Wednesday, August 02, 2017

The big move to shorten the salient at Tobruk during late June and early July 1941

The 2/15th Battalion commander, Major Ogle, was determined to move the perimeter forward by some 700 yards in the center of his position. The operation would stretch over five days, completing early on 3 July 1941. The first step was for the engineers to mark the area from the positions that they were presently in out to where they would move. They would deactivate mines as they went. They also marked the position of the new wire to be installed. The second step was to inactivate more mines and all the booby traps so that there were now "safe areas". For the third and fourth nights, they occupied infantry with the process of digging new positions and laying wire.

On the day that the 2/15th Battalion was to move forward, there was increased enemy activity, almost as if they were forewarned. There were troop movements along the entire salient area. Elsewhere, there was more artillery fire. All night, enemy reconnaissance aircraft overflew the area and used flares after the moon had set. The Australian historian thought that a 3rd Armoured Brigade exercise and triggered the enemy activity rather than what the 2/15th Battalion was doing.

Over time, the health of the men in Tobruk had deteriorated. There was wide-spread digestive problems, so that diarrhea was almost universal. That had been what had originally side-lined General Richard O'Connor after defeating the Italians. There were also cases of dysentery and what we would now call "PTSD" and what they called "fear state" in 1941.

The enemy air superiority over Tobruk affected the men's attitudes, but they also lost some of the fear associated with air attack as they became accustomed to it. The base and harbor drew most of the air attacks. Everyone on both sides were surprised when a British bombers flew over and dropped a bomb at Hill 209. During June, the enemy conducted 134 bomb attacks and flew 39 reconnaissance missions.

Showing the amount of wishful-thinking that happened prior to Operation Battleaxe, supply shipments to Tobruk had been greatly reduced. Starting on 1 July, the supply deliveries restarted and they were greatly appreciated by the troops. They remarked on hows good the food was. More attention was paid to ensuring that the men had adequate Vitamin C when everyone received an orange and men were issued Vitamin C tablets on a regular basis. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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