Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Reasons for the failure of Battleaxe

The most obvious reason for the failure of Battleaxe was the haste in which it was mounted, following the arrival of the Tiger convoy. There had been little opportunity for training. Many men were asked to operate new types of tanks that were unfamiliar.

Another factor was the mix of types, where there was one brigade of cruiser tanks and the other brigade of infantry tanks. The two types had radically different characteristics. The cruiser tanks were very mobile but were fragile and mechanically unreliable. The infantry tanks, Inf.Mk.II Matildas, were well-protected but had a low speed and shorter range. Due to their protection, they actually did better, in one stage, than the cruisers, in fighting the German tanks. The German tanks, in contrast, were more uniform in performance, despite having many Pzkw I and II tanks with MG's or 20mm guns. The Pzkw III was the best of the German tanks at this stage. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The situation on 17 June 1941 got worse for the British

The British were in a increasingly worsening situation with the German attack on 17 June 1941. The 4th Armoured Brigade had been pulled out to the desert flank, and that left the 22nd Guards Brigade and the 11th Brigade Group very vulnerable. By 9:30am, the 7th Armoured Brigade and 4th Armoured Brigade had been reduced to 22 cruiser tanks and 17 infantry tanks still running. The unfortunate feature of the British situation was that they lacked the recovery capability that the Germans relied upon for returning damaged tanks to combat. General Wavell went forward to the 7th Armoured Division HQ with General Beresford-Peirse, and decided to order a halt to operations, after finding that General Messervy had ordered a withdrawal to prevent the loss of the 22nd Guards Brigade. A feature of the day is that the RAF still held air superiority over the battlefield. Only one divebombing attack broke through.

The results of the attack were disappointing. General Wavell had reservations about the operation, but at the insistence of Churchill, had gone forward. The British losses were 122 killed, 588 wounded, and 259 men missing. They lost 27 cruiser tanks and 64 Inf.Mk.II Matildas either trhough mechanical problems, mines, or hits by anti-tank guns. They also lost four guns. The RAF "lost 33 fighters and three bombers". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Later on 16 June 1941 in the desert

Developments on the British side on 16 June 1941 were that the corps commander, General Beresford-Peirse visited his two division commanders, Generals Creagh (7th Armoured Divsion) and Messervy (4th Indian Division). Later in the day, General Wavell flew up to Sidi Barrani. The plan for the next day was that with the 22nd Guards Brigade holding the Fort Capuzzo area, the 4th Armoured Brigade would join the 7th Armoured Brigade to fight the German armoured units.

The German situation was that while the 8th Panzer Regiment had taken many losses, the efficient German recovery and repair had restored many tanks to service. The 15th Panzer Regiment, facing the British along the coast and frontier was concerned that the British would advance from Fort Capuzzo. Meanwhile, the Germans at Halfaya Pass were running low on supplies, as they were isolated. There was a good deal of uncertainty as to how well the 5th Light Division was doing versus the British 7th Armoured Division. The German plan for the 17th was for both armoured divisions to push for Halfaya Pass. The 5th Light Division would follow a track through Sidi Suleiman while the 15th Panzer Division would hed through Alam Abu Dihak.
This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The German attack on 16 June 1941

As the Germans were able to look at captured documents and continued to benefit by their superb tactical SIGINT capability, Rommel was able to more confidently plan an attack. The 8th Panzer Regiment attacked near Fort Capuzzo, but the Official History says "the 4th Armoured Brigade, the 31st Field Regiment R.A. and the Buffs hammered and broke it [the attack]". The Scots Guards took first Musaid and then the Sollum barracks. Below the escarpment, however, the 11th Indian Brigade continued to be blocked. On the desert flank, the 7th Armoured Brigade and two Support Group forces fought the 5th Light Division. The fight moved towards Sidi Omar, where the rest of the Support Group was located. The Germans tried to split the 7th Armoured Brigade, between the 2nd RTR and 6th RTR, but failed. They did succeed in reducing the briagade to 21 running tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Battleaxe: plans for the second day

The British plan for the second day of Battleaxe was for the 4th Indian Division to support the 7th RTR at Fort Capuzzo, and to continue attacking Halfaya Pass. If that was successful, then they would move towards Bardia. The 7th Armoured Division would continue fighting in the Hafid area and protect the flank from attack.

On the first day, the 5th Light Division (with 96 running tanks) had been moved forward to Gambut. A combined tank, reconnaissance, and artillery force was sent to reinforce the 15th Panzer Division. Rommel decided to send the 8th Panzer Regiment against the British near Fort Capuzzo and the 5th Panzer Regiment across the desert to hit the British flank and rear, with the hopes of rattling them. The assignment of the 7th Armoured Division was to defeat any such flanking moves.

This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The start of Battleaxe

The plan for Battleaxe envisioned air attacks to precede the battle. Benghazi was bombed every night, and increasingly, Axis airfields and supply lines were hit. The buildup for Battleaxe was given good fighter protection that prevented any German attacks. On the day the offensive started, 15 June 1941, the RAF had air superiority, and only six minor attacks got through.

The ground offensive did not go well in the border area. The Germans had succeeded in fortifying Halfaya pass and siting 88mm guns in good positions. The 11th Indian Infantry Brigade was blocked, and 11 of 12 supporting Inf.Mk.II Matildas were knocked out. The Official History also says that of 6 Matildas on the lower level, four were trapped in minefields.

In the desert, the 7th Armoured Brigade had encountered a defensive position with four 88mm guns, but few tanks. By the end of the day, the 7th Armoured Brigade had 48 running cruiser tanks.

The 4th Armoured Brigade had more success and General Messervy had decided to attack Fort Capuzzo. At the same time "Point 206" was taken. The Matildas actually did well against the 8th Panzer Regiment (probably because they had so much better protection). The problem was that the infantry did not advance in support as was needed.

At the end of the first day, two of the three attacks had been blocked and the Germans were planning counterattacks. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The British disadvantages prior to Battleaxe

General Wavell reckoned that the British would start Battleaxe stronger than their enemies. Since early May, the British had recognized some shortcomings in their forces and equipment:
  1. British armoured cars (Rolls Royce 1924 pattern, Morris CS9, and Marmon-Herrington Mk. II) were weakly protected against air attack
  2. British armoured cars were out-gunned by their German opponents (the German 8-wheel SdKfz 231 had a 20mm gun, against the British 0.55in Boys Anti-Tank Rifle). Even the smaller, 4-wheel SdKfz 222 had a 20mm gun.
  3. The Inf. Mk.II Matilda, despite having heavy armour for the time, was too slow for mobile warfare, being designed more for trench warfare supporting infantry
  4. The Inf. Mk.II Matilda could be knocked out by the German 88mm FLAK 36 (and perhaps the FLAK 18) dual-purpose AA/AT gun. The 50mm PAK38, at close range, with a side shot, firing the "arrow shot" could penetrate the Matilda's armour, as well.
  5. The A13 Cru.Mk.IVA was faster than the German medium tanks (Pzkw III and IV), but was outgunned by the Pzkw III Ausf. F that had a 50mm L42 gun. The Pzkw IV only had a low velocity 75mm at this date, although it could fire a shaped charge. The A15 Crusader I (and here) was newly manufactured and was still unreliable. The British cruiser tanks all had the 40mm 2pdr gun, which had good penetration at close range (perhaps 84mm at a 100m), but at more normal battle ranges might often bounce off the German tanks, which had spaced, applique armour.
  1. Vol.II of the Official History
  2. George R. Bradford, Armour camouflage & markings North Africa 1940-1943, 1974.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The prelude to Battleaxe

A sure sign of trouble was that the commander, Lt-General Beresford-Peirse, had his headquarters at Sidi Barrani, a five-hour drive from the battle. The choice was made to ensure communications with the RAF No.204 Group HQ. No.204 Group was a further 100 miles up the road at Maaten Baggush. Sidi Barrani also had an airfield from which reconnaissance aircraft could operate.

The British commanders were greatly concerned that they make maximum use of their air force in Battleaxe. The British had a considerable force available:

4 Hurricane squadrons
1 Tomahawk squadron
2 Blenheim squadrons (medium)
1 Maryland squadron (medium)
3-1/2 Wellington squadrons (heavy)

1 Maryland reconnaissance squadron
1 Hurricane reconnaissance squadron

Aircraft strength:


total operational
128 105 medium and heavy bombers
116 98 single and twin-engined fighters


total operational
79 59 bombers and dive bombers
76 60 single and twin-engined fighters


total operational
49 25 bombers
156 70 fighters

Additional German aircraft were available outside of North Africa. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Battleaxe units for the attack on the frontier

Units that took part in Battleaxe in the attack on the frontier:

22nd Guards Brigade-Brigadier I. D. Erskine
3rd Battalion, the Coldstream Guards
2nd Battalion, the Scots Guards
1st Battalion, the Buffs

11th Indian Brigade Group-Brigadier R. A. Savory
2nd Battalion, the Cameron Highlanders
2/5th Mahratta Light Infantry
1/6th Rajputana Rifles
25th Field Regiment, RA
27/28th Medium Battery, RA
two troops of the 4th RTR
Central India Horse cavalry regiment
4th Field Company, King George's Own Bengal Sappers and Miners

Jaxo Column
one troop of 25pdrs
one troop of 2pdr ATG's
one company of 1st Battalion, the King's Royal Rifle Corps

This is based on a note from Vol.II of the Official History.

George Bradford's page on Battleaxe

George Bradford's page on Operation Battleaxe is worth another link. He has a map and a description of the action. This presages what I will be writing, but I hope to provide some more detail than he has. One question that I have still is the exact makeup of the tanks brought by the Tiger convoy. One of the classics from the long defunct Wargamer's Digest from the 1970's was a production list for all British tanks through the war. We believe that at least some of what arrived were Crusaders, presumably Crusader I's, as this was alleged to be from an early production run. The alternative tank would have been the A13 Cru.Mk.IVA. There is reason to believe that the light tanks were Lt.Mk.VIC's with the 15mm Besa MG, the same weapon used in Humber armoured cars.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Plans for Operation Battleaxe

The original plan for Operation Battleaxe was for the 7th Armoured Brigade to sweep across the desert and hit the forces besieging Tobruk while the 4th Armoured Brigade, with infantry support, would strike the frontier. The commanders decided that they didn't have the transport available to support such a mobile operation. The second plan was for the 7th Armoured Division to move to the west of Fort Capuzzo and wait for a German counterattack. Some skeptics pointed out that the Germans could decline to attack, and simply wait for further events. The commanders also disliked any plan which did not utilize all available forces. The planners came back with a third plan, whose goal was to employ the largest possible force that could be supplied (and do something). The largest possible force still utilized the 7th Armoured Division, but also the HQ and artillery from the 4th Indian Division, along with the 11th Indian Brigade and the 22nd Guards Brigade. With the 4th Indian Division, a familiar officer first appeared: Major-General Frank W. Messervy. The 4th Indian Division and the 4th Armoured Brigade (infantry tanks) was to attack the Axis forces in the frontier area and destroy them. The rest of the 7th Armoured Division was relegated to covering the desert flank of the attackers. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The "New" 7th Armoured Division

When the 7th Armoured Division was reconstituted after the arrival of the Tiger convoy, it had many new units below the brigade level. The armoured brigades were to be the 7th and the 4th. The 7th Armoured Brigade was equipped with two cruiser tank regiments and the 4th with two infantry tank regiments. The Support Group was now back with the 7th Armoured Division after being attached to the 2nd Armoured Division, which was destroyed in early 1941 in Cyrenaica and Greece.

While the British were reorganizing, the Germans were busy as well. The 5th Light Division was withdrawn from forward positions and their place was taken by the 15th Panzer Division. The 15th Panzer Division, in the forward area, consisted of the 8th Panzer Regiment (two battalions), the 33rd Reconnaissance unit (battalion-size), 1st Abteilung of the 33rd Artillery Regiment, 1st Battalion of the 104th Motor Infantry Regiment, 33rd Panzerjäger Battalion (12-50mm PAK 38 ATG's and 21-37mm PAK 35/36 ATG's), 15th Motorcycle Battalion, one AA battery (with 14-88mm FLAK 18 and FLAK 36 guns). In addition, the divisional commander had control of three Italian infantry battalions from the Trento Division and three Italian field artillery batteries.
This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The planning for Battleaxe

From the perspective of the Chiefs of Staff, they were concerned about the German presence in Crete, and the prospect that the Germans could supply their forces in Cyrenaica from western Greece. The Chiefs of Staff wanted to have airfields forward between Derna and Sollum in Cyrenaica to interfere with such a supply line. Therefore, General Wavell needed to attack to take that area. Never mind the fact that he had only just received his 238 tanks which had made a long sea voyage and they would need to be prepared. Also, if it is true that the shipment included some brand new Crusader I's, they had not yet had the mechanical bugs worked out of them, and they would be a liability. Others needed a mechanical overhaul, which seems odd for tanks that were supposed to be used immediately. Oddly enough, the 7th Armoured Division had been dissolved, and needed to be totally reconstituted. Some of its constituent units had operated independently, or under the command of other units.

The plan for Battleaxe was to defeat the Germans in the frontier area and then advance to the vicinity of Tobruk and defeat the Germans there. From there, the British would advance to Derna and Mechili. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The loss of Halfaya Pass

Brigadier Gott was in command in the border area, and he had been ordered to hold Halfaya Pass and patrol as far to the west as he could. As we previously noted, the 3rd Coldstream Guards held the pass, supported by Matilda Inf.Mk.II tanks, AA, and 2pdr ATG's. Mobile Columns from the Support Group were on the southern flank. At this date, they had not yet acquired their nickname of "Jock Columns", named after Jock Campbell.

Colonel Herff was still in command for the Germans in the border area. His armoured strength was now about 160 tanks. On 26 May, Colonel Herff staged a feint onto the high ground above the pass. When the Germans found that they faced light resistent, they reinforced the movement until it was a serious attack. That achieved its goal, and cuased the 3rd Coldstream Guards and their supporting units to stage a fighting withdrawal. Despite being successful, the British lost 173 casualties, 8-ATG, and 5 Inf.Mk.II tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Brevity was deemed a failure

The Brevity operation was deemed a failure. They simply did not have the strength to attempt the operation in the face of a growing German force. They were fortunate to achieve the early success they did.

The situation changed for the better with the arrival of the Tiger Convoy on 12 May 1941. 135 Inf.Mk.II Matildas, 82 cruiser tanks (at least Cru.Mk.IVA, and maybe Crusader I's), and 21 Lt.Mk.VIC's. The British hoped that the German logistical problems would allow them to continue to hold Halfaya Pass. The 3rd Colstream Guards, some Inf.Mk.II's, 2-pdr anti-tank guns, and AA guns were positioned at Halfaya. A Support Group column was operating on the southern flank. The Germans had about 160 tanks, but these were immobilized due the lack of diesel fuel. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

More about Brevity

Colonel Herff thought he was being attacked by two divisions at the border. The RAF actually dominated the skys over the battlefield and hit transport to the west. The 7th Armoured Brigade Group had reached Sidi Aziz, but that failed to draw the Germans back from Fort Capuzzo. Late in the day, the force on the coast took the lower level of Halfaya Pass. Rommel, however, guessed that there were only small forces engaged and planned a counter-attack. A tank battalion was to arrive early the next day to reinforce Colonel Herff's forces. The Germans were hampered by fuel shortages, as the 1st Battalion of the 8th Panzer Regiment ran out of fuel on arrival near Sidi Aziz. Eventually, the 7th Armoured Brigade Group withdrew to Bir el Khiregat. The eventual outcome was that the only new territory held by the British was Halfaya Pass. The British losses exceeded the German. They had 5 Inf. Mk.II as total losses and 13 damaged. The Germans lost "three tanks destroyed". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Operation Brevity under way

Operation Brevity commenced early on 15 May 1941. No.274 Squadron provided air cover with their Hurricanes for the advancing troops. The 2nd Scots Guards and one squadron from the 4/RTR took the upper Halfaya Pass area, but at the cost of 7 Inf. Mk.II's knocked out, probably by 88mm fire. To the west of Sollum, Bir Wair and Musaid were taken. 1st Durham Light Infantry and a squadron of tanks headed for Fort Capuzzo. The objective was taken, but now 9 tanks had been lost. The column on the coast was blocked and unable to advance, despite supporting attacks by Blenheims of No.14 Squadron. The 7th Armoured Brigade Group had no real opposition, and they pushed across the desert towards Sidi Aziz. German tactical signals intelligence learned of the attack before it began. The Germans were concerned that it would be a push to raise the seige of Tobruk, and Rommel made preparations accordingly. Colonel Herff staged a counterattack against the 1st Durham Light Infantry with the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Panzer Regiment. That pushed the British back to Musaid. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

General Wavell decided to stage operation Brevity

Since he knew that he would receive reinforcements in the form of the Tiger Convoy, General Wavell decided to stage an operation in the border area commanded by Brigadier Gott. The operation was called Brevity, and hoped to push the Germans from Sollum and Fort Capuzzo.

While Brevity was being planned, the Navy was busy attacking the German rear, including bombarding Benghazi, Gazala, and Derna. They achieved a certain amount of success, using gunboats and destroyers.

Brigadier Gott proposed to attack with three columns. The 7th Armoured Brigade Groups (an armoured brigade in name, only) would cut across the desert to Sidi Aziz, in the rear of Sollum and Halfaya Pass. They only had two squadrons of 29 cruiser tanks. The bulk of the strength was in three columns from the Support Group. The second column, in the center, consisted of the 22nd Guards Brigade Group supported by the 4th RTR with 24 Inf.Mk.II Matildas. The would attack the upper portion of Halfaya Pass, take Fort Capuzzo, and move north. The third column would advance along the coast, and included the 2/Rifle Brigade and 8th Field Regiment. They were to block any German advance from Sollum and to take the lower portion of Halfaya Pass and Sollum.

This is based on the account from Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The British situation in North Africa in April and May 1941

General Wavell had reason to be concerned about the stability of the British position in North Africa. They had learned that the 15th Panzer Division had arrived earlier than expected, by 18 April 1941. The British side was short of tanks, between the attrition from the original offensive to those diverted to the Greek adventure and lost. They only had a mixed unit at Tobruk (the 32nd Army Tank Brigade, formerly the 3rd Armoured Brigade) and a squadron of cruiser tanks at Mersa Matruh. From repairs and refurbishing they might be able to increase the inventory of runners by another 30 or 40 tanks in six weeks.

In London, the decision was made on 21 April to send the Tiger Convoy with a mixed cargo of tanks and Hurricanes. These included 135 Inf. Mk.II Matildas, 82 Crusader Mk.I tanks and 21 light tanks, probably Lt.Mk.VIC, and 53 Hurricanes loaded on five relatively fast transports. General Wavell and his staff, based on this expected reinforcement proceeded with planning for the next offensive codenamed Battleaxe.
This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History as well as this previous blog post.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The siege of Tobruk saw a continual movement of men in and out of the fortress

The siege of Tobruk lasted for 8 months. Tobruk was only relieved in December 1941, during the Crusader battles, when the German position collapsed under the British attack that had been salvaged by General Auchinleck.

The whole movement of shipping was engineered so that ships were only in port, being unloaded in the night, and then were gone by daylight. In May 1941, an average of 84 tons of supplies per day were brought into Tobruk. The goal had been to bring at least 70 tons a day, so that was surpassed. In June, they were able to increase the supplies brought in to 94 tons per day.

Naval losses were high, during the month of June, as the Australian sloop Auckland was sunk, as was the Australian destroyer Waterhen. Destroyers played a prominent part in the continuing supply operation, and they operated in pairs.

This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

General Paulus's assessment in May 1941

General Paulus wrote a report submitted on 12 May 1941. He thought that the main issue was the supply situation. The tactical situation was difficult, but the supply line needed to be made secure. Otherwise, the a crisis was inevitable. The port of Benghazi was so damaged that Tripoli would have to handle the great bulk of supplies. Adequate air defenses of the ports was critical, as Benghazi was especially vulnerable. The current need for the troops in Libya was 50,000 tons per month, although perhaps only 30,000 was needed for the current use, while the rest was to build up stocks for further advances. By attacking, Rommel had increased the instability of the Axis position in North Africa. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The second attack on Tobruk failed

The attack that ended on 4 May 1941 ended in failure for the Germans, although the Australian counterattack fizzled out, as well. In stark contrast to the battles in Greece and Crete, the RAF in the form of No.73 and No.274 Squadrons flew cover over the battle scene during daylight hours. The cost to the Germans had been 650 casualties and 500 to the Italians. General Paulus thought it went well, and the result was a bulge into the defences. Give the overall German strategic priorities, with the pending attack on Russia only about 7 weeks off, General Paulus wanted to see the Germans go on the defensive to consolidate their gains. Of course, General Rommel saw the situation differently. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Another attack on Tobruk

Rommel was in a hurry to attack Tobruk. He was so anxious to attack that the Official History criticizes him for having not very carefully prepared the attack. They say that Rommel had lost confidence in General Streich, so he brought forward General Kirchheim to lead the attack, even though he was recovering from a wound. Rommel had given General Kirchheim half of the 5th Light Division, with more than 70 tanks to go with elements of the 15th Panzer Division. The Official History notes that the 104th Motor Regiment had only been in North Africa since 29 April 1941.

General Kirchheim was going to attack Tobruk defences that were stronger than they had been. Tobruk now had another 12 Inf. Mk.II tanks in addition to what they already had. Rommel had planned a night attack on Tobruk, starting at 8pm on 30 April. Troops from the Italian Ariete and Brescia divisions would aid in the assault, on the flanks. The attack hit the 26th Australian Infantry Brigade. The attack was expected, and Axis troops had been shelled prior to the actual attack. The attack made in initial intrusion, but became stalled. Fighting continued until early on 4 May. The Germans had been able to make a bulge into the Tobruk defences, but they had held. In the one tank-versus-tank battle, the British lost five tanks, but stopped the German advance. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Back to the desert

We now shift our focus back to events in the desert in May and June 1941. The German High Command General Paulus (often erroneously called "von Paulus") was sent to investigate the situation in the desert and to warn Rommel that there were "few resources" to send him. General Paulus eventually sanctioned Rommel's planned attack on Tobruk scheduled for 30 April 1941. General Garibaldi visited and agreed, as well. The German High Command had a mindset much like the British had prior to Rommel's arrival. They did not want to commit forces in the desert that were needed elsewhere, and did not want to take risks. If Tobruk should fall in the planned attack, Paulus wanted a defensive line established along the line of Sollum and the Siwa Oasis. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The role of Dominion troops in the Middel East

The Official History notes the important role played by Australian and New Zealand troops in the war in the Mediterranean and Middle East. Their commanders had a dual allegiance and had privileges not available to British and Colonial forces (such as the Indian Army). They had the responsibility to keep their governments informed as to developments, and to keep their formations intact, as much as possible. General Blamey commanded the Australians and General Freyberg the New Zealanders. Despite their status, both very much desired, and their troops, as well, to make a significant contribution to the war effort. However, after the debacle on Crete, the New Zealand Government was concerned that their forces not be put into such an untenable position again, as had happened on Crete. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

The cost of capturing Crete

The Official History suggests that the cost to the Germans of taking Crete were such that they never again attempted an airborne operation of this scale. The attack came within a narrow margin of failing on the first day. It was only once that transport aircraft brought in the mountain troops that the balance shifted in their favor. That was made possible by landing the transports in the face of artillery fire on the field. From the German perspective, Operation Merkur needed to be over as soon as possible, due to the pending attack on Russia. They had hoped that Barbarrosa would start on 15 May 1941, but it was delayed about five weeks, which meant that instead of possibly succeeding in the fall, the Germans becamed engulfed in the Russian winter before reaching their goals. The delay required because of Balkan operations probably affected the outcome of the war. The Yugoslav coup d'etat was also a wild card. That forced the German hand in the Balkans, and forced them to intervene.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Losses in the Battle for Crete

At the start of the Battle for Crete, there were about 32,000 British servicemen on the island. There had been 6,000 prior to the evacuation from Greece, and 21,000 more came from there. There were also 10,000 Greek soldiers. The British forces lost about 1,800 killed and 12,000 taken prisoner in the battle. We have already listed the naval losses, which were great. The RAF lost 7 Wellingtons, 16 "medium bombers" (Blenheims and Marylands?), and 23 fighters. The Gremans lost more: 147 aircraft lost and 64 damaged in action. They lost another 73 destroyerd and 84 damaged "by other causes". The Germans lost about 1,990 killed, 2,131 wounded and 1,995 missing. The British forces clearly held their own, and fought well, but in a lost cause. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The final evacuation from Crete

The evacuation from Sphakia started early on 30 May 1941. 6,000 men were initially embarked. The ships involved included the amphibious warfare ship Glengyle and the cruiser Perth. On 31 May, four destroyers lifted 1,500 soldiers. General Freyberg and the naval commander at Suda Bay were flown out by Sunderland, by orders from General Wavell and the other commanders. The last rearguard position protecting the beaches was commanded by Brigadier Vasey, with the 19th Australian Brigade, a few 3rd Hussars light tanks, the Royal Marine Battalion, and Layforce. Most of them were able to be evacuated, as the Germans did not press them hard. The Germans contented themselves with turning the flanks, which went slowly enough not to affect the withdrawal. 4,000 men were evacuated, but "5,000 were left behind". The navy had suffered heavily, with one aircraft carrier and three battleships damaged. Three valuable cruisers had been sunk, along with 6 destroyers. Another 6 cruisers and 7 destroyers were damaged, as well. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The losses from the Heraklion evacuation gave the commanders pause

After taking the losses from the Heraklion evacuation (800 troops killed and the destroyers Imperial and Hereward sunk, with Orion, Dido, and Decoy damages), the commanders hesistated to attempt the evacuation from Sphakia. Factors that helped make the Sphakia evacuation go more smoothly were that fighter protection became increasingly effective and the Germans became more tentative in their efforts. Successful fighting by the 5th New Zealand Brigade and 19th Australian Brigade and other rearguard actions relieved pressure on the evacuation. Considering that the battle for Crete went badly, the Official History points out that credit must be given to the troops for toughness and bravery under desperate conditions. Two VC's were given to New Zealanders, Lt. C. H. Upham (20th NZ Battalion) and Sergeant A. C. Hulme (23rd NZ Battalion). This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

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