Monday, May 30, 2016

With Rommel on 3 April 1941

By 3 April 1941, General Wavell was realizing that he needed to change plans to meet the threat from Rommel in the Western Desert. They would keep the 7th Australian Division and possibly change the plans for the 6th Australian Division. While this was happening, Rommel was making plans as well. In the afternoon of 3 April 1941, Rommel visited the most advanced troops from the Ariete Division. They were traveling from Agedabia to the Trigh el Abd. He found that the ground was firm and could be safely traveled. When he returned to his headquarters, he ordered the Ariete Division to send a detachment to travel the Trigh el Abd to Ben Gania. He also ordered them to check the track to Msus. By 4:45pm, Rommel received word that the British had left Magrun. He ordered the 3rd Reconnaissance Unit to travel the coast road to Magrun and then scout out the way beyond Magrun. Rommel drove forward to joint the reconnaissance unit. They heard that the British had left Benghazi, so he ordered his troops forward. They reached Benghazi before morning. By the time Rommel had returned to his headquarters, he found that he had to deal with General Gariboldi, who was unhappy about the recent moves. He wanted Rommel not to make any advances without consulting him. Rommel told General Gariboldi that he needed freedom of action, as he was a German general. Fortunately for Rommel, he received a message from German High Command giving him the freedom he needed. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The initial moves on 4 April 1941

While the 9th Australian Division was involved in the moves to the second escarpment, transport was a problem. The solution was to take vehicles from units that had them to transport the battalions that lacked vehicles. One battalion, the 2/48th, from the 26th Brigade had just taken position at Baracca, which was on the lower escarpment, was to move to Maddalena. This is where the northern pass is located. The 2/15th Battalion from the 20th Brigade had been held in reserve. They were now to move east of Barce to the southern pass. The 9th Australian Division had been given the 1/Royal Fusiliers and the 24th Anti-Tank Company. They would move to El Abiar, which in the scheme of things, would allow the 2/15th Battalion move. By daylight on 4 April, the battalions were able to move. We remember that the 7th Armoured Division motor battalion, the 1/King's Royal Rifle Corps, was supplied by General Wavell to bolster the defenses. Being a motor battalion, they were able to immediate start their move and they arrived in position by 9am on 4 April 1941. A fifth 9th Australian Division company was gathering near El Abiar. They had been on the escarpment to the north of Er Regima. They had given up their transport to move other units, so they had to wait for more transport to arrive. Using first line transport from units that needed to move meant that other transport had to be found. An officer from the 9th Australian Division staff had to find the necessary transport. Another officer, Major Dodds, collected available transport at Barce. The unit movement was slowed due to this issue, so battalions that had given up their first-line transport to move other units had to sit until later in the afternoon on 4 April. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cyrenaica Command in confusion late on 3 April 1941

Almost the first thing that happened after General Wavell left Cyrenaica Command, a conference was held. This was late on 3 April 1941. Colonel Lloyd, of the 9th Australian Division, was at the conference representing his division. Decisions were being made without knowing any hard information. Communications were non-existent. They had no idea what was happening with the 2nd Armoured Division. They thought that there were 100 German vehicles at Msus, but an officer from the armored division artillery told Colonel Lloyd that the vehicles at Msus were the 3rd Armoured Brigade. At the meeting, they decided to pull back to a line from Wadi Derna to Mechili. They would pull out of most of Jebel Achdar and let the Germans advance. The 3rd Indian Motor Brigade was still at El Adem, but they would be ordered to move to Mechili. They would send the 2nd Armoured Brigade to join them at Mechili, so that they would have some artillery. B Squadron of the 2nd Royal Lancers was already at Mechili. They expected the 9th Australian Division to put two battalions east of Barce on the "second escarpment". The plan was that by defending the second escarpment, that they would enable a "general withdrawal" from the forward part of Cyrenaica. A 7th Armoured Division motor battalion arrived at Barce to help the 9th Australian Division. The division would do a staged withdrawal to Derna. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The withdrawal in the midst of confusion on 3 and 4 April 1941

After the erroneous information about Er Regima was received, the 2nd Armoured Division wheeled vehicles headed for the Wadi Gattara. They would attempt to reach the plateau by crossing the escarpment. The vehicles were blocked at this point, although small groups made their way up the escarpment. Some of the 2nd Support Group did not receive the bad information and they were able to move through Er Regima. The Australian 2/13th Battalion held the pass and saw the support group vehicles passing through. More support group vehicles went to Tocra, held by the 26th Australian Brigade, and passed through there.

Brigadier Rimington, the 3rd Armoured Brigade commander, was still at Esc Sceleidima. Since the word about Er Regima being closed, he changed his orders to his brigade. He was out of communication with his division commander, so he decided to sit at Esc Sceleidima until he was back in communication. He ordered the 3rd Hussars to hold the east end of the pass. The 5th RTR and 6th RTR would hold the western end of the pass. There was a report of Germans approaching, but the vehicles were from the King's Dragoon Guards. Overnight, Brigadier Rimington decided to take his brigade to Msus in the morning. If the Germans were really there, he would fight them. During the night, the remains of the Tower Hamlets Rifles arrived at Esc Sceleidima. They were also joined by two squadrons from the King's Dragoon Guards. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Late on 3 April 1941 in Cyrenaica

The supply dump at Msus was destroyed on the basis of wrong information late in the afternoon on 3 April 1941. There were no Germans near by or in Msus. The only unidentified vehicles were those of the Long Range Desert Group and armored cars of the King's Dragoon Guards. The RAF gave an erroneous reconnaissance report about some fifty German vehicles at Msus. The fifty was said to probably include tanks, which were no where near Msus. At 5pm, General Wavell left Cyrenaica Command Headquarters to return to his headquarters in Cairo. He left with wrong information about the situation. Instead of replacing General Neame with O'Connor, he left Neame in command with O'Connor as an advisor. That is what we had always heard was the case, and this explains it. It seemed that O'Connor was going to actually be in command, but that did not happen.

After the air reconnaissance report, General Gambier-Parry ordered the 3rd Amoured Brigade to move to Er Regima. The division had many wheeled vehicles, and these were largely moving towards Er Regima. The division headquarters was also moving and was crossing the Wadi Gattara. Typical of how badly things were going, a British aircraft dropped a message at the division headquarters. The message was from Cyrenaica Command from 10am that day. The message was wrong and out of date. The message told them to get east of the escarpment before moving to the Wadi Gattara do avoid a British minefield. The officers in the headquarters thought it meant that Er Regima was closed, which was not the case. The message caused confusion and disruption, as vehicles further north were diverted away from Er Regima. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Confusion on the afternoon of 3 April 1941

With the 2nd Armoured Division headquarters issuing new orders while not knowing where its units were located, the situation descended into chaos. There were reports of Germans either heading for Msus or already there that were totally false at this point. The Tower Hamlets Rifles and artillery were sitting at Sidi Brahim and about a mile to the south. Only by 4pm did the 3rd Armoured Brigade receive new orders. The commander warned the 5th RTR and 3rd Hussars of an impending move to Msus. By this point, the 1st RTR and other units had scattered upon seeing units on the move and not having orders themselves. The situation was so bad that the 6th RTR, which was supposed to meet the Support Group did not know their location or even their radio frequency. The continued to sit at Esc Sceleidima. The rest of the armored brigade was still there, as well. While all this played out, the 2nd Armoured Division headquarters sent a message to Cyrenaica Command that they could not hold the escarpment because there was no route to send supplies. General Wavell was still at Cyrenaica Command, along with Generals O'Connor and Neame. In response, Cyrenaica Command, presumably from General Neame, but with knowledge of the others, ordered the armored division to withdraw by way of Er Regima. All this time, while they had reports of Germans either at Msus or heading there, the Long Range Desert Group was ordered use Msus as a base. Units moving towards Msus included the armored division recovery unit and an RAF ground unit. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The 2nd Armoured Difvision becomes confused on 3 April 1941

After a meeting with the division commander at midday on 3 April 1941, the units of the 2nd Armoured Division became confused. The issue was that not everyone received new orders or even had any orders, and that the orders had changed once or more in the last day. One command was that the division would keep the enemy from the escarpment, north of Esc Sceleidima. As the meeting ended, they received a reconnaissance report from the RAF that enemy units were "approaching Msus from Antelat". The enemy was on the coast road and on the route from Agedabia. Cyrenaica Command also received a message from the armored division and got confused, thinking that the Germans were already in Msus, which they were not. The King's Dragoon Guards were near Antelat, the 6th RTR was moving towards Msus from Antelat. The 5th RTR had orders to intercept eight tanks moving north, which were actually the 6th RTR tanks. The problems seems to have been too many changes. The support group, along with the 6th RTR, was to hold the escarpment. The armored brigade was sent to Msus to fight the presumed enemy column. The support group had their orders, but the 3rd Armoured Brigade did not receive their orders. Some units without orders just followed other units in their movements. The armored division headquarters arrived at Cyrenaica Command and reported that the division would not be able to hold the escarpment. Cyrenaica Command then ordered a withdrawal by way of Er Regima. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

The situation deteriorates for the British on 3 April 1941 in Cyrenaica

Rommel received a message from General Gariboldi on 2 April 1941. The general had seen information that led him to correctly believe that Rommel was continuing to advance, despite that being contrary to his orders. Rommel was receiving reconnaissance reports about the British withdrawal, and he wanted to continue to push them. Early on 3 April 1941, the 6th RTR left Antelat in an odd direction, due to orders that they had received at 1am. They were now needed to move to Esc Sceleidima, where the escarpment is passable. They moved off to the southwest, and then returned to Antelat, now abandoned. They finally moved towards Esc Sceleidima, but were slowed by their M13/40 tanks continually overheating. After 8am, the rest of the 2nd Armoured Division moved towards Esc Sceleidima. The King's Dragoon Guards maintained scouts to the south. The 2nd Armoured Division had arrived at Esc Sceleidima by late morning. General Gambier-Parry held a conference for the division unit officers. They planned where units would be positioned. After the conference, they had a report from reconnaissance aircraft about a German column nearing Msus from Antelat. From this point, communications were less reliable and not all messages were received. Also the 2nd Armoured Division headquarters lost track of the division's units and they were headed for problems. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

More about the situation on 2 April 1941

As the Germans were advancing in early April 1941, the 9th Australian Division was lacking information. They were also not ready to fight. The right was held by the 26th Brigade, which only had the 2/24th Battalion. They had only obtained enough transport to move the 2/48th Battalion forward from Gazala. They arrived at Baracca at 5pm. By 3 April, they were ten miles from Tocra, near "an Italian settlement".

General Wavell felt compelled to visit Barce and the Cyrenaica Command headquarters. He was having one of those periodic exchanges with Churchill in London. Wavell had directed General Neame to keep his armor in being, even if that involved withdrawing from Benghazi. That got a negative response from the Prime Minister. Churchill had suggested bringing General O'Connor forward. In fact, Wavell decided to replace Neame with O'Connor. The situation was such that Neame being so far from the action, that he did not have effective control. One goal was to keep the 2nd Armoured Division concentrated, rather than to scatter the division. General Gambier-Parry was going to withdraw on El Ablar. The coast road had the disadvantage that the supply dump at Magrun was destroyed by the 2/3rd Australian Field Company. Neame was still in command and ordered demolitions at Benghazi in preparation for withdrawal. Demolition charges were exploded at Er Regima. They blew the minefield, as they expected, so they laid new anti-tank mines at the pass. On the morning of 3 April, Wavell and Neame met with General Morshead, of the 9th Australian Division, and passed on the news that O'Connor would arrive to take over Cyrenaica Command. O'Connor came by plane with Brigadier Combe. He landed at El Adem and sent word to the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade that they should be ready to send two regiments to Mechili. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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