Wednesday, April 25, 2018

More about Cunningham's plan for Operation Crusader

We have seen that putting the British armored forces near Gabr Saleh was decided so that the three brigades were near each other, but in position so that they could support the XIII Corps infantry divisions that would try to hold the Axis forces near the frontier. XXX Corps had fighting the enemy armored forces as their priority. They would at least start the battle with the British armor concentrated. They had the advantage as well of having a force of all-arms, since they had the 1st South African Division and the 22nd Guards Brigade.
Only after defeating the enemy armored forces would XXX Corps try to lift the Tobruk siege. Once that they were ready to break through to Tobruk, the South Africans would move to Sidi Rezegh, and the nearby ridges. The Tobruk garrison would take Ed Duda. XIII Corps would move from the Egyptian Frontier and move towards Tobruk, clearing the enemy from the area. This seems like a decent plan. Of course, we know now that the British forces did not follow the plan.
The battle started to go wrong when the enemy armored forces defeated XXX Corps. However, the plan already had been abandoned. One British armored brigade with the support group moved to Sidi Rezegh, but without the South African division. The tank battle was fought near Sidi Rezegh and the result was that the enemy armor beat the British armor and also overran a South African infantry brigade. The British were forced from the vicinity of Sidi Rezegh.
The next phase of the battle consisted of the German armor flitting around the battlefield and taking heavy losses while attempting to attack XIII Corps. XIII Corps had the infantry tank brigade, equipped with Matildas and Valentines, which were well protected. XIII Corps was able to conduct combined operations with tanks and infantry. They were able to control the frontier, while connecting up with the Tobruk garrison. XXX Corps was reduced to rebuilding its tank strength through replacements and recovery and repair.
There was a third phase of the Crusader battle. XXX Corps and restored its tank strength, but was again defeated by the German armored divisions. The Germans had been pushed back to the narrow area between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania. The Germans rebounded right back to the Gazala area where the opposing armies were holding positions and readying for the next battle.
Rommel was always looking for opportunities to exploit. He was always looking to infiltrate into the enemy area and throw them off balance. The British often were easy to panic, so infiltration tactics worked well against the British as they had worked well for Rommel in the Alps during the Great War. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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