Thursday, July 06, 2017

The German perspective anticipating Battleaxe

For comparison purposes, the British Official History listed the British tank force for Battleaxe as 90 cruiser tanks and 100 infantry tanks. British intelligence, prior to Battleaxe, thought that the German tanks force was at the Egyptian frontier 100 medium tanks and 66 light tanks. At "Gazala, Tobruk, and El Adem" there were thought to be 76 German medium tanks and 46 light tanks. The Italians were thought to have only 18 medium and 46 light tanks. General Morshead had information from highly classified sources. His numbers were more specific. The Germans at the Frontier were listed as 62 medium tanks and 36 light tanks. 26 of the light tanks were Pzkw II so the rest were 10 Pzkw I. In the general area of Tobruk, the Germans were listed as having 116 medium tanks (Pzkw III and Pzkw IV). They were listed as having 66 light tanks, of which 46 were Pzkw II, so the other 20 were Pzkw I. The Italians were listed as having just 18 medium tanks, presumably M13/40 tanks. They also had 46 light tanks.

The Indian historian remarked that the planned tactics were those which were successful for Brevity, a month before. The 4th Indian Division would attack Halfaya Pass on the right. They would have infantry tank support, presumably Matilda tanks. They would attack "both above and below the escarpment". A second column would attack Fort Capuzzo and Salum (Sollum). They would have the 4th Armoured Brigade with many infantry tanks. There was also the 7th Armored Division, equipped with cruiser tanks. They would be on the left, going around the flank. They hoped to draw the German armor from the coast. The Support group was also on the open flank, providing a screen to warn of enemy activity.

The German headquarters in North Africa had intelligence reports about British preparations. The headquarters thought by 6 June that a British attack was extremely likely. A German note on 10 June reported that the Pavia Division had relieved the Ariete Division. They had hoped to pull the 5th Light Division out of their positions in Tobruk, but that was not possible. They were positioned in the El Adem-Acroma area, providing a reserve force.

The German plans included three positions prepared to fight in all directions. They were concealed and had artillery and anti-tank guns. They hoped that the British would run onto them and be surprised. These positions were designed based on their experience in the Tobruk fighting. Two of trhe positions were equipped with dug-in 88mm guns. Behind the German positions lay an Italian line, based at Fort Capuzzo, Musaid, and Salum. Two more positions had been built "at Bir Weir and Qalala". The positions were equipped with artillery that strengthened the defense. The German 15th Armored Division was in reserve at the frontier. There was also motorized infantry, artillery, and 88mm guns and light anti-aircraft artillery. They were in the Fort Capuzzo area. The German command was aware that the British attack would take place on 15 June. On 14 June, they warned key units to be ready for an attack the first thing on 15 June. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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