Diverted and Committed Troops

"Don`t for one second relax your determination to follow up, whatever the odds; don`t be like the British who had a chance of getting to Tripoli and didn`t take it 1 - Hitler tallking to Rommel

With the Italian force in North Africa as good as neutralised, the British were faced with numerous crises all over the world. Singapore and Greece were about to be attacked and the location of the next German assault in the Middle East was unknown. When Winston Churchill decided to send forces to assist the Greeks in their defence against the German force about to attack, Sir Alan Brooke, the Home Forces Commander noted that our hands were more full at the time in the Middle East and Greece could only result in the most dangerous dispersal of force2. Brooke was certainly proved right as the Eighth Army collapsed in disarray when Rommel attacked for the first time in March 1941, but in all fairness it has to be said that the troops were sent to Greece for sound political reasons; so as to show that the Allies would back anyone wishing to stand against the Nazi`s, not to mention that the German propaganda machine would have had a field day if the British had abandoned Greece.


The diversion of Axis forces was another reason why the Allies were able to gain the upper hand in North Africa, as Hitlers pre-occupation with the Eastern front resulted in Rommel`s urgent requests for more armour and supplies being refused, limiting his options. The German army had numerous units committed on the Russian front and many units were static in ‘Fortress Europe expecting an Allied assault. Meanwhile Britain and America also had to deal with the Eastern front and supply their Russian Allies with aircraft, armour and other essential supplies and these were desperately needed in North Africa aswell. It is fair to say that the Afrika Korps suffered more from this handicap than the Allies, although due to the diverson of forces from the Eighth Army to Greece , Hitler drew this blunt conclusion when speaking to Rommel; “Don`t for one second relax your determination to follow up, whatever the odds; don`t be like the British who had a chance of getting to Tripoli and didn`t take it3.


In 1942 a number of divisions were diverted or withdrawn from North Africa including the Eighteenth Division which was redirected to Singapore where it arrived just in time to be swallowed up in the capitulation of 15th February.4 The 6th and 7th Australian divisions were sent home at the urgent request of Prime Minister Curtin5, the 5th Division was sent to Burma and the 70th Division to Ceylon, when they could have been used to completely secure North Africa before Rommels arrival.


When the circumstances surrounding the diversion of troops is analysed closely along with the effect it had upon the war in the desert, it becomes clear that although this factor did have a significant effect upon the course of the Desert War, but was not decisive enough to determine its outcome.


1 Adrian Gilbert, The Imperial War Museum Book Of The Desert War 1940 -1942 (page 13)

2 Peter Young,Purnells Encyclopedias Of The Second World War (Volume 2 page 437)

3 Adrian Gilbert, The Imperial War Museum Book Of The Desert War 1940 -1942 (page 13)

4 Peter Young, Purnells Encyclopedias Of The Second WorldWar (Volume 2 page 437)

5 Peter Young, Purnells Encyclopedias Of TheSecond World War (Volume 2 page 437)

Supplies

Weapons In North Africa

Intelligence in North Africa

Commanders and their tactics

High Command Disputes And Interference

Concluding thoughts on the North African Campaign

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