Monday, September 05, 2016

The fight near Derna on 7 April 1941

The remnants of the 3rd Armoured Brigade had arrived near Derna on 7 April 1941. The two commanders, Lt-Col. Drew and Lt-Col.Petherick were looking for Brigadier Rimington, their commander and they did not know that he had been captured by Ponath's ambush. There were no tanks left from the 3rd Hussars. Their last tank broke down at Derna. The 5th RTR was reduced to four tanks by then. As they approached the airfield, they drew fire from the small fort. In the distance, they could see the King's Dragoon Guards in action. They met a platoon commander from the Tower Hamlets Rifles who were in the ruins of a small building. They went back to the pass to get help from rear-guard troops. By now, there was one company from the 1st/King's Royal Rifle Corps with some guns from the 3rd. RHA. Apparently, by 2:30pm, the remaining units of the 2nd Armoured Division drove through Derna. The pioneers fired the demolitions. There was some confusion caused by a staff officer from the 3rd Armoured Brigade who let the armored cars withdraw. Some other units also heard the withdrawal order and left some units unsupported. One company from the 1/KRRC were cut off and surrounded, but succeeded in escaping to a nearby wadi, where they were trying to keep from being discovered by the Germans. Lt-Col. Drew of the 5th RTR had assembled a small force. They found the Germans in control of the airfield. He had some infantry from the 1/KRRC, more infantry from the Tower Hamlets Rifles, some anti-tank guns from the 3rd RHA, and four tanks. By 4pm, the Germans moved to take the Derna pass. They attacked with armored cars, artillery, anti-tank guns, and motorized infantry. the British anti-tank guns hit the attackers hard and knocked out vehicles. The German machine guns, though, covered the road. At about 5:15pm, Lt-Col. Drew led and attack. The four tanks were knocked out, but the fifty-some vehicles raised a lot of dust which provided some cover. The attack was blunted and the men withdrew as possible. Those who escaped reached Tobruk later in the night. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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