(British) Imperial, Colonial, and Allied/aligned manpower in the eastern Med, 1939-45

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Dave Shoup, Oct 6, 2019.

  1. Dave Shoup Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2019
    Although Britain's support of the European exile governments and their armed forces during WW II is fairly well known, the realities of the manpower the exiled governments could call meant that even as late as the 1944 campaigns in northwestern Europe that the ground forces (as opposed to naval, merchant marine, or even air forces, and various special operations units) these governments could put into action were limited.

    The British had sustained two light divisions under De Gaulle in 1940-42, but these were both folded into the French forces organized under the FCNL government in Algiers after TORCH and the ANFA conference. This left the largest Allied ground forces supported (more or less) directly by the British as (depending upon how one counts) either the Polish Army (in the west) or the Italian Cobelligerent Army.

    In terms of combat formations, those two forces amounted to three Polish divisions by 1944 (1st armoured and 3rd and 5th infantry) and saw action in Italy and northwestern Europe, although the 3rd and 5th were "light" (two brigade) formations for much of the war. The Poles also organized two separate brigades (one armoured and one parachute) that saw action in 1944, and in 1945, were able to bring both infantry divisions to three-brigade strength with liberated manpower (LMP). A second armored division was also raised, but very late in the war. The Italians provided the manpower for six light divisions in 1944-45 (Cremona, Folgore, Friuli, Legnano, Mantova, and Piceno), five of which saw action in Italy.

    After that, the Belgians, Czechs, and Dutch all provided cadre for a brigade each, which were built up in 1944-45 with liberated manpower, and saw action in northwest Europe; the Belgians mobilized a number of separate battalions (light infantry, military police, etc.) with liberated manpower, and were training the cadre for another 4-6 "line" brigades in the UK by VE Day. The Dutch raised some similar security type forces from LMP, and an entire brigade was in training in the US for the Pacific by VJ Day.

    The Greek forces, which had provided two brigades for the North African campaign in 1942, were reduced to a single brigade that saw action in Italy in 1944 and then transferred to Greece. The Norwegians, Danes, and Yugoslavs provided various special operations personnel; Luxembourg raised a battery that served with the Belgian forces.

    Likewise, the Imperial and Colonial forces that were supported by Britain - either directly, like the Indian Army and the African colonial forces - or indirectly, like the Australians, Canadians, South Africans, New Zealanders, etc. were limited by a variety of political and economic needs. In the political and economic sense, this was demonstrated clearly by the limits all the Dominion governments put on mobilization, because of domestic political opposition to sending draftees overseas, the need for manpower in the Dominions' agricultural and industrial sectors, or both.

    As far as the Empire and colonies went, political realities in India and Africa precluded conscription, and there was an obvious shortage of trained/educated manpower in the Indian and African pools; obviously, the racism inherent in the Western world in the 1940s came into play as well, directly during the war or indirectly beforehand, in terms of limiting the pool of trained labor. In the case of the Indian Army, the forces that were raised historically and deployed out of India presumably were the realistic limit; the same appears to hold true for the African colonial forces deployed outside of Africa.

    One other point worth making: it was rare for an Allied/exile unit (battalion, etc.) to be attached to a larger Allied formation (brigade/division), so the concept of an "interallied" formation was pretty limited. A Czech battalion was attached to one of the Polish brigades in North Africa, for example, but that was fairly rare - the exile governments all preferred to keep "national" formations.

    So, given all the above, the question is could the British have made more of the manpower they had access to in territories within their control, or could they have brought additional Allied forces into the field ... by 1943, in Europe, whether northwestern (1st Army Group) or southern (15th Army Group and/or III Corps in Greece)?

    Some options:

    British Mediterranean territories - Gibraltar, Malta, and Cyprus: Local forces were raised in all three, and saw action and appear to have been quite effective in Malta; the issue in all three was that as British forces (or Imperial, like the Australians in Cyprus) were withdrawn, the local forces had to pick up their duties, as well as sustain the base facilities that made all three territories worth defending in the first place. Obviously, both Gibraltar and Malta had small population bases to draw upon, so other than individual volunteers or very specialized small units, neither presumably could have contributed much for operations - perhaps a field battery raised from the RMA. Worth noting is that an RMA battalion served in Germany as part of the British Army's NATO contingent for much of the 1960s, so presumably any legalities could have been addressed.

    Cyprus is an interesting case; the population was much larger, of course, and almost 30,000 Cypriots served in a mix of units, recruited from both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot populations, and for both local service (in Cyprus) and overseas service; Cypriot personnel served in France in as early as 1940, and after that, in Greece, the eastern Med/Levant, North Africa, and Italy. From what I've been able to find, however, the Cyprus Regiment did not actually send its designated combat infantry overseas as such; instead the Cypriot troops served as pioneers, transport, service/supply units, etc. With a force of roughly 10,000 "active" Cyprus Regiment personnel at its height in 1944, and as many as 20,000 "local" Cyprus Volunteer force personnel, at least one "line" battalion (1st Battalion, Cyprus Regiment?) for overseas combat service seems possible.

    Mandatory Palestine - The history of the Mandate is long and contested, and given the politics, very challenging to delve into ... that being said, in 1944, three infantry battalions (1st-3rd battalions, the Palestine Regiment, from the Jewish segment of the population) were recruited - quite quickly, once the go-ahead was given - and provided the maneuver elements of a brigade group that served under British command in Italy in 1944-45, and quite effectively, from the available record. The brigade included some supporting units recruited in Palestine (an engineer company, a field artillery battery, etc.) although the supporting elements (including the 200th (Field) Regiment, RA) included a lot of British personnel.

    Auxiliary Forces under British command - Examples would be the Arab Legion, TransJordan Frontier Force, Iraqi Levies, and Aden Protectorate Levies; these were (largely) local defense forces with (mostly) British officers, and subject to varying levels of local control. However, all four organizations operated under British control during the war, with varying levels of effectiveness. Iraqi Levy volunteers formed a parachute company that served with British troops in the Aegean, Greece, and Italy in 1944-45, and a motorized battalion raised from the Arab Legion/TJFF for service in the Med (Italy, presumably) was considered in roughly the same period, but ultimately was not formed. At one point, the Iraqi Levies numbered in the thousands, and the minority populations (Assyrian Christians, for example) were well regarded, and formed specialized units (the Parachute Company, for one).

    Local forces raised by the British - During the British occupation of both (at the time) Italian East Africa and Italian North Africa, various local forces were raised under British command for security and garrison duties; these included the Libyan Arab forces in Libya, which had served alongside the 8th Army in the 1940-42 campaigns. Whether more could have been done or not with these troops is a question; the Italian colonial troops in East Africa - Eritreans and Somalis, for example - seem to have been well-regarded by the British during the 1940-41 campaign, and seem a possible source for manpower.

    Allied (or eventually Alilied forces not otherwise tasked - The obvious example here are the Ethiopians, who had fought alongside the British and Allied forces in the East African campaign. Once the Italians surrendered, there was a need for local security and garrison forces to sustain the restored government, but as the Kagnew Battalion showed in Korea, there was a potential cadre for active service in combat that presumably could have been tasked in 1944-45 with the same level of success it was in 1950-53. There are other potential sources, as well, but they get more problematic for obvious reasons. The Egyptian Army, for example, had served as what can be best described as a home defense force in 1940-45, and seem to have been effective enough in those roles (AA, for example), but anything more would presumably have required major changes in Egyptian politics in 1943-45.

    So there are the options for "national" service ... a brigade (more or less) from Palestine, perhaps a battalion each from Cyprus and Ethiopia, and some smaller elements from elsewhere, but that's about it.

    There is another possibility, of course, one not unknown to British history - purely mercenary units, along the lines of the Gurkhas (or, going to the Nineteenth Century, the abortive German, Swiss, and Italian legions of the Crimean war).

    Given the vagaries of the Empire (British territories, dependencies, protectorates, etc.), presumably the legalities could have addressed, as they were for the Gurkhas historically (and the French Foreign Legion, for that matter). Finding officers and technicians would have been challenging, depending where the rank and file was recruited, along with the language of command, but could a "Gurkha Rifles" equivalent - recruited from any or all of the places and manpower pools suggested above - been a reality?

    There were certainly serving British officers with (presumably) the necessary outlook - Wingate comes to mind immediately, but there were others.

    Thoughts?
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2019
    formion likes this.
  2. jsb Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2013
    Well if you want more how much are you allowed to change?

    An orderly withdrawal to Crete and then holding on in may 41 would allow much larger Greek forces to be kept in service?
    Not losing so many forces by winning NA faster before full German involvement?
    Not losing Malaya and its army as well as raising large local Malaya and Chinese forces?
    More African recruitment?
     
    TeePee and Some Bloke like this.
  3. Peg Leg Pom Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 18, 2009
    Bully the South Africans and Rhodesians into raising some African divisions. A division of Zulu would be bloody terrifying. Put them in the British Army if their governments are reluctant to have them in their own.
     
    yulzari likes this.
  4. Dave Shoup Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2019
    Fair points; I was looking more to a POD in 1942 or later, given that the tide had turned by then and the prospect of large operations in Europe presumably could have led to thinking about how to use the somewhat more marginal sources of manpower sketched in the OP.

    Given that, the "more African recruitment" is an interesting one. Historically, the formations raised in 1941-43 with manpower from Britain's sub-saharan African territories included the 11th, 12th, 81st, and 82nd divisions; the first two (which at the time included some elements used later as cadre for the last two) both saw action in Italian East Africa in 1940-41, and the last three all went out to India in 1944-45. Doesn't appear they were ever programmed for use in Europe, or even really in the Mediterranean Theater, beyond garrison duties in northern Africa.

    Historically, the KAR and WAFF battalions had a significantly larger percentage of "European" officers and NCOs compared to IA infantry battalions, presumably because of the relative lack of educational opportunity for African personnel. Using the South African Army battalions as the "lead" battalion in an "African" brigade, akin to the historical organization of Indian Army formations (brigades and divisions) would have been a way to stretch the manpower, but the impact on politics in the Union of South Africa are obvious.
     
  5. Dave Shoup Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2019
    Interesting concept, but the Union government would never agree. As it was, South African (and white Rhodesian) opinion was such that the British protectorates (High Commission Territories) within or adjacent to South African territory - what were at the time the Batsutoland, Bechuanaland, and Swaziland protectorates - were extremely limited in what role their residents could and did play in the war effort.

    Obviously, non-white residents of the Union itself were recruited for non-combatant and support roles in the SAA, but the colour bar was in place and combat arms units were never officially raised from that manpower. The concept of whole scale integration of such personnel into the British Army would not occur for the same reason. Given the realities of the racial thinking of the 1940s in the west generally, as much as your ideas make sense, just don't see them occurring.

    I was thinking more how - in the historical term - the "Caucasian" population in the British Mediterranean and Mediterranean littoral territories and aligned/allied states "might" have been more effectively used by the British in support of the Allied war effort from the mid-point of the war onward.
     
    formion likes this.
  6. Dave Shoup Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2019
    So here's an idea - the percentage of Jewish Palestinians/Palestinian Jews/etc. with military experience increased significantly from 1942, when the "Anders' Army" of Poles crossed from the USSR into Iran and then came under British command, and the command of the Polish Forces in the West. Of the roughly 70,000 Polish troops, as many as 5,000 were estimated to be Jewish Poles. Some of these men remained loyal to Poland, even in the face of some anti-semitism; others deserted, and a percentage took leave (recognized or otherwise) from Polish service and took up residence in Mandatory Palestine. Among them was Menachem Begin, who was a Polish national and Army reservist.

    So the POD is that leadership across the boards (Allied, British, Polish, Jewish, etc.) is they need all the manpower/military experience they can get, and Orde Wingate - rather than being sent out to India in 1942 - gets approval for his concept of raising forces from among the Jewish population in Palestine (the Yishuv) for active service. In effect, this brings the personnel who - historically - filled the three Palestine Regiment battalions for service in Italy in 1944-45 - being sworn into Allied service in 1942, rather than two years later. With the Jewish Poles and Wingate's connections to Haganah, the Irgun and Lehi are brought back into the fold, as well, and the situation in Palestine is somewhat calmer than historically.

    The immediate result (obviously, this is speculative) is there is a larger pool of manpower available than what (historically) was available for the JBG in 1944-45. In addition (speculate some more) the Yishuv leadership realizes their community needs some more friends in the region, and so reaches out to moderate Arabs and the various Christian and exile communities. Some L-L is sprinkled around, and numbers of (largely) Christian personnel are brought forward by their various community leaders as willing to serve alongside the Jewish troops. These might include (speculatively) volunteers from Cyprus, Iraq, Ethiopia, etc. If Wingate and company can scare up 9,000 or so officers and men, along with the necessary cadre and replacement pool, that's roughly equivalent to one of the "light" divisions the British were willing to equip and support for their exile/allies. Using the same organization as the Italian light divisions formed in 1944-45, for example, would require 432 officers and 8,578 enlisted and ncos. That level of personnel yielded a light division with the equivalent of:

    The "Gideon" Division
    Divisional headquarters - MG Wingate, with a mixed British/Allied staff
    Two brigade-level headquarters - British Army CG; mixed British/Allied staff
    Six infantry battalions - Four from the Palestine Regiment, one each from Iraq (Assyrians, etc.), and Ethiopia (presume two PR battalions and an Allied battalion in each brigade)
    Two field artillery, one anti-tank, and one anti-aircraft battalions - British, Palestine, Malta, etc.
    One engineer battalion - Cyprus/Mixed

    Possible? Anyone else that could be added to the mix, realistically?

    If so, given that most of these units existed in 1942, at least in cadre form, it should be ready for action sometime in 1943 ... so, where and how is it used (all else being equal to history)?

    The Dodecanese Campaign in 1943? Italy in 1943? Italy in 1944-45? Under one of the British corps in 8th Army, or the Polish II Corps?

    Or it transfers to the 21st Army Group in 1945 as part of GOLDFLAKE?

    Thoughts?
     
  7. formion Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2011
    Cyprus could have easily procure a whole division (not a light one, the usual 3 brigade structure). The British rejected more Cypriots than the ones accepted https://www.academia.edu/3506414/Mi..._British_Colony_the_Cyprus_regiment_1939-1945

    Nominally criminals and communists (communists were rejected until 1943) were rejected. I doubt that it was the case though: a rural population of 400k would'nt have 13,000 criminals and the influence of the communist party was negligible at the time. Thus, I believe it was simply colonial politics: the authorities wouldn't like a segment of the population to have military experience, especially since the Greek Cypriots desired union with Greece. Certainly there was enthusiasm enough for service considering the volunteers of OTL.

    With a different colonial approach the British could have certainly fielded a whole division.
     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2019
    TeePee, Dave Shoup and Some Bloke like this.
  8. georgy176 The Not So Great Know It All

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2012
    Location:
    Toronto, ON, Canada
    There may be another potential source of manpower the UK could tap into but one which would be fraught with great political risk for the British Imperial position in the region. This would be the national forces of the Kingdoms of Egypt and Iraq. Though nominally independent they were under the effective control and occupation of British Imperial and Commonwealth forces. They were also quite substantial with Iraq able to field some 4 division and Egypt having several brigades with even prewar British plans to utilize Egyptian troops in a frontier defense mission and general line of communicatiions duties. And British training, doctrine, equipment and even seconded British officers had been used to builf up and train thise forces. Not to mention there were mutual defense treaties with both.

    The problem was their extreme political unreliability. The Egyptisn government was riddled with pro axis sympathizers that welcomed an axis victory as a way to get rid of the British so those prewar plans were largely dispensed with. And then there was the 1941 Iraq Revolt that resulted in Britain disbanding the Iraq Army for the rest of the war.

    Now if a political deal coul be reached, say by promising true independence and a renegotiating of treaties to make thrm more equitable, maybe that could convince these two countries to commit themselves and their military to the allied cause?

    Given Britain still saw itself as a global imperial power with the middle east being a critical area of energy and communications that it needed to control if it wanted to keep its global position, I am not sure sure they could give up enough of that control to convince Egypt and Iraq to join the allied coalition.

    On the otherhand maybe some convoluted document can be crafted that gives both sides enough vague promises to allow them to fight alongside each other for the duration and put off the really difficult questions to another day?
     
    Dave Shoup likes this.
  9. Dave Shoup Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2019
    Useful source; thanks. The care taken to balance recruitment to mirror the general population is interesting; the same intent is clear when it comes to the Palestine Regiment, but the realities were far different.

    I don't really disagree with your conclusion, but my POD/OP was basing it more on the formation the British did recruit in this part of the world at the time (more or less): the JBG, and using a Cypriot contingent to build it up. Based on the paper, looks like about 11,000 men were recruited, and another 13,000 or so were turned down. Going by the 20 percent rule, 11,000 gets you about 2,200 Cypriots for overseas combat service via the lower number, and the total of 24,000 yields 4,800.

    The historical number is (very roughly) equivalent to two battalions, and the total combined to about a brigade. So, definitely useful in either event, but not really a division equivalent, unless combined with other "locals" - the JBG, for example, plus some other smaller contingents, and a significant number of British troops for headquarters, divisional troops, etc.
     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2019
    formion likes this.
  10. Dave Shoup Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2019
    Interesting idea - Iran would be another potential "neutral" in a similar position. Perhaps the South Persian Rifles will ride again.

    My thought in the OP was to try and base it (soemwhat) on reality, and given the British occupation of Iraq in 1941, I figured the demonstrably "loyal to the British" elements there (the Iraqi Levies, especially the Assyrian/Chaldean Christians) would be the more likely pool to recruit from - that being said, Iraq had plenty of small communities - the Kurds, Yazidis, etc. that also all come to mind.

    Egypt is another question. My guess is that given a slightly different strategic situation in the theater could have led to an Egyptian Army formation - probably no more than a picked, volunteer brigade group - being available for service overseas in 1943 and after ... the other option would be if Egypt remains neutral, but allows (or even encourages) recruitment, presumably of both Muslim and minority (Christian and Jewish) Egyptians into something resembling the volunteer "Gideon Division" sketched above.

    Failing that, an outright "Gurkha Rifles" type of situation, if organized prewar, suggests itself - the "Coptic Rifles" or something similar.
     
  11. formion Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2011
    I am sorry but I m not familiar with the 20% rule. Could you elaborate ?

    In general I think the volunteers turned up with the minimum propaganda and incentives. A more active approach may had yielded quite more recruits. The 23,000 that volunteered for the Cyprus Regiment, volunteered after an active campaign to dissuade great numbers to enlist. However, as you said 30,000 volunteered in total. A lot of them were in the mule transport companies (valuable in Italy) and other support units. However, in this number there are also the volunteers for the RAF and RN. Unfortunately I dont have exact numbers for them. I know for example that Glafkos Clerides, a future president of the Cypriot Republic, served in the Bomber Command. Perhaps a portion of these men could have been assigned in combat units.


    In Egypt, 7,000 out of the 250,000 Greek expat community volunteered to fighting units. Of these enlisted men, the Greek Army in Egypt received the majority. 2 infantry battalions were sustained by the expat community and fought in Alamein. I have no specific numbers about the non infantry units. Thousands more volunteered to work in supply units in Alexandria and other depots in Egypt.
     
  12. Dave Shoup Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2019
    The 20 percent rule is a very general rule of thumb that it takes about four men to sustain one in combat, between the need for replacements, simple churn due to illness, training, and/or leave, the needs of the supply lines, administration, training cadre and recruiting service, etc.

    Great detail on the Greek recruiting drive among the Egyptians.

    It certainly "seems" like the British/Allies more could have done more with some of these manpower pools than what was done, historically, in 1942-45. Some of these options preclude each other, but odds on the following (including commitment to combat in Europe in 1943-45):
    1. filling the Polish II Corps' divisions with two "allied" brigades (Czechs? the JBG?) in 1943-44, rather than filling with LMP in 1944-45;
    2. sustaining both of the two historical Greek brigade groups, rather than just one (requires some political adjustments in the Greek government in exile, as well, of course);
    3. sustaining an "enlarged" JBG as a separate formation;
    4. filling the Czech brigade with volunteers from the Med (presumably from the Yishuv, in place of 3?);
    5. a Cypriot Brigade Group;
    6. an Arab/Iraqi/Ethiopian "Christian" Brigade Group;
    7. a Muslim Brigade Group (Turkish Cypriots, Arab Legion, TJFF, Libyan Arab Forces, etc.);
    8. an Egyptian Army brigade group.
    9. Integrating "local" battalions into established British and/or Indian divisions serving in the Med, at a ratio of one per brigade?
    10. Others?
     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2019
    formion likes this.
  13. Hagre Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2019
    Location:
    Greater Afrika
    According to Fantahun Ayalew's The Ethiopian Army: From Victory to Collapse, 1974-1991, there were initially plans to dispatch a brigade of some 2,000 Ethiopian soldiers to the Middle East after they finished their training under the British Military Mission to Ethiopia. It was cancelled due to Haile Selassie attempting to prevent Ethiopia from becoming a British protectorate and continue his pre-1935 centralization. Should a more fair agreement be outlined upon Ethiopia's liberation or HS employ troops for better relations with the USA, there is the possibility that an Ethiopian Expeditionary Force serves in the Mediterranean.
     
    Dave Shoup likes this.
  14. Dave Shoup Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2019
    Interesting material; with a 100 percent replacement pool, that yields the equivalent of a 1,000 strong infantry battalion pretty simply. Seems like if it were available, integrating it into a brigade in one of the Indian divisions the British sustained in the Mediterranean Theater (4th, 8th, or 10th Indian) would have been a possibility.
     
    Hagre likes this.
  15. Hagre Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2019
    Location:
    Greater Afrika
    Definitely, although this depends on Britain not interfering in Ethiopia as much as they did IOTL.
     
    Dave Shoup likes this.
  16. Dave Shoup Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2019
    True. The thought behind the OP was (essentially) a British realization that use of these varied manpower pools will assist in winning the war, and doing so, rather than basing the mobilization decisions on what might or might not happen afterwards....
     
    Hagre likes this.
  17. formion Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2011
    While I agree with the majority of your point, a muslim brigade group would be political suicide. To distinguish Greek and Turkish Cypriots would inflate both the communities. In general, I think it would be tough to have a separate turkish battalion as out of the 23,000 applicants for the Cyprus Regiment only slightly more than the selected (~2000) were Turks. The British authorities tried the best the keep a 80%/ 20% balance between the two communities. That meant to dissuade the far more enthousiastic Greeks and accept the vast majority of Turks. Likewise, regarding officers, the vast majority of them were Greeks as they had far more university level (or some college) educated young men in their ranks.

    Likewise, the Arab Legion reached only 1600 men out of a much greater population than the cypriot one. The morale also was significantly lower. The best the British could get of them were garrison forces as in OTL.

    The majority of the Egyptian Army officers were pro-Axis. There was also extremely low willingness to fight in WW2. An Egyptian Army brigade would be a threat rather than an asset. At best, the very low morale would compromise a battle and be a liability.
     
  18. Dave Shoup Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2019
    Fair points, but there was a reason I put both towards the bottom of the list of potential options.
     
    formion likes this.
  19. Some Bloke Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2008
    Location:
    A small village in Arkhamshire.
    I reckon you'd need a serious rethink of recruitment etc before the war for thi to happen.
     
  20. Cryhavoc101 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 27, 2014
    Location:
    1123 6536 5321
    There was 2 West African Divisions formed and sent to 14th Army during WW2

    These apparently were quite at home in the Jungle and terrain of the Far East and fought quite well.

    Slim noted that they had a large establishment of 'white' or Europeans -50 or 60 to a battalion when an Indian Battalion would be unlikely to make double figures.

    So perhaps more Africans are given commissions earlier and more formations can be raised freeing up a division or 2 of Indian or British Army troops to fight elsewhere.