Monday, April 24, 2017

The situation at Tobruk from dark on 1 May 1941

By the end of the day on 1 May 1941, the German and Italian forces still had the breach and had consolidated their position at Medauuar. They had failed to take Bianca and consolidate that position and had totally failed at driving to the harbor and forcing a surrender. The Germans had started the day with 81 tanks, but by the end of the day had just 35 tanks running. They had 3 Pzkw I, 12 Pzkw II, 12 Pzkw III, 6 Pzkw IV, and two command tanks. However, of the rest that were damaged, only 12 were total losses. The rest could be recovered and repaired. On 2 May, there was a dust storm that made any tank operations impractical.

The British and Australian situation at Tobruk was that they had lost a portion of the perimeter and the enemy had control of Medauuar, the hill that was a prominent feature. General Morshead's plan of defense in depth while leaving the perimeter lightly defended was the reason that the enemy forces had done as well as they had. The Australians had not realized that the Germans intended to take Medauuar. Even if they had, they lacked sufficient units to effectively oppose the attack. The counter attack by the 2/48th Battalion was doomed to fail, as there had been no reconnaissance and in any case, one battalion was inadequate for the task.

The 2/10th Battalion was ordered to link Post S.8 with Bianca. They were to move out at "first light". By 6am, the battalion was moving forward. There had been no opportunity for any scouting. They were forced to move with "map and compass". They had three companies moving forward, although they lacked one platoon that had been redirected earlier. The companies were in position by 6:30am, although it is unclear where they actually were located. The 18th Brigade Headquarters and the division headquarters thought that the companies were in contact with the 2/24th Battalion's "reserve company". This would have been behind the B1 minefield. The 2/10th Battalion was actually as far as 1,500 years further back then the 2/24th Battalion's company. One man carrying a badly wounded man encountered a German motor cycle rider armed with a sub-machine gun. The motor cycle let them pass by without firing. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The German situation inside the Tobruk perimeter on 1 May 1941

Early on the morning of 1 May 1941, there was fog that hampered German operations. The attack had not achieved the initial results hoped for by Rommel. The 5th Armored Regiment had new orders early on 1 May. They were to support the attack on Medauuar by the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion and the 200th Engineers Battalion. One of the tank companies divided into two groups. The group supporting the engineers "rolled up" the right side to Post R.5. The other group was operating with the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion to take the posts near Medauuar and was able to increase the width of perimeter on the left side.

One more company from the 5th Armored Regiment was sent to take the lead on pushing to Bianca. They had the misfortune to run onto B1 minefield. Twelve of the tanks were disabled from mines, but not destroyed. The tanks were also taking British artillery fire. By now, Rommel had come to Kirchheim's headquarters and started issuing orders. He told the engineers and tanks to attack to the southeast near the perimeter wire. The Italian Ariete Armored Division moved up to take over ground taken in the attack. British artillery was making the situation difficult for the German forces, so they were not making much progress.

By noon on 1 May, the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion had taken "Point 180". The small 15th Armored Division contingent reported that they were at Point 187 at Post S.4 and were going into a defensive posture. The force attacking towards Bianca had reversed course and pulled back to the line held by German troops. A sand storm at 1pm allowed trucks to come forward to resupply the tanks. This was accomplished by 3:15pm.

General von Paulus was still checking on Rommel and his operations. He told Rommel that the attack had stalled and they would not achieve anything more by continuing. Rommel agreed and decided to stop the attack for the rest of 1 May and for 2 May as well. The plan was to increase the width of the penetration in the north and the east. The ground near Post S.7 in the north was being held, but they were not able to make progress in the east. Post R.6 only was taken by late on 1 May. Post S.7 was only taken by the morning of 2 May. A tank battle took place about 3:45pm. 22 British tanks seemed to be moving against the 2nd Machine GUn Battalion. A company of German tanks engaged the British tanks and thought that they had knocked out four of the British tanks while four German tanks took hits. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

30 April 1941 at Tobruk from the German perspecitive

As we mentioned, the attacking German force in the evening of 30 April 1941 was a composite force organized as battle groups (Kampfgruppe). There was the Kirchheim group, somewhat like an armored brigade group. They had the 81 tanks of the 5th Armored Regiment. They also had the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion close to full strength. The other infantry battalion, the 8th Machine Gun Battalion had been greatly reduced in the fighting on 14 April 1941. In addition, there were some engineers, anti-tank guns, and anti-aircraft guns. There was a small contingent from the 15th Armored Division. The bulk of their presence were motorized infantry, some engineers, and a small tank group. There were also Italian troops from the Ariete Armored Division and the Brescia Infantry Division.

This considerable force attacked the 2/24th Battalion, an Australian unit holding some five miles. The attack overran the company located in the center and platoons from the left and right companies. The reserve company was able to hold on to their defensive position. The German plan was to attack along each side of Medauuar and capture the hill from the back side. The Italians would then attack the flanks and extend the breach. The Germans would drive towards Bianca and take that, if possible. If it was not feasible, they would take an area to the "south-west". The German force then would attempt to hold the ground that they were able to capture.

Interestingly enough, there was not any Australian defenses at the Bianca area. Rommel had seen an old Italian map that showed a defensive position at Bianca, but if that had ever existed, by 30 April 1941, it was gone.

The attack started with artillery fire and dive bombing. Engineers then penetrated the perimeter on a small scale. There was definitely a breach made just north of Post S.3. There may have been another gap made near Post S.7. Tanks were used to pull away the wire. The tanks positioned themselves to shield the infantry from fire so that they could enter Tobruk past the perimeter. But an hour and a half were all that were needed to capture Medauuar. About six tanks were located on the fortress side of Medauuar. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Plans at Tobruk on 1 May 1941 after the counter-attack faltered

The counter-attack on 1 May 1941 at Tobruk by the 2/48th Battalion was unsuccessful. The battalion commander, Lt-Col. Windeyer reported to Brigadier Tovell the situation. He then spoke with Colonel Lloyd, General Morshead's Chief of Headquarters staff. He told Windeyer to move his battalion behind the point Bianca. All this was not a surprise to General Morshead, since the artillery organization had warned him about the situation. His new plan was to recreate the perimeter in the area of the penetration.

General Morshead ordered Brigadier Tovell and Colonel Verrier to meet him at the division headquarters. The intent was to plan for a "switch line" between Post S.8 and Bianca. They would also connect with Brigadier Murray's line on the east side of the breach. One battalion, the 2/23rd would occupy the existing perimeter down to Post S.8. The second battalion, the 2/48th would hold a line from Post S.8 over to the company from the 2/24th Battalion near the Blue Line (the inner defensive line). Another battalion, the 2/10th, would hold a line from the 2/24th left and the new 20th Brigade "switch line". By now, the company from the 2/24th Battalion had returned to its position. That freed up a company from the 2/48th Battalion to rejoin its battalion.

Rommel's attack on Tobruk had been in process for about 24 hours. He had pushed into Tobruk over a 3-1/2 mile arc of the perimeter. He controlled Ras el Medauuar, the highest hill in Tobruk. He had killed or captured half of the 2/24th Battalion, and due to bad communications, the Australians and British did not even know what was happening. Rommel's force had knocked out four British tanks from a very small collection of tanks. Rommel had hoped to punch through Tobruk's outer defenses and push to the harbor. After breaking through the outer defenses on the evening of 30 April 1941, the plan was to continue in the morning to Bianca and Fort Pilastrano, and push on to the harbor area. Rommel's forces were divided into battle groups that were composed from bits and pieces of various formal units. The first attackers were a battle group from the 5th Light Division on the right side and the 15th Armored Division (Panzer) on the left. The following Italian divisions included the Ariete and Brescia Divisions. The 5th Light Division battle group, the Kirchheim Group was essentially an armored brigade group. The group had "81 tanks (9 Mark I, 26 Mark II, 36 Mark III and 8 Mark IV plus 2 large commander's tanks)". The tank list is very interesting, as we can get a better idea of what German tanks were involved in the battle. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The counter-attack in the evening of 1 May 1941 by the Australians at Tobruk

One attack was made by D Company of the 2/48th Battalion. They moved along a valley north of the Acroma Road, heading west. They came under fire from posts occupied by enemy troops. Following along some six hundred yards was B Company of the 2/24th Battalion. As darkness fell, D Company was pinned down by machine gun fire from the water tower area. Lt-Col. Windeyer, the 2/48th Battalion commander, ordered B Company of the 2/24th Battalion to attack the area near the water tower. Meanwhile, D Company was trying to move forward. At this point, Post S.10 was still held by Australians, but they were being attacked by Italian soldiers. The carrier platoon had been moving forward to find the enemy machine guns, but they were stopped by anti-tank guns and fire from immobilized tanks in the minefield.

While all this was happening, A Company of the 2/48th Battalion headed for the minefield near Ras el Medauuar. As they moved, they saw six tanks approaching. They assumed that they were British until they saw the German flags. The tanks were apparently unsure of who the infantry were, so they only fired one burst in the A Company direction. as A Company neared Point 209, the tanks turned towards them and starting firing at them. One platoon had an anti-tank rifle, but they were not able to damage the tanks. The company commander sent someone back to the battalion commander to notify him that they were stopped by tanks. The company finally had to withdraw, as they had no way to fight the tanks. When General Morshead heard the recommendation that the attack be stopped until dawn, he told them that they needed to continue.

D Company of the 2/48th Battalion and B Company of the 2/24th Battalion were cooperating and were in communication. They decided to keep moving forward. The D Company commander wanted to use bayonets and charge the machine guns, but he was having trouble locating their position. The D Company commander received a mortal wound. The two battalions were going to withdraw, given their situation. To the north,

One company from the 2/23rd Battalion, attacking southward, was doing better. They reached posts S.10 and S.11 and fired on the enemy machine guns near them. They also reached Post S.8, which only had five men left. When the approached Post S.9, they found that the post was surrounded by enemy infantry. They were doing well, and took 36 Italians who had been in anti-tank ditch around the post. Post S.9 also had but five men left. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official history.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

General Morshead's plan for a counter-attack on 1 May 1941 at Tobruk

General Morshead had decided to stage a counter-attack on the German penetration of Tobruk. This was late afternoon on 1 May 1941. He met with the 26th Brigade Commander, Brigadier Tovell. He hoped to use the 2/48th Battalion to attack, once the battalion was relieved from its defensive position by the 2/10th Battalion. At the time, the 2/10th Battalion was positioned at the intersection "of the Bardia and El Adem Roads". The 20th Brigade commander, Brigadier Murray, would command the east side of the penetration. He would have the 2/9th Battalion under his command for the operation.

The 2/48th Battalion commander only received word of the plan when he returned from visiting the 2/24th Battalion headquarters. When Lt-Col. Windeyer got to speak with the general, he pointed out that his battalion was in positions miles apart. General Morshead told him that he would send "vehicles" to move the men. Even with those, the battalion would be hard-pressed to carry out the attack. The attack was to start before it got dark. Lt-Col. Windeyer asked for tank support, but General Morshead told him that the tanks would first be involved on the south side at 5pm, before they would be available.

The Australian historian's opinion of the operation was that one battalion was insufficient to recapture all the posts that the Germans had taken. The 2/48th Battalion commander's plan was to retake the area that his battalion had held before they had been relieved by the 2/24th Battalion. He had four infantry companies to use for the operation, as he had one from the 2/24th Battalion that had been supplied to him. They would attack along the Acroma Road. Only three companies would attack with one company in reserve. The counter-attack would be launched at 7:15pm.

The first thing that happened was that the promised vehicles did not arrive on time. They used vehicles from the 2/10th Battalion instead. Once the 2/48th Battalion was moving, they were attacked by German aircraft. One truck was lost and the others had to scatter. Men had to dismount from their trucks. The 2/48th Battalion was therefore late to arrive at the staring position. There was a dust storm in progress when they arrived and they were looking into the "setting sun". The artillery had fired at the planned time, which was too early for the infantry attack. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The British and Australian counter-attack on the afternoon of 1 May 1941 at Tobruk

The 2/48th Battalion had been ordered to attack the Germans that had penetrated the Tobruk perimeter. This was in the afternoon of 1 May 1941. The battalion would have tank support. The intent had been to have all the cruiser tanks from the 1str RTR, but there only the headquarters tanks and five Matilda infantry tanks from the 7th RTR. The tanks drove along the perimeter towards the Medauuar area and found Australian infantry still in possession of the nearest posts. The German force had pulled back towards Medauuar. The British tanks then drove further and found Australians still in their posts, although in some cases, men had bad wounds. After reaching post R.8, the British tanks drove further towards post R.6. again, the Australians at post R.6 still held the post. The British tanks could see four German light tanks and one German medium tank. There was a fight with the German tanks and the British commander's cruiser tank was knocked out. The crew climbed onto another tank that was still running. They drove back to post R.8. The British tanks were attacked by a larger German tank force and took more losses. Two British cruiser tanks and two infantry tanks were lost. One infantry tank had been damaged and was recovered later.

As the pioneer company from the 2/1st Pioneer Battalion arrived near posts R.8, R.9, and R.10, they found that men had moved between posts already. The men from post R.8 had pulled back to post R.10. The men from post R.9 had moved to post R.11. For now, post R.8 had been abandoned. Wounded men from Battalion 2/24th were removed. The pioneers now worked to create a switch line to create a new perimeter line to hold. At this point, the nearest German tanks moved to attack posts R.6 and R.7. R.7 was able to stay in their post, but R.6 had to surrender at 7:30pm. Post R.7 was completely cut off, but held on. The commander of the post was a corporal. By morning, the commander could see infantry massing for an attack and the post surrendered. The men were removed by the Germans and General Rommel spoke to them and wished them good luck. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Fighting during late morning and early afternoon on 1 May 1941 at Tobruk

A feature of the fighting on 1 May 1941 at Tobruk was that the phone lines were cut early on so that the commanders of the men fighting got no information. There was also a lot of smoke and dust. There were burning vehicles giving off smoke and there was smoke laid to cover movement. As the day progressed on 1 May, the wind increased and picked up even more dust.

By midday on 1 May, the Germans had the upper position near the hiil Ras el Medauuar. They also had penetrated some 2,000 yards of the perimeter on either side of the hill. They also were sitting on two tracks. One was the road to the west and the southwest track. They also controlled the track going north to the water tower. There were seven tanks strategically located so that they could stop anything that tried to climb the escarpment towards the area that they controlled. There were "Axis infantry" (presumably both German and Italian) dug in outside the perimeter. They provided cover to the troops and vehicles occupying the area were the penetration had been made.

In the early afternoon, the Axis forces started pushing to widen the area of the penetration. On the northern side, a few tanks moved past Post S.7 until they were fired on by the 51st Field Regiment. They were stopped and forced to pull back. Infantry that had been with the tanks, traveling in trucks, stopped and got off the trucks. They mounted an attack on Post S.7 and the posts past that one, but were stopped by a stubborn defense. Lt. Rosel, having taken command of his platoon, asked for ammunition from a neighbor and got "several thousand round".

The next push was in an eastward direction to try and increase the size of the penetration. Post R5 was taken and infantry and tanks moved forward. They took fire from the 1st RHA and the 107th RHA. The infantry had to disperse, but the tanks kept moving forward. They drew two squadrons of the 1st RTR sent to engage. The British tanks were asked to engage the German tanks. The British tanks consisted of 7 cruiser tanks and 5 infantry tanks. Things were desperate enough that the other cruiser tank squadron was sent to Pilastrano to guard the Tobruk headquarters. To support the attacking tanks and infantry, the Germans sent dive bombers to attack the British artillery. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The battle of the posts at Tobruk on 1 May 1941

The German attack on Tobruk near the hill Ras el Medauuar included about four miles of perimeter. The Germans concentrated on attacking the posts along the perimeter. The posts had small numbers of infantry, two machine guns, either Bren guns or medium machine guns, an anti-tank rifle or mortar, and small arms. Tanks drove up to the posts and started firing their guns. They forced the infantry into cover and put the machine guns out of operation. Some had been blasted so that their gun emplacements were destroyed. In other cases, the infantry held out until they were out of ammunition. Five posts were captured while one held out until early afternoon. One example, post S.6 was taken after 9am, when they had 17 out of 26 men killed or wounded. Post S.4 lasted until "after 11am".

British artillery fired on the German attackers, targeting both tanks and infantry. The German aircraft had air superiority over Tobruk and attacked the artillery.

By now, General Morshead was under stress. His one reserve battalion near the attack, the 2/48th, was holding the second line of defense. General Morshead had four battalions in reserve for Tobruk and had 35 tanks. The 1st RTR ahd 17 cruiser tanks while the 7th RTR had 18 infantry tanks. The 3rd Hussars had some light tanks, not really good for hard fighting. When the attack was first noticed, the 1st RTR was ordered forward, just to the east of the attack. Some infantry tanks with light tanks supporting moved forward, but then were ordered back. The defensive minefields were also an impediment to British tank movement. The sad state of Italian infantry meant that support for the German tanks was not what it should have been. There had been about 300 German infantry that followed the tanks in the attack. The German infantry were faced with both artillery fire and medium machine gun fire. The Northumberland Fusiliers at Point 171 used their machine guns to fire on the German infantry.

By 11:30am, the German tanks had been brought to a stop. They were attacked by ten British cruiser tanks. Three German tanks, one medium tank and two light tanks, burst into flames. The British lost one tank destroyed and two others hit. The British artillery was firing on the tanks, which were forced to move behind the hill of Ras el Medauuar. The Germans laid smoke to cover their movements. This is based on the acount in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The battle at Tobruk on 1 May 1941 continued

Not only were German tanks towing anti-tank guns, but they also were towing flame throwers. Some thirty German tanks were driving around, engaging posts east of the hill, Ras el Medauuar. Posts were attacked as they were found. Several tanks were left at each post while the rest moved onward. The German tank group laid down smoke constantly to cover their movements. Four anti-tank guns from the 3rd RHA fired on the German tanks. One gun was overrun by tanks, but some of these tanks were later knocked out. The crews of knocked out tanks were fired on by a Bren gunner. One of the anti-tank guns got hits on six of the tanks.

Soon, three British cruiser tanks arrived at the scene and fired on the German tanks. They then quickly got behind a ridge. The Germans laid more smoke and then pulled back. The group of tanks that had run onto the minefield had managed to extricate themselves from the minefield. Some of the German tanks that headed south were fired on by a gun from the 26th Anti-Tank Company. The German tanks turned around and headed back to the rendezvous near the Ras el Medauuar hill. At another location, near the El Adem Road, the Germans were laying more smoke.

One thing that the Australians had not known was the fate of the Australians from Spouwers' battalion who had been on the perimeter when the attack started. The initial penetration was made between the posts occupied by Australians. This had happened after the barrage had stopped. The Germans had blown the perimeter wire to make a substantial opening. In the dark, the Germans lifted mines from the perimeter. Tanks were used to pull away the wire with grappling hooks. At daylight, the Australians in the posts were quickly overcome by the strong German presence. Some anti-tank guns from the 3rd RHA were also taken.

Major Fell could see the action. His company was responsible for defending the Ras el Medauuar and the area around it. German tanks carrying a few infantry attacked sangers and blew up sandbags. The sangers were being destroyed and men taken prisoner. Major Fell was one of them. They were taken to the German division headquarters, where the Germans were sure that Tobruk was about to fall. They were walked to Acroma. Rommel saw the prisoners and described them as the cream of the British empire, men who had fought bravely and fiercely. The battle was actually yet to be decided. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

1 May 1941 at Tobruk, experiencing a tank attack

Once the sun was up on 1 May 1941, there was left no doubt about the situation near Ras el Medauuar, the prominent hill. Lt. Shelton had driven his carrier towards Fell's company. They saw him go forward, but the mist obscured his carrier. Once they could see again, they saw Shelton's carrier burning. Shelton had been killed by fire from enemy tanks. A surviving man managed to reach across and drive the carrier back to the road to Acroma. At that point, the carrier was hit again and burned. The surviving members were later picked up by another carrier. The companies commanded by Fell and Canty were in a precarious position, because a battalion of enemy infantry was moving towards their positions. Fortunately, the 51st Field Regiment fired on the enemy and stopped their forward movement. At about 7am, five enemy tanks were seen moving towards the 2/13th Battalion. They were engaged by the 1st RHA and the tanks retreated.

Soon, there were about thirty enemy tanks seen on Ras el Medauuar. Some of the tanks were seen towing anti-tank guns. By 8am, they were seen moving over the hill towards the east. Actually, this group had forty tanks. By this time, there were some 80 tanks inside the Tobruk perimeter. The British artillery had hesitated to fire, as they were afraid of hitting Australian infantry. However, the need to fight the tanks overcame their fears. They took direct fire from field artillery and were caught in the flank by the 24th Anti-Tank Company. One Pzkw III was knocked out along with two other tanks. The crew took hits, but kept firing until the gun was knocked out. The anti-tank company lost three guns in the fighting with tanks. They were not alone, as there was a gun from the 26th Anti-Tank Company.

The German tanks kept moving forward until they ran onto a minefield. Seventeen of the tanks were stopped by mines. Although there was a gap in the minefield, the German tanks hesitated to move forward. The German infantry battalion following the tanks took fire from the 51st Field Regiment. More infantry drove up in trucks. They also took fire from the 51st Field Regiment. While this was happening, the tanks were taking direct fire from the 1st RHA and the 107th RHA. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Uncertainty rules on the night of 30 April to 1 May 1941 at Tobruk

In the eastern area positions occupied by the 24th Brigade, there had been action after 8pm. A raiding party of forty men was active. They were supported by Italian artillery. When the raiders took fire from the Australians, they "went to ground". At about 10pm, a raiding party was seen a bit north. They may have been the same group of soldiers. They were fired on by the 2/43rd Battalion and the 104th RHA. After that, the 24th Brigade saw no more action that night.

Colonel Lloyd, at the division operations center, became concerned about the lack of anti-tank protection for the 2/24th Battalion. The position had eight anti-tank guns mounted on the ground with two more on portees. Behind the second minefield, there were two more guns on the ground. Colonel Lloyd sent the 24th anti-Tank Company to the 2/24th Battalion headquarters, hoping to arrive before dawn. The 3rd Armoured Brigade was ordered to move tanks up to support the 2/24th Battalion. They would be positioned to the rear of the battalion headquarters. There was a problem with how communications were being treated. This was a serious situation involved German infantry, but some units thought that this was just another Italian raid and not very important.

Various moves were afoot to try and contact the forward 2/24th Battalion companies. A few men were sent out and carriers were sent forward. After 2am, there was increasing fog to obscure visibility. The 2/23rd Battalion had an encounter with forty German soldiers and captured 31. Division headquarters now received word of tank movements outside the perimeter near Post R.32. The 51st Field Regiment reported a German group had infiltrated and were moving eastward. With the recent developments, the 26th Brigade commander was becoming worried.

By about 5am, Germans were caught between two Australian patrols. Six wounded Germans were captured. The Germans had dropped their equipment and had retreated. Lt-Col. Spouwers, the 2/24th Battalion commander, warned Captain Bird that he should be prepared for a tank attack "at first light". By 5:45am, there was incoming artillery fire to the left of the 2/24th Battalion position. With the light came a "thick mist" that obscured visibility. A carrier had set off to the forward area, but when the mist cleared, it could be seen burning, knocked out by enemy tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, March 13, 2017

From late on 30 April 1941, a penetration of the Tobruk perimeter

General Morshead was told of the penetration near the 2/24th Battalion when he woke on 1 May 1941. At this point, no one above the effected battalion had any good information. The 2/24th Battalion had been penetrated in the center and right of their position. So far, the penetration was by infantry with tanks outside the wire. By this time, some German prisoners had been captured. To find out more about the situation, patrols from both the 2/24th and 2/23rd Battalions were looking for information.

The 9th Australian Division operations room was receiving reports from the 26th Brigade staff. Tobruk depended on a wire-line telephone network. They lacked too much equipment to use wireless communication. The wire lines connected from headquarters to their up line commander. The equipment and lines were mainly Italian in origin. The telephone lines were laid on the ground surface, as in the dark, there was no hope of finding cable breaks with buried lines. The drawback was that artillery fire could break lines as could enemy infantry on the attack.

The 2/24th Battalion commander, Lt-Col. Spowers' headquarters was located near a road that ran to the west. The furthest soldiers from the 2/24th Battalion were located about two miles to the west. The road continued on to Acroma. The 2/24th reserve company, Company B, was about one thousand yards from the battalion headquarters. The high point nearby was at Ras el Medauuar. The hill was topped with an observation post. AT the perimeter, posts were about 500 to 700 yards apart. The company nearest the penetration had seen troops moving forward as early as 5:55pm on 30 April. By 7pm they could see that there were tanks behind the infantry. This was all followed by air attacks and artillery fire. There were enemy flares fired. Finally, there was a white flare at 8:30pm. Shortly after that there was an explosion that broke the perimeter wire. The explosion was near the Acroma road.

The defenders were supported by defensive fire from the 51st Field Regiment. At 9pm, there was another white flare seen and the enemy artillery fire stopped. They still could hear infantry firing automatic weapons. Then the enemy artillery fire stopped, the 51st Field Regiment stopped firing as well. The defenders could see periodical enemy flares fired. Communications were disrupted by broken wires, so they started sending encrypted messages by wireless. This explains the lack of good information at the division level. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

On 30 April 1941, the situation at Tobruk changed

The position at Ras Medauuar was a critical point in the defenses of Tobruk. As the sun rose on 30 April 1941, dust from moving vehicles was observed from Ras Medauuar. The dust was seen in from Acroma. Eventually, some 100 vehicles were seen in transit. There were also about twenty armored vehicles moving on the escarpment. Once artillery fired on the armored vehicles, they retreated. British air reconnaissance reported vehicle movements around the perimeter and at Acroma. By 9am, observers on Ras Medauuar could see enemy infantry. The infantry had been on the trucks that had been seen. They moved up to within some 4,000 yards from the Tobruk perimeter. Major Fell at Ras Medauuar asked for artillery fire on the infantry. The artillerymen were uncertain that they could reach the infantry, but finally started firing a few rounds. The shells seemed to be falling short, from what could be seen. As the morning progressed, dust was blown up by a rising wind. As the infantry approached, they were seen to be Italians. Beyond the infantry, there was a great deal of dust, more than just from the wind.

The Tobruk defenders were used to seeing signs of an attack. The 2/24th Battalion was expecting to use the usual tactics to repel any attack. As the day progressed on 30 April, the only further action was 105mm artillery fire on Ras Medauuar. The men on the west side were attacked by dive bombers. The 2/23rd Battalion was busy planning a company-sized raid for 1 May. The onset of night seemed to be the end of action. As the day grew later, there was an increase in artillery fire on the western side. At 7:20pm, a report arrived at headquarters that the 2/24th Battalion was being dive-bombed. There were also reports of infantry about 1-1/2 miles from the wire. There were reports of more vehicles about two miles out from the wire. The dive bomber attack had been made by about 40 aircraft. One of them had crashed during the attack.

By 8pm, the entire fortress area could hear a heavy artillery bombardment. The attack was made against the 26th Brigade position. A "long-range gun" started firing on the air field. This was near the 9th Australian Division headquarters. The headquarters had an underground operations room cut out of rock. At about 8pm, the 24th Brigade reported an attack by about forty infantry. The activity seemed to have died down, until flares were reported along the perimeter wire. By about 11:20pm, there was an ominous report that the 2/24th Battalion had been penetrated and that the details were as yet unknown. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, March 06, 2017

29 April1941 with some of the men in Tobruk in new positions

The 2/24th Battalion had started relieving the 2/48th Battalion men as early as the afternoon of 28 April 1941. They day saw heavy enemy air activity, including dropping 150 bombs or more. Given the air attacks, the men expected a new ground attack, but there was none. The attacks were limited to heavy shelling of the inner defense line, the "Blue Line". The men of the 2/48th Battalion were moved back to the Blue Line defenses. The 2/48th Battalion now had other troops between them and the enemy. This was the first time for them since they had retreated from the escarpment above Benghazi.

The commander of the 2/24th Battalion was a Great War veteran and he did not like the shallow defenses. The men were put to work to dig deeper trenches and to build up the defensive position walls.

The 24th Battalion was a concern because they only had two battalions. The 2/25th Battalion was late in arriving from Australia. General Blamey took action and assigned the 2/32 Battalion to the 24th Brigade. The battalion had tried to embark on the ship Chakla at Mersa Matruh on 28 April. Because of bad weather, only one company had been able to board the ship. They arrived at Tobruk early on 29 April and were to be part of an ad hoc group of engineers and to hold a position leaving the harbor area.

Air reconnaissance on 29 April saw the continued movement of vehicles to the west, across the areas held by the 20th and 26th Brigades. The increased enemy air operations continued on 29 April. The enemy aircraft strafed and bombed artillery and infantry positions. During the morning, the 20th Brigade was heavily shelled. The 2/24th Company was attacked by air and took casualties. One company commander was wounded and was replaced. There was soon another air attack on the same area. A large bomber attack hit guns of the 1st RHA near El Adem and the road to Bardia. By 4:30pm, the harbor was heavily bombed and the ship Chakla was sunk. The next attack at about 5pm hit the 2/24th Battalion, but with no effect. At about 6pm, enemy ground forces moved in the direction of Ras el Medauuar, but turned back in the face of fire. Right before dusk, a dive bombing attack hit the rear of the 20th Brigade, causing casualties. The last action involved artillery fire on the 20th Brigade rear. After that, the action stopped. During the night, three lighters brought six infantry tanks, which were unloaded. The lighters carried back some of the captured German tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Major events in the Mediterranean and North African area from 27 April 1941

As the 22nd Guards Brigade and their Australian anti-tank guns withdrew, the German and Italian forces moved forward starting on 27 April 1941. All this was happening as the situation in Greece was at a critical stage. The navy was thoroughly occupied with withdrawing troops from Greece. All the artillery and heavy equipment was left behind. From Tobruk to the Egyptian frontier area, German and Italian forces moved forward "to the line Sidi Omar--Sidi Suleiman--and north to Musaid". They formed a defensive front and blocked the way to Halfaya Pass. They sent small groups out onto the coastal plain. The navy hoped to bombard them with a gunboat, the Aphis, but the weather was to bad for that to be possible.

Once the German and Italian forces had control of Halfaya Pass and the area surrounding it, the area to the east was more securely held. This allowed Rommel to concentrate his attention on Tobruk. The bulk of the 15th Armored Division was pulled back from the frontier. The 3rd Reconnaissance Unit stayed near the frontier along with a small group from the 15th Armored Division. The frontier area was held primarily by Italian forces. There was a battle group from the Ariete Division. There was also an infantry company from the Trento Division along with an artillery battery of 105mm guns. The main force, most of the Trento Division was located at Bardia.

By 29 April, most of the remaining troops were evacuated from Greece and shipped to Crete. Crete was going to be the next major campaign, although the prospects were bleak.

At Tobruk, the defenders expected an attack, probably from the west, although that was not certain. The Axis forces kept a distance from the defenders, so that there were no signs of where any attack might be coming. The Tobruk defenders needed air support and reconnaissance, but there was none. By 27 April, there was increased activity by Axis forces. An air raid hit the harbor as early as 6am. There were more air raids through the day. The defenders observed large numbers of enemy vehicles on the move from the south to the west. They seemed to be moving towards the usual route towards Acroma.

In the time given, over the previous week, the inner defenses had been improved. Much of these consisted of mine fields. The 26th Brigade held the 12 mile western sector. Not all of the defenses were actually held by troops. At the Wadi Sehel, the Indian cavalry regiment, the 18th Cavalry, held the perimeter defenses. They were next to the 2/23rd Battalion. They were next to the 2/48th Battalion, which had seen great success in heavy fighting. They had taken an amazing number of prisoners: 1,375 men. The 2/24th Battalion would relieve the 2/48th so that they could get some rest from the heavy action. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Trouble is pending from 24 April 1941 and later at Tobruk and Halfaya Pass

The heavy anti-aircraft gun situation at Tobruk was something of a dilemma. Brigadier Slater's plan for harbor defense, the harbor barrage, was at odds with the lesson about fighting the guns at each site to defend themselves. The damaging raid on 27 April 1941 on the gun sites prompted new measures. The plan was to institute "camouflage, concealment, the construction of dummy positions and frequent changes of the defensive layout". The anti-aircraft gun brigade had a newly appointed officer to handle camouflage. One aspect was a construction project to build new gun sites. They also built dummy gun sites, with dummy guns, men, trucks, and ammunition dumps. During air raids, they exploded charges to make dummy sites look like they had firing guns. The existing gun sites had their defenses improved, including digging them deeper. Once these measures were added, losses from dive-bombing raids were greatly reduced.

About this same time, the situation near the frontier developed into a new crisis. During the German and Italian raids on 23 and 24 April near Fort Capuzzo, British prisoners were taken and interrogated. Based on information gathered, Rommel ordered the Herff Group to attack near the Egyptian frontier. The first move was taken near Capuzzo on 25 April. Support Group troops near Capuzzo were forced back towards Halfaya Pass, held by the 22nd Guards Brigade. Australian anti-tank gunners were providing support to the guardsmen. Bombing and strafing hit the pass late on 25 April. Herff's group attacked on the 26th. An Australian gunner fired high explosive shells at a German field gun and knocked it out. After darkness fell, the plan for withdrawal was put in effect. The 2/Scots Guards were holding a line "two miles west of Sidi Barrani". The men in the rear guards moved out from Halfaya Pass at 10:30pm. The rearguard at Salum left after midnight. Some of the Australian anti-tank gunners were assigned to the 2/Scots Guards. Some joined the battle group at Buq Buq named "Rushforce". Other Australian anti-tank gunners were spread out in various positions, including the Support Group headquarters, the 2/Coldstream Guards, 1/Durham Light Infantry, and the Free French Motor Infantry company. This is base on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Air attacks on Tobruk becomes increasingly damaging from 24 April 1941 and onwards

The scale of air attacks on Tobruk were increasing and this prompted General Morshead to send a message to the Western Desert Force headquarters. The danger was that the scale of air attacks would make it difficult to use the harbor at Tobruk. Another issue was that the recent losses in aircraft based at Tobruk were not being replaced. Three aircraft had been lost on 23 April 1941, and this already had created a problem. The RAF reacted by deciding to withdraw the remaining two Hurricane fighters on 25 April. That would leave the two Lysander army cooperation aircraft without fighter protection. Tobruk relied on the Lysanders to spot for artillery.

We find that for all of the Western Desert Force, the RAF had only 13 Hurricanes and they could not afford to leave them in Tobruk, as they would likely be lost. The only benefit to Tobruk was that one flight of reconnaissance Hurricanes would continue to support Tobruk.

A sandstorm shut down operations at Tobruk on 26 April. The engineers kept working during the sandstorm to lay more mines, particularly ones that would fire on contact ("hair trigger"). Other engineers worked on the inner defensive minefield behind the Medauuar feature.

The sandstorm died down on 27 April, which allowed the Germans to stage an attack on the heavy anti-aircraft guns with 24 dive bombers. They shot down one dive bomber, but four guns were temporarily disabled. The gun crews took losses, as well. The anti-aircraft commander, Brigadier Slater gathered information about the attack. He found that the initial attack was made by Ju-88's with a fighter escort. They got fire from the heavy anti-aircraft guns. They thought that the next stage was a dive bomber attack on the heavy anti-aircraft guns. Probably many more than fifty dive bombers attacked in groups of at least 12 planes. In some cases, they came out of the sun, so they were not seen before they struck. Two guns sites had guns in a "porcupine formation". These two sites took less damage and the guns were kept in action during the attacks. Two other sites fared worse. At one of the two sites, they had not even seen the dive bombers before they were hit. What they found was that the best thing to do was for the gun crews to continue to fight during the attacks and not dive for cover. We can see the situation by realizing that in the final 20 days of April 1941, Tobruk was attacked by 386 dive bombers during 21 incidents. The anti-aircraft gunners kept their nerve and fought their guns with success. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

New information and events from 24 April 1941

One result of the fighting on 24 April 1941 was that the British and Australians got information about enemy units besieging Tobruk. There had been a battle group called the Fabris unit involved in the fighting around Tobruk. That group had been replaced by a battalion from the Italian Trento Division. There were two regiments from the Brescia Division deployed on the west side of Tobruk. There were also units from the German 15th Armored Division present. they included the infantry regiment, one battery of artillery, and an engineer company.

The Medauuar area in Tobruk was an ongoing concern. After the fighting on the 24tg, the Australians worried that there would be a new effort to reoccupy the area where they had been driven from in the battle. Some reconnaissance proved that by 25 April, the area was still empty of enemy troops.

There were further patrol actions by the Australians on 25 April. Infantry from the 2/23rd Battalion drove enemy troops from the positions near the Derna road. The 2/23rd Battalion commander was intent on keeping the enemy at a distance of about 3,500 yards. He was afraid that if the enemy could establish themselves close, it might make his battalion more vulnerable. The area near the battalion had deep wadi's and escarpments. They relied upon the Indian cavalry regiment, the 18th Cavalry for information from their patrols. The word was that there were two posts that had been established. The northern post was found deserted, but the southern post had Germans working on defenses. An Australian patrol ahd surprised them, but were driven off in a fight.

The Australians responded with new a new patrol group. They were slowed by trying to bring mortars along. By the time they arrived at the southern position, the Germans were moving back. The Germans fired machine guns and artillery against the Australians. They did capture some enemy soldiers. They also attacked some enemy vehicles loaded with ammunition. Later, the 18th Cavalry captured an Italian officer and 32 men near the coast. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The situation at Tobruk from 24 April 1941

The British Middle East Command's estimate of the Axis forces was that there would by two German armored divisions, the 5th Light Division and the 15th Armored Division. There would also be the Italian Ariete Armored Division and the Trento Mechanized Division. These would all be available by mid-June 1941, as the British intelligence estimate believed. The British Tiger Convoy would arrive at Alexandria, Egypt, by mid-May 1941. General Morshead, at Tobruk, was warned of the estimate.

After a pause in operations, the western side of Tobruk was attacked "at dawn" on 24 April. The start was a heavy artillery barrage that came down on the western defenses. The next move was a large number of infantry moving towards the defenses by 7am. The infantry were closely bunched, which made them good targets for artillery and machine guns. The forward Australian infantry had their Bren guns and Thompson sub-machine guns, which they freely used. One attack came in on the 2/23rd Battalion. British artillery fire was concentrated. Some attackers were pinned in place. Others moved quickly forward as a way to escape the artillery fire. The forward defenses replied with fire that stopped any further forward movement. The attackers were completely stopped by 8am. The Australians came forward to clean up pockets of infantry. By 9:45am, the last of the attackers could be seen in rapid retreat "over the skyline". That was the result of the attack on the right side.

On the left, the attack crossed the side of the Ras el Medauuar. They seem to have been Italians who were having to move over open ground. They encountered men of the 2/48th Battalion. About a company of men moved in between posts S1 and S3. The Australians were taking heavy fire, but British artillery was called in to support them. Following 20 minutes of firing, the Australians took in some 107 prisoners, which include Italian officers and some Germans. Some forty Italians were killed in the fight. Another fight at midday, involving 30 or 40 Germans, resulted in seven prisoners. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The situation at Tobruk and the Egyptian frontier on 24 April 1941

The 22nd Guards Brigade, a familiar unit to those who have long studied the North African Campaign, was holding Halfaya pass. Gott's Support Group was operating in the area between Halfaya and Sidi Barrani. In the Support Group, you had units such as the 11th Hussars, the 7th Armoured Division reconnaissance unit. Colonel Herff was in command of the German units near Halfaya and the Egyptian border. The Support Group raided German transport near Fort Capuzzo and Sidi Aziz. This was a minor British operation, but the way Colonel Herff reported it to Rommel made it sound bigger than it was. Rommel was getting very anxious about the situation near Bardia and Salum. If they were lost, it would endanger the effort to attack Tobruk. At this point, Rommel was saying that their loss would cause the siege of Tobruk to be removed. The suggested solution was to use aircraft to carry reinforcements and supplies to Tobruk. They would need to use submarines near the coast between Tobruk and Salum.

General Halder decided to send General von Paulus to North Africa to talk to Rommel and to get a sense of the true situation. The staff did not trust Rommel and was at the point of losing confidence in him. This might seem strange, given Rommel's success, but you have to remember that this was in the lead up to the attack on Russia on 22 June 1941, and that knowledge was having an impact at the German Army Command. The problem was that the Germans did not know the true situation of the British and Australians, and thought that they were in a better position than they actually were.

There was concern in Tobruk about the defenses against air attack, because heavy losses had been taken on 21 April 1941 due to an attack by 24 German bombers with 21 fighters. The quay was damaged and two ships were sunk. Two more were disabled. British Hurricane fighters were able to shoot down four German aircraft. In response to the attack, the British anti-aircraft gun commander, Brigadier Slater, proposed to start using a barrage pattern of fire, rather than shooting at individual aircraft. On April 23, the barrage defense showed its effectiveness. This is base on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Assessments of the fights on 22 April 1941 at Tobruk

The first assessment of the fights on 22 April 1941 came by the German radio on 23 April. The announcement said: "Yesterday morning, the British force besieged in Tobruk made a desperate attack, which was repulsed with terrific loss of men and material, while our own force is still incomplete." The Germans, Italians, British, and Australians all took in the report and reacted. Rommel and his ADC had visited the area where the fighting had occurred to see what they could find out about what had happened. When they arrived, everything was quiet, but then they realized that there was no Italian infantry to be found. There were only a few Italian artillery batteries without infantry support. They came to a rise that they climbed and then descended. At the bottom were a large number of discarded Italian Bersaglieri helmets. They realized that a complete Italian battalion had been captured by the Australians during the night.

Rommel then collected a scratch force from available troops to reoccupy the area that had lost the battalion. Rommel also sent a warning to the Italians that officers who showed cowardice in battle would be immediately executed.

Rommel started to think about what he would have done in the Australians and British situation. His concern was that British might practice some infiltration tactics and do a blitzkrieg attack on his rear, dislocating the forward forces. Part of the 15th Armored Division had now arrived near Tobruk. They were ordered to occupy a blocking position on the coast road about 18 miles west of Tobruk. They should also have a battle group near Acroma. The Italian battalion that had been lost must have been the Fabris Battalion. Rommel ordered a battalion from the Trento Division to move forward to the abandoned position. The Trento battalion had been planned to move to the Egyptian frontier. The Trento Division was to advance to the Salum area and attack. Colonel Herff, who had replaced Colonel Knabe, would command the attack at Salum. Rommel hoped to achieve enough success that some German units could be brought back to Tobruk for an attack. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

More raids on 22 April 1941 from Tobruk

While the company-sized raid from the 2/48th Battalion achieved success, another raid by a company from the 2/23rd Battalion was carried out. They were protected on the right by two troops from the 18th Cavalry, a survivor of the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade. The Indian cavalry group was commanded by Captain Barlow, who had been involved with the breakout from Mechili.

The Australians from the 2/23rd Battalion moved forward along a wadi. Enemy troops at the end of the wadi opened fire with machine guns that forced the Australians into a side wadi. They took heavy shelling and mortar fire in the side wadi. In a quick decision, the captain commanding the raid decided to attack across open ground. The enemy troops proved to be Italian. They opened fire but the attack by the Australians with bayonets and grenades broke into the Italian positions. The Italians surrendered in the face of the attack. With open ground covered by heavy gunfire, the Australians returned with about 40 Italian prisoners.

The 2/23rd raid was divided into two parts. We just saw the right hand portion of the raid. The left-hand group was moving south of the Derna road. They ran into a mixed battery of anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns. Beyond them were two batteries of artillery. Again, they were fighting Italian soldiers. The Italians had fired on Australians on an open slope. A flanking move with carriers got them within grenade range. After throwing grenades, they charged with bayonets. The Italians reacted by surrendering in the face of grenades and bayonets.

The left-hand group had a hard fight and took heavy casualties. 24 men, including Lieutenant Hutchinson, did not return from the raid. 22 men returned wounded. They had done good execution. They had hit an Italian company which lost 90 of its 100 men. The two columns from the 2/23rd Battalion had captured 87 men, some anti-aircraft guns, machine guns, and mortars. The 18th Cavalry conducted a reconnaissance mission and drove seven miles west without seeing any Germans or Italians.

Another raid, by the 20th Brigade, failed. They were a mixed force of tanks, infantry, and artillery. They started while it was still dark. When the sky got light, they found themselves under heavy artillery fire. They were forced to withdraw, losing one light tank to an anti-tank gun. Fortunately, they were will-supported by British artillery fire and were able to withdraw. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Events on 20 to 22 April 1941 in the Mediterranean Theater

When Winston Churchill heard about the tank situation in North Africa, he decided to take a high-stakes gamble. He would send tanks to Alexandria, Egypt, through the Mediterranean Sea. He hoped that most of the tanks would arrive. The Navy had been very cautious about sending high-value convoys through the Mediterranean Sea, particularly with the increased German air threat. That threat was very real, as the losses later in April and May would show. In this case, the gamble succeeded, although with loss.

General Wavell was in Greece, as the resistance was collapsing. He ordered the troop withdrawal from Greece to get as many of the troops away as they could. The losses from the Greek campaign were predictable and could have been avoided by not going in to begin with. Anthony Eden had strongly urged that the British intervene in Greece, despite the certainty of failure. General Wavell had done his part to get the Australians to agree to the participate. The senior Australians realized the odds, but did their part when called upon.

At the same time, Rommel read the message from the German High Command about taking Tobruk. Rommel wanted to have the complete 15th Armored Division before making the attempt. The high-level commanders urged him to use more Italian forces, instead. Rommel felt that his most immediate need was more air support to protect the supply line to Libya. British attacks on the convoys were causing losses that were very damaging.

General Morshead was planning new attacks against the forces attacking Tobruk. The main attack would be by the 2/48th battalion, hoping to take "Carrier Hill" and capturing the nearby enemy force. Two adjacent battalions would also stage attacks. Preparations were made on 21 April for the attack by the 2/48th Battalion. The attack would be mounted by just one company, five carriers, three infantry tanks, and four anti-tank guns from the 3rd RHA. They had a forward artillery observer from the 51st Field Regiment. There was no artillery barrage planned, because they did not want to warn the force being attacked. The company from the 2/48th Battalion stepped off at 6:40am on 22 April 1941. They had air cover and a low-flying Westland Lysander to make noise to drown out the carrier and tank noise.

The Australian infantry caught the Italian infantry totally by surprise. The carriers fired on the enemy gun crews while the attack took place. The Italians initially fought in place. In the face of a bayonet charge, most of the Italians surrendered, although some continued to fight. One carrier was knocked out by an anti-tank round. They captured 368 Italian soldiers, including 16 officers. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, January 30, 2017

British forces at the frontier on 18 to 20 April 1941

What had been the 2nd Armoured Division Support Group was now organized into four columns. The columns, as of 18 to 20 April 1941, each had a battery of field guns, some motor infantry, and anti-tank guns. They may have had one or two of the two-pounder anti-tank guns. The group would eventually become the 7th Support Group, for the 7th Armoured Division. The British were short of tanks at this point of time.

The defenses at Mersa Matruh depended on Australian anti-tank guns. The commander of the 2/2 Anti-Tank Regiment, Lt-Col. Monaghan, was responsible for the anti-tank defense at Mersa Matruh. The forward defensive front had two battalions. They were deployed near Halfaya Pass and both had Australian anti-tank gun support.

Rommel went forward to see the Halfaya Pass area for himself and saw the light forces holding the area. His immediate reaction was to get ready to attack the defenders. Rommel ordered a battery of medium guns to the area and ordered the Italian Trento Division to move to Bardia by 23 April.

When British intelligence had recognized that there were elements of the 15th Armored Division near Halfaya Pass, General Wavell became very concerned. So far, they had been engaged with the 21st Light Division, equipped to a lower standard than a regular armored division. Wavell knew that the British had two under-strength armored regiments in Tobruk and one squadron of cruiser tanks at Mersa Matruh. He calculated that the Germans currently had 150 tanks in Libya.

Wavell's message to London got the Prime Minister's attention. Churchill resolved to send a fast convoy through the Mediterranean, despite the risks. The ships would carry 250 tanks. They had mostly infantry tanks that could be sent, but they would try and find cruiser tanks. They ended up sending the first 50 Crusader tanks off the production line. Due to that situation, they were very unreliable, but they were something, at least. The Tiger Convoy, as it was called, would carry 295 tanks, of which 67 were cruiser tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Reorganization at Tobruk about 19 April 1941

On 19 and 20 April 1941, the situation had stabilized such that there was time to reorganize the defense. The immediate crisis had subsided. The men were able to return to more routine work after being released from the heightened level of alert. The engineer were able to return to working in the inner defense line, "the Blue Line". The mines had been laid on 19 April, although there were still positions to be dug. The engineers also placed demolitions on all the fortress "plants and wells".

The defenders were reorganized to increase the available reserves. The Indian cavalry regiment (a survivor of the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade) now reported to Brigadier Tovell. They took possession of the area near the coast that had been held by the 2/24th Battalion. The 2nd/23rd Battalion sat astride the Derna Road. The 2/24th Battalion now became part of the fortress reserve force. General Morshead had an infantry company formed from Australian Army Service Corps men. They took over an area near the coast on the east side. That allowed the 2/43rd Battalion to also move into the reserve under the 24th Brigade.

The "grand plan" was to have each of the three brigades in the perimeter to have a reserve battalion. There was also the 9th Australian Division reserve with three infantry battalions and one pioneer battalion. General Morshead wanted a defense in depth.

The fortress armor was also reorganized. There had been four infantry tanks in Tobruk manned by the 4th RTR. They gave up their tanks to the 7th RTR when they arrived with a squadron of tanks. All light tanks now belonged to the 3rd Hussars. All cruiser tanks, now about 15 in number, were in the 1st RTR. They were grouped into two squadrons. They had the armored brigade headquarters with a new commander, Colonel Birks. He had the 7th RTR under his direct control. General Morshead was immediately impressed by Colonel Birks.

The Australians had evidence from diaries and from talking with prisoners that both the Italian and German troops were in poor morale and were low on food. They were dispirited by their heavy losses in the first attack on Tobruk. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The need to halt to buy time on 18 April 1941

The Italian Supreme Command complained to the German High Command about the need to stop the advance to give time for reinforcing the existing units, to reorganize the remaining units, and to build up supplies. Rommel, in good infiltration-style, had tried to rush the attack to see if he could panic the Australians in Tobruk and get a low-cost win in the process. What Rommel found was that the Australians, with their British supporters, would not panic.

The German High Command and Hitler agreed with the Italians about the need to regroup and resupply. Even Rommel agreed to an extent. He wanted to build up the German forces in North Africa so that he could use them, not Italians, to attack Tobruk. The successful British destroyer attack had delayed the arrival of the 15th Armored Division. Now, they seemed likely to arrive in mid-May. What seemed to be the answer was to capture Tobruk.

In front of the 2/48th Battalion, tanks and other armored vehicles lay at wait, just beyond the perimeter wire. They fired on any movement that they noticed. The purpose was to allow their infantry to withdraw. They had been caught close to the wire and had to dig in to survive. However, more infantry congregated near the 2/48th Battalion and tried to push in on the right and center of the battalion. Fire from the 51st Field Regiment stopped the advance. In a reply, mortars and field guns were brought up close. The defenders took casualties from the fire. This seemed to portend a new attack, but one did not materialize. General Morshead considered using the 2/12th Battalion from the reserve and would have supported them with carriers and tanks from the 3rd Hussars and 5th Hussars. The proposed operation seemed to hazardous and was canceled. Fortunately, no enemy attack happened right then. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The situation at Tobruk on 17 April 1941

One thing that happened after nightfall on 17 April 1941 was that the 2/48th Battalion brought in a German truck that had been hit by an anti-tank rifle. The truck had a trailer with a new type of anti-tank gun. We would suppose it was a 50mm PAK38 L60 gun. The gun was sent by air to "England", as the Australian historian wrote.

As a result of experience on 17 April, Australian engineers went out to check the minefield in front of the 2/48th Battalion, because they suspected that the Germans might have disabled mines. The effort was stopped by heavy mortar fire. At the wire, they then laid a new mine field and converted some of the existing mines to fire on contact, rather than under control.

Operations by the Ariete Division on 17 April had not gone well. The division was reduced to ten tanks of the one hundred with which they had started the campaign. They had the sort of losses that the 2nd Armoured Division had experienced. Worse yet, the Germans at one point mistook the Italian tanks for British and fired anti-tank guns at them. Rommel made the mistaken identification and ordered the German anti-tank guns to fire on them.

At this point, Rommel was feeling the effects of his extended lines of communication. On 17 April, Rommel had to have his supplies shipped by road from Tripoli. When they could get Benghazi back in operation as a port, they could cut the trip substantially.

Not only the supply situation, but the training and equipment of the Italian units led Rommel to suspend the attacks on Tobruk until he had accumulated greater strength. The current situation was such that he wanted more German forces prior to any further Tobruk attacks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The failed Italian attack on 16 and 17 April 1941

When Italian prisoners were questioned after they were captured, they told the Australians that they had expected to be supported by German tanks from the 5th Armored Regiment, but the German tanks did not appear. A German officer was attached to the attacking force to coordinate operations. Rommel apparently had ordered the armored battalion from the Ariete division to support the attacking infantry. The infantry pushed to the top of Hill 187 and stopped. They were shelled and then retreated to a wadi. The German staff officer described the Italian retreat as a "rout". He had several anti-tank guns and fired on a scout car and shot at Bren carriers. Afterwards, a senior Italian prisoner helped draft a flyer to be distributed to Italian troops the next day, encouraging then to surrender.

General Wavell, as out of touch as usual, sent a message urging an attack against the Germans at Salum. General Morshead declined to mount such an attack, as he was more concerned about defending the long perimeter at Tobruk.

important reinforcements arrived by ship on 16 April 1941. They were 12 infantry tanks manned by a squadron of the 7th Royal Tank Regiment. I think that the correct name of the unit is the 7th Battalion of the Royal Tank Regiment, although the name given is what they were ultimately called.

Overnight on 16-17 April 1941, the enemy guns heavily shelled the Australians. That seemed to indicate another attack on the 17th. General Morshead ordered the 2/1st Pioneer Battalion to act as infantry in his reserve force. The pioneers had been engaged in constructing a second line of defense.

An attack was launched as expected. It fell on the 2/48th Battalion in the west. The enemy infantry had been mounted on vehicles, but they got off and attacked on foot. The attack had some tank support. The tanks seemed to have been mostly Italian light tanks. By about 1pm, the tanks broke through the wire. The tanks had been there to support infantry, but the infantry attack failed under heavy British artillery fire. Anti-tank guns fired on the tanks, which then drove into the reserve company. Seven British cruiser tanks arrived and knocked out some of the Italians. The tank attack then had failed and only one tank escaped back through the wire. The defenders had knocked out five tanks, one of which was a medium tank (M13/40?).

More tanks and infantry hesitated to attack and stayed just outside the wire. Later in the evening, cruiser tanks from the 1st RTR, fought some 12 enemy tanks in the south. They knocked out three tanks with no loss to themselves. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

More action on 16 April 1941

The enemy force in the east took a defensive posture. The troops were the Knabe Group along with the Italian Montemurro Unit. They British expected an attack on Halfaya, but it did not happen. British ships fired on Bardia and caused the town to be abandoned contrary to Rommel's orders. The British on the frontier were effectively bothering the force at Salum to the extent that the force was drawn down to a patrol.

The Headquarters in Cairo sent Morshead a message early on 16 April warning him that there was intelligence of an impending attack on Tobruk. In response, General Morshead put the forces in Tobruk on alert. One of the things done were patrols sent outside the wire, looking for any sign of an attack. There seemed to be nothing happening in the south or east. Only in the west were there signs of a pending attack. One Australian group attacked Italians in a wadi. One Italian was killed and the other 97 men surrendered. There were more encounters. The 2/24th Battalion took six officers and 57 men. Another group took a Breda machine gun and eight men. Carriers that were active saw a battalion from Acroma getting close. The battalion received fire from the 51st Field Regiment and scattered. There were twelve tanks behind the battalion. They also were fired on and dispersed. When attacked, the battalion surrendered and was brought through a gap in the wire as prisoners. The tanks seemed to fire on the Italian prisoners. The tanks also engaged the Australian Bren carriers. By the time the day ended, the Australians had taken 803 men prisoner. That included one German officer and 25 Italian officers. The battalion was the 1st Battalion 62nd Regiment from the Trento Division. While the Italians had expected to be supported by German tanks, the supporting tanks seem to have been six Italian M13/40 tanks and 12 light tanks from the Ariete Division. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Tobruk's artillery in April 1941 and other developments

Both Tobruk artillery commanders in April 1941 were British brigadiers. Brigadier Thompson commanded the field and anti-tank guns. He believed that the field artillery needed to be ready to fill the anti-tank role, so the guns were sited accordingly. Tobruk had 48 25pdr guns, 12-18pdrs, and 12-4.5in howitzers. Two field regiments supported the 20th Brigade in the south of Tobruk. The other two brigades each were supported by a field regiment.

Brigadier Slater commanded the anti-aircraft guns at Tobruk. He had "24 heavy and 60 light guns". There were four captured Italian heavy anti-aircraft guns while 43 of the 60 light guns were captured Italian. Their main duties were to provide anti-aircraft support to the Tobruk port. This was important because Tobruk being isolated, depended on supplies brought by sea. The Naval Inshore Squadron was now based on Tobruk. The squadron had been created during the initial campaign against the Italians.

For better or worse, Tobruk had captured Churchill's attention after the battle of 13 and 14 April 1941. Churchill was filled with suggestions about what Tobruk's defenders should do.

Rommel had hoped to stage another attack on 15 April, but the mainly Italian attack force was broken up by artillery fire and they abandoned their start positions. The Australians mopped up some 33 men hiding in a wadi. In another fight, Australians captured an Italian officer and 74 men. At about 5:30pm, another Italian attack had penetrated the wire. They had cleaned up the breach by 6:15pm. They captured 113 men, including two officers, and estimated that they had killed 250 men with artillery and automatic weapon fire. The number killed was probably an overestimate, but the number was still large. Troop movements seemed to indicate an attack against the 20th Brigade, but the attack did not happen.

On the night of 15-16 April 1941, four British destroyers from Malta attacked an Italian convoy heading for Africa. Three destroyers and five merchant ships were all sunk. The cargo was motor transport and tanks from the 15th Armored Division. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Defending Tobruk from April 1941

General Morshead, the 9th Australian Division commander, was also the commander of Tobruk, after General Lavarack's departure on 14 April 1941. Before there were time to reorganize the men in Tobruk, there were about 35,700 men in Tobruk. Of that number, only about 24,000 were "combat troops". One of the first steps was to ship out unnecessary men and prisoners from the base area. Most of the 2nd Armoured Division were to be sent to Egypt.

The defense of Tobruk was based on aggessive principles. They would not allow any ground to be taken. They would patrol the no-mans-land at night. The defensive positions would be improved and increased in depth. They would keep reserves ready to counter-attack. They would build an inner defensive perimeter ("the Blue Line").

Only after General Lavarack left did the 18th Australian Brigade become under General Morshead's control. As soon as that happened, he had the 18th Brigade's engineers start work on the inner perimeter. As all this played out, General Morshead was constantly inspecting to be sure that his policies and plans were executed well.>/p>

General Morshead had his chief staff officer, Colonel Lloyd, the four Australian brigadiers, and two British artillery commanders. The 18th Btigade commander, Brigadier Wooten, was a professional soldier at the start of his career, when he had served at Gallipoli in the Great War. He left the service in 1923 and became a lawyer. He rejoined the army at the start of the second war. It was Brigadier Wooten who had captured Giarabub. The British artillery commanders, one for the field and anti-tank guns and one for the anti-aircraft guns were able men. The field artillery was sited so that it could be used for anti-tank fire. The defeat of the first German attack showed the wisdom of that policy. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, January 02, 2017

General Lavarack replaced by 14 April 1941

Major-General Lavarack was replaced after he had done well as commander of Cyrenaica Command. General Wavell had appointed him after Generals Neame and O'Connor had been captured in the wake of Rommel's attack. He had ended up withdrawing into Tobruk with the 9th Australian Division and had exercised command. In fact, General Lavarack was one of the most able Australian commanders in the war. He had been Chief of the General Staff at the start of the war, but had been out of the country at the time. When he returned, he found that he had been replaced. He also had the problem the General Blamey constantly worked to block any success for him. Blamey wanted to be the top Australian officer, and felt inferior to Lavarack, so he did everything he could to keep from being replaced by Lavarack.

After Wavell had decided to create the Western Desert Force, he appointed a British officer to command it, as it would have been extremely unusual not to have an Australian officer as the commander. As the situation subsequently played out, we would have to say that General Beresford-Peirse was an unfortunate choice. To General Wavell, he seemed a natural choice, because he had experience in the Western Desert. He was an artillery officer who was promoted to command the 4th Indian Division during Operation Compass, the campaign against Italy in 1940-1941. What he lacked was any experience with mechanized warfare. Part of the problem was that Winston Churchill was now involved in the Middle East situation and he took some extraordinary steps to affect the situation. At great risk, he shipped tanks to Egypt and then expected them to be immediately sent into battle. There was no consideration of the mechanical condition of the tanks that were shipped and the need for training on new equipment. Instead, Churchill pushed for immediate action and the tanks that were sent were largely squandered in the abortive Battleaxe, which had been preceded by Operation brevity. William Gott, the support group commander, was overly cautious and gave up most of the ground taken during Brevity. The next section we will cover will include the run up to and the execution of Operation Battleaxe. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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