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Operation Crusader 1941: Rommel in Retreat (Campaign) [Paperback]

Ken Ford , John White
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

10 Jun 2010 Campaign (Book 220)
On 18 November 1941, the British launched Operation Crusader against the Axis positions in Africa. The plan was to bring the armour of the German Afrika Korps to battle and to beat it in open warfare with the now superior strength of Eighth Army, and to relieve the isolated British garrison at Tobruk. Initially meeting with disaster, the British redoubled their efforts, fought through to Tobruk, and pushed back Rommel's Afrika Korps. Written by popular Osprey author, Ken Ford, "Operation Crusader" tells the story of the British victory that demonstrated their ability to fight head-to-head against the Germans in Africa.

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Operation Crusader 1941: Rommel in Retreat (Campaign) + Campaign 196: Gazala 1942: Rommel's greatest victory (Campaign) + Tobruk 1941 (Osprey Campaign)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Osprey Publishing (10 Jun 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846035007
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846035005
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 18.2 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 584,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Ken Ford trained as an engineer and spent almost 30 years in the telecommunications industry before a change in career led him to become a full-time military historian. He is the author of over 20 books on various aspects of World War II, including Campaign 158: "El Alamein 1942." Ken now lives in Southampton, UK. The author lives in Southampton, UK.

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dynamic Desert Action 14 July 2010
By N. Brown VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is the third Osprey title by Ken Ford covering the Western Desert campaign and nicely fills in the gap left between the Tobruk 1941 volume (by Jim Laurier) first published in 2001 and the author's last work covering the Battle of Gazala published in 2008. With this publication Osprey has now completed its coverage of the Western Desert theatre of operations from the Italian invasion of Egypt in 1940 up to end of the El Alamein battles in November 1942. Hopefully we will see future titles that cover Operation Touch and the 8th Army's battles in Tunisia.

Firstly I have to say this is a very welcome addition. Operation Crusader is not well covered as a standalone subject other than in works about General Auchinleck. The scale and scope of the battle means that it fits well into Osprey's 96 page format although I would have liked to have seen a little more analysis of the campaign at the end. At this stage of the Desert War the size of the forces were such that both sides armoured forces had the space to carry out vast sweeping drives into and around each other's territory. Frontlines mean very little here. The author does well in explaining the complex back and forth manoeuvres across the Libyan desert of each side and this is helped in this by having the maps and text marry up very neatly - not always the case in some other Osprey works.

Two things that stand out in the narrative are the command disagreements between Rommel and his Afrika Korps commander Gen.Cruwell (with Rommel proven to be more than fallible) and a reminder of the multinational make-up of the British 8th Army. Great credit to the New Zealand, South African, Indian and Polish infantry forces which often performed so much better than the British armoured units in defeating the Germans and Italians.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Full circle 17 Nov 2010
By Gisli Jokull Gislason VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
Osprey has now published books on all the major North Africa Campaigns of World War 2 and closes the gap on the battles in the Western Desert with Operation Crusader. Operation Crusader was a very important episode and along with Gazala ranks as a battle where both sides could have carried the day and was an intense battle.

Ken Ford does the battle justice and I think he spends reasonable time with the different sides high command decisions that would decide the outcome of the battle. The British even sacked their Army Commander Cunningham half way through when the British CinC Middle East Auchinleck felt that he had lost his nerve.

The battle was a seesaw affair with both sides gaining tactical initiative at different times and Rommel sacrificing a certain limited victory with ambitions for a great victory that eventually resulted in his defeat during the Crusader Battles (I am not giving anything away, see the title: Operation Crusader 1941: Rommel in retreat). In fact this was the first time the allies went against the Germans and came out on top.

Ford manages to draw the bigger picture and making it clear which is quite an accomplishment considering the confused nature of the battle. A worthy addition to the Osprey books. The only drawback is that because it is confused I felt it lacked the intensity to keep me reading and I had to put a little effort into finishing it rather that being stuck to it.

The full list of the Osprey Campaign books on the Western Desert is as follows.

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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moderately successful summary of a complex campaign 4 July 2010
By Jonathan Lupton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Operation Crusader is a fascinating, challengingly complex subject. Here we see British forces beating their German opponents in a swirling armored clash just 18 months after an overwhelming defeat in France. The British advantage in numbers was about 3 to 2 in the air, and 5 to 4 in tanks - hardly overwhelming. British equipment, training and tactical doctrine were below German standards. Axis leadership came from no less than Erwin Rommel, one of Germany's best armored commanders. How, then, did the British pull off this victory?

This title gives a useful, but not completely clear short summary of the battle. Overall narrative flow bogs down in the battle's minutiae. To give the author his due, this is an extremely complex subject. For example, the back-and-forth tank and infantry battles at Sidi Rezegh rank among the most chaotic ground actions in World War II. There are issues of morale, equipment quality, tactical doctrines, and decisions made under pressure by overworked and battle-exhausted commanders - a lot to condense into 94 pages.

It takes a re-read to get at the flow of this complicated battle. Here the carefully annotated maps are helpful, although you may find yourself paging between different maps to trade off between geographic scope and detail. The illustrations are good, with informative captions giving additional insight into tactical details, weapon systems, and personalities.

I found the author's account of Rommel's "dash to the wire" entertaining. Determined to keep up the momentum of his daring thrust into the British rear, the Desert Fox spent a cold night in the desert, his command vehicle trapped on the wrong side of the border fence, all alone as Eighth Army tanks and trucks rolled around in the dark, oblivious to his proximity and helplessness.

In the end, as the smoke of this chaotic campaign cleared, the British had persevered, aided by General Auchinleck's ramrod determination, a stronger logistical base, and the availability of reinforcements to assist. The British victory was probably more important than most historians realize, and it was a near-run thing. Had Rommel won instead, he might have been in a good position to finish off the British in the desert in the next year, when setbacks in the Far East, Mediterranean, and the U-boat war drained the British war effort. This title makes a useful introduction to an under-appreciated campaign.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Full Circle 17 Nov 2010
By Gisli Jokull Gislason - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Osprey has now published books on all the major North Africa Campaigns of World War 2 and closes the gap on the battles in the Western Desert with Operation Crusader. Operation Crusader was a very important episode and along with Gazala ranks as a battle where both sides could have carried the day and was an intense battle.

Ken Ford does the battle justice and I think he spends reasonable time with the different sides high command decisions that would decide the outcome of the battle. The British even sacked their Army Commander Cunningham half way through when the British CinC Middle East Auchinleck felt that he had lost his nerve.

The battle was a seesaw affair with both sides gaining tactical initiative at different times and Rommel sacrificing a certain limited victory with ambitions for a great victory that eventually resulted in his defeat during the Crusader Battles (I am not giving anything away, see the title: Operation Crusader 1941: Rommel in retreat). In fact this was the first time the allies went against the Germans and came out on top.

Ford manages to draw the bigger picture and making it clear which is quite an accomplishment considering the confused nature of the battle. A worthy addition to the Osprey books. The only drawback is that because it is confused I felt it lacked the intensity to keep me reading and I had to put a little effort into finishing it rather that being stuck to it.

The full list of the Osprey Campaign books on the Western Desert is as follows.

Operation Compass 1940: Wavell's Whirlwind Offensive (Osprey Military Campaign) Sadly out of print

Tobruk 1941 (Osprey Campaign)

This book: Operation Crusader

Campaign 196: Gazala 1942: Rommel's greatest victory (Campaign)

El Alamein, 1942: The Turning of the Tide (Campaign)
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Solid, if Parochial British View of Rommel's First Defeat 27 July 2010
By R. A Forczyk - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Although the German Field Marshall Rommel and his vaunted Deutsches Afrika Korps (DAK) are still in the public imagination more than six decades after the end of the Second World War, the men who inflicted the first serious defeat upon them are known only to specialists. Operation Crusader in November-December 1941 was a Commonwealth offensive to break Rommel's siege of the port of Tobruk that started poorly but eventually managed to force Rommel and his DAK to conduct their first major retreat. Author Ken Ford walks readers through this complicated six-week campaign and provides a blow-by-blow account of the first major clash between German and British armored forces. As usual, Ford writes from a parochial British perspective, with no German or Italian sources used. Many of the English sources used are fifty years old, yet Ford writes a coherent narrative that is easy to follow and enjoyable for readers already familiar with this subject.

The volume begins with the standard introductory sections on origins of the campaign, opposing forces, commanders and plans, all of which are satisfactory. The only odd note is the omission of Italian commanders and any discussion of the Ariete Armored Division, which played an important role in the campaign. The order of battle is decent, but does not mention key factors like tank strengths in each major formation (overall tank numbers are deceptive since some tanks are usually held in reserve as replacements). The campaign narrative itself is 57 pages long. The author provides a short bibliography and a few observations on the battlefield today (which is in Qadaffi-land). The volume has six 2-D maps (Rommel's first offensive, April 1941; disposition of forces prior to Crusader; the opening moves, 18-19 November 1941; the breakout from Tobruk, 20-21 November 1941; First Battle of Sidi Rezegh, 22-23 November 1941; Rommel's retreat) and three 3-D BEV maps (the first armored battle between British and German forces, 20-21 November 1941; Rommel's dash to the frontier; the New Zealand division on Sidi Rezegh ridge). Overall, the maps were quite good and supported the text very well - they are one of the best selling points of this volume. I had mixed impressions about the three battle scenes by John White (25-pounder guns from 7th Support Group being overrun by German panzers at Sidi Rexegh; Rommel leads the Afrika Korps to the Egyptian frontier; the link-up between 8th Army and the garrison of Tobruk), which seem rather crude and artificial, particularly the personnel. On the other hand, the vehicles seemed to have a surrealistic photo quality, yet White's work can't compare with illustrations by Peter Dennis.

This volume can be read as a solid campaign summary by those readers just interested in the North African Campaign or it would be useful for military readers seeking a good case study of leadership and C2 issues in a modern battle. The British commander of 8th Army (Cunningham) developed a meticulous plan that admirably used deception to lull Rommel into a false sense of security and built up a numerically-superior armored force with the logistics to conduct sustained maneuver warfare in the desert. As the author notes, Cunningham gets high marks for OPSEC, organization, and logistics, whereas Rommel's operations were usually ad hoc improvisations with pick-up teams and inadequate attention to supply issues. Yet Cunningham based his plan for Operation Crusader upon certain assumptions about how Rommel would respond and when this did not occur, he demonstrated great inflexibility and unimaginativeness in modifying the plan. Indeed, the contrast between the command styles of Cunningham and Rommel are polar opposites.

Once the DAK failed to rise to the bait and immediately attack the mobile forces in XXX Corps approaching Tobruk, Cunningham tried to do too many things at once and squandered his advantage in mass. Although the author tries to put a positive spin on the first armored battle between the Germans and the British, the truth as even this volume indicates, is that the DAK defeated the British 7th Armored Division in detail and was on the verge of stopping Crusader at the gates of Tobruk. Although the author does not get down in the weeds in tactical details, it is clear that 8th Army tactics were crude at this point and hindered by faulty tanks and weak anti-tank defenses. Interestingly, as the author writes, "Rommel's reluctance to participate in an armored battle on the first two days of the offensive had resulted in the initiative gradually slipping from the grasp of Eighth Army's commander." This was an odd case of doing nothing actually being the best course of action (very tough for staff officers to brief that CoA to the Old Man).

Yet in war, commanders do not know that what their adversary is thinking and Rommel was not aware that Cunningham was getting ready to retreat. Instead, Rommel impulsively left a half-won battle with XXX Corps to `dash to the Egyptian border' in hopes of disrupting 8th Army's lines of communications and forcing a retreat. However, Rommel's thrust struck only emptiness and left him out of effective communications for several days. This is partly an example of what von Clausewitz called `friction' caused by communication problems and partly due to Rommel's unorthodox command style. As Ford notes, Rommel's behavior in these days was weird and counter-productive, ignoring the views and orders of his subordinates and essentially indulging in a wild goose chase. The result was that the British recovered their balance and eventually eked out a victory that forced him to withdraw. There are a lot of good lessons about battle command in these pages. However, the author's conclusion that "old-fashioned generalship [Auchinleck] had, in this instance, got the better of flamboyant mobile operations [Rommel]" is a bit too self-congratulatory. Both sides made mistakes but British generalship did not triumph over German maneuver warfare, since it was weakness in logistics that eventually stole the victory from the Afrika Korps.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rommel finally has to retreat after a successful advance 26 Jun 2010
By Dave Schranck - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The British under General Wavell tried twice earlier in the year to relieve Tobruk and destroy the Axis strength but Operations Brevity and Battleaxe failed. Rommel had arrived in Africa in Feb and immediately began a march that drove the British back to Egypt except for the important port of Tobruk which was still in British hands.
Because of those failures Churchill replaced Wavell with Auchinleck, hoping the new commander would be more aggressive. More tanks and men were sent to the new 8th Army to make sure the next offensive was successful. This is the background info the author presents in his first chapter called "Origins". A nice Chronology comes next. It begins in Feb, 1941 when Rommel arrives in Africa and ends with Rommel retreating to El Agheila in Jan 1942. This summary of key events helps visualize the upcoming campaign.

The chapter on Opposing Commanders is one reason for rating this Campaign only four stars. Despite this campaign being heavily weighted toward the British side, I found the coverage of the British commanders deficient. The profiles of the top brass was good but coverage of middle management was entirely missing. There was no discussion of Davy, Gott, Feyberg or Campbell despite their being mentioned in the Campaign a number of times. While reading the Campaign, I had to study the Order of Battle listings to identify which commanders went with which divisions and brigades.

The Commander coverage of the Axis side was very good and included the Italian commanders as well as the German leaders. That's the rub. The Italian commanders weren't discussed in the Campaign and the space devoted to them in this chapter would have been better spent if more British officers were covered.
Opposing Army was good covering the forces for both sides. It also included an Order of Battle for British, German and Italian forces which turned out to be essential as a reference.
Opposing Plans was good. Ford covers the three main areas of the offensive and the objectives the Corps were trying to achieve. By the launch date, the British would have superior numbers and Auchinleck was confident of victory. The 13th Corp was to attack in the eastern frontier after 30th Corp engaged the panzers of 15th and 21 PzDs in the Gabr Saleh or Sidi Rezegh sector. After destroying the panzers, the 30th Corp would move toward Tobruk and support the 70th ID in breaking out of the blockade.
Rommel learned of Operation Crusader and planned to complete capturing Tobruk before the British could interfere but his offensive took too long to prepare and Crusader launched on the eve of the German attack on Tobruk.
Operation Crusader was a pretty good plan but it had risks. If 30th Corps which had the biggest responsibility stayed together the risks would be manageable. Too bad Cunningham deviated from the plan early in the campaign that would endanger the campaign. It would take a bigger mistake by Rommel for the British to recover and eventually push Rommel away from Tobruk.

Besides the commander chapter, I also had issues with the Campaign coverage. From my perspective, Mr Ford's writing style was a little too laconic when discussing the units in each engagement. The author wrote in such a way that assumed the reader had as much understanding of the British Command structure and the divisions and brigades under their command as he does. He frequently didn't spell out the complete nomenclature of the command and unit. I had to visit the Order of Battle a number times to determine who commanded a certain division or brigade that was mentioned. Sometimes the commander was discussed but not his unit. You either had to double back in the story or go again to the OB to refresh your memory. If you know the British hierarchy or are a casual reader this deficiency won't be a problem. The air war was essentially missing.
For an Osprey Campaign the coverage was ample but it was decisively British driven with the German coverage somewhat inferior.
In Aftermath, a summary of the next month's activity is provided with Rommel retreating to El Agheila and the British closely following. Starting in January, Rommel begins to be resupplied and starts planning his next offensive. The cost of men and equipment of Operation Crusader is also given. A new commander for 8th Army will also be on the agenda.

In addition to the tactical history, the author provides some appraisal and commentary when either side made a mistake during the battle. Its clearly shown how much of a gambler Rommel was which was a mixed blessing. When Rommel decided to move the bulk of his forces eastward, against Cruwell's wishes, to destroy 13th Corp on the frontier at a time when they were needed in the Sidi Regegh - El Duda area clearly shows Rommel's willingness to take chances. This maneuver backfired, giving the British a chance to regroup from their losses and continue their drive toward Tobruk. Even after making a mistake, Rommel had confidence in his abilities and was almost always aggressive. Cunningham's indecisive ways cost him his job and his replacement, Ritchie, lacked battlefield experience but the British's determined effort allowed them to relieve Tobruk and forced Rommel to retreat.

The author provides six 2-D maps and three 3-D maps, covering all the key engagements. They were all very good and with the crib notes attached to these maps they certainly helped me follow the action. These maps are essential to bolster the reader's understanding of the story. There were several two page illustrations as well. There were many photos included with the narrative. Many of them were British and the ones that covered the Axis battlefield were ones showing destroyed panzers or 88s or German prisoners being rounded up.
The author also provides a small list of books if further reading is desired on Rommel or the campaigns of North Africa.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great overview and OB reference 24 Nov 2010
By Patrick J. Murpphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In enjoy this particular series from Osprey. The overview of the campaign is good and the Order of Battle is good. I use books like this when working on a project as a good jump off point. I reccomend this book. It is good!
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