Since we received the Bulge British PDF I’ve been trying to write an article on fielding the British 11th Armoured Division and each time the article collapsed under its own weight. The division was active in most of the major campaigns from D-Day to VE Day and has many moving parts, so trying to cover everything in one article proved a daunting task. The only real vestige of the first few attempts was a stand alone article dealing with a late-comer to the division; The Inns of Court.
I decided to have one final shot at it but, instead of one article, we will cover the division in a series. This first article will very much be scene setter, laying out the structure of the division, its component brigades and the attached support elements as it sat on D-Day, waiting to cross the channel on D+10.
11th Armoured Division followed a new template for British Commonwealth armoured divisions in the war, reflecting a combined arms approach with one armoured brigade (consisting of three tank regiments* and a motorised infantry battalion) being paired with one infantry brigade (consisting of three infantry battalions).
To this was added a generous allocation of artillery, anti-tank and anti-aircraft regiments, as well as an armoured recce regiment giving a fourth, un-brigaded, armoured regiment, making each division a self-contained combined arms force.
29th Armoured Brigade
The 29th was a fresh and in-experienced armoured brigade leading Major-General Pip Roberts to request that his old desert command, 3RTR, be transferred in from 8th Armoured Brigade on its return to the UK from Tunisia to join the 23rd Hussars and 2nd Fife and Forfarshire Yeomanry. The three regiments (using UK parlance, an armoured regiment was broadly equivalent to an Infantry Battalion) each had three squadrons, a company-sized unit with a HQ troop of four tanks and four troops of four tanks (three M4A4 ‘Sherman V’ with 75mm guns and a single “Firefly” Sherman VC with a 17pdr). The regimental HQ also had a Crusader AA troop and a recce troop with Stuart V (M3A4) light tanks.
All told, 29th Armoured Brigade could field 265 tanks.
The final unit in the brigade was not an armoured regiment but a motorised infantry battalion. The 8th battalion of the Rifle Brigade gave the battalion its own infantry mounted in halftracks to help clear terrain tanks were not suited for (villages and woods) and then hold the ground from a counter-attack. The battalion consisted on three motor rifle companies, each with three platoons. There was also a support company with 3” mortars, 6pdr AT guns, HMG and Universal Carriers.
Fielding 29th Armoured Brigade
The “D-Day British” Sherman Armoured Squadron is perfect for fielding any squadron from 29th Armoured Brigade. I’d be inclined to not take a Stuart Recce troop as a compulsory choice, if only because it’s a regimental asset, not a squadron one.
The “D-Day British” Motor Company is similarly ideal for representing 8th Battalion. There isn’t much, if any, mention of the Motor infantry using Wasps so I’d be inclined to not field those. The “Fortress Europe” Motor Company is also worth considering; lacking “War Weary” it may better reflect a fresh unit. The Infantry can make use of the “M5 HALF-TRACK TRANSPORTS” to improve their mobility whilst the 6pdr and 3” Mortars can make use of “CARRIER TRANSPORTS”.
159th Infantry Brigade
Like the 29th, the 159th was a fresh-faced brigade that had yet to see combat. Formed from battalions from Welsh border regiments, 1st Herefordshire, 3rds Monmouthshire and 4th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry all took a standard British Infantry battalion composition of four rifle companies plus a support company. Each rifle company had three infantry platoons whilst the support company featured an anti-tank platoon of six 6pdr, a mortar platoon with six 3” mortars and a Carrier Platoon with four three-carrier patrols.
The brigade was considered a Lorried brigade as it had enough transports to carry all of its infantry and guns, allowing it to keep up with a tank advance.
Whilst strictly a divisional asset, the 2nd (Machine Gun) Company, The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, provided Heavy Machine Guns and 4.2” Heavy Mortar support mainly to the 159th.
Fielding 159th Infantry Brigade
Being relatively standard examples of rifle infantry, the “D-Day British” Rifle Company is ideal for reflecting any company of the rifle battalions, plus the HMG support provided by the Fusiliers. Fortress Europe’s Rifle Company is an option, bolstered by its lack of “war weariness” but the lack of HMG Carriers does limit its appeal. The presence of a 4.2” mortar battery in the Fusiliers makes the “4.2 INCH MORTARS” command card a valid choice. The Brigade was well equipped with transports so “3-TON LORRY TRANSPORTS” for the rifle platoons and “CARRIER TRANSPORTS” for the mortars (Universal Carriers for the 3” tubes and Loyds for the 4.2” tubes) and 6pdr (Loyds again) are all viable inclusions, especially for the 6pdr.
There isn’t much mention of Wasp flame-thrower carriers being used by 159th at any point of the war. That doesn’t rule out their presence but I’d be doubtful of an appearance in Normandy.
The Division Support
Armoured Recce Regiment
2nd Northamptonshire Yeomanry was the original Armoured Recce Regiment for 11th Armoured division. Unlike the tanks of the armoured brigades, the Armoured Recce Regiments were equipped with fast Cromwell tanks that were considered better suited to the recce role.
On D-Day, 2nd Northamptonshire was equipped with three squadrons, each with five troops of three Cromwell IVs plus a HQ troop of two Cromwell IVs and two Cromwell VI CS tanks. Much like the other armoured regiments, the Regimental HQ had a complement of Stuart V for the recce troop and Crusader AA tanks for the AA Troop.
To represent the regiment as this point, use a D-Day British Cromwell Armoured Recce Squadron.
During the Normandy campaign, and certainly by Operation Bluecoat, the Yeomanry received the first examples of the Challenger cruiser tank; a stretched Cromwell chassis with a large turret fitted with a 17pdr. Designed to replace the Cromwell, its design proved unsatisfactory so it was instead pushed into service as a gun tank supplement to the Cromwell, much like the Firefly was adopted by the Sherman-equipped units. Interestingly at least one troop seems to have acquired a Firefly; either as an official replacement for a Challenger or a less official “acquisition”.
To represent the Yeomary at this point, use a Bulge British Cromwell Armoured Recce Squadron and keep troops limited to two-three Cromwell and a single Challenger, with Stuarts and Crusader AA in formation too. If using Bulge British as the basis of the force, then the Jalopy card for the Stuarts is also a good choice as the Northants were one of the first to realise the 37mm was not bringing much to the party and ditched it to unlock some extra speed and sneakiness.
Sadly the Northants were badly mauled in the Normandy campaign and would eventually be withdrawn from the line. However, they bought their replacement, the 15/19th Hussars, up to speed and handed over their complement of Challenger too.
All of the units mentioned so far can be used as the basis of a formation but now it’s time to consider the supporting elements that lurk in the bottom of the force diagram. First up, the artillery.
Each Armoured Division was supported by a horse artillery regiment with Sextons (for 11th armoured this was the 13th Regiment (SP) Royal Horse Artillery (The Honourable Artillery Company)) and a field artillery regiment (151st Ayrshire Yeomanry) with towed 25pdr. As such, a battery or two of both or either wouldn’t be out of place, along with a Sherman or aerial OP.
11th Armoured’s Anti-Tank needs were catered for by the 75th Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery. These started D-Day with a towed 17pdr battery and self-propelled battery with M10 tank destroyers with 3” guns. At some point during the Normandy campaign, certainly by Bluecoat, these 3” gun versions were exchanged for 17pdr equipped M10C.
11th Armoured’s Anti-Aircraft regiment was the 58th (King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery. Much like the AT regiment they have one towed Bofors battery and one self-propelled Bofors battery. The Luftwaffe didn’t make much of a showing though!
The D-Day book only allows for the towed version, but the Bulge book does bring the self-propelled unit as an option.
Corps and higher Support
Outside of the division, other arms also provided aid.
The RAF Typhoons would be a regular fixture throughout the campaign.
Breaching Groups with AVRE and Crocodiles generally don’t appear a great deal in any of the 3RTR-based accounts of the division, nor the two main divisional histories. However, “Taming the Panzers” does mention AVRE bombarding cross-roads during operations to close the Falaise Gap. Outside of that, we can’t rule out a Breaching Group being in support but, generally, 11th Armoured was the spear point, advancing far quicker than Churchill’s could keep up with. I’d recommend leaving them out unless gaming a specific scenario.
Armoured Car support during the Normandy campaign was a corps asset and generally came from the 2nd Household Cavalry. Later in the campaign, the division would work with the Inns of Court, starting a long partnership that would see the armoured card regiment become part of the division. Either way, support from Daimler Armoured Car troops seems a logical inclusion.
11th Armoured were deep in the British sector for most of the campaign, though, during Bluecoat, the division was working on the edge of the US sector. However, despite this proximity, there doesn’t appear to have been any fighting alongside their US allies.
The first decision to make is what Force diagram to use. D-Day British makes the most sense but we do have to consider that Sextons and self-propelled Bofors are not available, or have a point premium in Sexton’s case. If you plan on using either or both then Bulge British may make the most sense but then you pay a Sabot-sized premium on 17pdr!
After that, it depends on taste and at what point in the campaign you are going for.
In Operation Epsom and Goodwood, the two brigades were forced by the VIII Corps commander to fight largely separately, against the divisional HQ’s advice. In Epsom, 29th Armoured Brigade was meant to support (and be supported by) the 15th Scottish Division, but largely ended up on its own, supported only by its in-brigade Motor Infantry. For this, a Sherman formation with a Motor Infantry company or formation support platoon would be a good core force, backed up by corp level 25pdr and M10 AT support.
This continued into Goodwood, with the two brigades being forced into separate advances, though Pip Roberts was able to get 159th Infantry Brigade supported by the Northants. For this, take a Rifle Company Formation and support with a Cromwell Armoured Squadron or formation support, backed up by Corp level 25pdr support.
After the first two operations, 11th armoured was allowed to operate as a coherent division for Operation Bluecoat. Now fighting in the Bocage country, the division elected to move away from the fixed divisions and instead adopt two battlegroups of two armoured regiments/two infantry battalions; the motor infantry and armoured recce being rolled in. This allows the battlegroups to devolve down to tank squadron/infantry company pairings; ideal for the close fighting of the Bocage war. 3RTR found itself working with both the KSLI and the 8th Rifle Brigade through this stage so a force made up of an under-strength armoured formation and an infantry formation (Rifle or Motor), backed up by Daimlers of 2nd Household and divisional support would be a very thematic force.
That hopefully gives some food for thought for gaming the Normandy phase of 11th Armoured’s operations in Europe. In the next article, we will look at the breakout from France, the fighting on the eastern flank of Market Garden and the winter of the Bulge.
For further reading on the Division I’d recommend:
The Black Bull, Patrick Delaforce – A history of 11th Armoured Division
Taming the Panzers, Patrick Delaforce – A history of 3RTR through the war.
Taurus Pursuant, Anon – A History of 11th Armoured Division
Plus Bulge British has an abridged account of 11th Armoured’s activities in the war.
Alas, I don’t own a copy. But Pip Roberts’s account “From the Desert to the Baltic: A Soldier’s Tale” is apparently very good. Similarly, I have been trying to track down a copy of Bill Close’s “A View from the Turret: A History of the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment in the Second World War”