Thursday, March 02, 2017

Major events in the Mediterranean and North African area from 27 April 1941

As the 22nd Guards Brigade and their Australian anti-tank guns withdrew, the German and Italian forces moved forward starting on 27 April 1941. All this was happening as the situation in Greece was at a critical stage. The navy was thoroughly occupied with withdrawing troops from Greece. All the artillery and heavy equipment was left behind. From Tobruk to the Egyptian frontier area, German and Italian forces moved forward "to the line Sidi Omar--Sidi Suleiman--and north to Musaid". They formed a defensive front and blocked the way to Halfaya Pass. They sent small groups out onto the coastal plain. The navy hoped to bombard them with a gunboat, the Aphis, but the weather was to bad for that to be possible.

Once the German and Italian forces had control of Halfaya Pass and the area surrounding it, the area to the east was more securely held. This allowed Rommel to concentrate his attention on Tobruk. The bulk of the 15th Armored Division was pulled back from the frontier. The 3rd Reconnaissance Unit stayed near the frontier along with a small group from the 15th Armored Division. The frontier area was held primarily by Italian forces. There was a battle group from the Ariete Division. There was also an infantry company from the Trento Division along with an artillery battery of 105mm guns. The main force, most of the Trento Division was located at Bardia.

By 29 April, most of the remaining troops were evacuated from Greece and shipped to Crete. Crete was going to be the next major campaign, although the prospects were bleak.

At Tobruk, the defenders expected an attack, probably from the west, although that was not certain. The Axis forces kept a distance from the defenders, so that there were no signs of where any attack might be coming. The Tobruk defenders needed air support and reconnaissance, but there was none. By 27 April, there was increased activity by Axis forces. An air raid hit the harbor as early as 6am. There were more air raids through the day. The defenders observed large numbers of enemy vehicles on the move from the south to the west. They seemed to be moving towards the usual route towards Acroma.

In the time given, over the previous week, the inner defenses had been improved. Much of these consisted of mine fields. The 26th Brigade held the 12 mile western sector. Not all of the defenses were actually held by troops. At the Wadi Sehel, the Indian cavalry regiment, the 18th Cavalry, held the perimeter defenses. They were next to the 2/23rd Battalion. They were next to the 2/48th Battalion, which had seen great success in heavy fighting. They had taken an amazing number of prisoners: 1,375 men. The 2/24th Battalion would relieve the 2/48th so that they could get some rest from the heavy action. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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