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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