World War 2
Britain in WW2
Germany in WW2

British tank against Rommel's tanks?

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December 28, 2008 3:39AM

Basically its a story of quality against quantity. The problem for the British was the German combination of good tanks & an excellent A/T gun, the fabled 88. Rommel constantly out thinks the British in many ways. He always has fewer resources, but uses his mobility to good effect and disrupts the British, especially when he is advancing with thrust after thrust, unbalancing the British & their Allies. Montgomery & Alexander arrive in time to prepare el Alamein & with them comes the successor to the Lee/Grant, the M4A1 Sherman. Added to by the best all round British tank of the war, the Churchill, the British are finally able to outgun the Germans on a tank for tank basis, & the British now have massive armour and air superiority. It does't alter the fact that in defence Rommel is still very dependable despite ever reduced strength. Eventually ill health ends his command in North Africa. The Churchill tank and Tiger tank first clashed in Tunisia around the time that Rommel was replaced by von Arnim. It was the first action for the Tiger. The Churchill was used earlier by the Canadians at Dieppe, France where its weight was a liability. Although the Churchill had 50% more frontal armor, it was slower with a less effective gun. In Libya and Egypt earlier in the war, Great Britain fielded a motley collection of British tanks, some of them slow and heavily armored for infantry attack (Matildas and Valentines), and some fast with thin armor to operate like cavalry (Crusaders and other cruiser types), but all had a small 2-pounder anti-tank gun. Against them were a lesser number of German and Italian tanks. The Panzer III had good protection, mobility, and 50mm firepower. The Italian M13/40 had thin armor and poor mobility, but an excellent 47mm anti-tank gun. Rommel later had a number of Panzer IV heavy tanks with 75mm guns, but he never had enough tanks to bring Panzer Army Afrika to full strength, and he was frustrated because tanks promised to him were sent to Russia instead. The British had similar problems, and the situation was improved by the arrival of the American-built Stuart which was so loved that its British crews named it Honey. Later came the Grant, a modification of the American Lee which was not so loved, but it was better than what the British had previously. The Sherman was the best of all. US forces in Operation Torch had only Lees and Stuarts because their Shermans had been sent to the British instead, at personal request of Prime Minister Churchill to President Roosevelt. In Tunisia, the Axis situation worsened as the noose was tightened (Montgomery from the East, Eisenhower from the West, Admiral Cunningham at sea). The Centuaro Division still used the M13/40 with none of its faults improved, and its gun was no longer as effective against the new Allied tanks. The 21st Panzer Division used them as well to make up for the tanks which Germany could not deliver. In the early part of the Desert War, it was more the tactical approach rather than quality of the tanks which made the difference. The British spread their tanks out to give all their forces the benefit of armored support. Rommel massed his armor at a single point to punch through the British line, thus allowing his motorized forces to pour through the gap. Also, the only 88's Rommel had prior to the Tiger tank were 88mm anti-aircraft artillery which he used to deal with the British heavy infantry tanks. The "cavalry charges" of the thinly-armored cruiser tanks were dealt with by standard anti-tank artillery in concealed positions, using German tanks as bait. Despite the arrival of better tanks from Great Britain and the US, the British Army was slow to improve its tank tactics. The replacement of the Matilda by the Valentine illustrates the inability of British industry to produce enough tanks. The Maltilda was a better-protected tank, but it was expensive and took too long to build. Great Britain wanted US industry to build British-designed tanks, but the US insisted that they buy US designs. The British were desperate for tanks, and they had no choice but to accept, but they enforced as many British modification as possible. [Among the Allied tanks used by the Soviet Army, the no-frills British Valentine was the favorite. The American Lee was the least favorite, and its Russian crews called it "the Coffin for Seven Brothers" because of its seven-man crew. The Grant used by the British did slightly better, as only six brothers would die if the tank were destroyed.] On Rommel's side, newer German tanks were siphoned off to the Russian Front, and Italy was slow to replace the obsolete M13/40 with an improved tank armed with a 75mm gun, and similar to the German Panther which was also delayed and did not see service in North Africa. After losing the Desert War, the German Army might have done better to build more Panthers, and more half-tracks for their armored infantry.