Tuesday, May 02, 2017

The 18th Brigade counter-attack on 3 May 1941 at Tobruk

Rommel's forces had tried to attack on 2 May 1941, but were stopped. General Morshead then planned an attack to retake lost territory. The 18th Brigade, the reserve brigade, commanded by Brigadier Wooten, would conduct the assault using three battalions. The official history often discusses operations over a long period without actually mentioning the brigade number. We had been confused between the 20th Brigade and the 18th Brigade. What we now are saying is the correct name, the 18th Brigade. Artillery had been re-positioned in preparation. The battalions involved were the 2/12th Battalion on the right, the 2/9th Battalion on the left. The 2/10th Battalion was in the center. They hoped to push through to Ras Medauuar and retake the hill. There were about three artillery regiments operating in support of the infantry.

The plan included a moving artillery barrage that would precede the infantry. In addition to the infantry and field artillery, there were an anti-tank regiment, machine guns, "12 light tanks, and 7 infantry tanks". The attack would start at 7:33pm. The infantry started preparations later on 3 May. Eventually, the start time was moved to 8:45pm.

The enemy mounted an attack on post R10 with two companies. They were stopped by artillery fire. Another company tried to attack but was also stopped by artillery fire. A larger force assembled near Bianca, but was scattered by artillery, machine gun fire, and mortars from the 2/10th Battalion. The Australians could see enemy troops working to lift mines from field B1 during the morning.

The 20th Brigade attack commenced "in almost pitch darkness". The 2/12th Battalion, as it moved forward, almost immediately ran into machine gun fire from each side. A few men moved forward by infiltrating. The darkness caused men to lose track of their positions. The situation was disrupted to the point that they took 4-1/2 hours to reorganize. The 2/12th Battalion was stopped by the machine gun fire, the darkness, and the difficulty of getting artillery support.

One company of the 2/10th Battalion, to the left of the 2/12th, had some success and subsequently helped to organize A Company of the 2/12th Battalion and was able transport the wounded from that company.

Men from the 2/10th Battalion attacking German troops, including machine gun crews. They eventually were forced back by heavy fire.

The 2/9th Battalion attacked on the left. They were late to start, so there was artillery fire hitting the start position. There was a lot of confusion as well as a problem with machine gun fire from both flanks. The "machine-guns were also firing down the road". They used tracers so that was convenient for the attackers. One platoon attacked a position with some 80 men. They drove the enemy out and took the position. It was near Post R7. One company was able to get close to Post R7 and got into the ditch surrounding the post. The enemy lit two blankets on fire, which lit the scene when the Australians would have liked to hide. Three Italian light tanks drove up and were attacked with grenades. The tanks burnt and drew enemy fire. The men involved, from the remnants of one platoon, attacked enemy troops near Post R6 and then found Post R8, their target, and found it was not occupied. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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