Thursday, April 13, 2017

Plans at Tobruk on 1 May 1941 after the counter-attack faltered

The counter-attack on 1 May 1941 at Tobruk by the 2/48th Battalion was unsuccessful. The battalion commander, Lt-Col. Windeyer reported to Brigadier Tovell the situation. He then spoke with Colonel Lloyd, General Morshead's Chief of Headquarters staff. He told Windeyer to move his battalion behind the point Bianca. All this was not a surprise to General Morshead, since the artillery organization had warned him about the situation. His new plan was to recreate the perimeter in the area of the penetration.

General Morshead ordered Brigadier Tovell and Colonel Verrier to meet him at the division headquarters. The intent was to plan for a "switch line" between Post S.8 and Bianca. They would also connect with Brigadier Murray's line on the east side of the breach. One battalion, the 2/23rd would occupy the existing perimeter down to Post S.8. The second battalion, the 2/48th would hold a line from Post S.8 over to the company from the 2/24th Battalion near the Blue Line (the inner defensive line). Another battalion, the 2/10th, would hold a line from the 2/24th left and the new 20th Brigade "switch line". By now, the company from the 2/24th Battalion had returned to its position. That freed up a company from the 2/48th Battalion to rejoin its battalion.

Rommel's attack on Tobruk had been in process for about 24 hours. He had pushed into Tobruk over a 3-1/2 mile arc of the perimeter. He controlled Ras el Medauuar, the highest hill in Tobruk. He had killed or captured half of the 2/24th Battalion, and due to bad communications, the Australians and British did not even know what was happening. Rommel's force had knocked out four British tanks from a very small collection of tanks. Rommel had hoped to punch through Tobruk's outer defenses and push to the harbor. After breaking through the outer defenses on the evening of 30 April 1941, the plan was to continue in the morning to Bianca and Fort Pilastrano, and push on to the harbor area. Rommel's forces were divided into battle groups that were composed from bits and pieces of various formal units. The first attackers were a battle group from the 5th Light Division on the right side and the 15th Armored Division (Panzer) on the left. The following Italian divisions included the Ariete and Brescia Divisions. The 5th Light Division battle group, the Kirchheim Group was essentially an armored brigade group. The group had "81 tanks (9 Mark I, 26 Mark II, 36 Mark III and 8 Mark IV plus 2 large commander's tanks)". The tank list is very interesting, as we can get a better idea of what German tanks were involved in the battle. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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