert were decided by armour attrition. The side that ran out of tanks first had to retreat. The 6-pdr was a vastly more effective anti-armour weapon than the 2-pdr, ergo ..

MarkN
Member
Posts: 2549
Joined: 12 Jan 2015 13:34
Location: On the continent

Re: The German 50 mm. Tank Gun and the Crusader Problems

Post by MarkN » 26 Mar 2018 14:30

Gooner1 wrote:
MarkN wrote:The results in Libya and the Western Desert 1941-42 have little to do with "the lack of adequate anti tank weapons in North Africa". I doubt the results would have been much - if at all - different if all of the 2-pdrs were replaced one-for-one with 6-pdr or even 17-pdr. Not that it was possible, of course. Thus, the argument about whether the 3" could have been better utilized seems to me to be a complete red herring.
I disagree. The battles in the desert were decided by armour attrition.
No, they weren't.
Gooner1 wrote:The side that ran out of tanks first had to retreat.
The side that vacated the battleground - ie had already retreated - lost the ability to bring back to life temporary immobile pantsers.

History shows that the Germans often suffered greater attrition of their pantsers during battle but since they claimed the battleground after a British retreat where then able to restart their non-runners ready for the next battle whilst the British had to await for a new delivery from afar.
Gooner1 wrote:The 6-pdr was a vastly more effective anti-armour weapon than the 2-pdr, ergo ..
...ergo what? Being a more effective piece of equipment does not mean it will be more effective on the battlefield.

Gooner1
Member
Posts: 2016
Joined: 06 Jan 2006 12:24
Location: London

Re: The German 50 mm. Tank Gun and the Crusader Problems

Post by Gooner1 » 26 Mar 2018 14:47

MarkN wrote:...ergo what? Being a more effective piece of equipment does not mean it will be more effective on the battlefield.
Ergo, with the 6-pdr instead of the 2-pdr the Germans would run out of tanks faster.

More effective equipment generally means it will be more effective on the battlefield. 7th Support Group with 6-pdrs at Sidi Rezegh and the battle could resemble the action at Snipe. The Axis panzer 'charge' on Totensonntag could become a bloody shambles like that of 6th RTR two days earlier.

yantaylor
Member
Posts: 947
Joined: 20 Mar 2011 14:53
Location: Cheshire

Re: The German 50 mm. Tank Gun and the Crusader Problems

Post by yantaylor » 26 Mar 2018 19:42

I don't think that the QF 2 pdr anti-tank guns was such a bad weapon, it was just that the Germans improved their tanks with better armour and weapons which left the 2 pdr behind, but as a anti-tank gun the QF 2 pdr was quite modern for its day with a 360% traverse and a armour penetration of 47mm @ 500m @ 30° which was quite enough to deal with the Pz III Ausf B to H and the Pz IV Ausf A to D.

It could also destroy anything that the Italian and Japanese could field.

Yan.

User avatar
David W
Member
Posts: 3473
Joined: 28 Mar 2004 01:30
Location: Devon, England

Re: The German 50 mm. Tank Gun and the Crusader Problems

Post by David W » 26 Mar 2018 20:14

I think that the main problem with the 2 pdr was the primitive solid shot ammunition.

Return to “WW2 in Africa & the Mediterranean”