Friday, May 29, 2009

General Ritchie starts to anticipate Rommel's moves

Later on 12 June 1942, General Ritchie learned of the British tank losses and he realized that Rommel might well decide to move north and pin the 1st South African Division and the 50th Division against the sea. General Ritchie thought that his only options were to continue the battle or withdraw to the Egyptian frontier. The latter would leave Tobruk cut off and vulnerable. General Ritchie decided that standing and fighting would be better than risking a running battle and withdrawal. General Auchinleck, who had come forward, agreed with his decision. Churchill learned of the situation and agreed that they should stand and fight. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, May 25, 2009

12 June 1942 at Knightsbridge

British tactical communications seem to have been atrocious as the time of the Gazala battle. Conditions were hazy with a lot of dust in the air. The German anti-tank gunners used this as cover to push their guns forward. The deadly guns were the 50mm PAK38's, which had an extremely low-silhouette. They chewed up British armour on 12 June 1942, near Knightsbridge. General Lumsden, the 1st Armoured Division commander, was out of communication with his corps commander, General Norrie, so he was left to make his own decisions. General Lumsden knew that he had taken heavy losses and was in no place to go on the offensive. General Norrie, who had lost touch with the battle, still was thinking of offensive operations. General Lumsden decided to continue to hold Knightsbridge, inspite of his heavy losses. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The air battle on 11 and 12 June 1942

The British air forces saw the Axis movements north from Bir Hacheim later in the day on 11 June 1942. By the morning of 12 June, they knew that the 90th Light Division was near El Adem and commenced to attack them from the air, almost continuously. The 90th Light Division found these attacks to be non-effective and only a minor nuisance. There were about twenty low-level attacks by British aircraft during the day. The British had the air to themselves, however, on 12 June, as the Axis air forces were absent from the battle near El Adem. They were busy near Knightsbridge and Acroma. The biggest attack was a 100 plane raid at about 8pm which was intercepted by six British fighter squadrons. A huge air battle ensued. British fighters flew 583 sorties on the day. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Gazala Battle on 12 June 1942 turns against the British

The 30th Corps commander, General Norrie, decided to go on the offensive, early on 12 June 1942, since he believed that the Axis forces were dispersed. He wanted the 2nd and 4th Armoured Brigades to head south and then attack the 15th Panzer Division. The 7th Armoured Division commander, General Frank Messervy, disagreed with this move, and decided to go and talk with his corps commander in person. Near El Adem, he encountered Axis forces and was "out of touch with everyone". Since they never got the order to advance, the two armoured brigades sat and fought off a half-hearted attack by the 15th Panzer Division, which was supposed to keep a defensive posture. At noon, Rommel decided to hit the 2nd and 4th Armoured Brigades from front and rear with his two panzer divisions. Since General Norrie could not find General Messervy, he put the 7th Armoured Division brigades under the command of the 2nd Armoured Division commander, who brought forward the understrength 22nd Armoured Brigade. At this point, the 2nd and 4th Armoured Brigades were hit by the 15th Panzer Division. The 4th Armoured Brigade went over the escarpment, partly by mistake and partly because of the Axis attacks. The British had sustained heavy tank losses due to skillful use of anti-tank guns, which were pushed forward. General Norrie did not know about the losses that had been taken, and assumed that they armour was still intact. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The British tank situation on 12 June 1942

The British tank situation on 12 June 1942 was not as good as General Ritchie had believed, but they still had a fairly strong tank force:

Grants Stuarts Crusaders Infantry tanks
2nd Armoured Brigade 17 3 25

4th Armoured Brigade 39 56

22nd Armoured Brigade 27 5 34

32nd Army Tank Brigade 63

7th Motor Brigade 16
(detachment of the
2nd Royal Gloucestershire

The British had 83 Grants, 64 Stuarts, and 59 Crusaders, for a total of 206 cruiser tanks. They also had the 63 infantry tanks, mostly Valentines, but probably some Matildas, as well. There is a slight possibility that they could have had some A.10 Cruiser Mk.II, which had a similar speed to the Valentine. The 32nd Army Tank Brigade was the reconstituted 3rd Armoured Brigade, from early 1941. They definitely had some of the older A.9's and A.10's, if not A.13's in 1941. This list draws upon Note 1 from page 240 in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

German armour on 11 June 1942

On 11 June 1942, the Axis tank strength was greatly reduced. There were 27 Pzkw IIIJ (or perhaps Pzkw IIIL), 6 Pzkw IVF2, 25 Pzkw II, 83 various models of Pzkw III, and 8 Pzkw IV tanks. There were also about 60 Italian M13/40 and M14/41 tanks. Rommel ordered the 15th Panzer Division, 90th Light Division, and Italian Trieste Motor Division to move towards El Adem. 21st Panzer Division was to show activity north from Sidra ridge. That led General Norrie to believe that he might have an opportunity to strike the Axis forces, which he thought were dispersed. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The British defences on 11 June 1942

A minefield stretched from Acroma to the sea and blocked the Axis forces to the west. Acroma, itself had its crossing held by the 2nd Scots Guards. The 29th Indian Infantry Brigade held El Adem. The 201st Guards Motor Brigade held Knightsbridge. The 2nd South African Division held the Tobruk fortress. The 1st South African and 50th Division defences at Gazala were still unbreached. The infantry defences were, therefore, relatively well positioned. The armour was in much worse shape, and to make matters worse, the strength was less than General Ritchie realized. The artillery was also greatly diminished. A full seven field artillery regiments had been lost in the battle to date. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

By 11 June 1942

As of 11 June 1942, the British defensive front at Gazala continued to hold, despite the Axis successes. The front was stabilized by the two divisions that were still intact: the 1st South African and the 5th Division. Besides that small units were spread across the desert in strong points with infantry, anti-tank guns, and field artillery. The anti-tank guns were in short supply, however. The infantry and especially the armour were becoming increasingly fractured. Because of the difficulties in resupplying units with tanks and soldiers, the armoured units had become mixtures composed from many different units. Worse, yet, while General Ritchie thought that on 10 June, he still had 250 cruiser tanks and 80 infantry tanks, he only had 77 Grants, 52 Crusaders, 56 Stuarts, and 63 infantry tanks. All the infantry tanks were in the 32nd Army Tank Brigade. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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