Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Late September to early October 1941in the border area between Libya and Egypt

Brother column was located at the North Point position. The 2/7th Field Regiment arrived there before the guards did. The regiment commander, Colonel Eastick, was assigned temporarily as the Brother column commander on 26 September 1941. His temporary assigment lasted until 1 October. They split the 2/7th Regiment into parts again. 14th Battery was assigned to Brother column while 13th Battery was assigned to Sister. One battery from the 2/8th Field Regiment was attached to the 102nd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery. The field artillery battery was employed during this period as anti-tank guns.
Even more splitting occurred. One troop from each 2/7th Field Regiment battery were attached to Little Brother and Little Sister. These columns provided the Australian gunners with the best possible desert training. During daylight, the columns were dispersed but with some order. At night, they collapsed down into a small area with a tight perimeter. Another troop was assigned as artillery support to a roving cruiser tank column. This assignment also provided excellent desert training to the Australian gunners.
The 2/7th and 2/8th Field Regiments were told that they would be withdrawn to Palestine to join the 1st Australian Corps, robbing the two regiments of chances to see action. They also were informed about the new organization where each regiment would have three batteries instead of two. The 2/7th Field Regiment would have the 13th, 14th, and 57th Batteries. The 2/8th Field Regiment would have the 15th, 16th, and 58th Batteries.
On 10 October 1941, the 2/8th Field Regiment south east "in desert formation" towards "Hill 69 in Palestine". This was the first time the complete regiment had moved together. They took 8 days to reach their hill in Palestine.
The 2/7th Field Regiment got a temporary reprieve so that they could participate in an offensive operation against Germans. One troop was attached to Little Brother colomn starting on 6 October. During the night of 7 to 8 October, they were asked to fire on a German night leaguer south of Point 207. They at least got rounds that fell near the target area.
Another troop attached to the cruiser tank column participated in a raid that crossed the frontier wire to the south of Sidi Omar. The column that they were in was a mix of armored cars, tanks, and field artillery. The purpose was to take "prisoners, tanks, armoured cars and guns". The guns were from a 105mm battery. The Australian gunners would be asked to "silence" the guns, if they fired. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Changes from 19 September 1941 near the border area between Libya and Egypt

Fait Hope and Char columns had resumed operations near Halfaya Pass after the end of the operations caused by the German reconnaissance in force in September 1941. The resumption of "business as usual" did not last long. The Australian field regiment commander learned that the Scots Guards would be replaced by a brigade of the 4th Indian Division. The Scots Guards would move to the desert above the escarpment. They would take the three Australian batteries with them when they left the coast. Fait column got new orders that included not running on hearing the code word Bicycle. Instead, they would "stand and fight" near the line of the minefield.
The border area received an important visitor on 19 September. General Freyberg came visiting to see the area where the New Zealand Division might be located. That did not prevent the "sniping gun" from firing and drawing Axis return fire. They were successful in causing the enemy to fire many rounds for a few Australian shots.
The Australian 2/7th Field Regiment was replaced on 22 September. The three columns, Fait, Hope, and Char were dissolved. The Australian battery commander heard the news that the 2/8th Field Regiment would arrive in the area. Major Ralph was told that he would be rejoining his regiment in the "Playground" area.
The 2/7th Field Regiment ended up being positioned at Sofafi by 28 September. More Australian artillery was still scattered about. There was a troop at North Point. Two more troops were in the Playground. The remaining units of the 2/8th Field Regiment were near Sidi Barrani, but were moving towards the front area. By 27 September, the 15th Battery was assigned to the 7th Armoured Division. The orders for the 2/8th Regiment were to support the British to the "last man and the last round". The 16th Battery eventually earned a special commendation from the commander of the 4th Indian Division artillery, as being far beyond what anyone had expected.
What now seemed to be expected was that a small group would be expected to sacrifice themselves while defending before any help could reach them. This applied to North Point, the Playground, and the Kennel fortifications. They looked strong on paper but were only weakly held. While the holding forces were called the 3rd Coldstream Guards, the 9th Rifle Brigade, and the 7th Armoured Brigade, the actual forces involved were split into small columns. They were units such as "Little Brother" and "Little Sister". They were placed some 15 to 25 miles in front of the main column. South African armored cars were operating even further forward. The main Brother and Sister columns did not amount to much with the many detachments positioned around the area. The main strength at North Point and Playground were "two infantry companies, two troops of field guns in a normal role, two troops of anti-tank guns, and one or two troops of field guns in an anti-tank role.In addition, there were some engineers, anti-aircraft gun crews, and some infantry providing some defensivc strength for the headquarters units. The troops involved were good enough for what was needed. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Pulling back from the Sunday morning go-round on the coast from 14 to 15 September 1941

The British-Australian columns had blunted the German probe on 14 September. The Germans eventually were withdrawing rapidly to the west. Two columns, Fait (Faith) and Hope got their code words that were to send them back to Sidi Barrani. They headed east at about midnight. Char (Charity) column sat until 4am when they had finally gotten the code word that would send them back to Sidi Barrani. As we mentioned, there were rear-guard detachments left to provide a block to prevent any Germans from approaching the columns while they were retreating to the east. One key point also was protected by a detachement. The Buq Buq water hole had two detachments defending the site. A Troop from the 2/7th Field Regiment had supplied field guns for these two groups. More guns were on the Sofafi track located near Somulus. Another group went south from Sidi Barrani towards Alam el Hammam. They expected to see German tanks heading north and would have engaged them.
At Sidi Barrani, Faith and Hope columns were in place "at first light". Char column was much later arriving, as they had only gotten the code word at 4am. They were in place at Sidi Barrani by 8am.
A false report arrived at Buq Buq at 10:45am on 15 September saying that a German column of tanks was driving north. towards them. The "water point" was blown with some 600 pounds of dynamite. The group had Buq Buq then drove at high speed for Sidi Barrani. There was still one group commanded by Captain Mackay near the coast.
By 2pm on 15 September, the "coast was clear" and the three columns, Fait, Hope, and Char were sent back out to their original spots. The Buq Buq group had just arrived back and was integrated into the columns. The guns that had been at Siwa oasis were back and rejoined their regiment. They had moved back into the "High" spot and the sniping gun had returned to their previous pattern of trying to draw enemy fire with a few shots.
The Germans had claimed only one or two tanks "totally destroyed", but the 2/7th Field Regiment had seen burned out tanks and dead "tankers". The German active tank strength had dropped from 110 before the operation to about 42 after the end of the Midsummer Night's Dream. The most interesting find by the Germans was a British truck with "codes and documents". The truck did not have any information about Operation Crusader, since nothing existed as of yet. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 18, 2017

14 September 1941 on the coast road east of Halfaya Pass

The action on the coast road, during the German operation that commenced on 14 September 1941 commenced a first light. The Australian gunners who were in position had not been given the highly classified intelligence about what to expect. The information had been collected, we believe, through decrypting German communications. A German patrol hit the Scots Guards and caused some casualties. The commander of the 2/7th Field Regiment went to visit his 13th Battery. The first Germans took mortar fire from Point 20 and were also fired upon by Australian carriers. The forward observer called in fire on German troops who were dismounting from their trucks. Enemy shelling came down on the coast road and on the gun set up for sniping on the enemy. The enemy kept firing during the day. The sniping gun went 5 for 225, so they had fired five rounds and heard the enemy fire 225 rounds.
The enemy tried to move forward, but was kept back by artillery fire. When Colonel Eastick had arrived at his battery, he found that communications (by wire) had been lost with forward troops. He ordered that the lines be restored. A lieutenant and a gunner went out to make the repairs. They were able to keep the lines working all day, and got a congratulations from the Scots Guards.
Major Ralph, commander of Char column, saw reports that showed that there were enemy tanks in contact on the desert flank. The units on the high side of the escarpment were set to withdraw to Sidi Barrani. Major Ralph, an Australian officer, ordered the third troop of his battery forward from Sidi Barrani. The troop was to deploy on the holding line to provide a backstop. As Major Ralph read reports about what was happening, he ordered his forward section to pull back to a position that allowed them to cover the minefield.
After receiving the codeword "Bicycle" after 6:30pm, they were to withdraw from the coast at 7:30pm. They were getting more concerned as there were German infantry moving forward towards them. Fortunately, the Australian gunners and the Scots Guards were able to withdraw as night fell. The gunners fired a barrage as the forward section came through, and then loaded up their guns and followed them along the road. Columns Faith, Hope, and Charityqujckly moved out, leaving the Germans behind.
At the first stopping point, they got the word to fall back to Sidi Barrani. By this time, the Germans had turned around and headed back to the west. Columns Faith, Hope, and Charity received orders to follow the rest in their withdrawal to Sidi Barrani. They moved out at about midnight. Char had setup at Samalus and Point 52. They only got the word to move out at about 4am. As the columns moved east, they had left rearguards behind them. The rearguards were given anti-tank guns, field guns, and some Scots Guards. Fait and Hope (the four character abbreviations) reached Sidi Barrani at first light. Char column arrived at about 8am, as they got the word to withdraw on Sidi Barrani much later. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Mid-Summer's Night Dream

"east and south-west".of Bir el Khireigat. After that, they would then hit the 7th Armoured Division which lay to the east. This was not to be a prolonged operation and the 21st Armored Division would return to their position within 24 hours.

Other units would hit the coast sector on Sunday. Despite the usual practice of not having a gun set up to fiire on the beach on Sunday, the day of the attack, there was a gun. Three more guns were set up a short distance behind. The evening before Rommel's attack, the three guns back had been registered.
The main thrust of Rommel's operation was south of the escarpment. Units on the west were told to expect an operation by Axis troops. Rommel was going to have problems, because the British were ready with air power to hit his masses of moving vehicles. Later in the North African campaign, a common practice of dispersal was implemented. But Rommel was oblivious to the issue, surprisingly enough.
When Rommel's operation started on Sunday morning, there were three columns from the 21st Armored Division sweeping on arcs that hoped to catch British battle groups. The British were prepared and fell back to the minefield avoided the three columns. The South African armored cars stayed at a distance and provided a screen for the withdrawing battle groups. When the Germans had moved up to the dummy supply dump, they found "empty desert". The British positions at North Point and the Playground were abandoned. The Germans passed through the British minefield and drove to Sofafi when they ran out of fuel. The Germans went into hedgehog formations when they were hit by the British air attack. They took fire and bombs. At thst point, the Germans pulled back and headed for the rear. Rommel was present and driving in his captured British command car. He had a flat tire, which they struggled to fix.
The Australian gunners on the coast were not privy to prior knowledge about the impending attack. They were all set for a normal day where they would shoot harassing fire. The Australians could hear noise from the direction of Halfaya pass. A British column commander did not explain what was happening. They were finally Early in the morning, the Scots Guards were attacked by a German patrol and took casualties. The patrol was hit by mortar fire and by a carrier patrol. The Australian gunners were supporting the Scots Guards. This based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official history.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Developments near the Egyptian border from July to August 1941

A common failing in the Western Desert in 1941 was that training was given short shrift at a time when training was greatly needed. The South African division became the latest victim of this problem when the division was put to work digging defenses, when they needed to be training for their expected combat role. The Middle East Command was the chief culprit in neglecting training to make time for the latest priority. This problem had been a problem prior to Operation Crusader and continued to be a problem following the battle. This problem was not solved until much later when General Montgomery arrived on the scene after August 1942. The Australian historian does acknowledge that the El Alamein position built would be useful a year later.
During August until early September, the 22nd Guards Brigade was holding the coastal area near Halfaya Pass. They were organized into three columns. The names Faith, Hope, and Charity were shortened to the first four letters: Fait, Hope, and Char. There were other units nearby. The 7th Support Group was located at North Point. The 4th Indian Division headquarters was located at Sofafi. The 7th Armoured Division occupied what was called the "Playground". The 4th South African Armoured Car Regiment provided screening and reconnaissance forward of the minefield.
In late July 1941, the Austrakuab field regiments were moved forward. One troop from the 2/7th Field Regiment was sent to Siwa Oasis. Siwa had become the headquarters of the Long Range Desert Group. A battery from the 2/8th Field Regiment was assigned to Char column. The battery commander, Major Johnston, became the column commander. During the night of 30-31 August, another battery relieved the previous battery, but Major Johnston remained behind as column commander.
Major Argent had spent five months in the frontier area. He and his anti-tank battery were pulled into Mersa Matruh and placed under Brigadier Ramsey's orders. Most of the 2/7th Field Regiment moved on 2 September to the coast sector. They were replaced at Mersa Matruh by a South African field regiment. The regiment's commander, Colonel Eastick became the Coast Sector artillery commander. There were three Australian field artillery batteries, three anti-tank gun batteries, and one light anti-aircraft battery, presumably equipped with 40mm Bofors guns. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Developments at Mersa Matruh in 1941

In September 1941, Mersa Matruh was occupied by considerable force. The 1st South African Division manned the perimeter and were supported by a machine-gun battalion. The machine gunners happened to be Australians. They had some artillery: "three field artillery regiments and two anti-tank batteries". The artillery commander was from the 9th Australian Division, a brigadier. In the usual ironic situation, the 9th Australian Division was sent to Cyrenaica to train, as the conventional wisdom at that date was that this was a back-water location where nothing much could be expected to happen. The conventional wisdom did not acknowledge the presence of General Rommel, who upended everyone's calculations, even the Germans and Italians. Tje 9th Australian Division, since they did not expect any action, had left their artillery at their base. While this frustrated the gunners, this saved them from being caught up in the chaos in Cyrenaica when Rommel first attacked, and besides, the gunners were lacking equipment. The 9th Australian Division was forced to depend on British artillery located in Cyrenaica.
The changing situation soon left the Australian gunners providing the second and third lines of defense for Egypt. After that happened, the British were sufficiently motivated to find vehicles and guns to equip the Australians. They were given old guns, such as 18pdrs and 4.5in howitzers. The Australians received their equipment near Alexandria. They got a taste of the desert environment before being sent to Mersa Matruh. Two regiments arrived at Mersa Matruh, but the 2/12th Field Regiment was sent to Tobruk.
Two British field regiments were covering the coastal area. They initially moved up guns in the dark so that they could reach the Halfaya area. They figured out a better plan, which was to to move one gun up on the sand dunes and shoot at whatever movement that they could observe. This usually drew a disproportionate amount of return fire. They reported results as if it were a cricket score. For example: "195 for 10" meant that they had fired ten rounds and caused the enemy to fire 195 rounds. An Australian officer was permitted to command the operation for 23 July 1941. His gun fired 28 rounds at a "working party", vehicles traversing Halfaya Pass, and probably destroyed a staff car.
When the Australian gunners had arrived at Mersa Matruh, they realized that they needed to improve and expand the artillery positions. One important point that they realized was that the defensive perimeter needed to be expanded to enclose the high ground that dominated the site and harbor. They did not want to provide the enemy with access to the position which overlooked the site. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Further developments in August to September 1941 in North Africa

The German army command had tried to restrict Rommel's activities, because they were concerned about the supply line to North Africa. They had sent General Gause to be their man between the Army and Rommel. Instead, General Gause became Rommel's chief of staff and they got along well. Hitler was at work, much as was Churchill, because he was concerned about the losses sustained at sea. His first move was to divert the X Air Corps to change its mission to one of providing air protection for the convoys to North Africa. Their mission had been to attack Egypt.
All this was in accord with Rommel's plan of having an Army Group Africa, with himself as commander. Rommel was happy. He informed his wife that he and General Gause, his Chief of Staff, got along well, and Rommel was very pleased that was the case.
The situation was similar for both the British and Axis forces. They both had pulled their armored forces back from contact at the border between Libya and Egypt. The Germans kept their two armored reconnaissance units in a screen. The units both were based on mobile forces equipped with the German six-wheeled armored cars with 20mm gun armament. The British front was about six miles east of Halfaya pass. They were above the escarpment and were covered by a mine field. They had constructed fortifications, although the terrain did not favor having a strong defensive line.
The opposing forces had a gap that was not occupied, except by occasional marauding mobile forces. The British groups eventually became known as "Jock Columns" while the Germans were using ad hoc battle groups. They both were used for reconnaissance and to provide a means for engaging the enemy. The Australian historian gives some credit to Churchill for being impatient with a situation where his men were "shadow boxing" and never could "land a punch". This was the only spot where the British were in contact with German forces and could potentially fight actions.
We find that the British orders were to stake out spots in the desert to let the enemy know that if they went past them, there would be a battle. The truth was that the British were told that if the enemy came with a substantial force, that they were not to fight, but to withdraw towards Sidi Barrani. That gave the British commanders on the spot a mindset to be ready to flee, so as not to be trapped. They were not thinking about fighting, but about running away. East of Sidi Barrani was Mersa Matruh with a port and railhead. The place had defense built along similar lines to those at Tobruk. "New Zealand railway construction engineers" had extended the rail line further to the west. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The situation at Tobruk from mid-September 1941

Once the decision had been made to relieve the 9th Australian Division at Tobruk, there was some repercussions. General Auchinleck considered that since the Australian Government seemed to have lost confidence in him, he should resign his command. That did not happen, but it was a reasonable conclusion. Part of what happened were the machinations by General Blamey to get his way, no matter the cost. The better results were the addition of an additional infantry tank battalion, 4-4.5in guns, and twelve more 25pdr guns.
General Morshead returned to Tobruk on 17 September 1941. He was informed on his arrival that while he was gone, the Germans had attacked one of the observation posts that lay outside the perimeter wire. They had used five tanks on 14 September. At the same time, they made a reconnaissance into Egypt with a force that included tanks. Rommel had called the operation "Summer Night's Dream". We have heard this translated as "Midsummer's Night Dream", which seems more like what Rommel would have called it. The Australian historian thought that since this was mid-September, midsummer was not appropriate. The historian's suggestion was that this operation gave Rommel a false sense of what the British were doing and what they were thinking.
For the coming battle between Axis and British forces, the Germans incorporated responses to lessons learned from Operation Battleaxe. They extended their defenses for some 25 miles south of the Halfaya Pass area. They had battalion-sized units to hold each fort that was built. Given the success of using 88mm anti-aircraft guns against British tanks, they included the use of those guns with armored forces for the next battle, The Germans also started using radios follow the message traffic in their own units and also started using front-line signals intelligence to intercept and process British communications.
The Germans also worked at pulling their battle-group ad hoc organization back into formal division organization. They had two complete armored divisions, the 5th Light Division and the 15th Armored Division. They also had new infantry to use. They had the 361st Africa Regiment, along with two other infantry regiments. The 361st Africa Regiment included former French Foreign Legion troops.
With the Italian Trieste Mechanized Division, they had the complete Italian Mobile Corps. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official history.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Coming to a decision about the 9th Australian Division in September 1941

General Auchinleck disagreed about the supposed degradation of the 9th Australian Division due to their being at Tobruk for so long a time. He agreed that they were tired. Auchinleck suggested that they increase the fighting strength in Tobruk to compensate for that situation. He considered replacing one brigade of Australians with a brigade of the British 6th Division. He preferred keeping the entire 9th Australian Division at Tobruk.He had hoped to add Indian troops to the 6th Division, but that seemed less likely now the way that the situation was progressing.
General Blamey had access to Auchinleck's message and sent his government a long rebuttal, including issues raised outside of the message. As to the concerns about the navy, General Blamey said that given that there was enemy naval interference with the sea transport, that should not be a concern. The need for air cover for the relief was an issue, but he had agreed to postpone the relief from August to September, since the RAF had said that they could more easily provide air protection then than they could have in August. Also, the RAF air strength in North Africa had been incresaed, so they were better able to provide air cover for the relief operations.
The British Prime Minister pushed the Australian Prime Minister to get him to agree, but Mr. Fadden would not change his position that the 9th Australian Division must be withdrawn from Tobruk. The Australian government really desired to bring their divisions together into a single corps. The Australian government was also concerned about Auchinleck's comments about a planned sortee from Tobruk by the Australians. The conclusion was that the Australian concerns about the 9th Australian Division in Tobruk were more important to them than any of the British concerns.
Churchill gave in an instructed that plans go forward to relieve the Australians in Tobruk. He was concerned about the response in Australia by a British refusal to relieve the 9th Australian Division. There were other issues, such as the appearance to the Australians of the British division on Cyprus being relieved by an Indian division at the same time that the British government opposed relieving the 9th Australian Division in Tobruk. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Australians and Tobruk in September 1941

We have to think that General Blamey had his own agenda, that is to stop the scattering of Australian units across the Mediterranean and North Africa, and bring them together as a single force. From the perspective of time, we feel like the objection he raised about the condition of the troops in Tobruk was just an excuse to try and convince the British so he could get his way. In the face of the Australian obstinant request for the relief of the 9th Australian Division from Tobruk, Churchill's next move was to ask General Auchinleck to provide him with the facts about the situation. The problem with that is that Auchinleck was reduced to asking the Australians for information, which is going to be biased towards what they want.
Auchinleck ordered General Morshead to meet him in Cairo for conferences to gather the relevant facts. Morshead was brought out of Tobruk on the destroyer Kipling, which endured five air attacks and took some damage in the process. That was a foretaste of what could be expected during any relief of the 9th Australian Division in Tobruk. General Moshead stopped by to meet with General Blamey prior to meeting with General Auchinleck. There were three conferences  to atatend on 10 September. Generals Morshead and Blamey attended together. The first meeting was with Auchinleck and General Alan Cunningham, the newly appointed army commander. We imagine that they discussed Operation Crusader. Following that, they met with the Air, Naval, and Army commanders-in-chief. They discussed the relief of the 9th Australian Division. After that, they met with staff officers, one being Neil Ritchie and the other being the deputy quartermaster general.
General Morshead was questioned in the meeting with the commanders-in-chief about the condition of the men in Tobruk. He admitted that the men were still in good health, but were seen as tiring, and becoming weaker. Morshead made the point that both the British and Australians in Tobruk were in a similar situation. In fact, Morshead said that he would be unhappy if the British in Tobruk were left behind when the Australians were removed.
Auchinleck's rejoinder was that to stage at relief now would create difficulties for the army's readiness for Operation Crusader. Auchinleck proposed sending an infantry tank battalion to Tobruk to increase the defensive strength of the fortress. He also told General Morshead that he could not relieve the British troops in Tobruk, only the Australians. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Officiail History.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Government instabilty in Australia as an influence on events in North Africa in 1941

Robert Menzies was the Australian prime minister from 26 April 1939 until 28 August 1941. He was a Liberal, but he was part of a coalition government during this period. He was succeed by Arthur Fadden for a short time. In early September 1941, General Blamey sent a message to Mr. Fadden regarding Tobruk and the 9th Australian Division. He said that Churchill told General Auchinleck that if he would not relieve the 9th Australian Division, he would fix the deal with the Australians. General Blamey was opposed to such a deal and expressed concern that if the division stayed in Tobruk, they would continue to decline and might not be able to resist a future attack. He also mentioned that with the 18th Brigade being withdrawn, the rest of the troops would be disappointed if they were not also withdrawn. General Blamey wanted the Australian government to strongly resist the British attempt to keep the 9th Australian Division in Tobruk. General Blamey knew that the British would keep the Australians in Tobruk indefinitely, if they could get away with such a thing.
Mr. Fadden sent a message to Winston Churchill requesting that the British respect the desires of the Australian government and withdraw the 9th Australian Division. If the British refused and Tobruk were eventually overrun and the division was lost, the effects in Australia would be great. When he wrote in The Grand Alliance, Churchill made out like this was the first he had heard of the request, which was false. What was true was in early September 1941, there were not any solid plans for Operation Crusader in place. Churchill confidently told Auchinleck that he could bluff the Australians into going along with Churchill's desires to keep the Australians in Tobruk.
General Blamey was unconvinced by Churchill's arguments. He wrote the minister for the Army in Australia about the problems he was having assembling the Australian formations into a single grouping. The British would say that they would agree, but then would take steps to resist doing what General Blamey wanted. For the Syrian campaign, he had brought together units to form an ad hoc brigade. He was assured that he would get the men back to return to their normal divisions. After the end of the Syrian campaign, that did not happen. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Conflict between the British and the Australians over relieving the 9th Australian Division at Tobruk

In late August, the Australians learned that there was considerable British resistance to moving the 9th Australian Division out of Tobruk. The first inkling was that the navy wanted to reduce the number of convoys in and out of Tobruk. They also wanted to only run ships on moonless nights and not on nights when there was moon. Then we find that there was resistance to sending the British 6th Division to Tobruk because they had recently been in an area where malaria was prevalent. They also did not want to send another division to that area because of the malaria. After seeming to agree to withdrawing the 9th Australian Division from Tobruk, now they had a defense in depth by having a long list of objections. General Blamey was not going to agree to this sort of arrangement, because it would circumvent the plan to consolidate all the Australian divisions into one fighting force. We find, on examination, that the real opposition to withdrawing the 9th Australian Division from Tobruk was Winston Churchill. Churchill considered withdrawing the 9th Australian Division from Tobruk as a "needless relief".
When General Auchinleck returned to Egypt, he was preoccupied with the coming offensive, now named "Crusader". He did not want to deal with anything but preparations for the operation. The Australians were able to withdraw the 18th Brigade from Tobruk, but now found that the British were dug in and resistant to any move to withdraw the 9th Australian Division from Tobruk. The naval and air commanders in Egypt both opposed the withdrawal of the Australians.
The RAF hoped to achieve air superiority over the battlefield for Operation Crusader, but there were many factors which seemed to make that very difficult if not impossible. The British hoped to have 544 aircraft for the operation. The might have some 650 aircraft, of which 300 would be German. The Germans had a superior fighter type to anything that the British could employ. If the war in Russia went well, the Germans might be able to pull more aircraft into the fighting in North Africa. Convoys to Tobruk would require enough aircraft to provide a sufficient protection.
Carrying out the relief of the 9th Australian Division from Tobruk would divert needed resources for Operation Crusader. The British were desperate to find a way to not have to carry out the withdrawal of the division from Tobruk. General Auchinleck also believed that the Australians could defend Tobruk better than any relieving division. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Late August to September 1941 in North Africa

General Auchinleck appointed Alan Cunningham to be his army commander in North Africa without really knowing anything about him, except his recent history. Cunningham has just finished a successful campaign in East Africa against the Italians. Cunningham had been summoned to Cairo to be briefed on his new command. He left on 29 August for Cairo. Auchinleck would give Cunningham instructions to make two plans for the coming operation. One would cut across the desert to Benghazi while the second would be for an attack along the coast towards Tobruk. From what we know, the second plan was the one that was actually implemented.
The Australian 18th Brigade was successfully moved out of Tobruk by 30 August 1941. This was according to General Blamey's plan which had been approved. He notified his government of the successful movement and asked them to keep the new secret. That same day, the chiefs of staff met in Cairo to discuss supplying Tobruk in the future. The supplies were mainly carried by two destroyers each night. The goal was to built up the supply reserves for the fortress. Other ships were also involved. They used "A-Lighters" to carry supplies from Mersa Matruh to Tobruk. Other small ships also ran from the main base at Alexandria and Tobruk or from Mersa Matruh to Tobruk. There was a constant risk of air attack, along with mines, and large caliber gunfire on the harbor. When units were moved in and out of Tobruk, that tied up the available destroyers, as they could not be used simultaneously for both troop carrying and transporting supplies.
The planned large movement of Australian and Polish units in August meant that more ships were required. Some nights, there were three destroyers or, even on some occasions, four destroyers. The fast minelaying cruisers Latona and Abdiel were also used on the run to and from Tobruk. They used the additional ships to move troops while the normal ships were used to carry supplies. To provide protection from air attack, there were more fighter aircraft and some cruisers with their anti-aircraft guns. Two ships were damaged during these operations. The Australian destroyer Nizam had a near miss by a bomb that caused damage while the cruiser Phoebe was torpedoed, probably by an Italian torpedo bomber. These aircraft were twin-engined and were some of the best Italian attack aircraft.
The air protection provided relieved the pressure on the smaller ships, and reduced the losses. Three small ships were lost in operations to resupply Tobruk. This was considered an improvement over the previous months. The ships lost were a trawler and a whaler. A tank lighter or landing craft was sunk by a mine in Tobruk harbor. A minesweeper, also in the same small shipi  category, was damaged near Mersa Matruh. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Auchinleck takes command in the Middle East

When General Auchinleck took over as the theater commander in the Middle East, Winston Churchill hoped to bulldoze him into doing what Churchill wanted. General Dill, the CIGS, advised Auchinleck to resist doing anything before adequate preparations had been made. He considered that when General Wavell launched Operation Battleaxe, that he had acted prematurely due to pressure from Churchill. General Dill told Auchinleck to act as he thought best, and to resist the Prime Minister's push to act before he was ready. In particular, he said that he should be explicit about the risks he was prepared to run, and those risks that were too great to chance, to demand the resources that he needed, and if they are not provided, to state clearly what could be done and not be done.
General Auchinleck told Churchill that attacking before the necessary resources were available was something that was not "a justifiable operation of war". He negotiated the date for the attack in the Middle East to 1 November 1941. He treated that as the real target date that he was trying to meet. When the preparations were not complete in time, he asked for a delayed start, even though that would upset Churchill.
We find rather amusing that President Roosevelt told Churchill to reduce his commitment to the Middle East, because the Americans thought that the area could not be adequately defended. In fact, they threatened to withhold shipments of war materials and equipment if Churchill ignored their concerns. Churchill's reply to Roosevelt caused Roosevelt to lose his temper. The two leaders met following this exchange on a battleship in "the Bay of Newfoundland". The disagreement was resolved and the Americans proceeded to sent tanks, vehicles and aircraft to the Middle East in large numbers. Those shipments continued through 1942, which was a much more challenging year than 1941, if that was possible.
Before Churchill left to meet Roosevelt, they had decided to send a second armored division to the Middle East. The division would not arrive in time for the start of the upcoming attack. The convoys were immediately dispatched with men and equipment for the division. American Stuart tanks would arrive in time for the start of the operation. Robert Crisp's book, Brazen Chariots, is a good story about how the Stuarts were used in the next offensive in the desert.
Auchinleck had not yet appointed the army commander. He was not familiar with any of the men who were available. All he could do is essentially look at their resumes. On paper, Lieutenant-General Alan Cunningham, who had just completed a successful campaign in East Africa seemed to be a good choice. The East African campaign had been a fast moving war of mobility. What Auchinleck did not know is that Cunningham was exhausted after the East African campaign and was not ready to take on new responsibilities in the Western Desert that involved mechanized warfare. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the British Official History.

Monday, November 06, 2017

The Polish Carpathian Brigade arrives at Tobruk in late August 1941

When the Polish Carpathian Brigade was formed in April 1940 in Syria, the Polish government in exile was based in Paris. The brigade gradually grew from Polish soldiers who had escaped internment or captivity and traveled to Syria. After France fell to the Germans and the Vichy government was formed under Marshal Petain, the brigade marched out of Syria and into Palestine. This was in June 1940. Polish soldiers continued to make their way to Palestine to join the brigade. This process continued until Greece was captured by the Germans in April 1941. There ceased to be an easy route out of Eastern Europe to Palestine at that point.
Many of the men who joined the Carpathian Brigade had been officers in the Polish army. A special unit had been formed of some Polish officers in addition to the normal brigade organization. Other officers served in the brigade as non-commissioned officers or as ordinary soldiers. The Carpathian Brigade had the advantage of time to train before they were sent into action at Tobruk. The brigade was actually organized as a brigade group. The brigade group included a cavalry regiment. The brigade commander, Major-General Kopanski, arrived at Tobruk during the night of 25 to 26 August 1941. The general and his staff had lunch with General Morshead and then had a conference. They found that the plan was for them to move into the southern sector and take over from the 20th Brigade (Australian).
The first Polish unit to see action was the field regiment. They were sent to the western sector to relieve the 51st Field Regiment, which was to leave Tobruk. The Polish anti-tank regiment replaced the 24th Anti-Tank Company and the 9th Battery of the 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment. Apparently, only the men left and the guns remained in place for the Polish to use. The Polish cavalry regiment replaced the 18th Indian Cavalry Regiment.
The Polish infantry were sent to integrate with the 20th (Australian) Brigade for a week. The Polish would have preferred to be positioned in opposition to Germans, rather than Italian soldiers, but they accepted their assignment. When they listened to news of the Russian front, the Polish disliked both the Germans and Russians, so they were happy to hear of both sets of casualties.
The 20th Brigade was removed during September 3-4 1941. After the 20th Brigade was relieved, that meant that a Tobruk sector was now held by a non-Australian unit. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

More activities in August 1941 at Tobruk

Developments in the southern sector of Tobruk continued through August 1941. The 2/13th Battalion was on the right of the sector. The 2/17th Battalion was positioned on the left. During this period, both battalions were involved with deep patrolling. The Australians were aware that the enemy were continuing to build their defensive positions. That was particularly true near the roadblock at the El Adem Road. They were busy adding mines to close the gaps in their minefields. At the same time, the Australians were busy creating new gaps in the minefields. On 4 August, a patrol from the 2/17th managed to lift 184 mines and brought them in for their own use.
The 2/13th Battalion had been in their positions from 15 July to 18 August 1941. Their position was conducive to deep patrolling at least in part due to the greater distance of the enemy positions. That allowed them to exit their own positions and move out without being observed. They were still close enough to the enemy positions to be able to reach them and return during the night. One early patrol went out and brought back intelligence of the enemy minefield that they had found. Lt. Martin was a regular leader of patrols and he eventually was in a position to be able to penetrate the enemy lines and move around behind them. They also noticed gun flashes and several patrols out at the same time were able to get bearings on the gun flashes that could be used by the counter-battery group. These were guns that were shelling the harbor area.
On the night of 17-18 August a large group of infantry and engineers ventured out to attack the guns. Lt. Martin commanded the assault group, but they only found empty gun emplacements, although they had been recently used.
By mid-August 1941, improved air support was provided to Tobruk. They aircraft were still prohibited from using the Tobruk air field, but reconnaissance aircraft were occasionally allowed to operate there. On 3 August and 16 August, the RAF carried out air attacks on the German guns located along the coast, east of Tobruk. The RAF also improved their ability to obtain useful photographic reconnaissance of enemy positions near Tobruk. Tobruk was eventually provided a skilled photo interpreter.
When the commander of the 1st RHA received photographs of enemy positions in the south, west of the El Adem Road, he realized that they confirmed the findings of aggressive infantry patrols. He wrote Brigadier Thompson, the fortress artillery commander, and mentioned that the reconnaissance by deep infantry patrols were confirmed by the photographs. He said that they needed to recognize the importance of the deep patrols. Since air reconnaissance had been so lacking, the deep patrols had been very successfully in obtaining the needed information that had been absent. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

The Tobruk harbor, shelling and air raids

Tobruk harbor was shelled starting on 22 August 1941 and lasted for two days. The first rounds were fired by a battery of German 105mm guns. They fired at long range (about 20,000 yards). More rounds were fired by some 155mm guns similar to what the Australians had previously called "Bardia Bill". They fired from east of the fortress. The British artillery replied with their very efficient counter-battery fire. That stopped the incoming fire on the harbor and fortress until 27 August. On that day, the harbor received about 60 rounds, that in the face of heavy counter-battery fire. In the afternoon on the 27th, the harbor was hit by an air attack. The attackers were some forty bombers and three fighters. They hit not only the harbor but the heavy anti-aircraft gun sites. One casualty of the attack was the whaler Skudd 3 which was sunk. The attacking aircraft had three planes shot down, six more heavily damaged, and many more with some damage.
Late August 1941 and into September included many more air attacks. The attacks were increasingly focused on hitting the anti-aircraft gun sites. The Ju-87 dive bombers (known as Stukas). The attack on 27 August included 35 Stukas. During August 1941, the air defenses at Tobruk fired on about 600 aircraft. 1 September saw a very heavy raid directed at the air defenses. The attackers had some 140 aircraft and the attack lasted about 15 minutes. Two heavy anti-aircraft guns were bombed by 30 Stukas. Level bombers attacked a third gun and dropped about fifty bombs on the site. Field guns were also attacked by another fifteen Stukas. Base areas were attacked by more high-level bombers. The forward defenses on the perimeter were also bombed by high-level bombers. Some of the bombs even hit German or Italian positions. The infantry fired (probably ineffectively) large amounts of small arms and machine gun rounds. Many of the heavy anti-aircraft guns were 3.7in guns, the most modern British heavy anti-aircraft gun. Those guns fired 1,006 rounds in the raid on 1 September. There were a few 102mm guns which fired 111 rounds. The light guns also saw action. The 40mm Bofors guns fired about 1,200 rounds. The 20mm Oerlikon guns fired some 3,000 rounds during the attack. Casualties included one gunner killed and six wounded. Five of the heavy guns were out of action for about four hours after the attack. They believed that they had shot down as many as four enemy aircraft, although they only saw one actually crash. An indication that the defensive fire was pretty effective was that the enemy did not use any more Stukas against Tobruk for the rest of September 1941. This description is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The next actions during August 1941 at Tobruk

While the 18th Brigade and other units were being pulled out of Tobruk by ship, the enemy shifted their attention to the south and south-east of the Tobruk perimeter. Two brigades held the south and east sectors at Tobruk. The 20th Brigade was in the south while the 26th Brigade was in the east. Early in August, British intelligence learned of a pending change in the besieging forces. In the east, it seemed that the Bologna Division would replace the Trento Division. In the event, the change happened a week later than the British had expected. Once the change was made, there was an increase in artillery fire from the enemy.
Artillery fire became increasingly important. At first, reporting only came from British artillery units. Very soon all units were pulled into artillery fire reporting. Once the shelling reports were regularly received, the defenders were able to produce reports about rounds fired, days fired quantity, average, peak, and minimum rounds fired and per area. The 24 hour periods started and ended at 8am. By mid-August 1941, the fire reached a peak. The intensity of artillery fire continued to increase, so by 25 August, 1,175 rounds were fired at the forward areas of the fortress. By 26 August, there were some 1,500 rounds fired.
Tobruk was being out-gunned by the enemy forces. Tobruk had 80 guns, including the four 60 pounders. There were also a few 149mm Italian guns in action. The enemy had 224 field guns, and had four medium batteriers of four guns each, along with four heavy batteries.<//p>
By the end of August, the enemy started firing more medium and even heavy guns at the harbor and Fort Pilastrino. A single 155mm gun had been firing from the east, but there were now three 155mm gun firing on the harbor area. They had been not firing for a while, but started again in earnest on 19 August. That was the same day that three 210mm guns fired at Fort Pilastrino. By about 20 August, 120mm naval guns fired five rounds at the harbor and coast. The 1st RHA had the counter-battery duty and silenced the 120mm guns. The next day, a howitzer manned by headquarters gunners hit an ammunition dump in the south. Those things effectively ended the harbor fire for the rest of August. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The next moves in North Africa in August 1941

General Auchinleck had been called to London in later July 1941 when Churchill felt a need to meet with him to pressure him on the desirability of moving to the offensive in the desert. Auchinleck returned to North Africa in August. He ordered the immediate replacement of the 18th Australian Brigade and the Indian 18th Cavalry Regiment. This would enable the 7th Australian Division and the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade to be completed with all their units. Auchinleck was not ready to approve the relief of the 9th Australian Division, which everyone else had agreed could happen.
General Blamey wrote to Mr. Spender in Australia giving him the latest information about developments. One positive development was that the 7th Divisonal Cavalry had been pulled out of Cyprus and had rejoined the 7th Australian Division. Eventually, the 6th Divisional Cavalry and the remnants of the 6th Australian Division would be pulled out of Syria. That would start the business of reconstituting the 6th Australian Division.
General Blamey blamed the British staff in Egypt for resisting the moves to enable the Australian divisions to be part of an Australian-only corps. He also pitched the Australian view that if the 9th Australian Division was not pulled from Tobruk that their morale and physical condition would continue to deteriorate. Hence the need for their replacement. While the relief of the 9th Australian Division had been agreed upon at some level, General Blamey was concerned that the British would find a way to block that from happening.
The plan for the relief in August of the 18th Australian Brigade and the Indian 18th Cavalry went smoothly. The first of the Polish units arrived as well. The last of the relieved units sailed on 29 August. The engineers had made secret improvements to the port area so that a rapid process could proceed. The reason had been to be prepared for a quick withdrawal of the 9th Australian Division in the event of Tobruk being taken by the enemy. The new works helped the relief in August proceed quickly. There Australian infantrymen, gunners, British armored cavalry, and Indian cavalry loaded onto destroyers at night. The 18th Cavalry had been with the 9th Australian Division from early in the siege and had functioned as infantry. They performed exceptionally well had made their presence known to the enemy and instilled fear in their opponents. They were said to have enjoyed their association with the Australians, who had treated the Indians as if they were Australians. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Rationale for another attack and issues raised by the initial withdrawal moves in August 1941

The ridge adjacent to post S7 was a troubling feature for the defenders of Tobruk. In many ways, that ridge was more of a problem than Medauuar. An attack on the ridge would have involved larger forces, as some experts recommended using at least two infantry battalions. The proposed attack would have cost many casualties. The question was whether the attack would have been worth the cost. The Australian historian seems to have thought that the cost would have been too great and would have had a negative effect on troop morale. The historian thought that Morshead's desire to attack was based on his basic approach to defending Tobruk. He would not execute fancy or complicated maneuvers. Instead, he would have liked to not have given up any ground at all and would not accept defeat.
For the 18th Brigade to be ready to load onto ships and be sent to Egypt, they would have to be relieved from their positions. That relief would have to happen from 16 August to 21 August 1941. They needed to keep the reason for their relief could not be disclosed. The needed troop movements were to take the 24th Brigade from reserve and put them into the eastern sector. They would replace the 26th Brigade. The 26th Brigade would take over in the west and the Salient. The 2/1st Pioneer Battalion would be added to the 26th Brigade. The 2/24th Battalion stayed in their position. The 2/48th Battalion was sent back to the Salient, but only in reserve. The three battalions then were Pioneers in the west, the 2/23rd in the Salient on the right, and on the left of the Salient, the 2/24th Battalion.
Of the engineers, the 2/4th Field Company would withdraw with the 18th Btigade. The 2/13th Field Company had to replace the 2/4th. The 2/13th could have felt like they had gotten a raw deal of the changes.
The Polish Carpathian Brigade moved into Tobruk, starting  on 20 August. They arrived on board destroyers. The arrival of the Polish Carpathian Brigade had alerted the Australians in Tobruk of what was planned. They immediately all knew about the planned departure of the 18th Brigade and the Indian 18th Cavalry Regiment. Other unit to be removed were the 51st Field Regiment, King's Dragoon Guards, and the 3rd Hussars. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

2/23rd Battalion operations and the pending relief of the 18th Australian Brigade in August 1941

When the posts held by the Pioneers proved too tough a nut for the enemy, they moved their attention to posts manned by the 2/23rd Battalion. They had two posts near Bir Ghersa. One was named Jim and the other was Bob. Another nearby feature was the Walled Village. They had previously had a post at the Walled Village, but had stopped using the post. During 7 August, they saw two tanks with about thirty infantrymen near the Walled Village. The battalion sent a patrol to investigate during the evening. They had incoming mortar fire when they approached. The next day, three Italians were captured at Jim when they approached without knowing that the Australians were there. Then on 9 August, the enemy fired at post Bob and the men had to withdraw. Another group was sent out to protect post Jim and sat about 400 yards away. On this day, post Jim had a tank officer and two Australian men.
Some 21 enemy soldiers approached Jim. The men in the post called in fire support from the 104th RHA. They also fired with a Bren gun and a Thompson sub-machinegun. While firing, the Bren gun jammed, allowing the enemy to approach within 30 yards. The Australians kept the enemy back by throwing grenades. The Bren gun cleared and the enemy were shot down. Post Jim then received mortar fire and shell fire from artillery. The men withdrew to the covering group. On 10 August, a carrier went out with an artillery observer and found that they enemy had pulled back from Bir Ghersa.
General Morshead found out from Colonel Lloyd, who came from Cairo, that the 18th Brigade would be relieved unexpectedly soon. Morshead had planned to use the 18th Brigade, his best brigade, he thought, to attack the enemy at Post S7. With the brigade going to leave soon, they brigade commander was in no place to think about Morshead's grand plans for attacks. Another idea from General Morshead was to pull the 18th Brigade out sooner than September. Admiral Cunningham liked the idea and Auchinleck eventually opted for 19 to 29 August 1941. The 18th Australian Brigade and the 18th Cavalry would be replaced by the 1st Carpathian Brigade and the Polish Cavalry Regiment. The 18th Brigade commander, Brigadier Wootten only received news at the last minute of the relief. Brigadier Wootten and Captain Coleman had considered the task of attacking the enemy at Post S7. They should attack S6 and S7 at the same time and they would need as many as two battalions to do the attack.
Wootten's brigade major had studied what would be needed for a successful attack, after studying the enemy's defenses. The men were aware through the back-channel communications of the plans for another attack. The Australian historian considered that another attack would test the morale and confidence of the men in their commanders. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Axis plans and further developments in July to August 1941

By August 1941, the German High Command for Armored Forces set priorities for the rest of 1941. They hoped to add strength to the army in North Africa. The goal was to capture Tobruk. The discussion did not really acknowledge the issue of the Royal Navy's role in interdicting Axis shipping. That factor was the major reason for a two month lag for reinforcing Rommel's forces.
In July, Rommel had his vision for an attack on Tobruk. His plan had some preliminary moves that could be made without having any strength added. The road junction that would eventually become prominent as King's Cross would be the target. The attackers would congregate to the south of Tobruk. They would move out from an area near the target. The Australians had established posts near the area, so they would be the first things to be cleared.
In late July, the 2/1st Pioneer Battalion had two posts that they had inherited from the 2/23rd Battalion. Outpost "Normie" was attacked several hours after midnight on 26 July. The attackers had been an Italian patrol of a dozen or so men. Two days later, Normie was shelled and the post had to be abandoned. This happened at abour 9pm. A group with two officers and 21 men set out to recapture the Normie post. The enemy troops started firing at the Australians when they were about 200 yards from the post.  The Australian group moved to outflank the post. The enemy soldiers responded by shooting up flares. They also called in artillery on the attacking Australians. The Australians charged the post and the enemy troops ran. The men found an Italian machine gun, some rifles and grenades. The troops that fled seem to have been Italians.
Post Normie was attacked another time on 30 July. The attack was in the afternoon, so they were able to call in defensive fire from the 104th RHA. The battalion commander sent out two carriers carrying ten men. The attacking force, again which seem to have been Italians, were scattered. After failing with the posts near the Pioneers, the enemy moved to the 2/23rd Battalion area. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The New Axis Organization in July and August 1941

A new assessment of British tank losses in Battleaxe gave some additional prestige to Rommel. The Italian general Cavallero recommended that Rommel be in charge of a new, single headquarters in North Africa. This was supported by Hitler, and General Halder had to agree.
General Halder requested Rommel to submit his plan for an attack on Tobruk. General Halder wanted to keep one armored division on the Egyptian frontier and not involved with attacking Tobruk. He also warned Rommel not to expect further reinforcements. General Halder was still determined to keep the North Africa force from growing. Rommel did not agree with the condition, since he wanted to concentrate all his forces for the attack, which makes good sense., He had already given his plan on 15 July 1941 which used the 15th Armored Division and part of the 5th Light Division, his two armored divisions. Rommel wanted to use the captured  British infantry tanks to lead the attack and they would push through to the port and harbor area. Rommel had a schedule to meet, since he wanted to take Tobruk in September and then attack Egypt in October.
Rommel attended meetings in both Italy and Germany to discuss the new organization. They suggested Panzergruppe "Rommel", but settled on Panzergruppe "Africa". The Italian officer was still commander-in-chief of forces in North Africa. General Bastico was the new Italian commander as of 23 July 1941. General Bastico had command of the Italian corp with the Ariete Division and the Trieste Motorized Division. Rommel commanded all other German and Italian forces in North Africa under the Panzergruppe Africa. The German forces were included in the German Africa Corps while the Italians were in the XXI Corps. The hope was that the German Africa Corps would have the two armored divisions along with two infantry divisions. They would have what would become the 90th Light Division as well as having the Italian Savona Division. The Italian corps would have four infantry divisions, of which three were already in place. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Plans for North Africa for the fall of 1941

Operation Battleaxe was a dividing point for both sides in North Africa in mid-1941. The British had hastily mounted an operation that failed. The Axis forces had successfully repelled the attack. The Australians at Tobruk were intent on strengthening their positions. The Axis forces were also working to hold on to what they had.
The Germans had politics to deal with. There was a faction that was intent on controlling Rommel and keeping him from straining the supply system. A competing faction was counting on Rommel being able to beat the British forces and move east. General Halder, the German Army Chief of Staff, was the leader of the faction that was trying to keep Rommel in check. Their plan was to appoint General Gause as "German Liaison Officer at the Italian Headquarters in North Africa." General Gause actually arrived  on 10 June, but found he was not welcome, because General Garibaldi saw him as a threat to his authority. Garibaldi could have seen General Gause as a check on Rommel and welcomed him, but that did not happen. Rommel was unhappy with the appointment and complained to Field Marshal Brauchitsch.
The politics of the situation liked what Rommel had been able to accomplish and wanted him to do more of the same. They cared not about General Halder's and Field Marshal Brauchitsch's concerns. They had a problem in that Field Marshal Keitel was moving to help Rommel. Part of the dynamics were that the faction which wanted to limit Rommel was also afraid that Hitler was committing Germany to more than was reasonable. Keitel was intent on doing what Hitler wanted and he wanted Rommel to do more of what he had already done. He should defeat the British in battle and move into Egypt.
Already, Field Marshal Keitel was consulting with the Italian Chief of Staff about a planned offensive in the fall to attack Egypt. They would use two German armored divisions and two Italian. They also would have three motorized divisions. More Germans would be sent, so the initial elements of what would become the 90th Light Division were sent by ship to Libya in June 1941.
Right after General Gause arrived at the Italian headquarters, Hitler had sent a plan for what he wanted to do after Russia capitulated. He hoped to attack the Middle East from the east, west, and north. They would move through Turkey, from Libya to Egypt, and into the Levant from the Caucasus. Hitler called this "Plan Orient". Two first steps would include taking Gibraltar and Tobruk. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Investigating after the attack on 3 August 1941

One important question that lingered after the fighting on 2 August to 3 August 1941 was who occupied Post S7? There was an interlude in the morning, as both sides operated under the Geneva Convention to recover dead and wounded men near Post R7. Sergeant Tuie supervised the Australian operation. He set out at about 7am. The process continued through the day. The Germans were very helpful to the Australians and let them approach their positions. They also deactivated mine fields. They even gave Sergeant Tuit a drink. He succeeded in retrieving 28 dead and five wounded men.
At Post S7, there was no contact. The post was kept under fire and no one could get close during the day. The post seemed to be under enemy control, but Colonel Lloyd wanted to be sure as to the status. He ordered two patrols to go out at dark. One would check Post S6 and the other would check Post S7. The patrols were sent out at 9:45pm. If S7 were still in Australian hands, they would send out reinforcements. At 10 minute before 10pm, Captain Conway at Post S7 called for defensive fire. His signal was misunderstood and nothing happened. Captain Conway had sent a message out from earlier in the evening. Some men were sent out to help, but were not able to advance. A patrol from the water tower reported hearing Australians talking in Post S7. At 1:25am, Colonel Lloyd heard that the post seemed to be in the possession of the enemy. They eventually saw a green flare fired by the Germans from Post S7. That told the Australians that the post had fallen. It turns out that Captain Conway had run out of ammunition and had surrendered a little before 11pm.
At this point, the process of relieving units from the Salient was started. The 24th Brigade was relieved and was put into reserve. They were replaced by the 18th Brigade during 4 to 7 August. On 8 August, the 2/48th Battalion moved into reserve. That left three battalions up front. They were the 2/12th, the 2/10th, and the 2/9th. The 2/48th Battalion subsequently left the salient for the eastern sector while the 2/24th Battalion moved to the Salient. The engineers were also changed out. The 2/13th Field Company changed places with the 2/4th Field Company on 12 August. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

After the failed attack on 3 August 1941

Plans had been made based on the attacks succeeding, early on 3 August 1941. The initial impression was that both attacks had failed, When Captain Conway went forward to Post S7, he found his men had taken the post. He fired the signal for success, which now created some confusion. The truth was that there were only some nine men in condition to fight at Post S7. The enemy had now laid smoke to obscure the situation from view.
The Germans attacked the post at dawn. They were firing machine guns at the place and cutting the sandbags, which drained sand down onto the Bren gun. Miraculously, the Australians succeeded in repelling the attack. They permitted the Germans to collect their wounded from the attack. Commanders outside the area could not see past the smoke and dust. They had the impression that the enemy had retaken Post S7 after it had been taken. The brigade and battalion commander had the impression that the attack in the north had failed to take post S6 and had failed to hold onto S7 after it was initially taken. In the north, the 2/32nd Battalion had orders to send a company to provide the force to continue fighting, if the situation warranted.
In the south, the enemy seemed to have been warned before the attack. The artillery fire in support brought out an immediate enemy artillery response. The force that would have attacked was hit by the enemy fire and took casualties. The wire was blown with the bangalore torpedoes, but the bridges for the anti-tank ditch were broken and the men carrying them were wounded. There was heavy high explosive shell fire, but the men moved forward. More casualties were taken from grenades and booby traps. The key leaders were often wounded during the process. One of the platoons went too far and ended up attacking from the north side. Of the various sections, one was decimated by mortar bombs. Two kept moving forward, but they encountered a mine field backed by the anti-tank ditch. They lacked the bridges, so that was a problem. Only three men survived from Warrent Officer Quinn's platoon.
After twenty minutes had passed after the initial attack, another platoon was sent forward. They had a similar experience to Warrent Officer Quinn's platoon. They reached the ditch, but had only seven men left.
The men withdrew after it was realized that there was no point in continuing. Captain McCarter was wounded, but he directed the withdrawal. They had carried out many of the wounded men. Of the 4 officers and 139 men in the attack, they had 4 officers and 97 men killed or wounded. The actual dead included 29 infantrymen. The next morning, under the Geneva convention, the Australians were allowed to go in and bring out wounded and dead. The Germans deactivated minefields so that the work could proceed. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The big attack in the Salient at Tobruk on 3 August 1941

We already had some idea that this attack would be challenging. The major sticking points were the reduced force being used and the greatly improved enemy defensive positions. Lt-Col.Lloyd's battalion had substantial artillery support. The support included most of the 51st Field Regiment along with a battery from the 107th RHA and "three troops of the 2/12th Field Regiment". The 2/43rd Battalion also had support from bits and pieces of artillery units. There was the usual unified command of counter-battery fire. There was also machine gun support drawn from the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers.
The start time for the attack was 3:30am on 3 August 1941. Preparations had started "during the middle of the night". There were sappers involved along with intelligence people to lay the start lines. One platoon moved forward at about 2:30am, followed by the rest after another 15 minutes. The moon had been out, but it set while the men were moving forward. About sixty guns commenced firing five minutes before the start time. That triggered fire from the enemy troops on the attackers. Most of the initial attackers were lost, with a few reached the top, but were almost all wounded. The sappers moved up and blew the wire with bangalore torpedoes. They had brought bridges which they placed across the anti-tank ditch. A few Australians made it to the post and killed four Germans and took six others prisoner. They were not able to fire the Very signal because the sack with it had been shot off.
They tried to send someone to tell Captain Conway, but they did not reach him. The attackers were in bad shape. A sapper arrived to help, but he found only about five men left who could still fight. The attack on Post S7 almost succeeded, but they lacked sufficient force and depending on Very lights for signalling did not work out well.
The attack on Post S6 did not go as well as the attack on S7. The attacking platoon got to the escarpment, but most of the platoon were lost to defensive fire. A supporting platoon took the weapons pits and sangers by the water tower. The engineers who were to blow the wire were all shot. The attacking platoon leader, Lieutenant Head, triggered a booby-trap and was wounded. Lt. Head now only had eight other men with him. There was little point in continuing the attack. Lt. Head took his man  back out of the area. Colonel Lloyd had been waiting for the signal that they attacks had succeeded. He didn't see them and concluded that the attacks had failed. So that had failed to take Post S6 and had retaken and then lost Post S7. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The challenges of an attack on the posts in the Salient in August 1941

The attacking force on the posts in the Salient must necessarily exploit forward, despite the fact that they would then be vulnerable to attack at daylight. They are forced to exploit due to the need to gain some depth to the position. The focus was on posts R6 and R7, while they were also interested in post R5. The posts were defended by about 30 German soldiers in each post. The posts had barbed wire around them. The men in posts R6 and R7 were from one German infantry company while post R5 had men from a reserve company. As we have previously noted, the Australian battalion commander Lloyd was the most capable of those in Tobruk. He had both Great War and British Indian Army experience from the past. Lloyd's plan was to attack each post with two platoons with a third providing flank defense. Another platoon from the 2/48th Battalion would try and take the water tower along with sangars nearby.
The 2/48th Battalion would be ready to move forward and link the water tower position with Forbes Mound, which was already held. They would also attack enemy positions nearby. Such an attack would be challenging, to say the least, as the positions were the leading edge of an enemy defense in depth.
Again were note that Lloyd's attack would attempt to succeed where a larger, battalion-sized attack by  the 2/23rd Battalion had previously failed.. Lloyd's plan used one platoon to attack each post, although his attack was planned to be be over a broad front. The 2/43rd Battalion, acting in support, would attack posts R5 and R6, if things went well initially. There were two more companies from the 2/43rd Battalion ready to act, along with a company from the 2/48th Battalion. The 2/43rd Battalion had supplies ready to bring forward with five carriers and a truck with a trailer. A second truck was standing by in readiness to move. The supply group would be in waiting near post R9 where they could see what was happening at Post R7. They had two anti-tank guns and a 3inch mortar with crews and ammunition. While they might have liked to have had tanks for the attacks, they seemed to be too likely to alert the enemy of an impending attack.Tanks were available in support, however. Two squadrons from a tank unit and two troops of infantry tanks were ready to move if the decision were made. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The plan for the attack on the Salient at Tobruk from late July to early August 1941

The Germans and their Italian allies had worked for some three months to improve their defenses in what was called "The Salient". The arc of the defenses on their side was shorter than the larger arc on the Australian side. The shorter arc was held by the three motorized infantry battalions, while the longer arc on the Australian side was occupied by two complete battalions and part of a third.
General Morshead had requested that the supporting air group for photographs of the enemy positions, but they never received any from 204 Group. The only photographs that the Australians received were of the wrong area, but even that was an improvement and showed that the air side was able to respond to requests.
What they did know was that the Germans had built sangars from sandbags with machine guns mounted in them. As well as earth defenses, the enemy had laid anti-personnel mines. The sangars were camouflaged with pieces of grass. The defenses were about four feet-six inches in height. There were holes in the walls about six inches from the ground from which machine guns could be fired. Part of the enemy line consisted of escarpment. Perhaps an exaggeration, it was said that the enemy positions were at the top of the escarpment while the attacking Australians were at the bottom. The escarpment continued for about a thousand yards east of Post S6. The enemy could cover the Australian approach with machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire. The attacking Australians had virtually no cover for their approach to the enemy positions. Lt-Col.Lloyd commanded the 2/28th Battalion, which had to conduct the attack under these circumstances. Lloyd was a Great War veteran who had subsequently done four years in the British Indian Army, fighting in the Second Afghan War. By 1936, he was back in Australia and was a Major in the militia. Lloyd's plan was to use two platoons for each post with another platoon on the right flank.
The 2/28th Battalion would attempt to take two posts that had been previously attacked by a battalion. This time, the attackers had a company plus one platoon. When the battalion-sized attack had failed, what would lead us to believe that a smaller attack would succeed? There were other components to the attack plan and in one case, the company commander would get to decide if he could exploit further. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Salient and plans to retake it, while the plans for withdrawing the 9th Australian Division move forward

There was a widely-held belief, not backed up by any evidence, that the enemy were thinning out their defenses in the area of the Salient. During late July, General Morshead was apparently not aware of how far the plans for withdrawing his division had progressed. He was still intent on trying to attack the Salient. In late July 1941, the division was reporting that the enemy was reducing the troops in the front positions. The reality was that if there were any changes, it was because the enemy were pulling back into more strongly held positions that were newly built. You did find incidents like the night of 25 and 26 July 1941, when patrols found some enemy outposts had been abandoned. One patrol searched the area of the water tower and found no enemy troops there or to the immediate west of it. The men involved quickly found out that the ground near poPost S6 was defended, as they drew fire from the south. Still, one patrol spent the day near the water tower and watched the nearby area.
British commandos raided enemy positions by the coast, beyond the perimeter and captured an Italian soldier. What the Tobruk defenders really wanted was a German prisoner from the Salient. They managed to get a German several days later. They found that the area was still defended by three German motorized infantry battalions, the same ones that had been holding the area. At this point. General Morshead was still planning his attack on the Salient. Not everyone agreed that the attack was a good idea. The commander of the 107th RHA was very critical of the idea. He described the planned attack as an attack by two infantry platoons at each side of the Salient "supported by 21 troops of artillery". When we realize that the Salient was held by three German battalions and were being attacked by two Australian battalions, with another on the left flank. The Germans had spent three months strengthening their defenses in the Salient. The ground was very favorable for the German defense. Any attack would be made against well-prepared positions with sand-bagged machine gun positions where the guns fire close to the ground through loopholes. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Late July to early August 1941 at Tobruk

By early August 1941, the Australian prime minister was unhappy that Churchill had not replied to his telegram from 20 July. This caught General Blamey by surprise, as he was intent on managing the information that the prime minister received and was responding to in his communications. General Blamey emphasized in his message to his prime minister that events were proceeding according to his plan and that the prime minister should not be concerned. The 9th Australian Division would be withdrawn from Tobruk in September, when air support would be available, while before that time, it would not be. It turns out that Churchill was not available to reply as he had gone to meet with President Roosevelt. Lord Cranborne replied for Churchill and assured Mr. Menzies that they had discussed his telegrams with General Auchinleck.
At Tobruk, General Morshead was in ignorance of these developments and was proceeding with his plans to attack the Salient. The plan was for the 24th Brigade to attack both sides of the Salient. Once those points had been captured, they would exploit further as it was possible to do. On 21 July, General Morshead ordered the 20th Brigade to replace the 18th Brigade. Also on 21 July, the Division ordered the brigades to launch raids on the enemy forces. During the last week in July 1941, patrols were sent out every night. A report from the division claimed that the enemy was thinning his troops in the area, but the Australian historian thought that there was nothing to back up the claim. When the 2/15th Battalion was relieved on 8 July, the battalion commander commented that the enemy depended on "automatic weapons and mortars" to hold the salient. They were also protected by anti-personnel mines.During the night of 25 to 26 July, some enemy positions were found to be unoccupied. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Auchinleck and Churchill now involved with the Australians in July 1941

General Auchinleck was the new theater commander for the Mediterranean and Middle East. He had the bad luck to be the object of uninformed interference by the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill. Churchill was the primary cause of the unfortunate situation that they found themselves in during July 1941. The actual role of Auchinleck was commander of the Middle East Command. Churchill and his Chiefs of Staff wanted to see an immediate attack. The army was particularly ill-prepared for such operations.
One of Auchinleck's first moves, to send the 50th Division to Cyprus to free the 7th Australian Divisional Cavalry to be returned to its division, got an immediate negative reaction from Churchill. Auchinleck followed that move with a comment that he thought that they would not be able to hold Tobruk after September 1941. That got a reply from the Chiefs of Staff that they wanted any new offensive in the desert to happen no later than September.
By 23 July, the Prime Minister called Auchinleck to London to talk about the situation. He told Auchinleck that General Blamey could act for him in his absence. At this point, Auchinleck was not ready to agree to removing the Australians from Tobruk by ship. He would be open to removing the 18th Brigade so that it could be returned to the 7th Australian Division. That would allow the 6th and 7th Australian Divisions to be complete formations, which was a major step towards responding to the Australian demands. The 18th Brigade was to be replaced by the Polish Carpathian Brigade, which was currently in reserve.
The Polish commander, General Sikorski, was just as concerned about what would be done with his unit as were the Australians. General Auchinleck sent a telegraph message to General Blamey about the Polish concerns and conditions. General Blamey agreed that they would meet the requested conditions. As a next step, in the meeting of commanders-in-chief, the plan was made to send the 6th Division (later renamed the 70th Division) to Tobruk along with the Polish Carpathian Brigade. The men would be transferred in and out of Tobruk in August and September. They would make use of the new moon in each month to safely make the moves. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Decision to Request that the 9th Australian Division be relieved in early July 1941

As recently as late June 1941, it seems that General Blamey had not yet decided to request that the 9th Australian Division be withdrawn from Tobruk. There were several things that would cause him to decide, however. For one thing, the Germans seemed to be at the point of overrunning Russia. The British intelligence perspective was that Russia was being totally dominated and might collapse at any moment. Other factors were that the senior medical advisor and General Morshead agreed that the physical condition of the Australian soldiers in Tobruk was rapidly declining. Another factor was that the campaign in Syria against the Vichy French was ending. An armistice was declared on 12 July. That would make easier pulling the Australian divisions into one organization.
July 1941 seemed like a good opportunity to remove the 9th Australian Division from Tobruk. The natural thing was for General Blamey to write to General Aunchinleck requesting that the 9th Australian Division be relieved from the defense of Tobruk. The excuse given was that the condition of the Australian soldiers had declined and that they had taken heavy losses in the fighting to defend Tobruk. The second excuse given was that the Australian government had always wanted the Australian divisions to be part of a single organization. When they looked at the three Australian divisions, the 6th had been heavliy engaged in Libya, then Greece, and finally, in the defense of Crete. The division had taken heavy losses. The 7th had just completed the conquest of Vichy Syria and had also taken losses in the process. They were also short of the 18th Brigade which was presently in Tobruk. The 9th had been in continuous combat since March 1941 and had also taken heavy losses in the process.
General Blamey communicated with the Australian prime minister and provided him a copy of the letter to General Auchinleck. General Blamey wanted to see the Australian divisions assembled in Palestine so that they could form an Australian organization. He saw the main obstacle the reluctance of the British to allow it to happen. This is base on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Australian concerns in June and July 1941

Back on 17 June 1941, General Blamey sent a memorandum to General Wavell where he expressed concern over how ten Australian units outside of Tobruk were serving under non-Australian commands. The Australian position was that these units should be reassigned so that they were under Australian commanders. This was a concern expressed by the Australian prime minister, which was then Mr. Menzies. Wavell's staff drafted a reply which they sent to General Blamey asking for his comments.
Later, on 26 June, General Blamey sent a telegraph message to the prime minster. In the message, General Blamey wrote answers to questions that he had received from Mr. Menzies, the prime minister.  The most important question was his opinion about the situation at Tobruk and if the 9th Australian Division could continue to hold onto the fortress. In his reply, General Blamey expressed confidence that the Australians could continue to resist attack. He also replied that the division could be removed by sea and that the Royal Navy thought an evacuation was possible. There was no immediate cause for worry, as General Blamey had requested a plan for the contingency. At this time, the 9th Australian Division chief of staff was in Cairo and he did not see any immediate cause for concern. General Blamey also expressed his opinion that he was having an influence about the need for formations to be intact and not distributed piecemeal. That was eventually a concern of Bernard Law Montgomery when he eventually assumed command of the field army in North Africa in late 1942. General Blamey also addressed the proposals for a new corps organization that included an ANZAC Corps. Having two corps seemed to preclude all Australians being under a single, Australian command, but there were no objections to having the New Zealand Division in the proposed ANZAC Corps.
By mid-July 1941, there was little progress about consolidating the Australian units. At that point, no Australian division had all of its constituent units under its command. That meant that there was no possibility of training the divisions as units. In late June, there was still no sign that General Blamey was asking for the 9th Australian Division to be withdrawn from Tobruk. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Political problems in Australia in 1941

From the perspective of most Australian soldiers in Tobruk, they expected that they would leave Tobruk when the siege was lifted. After the failure of Operation Battleaxe, that seemed to be unlikely to happen any time soon. General Blamey, the senior Australian soldier in the Middle East, suggested that the 9th Australian Division be withdrawn by ship. Hardly anyone in Tobruk during the summer of 1941 knew anything about this possibility. When WInston Churchill published his volume The Grand Alliance, postwar, that was news to most people in Auxtralia. In his book, Churchill only quoted his messages to the Government of Australia, and did not quote the responses from the Australian Government. Churchill portrayed the situation as the Australian Government feeling political pressure from the Opposition as the cause.

From the Australian perspective, this seems not to have been true. There was a committee of the leaders of the three political parties that met on this subject. The subject was raised by General Blamey's communication. The dispersion of the Australian forces in the Middle East and Mediterranean was the basis for their concern. Another aspect of this was the formation of the ANZAC Corps in Greece, which was ultimately dissolved. There was continued interested in having the combined New Zealand and Australian divisions included in a reconstituted ANZAC Corps. In early May 1941, General Wavell had written approvingly of having an ANZAC Corps. General Blamey wrote that he thought that having the three Australian divisions and the New Zealand division grouped into two two-division corps was a good idea. The 7th and 9th Australian Divisions would form an Australian corps and the New Zealand division and the 6th Australian Division would form the ANZAC Corps. General Blamey endorsed General Freyberg as the ANZAC Corps commander with General Laverack as the Australian Corps commander.

By 7 June 1941, General Blamey wrote to the Australian Prime Minister about the need to have fixed formations in place, rather than everything being ad hoc. That was mentioned as his main reason for agreeing to the ANZAC Corps with an Australian Corps. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Rommel's plan for Tobruk and the Australian response in June and July 1941

Rommel seemed to be intent on containing Tobruk with large numbers of mines. They would lay minefields that would keep the Tobruk defenders from breaking out and from attacking the Axis supply lines. Mine laying was an ongoing project that continued until the breakout in November 1941. The Salient was a central feature of Tobruk. This had been the scene of the original Axis attack that had penetrated the Tobruk perimeter. The Salient was therefore had mines added continuously. Across the north, lines of mines were laid from west to east, between the escarpments and wadis. Another line, often three lines of mines, was laid across the south and up to the coast. The Australian active patrolling meant that they were quickly aware of the minefields.

Australian patrols in the south found that parts of the minefields were not defended by guns. Once that was discovered, a bold operation on 1 July 1941 set out to a minefield about 4,000 yards to the south. They set out in vehicles to the minefield. They "disarmed the anti-personnel mines". They lifted 504 anti-tank mines and brought them back to add to their defenses. This was the largest and most successful operation during this period. Another patrol went out on 9 July and returned with 120 25pdr rounds that had been left in a gun emplacement in January 1941 during the original Tobruk capture. This ammunition had been left by men of the 6th Division. Another operation on 12 July brought in 202 mines, presumably anti-tank mines. They brought in more mines the next day.

Reinforcements from June and July started to arrive and in June and July. The new arrivals proved to be largely untrained. Assembling four infantry divisions was very difficult when they were relying on voluntary enlistments. Officers not actually involved with the war in the Middle East seemed to lack understanding of the importance of training the men who were lately enlisted. Even in the Middle East, away from the front lines, there was the same lack of focus on training. The setup was made in such a way that a useful training program could not be implemented. We have to suspect that the issue was lack of experience and knowledge. Key people were new to the war effort and were ignorant of what was most needed. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Brigade boundaries from June 1941 at Tobruk

There was a division between the southern and eastern sectors at Tobruk from June 1941 into July. The line was just to the west of post R55. The 24th Brigade held the southern sector. The 26th Brigade held the eastern sector. The southern sector ran from posts R52 and R53 to the Salient. That included the El Adem Road area. The eastern sector ran from the boundary past the Bardia Road up to the coast. From early June, the men found that there was little evidence of enemy occupation from the perimeter outwards. For example some men walked some five miles into enemy territory without encountering enemy soldiers. Another group of men on another night walked to the tracks between "the Trigh Capuzzo and the Bardia Road". One consequence of Operation Battleaxe was that the Germans built an asphalt road in the area. This would become important later in 1941 during the Crusader Battle.

Routine patrols at night were established from June. Along with the patrols, observation posts that were manned during the day were established. From 18 June, the 2/32nd Battalion established observation posts outside the perimeter. Two posts were established, one at a walled camp and one at Bir el Azazi.

Near the 2/32nd Battalion, but in the other brigade, men from the 2/24th Battalion would go out to informal observation posts from the end of June. When the 2/32nd Battalion was replaced by the 2/12th Battalion, they continued the practice of occupying observation posts during the day. By then, the 2/24th Battalion had started using the walled camp for a daylight observation post.

On 7 July, the routine was interrupted when three men fired on Italians in a truck. The men had drawn attention to themselves, so they were brought out by carrier. They would use carriers there the next day, but they stopped using the post for infantry. Only later in July did the 2/9th Battalion revert to using the area as a daylight observation post.

In the east, the first attempt at daylight observation posts was taken on 27 June by the 2/23rd Battalion. The posts seemed to have been intermittently used in the east. The pioneers moved in after 15 July. They laid a minefield around "Jack" observation post on 19 July. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

More developments from July 1941 at Tobruk

By late July 1941, the counter-battery fire operation was in place and operating. Direct phone lines were a prominent feature of the organization. They were now able to very promptly fire on enemy guns when they were noticed.

The ammunition supply situation had improved enough that by 17 July, artillery commanders were allowed to increase the rounds fired per gun per day to 20 rounds, if there was a need. Once this was permitted, the ammunition used per day increased immediately. This actually was an indication that the guns were allowed to fire on targets as they were seen, and allowed the British guns to be more effective.

The captured Italian guns continued to have problems that made them a danger. The 75mm guns worked well, but the 100mm guns were very troublesome. All but one were abandoned. The 149mm guns were considered dangerous, but they were fired by very long lanyards by men protected by sangers.

At a time when moving supplies was a priority, there was what now seems to have been a mistake, to reduce the base area staff. In addition, personnel resources for use by the engineers was being reduced. That was at a time when they were called upon to perform tasks such as preparing beaches for embarkation, in case of a need to abandon Tobruk. The engineers were also required to plan and implement a demolition scheme to be fired in case of a withdrawal. Ironically, when Tobruk fell in 1942, none of these plans were implemented, because by the time there was a need, the people who had done the planning and implementation were long gone.

Along with the other preparations, large amounts of Italian ammunition were either detonated or were dumped into the sea. The latter practice was very dangerous, because some of the ammunition that was dumped exploded and killed and injured men.

Work continued on implementing defenses in greater depth. Units that were supposedly in reserve were diverted very quickly into digging defenses. These included adding more to the inner defensive line, the "Blue Line", and other "Switch Lines". These were additional defensive lines beyond those in the outer perimeter and inner defenses.

The area to the southeast, outside the perimeter, was occupied by Italian units. They had moved into position as early as April 1941. They had built defensive positions that blocked the Bardia Road. During June and July, soldiers from the Trento Division held this area. Further south was largely unoccupied. A greater amount of work was done by men from the Pavia Division starting after 10 June. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

July 1941 devoted to patrolling at Tobruk

While there were no major operations planned at Tobruk during July 1941, the month was spent on active patrolling and battalion-sized raids. Artillery was very involved with the activities. You had the southern artillery group that included the 1st RHA and the 107th RHA. In one case, 14 guns fired on an enemy position that included trenches. Fourteen guns fired, although six of them broke down during the barrage. They fired as many as 1,220 rounds during a two hour period. Six of the guns were 149mm howitzers. This particular operation occurred on the night of 16 July. The next night saw the 2/28th Battalion and the 18th Cavalry, along with some British commandos, attacking in the Wadi Sehel. The attack had support from the 2/12th Field Regiment. They fired about 1,200 rounds during the operations. This attack provoked artillery fire over a four hour period from the enemy. The response from Italian and German radio stations described the attacks as attempting to "break out of an unsupportable position" or at least as "lively reconnaissance activity".

The patrol activities were finally better equipped than earlier in the siege. Battalions now were issued a number of Thompson sub-machine guns. The enemy response to active patrolling now included using search lights to illuminate patrols. The first time this was seen was on 15 June. The Australians discovered that the search lights were mounted on trucks. They also saw cables that seemed to be supplying power. Now, when they discovered cables, they cut them and sometimes removed pieces. The enemy started using colored filters for search lights.

Another development in July was the use of Alsatian dogs by Italian units. They seemed to be only used to sound an alarm when patrols were approaching.

From late May 1941, a large gun started firing at the Tobruk harbor. The men of Tobruk named the gun "Bardia Bill". The counter-battery group did not believe that the gun was firing from Bardia, but the troops always thought that the fun was located at Bardia. One thought was that when the British evacuated Bardia, they had left a large gun there, undestroyed. One time, they found pieces of a 21cm shell, probably from a Skoda gun. In another case, they had what they thought were shell fragments from a Schneider gun. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official history.

Amazon Ad