Friday, April 13, 2018

The Australian 2/13th Battalion in Tobruk from late October through November 1941

There seemed to be greater activity among the enemy that were besieging Tobruk. There were artillery operations under way. The British gunners could tell what the enemy were doing. The enemy was bombarding the Salient from 28 October 1941. The 1st RHA noticed that the enemy gunners were busy "registering targets" while the Salien was being hit.
While the artillery was more active, there were enemy patrol operations in the southeast of Tobruk. Since Brigadier Murray was still in Tobruk, he suggested that they form up the 2/13th Battalion and the two 2/15th Battalion companies into a force to hold the area by the El Adem and Bardia Roads. The Brigadier was concerned that the enemy might push into the fortress from the southeast. The British disagreed with his suggestion and took no action.
For the first two weeks of November, the situation seemed to have stabilized. The Polish brigade ran an operation that triggered an visual enemy response. The Polish brigade had artillery support and a smoke screen, and this triggered an enemy pyrotechnic display. The enemy fired multi-colored flare displays and then fired many rounds from artillery. The British had been prepared to plot gun positions by gun flashes, so they had accomplished their goal. Then the 1/Durham Light Infantry attempted to attack the Plonk post. They had a tank squadron in support as well as three 25-pdr regiments, but the attack went badly. They were caught in flanking small arms fire and ran into booby-traps. The battalion had 8 men missing and another fourteen wounded.
The enemy seemed to be giving the southeast perimeter of Tobruk some increased attention. When the moon was full, a group of thirty to forty men came up to the perimeter wire. The anti-tank ditch in the area was only four feet deep. They reached the ditch but pulled back when the British counter-attacked. Another group of men crossed the perimeter on 10 November. The happened near Post R53. Men from the 2/Queens attacked and drove the enemy back. Tanks were also active. The 21sr Armored Division had been seen about nine miles to the south of the southeast Tobruk perimeter. The 1st RHA noticed them and thought that they might be both observing the fortress and also getting into position for a possible attack.
By the second week of November, Tobruk was abuzz over the expected offensive towards Tobruk. One thing that happened was that the 1st RHA now was pulled into reserve and given transport so that it was "fully mobile". To achieve that, other units were stripped of vehicles. The men could see that work was underway to allow for a sortee from Tobruk from the southeast. The Battleaxe Operation had a similar plan. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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