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.

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