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Number and type of British tanks available in summer 1940

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Justin Smith, Dec 12, 2018.

  1. Justin Smith

    Justin Smith Member

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    The numbers of tanks in Britain awaiting the threatened German invasion seems to be a subject of much debate, with conflicting numbers quoted in different sources. Is there any agreement on the numbers, on a month by month basis ? And what type of tanks were they ? This matters because the Matilda II was one of the best tanks in the world at that stage in the war, arguably better than any tank the Germans had, but some of the other British tanks weren`t quite such good quality.

    I have to admit I`m one of those who thinks Sea Lion was a huge bluff (to put pressure on the British to come to terms), and even if it had taken place the RN would have pout a stop to any nonsense relatively quickly, more or less regardless of the numbers and quality of British tanks, so this question is more out of interest more than anything.
     
  2. JJWilson

    JJWilson Well-Known Member

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    Hello Justin, I think you have a very interesting question, that I am unfortunately unable to answer. I will comment though that Sea Lion was no bluff, Hitler very much wanted to actually occupy Great Britain, only that the prospects of such an audacious plan were pretty terrible. Even if the Luftwaffe had managed to cripple the RAF, the Royal Navy was still Great Britain's best, and compared to the Kriegsmarine, was completely dominant. The Germans didn't have the means to make an amphibious landing, they would have to dock ships on shore, and then release their troops and cargo, which would leave the ships wide open to Aerial, land, and sea bombardment.....not a good combo. But I understand the questioning, and I too would be curious to know what tanks Great Britain had in it's possession at that time.
     
  3. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    I think in one of the very long threads (and perhaps two of them) over on the axis history forum some numbers may have been mentioned. I think one was a Sea Lion thread and the other a BoB thread but it's been a while.
     
  4. Takao

    Takao Ace

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  5. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Now that I think about it I seem to recall one of threads mentioning that the British sent tanks to North Africa from Britain at some point in the summer/fall of 1940 (may have been several points). The implication being of course that they didn't think they were that essential to the defense of Britain.
     
  6. Takao

    Takao Ace

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    AFAIK, the 7th Armoured was already in North Africa at the time, although well below strength. The vast majority of the tanks shipped did not arrive until September 24, 1940(2nd RTR, 7th RTR, and the 3rd Hussars) or later.

    It is open to debate as to whether the tanks were unnecessary for the defense of Britain or that the British had already recognized that Sealion was a no-go.
     
  7. Terry D

    Terry D Active Member

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    I have seen some very detailed and well informed posts on our sister forum about the movement of tanks from Britain to Egypt in 1940-41. You might want to search over there.
     
  8. Carronade

    Carronade Ace Patron  

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    According to Churchill, those units had 52 cruiser tanks, 50 Matildas, and 52 light tanks respectively. The cruisers raise an interesting point. Accounts of Operation Compass, the British offensive in December 1940, credit them with about 75 cruiser tanks, which suggests that there were very few in the Middle East prior to the arrival of 2RTR.

    At the beginning of the war, 1 and 6RTR were in the Middle East, comprising the Heavy* Brigade of the Mobile Division. They seem to have been using cavalry terminology; there was also a Light Brigade of 7th and 8th Hussars in light tanks and 11th in armoured cars. These were soon reorganized as 7 Armoured Division, comprising 4 and 7 Armoured Brigades, each with one RTR battalion and one Hussar regiment (which were the same size units); 11th Hussars became the divisional reconnaissance unit.

    1 and 6RTR were supposed to comprise cruiser tanks but in fact had a mix of cruisers, old Medium Mark IIs, and light Mark VIs. I found this war diary for 6RTR War Diaries of the 6th Royal Tank Regiment which credits it with 8, 16, 14 respectively in August 1939 and a "full establishment of Cruiser tanks (23)" in January 1940. Several entries indicate that its squadrons were about half cruisers and half light tanks (the Mediums saw no combat service, although some appear to have been dug in as fortifications).

    When 2RTR and 3d Hussars arrived they were assigned one to each armoured brigade. They exchanged their B squadrons so each had a combination of cruisers and lights.

    * the most heavily armored tanks, the Matilda infantry tanks, were assigned to Army Tank Brigades.
     
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  9. Carronade

    Carronade Ace Patron  

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    I would not call Sealion a bluff; they put too much real effort into it for that. Some aspects such as the concentration of barges and tugs in the invasion ports significantly impacted the German and west European economies and their ability to support the war effort.

    I would say simply that the Germans did not have an established strategy for the situation they found themselves in. They had not anticipated that France would fall so quickly and completely or that Britain would insist on carrying on the war anyway. The unexpected situation led to the hesitation and conflicting ideas about how to proceed which we are all familiar with. Hitler's own directive was to "prepare and if necessary carry out" an invasion. I am not aware of them ever saying "We know we are not going to do it, but let's try to make the British think we might."

    If it was all just a bluff, there would probably have some pure deception measures such as the Allies used in Operation Fortitude prior to D-Day: dummy landing craft, vehicle parks, airfields, etc. but as far as I know, everything the Germans did was actual, physical preparation for an invasion, however ill-conceived. One example that strikes me is the development of amphibious and submersible tanks and the barges to launch them. If they just wanted to put a fright into the British, they could have leaked the story or shown some neutral attaches a few prototypes of their new mystery weapons, but they were forming whole battalions and getting them ready for action.

    I agree that Sealion was highly unlikely to succeed. Even if they managed the initial landing, the campaign would depend on a continuing flow of reinforcements and supplies which the Royal Navy would interdict, sweeping through at high speed, sinking everything in sight, and chasing the rest back to shelter on one side of the Channel or the other - hardly an orderly logistic buildup for the invaders.
     
  10. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    I think part of it was they realized that they need to establish air supremacy to have a good chance and they were never able to do so. The miscalculation as to how fast GB could produce planes and pilots had a considerable impact in that regard. When they started resizing that they were critically short of some resources and that other critical resources were being allocated to multiple mutually exclusive tasks well ...

    To top if off Hitler was rather nervous about the invasion in the first place.
     
  11. Carronade

    Carronade Ace Patron  

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    That and the effectiveness of British air defense - not just radar, but a fully integrated air defense system.

    Hitler was right - more so than whatever general called it a "large scale river crossing". He would have done better not even to consider it, but he was in a quandary as to what to do about those stubborn British. In the end all it accomplished was to give the British the morale boost of having fending off the threatened invasion.
     
  12. Justin Smith

    Justin Smith Member

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    This info is not just about numbers of tanks but was on the Wikipedia talk page for "British anti-invasion preparations", but under an inappropriate section link, thus I`ve pasted it here :

    "In June 1940 the British Army had 22 infantry divisions and one armoured division"

    By June 1940 am pretty sure that there was more than 1 armoured division in the British Armys order of battle. The 1st and 7th Armoured divisions had long well been activated, the latter under various names and at various stregnths since 1938, and i believe the 2nd Armoured Division had also been activated.
    So a total of 3, with one serving abroad. If the information is available it should probably also be noted how many indy armoured/tank brigades were also available as they projected a large number of tanks and were pretty powerful formations (when used properly).--
    EnigmaMcmxc (talk) 16:12, 13 November 2008 (UTC)
    Just to confirm 1st Armoured Division formed at the outbreak of the war in the UK (Chappell, p. 12), 2nd Armoured Division was formed in December 1939 in the UK (ibid), 7th Armoured Division was formed in 1938 in Egypt and redesignated 7th Arm in Feb 1940(British Army website). 6th Arm was formed during 1940 but am unsure of its actual date(Chappell, p. 12) and weather it was before the date mentioned in the above quote.
    Using the same book (British Battle Insignia) one makes out 27 infantry divisions, excluding divisions disbanded before or during June 1940, (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 15th, 18th, 38th, 42nd, 43rd, 44th, 45th, 46th, 47th, 48th, 49th, 50th, 52nd, 53rd, 54th, 55th, 56th, 59th and 61st) and 1 cavalry division in existant during June 1940 - although that does not comment on if they were at full strength or how well trained they were and of course they were not all based within the UK during this time.
    So i think the sentance needs to be a bit more accurate and/or its meaning more clear i.e. if these are formations based within the UK etc--
    EnigmaMcmxc (talk) 18:30, 13 November 2008 (UTC)
    In June 1940, excluding forces overseas, there was the:
    1st, 2nd Armoured Divisions(Joslen, pp. 13, 16)
    1st and 2nd Armoured Recon Brigade(Josln, pp. 146, 150)
    1st, 21st, 23rd, 24th, 25th (reorganised as 2nd Motor Machine Gun Brigade half way through the year) Army Tank Brigades(Joslen, p. 195, 200, 201)
    1st, 2nd (mentioned above) and 3rd Motor Machine Gun Brigades (Joslen, p. 210-212)
    1st, 1st London, 2nd, 2nd London, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 12th,15th, 18th,23d,38th,42nd,43rd,44th,45th,46th,48th,49th,50th,51st,52nd,53rd,54th,55th,59th,61st,66th (Joslen, pp. 36,38,40,46,48,56,59,61,62,66,68,70,72, 74,76,78,80,82,84,86,88,89,91,94,96,97)
    To summerise, 2 Armoured Divisions, 28 infantry divisions, 2 Armoured Recon Brigades, 4/5 Tank Brigades, 2/3 Motor Machine Gun Brigades
    Then of course there was New Zealand, Austrlian, and Canadian infantry brigades - i have even read of some Indian ones too - not to mention further units abroad
     
  13. Justin Smith

    Justin Smith Member

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    I think it can be safely assumed that the British Govt thought them unnecessary (or at least not essential for) the defence of the UK from invasion, otherwise they wouldn`t have sent them to N Africa. Holding the latter was highly desirable, preventing a successful invasion of the UK homeland was many times more important. I emphasise successful because Churchill (at the time, but also many historians since) have commented that an attempted German invasion would have been "a good battle for us". One of my books on Sea Lion (by Fleming, it`s very well written, an excellent read) comments that Sea Lion would have been almost unsurpassed in history for giving the vanquished a chance to utterly defeat the victor so soon after the latters triumph.
     
  14. Justin Smith

    Justin Smith Member

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    I used this link and it led me to the British Library's "EThOS" system, which is free to join. I then downloaded David Newbold`s "British Planning & Preparations To Resist Invasion On Land". Using the info in Appendix 7 to 13 I got these figures :

    10 Jun 1940 - 292 light tanks + 74 infantry tanks (no cruisers)

    1 Jul 1940 - 265 light tanks + 118 cruisers + 119 infantry tanks

    4 Aug 1940 - 336 light tanks + 173 cruisers + 189 infantry tanks

    (154 tanks, 52 light/52 cruisers/50 infantry sent to Egypt)

    27 Aug 1940 - 295 light tanks + 138 cruisers + 185 infantry tanks

    15 Sept 1940 - 306 light tanks + 154 cruisers + 224 infantry tanks


    These figures do not include training tanks or tanks under repair.
    The light tanks were mostly MkVIB (5 tons, machine gun only, 4 to 14mm armour)
    The cruisers were A9/A10/A13 (13 to 15 tons, 2 pdr 40mm gun, 6 to 14mm or 6 to 30mm armour)
    The infantry tanks were mainly Matilda IIs (25 tons, 2 pdr 40mm gun, 20 to 78mm armour)

    Sea Lion, if it was ever mounted, would have been mid September, and one can see that by then Britain had plenty of tanks, including 224 Infantry tanks, of which 197 were either Matilda IIs (one of the best tanks in the world at that time) or Valentines (a good tank at that stage of the war).
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2018
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