Monday, October 31, 2005
Events immediately after April 8th, 1941
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
Thursday, October 27, 2005
April 7th and 8th, 1941: the debacle continues
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
Monday, October 24, 2005
The withdrawal from western Cyrenaica
Sunday, October 23, 2005
With General Neame out of touch with events, there was march and counter-march
Saturday, October 22, 2005
Rommel decided that he needed to move faster, if he was to be able to engage any British troops
Friday, October 21, 2005
The aftermath of Rommel's initial advance in April 1941
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Elements of the 5th Light Division captured Mersa Brega on April 1st, 1941
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Correll Barnett on the collapse in Cyrenaica
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
The demise of the 3rd Armoured Brigade
Monday, October 17, 2005
The confusion on April 3rd and 4th, 1941
Sunday, October 16, 2005
General Wavell intervenes with a bad result
Saturday, October 15, 2005
April 2, 1941: General Neame interfered at a critical point
Friday, October 14, 2005
The Germans attack in early April 1941
Thursday, October 13, 2005
Rommel in late March 1941
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Rommel realized the British were thin on the ground
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
The Germans in February 1941 in Libya
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)
Sunday, October 09, 2005
Estimated Axis strength on 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
Saturday, October 08, 2005
February-March 1941 in Libya
Friday, October 07, 2005
The Germans advance into Cyrenaica: March 24, 1941
Thursday, October 06, 2005
Reinforcements in late March 1941
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
March 1941: be prepared to give up ground
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
RAF in the Western Desert in late February 1941
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
Sunday, October 02, 2005
The forces remaining to defend Cyrenaica in early 1941
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.