Thursday, April 14, 2016
The German attack on 31 March 1941
The plan for the 2nd Armoured Division was to withdraw if they were attacked by the Germans. There were armored cars from the King's Dragoon Guards accompanied by four tanks from the 5th Royal Tank Regiment. There were just four cruiser tanks. The 2nd Support Group was at Mersa Brega. They planned to use motorized infantry and carriers to conduct patrols in front of the salt marshes. The armored cars and tanks hoped to ambush German tanks. Instead, they saw a group of German tanks, exchanged fire, took damage on one tank. The Germans appeared to be ready to encircle the patrol. In fact, the German force was of all arms, with artillery and infantry, as well as tanks. The British retreated with German tanks in pursuit. They again exchanged fire near El Agheila, in the middle of the sand dunes. The Germans then headed south, leaving the British to withdraw. The armored cars stayed there in the sand dunes to continue to report on events. The Germans reached Mersa Brega by 7:45am. The men at Cemetery Hill saw Germans to the southwest. They saw five German tanks and two trucks. Infantry had gotten off the trucks. There were some twenty to thirty Germans. By 9am, men of the Tower Hamlets saw the large German force approaching Mersa Brega. By 9:30am, the Germans were advancing. The motorized infantry of the Support Group pulled back, but left carriers scouting in front. By 10am, the Germans brought up a gun, accompanied by four tanks. They commenced firing and the British carriers had to pull back. The British still had artillery observers on Cemetery Hill. They directed fire on the advancing Germans. One carrier platoon stayed near the hill to give support. By 10:30am, the Germans were moving on Cemetery Hill. The 104th RHA fired on the Germans. The men from the hill pulled back to a ridge that crossed the road. The carriers stayed near the hill. They actually fired on tanks at some 300 yards. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.