Thursday, November 17, 2016

Attacks on Tobruk start and the Support Group is reorganized on 10 April 1941

A German-Italian attack near the Derna road became more intense on 10 April 1941. They did not try to cross the wadi, but set up on the far side. There were both Germans and elements of the Italian Brescia Division. The Italians had "machine-guns, mortars and light artillery". By early afternoon, the firing increased. The firing was heavy enough to keep the 2/24th Battalion from occupying their section of the perimeter. British field guns had received enough fire that they lost artillerymen killed and wounded and had to withdraw. On the Axis side, Major-General Prittwitz was killed. Working for Rommel was a dangerous occupation for German generals.

The Support Group sent a message about seeing forty tanks moving north-east towards Tobruk. About the same time, the German 3rd Reconnaissance Unit had an encounter with the Indian 18th Cavalry. They reached the perimeter near the 2/28th Battalion. Bush artillery with them fired and put rounds near the head of the column. The professionals of the 1st RHA opened fire and dispersed the Germans. German fire stopped a "British truck" trying to drive out by the El Adem road. Things quieted down until almost 1pm when artillerymen saw five German tanks.

During the early part of the afternoon, some Germans were driven off by small-arms fire from the 2/13th Battalion. In the west, though, Axis forces near the upper escarpment and dug in some machine guns that could fire on the perimeter. There were continued reports that the German strength in that area was increasing. Ten German tanks were also seen driving towards the south-east. Then British reconnaissance aircraft reported three columns of 200 vehicles each driving towards El Adem from Mechili. One of these columns had an encounter with Support Group troops at approximately 5pm. The RAF attacked a group there of about 150 vehicles. One battery of the 4th RHA opened fire and dispersed the group.

Meanwhile, Brigadier Gott reorganized the Support Group and put Lt-Col. Campbell, a famous figure in the desert fighting, in charge of an independent column operating between Tobruk and the frontier. These sorts of columns would become increasingly prevalent during campaign. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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