British Armour Between the Wars - Doctrine
|Mk. VIII||A25||Harry Hopkins||10||2pdr||100|
|Mk. E||Type B||Vickers 6 Ton||7||47mm||153|
|Mk I||Deacon AEC||12||6pdr||175|
In 1918, Great Britain led the world in both armored equipment and armored doctrine. At a time when most soldiers regarded the tank as a specialized intantry-support weapon for crossing trenches, a significant number of officers, in the Royal Tank Corps had gone on to envision much broader roles for mechanized organizations. In May 1918, Col. J.F.C. Fuller had used the example of German infiltration tactics to refine what he called "Plan 1919." This was an elaborate concept for a large-scale armored offensive in 1919, an offensive that would not only produce multiple penetrations of the German forward defenses, but also totally disrupt the German command structure and rear organization.
Fuller's expressed goal was to defeat the enemy by a "pistol shot to the brain" of enemy headquarters and communications, instead of by destroying the combat elements through systematic attrition. In order to attack German headquarters before they could displace, Fuller relied upon the Medium D tank. Potentially, the Medium D could drive at twenty miles per hour, a speed that would allow it to exploit the rupture of trenches caused by slower heavy tanks. In fact, the Medium D suffered the usual developmental problems of any radically new piece of equipment and might not have been available even if the war had continued into 1919. Moreover, then as later, Fuller was noteworthy for his neglect of infantry in the mechanized team. He could and did conceive of trucked infantry advancing after the tanks under certain circumstances, but not fighting in close coordination with armor except at the point of rupture in a deliberate attack.
The few officers and ex-officers who knew tanks and who envisioned new and innovative tactics - such as as Lieutenant General Sir Gifford leQuesne Martel, Major General J.F.C.Fuller (an outspoken Fascist), Captain Sir Basil Liddell-Hart, and Major General Sir Percy Hobart - were either shunted aside as bothersome old fools or, if they were persistent enough to catch the eye and ear of a high governmental personage, found themselves still tightly wrapped in bureaucratic red tape. Fuller and Hart coupled intellectual prescience with increasingly nasty criticism of the British military establishment. So severe did their criticism become during the 1930s that it stimulated a unified reaction by most of the army against armored warfare and its advocates. Incredible obtuseness and sheer incompetence mitigated the desperately-needed growth and production of British tanks in the years before World War II. The cavalry generals fought to the last bit, and when they were un-horsed, carried on with acrimony, bitterness, and blind obstinacy.
Despite the efforts of numerous innovators like Fuller, the British Army gradually lost its lead not only in armor but in most areas of tactical progress. The most commonly cited obstacle was traditionalism within the British Army. This institutional resistance has often been exaggerated, but certainly the strong unit identity of the British regimental system discouraged radical changes within the traditional arms and services. A related problem was that Great Britain was the first nation to create an independent air force. The Royal Air Force (RAF) was intent upon developing its own identity as a separate service and resisted any close relationship with the army. Like most other air services, the RAF was increasingly interested in interdiction and strategic bombing, but not ground support. In 1922, for example, the army requested that eight "Army Co-Operation Squadrons" be permanently assigned for liaison and reconnaissance duties with ground troops. The RAF would only provide three squadrons.
During mechanized exercises in 1928, a number of RAF pilots practiced close air support for armored units, but after this display the Air Ministry formally requested that the army refrain from encouraging pilots to violate RAF doctrine. This limitation was clearly reflected in British Army regulations from 1924 onward, where the RAF was described as providing only liaison and reconnaissance in the immediate proximity of ground units. Fighter aircraft could conduct strafing and other ground attacks "in exceptional circumstances," but only at the expense of their air superiority mission. Despite the efforts of many British armored theorists, close air support doctrine was not really developed in Britain until 1942.
Whether the tank by increased speed, by the use of smoke, by increased protection, and by some other devices can maintain its ascendency could not yet be foreseen. Of course its value against all enemies unprovided with these special means of offence would remain. The whole subject, however, was highly experimental and it seemed most unwise to commit to any large programme of tank construction, involving heavy expense, until much more definite results can be reached and the whole practical aspect of this new war weapon had been further examined.
By 1928 the Tank Corps had evolved a species of light tank called by some "the Tankette," which was to do the reconnaissance duties for the armored force and possibly replace altogether the use of the horse. When this was tried in the manoeuvres of that year, they found that they could not replace the horse at the present moment for reconnaissance duties and intercommunication in tactical operations; but, at the same time, they found that this small, light, armored tank was most useful in supporting troops on reconnaissance duties, for which it was converted into an armored machine gun carrier, and proved most useful. All arms began to want this armored machine gun carrier, both infantry and cavalry. They found in it an excellent means of carrying their machine guns into action, being able actually to fire, having protection so that they can use direct fire, even in open country.
The establishment of the cavalry brigade at that time was two cavalry regiments and one armored car regiment, and the establishment of each cavalry regiment was two sabre squadrons and one machine gun squadron, making only four mounted sabre squadrons to the brigade. In countries consisting of forests, mountains, bogs, stones or, for any length of time, mud plains or heavy sands, no wheeled vehicles could accompany the cavalry.
The British War Office dissolved the Experimental Mechanized Force in 1928 for a variety of factors, including buagetary restrictions and the opposition of some-military conservatives. This force did, however, provide the basis for Col. Charles Broad to produce a new regulation, "Mechanized and Armoured Formations", in 1929. This regulation was a great advance in describing the roles and missions of separate armored formations, but it also reflected the pure-tank attitude that was becoming common in the Royal Tank Corps. Even when Broad proposed a Royal Armoured Corps that included tanks, mechanized cavalry, and mechanized infantry, he explicitly excluded artillery and engineers. Still, Broad recognized different models of armored vehicle and different roles for them. In particular, the standard "mixed" tank battalion of an independent tank brigade was a combination of three different types of vehicle. Within each company, seven light tanks would reconnoiter the enemy positions and then provide fire support for five medium tanks that actually conducted the assault. In addition, two "close support tanks" -- really self-propelled howitzers or mortars -- would provide smoke and suppressive fire for the assault.12 Since in practice the "light tanks" were often small armored personnel carriers, the parallel with more recent American armored cavalry should be obvious.
By 1929 in the Royal Tank Corps a modern type of tank had replaced the old wartime tanks. Each cavalry regiment had a mechanised machine-gun squadron, and the mobility of the horsed squadrons had been greatly increased by transferring some of the weight from the horse to mechanized transport. The Army was experimenting in the cavalry with an armored 303 machine gun carrier. In addition, two cavalry regiments had been converted into armored car regiments, and some 22 six-wheeled armored cars of the latest pattern had been purchased as part of the equipment of one regiment. The small armoured 303 machine gun carriers also formed part of the equipment of these six infantry machine gun companies.
Armored forces were expected in the first instance to provide something of great mobility which can undertake distant missions, and which, in that respect, was the mechanical equivalent of the independent cavalry of former days. These formations were to consist principally of armored cars or light tanks, or both combined, and though incapable of undertaking a serious offensive, would have quite enough fire power to give a good account of themselves. In the second place, the British Army required another type of formation which was intended to combine great hitting power and armored protection with sufficient mobility to allow of maneuver rather than of frontal attack. It would consist of medium tanks with light tanks and armored support weapons as auxiliaries. It was anticipated that this organisation of light and medium armored brigades, when combined suitably with cavalry and infantry formations, would provide a force suited for every type of country and for every form of maneuver which may be necessary, from the passive defence to the attack the wide turning movement or the headlong pursuit.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|