Thursday, August 18, 2016

The engineers at work on 6 and 7 April 1941 in Cyrenaica

The author of Vol.III of the Australian Official History noted that no maps had been issued to the various commanders in the 9th Australian Division. One officer used a newspaper map that his wife had sent him. Cyrenaica Command eventually learned of the problem along in track by Ponath's group. They ordered the traffic control points to direct traffic along the main road towards Derna. The typical situation was that battalions were split and traveled by different routes to their destination. The 2/48th Battalion was heading towards Tmimi. Most of the battalion took the inland route, but the last group traveled through Derna. Something similar happened to the 2/15th Battalion.

While the battalions were traveling through the night, British and Australian engineers were at work. Brigadier Kisch was in control of the engineers who were carrying out demolitions. They were protected by the 1/KRRC. The engineers were being pressed to the limit. As the historian mentions, many had almost no sleep since 3 April 1941. The troop movements were happening during the night of 6 to 7 April 1941. The initial plan was for the Australian engineers to carry out all the demolition work. When Brigadier Kisch realized that the Australians needed help, he ordered two companies of Royal Engineers to help. Groups conducting the demolitions included the 9th Australian Division chief engineer, Lt-Col. Mann. There were also many engineer staff officers carrying out demolitions. Later in the night, Lt. Roach and his men, who had prepared the demolitions for Ain Mara "west of Derna" ran into Ponath's ambush and were captured by the Germans.

More engineers were busy on the northern route to the east. The pass at Tocra was blown at midnight. They left large craters blocking the road. Wadi Cuff was blown up after that. An Australian engineer unit blew "Cyrene and Apollonia" and took some British engineers with them who had not received the order to withdraw. Between 4am and 4:30am, the road to the east of Apollonia were blown. The demolitions continued through the morning of 7 April 1941. When 2nd Armoured Division troops had passed, more demolitions were carried out at Giovanni Berta. By noon, they blew the ammunition dump and a bridge at Ain Mara. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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