Sunday, July 31, 2005

An incident at Martuba on January 24th, 1941

The force that included elements of the 6th Australian Divisional Cavalry arrived in the area around Martuba at about 4pm. Major Onslow was in command. Suddenly, an Italian CR42 Falco biplane fighter swooped out of the sky, and landed. The pilot was dazed and was immediately captured. The pilot had not realized that his enemy was so far to the west. His aircraft was given to No.3 Squadron RAAF. When Major Onslow's force moved further forward towards the coastal road, he encountered a 1/RTR sqsuadron and "a troop of field guns". They were attacking a blockhouse at Siret el Chreiba, blocking the path to the coastal road. Another airfield was just to the west. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Next, Benghazi

Now that the General Staff put a priority on capturing Benghazi, their plans were now more closely aligned with those of General O'Connor. General Maitland Wilson was to be governor of Cyrenaica, which had yet to be totally captured from the Italians. Benghazi was a desirable objective, because the General Staff wanted the port for moving supplies westward in a manner that did not require road transport. While Tobruk was still being entered, elements of the 6th Australian Divisional Cavalry were sent towards Derna. This was on January 23rd, 1941, and the force was a combined arms team with A squadron of the 6th Divionsional Cavalry, a battery of the 2/1 Field Regiment, one troop belonging to J Battery of the RHA (probably anti-tank guns), one troop belonging to the 37th Light AA Regiment, one company of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, as well as service and ambulance detachaments. This is based on the account in Gavin Long's book To Benghazi.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Tank vs. tank on January 24th, 1941

On January 24th, a tank-vs-tank battle was fought between a force with about 50 Italian medium tanks (probably mostly M13/40s) against the 4th Armoured Brigade. The battle was fought north of Mechili in Western Cyrenaica. The Italian losses were 8 medium tanks knocked out and one captured. The 4th Armoured Brigade lost one cruiser (possibly an A13 Cru.Mk.IV) and 6 light tanks (probably Lt.Mk.VIB). Sadly, the Italians escaped from Mechili, and the 4th Armoured division was left behind in the pursuit. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

The Italian airforce in western Cyrenaica in January 1941

Both the RAF and the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Royal Airforce) were stretched thin in Western Cyrenaica in late January 1941. The Regia Aeronautica was down to about 46 bombers and 34 fighters. Almost none of its ground attack planes were flyable. The RAF was partly suffering from the British success and being at the far end of a long supply line. The RAF was fortunate to have captured large stocks of Italian bombs and aviation gas. Two RAF fighter squadrons were brought forward to Gazala to support the offensive. The Army Cooperation squadrons, usually equipped with Lysanders, were moved to Tmimi. The RAF also carried out a bombing campaign against Italian airfields, and this helped to reduce the Italian airforce to impotence.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

By late January 1941, the British focused on Benghazi

The capture of Benghazi had increased priority, even on January 21st, 1941, the day that the Tobruk assault commenced. General O'Connor had plans to send the 7th Armoured Division westward. The 7th Armoured Brigade was to drive towards Derna while the 4th Armoured Brigade would move to Mechili. The move into the western portion of Cyrenaica brought the British out of the desert and into a more fertile land. Benghazi was a substantial port city of 65,000 with a rail connection to the north to Barce and to the south to Soluch. In this region, rain could turn roads and airfields into mud, unlike the desert surface to the east.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The German army moves towards Greece

The German plan was for the 12th Army to move into Bulgaria starting on February 7th, 1941, but the bad weather and ice on the Danube slowed the process. Now, the attack on Greece would happen in early April. The attack on Russia, Barbarossa, was already in preparation. Hitler had wanted to be ready to attack Russia by May 15th, but the coup d'etat in Yugoslavia on March 27th, 1941, roiled the waters. Barbarrosa would now be delayed about a month, into at least mid-June. The situation in Greece actually aided General O'Connor, and gained him time to push the Italians out of eastern Libya (Cyrenaica).

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Germans prepared to attack Greece in early 1941

After the beginning of 1941, German forces moved into Rumania through Hungary. The attack on Greece had been authorized by Hitler on December 13th, 1940. Ostensibly, the reason was to keep Britain out of the Balkans, where they would be a threat to both Italy and Rumania, a major source of oil for the Germans. The Germans would use the 12th Army and Fliegerkorps VIII. Fliegerkorps VIII would be equipped with 39-Ju88, 114 Ju87, 83 Me109, and 38 Me110. That was not a huge force, but the opposition that they would face would be weak, as well. One component of the 12th Army would have four panzer divisions. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Given Wavell's paltry offer, we can understand why the Greeks declined

On Wavell's trip to Athens, starting on January 13th, 1941, he could only offer paltry forces:
  • two field artillery regiments
  • one or two medium regiments
  • one anti-tank regiment
  • one cruiser tank regiment
  • one or two batteries of AA artillery
Since Germany had not yet intervened, General Metaxas thought that such a small British contingent would only give the Germans further pretext to act. The British assumed that their presence would reassure the Yugoslavs, but General Metaxas had information that they would resist German attack only if they thought that the attack had not been provoked by a British presence at Salonika. The priority for General Metaxas was to resolve the situation in Albania. Not only was the British army not welcome, but the RAF should also wait for events to develop. This suited Air Chief Marshal Longmore, as it bought time to develop airfields, before he was forced to deploy aircraft.

Initially, the Germans were providing support to the Italians in Greece

When the Italian attack on Greece, from Albania, went badly, the Germans made a small effort to give support. They initially provided air transport, starting on December 9, 1940. The next German response was to send troops to Albania. The Italians were not enthusiastic about this prospect. When the Italians demurred, the Germans withdrew the troop offer. By January 1941, the Italian situation had deteriorated in both Albania and Libya. Bardia had fallen and the prospect was that the British would advance further. The Germans were obviously preparing to intervene in Greece and were known to be gathering troops in Rumania. The expected attack would be through Bulgaria, whose government seemed to be increasingly under German influence. The British commanders, above General O'Connor's level, intended to pull troops out of Libya and send them to Greece as soon as Tobruk was taken.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

O'Connor's plan for Tobruk and beyond in early 1941

General O'Connor intended to keep the 7th Armoured Division back from the Tobruk assault. He hoped to be able to push the 7th Armoured Division west, intially to Mechili. The 7th Armoured Division Support Group was deployed between Acroma and the coast. The 4th Armoured Brigade was stationed on the flanks of the 6th Australian Divsion. The 7th Armoured Brigade and the 11th Hussars (armoured cars) were sitting west of Tobruk as a blocking force, but ready to advance to the west. Scouts had found a great deal of unoccupied territory and towns to the west, from January 15, 1941 and later. They had gone almost to Mechili. General Mackay asked for the 7th Armoured Division to support his attack on Tobruk, so General O'Connor postponed the advance to Mechili, which he had apparently hoped to do prior to taking Tobruk. This is basee on the account in Gavin Long's To Benghazi.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Prior to the attack on Tobruk in January 1941

One side benefit of the attack on Tobruk being delayed was that the 7th RTR now had 18 running Inf.Mk.II's instead of only 13. The A Squadron of the 6th Australian Divisional Cavalry had been equipped with captured Italian medium tanks, at General O'Connor's orders. 16 tanks, mostly M11/39's but also a few M13/40's were put into running condition. The tanks were marked with big white kangaroos. A squadron was split into three squadrons and reinforced with men from infantry battalion carrier platoons. They were named Dingo, Rabbit, and Wombat. During the night of January 17th, a nasty incident occurred where the brigade major and other officers Brigadier Allen's 16th Brigade and several scouts from were wounded on Italian booby traps. They had gone out to mark the start line, when they ran into trouble. This is based on the account in Gavin Long's book To Benghazi.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Supplying the Greek war effort in early 1941

The initial Italian invasion of Greece was "on the Albanian front". If Germany invaded via Bulgaria, the Greek position would be very difficult. The Greek army had some additional issues. Much of their equipment was either French or German. Britain had no stocks of ammunition for any of the Greek weapons. The United States shipped to Greece what French ammunition that they had left from World War One. They really had very little left. The obvious solution would be to rearm the Greek army "with British weapons". The problem was that the British did not have any extra weapons to supply to Greece. The effort to supply Greece meant that more shipping would be diverted to the Eastern Mediterranean and to the Aegean Sea. Seven convoys with 63 ships were sent in December 1940 and January 1941. The British were diverting more aircraft to Greece. The RAF had lost 30 aircraft against 58 Italian aircraft lost. The RAF was sending more Wellingtons, Blenheim Is, and Hurricanes from their already low stocks.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

British air reinforcements to the Middle East in early 1941

Air Chief Marshal Longmore commanded the RAF in the Mediterranean and Middle East. With the government directive to aid Greece, the forces available for North Africa were stripped further. They had hopes for air reinforcements from America, but they quickly found problems with the Curtis Mohawk fighters that meant that they couldn't be used until they had a major modification. Thirty of these had been promised to Greece. 500 Curtis Tomahawk fighters were purchased, but there was no ammunition for the American machine guns in the theater. It was unclear when these aircraft would arrive, as well. The British also had no experience with the aircraft to know its capabilities. Air Chief Marshal Longmore did learn that more aircraft would be sent through March 1941. By then, 100 Hurricanes, 120 Blenheim IVs, 45 Martin Marylands, and 35 Wellingtons would arrive. This is from the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Everyone expected Germany to attack Greece through Bulgaria in January 1941

The British government was trying to tell what Greece would do in response to a German attack through Bulgaria. No one doubted that would be where the attack would come. Orders to the theater command in the Middle East were influenced by those anxieties. At a time when Bardia had just fallen and Tobruk was about to be attacked, there was less interest in pursuing success than there would have been under other circumstances.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Balkans in January 1941

When General Wavell went to Athens on January 13th, 1941, everyone expected that the Germans were poised to intervene in Greece. The Greek army was short of transport, AA and anti-tank guns, as well as such a basic thing as clothing for the troops. General Wavell was able to respond by diverting a shipment that had just arrived in Egypt to Greece with transport. He also suggested sending the captured Italian vehicles to Greece, as well. The Greeks estimated that there were six German divisions in southern Rumania. There were four Bulgarian divisions poised, on the border with Greece, as well. General Wavell offered to send some token forces to Greece: 2 field artillery regiments, 1 or 2 medium regiments, 1 tank regiment with cruiser tanks, and only one or two AA batteries. The Greeks declined the offer. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Monday, July 18, 2005

The Germans mined the Suez Canal, starting towards the end of January 1941

One of the things that the Germans could easily do that would cause the maximum disruption was to mine the Suez Canal. Starting in late January 1941, they started dropping mines from aircraft. After abortive minesweeping, the British guessed that they were dealing with both magnetic and acoustic ground mines. As they lacked a facility for sweeping acoustic mines, all that could be done was to interfere with minelaying with AA fire and to mark the location of dropped mines. The navy struggled to keep shipping moving through the canal.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Greek situation in January 1941

The Greek army was successfully fighting the Italians in the mountains. The Italian divisions had been reduced to two regiments from three, so they felt the lack of infantry. The Greeks were handicapped by the lack of transport and anti-tank guns. They could not risk fighting in the open field, where these deficiencies would be most exploited. The RAF bomber contigent in Greece was limited to operating against Italian lines of communication. Snow and ice was making operations difficult and dangerous. As the RAF was operating from fields near Athens, any raids into Albania were limited, due to the 200 mile distance from their operational fields to the border. Everyone expected the Germans to intervene from Bulgaria, so the tension was great.

The Excess Convoy was the Royal Navy's first taste of operating under strong air attack in the Mediterranean Sea

The best Italian bomber aircraft that the British had to deal with was the SM79 torpedo bomber. When that was augmented by Ju88 and Ju87 divebombers, the British quickly found themselves in trouble. In addition, the mining effort was a continuing danger. The Royal Navy in the Mediterranean Sea was as competent a force as any in world in dealing with air attacks. They had the advantage of having Admiral Cunningham as fleet commander. During early 1941, the Italian fleet, particularly the battlefleet was a danger. The British had nothing to compare with the new Italian battleships, such as the Vittorio Veneto. The rebuilt ships such as the Conte di Cavour and Andrea Doria were also a threat, even though they were not as strong.

The five Excess convoy ships stopped at Gibraltar, before making the run to Malta and Greece. They were delayed while repairs were made to the Renown. The Essex was the ship for Malta. The cargo included 12 Hurricanes in crates. On the night of January 1st, the Northern Prince was stranded as the result of a storm. The 400 troops were taken off and distributed to the AA cruiser Bonaventure and the destroyers. They ship was refloated, but had to turn back.

The Mediterranean Fleet had sailed from Alexandria in what became the standard pattern for running convoys through to Malta. They escorted to more ships bound for Malta, the Breconshire and Clan Macaulay. Concurrently, two convoys, one fast and one slow, had set sail from Malta headed east.

In a foretaste of what was to come, the Royal Navy was suffering under the new scale of air attacks. The cruiser Southampton was disabled and had to be scuttled with torpedoes on January 11th. The aircraft carrier Illustrious was damaged, and this would hamper the Royal Navy's ability to operate in the central Mediterranean. Still, the convoys all passed through without loss.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Hitler's proposal to Mussolini

As early as November 20, 1940, Hitler proposed, in a letter to Mussolini, that the German airforce start operations against British shipping from Italian airbases. Erhard Milch was sent to Italy to make the arrangements. The Germans had hoped that the operation, dubbed "Mittelmeer" would only last until February. Fliegerkorps X was brought from Norway to commence operations from airfields in Sicily. 96 bombers had arrived by January 8th, 1941. By the tenth, 25 Me-110's had arrived. By the 15th, they had a total of 186 aircraft in the theater. They would soon have a big impact on British operations.

Friday, July 15, 2005

The Long Range Desert Group in early 1941

The two Long Range Desert Group patrols arrived back in Cairo in early February 1941 after covering 4,3oo miles. They had left on their mission about 6 weeks before. With most of Cyrenaica now in British hands, the LRDG would need to be based much further west. Colonel Leclerc and his men captured Kufra on March 1st. The HQ and three patrols moved to Kufra in April, as it was well-situated for further operations. This is from the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Fezzan operation

In late December 1940, the Long Range Desert Group sent two patrols to attack the Italians at Fezzan. Major Bagnold had coordinated with the Free French in Chad, and found some interest in their participating. Colonel Leclerc asked if they would help the Free French capture Kufra on the way back. The Long Range Desert Group sent a New Zealand and a Guards patrol twoard Fezaan. They had Sheikh Abd del Galil Seif en Nasr with them. He had been carrying on a resistance against Italian rule. The LRDG patrols traveled for 1300 miles and then were joined by the French under Lt-Colonel d'Ornano. They attacked the fort at Murzuk. The fort was too strong to take, but they inflicted a good deal of damage on the Italian aviation capability at that location. The attackers lost five men, including Lt-Colonel d'Ornano. After leaving Murzuk, the force headed for "the French base at Faya", where they met Colonel Leclerc. While the British were scouting ahead, they were attacked from the air and by their Italian counterparts, the Auto-Saharan company. Colonel Leclerc decided to defer the attack on Kufra and sent the British patrols on their way home. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Aircraft in Malta on December 31st, 1940

The air contingent based in Malta on December 31st, 1940 was pretty small:
  • No. 830 Squadron Fleet Air Arm: 12 Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers
  • No. 261 Squadron RAF: 16 Hurricanes, plus 4 in reserve
  • No. 148 Squadron RAF: 16 Wellingtons, plus 4 in reserve
  • No. 228 Squadron RAF: 4 Sunderland flying boats, plus 2 in reserve
  • No. 431 Flight RAF: 4 Martin Maryland maritime reconnaissance aircraft ("Glenn Martins") with one in reserve. Eventually, this became No. 69 Squadron
This is from Vol.I of the Official History, page 312.

More about the fall of Tobruk, and a correction

By nightfall on the first day of the attack on Tobruk, half of the area had been captured. General Mackay ordered that they would attack to secure the rest in the morning. By 3:45pm on the second day, they had completely subdued the Italian resistance. The commanding general of the 61st Sirte Division surrendered to an Australian battalion commander. The Italian naval detachment also surrendered. The captors were pleased to find that there was still much of the harbor and equipment either in working order or repairable. In any case, the capture of Tobruk took much of two days, not one. This is based on the account in the Official History, Vol.I.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The initiation of the Long Range Desert Group

The Long Range Desert Group were an early Special Forces unit that was authorized by General Wavell in 1939. Major R. A. Bagnold had spent the 1930's with his colleagues becoming adept at navigating the great sand deserts far from the coast. He made a proposal to General Wavell in 1939 for the formation of the unit if Italy entered the war. The French had such a unit, as well, but their exit from the war took them out of the equation. The initial formation was the Long Range Patrol Unit. The Australians were offered the opportunity to participate, but General Blamey didn't want his troops serving outside of Australian units. Three patrols were organized and included some 30 New Zealanders, as well as British soldiers. By November 1940, the men had achieved enough success that General Wavell authorized the expansion into the Long Range Desert Group. The 3rd Coldstream Guards and the 2nd Scots Guards contributed men for a new patrol.

Monday, July 11, 2005

More about the capture of Tobruk

It was the 2/3 Australian Battalion that moved forward at 5:40am on January 21st, 1941. There was an artillery bombardment and the engineers had worked during the night to clear mines and disarm booby traps. It was the 6th Australian Division on the attack. Not more than an hour later, the 16th Brigade, supported by 18 infantry tanks, had pushed through the perimeter into the Tobruk area. They consolidated the gap, setting up to the east and west to protect the gap from attack. The 19th Brigade moved north. They had help through the day from the air. By 3:45pm, Tobruk had fallen. They took 23,000 soldiers and 2,000 sailors prisoner. They captured 208 medium and field guns. There were also 87 tanks captured. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

"By early afternoon, 13th Corps was once more counting booty..."

Correlli Barnett, in The Desert Generals, described the scene after the fall of Tobruk: "By early afternoon, 13th Corps was once more county the booty while 7th Armoured Division rolled away to the west." General O'Connor continued to give a textbook presentation of how to conduct blitzkrieg. Half of his enemies were in Cairo and London, sadly enough. O'Connor's answer to the wrong-headedness of his superiors was to move so quickly that the brass would not be able to stop him. They had attacked Tobruk starting at 5:40am on January 21st and by afternoon they had conquered the place. General O'Connor was already moving towards the next prize, Benghazi.

The Tobruk defences

The Italian garrison at Tobruk had half as many men to defend a perimeter that was twice as long as Bardia. The ends of the perimeter were both at the beach. Tobruk, like Bardia, was on the edge of the escarpment. A rough terrain descended to the beach. Tobruk had two lines of concrete emplacements with minefields. There was also a partial anti-tank ditch. Two forts anchored the defences. Fort Pilastrano seems to have been on the highest ground. Fort Solaro overlooked the road to Derna to the west. The first day of the attack took place on January 21st. The 6th Australian Division penetrated the defences just to the east of the El Adem road. By the end of the first day, they had reached Fort Solara and had crossed the Bardia road. This is based on the account in the Official History.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Correlli Barnett says that General O'Connor had a plan to conquer the rest of Libya by the end of February 1941

If Churchill and Wavell had not stopped him, there might have been no place for the Germans to land in North Africa. The mad scheme to aid Greece in the face of German invasion killed the opportunity that Italy could have been knocked out of Libya by O'Connor's blitz into Libya. If you read Churchill's communications in February 1941, you will see that he had become totally unhinged. This was not the last time, sadly, but this would prolong the war and cost Britain much manpower, equipment, and time to recover what was lost in this month. Correlli Barnett, in The Desert Generals, on pages 50 to 56, tells the whole sale tale. As I am a Churchill enthusiast, it pains me greatly to read the story.

Another view of the capture of Tobruk in January 1941

Correlli Barnett wrote that on January 11th, 1941, Hitler made the decision to send troops to support the Italians in Libya. The event that caused this determination was the fall of Bardia. A new formation, the 5th Light Division, organized as a mixed division of tanks and motorized infantry, would be formed and sent to Libya. The move would start on February 15th. General Wavell really wasn't perpared to fight a blitzkrieg-style campaign, but General O'Connor had his forces already investing Tobruk, so he allowed the campaign to continue. Typically, during this period, the British were trying to do everything "on the cheap", with insufficient forces and equipment. The attempt to save Greece was a forlorn effort because of this, and the situation in the Western Desert would be compromised by the same problem, along with too many WWI-minded officers at various levels. This is based on the account in Correlli Barnett's book, The Desert Generals.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The 7th Armoured Division in January 1941

The 7th Armoured Division had lost considerable strength in the course of a month. In any case, they could not take Tobruk, unaided. They had 69 cruiser tanks and 126 light tanks. The 8th Hussars and 6th RTR were withdrawn from the field and their tanks were distributed among the remaining units. At the same time, the 2nd Armoured Division was arriving in the Middle East. It was equipped with two cruiser regiments and two light tank regiments. Their tanks were in poor condition, but they were moved up to Cyrenaica (Eastern Libya) in early February 1941. General Mackay planned the attack on Tobruk with the 6th Australian Division and the remnants of the 7th RTR playing a prominent part.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Supplies held up the attack on Tobruk

The British were stretched to supply the 7th Armoured Division and the 6th Australian Division at Tobruk. The attack was delayed due to the need to stockpile supplies to support an attack. The systems and organizations were still being developed that would ultimately be used for the rest of the war. They had succeeded in building successive depots across the desert, but the rapid push to Tobruk, after the quick fall of Bardia meant that they had finally outstripped their logistic support. The port at Sollum was operated by a detachment managed by General Wilson. This allowed General O'Connor and 13th Corps to focus on the advance. After a brief period, General Wavell assumed control of 13th Corps from the Theater Headquarters. For some reason, Bardia was only used for transshipping supplies to Greece, and Sollum was the main center for receiving supplies.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Greek campaign started to impact Compass in January 1941

The desert offensive was impacted by the vain effort to aid Greece. The Middle East lost three RAF squadrons. Alexandria lost its Hurricane squadron while the Western Desert lost one Blenheim and one Gladiator squadron. If the British only had the Italians to deal with, it was not a great loss. The problem was that the German Luftwaffe was gathering in Sicily to take control of the Central Mediterranean Sea. They were to make life very difficult for Malta, the Royal Navy, and even the army in the desert.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

After Bardia, Tobruk (January 1941)

Tobruk was close enough to Bardia that the 19th Australian Brigade left the Bardia environs later in the day on January 6th and was on the outskirts of Tobruk's defences by morning. The British 16th Infantry Brigade moved up to the southeast. The 4th Armoured Brigade moved further west on the south side of Tobruk. The 7th Armoured Brigade Support Group and the 7th Armoured Brigade moved into a blocking position to the west of Tobruk. The Italian airforce was pushed out of range of Tobruk. Fighters had to operate from Maraua, which was 170 miles from Tobruk. The RAF, however, had moved forward, so they were in position to continue to provide support.

Monday, July 04, 2005

The capture of Bardia

The Italians losses at Bardia were immense. They had lost 40,000 men, killed, wounded, or prisoners. The booty included:
  • 400 guns
  • 13 medium tanks
  • 117 light tanks
  • 200-300 vehicles
"The Corps Commander, General Berganzoli escaped." The Italian army in Libya lost 8 divisions to Operation Compass, as of early January 1941. The British response was to send the 7th Armoured Brigade to cut the road west from Tobruk. The infantry was quickly sent towards Tobruk. General O'Connor knew well how to do blitzkrieg.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

The assault on Bardia on January 3rd, 1941

The attack on Bardia started at 5:30am on January 3rd, 1941. The 2/1st Australian Battalion had reached its objective by 7am. The 7th RTR advanced at 7am and worked in conjunction with the 2/2nd Australian Battalion crossed the Bardia-Fort Capuzzo road. Meanwhile, the 6th Divisional Cavalry had advanced two miles in the direction of Bardia. They had their Bren carriers and little else. Six Italian medium tanks attacked and were eventually knocked out by two anti-tank guns. The 2/6th Battalion lost two platoons in a diversionary attack in the north. The battleships Warspite, Valiant, and Barham bombarded Bardia at 8:10am. The Illustrious provided air cover and spotter aircraft. The monitor Terror and the gunboats assisted the bombardment. The RAF hit airfields in the Italian rear. The second wave of the attack started at 11:10am, when the 17th Australian Infantry Brigade attacked from the south, along the road.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

The Australians established themselves near Bardia, starting in late December 1940

The commanding general of the 6th Australian Division, Major-General Mackay took charge of the area around Sollum starting December 21st. The Australians immediately started aggressive patrolling about the Bardia defences. The goal was to establish control of the area right up to Bardia's perimeter. The RAF had been photographing Bardia to determine the extent of the defences. The duties of 16th Australian Division patrols was to gather intelligence about the details of the Italian defences around Bardia. The Italians defended their perimeter but did only minimal patrolling. The 6th Australian Division, minus many of their divisional support units, was augmented by the 7th RTR with only 23 Matildas still runners and about 120 artillery pieces. The 1st Royal Northumberland Fusiliers were the only available machine gun battalion. General Mackay chose to attack the western side, about 2-1/2 miles south of the road to Tobruk. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History. He had finalized his plan on December 28th, 1940.

The commanders-in-chief decided to give Compass the priority on December 26th, 1940

After taking steps to strip the attack against the Italians in Libya of resources, the Commanders-in-Chief decided abruptly to give that front priority. The goal was to capture Tobruk, although Bardia was still waiting to be assaulted. The logistic situation became even more difficult, as supplies had to be accumulated for a continuation of the offensive. Marshal Graziani realized that the British were having difficulties, and his immediate reaction was to make a strong defence of both Bardia and Tobruk. Mussolini endorsed the idea, but Marshal Graziani immediately had doubts about the wisdom of such a plan. Meanwhile, General Bergonzoli ("Electric Whiskers") was able to bring the troops from the border region into Bardia to strengthen the defences. The raw 6th Australian Division would make the assault on what they supposed was a force of 20,000 men in Bardia. This is based on the account in Vol.I of the Official History.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The water shortage during Compass (December 1940)

A contingency plan for keeping Mersa Matruh supplied if the Italians had succeeded in cutting the supply line allowed the British to supply their troops being gathered for an assault on Bardia. The navy had organized a unit with the sole purpose of keeping Matruh supplied. Now, they were used to bring supplies to the troops in eastern Libya, near Bardia. Sollum would provide a useful port, but at first it was not yet in working order. The greatest problem was the water supply. Fort Capuzzo had storage tanks, but the water was contaminated with salt, so it was unusable. 12,000 gallons were shipped by road from Mersa Matruh. Part of the problem was the 4 gallon can, which would often leak. The navy used the gunboats Aphis and Ladybird, the water-carrier Myriel, and the monitor Terror to bring water forward in sufficient quantities.

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