Saturday, August 29, 2009

Artillery at Tobruk in mid-June 1942

Tobruk was equipped with a rather meager supply of artillery in mid-June 1942. They already been stripped of 18 3.7in AA guns, which had been sent back to the Egyptian frontier. There were three field artillery regiments. The usual equipment of such a regiment was 24-25pdr gun-howitzers. There were also two medium regiments. Each was equipped with 8-4.5in guns and 8-155mm howitzers. The infantry units now had organic anti-tank artillery assigned. There were also two anti-tank batteries. The total count of anti-tank guns consisted of 15-6pdr anti-tank guns, 32-2pdr's, and 8-Bofors anti-tank guns. The anti-aircraft artillery was reduced to 18-3.7in AA guns and one regiment of light AA guns. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The fortifications at Tobruk in June 1942

Tobruk was originally captured by the 6th Australian Division in January 1941. The perimeter of the fortifications was essentially the same in June 1942 as they had been a year-and-a-half before. The fortifications had been improved with an inner ring that ran about two miles in from the outer perimeter. The two brigades of the 2nd South African Division were the primary defenders of Tobruk. They occupied defenses that were inferior to those of late 1941, as the anti-tank ditch was partially filled in and many mines had been removed for use elsewhere. The division did not have the experience and leadership of their predecessors. The other defending units included the 32nd Army Tank Brigade, the 201st Guards Brigade, and the 11th Indian Infantry Brigade. The army tank brigade was reduced to the 4th RTR with 35 Valentines and the 7th RTR with a mix of 26 Valentines and Matildas. The defenders had a few of the new 6pdr anti-tank guns among them. There was a mix of artillery units, as well. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The 20 June 1942 assessment

On 20 June 1942, the commanders in the Middle East sent a message to the Chiefs of Staff in Britain that indicated that they had no idea that they were on the brink of Tobruk being overrun. They continued with their usual over-vonfidence that would soon be shattered. They listed the known reinforcements that were enroute to the Middle East and thought that Tobruk was well-defended and supplied. They thought that Tobruk should be able to hold out until relieved. The 8th Armoured Division was due to arrive in late June and the 44th Division was due to arrive in mid-July. Even if Tobruk was taken, surely, the Axis forces were in no shape to advance into Egypt. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Tobruk loses air support

By 18 and 19 June 1942, the Desert Air Force had to withdraw all the way back to Sidi Barrani. They had been forced to withdraw from the Gambut fields and Sidi Azeiz could not be protected against fast-advancing Axis forces. What this meant was that Tobruk no longer had air support. One squadron of Kittyhawks with long range tanks could reach Tobruk, but that was the extent of what could be done. By early on 20 June, the German reconnaissance units had reached Sidi Azeiz. The Axis air forces spent 18 and 19 June readying for the big attack on Tobruk on 20 June. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The British plan on 18 and 19 June 1942

General Auchinleck was now involved with developing plans to fight the advancing Axis forces that has enveloped Tobruk and pushed past towards the border. The plan by late 18 June 1942 was to use the 13th Corps, supplemented by the 7th Armoured Division, with the remnants of the 4th Armoured Brigade, the 7th Motor Brigade, and the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade, as a mobile force. The British were reduced to 66 tanks and had six columns of artillery and motorized infantry. The 1st South African and 50th Divisions provided one brigade each to be used to constitute three columns of mobile infantry and artillery. The rest of those divisions would be concentrated on the border, with the 10th Indian Division, to defend that area. They knew that there was a chance that Rommel would strike towards the border, but expected an attack on Tobruk as being more likely. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tobruk surrounded: 18 June 1942

By early morning of 18 June 1942, Tobruk was surrounded by Axis forces. Axis control extended east about 40 miles. The DAK was situated on the east side of Tobruk, while the Ariete Division was southeast. The 10th Corps (Italian Pavia and Brescia infantry divisions)was on the south side. The 21st Corps (Sabratha and Trento divisions) was to the west, with some German infantry. General Ritchie reported to General Auchinleck, the theater commander, that he was not able to operate against the forces around Tobruk and still defend the frontier. At that, General Auchinleck flew out to the front to assess the situation. The result was that 13th Corps would protect the frontier, the 30th Corps would be withdrawn into reserve, and the army would directly command the forces in Tobruk. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

the 20th Indian Brigade tries to withdraw

As the 4th Armoured Brigade tried to disengage to the southeast, the 30th Corps commander, General Norrie, could see that Belhamed was about to be surrounded. He ordered the 20th Indian Brigade to break out and withdraw back to Sollum. Two battalions ran into German forces astride the road and were captured. The headquarters, another battalion, and the 97th Field Regiment succeeded in breaking out. Air Marshal Coningham heard that El Adem was in Axis hands and immediately ordered a withdrawal from Gambut. Fortunately, the Axis air forces were busy providing air cover to their advancing troops and so did not prevent the withdrawal. The fighters flew to Sidi Aziz while the day bombers flew back to fields near Mersa Matruh. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The 4th Armoured Brigade on 17 June 1942

The 4th Armoured Brigade, with composite regiments, had about 90 tanks, the 1st RHA, and the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps. They had an encounter with the enemy near Sidi Rezegh and then spent the night about 10 miles to the southeast. Early on 17 June, the brigade was performing maintenance on their tanks and had dispatched two groups to support the 20th Indian Brigade. That had the unfortunate affect of dispersing the brigade's artillery regiment. In the afternoon of 17 June, the division commander, General Frank Messervy, had ordered the brigade to move to the Trigh Capuzzo, between Belhamed and El Adem. Before the 4th Armoured Brigade had moved to that position, the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions drove into the brigade. The 9th Lancers were closet to the enemy and faced them to the north. The 3rd/5th RTR were to their southwest and were next to come in contact. The 1st/6th RTR was yet to engage, but only partially engaged due to a misunderstanding. The 4th Armoured Brigade was forced to withdraw southeastward. Brigadier Richards, the brigade commander, withdrew to a Field Maintenance Center to be in position to return to action in the morning. The brigade ended the day with 58 operable tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

16 and 17 June 1942

The 20th Indian Brigade was holding key positions at Belhamed, with one of its four battalions at Sidi Rezegh. After an attack by the 21st Panzer Division late on 16 June, General Norrie considered withdrawing the brigade, but decided to hold on a little longer. While this was happening, the Desert Air Force at Gambut found itself exposed to attack, because they were only informed that El Adem had been abandoned twelve hours after the withdrawal. The air force was responding to requests for attacks from the 20th Indian Brigade. On 16 June, the 4th Armoured Brigade, now a scratch unit without its regular regiments, was near Sidi Rezegh, acting in support, with about 90 tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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