Monday, October 24, 2016

Another look at Wavell's visit to Cyrenaica Command on 8 April 1941

Actually, during the evening of 7 April 1941, Wavell ordered the 22nd Guards brigade with artillery to head for the Egyptian frontier. Wavell asked for General Lavarack to join him earlier on 7 April. Wavell only then learned about the capture of Generals Neame and O'Connor, along with Brigadier Combe. Wavell met with Lavarack about noon on 7 April. Wavell asked him to take over Cyrenaica Command and asked if he would agree with diverting the 7th Australian Division to the desert from the planned move to Greece. Wavell at this point planned the flight to Tobruk. Wavell sent messages to London and Melbourne about the new plans for the 7th Australian Division and General Lavarack. Wavell's over-optimistic assessment of the German intentions were telling. He painted them as just a raid, he thought. As for Churchill, who was still the amateur soldier at heart, was suggesting ways to fight on in the desert. After all, the fortress at Tobruk had the Italian defenses and could be held.

By the time that Generals Wavell and Lavarack arrived at Tobruk, it was 10am on 8 April. The sandstorm that was affecting Mechili also was affecting Tobruk. Wavell met with the Cyrenaica Command staff, including Brigadier Harding. During this time, General Morshead arrived at Tobruk. This was when Wavell announced his estimate that they should be prepared to defend Tobruk for two months. Wavell asked General Lavarack to prepare a plan to withdraw from Tobruk, if he found it not possible to continue to hold the fortress. When Wavell was ready to leave Tobruk, is when he found the aircraft was having mechanical problems. He finally left only to have the plane crash in the desert. FOrtunately for all, a patrol found Wavell and took him to Sollum. They had a close brush with losing the Middle East theater commander as well as the other senior officers in Cyrenaica. Wavell was still hoping at this point that Rommel would not be the threat that he showed hiimself to be. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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