Good article on the early North African campaign of 1940-41

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Tim Smith
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Good article on the early North African campaign of 1940-41

Post by Tim Smith » 14 Oct 2005 18:20

See this link: http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/Quart ... itawna.htm

Demonstrates that the Italian defeat in Cyrenaica in winter 1940-41 was largely down to inferior equipment, especially in tanks. The Italian tanks were inferior in number, quality and tactics to the British armour, and the Italian infantry divisions simply lacked sufficient effective weapons to stop the heaviliy armoured British Matilda II's.

alf
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Post by alf » 15 Oct 2005 23:41

Thankyou Tim, that is an excellent article. My father fought in a lot of those earlier battles, Bardia, Tobruk, Benghazi with the 6 Division of the 2nd AIF. So it is an interest of mine.

My dad recounted how 8 Australians armed with 7 Lee Enfields and one tommy gun blundered into an out post of Italians (over 200 men dug in, 4 field guns, mortars and machine guns, barb wire etc) and the Italians promptly surrendered before a shot was fired. That kind of incident was common.

It came down to poor morale, which in turn came from the very poor equipment they had (and supply shortages), if I remember correctly one of the Italian machine guns would not eject a used cartridge but replace it back in the magazine, leaving a very frustrated Number 2 on the gun having to unload the magazine of hot empty cartridges at the end. Obviously designed by a committee.

The Italians were subjected to some very strange propaganda from their own side, designed to inspire fear in them it appears, 20,000 Australian Barbarains (no comment :) ) were about to desend upon them etc, it was a strange and naive time..

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Re: Good article on the early North African campaign of 1940

Post by Kenshiro » 18 Oct 2005 19:46

Tim Smith wrote:See this link: http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/Quart ... itawna.htm

Demonstrates that the Italian defeat in Cyrenaica in winter 1940-41 was largely down to inferior equipment, especially in tanks. The Italian tanks were inferior in number, quality and tactics to the British armour, and the Italian infantry divisions simply lacked sufficient effective weapons to stop the heaviliy armoured British Matilda II's.
the link doesent work...

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Tim Smith
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Re: Good article on the early North African campaign of 1940

Post by Tim Smith » 18 Oct 2005 22:34

Kenshiro wrote:
Tim Smith wrote:See this link: http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/Quart ... itawna.htm

Demonstrates that the Italian defeat in Cyrenaica in winter 1940-41 was largely down to inferior equipment, especially in tanks. The Italian tanks were inferior in number, quality and tactics to the British armour, and the Italian infantry divisions simply lacked sufficient effective weapons to stop the heaviliy armoured British Matilda II's.
the link doesent work...
Yes it does.....

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Mr Holmes
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Post by Mr Holmes » 19 Oct 2005 10:48

Works here too, although I have yet to read the article. :-(
Last edited by Mr Holmes on 19 Oct 2005 11:04, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Pips » 19 Oct 2005 11:01

Good article.

The '40/'41 campaign forever branded the Italian soldier as totally lacking in courage or ability. As events were to prove later, given proper leadership and equipment, the Italian soldier was as capable as any on the battlefield.

The main reason for the disastrous showing against Wavell's fabled 30,000 was that the Italian Army in 1940 was a foot army, with little in the way of mechanical transport or weapons. So that when O'Connor lead his (high;y mechanised - for 1940) forces against the Italians he simply went round any place that offered resistance, thereby covering huge miles and constantly cutting off those Italian forces from their supply bases. Those forces, once cut off and without supplies, usually surrendered within days - the Desert being very unkind to those without water.

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Post by Graeme Sydney » 28 Oct 2005 08:55

I agree with the basic premise that the prime reason for the poor performance of the Italians was poor equipment, moral, tactics and leadership. Where the cycle of rot started is a little harder to identify. However, given they poor equipment there was little more they could have done.

The Technological Edge is an interesting phenomenon in war. The first leg of the Benghazi handicap would be an example. The problem for the Italians was they were outmoded in every aspect. Just how much of a Technological Edge is needed to guarantee success varies on the overall mix including arty, inf, air and tanks.

Knowing the difficulties the Brits had it was still a great, bold and well run victory by them.

I’m still undecided how much the return leg of the handicap under Rommel was Technological Edge or Rommel’s leadership or British ineptitude.

Although I agree with the overall of the author’s premise I found it precious the quoting of an obvious blowhard (regarding would have already been in Tobruk) to support his case.

Too much of history in written and distorted by the victor. Its interesting to read the other side account.

Ciao, Graeme.

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Post by Michael Emrys » 28 Oct 2005 16:05

The Italian M13/40 was not significantly inferior to British cruiser tanks, though it was seriously out-armored by the Matilda. Otherwise, the British had an edge—often a large edge—in most other areas, training, morale, and leadership. The Italian artillery could hold its own, but could not compensate for the inadequacies in other areas.

Rommel's victory in the spring of 1941 was the product of many factors. The British were at the end of their supply line and were hamstrung by logistical problems. Their most experienced units had been withdrawn from the front in Cyrenaica and either sent to other theaters or were refitting. The 2nd. Armoured was new to the desert and badly prepared to receive an attack of serious proportions. The best intelligence the British had (from Ultra decrypts) indicated that Rommel would not launch an offensive for at least two more months. So, for all those reasons, their units were strung out all across the desert and not at all in an organized defense, either physically or mentally. In other words, they were in many ways in similar shape to what the Italians were in three months earlier.

Then you add into that the technical superiority of some of the German equipment, better combined arms doctrine, and a tactically skilled and very aggressive commander, and the outcome was almost a foregone conclusion.

IMHO. :)

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Post by Tim Smith » 28 Oct 2005 16:38

The impact that the Matilda II had on the Italians in winter 1940-41 was far greater than the impact the Tiger had on the Allies in Tunisia in early 1943.

To the Italians, the Matilda II was a virtually invulnerable, unstoppable monster. It's 40mm 2-pounder gun was nothing special by German standards, but could penetrate any Italian tank at combat ranges up to 1,500 metres.

While the 47mm on the best Italian tank, the M13/40, would need to shoot the Matilda II in the rear at less than 100m range (preferably less than 50m to ensure penetration.) That's grenade-throwing range - ridiculous for tank combat! Very difficult to get that close without being shot, unless you're fighting in a built-up area. Not many of those in the desert.....

The Italian tanks were in an even worse position than M4 Shermans facing Tigers in 1944.

Basically, the Italian tank crews were committing suicide by even attempting to engage the Matilda, but they did it anyway, trying to help their infantry. This 47mm was also the standard Italian anti-tank gun, so the infantry couldn't do much either.

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Post by Graeme Sydney » 29 Oct 2005 01:19

Grease_Spot wrote:
Rommel's victory in the spring of 1941 was the product of many factors. The British were at the end of their supply line and were hamstrung by logistical problems. Their most experienced units had been withdrawn from the front in Cyrenaica and either sent to other theaters or were refitting. The 2nd. Armoured was new to the desert and badly prepared to receive an attack of serious proportions. The best intelligence the British had (from Ultra decrypts) indicated that Rommel would not launch an offensive for at least two more months. So, for all those reasons, their units were strung out all across the desert and not at all in an organized defense, either physically or mentally. In other words, they were in many ways in similar shape to what the Italians were in three months earlier.

Then you add into that the technical superiority of some of the German equipment, better combined arms doctrine, and a tactically skilled and very aggressive commander, and the outcome was almost a foregone conclusion.

IMHO. :)

G.S., that’s a good summary and pretty much my understanding. And I agree with “In other words, they were in many ways in similar shape to what the Italians were in three months earlier.” The big difference was they withdraw in good order (largely, but the digger’s derisive nickname of the Benghazi Handicap gives a bit of insight into the fast advance and then undignified mad scramble to the rear) which was due to the availability of mobility (trucks etc.) and morale/leadership and discipline/training – done of which the Italians displayed.

Both the Italian and British forces must have been something of rag tag armies despite been 12 months into the war. My father’s unit (2/4th Field Regt, 7 Div AIF) took up a reserve position at Mersa Matru with 6 x 25lbs and 18 x WW1 18lbs and very little ammo. They had no rifles for local defence (these were later literally picked up off the battlefield in Syria – Australia had sent 50,000 Rifles to Brit after Dunquik).

The 6th Div AIF got it’s bren guns at 8.00 pm the night before the 2.00 am attack on Bardia. I’m not quite sure of the exact details of this exercise but in Mackay’s biography (GOC 6th Div at Bardia) 3 days before the attack a 6th Div officer had been dispatched to Cairo with 3 trucks to scrounge the necessary guns. He apparently cruised the rear units and depots, brit and oz, and by fair means or fowl arrived back with the guns (give that man a gong). They were distributed to the inf in the assemble areas.

A bit of an insight into how desperate the situation was for the Brits/allies in 1940.

Details like this may be boring to some but they amaze me. What amazes me is the morale of the troops. Can you imagine standing around in the Assemble Area at 7.30 pm ‘you want me to do what with what sir?’ would have been on my lips.

Mobility and lack of mobility may have preordained the operational outcome but the Italian also failed comprehensively at the tactical level. Mackay considered Bardia a rerun of WW1. It was an inf attack against fixed defences. The inf broke in and the tanks exploited.

Ciao Graeme.
Last edited by Graeme Sydney on 29 Oct 2005 09:27, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Michael Emrys » 29 Oct 2005 06:05

Graeme Sydney wrote:And I agree with “In other words, they were in many ways in similar shape to what the Italians were in three months earlier.” The big difference was they withdraw in good order (largely, but the digger’s derisive nickname of the Benghazi Handicap gives a bit of insight into the fast advance and then undignified mad scramble to the rear) which was due to the availability of mobility (trucks etc.) and moral/leadership and discipline/training – done of which the Italians displayed.
That's true and a point worth mentioning.

Some Italian units were well led and performed commendably. This was generally true of the "technical" services: air, armor, and artillery. The infantry was largely comprised of poorly educated conscripts who were given little training and were held in contempt by their officers. It's little wonder that their motivation, morale, and discipline were weak. It would not have helped that they were also the poorest fed soldiers in the desert.

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