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.

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