Tuesday, December 30, 2008

British problems at Gazala

The British lack of success in the Desert at the Battle of Gazala seemed to have been caused by several factors: the unwillingness to fight with concentrated forces and the poor communiction between forces at the front and the commanders in headquarters in the rear. The Germans solved the second problem by having commanders lead their troops at the front. The disadvantage of that was that commanders were often killed or captured and they risked being out of touch with their forces that were not in their immediate vicinity. The Germans fought with concentrated groups of all arms that were highly mobile (when they were supplied). The British tried to have troops everywhere and to cover large expanses with small forces. That meant that they were always fighting superior forces and had their small groups overwhelmed by the concentrated German and Italian battlegroups in Rommels army.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The next blow: 7th Armoured Division HQ overrun

Soon after the neutralization of the 4th Armoured Brigade, the 7th Armoured Division advanced HQ was overrun by German armoured cars and General Messervy and some staff officers were captured near Bir Beuid. The 30th Corps commander did not learn of the loss until later on the night of 27 May 1942. General Messervy was able to escape, but the 7th Armoured Division was without a commander for another two days. The Army Commander, at first, wouldn't believe that it had happened until 28 May. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

27 May 1942 early in the day

Brigadier Filose, 3rd Indian Motor Brigade commander, told General Messervy at about 6:30am that he was faced with a German panzer division. In fact, it was the Italian Ariete Armoured Division and some 21st Panzer Division tanks. The 3rd Indian Motor was overrun and lost prisoners and equipment. The survivors were sent back to Egypt to reform the brigade. Two hours later, the Axis forces attacked the 7th Motor Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Renton, at Retma. Brigadier Renton was able to withdraw his brigade to Bir el Gubi. After 7:30am, the 4th Armoured Brigade, ordered forward to support the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade, was hit by the 15th Panzer Division The 8th Hussars ceased to exist as a coherent unit and the 3rd RTR was "roughly handled". the 4th Armoured Brigade was able to damage the German division, but had to withdraw towards El Adem. The 90th Light Division followed the British brigade for a while. The British seemed to have made the usual mistake of committing their units piecemeal. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The battle starts: 26 May 1942

The Battle of Gazala started on the afternoon of 26 May 1942 when General Cruewell's battle group moved out towards the British positioned between Gazala and Sidi Muftah. The battle group was seen by British screening forces consisting of elements of the 4th South African Armoured Car Regiment and the 2nd King's Royal Rifle Regiment from the 7th Motor Brigade. They followed a column that was heading for Bir Hacheim, where the Free French were located. Rommel's Operation Venezia had commenced, but without surprise. At 6:30am on the 27th, the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade was overrun after a short battle. They lost 440 men and what little equipment they had. this is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Battle of Gazala in three phases

In Chapter X of Vol.III of the Official History, the Battle of Gazala is described as having three phases. The first phase was 26 to 29 May 1942. This commenced with the sweep around the British southern flank by German mobile forces. This failed to dislodge the British forces that were in the line stretching south from the sea to the far end at Bir Hacheim. In the second phase, the Axis mobile forces sat in "the Cauldron" turned on the defensive, decisively defeating a British attack on 5 June. The third phase was the deciding attack on 11 to 13 June that defeated the British armoured forces. In response, General Ritchie resigned the British to defeat and planned to withdraw towards Egypt. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The start of the battle: 26 May 1942

The Battle of Gazala lasted four weeks and ended with the capture of Tobruk. The first phase started in the afternoon on 26 May 1942 when the DAK and Italian 20th Corps started forward to the southeast with the intent to sweep around the southern flank of the Gazala line. Four Italian infantry divisions (Sabratha, Trento, Brescia, and Pavia were opposite the British infantry positions west of Gazala. The Italian Trieste motorized division turned too soon by mistake and was separated from the main body. That left the Ariete Armoured Division, the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions, and the 90th Light Division to sweep down around Bir Hacheim. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The air forces in late May 1942

The British waited for the coming Axis offensive in a distinctly inferior position in the air. They were both at a numeric and a qualitative disadvantage. There were 312 Italian and 392 German aircraft in North Africa, "of which 497 were servicable". The British only had 320 aircraft in the "Desert Air Force", but they only had about 190 servicable aircraft of that number. Admittedly, in the entire Middle East, the British had 739 servicable aircraft, but the Axis had about 1000 aircraft. Besides, the British did not have a fighter that could compete with the Bf-109f.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The opposing sides

Not counting the Italian Littorio Armoured Division, which was still in the process of arriving in the desert, the Axis forces had the following strengths:

332 German tanks
50 Pzkw IIs
223 Pzkw IIIs
19 Pzkw IIIJ 50mm L60
40 Pzkw IVs

228 Italian tanks
mostly M13/40 and M4/41 tanks

In reserve
10 Pzkw IIs
38 Pzkw IIIs
19 Pzkw IIIJ 50mm L60
1 Pzkw IV
9 Pzkw IV Ausf F2 75mm L43

The British had a considerable force, as well:

1st and 7th Armoured Divisions
167 Grant tanks
149 Stuart tanks
257 Crusader tanks

1st and 32nd Army Tank brigades
166 Valentine tanks
110 Matilda tanks

1st Armoured Brigade (ordered to join)
75 Grant tanks
70 Stuart tanks

This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History with German tank types from Peter Chamberlain and Chris Ellis

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Axis plan

Axis leaders decided on 1 May 1042 that Rommel should attack at the end of May with the aim of capturing Tobruk. They wanted Rommel to stop at the Egyptian border and wait for Malta to be captured. Rommel intended to feint near the sea while he, Rommel, led a force consisting of the German mechanized forces and the Italian XXth Corps driving through Bir Hacheim and then turn northwards. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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