Chapter XC: One Corps, Many Tanks
The cavalry and the armoured units could have been forgiven for expecting an easy ride from the Chetwode Review. Both branches had already adopted a 'One Corps' approach, with recruits signing on to a single central corps instead of individual regiments, thus making it simple to move manpower around as required. On the training front the Royal Tank Corps had centralised all activities at one depot in Bovington Camp while the Cavalry, after a less than successful cost-cutting move to centralise training in Canterbury (costs had actually risen) had four regional training camps which dispersed troopers on an as needed basis. While these arrangements certainly ticked many of the reform boxes they did not tick them all, not least those marked 'professionalism' and 'doctrine'. The former was a lingering cavalry problem, complaints about the cavalry having too many gentlemen but not enough officers went back decades, while the quite terrible cavalry manuals discussed in earlier chapters clearly indicate the scale of the problem with regards to doctrine. The solution was as simple as it was controversial, the mechanised portion of the Cavalry Corps and the entire Royal Tank Corps were to be merged together into a new Royal Armoured Corps.
While cavalry officers were insulted at being reduced to merely a part of a larger corps, the real injury came when the new hierarchy was announced. Instead of a broad cross section of both units the 'tankers' won out, taking most of the prime positions and dominating those in charge of procurement and doctrine. The reasoning was simple and bluntly spelt out by Chetwode in his recommendations, the cavalry had manifestly failed it's duties in both areas and therefore the existing corps of officers should not be trusted with the new corps, lest they repeat the same mistakes. A harsh verdict, and undoubtedly one of the more controversial sections of the review, but it was well backed up with evidence, decades of indolence over doctrine and repeated poor equipment selection were carefully documented in the appendices of the report to support the verdict. The sole comfort for the cavalry officers was that promotion and training was handled in a more even handed manner, ensuring the good officers in the cavalry did not suffer for the failings of their brother officers.
Though popularly thought of as a merger of the cavalry and tank units the re-organisation was, as with the infantry, somewhat more complicated. While the entire Royal Tank Corps did move across, becoming the Royal Tank Regiment in the process, only the mechanised cavalry regiments moved, the still equine units staying as part of the cavalry until mechanised. The exception to this rule was the Household Cavalry which utilised a combination of political clout and muddying the water over ceremonial roles to avoid the move. For the remainder of the cavalry, both the line and yeomanry regiments alike, there was no reprieve and they were all slated to move to the RAC once they had traded in their horses.
The choice for head of the new corps came down to either Major-General Giffard LeQuesne Martel or Brigadier Percy Hobart. Both serving officers with a background in tanks they represented two very different approaches to armoured warfare development. Martel was an ex-Royal Engineer and his interest was more technical than theoretical, while in the War Office Mechanisation Branch his focus had been machinery and new tanks while devoting relatively little effort to structures and strategy. Hobart embodied the more traditional British Army focus on the man over the machine, an excellent trainer and developer of men he was more detached from the machinery and would work with what was available. Moreover as only armoured brigadier in the Army he was the most experienced 'tanker' in the senior ranks, Martel's field experience with tanks having been limited to command of the Royal Engineers attached to the Experimental Mechanised Force. It was this combination of armoured experience and traditional Army values that doubtless swung the job in favour of Hobart, though doubtless his service at the Battle of Meggido alongside Chetwode didn't harm his cause. The combination of Martel at the War Office developing new tanks and Hobart at the RAC organising the new divisions and training the men should have been an ideal combination, however as we shall see it did not quite work out that way.
Regardless of these later issues the first problem facing Hobart was, somewhat ironically, Chetwode's requirement for 'joined up thinking' between the branches, the first tentative steps towards a combined arms doctrine. With the infantry undergoing a major upheaval there was no chance of coordinated work and thus a fairly heavy brake was applied to doctrinal thinking across the Army for much of 1937 until the 'core' principals and doctrines were developed and agreed. While undoubtedly a wise long term move it left a short term vacuum with only outdated manuals for official guidance. This was not in itself a problem exterior pressure made it one; having already delayed taking their post-Abyssinian funding the War Office was desperate to get something into the upcoming Army Estimates in time for the budget, doubtless fearing that the Treasury would interpret a second delay as an invitation to re-allocate the money elsewhere. Thus a decision was urgently needed on new procurement, which meant having at least an outline idea on the make-up of the proposed new cavalry and armoured divisions. In the rush mistakes were inevitable, although that said Hobart's big mistake would likely have occurred regardless, oxymoronic as it sounds the biggest flaw in a standard pattern late 1930s British Armoured division was that it had too many tanks.
The somewhat hastily agreed intent of the RAC was to field two types of division; armoured and cavalry. This split was based as much on the perceived limitation of technology as any actual doctrine, available technology was not thought able to combine high speed, strong armour and heavy firepower into one design. The solution to this problem was infantry tanks and cavalry tanks (also know as cruiser tanks) with their different roles obvious enough given their names. In the absence of time to formulate a better idea this principle was taken and extended to the divisional level. The armoured division were intended to fight alongside the main army and so were built around two heavy armoured brigades (containing six infantry tank regiments), a single cavalry brigade (containing three cruiser regiments) and a pivot or support group containing the motorised infantry, artillery, engineers, etc. Equating an armoured regiment to an infantry battalion this gave an alarmingly high tank to infantry ratio of 4:1, a good indication of how deeply the idea of all tank units was ingrained in the RAC and the amount of work that would be required to get down to a more workable ratio.
The Vickers Medium MkII, with just over a decade in service the Medium MkII was still the mainstay of the 'heavy' portion of the tank force. Sporting an equally vintage OQF (Ordnance Quick Fire) 3 pounder gun and with a none too impressive 0.5" of turret armour, with barely 1/3 of an inch elsewhere, it had been slated for replacement for many years, however budgetary constraints saw it soldier on. Despite initially being considered a 'fast tank' it was capable of perhaps as much as 15mph in good conditions, certainly fast for the 1920s but not for the 1930s. It was tanks such as these that had convinced British tankers that firepower, speed and armour could not all be combined in one design.
In contrast the cavalry divisions were given the role of diversion and pursuit, the aim being to provide the army with the capabilities once provided by mounted units and that were so lacking in North Africa; a fast, highly mobile force capable of threatening flanks, exploiting breakthroughs and pursuing broken enemies. As it was reasonably assumed that such a force would need to defend the ground it had taken, and it was realised that while tanks could take ground infantry were better at holding it, the cavalry divisions contained extra infantry battalions. Specifically the divisions were to consist of two cavalry brigades (each of three cruiser regiments), a brigade of motorise infantry and a support group with extra machine guns and artillery compared to it's armoured equivalent. This gave the division an overall ratio of tanks to men nearer 2:1 which, while still high by modern standards, was far more balanced than the armoured divisions.
Despite this less than ideal start the longer term prospects for the Royal Armoured Corps (and for Hobart) were good, in contrast to previous years there would be no shortage of funds for exercises in which to discover their mistakes. This neatly brings us to to our next subject, while doctrine, strategy and organisation were all important factors they were only ideas without the appropriate machinery to put the theory into practice. To describe the new generation of tanks as highly anticipated would be an understatement, after this disappointments of the failed A8 and the aborted Medium MkIII the RAC was unequivocal in the need for new designs. For once the War Office did not disappoint and provided no less than four designs for consideration. The question remained as to whether quality had been sacrificed to deliver such quantity.
So the Royal Armoured Corps a few years early, as you would expect not a universally popular decision. As per OTL the Household Cavalry escapes, far too many important chaps in those regiments, but the rest get dragged in kicking and screaming.
On the new divisions, British Armoured divisions always had too many tanks and it took many years to bash that out of them, I saw nothing that was going to change that so, still to many tanks and not enough infantry to support them.
The two divisions choice is down to a few things. One, they couldn't completely ignore the cavalry, they're not discredited enough. Two, North Africa 'proved' to the politicians the army needs cavalry "just like Allenby had" and the armchair generals have the budget. Three, as I said the doctrine just isn't there, it's rushed and mistakes have been made.
Game effects; Armoured divisions get more hard attack but less soft. Cav divisions the opposite and are a bit faster. Also as seen SP-ART is now available, the British were using Birch guns in the 1920s it's surely not beyond the wit of man to dig those blueprints out of a warehouse?