British Army 1942

Strength and Organization of the Armies of the British Empire in the Middle East (including Battles of Alamein) and Europe 1942-1943.

Vickers heavy MG about to open fire with the 1th South African Division of the Eight Army.
Vickers Gun heavy MG about to open fire with the 1th South African Division of the Eight Army.

From late 1941 until the summer of 1942, the British 8th Army in North Africa fought a series of engagements which revealed serious deficiencies in its preparedness for desert warfare when compared with the German units.

The fighting during the ‘Crusader’ battles in November 1941, for example, had convinced General Auchinleck that the British Armored Division was an unbalanced formation containing too much armour and too little infantry. He therefore reorganized the armored divisions. Auchinleck also reorganized the infantry brigade to achieve a more permanent combination of the constituent arms.

Unfortunately these changes had not been fully implemented when Rommel attacked on 26 May 1942, pushed the 8th Army back and captured Tobruk on 21 June. At Tobruk the Eight Army lost the 2nd South African division together with one Army tank brigade, one British and one Indian Infantry Brigade, which had to surrender.

During the period from November 1941 to August 1942 the British 8th Army had suffered 102,000 battle casualties (of which 49,000 were British) but reinforcements continued to arrive and the Army’s strength rose from 88,000 in January 1942 to 126,000 by May. Amongst 149,800 reinforcements that had arrived in the Middle East between January and August were the British 8th Armored Division, and the 44th and 51st Infantry Divisions.

British Orders of Battle for Middle East, 1 July 1942:

TheatreArmyCorpsDivisions and Brigades
Land Forces CinC MELF (Auchinleck) "Eight Army (Auchinleck) Reserves: 9 Australian Division8 Armoured Division"Army Troops50 Division
XIII Corps (Gott)1 Armoured Division
7 Armoured Division
2 New Zealand Division
5 Indian Division
XXX Corps (Norrie)1 South African Division
10 Indian Division
Ninth Army (Wilson) in Palestine17 Indian Infantry Brigade
Free French Brigade
1 Greek Brigade
2 Greek Brigade
2 Polish Infantry Brigade
Tenth Army (Quinan) in Iraq6 Indian Division
8 Indian Division
31 Indian armoured Division
British Troops in Egypt (Stone)X Corps10 Armoured Division
29 Indian Infantry Brigade
26 Indian Infantry Brigade
British Troops in Cyprus7 Indian Infantry Brigade

Tank Strengths and Casualties of Eight Army in July 1942:

Tank typeGrantStuartCrusaderValentineMatilda
Strength 30 June, 1942439363494
in Workshops 50809084
Total Eight Army 30 June, 194293173153578
Reinforcements received 1-25 July 96168-24868
Battle and Mechanical Casualties 1-24 July1181962718667

Crusader Mk I (with 2-pounder gun) tanks in North Africa
Crusader Mk I (with 2-pounder gun) tanks in North Africa.

For the El Alamein offensive General Montgomery, the new commander of the 8th Army, was able to deploy three corps with 195,000 men:


British Orders of Battle for El Alamein, 23 October 1942:

ArmyCorpsDivisions and Brigades
Eight Army (MontgomeryXXX Corps (Leese)51 Highland Division
4 Indian Division
9 Australian Division
2 New Zealand Division
1 South African Division
23 Armoured Brigade
9 Armoured Brigade
XIII Corps (Horrocks)7 Armoured Division
50 Division
44 Division
1 Free French Brigade
2 Free French Brigade
1 Greek Infantry Brigade
X Corps (Lumsden)1 Armoured Division
10 Armoured Division
8 Armoured Division

Equipment of the 8th Army at El Alamein:

TanksM3 Grant170
M4 Sherman252
Crusader (2-pounder)216
Crusader (6-pounder)78
ArtilleryField and medium guns908
2-pounder anti-tank554
6-pounder anti-tank849
insgesamt 2,311

Basic British Army units in 1942:

OrganizationInfantry Division (motorised)Armoured Division
Total units (Middle East and UK in July 1942) c. 34 (+ 8 beach defence divisions + 19 brigades) c. 9 (+ c. 3 army tank brigades)
Infantry brigades 3 with 2,340 men and 99 officers each 1 motorised Infantry brigade with three Battalions and one mechanised Infantry Battalion ( 3,120 men and 132 officers)
Total men17,29813,325
heavy machine guns 48 (Vickers) -
light machine guns819 (Bren)475-860 (Bren)
Mortars 56 (3in mortars), 162 (2-inch mortars) 18 (3in mortars), 60 (2-inch mortars)
Artillery72 (25 pounders)48 (25 pounders)
Anti-tank guns48 (2 or 6 pounders) 48 (2 or 6 pounders), 202 with units in UK
Anti-aircraft guns48 (40mm Bofors) 52-54 (40mm Bofors AA, 26 AA-tanks for units in UK)
Armoured Cars6 58-64 (Humber, Marmon-Herrington, Daimler)
armoured Personnel Carriers (APC)256 (Bren Gun Carriers)88-151 (last number for units in UK) Bren Gun Carriers
Tanks- 154 (Grant) - 193 (Stuart), 201 for units in UK
Vans, trucks, lorries, tractors 2,158 1,460 - 1,468

The British and Empire Armies in Great Britain

Valentine tank brigade UK
Army tank brigade equipped with Valentine tanks lined up in Britain.
By the autumn of 1941 there were 27 British, Canadian, and Polish motorized infantry divisions (28 in April 1943) available for the Field Force in Great Britain, each containing a front line strength of approximately 15,500 men. For beach defense eight country divisions had been formed each with a strength of 10,000 officers and men but equipped with only minimal artillery and transport. In addition to the divisional forces there were seven infantry brigades, four motorized brigade groups incorporating artillery, 12 independent battalions, and eight airfield defense battalions. The need to provide flank protection for the Atlantic sea lanes meant that garrisons had also to be maintained in the Faroes, Iceland (24,000 British troops by October 1941), the Azores, St.Helena, the Falkland Islands, and the West Indies.A major change in the organization of the five Armored Divisions (four in April 1943) occurred in May 1942 when one of the armored brigades in each division was replaced by an infantry brigade. Each of the Armored Divisions in Britain had now a strength of 201 cruiser and 26 anti-aircraft tanks.

The three existing army tank brigades were henceforth normally assigned to infantry divisions replacing one infantry brigade in each division. The fighting complement of a tank brigade was approximately 1,950 officers and men with 178 tanks of which at least 135 were infantry tanks (Valentine, Matilda, Churchill). The 1st, 3rd, 4th, 43rd and 53rd Infantry Divisions each received an army tank brigade during 1942.

References and literature

Krieg der Panzer (Piekalkiewicz)
The Armed Forces of World War II (Andrew Mollo)
Datafile – British Tanks and Formations 1939-45 (Malcom A.Bellis)
World War II – A Statistical Survey (John Ellis)
The Desert War (Andrew Kershaw, Ian Close)
The Unknown Alamein – Crucial Battles of World War 2 (Charles Messenger)
The Tunesian Campaign (Charles Messenger)
British Tanks in N.Africa 1940-42 (Bryan Perrett)

2 thoughts on “British Army 1942”

  1. My favorite account of the Desert War is von Mellenthin’s “Panzer Battles”. He was on Rommel’s staff and was later sent to the Eastern Front.

  2. “sometimes when you want to reach for a dream you have to leave something behind”!
    Dear sirs
    Good day
    Please advice the right address to search for injured soldier Mohammed Mahmoud Almack who served in 8th british army in north Africa,world war two.
    Attached is the only available document for him.
    Thank you
    Mr.Saad Almack
    Tel:+218 91 6263670
    Tel:+218 94 5549439
    Document translation:

    ********************TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN***************

    Soldier:Mohammed Mahmoud ALMACK

    This is to certify that above mentioned joined british forces,8th army in Tobruk north Africa from:1940 to Aug.31st 1943 and was given below number:



    This certificate has been issued for him to be used in due with law

    Thank you

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