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The Tanks And Guns Of The Second World War's Desert War

The open nature of warfare in North Africa accentuated the importance of armoured fighting vehicles and artillery.

British tank design was governed by tactical principles which assigned slow but well-protected 'I' tanks to support the infantry, while speedy but lightly armoured Cruiser tanks fought the enemy armour. These tactics persistently failed against the Germans, who preferred to engage tanks with anti-tank guns.

The British tanks were relatively powerless against these, as their 2-pounder guns were unable to fire an effective high-explosive shell. Until May 1942, when the American Grant began to arrive, the British had no tank which was truly effectual in anything but tank-to-tank combat.

Most British tanks were plagued by unreliability. However, the 8th Army was well-served with reconnaissance vehicles - particularly after the appearance of Humber and Daimler armoured cars from late 1941 onwards.

Anti-tank guns were upgraded during the campaign. The original 2-pounder was supplemented by the 6-pounder from 1942 onwards. By 1943 examples of the powerful 17-pounder had been rushed into service, to counter the threat of the German Tiger tank.

With regard to field artillery, the most important piece of British equipment was the efficient 25-pounder gun. Longer range support was provided by medium artillery. Initially this consisted of 60-pounder guns and 6-inch Howitzers of First World War design. By the end of the campaign, these had been superseded by modern 4.5-inch and 5.5-inch guns.

From late 1942 self-propelled artillery also became available, in the form of the British Bishop and the American Priest.