Wednesday, May 31, 2017

16 May 1941 at Tobruk in the morning

When the sun came up on 16 May 1941, there were still enemy troops nearby. Patrols brought in 21 Italian prisoners who were survivors of the early morning fighting. They also brought in captured equipment, such as light and medium machine guns and several flame-throwers. Posts S8, S9, S10, and S11 were out of touch and may have been captured. The Australians were reluctant to investigate further in the dark. When a platoon was sent out at 6am, they found that posts S11 and S11A were still in Australian hands. When they approached Post S10, they were fired on by machine guns. They supposed that the enemy now held post S10. They still did not know anything about Posts S8 and S9.

General Morshead met with Brigadier Wooten at 11am. They planned an attack with the 2/23rd Battalion. The commander was brought into a meeting at 2pm. A planned attack on Post S10 was still in the plans. The attack was made at 12:15 and Post S10 was retaken along with German prisoners. The attack had been supported by the 51st Field Regiment. They found two wounded Australians who had been prisoners and they were released. Posts S8 and S9 were quiet at this point. At 3pm, the order was given to proceed with the plan to attack Posts S8 and S9. The attackers were the 2/23rd Battalion, "three troops of infantry tanks, a troop of anti-tank guns and a company of machine guns". There were 39 field guns available to support the attack. They were not yet ready to make the actual attack. They held a conference at 8:30pm to distribute orders. The 2/23rd Battalion was not yet in place, so they had to move to the start line. One surprising development was that the 2/12th Battalion had just retaken post S8.

This fighting at Tobruk was part of greater plans on both the British and Axis commands. The British intended to launch a minor operation, Operation Brevity, to see if they could cause Rommel to pull back from the frontier and let transport into Tobruk. General Beresford-Peirse was more concerned about the larger plan that would be executed once Churchill's Tiger Convoy tanks had arrived at Alexandria and had been readied for use. The British were wrestling with how to employ the slow, but heavily-armored infantry tanks and the faster, but more lightly armored cruiser tanks. The compromise was to use the two types separately and fight separate battles. That would continue to be the plan in future tank actions fought against the German and Italian tank forces. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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