Academic journal article Military Review

"Jock" Columns

Academic journal article Military Review

"Jock" Columns

Article excerpt

We were looking down with our squadron of tanks into a wadi and there as far as the eye could see was the Africa Korps all lined up. We started shelling them-plenty of trucks went up-but there wasn't a great deal we could do to stop them. We had a Stuka attack and our colonel was killed. - Harold Fitzjohn,

22d Armoured Brigade'

Future battlefields may be noncontiguous. Brigades will probably be bypassed, penetrated or encircled without loss of overall defensive integrity. But no matter what, the enemy's main effort must be identified and met with sufficient force and firepower. Reconnaissance and security operations are an intricate part of almost every combat operation and can occur under any condition imaginable.

Reconnaissance and security operations at brigade and division levels provide great challenges for commanders and staffs. The following historical examples of flawed, failed reconnaissance and security operations should be instruction for US forces today.

The 1940-1942 Desert War was a significantly decisive episode in British history. Fought across the wide expanses of Egypt and Libya, the war was characterized by short periods of violent action followed by long periods of relative calm.

The desert campaign's character owed much to the geographical setting; distance matched extremes of climate and terrain. Tripoli and Cairo, the sites of Axis and British headquarters, were over 1,200 miles apart and communications were poor.

While the vast spaces enabled an aggressive commander with a mechanized army to engage in a war of maneuver, his opponent could do likewise. Despite the open terrain and the armies' mobility, the Desert War was a strangely indecisive conflict until the Battle of El Alamein. Each offensive culminated in a counteroffensive that would push both forces back to their starting points. One side or the other would launch an offensive, outrun its support and become so vulnerable to counterattack that it would be forced back to its supply base.

The British Eighth Army under Lieutenant General Neil Ritchie was task organized into two corps.

Lieutenant General Willoughby Norrie's XXX Corps, along with the Ist and 7th Armoured Divisions, had most of the armor assets. Lieutenant General W.H.E. Gott's XIII Corps contained the bulk of the infantry divisions, which were distributed along a defensive line of approximately six boxes protected by barbed wire and minefields and capable of holding artillery, engineers and an infantry brigade of three battalions.

Some boxes, such as the one at Bir Hakeim, were known by Arabic place names; others were on previously unoccupied desert sites. Each box had enough supplies to withstand a weeklong siege. British armor, dispersed evenly behind the line, was to intercept any Africa Korps tanks that might advance across the sector and maneuver up or down the line to help any box that was attacked.2

Jock Column Technique

The Jock column, named after its inventor Major General John "Jock" Campbell, was a desert-warfare technique that developed into a tactical system.' The column was made up of a combined arms force organized around a company of motorized infantry, an antitank detachment, a section of artillery and carrier mounted, 3-inch mortars. The Jock-column missions were reconnaissance, security and raids or ambushes.

Company Commander Harold Sell, 8th Durham Light Infantry Battalion, describing the Jock columns' function and composition during the period before the Battle of Gazala, said they were "either to patrol an area and be sufficiently strong to take on any enemy reconnaissance unit or go out on a specific mission such as beat[ing] up an enemy air strip or get some prisoners. Generally, the idea was to dominate the whole of No Man's Land between [the company] and the Boche. [Jock columns] consisted of a company of infantry, a portee antitank attachment, some 25 pounders and carriers with 3-inch mortars. …

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