Friday, June 03, 2005

Rommel's initial reaction to Crusader

In November 1941, Rommel had been preparing to attack Tobruk. General Cunningham had wanted to hit Rommel after he had attacked, but the political pressure from Churchill was overwhelming. When Rommel recognized the tremendous British buildup, in preparation for Crusader, he altered his dispositions. He stationed the 21st Pz. Div. at Gambut. He had the 15th Pz. Div. be ready to reinforce them. From Bardia to Sidi Omar, he built a defensive position manned by the Italian Savona division and German anti-tank units. The area was heavily mined. The Italian armoured division, the Ariete, was positioned at Bir Gubi, which Rommel expected would be on the British flank. Churchill sent Generals Auchinleck and Cunningham a message (quoted in The Desert Generals):

For the first time British and Empire troops will meet the Germans with an ample supply of equipment in modern weapons of all kins [sic]. The battle itself will affect the whole course of the war. Now is the time to strike the hardest blow yet struck for final victory, home and freedom. The Desert Army may add a page to history which will rank with Blenheim and Waterloo. The eyes off all nations are upon you. ALl our hearts are with you. May God uphold the right!

Correlli Barnett wrote that Cunningham was not fit to command, as he was near a nervous breakdown, from the strain of combat since February. Being thrust into an unfamiliar environment, mobile warfare in the desert, simply increased the strain.

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