Monday, November 28, 2016

The Germans on the attack on 11 April 1941 at Tobruk

In the afternoon of 11 April 1941, the Australian 2/13th Battalion was attacked by infantry. They waited until the enemy got closer before they opened fire. They were supported by British machine-gunners. In response, the enemy "went to ground". When six trucks drove towards the Tobruk defenses, they were driven off by artillery fire from the 1st RHA and 104st RHA. Seven tanks started to move forward at Post R31 and were fired on by B/O Battery. NExt, enemy infantry was seen advancing on 2/13th Battalion. Fire from the 1st RHA stopped the advance. Tanks now moved forward. The tanks included Pzkw IV's, Italian M13/40's, and Italian light tanks. They did not break through, but moved off towards the 2/13th Battalion. Lt-Col. Crawford reported an attack that seemed to come through the defenses. The 1st RTR tanks were sent in response. The penetration report seemed to be false, so the tanks were sent towards where the enemy tanks had been last seen.

The Germsns found that the Australians were not so easily panicked as many soldiers had been in 1940. The German tanks had come up close to the Australians without serious harm, so the German infantry moved forward as well. Once the Germans had closed to some 500 yards, the defenders started firing. The only problem was that there were not many automatic weapons available or even men with guns who could see the enemy troops from posts. The 1st RTR tanks moved forward towards the El Adem road block. They ran into a group of ten enemy tanks and had a fight. The British lost two cruiser tanks, but knocked out a German tank, perhaps a Pzkw III, an M13/40, and three Italian light tanks. At this point, the enemy tanks pulled back. The Australians finally were able to bring mortars to bear. Patrols from the 2/17th Battalion found that the enemy infantry had withdrawn. During the night, several enemy tanks were near the 2/13th Battalion, looking for a way to cross into the fortress. Another group had approached with demolitions to try and get through the "anti-tank ditch and wire". The defenders could tell that the enemy forces were intent on surrounding Tobruk and breaking through.

At the frontier, the defenders were not prepared for a hard defense against advancing forces. They might well have tried to defend Halfaya Pass, to become famous during the Battleaxe offensive. Halfaya was only held by a Free French motor infantry company that was weak in strength. Gradually, more units arrived in the Sollum-Halfaya area. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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