Sunday, October 09, 2016

The situation in Cyrenaica by 8 April 1941

The Australian Official History points out that in the course of 9 days from when the Germans attacked at Mersa Brega (they say Marsa Brega) they had beaten the British force that had been lightly holding the territory west of Tobruk. We have fairly recently read the Australian volume about the Greek campaign and the battle for Crete. We saw that General Wavell had lied to the Australian senior officers and to the Australian Prime Minister to get their agreement to send their troops to Greece. Wavell had stripped the force in North Africa to satisfy the demands of Churchill and his foreign secretary. My assessment was that Wavell was desperate to hold onto his command in the Mediterranean and Middle East, and he would do anything that Churchill asked, whether it made sense or not. The establishment view was that the Germans would not dare risk too large a force in Libya under the current conditions, so that the British could afford to send a substantial force with equipment to Greece. The primary accomplishment of the Greek campaign was to make friends with the people of Greece, as equipment and soldiers were lost in the process. The Australians marching south to embarkation ports were cheered by the Greek people, but the losses occurred nonetheless.

Rommel was not a cautious man. He lived infiltration tactics and practiced them when the opportunity presented itself. He was ready to take advantage of an opportunity that was presented, as it was what he would instinctively want to do. One criticism of Rommel was that by attacking when his orders were to stand pat, he caused the 7th Australian Division and the Polish Carpathian Brigade not to be sent to Greece.

The Official History remarks on the officers who watched the 6th Australian Division take Tobruk. One was Brigadier Morshead, later the commander of the 9th Australian Division. Another was Lt-Col. Cook, who was later put in charge of the base camp at Tobruk. The third was a naval officer, Lt-Cdr. Duff, who was appointed as naval officer in charge at Derna, and then was in charge of the vessels that carried supplies to Tobruk during the seige. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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