Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Tank fight in the afternoon of 2 April 1941

The 5th RTR was able to meet two trucks loaded with petrol. They were able to refuel from them. They were also able to make contact with the 3rd Armoured Brigade headquarters. They had nine tanks providing protection, and these saw enemy forces approaching with some 30 to 40 vehicles. They heard about the 3rd Hussars being in a fight and needing help. The battalion commander sent four tanks to support the 3rd Hussars. At the same time, the Tower Hamlets Rifles was being attacked with tanks. They were located to the west. British artillery fire allowed the Tower Hamlets to withdraw. German tanks got through the British guns, but did not pursue the withdrawing infantry. The nine tanks were now in a hull-down position behind a ridge. By 5:30pm on 2 April 1941, the 5th RTR was under attack by what proved to be the II/5th Armored Battalion (German). The 5th RTR now only had 14 tanks, after sending the four tanks to help the 3rd Hussars. In the tank battle, the British destroyed three German tanks, but lost five of their own. Another tank took damage, but was still operable. The German advance came with the sunset behind them. The 5th RTR was then able to withdraw back to the next ridge. The British were fortunate to have survived this battle, and the Germans were not very aggressive and could have destroyed the entire battalion. Upon hearing of this battle, General Gambier-Parry, the 2nd Armoured Division commander, ordered the division to move to Antelat. The move left the coast road to Benghazi without a blocker. Cyrenaica Command, commanding from the rear, was not aware of this situation. From 7pm until a 2am halt, the 5th RTR continued to withdraw. They were down to 12 tanks at that point. The rest of the division reached Antelat during the evening of 2 April, although the King's Dragoon Guards did not reach Antelat until 9am on 3 April. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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