Monday, October 17, 2016

Increasing defenses in Cyrenaica in early April 1941

A few Italian field guns left at Tobruk were repaired and refurbished. The Australian infantry were trained in the use of the guns by the men of the Nottinghamshire Sherwood Rangers, who manned the coast defense guns at Tobruk. The 2/28th Battalion received five Italian 75mm guns that were manned by a platoon. The Sherwood Rangers were a converted unit, but they eventually became an armored regiment, much later.

General Wavell was fully engaged in reinforcing Cyrenaica in the face of the German threat. By 7 April 1941, the 18th Australian Brigade arrived, mostly by sea, although some troops came by road. The brigade commander, Brigadier Wooten, was appointed to command the forces in Tobruk. One of his battalion commanders acted as the brigade commander. The plan was to occupy the defenses around the entire place. This was in progress on 8 April when Generals Wavell and Lavarack arrived at Tobruk by air. The reinforcements that General Wavell had allocated for Cyrenaica were on the way. They included the 1st RTR, an improvised unit with 11 cruiser tanks and 15 light tanks. There was the 107th RHA, the 14th Light AA Regiment, and the 11th Hussars from the 7th Armoured Division. The rest of the 3rd RHA, which already had one battery in Cyrenaica, was also allocated. A larger development was that the 7th Australian Division would not go to Greece, but would go the the desert, instead. General Wavell almost typically ordered the change for the 7th Australian Division without consulting General Blamey, the senior Australian officer.

By 6 April 1941, the situation in the Mediterranean theater had become worse. The Germans were attacking in Greece, Mechili was surrounded and the 9th Australian Division was withdrawing. At a major meeting that included Wavell and Anthony Eden, Wavell announced that they must defend Tobruk. They would send the 7th Australian Division to Mersa Matruh (although the 18th Brigade went to Tobruk). This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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