Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Australian troop movements at Tobruk on 2 May 1941

At Bianca, a company of the 2/24th Battalion moved up with a company of the 2/10th Battalion. They eventually withdrew, however, which was probably unfortunate. The Australian historian thought that General Morshead, the division commander, would have disapproved of the move. This was all happening on 2 May 1941 at Tobruk, inside the perimeter. The companies tended to be in positions farther back than what would have been best. You had company commanders deciding to move into what seemed to be the best defensive positions. Another factor was the troops were very tired after the late night action that had been playing out since the evening of 30 April. The 2/10th Battalion commander eventually ordered his men to advance some 700 yards. As the sky got lighter, the 2/10th Battalion found that they were mostly on reverse slopes. The advance was to occupy better defensive positions than they initially had found themselves. Three companies had moved up on a hill, which explained the 700 yard forward movement. The 2/10th Battalion commander also informed his brigade commander that the remains of the 2/24th Battalion were so tired, that he wanted to withdraw them. He would choose ground to hold that he could defend with just the 2/10th Battalion.

The 2/10th Battalion was spread over a larger distance than was desirable. They were occupying important positions, even though they were below Ras Medauuar and to that extent were vulnerable. The left of the 2/10th Battalion was held by a company of the 2/1st Pioneer Battalion. A platoon from the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers were eventually located at Bianca, to keep the enemy from moving in between the 2/10th Battalion and the Pioneers. The Fusiliers were actually in an exposed position, as the defensive front was not continuous. Before dawn, the Pioneers moved up to complete the new defensive line. Connecting to the Post R14, rather than R12. Australian anti-tank gunners thought that the Australian infantry should have moved forward about 1,500 yards from where they were located. One platoon of men moved forward with their guns, but within an hour had been overrun by the enemy and had been captured.

The operations on 2 May evolved into an "artillery duel". The Australian and enemy infantry worked at improving their defensive positions. The British artillery succeeded in breaking up enemy infantry advances. Carriers with spotters for the 1st RHA and the 104th RHA drove around the battlefield to find targets that were hit with artillery fire. The battlefield was eventually blanketed by a dust storm. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The situation at Tobruk from dark on 1 May 1941

By the end of the day on 1 May 1941, the German and Italian forces still had the breach and had consolidated their position at Medauuar. They had failed to take Bianca and consolidate that position and had totally failed at driving to the harbor and forcing a surrender. The Germans had started the day with 81 tanks, but by the end of the day had just 35 tanks running. They had 3 Pzkw I, 12 Pzkw II, 12 Pzkw III, 6 Pzkw IV, and two command tanks. However, of the rest that were damaged, only 12 were total losses. The rest could be recovered and repaired. On 2 May, there was a dust storm that made any tank operations impractical.

The British and Australian situation at Tobruk was that they had lost a portion of the perimeter and the enemy had control of Medauuar, the hill that was a prominent feature. General Morshead's plan of defense in depth while leaving the perimeter lightly defended was the reason that the enemy forces had done as well as they had. The Australians had not realized that the Germans intended to take Medauuar. Even if they had, they lacked sufficient units to effectively oppose the attack. The counter attack by the 2/48th Battalion was doomed to fail, as there had been no reconnaissance and in any case, one battalion was inadequate for the task.

The 2/10th Battalion was ordered to link Post S.8 with Bianca. They were to move out at "first light". By 6am, the battalion was moving forward. There had been no opportunity for any scouting. They were forced to move with "map and compass". They had three companies moving forward, although they lacked one platoon that had been redirected earlier. The companies were in position by 6:30am, although it is unclear where they actually were located. The 18th Brigade Headquarters and the division headquarters thought that the companies were in contact with the 2/24th Battalion's "reserve company". This would have been behind the B1 minefield. The 2/10th Battalion was actually as far as 1,500 years further back then the 2/24th Battalion's company. One man carrying a badly wounded man encountered a German motor cycle rider armed with a sub-machine gun. The motor cycle let them pass by without firing. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The German situation inside the Tobruk perimeter on 1 May 1941

Early on the morning of 1 May 1941, there was fog that hampered German operations. The attack had not achieved the initial results hoped for by Rommel. The 5th Armored Regiment had new orders early on 1 May. They were to support the attack on Medauuar by the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion and the 200th Engineers Battalion. One of the tank companies divided into two groups. The group supporting the engineers "rolled up" the right side to Post R.5. The other group was operating with the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion to take the posts near Medauuar and was able to increase the width of perimeter on the left side.

One more company from the 5th Armored Regiment was sent to take the lead on pushing to Bianca. They had the misfortune to run onto B1 minefield. Twelve of the tanks were disabled from mines, but not destroyed. The tanks were also taking British artillery fire. By now, Rommel had come to Kirchheim's headquarters and started issuing orders. He told the engineers and tanks to attack to the southeast near the perimeter wire. The Italian Ariete Armored Division moved up to take over ground taken in the attack. British artillery was making the situation difficult for the German forces, so they were not making much progress.

By noon on 1 May, the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion had taken "Point 180". The small 15th Armored Division contingent reported that they were at Point 187 at Post S.4 and were going into a defensive posture. The force attacking towards Bianca had reversed course and pulled back to the line held by German troops. A sand storm at 1pm allowed trucks to come forward to resupply the tanks. This was accomplished by 3:15pm.

General von Paulus was still checking on Rommel and his operations. He told Rommel that the attack had stalled and they would not achieve anything more by continuing. Rommel agreed and decided to stop the attack for the rest of 1 May and for 2 May as well. The plan was to increase the width of the penetration in the north and the east. The ground near Post S.7 in the north was being held, but they were not able to make progress in the east. Post R.6 only was taken by late on 1 May. Post S.7 was only taken by the morning of 2 May. A tank battle took place about 3:45pm. 22 British tanks seemed to be moving against the 2nd Machine GUn Battalion. A company of German tanks engaged the British tanks and thought that they had knocked out four of the British tanks while four German tanks took hits. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

30 April 1941 at Tobruk from the German perspecitive

As we mentioned, the attacking German force in the evening of 30 April 1941 was a composite force organized as battle groups (Kampfgruppe). There was the Kirchheim group, somewhat like an armored brigade group. They had the 81 tanks of the 5th Armored Regiment. They also had the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion close to full strength. The other infantry battalion, the 8th Machine Gun Battalion had been greatly reduced in the fighting on 14 April 1941. In addition, there were some engineers, anti-tank guns, and anti-aircraft guns. There was a small contingent from the 15th Armored Division. The bulk of their presence were motorized infantry, some engineers, and a small tank group. There were also Italian troops from the Ariete Armored Division and the Brescia Infantry Division.

This considerable force attacked the 2/24th Battalion, an Australian unit holding some five miles. The attack overran the company located in the center and platoons from the left and right companies. The reserve company was able to hold on to their defensive position. The German plan was to attack along each side of Medauuar and capture the hill from the back side. The Italians would then attack the flanks and extend the breach. The Germans would drive towards Bianca and take that, if possible. If it was not feasible, they would take an area to the "south-west". The German force then would attempt to hold the ground that they were able to capture.

Interestingly enough, there was not any Australian defenses at the Bianca area. Rommel had seen an old Italian map that showed a defensive position at Bianca, but if that had ever existed, by 30 April 1941, it was gone.

The attack started with artillery fire and dive bombing. Engineers then penetrated the perimeter on a small scale. There was definitely a breach made just north of Post S.3. There may have been another gap made near Post S.7. Tanks were used to pull away the wire. The tanks positioned themselves to shield the infantry from fire so that they could enter Tobruk past the perimeter. But an hour and a half were all that were needed to capture Medauuar. About six tanks were located on the fortress side of Medauuar. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Plans at Tobruk on 1 May 1941 after the counter-attack faltered

The counter-attack on 1 May 1941 at Tobruk by the 2/48th Battalion was unsuccessful. The battalion commander, Lt-Col. Windeyer reported to Brigadier Tovell the situation. He then spoke with Colonel Lloyd, General Morshead's Chief of Headquarters staff. He told Windeyer to move his battalion behind the point Bianca. All this was not a surprise to General Morshead, since the artillery organization had warned him about the situation. His new plan was to recreate the perimeter in the area of the penetration.

General Morshead ordered Brigadier Tovell and Colonel Verrier to meet him at the division headquarters. The intent was to plan for a "switch line" between Post S.8 and Bianca. They would also connect with Brigadier Murray's line on the east side of the breach. One battalion, the 2/23rd would occupy the existing perimeter down to Post S.8. The second battalion, the 2/48th would hold a line from Post S.8 over to the company from the 2/24th Battalion near the Blue Line (the inner defensive line). Another battalion, the 2/10th, would hold a line from the 2/24th left and the new 20th Brigade "switch line". By now, the company from the 2/24th Battalion had returned to its position. That freed up a company from the 2/48th Battalion to rejoin its battalion.

Rommel's attack on Tobruk had been in process for about 24 hours. He had pushed into Tobruk over a 3-1/2 mile arc of the perimeter. He controlled Ras el Medauuar, the highest hill in Tobruk. He had killed or captured half of the 2/24th Battalion, and due to bad communications, the Australians and British did not even know what was happening. Rommel's force had knocked out four British tanks from a very small collection of tanks. Rommel had hoped to punch through Tobruk's outer defenses and push to the harbor. After breaking through the outer defenses on the evening of 30 April 1941, the plan was to continue in the morning to Bianca and Fort Pilastrano, and push on to the harbor area. Rommel's forces were divided into battle groups that were composed from bits and pieces of various formal units. The first attackers were a battle group from the 5th Light Division on the right side and the 15th Armored Division (Panzer) on the left. The following Italian divisions included the Ariete and Brescia Divisions. The 5th Light Division battle group, the Kirchheim Group was essentially an armored brigade group. The group had "81 tanks (9 Mark I, 26 Mark II, 36 Mark III and 8 Mark IV plus 2 large commander's tanks)". The tank list is very interesting, as we can get a better idea of what German tanks were involved in the battle. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The counter-attack in the evening of 1 May 1941 by the Australians at Tobruk

One attack was made by D Company of the 2/48th Battalion. They moved along a valley north of the Acroma Road, heading west. They came under fire from posts occupied by enemy troops. Following along some six hundred yards was B Company of the 2/24th Battalion. As darkness fell, D Company was pinned down by machine gun fire from the water tower area. Lt-Col. Windeyer, the 2/48th Battalion commander, ordered B Company of the 2/24th Battalion to attack the area near the water tower. Meanwhile, D Company was trying to move forward. At this point, Post S.10 was still held by Australians, but they were being attacked by Italian soldiers. The carrier platoon had been moving forward to find the enemy machine guns, but they were stopped by anti-tank guns and fire from immobilized tanks in the minefield.

While all this was happening, A Company of the 2/48th Battalion headed for the minefield near Ras el Medauuar. As they moved, they saw six tanks approaching. They assumed that they were British until they saw the German flags. The tanks were apparently unsure of who the infantry were, so they only fired one burst in the A Company direction. as A Company neared Point 209, the tanks turned towards them and starting firing at them. One platoon had an anti-tank rifle, but they were not able to damage the tanks. The company commander sent someone back to the battalion commander to notify him that they were stopped by tanks. The company finally had to withdraw, as they had no way to fight the tanks. When General Morshead heard the recommendation that the attack be stopped until dawn, he told them that they needed to continue.

D Company of the 2/48th Battalion and B Company of the 2/24th Battalion were cooperating and were in communication. They decided to keep moving forward. The D Company commander wanted to use bayonets and charge the machine guns, but he was having trouble locating their position. The D Company commander received a mortal wound. The two battalions were going to withdraw, given their situation. To the north,

One company from the 2/23rd Battalion, attacking southward, was doing better. They reached posts S.10 and S.11 and fired on the enemy machine guns near them. They also reached Post S.8, which only had five men left. When the approached Post S.9, they found that the post was surrounded by enemy infantry. They were doing well, and took 36 Italians who had been in anti-tank ditch around the post. Post S.9 also had but five men left. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official history.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

General Morshead's plan for a counter-attack on 1 May 1941 at Tobruk

General Morshead had decided to stage a counter-attack on the German penetration of Tobruk. This was late afternoon on 1 May 1941. He met with the 26th Brigade Commander, Brigadier Tovell. He hoped to use the 2/48th Battalion to attack, once the battalion was relieved from its defensive position by the 2/10th Battalion. At the time, the 2/10th Battalion was positioned at the intersection "of the Bardia and El Adem Roads". The 20th Brigade commander, Brigadier Murray, would command the east side of the penetration. He would have the 2/9th Battalion under his command for the operation.

The 2/48th Battalion commander only received word of the plan when he returned from visiting the 2/24th Battalion headquarters. When Lt-Col. Windeyer got to speak with the general, he pointed out that his battalion was in positions miles apart. General Morshead told him that he would send "vehicles" to move the men. Even with those, the battalion would be hard-pressed to carry out the attack. The attack was to start before it got dark. Lt-Col. Windeyer asked for tank support, but General Morshead told him that the tanks would first be involved on the south side at 5pm, before they would be available.

The Australian historian's opinion of the operation was that one battalion was insufficient to recapture all the posts that the Germans had taken. The 2/48th Battalion commander's plan was to retake the area that his battalion had held before they had been relieved by the 2/24th Battalion. He had four infantry companies to use for the operation, as he had one from the 2/24th Battalion that had been supplied to him. They would attack along the Acroma Road. Only three companies would attack with one company in reserve. The counter-attack would be launched at 7:15pm.

The first thing that happened was that the promised vehicles did not arrive on time. They used vehicles from the 2/10th Battalion instead. Once the 2/48th Battalion was moving, they were attacked by German aircraft. One truck was lost and the others had to scatter. Men had to dismount from their trucks. The 2/48th Battalion was therefore late to arrive at the staring position. There was a dust storm in progress when they arrived and they were looking into the "setting sun". The artillery had fired at the planned time, which was too early for the infantry attack. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The British and Australian counter-attack on the afternoon of 1 May 1941 at Tobruk

The 2/48th Battalion had been ordered to attack the Germans that had penetrated the Tobruk perimeter. This was in the afternoon of 1 May 1941. The battalion would have tank support. The intent had been to have all the cruiser tanks from the 1str RTR, but there only the headquarters tanks and five Matilda infantry tanks from the 7th RTR. The tanks drove along the perimeter towards the Medauuar area and found Australian infantry still in possession of the nearest posts. The German force had pulled back towards Medauuar. The British tanks then drove further and found Australians still in their posts, although in some cases, men had bad wounds. After reaching post R.8, the British tanks drove further towards post R.6. again, the Australians at post R.6 still held the post. The British tanks could see four German light tanks and one German medium tank. There was a fight with the German tanks and the British commander's cruiser tank was knocked out. The crew climbed onto another tank that was still running. They drove back to post R.8. The British tanks were attacked by a larger German tank force and took more losses. Two British cruiser tanks and two infantry tanks were lost. One infantry tank had been damaged and was recovered later.

As the pioneer company from the 2/1st Pioneer Battalion arrived near posts R.8, R.9, and R.10, they found that men had moved between posts already. The men from post R.8 had pulled back to post R.10. The men from post R.9 had moved to post R.11. For now, post R.8 had been abandoned. Wounded men from Battalion 2/24th were removed. The pioneers now worked to create a switch line to create a new perimeter line to hold. At this point, the nearest German tanks moved to attack posts R.6 and R.7. R.7 was able to stay in their post, but R.6 had to surrender at 7:30pm. Post R.7 was completely cut off, but held on. The commander of the post was a corporal. By morning, the commander could see infantry massing for an attack and the post surrendered. The men were removed by the Germans and General Rommel spoke to them and wished them good luck. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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