Wednesday, June 29, 2016

With the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade from 3 to 4 April 1941

The two generals, Neame and O'Connor on 3 April 1941 ordered the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade to move to Mechili. The brigade commander, Brigadier Vaughan had been looking at the escarpment at Barce when he was ordered to take his brigade to Mechili. One of the regiments, the 18th Cavalry was to stay at El Adem to guard the airfield. The brigade was to move at night to Tmimi. The 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment had been at El Adem. General Neame had originally intended for the anti-tank unit to be with the 9th Australian Division. They were moving towards Derna. They stopped at Gazala at night. When he arrived at Barce, he heard that he was to go to Mechili with the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade. They had heard that there were enemy units at Mechili, so they decided to move in fighting formation from Tmimi. The two Indian cavalry regiments each got an anti-tank battery. One of the battery commanders observed the Indian unit on the move and admired their formation-keeping abilities on the move. There was an airfield at Tmimi. The brigade left there at 10am. The force drove up to Mechili at 3:30pm. One Indian cavalry squadron was already at Mechili and had found no enemy present. That evening they were joined by M Battery of the 3rd RHA. The troops formed a perimeter around the Mechili fort. There was a rough landing ground south of the fort. The anti-tank guns were distributed between the units holding the perimeter. When General Neame finally received word of the German attack on the 2/13th Battalion, he issued orders to withdraw. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Other action on 4 April 1941 in Cyrenaica

The 2/13th Battalion was fortunate to only have had 98 casualties, a number that included three officers, in the battle at Er Regima on 4 April 1941. Of those, five men were killed. The other unit engaged at Er Regima, the 51st Field Regiment, had one man killed and five "injured" as the Official History says. One of their officers was missing, possibly a prisoner.

The German attack on Er Regima was the only German action on 4 April. The German armored unit, the 5th Light Division, was held back. Their British counterparts, the 2nd Armoured Division, had a bad day on 4 April. A column of vehicles carrying fuel was attacked by German aircraft and the entire column was destroyed. They had met more vehicles with fuel and joined with them, but they were all lost. By evening, the 5th RTR was reduced to nine tanks. The 6th RTR only kept their best Italian tanks and scrapped the rest. They were now down to just nine tanks, as well. The 3rd Hussars, now "14 miles northeast of Msus", were also abandoned their worst tanks. To the south, A Squadron of the LRDG drove south to the Trigh el Abd. They then drove to Bir Ben Gania. They reported back that they had not seen any sign of the enemy forces. A German reconnaissance aircraft overflew them that evening.

While all this was happening, the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade moved to Mechili. The only building at Mechili was an old fort that was very weak. The importance of Mechili was the good water supply. The place had no other value. The 3rd Indian Motor had three completely motorized cavalry units. They only had small arms, apparently, but were highly mobile. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Disaster at Er Regima and after from 4 April 1941

The 2/13th Battalion had the bad fortune to receive the German attack on 4 April 1941. The attack continued into the night after darkness had fallen. A company-sized group of Germans had quickly surrounded men. They mounted a bayonet charge and fired at the Germans. They ended up moving further into the mass of German troops. A few men managed to escape. A few men managed to get past the anti-tank ditch. The Germans responded by making use of a knocked out tank for cover and as a strong point. The battalion commander, Lt-Col. Burrows decided to withdraw to the second anti-tank ditch past the village. He hoped to meet the expected transport as it came up the road. As we have mentioned, the howitzers from the 51st Field Regiment fired their last ammunition and then withdrew. Some of the Germans had reached the ditch by the railroad station, so some men were sent to beat them back. Major Turner worked to organize the defense. There was a cross over the ditch east of the fort. The men set up a roadblock that they hoped would hold so that more of the battalion could pass through. Hill's company would act as a defense behind the ditch, while Lt-Col. Burrows organized men to hold a position further forward to give Hill's men time to setup their position. Burrows had expected transport to arrive at 7pm, but there was no sign of it. At 10:15pm, Burrows ordered everyone not in the blocking position to move to the east down the road. About a half hour later, the missing transport arrived. They were a company with Cypriot drivers. There were too few trucks, so the men were tightly packed in the vehicles, some even riding on a gun tractor. They passed through Barce, which was on fire. About ten miles past Barce, the men dismounted and dispersed, waiting for dawn. One platoon, back at Er Regima, had gotten free from the enemy, but had missed the battalion withdrawal. They went into the hills in the dark. On their own, they continued to move to the east. They never caught up with the others from their battalion. Two officers and 23 men reached Gazala. Only one man reached Tobruk to rejoin the battalion. The others were all captured by the Germans. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Fighting at Er Regima on 4 April 1941

The situation at Er Regima on 4 April 1941 quickly deteriorated. Handley's company had German infiltration through their area. The battalion commander sent the carriers to the right flank. This was at the wadi to the north of the rail line. The battalion commander used what little transport he had to bring forward two platoons from A Company. They were supposed to back up one platoon, but ended up behind D Company, instead and were engaged. As organization was lost, Lt-Col. Burrows sent Major Turner to the battle area to try and gain control again. When the two platoons got into position, a German tank approached, but was knocked out by an anti-tank rifle. A private rushed the tank with his Bren gun, fired from the hip, and killed one German and captured the other two. The Bren was nominally a light machine gun, but Australians often picked them up and held them while they fired. The battalion commander now brought one company, not previously engaged, into the fort. They would be needed to cover the forward men as they pulled back. From Simmons platoon, they were caught by the Germans in old Italian sangers and only five men escaped. As the day got later, it was getting dark. The fighting closed in on the fort. The Australians were becoming overwhelmed by larger German numbers. British howitzers fired their remaining ammunition and retreated. The battalion commander decided to move back down the road and hope to meet approaching transport. Reinforcements in the form of two companies of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers arrived along with an anti-tank company. They machine gunners had not been able to lay down fixed lines of fire, so they figured that they would be of little help. Lt-Col. Burrows had organized the men to be able to both block and to be in position to withdraw. The expected transport had not arrived. The battalion commander at that point had some men to block the road while the rest withdrew. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Germans attack at Er Regima on 4 April 1941

As the Germans attacked the pass at Er Regima on 4 April 1941, the demolitions were fired. The explosion happened before the enemy had advanced to the mines. Part of the minefield exploded because of the detonations. Some of the stone sangars that had been built were knocked down as well. The demolitions were a signal, apparently, to the 20th Anti-Tank Company to withdraw. That was particularly unfortunate as the German light tanks were attacking. Just to make matters worse, there were four German armored cars that advanced up the unguarded wadi and were behind the Australians. They were stopped only by the Italian anti-tank ditch. Several light tanks had moved up as well. 18 Platoon was guarding the pass. Two more companies were on the right and left, but not close enough to help. As the German infantry advanced, the platoon fired their available weapons. The enemy took cover in response to the fire. A group of 18pdr guns from the 51st Field Regiment arrived. One gun knocked out a light tank. The gun was knocked out by another tank. The other three guns were also knocked out, but they had knocked out one more German light tank. One Australian fired on the tanks with the anti-tank rifle. Two remaining German tanks circled around and gradually forced the Australians to withdraw. General Morshead decided to move forward with withdrawing the 2/13th Battalion, now that they were under attack. He sent the carrier platoon forward to help the men being attacked. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 13, 2016

An uneasy day on 4 Apirl 1941 in Cyrenaica

In the area east of Benghazi, the men were feeling very uneasy about their situation. Cyrenaica Command was out of touch with reality. They had no idea of where the Germans were or what they were doing. General O'Connor had decided to keep the Australians on the escarpment to impeded any German advance. At the wadi at Er Regima, the three companies of the 2/13th Battalion. The battalion commanders had two battalions forward, one on the right and one on the left. They left an undefended gap in the middle. They third company was held in reserve. While they had been promised some 25pdr guns, all they had were four 4.5in howitzers. They also had a machine gun company. The day before, Hurricanes of the RAF flew out to the east from where they had been based. They flew out of an airfield at Benina, at the foot of the pass at Er Regima. There had been a great deal of traffic from units that were withdrawn from the west. They had heard explosions from the demolitions fired by various engineer units. All they could do is watch the road and wait for something to happen. On the afternoon of 4 April 1941, a column could be seen driving out of Benghazi towards their positions. The vehicles included tanks, armored cars, and troop-carrying trucks. There were two groups of tanks in line abreast heading for the pass. The howitzers and some captured Italian mortars fired on the tanks. They knocked out one light tank with a mortar round. They hit other tanks, but did not knock them out. The tanks withdrew, but the infantry dismounted in preparation for an assault. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

The British "out of touch" on 4 April 1941

By the middle of 4 April 1941, the commander of the 2nd Armoured Division did not know where the 3rd Armoured Brigade was located. The Australian commmander Morshead was under the impression that the commander of the 2nd Armoured Division was not that concerned about now knowing where the 3rd Armoured Brigade was. At a meeting, General Gambier-Parry said that he figured that the Germans had achieved their goal for now by taking Benghazi. He did not know how Rommel thought or operated. General O'Connor apparently agreed and wanted the 9th Australian Division to stop withdrawing. The division had two battalions on the first escarpment. A third battalion would hold a position east of Barce. They would be on the second escarpment. The British now had no idea about where the Germans and Italians were and what they were doing. They were out of contact on the ground and had lost air reconnaissance due to the units moving to the rear.

The Australians were in a precarious position. They were not able to dig in on the escarpment. They were reduced to piling stones for cover. After the meeting, General Morshead visited the 20th Australian Brigade, only to find the commander was driving to the division headquarters. The 2/17th Battalion now had transport to move. They would move to the Barce pass. He also learned that the enemy was going to attack the 2/13th Battalion at Er Regima. This is based on the acount in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 06, 2016

The 3rd Armoured Brigade at Msus early on 4 April 1941

The two squadrons of the King's Dragoon Guards led the advance of the 3rd Armoured Brigade on Msus. They drove into Msus by abour 8:30am on 4 April 1941. The 3rd Armoured Brigade continued to lose tanks to breakdown as they moved. The 6th RTR only arrived by early afternoon. Part of the problem was that they lacked water to add to tank radiators. The Italian tanks in the 6th RTR particularly were bothered by this issue. As we have previously mentioned, they found a ration dump that had not been destroyed so they were temporarily resupplied with food. The German aircraft found them, dropped bombs and a flare to mark their presence. They found that all the fuel had been destroyed even though there were no Germans present. The armored brigade second-in-command was sent out to find more fuel north of Msus.

We now hear from Cyrenaica Command. They sent a message saying that the main Axis column seemed to be heading for Benghazi. The task for the 2nd Armoured Division was to protect the flank of the 9th Australian Division. To do that, they should move to Mechili by the track from Ablar to Mechili. General O'Connor left the Cyrenaica Command headquarters to look for General Gambier-Parry and the 2nd Armoured Division headquarters. General Neame was also out from his headquarters, looking at the Wadi Cuff, which he thought would be a good position to occupy.

Both the 2nd Armoured Division and the 2nd Support Group were now at El Ablar and were close to the 9th Australian Division headquarters. Some of the support group was with the 3rd Armoured Brigade. The rest were spread out between Er Regima and El Ablar. Some more troops came through Er Regima and reported the flag of Italy now flew over Benghazi and that the Germans and Italians were in Benghazi. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

What was the truth? Rommel's orders and his situation on 3 April 1941

We think that the truth about Rommel's orders were that Hitler had ordered Rommel to go on the defensive and to not carry out any larger operations such as taking Tobruk. The 15th Panzer Division was under orders for North Africa. The High Command still did not want Rommel to make a major move in North Africa. The High Command knew information that Rommel did not, such as the plans for invading Russia. Operations were underway in Greece and there was the island of Crete to deal with. All that required air power that could not be spared to participate in extensive operations in North Africa.He seems to have lied about the orders that he received to General Gariboldi on 3 April 1941.

In any case, the demolitions carried out by the British and Australian engineers were so extensive that they brought the German advance to a halt. The participants were the 2nd Armoured Division engineers and the engineers of the 2/3rd Australian Field Company. The 5th Light Division reported that four days would be required to bring up fuel and refuel their tanks and vehicles. Rommel's reaction was to stop any movement and to have all available vehicles used to bring up "supplies and ammunition". The result was that the German advance was halted for the moment and the British were given a reprieve.

Early on 4 April 1941, the 3rd Armoured Brigade and other forces with Brigadier Rimington started to move towards Msus. Some fraction of the total were sent to El Abiar. The King's Dragoon Guards arrived at Msus by 8:30am and found food that they desperately needed. There was no sign of any Germans. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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