Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The airfields at Gambut

On 15 June 1942, the Axis forces were getting very close to Gambut, where the Desert Air Force was based. Air Vice-Marshal Coningham decided to stay there with his aircraft, so that they could continue to support the forces defending El Adem. At Gambut, there was an armoured car screen from the No.2 Armoured Car Company, RAF. Behind the screen, Gambut was defended by "four infantry battalions and three and a half anti-aircraft batteries (ready to engage tanks if necessary)". Bostons attacked the "El Adem-Sidi Rezegh area" seven times. Fighter bombers attacked twenty times. The Germans had thought that they were taking 20mm cannon hits on their forces, but it was actually Hurricane IID's with 40mm guns. Some Bostons were attacked by Me-109s, but took no losses. The Kittyhawk escorts drove off most of the Me-109s. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Air operations were intense on 15 June 1942

On 15 June 1942, the Desert Air Force was still able to operate from the airfields at Gambut. Gambut was just 30 to 35 miles east of Tobruk, so Boston's and fighter bombers had just a short hop to where the fighting was happening to the west. The fighters needed to provide escort to them as well as to the Vigorous convoy to Malta. The Germans had flown 193 sorties against the ship in the convoy on 14 and 15 June. That actually gave the 8th Army some relief, as the bombers that might have hit them were attacking the convoy, instead. The British had sufficient fighter strength so as to have intercepted them, anyway, if they had attacked the 8th Army formations. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Withdrawal from El Adem

On 16 June 1652, General Norrie, 30th Corps commander, realized that El Adem could not be held much longer. He did not want to lose the 29th Indian Brigade, so he ordered the brigade to withdraw to the frontier. They were able to successfully withdraw early on 17 June. General Ritchie had been out of touch, so General Norrie made the decision with consultation with General Messervy. The withdrawal from El Adem left the Tobruk defenses without the southern end. That allowed the mobile Axis forces to turn the defenses. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

El Adem on 15 and 16 June 1942

The 29th Indian Brigade had two battalions holding El Adem and one battalion holding a position to the northwest. The 7th Motor Brigade was giving support to the Indian brigade. By 7:30pm on 15 June 1942, however, the 21st Panzer Division had taken the detached battalion at point B 650. By the morning of 16 June, the 30th Corps commander, General Norrie realized that he would not be able to effectively support the remaining two Indian battalions at El Adem and the force holding Belhamed, either. General Norrie told the 7th Armoured Division commander, Frank Messervy, that he expected that they would need to withdraw to the Egyptian frontier. General Ritchie was out of touch at this critical period. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Axis plans

On 15 June, Rommel was told by the high command that they were going to withdraw air forces in late June and that he had to take Tobruk, because the current plan could not support an investment of Tobruk for a long period. The priority was to take Malta, because Malta was interfering with the supply route to North Africa. Rommel wanted to move east towards Egypt as fast as possible, so his thinking was not incompatible with the high command. The British response to Axis movements and possibilities was limited by the depleted forces that were available. That led General Ritchie to consider the use of "Jock Columns". General Auchinleck disapproved of them, because they were too weak to fight a serious battle and dispersed what forces were available. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, July 10, 2009

14 and 15 June 1942

The "Vigorous" convoy was sailing to Malta on 14 June 1942, between the island of Crete and Cyrenaica. This diverted German aircraft that might otherwise have been bombing the retreating British forces. Some Bostons and Wellingtons bombed the airfields, including at Derna, on the night of 13/14 June to disrupt bombing of the convoy during the day. There were dust storms on 14 June that all but eliminated any air operations. Both British and Axis air operations were affected. The situation on 15 June was pretty grim for the British. Rommel calculated that he had won the battle and that what he was seeing was the disassembly of the British forces before Tobruk. The British tank forces were reduced to "one weak brigade of compositie regiments". Rommel's next objective was to take Tobruk. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Backup to the night of 13/14 June 1942

The 201st Guards Motor Brigade withdrew from Knightsbridge during the night of 13/14 June 1942. There were still some defended points that were resolutely held by Commonwealth and British small units. They were equipped with artillery as well as infantry. The remnants of the British armour were positioned to the "south and west of Acroma". Rommel tried to get his troops to cut the coast road, by that was beyond their capabilities at this time. The Axis forces succeeded in taking Pt. 187, but the 15th Panzer Division was held at bay while the 21st Panzer Division was eventually driven back at Eluet et Tama. By early on 14 June, the 1st South African Division and the 50th Division wre ordered to withdraw from Gazala towards the Egyptian frontier. The South Africans withdrew on the afternoon of 14 June, under cover of a dust storm. They left rearguard troops behind to slow the German advance. The 50th Division rearguard broke through to escape, but the South African's did not follow and were captured. Most of the 50th Division withdrew to the Egyptian frontier by 16 June, but some moved into Tobruk. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

General Ritchie had no confidence that he could make Auchinleck's plan work

General Ritchie was concerned about the losses they would take if he ordered the Tobruk garrison to fight its way out to the east. He thought that the prospects were better to simply withdraw more forces into the Tobruk fortress and hold it under siege. The problem was that General Auchinleck was opposed to that course of action, although that was what Churchill expected them to do.

Churchill opposed abandoning Tobruk, as Auchinleck was prepared to do. He had seen the ability of troops in the fortress to resist assault and thought that they could do the same thing again. Auchinleck still wanted to hold a line west of Tobruk and fight there, outside of Tobruk. Auchinleck, in the face of questions from the Prime Minister accepted that Tobruk might be surrounded, if only temporarily. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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