Saturday, December 31, 2005

My alternate post about the bombardment of Tripoli

I had accidentally posted this to the wrong blog. This was my original post on the bombardment.

Given the need to run a convoy through the Mediterranean Sea, Admiral Cunningham proposed to stage a bombardment of Tripoli in conjunction with that operation. That seemed to satisfy the commanders in Britain. Captain Mack's destroyers had just destroyed a convoy off Sfax, so they were in a more accepting mood. The impending need to withdraw the troops from Greece was also a factor.

The harbour at Tripoli was about a mile square, and was enclosed by breakwaters. The town sits "on a rocky promontory which forms part of the western and northern perimeter of the harbour". The berths for ships are on the northern segment of the breakwater. A seaplane station was on the southeast corner. Admiral Cunningham's plan was to bombard at night, with flares dropped from aircraft from his aircraft carrier, which he did not want to risk in close to shore. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

The plan for the bombardment of Tripoli

Admiral Cunningham proposed, as a compromise, to bombard Tripoli inconjunction with a convoy from Malta. This was accepted by the commanders in Britain. This became more palatable to them after Captain Mack's recent destruction of a convoy off Sfax with his destroyers. The impending need to evacuate troops from Greece was also a factor.

Tripoli was a mile square harbour enclosed by a breakwater. The town was a promontory that formed the western and northern border. The ship berths were on the northern breakwater. The southeast corner had a seaplane station. Admiral Cunningham proposed to bombard Tripoli in the early morning, before dawn. Aircraft from the aircraft carrier would drop flares to provide light for the shooting. The submarine Truant would shine a light and ping its sonar (ASDIC). The forces involved were:

The Bombarding Force:


Warspite (Cunningham's flagship)



and 9 destroyers

The Carrier Force:

3 cruisers
4 destroyers

This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Admiral Cunningham questioned the plan for blockships

The plan for attacking Tripoli with blockships, especially the Barham, was poorly conceived, and Admiral Cunningham was very resistent. Those in Britain making the proposal were not aware of the consequences. The idea was that the Barham and C-class cruiser would bombard before scuttling their ships. That meant that a substantial crew would be aboard. Admiral Cunningham thought that the chances of rescuing many would be small. He also was extremely sceptical that ships could be sunk in such a way as to block the harbour. The probability of success seemed very small. He also thought that the fleet would lose confidence in the higher command, as a consequence. A bombardment of Tripoli seemed a better option, even though the risks were great. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Back in North Africa in April 1941: plans for the bombardment of Tripoli

In early April, a plan had been considered that including sinking the old battleship, now target ship, the Centurion, to block Tripoli harbour. Admiral Cunningham ruled that out, since the ship was not already in the Mediterranean, and she probably could not have made the trip from the straits to Tripoli, without attack and damage. Admiral Cunningham did not want to bombard Tripoli with ships. Admiral Cunningham still thought that the best option was for the RAF to bomb Tripoli with Wellingtons. The commanders in Britain, as well as Churchill, kept pushing for a bombardment, and the admiralty was willing to sacrifice the battleship Barham and a C-class cruiser as blockships. These grand plans were being proposed just as the crisis point had been reached in Greece, and the commanders were forced to concede that the only option left was withdrawal. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

50,732 personnel were embarked from Greece, from 24 April until 1 May 1941. The total included some Greeks and Yugoslavs, as well as British forces (meaning British, Australian, and New Zealand). After the surrender at Kalamata, a few more men were embarked on the next few nights. There were also 700 taken from Milos, a nearby island. For several months afterwards, stragglers managed to escape, often with the help of friendly Greeks.

The 5th Panzer Division was ordered on from Thermopylae towards Lavrion. Lavrion is located at the south end of Attica. The pursuit pressed on towards Argos, Kalmata, and Sparta. Part of the SS Adolf Hitler Division moved across to Patras. The bridge over the Corinth Canal had been destroyed, but the Germans were able to cross near the ends. During the pursuit, one NZ battalion was bombed and the 6th NZ Brigade was able to hide during 28 April. The 6th NZ Brigade was taken off during the night of 29 and 30 April. Most were taken off from Monemvasia. So ended the Greek disaster. This was based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The continuing withdrawal from Greece in late April 1941

On 27 April 1941, a convoy of 6 ships was sent to Alexandria with an escort of two cruisers and seven destroyers. One transport, the Costa Rica, was sunk, but her crew and all troops were saved. A destroyer was able to take troops from the beach at Raphina. "The Ajax and two destroyers went to Porto Raphti where the 4th New Zealand Brigade had been heavily bombed during the day". The embarkation proceeded "without many casualties". The remaining troops on 28 April were at Monemvasia and Kalamata. The 6th New Zealand Brigade was at the former. Between 7 and 8 thousand were at the latter beach. There were also about 800 men on Kithera Island, who had reached there by boat. The troops at Monemvasia were able to be embarked quickly, as the landing craft from Glenearn were there. The three sloops sent to Kithera were able to take off the men without incident. Kalamata did not go so well. There, the Germans had broken into the town and captured the embarkation team and communications equipment. Only 300 men were taken off the beach, and then the rest were left to surrender on 29 April. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The withdrawal from Greece in April 1941

The British continued to use covering forces (or a rearguard) to protect withdrawals. A unit would move to a dispersal area on a night. They would hide through the next day, and then destroy equipment to be left behind. They would be called to "the beach by the embarkation staff". The ships would arrive "one hour after dark and leave not later than 3am". The RAF planned to fly out as many personnel as they could fit into aircraft. They used Bombays, Lodestars, and flying boats (Sunderlands?) to carry out men as well. Some had been carried by Blenheims to Crete. Those left would try to embark from beaches with the soldiers. The tentative plan was to leave starting on 28 April 1941. German advances disrupted this plan. The result delayed the withdrawal, as more time was needed to reach beaches in the Peloponnesus. On 25 April, the Ulster Prince was bombed and caught fire, becoming a total loss. The transport Pennland was bombed and sunk. Destroyers took her place, and all but 500 troops were withdrawn from Megara. On 25 April, General Wilson was forced to leave Athens for an embarkation area. This meant that he was out of contact until he arrived. Units were cut off and plans had to be changed. The 4th NZ Brigade had to be redirected to Porto Raphti. General Wilson was able to fly to Crete on 26 April. General Fryberg was left in command in Greece. There were many unfortunate losses, such as the Dutch transport Slamat, which had tried to embark more men, and was caught at daylight. The destroyers Diamond and Wryneck had tried to save men, and were sunk as well. On about 50 men, total, were ultimately rescued. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The plan for the embarkation from Greece in April 1941

The plan was to embark as many British troops as possible from Greece in April 1941. They would take their personal weapons and valuable, but light equipment, such as sights and other optics. Stores and equipment that might be useful "to the Greek people would be given to them". The rest would be destroyed, if possible, or at least rendered useless. The troops would be embarked in boats from " widely scattered beaches". The fast Glen Line ships and destroyers would take troops to Crete. The rest would be taken to Alexandria. The covering force would be limited to cruisers and their escorts: "the cruisers Orion, Ajax, Phoebe, and Perth; the anti-aircraft cruisers Calcutta, Coventry and Carlisle; about twenty destroyers and three sloops; the infantry assault ships Glenearn and Glengyle", 19 troop ships, four "A-lighters--an early type of tank landing craft", as well as a few other vessels. There were also some locally-acquired smallcraft thought to be suitable for the planned operation. The available beaches were surveyed and chosen. There needed to be deep water and they must be accessible to the retreating troops. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Readying for withdrawal

Apparently, by 21 April 1941, the cruiser York had already been sunk in Suda Bay by air attack. In any case, the ship's crew was "organized into beach parties". Additional personnel had been sent from Alexandria. Small craft were being gathered from many places, including Tobruk and the Suez Canal. On 20 April, the last 15 Hurricanes had intercepted an attack on airfields at Athens and 5 were lost and the rest were damaged. After this incident, the Germans had pretty much total control of the air. 23 Greek ships were bombed and sunk, including "a destroyer and a hospital ship". The plan was to take the troops off from beaches and take them to Crete. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The collapse in the Balkans in April 1941

The British had become separated from the Greek army. Yugoslavia had surrendered. The Greek government was in turmoil. The Greek president of council had committed suicide on 18 April 1941. General Wilson had spoken with the Greek king and asked if he would stay in Athens as long as possible. Some in the Greek government wanted to withdraw to Crete and continue fighting. Other ministers thought that further resistent was not feasible. General Wavell flew to Athens on 19 April and met with General Wilson and Brigadiers Galloway and Brunskill, Rear-Admiral Baillie-Grohman, and Air-Vice Marshal d'Albiac. General Wavell was resistant to withdrawal, partly because of the equipment that would be left behind. General Wavell needed to consult with the Greek government before definitely deciding on withdrawal. He met with General Blamey, who would have to hold Thermoplyae. He told Wavell that he could not hold Thermopylae for long. General Wavell then met again with the King and the new head of council. By 21 April, the Greek government notified Wavell that the best course would be to withdraw. The withdrawal appeared to be difficult, partly because the navy was in such a strained state. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I continue to wonder about the process where British forces were sent to Greece in 1941

If you believe Churchill, he could have been dissuaded from sending troops to Greece in 1941, if the commanders had objected. The reason why I might trust that declaration is that as soon as Churchill was notified about Greek concerns about heavy fighting, he ordered the British withdrawal. I think that much of the responsibility for the failed adventure lies with General Wavell. General Wavell was trying to be the "good soldier" and do whatever the politicians wanted, regardless of the consequences. The result of proceeding with the operation not only were the loss of men and, especially, equipment in Greece and the near-loss of the North African position, as well. If the Greek adventure had not proceeded, Rommel could have been stopped, during the February-March 1941 timeframe.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The withdrawal from 16 April to 18 April 1941

The 5th New Zealand Brigade was holding Olympus Pass. They held against tank and infantry attacks on 16 April 1941. At sundown, they pulled back to the top of the pass. On 17 April, the brigade was able to disengage, although one battalion had trouble breaking free of German mountain troops. They were able to reach their transport and the road to Larissa. The 4th New Zealand Brigade, at Servia, was able to disengage during that same period, and withdraw. On 17 April, the 1st Armoured Brigade passed through Savige's force on the way to Thermopylae. Savage's force withdrew on the evening of 17 April. On 18 April, the 6th New Zealand Brigade faced tanks, where they were positioned as rearguard at Elasson. The artillery had responsibility for engaging the tanks, which they did for the entire day of 18 April. The units involved included the 2/3 Australian Field Regiment, "one troop 64th Medium Regiment", and the 27th NZ Field Battery. On the evening of 18 April, the rearguard was able to disengage and withdraw. By the 19th, General Wilson's force was mostly at Thermopylae, with a rearguard at Domokos. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A good page about Operation Battleaxe

There is a good page about Operation Battleaxe on this Geocities-based site. The site is a manifestation of George Bradford and AFV News. He has other pages on Operation Brevity and the Crusader battles.

Monday, December 19, 2005

A short digression to analysis

The evidence suggests that General Wavell is largely to blame for the British collapse in early 1941. Churchill has a good responsibility, as well, but Wavell essentially saluted and agreed to measures that were totally destructive. A better man would have resisted Churchill's demands, and Churchill would have backed off (at least that is my reading of Churchill's writing). Wavell was used to taking risks and hoping for the best outcome. He had been lucky up until February 1941, when events took a turn for the worst, with Rommel's arrival in Libya.

Wavell did have the advantage that many of his personnel choices worked out well. He was also a good planner and administrator. His successor, General Auchinleck, seems to have been inept at choosing personnel. Auchinleck's main abilities were as a field commander, not as planner or administrator. That the latter topics worked as well as they did was more due to having a competent staff.

In any case, by the end of May 1941, the British were on the ropes in the Mediterranean theater, even while East Africa was wrapped up successfully.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The ANZAC retreat

The Germans were threatening Larissa from the coast. German tanks and infantry attacked the 21st New Zealand Battalion, which was defending positions at Platamon, trying to protect the railroad tunnel. They were forced to withdraw, by 16 April 1941. They retreated to the Vale of Tempe, the ancient river gorge for the River Pinios. The 16th Australian Brigade was ordered to move to the western side of the gorge. By April 17, the Germans had moved across the south peak of Mount Olympus. Elements of the 6th Mountain Division entered Gonnos by around noon. The 2nd Panzer Division succeeded in cutting off the 21st New Zealand Battalion and the 2/2 australian Battalion. They were forced into the hills. The Germans were blocked long enough for the main formations to withdraw. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The air war in mid-April 1941 in Greece

Initially the German air force concentrated its efforts against Yugoslavia and Eastern Macedonia. As they became accustomed to moving their support and aircraft, they increasingly devoted effort to hitting British positions and the road system in the rear. The RAF was outnumbered and while they did their best to counteract the German air superiority, they suffered great losses. In one case, on 15 April, the Germans hit Niamata airfield and destroyed all ten Blenheims on the ground. The improving weather simply aggravated the situation. While the day seemed like one continuous air attack from strafing German fighters, actual losses on the ground proved to be quite light. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Complications to the withdrawal plan in mid-April 1941

The commanders had expected that the main threat to the planned British withdrawal in Greece would come from the west. Instead, the problem came from the east, and the 16th Australian Infantry Brigade would have new responsibilites. The withdrawal of the 1st Armoured Brigade over bad mountain roads left their tanks in poor mechanical condition. They no longer could be expected to act as a covering force. Then, the road through Volos became impassable, as of 17 April. That left the road from Larissa carrying all traffic, and this while the German air force was becoming a dominant force. The British air forces were suffering heavily. During the first week of the German attack, air operations had been hampered by rain. The British air effort was primarily to attempt to slow the German advance. No.211 squadron suffered heavily. "On one mission all six Blenheims of No.211 Squadron were shot down with the loss of the Squadron Commander and the Commander of the Western Wing". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The withdrawal to Thermopylae

The distance to Thermopylae for the ANZAC corps was about 100 miles or more. The road network was unfortunate, because the roads into and out of Olympus Pass ran through Larissa. The British were already operating in a situation where the Germans had air superiority. That meant that movements would need to be at night. Three rearguard positions would be utilized. The 6th New Zealand Brigade would be positioned north of Larissa, not far from Elasson. The 16th Australian Brigade would be on the Kalabaka road near Zarkos. A composite force commanded by Brigadier Lee would be at Domokos. The other forces would head for those positions and withdraw through them. This meant that the vital point of Larissa would be covered on three sides. All this was to happen starting about 16 April 1941. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The German advance on 14-15 April 1941

The New Zealand Division was opposite the German 18th Corps, which had the 2nd Panzer Division moving forward along the Adriatic coast. The 6th Mountain Division was moving in parallel, but inshore. The New Zealand Cavalry withdrew back through the Olympus Pass in the evening of 14 April 1941. Over the next day, leading elements of the German forces were in combat with units from the New Zealand Division. The 17th Australian Brigade arrived at the front and was given Kalabaka to defend. The hpe was that they would guard roads leading to the Piraeus. The 1st Armoured Brigade was still at Grevena, and was only withdrawn with difficulty to a location behind the Venetikos river. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Balkan situation in mid-April 1941

After the Germans took Belgrade on 13 April 1941, the British command in Cairo had to face the fact that the Balkans situation was close to collapse. They immediately looked at what would be needed to withdraw "British" forces from Greece. When General Wavell heard of General Papagos's suggestion that the situation was lost and that the British should consider withdrawing to save Greece from the destruction involved with a fierce battle, he asked the high command in Britain for instructions. Churchill's reaction was to order the evacuation to proceed. By the night of 15/16 April, token German forces had crossed the Aliakmon and were in contact with British forces. The last British withdrawal had broken contact. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Churchill on the "decision to aid Greece"

I thought it worth looking at Churchill's rationale for going into Greece in his book The Grand Alliance. With our hindsight, the decision looks like a bad idea, and the consequences were grave. In early 1941, plans had been made to send forces to Greece, but there were no hard committments. Admiral Cunningham had warned of the dangers involved in such an enterprise. The potential allies in the Balkans, the Greeks, Yugoslavs, and Turks all had decided that the British could send such small forces that they could not affect the issue. That was the reason that the Turks turned down any cooperation with the British. We might say, in this day, that they were correct in their assessment. The decision was made partly because commanders such as General Wavell seemed ready to be involved and because the brain trust in Britain hated to not contest a German attack in the Balkans, particularly if it might mean the loss of Greece, Yugoslavia and Turkey. They thought that if Yugloslavia showed any inclination to stand with the Allies, that forces should be sent into the Balkans to support the Greeks and Turks. This is based on the account in Churchill's book The Grand Alliance.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Further retreat by 15 April 1941

General Wilson had discussed a further withdrawal to Thermopylae as early as 13 April 1941. When reports surfaced of the collapse of morale and discipline in the Greek army, and the Greek 12th and 20th Divisions were seen as just barely surviving, General Wilson discussed with General Blamey the further withdrawal to Thermopylae. When General Wilson and General Papagos met on 16 April, General Papagos approved the withdrawal and discussed the Greek army's plight. General Papagos suggested the the British army withdraw totally from Greece, at least partly to save Greece from the destruction involved in an intense battle. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

12 April 1941 and later in Greece

Fortunately for Force W, the Germans were having trouble moving a balanced force forward and keeping them supplied. The Germans attacked the junction between the 1st Rangers and the 2/8 Australian Battalion on 12 April. The Rangers and 2/8th were only able to withdraw with difficulty. Fortunately, the plans for the rearguard position worked and the Germans were delayed there. The 1st Armoured Brigade Group subsequently withdrew to Grevena.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Division had been active. Their divisional cavalry had armoured cars and Brend carriers before the Olympus Pass. The 16th Australian Brigade was sent across country, to keep the roads free. This only was done with difficulty. By 14 April, the 17th Australian Brigade was arriving from the Piraeus to reinforce the ANZAC Corps, commanded by General Blamey. The situation was deteriorating as the Greek divisions were in obvious trouble and in danger of collapse. The ANZAC Corps was planning withdrawal, starting on 15 April.

This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Mackay Force in Veve Pass

General Mackay's task was to hold the Germans at Veve Pass until the night of 12/13 April 1941. At his disposal, he had the Australian 19th Infantry Brigade (Brigadier Vasey) and the 1st Armoured Brigade Group. The 1st Rangers, the motor battalion from the 1st Armoured Brigade Group, was temporarily placed under Brigadier Vasey's commmand. That meant that there were now three battalions to hold a ten mile front. To their right was the "Greek Dodecanese Regiment". The two armoured regiments were positioned to suppor the infantry. These were the 4th Hussars, with light tanks, and Robert Crisp's 3rd RTR with cruiser tanks (A.9 Cru.Mk.I and A.10 Cru.Mk.II). The plan was that the 19th Australian Infantry Brigade would withdraw starting in evening of 12 April with the armoured brigade as rearguard. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

April 9 and 10 1941, in Greece

Up through 9 April, the Greeks had been engaging Italian troops in Albania. The threat from the German moves caused General Papagos to disengage and withdrew to a line that went from the west coast to the "big bend" in the Aliakmon river, to the southwest of Servia. By the 10th Mackay force was firing on the vanguard of the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Division. On 10 May, General Papagos ordered General Wilson to withdraw to the line of the "Olympus-Servia-Lake Prespa" position. General Wilson had positioned his Greek divisions on his left flank. These were the Greek 12th and 20th Divisions. General Wilson was getting nervous about his Greek divisions as they had little or no transport and seemed to lack cohesion. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

General Wilson expected to have to withdraw

Because General Wilson could see that a withdrawal from the Aliakmon position was unavoidable, he made some preliminary moves. He ordered General Blamey to make some preliminary moves. The 19th Australian Brigade, with only two battalions, a field regiment, and an A/T regiment were moved north to Veve. The 1st Armoured Brigade was moved to Amyntaion. General Mackay colocated his HQ with the Greek General Karassos. A portion of the Greek 20th Division moved position on the right of Mackay Force. Under General Blamey's command, portions of the New Zealand Division were on the move, including towards the Olympus Pass. At Aliakmon, the demolition took place in hopes of slowing the Germans. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History (being the History of the Second World War: The Mediterranean and Middle East).

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

8 April 1941 in Greece

General Wilson realized on 8 April 1941 that the German 40th Corps would be a threat, as it moved from Monastir. The Australian Generals Blamey and Mackay were given responsibility to strengthen the situation with a readjustment and with arriving elements of the 6th Australian Division. General Mackay was put in command of the "Amyntaion Detachement" and told to strengthen the unit as he could. He now reported directly to General Wilson. There were still Greek forces in the field. While Mackay Force would defend the Veve Pass, the Greek 20th Division would defend a line across Lake Vegorritis to Edessa. They pulled back from Edessa, itself. The Greek 12th Division would defend the line from Verria to the coast, along with the New Zealand Division and the 16th Australian Brigade. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The German attack in April 1941

Once the decision was made to attack Yugoslavia as well as Greece, plans were altered to pull in some forces intended for Barbarossa. Luftflotte 4, in Austria, was tasked to operate over Yugoslavia. The German 2nd Army would attack from Austria and Hungary. The 12th Army, in Bulgaria, would still attack Greece. The German airforces involved dwarfed those available to the British. Luftflotte 4 had 576 aircraft, alone. Another 168 were pulled in from Fliegerkorps X. The air support for the 12th Army was provided by Fliegerkorps VIII, which had 414 aircraft.

The situation in Yugoslavia was such that the country was doomed in a couple of days. When the attack commenced on 6 April 1941, the 9th Panzer Division, of the 40th Corps was a at Skopje. The 73rd Infantry Division moved to Prilep. Armoured forces reached Salonika on 9 April.

In air attacks on the Piraeus on the night of 6 and 7 April, the Clan Fraser was bombed, caught fire, and exploded. The explosion of the Clan Fraser's cargo of 250 tons of explosives sank other ships and damaged the dock facilities. The damage was so extensive as to shut down the port.

On that night of 6 and 7 April, Sofia was bombed by 6 Wellingtons, hitting an ammunition train and damaging the railway in Sofia. Blenheims from No.84 Squadron bombed a railway station 50 miles south of Sofia. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The initial stages of the German attack in Greece

A prominent feature of the German attack on Greece was that the Germans controlled the air. The terrain and weather were also unfamiliar to many of the troops (Australians and New Zealanders, in particular). There were mountains and snow to deal with. All that and they had to stage a fighting withdrawal to embarcation points a great distance away. And somehow, they largely succeeded. The Germans had struggled in Bulgaria to prepare for the campaign. By 1 April 1941, Field Marshal List could report that his troops were ready to invade Greece. On 27 March, the Germans heard of the Yugoslav coup, and the orders were changed. They decided the Yugoslavia must be quickly neutralized, so they could not interfere with the attack on Greece, and later, the attack on Russia. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

When the Germans turned the flank at Aliakmon

After the German attack on Yugoslavia and Greece in early April 1941, the Germans quickly crossed into the "upper Aliakmon valley". This flanked the Greeks facing Albania and also W Force. The British had no choice but fall back on Thermopylae. That meant withdrawing across Thessaly, a plain. That also meant that the main airfields would be lost to the advancing Germans. With the Greek government at the breaking point, the commanders decided to stage a complete withdrawal of British forces. For all the sacrifices made to send troops to Greece, it all came to nought. British forces were unable to affect the outcome in the Balkans and almost lost North Africa, as well. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The situation unfolds in Greece in April 1941

Around 5 April 1941, General Wilson had been told that the 7th Australian Division and the Polish Brigade would not be sent to Greece. Of the troops actually in Greece, most were not deployed where he had wanted. Greece was a spent force and would not count for much. Yugoslavia was in political turmoil after the coup which forestalled the attempt to join the Axis. The entire British campaign in Greece became a withdrawal. There was never a decent prospect of being able to face the Germans and fight in place. The Yugoslav army in the south was rapidly beaten. That allowed an open path to the Germans to enter Greece through Monastir. General Wilson changed his deployment, but his resources were meager enough that his left flank was dangerously exposed. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Right before the storm: early April 1941 in Greece

Intelligence started to be collected indicating German forces moving through Bulgaria from late March 1941. The German forces were much stronger than the Allies had defending the Aliakmon line. At the end of March, there appeared to be about 20 German divisions in Bulgaria, menacing Greece. Of these 20, 6 were on the west side, while 4-6 were in the center. The German XVIII Corps, with two mountain divisions was active on the Greek-Bulgarian border. The Italians in Albania were also moving to the frontier. At the same time, Rommel was attacking in Libya. News went out to Allied troops on 4 April 1941 to be prepared for an attack, perhaps on 5 April. In the event, the attack actually took place on 6 April, in the early morning, and was against both Greece and Yugoslavia. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The British air power in Greece early April 1941

The British air strength in Greece in early April 1941 consisted of the following squadrons:

No. 11 Blenheim bombers
No. 84 Blenheim bombers
No. 113 Blenheim bombers
No. 211 Blenheim bombers
No. 30 Blenheim fighters

No. 33 Hurricanes

These were a mix of Hurricanes and Gladiators
No. 80 single seat fighters
No. 112 single seat fighters

No. 208 Army Cooperation (Lysanders?)

Wellington bombers from Egypt were
available on moonlit nights

In fact, when the attack happened on 6 April, there were
only 80 operational British aircraft in Greece. The main
problem was the shortage of suitable airfields and space
for planes.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

April 1941, the British in Greece

By early April 1941, General Wilson was getting increasingly nervous about his supply lines. There was ample reason to divert troops to supply line defence, although that was very distasteful to him. An additional issue was that the britis rations were superior to local food, which attracted pilfering. On April 5th, General Wilson was finally allowed to openly command his troops, wear his uniform, and travel. The situation was that the 1st Armoured Brigade, without the 3rd RTR, was on the Axios plain. To their right was the New Zealand Division. They were in front of Katerini, but one brigade was moving towards the Olympus Pass. The 6th Australian Division was only just starting to arrive. The 16th Australian Infantry Brigade was to take over the defence of the Verria gap. The 19th Australian Brigade was moving two battalions forward Athens. The 17th Australian Brigade was still in Egypt, along with one field regiment (artillery). General Wilson felt uneasy about trying to command from Athens, so he split his headquarters, so that he had his main HQ near Elasson, 15 miles to the north of Larissa. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official history.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The 3rd RTR in early April 1941

The South African cricket player Robert Crisp was in the 3rd RTR in 1941. They were the sole cruiser tank unit (then called a battalion and later regiment) in the 1st Armoured Brigade. General Wilson had held them back, as he was reluctant to position them out on the plain, where the light tank battalions were situated. Their tanks also had very worn tracks. General Wilson decided to form a battlegroup around the 3rd RTR. He added the 64th Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery (minus one battery), the 1st Australian AT Regiment (less one battery), and half of the 27th New Zealand MG Battalion. The force was commanded by Brigadier Lee, the Corps Medium Artillery commander, and was called the "Amyntaion detachment". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, November 28, 2005

March and Early April 1941 in Greece

The deployment plan for W Force in Greece was as follows. The 1st Armoured Brigade, without its one cruiser tank regiment would be on the plain in front of the defensive position, covering the preparations for demolitions "as far forward as the river Vardar (or Axios)." The armoured brigade was to fight a delaying action, while withdrawing on the Edessa gap. General Wilson ordered the New Zealand Division as early as 11 March to occupy "a position in front of the railhead at Katerini". That would stretch the New Zealand Division across a 15 mile front, where they were supposed to prepare defences at the Olympus Pass. General Wilson had agreed to a plan by General Papagos to move the 19th Greek Division to the Eastern Macedonian Army The 6th Australian Division was to move to the left of the New Zealand Division (presumably with an outward facing view) The two divisions would then comprise General Blamey's 1st Australian Corps. The 12th Greek Division would move to the north, while the 20th Greek Division would be on the far left. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

The British plan for unit arrival in Greece in March and April 1941

The British plan was for a phased arrival of units in Greece. This was probably necessitated by the realities of transport availability. This was the order:
  1. 1st Armoured Brigade Group-Brigadier H.V.S. Charrington
  2. The New Zealand Division-Major-General Bernard Freyberg
  3. The 6th Australian Division-Major-General Sir Iven Mackay
Along with these would be interwined:
  • The Force HQ
  • HQ 1st Australian Corps-Lt-General Thomas Blamey
  • two medium regiments, Royal Artillery
  • corps, base, and line of communication troops
To follow would be the 7th Australian Division and the Polish Brigade. More than 31,000 men had been carried to Greece by the end of March 1941. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Unpleasant alternatives in Greece in on the British arrival

There were no good options for moving through mountainous Greece. There were a few one-way roads. There were a few other roads that were not suitable for bad weather and had steep descents. The rest of the paths were "bridal paths". The Greek army was horse and ox and mule-drawn, so they were able to travel, although not at a fast pace. The British army was motorized, and was tied to the few good roads. In the spring, with the rains, much of the travel would turn into mud (March and April). The powers that be in Cairo had decided that the British army would be based in the "Piraeus-Athens area". They hoped that by having intermediate bases with supplies for 90 days, that they could somewhat counter the poor transportation situation. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History. Going into Greece does not even seem like a rational decision, which of course it wasn't, as it was driven by Churchill and his willing minions. This was not a rational, calculated move. The consequences were disastrous to the position in North Africa.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Aliakmon front in 1941

General Wilson arrived in Athens on 4 March 1941, but the Greek government asked him to remain in civilian clothes and not advertise his presence. This made his task as commander quite difficult. He was not able to personally reconnoiter Aliakmon. The basic position was strong, and had slopes facing the potential attack that sharply descended. There were four passes through which traffic could flow. The main difficulty was that the position could be readily turned by a force attacking through Yugoslavia from Monastir to Florina. If an attack developed from that direction, the British would have to make a difficult withdrawal under air attack. The terrain through which such a retreat would have to be made was mountainous and had little cover. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, November 25, 2005

The military situation in Greece in March 1941

The Allied defence plan for Greece was to have the main front against the Italians in Albania, and then to have Lt-General Bacopoulos's force in Eastern Macedonia, and a force defending the Aliakmon position. General Wilson would command the Aliakmon force. The Greek leader, General Papagos would be in overall command. Lt-General Bacopoulos's force consisted of three divisions without any transport and some fortress troops. The weakest portion was near Salonika, which was very unfortunate. General Wilson's W force was slow to happen. His force was still incomplete at the time of the German invasion. The British deployment was covered by a weak Greek "Central Macedonian Army" commanded by General Kotulas. He had just one corps of three understrength divisions. One, the 19th Division, was nominally motorized, but was newly formed and had a mix of British and captured Italian equipment. The others, the 12th and 20th Divisions, had only two regiments with little artillery. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

The effect of the situation in the Balkans in February-May 1941

As an aside, the military and political situation in the Balkans in February through May 1941 may have affected the outcome of the war. The critical incident was the coup by the Serbians in Yugoslavia. That probably brought in a more immediate and decisive German intervention in the Balkans that delayed the attack on Russia by a month. If the Barbarrosa could have taken place a month earlier, Moscow might have been taken with incalculable affect on the outcome of the war. Seemingly small and obscure events can have great effects.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The British air effort against Italy in March 1941

The Greeks had wanted the RAF to act in close support of the Greek army, but by March 14, 1941, Air Vice-Marshal D'Albiac directed attacks against crowded Italian fields at Tirana, Valona, and Berat in Albania. The Wellingtons from No.37 Squadron operated against Italian shipping. There were supplemented by six Swordfish from No.815 Squadron FAA. On March 17, the Swordfish carried out a successful attack on Valona harbour, sinking the torpedo boat Andromeda and three merchant ships. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The effects of the Yugoslav coup in 1941

Necessarily, the coup leaders in Yugoslavia in April 1941 could not reasonable weaken their northern defences to allow them to attack the Italians in Albania. The coup was driven by the Serbian desire to resist the move towards alliance with Germany. The Croatians in the north were pro-German, but Serbia still felt a natural connection to the allies. The coup pointed out the lack of cohesion in the Yugoslav national fabric.

The Italian offensive in Albania was being pressed to succeed before the Germans intervened. The attack had started in early March. Mussolini had even come over to witness a victory. The Italians had 28 division supported by an average air strength of 26 bombers and 105 fighters. The 4th Squadra, flying from Italy had an additional 134 bombers and 54 fighters. They were faced by 14 Greek divisions which were stretched to the breaking point. Still, in 10 days or so, the Italian offensive failed. The Italians were faced in the air by a small RAF contingent consisting of one Gladiator squadron, a few Hurricanes, one Blenheim bomber squadron, some Blenheim fighters, and some Wellingtons. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

After the coup in Yugoslavia in March 1941

When Anthony Eden and the CIGS General Dill heard of the coup in Yugoslavia, they were on the island of Malta. They immediately flew to Athens, after hearing of the German ultimatum. In Greece, General Papagos wanted to immediately move towards Salonika after hearing of the Yugoslavian coup. The British opposed any moves until they better understood the intentions of the coup leaders. Because Yugoslavia was not prepared for war, cooperation was limited to staff discussions with the Allies. When the talks were held on April 3rd, the Allies were disappointed because the Yugoslav representative, General Yankovitch, only could discuss defending Salonika. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, November 21, 2005

More developments in Yugoslavia in March 1941

The British government learned on March 17, 1941, that the Yugoslav government had been asked to sign the Tripartite Pact by the German government. Anthony Eden decided to send an appeal to Prince Paul, the regent, by way of Prince Paul's friend Terence Shone, who was the British minister in Cairo. Anthony Eden appealed to Prince Paul to intervene and attack the Italians in Albania. The goal would be to knock Italy out of the Balkan war. Despite the letter to Prince Paul, the British learned on May 20th that the Yugoslav government had offered to sign the Tripartite Pact under certain conditions. This brought the situation in Yugoslavia to a breaking point, as 3 Serbian cabinet ministers resigned on March 22nd. In the end, the Yugoslav government signed the Tripartite pact in Vienna on March 25th. That led to a coup in Prince Paul's name by a groupled by General Simovitch. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Greece and Britain wanted the Yugoslavs to attack the Italian rear

The sort of game that the British were playing in the Balkans in early 1941 to provide general assurances to the Yugoslav government that they would be aided if they joined the Allies. They did not want to be committed to any definite steps, which is what the Yugoslav government wanted. What they were hoping to achieve was to persuade the Yugoslavs to attack the Italian rear in Albania. They hoped that would cause an Italian collapse and would make the main Greek forces available to resist a German attack.

Anthony Eden had visited Ankara at the end of February 1941. The Turkish government seemed intent on remaining neutral and passive. General Wavell and Air Chief Marshal Longmore resisted providing any assurances to Turkey, as they seemed more of a liability than an asset (a paraphrase of the Official History). The primary reason that the British wanted a declaration of war by the Turks was to influence Yugoslavia to stay out of the Axis.

This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Negotiations in the Balkans in early 1941

The aim of British negotiators was to build a coalition in the Balkans to oppose the Germans, particularly. The Yugoslav government was being pressured by Germany to join the Axis side. The British minister in Yugoslavia thought that if the Prince Regent, Prince Paul, knew how much aid the British were supplying to Greece that he would choose to join the Allies. In response to that input from Mr. Campbell, Anthony Eden wrote a letter to Prince Paul, telling him an outline of Greek and British plans. He suggested that how well Salonika could be defended depended largely on the Yugoslavs. He invited Yugoslav officers to Athens to coordinate plans. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Back to the Balkans in early 1941

As we have already seen, Anthony Eden, Foreign Secretary, and the CIGS Sir John Dill were sent to the Middle East in February 1941. The goal was to build a counter to German aggression in the Balkans. They hoped to arrange to give support to Greece and attempt to bring Turkey and Yugoslavia into an alliance to oppose the Germans. In the event, the Greeks did agree to allowing some British troops into Greece to help defend the Aliakmon position. Lt-General Maitland Wilson was designated as the commander of troops sent. Anthony Eden put out feelers to the Yugoslav goverment, as their position could be turned by an attack through Yugoslavia. Part of the difficulty with Yugoslavia was that the Serbs were sympathetic to the Allies while the Croats were closely aligned with the Axis. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A special mission from Malta in February 1941

Space needed to be available on Malta airfields between 8 and 21 February 1941. To do that, 5 Wellingtons from No.148 Squadron were sent to Egypt. The need was to provide space for 8 Bomber Command Armstrong-Whitworth Whitleys from No.78 Squadron. These aircraft flew a mission to Southern Italy where they dropped 38 officers and men from the 11th Special Air Service Battalion. Their mission was to carry out an attack on an aqueduct. They achieve partial success, but not escaped to the submarine rendevous that had been arranged. The main benefit was the lessons learned from the operation, as well as the morale effect on the Italian populace. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

The air situation at Malta from April to June 1941

On May 1st, 1941, No.252 Squadron arrived at Malta from Gibraltar. Their equipment was 13 Beaufighters equipped for coastal operations. They were sent to provide long-range cover to the Tiger Convoy and to the Parracombe which had unfortunately been mined and sunk. The Hurricanes based in Malta were to provide cover within 40 miles of the island. The attack on Crete in May disrupted plans and the Beaufighters were sent east. They carried out one attack on Greece on May 16th from Malta and then were sent to Egypt due to the maintenance challenges on Malta. On April 27th, 6 Blenheims from No.21 Squadron arrived. Between January and June, the Swordfish were still actively operating from Malta against shipping, in conjunction with the Wellingtons of No.148 Squadron. The Swordfish had arrived on Malta as long ago as June 1940. At the end of April, the Wellingtons were withdrawn to Egypt to free up airfield space for more Blenheims. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The importance of air reconnaissance to Malta

For Malta-based strike forces to be effective, they relied upon aerial reconnaissance. In January, there were No.228 Squadron with 5 Sunderlands and No.69 Squadron with 4 Martin Marylands (at first just called "Glenn Martins"). By later in March, the situation had deteriorated to the point that the Sunderlands were too vulnerable, so they were withdrawn to Egypt. The demands for reconnaissance were more than the small number of Marylands could provide. The peak in strength was 7 aircraft, and usually there were fewer. To improve the situation, No.39 Squadron at Mersa Matruh was used to cover the southern part of the search area. By May, three more Marylands had arrived to reinforce No.69 Squadron, and some camera-equipped Hurricanes were improvised. The combination of moves enabled the air reconnaissance report more targets "than the striking force could deal with". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Early 1941 was a good time for British naval forces operating near Malta

The first five months of 1941 were quite successful for British naval forces operating near Malta. We have already discussed the surface forces, but there were also the larger submarines which operated in deeper water and the much smaller U-class which operated in the shallows off Tunisia and Libya near Tripoli. The greatest successes of this period were the sinking of the Italian light cruiser Armando Diaz by Upright and the liner Conte Rosso by Upholder. Lt-Commander Wanklyn received the Victoria Cross for what was called "a daring attack" on the Conte Rosso. Unfortunately, two U-class submarines, the Usk and Undaunted were lost, as well. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Starting on 24 April 1941, surface forces at Malta were reinforced

The light cruiser Gloucester arrived at Malta on April 24, 1941. Further ships arrived by April 28. They included the light cruiser Dido, the fast minelayer Abdiel, and the 5th Destroyer Flotilla. The 5th Destroyer Flotilla was commanded by Lord Louis Mountbatten and consisted of his flagship, the Kelly, and Jackal, Kelvin, Jersey, Kipling, and Kashmir. The 14th Destroyer Flotilla left, escorting the fast transport Breconshire. After the Jersey was mined on May 2nd, the Gloucester , Kipling, and Kashmir were sent to Gibraltar. The Kelly, Jackal, and Kelvin sailed on May 9th to join the Tiger Convoy escort. The Tiger Convoy, as we know, was taking tanks and Hurricanes to Egypt. Upon their arrival, Churchill immediately started applying pressure for them to be used. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The British tried basing a surface raiding force at Malta

Admiral Cunningham had always hoped to base a surface raiding force at Malta, if the air defences could be improved enough to provide protection (and if the threat diminished). The 14th Destroyer Flotilla arrived at Malta on 11 April 1941. The flotilla commander was Captain Mack in the Jervis, with the Janus, Mohawk, and Nubian. The latter two were Tribal class ships while the former two were J-class. They immediately left port to see if they could attack a convoy, but they were unsuccessful. On the night of 15-16 May 1941, they found a convoy of German ships. They succeeded in destroying the entire convoy of three escorting Italian destroyers, one Italian merchant ship and four German merchant ships. One Italian destroyer, the Lampo, was later salvaged. The Mohawk was torpedoed twice, and had to be scuttled. About a week later, they missed a convoy but did sink one merchant ship. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Axis transport to North Africa from February to May 1941

The transport of the 5th Light Division to Libya started in early February. By the end of March, 15 convoys had crossed with 25,000 men, 8,500 motor vehicles, and 26,000 tons of supplies. The transport of the 15th Panzer Division had been completed by the end of May, and that freed up shipping so that Italian troops could be finally brought across to Libya. From March to May, 9 German ships were sunk and 9 were damaged during the transport operation. The trip could have been much safer if ports in Tunisia were available. Protracted negotiations with the Vichy French ensued, but fortunately for the British, they never resulted in the ports becoming available to the Germans. Since Hitler was focused on Russia, no pressure was applied to the French. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Fliegerkorp X was losing effectiveness by May 1941

Fliegerkorps X, while having been effective since the unit first entered action in January 1941, General Geisler, the commander reported that the unit could not sustain the pace of operations up until the end of April 1941, as losses had reached the unacceptable point. The problem corrected itself in May, as the remaining units were rotated to either Greece, the Eastern Front, or to North Africa. The Germans essentially gave up on the effort until the end of 1941. The had loss as many as 60 aircraft per dayThat left the Italians to operate from airfields in Sicily. The potent SM79 was still a threat, particularly as a torpedo bomber. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

This continues to be a good summary of the war in North Africa in 1941

I keep running into the "Engagements 1941" page in Google searches. This is still a good one page summary of the North Africa campaign in 1941.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Malta in April and May 1941

At atttempt was made to sneak a disguised merchant ship to Malta in late April. The ship, the SS Parracombe had a cargo of supplies and 21 Hurricanes. Unfortunately, the disguise was useless, as the ship was mined and lost off of Cape Bon. In late April, some Hurricane I and II fighters were flown in by aircraft carrier. This only brought the island fighter strength up to something over 40 aircraft. The defending fighters did not do very well in the first week of May. The results were attributed to the Hurricane I and inexperienced pilots. The Official History suggests that fatigue from the intense operations could have been a bigger factor. The decision was made to send the pilots from No.261 Squadron to Egypt and to retain the pilots from No.249 Squadron, due to arrive shortly. No.185 Squadron was formed, as well. Fighter command sent out new leadership and the control communications were improved. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Air Reinforcements from March to June 1941

Air Arthur Longmore pushed to get reinforcements to Malta. He sent 6 Hurricanes to Malta on March 2nd and another 6 on March 14, 1941. By late March, the first 12 Hurricane Mk.II's arrived at Gibraltar on the Argus. They were transferred to the Ark Royal and an operation was conducted by Force H, under the command of Admiral Somerville to reinforce Malta. The forces involved were the Ark Royal, Renown, Sheffield, and the 8th Destroyer Flotilla. At 6am on April 3rd, the aircraft were launched, led by 3 Skuas. They flew 400 miles to Malta. By June, 224 fighter aircraft had flown into Malta. Most went on to Egypt, but 109 were kept on the island. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The air campaign against Malta intensified

Up until February 1941, the German attacks on Malta were in the daytime. The largest attacks included up to 60 bombers and 40 fighters. In February, tactics changed to night attacks. As many as 45 Ju-88 and He-111 bombers would independently bomb targets on the island. After 12 February, Me-109's conducted daylight attacks while the bombers kept to the night. February also saw the start of a concerted effort to mine the harbour by minelaying aircraft. The intensity had reached the point where after raids on 5 and 7 March, the Sunderlands and Wellingtons were withdrawn, as they could no longer be protected. Sending Hurricane II's to the island became an increasing priority. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Malta's air defence in mid-1940

I had hoped to find a picture of one of the Sea Gladiators that defended Malta in mid-1940, and was rewarded to find a good page about them with a picture. The Sea Gladiators only lasted a short time, but were the initial first line of defence against Italian air attack. The actual site that contains this page is called Malta GC.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Fliegerkorps X from January 1941

Fliegerkorps X had made a strong effort against Malta while the aircraft carrier Illustrious was in port. After she left on January 23, 1941, the attacks were reduced in scope. Fliegerkorps X was struggling to meet its commitments. The charter of Fliegerkorp X included operating against British shipping in the central Mediterranean, to support Marshal Graziani in Libya, and to protect Axis shipping. While the strength of Fliegerkorps X grew from 243 aircraft in the middle of February 1941 to as many as 443 aircraft by late March, its losses mounted. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The air situation in Malta in January 1941

When the German attacks started in January 1941, the aircraft on the island of Malta were the following:

  • No.261 Squadron RAF-12 Hurricane Mk.I
  • No.228 Squadron RAF-5 Sunderlands
  • No.69 Squadron RAF-4 Martin Marylands
  • No.148 Squadron RAF-12 Wellingtons
  • No.830 Squadron FAA-10 Swordfish
There were only three airfields at this date. One in the south, one near the Grand Harbour, and one in the center of the island. The flying boat base was in the south, near the airfield.

Malta had the disadvantage of being only 20 minutes flying time from German bases in Sicily. The AA defence of the island relied upon "Box Barrages" sent up to disrupt the approaches to targets. He AA commander, Brigadier Sadler, had experience in defending Dover from air attack, so he was well-equipped for the job. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The ongoing situation in late April 1941 around Tobruk

The active patrolling tactics were used so successfully by the Australian defenders of Tobruk that they invoked a response. In addition to the other attacks, a company of the 2/23 Battalion made an incursion across the Derna road and took almost a 100 prisoners from the Brescia Division. The Germans responded to this success by modifying how the Axis troops were deployed and they worked to be able to transport the 15th Panzer Division to Libya sooner than had been originally planned.

The situation in the air was still difficult. Sir Arthur Longmore was in the Sudan, so Air Marshall Tedder (later to be famous) altered the dispositions to respond. He had ten Hurricanes on the ground at Tobruk during daylight. He withdrew the Lysanders. Only the minimum groundcrews were kept in Tobruk. The situation was intense enough that the squadrons were being written off quite rapidly. No.73 Squadron was down to 5 Hurricanes. By April 25th, No.73 Squadron was withdrawn for rest and rearming. No.274 Squadron operated from Gerawla while No.6 Squadron hung on at Tobruk, as its losses mounted. The squadrons in the desert were down to a total of 14 Hurricanes by late April.

This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, November 04, 2005

April 16, 1941 and immediately after: Rommel Attacks Tobruk

On April 16, 1941, Rommel personally led the assault on Tobruk. He attacked on the west side using the Ariete Armoured Division and the Trento Motorized Division. The Italians lacked enthusiasim for the attack, and surrendered in numbers to the Australians. A total of 26 Italians officers and 777 men surrendered. On the next morning, the Ariete resumed the attack. They were stopped with the loss of 5 tanks. General Moreshead instituted a defence based on "vigorous patrolling". An example was an attack on April 22, where one company of the 2/48th Australian Battalion, with 3 Inf.Mk.II Matildas and one troop of M Battery RHA. They captured a position, destroyed two guns, and took 370 Italian prisoners. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The initial German attacks on Tobruk

Rommel had assumed that Tobruk would be evacuated. He was surprised that the Australians were putting up a stiff resistance. The timeline was that the Germans performed a reconnaissance on April 11 and 12, 1941. This was followed by an attack from the south on April 13 and 14. Another attack was attempted from the west on April 16 and 17. All these attacks failed, so the Germans dropped back into a holding operation, while gathering strength for another attack in a few weeks. The action on April 11 and 12 was the 5th Panzer Regiment probing the 20th Australian Brigade near the road to El Adem. The attack was stopped by artillery fire. The German infantry were repelled by the Australians. The next attack was by the 5th Light Division on April 13 and 14, over the intervening night. The Germans forces were attacked from the air by No.45 and No.55 Squadrons. The actual attack was made by the 8th MG Battalion, supported by engineers against the 2/17th Australian Battalion. A posthumous Victoria Cross was awarded to Corporal Edmonston for his actions in repelling the German attack. The 5th Panzer Regiment tried to follow, with the idea of splitting, with one group to take Tobruk, while the other turned and caught the garrison in the flank, as they retreated from the attack. The Germans lost 16 of 38 tanks, as they were caught by artillery and British cruiser tanks engaging from "hull down positions". The 8th MG Battalion lost 3/4's of its strength. The garrison's losses were modest, being "26 killed, 64 wounded and two tanks and one 25-pdr gun disabled". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The forces in Tobruk

In early to mid-April 1941, the forces in and around Tobruk included the 24th Australian Infantry Brigade (two battalions), the 18th Australian Infantry Brigade, the 20th and 26th Australian Brigades, initially outside the perimeter. They entered "on the night of 9th April". As we noted, there was the remains of the 3rd Armoured Brigade. There was no medium artillery. There was only three 25pdr regiments, two anti-tank regiments (each one less a battery), and 16 heavy AA guns and 59 light AA guns. Most were used to defend the harbour. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

This situation in the border area in April 1941

Brigadier Gott had been tasked to resist the German advance whereever he could. He had the 22nd Guards Brigade and four columns. The columns varied in strength, but usually consisted of a field artillery battery, an infantry company, and light tanks or armoured cars. The columns were positioned at Halfaya, where the 22nd Guards Brigade was in a defensive position, at Sofafi, Bug Buq, and Sidi Barrani. One company of the French motor battalion held the escarpment pass at the Halfway House. The columns were successful enough that they drew an attack by Herff Group. That forced the British to fall back on the Buq Buq-Sofafi line.

At Tobruk, they started with the Italian defences. There were double rings of defensive positions that covered a thirty mile front. The Australians worked on a defence in depth that would be hard to breach. In supportm, they had the remains of the 3rd Armoured Brigade. It had a regiment of armoured cars, two mixed regiments of light tanks and cruiser tanks, and one troop of Inf. Mk.II Matildas. The numbers were 26 cruiser tanks, 15 light tanks, and 4 infantry tanks (Matilda).

This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Events immediately after April 8th, 1941

Rommel correctly believed that the British were collapsing. He pushed his troops to move forward, as he believed that the Suez Canal might be within reach. This was on April 10th, 1941. One of his commanders, Major-General Kirchheim was wounded so when the 15th Panzer Division commander, Major-General Prittwitz, he was immediately ordered to take command of the Kirchheim's battlegroup. Rommel ordered that Tobruk be beseiged, and that was accomplished by April 11th. Almost immediately, General Prittwitz had been killed, so General Schwerin was now in charge of that battlegroup. Almost immediately, battlegroups were sent further east, one to Bardia and one to Sollum. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The next steps, starting on April 8, 1941

General Wavell flew to Tobruk on April 8th, 1941. He took General Lavarack, 7th Australian Division commander. General Lavarack was to be temporary Cyrenaica commander. He was to hold Tobruk to allow time for a defence line to be built in Egypt. Admiral Cunningham committed to support Tobruk by sea, as he wanted to hold the Germans as far as possible from Alexandria, where the Mediterranean Fleet was based.

Lt-General Noel Beirsford-Pierce, former 4th Indian Division commander, arrived and was given the overall command in Cyrenaica, and was charged with reconstituting the "Western Desert Force", which had been disbanded after the victory over the Italians. General Lavarack was back to just being 7th Australian Division commander, located at Mersa Matruh. Brigadier Gott commanded the Mobile Force (the reorganized 2nd Armoured Division Support Group) at the border. General Moreshead was to command the defences at Tobruk. Major-General Evetts commanded the partial 6th Division, of which the 22nd Guards Brigades was a component.

A new air unit was formed, No.204 Group, under the command of Air Commodore Collishaw. By April 19, his units included:

  • No.73 Squadron (Hurricane) at Tobruk
  • No.274 Squadron (Hurricane) at Gerawla
  • No.14 Squadron (Blenheim IV) at Burg el Arab
  • Detachment of No.39 Squadron (Maryland) Maaten Baggash
  • Detachment of No.24 Squadron RAAF (Maryland) Fuka
  • No.45 Squadron (Blenheim IV) Fuka
  • No.55 Squadron (Blenheim IV) Zimla
  • No.6 Squadron (Hurricane and Lysander) Tobruk

This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Rommel got General Wavell's attention

General Wavell realized on April 3rd, 1941, that Rommel was energetic enough that he might end up in Egypt, unless Wavell put together a defensive front to stop him. This was they day he flew back from Cyrenaica. He would have liked to use the experienced 4th Indian Division, but they were engaged in East Africa. All he had was the 7th Australian Division and part of the 6th Division. The 7th Australian Division had been intended for Greece, so using it meant landing troops in the Dodecanese. The Chiefs of Staff in Britain agreed with the move.

Anthony Eden and General Dill were in Cairo on April 6th, and they apparently conferred with Wavell, Admiral Cunningham, and Air Marshall Sir Arthur Longmore. They hoped to be able to hold the Germans at Tobruk. They 18th Australian Brigade was still at sea, on this date, headed for Tobruk. The 22nd Guards Brigade, from the 6th Division, was advancing towards Bardia. Two of the three 11th Hussars squadrons were driving up the coast road. Sir Arthur Longmore decided that he needed to reestablish the airfields east of Mersa Matruh, with the aim of having safe fields from which to operate to be able to harras the enemy and protect the troops.

This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The causes of the collapse in Cyrenaica

The causes of the quick defeat in Cyrenaica were largely due to the strategy of sending most of the available forces to Greece and leaving Cyrenaica denuded of forces. What were available were understenght and raw. The core blame was Churchill's for his refusal to consider finishing the victory in Libya. General Wavell was a willing accomplice in this scheme. The result was predictably bad. I can't believe that those who were stuck as targets in western Cyrenaica didn't feel pretty vulnerable, especially when they realized the Germans were operating in the field. During the collapse, they pretty much were deprived of air cover, as they had been intended to have No.3 Squadron RAAF for fighter cover, but No.73 Squadron was not sent to Greece, but went to Cyrenaica. At first, only No.55 Squadron was equipped with Blenheims, until April 8th, when No.45 Squadron arrived. A retreating air force is at great disadvantage, as they don't have a secure base from which to operate. The logistical issues are immense. This is based, in part, on Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

April 7th and 8th, 1941: the debacle continues

I did not mention the fact, but Brigadier Harding (later a famous general and then field marshall) found that Brigadier Combe had also been with Generals Neame and O'Connor and was probably a prisoner, as well. By the night of April 7th, part of the 9th Australian Division, along with the 2nd Armoured Division Support Group were holding a line at Acroma, 15 miles to the west of Tobruk. The 9th Australian Division was without the 24th Australian Infantry Brigade. Two Australian brigades were at Tobruk, building defences. These were the 18th and 24th Brigades (the missing 9th Australian Divisin brigade). With the crisis in the desert, the transport of the 7th Australian Division to Greece had stopped. The 18th Brigade was part of the 7th Australian Division. General Gambier-Parry, commander of the 2nd Armoured Division, was at Mechili, along with Brigadier Vaughn, with two regiments of the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade. There were a few artillery units as well. Rommel wanted to hit Mechili, but could not consolidate enough force to do so. The units in Mechili were apparently surrounded, and realized that they would need to fight their way out. They made the attempt at dawn (on the 8th?). The attempt failed, although some did escape. General Gambier-Parry, the 2nd Armoured Division HQ, Brigadier Vaughn, and most of the 3rd Indian Motor were taken prisoner. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

More on the withdrawal on April 6 and 7th, 1941

We note that General Gambier-Parry never saw General O'Connor's withdrawal order. The 3rd Armoured Brigade commander had, but his brigade was short of fuel. Brigadier Rimington and his second-in-commmand were injured in a car rollover, on their way to Maraua, and lost control of their brigade. The Germans took them prisoner, during the advance. The 3rd Armoured Brigade withdrew towards Derna, and in the process, impeded the Australian withdrawal. This is a slight expansion on what we have already written.

Early on April 7th, Colonel Ponath's kampfgruppe was headed northeast towards Derna. One of the retreating Australian battalions had seen them on the track from Mechili. Colonel Ponath's group reached the vicinity of the airfield that was 6 miles from Derna. He was engaged by a force that included elements of the 5/RTR, lead by their commander, Lt-Col. Drew. The 5/RTR's last four tanks were knocked out, but they provided enough cover for the rest of the group to withdraw.

Brigadier Harding, perhaps the most senior officer of the Cyrenaica Command who was still free, arrived at Tmimi early on April 7th. He suspected that Generals Neame and O'Connor were prisoners of war. In fact, he was correct. The generals had left Maraua at 8pm in one car. They drove up to Colonel Ponath's group and were captured.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

British commanders in WWII

Much of the British theater commanders and army commanders in WWII were flawed in some way. The best seems to have been General O'Connor and he was not tested against the Germans in North Africa. General Wavell seems to have been the best of the old school, being stolid and relatively solid, but he did not seem to grasp the new mode of warfare. If he had, he would have stood up for O'Connor and unleashed him to finish off the Italians before the Germans could effectively intervene. General Auchinleck was a brilliant field commander, but the problem was that he was the theater commander. He was also generally a poor judge of men. That seems harsh, but how else can we explain Alan Cunningam and Neal Ritchie as 8th Army commanders. Auchinleck's sometime assistant, the brilliant and erratic Eric Dorman-Smith, was doomed to failure for being an iconoclast and partly for his brilliance in the face of the mediocrity of most. The mammoth figure in the British army was Bernard Law Montgomery. To be successful, he needed overwhelming material superiority. His main positive feature was that given enough time, he would find a way to succeed. He was extremely cautious and slow to move. He allowed Rommel to withdraw to Tunisia when he should have been caught near El Alamein. Unlike his predecessors, he would not squander overwhelming superiority, as happened in the Crusader Battles and at Gazala. Harold Alexander, as a theater commander, is harder to judge. He commanded during a period of strength, and it is difficult to know how he would have handled real adversity. If you can educate me on the subject, I would welcome it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The withdrawal from western Cyrenaica

Difficulties in communications hampered withdrawal efforts in the face of the German-Italian advance. General O'Connor had already ordered the 2nd Armoured Division HQ and support group to withdraw to Mechili. General Gambier-Parry was out of touch, but he too was moving towards Mechili. Brigadier Rimington, commander of the 3rd Armoured Brigade decided that there was not enough fuel to reach Mechili, so he decided to aim for Maraua, which had a small amount of fuel. He decided, then, to head for Derna. That move hampered the movements of the 9th Australian Division. The newly arrived 1/KRRC provided cover and performed demolition at their rear. The first Australian units trickled into Tmimi on April 7th. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

With General Neame out of touch with events, there was march and counter-march

General Neame was unsure of the position of his troops and the Germans. His indecision was compounded by poor communications. He had first ordered the 9th Australian Division to withdraw, and then changed his mind. The Australians were late getting the original orders. The cancelling order arrived after the movement had finally begun. They had difficulty in the dark in regaining their positions from which they had withdrawn. On 6th April, the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade repulsed an attack at Mechili. General Neame drove to visit the commander of the 2nd Armoured Division, so it was left to General O'Connor to order the general withdrawal aimed at preserving what forces the British had left. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Rommel decided that he needed to move faster, if he was to be able to engage any British troops

The British were withdrawing so fast, by April 4th, Rommel decied that he needed to move faster. The 3rd reconnaissance Unit had reached Benghazi, before daylight on 4 April. Visiting in person, Rommel ordered them to head for Mechili, when the Brescia Division arrived. Rommel already was using kampfgruppes as his main organizational unit. There were all-arms units composed of men and equipment from multiple traditional units. He sent Graf Schwerin to Tmimi. He sent the Fabris group (from the Ariete Division) to Mechili. He sent General Streich to Tobruk. He had the 8th MG Battalion, a 5th Panzer Regiment squadron, and an anti-tank company. Lt-Col. Olbrich, with the majority of the 5th Panzer Regiment, 2nd MG Battalion, field artillery, and an Ariete tank battalion, was sent towards Msus, with the eventual goal of either Mechili or Timimi, depending on developments. The units were becoming scattered, and Graf Schwerin's group needed refueling. thy were near Ben Gania. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The aftermath of Rommel's initial advance in April 1941

Since Generals O'Connor and Neame had been captured on April 6, 1941, events moved in a wider scope. The first step was that General Wavell decided that Tobruk must be held, if there was to be any chance of stopping the German advance. Wavell's temporary Director of Military Operations, the controversial Brigadier Eric Dorman-Smith, on April 10 flew in a Lysander to Tobruk, where the "Cyrenaica Command" had moved. The pilot navigated through a dust storm to take him there. The recipients of the order were Brigadier John Harding and General Moreshead, commander of the Australians. On the flight back to Cairo, Dorman-Smith saw what appeared to be Germans on the road to Bardia. The Australians successfully repulsed the attack on Tobruk on April 13th and 14th. They repulsed them again on April 16th and 17th. By April 28th, the Germans were on the frontier with Egypt. On April 29th, the British were expelled from Greece, with the loss of 20% of their forces. Rashid Ali led a pro-German revolt in Iraq, starting on May 5th. On May 12th, Churchill was pressing General Wavell to use the 300 new tanks in the desert against the Germans. The tanks were not yet prepared and there had been no time to train. The German attack on Crete took place on May 20th, ending with the island's capture and significant British naval losses. This is based on the account in Correlli Barnett's book The Desert Generals.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Elements of the 5th Light Division captured Mersa Brega on April 1st, 1941

Two German columns captured Mersa Brega on April 1st, 1941. The column that headed up the coastal road included the 5th Panzer Regiment, the 8th MG Battalion, the 3rd Reconnaissance Unit, with supporting anti-tank and artillery. The second column swung out from the road from the south. This included the 2nd MG Battalion and an anti-tank unit. They ran into bad going which brought them to a stop. The British withdrew and on April 2nd, the rest of the 5th Light Division, the Ariete Armoured Division, and the Brescia Division advanced. The 5th Light Division took Agedabia and Zuetina on April 2nd. All this caused General Garibaldi great discomfort. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Correll Barnett on the collapse in Cyrenaica

Correlli Barnett, writing in The Desert Generals, took a dim view of the arrangements made after the conquest of Cyrenaica in early 1941. The way he described the situation was that the experienced 7th Armoured Division was scattered "through Egypt". The successful General O'Connor, still suffering from a stomach ailment became GOC British Troops in Egypt. General Neame was commander of what was now called Cyrenaica Command. He had an Australian infantry brigade and the inexperienced 3rd Armoured Brigade from the 2nd Armoured Division. General Wavell allowed this situation because British intelligence thought that Rommel and his German-Italian command would need until at least mid-April before they would be ready to attack. In fact, the German command had ordered him to be ready by April 20th. In fact, Rommel, like General O'Connor, was a man of action, and attacked on his own initiative on March 31st. Wavell had sent General O'Connor back to Cyrenaica, arriving on 3 April, just in time to be captured on 6 April, along with General Neame, after then ran into a German force which had penetrated behind British lines in the dark.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The demise of the 3rd Armoured Brigade

On April 4, 1941, the remnants of the 3rd Armoured Brigade were at Msus. They got the word to withdraw only in the afternoon. At this point, the 5th RTR had 9 cruiser tanks and there were still some M13/40's in the 6th RTR. The latter had the disadvantage of being diesel powered, and their fuel was in short supply. By the afternoon on April 5th, there were 8 cruiser tanks and 14 light tanks remaining. There were only two M13/40's left. They had been kept going by transferring fuel from the poorer specimans, until they had reached this last point. The desire to keep the 3rd Armoured Brigade in being led to its being wasted anyway. The British were paying a steep price for sending almost everything they had to Greece, and hoping that the Germans would hold off until more forces could be gathered. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The confusion on April 3rd and 4th, 1941

Thing started to go badly with General Wavell's intervention, and then General Gambier-Parry, had ordered the 3rd Armoured Brigade to backtrack, giving the appearance of indecision. General Neame was out of touch with events, and was away from his headquarters. General O'Connor had arrived and issued orders in Neames' name. General O'Connor modified the withdrawal to the Er Regima-Tocra line. He wanted to use the 2nd Armoured Division to protect the Australian flank. Later in the day on April 4, the German reconnaissance unit reached Er Regiman, where they found the 2/13th Australian Battalion. The Australians were supported by the 51st Field Regiment, and drove off the Germans. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

General Wavell intervenes with a bad result

When General Wavell realized that General Neame was prepared to uncover the cost road to Benghazi, in order to block or impede the desert route, he intervened. He ordered that the armoured division must block the coast road. General Wavell had flipped on his original directive, which was to preserve units, above all else, even if it meant abandoning Benghazi. All this happened on April 2, 1941. The only positive result was that the order was overcome by events. General O'Connor had been ordered forward, with the intent that he would take command in the field. He brought Brigadier Combe with him. On April 3, the situation took a drastic turn for the worse. General Neame ordered that a demolition plan be executed in Benghazi and General Gambier-Parry was released from having to cover the coast road. The 6th RTR, armed with a few Italian M13/40's acted as the rearguard for the 2nd Armoured Division. By the morning of April 4, the HQ of the 2nd Armoured Division was at Msus, with no gasoline available. A Free French motor battalion had destroyed what was there when there was word of a enemy force headed that way. The news was false, but it doomed the 2nd Armoured Division. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

April 2, 1941: General Neame interfered at a critical point

When General Neame learned of the presence of considerable mechanized forces at El Agheila, he ordered that the 3rd Armoured Brigade could not be committed to battle without his permission. This was by about noon on April 2, 1941. He wanted to keep the armoured brigade for employment if the Axis forces cut across the open country, leaving the coast. The danger was that they could cut off British forces who were deployed along the coast and in the north. At this point, General Wavell became increasingly concerned and few to Barce. The 3rd Armoured Brigade was down to 22 cruiser tanks and 25 light tanks, so their strength was ebbing away. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Germans attack in early April 1941

The British forces were sitting on March 31, 1941, prepared to defend. The 3rd Armoured Division Support Group was postioned across a broad front at Mersa Brega. The 3rd Armoured Brigade was on their flank, behind the line. At 10am, a probing attack was beaten off by the Support Group. The Support Group commander, Brigadier Latham, had asked for the 3rd Armoured Brigade to hit the Germans in the flank, but General Gambier-Parry, ever cautious, thought it too late in the day. When it appeared that the Support Group might be cut off, they withdrew. There was no action on April 1st, but there was aerial reconnaissance and Blenheims from No.55 Squadron attacked German forces at El Agheila. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Rommel in late March 1941

When Rommel returned from Germany on March 23, 1941, his tactical signals intelligence unit had determined that the British were pulling forces out of the forward areas. On March 24, with Rommel's approval, the reconnaissance unit with supporting forces had occupied El Agheila. By March 30, Rommel ordered General Streich to take Mersa Brega. Apparently, even by this early date, Rommel was considering exceeding his orders. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Rommel realized the British were thin on the ground

By March 1st, 1941, Rommel had recognized that the British were very thin on the ground in the forward areas. Rommel thought that the coastal strip would provide a good defensive postion, so he had his troops occupy the line near the salt marshes, "twenty miles west of El Agheila". The reconnaissance battalion and an anti-tank unit were ordered forward to take the position. The rest of the 5th Light Division moved forward in support. By March 7th, the Ariete armoured division came under DAK command. Rommel suggested that now the front had been secured that an offensive be considered, starting in May. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Germans in February 1941 in Libya

Rommel arrived in Tripoli on February 12, 1941. The Italians had decided to defend Sirte, and Rommel agreed with that plan. He moved his forces up close to the front, so that he could probe the British and let them know that Germans were present. A detachment of Fliegerkorp X from Sicily arrived in Libya under General Fröich's command as Fliegerführer Afrika. He had about 50 Ju-87, 20 Me-110, and could call in Ju-88 and He-111 support from Sicily. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The German forces in March-April 1941 in Libya

As early as January 11, 1941, Hitler ordered a "blocking detachment" sent to Tripoli. The actual implementation involved taking component units from the 3rd Panzer Division and use them as the core of the 5th Light Division. The next step was to designate the 15th Panzer Division for the Libyan operations. The commander of this new group would be General Rommel and it would be called the Deutsche Afrika Korps.

The newly formed 5th Light Division would have a strong force:

  • a reconnaissance unit with armoured cars
  • There would be a 12-gun artillery battery
  • an AA unit
  • two motor machine gun battalions, with anti-tank, engineers, and armoured vehicles
  • two anti-tank battalions with a few 88mm FLAK36 guns
  • an armoured regiment with two tank battalions (70 light and 80 medium tanks)
There would also be a reconnaissance squadron from the Luftwaffe. This is based on Vol.II of the Offiicial History.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Estimated Axis strength on March 24, 1941

British intelligence had a better assessment of Axis strength in Libya by March 24, 1941:
  • A German "colonial armoured division" (the 5th Light Division)
  • The Italian Ariete Armoured Division with only half of its tanks
  • The complete Italian Trento Motorized Division
  • Italian infantry divisions: Pavia, Bologna, Brescia, and Savona
A second German colonial armoured division was expected by May 14th along with another Italian armoured or motorized division. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

February-March 1941 in Libya

"On 21st February [1941] an aircraft on tactical reconnaissance saw to the west of El Agheila an 8-wheeled armoured car wich might have been German". British intelligence indicated, in early March 1941, that new formations had arrived at Tripoli to bolster the Italian position. These included "two Italian infantry divisions, two Italian motorized artillery regiments and at most one German armoured brigade group". Since the distance from Tripoli to El Agheila was 502 miles, General Wavell was still confident that they had time before any attack took place. On 5 March, the intelligence staff reported to General Wavell that they should be prepared for a more immediate attack with greater forces than had been previously thought possible. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Germans advance into Cyrenaica: March 24, 1941

The Official History reports that the Germans took El Agheila on March 24, 1941. That prompted General Wavell to order General Neame to fight a battle to delay the German-Italian advance into Cyrenaica. The 3rd Armoured Brigade was southeast of Mersa Brega. The Support Group was positioned to hold a line at Mersa Brega. The 9th Australian Division, which was desperately short of vehicles, was to attempt to hold the jebel area in northwest Cyrenaica. The forward troops, in fact, only had 5 battalions in two brigades. The third brigade was back in Tobruk. Rommel's next move would be against Mersa Brega. This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Official History.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Reinforcements in late March 1941

Given the known shortcomings of the forces available to defend western Cyrenaica, the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade was to arrive on March 29, 1941. Their main positive feature was that they were mobile, and then that they were good troops. They were vastly underequipped, as they mainly had rifles. General Neame ordered them to Martuba. On March 24th, A squadron of the LRDG had become available. They had been ordered to Jalo to watch the inland flank. The Italians had been still sitting at Giarabub (or Jarabub). The Libyan troops had mostly deserted them. General Wavell sent the 18th Australian Brigade to finish off Jarabub. They took it between March 19th and 21st. Their casualties were 17 killed and 77 wounded. The Italians lost about 250 killed, while 1,300 were taken prisoner. The booty included 26 field guns. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

March 1941: be prepared to give up ground

In early March 1941, General Wavell and General Dill (CIGS), visited western Cyrenaica, and could see that the situation was unstable. The 9th Australian Division was so devoid of transport that they directed that the forward brigade be pulled back from Mersa Brega. Wavell told General Neame to be prepared to withdraw as far as Benghazi, if an attack took place. If necessary, he could withdraw from Benghazi. General Neame was also instructed to conserve his armoured forces, as the soonest that any reinforcement might arrive would be May. General Neams decided to only maintain a mobile screening force as far forward as El Agheila. This is based on the account in the Official History, Vol.II.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

RAF in the Western Desert in late February 1941

The remaining RAF and RAAF units in the Western Desert in late February 1941 were:

At Benina: No.3 Squadron RAAF (Hurricane)
At Bu Amud (near Tobruk): No.73 Squadron (Hurricane)
At Maraua: No.55 Squadron (Blenheim)
At Barce: No.6 Army Cooperation Squadron (Lysander) with one flight a Agedabia

A "Balkan reserve" had been formed from units withdrawn from the desert. These included HQ No.202 Group, two Blenheim squadrons, one Hurricane squardron, and one Army Cooperation squadron. This is based on the account in the Official History, Vol.II.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The situation in February 1941 in western Cyrenaica

General Wavell's stripping of Cyrenaica to equip the force being sent to Greece created a very bad situation. The Germans were able to establish air superiority over western Cyrnaica, and made supply by sea into Benghazi prohibilitively expensive. The only fighter unit in the west was the No.3 Squadron, RAAF. It had been rearmed with Hurricanes, but there was no radar, so they were reduced to flying patrols. The army did not have enough AA guns to protect both Tobruk and Benghazi, so they concentrated on Tobruk. The monitor HMS Terror, which had been effective in supporting the army, was sunk on February 23, 1941 by air attack. The destroyer Dainty was sunk off Tobruk on February 24. This is based on the account in the Official History.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The forces remaining to defend Cyrenaica in early 1941

The Australian commander, General Blamey, had decided that the 6th Australian Division should go to Greece, as they were the most experienced Australian formation. That left the 9th Australian Division, along with the remains of the 2nd Armoured Division (minus one armoured brigade) to defend Cyrenaica. In mid-February 1941, General Wavell determined that the available intelligence indicated that the British position in Cyrenaica would be secure until May, when "two more divisions and various non-divisonal troops, notably artillery, might be available; the 9th Australian Division would be better trained and the 2nd Armoured Division ought to be in a far better state to fight than it was at present". The 3rd Armoured Brigade had one tank regiment with light tanks, although it was under strength, one with captured Italian M13/40's, and one with very worn-out British cruiser tanks. The Support Group had been stripped to equip the 1st Armoured Brigade Group, which was being sent to Greece. What remained consisted of "one motor battalion, one 25-pdr regiment and one anti-tank battery, and one machine-gun company". This is based on the account in Chapter I of Vol.II of the Official History.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Back to the British Official History: February-March 1941

We now look at the plan for holding Cyrenaica from the perspective of the British Official History. They noted that arrival of Fliegerkorps X in Sicily in January had transformed the military and naval landscape. Supplies for the Middle East were routed around the Cape, while even the resupply of Malta was impeded. That was contingent on the arrival of the carrier Formidable in the theater to replace the Illustrious which had been withdrawn due to damage. A side effect of the bombing campaign against Malta was that offensive operations against shipping to Libya were curtailed.

Incredibly, Libya was to be held by a skeleton force, while the focus would be on sending forces to Greece. The other major operations were in East Africa, which showed promise, but were demanding considerable effort. The 4th and 5th Indian Divisions were fighting at Keren in Eritrea. The Italian position in the south were to be assaulted by the 1st South African and two African Divisions. The 1st Cavalry Division was sitting in Palestine, still mounted on horses. The 7th and 9th Australian Divisions were newly arrived and under-equipped. The New Zealand Division, with only two brigades was in Egypt, but they were an effective fighting force.

Wavell decided to commit one armoured brigade, the 6th and 7th Australian Divisions, the New Zealand Division, and the Polish Brigade Group in Greece. There would also be supporting British units not attached to divisions.

Friday, September 30, 2005

The attack on Giarabub

Australian cavalry reconnoitered the approaches to Giarabub from the south. About March 19, 1941, the forces that would attack Giarabub were maneuvering into position. They apparently included a battery of the 4th RHA, part of the regiment which was commanded Lt-Col. Jock Campbell. Jock Campbell had concerns about their ability to move artillery across the soft terrain. The battery commander, however, got his guns in position. Some of them were moved by captured Italian tractors. The initial exploratory attack succeeded beyond expectations. The next phase of the attack would happen early on March 21st. The cavalry's objective would the airfield on the north side of Giarabub. The attack went well and Giarabub had fallen. The total casualties for the attackers were 17 killed and 77 wounded. They captured an estimated 50 officers and 1,250 men. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

General Wavell wanted to send the Australians at Siwa to Greece

General Wavell intended to send the Australians in Siwa to Greece. That meant that to free them up, they needed to capture Giarabub. The cavalry regimental commander Fergusson was seriously wounded while making a personal reconnaissance near Giarabub, so when the time. His successor, George Wootten, had to start planning from scratch. He only knew that Wavell expected the job to be done and for the Australians to be in Mersa Matruh by March 25, 1941. Wootten ordered the cavalrymen to scout south of Giarabub to gauge the feasibility of approaching from that direction, as the other side had defences in depth. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

In January 1941 at Siwa

By January 4, 1941, the force at Siwa had grown to include 200 men from the 6th Australian Divisional cavalry "in the mobile force" and 109 at the Siwa base, "115 artillerymen with the field and Bofors guns, and 32 engineers". They had been reinforced with "four 25-pounder guns of a British regular regiment". Their Italian counterparts were believed to have 1,200 troops with another 755 Libyans. The Italians were mostly machine gunners (840 were in 6 MG companies). In late December, Brigadier Moreshead was informed that his 18th Australian Brigade would take Giarabub in late January 1941. After the fall of Beghazi, they started to see Italian deserters headed for Giarabub. 218 were captured on February 15th. The 18th Brigade had still not arrived. Moreshead was now 9th Australian Division commander. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Siwa reinforced in December 1940

On December 17, 1940, Colonel Fergusson, with the 6th Divisional Cavalry HQ and a second squadron arrived in Siwa. At this date, the main Italian force was at Bardia. The Italians were tired of the continued harrassment at Fort Maddalena and at Garn el Grein, so they abandoned both. The Italian force at Giarabub was about 2,000 men, and greatly outnumbered the two Australian cavalry squadrons. Colonel Fergusson asked for immediate reinforcements, but he had to wait for a gradual help, instead. He received a troop of 40mm Bofors guns. Then there was "a detachment of engineers". The plan had been to starve out the garrison of Giarabub, but Colonel Fergusson realized that Giarabub was being supplied by air. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Preparation at Siwa for the attack at Giarabub

The Australians at Siwa were originally equipped with machine-gun carriers and some obsolescent tanks, but these were replaced with 15-cwt and 30-cwt trucks, which were more suitable for cross-desert travel. On Decemeber 11, 1941, Captain Brown, the squadron commander, received his orders to move out towards Giarabub and attack an Italian outpost. They were repulsed by a vigorous Italian (and Libyan) defence. Another operation was ordered on December 16th. The Australians attacked a convoy leaving Garn el Grein, the outpost they had previously attacked. This was more successful, and they Australians returned with four captured trucks. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The border region in the south: Giarabub

60 miles to the south of the Egypt-Libyan border lies the oasis of Giarabub, just on the Libyan side of the border. On the Egyptian side is Siwa. To the south lies the Great Sand Sea. To the north is the rough escarpment that descends to the Mediterranean Sea. An attempt to capture Giarabub had been dispatched in July 1940, but the heat and lack of water caused the attempt to fail. In September 1940, the 1/King's Royal Rifle Corps was sent to Siwa. InNovember, it was replaced by a squadron of the 6th Australian Divisional Cavalry, so that the 1/KRRC could with the Support Group at Sidi Barani. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Wargame pieces from late 1970's and early 1980's

These are a sample of what we were using as wargame pieces in the late 1970's and early 1980's. They were reduced to 1/16in = 1 foot scale and colored with colored pencils. Now, they could be colorized digitally. They need to be cleaned up, but it seemed like they might prove useful to someone. There are more, including higher-quality drawings done in ink at 1/48 scale.

This is the link to the complete sheet that had these as a small part.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The warning of a counter-attack in February-March 1941

General Mackay had taken command of forces in western Cyrenaica on February 24, 1941. He had the 3rd Armoured Brigade in a reconnaissance role between Marsa Brega and El Agheila. Mackay reinforced Brigadier Savige's 17th Brigade with another battalion, although at half-strength, as two companies were garrisoning Beda Fomm and El Agheila. Air force reconnaissance reported that the 500-vehicle group was now near the area that they were guarding. On March 9, Savige was greeted by the 20th Brigade commander Brigadier Murray, who was to relieve him. The 9th Australian Division was to replace the 6th, so the 6th Australian Division could be sent to Greece. That would leave unseasoned troops to face Rommel's Germans. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Capture of Barce in February 1941

I received an email, today, about the capture of Barce in February 1941. The piece was written by the late Bernard B. Anley, and tells about the capture of Barce by the 2/1 Field Regiment. The Official History credits the 6th Australian Divisional Cavalry, but this piece says that was in error. On September 22, 2005, the mayor's flag from Barce was donated to the North Fort Artillery Museum by the person sending the email.

Late February 1941: Germans in Libya

A troop of the King's Dragoon Guards (KDG) had encountered 8-wheel armoured cars on February 20th, 1941. The troop was commanded by Lieutenant Williams. On February 21, a pilot had seen 16 vehicles, including 3 8-wheel armoured cars. The crews had the distinctive German uniform color. Brigadier Savige had thought that perhaps they were actually Italian Ansaldo AB 40 armoured cars, but was forced to conclude that they were German. General Wavell's staff refused to believe that the Germans, with their Italian allies, could be assembling a significant force at this date. General Wilson had been withdrawn as commander in Cyrenaics, as he was to command the force sent to Greece. General Neame was appointed to replace him. On February 24, a force that included seven German tanks, had fired on armoured cars from the KDG and knocked one out. They took prisoners and then withdrew. This is based on the account in Gavin Long's book To Benghazi.

Amazon Ad