Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The failed attack: Rommel's miscalculation

Rommel was in denial about the reasons for the failed attack on Tobruk on 13 and 14 April 1941. Rommel blamed the commanders of the 5th Light Division for the failure. He said that they had failed to concentrate their force at the break through point. He said that they should have concentrated, broken through, attacked along the flanks, and then penetrated in depth. He said that if they had, then the artillery and Ariete Division could have followed. Rommel thought that if they had done that, they could have taken Tobruk on 14 or 15 April. The tactics that Rommel had written about after the fact were what he used to successfully take Tobruk in 1942.

The Australian historian disagreed with Rommel and placed the blame on Rommel and his belief that simply by acting boldly, they could overpower a defense that had low morale. The commander of the 5th Light Division did not believe that Rommel's plan would be successful. In the end, the plan failed due to the good morale and hard-fighting of the Australian infantry, the ability of the artillery to stand up to tanks and defeat them, and the anti-tank guns being available to fight the tanks. There is a photograph of Australian infantry posing with a knocked-out German Pzkw-III tank armed with a 50mm L42 gun. The picture included the commander of the 2/17th Battalion.

The fight against the Germans on 13 and 14 April was the last for General Lavarack, because Cyrenaica Command was dissolved and absorbed into the Western Desert Force. General Lavarack was to resume his duties as commander of the 7th Australian Division. In order to see action in the war, General Lavarack had taken a reduction in rank from Lieutenant-General to Major General, and had ended up commanding the newest Australian Division, which had to give up the 18th Brigade. The other reason that Lavarack was not made the commander of the Western Desert Force was because he was an Australian, and the command belonged to the British, instead. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The German attack on Tobruk winds down on 14 April 1941

The retreat from Tobruk mixed infantry and tanks. While the tanks had towed in 88mm anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank guns, they were abandoned with the crews killed. There had also been Italian artillery that was also abandoned. The Australians fired on the infantry and tanks. The fire was heavy and caused some of the German infantry to hide in the anti-tank ditch. The infantry was eventually captured. Three German tanks stopped and hitched up 88mm guns, but the heavy artillery fire eventually caused them to leave them behind. The surviving German tanks were retreating by 7:30am. Some forty German dive bombers to bomb the harbor and town. Some attacked anti-aircraft guns. British fighters shot down two dive bombers while the anti-aircraft guns got four planes.

At the house near the attack path, there were about one hundred Germans hiding on a reverse slope. The house had been captured, but the men were a continuing problem. An Australian platoon attacked and succeeded in capturing 75 men, while there were casualties and some got away. The main battle ended by around 8:30am, but there were still pockets of resistance. Thirty Australian infantry attacked one group of Germans in a tank trap. They finally had two carriers and some mortars to aid them. They captured 87 men, some badly wounded, and captured many weapons.

Rommel's first attack on Tobruk failed completely. The Germans planned to attack at 6pm on 14 April, but decided to cancel. There had been an attempt to penetrate the perimeter again, but British artillery fire stopped the attack. In the attack that had been defeated, the Germans lost 150 killed and 250 men taken prisoner. Of the 38 tanks actually engaged in the attack, 17 were knocked out. The Tobruk defenders lost 26 killed and had 64 wounded.

Rommel had observed the attack from close to the perimeter, but he was forced to withdraw by British artillery fire. Rommel then drove over to the Italian Ariete Armored Division. By the time Rommel was back at his headquarters, he learned that the German tank force had returned from the attack. The division commander and tank regiment commander were yelled at by Rommel. He blamed them for not supporting the infantry and leaving them to be taken. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

German tanks inside Tobruk on 14 April 1941

Once the German tanks were inside the Tobruk perimeter, they moved eastwards towards the El Adem Road. From there, they turned north along the road and than stopped to wait for daylight. The German tanks fired tracers so that allowed the defenders to know their location. With that information, the 1st RHA fired on them. Where they had passed through the perimeter was kept under heavy fire to stop any non-tanks from getting through. When the Germans started firing near the headquarters post, Australians started sniping and killed the crews. As the day got lighter, the German machine guns were eventually silenced.

When General Lavarack heard about the penetration, he went to General Morshead's headquarters so that he could be involved in decision-making. The British had cruiser and infantry tanks available in Tobruk. The cruiser tanks covered Pilastrano while the infantry tanks were near the junction of the Bardia Road and El Adem Road. The 3rd RHA with 2pdr anti-tank guns on portees engaed the German tanks. They got several tanks but also lost two portees with their guns. British 25pdr guns firing over open sights were deadly. They lacked anti-tank rounds, but their high explosive rounds knocked out five tanks as well as the Pzkw.IV, probably the battalion commander's tank. When some tanks tried to go around the flank, the Australian 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment engaged them. The II/5th Armored Battalion turned around and ran into the following I/5th Armored Battalion. When the German tanks ran to the east, they were engaged by the Australians of 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment. Australians attacked the Germans in the house they had taken. They were taken out, with 18 captured and 18 killed. They thought that a few men had escaped during the attack. At one point, the fighting was so intense that the German tanks turned around and made for the gap through which they had entered. British anti-tank gunners engaged the tanks. They were also engaged by the Australians of the 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment.

When the German tanks got back to the gap in the perimeter, they caught some Australians engaged in cleanup operations and captured some. In response, Australians fired Bren guns at the tanks and German infantry, allowing the Australians to escape. Some German tanks started to two the 88mm guns, but were fired on, so left them behind. A group of Germans were holding out near the house, but Australians attacked and ended up taking aboug 75 men prisoner. The battle had been won by 8:30am, but fighting continued to mop up remaining German resistance. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Germans attacked Tobruk on 13 April 1941

The German attack on Tobruk on 13 April 1941 was based on a sketchy map. They had decided to attack Post R.33, where the anti-tank ditch was very shallow due to rock. The ditch there was only about two feet-six inches. The post was about 2-1/2 miles west of the El Adem Road. German engineers were to make the attack. The attack was made at 11pm by about thirty infantry. They had "two small field guns, a mortar and eight machine guns". They first had to break the wire. They moved in and dug themselves in about 100 yards east of Post R.33. The post commander, a lieutenant, first returned the German fire. When that did not stop the Germans, he led an attack with bayonets. The Australians shouted and then attacked. The men in Post R.33 also shouted. The Australians threw grenades along with shouting and were into the Germans, who fled by then. The next wave of Germans also fled. The one wounded Australian, Jack Edmondson, fought despite his wounds. They carried him back to Post R.33, where he died the next morning.

Right after midnight, a German tank came forward to inspect. By 2:30am on 14 April, about 200 German infantry attacked near Post R.33 and broke through. British artillery fire was called in on the German attackers. The original Australian attack on the Germans had caused a change of plan. Australian infantry was called upon to attack the Germans. When the German tank attack happened, 200 rather than 300 men from the 8th Machine Gun Battalion went forward. At about 4am on 14 April, they saw German tanks near the El Adem Road. They drew artillery fire that seemed to be without effect. There were about forty tanks moving along the wire. The officer who was supposed to guide them to their destination got lost. They had gone in too far east and had to drive along the wire to the west. German guns opened up on the Australian defenses. These included 88mm anti-aircraft guns firing. Around 5:20am, German tanks towing anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns drove into the fortress. A troop of the 1st RHA fired on them. The tanks were organized in waves with the first fifteen towing the guns. British artillery fire was called in on one battalion headquarters with good effect. The tanks carried German machine gunners who were killed or wounded by the artillery fire. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The German attack on Tobruk on 13 April 1941

The 8th Machine Gun Battalion was asked to attack and breach the anti-tank ditch protecting Tobruk. The attack was planned to start at 5pm on 13 April 1941. The Australians expected the attack to hit on the sector between posts R.30 to R.35. The attack commenced with artillery fire on the defending company. After that, the Germans opened up with small arms fire. An attack with infantry supported by tanks followed. Anti-tank gun fire from two regiments stopped the tank attack. Once it was dark, two German tanks drove along the anti-tank ditch, looking for a breach. There was indications that a larger attack might happen still, as there were some 300 vehicles grouped along the El Adem Road.

About this time, General Wavell sent General Morshead a message praising the defense of Tobruk and expressing confidence in their ability to hold out as long as necessary. Morshead passed the message on to the troops who were tasked to defend Tobruk and it was well-received. While all this was happening some Australian officers from Morshead's staff had arrived from Derna, having walked about 100 miles to the Tobruk perimeter. They had a good guide and one officer was good at finding water. There had been planning afoot to attempt a rescue of them from Derna, but they were able to make their way on their own.

During the night of 13-14 April, Australian units sent out patrols. They were looking, in part, for enemy positions. One patrol from the 2/43rd Battalion was surprised by Germans and took casualties. They had been careful to move silently and had worn soft hats. Near post R.33, a patrol brought back prisoners from the 8th Machine Gun Battalion. An Australian attack was planned for dawn on 14 April. The defense was aggressive enough that the Germans were lacking information about the defense and they had attacked at a less favorable position than if they were better informed. For example, the anti-tank ditch did not cover the entire perimeter. No ditch existed from posts R.11 to R.21. Rommel was focused on the El Adem Road, so he was a good distance from the vulnerable spot. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Events on 12 and 13 April 1941 near Tobruk and the Egyptian frontier

Rommel had finally received two copies of maps from the Italians on 12 April 1941. He kept one set for himself and gave one to General Streich, the commander of the 5th Light Division. Rommel planned to attack Tobruk on 13 April 1941, using the 5th Light Division as the main attack force. The enemy forces were lining up with the Australian brigades that were defending Tobruk. The 24th Brigade had the Schwerin Group opposite them. The 5th Light Division would attack the 20th Brigade. The Italians sat on their left. The Ariete Armored Division was on their immediate left. One regiment of the Trento Mechanized Division was to their left. There was also the Brescia Division still blocking the Derna road.

At the same time, primarily German forces were pressing to the east from Tobruk. One thing that happened was that the Germans took Fort Capuzzo. By 4pm they took the barracks at Salum. There was some fighting between British and German troops and some Germans were taken prisoner. General Evetts, the commander of the 6th Division (eventually renamed the 70th Division) sent the 3rd/Coldstream Guards up to reinforce the Support Group at the Egyptian Frontier. we learned that the 11th Hussars, at this point in time, were equipped with Marmon-Herrington Mk.II armored cars. They were the vehicles built in South Africa. They were lightly armored and had machine guna and an anti-tank rifle. The Australian historian noted that what they needed on the frontier were British cruiser tanks.

13 April 1941 was Easter Sunday. The enemy forces at Tobruk were preparing for an attack. During the afternoon, General Lavarack was informed they would receive eight infantry tanks and four medium guns. The medium guns were 60 pounders. The appearance was that the 2/17th Battalion was to receive special German attention. The German plan was that Ponath's 8th Machine Gun Battalion would attack at 5pm. At that time, the Germans directed heavy artillery fire against the battalion. German machine guns commenced firing on the battalion. After that, tanks moved towards the perimeter, but were stopped by anti-tank gun fire. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

12 April 1941, expecting an attack on Tobruk

Enemy actions near Tobruk on 11 April 1941 seemed to indicate that they planned an attack the next morning. General Lavarack took the threat seriously and had the 18th Brigade moved to be closer to the area between the 20th and 24th Brigades. The 18th Brigade was loaded on on vehicles to move them to the intersection of the El Adem and Bardia roads. They were ready by the time the sky started to lighten. After seeing enemy tanks showing themselves, the Tobruk defenders realized that they needed to have their anti-tank guns forward. Keeping with the British practice of breaking up units for independent use, they sent a troop from the 3rd. RHA to support the area expected to be attacked, but they arrived too late.

When the day started on 12 April, the wind was blowing sand. One company of the 2/17th Battalion could see enemy troops about a quarter mile away. They were in good defensive positions. The company was reinforced by seven anti-tank guns from the 3rd RHA. Holes had been made in the wire, so men went out to repair them, while lying on their backs. A soldier with w Bren gun fired back at the enemy and covered the repairs. The Bren gunner was able to silence the enemy machine guns. As the threat subsided, the 18th Brigade was pulled back. General Lavarack had decided that it took too long to move the 18th Brigade, so he wanted the three battalions deployed at strategic sites.

One good thing was that the RAF was able to constantly hit the enemy troops despite their shortage of aircraft and the necessity to pull back from forward air fields. The men at Tobruk could not see the bombing raids, but the enemy were very aware of them. The German diary said that the British controlled the air over the area. The airfield at Tobruk hosted twelve Hurricane fighters. As of 12 April, the German air attacks on Tobruk grew in intensity.

There was a significant number of ships in the Tobruk harbor. They enemy assumed that they were preparing to evacuate the troops in Tobruk. During 12 April, enemy aircraft attacked the ships, but was not able to damage any, as they were being protected by heavy anti-aircraft fire. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Events on 11 April 1941 at Salum, Halfaya Pass, and Tobruk

From early on 11 April 1941, Australian anti-tank guns were involved with backing British troops at Salum and Halfaya Pass. The Free French Motor Battalion had one company at Halfaya Pass, and they had a troop backing them. There were German and Italian forces headed east, towards the frontier, but were only south of Tobruk. A group from the 1/Durham Light Infantry had headed for Halfaya Pass, accompanied by an Australian anti-tank gun troop. The 1st/DLI group arrived at Halfaya Pass later in the morning. By 5pm, gun were pulled back and were repositioned along the coast road. By 10pm, British columns arrived from the desert at the "top of the pass". For the next several nights, Australian anti-tank guns were on patrol with British troops to the west.

At Toburk, General Morshead had issued his operational order that included brigades holding one battalion in reserved. They also were to start aggressive patrolling. At night, the Australians dominated the area between the fortress and the enemy troops. The Australian engineers were involved with laying mines and building anti-tank defenses.

Wavell's chief of staff was concerned about blockage of the Bardia road. He also was thinking about pulling tanks out of Tobruk for use on the Egyptian frontier. General Lavarack had replied back on the 12th that he would be looking for an opportunity for breaking the enemy hold on the Bardia road. He also argued that they needed the tanks in Tobruk, and could use more, due to the size of the perimeter. They had already lost two tanks on 10 April. Wavell had discussed the situation with General Blamey in Greece. He was open to adding one brigade at Tobruk, if it could be done. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Problems with ad hoc formations on 10 and 11 Aprl 1941

The Australian anti-tank regiment, the 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment, was another victim of the British tendency to break up units and distribute their component parts. Two of the batteries had been at Mechili. They were mostly in Tobruk by 10 April 1941. Several sections had been lost in the collapse at Mechili, however. The 2/2nd Anti-Tank Regiment was experiencing the same sort of fragmentation. One troop headed to Sollum from Mersa Matruh. They were the anti-tank force with a column of troops from the 1/Durham Light Infantry. Major Argent's battery of the 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment reached Sollum and was told to report to the commander of the 22nd Guards Brigade. The plan in place at the time was to hold Sollum and Halfaya Pass for the next 36 hours and hold it "at all costs". The Australian historian notes that Major Argent's battery was still at the Egyptian frontier four months later.

One column from the Support Group encountered some enemy troops. Another enemy column (often mixed German-Italian troops) blocked the Bardia road east of Tobruk. The alternate spelling for Sollum is Salum, which is how the Australian historian refers to the place. Infantry and Australian anti-tank guns set up a defensive position at Halfaya, at the top of the pass.

On 11 April 1941, Rommel was directing operations at Tobruk. Colonel Schwerin took over command of General Prittwitz's group when he was killed. Elements of the 15th Panzer Division had started to arrive, so Rommel immediately directed some of them to move towards Salum. He had already sent the 3rd Reconnaissance Unit towards Salum. The 5th Panzer Regiment had been led to expect that when they attacked, the British would withdraw, which was just wishful thinking.

At Tobruk, General Morshead wanted each brigade to hold one battalion in reserve. The problem was that this was a great hardship due to the amount of perimeter each brigade held and the scarcity of forces. Tank and armored car units had to convert to infantry to aid in the defense. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Germans on the attack on 11 April 1941 at Tobruk

In the afternoon of 11 April 1941, the Australian 2/13th Battalion was attacked by infantry. They waited until the enemy got closer before they opened fire. They were supported by British machine-gunners. In response, the enemy "went to ground". When six trucks drove towards the Tobruk defenses, they were driven off by artillery fire from the 1st RHA and 104st RHA. Seven tanks started to move forward at Post R31 and were fired on by B/O Battery. NExt, enemy infantry was seen advancing on 2/13th Battalion. Fire from the 1st RHA stopped the advance. Tanks now moved forward. The tanks included Pzkw IV's, Italian M13/40's, and Italian light tanks. They did not break through, but moved off towards the 2/13th Battalion. Lt-Col. Crawford reported an attack that seemed to come through the defenses. The 1st RTR tanks were sent in response. The penetration report seemed to be false, so the tanks were sent towards where the enemy tanks had been last seen.

The Germsns found that the Australians were not so easily panicked as many soldiers had been in 1940. The German tanks had come up close to the Australians without serious harm, so the German infantry moved forward as well. Once the Germans had closed to some 500 yards, the defenders started firing. The only problem was that there were not many automatic weapons available or even men with guns who could see the enemy troops from posts. The 1st RTR tanks moved forward towards the El Adem road block. They ran into a group of ten enemy tanks and had a fight. The British lost two cruiser tanks, but knocked out a German tank, perhaps a Pzkw III, an M13/40, and three Italian light tanks. At this point, the enemy tanks pulled back. The Australians finally were able to bring mortars to bear. Patrols from the 2/17th Battalion found that the enemy infantry had withdrawn. During the night, several enemy tanks were near the 2/13th Battalion, looking for a way to cross into the fortress. Another group had approached with demolitions to try and get through the "anti-tank ditch and wire". The defenders could tell that the enemy forces were intent on surrounding Tobruk and breaking through.

At the frontier, the defenders were not prepared for a hard defense against advancing forces. They might well have tried to defend Halfaya Pass, to become famous during the Battleaxe offensive. Halfaya was only held by a Free French motor infantry company that was weak in strength. Gradually, more units arrived in the Sollum-Halfaya area. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Friday, November 25, 2016

German activity near Tobruk on 11 April 1941

The night before the 11th, the 18th Cavalry had sent out a patrol of four small trucks to the west, looking down in the Derna road. They saw no sign of the Germans. That same time, a Support group column had an encounter with a German column about 12 miles west of Tobruk. What seems to be happening was that German columns headed into the desert from the coast road west of Tobruk. In "mid-morning" on 11 April 1941, on the right from the 20th Brigade, they saw a group of about fifty vehicles. Tobruk artillery fired on them and they scattered. The Australians sent out a platoon to look for the Germans. A report from the Support Group mentioned some forty tanks heading for El Adem from the south. The tanks came from an area where about 300 vehicles had been seen. The group of tanks split in two with one part heading east along the Trigh Capuzzo. The German intent seemed to be to completely surround Tobruk.

A little after noon, about ten tanks drove towards a post held by the 24th Brigade. They were engaged by guns from the 24th Anti-Tank Company. They succeeded in knocking out five tanks and drove off the rest. Near 1pm, 20 to 30 trucks drove up to Post R63 in the perimeter. They were engaged by the 104th RHA. The trucks were forced to withdraw. Other trucks drove towards the Bardia road. German infantry left their vehicles and attacked post R63. The Australians took casualties and the Germans sat astride the Bardia Road. Another fight took place between the 2/28th Battalion and the 2/43rd Battalion.

As he had been instructed, Brigadier Gott ordered the mobile portion of the Support Group to withdraw to the Egyptian frontier. He sent a message to General Lavarack, informing him of the move. The message used a code word that they had set for this occasion. The Support Group supply vehicles were trapped in Tobruk by the German moves. By 1pm, at about two miles east of Tobruk, the Germans brought infantry. They moved up to within a half-mile from Tobruk and started digging positions. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Wavell's hand in the works at Tobruk on 10 to 11 April 1941

While General Lavarack had been commander of Cyrenaica Command, he found out through a visiting staff officer on 11 April 1941 from General Headquarters that Wavell had other plans in the works. Wavell intended to include what had been Cyrenaica Command into a new Western Desert Command. He affirmed the plan to defend Tobruk for two months. After that, he intended to go on the offensive against the Germans and Italians. General Lavarack replied with a request to get the rest of the 7th Australian Division in Tobruk to aid the defense.

Late on 10 April, General Lavarack put the 1st RTR under the control of General Morshead, but that did not amount to much since he would not be allowed to use the 1st RTR without General Lavarack's approval. 11 April 1941 was good Friday. The sandstorm that had been blowing on 10 April, earlier in the day had gradually stopped. 11 April proved to be better weather, as it was clear. Only a week had passed since the 9th Australian Division had been in contact with the Germans near Benghazi. The Australians defending the perimeter at Tobruk now had a good view of the situation. There would be the defenders on a perimeter in Tobruk, with a band of unoccupied land, with a surrounding German-Italian static line, rather World War One-like.

The Tobruk perimeter was at an elevation of 400 to 500 feet. The land was very arid. Every day, as the sun warmed the land and air, you would get a mirage effect. The only deviation was if there were clouds or dust storm. The mirages affected artillery, since guns could only be ranged by sight early or late in the day. Both sides were effected by the mirages and both Axis and British artillery would fire early and late in the day.

A system of perimeter posts were constructed. The outer line of posts were about 750 yards apart. There was a backing line that were about 500 yards apart. There was also an anti-tank ditch, but it was only partial. The uncompleted parts had concertina wire that did not seem to be very effective. This is baed on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Attacks on Tobruk start and the Support Group is reorganized on 10 April 1941

A German-Italian attack near the Derna road became more intense on 10 April 1941. They did not try to cross the wadi, but set up on the far side. There were both Germans and elements of the Italian Brescia Division. The Italians had "machine-guns, mortars and light artillery". By early afternoon, the firing increased. The firing was heavy enough to keep the 2/24th Battalion from occupying their section of the perimeter. British field guns had received enough fire that they lost artillerymen killed and wounded and had to withdraw. On the Axis side, Major-General Prittwitz was killed. Working for Rommel was a dangerous occupation for German generals.

The Support Group sent a message about seeing forty tanks moving north-east towards Tobruk. About the same time, the German 3rd Reconnaissance Unit had an encounter with the Indian 18th Cavalry. They reached the perimeter near the 2/28th Battalion. Bush artillery with them fired and put rounds near the head of the column. The professionals of the 1st RHA opened fire and dispersed the Germans. German fire stopped a "British truck" trying to drive out by the El Adem road. Things quieted down until almost 1pm when artillerymen saw five German tanks.

During the early part of the afternoon, some Germans were driven off by small-arms fire from the 2/13th Battalion. In the west, though, Axis forces near the upper escarpment and dug in some machine guns that could fire on the perimeter. There were continued reports that the German strength in that area was increasing. Ten German tanks were also seen driving towards the south-east. Then British reconnaissance aircraft reported three columns of 200 vehicles each driving towards El Adem from Mechili. One of these columns had an encounter with Support Group troops at approximately 5pm. The RAF attacked a group there of about 150 vehicles. One battery of the 4th RHA opened fire and dispersed the group.

Meanwhile, Brigadier Gott reorganized the Support Group and put Lt-Col. Campbell, a famous figure in the desert fighting, in charge of an independent column operating between Tobruk and the frontier. These sorts of columns would become increasingly prevalent during campaign. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

10 April 1941 at Tobruk

General Lavarack had decided that what they would have to do is to "hold Tobruk against an encircling force". There was no possibility of stopping Rommel from advancing past Tobruk. The 9th Australian Division was now in Tobruk, as of 10 April 1941. Tobruk sent out patrols from the 1/King's Dragoon Guards and the 18th Lancers (Indian cavalry). One such patrol from the 18th Lancers drove out to the escarpment where they could see the Derna road.

Quite soon in the morning, a sand storm blew up and reduced visibility. The 10th was the worst day that the Australians had seen so far in the desert. The trenches quickly filled with sand, so the men stayed busy shoveling sand, only to see them refill again.

The perimeter being defended at Tobruk was some 28 miles long. The distance across was about 17 miles. The average radius of the circle was about 9 miles. The harbor at Tobruk was said to be the best in the part of North Africa that had been controlled by Italy. On 10 April, the harbor was partially blocked by some ships that had sank.

The perimeter was held by three Australian brigades, but only two battalions per brigade were in the line. Each brigade was backed by a field artillery regiment. The ultimate plan was to have central control of all the artillery in Tobruk, but until that was implemented, the regiments were brigade control.

Early in the morning, a German force could be seen driving towards Tobruk. They had seven light tanks, two companies from the machine gun battalion, and some field guns. They were apparently driving along the Derna road. They were immediately engaged by "bush artillery" and guns from the 51st Field Regiment. The Germans turned around, and then deployed their troops. Two platoons of British machine guns were called forward to engage the German troops. A few Germans turned to the south and then turned towards Tobruk, where they were engaged by another bush gun. Some German armored cars tried to find a way into Tobruk, but they were also engaged by bush guns. One of the guns was almost dangerous, but the other was more effective and was coached by a visiting senior British artillery officer. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

10 April 1941, Rommel wants to attack Tobruk

Rommel was driving to Tobruk early on 10 April 1941. He had left Mechili to move to what he thought was the next location to try and panic ther British. He found General Prittwitz and his group still on the road. After his experience so far in Cyrenaica, he thought that if they just pressed the British hard they would collapse. Rommel wanted the 3rd Reconnaissance Unit to outflank El Adem and for the 8th Machine Gun Battalion to stage a frontal attack with the Brescia Division. The potential frontal attackers had no artillery, as it had not arrived yet. The Australian historian points out that the Germans were to attack Tobruk without taking any time for reconnaissance and understanding the defenses. The Germans were not even able to immediately get a Tobruk map from the Italians. The initial contacts included taking fire from the British armored cars, finding "anti-tank obstacles" that were defended. Tobruk was not like the other encounters that the Germans had with the British forces. Tobruk was ready and well-defended.

General Lavarack sent a message to General Wavell telling him of his arrangements, and asked for the rest of the 7th Australian Division to be sent to Tobruk. Wavell was preparing for a trip to Greece where he would meet with General Blamey and explain to him why the 7th Australian Division was not sent to Greece. Before he left for Greece to meet with General Wilson and General Blamey, he sent a message to the Chiefs of Staff in London. He stated his resolve to hold Tobruk. Churchill had written a message exhorting him to hold Tobruk, so the message was not actually sent.

Early on 10 April, General Lavarack met with Brigadier Gott to talk about plans for using the Support Group. The Support Group, early on 10 April, was sitting at El Adem. El Adem was about to be hit by the approaching Axis forces, so this was a good topic for discussion. General Lavarack decided that rather than withdrawing to Tobruk, the Support Group, if threatened, should withdraw to the Egyptian Frontier. This would give the appearance of them scattering when attacked by Rommel's forces, but what could they do? This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

From 9 and 10 April 1941 at Tobruk

General Wavell suggested that the commanders at Tobruk reconnoiter the fortress to gain a better knowledge of the situation. The group consisted of General Lavarack, General Morshead, Brigadier Harding, and Brigadier Wooten. General Wavell had been under the mistaken impression that there was an inner line that could be defended. What the officers found was that the outer perimeter was the only defensive line that existed at Tobruk. There was no inner line. The conclusion drawn by General Lavarack was that they would have to hold the outer perimeter. They would decide where to locate the brigades. Later in the day, a large group of vehicles approached the Tobruk area. They were probing Acroma to see what was being held. Eventually, armored cars probed the area. Finally, artillery commenced firing and received replies from the Tobruk guns. During the 9th, more equipment arrived at Tobruk. They got the 51st Field Regiment, and four infantry tanks from the 4th RTR. During the night, the units near Acroma moved into Tobruk.

We find that this early in the campaign, Rommel was already setting up ad hoc battle groups taken from the German and Italian divisions. They had the 5th Light Division, the Italian Ariete armored division, and the Brescia Division. The Trento Division had started to arrive at Agedabia on this day. Already, elements of the 15th Panzer Division were to be sent to Africa earlier than had been planned. They had not been to arrive until May, but all that changed. During 9 April 1941, Rommel ordered his forces to approach Tobruk and to besiege the place. What Rommel wanted to do was to attack prior to the British having time to prepare their defenses. We find that on 9 April, General Wavell was planning a visit to Greece. He heard of General Lavarack's decisions about Tobruk, but did not immediately reply. General Wavell knew that General Blamey, the Australian general in Greece disapproved violently with the decision to hold the 7th Australian Division in North Africa, rather than sending it to Greece. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Reinforcements and improving defenses on 8 April 1941

As well as defending Tobruk, more units were heading for the Egyptian-Libyan frontier on 8 April 1941. The 22nd Guards Brigade, a fixture in the desert, had two battalions at Mersa Matruh on 8 April 1941. The other battalion was moving forward to Sollum with light tanks from the 7th Hussars. Another one of the 6th Infantry Division's brigades was moving towards Mersa Matruh. The 6th Division was eventually renamed the 70th Division. The 4th Indian Division was being shipped to Egypt to augment the defenses. At some point, their commander was Frank Messervy, who fought in the desert against Rommel during the campaign.

Early on 8 April, the 9th Australian Division still had a large presence outside of Tobruk. There were troops near Acroma, watching the coast road, expecting to see Germans approaching. During the morning, they learned of the surrender at Mechili. The 9th Australian Division spent much of 8 April getting organized so that battalions were with the correct brigades. During the last several days, they had become jumbled. That put the 26th Brigade on the right, holding from the coast road to the Mediterranean coast. The 20th Brigade was in the south, watching the "open desert flank". On the eighth, the troops had a hot meal served for supper. The Germans did not challenge the British and Australians near Tobruk on 8 April. That is not to say that they were totally absent. There were German armored cars conducting reconnaissance.

When General Morshead heard that generals O'Connor and Neame were being held near Derna, he put together a group to attempt a rescue. The commander of the King's Dragoon Guards were concerned about Morshead's plan to use armored cars on the road at night, as he was concerned about the risks to them under those circumstances. He had nothing to worry about, it turns out, because the group was delayed at Gazala due to road demolition, so they could not get near Derna in the dark and had to turn back. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

The forces available to defend Tobruk from 8 April 1941

The forces available to General Lavarack to defend Tobruk were scattered and distributed as of 8 April 1941. General Lavarack at once decided how to organize the units that he had available. One group would be used to defend Tobruk. He put General Morshead in command and designated him as the Tobruk commander. He had assigned his own 9th Australian Division and its supporting troops. The division at this time had eight battalions. They had four British artillery regiments and a machine gun battalion, along with engineers. They were also assigned the 1st King's Dragoon Guards, the armored car unit. The second group would be under Brigadier Gott's command and would be mobile. He had most of the 11th Hussars and part of the 4th RHA. They would stay outside of Tobruk. The third group would be reserves, with the 18th Australian Brigade as its main unit. They would have some anti-tank guns and all the tanks that were present. This plan meant that the 18th Brigade would have to withdraw from its Tobruk defensive position. As of 8 April 1941, Lt-Col. Drew was appointed to command a new 3rd Armoured Brigade. From available tanks, they were equipped with 4 cruiser tanks and 18 light tanks. There were other mobile units, such as the French motor battalion, the 1st KRRC, and the remnants of the Tower Hamlets Rifles. The Indian 18th Cavalry were to enter Tobruk to support the 9th Australian Division. Brigadier Gott's men were to operate south of the coast road and would harass the advancing German and Italian troops. Since the 9th Australian Division had gone to Cyrenaica without artillery, they needed help forming a division artillery command. That task fell to Brigadier Thompson, recently arrived from Palestine. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A temporary plan as of 9 April 1941

The arrangements that General Wavell put in place on 8 April 1941 were apparently viewed as being temporary. For the present, Wavell continued the existence of a Cyrenaica Command, but that was not to last. We find that Wavell viewed the collapse in the desert as mainly being due to the poor mechanical condition of the tanks in the 3rd Armoured Brigade. Wavell wrote that in a letter to General Blamey. The concept for the immediate future was to garrison Tobruk as a strong point and to gather mobile forces, such as a reconstituted support group under the command of Brigadier Gott, newly arrived to the scene. The 3rd Indian Motor Brigade was to be part of the mobile force, but the official history says that the brigade took heavy losses at Mechili. The description here made the brigade seem to have escaped, although parts of it were lost, such as the squadron caught in the wadi. We would blame Major-General Gambier-Parry and his sudden surrender as the cause of unnecessary losses at Mechili.

The forces available to General Lavarack on 9 April were two brigades at Acroma, with two artillery regiments and the machine gun battalion. In Tobruk were two more brigades, an artillery regiment, the support group remnants, the men of the 3rd Armoured Brigade, and miscellaneous anti-tank and anti-aircraft units. We believe that the 3rd Armoured Brigade was transformed into the 32nd Army Tank Brigade. A new artillery regiment was about to arrive by sea. The 1st RTR had just arrived. We heard that this was a makeshift regiment created out of available men and equipment. The 11th Hussars, from the 7th Armoured Division, was about to move up to El Adem from the Egyptian frontier. Further reinforcement for the reconstituted support group drove up the road from Egypt. A surviving unit from the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade, the 18th Cavalry Regiment, was located at El Adem. Over the next day, the surviving units of the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade that had broken out of Mechili arrived at El Adem. One squadron, commanded by Captain Barlow, arrived after driving from Mechili. This is based on the account in VOl.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Another look at Wavell's visit to Cyrenaica Command on 8 April 1941

Actually, during the evening of 7 April 1941, Wavell ordered the 22nd Guards brigade with artillery to head for the Egyptian frontier. Wavell asked for General Lavarack to join him earlier on 7 April. Wavell only then learned about the capture of Generals Neame and O'Connor, along with Brigadier Combe. Wavell met with Lavarack about noon on 7 April. Wavell asked him to take over Cyrenaica Command and asked if he would agree with diverting the 7th Australian Division to the desert from the planned move to Greece. Wavell at this point planned the flight to Tobruk. Wavell sent messages to London and Melbourne about the new plans for the 7th Australian Division and General Lavarack. Wavell's over-optimistic assessment of the German intentions were telling. He painted them as just a raid, he thought. As for Churchill, who was still the amateur soldier at heart, was suggesting ways to fight on in the desert. After all, the fortress at Tobruk had the Italian defenses and could be held.

By the time that Generals Wavell and Lavarack arrived at Tobruk, it was 10am on 8 April. The sandstorm that was affecting Mechili also was affecting Tobruk. Wavell met with the Cyrenaica Command staff, including Brigadier Harding. During this time, General Morshead arrived at Tobruk. This was when Wavell announced his estimate that they should be prepared to defend Tobruk for two months. Wavell asked General Lavarack to prepare a plan to withdraw from Tobruk, if he found it not possible to continue to hold the fortress. When Wavell was ready to leave Tobruk, is when he found the aircraft was having mechanical problems. He finally left only to have the plane crash in the desert. FOrtunately for all, a patrol found Wavell and took him to Sollum. They had a close brush with losing the Middle East theater commander as well as the other senior officers in Cyrenaica. Wavell was still hoping at this point that Rommel would not be the threat that he showed hiimself to be. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

High level moves with respect to Greece and Libya in early April 1941

With General Wavell's new orders for the 7th Australian Division, the Chief of the Australian General Staff had become involved. When he ordered the 18th Brigade to Tobruk, General Wavell had sent a message to General Sturdee, informing him. When General Blamey heard of the moves by General Wavell, he was upset, because he was involved in making the Greek Campaign work. The Greek Campaign needed the 7th Australian Division to give them enough strength to have a chance of success. Once the Australian government learned of Wavell's new plan, they contacted General Blamey for his opinion on the subject. The Australian government was opposed to the change in plans. General Wavell's plans were announced at the meeting in Cairo that included Anthony Eden. Anthony Eden was very nervous during the meeting and was drumming the table with his fingers. After all, Anthony Eden was the proponent of intervening in Greece and here Wavell was announcing a move that would undermine the Greek operation. He would send the bulk of the 7th Australian Division to Mersa Matruh, not Greece, as we mentioned, while the 18th Australian Brigade was sent to Tobruk. He also was going to move the 6th Division to the Western Desert. The division had been in the Nile Delta, training for a projected attack on the island of Rhodes. He also announced the appointment of General Lavarack as commander in Cyrenaica, replacing General Neame, who was now a German prisoner. General Blamey considered General Lavarack a professional rival, and when he had a chance, he would place obstacles in General Lavarack's path. General Wavell flew to Tobruk late on 8 October with General Lavarack. When Wavell tried to leave, he had aircraft problems. He was finally able to take off, but his aircraft went down in the desert with engine problems. The plane was wrecked and Wavell was out of contact. For some six hours, Wavell was down in the desert near Sollum. Fortunately, a patrol found them and took them to Sollum (the history calls it Solum). Wavell was eventually flown from Sollum in a Westland Lysander. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Increasing defenses in Cyrenaica in early April 1941

A few Italian field guns left at Tobruk were repaired and refurbished. The Australian infantry were trained in the use of the guns by the men of the Nottinghamshire Sherwood Rangers, who manned the coast defense guns at Tobruk. The 2/28th Battalion received five Italian 75mm guns that were manned by a platoon. The Sherwood Rangers were a converted unit, but they eventually became an armored regiment, much later.

General Wavell was fully engaged in reinforcing Cyrenaica in the face of the German threat. By 7 April 1941, the 18th Australian Brigade arrived, mostly by sea, although some troops came by road. The brigade commander, Brigadier Wooten, was appointed to command the forces in Tobruk. One of his battalion commanders acted as the brigade commander. The plan was to occupy the defenses around the entire place. This was in progress on 8 April when Generals Wavell and Lavarack arrived at Tobruk by air. The reinforcements that General Wavell had allocated for Cyrenaica were on the way. They included the 1st RTR, an improvised unit with 11 cruiser tanks and 15 light tanks. There was the 107th RHA, the 14th Light AA Regiment, and the 11th Hussars from the 7th Armoured Division. The rest of the 3rd RHA, which already had one battery in Cyrenaica, was also allocated. A larger development was that the 7th Australian Division would not go to Greece, but would go the the desert, instead. General Wavell almost typically ordered the change for the 7th Australian Division without consulting General Blamey, the senior Australian officer.

By 6 April 1941, the situation in the Mediterranean theater had become worse. The Germans were attacking in Greece, Mechili was surrounded and the 9th Australian Division was withdrawing. At a major meeting that included Wavell and Anthony Eden, Wavell announced that they must defend Tobruk. They would send the 7th Australian Division to Mersa Matruh (although the 18th Brigade went to Tobruk). This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Tobruk from the capture in late January 1941 to early April

As we mentioned, Major-General Morshead (then a brigadier) was at Tobruk when the 6th Australian Division attacked and captured the place from the Italians in late January 1941. After the capture, Morshead was able to inspect the fortress area. When he knew that the 9th Australian Division would have to withdraw into Tobruk after the fall of Mechili and the German pressure, General Morshead was well-prepared with knowledge of the Tobruk area.

After the fall, Lt-Col. Cook was put in charge of the building the base there. Fairly quickly, after the initial area commander was withdrawn to Palestine, Cook became the area commander, as well. Early on, Cook had a newsletter published every day to hand out to the fortress occupants. Colonel Cook had become concerned about the local rumor mill and decided that the thing to do was to publish a newsletter. The newsletter was the work of Sergeant Williams and was called the Tobruk Truth.

From mid-March 1941, Australian brigades arrived at Tobruk. The first was the 26th Btigade and was followed by the 24th Brigade, which only had two battalions. By March 25th, the 26th Brigade left Tobruk to join the 9th Australian Division and the 24th Brigade took over the defense. One feature of the defense was the so-called "bush artillery", captured Italian guns manned by infantrymen who were not trained as artillerymen. They found that most Italian artillery at Tobruk were either damaged or had been exposed to weather so long that they were unusable. The Australians cheated and disobeyed General Neame's orders by bringing large numbers of Italian 47mm anti-tank guns from Bardia. The history says "40mm", but the Italian guns were all 47mm. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

The situation in Cyrenaica by 8 April 1941

The Australian Official History points out that in the course of 9 days from when the Germans attacked at Mersa Brega (they say Marsa Brega) they had beaten the British force that had been lightly holding the territory west of Tobruk. We have fairly recently read the Australian volume about the Greek campaign and the battle for Crete. We saw that General Wavell had lied to the Australian senior officers and to the Australian Prime Minister to get their agreement to send their troops to Greece. Wavell had stripped the force in North Africa to satisfy the demands of Churchill and his foreign secretary. My assessment was that Wavell was desperate to hold onto his command in the Mediterranean and Middle East, and he would do anything that Churchill asked, whether it made sense or not. The establishment view was that the Germans would not dare risk too large a force in Libya under the current conditions, so that the British could afford to send a substantial force with equipment to Greece. The primary accomplishment of the Greek campaign was to make friends with the people of Greece, as equipment and soldiers were lost in the process. The Australians marching south to embarkation ports were cheered by the Greek people, but the losses occurred nonetheless.

Rommel was not a cautious man. He lived infiltration tactics and practiced them when the opportunity presented itself. He was ready to take advantage of an opportunity that was presented, as it was what he would instinctively want to do. One criticism of Rommel was that by attacking when his orders were to stand pat, he caused the 7th Australian Division and the Polish Carpathian Brigade not to be sent to Greece.

The Official History remarks on the officers who watched the 6th Australian Division take Tobruk. One was Brigadier Morshead, later the commander of the 9th Australian Division. Another was Lt-Col. Cook, who was later put in charge of the base camp at Tobruk. The third was a naval officer, Lt-Cdr. Duff, who was appointed as naval officer in charge at Derna, and then was in charge of the vessels that carried supplies to Tobruk during the seige. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

The aftermath of the breakout at Mechili and the surrender

At the time of the breakout at Mechili and Major-General Gambier-Parry's surrender, there was a sand storm. The sand storm kept many people from initially knowing about the surrender. Word was passed between soldiers and many gradually learned about the surrender. By 8am, the fighting at Mechili had ended. Some 3,000 men were taken prisoner. Of these, there were 102 Australian soldiers captured. Even worse, a large number of vehicles were surrendered along with thirty days of supplies for the armored division. No one had taken the time to destroy the supply dump. There was really no excuse for surrendering at Mechili. The fact was that General Gambier-Parry had lost his nerve and used the excuse of the soft vehicles to give up the fight. The men of the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade and their associates, such as M-Battery of the 3rd RHA proved Rommel's dictum about breakouts by motorized troops to be true. The second breakout by Brigadier Vaughan's headquarters, and Eden and Rajendrasinjhi's squadrons, and Barlow's unit are examples of what could be done by well-disciplined troops that have bold leadership.

At the time that the breakout and surrender were happening at Mechili, the men at Acroma were in a sand storm. They half-expected to see Germans approaching, given what they knew. As the sky got light, some of the troops that were not in their forward positions now occupied them. Other men in positions worked at improving their situation. They had artillery backing. The 1st RHA had their guns pointing to the south, while the 51st Field Regiment had their guns pointing to the west. When General Morshead, the 9th Australian Division commander, visited Cyrenaica Command headquarters, he found that General Wavell had flown in with Major-General Lavarack, who was the newly-appointed commander of Cyrenaica Command. General Wavell told them that his plan was to hold Tobruk for two months. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

More about the breakout from Mechili on 8 April 1941

After the initial successful breakout from Mechili by many from the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade, the group that was left out when Brigadier Vaughan went back into Mechili eventually proceeded to El Adem. On going back in, they found the headquarters of the 2nd Royal Lancers. When the others that were to breakout from Mechili hesitated, Major-General Gambier-Parry ordered the 2nd Royal Lancers to cover the 2nd Armoured Division headquarters. Brigadier Vaughan had gotten back into Mechili and found General Gambier-Parry. He suggested that they breakout to the east according to the original plan. They turned around and started driving. They ran into heavy machine-gun fire almost immediately. General Gambier-Parry's reaction to this was to surrender. The battery of the 3rd RHA did not want to surrender and tried to proceed. The Indian cavalry were driving behind the artillerymen. The Indian cavalry commanders decided to change direction and break out to the west. They would spread out and charge the Germans on a wide front. Very few of the charging vehicles were hit and they drove through the German artillerymen. There was a wadi that lead to the west, but the smart ones stayed to the right and kept out of it. The wadi proved to be a trap from which almost no one escaped. Those that broke out this time drove out some 20 miles to the west. By early afternoon, they turned north. The group now had the 3rd RHA battery, some 90 engineers from the 4th Field Squadron, and Major Rajendrasinhji and his squadron, consisting now of about 60 men. By early on 9 April, they saw an enemy group driving along. They captured some 30 German and Italian soldiers in a supply column. They took them prisoners, but had to abandon some when their vehicles broke down. They eventually captured an German scout car. Finally, they saw armored cars and started to engage them and then stopped, as they were from the 11th Hussars. They followed them back to El Adem. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Friday, September 30, 2016

More action after the German attack at Mechili, apparently on 8 April 1941

There had been two 2-pdr anti-tank guns in the rear-guard at Mechili. Both guns were eventually knocked out and only one crew member was not killed or wounded. The guns were being charged by German tanks when the situation got out of hand. After this, the biggest German tanks had reached the old Italian fort in the center of the position. The headquarters of the 2nd Royal Lancers had been established near the fort. We had seen that Brigadier Vaughan had successfully broken out from Mechili. When he stopped to observe the progress of others leaving Mechili, he found that the breakout had stopped. He got on the radio with General Gambier-Parry to find out what had happened. The general replied that the enemy fire had gotten so heavy, that it seemed impossible to take the soft vehicles out through the gunfire. Vaughan suggested that they break out in different direction.

When Brigadier Vaughan had ended his conversation with General Gambier-Parry, he told his associate that he was going back into Mechili to get his rear-guard out regardless of the others. This tells us a lot about the caliber of the man. Those who had broken out with Brigadier Vaughan who did not go back into Mechili were able to drive to El Adem. Brigadier Vaughan found General Gambier-Parry and suggested that they try to break out to the east. They started underway, but drew heavy fire. General Gambier-Parry's reaction at this point was to surrender, but Brigadier Vaughan being the man he was, drove onwards. M Battery of the 3rd. RHA were there, but did not want to surrender. Indian cavalry troops were following M Battery. Major Rajendrasinhji turned the breakout attempt around and they turned to the west. There were two squadrons of Indian cavalry. Not every vehicle in either squadron made the breakout attempt, but of those that went, very few were hit by enemy fire. The drove spread out wide and charged the Germans. They were driving at a German artillery unit. The Germans raised their hands in surrender. although the troops in the breakout just drove past them. This was at the point where some troops from one squadron got trapped in the wadi. Most did not, but of those who did, only one vehicle got out and escaped to Tobruk. The rest were eventually captured. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The breakout attempt from Mechili on 7 April 1941

The plan for the breakout from Mechili led by the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade was planned to start at 6:15am on 7 April 1941. That did not happen because the cruiser tank that was planned to lead did not arrive. The 3rd Indian Motor Brigade commander waited to see if the tank would arrive for 15 minutes, so the sky was starting to get light. A squadron from the 18th Cavalry Regiment led the breakout. Some men got down and used bayonets against the German gunners and infantry. They got back on their trucks and then drove away. They lost 17 men in the fight. The plan had been for the 2nd Armoured Division headquarters to break out with the Indian troops as well. The cruiser tank finally arrived and move through the gap. The 3rd Indian Motor Brigade headquarters also followed. The cruiser tank was knocked out and the crew was killed.

Rommel had planned to attack by around 7am. As the breakout progressed, Rommel's attack started. The 3rd Indian Motor Brigade headquarters got out, but the others following were intimidated by the German attack and stopped. They should have kept driving. The wind picked up and made visibility poor. An anti-tank gun got into action and was getting hits until it was destroyed. Brigadier Vaughan called General Gambier-Parry on the radio. He heard that the fire was making further escape with soft vehicles too difficult. Brigader Vaughan decided to go back in and get his rearguard troops out of Mechili. The second breakout was made on a broad front. The trucks drove at the enemy at full speed. The German gunners put their hands up in surrender and the Indian troops drove by them. Some vehicles got caught in a wadi and most did not get out of it. The rest drove 20 miles towards the west before they made a turn to the north. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Events continued to progress at Mechili on 7 April 1941

While Rommel had talked about attacking Mechili on 6 and 7 April 1941, by late on 7 April, he had not actually done anything. There were some movements, such as the Italians attacking the 2nd Lancers unsuccessfully. The two captured Italian 47mm anti-tank guns were used to fire at some enemy troops. That drew some artillery fire for a half and hour. One squadron of the 18th Cavalry Regiment arrived. They had exchanged fire with what must have been some German armored cars during their trip. Later on 7 April, Rommel made an another demand that the garrison at Mechili surrender, but they refused. After that, artillery commenced to fire at Mechili. For about an hour, they also took machine gun fire, but without any particular effect. A regular patrol from the 2nd Lancers was forced back into Mechili by German armored cars. Eventually, they withdrew, which allowed the 2nd Lancers to return to their accustomed position. Rommel was waiting all day long on 7 April for Olbrich to arrive from Msus. Rommel often used a Fiesler Storch for his personal reconnaissance missions. He did so late on 7 April, looking for Olbrich. Olbrich turned out to still be 30 miles away. More units had been straggling into the Mechili area, including some of the Italian Ariete Armored Division. By dark, a large part of the 5th Light Division arrived. Rommel now felt strong enough to attack in the morning.

The British were burdened with Michael Gambier-Parry as the commander at Mechili. He had been waiting in vain for reinforcements. Remember that he had arrived without any fighting forces, when he assumed command of the garrison. General Gambier-Parry had received orders to break out from Cyrenaica Command. He passed that news on to Brigadier Vaughan of the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade. They were to break out from Mechili in the morning. They should move at "daylight". The 3rd Indian Motor Brigade was ordered to head for El Adem. They were also to provide protection to the 2nd Armoured Division headquarters unit. The plan was for the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade to move as a box. The breakout was planned for 6:15am, while the sky was still dark. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Back to Mechili late on 6 April 1941

Major-General Gambier-Parry only arrived at Mechili late on 6 April 1941. We are going back in time to see the end at Mechili. General Gambier-Parry held a meeting when he arrived to announce that he was taking command at Mechili. The commander of the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade, Brigadier Vaughan tried to tell Gambier-Parry that they were still relatively safe because the Germans lacked sufficient force to attack. The Germans were calling on them to surrender, but Brigadier Vaughan thought that they were trying to get access to the water at Mechili without having to fight. General Gambier-Parry only brought one battery of the 3rd RHA and had no other combatants with him. He thought that the rest of the 2nd Armoured Division would arrive late on 7 April. The British garrison at Mechili could see and enemy force go into a leaguer to the east during the afternoon on 6 April.

At this point, Rommel realized that he did not have enough force to attack Mechili early on 7 April. He would have to wait until more units arrived.

Meanwhile, the Indian brigade and the 10th Battery decided to raid the enemy leaguer early on 7 April. One troop of Indian cavalry with the guns attempted an attack on the enemy, although they were unsuccessful. They did verify that the enemy were Germans and were alert. One gone was lost in the attempt. A enemy gun battery started firing around 11am. A warrant officer took a machine gun out to try and capture the guns, but they could not get close enough under cover to attack. They continued to take hits from the guns. Eventually, the Germans demanded that they surrender, which they refused to do. They finally got in radio contact with Cyrenaica Command. They were told that they could withdraw if they were surrounded. Later on 7 April, some Italians made a feeble attempt at an attack. They hit and Italian truck and took a second 47mm anti-tank gun. Now, they had a "section". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Later on 8 April 1941 after the actions at Derna

After leaving the Derna area, the 9th Australian Division occupied a position near Acroma. This was late in the afternoon of 8 April 1941. The 26th Brigade traveled from Tmimi to the Acroma area. Some of the Northumberland Fusiliers and the 51st Field Regiment acted as a rearguard for the brigade. In the process of moving, the 26th Brigade passed through the lines of the 20th Brigade near Gazala. Once they had completed their passage, the 20th Brigade was to move east from Gazala. The fact that the men of 20th Brigade had largely gone without sleep for 48 hours, if you can imagine it, that alone complicated the 20th Brigade movement. One of the 20th Brigade battalions had a diarist who noted that the drivers tended to fall asleep every time they stopped moving.

As the 9th Australian Division reached Acroma, they deployed with the 26th Brigade on the right, facing west, and with the 20th Brigade on the left. At this point, the 26th Brigade only had two battalions, the 2/13th and 2/48th. The 20th Brigade was fortunate to have the full three battalions. They had the 2/15th, 2/17th, and 2/24th Battalions. The division headquarters had moved inside the Tobruk fortress lines. A feature of the area where the 26th Brigade had occupied was a large, white house with the hand-painted name of an Australian beer. A sign of how fluid the situation was, was that Rommel used that white house as his headquarters very soon after 8 April. By late in the day, the remnants of the 2nd Armoured Division Support Group had arrived at Tobruk. The only Support Group unit that still existed but was not at Tobruk was the French Motor Battalion, which was at El Adem to add some strength at the place. The 1st/King's Royal Rifle Corps (1/KRRC) had also arrived at Tobruk. From here, we next will hop back in time to 6 April 1941 at Mechili, and see the sad end of the 2nd Armoured Division. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Action with the Australians at Derna, Gazala, and Tobruk on 7 and 8 Aprl 1941

While the rearguards near Derna were being hard-pressed, 9th Australian Division troops were in action. This was on 7 and 8 April 1941. One of the Australian battalion commanders, Lt-Colonel Burrows, had arrived at Tmimi. This was near the sea, on the edge of an escarpment. When the first troops arrived, they found the five German armored cars. Men from the 2/28th Battalion had anti-tank rifles, so they used those to harass the Germans. At a fortunate time, two British cruiser tanks arrived. They moved up in support and the Germans wanted nothing to do with them. Lt-Col. Burrows was a up-front, hands-on leader, so he moved to a position near the road. He was armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun and had his pockets full of grenades. As men arrived from the west on the road, he positioned them to aid in the defense. When J Battery of the 3rd RHA arrived, they were a welcome addition. After them, the 51st Field Regiment drove up the road, and after them, the 104th RHA.

Some 25 miles to the east, at Gazala, a defensive position under the command of the 20th Brigade was established. They had two complete battalions and the rifle companies of the 2/15th Battalion. German armored cars were on the prowl during 8 April, but they did not approach closely during the afternoon. German reconnaissance units seem to have been probing the back areas, behind the mainly Australian defenses. As we mentioned, by early afternoon on 8 April, there were now two Australian brigades at Tobruk. Acting Cyrenaica Command leader, Brigadier Harding was located there, as we mentioned already, so General Morshead thought that he should pull the 9th Australian Division in close to Tobruk. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Miscellaneous groups trying to escape past Derna on 7th and 8th April 1941

Supposedly responsible officers in Great Britain had sent tanks to North Africa that were at the end of their service life. Churchill, the prime minister, did not realize the condition of the tanks, and he took great risks to send the tanks by sea to North Africa. They tanks sent, because of bad behavior by senior officers in Britain, were close to useless. 28 of the tanks in the 5th RTR were lost because they were in bad condition and finally broke down, not from action with the enemy. The men of the 5th RTR were not the last unit to leave Derna. One group that was coming late were support troops from the armored division. They got left behind after Giovanni Berta. As they tried to move east, they kept finding that the engineers had already carried out demolitions. They were forced to keep clearing the road so that they could advance. They only reached Derna at 8pm on 7 April. They exchanged fire with the Germans and then were able to settle down for the night. They moved out early on 8 April, at 4am. Sadly, C Squadron of the 6th RTR was still to the west. They were chagrined to find Germans to their south. They had one tank left running, which finally broke down later that night.

The 9th Australian Division was fortunate, which had moved further east, had a much easier trip. Once they had left Martuba, Some of the men reached Tmimi, they had to deal with five German armored cars about 2,000 yards away. They initially were engaged with anti-tank rifles. Gradually, anti-tank and field guns arrived and were deployed. At the sight of the guns, the Germans held back. Further east, at Gazala, the 20th Brigade organized defenses. There were roving German armored cars, but they stayed out of range. When General Morshead arrived at Tobruk, he found two Australian brigades at the fortress. They were the 18th and 24th Brigades. Brigadier Wooten, of the 24th Brigade was directing the defense. Brigadier Harding, the acting Cyrenaica Command leader, was now at Tobruk. Morshead consulted with Harding and then ordered the Australians at Gazala to move east to Acroma. The 26h Brigade was a brigade group. By 5pm, they started the move from Tmimi to Acroma. By 7pm, the 20th Brigade started to withdraw from Gazala. Everyone had gone without sleep for a long period, so the withdrawal was not very smooth. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 05, 2016

The fight near Derna on 7 April 1941

The remnants of the 3rd Armoured Brigade had arrived near Derna on 7 April 1941. The two commanders, Lt-Col. Drew and Lt-Col.Petherick were looking for Brigadier Rimington, their commander and they did not know that he had been captured by Ponath's ambush. There were no tanks left from the 3rd Hussars. Their last tank broke down at Derna. The 5th RTR was reduced to four tanks by then. As they approached the airfield, they drew fire from the small fort. In the distance, they could see the King's Dragoon Guards in action. They met a platoon commander from the Tower Hamlets Rifles who were in the ruins of a small building. They went back to the pass to get help from rear-guard troops. By now, there was one company from the 1st/King's Royal Rifle Corps with some guns from the 3rd. RHA. Apparently, by 2:30pm, the remaining units of the 2nd Armoured Division drove through Derna. The pioneers fired the demolitions. There was some confusion caused by a staff officer from the 3rd Armoured Brigade who let the armored cars withdraw. Some other units also heard the withdrawal order and left some units unsupported. One company from the 1/KRRC were cut off and surrounded, but succeeded in escaping to a nearby wadi, where they were trying to keep from being discovered by the Germans. Lt-Col. Drew of the 5th RTR had assembled a small force. They found the Germans in control of the airfield. He had some infantry from the 1/KRRC, more infantry from the Tower Hamlets Rifles, some anti-tank guns from the 3rd RHA, and four tanks. By 4pm, the Germans moved to take the Derna pass. They attacked with armored cars, artillery, anti-tank guns, and motorized infantry. the British anti-tank guns hit the attackers hard and knocked out vehicles. The German machine guns, though, covered the road. At about 5:15pm, Lt-Col. Drew led and attack. The four tanks were knocked out, but the fifty-some vehicles raised a lot of dust which provided some cover. The attack was blunted and the men withdrew as possible. Those who escaped reached Tobruk later in the night. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Action involving the withdrawing forces near Derna on 7 April 1941

Two fighter squadrons had been operating over the withdrawing forces up until 7 April 1941 and had been providing cover from German attacks. On the morning of 7 April, the German air force hit the columns on the roads. The 1st RHA had arrived at the Derna airfield around 10am. The plan was to reorganize the unit so that there was some organization instead of chaos. About the same time B Company of the 1/KRRC was trying to do the same thing nearby. Suddenly a group of German vehicles appeared from the south. They had one armored car, one gun, and three vans. Both artillery units got into action and engaged them. At almost the same time, one Australian anti-tank gun and a Bofors light AA gun also joined the fight. The enemy group withdrew in the face of the heavy fire. A company of Free French motorized troops arrived. The 1st RHA left a battery, but the main body moved on down the road. The 104th RHA arrived and got on the coast road. Most of the King's Dragoon Guards then arrived at the airfield. They left a squadron to provide protection for the airfield while the main group continued on down the road. Part of the 1/KRRC came towards the sound of the fire. Their rearguard fought the attacking Germans for several hours. Finally, the last seven cruiser tanks of the 5th RTR arrived and were trying to climb the escarpment. Three of the tanks broke down and were stripped for later destruction. One of their tanks blocked the road for quite a long time, causing a bottle neck. With them were some of the troops of the 3rd Hussars. All of their tanks had broken down on the trip. The remaining components of the 2nd Armoured Division had passed through Derna by 2:30pm. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History

Monday, August 29, 2016

Early on 7 April 1941 near Tmimi

One company of the Australian 2/48th Battalion reached Tmimi before the rest of the battalion. They moved into a defensive position about one thousand yards south of the road. The battalion's leading truck encountered three German vehicles in a small depression. They were German reconnaissance cars and they opened fire on the Australian truck. The Australian warrant officer in the truck was wounded. One man in the truck fired effectively on the Germans and killed two and wounded two more. There was a British cruiser tank moving through on the road at this time. The tank was ordered to the spot of the fight. The two German cars that had not been engaged drove off. They captured six men, of whom two died later. Soon, the commander of the 26th Btigade arrived at Tmimi. He took over the abandoned Cyrenaica Command headquarters. The rest of the 2/48th Battalion now arrived at Tmimi. The 1/Royal Northumberland Fusiliers and their commander arrived next. By now, the 2/13th Battalion had been ordered to move to Tmimi to support the 2/48th Battalion. Three other battalions were ordered on to Gazala. These were the 2/24th, 2/15th, and 2/17th Battalions. They were apparently part of the 20th Brigade and would set up a defensive position at Gazala. One thing that happened now was that Lt-Col. Marlon found the 2/15th Battalion headquarters unit. They were stopped on the inland track. There had been rifle on the road, but they had not arrived yet, which seemed strange. He finally became concerned that they might have taken the coast road and been caught in the ambush. While he was waiting, a German force drove up on them and attacked. They had four light anti-aircraft guns on Italian trucks and they engaged the German armored cars. Two of the guns were knocked out and caught fire. The other two fired all their ammunition. As they were trapped, the Australians surrendered. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The 2nd Armoured Division and 9th Australian Division early on 7 April 1941

The units of the 2nd Armoured Division that were on the road to the east mostly stopped to rest during the night of 6 to 7 April 1941. The support group headquarters had stopped "off the inland track". They were near Giovanni Berta. The armored cars of the King's Dragoon Guards were stuck in traffic on the road to Derna. The 1st Royal Horse Artillery made a stop at 5am, on the way to Derna. One company of the 1/KRRC had stopped near them for breakfast. Another company was on the road through Derna. A third company and the headquarters were on the desert road to Mechili. There were other units on the road ahead of them. They included the 51st Field Regiment as well as a substantial part of the Northumberland Fusiliers. There was also "most of the 2/15th Battalion". There was also part of the Australian 26th Brigade. One the road to the east, there was the 2/17th Battalion, another 9th Australian Division battalion. They were headed for a road intersection, the one where the Mechili road connected to the Derna road. They eventually passed the battalion commander and his staff at breakfast and then the 2/15th Battalion headquarters. The 2/14th Battalion was still sitting at Martuba. The 2/48th Battalion and 2/24th Battalion were strung out on the road nearing Tmimi. Major Batten had already reached Tmimi and hoped to be directing the 2/48th Battalion into its assigned position. Major White, from Morshead's staff had already arrived and had some engineers and elements of the 2/48th Battalion already in place to man defenses with anti-tank rifles. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Into 7 April 1941 in Cyrenaica

The British and Australian engineers carried out a very complete demolition program on 6 April 1941. They left a few watering spots near Maraua, but when the Germans came through, they found obstacles at every turn and large numbers of land mines. The Cyrenaica Command Headquarters arrived at Tmimi at about midnight on 6 to 7 April. Brigadier Harding on the staff was very worried because generals O'Connor and Neame were missing. They had, of course, been caught in Ponath's ambush near Derna. General Morshead arrived at Tmimi at about 4am. He and Harding figured out that the generals were probably German prisoners. Morshead and Brigadier Harding realized that they needed to make a plan for what to do next. They decided to withdraw to Gazala and create defenses. Gazala is where the escarpment reaches up to the plateau. They ordered the units at Mechili to withdraw to El Adem. The message was misaddressed, so that the Mechili garrison did not receive the orders. The Cyrenaica Command and 9th Australian Division headquarters were to withdraw immediately to Gazala.

There is the road that heads to Derna and then climbs to the pass to the east of the town. That road was packed with slowly moving vehicles. There was a long line, sometimes with three or four vehicles alongside each other. One company of the 1/KRRC was blocking the track from Mechili that came to Giovanni Berta. The Tower Hamlets Rifles were at the pass to the west of Derna. There was actually still a 3rd Armoured Brigade column approaching Derna, but with vehicles stretched back a long ways. Brigadier Rimington had an accident in the night with his command vehicle. He and his associate tried a shortcut and ran into Ponath's ambush where they were captured. At this point, Major-General Gambier-Parry was in Mechili, which was surrounded. Thhis is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The engineers at work on 6 and 7 April 1941 in Cyrenaica

The author of Vol.III of the Australian Official History noted that no maps had been issued to the various commanders in the 9th Australian Division. One officer used a newspaper map that his wife had sent him. Cyrenaica Command eventually learned of the problem along in track by Ponath's group. They ordered the traffic control points to direct traffic along the main road towards Derna. The typical situation was that battalions were split and traveled by different routes to their destination. The 2/48th Battalion was heading towards Tmimi. Most of the battalion took the inland route, but the last group traveled through Derna. Something similar happened to the 2/15th Battalion.

While the battalions were traveling through the night, British and Australian engineers were at work. Brigadier Kisch was in control of the engineers who were carrying out demolitions. They were protected by the 1/KRRC. The engineers were being pressed to the limit. As the historian mentions, many had almost no sleep since 3 April 1941. The troop movements were happening during the night of 6 to 7 April 1941. The initial plan was for the Australian engineers to carry out all the demolition work. When Brigadier Kisch realized that the Australians needed help, he ordered two companies of Royal Engineers to help. Groups conducting the demolitions included the 9th Australian Division chief engineer, Lt-Col. Mann. There were also many engineer staff officers carrying out demolitions. Later in the night, Lt. Roach and his men, who had prepared the demolitions for Ain Mara "west of Derna" ran into Ponath's ambush and were captured by the Germans.

More engineers were busy on the northern route to the east. The pass at Tocra was blown at midnight. They left large craters blocking the road. Wadi Cuff was blown up after that. An Australian engineer unit blew "Cyrene and Apollonia" and took some British engineers with them who had not received the order to withdraw. Between 4am and 4:30am, the road to the east of Apollonia were blown. The demolitions continued through the morning of 7 April 1941. When 2nd Armoured Division troops had passed, more demolitions were carried out at Giovanni Berta. By noon, they blew the ammunition dump and a bridge at Ain Mara. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Traffic, rumours, and things going badly later on 6 April 1941

The 9th Australian Division provosts arrived in the traffic area and attempted to impose some sort of order. At one point, a German battle group had blocked the crossroads where the Giovanni Berta, Martuba, Mechili, and Derna tracks intersected. The situation was so bad that soldiers of the 9th Australian Division pretty universally believed that the Germans had captured a British provost and then replaced him with a German who misdirected traffic. In retrospect, the best guess was that the German battle group had been Group Ponath. As we had noted, they proceeded to the "Rocknest" at Derna. The Australians believed that the probably mythical German provost had sent traffic towards the ambush near the "Rocknest". A liaison officer for the 9th Australian Division headquarters took the inland route later in the evening and noticed that the traffic control was bad and that all units had become intermixed.

Things took a turn for the worst when General Morshead had left generals O'Connor and Neame and Brigadier Combe left by the inland track. They took a wrong turn and ran into the German ambush. They were all captured. The writer of the Official History thought that Major Fell may have seen them make the turn. An Australian group with secret documents and ciphers also ran into the Germans. One man went around in back and "shot the German soldier". That enabled the men to get back into their truck and escape.

Later, some Australian engineers turned left and took the road to Derna. They saw the abandoned staff cars and trucks from what probably was Neame's vehicles. They attempted to pass the mass of vehicles, but took fire that stopped them. They waited until the sky started to lighten. They finally were able to escape and drove to Martuba, where they got medical attention for their wounded from the 2/13th Battalion medical officer. Another engineer group also ran into the ambush. A group of about30 men got away in trucks. They got back to the crossroads and arranged for someone to keep others from turning towards the ambush. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

More movements on 6 April 1941, later in the day

The southern route to the east taken by British and Australian troops was overloaded with vehicles and the road was breaking down under the load. The load grew as more vehicles crossed into the road from side roads. What had started as convoys were broken up due to the conditions. Where the roads joined and where the refueling stops, conditions were even worse. Upon reaching Giovanni Berta, the Australians left the paved road and took the desert route. The traffic on the road was reduced to about six miles an hour due to the heavy traffic and the deteriorating road surface. Traffic would be stopped as vehicles broke down or overheated.

The 2nd Armoured Division Support Group connected to the southern route from Tecasis. The 3rd Armoured Brigade and the armored cars of the King's Dragoon Guards joined from "the El Abiar-Maraua track". The brigade only had seven cruiser tanks and six light tanks. The 6th RTR with Italian tanks was out of touch and was heading up to the recently abandoned plateau. They could only travel very slowly.

The 2/24th Battalion was the last of the Australians to head east. The 9th Australian Division staff had trouble finding any transport to move the battalion. Some transport was provided by the 2/17th Battalion and from engineers. They had found 14 trucks and some of the unit's vehicles were able to move the entire 2/24th Battalion. The convoy was broken up at the intersections and only arrived at Tmimi in the morning in small groups.

Nothing was seen of the Germans that had blocked the road earlier on the 6th. They must have been Ponath's group. The group was very small and since his orders were to block the coast road at Derna, he continued onward towards that destination. They sheltered in the "Rocknest" caves and set up an ambush to protect those in the caves. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Late on 6 April 1941 in Cyrenaica

After General O'Connor issued orders that affected the 3rd Armoured Brigade, Brigadier Rimington headed back to the brigade. They were located near the old fort near Tecnis. The brigade officers met and discussed the situation. They decided to travel back to Derna via Maraua and then to move up to Mechili. Brigadier Rimington had concerns about the state of the brigade, and whether they could get any tanks to Mechili, especially if they took the most direct route. They moved out right after 5pm. He sent a messenger apparently to Cyrenaica Command headquarters with word of their planned movements. Soon, General Morshead arrived and then General Neame returned.

Also at 5pm, the 2/13th Battalion received orders to move to Martuba. They did not realize that the Germans might be there when they arrived. The battalion commander and his adjutant reached Martuba at about 8:30pm. What they found was that those present had panicked and were heading to the east as fast as they could go. Lt-Col. Burrows let Cyrenaica Command know what they had found. His battalion reached Martuba and set up a defensive position. Give that the ground was very hard, they built cover by piling stones. There had been a German group that had blocked the road, but they seemed to have moved. Another German force was located south of Martuba and was still present. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

The 3rd Indian Motor Brigade

We are about to see the mettle of the troops of the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade. They were also fortunate to have a good commander in Brigadier Vaughan, who had been an Indian cavalry regiment commander. After the battle at Mechili, Rommmel praised them for their ability and their break-out from Mechili. They took losses, but being a fully-motorized unit, mounted in Fordson trucks, they were able to concentrate at the critical point and break loose from the enemy encirclement. The 2nd Armoured Division was not so fortunate, and Major-General Gambier-Parry surrendered, unlike the Indian brigade. The way to the east was blocked, but the western side was more open and presented the motor brigade an opportunity to escape the encirclement. They had a good commander, but the British did not provide any artillery for the brigade, so they were hobbled by that lack. Still, they ran through German artillery, where the crews put their hands up as they were overrun by the Indian cavalry. We are going to give the full details from the Australian Official History next week.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Later on 6 April 1941 in western Cyrenaica

Two separate situations were unfolding in western Cyrenaica later on 6 April 1941. First, the 9th Australian Division received orders to withdraw. Second, the enemy were closing in on Mechili. The order for the 9th Australian Division units to withdraw was issued at 4pm on 6 April. Some movement out started as soon as 5pm. About the time that the western-most units received the orders, German forces were coming in contact. One company of the 2/15th Battalion fired on a small German reconnaissance group at 4:15pm. All of the Germans were killed. By 5pm, another mixed German group consisting of a light tank, armored cars, and motorized infantry drove by the 2/48th Battalion, just as they had received the order to withdraw. The infantry dismounted and the situation looked to be difficult. Supporting machine gun fire my the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers kept the Germans from advancing and allowed the Australians to withdraw. The machine gunners took some casualties in the process. A written account gave the Australian attitude towards the situation. They thought that they were in a good position to defend against an attack, which they were abandoning instead of fighting.

By 5pm, the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade commander asked for help, as the force surrounding the brigade in Mechili was getting larger. Rommel was very unhappy with how the day had progressed on 6 April. He had hoped to have enough strength at Mechili to take the place, but instead, they were forced to sit and wait. Once the Fabris unit had arrived at Mechili later on 6 April, Rommel planned at attack at 7am on 7 April. The 3rd Armoured Brigade finally started to move out. The route chosen seemed likely to conflict with the 9th Australian Division withdrawal route. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

The afternoon of 6 April 1941 in Cyrenaica

When Lt-General Neame had left his headquarters, that left General O'Connor in charge. O'Connor had gone to the airfield to talk with reconnaissance pilots. When he returned to the headquarters, he issued orders for the 2nd Armoured Division to head for Mechili, which was threatened. The orders ended up not being implemented, however. The 2nd Support Group had been at Tacasis at 1pm. They got orders by radio to withdraw by the coast road, because of the enemy forces at Mechili. They believed that the orders came from Major-General Gambier-Parry's chief staff officer. While the armored division had ordered the 3rd Armoured Brigade to Mechili, Cyrenaica Command overrode those orders and told them to head for Maraua in the north. The 3rd Indian Motor Brigade received orders from Cyrenaica Command to send a petrol convoy to meet with the 2nd Armoured Division. Perhaps the Germans were listening to British communications because they expected the 2nd Armoured Division to head for Mechili. As the support group headed north, they met Neame. He ordered the support group to hold the "outpost line" that had been held by the 1/KRRC. O'Connor then ordered the 3rd Armoured Brigade to head for Mechili. About this time, O'Connor agreed to let the 9th Australian Division to withdraw to Gazala. Two battalions, the 2/13th and the 2/48th would hold some key points on the route to Gazala. The 1/KRRC was back to reporting to the Australians. Their task would be to cover the engineers as they demolished bridges and supply dumps. The Australians had to use improvised transport in their withdrawal. Brigadier Kisch, the British commander of Cyrenaica Command engineers suggested that the Australians withdraw by the inland road that had been improved, so they avoided possible bottleneck situations farther north. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The situation takes a bad turn on 6 April 1941 in Cyrenaica

Lt-General Neame's decision to go and visit units on 6 April 1941 was a particularly poor choice. He left Lt-General O'Connor at the Cyrenaica Command headquarters while Neame was out of touch with events. He was able to visit the 9th Australian Division and then left to try and find the 2nd Armoured Division. This was at a time when Rommel and the German Africa Corps was on the move against the British forces. Neame did not realize what was happening. If he had, he would have stayed close to the headquarters so that he could be in touch with rapidly moving events. Major General Morshead, the 9th Australian Division commander believed that his division should pull back to Gazala, while Neame wanted them to pull forward to defend the escarpment. Almost immediately after Neame had left the 9th Australian Division headquarters, General O'Connor phoned to tell them that Mechili was being attacked and the division should prepare to withdraw to Derna.

The 2nd Armoured Division continued to be in a bad state. The 3rd Armoured Division continued to have problems. The brigade commander could not find his division commander. You had the 5th RTR firing by mistake on the 6th RTR. Later in the morning on 6 April, the 2nd Armoured Division was moving to the east towards Mechili. Later in the afternoon, the division headquarters continued to move towards Mechili, but the armored brigade and support group turned north towards Derna.

After General O'Connor had heard about the enemy movement towards Mechili, he went to the airfield to talk with returning pilots. This was at Derna. He heard that there were three enemy columns on the move. One column had left Msus, one had left Agedabia, and one near Gialo in the south. There was actually even more happening, because at Acroma, near Tobruk, they had seen Germans. The Indian 18th Cavalry drove off the enemy troops and captured some Italians. From them, they heard that there were more enemy troops moving forward. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

6 April 1941 at Mechili

Around midday on 6 April 1941, a squadron of the Long Range Desert Group commanded by Major Mitford arrived at Mechili. The squdadron was divided into two parts. The part commanded by Major Mitford captured the Italian officer in charge of several guns that were firing on the fort. That stopped the gunfire. The LRDG was to stay outside of Mechili and operate nearby. An unfortunate development was that the one 25-pounder gun at Mechili was sent off to join the 2nd Armoured Division. After all, the enemy force was not present in any numbers yet. Two aircraft that had taken off from the airfield near Mechili had flown south to the column that now included Rommel. They reported that there was a substantial force at Mechili. Rommel's first instinct was to push and attack. He sent Ponath off with ten vehicles towards Derna to get behind the British. He sent a lieutenant and his men off towards the track from Mechili to Derna. Rommel planned to concentrate the Africa Corps at Mechili. Rommel wanted to attack at Mechili by 3pm. 6 April was an important day. The campaign in Greece started on 6 April. The Germans invaded Greece that day. In Cyrenaica, Rommel's move against Mechili caused an order to withdraw from western Cyrenaica. They considered evacuating Tobruk, but Wavell ordered that Tobruk be held. Earlier on 6 April, a King's Dragoon Guards patrol drove towards Msus to investigate. They reported a large group moving east. They reported back to the headquarters and stayed in contact until they were forced to leave. Lt-General Neame, not knowing what was happening, left his headquarters to visit the 9th Australian Division and the 2nd Armoured Division. He met with Major General Morshead of the 9th Australian Division, and showed just how out of touch he was, as he was in denial that there was a big German push into western Cyrenaica. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Mechili on 5th and 6th April 1941

On 5 April 1941, Mechili was held by the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Vaughan. The brigade worked to improve the defenses during 5 April. Rommel's aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Schulz flew over Mechili in a Fiesler Storch during the afternoon. The 3rd Indian Motor Brigade saw a message asking for an artillery battery to be sent to them. Something about the message didn't seem authentic. Brigader Vaughan asked for the message to be sent again and asked them to use Major Eden's nickname. He was the battery commander. They never got a new message. They saw dust from vehicles driving from Tegender during the evening. Their field squadron, which had been at Tegender arrived. They had an encounter with a German group on the way. That night, there seemed to be a lot of activity on the edge of Mechili. At dawn, they saw some Very lights fired from the landing ground to the south. Some of the 2nd Lancers went to investigate, but the two planes that had landed left. They could see a column of vehicles south of Mechili. The brigade had patrols out that took prisoners. Two field guns started shelling the fort after 9am. Another gun from the northwest started firing. Some troops from the 11th Cavalry drove the gun off. By 11am, two trucks with infantry charged at the 11th Cavalry. They were on the road and were caught by an Australian anti-tank gun. They hit the trucks and caused the troops to leave the trucks and take cover. Two officers took a wrecker out to the knocked out trucks and took some prisoners. They got an Italian 47mm gun, a German officer, and some Italian soldiers. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Major moves by Rommel early on 5 April 1941

Early on 5 April 1941, Rommel ordered a major mechanized force to advance on Msus from Antelat. A machine gun battalion moved from Soluch towards Msus. The RAF reconnaissance aircraft reported these movements to Cyrenaica Command. The mechanized force included the 5th Armored Regiment and forty tanks from the Ariete Division. They were accompanied by field artillery and anti-tank guns. When Lt-General Neame received the report of German forces east of Msus, he decided to withdraw on Derna. Major General Morshead was aware of what was transpiring and returned to his headquarters and issued orders for an immediate move to Derna. Cyrenaica Command was confused about what was happening. They first ordered the 9th Australian Division to stand fast and then decided to have them withdraw. The 1/KRRC thought that the Germans were not near Msus when they actually were. The machine gun battalion was also very close to Msus. The reality was that the Germans were not yet in Msus but were about to reach the place. About this time, Rommel was receiving erroneous air reconnaissance reports as well. Much of the Africa Corps was driving along the Trigh el Abd. During the night, Rommel tried driving the Trigh el Abd with his lights on and was bombed by British aircraft. He turned his lights off after that incident. Early on 5 April, the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade was fired on by Germans from a distance. The Indians were quickly able to drive them off. The German records do not record what unit was involved in attacking Mechili. During the day on 5 April, one 25pdr gun arrived, the only artillery that the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade had. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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