Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The failed attack: Rommel's miscalculation

Rommel was in denial about the reasons for the failed attack on Tobruk on 13 and 14 April 1941. Rommel blamed the commanders of the 5th Light Division for the failure. He said that they had failed to concentrate their force at the break through point. He said that they should have concentrated, broken through, attacked along the flanks, and then penetrated in depth. He said that if they had, then the artillery and Ariete Division could have followed. Rommel thought that if they had done that, they could have taken Tobruk on 14 or 15 April. The tactics that Rommel had written about after the fact were what he used to successfully take Tobruk in 1942.

The Australian historian disagreed with Rommel and placed the blame on Rommel and his belief that simply by acting boldly, they could overpower a defense that had low morale. The commander of the 5th Light Division did not believe that Rommel's plan would be successful. In the end, the plan failed due to the good morale and hard-fighting of the Australian infantry, the ability of the artillery to stand up to tanks and defeat them, and the anti-tank guns being available to fight the tanks. There is a photograph of Australian infantry posing with a knocked-out German Pzkw-III tank armed with a 50mm L42 gun. The picture included the commander of the 2/17th Battalion.

The fight against the Germans on 13 and 14 April was the last for General Lavarack, because Cyrenaica Command was dissolved and absorbed into the Western Desert Force. General Lavarack was to resume his duties as commander of the 7th Australian Division. In order to see action in the war, General Lavarack had taken a reduction in rank from Lieutenant-General to Major General, and had ended up commanding the newest Australian Division, which had to give up the 18th Brigade. The other reason that Lavarack was not made the commander of the Western Desert Force was because he was an Australian, and the command belonged to the British, instead. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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