Sunday, February 14, 2016

Elements of the 9th Australian Division at the front in March 1941

From 9 March 1941, elements of the 9th Australian Division moved up to Mersa Brega, near the edge of the frontier from Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. The 2/15th Battalion was the farthest west. They were about a half-mile northeast of Mersa Brega. As far as ten miles further east, the 2/17th Battalion had moved into position. The third battalion of the 20th Brigade was at Beda Fomm. There was the one company back at Barce. The 9th Division headquarters had moved to Bir el Tombia. There was only the one 9th Australian Division brigade in Cyrenaica. The other two brigades were still in Palestine. The forward troops were still supported by the 16th Anti-Tank Company. They had moved forward in February to support the 3rd Armoured Brigade. Another unit that stayed in position during the other movements was the 2/1st Pioneer Battalion. The battalion headquarters was back at Derna, while there were men scattered doing road repair work. There was also the 2/4th Field Company with the 9th Australian Division engineers. One early sign that all was not well was that back on 24 February 1941, that a patrol was ambushed by a German patrol near el Agheila. The Germans had tanks, armored cars, and motorcycles. The Germans took three prisoners, including the commander of the anti-tank gun detachment. By early March, General Wavell realized that there were two new Italian divisions and a German mechanized force in place that could be a threat. Wavell characteristically hoped that the lack of transport and water would limit what the new forces could accomplish. That was based on ignorance of how Rommel and German mechanized forces operated. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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