Wednesday, May 17, 2017

An active defense in early May 1941 at Tobruk

Once the situation at Tobruk had stabilized, General Morshead insisted that his brigades maintain active patrolling to control the "no-man's land" area between the Australians and the Germans and Italians. Over the entire perimeter, the units followed his policy. The western end of the perimeter was held by the Indians of the 18th Cavalry Regiment. They were the remnants of the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade. There were some sharp engagements that were triggered during the patrols.

A patrol from the 2/23rd Battalion set out on 10 May 1941, heading out from Post S13. They moved along the escarpment, south of the coastal road. They ran into a large group of Italians engaged in work. The Italians took many casualties and had 31 men taken prisoner by the Australians. The entire group were killed or captured.

Patrols from the 2/48th Battalion were involved with retrieving equipment from the abandoned 2/24th Battalion headquarters. The headquarters had been overrun during the initial German attack starting late on 30 April. One night, a patrol encountered a German patrol and killed them all. The 2/15th Battalion was also engaged in patrolling during the same period. Most nights, they were pushing into the enemy flank.

The 24th Brigade held the eastern part of the perimeter. The brigade sent two carrier raids from the 2/43rd Battalion and the 2/28th Battalion. They pushed to near the Bardia Road. Some carriers with the Army Service Corps also conducted carrier raids. The successes that were seen encouraged some more aggressive plans. They decided to use one troop of infantry tanks and two troops of cruiser tanks. They would also have two armored cars that would provide communications between the tanks and the infantry. They also would have seven carriers, a machine-gun platoon, some 3-inch mortars, "and a battery of field guns". They planned to attack on 13 May, just as the sky got light. The planning failed and nothing but confusion occurred. The enemy fired a flare with had been the signal agreed on for the infantry to withdraw. The infantry tanks started to recover, but they ran into anti-tank guns and two were disabled. The cruiser tanks pulled back. The main result of the operation was that the tank commanders lost confidence in their tanks and their ability to work with the infantry. Apparently, the Australians were operating Bren carriers. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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