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.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Late February 1941 in Cyrenaica

It turns out that when the 7th Armoured Division was withdrawn from Cyrenaica, the 17th Australian Infantry Brigade also lost two of its three battalions. In place of them, the 17th Brigade received the King's Dragoon Guards armoured car regiment. They also had one battery of the 2/3rd Field Regiment, two batteries of Light AA, and two Free French companies, with some support troops. The 17th Brigade reported directly to the I Australian Corps command. The other two battalions were sent to the Barce and Benghazi area, under the command of 6th Australian Division. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Wavell's plan for Greece

In late February 1941, Wavell had sanctioned General Cunningham to advance to Harar, after Cunningham had captured Mogadishu, in Somaliland. At the same time, General Wavell, confident that he had until at least mid-April before the Germans could be effective in Libya, he decided to only lightly garrison Cyrenaica. He would use the 9th Australian Division and one armoured brigade from the 2nd Armoured Division. That would allow him to send the 6th and 7th Australian Divisions, the New Zealand Division, the 1st Armoured Brigade, and the Polish Brigade Group to Greece. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

More about February and March 1941 in North Africa

After the decision to stop the offensive after Beda Fomm, General O'Connor was sent back to Egypt as GOC, British Troops. General Neame was left to command the garrison in Cyrenaica, as "Cyrenaica Command". He was left with an Australian infantry brigade and one armoured brigade from the newly arrived 2nd Armoured Division. One of their armoured regiments was equipped entirely with captured M13/40 tanks. They were an odd fixture in the British army, as they had diesel engines, while British tanks were petrol-fueled. The M13/40 tanks had the advantage of largely being very new with low mileage, unlike the remaining veterans of the offensive, which were worn out. General Wavell expected that the newly arrived Germans and their Italian allies would not be ready to advance until mid-April. Rommel attacked on March 31st, instead. This is based on the account in The Desert Generals.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The air force was stripped from O'Connor's force

The air force units attached to O'Connor's army had been largely stripped by the third week in February. There had been four Hurricane squadrons and three Blenheim squadrons. Gavin Long writes that should have been sufficient to establish ascendency over anything that the Germans would have had in February and March. Instead, there was just the No.3 Squadron RAAF at Benina. No.73 Squadron was at Gazala. In East Africa, General Wavell allowed the forces there to continue to advance against the Italians, while the forces in Cyrenaica were stopped and reduced. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Withdrawal in February 1941

The events of February 1941 seem amazing, in retrospect. General Wilson was sent to Barce as military governor of Cyrenaica on February 9. XIII Corps headquarters was withdrawn and General Blamey's I Australian Corps arrived. Starting on February 13, aircraft from Fliegerkorps X, based in Sicily, started bombing Benghazi. By February 18, the 7th Armoured Division was withdrawn and was replaced by the 17th Australian Brigade. At that same date, the navy had to stop supplying Benghazi by sea, due to the lack of air defense. By February 24, the 19th Australian Brigade was ordered to pull back to Gazala to ease the supply situation. The supply situation was aggravated by the withdrawal of air and anti-air assets. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

What if?

Gavin Long writes in To Benghazi that if O'Connor had been allowed to take Sirte, and "had advanced from there on the 20th [of February, 1941] with full naval and air support, as he wished to do, Hiter would have ceasied reinforcing the Italians and O'Connor would have rapidly occupied Tripolitania and defeated its garrison". As Gavin Long puts it, however, Churchill was focused on the Balkans and wouldn't even consider a further advance. In any case, as a consequence of Churchill's plans, the British and Australian forces had largely vacated western Cyrenaica, and had left a token occupying force that would be easily routed.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Gavin Long argues that the resources were available for an advance to the west in February 1941

Gavin Long points out, in To Benghazi, that the two 2nd Armoured Division tank regiments were just arriving at the time that Rommel traveled to Tripoli. He also writes that the naval and shipping resources required would have been less than what was needed for Churchill's Balkan adventure. He also says that the events in early to mid-1941 showed that German airpower, alone, were not sufficient to stop naval forces from escorting shipping through the Mediterranean Sea. The Germans were not able to put Malta out of action, for example. He also says that airpower was not able to stop the movement and evacuation of the ANZAC forces from Greece.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

In January 1941, Wavell's stall believed that capturing Tripoli was feasible

Major-General de Guingand, who had been a Lt-Colonel on Wavell's staff in early 1941, reported that they had believed in January 1941, after the fall of Tobruk and Benghazi, that taking Tripoli was achievable. After the war, General Wavell had written that the logistical probelms, along with worn-out tanks would have precluded the further advance. General Dill, who had long had a defeatist attitude, reportedly, was also against a further advance. We will never know for sure, but the British leadership squandered the opportunity to try, as they allowed time for Rommel and his German reinforcements to be shipped to Tripoli. Rommel was quick to take advantage of British weakness and vacillation by the higher command.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Late February 1941: an opportunity lost

In late February, Axis forces in Tripolitania were very weak. The four Italian infantry divisions were short of artillery, the Ariete division only had light tanks, and there were only several German battalions, one of which was a reconnaissance unit with armoured cars. The HQ of the 5th Light Division arrived in Tripoli on February 21.

General Wavell didn't want to have to supply forces so far to the west, so he was against a further advance. General Dill (CIGS) supported him. They blocked any further advance at a time when it might have succeeded. Instead, they would be faced with another two years of war in North Africa, instead of ending it right then. Instead, they embarked on the Greek adventure, which was doomed to fail from the start, due scale of forces that could be committed and the difficulties on the ground.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Mid-February 1941

As Rommel arrived in Tripoli on February 12, 1941, the 17th (Pavia) Division had been mored forward to the vicinity of Sirte, which is about halfway from El Agheila. Just to the west is Tmed Hassan, which is where the 25th (Bologna) Division was sent. The 132nd (Ariete) Armoured Division was positioned in Buerat, even further west, although close to Tmed Hassan. Positoined forward was the German recon unit (with armoured cars), a German infantry battalion, presumably motorized, and an Italian motorized unit, probably of battalion size. By February 18th, Hitler decided to name Rommel’s unit the Deutsche Afrika Korps. By February 26th, the 15th Panzer Division was allocated to the DAK, and would be shipped to Libya after the 5th Light had been transported. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Good books about the Australians in WWII

I am going to pick up two more books from the Australian official history series:

  • Australia In The War Of 1939-1945 Series 1 Army, Greece,Crete And Syria, Gavin Long.
  • Australia In The War Of 1939-1945 Series 1 Army: TOBRUK & EL ALAMEIN, Barton Maughan.

Another good book is

  • Springboks in Armour, the South African Armoured Cars in World War 2, Harry Klein.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

February 10-12, 1941

On February 10, 1941, part of the 132nd Armoured Division (Ariete) was located in a blocking position west of El Agheila. They faced the 7th Armoured Division Support Group to the east. 7th Armoured Division HQ was south of Beda Fomm, perhaps at Agedabia. At Beda Fomm were the 4th and 7th Armoured Brigades. In the Benghazi area were the XIII Corp HQ and the 17th and 19th Australian Brigades. Cyrenaica Command was near Barce, with the 6th Australian Division HQ. The main Italian force was located in the Tripoli area. This included the rest of the Ariete Division, and the 25th, 27th, and 55th Divisions. On February 12th, General Rommel arrived at Tripoli. He suggested to General Garibaldi that he move the bulk of his forces forward to the Sirte-Buerat area as a blocking force to fight a defensive battle. The German reconnaissance unit was also sent forward. The 5th Light Division and Air Force units would not be in place until about March 20th. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

German concerns in January and February 1941

It turns out that Hitler and ther German staff were concerned that Italy would collapse, in early 1941, in the face of British successes in Libya and the quagmire in Greece. It was on January 11th that Hitler ordered aid for the Italians. This aid was most notably in the form of the redoubtable Flieger Korps X that was deployed to Sicily. There were also plans to send what became the 5th Light Motorized Division to Libya. The 5th Light Division would have a reconnaissance battalion with armoured cars, three anti-tank battalions with between 27 and 36 guns, thirty tanks, two motor machine gun battalions, and their support units. Gavin Long says that it was about the equivalent of the 7th Armoured Division Support Group. The 5th Light was to be ready for transport to Libya by February 15th. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Friday, September 09, 2005

O'Connor's plan for Tripolitania

General O'Connor was ready to advance further into Tripolitania from Sirte on February 20th, 1941. Two armored regiments from the 2nd Armoured Division were set to join him soon, and he had 12 cruiser tanks and 40 light tanks left from the 7th Armoured Division regiments. He was ready to send the 7th Armoured Division Support Group forward to Sirte. The 3rd Hussars received all light tanks and the 6th RTR were equipped with M13/40 tanks. The Italians also expected a further British advance. On February 12th, the Germans and Italians were considering the value of sending German forces to Tripolitania. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Churchill had never liked the advance into Libya

Churchill only allowed O'Connnor's advance into Libya, because the way was not open for what Churchill really wanted: to send troops into the Balkans. The main reason that the capture of Cyrenaica happened was because the Greek government had refused British aid in January 1941. All that changed on January 29th, when General Metaxas died. The new Greek government asked for aid, if the Germans entered the war in Greece. Churchill's telegram to Wavell on February 12th made it clear that Churchill had hoped that the offensive would stop at Tobruk, and that the move further west simply complicated Churchill's plan to send troops and equipment to Greece in an effort doomed to failure before it started. Anthony Eden and General Dill were in route to Greece to offer to send a force to Greece to aid in the war. Churchill also had his eye on Crete. O'Connor wanted to take the rest of Libya, and if he had been allowed, it could have happened. Instead, Churchill allowed a respite to the Italians that gave time for Rommel and the Germans to be shipped to Libya. This is based on the account in To Benghazi, with some editorializing by myself.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The 6th Australian Division enters Benghazi

Officials from Benghazi issued an invitation to the Australians to enter Benghazi. "An Arab official from Benghazi appeared and made a speech of welcome to the Australians" at Sidi Chalifa. The cavalry entered Benghazi. They received waves and cheers. The Australians drove up to the town hall, where "the mayor, the bishop, the chief of the police and other dignitaries and officials were awaiting them". This was later in the day on February 6th, 1941. Robertson's brigade entered Benghazi on the 7th. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Correlli Barnett on victory at Beda Fomm

General O'Connor spoke Italian, so he talked with the senior Italian general who had surrendered at Beda Fomm. O'Connor told him "I'm sorry you are so uncomfortable. We haven't had time to make proper arrangements." The reply was "Thank you so very much. We do realise that you came here in a very great hurry." General O'Connor expected after such a victory, that Churchill and his commanders would authorize a further advance, as they had every time up to then. O'Connor was ready to continue his blitz into Tripolitania, and push the Italians out of Libya. Churchill would have none of it. He was determined to squander their resources in a hopeless gesture in Greece. This draws on information from Correlli Barnett's book, The Desert Generals.

Monday, September 05, 2005

After the battle on February 7th, 1941

Gavin Long, in To Benghazi, writes that the battlefield, after the fighting ceased, was littered with abandoned and knocked out Italian equipment. There were Lancia and Fiat trucks, many medium tanks painted dark green (almost all M13/40's at this point). He also writes that there were lines of field guns and ammunition, abandoned on surrender. The British took some 20,000 prisoners in the battle. There were 112 Italian medium tanks, large numbers of L3 light tanks, 216 guns, and about "1,500 wheeled vehicles". General Tellara was killed and General Bergonzoli was captured.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The situation on February 7th, 1941

General O'Connor ordered the 6th Australian Division to send a brigade to Ghemines on February 7th, 1941. The 7th Armoured Division Support Group would move south along the road and track that paralleled the road. Meanwhile, at 6:30am, Combe's road block was attacked. Two RHA guns knocked out the lead tank and damaged others, but were knocked out, themselves. The 2/Rifle Brigade attacked, and the whole Italian column surrendered, shortly after 7am. One Italian medium tanks (probably a M13/40) wouldn't surrender and moved into the British position, until a damaged gun from the 106th RHA knocked it out. All Italian resistance ended before 9am. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Other actions on February 6th, 1941

The fighting at the head of the Italian column eventually tapered off as darkness fell. So far, 10,000 Italian prisoners had been taken. Those forces that had broken through the 4th Armoured Brigade moved south towards Combe's road block. There were about six layers of knocked out Italian vehicles and tanks at Combe's position. "Combeforce" was attacked by about 30 tanks at 8pm. Mines accounted for three and artillery for another, but four tanks and 30 trucks moved past the road block and headed for Tripolitania.

Earlier in the day, the 1/KRRC "had attacked the Sceleidima fort". Two of their carriers were mined in the attack. At 10am, they could see 10 medium tanks leave the fort and escape. At 10:30am, elements of the 7th Armoured Division Support Group moved in and found that the fort had been abandoned. One 11th Hussars squadron advanced to Soluch, which also had been abandoned. The greater part of the Support Group arrived at 4pm.

This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Friday, September 02, 2005

By 6pm the Italians had broken through the 4th Armoured Brigade

By 6pm on February 6th, 1941, the head of the Italian column had fought its way through the 4th Armoured Brigade, whose strength was greatly reduced. The 3rd Hussars had 4 cruiser tanks and 24 light tanks. The 7th Hussars had one cruiser tank and 20 light tanks. The 7RTR had ten cruiser tanks and 7 light tanks. Together, they had destroyed 51 M13/40 medium tanks. Their losses were just three cruiser tanks and 7 men. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The British tank regiments on February 6th, 1941

As more British tank regiments arrived at Beda Fomm, they were increasingly engaged against Italian tanks. The British had support from artillery, so they were able to successfully engage superior numbers. The 2/RTR was resupplied with ammunition and then returned to the fray with only 6 cruiser tanks. They immediately fought an action against 15 Italian tanks with trucks on the road. The 3rd Hussars and the 7th Hussars fought a large group of tanks. At the same time, the 1/RTR arrived and immediately attacked 30 Italian medium tanks that were trying to break through to the south. Along with their attached artillery battery, they drove the Italians back to the northwest. This is based on the account in To Benghazi.

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