Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The situation after Tobruk fell

Mussolini sent Marshal Cavallero to North Africa to provide support to Rommel's advance towards the Suez Canal. Field-Marshal Kesselring thought that the correct next move would be to capture Malta, but he realized the possibilities with an immediate advance into Egypt by Rommel's forces. By 26 June 1942, Rommel had moved forward to Sidi Barrani. Rommel intended to make Mersa Matruh his next objective. From there, he would move deeper into Egypt, where he hoped to reach Cairo by 30 June. One issue was that British forces had commenced offensive operations against Axis shipping from Malta. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

After Tobruk's capture

Mussolini's overriding concern was to capture Malta with the planned Operation Herkules. Mussolini had only authorized Rommel to advance to the Egyptian frontier, where he must wait until Malta was captured. Rommel would have none of it, however. He had an ally in Hitler, who was concerned that the capture of Malta could become a long and drawn out battle. Hitler asked Mussolini to reconsider and allow Rommel to advance into Egypt. Mussolini finally agreed with Hitler, as he coveted the Suez Canal. They decided to neutralize Malta rather than capture the island. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Fall of Tobruk

The Official History estimates that 33,000 men were taken prisoner at Tobruk, when the fortress was surrendered. The German casualties in the campaign to capture Tobruk were about 3,360 men killed. South Africa lost about one-third of their men in North Africa was prisoners. The German practice of officers leading in combat led to high casualties (perhaps as much as 70% in the motorized infantry and armoured units).

The main reason that the fortress fell was that a decision had been made as far back as February 1942 not to allow Tobruk to be besieged again. Because of that, the defenses were in poor condition. On top of that, the 2nd South African Division was not suited to defend the place, as the commander and men lacked the necessary experience.

With the surrender of Tobruk, Rommel was promoted to Field-Marshal. He expected to be able to blitz all the way to the Suez canal. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tobruk falls

In the night of 20 June to 21 June 1942, there were discussions about either holding out, surrendering, or trying to break out from Tobruk. General Klopper sent General Ritchie a message that the mobile troops would attempt to break out before morning. Apparently, no breakout was attempted and a surrender was arranged in the morning. A few units held out for longer, such as the Gurkha Rifles and the Cameron Highlanders. Some troops did succeed in escaping, however. 199 officers and men from the Coldstream Guards and 188 other men broke out to the southwest and were escorted by South African armoured cars. A very few others escaped to arrive on the frontier, in one case, much later. The loss of Tobruk devastated Churchill. He was in Washington at the time of the surrender and took the news very hard. The loss resulted in a no-confidence motion in Parliament on 25 June. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The attack on Tobruk, underway

The Italian 20th Corps was sent after the 15th Panzer Division, which had run into some British tanks, which had put up a good fight. The 21st Panzer Division came up, as well, and by 1:30pm, they had taken King's Cross, which was a high point. The harbour was hit by gunfire by 2pm. They had captured the town by 7pm and stopped the fight at 8pm, until morning. A series of missteps on General Klopper's part meant that an organized counter-attack never happened. Finally, a breakout was attempted in the night, as the situation had become untenable. By 6am on 21 June 1942, General Klopper had decided to surrender. This is based on the account in Vol.III of of the Official History.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The attack on Tobruk started on 20 June 1942

A small outpost had been kept outside of Tobruk at Acroma. These troops were withdrawn on 18 June 1942. A reconnaissance force of South African armoured cars and small columns continued to screen the defenses at Tobruk. Rommel had asked Field-Marshal Kesselring for a concentrated air attack at the time of the assault on Tobruk. Kesselring wanted to finish with Tobruk so they could concentrate on Malta, so he was a willing accomplice. The orders for the attack were given on 18 June. The attack would commence on 20 June. The Axis bombers began their attack at 5:20 in the morning. German troops moved forward to start the attack at 7am. Crossings were constructed over the tank ditch and the tanks moved forward at 7:45. The leading tanks of the 15th Panzer Division actually crossed the ditch at 8:30. They were followed by those of the 21st Panzer Division, which had been slowed by mines. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Rommel's attack plans

Rommel intended to attack Tobruk on the southeast side, as he had in November 1941. The attackers comprised "the 21st Panzer Division on the right, the 'Menny' Group of the infantry of the 90th Light Division in the centre, and the 15th Panzer Division on the left." To their left would be the Italian 20th Corps, also a mechanized unit. Italian infantry from one 10th Corps division would follow the DAK and occupy territory as it was captured. The other division would surround El Adem. In the south lay the Italian Littorio armoured division. The bulk of the 90th Light Division and the reconnassance units would cause a distraction at the frontier. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Preparations at Tobruk in mid-June 1942

The South African Major-General Klopper, the 2nd South African Division commander, also commanded the defence of Tobruk. Brigadiers Willison and Johnson had made suggestions to Klopper, but he implemented none of them. General Gott had been in Tobruk, but General Ritchie ordered him to leave. The garrison awaited events on 20 June 1942, prepared to fight. General Auchinleck was becoming increasingly concerned by what he saw. He thought that the preparations in Tobruk were progressing too slowly. He also anticipate that the attack, when it came, would come from the east. All the records from 20 and 21 June were lost. The account of the battle on those days was built from personal accounts, as that was all the official history authors had available to them. The result of the battle was the capture of Tobruk and almost all of its defenders. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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