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The WW1 "Desert Rats"

Discussion in 'Military History' started by GRW, Jan 26, 2020.

  1. GRW

    GRW Pillboxologist WW2|ORG Editor

    Oct 26, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Stirling, Scotland
    Think the "origins of special forces" is a misnomer, but interesting article.
    • Striking where the enemy is weakest and melting away into the darkness before he can react.
    • Never confronting a stronger force directly, but willing to use audacity and surprise to confound and demoralize an opponent.
    • Operations driven by good intelligence, area knowledge, mobility, speed, firepower, and detailed planning executed by a few specialists with indigenous warriors…
    This is unconventional warfare.
    Here is the story of one of its earliest First World War practitioners…

    A long line of vehicles sat under the black sky, their engines murmuring quietly. It was just after midnight on 17 March, 1916, in North Africa.
    There was a last-minute flurry of activity as the men threw all manner of boxes, food, water, and kit aboard the ambulances and the 30-odd Model-T Ford patrol cars.
    It was just after midnight and the air was cool - it would get even cooler as the night progressed.
    The patrol was led by a major, Hugh Richard Arthur Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster - the richest man in England.
    A veteran of the Boer War, he’d volunteered to re-enter service at the beginning of World War 1 and soon found himself in a position to influence the development of a new weapon – the armored car.

    There were several of these vehicles - sinister-looking metallic beasts - guarding the convoy that night.
    One might say they looked out of place in the desert but then they also looked out of place next to cars of the day. Their most striking feature was their squat crew compartment. This sat behind the long bonnet and had a round turret on top that looked like a giant tuna-fish can.
    Each vehicle also hauled a .303-calibre machine gun in its revolving turret, making it a formidable gun platform. And the 7.5-litre straight-six engines roaring within meant that, for their day, these were rapid-moving assault units, though their route to the North African desert had been rather circuitous.

    Early in the war, the Duke had taken command of the Royal Navy Armored Car Division’s Number 2 Squadron. France was their initial destination.
    At this stage, automobiles and trucks were being used in all sorts of ways that their inventors had not envisaged, moving supplies and men, serving as staff cars and ambulances and ferrying communications and orders to and from HQs
    They also played a role in the mobile, opening phase of the war as antagonists tried to outflank each other.
    This ‘race to the sea’ consisted of the maneuvers performed by both sides as they leapfrogged their way northwards to the Belgian coast, trench lines being constructed in their wake.
    This Battle of the Frontiers may have ended in geographic stalemate but technologically, it spawned a rapid evolution in mobile armored warfare.

    Combatants had realized that weapons could be mounted on armored cars and the potential of this was soon recognized further up the chain of command. In London, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill authorized the construction of 60 more of these vehicles.

    A number of modified, armored versions existing automobiles soon emerged: 21 Clement-Talbots, 21 Wolseleys and 18 Rolls-Royces.

    Production hurriedly began at factories around England and, by January 1915, six squadrons were dispatched to France.

    The Duke purchased his squadron’s cars out of his own pocket and brought his own Mulliner-bodied Rolls-Royce tourer along as a command vehicle.

    The Duke of Westminster in his ‘command car’ (image: Edwardian Rolls-Royce, Vol 1 & 2, Published by John Fasal, 1994)
    The driver, S.C. Rolls (no relation to the car’s creator), later wrote that their cars were given characteristically ferocious names like Bulldog and Blast.
    Their job was to harry and delay enemy advances while Allied forces withdrew to avoid being overrun and annihilated.
    RNAS cars continued to serve in the Ypres campaign assisting the British Army’s 3rd Cavalry Division until the summer of 1915.

    By this point, it was clear that the Rolls-Royces were superior to the other makes, both in their reliability and because they carried the heavy armor plating most effectively. From this point on, they became known as the Admiralty Mark II Pattern Armored Car and they would remain largely unchanged for the remainder of the war.
    What would change was the choice of theater – Churchill could see that trench warfare and static battlefields made them largely redundant on the Western Front.

    Instead, the Duke and his squadron were sent to Egypt where they were first re-designated (as an Army unit) and then rebranded, as the ‘Light Armored Motor Battery’, or LAMB.
    They arrived in the midst of frantic efforts to deal with a local uprising instigated by the Ottoman-Turks and Germans. "

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