Tag Archives: Featured

Listening Post No 6: Julian Humphrys – Interpreting England’s Heritage

After reading History at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and completing a postgraduate course at the Polytechnic of North London, Julian spent 12 years at Chelsea’s National Army Museum, setting up special exhibitions including its acclaimed Road to Waterloo Gallery, liaising with the British Army and acting as spokesman to the media on all matters of military history. He has acted as a historical expert on many TV and radio programmes,  and made three expeditions to Bosnia during the Civil War to record the British Army’s activities there and to obtain objects for display in the Museum.

A qualified blue-badge guide, Julian set up English Heritage’s Tours Through Time programme of guided visits to historic properties and its battlefield hikes programme which he now leads. he also guides on a wide range of tours for special interest travel companies, both in the UK and overseas.

From 2009-2020 he was Development Officer of the Battlefields Trust, the UK Charity dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of Britain’s historic battlefields and is now a Trustee. Julian lectures and writes on many aspects of British history – he is a contributor to BBC History Magazine and History Revealed Magazine and his published books include   Clash of Arms: Twelve English Battles, and Enemies at the Gate: English Castles under Siege (both for English Heritage).

Click here to download the Podcast

Listening Post No 5 Tonie and Valmai Holt – the couple who opened the doors to the battlefields

Tonie and Valmai set up the first modern commercial battlefield touring company in  the 1970s, when there was little tourist infrastructure or any previous model to follow.  They blazed the trail for guiding battlefields and sold their business in the 1990s to concentrate on their books.  They have been part of the virtuous circle that encouraged  the development of commemoration and tourist facilities in local communities on historic battlefields.  

Tonie and Valmai Holt started guiding when visitors included many veterans of the two world wars.  For some years they were responsible for organising and conducting Pilgrimages for the Royal British Legion.  They are honorary members of the Guild of Battlefield Guides International 

The podcast is divided into three parts.

Part One –  covers Tonie and Valmai’s background, how they came to set up Major and Mrs Holts Battlefield Tours, the challenges they faced setting up a battlefield touring company and some of the difficult problems they had to solve.

Part Two – The Holts tell some about some of the veterans they met, and share their stories,  some of their most emotionally moving experiences on historic battlefields and introduce a song about D Day that they would like to be passed on as widely as possible.

Part Three –  Tonie and Valmai talk about some of their most amusing experiences,  guiding in the last century and their advice for battlefield guides.

Listening Post No 4 Chris Scott – the Lord General of Validation

Dr. Christopher Scott has been walking battlefields for over 45 years and has been to 332 fields in 20 countries over 5 continents. He has guided sites of Medieval, Civil War, Marlburian and Napoleonic battles and was a Trustee of the Battlefield Trust and The Guild of Battlefield Guides, which he also helped create and designed their first Validation Programme. He formulated his own approach to battlefield study and has written several military history and battle books including a new and detailed interpretation of Roundway Down. Whilst in Education he led departments and faculty teams,  He and helped found a Further Education College. At The Royal Armouries he designed the education and public interaction programmes for the Leeds Museum. Chris is a freelance guide, lecturer, consultant and writer; he is also a good storyteller and a past winner of the Cameron Mackintosh Contemporary Playwright Award. He was the Lord General of the Roundhead Association.

Listen to the podcast

Listening Post No 3 Graeme Cooper – Founding Force for the Guild of Battlefield Guides

Graeme Cooper has been battlefield guiding since 1995 and operates Cooper’s Waterloo Tours, a family run business specialising in tailored tours to Napoleonic battlefields for adults, and leadership training for the military.

A Fellow of the International Napoleonic Society (FINS), Graeme qualified as a Waterloo Campaign Guide with Les Guides 1815 in 1998.

In November 2003, Graeme inspired the foundation of The International Guild of Battlefield Guides and was the Secretary up until November 2009 when he became the first member of the Guild to be elected to the Roll of Honour for his services to the Guild.

Graeme is married with a son and daughter and lives in Essex. He plays golf when battle time permits.

Listen to the podcast here

Listening Post No 2 Sue King – the Camp Follower who Leads Guides

Sue King is a professional guide, and guide trainer. Besides her accreditation by the International Guild of Battlefield Guides  she is a very experienced Blue Badge guide  qualified to guide Yorkshire, London, Cumbria, South West, Liverpool City Region / Merseyside, South East England, Heart of England.  She is also a City of London Guide. For several years she has been the director of training for the London Tour Guides.

Listen to the podcast

The Listening Post is a Podcast about Battlefield Guiding. There have been battlefield guides throughout history, but the modern trade started in the second half of the C20th. In 2003 the International Guild of Battlefield Guides was founded a professional organisation to analyse, develop and raise the understanding, practice and profession of battlefield guiding and to promote the education of battlefield visitors and students in military heritage.

The Listening Post 1. John Richardson: The Flying Doctor

The Listening Post is a Podcast about Battlefield Guiding. There have been battlefield guides throughout history, but the modern trade started in the second half of the C20th. In 2003 the International Guild of Battlefield Guides was founded a professional organisation to analyse, develop and raise the understanding, practice and profession of battlefield guiding and to promote the education of battlefield visitors and students in military heritage.

John Richardson’s full credentials are Professor & Colonel (Retired) J.C. Richardson, MA, MB BChir, MRCS LRCP, MSc(GP), MMedSc(Occ Hlth), FRCGP, FFOM(RCPI), DRCOG  Emeritus Defence Professor of Primary Care & General Practice.  He has been leading and taking part in expeditions for nearly sixty years. During that time his expeditions have faced most of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Listen to the podcast

John was known as Doctor John to Royal British Legion staff as he organised medical support to the Legion’s pilgrimages to war graves, memorials and battlefields across the world.  Each Pilgrimage was supported by a doctor nurse or paramedic recruited by John. He briefed Pilgrimage tour escorts,  manager/guides about the medical problems and support for tours. A is  copy is here for your interest and education.

Book Review The Secret Capture: U-110 and the Enigma Story, Author Stephen Roskill

This is a well written account of the capture of  the German submarine  U-110 on May 1941. This was possibly one of the most important naval actions of the battle of the Atlantic, with far reaching results. Although U-110 sank on tow, its precious Enigma machine had been extracted and its secrets helped to inform British naval intelligence of German U Boat movements and route convoys to avoid them.

The book was originally written in 1959, to rebut the claims of Rear-Admiral Daniel V. Gallery USN that his capture of U -505 in June 1944 was unique. In the official history “The War At Sea.” Roskill had downplayed the capture of U Boats.  U110 merited only a single line with the statement that it had been sunk. The first third of the The Secret Capture tells the story of the other submarine captures of the Second World War.  The rest of the book is a fine account of convoy OB318, its encounters with U Boats and the capture of U110 by the 3rd Escort Group under Captain Addison Joe Baker-Creswell, to whom the book is dedicated. There could be no mention of Enigma, but there are references to books, codes and enough “secret material” to fill two crates.

It is a very readable account which covers the human story of the war at sea from the point of view of officers and men from the Royal Navy and merchant marine. Roskill went to some length to track down ex sailors and merchant seamen ten years after the events.  He is a good writer and spins a good dit.

The book has 167 pages, and sixteen black and white photographs. There are six charts and two diagrams to explain the movements and convoy formations.  These are clear and helpful.

This edition includes a new foreword by Baker-Crewsell’s son Charles, with more biographical information.   Professor Barry Gough has written a short new introduction that explains the context and importance of the recovery of the Enigma machine.

There are two reservations about the work.  The book doesn’t quite do what it says on the cover. I would have expected to have read more about the exploitation of the Enigma machine. The 2011 edition seems overpriced with at RRP of £16.99, though you will not need to pay that to obtain it online, and the 1959 edition can be obtained for £0.80

This is a good historic tale, told well.

LRE Expo 2020 – A post BREXIT Challenge

 

At the beginning of February I attended an event in Brussels that really impressed me. Liberation Route Europe is an ambitious project, a marketing initiative to promote remembrance tourism of the Second World War across the continent of Europe. It was started by a Dutch charity, but now encompasses Europe from Sicily to the UK and Normandy to Poland. I met a great bunch of people.  There are several impressive achievements.

• A walking trail covering Liberation Routes from London to Berlin via Normandy.• An impressive Rough Guide “Liberation Routes”, with a mixture of history, a campaign guide information about museums, memorials and cemeteries.

• A network of guides, museums and tourism organisations to support inbound travel.

• Generating business with inbound tour operators using the Liberation Route.

• Political support and engagement by senior European politicians. Liberation Route Europe’s Patron is Martin Schultz, a past President of the European Parliament and previous key-note speakers include Frans Timmermans, the Vice President of the EU Commission.

No punches pulled in a critique of Poland’s current ruling party view of history

• A willingness to debate contentious contemporary issues. The event included several presentations of gaps or critical interpretations, including the Dutch neglect of its post war experience in Indonesia, and the current day Russian and Polish government driven historic narratives. There was a debate between two MEPs about the extent to which the EU should have an authorised narrative. A little incongruous, inconclusive and less than exciting, but significant that it took place.
Their website has a mixture of history and tourism offers. History takes the visitor to story lines, based on historic themes, geographic locations and personal stories. An invitation to Travel the route offers directs visitors to offers for individual, groups, educational tours, guides – and the Rough Guide.

Way marker design for the walking trails

The history behind the Liberation Route is based on an agreed historic interpretation named as the “Magna Carta”. This interpretation, agreed by eight historians of different nationalities, draws on the full range of individual experiences of the populations of European states during the Second World War. This acknowledges that loyalties were divided and avoids judgements on the actions of a generation that is fading from personal memory. The liberal politicians supporting the project see the story of the Second World War, and its roots in fascism and racial supremacy as an important warning from history. The inclusive interpretation focusing on the common experiences of European populations is an ideological counter to the nationalism and intolerance of modern populism.

The conference took place in the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History in Brussels under a Spitfire on the tail of a V1 flying bomb. Brussels and Antwerp, like London faced intense bombardment in 1944-45. There is no museum in London that tells the story of London’s defence against the V1 blitz. In Belgium they are opening museums and interpretation centres to tell the story of their heritage. In Britain we are closing military museums.

Liberation Route Europe has been keen to engage with Britain. The Liberation Route walk starts in London. Whatever the UK’s future relationship with Europe, it does not affect its role in the Second World War and there is a common interest in promoting heritage to inbound tourists. However, many Britons are skeptical of “Euro History”. Some question how Germans can tell the story of WW2. Nor does the Liberation Route Europe focus on the heritage of 1944-1990 fit the British narrative with its finest hour in 1940.
Recent research segments tourists by their interests, referred to as passion communities, rather than by demographics. One segment is described as explorers of cultural identify. Around one third of visitors plan to visit sites associated with the world wars. This roughly reflects the segment covered by dark tourism research and the research commissioned by the Royal British Legion. Liberation Route Europe is ahead of the game as a focus for organising inbound tourism for this sector. Britain, committed to existence outside the EU needs to up its game.

TEN THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT FIELD MARSHAL BERNARD MONTGOMERY

1. HIS MATERNAL GRANDFATHER WAS A FAMOUS CHILDREN’S WRITER

Frederic Farrar

His maternal grandfather, Dean Farrar was a famous preacher and author. Montgomery’s mother was the daughter of Dean Farrar, who was a well-known theologian who could fill a church when it was known he was preaching. He was master at Harrow and headmaster of Marlborough schools. He spent much of his clerical career at Westminster Abbey becoming archdeacon as well as a chaplain to the royal household. He wrote works of theology and several works of fiction, including Eric or Little by Little. This tale set in a school that was one of the best-known boys books in mid Victorian England.

2. HIS FATHER : KINDLY CALL ME GOD

The is a substantial memorial to Montgomery’s father Henry Montgomery in St Paul’s cathedral. After his return from serving as Bishop of Tasmania, Henry became the Prelate to the order of St Michael and St George. It was during his time in office that the Order was given their chapel St Paul’s Cathedral on the south side of the nave.  Henry was made a knight commander of the order of St Michael and St George in the king’s birthday honours of 1928. He became a KCMG – known as “Kindly Call Me God.” Each member of the order has a brass plate in the chapel.

3. HIS COMMANDING OFFICER DESERTED HIS BATTALION  IN BATTLE

Lieutenant Colonel John Elkington

In Monty’s first battle, his commanding officer deserted Montgomery and half the battalion on the battlefield of Le Cateau.  At the end of the battle they escaped the Germans by marching among the German columns undiscovered. Lieutenant Colonel John Elkington was court-martialled and cashiered for deserting his men, and surrendering a post at Sant Quentin. Elkington eventually redeemed his honour. He joined the French Foreign Legion as a private soldier. When his platoon commander became a casualty Elkington rallied the men and led them in an attack in which he was badly wounded.

4.  IT WAS A  STUDENT PUNISHMENT TO SIT NEXT TO  MONTY AT BREAKFAST

Army Staff College Camberley

Montgomery was an argumentative and garrulous student at Staff College. According to the recollections of one alumni, one student was sentenced to sit next to Monty at breakfast for a week.  In its conundrums page the college magazine posed: “If it takes ten truck loads of 9.2” Mk V star India pattern to stop one bath on the second floor of the staff college from leaking, How many haynets with full echelons will be required to stop Monty burbling at breakfast.     its had a page of “Things we would like to know” one of them was “If and where does Monty observe two minutes silence on Armistice day?”

5. MONTY’S BOHEMIAN CIRCLE

Monty met many artists of the 1920s through his wife Betty. She was a graduate of the Slade Art School. Her home at Chiswick as a meeting place for many “bohemians” such as AP Herbert, Eric Kennington and Augustus John.

6. MONTY WROTE THE INFANTRY TRAINING MANUAL

In 1929 Major Montgomery wrote the infantry tactics text-book. Infantry Training Volume 2 War. He knew and had written to Basil Liddell Hart, the author of the previous edition. Liddell Hart fell out with Montgomery over the omission of some of Liddell Hart’s favoured ideas, the Expanding Torrent approach to pursuit.

7.  CRUISING WITH THE ARCHITECT OF THE REICHSWEHR

Hans von Seeckt

In 1934 Lieutenant Colonel Montgomery and his wife took a cruise to the far east. One of the passengers on the same cruise was German General von Seeckt, the architect of the German Reichswehr. Montgomery interrogated the German at some length about his ideas through an interpreter.

8. MONTY THE SMOKER AND DRINKER

Famously a tee total non-smoker, Montgomery drank and smoked in moderation until 1939. However in June 1939 Montgomery was invalided back to the UK from Palestine with pleurisy. On his recovery he gave up drinking and smoking.

9.  THE SEX SCANDAL

In 1940 a sex scandal, or rather a scandal about sexually transmitted disease,  threatened to engulf his wartime military career. As commander of the 3rd Division Monty became concerned about the prevalence of venereal disease in his 3rd Division. He wrote an order ordering commanding officers to make condoms available on sale in the NAAFI and ensure that sexual hygiene was promoted. “My view is that if a man wants to have a woman let him do so by all means, but he must use commonsense and take all precautions.”  Nothing to frighten the horses in the 21st century,  but not in the mid C20th for an army of national servicemen. It never occurred to Monty that this was a subject best left for the medical services.  Lord Gort the commander of the British Expeditionary Force demanded that Montgomery publicly retract the order, which Brooke, the corps commander thought would have left Monty;’s position as commander untenable. His Corps commander Alan Brooke persuaded Gort to allow Brooke to deal with Monty.

10. SWIMMING WITH CHAIRMAN MAO

After writing his memoirs Montgomery undertook a self-appointed role as a mediator for world peace. He obtained invitations from the Soviet and Chinese leadership. He met Nikita Krushchev in Moscow and Chairman Mao-Tse Tung in China, seven years before Nixon’s historic visit. Monty swam in the Yangtse river with Mao, enjoyed the meeting enough to invite Monty for a second visit and composed a poem for him entitled “swimming.”

11. WOULD BE MIDDLE EAST PEACE ENVOY

Monty at El Alamein on the 25th Anniversary of the Battle.

At the 25th Anniversary of El Alamein, four months after the six day war, Monty offered his services to President Nasser of Egypt as a personal emissary to broker a peace between Egypt and Israel.

Most of these are taken from Nigel Hamilton’s biography of “Monty”

If you would like to visit some of the sites associated with Bernard Montgomery, I am organising walks and talks.

THE BRITISH 3.7 INCH HEAVY AA GUN – TWO CASE STUDIES OF INNOVATION IN WAR.(OR NOT)

The 3.7 inch Heavy AA gun in 1939 in a London Park in its planned role – 18,000 rounds to down a bomber.

Innovation is a key factor in modern warfare. It is said, often unkindly, that every army prepares to fight the last war. Changes in technology will determine the characteristics of the next war, which will be different to the last. The side that can adapt and innovate fastest is likely to be at an advantage. The story of the 3.7 inch Heavy AA Gun is about the British Army responded to two sets of technical challenges. One is a great success story. The second a failure that has been a puzzle for 80 years.

Two big ideas emerged after the first world war that offered an opportunity to avoid the bloody stalemate of first world war. The advocates of air power claimed that long range bombers could strike the enemy heartlands and industry avoiding the need for bloody land campaigns. Similarly tank enthusiasts argued that a highly mechanized army would cut through slow moving massed armies destroying their command control and logistics, again avoiding the massed slaughter of attrition warfare. Neither idea led to bloodless victory in the Second World War.

The British 3.7 inch (93 mm) Heavy AA Gun had a similar role and performance to the German 88 mm Flak 36 AA gun. However, while the German “88” was famous as an anti-tank gun and the armament for some of the most feared German tanks, the 3.7 inch AA gun was rarely used in that role. Given the reverses that the British army suffered against Rommel’s Panzers in North Africa, this, in retrospect was a mistake. There is much interest in how armies innovate. The story of how the British did not use their heavy AA Guns against Rommel in 1941-42 is a case study in innovation – how not to do it.

The AA Predictor No 1 Mark III – this mechanical computer provided azimuth and elevation date.

Aimee Fox Godden’s ‘Learning to Fight’ is a study of military innovation in the First World War. She referred to top down, bottom up, horizontal, incidental or external learning. She reviewed the formal and informal mechanisms that the army of 1914-1918 used to transfer learning. There is a language to explore organisational learning in warfare. There isn’t space in this piece to do justice to the topic, but the aim is to with the appetite and inspire someone with the time to carry out the research.

The 3.7 inch AA Gun as an Air Defence Weapon

Between 1915 and 1918 Britain had been the target for the first strategic bombing offensive in history. The modest capabilities of the aircraft of the first world war caused sufficient alarm and damage to force the deployment of hundreds of AA Guns and aircraft and were the catalyst for Britain to form the Royal Air Force the world’s first independent air forces to take charge of the air defence of Britain.

3.7 inch AA Gun in a static mount defending the UK against V1 flying bombs in October 1944. With radar fire control and fuses it took 156 rounds to down a V1 – 10,000 improvement from 1939

The air defences were swiftly cut back after 1919 as funding was reduced on an annually renewed assumption that would be no war for ten years. However, there were two developments in the 1920s. A joint RAF and Army committee examined the plans that might be needed in the event of a future threat to Britain. Anti-aircraft artillery text-book written in 1925 defined the theoretical requirements of an capabilities of air defence artillery.

The 3.7 inch AA gun originated in a 1928 Royal Artillery Committee minute. By 1933 this had become a General Service Specification for a 3.7 inch gun weighing 8 tons capable of being put into action in 15 minutes and towed at 25 mph. The pilot model passed proof in 1936 and the first production guns were delivered in 1938. Production continued until 1945, with peak monthly production of 228 in March 1942.

Gun Laying Radar Early Warning sets. This image, possibly taken from a Soviet Cold war recognition manual ,shows the Radar No 1 Mk II (Gun Laying II)  used later as the early warning system for the radar No 3 Mk II GL MK III. The presence of highly classified radars is probably the reason why there are so few photographs of 3.7 inch Guns deployed in the field.

The gun was an advanced weapon for 1936, the gunners received information electronically and only needed to operate the gun controls to keep the gun pointers aligned.  The 3.7 inch gun should be seen as part of a weapon system, including the ammunition, warning, detection and fire control technology. Progressive improvements in all of these greatly improved its effectiveness over the course of the war. In its original form the 3.7 inch gun fired a 28lb (12.7kg) HE shell fitted with a powder-burning Fuze Time No 199 to an effective ceiling of 23,500ft using Predictor No1 at a maximum 8 rounds per minute with manual fuse setting and loading. By the end of the war the Mk1-3 equipment firing the same shell with a proximity fuse and predictor No 11 and auto-loading had an effective ceiling of 32,000 and a rate of fire of 32 rounds per minute. In the 1940 blitz 18,500 rounds were fired for each aircraft shot down. By 1944-45 the guns averaged 156 rounds per V1 brought down, over 100-fold, (10,000%) improvement.

Radar No 3 Mk II GL MK II. This Centimetric radar provided accurate gun laying.

+Initially targets were acquired visually, and the fire control computations made using a mechanical predictor developed in the late 1920s. The discovery of radar made it possible to consider new ways of engaging targets at night or through cloud. The first gun laying radar could only indicate a rough bearing and range, refinements enabled an indication of elevation. The invention of the cavity magnetron in 1940 at Birmingham University led to Canadian and British centimetric gun laying radar introduced at the end of 1942.At the same time fire control equipment was replaced with electromechanical predictors. The American SCR 583 radar arriving in 1943 offered outstanding performance, when used with the American Bell Telephone AAA computer. Another innovations included the Plan Position Indicating screen that showed the now familiar display with the rotating linear time base. American industry developed proximity fuses each containing a radar. These innovations enabled British HAA to play its part in defeating the world’s first strategic bombing campaign mounted by jet powered cruise missiles, the V1 Blitz.

Heavy AA Guns in the Anti-tank Role

German Flak 36 8.8 cm dual purpose gun greatly feared by allied tank crews. This example is in the South African military museum Johannesburg and shows the height of the equipment.

There is less credit in the British story of innovation in the face of the German armoured threat. Indeed the failure to use British Heavy AA in the anti-tank role is also a case study on innovation. Every combatant had heavy AA guns roughly comparable to the 3.7” gun, and by the end of WW2 almost all armed their tanks and anti-tank artillery with guns based on their Heavy AA Guns. The German 88, Tiger, Jagdpanther & Hornisse; the Russian 85 mm in the SU 85 & T34/85,and the US 90 mm in the M 36 tank destroyer and T26 Pershing tanks. Except for the British, who neither used their excellent 3.7” AA Gun nor the 3 inch 20 cwt gun it replaced as an anti-tank gun in North Africa.

3.7 inch gun on the move in the Western Desert

Although, the British faced German armour in 1940, it was the battles in North Africa that tested then British Army against German tanks. Failure to defeat Rommel cost a succession of senior British Generals their jobs – Aukinleck, Wavell, Cunningham, Ritchie and Corbett, and undermined the reputation of the British Army and confidence of its soldiers. Dunkirk revealed that the British army had far too few anti-tank weapons. A problem exacerbated by the loss of guns in the debacle of Dunkirk. Even by May 1942 the 8th Army in North Africa was over 100 anti -tank guns short of establishment.

This 3 inch 20 cwt AA Gun served with the South African forces in North Africa. Lacking modern fire control and with a limited ceiling it was obsolete as an AA gun by 1941. However, it was still a highly effective anti tank gun. 100 retired from AA Command were held by Home Forces in the event of a German invasion. They were not used in battle the Middle East.

German doctrine provided for AA Guns to supplement anti-tank guns. In the 1940 campaign one third of the ammunition for Luftwaffe heavy AA Guns was anti-tank shot. German tactic used tanks and anti-tank guns in conjunction. By summer 1942 more perceptive observers had noted that the Germans possession of anti-tank guns that out ranged British tank guns goaded British armour to undertake costly charges to close the range. (1) By El Alamein the Royal Armoured Corps was very wary of the presence of 88s.

There were some attempts to deploy the 3.7” Gun in the field, but only on a small scale and belatedly. Nor was there any systematic attempt to deploy a proportion of British heavy AA guns in the Middle East.

By the end of the second world the 3.7 inch AA gun was used extensively in the ground role. This image shows the equipment in Australian service in Tarakan in 1945.

There was no technical reason why the 3.7 inch Gun and the 3 inch 20 cwt gun it replaced could not have been used as anti-tank guns. Besides the 3.7inch AA Gun, around 200 obsolete 3“(76mm) 20 cwt AA Guns were replaced by 3.7 inch HAA Guns. In 1940 in France at least once HAA engaged Germans tanks to great effect. In the UK HAA gun positions were laid out in order to engage an local ground attacks by parachutists and tanks. In the summer of 1941 the General A F Brooke, Commander Home Forces made it his business to test the capabilities of Britain’s anti-tank weapons including HAA. By July at least one 3.7 inch HAA Regiment, 103, was tasked with a secondary anti-tank role, to tackle any German heavy tanks.

One of the fifty 3 inch 20 cwt guns mounted on Churchill tank chassis. A missed opportunity to deploy an effective tank destroyer by 1942.

Alanbrooke’s intervention also lead to a plan to assign fifty 3-inch 20 cwt AA guns to be mounted on towed carriages and fifty to be mounted on Churchill tank chassis. None of these activities led to an additional anti-tank weapons in North Africa by summer 1942. The Germans could do this. Major Becker, a German artillery officer with a background in engineering had developed a range of self-propelled guns based on captured British and French AFVs. These included 75mm anti-tank guns and 105mm self propelled howitzers sent to the Afrika Corps. It was not beyond the wit of man for the British to have mounted one of their HAA guns on an armoured chassis. But they did not do so.

What Might have Gone  wrong?

The 17 Pounder Archer SP anti tank gun. It took until 1944 to deploy a British SP anti tank gun. It too mounted a 76mm gun on an infantry tank chassis, but with an open top and rear .facing gun there was no doubt that this was an artillery piece.

So what might have gone wrong? No one can ever be certain of cause and effect of historic events, and counter factuals are speculation. However, here are some of the factors that may have played a part in the failure to apply HAA as part of the solution to German tanks.

#1 Misunderstand the Problem.

No one at a senior level seemed to grasp the significance of German Heavy AA Guns, used first in North Africa in May and June 1941 to defeat heavy British tanks. After these battles the armoured division commander noted German tactics of luring British armour onto anti-tank guns and an artillery commander noted the Germans were using high velocity AA Guns. But the British did not two and two together and copy these tactics. Instead, there were grumbles about the quality of British tanks, their armour and armament. Over the next year the British learned to fear the “88s”, as any and every German anti-tank gun was regarded. This wasn’t helped by the lack of common doctrine between the Royal Armoured Corps and the other arms.

#2 Ignore the Past.

Truck mounted 77mm anti aircraft guns formed the German army’s mobile anti tank reserve in the First World War. Two guns like this played engaged tanks at Cambrai in 1917.

The German Army was the first army to face massed tanks, in the First World War. They had experience of anti tan k warfare. One of their remedies was to employ any artillery in the anti-tank role. Mobile 75mm anti-aircraft guns mounted on trucks were the anti-tank reserve and rushed to the site of tank attacks. The 88mm Flak 36 used by the Wehrmacht was designed to be dual role. German army and Luftwaffe AA units were trained to operate in the ground and anti-tank role. One third of 88mm AA ammunition in 1940 was anti-tank shot. The British closed their minds to the possibility.

#3 Create Organisational Stovepipes.

During the first half of the Second World War the Royal Artillery was divided into AA and Field Artillery. There was no transfer of officers between the branches. Transfer of ideas may also have been hampered by the cultural and social distinction between the field and AA branches. The AA Branches offered fewer routes to front line action for the bold and adventurous. AA Command was so far in the rear that the women of the ATS to serve in many roles. Besides professional status, there was a difference in social status between the officers of the Royal Horse Artillery who supported the armoured divisions and the lower status fish and chip mob regiments of the Heavy AA..

#4 Set blinkered doctrine and procedures

British regulations saw no role for Heavy AA Guns in any field operation and provided no guidance for their use. Most AA Artillerymen were neither trained nor equipped to fight in the ground battle.

#5 Let Internal Politics Get in the Way.

The project to mount 3inch 20 cwt guns on a Churchill tank chassis failed to result in any AFVs in service. The official history of British Armour notes that this gun would have “proved a powerful and effective tank destroyer” but the Royal Armoured Corps and Royal Artillery could not agree who should operate the weapon. Fifty heavily armoured self-propelled guns might have made a big difference in mid-1942 in North Africa.