Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Rotating Australian units in and out of the line in late May and June 1941, and the fuel and lubricant shortage

General Morshead had a plan to rotate, at the brigade level, Australian units in and out of the line. The 26th brigade was Tovell's. The 24th Brigade was Godfrey's. The 20th Brigade was Murray's brigade. The 18th Brigade was Wooten's. The 26th Brigade relieved the 24th Brigade over the night of 20 to 21 May 1941. They were in the Bardia Road sector. The 24th Brigade replaced the 20th Brigade on 23 May. The 20th Brigade then was in reserve for a while. They eventually moved to the Salient to replace the 18th Brigade. There were also some battalion movements during this period.

During April and May 1941, Tobruk had used up their stock of fuel and lubricants. By June, they were in trouble and needed more petroleum products. There were attempts to move some fuel and lubricants by sea, but the German air dominance made that difficult. The situation only improved when the Pass of Balhama made two trips to Tobruk. The first trip brought 760 tons of fuel in bulk. That provided about 40 days supply. Later in June, they made another trip, and had brought some 1,400 tons of fuel and lubricants during June.

From 20 May to 4 June, the men of one squadron of the King's Dragoon Guards filled and infantry role by holding S21 to S27 near the Dernal Road. They were replaced by a pioneer company.

This left the Derna Road area in the hands of the 2/1st Pioneers. Posts S8 and S10 were on the left. The 2/13th Battalion held the right. The 2/17th Battalion was in the center section. Another battalion, the 2/15th, held the left side. During May, the German and Italian units had constructed a straightened line behind their line and then withdrew into it. Lt-Col. Burrows also planned to straighten his line, that of the 2/13th Battalion, but in this case, by moving forward. Brigadier Murray liked Burrows plan and approved of it. The Germans had laid minefields with booby traps. The first task was to clear paths through them and remove the booby-traps.

By straightening the line, the line was shortened by about 600 yards. That allowed companies to hold their front with two platoons. Post S8 was no longer isolated. Post S10 was now more strongly held. Former German minefields were now used by the Australians for their defense. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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