‘From ‘Jock Column’ to Armoured Column: Transformation and Change in British and Commonwealth Unit Tactics in the Western Desert, January 1941 to November 1942

This chapter looks at the various factors that influenced the transformation of offensive tactics in the Western Desert Force (later Eighth Army) of the British Army, from more conventional doctrines to the ‘Jock Column’. This was a modest sized, innovative, combined arms formation, generally consisting of 25pdr artillery, anti-tank and infantry units, commonly used in the Western Desert campaign. It will look at how effective the columns were against Axis forces over the period. The strengths and weaknesses of the formation will be discussed along with a consideration of their use. It will consider the influences on column tactics and whether a wider doctrine of dispersal created a broader acceptance of their use.

The chapter will try to define the reasons for the continued popularity of the columns amongst some Commanders, whereas others saw a decline in military thinking. Despite a call for change and a return to more conventional attack techniques, the column continued well into July 1942, before the final move to formal divisional assaults and concentration again. Certain formations provide good examples of the column tactic and how and why they developed. These include the Support Groups of Armoured Divisions, some Infantry Brigade groups. Jock columns have received mixed comment in the historiography of the campaign, and this essay seeks to test their record through analysis of the archival evidence in order to make a more accurate critical assessment of their impact and effectiveness on the battlefield.

By Neal Dando, PhD Candidate, University of Plymouth

(This is an abstract from our forthcoming book on transformation and innovation in the British Military)

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