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.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Rommel on 4 and 5 April 1941 in Cyrenaica

Rommel had decided to retake Cyrenaica without letting the higher-level commanders know what he was doing. He was very cautious after his confrontation with General Gariboldi, where Rommel lied about receiving permission. On 4 April 1941, Rommel had dispatched multiple columns heading into the British rear. A battle group of motorcycles and artillery was on the Trigh el Abd. Rommel ordered them to push forward to Ben Gania and then to Mechili. He wanted the Italian armored division, the Ariete, to follow the motor cycle unit. He had assembled another even stronger force that would also travel to Ben Gania and then cut up to the coast at Tmimi. They were destined to attack Tobruk. This battle group was commanded by Lt-Colonel Schwerin. More of the 5th Light Division was to follow Schwerin's group. My noon on 4 April, Rommel rode to Benghazi. He wanted the 3rd Reconnaissance Unit to drive to Mechili by way of Er Regima. They were to wait until they were replaced in Benghazi by the troops from the Brescia Division. The reconnaissance unit was the force that hit the 2/13th Battalion at Er Regima. They had taken tank losses in the British minefield. The Italians had warned Rommel about the Trigh el Abd. Rommel had conducted a reconnaissance of the track and had decided it was passable. The 5th Light Division force struggled on the track. They had many vehicles break down and outrun their supply line. Schwerin's group got closer to Ben Gania, but had also run out of supplies. Rommel took to the air and flew over the scene. He though some of his men were east of Ben Gania, but they were probably men from the Long Range Desert Group. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Events in Cyrenaica on 5 April 1941

The British forces were oblivious to what Rommel was planning and doing on 5 April 1941 in Cyrenaica. Lt-General Neame met with the 9th Australian Division commander on a track at about 11am. That was the first that the Australian knew about O'Connor not being in charge. For the Australian Morshead, he felt uncomfortable with the situation and wanted to be sure that when he received orders from O'Connor that they were to be obeyed. General Morshead told Neame about his defensive plans, and Neame approved of them. The 3rd Armoured Division managed to move to the El Abiar-Charruba track. The 2nd Armoured Division headquarters was on the move and drove to a position further east. The King's Dragoon Guards units that had been at Msus stayed in company with the 3rd Armoured Brigade as the brigade moved northwards. The 2nd Armoured Division headquarters was to move to Mechili. General Gambier-Parry asked for some anti-tank protection to be sent. The German air force was active and destroyed a 2nd Armoured Division supply dump. Cyrenaica Command had a problem in that they had no idea what Rommel was doing. We know now that what Rommel was doing was preparing to take Cyrenaica without his higher command learning what he was doing. His movements included sending part of the Brescia Division to Benghazi. This freed up the 3rd Reconnaissance Unit for action. Rommel intended to cut across the British rear with mobile forces. Rommel drove to Benghazi early on 5 April. He sent a strong force to Msus. They would travel by way of Antelat. The RAF had reconnaissance aircraft that spotted the Axis forces on the move and reported that to Generals Neame and O'Connor. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History. We highly recommand Barton Maugham's volume, Tobruk and El Alamein to students of the war in North Africa.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Defending the second escarpment in Cyrenaica on 5 April 1941

The commander of the 9th Australian Division, General Morshead, took responsibility for organizing the defense of the second escarpment in Cyrenaica on 5 April 1941. A composite organization consisting of most of the 2/48th Battalion had moved east on the road to Maddalena, and was guarding the pass. This was where the northern road from Barce runs up the escarpment. The 2/15th Battalion held the southern pass. This was to the east of Barce. The 2/17th Battalion set up a defensive position about three miles east of the 2/15th. The plan was for the 2/13th and 2/48th Battalions to move into positions behind the 2/48th and 2/15th Battalions. The 2/24th Battalion was to move to the Wadi Cuff. The engineers prepared demolitions to destroy the road that they had just built. The 2/13th Battalion was in position to the south of the Wadi Cuff. The 9th Australian Division was augmented by the 104th RHA, which was just added to the division. The Australians now had two British artillery regiments, the 104th RHA and the 51st Field Regiment. The Australians now also had another support group unit, the 1/KRRC. They would guard the left flank. Late on 4 April 1941, Cyrenaica Command received news of reinforcements being sent. They included part of the 11th Hussars, the reconnaissance unit of the 7th Armoured Division, the 1st RTR, the 18th Australian Brigade, and the 107th RHA. The 11th Hussars had 32 armored cars. The 1st RTR had 33 tanks. Early on 5 April, General Neame drove to visit the forward units. O'Connor was going to the Wadi Cuff to supervise the preparation of a defense. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Nothing but confusion on 4 April 1941

General Wavell had left Lt-General Neame in command in Cyrenaica, with Richard O'Connor as just an advisor. When Neame heard about the attack on the 2/13th Battalion at Er Regima, he issued orders for pulling back from the lower escarpment. This was at about 8:30pm on 4 April 1941. The 9th Australian Division was to move to the escarpment at Barce and hold that until pressed by the enemy. He ordered the 2nd Armoured Division to withdraw to Tecnis, except for the forces at Msus. The forces there were to drive north to Charruba. These orders actually just confirmed the movements already underway. The 2nd Support Group moved by desert track to avoid tying up the road. As noted by the 2/17th Battalion, the roads were congested and "choked" by vehicles moving rapidly. The 2/24th Battalion was one of the last units to learn that they were to withdraw. They had refused a ride from a transport unit because they had not been authorized to withdraw. When they saw armored vehicles approaching, they blew their demolitions. They left a rearguard and then moved to Baracca. They finally got their orders to withdraw at 11pm. The commander of the 2/13th Field Company asked for the battalion to withdraw immediately, by foot, so he could destroy the bridge from Baracca to Barce. The battalion commander only was ready to withdraw at 3:15am. They had a few vehicles, so they packed men into those and withdrew. That allowed the engineers to carry out their demolitions. The 2/24th eventually met 20 trucks and were able to unpack the men and move more comfortably. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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