Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Defending Tobruk in September 1941

The situation with respect to enemy artillery firing on the Tobruk harbor remained unchanged after the artillery duel in early September 1941. The RAF and the army had been unable to silence the enemy guns that had been bombarding the harbor at Tobruk. The navy was somewhat more successful than the RAF and army forces. The original plan was for HMS Gnat, a gunboat, to fire on the enemy guns, but the Gnat had engine trouble, so HMS Aphis arrived on the night of 15-16 September and fired on the guns. The RAF and army also participated in the attack on the enemy guns. Guns from Tobruk fired on the enemy guns to show the RAF where to hit. The aircraft dropped flares to illuminate the target. The Aphis then hit them with its guns. They succeeded in stopping the enemy from firing on the harbor for eight days. That was meaningful, because that covered most of the time when there was no moon visible at night. That aided the process of relieving more of the Australian units.
When September 1941 started, Rommel had decided to attack Tobruk from the southeast. That was also the area that had seen the least development of defensive positions by the enemy forces. There was an open area in the vicinity of "the El Adem and Bardia Roads" that had a screen of five outposts manned by the battalions holding those segments of the Tobruk perimeter. The outposts had all been given amusing names. Outpost Plonk was located near Bir el Azazi. The outpost was created on 15 August by the 2/15th Battalion. Going clockwise ("from right to left") were Bob and Bash, eventually renamed as Bondi and Tugun a month later. The next outposts were called Jill and Jack. They had been renamed from outposts Jed and Normie. The 24th Brigade now held the east sector. Their outposts were "Bob and Bash" as we mentioned. They were occupied by men from the 2/43rd Battalion. Men from the 2/28th Battalion occupied outposts Jack and Jill. There were also two outputs, very small, on the side of the Wadi Zeitan towards the enemy. These were located north of the Bardia Road.
The area north of the Derna Road was the scene of active patrolling and small but violent actions between Australian patrols and enemy troops occupying positions. This was near where "the rock shelf was gashed by the cliff-walled Wadi Sehel". "Standing patrols" operated on the enemy's side on the other side of the gorge. This was dangerous business, because on 8 September, one patrol was "shot up" by artillery and small arms fire. The goal was to gather information about enemy defenses so that reports could be passed up the chain of command. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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