Monday, July 11, 2016

Events in Cyrenaica on 5 April 1941

The British forces were oblivious to what Rommel was planning and doing on 5 April 1941 in Cyrenaica. Lt-General Neame met with the 9th Australian Division commander on a track at about 11am. That was the first that the Australian knew about O'Connor not being in charge. For the Australian Morshead, he felt uncomfortable with the situation and wanted to be sure that when he received orders from O'Connor that they were to be obeyed. General Morshead told Neame about his defensive plans, and Neame approved of them. The 3rd Armoured Division managed to move to the El Abiar-Charruba track. The 2nd Armoured Division headquarters was on the move and drove to a position further east. The King's Dragoon Guards units that had been at Msus stayed in company with the 3rd Armoured Brigade as the brigade moved northwards. The 2nd Armoured Division headquarters was to move to Mechili. General Gambier-Parry asked for some anti-tank protection to be sent. The German air force was active and destroyed a 2nd Armoured Division supply dump. Cyrenaica Command had a problem in that they had no idea what Rommel was doing. We know now that what Rommel was doing was preparing to take Cyrenaica without his higher command learning what he was doing. His movements included sending part of the Brescia Division to Benghazi. This freed up the 3rd Reconnaissance Unit for action. Rommel intended to cut across the British rear with mobile forces. Rommel drove to Benghazi early on 5 April. He sent a strong force to Msus. They would travel by way of Antelat. The RAF had reconnaissance aircraft that spotted the Axis forces on the move and reported that to Generals Neame and O'Connor. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History. We highly recommand Barton Maugham's volume, Tobruk and El Alamein to students of the war in North Africa.

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