Friday, May 20, 2005
Operation Battleaxe: a lost opportunity
Churchill had pressed to supply General Wavell with a shipment of tanks pressed through the Mediterranean on fast transports (the Tiger convoy). Churchill immediately started pressuring Wavell to use the newly arrived tanks. Apparently, some of the shipment were newly build Crusader I tanks (A15). Wavell's response was to mount Operation Battleaxe, starting on 15 June 1941. They had about 25,000 troops and a mix of 180 tanks, including cruiser and infantry tanks. They were extremely short of transport. As I have written, truck shipments to the Middle East were way below what was both promised and required. General Beresford-Pierse had planned the operation and led it. The formations involved were the 7th Armoured Division and the 4th Indian Division. The two armoured brigades were the 7th, equipped with cruiser tanks, mostly newly arrived, and the 4th, with infantry tanks. The hastily planned attack failed, with needless losses in tanks, and Churchill relieved Wavell and replaced him with Claude Auchinleck. This happened on June 21st. We can only imagine that Churchill acted on a whim or for political reasons, as Wavell had performed well as theater commander. Most problems were caused by pressure from Churchill and his effect on operations and plans.