Sir John Valentine Carden survives.

GarethC

Donor
19 March 1941. Cairo, Egypt.

... It would be a shame to lose all that ground [by retreating to Tobruk], just to have to take it again, but any sensible German General would be digging in, and preparing for the next phase of the British attack.
Very droll, sir, very droll.
 
The word coming from Athens was that the Greeks weren’t falling back as planned to the Aliakmon Line, and that the Divisions that were being transferred there were second line troops, and under strength. It occurred to Wavell that basically it would be a race for the Australians and New Zealanders to get to those positions and dig in before the Germans arrived. The reports from 1st Armoured Brigade’s reconnaissance were revelatory about the lay of the land and the inherent dangers of the plan that had been worked out.
The moment when over-optimistic projections start to make contact with reality...

Glad to see this back -I've been missing it.
 
However that is what all tank designers have done since the Sherman and the British wanted the engine/transmission all together in the back to free up space in the fighting compartment. The ease of access to the transmission was fortuitous in the Sherman, although they took suitable advantage of the opportunity.
If you designed your new tank so that the rear of the hull was removable, would that not make the transmission that is in front of it accessible?
 
If you designed your new tank so that the rear of the hull was removable, would that not make the transmission that is in front of it accessible?
That's what they did with the M18 (for the engine rather than the transmission). There were even rails on the hatch, so you could get the engine part way out without a crane.
 

perfectgeneral

Donor
Monthly Donor
That's what they did with the M18 (for the engine rather than the transmission). There were even rails on the hatch, so you could get the engine part way out without a crane.
Engine and transmission on a rail as a power plant would be a tall (wide) order. If you could decouple from the track gears at the side it might make a complete swap out for repair or slide out for servicing quick. Was this ever done on a tracked armoured vehicle?
 
Engine and transmission on a rail as a power plant would be a tall (wide) order. If you could decouple from the track gears at the side it might make a complete swap out for repair or slide out for servicing quick. Was this ever done on a tracked armoured vehicle?
That's how some modern powerpacks are done, but lifted from the top, with the engine and transaxle pulled out as a unit, and retracting the splined axles from the sprockets, along with all the other controls lines and connections

But fir first fast removal system was part of the US M7 light tank, later used with the M18
m7medium01-538cf477c1a7feaa71fefe040e0d96cc.jpg
 
24 March 1941. Ras el Ali, Libya.
24 March 1941. Ras el Ali, Libya.

There was a certain degree of expectation about what was about to take place, and yet, when it happened, it seemed to be something of a surprise to all the participants.

Two troops (six Valiant I* tanks) of the 4th Sharpshooters, County of London Yeomanry, along with B Company of the 1st Tower Hamlet Rifles, with a battery of 2-pdr anti-tank guns from 102 Anti-Tank Regiment, with various others, were the furthest outpost of the British forces in Libya. There were some reconnaissance troops of the Royals somewhere ahead of them, but this was where either the British defence of Cyrenaica or the attack on Tripolitania began.

Reports of German equipment being seen in North Africa were now confirmed, and it was believed that there was a German Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion operating from a base somewhere between Sirte and Nofilia. The 1st Royal Dragoons had been keeping tabs on this German unit, while attempting to avoid any head on clash. In this they had only partially succeeded, the Germans being more successful in any encounters so far.

What the Royals and the RAF had established was that there was one German light motorized division—or possibly part of a normal armoured division, it wasn’t entirely clear; in addition to the Italian Ariete Armoured Division and perhaps the complete Trento Motorized Division. While the Royals were doing most of the patrolling ahead of the British position at Ras el Ali, the local commander, Major Bill Holmes, of the 4th Sharpshooters, had wanted to keep up some aggressive patrolling around the main position.

The road at Ras el Ali passed through a fairly narrow strip between the sea and the desert escarpment. Unlike the main position at El Agheila, where the salt pans provided some degree of flank protection, here the road could be easily bypassed. It had been made clear to Major Holmes that this forward position was provide early warning of any enemy activity, to blunt any attack, and for his command to conduct a fighting withdrawal and delaying actions back to the main position some thirty miles behind them. The Royal Engineers had been busy construction various fall back positions, and preparing demolitions where they might slow an enemy advance. More elements of the 2nd Support Group and 4th Sharpshooters held other positions that Holmes could use to leapfrog back to the main line where the Australians were well dug in.

It fell primarily to Captain John Pitt, OC B Company of the 1st Tower Hamlet Rifles, to provide the men for the patrols. Each night he had listening posts out ahead of his main positions, and in the early hours of the morning, two sections would sweep along the road for more than a mile looking for any indications of enemy movement during the night. Above the escarpment, two Bren gun carriers supported two sections of infantry of a platoon, who were each in oversight positions watching and listening for movement around the flank. Major Holmes, partly to protect his tanks from attacks from the air, had kept his tanks well back from the infantry positions and well camouflaged. Looking at the ground, it was likely that an advance along the road would be stalled by the presence of the infantry and anti-tank guns, protected by a minefield. Therefore, the danger to the position would likely be from a flanking attack from the desert side. Holmes had one troop of tanks to the rear of the infantry positions to cover their withdrawal, or counterattack if the opportunity arose. The second troop was position above the escarpment, which with the rest of the platoon providing flank protection and the Bren gun carriers, gave him a reasonable force to interdict a flanking manoeuvre.

The German Reconnaissance Battalion had been cautiously probing forward along the coast road and to some extent across the desert. The presence of British Armoured Cars had been noted on a number of occasions and one, with its crew, had been captured. The interrogations backed up the findings of the radio intercept and photoreconnaissance intelligence that the British were in some strength around El Agheila, with some evidence of positions ahead of the main line. While the German and Italians were concentrating on Sirte, the desire to extend their forward positions east of Nofilia towards Ras el Ali was desirable.

The opening shots of the engagement were fired by the night patrol’s Bren gun, before being joined by six SMLE rifles. The answering MG34 and 20mm cannon however soon silenced the British patrol’s fire. The cost was one German motorcycle combination, with both men killed, for eight British soldiers, two dead, three wounded and the rest captured. The German Lieutenant cursed that his men had almost driven over a British foot patrol. If they were on foot, then their main position couldn’t be too far away, and probably within hearing range. Any chance to sneak up was probably gone. His orders were to patrol along the road and try to get a fix on the enemy positions. If opposition was light, then he had the back up of another two troops each of armoured cars and motorcycle borne riflemen, along with the light gun and anti-tank gun troops, to smash through. Some Luftwaffe planes were going to be on station soon, and they would be available to the Battalion Commander if necessary.

The sound of the firefight had indeed been heard back at the main British position, the sound of the German machine gun was quite distinctive compared to the Bren gun. B Company abandoned their breakfast and their NCOs soon had the men fully prepared. The Company Signals position sent off a contact report, and Major Holmes checked in with his tank commanders through the Squadron radio net.

Above the escarpment the dust cloud of the approaching German vehicles became apparent, the overwatch positions reported the sighting over the powered telephone landline to Company HQ. Major Holmes and Captain Pitt had worked out a variety of options depending on the situation, whether it was reconnaissance probe or a full-scale attack. The battery of 2-pdr anti-tank guns had been dug in among the infantry positions covering the road, and as well as the mines that had been laid along the side of the road, range markers had also been placed at various points.

The 2-pdr anti-tank gun had proven its value in the fighting in France and Flanders, where it was a match for all the German armoured vehicles. The four wheeled armoured cars which approached the British position were particularly vulnerable, their speed would be their primary defence. However, in this case they were approaching slowly and carefully, the commander of the first vehicle clearly scanning for the British positions though his binoculars. Captain Pitt, as a pre-war regular, had been particularly careful about camouflaging his positions, partly with an eye to the presence of the German aircraft, and exactly for this very situation. The standing orders were to let the Germans come forward as far as possible before opening fire.

The leading German vehicle had got as close as four hundred yards before something made its commander order the driver to halt. The close range and velocity of the 2-pdr gun made that a fatal choice. The guns of a full platoon opened up on the Germans, including one of the attached Vickers heavy machine guns. 2-inch mortar rounds fell among the Germans which caused them to scatter. The Royal Engineers had laid the minefield with just this eventuality in mind. As the German vehicles and men spread out on both sides of the road, they soon found themselves in the midst of a killing field. Those still able to, reversed quickly from the British fire, using their machine guns and cannons to lay as much covering fire and smoke as they could. As planned, the British troops ceased fire as quickly as practical and most moved to secondary positions, awaiting the German response. A few men had been wounded and were taken back to the Company’s aid station, two had been killed. The cries of the German wounded were pitiful, but no one from the British side wanted to expose themselves to the continuing German fire. This was increased as the Reconnaissance Battalion’s mortars and artillery began to find the range of the British positions.

Above the escarpment the German reconnaissance vehicles had much more room for manoeuvre. Once more the British troops held their fire as long as possible, only unmasking their positions when there was no other choice. As expected, a couple of German armoured cars and some of the motorised infantry focussed their attention on the British positions while the rest of the Armoured Reconnaissance Squadron kept moving along the flank, looking to get into the rear of the British position. At this point the three Valiant I* tanks rolled into action. The German vehicles had at most a 20mm cannon which did little more than chip paint of the British tanks, while the 2-pdr guns, when they scored a hit, it was usually deadly. The co-axial machine guns were in fact much more effective against the fast moving, and lightly armoured reconnaissance troops and vehicles.

The German Battalion commander was now conscious that the presence of tanks, of a type that was unknown to him, meant that he had encountered a serious defensive position, not a lightly defended outpost. He was aware that was the kind of information that his unit was designed to discover. He ordered his men to withdraw out of range of the British, and passed on the coordinates of the British positions to be communicated to the Luftwaffe. He also needed to report back to the Divisional Commander what they had discovered.

Major Holmes had considered moving his three other tanks forward to push the Germans back further, but the arrival of the Luftwaffe complicated that decision. The chance of them hitting a moving target was minimal, but hitting a completely concealed target was even less likely. The British troops endured the aerial assault in their slit trenches and other dugouts. A few more casualties were taken, and one of the company vehicles was destroyed. When the Luftwaffe had gone, it was discovered that the German reconnaissance troops had also withdrawn. Later in the day a patrol recovered the bodies of the dead British troops from the first confrontation. They, along the dead and wounded Germans, were carried back to be dealt with by the Medical Corps detachment. The German vehicles were searched for any useful intelligence, then dragged off out of the way.

With a reasonable chance that some Germans had been left behind to keep an eye on the British position, the Royal Engineers waited to after dark to move up to re-lay the minefield and set up some more booby traps. The advantage of the fast defeat of the Italian army meant that there was no shortage of explosives and mines to be used in great quantities.
northAfrica.jpg
 
So, on 24 March OTL Rommel's first moves captured El Agheila, which wasn't very well covered by the British.
Historically Rommel's intelligence told him that the British were weak and withdrawing. Here, I am presuming that his intelligence is telling him the opposite, and so there is a much more circumspect reconnaissance in force. The British have, here, their main line at El Agheila, but Ras el Ali was one of the places where a half decent forward defensive position could be established. In the OTL fighting against the Italians when they invaded, the 7th Armoured Division and Support group did something similar, having delaying positions ahead of the main line of resistance.
Allan
 
So, on 24 March OTL Rommel's first moves captured El Agheila, which wasn't very well covered by the British.
Historically Rommel's intelligence told him that the British were weak and withdrawing. Here, I am presuming that his intelligence is telling him the opposite, and so there is a much more circumspect reconnaissance in force. The British have, here, their main line at El Agheila, but Ras el Ali was one of the places where a half decent forward defensive position could be established. In the OTL fighting against the Italians when they invaded, the 7th Armoured Division and Support group did something similar, having delaying positions ahead of the main line of resistance.
Allan
That, of course, raises the question of whether it's Rommel in command this time.
 

Orry

Donor
Monthly Donor
That, of course, raises the question of whether it's Rommel in command this time.

Maybe this time he is commanding a division in Russia and gets tarnished with the actions of troops under his command..... or gets a 9mm resignation if he stands against it
 
And so it begins - or maybe not, since the Germans will report a solidly-held forward defensive position, which can't simply be bounced by fast-moving motorised troops and is covered by by tanks to the south. If Rommel's in charge, the next thing I'd expect is a motorised column trying to loop round the south of the Ras el Ali position and cut the road behind it, while AT units are brought up to deal with the British tanks. If it's not Rommel, the German commander may decide that flanking is too risky and he needs to bring up artillery for a set-piece attack.

Of course, once the German AT units (still using mostly 37mms) go up against Valiants, whoever it is may well be due a re-think.
 
And so it begins - or maybe not, since the Germans will report a solidly-held forward defensive position, which can't simply be bounced by fast-moving motorised troops and is covered by by tanks to the south. If Rommel's in charge, the next thing I'd expect is a motorised column trying to loop round the south of the Ras el Ali position and cut the road behind it, while AT units are brought up to deal with the British tanks. If it's not Rommel, the German commander may decide that flanking is too risky and he needs to bring up artillery for a set-piece attack.
All of that takes time of course, and the more strength the Germans waste on a forward post, the less they have to deal with a British counter-attack.

Of course, once the German AT units (still using mostly 37mms) go up against Valiants, whoever it is may well be due a re-think.
I was going to question that, but then I realised, the Germans haven't really encountered the Valiant before (except that one time at Dunkirk), so although they know the allies have a new tank, they probably won't realise, initially at least, how powerful it is, assuming that any tank that far forward has to be a cruiser.
 
I was going to question that, but then I realised, the Germans haven't really encountered the Valiant before (except that one time at Dunkirk), so although they know the allies have a new tank, they probably won't realise, initially at least, how powerful it is, assuming that any tank that far forward has to be a cruiser.
The Germans will have talked to the Italians, who have had multiple encounters with both variants of the Valiant. Of course, how many of the stories they choose to believe is another question.
And even if they do believe, will this translate into a priority transfer of (scarce) new heavy anti-tank guns to Libya, when planning is going full-bore for Greece and Barbarossa? After all, the Panzer divisions handled S-35s and Char B-1s well enough in France and the British armoured units (as opposed to the infantry support regiments at Arras and Calais) were hardly a major threat.
 
For the Germans to move forward at all, they are going to need to send out very long and very exposed columns on narrow roads that could easily be identified by the. RAF and attacked by RAF or RN assets (or when closer to the defensive positions, identified by RAF and hit with heavy Royal Artillery).
 
The Germans will have talked to the Italians, who have had multiple encounters with both variants of the Valiant. Of course, how many of the stories they choose to believe is another question.
And even if they do believe, will this translate into a priority transfer of (scarce) new heavy anti-tank guns to Libya, when planning is going full-bore for Greece and Barbarossa? After all, the Panzer divisions handled S-35s and Char B-1s well enough in France and the British armoured units (as opposed to the infantry support regiments at Arras and Calais) were hardly a major threat.
The Germans could well believe that the Italian's stories of a new wonder tank are a cover for their dismal failure. After all the Germans did have quite a bit of trouble with the British tanks and they still overcame them.
 
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