Sunday, March 29, 2009

the Gazala Battle turns against the British on 5 June 1942

Initially, the battle on 5 June 1942 favoured the British. Early in the morning, the battle turned and the Germans, particularly, had the advantage. The initial British thrust in the early morning dark succeeded only because the attacking forces stopped short of the main Axis force. The 22nd Armoured Brigade had a strength, before the fight, of 156 tanks. They were a mixture of Grants, Stuarts, and Crusaders. They quickly ran into heavy artillery fire and turned north. They left the infantry unsupported when they were struck by German tanks. The 2nd Highland Light Infantry were driven backwards onto the Gurkhas. The same sort of thing happened to the 2nd West Yorkshires. The British fought dispersed, without support and could be beaten in detail. The 32nd Army Tank Brigade had started their attack on the Sidra ridge with 70 infantry tanks and lost 50 before the attack was canceled. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The flawed command structure

The planned attack on the Cauldron was to be mounted with no single officer in command. Instead, there were these independent units involved, but operating on their own. The plan sounds like another typical 8th Army operations, with the forces sent off in all directions, acting alone. The 10th Indian Brigade would attack to the west. The 32nd Army Tank Brigade would attack south and take the Sidra Ridge. Following those movements, timed to happen sequentially, the 7th Armoured Division and 9th Indian Brigade would attack west into the Cauldron. Why could they have not been more concentrated and moved together? This was all to commence on 5 June 1942. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Auchinleck's plan

By 2 June 1942, General Auchinleck wanted to mount an attack towards Bir el Temrad from the XIII Corps front. He was the only one in favor of such a move, as it was opposed by General Ritchie and his corps commanders. He had also thought about a turning movement around the southern end of the front, but gave it up in face of opposition and the questions about their ability to keep the attack supplied. He then decided that they would attack the Axis forces in the vicinity of "The Cauldron". The attack would be mounted on 5 June and would start with the 10th Indian Brigade and the with 4th RTR support easily took their objective. The other moves also went well, but that was because the Axis forces were further to the west than the plan had foreseen. The result was that the result was very bad. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Other moves on 2 June 1942

Rommel tried to distract the British from Bir Hacheim by sending the 21st Panzer Division on a feint towards Eluet et Tamar on 2 June 1942. They encountered the 5th RTR and destroyed 12 of their tanks. The 5th RTR was one of the regiments in the 4th Armoured Brigade. That was the only major movement for a few days while both sides were working on recovering and repairing tanks and reorganizing for the next phase of the battle. The DAK had been reduced to just 130 runners from the total of about 320 tanks that they had at the start of the battle. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The fight for Bir Hacheim, starting 2 June 1942

The Germans and Italian forces moved on Bir Hacheim next. 2 June 1942 was a day of sand storms. On 3 June, the German air force started bombing Bir Hacheim. For their part, the RAF hit the easy targets presented by the concentrated German and Italian units moving on Bir Hacheim. The RAF shot down 16 German and Italian aircraft at the cost of 13 lost. The Free French forces were heartened by the strong air support.

British and Commonwealth ground forces were active, but mostly with Jock columns operating on the German supply lines that cut through the minefields at Trigh Capuzzo and the Trigh el Abd. Columns were drawn from the 1st South African Division, the 50th Division, and the 7th Motor Brigade. The one brigade-size attack was made by the 1st South African Brigade against the Trento Division. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Bir Hacheim

Rommel was in a somewhat more secure position by 2 June 1942. After taking the Sidi Muftah area, he intended to attack Bir Hacheim with some of his better infantry: the 90th Light Division and the Italian Trieste Division (motorized). The Official History notes that by this phase of the battle, Rommel had lost General Gause and Colonel Westphal to wounds.

Since 30 May, the British had been very active in the air, but by 2 June, they had taken many losses and had to stop low level attacks on Axis ground forces due to the dwindling stocks of Kittyhawks. The British had lost 50 aircraft in the first 5 days of the battle. The only good sign was the arrival of the first Spitfires in the fighter role. The plan was to use them to fly high cover for Hurricanes used as fighter-bombers. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The battle turns against the British by 2 June 1942

General Ritchie seems to have been slow to react to the events of 30 May 1942. General Ritchie had planned an attack in the vicinity of where the 150th Brigade had been located. He hoped to destroy the Axis forces in the Cauldron, but the attack that was mounted was hopelessly inadequate. One battalion from 151st Brigade attacked Sidra ridge, but was rebuffed on the night of 1st/2nd June. The 10th Infantry Brigade never even responded, due to the late receipt of orders. While the British plan still-fired, Rommel was busy formulating new plans. His next objective was the Free French at Bir Hacheim. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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