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.

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