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.

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