Monday, April 27, 2009

The 1st Free French Brigade Group

The 1st Free French Brigade Group were the defenders of Bir Hacheim. The brigade consisted of the following units:

2e bataillon Légion étrangère
3e bataillon Légion étrangère
2e bataillon de marche de l'Oubanghi
1er bataillon d'infanterie de marine (coloniale)
1er bataillon du Pacifique
1er regiment d'artillerie
1er bataillon de fusiliers marins (AA)
an anti-tank company, engineers, signal, medical,
signal, and administrative troops

They had 26 field guns, 62 anti-tank guns, and 44 mortars

This is from Footnote 1 on page 237 of the British Official History.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Back to Bir Hacheim

While the Cauldron battle was being fought, the 90th Light Division and Italian Trieste division had been trying take Bir Hacheim in the south. They had good air support, although the support was very grudgingly given. Rommel had decided that Bir Hacheim needed to be taken by 8 June 1942 so that they could return to the task of attacking the Gazala line from the rear. To bolster the attack, Rommel sent the 15th Panzer Division south to join the battle. British columns operated outside the Bir Hacheim perimeter. They were formed from the 7th Motor Brigade, the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade, and the Free French. By 8 June, the air attacks had increased in intensity. 58 bombers escorted by 54 fighters were used in the attacks. The Free French needed help, but the army was not able to immediately help. Instead, the RAF mounted 478 sorties on 8 June against the Axis forces attacking Bir Hacheim. On 9 June, the British air effort was greatly diminshed. General Ritchie decided early on 10 June that the French needed to withdraw from Bir Hacheim,as they could not be sustained in that position. Rommel personally led a DAK attack that broke into Bir Hacheim from the north. The 7th Motor Brigade arrived with a large motor convoy and embarked 2700 men from the original 3600 and took them away successfully. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Defeat in the Cauldron

The British attempt to destroy the Axis forces in the Cauldron was a failure. The Axis forces admired the "courage and self-sacrifice" of the British soldiers, but that was not enough to overcome the command problems that existed. Rommel seems to have been successful in allowing the British to attack and be defeated. The best of the British tactics, artillery concentration and infantry attacking at night, were not enough. Once the battle was underway, the British had lost control of the action while Rommel personally commanded the battle as it progressed. But the battle for the Cauldron was over and the focus would shift to Bir Hacheim. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Hurricane IID arrives in the desert

About this time, 6 June 1942, the first Hurricane IID aircraft arrived in the Desert. No.6 Squadron had nine when the squadron started operations. Their 40mm cannon seemed too large for the Hurricane. Because of the weight of the guns, the Hurricanes were stripped to reduce weight. With the guns, with 15 rounds each, they were still very overweight. Still, they could destroy Axis tanks with hits to the thin upper armour.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"The Cauldron" lost on 6 June 1942

For some reason, the RAF was not able to effectively intervene in the battle for the Cauldron on 6 June 1942 when infantry and artillery was attacked by the Axis forces. The RAF frequently turned down requests for support during the day. This was at point B180, which was south-southwest of Knightsbridge. There were a Gurkha battalion and two Indian battalions, along with the 50th Reconnaissance Battalion and three RA Field Regiments and one RHA regiment. The Royal Artillery fought to the death, killed at their guns. A very few infantrymen escaped to the east. 7th Armoured Division was not able to intervene, despite having the 2nd and 4th Armoured Brigades. The usual problem occurred. Rommel knew what was happening, while the British commanders had lost touch with the the battle. They were not able to follow events as they happened. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Chaos erupts: the divisional headquarters are overrun or dispersed

The Official History does a poor job of mentioning the date when events happen. Apparently, still on the afternoon of 5 June 1942, Rommel decided to go on the offensive with his mobile forces. The Ariete Division and the 21st Panzer Division attacked to the East and the 15th Panzer Division attacked north towards Knightsbridge. The 9th Indian Division and 7th Armoured Division headquarters were scattered by these attacks. Whatever control was being asserted over the constituent units was lost. The 5th Indian Division HQ was at El Adem. The 22nd Armoured Brigade was hit by the 15th Panzer Division. What made the situation worse was that General Ritchie, the army commander, had no real idea that the situation and gone so badly wrong. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

No one in command

As the situation worsened, it was every division for its self. The 7th Armoured Division and 5th Indian Division commanders both recognized that they had serious problems, but there was no corps commander between them and the army commander. The army commander was oblivious, so the divisions continued to commit their forces piecemeal, where they were defeated individually. The 2nd Armoured Brigade group was this skeleton organization with one tank regiment, one motor battalion, and one RHA regimentIt was sent off on its own towards a point to the south of Knightsbridge. At this point, on 5 June 1942, Rommel was formulating his plan of action, given the developing situation. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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