Thursday, August 10, 2017

Reducing the Tobruk garrrison and the supply situation

The idea that there was a large, non-productive population at Tobruk seems to have been a fantasy of General Morshead. By July, that was absolutely not true. What was needed was for the garrison to be prepared to hold out for a long period of time. Food and ammunition would be accumulated to cover some sixty days. They would prepare a plan to evacuate Tobruk by ship, but they would be closely held and not made public to the garrison.

General Morshead attended the last meeting in Egypt with General Wavell. General Auchinleck was also at the meeting. Supplying Tobruk was an important topic discussed at the meeting. They had decided that as much as 230 tons per day would need to be shipped to keep the fortress supplied. They eventually realized that they only needed to send 170 tons per day with Tobruk having a 25,000 man population. The navy was able to bring in 170 tons per day during July 1941. They were able to send somewhat less in August. Fortunately, the garrison was less than 25,000 men.

Typically, General Morshead wanted greater offensive strength to be enable an active defense, rather than a passive defense. General Auchinleck declined to make the commitment. There would not be any major commitment of armored forces in Tobruk, as Auchinleck wanted to build up the army in Egypt for offensive operations with tanks. After this, Generals Blamey and Morshead met with the RAF commanders and arranged for reconnaissance missions to be flown from El Gubbi and Sidi Barrani. They also would provide some army-cooperation aircraft to support Tobruk.

With General Morshead on an extended absence from Tobruk, Brigadier Murray was acting as fortress commander in his absence. Morshead arrived back in Tobruk on 9 July 1941. During this period, while General Morshead was gone from Tobruk, there was more shuffling of brigades and battalions in the defense. In some cases, battalions, such as the 2/48th were moved from one brigade to another. The 2/48th Battalion had replaced the 2/1st Pioneer Battalion. They continued the practice of having a brigade in reserve for the division. By late July, Brigadier Wooten's brigade (18th Brigade) moved back into the reserve. There were no big offensive operations conducted in July, although they continued to patrol and to conduct raids on enemy positions. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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