Thursday, October 19, 2017

Rationale for another attack and issues raised by the initial withdrawal moves in August 1941

The ridge adjacent to post S7 was a troubling feature for the defenders of Tobruk. In many ways, that ridge was more of a problem than Medauuar. An attack on the ridge would have involved larger forces, as some experts recommended using at least two infantry battalions. The proposed attack would have cost many casualties. The question was whether the attack would have been worth the cost. The Australian historian seems to have thought that the cost would have been too great and would have had a negative effect on troop morale. The historian thought that Morshead's desire to attack was based on his basic approach to defending Tobruk. He would not execute fancy or complicated maneuvers. Instead, he would have liked to not have given up any ground at all and would not accept defeat.
For the 18th Brigade to be ready to load onto ships and be sent to Egypt, they would have to be relieved from their positions. That relief would have to happen from 16 August to 21 August 1941. They needed to keep the reason for their relief could not be disclosed. The needed troop movements were to take the 24th Brigade from reserve and put them into the eastern sector. They would replace the 26th Brigade. The 26th Brigade would take over in the west and the Salient. The 2/1st Pioneer Battalion would be added to the 26th Brigade. The 2/24th Battalion stayed in their position. The 2/48th Battalion was sent back to the Salient, but only in reserve. The three battalions then were Pioneers in the west, the 2/23rd in the Salient on the right, and on the left of the Salient, the 2/24th Battalion.
Of the engineers, the 2/4th Field Company would withdraw with the 18th Btigade. The 2/13th Field Company had to replace the 2/4th. The 2/13th could have felt like they had gotten a raw deal of the changes.
The Polish Carpathian Brigade moved into Tobruk, starting  on 20 August. They arrived on board destroyers. The arrival of the Polish Carpathian Brigade had alerted the Australians in Tobruk of what was planned. They immediately all knew about the planned departure of the 18th Brigade and the Indian 18th Cavalry Regiment. Other unit to be removed were the 51st Field Regiment, King's Dragoon Guards, and the 3rd Hussars. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

2/23rd Battalion operations and the pending relief of the 18th Australian Brigade in August 1941

When the posts held by the Pioneers proved too tough a nut for the enemy, they moved their attention to posts manned by the 2/23rd Battalion. They had two posts near Bir Ghersa. One was named Jim and the other was Bob. Another nearby feature was the Walled Village. They had previously had a post at the Walled Village, but had stopped using the post. During 7 August, they saw two tanks with about thirty infantrymen near the Walled Village. The battalion sent a patrol to investigate during the evening. They had incoming mortar fire when they approached. The next day, three Italians were captured at Jim when they approached without knowing that the Australians were there. Then on 9 August, the enemy fired at post Bob and the men had to withdraw. Another group was sent out to protect post Jim and sat about 400 yards away. On this day, post Jim had a tank officer and two Australian men.
Some 21 enemy soldiers approached Jim. The men in the post called in fire support from the 104th RHA. They also fired with a Bren gun and a Thompson sub-machinegun. While firing, the Bren gun jammed, allowing the enemy to approach within 30 yards. The Australians kept the enemy back by throwing grenades. The Bren gun cleared and the enemy were shot down. Post Jim then received mortar fire and shell fire from artillery. The men withdrew to the covering group. On 10 August, a carrier went out with an artillery observer and found that they enemy had pulled back from Bir Ghersa.
General Morshead found out from Colonel Lloyd, who came from Cairo, that the 18th Brigade would be relieved unexpectedly soon. Morshead had planned to use the 18th Brigade, his best brigade, he thought, to attack the enemy at Post S7. With the brigade going to leave soon, they brigade commander was in no place to think about Morshead's grand plans for attacks. Another idea from General Morshead was to pull the 18th Brigade out sooner than September. Admiral Cunningham liked the idea and Auchinleck eventually opted for 19 to 29 August 1941. The 18th Australian Brigade and the 18th Cavalry would be replaced by the 1st Carpathian Brigade and the Polish Cavalry Regiment. The 18th Brigade commander, Brigadier Wootten only received news at the last minute of the relief. Brigadier Wootten and Captain Coleman had considered the task of attacking the enemy at Post S7. They should attack S6 and S7 at the same time and they would need as many as two battalions to do the attack.
Wootten's brigade major had studied what would be needed for a successful attack, after studying the enemy's defenses. The men were aware through the back-channel communications of the plans for another attack. The Australian historian considered that another attack would test the morale and confidence of the men in their commanders. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Axis plans and further developments in July to August 1941

By August 1941, the German High Command for Armored Forces set priorities for the rest of 1941. They hoped to add strength to the army in North Africa. The goal was to capture Tobruk. The discussion did not really acknowledge the issue of the Royal Navy's role in interdicting Axis shipping. That factor was the major reason for a two month lag for reinforcing Rommel's forces.
In July, Rommel had his vision for an attack on Tobruk. His plan had some preliminary moves that could be made without having any strength added. The road junction that would eventually become prominent as King's Cross would be the target. The attackers would congregate to the south of Tobruk. They would move out from an area near the target. The Australians had established posts near the area, so they would be the first things to be cleared.
In late July, the 2/1st Pioneer Battalion had two posts that they had inherited from the 2/23rd Battalion. Outpost "Normie" was attacked several hours after midnight on 26 July. The attackers had been an Italian patrol of a dozen or so men. Two days later, Normie was shelled and the post had to be abandoned. This happened at abour 9pm. A group with two officers and 21 men set out to recapture the Normie post. The enemy troops started firing at the Australians when they were about 200 yards from the post.  The Australian group moved to outflank the post. The enemy soldiers responded by shooting up flares. They also called in artillery on the attacking Australians. The Australians charged the post and the enemy troops ran. The men found an Italian machine gun, some rifles and grenades. The troops that fled seem to have been Italians.
Post Normie was attacked another time on 30 July. The attack was in the afternoon, so they were able to call in defensive fire from the 104th RHA. The battalion commander sent out two carriers carrying ten men. The attacking force, again which seem to have been Italians, were scattered. After failing with the posts near the Pioneers, the enemy moved to the 2/23rd Battalion area. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The New Axis Organization in July and August 1941

A new assessment of British tank losses in Battleaxe gave some additional prestige to Rommel. The Italian general Cavallero recommended that Rommel be in charge of a new, single headquarters in North Africa. This was supported by Hitler, and General Halder had to agree.
General Halder requested Rommel to submit his plan for an attack on Tobruk. General Halder wanted to keep one armored division on the Egyptian frontier and not involved with attacking Tobruk. He also warned Rommel not to expect further reinforcements. General Halder was still determined to keep the North Africa force from growing. Rommel did not agree with the condition, since he wanted to concentrate all his forces for the attack, which makes good sense., He had already given his plan on 15 July 1941 which used the 15th Armored Division and part of the 5th Light Division, his two armored divisions. Rommel wanted to use the captured  British infantry tanks to lead the attack and they would push through to the port and harbor area. Rommel had a schedule to meet, since he wanted to take Tobruk in September and then attack Egypt in October.
Rommel attended meetings in both Italy and Germany to discuss the new organization. They suggested Panzergruppe "Rommel", but settled on Panzergruppe "Africa". The Italian officer was still commander-in-chief of forces in North Africa. General Bastico was the new Italian commander as of 23 July 1941. General Bastico had command of the Italian corp with the Ariete Division and the Trieste Motorized Division. Rommel commanded all other German and Italian forces in North Africa under the Panzergruppe Africa. The German forces were included in the German Africa Corps while the Italians were in the XXI Corps. The hope was that the German Africa Corps would have the two armored divisions along with two infantry divisions. They would have what would become the 90th Light Division as well as having the Italian Savona Division. The Italian corps would have four infantry divisions, of which three were already in place. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Plans for North Africa for the fall of 1941

Operation Battleaxe was a dividing point for both sides in North Africa in mid-1941. The British had hastily mounted an operation that failed. The Axis forces had successfully repelled the attack. The Australians at Tobruk were intent on strengthening their positions. The Axis forces were also working to hold on to what they had.
The Germans had politics to deal with. There was a faction that was intent on controlling Rommel and keeping him from straining the supply system. A competing faction was counting on Rommel being able to beat the British forces and move east. General Halder, the German Army Chief of Staff, was the leader of the faction that was trying to keep Rommel in check. Their plan was to appoint General Gause as "German Liaison Officer at the Italian Headquarters in North Africa." General Gause actually arrived  on 10 June, but found he was not welcome, because General Garibaldi saw him as a threat to his authority. Garibaldi could have seen General Gause as a check on Rommel and welcomed him, but that did not happen. Rommel was unhappy with the appointment and complained to Field Marshal Brauchitsch.
The politics of the situation liked what Rommel had been able to accomplish and wanted him to do more of the same. They cared not about General Halder's and Field Marshal Brauchitsch's concerns. They had a problem in that Field Marshal Keitel was moving to help Rommel. Part of the dynamics were that the faction which wanted to limit Rommel was also afraid that Hitler was committing Germany to more than was reasonable. Keitel was intent on doing what Hitler wanted and he wanted Rommel to do more of what he had already done. He should defeat the British in battle and move into Egypt.
Already, Field Marshal Keitel was consulting with the Italian Chief of Staff about a planned offensive in the fall to attack Egypt. They would use two German armored divisions and two Italian. They also would have three motorized divisions. More Germans would be sent, so the initial elements of what would become the 90th Light Division were sent by ship to Libya in June 1941.
Right after General Gause arrived at the Italian headquarters, Hitler had sent a plan for what he wanted to do after Russia capitulated. He hoped to attack the Middle East from the east, west, and north. They would move through Turkey, from Libya to Egypt, and into the Levant from the Caucasus. Hitler called this "Plan Orient". Two first steps would include taking Gibraltar and Tobruk. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Investigating after the attack on 3 August 1941

One important question that lingered after the fighting on 2 August to 3 August 1941 was who occupied Post S7? There was an interlude in the morning, as both sides operated under the Geneva Convention to recover dead and wounded men near Post R7. Sergeant Tuie supervised the Australian operation. He set out at about 7am. The process continued through the day. The Germans were very helpful to the Australians and let them approach their positions. They also deactivated mine fields. They even gave Sergeant Tuit a drink. He succeeded in retrieving 28 dead and five wounded men.
At Post S7, there was no contact. The post was kept under fire and no one could get close during the day. The post seemed to be under enemy control, but Colonel Lloyd wanted to be sure as to the status. He ordered two patrols to go out at dark. One would check Post S6 and the other would check Post S7. The patrols were sent out at 9:45pm. If S7 were still in Australian hands, they would send out reinforcements. At 10 minute before 10pm, Captain Conway at Post S7 called for defensive fire. His signal was misunderstood and nothing happened. Captain Conway had sent a message out from earlier in the evening. Some men were sent out to help, but were not able to advance. A patrol from the water tower reported hearing Australians talking in Post S7. At 1:25am, Colonel Lloyd heard that the post seemed to be in the possession of the enemy. They eventually saw a green flare fired by the Germans from Post S7. That told the Australians that the post had fallen. It turns out that Captain Conway had run out of ammunition and had surrendered a little before 11pm.
At this point, the process of relieving units from the Salient was started. The 24th Brigade was relieved and was put into reserve. They were replaced by the 18th Brigade during 4 to 7 August. On 8 August, the 2/48th Battalion moved into reserve. That left three battalions up front. They were the 2/12th, the 2/10th, and the 2/9th. The 2/48th Battalion subsequently left the salient for the eastern sector while the 2/24th Battalion moved to the Salient. The engineers were also changed out. The 2/13th Field Company changed places with the 2/4th Field Company on 12 August. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

After the failed attack on 3 August 1941

Plans had been made based on the attacks succeeding, early on 3 August 1941. The initial impression was that both attacks had failed, When Captain Conway went forward to Post S7, he found his men had taken the post. He fired the signal for success, which now created some confusion. The truth was that there were only some nine men in condition to fight at Post S7. The enemy had now laid smoke to obscure the situation from view.
The Germans attacked the post at dawn. They were firing machine guns at the place and cutting the sandbags, which drained sand down onto the Bren gun. Miraculously, the Australians succeeded in repelling the attack. They permitted the Germans to collect their wounded from the attack. Commanders outside the area could not see past the smoke and dust. They had the impression that the enemy had retaken Post S7 after it had been taken. The brigade and battalion commander had the impression that the attack in the north had failed to take post S6 and had failed to hold onto S7 after it was initially taken. In the north, the 2/32nd Battalion had orders to send a company to provide the force to continue fighting, if the situation warranted.
In the south, the enemy seemed to have been warned before the attack. The artillery fire in support brought out an immediate enemy artillery response. The force that would have attacked was hit by the enemy fire and took casualties. The wire was blown with the bangalore torpedoes, but the bridges for the anti-tank ditch were broken and the men carrying them were wounded. There was heavy high explosive shell fire, but the men moved forward. More casualties were taken from grenades and booby traps. The key leaders were often wounded during the process. One of the platoons went too far and ended up attacking from the north side. Of the various sections, one was decimated by mortar bombs. Two kept moving forward, but they encountered a mine field backed by the anti-tank ditch. They lacked the bridges, so that was a problem. Only three men survived from Warrent Officer Quinn's platoon.
After twenty minutes had passed after the initial attack, another platoon was sent forward. They had a similar experience to Warrent Officer Quinn's platoon. They reached the ditch, but had only seven men left.
The men withdrew after it was realized that there was no point in continuing. Captain McCarter was wounded, but he directed the withdrawal. They had carried out many of the wounded men. Of the 4 officers and 139 men in the attack, they had 4 officers and 97 men killed or wounded. The actual dead included 29 infantrymen. The next morning, under the Geneva convention, the Australians were allowed to go in and bring out wounded and dead. The Germans deactivated minefields so that the work could proceed. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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