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Brit infantry in WWII - what went wrong?


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re Hojutsuka:

"Or take Khota Baru, which someone earlier in this thread wanted to nominate as the first defeat suffered by the Japanese on land. According to this poster (sorry, I don't remember who it was), the Indian units held their positions and inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese, preventing them from creating a significant bridgehead, until they retired after receiving orders to do so. Thus, it is claimed as a British victory. I have read Japanese accounts of this action, and from the Japanese point of view, Khota Baru was seen as a totally successful operation. The Japanese unit landed on a beach held by strong enemy forces, dug in and supported by heavy weapons. In spite of heavy casualties (only to be to be expected in such an operation), the Japanese unit succeeded in landing and forming a bridgehead for the following units."

 

The mysterious poster was me.

 

I don't think anyone has claimed the British won a "victory" at Kota Bharu. What I said was that the Japanese got their arses handed to them until the Indians withdrew after what they were defending was destroyed.

 

That was disproved. The defending Indians withdrew because their positions were penetrated by the Japanese, as the webpage posted showed.

 

The point was that the engagement showed that the Japanese were not the 'supermen' that were feared in the first months of the Pacific War, but the times they lost got lost in the overall disaster. Had that action been widely known the Allies might have learned some of their lessons a lot earlier.

It wasn't germane because the Indians were defeated.

 

IIRC, the post was in response to  post that said it was months before Allied troops managed to beat the Japanese. The truth is the Japanese lost battles in Malaya and the PI (and NEI for all I know) but this was submerged in the strategic picture, where their strength in 12/41 was so great they literally couldn't have lost the campaigns.

135091[/snapback]

 

They won the campaigns, that was what mattered.

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One reason why British infantry in WW2 had a difficult time: lack of experience. After Dunkirk, it was almost 18 months before a single British infantry division (as opposed to armoured or Commonwealth divisions) saw action against the Germans - 70th Division in Operation Crusader during November-December, 1941. After this 70th Division was sent to India and the next significant action was again by a single division, 50th Division, in May, 1942 at Gazala. 50th Division stayed in action through the rest of the campaign, being joined by 44th Division for Alam Halfa and 51st Division for Alamein. However, 44th Division was broken up after Alamein, and only one British infantry division (78th) saw action in the first phase of the Tunisia campaign. Only in the spring of 1943, when the 1st, 4th, 46th and 56th Divisions entered action in Tunisia, did the British have more than 3 active infantry divisions with post-Dunkirk combat experience against the Germans. Hardly a significant edge over the Americans.

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Colin, you must also remember one in three battalions in each Indian infantry division was British (in the Middle East at least) and by 1943 several of these had seen action- 4th, 5th, 10th and part of the 8th in the Middle East and East Africa, the 17th, 14th and 26th in Burma, and the 9th and 11th in Malaya (though of course these last two were lost almost in their entirety; the 9th had only two brigades and no British battalions). So another 22 or so British infantry battalions at least had seen at least some action (and some of them quite a bit) in that timeframe. This is not counting infantry in independent brigades (most significantly the variously-numbered Guards brigade in North Africa) or in the armoured divisions.

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Yes, but again if they had taken some RAF troopies they could have added more to the Army, or more from the RN later in the war...

 

Not quite sure what you mean. AFAIK some personnel were transferred from the RAF to the Army around 1944, and quite a few RA anti-aircraft gunners were transferred to the infantry. Recruiting for RAF ground crew was eventually stopped and those who washed out as aircrew were given the choice between the Army and the coal mines.

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...and those who washed out as aircrew were given the choice between the Army and the coal mines.

 

Let's see...get killed in a couple of months by a German bullet or get killed in twenty years by black lung. Who says that British weren't great humanitarians?

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Colin, you must also remember one in three battalions in each Indian infantry division was British (in the Middle East at least) and by 1943 several of these had seen action- 4th, 5th, 10th and part of the 8th in the Middle East and East Africa, the 17th, 14th and 26th in Burma, and the 9th and 11th in Malaya (though of course these last two were lost almost in their entirety; the 9th had only two brigades and no British battalions). So another 22 or so British infantry battalions at least had seen at least some action (and some of them quite a bit) in that timeframe. This is not counting infantry in independent brigades (most significantly the variously-numbered Guards brigade in North Africa) or in the armoured divisions.

 

 

But almost all the British officers above battalion in the Indian divisions were part of the Indian Army and consequently isolated to some degree from service with the rest of the Army. Auchinleck is the only exception I can think of off the top of my head. All the rest either stayed with Indian divisions in the Med or were sent off to Burma. Although my original point was regarding British divisions, I think the impact of experience by the British battalions in the Indian divisions was minor, primarily because those battalions were shot up, captured, or shot up&captured during their service in North Africa. This was also true for the 22nd/201st Guards. The Gazala battles did in some of the British battalions in Indian brigades, with the fall of Tobruk taking care of the Guards and 11th Indian Infantry Brigade, while the battles of Matruh and 1st Alamein decimated the rest. To a lesser extent the pattern held for the KRRC/Rifle Brigade units with the armoured divisions. These lost heavily in Crusader, Gazala and Alamein. Of course the motor battalions were something of a group unto themselves, although a few officers crossed over to command in regular infantry units in NW Europe and Italy.

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Yes, but again if they had taken some RAF troopies they could have added more to the Army, or more from the RN later in the war...

 

Whooa, easy there Murph :) The RN was sucking hind manpower tit from the start, they were decommissioning battleships before the end of the war to find warm bodies and these were guys keeping everyone fed, fueled and equipped via the convoys. There was precious little slack there to trim.

 

As I read things the RAF was the main problem, particularly the huge expansion of Bomber Command, they soaked up the best of both leadership and technical talent (for air & ground crew) leaving both the Army and the RN short. The Army's best junior officer/NCO material in WWII ended up flying Lancasters instead of leading rifle sections, platoons and companies, and taking the same sort of casualties as their predecessors had leading the lads over the top in WWI. Not that I can see any way around that, it isn't like the RAF didn't need top quality manpower to do the job.

 

shane

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Whooa, easy there Murph :) The RN was sucking hind manpower tit from the start, they were decommissioning battleships before the end of the war to find warm bodies and these were guys keeping everyone fed, fueled and equipped via the convoys. There was precious little slack there to trim.

 

As I read things the RAF was the main problem, particularly the huge expansion of Bomber Command, they soaked up the best of both leadership and technical talent (for air & ground crew) leaving both the Army and the RN short. The Army's best junior officer/NCO material in WWII ended up flying Lancasters instead of leading rifle sections, platoons and companies, and taking the same sort of casualties as their predecessors had leading the lads over the top in WWI. Not that I can see any way around that, it isn't like the RAF didn't need top quality manpower to do the job.

 

shane

 

Well of course not all, but a very high percentage. Such was the problem that Canada and to a lesser extent South Africa loaned hundreds of junior officers (mainly infantry) to the British Army in 1944/45.

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Well of course not all, but a very high percentage. Such was the problem that Canada and to a lesser extent South Africa loaned hundreds of junior officers (mainly infantry) to the British Army in 1944/45.

 

Very true, I can only claim that it was after 3am and apologize for my exaggeration - oh and I think NZ helped out with officers too.

 

shane

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The Army's best junior officer/NCO material in WWII ended up flying Lancasters instead of leading rifle sections, platoons and companies, and taking the same sort of casualties as their predecessors had leading the lads over the top in WWI.

shane

 

 

Can anyone speculate as to which would have been the most hazardous choice between the two?

 

Bomber Command haemorrhaged crews at times, whilst the fighting on the ground ate up subalterns at an alarming rate (similar to Great war figures, ISTR). So: were they lucky to have been creamed off into Bomber Command, or put into greater peril?

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Can anyone speculate as to which would have been the most hazardous choice between the two?

 

Bomber Command haemorrhaged crews at times, whilst the fighting on the ground ate up subalterns at an alarming rate (similar to Great war figures, ISTR). So: were they lucky to have been creamed off into Bomber Command, or put into greater peril?

 

Don't look at it as an either-or proposition. Imagine how bad it might have been if more young men had to fight on the front line, over a longer period of time, against Germans who had a greater number of guns, tanks, planes, and more supplies of all kinds from a secure rear. However much quality manhood was lost, it was less than it was possible to lose, had aerial attack of the German homeland not been undertaken. (Taking cover from the de rigeur outrage of SBC haters and doubters...)

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