Author Topic: 7th Armoured Division with a twist  (Read 753 times)

Offline Volkodav

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7th Armoured Division with a twist
« on: November 05, 2016, 10:14:57 PM »
The origin of the famous "Desert Rats" the 7th Armoured Division was in the pre war Mobile Force established in Egypt as a counter to the Italians in North and East Africa in the late 30s.  Its first commander was Major General Percy Hobart (of Hobarts Funnies fame) who was an armoured warfare specialist who ensured his troops were properly prepared for desert warfare, despite the lack of sufficient suitable (let alone up to date) equipment.

My twist is while Deputy Director of Staff Duties (Armoured Fighting Vehicles) Hobart was involved with the selection of the what became the BESA in both 7.92mm and 15mm as well as the evaluation of the LT vz. 38 / TNH (Panzer 38(t)) and convinced his superiors to adopt an evolved version of the vehicle as a replacement for the Vickers Light Tank, as well as the chassis for a variety of other roles.  He then took it a step further and recommended that not only should the BESA retain the 7.92x57mm calibre that armoured units and assigned infantry and support units should adopt 7.92 as their standard service calibre to simplify supply.  The flow on of this was the Motor Battalions intended to operate with RAC could then be equipped with evolved, Anglicised ZH-29 semi auto rifles and 7.92mm BRENS (returning to the original calibre).

The prototype armoured force with the LT vz. 38 and enhanced Motor Battalions was the Egypt Mobile Force Hobart formed in 1939 and progressively evolved, introducing the new equipment as it became available and instead of being replaced Hobart remains in command until he is recalled to the UK to form the 11th Armoured division.  The formation he leaves behind in Egypt is a true combined arms Armoured Division with 6pdr armed TNHs, TNH "Kangaroos" (virtually an enlarged universal carrier type based on the TNH chassis), mechanised infantry armed with semi auto rifles and two BRENS (or one BREN and one BAR) per section, SPGs, SP mortars and armoured engineers. 

The 7th Armoured Division becomes the prototype for UK combined arms divisions going forward, the TNH will be phased out of the tank role as more modern and capable vehicles become available but the chassis will serve on in other roles.  7.92mm progressively replaces .303 as more weapons chambered for it (including rechambered SMLE and Vickers MMGs) become available, eventually throughout the entire Commonwealth.

Offline Old Wombat

  • "We'll see when I've finished whether I'm showing off or simply embarrassing myself."
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Re: 7th Armoured Division with a twist
« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2016, 01:27:57 AM »
I assume you're working on the principle that the British continued with the pre-WW2 idea of changing over to rimless ammunition?

Of course the move to the 7.92x57mm Mauser ammunition would have meant that the Germans would have had a lot of ready to use ammunition available to them after Dunkerque (Dunkirk). ::)

Still, I like the idea of the Brit's taking on some more Czech equipment - would make for some interesting early-war battles.

Even more interesting if the process had begun earlier, with the LT vz. 34 or LT vz. 35, & had led to a proper treaty between Britain & Czechoslovakia (rather than via mutual treaties with France).
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Offline Volkodav

  • Counts rivits with his abacus...
  • Much older now...but procrastinating about it
Re: 7th Armoured Division with a twist
« Reply #2 on: November 06, 2016, 12:27:20 PM »
I assume you're working on the principle that the British continued with the pre-WW2 idea of changing over to rimless ammunition?

Of course the move to the 7.92x57mm Mauser ammunition would have meant that the Germans would have had a lot of ready to use ammunition available to them after Dunkerque (Dunkirk). ::)

Still, I like the idea of the Brit's taking on some more Czech equipment - would make for some interesting early-war battles.

Even more interesting if the process had begun earlier, with the LT vz. 34 or LT vz. 35, & had led to a proper treaty between Britain & Czechoslovakia (rather than via mutual treaties with France).

Prior to the end of the war the UK had decided to standardise on 7.92x57mm Mauser (this may actually have been pre-war), it was only the evaluation of new intermediate cartridges that resulted in .280, EM-2 an Talden Gun that prevented this from happening.

As for the rest of it:

-the RAC did evaluate the LT vz. 38 but rejected it apparently because vibration made accurate shooting on the move impractical / impossible.  Without a doubt this vehicle would have been superior to the various Vickers Light Tanks in service at the time and more durable than the early cruisers (the caveat being so long as Nuffield's were kept away from them so they couldn't do stupid things like deliver the tanks with not lube oil, including driving them to the trains, then to the ships)

-the BREN was evolved from the ZB vz.26 which was chambers for 7.92x57mm Mauser.

-the BESA, an evolved ZB-53/TK vz.37, retained 7.92x57mm because pre-war it had been desired to move to a rimless cartridge but time ran out, it was feared that the industrial, technical and logistic difficulty of converting the gun to .303 would be worse than retaining the original calibre (RAC had their own logistics).  It was also thought that it would be beneficial to be able to use captured German ammunition.

-in addition to their pre war interest in rimless cartridges the UK was also investigating semi automatic rifles but ran out of time.  I do not know it the ZH-29 was ever assessed by the UK but interestingly Vickers Armstrong did licence produce the Pedersen .276" Rifle.

-Hobart was a leader in armoured warfare strategy and tactics, with Heinz Guderian following his work (even apparently paying for it to be translated).  He raised and trained the Mobile Force (or farce as dismissed by some senior officers) which grew into the Armoured Division and then was renamed the 7th Armoured Division, he also raised and trained the 11th and 79th armoured divisions before converting the 79th into a specialised armoured engineering and assault division.

-Hobart was forcibly retired in 1940, becoming a Lance Corporal in the Home Guard, before being reinstated in 1941 at the direction of Churchill.  Other attempts were made to sideline him by the establishment on health grounds.

-the 79th apart from its amphibious tanks and various armoured engineering platforms was also the command formation for both the 1st Canadian Armoured Personnel Carrier Regiment and the 49th Armoured Personnel Carrier Regiment.

Basically I have put a lot of different pieces together, something that only could have happened if Hobart had been held in higher regard early in the war.  That is probably the real what if, i.e. Percy Hobart was given greater authority and support pre and early war.

Offline Rickshaw

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Re: 7th Armoured Division with a twist
« Reply #3 on: November 06, 2016, 12:38:25 PM »
As you poiint, the problem is Hobart.  His low-esteem came primarily about because of the equally low-esteem he held his fellow officers in.  He was, in the term of the day, "not a team player", which is why he gladly took the assignment given to him in Cairo.  He perceived it as a chance to get out from under the eyes of Whitehall and to have a reasonably free reign to develop his armoured/mechanised warfare ideas without their interference.  They perceived it as a demotion - the kiss of death to a military career.

As for his LDV career, I can just imagine his application form, under the heading, "previous military experience?"  as being, "Commanded Mobile Force in Egypt, while in the British Regular Army,,,"   ;)

What would be needed would be for Hobo to be both more popular and a great deal more agreeable.

Offline Volkodav

  • Counts rivits with his abacus...
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Re: 7th Armoured Division with a twist
« Reply #4 on: November 06, 2016, 02:48:30 PM »
A big issue was his background as an Engineer who volunteered to transfer to the new Royal Tank Corps in an army commanded by cavalry and infantry generals who prided themselves in their lack of technical knowledge (something that persisted in the Australian Army until the 2000s) and held armour in disdain while classing engineers as useful but not real soldiers.  Many in the upper echelons of the British army of the time were still hoping to see RTC/RAC disbanded and dispersed among existing corps.

It is ironic that the likes of Hobart and Liddell Hart, whether or not you believe they were of great influence on Germany's development of Blitzkrieg or not, did theorise of the need for combined arms, including "tank marines" as Liddell Hart referred to them, tracked armoured personnel carriers and close air support. 

As for Hobarts "agreeability", it was probably more a reflection of the status quo not appreciating his intellect, especially as it challenged their perceived norms.  Interestingly if you look at Britain's continental strategy, it really didn't fit with the theories of the time (not to mention history) that the UK had always performed better leaving continental land wars up to continental powers and concentrating on sea power (plus airpower) for the continent, while assigning the army to the defence of home and empire.  In this situation the Mobile Force and the combined arms division it grew into made a lot of sense, while the huge conscript army required for European expeditions were, overall, more expensive and less effective.

Offline Rickshaw

  • "Of course, I could be talking out of my hat"
Re: 7th Armoured Division with a twist
« Reply #5 on: November 09, 2016, 01:23:20 PM »
The British pride in their "Amateurishness" was both true and a bit of a myth.  At the start of long wars, it held true - British officers hadn't much real military experience to draw on but by the end of the conflict, they were as professional, if often not more so, than their "efficient" opponents.   In WW1 in particular, that held true, with by the end of the war the British Army being perhaps the most professional on the battlefield.   It had instituted a ruthless system of training schools and had created the means to promulgate the latest lessons learnt on the battlefield, all created by an officer class which was made up of survivors of the harsh lessons of Trench Warfare.  This was most evident in the 100 Days, when it defeated the German Army and was advancing deep into German territory, while the German Army was routing before it.  Hobart, coming from the Engineers - the most professional of the Corps was one graduate of that.

His problem was, as I've suggested, that he didn't suffer fools gladly and was only too willing to tell other Officers where they were going wrong, without regard to Diplomacy.  Oh, and he transferred from the Ginger-Beers to Armour just as the war ended, which didn't help his career all that much.   I suspect he had fallen in love with the "rude mechanicals" and lost sight that after war there is inevitably peace and it's in those conditions that being able to be a member of "the team" is most important.

If he could be more agreeable and diplomatic, I suspect he could have achieved a great deal more, faster with his ideas about mechanised warfare.   His association with Liddell-Hart did not help either.   Both felt they were the saviours of the British Army and everybody else was fools.