World War II
Start of War
When the war started in 1939 there were 1,000 light tanks and only 146 of them were infantry or cruiser tanks.4 For being at the forefront of armored warfare the British was very behind in development when World War II started.4
Major-General P.C.S. Hobart
When the Germans invaded France the British only had 1 armored car regiment, 7 divisional cavalry regiments, and the incomplete 1 Army Tank Brigade with 2 regiments (4th & 7th) in France. In England they still had the 1st Armored Division which was below strength. The 7th Division in Egypt was at its peak as it was under the command of Major-General P.C.S. Hobart.
The 4th Royal Tank Regiment had 50 Matilda Mk Is and the 7th had 27 Matilda Mk Is and 23 Matilda Mk IIs. These were used to shock the Germans at Arras on May 21, 1940. This helped delay the Germans in cutting of the retreating BEF (British Expeditionary Force) at Dunkirk.
During the evacuation from France, Britain left behind almost 700 tanks.
After the Fall of France
After France the Reconnaissance Corps was formed in 1941 to replace the cavalry regiments.
Major expansion was ordered and in early 1942 there were 11 Army Tank Brigades (1st, 10th, 11th, 21st, 25th, and 31st-36th) available for allocation to corps and divisions. By mid-1942 5 of these brigades ("Army" being dropped) replaced the 3rd infantry brigade in the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 43rd, and 53rd Infantry Divisions. These weren't suitable and the 'mixed' divisions were abolished in 1943.
Battle of Britain
In late 1940 the Germans tried to soften up the English's defenses so that Operation Sealion could be carried out with the invasion of England. The Germans had around 3,500 combat aircraft against the approximately 1,000 Hurricanes and Spitfires defending the skies over Britain.5 The Germans were to eventually suffer 1,733 planes shot down against 915 British planes.5
Part of the success of this was not only the individual pilots defending Britain, but the operations of Fighter Command by detecting the Luftwaffe attacks and then coordinating the RAF's interception and response.
Armored Division in 1942
- Armored brigade1
- 3 armored regiments1
- 1 infantry motor battalion1
- 1 infantry brigade (trucks)1
- 1 MG company1
- 3 infantry battalions (trucks)1
- Armored reconnaissance regiment1
- Divisional artillery1
- Field regiment with 25 pounders1
- Regiment of self-propelled 25 pounders1
- Anti-tank regiment1
- Anti-aircraft regiment1
Expansion and Organizing
In August 1944 the independent armored and tank brigades each had 3 regiments/battalions of tanks. There was about 3,400 men of all ranks. There were 1,200 vehicles, with 190 of them being medium or infantry tanks, and 33 light tanks. In the 5 armored brigades the basic tank was the Sherman, while in 3 tank brigades it was Churchill tanks. All light tanks were Stuarts. In 2 of the armored brigades there was also a motor battalion. These independent brigades were intended for close cooperation with infantry divisions. It was 21 Army Group policy that they must be capable of working with armored divisions.