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.

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