Monday, September 03, 2007

Rommel's surprise

Rommel planned a surprise attack that was timed to occur the day before the British assault on 29 January 1942. In the meantime, the RAF had been conducting a bombing program against the Axis supply lines, movements near the front, and at Tripoli. Even Wellingtons were used against the traffic on the roads behind the front. Malta was not able to help, as there were increased air attacks, along with rain. Weather was a constant factor. Rommel's feint towards Mechili was seen by Tomahawks, so his ruse worked. The sighting caused General Ritchie to believe that the Axis forces were divided, so he divided his forces, the 1st Armoured Division to attack the rear of the supposed force moving towards Mechili and the 4th Indian Division against the force moving towards Benghazi. However, General Tuker, the 4th Indian Division commander, saw that the force moving towards Benghazi included 47 tanks (they were with the Italian 20th Corps), he wanted to withdraw, unless air support and the 1st Armoured Division were available. As 1st Armoured Division was drawn off by the feint at Mechili, he wanted to withdraw. He was facing 21st Panzer Division and 90th Light Division. General Ritchie acquiesced and General Tuker ordered the demolitions at Benghazi to be blown. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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