Monday, June 29, 2009

More from 14 June 1942

By late in the day on 14 June 1942, General Ritchie, the 8th Army commander, had issued an instruction that his intentions were to withdraw to the Egyptian frontier. The 5th Indian and 10th Indian Divisions actually had orders to that effect. By 8:30pm, General Ritchie gave the 30th Corps commander guidance that they should not be caught in Tobruk and surrounded. They needed to protect the escarpment and cover the 13th Corps. General Ritchie was concerned that the exits from Tobruk might be blocked by Rommel's forces. When Churchill heard about the intentions that were issued, he told the commanders in the Middle East that he hoped that they did not intend to withdraw from Tobruk, leaving it to the Axis forces. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A disconnect between commanders

General Ritchie asked if General Auchinleck would be willing to risk Tobruk becoming surrounded and under siege, in order to be able to not have to withdraw to the Egyptian border. This was on 14 June 1942. General Auchinleck had not been aware of just how desperate the situation near Tobruk had become. Auchinleck still believed that the Germans and Italians had suffered as well in the battle and could still be fought west of Tobruk. Auchinleck wanted to hold Tobruk, but did not want the fortress isolated and put under siege by the Axis forces. General Ritchie did not see this reply until 4pm on 14 June, after he returned to his headquarters after meeting with the corps commanders. Ritchie wanted to allow Tobruk to become besieged and told that to General Auchinleck. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, June 22, 2009

14 June 1942: the British had lost the battle

Early in 1942, General Auchinleck had decided that he would not try to hold Tobruk while it was under siege, if such a situation arose. By late in the day on 13 June, 1942, General Ritchie realized that they had lost the battle on that day. Early on 14 June, he ordered a withdrawal to the Egyptian frontier. General Ritchie wanted to withdraw the divisions in the Gazala line before they were surrounded. With Tobruk not an option, he could only withdraw to Egypt. In previous battles, the British would have just withdrawn into Tobruk and setup to defend the fortress. General Ritchie telephoned headquarters and then sent a long dispatch in the early afternoon. He was directed to defend Tobruk, but to not allow his forces to be pinned there and put under siege. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The abortive attack on Ploesti in June 1942

The Americans sent a group of B-24 Liberator bombers to Egypt in preparation for a raid on the oil fields at Ploesti, in Rumania. This group of bombers and their men was called the Halverson Detachment. A attack force flew from Fayid (close to the Suez Canal), taking off before dawn on 12 June 1942. The plan to form up and make a concentrated attack failed, and worse yet, the weather was cloudy when they arrived near Ploesti. They had planned a high level attack, so most bombers dropped their loads into the clouds. A few dropped below the clouds, but dropped their bombs without really aiming. The planes scattered after the attack. Four planes landed in neutral Turkey, two landed in Syria, and the rest landed in Iraq, as was the original plan. One British Liberator and the seven American planes participated in the "Vigorous" convoy action, which happened right after the attack on Ploesti. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wellingtons in action in late May and early June 1942

Wellingtons, operating from airfields on Malta were active during late May and early June 1942. Malta was just starting to recover from the severe pounding and could not do much in North Africa. Wellingtons mostly operated against ports and airfields. No.205 Group flew 403 sorties from 26 May until 13 June. They mined the harbour at Benghazi (four times) and hit airfields at Tmimi, Martuba, Berka, and Derna.From 8 June, they hit Italian ports prior to the next two convoys to Malta. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Belhamed forward base had to be abandoned

A great deal of effort had been expended to extend the rail head to Belhammed, the forward supply base. The work was finished on 12 June 1942, as the situation near Gazala and Tobruk deteriorated. By 14 June, the order was given to removed from Belhamed. Most had been cleared by 16 June, as there was a plan in place that was executed. General Ritchie ordered the remaining petrol to be dumped on 16 June. Tobruk still had a large supply of stores, fuel, and ammunition. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

13 June 1942, a bad day for the British

On 13 June, Rommel planned to send the 15th Panzer Division west and the 21st Panzer Division east to "cut off Knightsbridge". He also ordered the 90th Light Division into the battle from near El Adem. In the morning, the 2nd Armoured Brigade and 22nd Armoured Brigade, with some infantry tanks from the 32nd Army Tank Brigade fought and resisted east of Knightsbridge. At 3pm in the afternoon, the attack by 21st Panzer Division on the 2nd Scots Guards, one battery of the 11th RHA, and the 6th South African Field Battery at the west end of Maabus er Rigel created a crisis. The 2nd Armoured Brigade and 4th Armoured Brigade were sent to help fight the 21st Panzer Division.

There were constant dust storms which greatly limited air action. In one case, some Kittyhawks attacked a Ju-88 formation that had a heavy escort. The result was four lost Kittyhawks.

At the end of 13 June, the British only had about fifty cruiser tanks and twenty infantry tanks remaining. They had lost possession of so much ground that there was no possibility of recovering and repairing lost tanks. As many as 417 tanks had been recovered up to this point. A full 210 had been repaired and another 122 were sent back to base workshops. Another 138 13th Corps infantry tanks were recovered during this period, as well. This left the British with little option but to withdraw from Knightsbridge, which General Gott ordered during the night of 13/14 June. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

The British plans for 13 June 1942

Late on 12 June 1942, General Ritchie believed that the battle would now center on the infantry divisions in the 13th Corps. He hoped to place the 1st Armoured Division under the command of 13th Corps to support them better. He was out of communication with General Lumsden, the 1st Armoured Division commander, however. General Ritchie was not able to pass orders to General Lumsden until the 13th. The British plan included the 7th Motor Brigade at El Adem to hit the Axis forces from behind. At El Adem, the 10th Indian Division was also supposed to engage the Axis forces. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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