Monday, December 31, 2018

General Auchinleck in command and high-level consultation between Churchill, the Australian Government and the United States

The position established at El Alamein involved the XXX Corps Headquarters, still commanded by General Norrie, the 1st South African Division, and the 2nd Free French Brigade Group. Brigade groups were infantry brigades that were augmented at least by artillery and possibly engineers or cavalry. One major change instituted by Auchinleck was the breakdown of units into battle groups. Auchinleck and his associate, Eric Dorman-Smith, theorized that part of Rommel's success was due to his use of battle groups ("kampfgruppen"). In Auchinleck's scheme, artillery became the primary arm and infantry was relegated to defending the guns.
General Auchinleck's priority "was to keep his force intact".  He disassembled his units into battle groups, which were to operate independently between Mersa Matruh and El Alamein. Auchinleck wanted to have a mobile defense in place, but the reality was that there was a precipitous retreat to El Alamein.
The Germans attacked during the evening of 26 June 1942. The New Zealand Division (two brigades) was located at Minqar Qaim. The 21st Armored Division attacked the New Zealand Division from the east. The 15th Armored Division attacked from the west. The 90th Light Division cut the connecting road between XIII Corps and X Corps. I am sad to say that General Gott withdrawing XIII Corps and abandoning X Corps was typical of him. That left X Corps cut off in Mersa Matruh, a situation that Auchinleck had wanted to avoid. New Zealand Division was able to break out and withdraw on El Alamein. 50th Division and the 10th Indian Division broke out from Mersa Matruh the following night. In the process, the divisions took heavy losses that meant that they had to be withdrawn to "regroup".
When the Australians heard of Tobruk's fall, they were shaken. Seemiingly, all their work in 1941 to defend Tobruk had gone for nothing. Given the news of recent events in the desert left many Australians to expect to be sent back to the desert to rejoin the New Zealand Division. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Tobruk attacked as the British force collapses in June 1942

Rommel planned a quick attack to capture the Tobruk fortress. The attack by the German Africa Corps hit the southeast sector of Tobruk. They used only forty tanks with accompanying infantry. Tobruk was no longer defended by the seasoned crew that had mounted a credible defense in 1941. Instead, they had a temporary force commanded by a South African. The pre-attack softening up came with dive bombers and artillery fire. The tanks easily broke through the defense line and broke through to the defending guns. By "early afternoon" they hit the harbor with guns firing from the escapment. They had taken the harbor by evening. The garrison commander, Major-General Klopper surrendered when the defenders were totally defeated. They took some 35,000 prisoners, four "infantry brigadiers", and a tank brigade.
The Australian historian says that there were more than one hundred tanks were in the attack that captured Tobruk. Veterans of the 1941 Tobruk defense debated the defensive arrangements that had failed in 1942. Apparently, in June 1942, the enemy attacked on  broad front and the defense was too slow to bring reserves forward. The defenders were also not prepared to defend against a large tank attack. That alone was enough to succeed.
Once Tobruk fell, the Eighth Army withdrew to Mersa Matruh. Rommel continued to use infiltration tactics against the British who were not able to cope with the speed of his movements. Rommel was up on them by 25 June 1942. That forced Auchinleck's hand and he relieved General Ritchie of command and took over as Eighth Army commander. That was apparently what Mr. Churchill had wanted for some time.
X Corps had responsibility for holding Mersa Matruh. They had the 10th Indian Division and 50th Division. General Gott, now a Lieutenant-General, commanded XIII Corps. He held the left. He had the remainder of the armored divisions and a newly configured New Zealand Divisiion. They were now motroized but with just two brigades. XXX Corps was back at El Alamein, over a hundred miles away. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Officials in Britain intervene in the Middle East with bad effects in May to June 1942

In order to help Malta, the Prime Minister and his commanders in Britain ordered General Auchinleck and his commanders in the Middle East to stage an attack at Gazala before the moonless period in June 1942. The order was sent on 10 May 1941. In the event, Rommel's forces attacked on 26 May. They swept around the southern flank of the Gazala line. The British failed to respond in an effective way, but the Germans had failed to break the Gazala line after a week. The Germans had lost a third of their tanks in the process.
The Eighth Army attacked on 5 June 1942 with the aim of cutting the enemy supply line. The attack failed to achieve its goal. Rommel thought that the British were having problems and attacked. He started with Bir Hacheim in the south, occupied by the 1st Free French Brigade. The Free French were cut off for five days and had to fight their way out on 10 June.
The British held well-located strong points in front of Tobruk. The Germans attacked that defensive system on 12 June. They attacked the 7th Armoured Division, which had three armored brigades. They held an area "between the Knightsbridge and El Adem boxes."  The British were "routed" and had lost many knocked out tanks. They also left the Germans "in possession of the battlefield". That meant that the British tanks could not be recovered and repaired. The British lost more tanks on 13 June. The result was that General Ritchie needed to leave Gazala to keep his forces from being destroyed in detail.
General Auchinleck now was giving orders to Ritchie. He ordered Geneal Ritchie to "hold a line west and southwest of Tobruk through Acroma and El Adem." He was also told to keep the Germans from besieging Tobruk. Mr. Churchill, in Britain, was already anxious that they would lose Tobruk. Churchill was thinking that the Auchinleck and Ritchie might pull out of Tobruk. He did not think about the Germans sweeping into and taking Tobruk, which is what happened. The Germans were allowed to "invest" Tobruk without any effort and blocking that move. By 17 June, the 4th Armoured Brigade had been reconstituted, but was "completely defeated". Rommel then prepared to take Tobruk, at a time when they British had not way to counter his move. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The situation in the Western Desert becomes critical and Prime Minister Churchill interferes

Rommel had been reinforced with tanks that allowed him to push the British back to the Gazala line. In the process, the 1st Armoured Division lost 90 of its 150 tanks. The Gazala line was based on a minefield that extended some 45 miles to the south into the desert. The line was really based on Tobruk. There were ridges that had defensive positions prepared. The Gazala line held for about three months. The struggle to defend Malta was happening in parallel to the fighting in the desert. While the air force controlled airfields in Cyrenaica in early 1942, one convoy was run through to Malta. After that, the situation became much worse. One four-ship convoy dispatched in February lost all four ships. Another convoy was run through to Malta in March, but most ships were lost with their supplies.
While General Auchinleck must have had some idea that his army commanders in the desert were inferior, Winston Churchill was oblivious to that fact. Churchill assumed that everyone was capable and that all that was needed was a new offensive to push the enemy back. It was incomprehensible that an attack not be launched when it was so desperately needed. Therefore, Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff in Britain pressured General Auchineleck for a new offensive.
The Eighth Army commander, General Ritchie, was a fine man, but he lacked the experience needed to successfully command an offensive. General Auchinleck had the necessary experience and expertise to command the offensive, but he felt burdened by his duties as theater commander. He only took charge when everything had collapsed and the whole enterprise was about to fail. Auchinleck was the only British commander able to defeat Rommel in battle before Bernard Law Montgomery arrive on the scene. The Australian historian did not give Auchinleck credit for winning the Crusader battle, but it was his intervention that defeated the enemy forces and pushed them back to Tripolitania. Auchinleck again won a critical battle at the First Battle of El Alamein when he stopped Rommel from advancing any further into Egypt. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History and our general knowledge of the campaign.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Back to the Western Desert in June 1942

The events in Syria in early 1942 seemed like a side-show. The real action was in the Far East and in the Western Desert. The Far East had a significant effect on the situation in the Mediterranean and Middle East. Formations from the Middle East were sent to the Far East, such as the 6th and 7th Australian Divisions. From the beginning of 1942 up to April, "180 bombers and 330 fighters" were transferred to the Far East.
The facts were, for the British, were that despite winning the Crusader Battle and breaking the siege of Tobruk, they were unable to exploit that success. The reasons were the commanders that they had were inferior as were the methods that they used for employing tanks and artillery. General Auchinleck's personal involvement to some extent could overcome those issues, but they were not really solved until Bernard Law Montgomery arrived in the Middle East to command the Eighth Army. The effort required to supply and arm Malta was also a drain on resources. This primarily affected the navy and air force.
During the middle of December 1941, the Axis forces pulled back from Gazala to Agedabia. This meant that the British were able to move into Benghazi "on Christmas eve". The Guards brigade (presumably the 22nd Guards Brigade) had moved forward to "make contact" with the enemy forces by 22 December 1941. The British 1st Armoured Division moved to the west to be close to the enemy. The Axis forces responded by pulling back to Tripolitania. Early in January 1942, the small groups of Germans "at Bardia, Salum and Halfaya" were captured.
The Italian navy was able to push a convoy through to Tripoli (Libya) on 5 January 1942. The convoy brought armored vehicles and supplies that allowed Rommel to quickly attack the British. Sadly, the British were caught by surprise. Rommel was strong enough to be able to push the British forces back to the Gazala line. Gazala was reached on 6 February 1942. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Training, unrest among the Australians, and a panic in Syria

General Morshead wanted to train his Australians. When 20th Brigade was available with no other distractions, they turned to training. They were involved with battalion and brigade-level "field exercises". You can tell that this was necessary for the 20th Brigade had never had any training since the brigade had been formed 22 months earlier.
There were reports of "unrest" among the Australians. Partly, this was due to their employment in Syria while men were defending Australia at home. No mail from Australia simply aggravated the problem, because no one knew anything about what was really happening in Australia. The men were stuck in the Middle East while their wives and girlfriends were in Australia, possibly meeting American men.
The typical reaction to this sort of thing was almost a parody. They sent the A.I.F. Entertainment Unit to Syria and Lebanon. The review opened in Beirut on 10 March 1941 and played to a VIP audience, including "General Maitland Wilson, General Morshead, the President of Lebanon, the American Counsel-General (Mr. C. van Engert) and other notabilities". The show was called "All in Fun". They eventually played to all the Australian venues in Syria. They also tried showing movies almost nightly for each Australian brigade. They kept someone busy planning events to entertain the troops. They had trips to where there was snow and visited "places of historic interest". Men were allowed to take leave in Beirut and Tripoli. They did things which seem familiar, even thirty years later such as "table-tennis, chess, draughts, boxing tournaments and euchre parties".
The food situation in Syria improved since there had been a "bumper grain crop". Typically, they did not trust the local people to handle distribution, because they assumed that there would be profiteering. The military was to supervise the harvest. We see a warning, that the 9th Australian Division would be gone from Syria before the harvest happened. We suspect that was because the situation in the Western Desert was collapsing.
The cause of panic in late May 1942 was over a report of warships and large transports on the coast when there was no notice of a British convoy. The panic ensued over what was eventually acknowledged as a British convoy sailing north along the Syrian coast. No reason for panic, but they panicked over lack of information. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The food shortage in Syria and wrong-minded British command priorities

Some steps had been implemented as early as Fall of 1941 had helped the food situation. There was the "Spears' Mission wheat plan". We can understand the natural desire to hoard what is scarce. Having a political leader hoarding food, as Suleiman Murshed was thought to be doing, only aggravated the situation. The United Kingdom Convention Commissioner thought that the Alaouite leader was the best person to receive aid and distribute it, but the British military were concerned that he  might just add to his personal cache in his village. A plan was floated that had the commissioner selling wheat to the poor. The comment was that part of the problem were "wartime profiteers" that they thought should be controlled. All these issues were ready grist for the Axis propaganda mill.
Other initiatives included supplying Syrian workers involved with road and defense construction with ten pounds of flour per week. They had started this step when the men were first hired. Another step was handled by the 2/17th Battalion. They were responsible for distributing five thousand pounds of flour to the poor near Raju. The flour was supplied by the American Red Cross, after requests made by the 2/17th Battalion.
One major change happened when most of "the New Zealand Division arrived in Syria". A New Zealand brigade was sent to "the Djedeide fortress". A second brigade was sent to  Aleppo, freeing up the 20th Australian Brigade. That allowed the concentration of the 20th Brigade "around Latakia". The arrival of the New Zealand Divsion allowed the 9th Australian Division to be better concentrated. They did not have to distribute "detachments east of the Orontes River."
General Auchinleck was concerned about the lack of British strength in the north. He felt that they needed to take steps to look stronger than they really were as a preventive measure. This sort of thinking was foreign to General Morshead, who was irritated by the need to "create the illusion of strength". This is based on the account n Vol.III of the Australian Offiicial History.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

The situation in the Far East and Australia in early 1942

The Australians had temporarily kept the 9th Australian Division and some corps troops in the Middle East. The rest of the 1st Australian Corps were being sent to the Far East starting on 30 January 1942. General Lavarack, the corps comander, was sent ahead of the bulk of the corps. The men and equipment were embarked on convoys. The original plan was to send the 1st Australian Corps to Java, but the Chief of the Australian General Staff canceled the deployment to Java after the Japanese captured Singapore. The convoys were instead sent to Australia, which would sensibly be seen as a base for future attacks against the Japanese forces in the western Pacific. They really wanted to have the 9th Australian Division in Australia as soon as possible.
As was often the case, Winston Churchill had his own plans. He wanted to send the 7th Australian Division to Burma. The Australian prime minister, now Mr. Curtin, opposed the move and wanted the division in Australia. As early as 18 February 1942, the Australian government was informed that the Pacific War Council wanted the 6th Australian Division and the 9th Australian Division sbe sent to Australia, while the 7th Australian Division was wanted in Burma. They also wanted to send the 70th Division (defending Tobruk) to Burma. The Australian government was being pressured to send forces to Burma, but General Sturdee and Mr. Curtin opposed the move. The British then raised the stakes, offering to send an American division to Australia, if they would agree to the diversion to Burma. The Australians were still opposed to such a step. Winston Churchill was very upset that the Australians opposed his plan. To try to appease Churchill, Mr. Curtin offered to send to 6th Australian Division brigades to Ceylon. That was offered with the condition that the 9th Australian Division be returned to Australia "as soon as possible". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Big changes for Australians in the Middle East from February 1942

The enemy was busy spreading rumors about Turkey and the Syrian coast. The British had heard about the possible German attack through Turkey from sources in the Balkans. Italians in Greece were also heard talking about "small-scale raids on the Syrian coast". The British believed that the main Axis effort was being spent on preparing for a new attack  in Western Cyrenaica. The rumors were sufficient to cause the 26th Brigade to have to supply a "mobile group" with an infantry company, a carrier section, and a machine-gun platoon. They had to be ready to respond with thirty minutes notice. In addition, they had to provide additional strength at the Tripoli port and at Chakka.
Australian security at the Turkish border were preventing couriers with letters from crossing into Syria. There were also deserters from the Turkish army. There was also constant attempts to smuggle items such as sheepskins. They were thought to be intended for the Germans in Russia.
22 February 1942 saw a big Australian milestone. General Blamey informed General Morshead that he was leaving the Middle East for Australia. It turns out that he also had his wife there with hem. Morshead was promoted to Lieutenant-General and "would become G.O.C., A.I.F. (Middle East). They had met in Cairo to talk about the future plans. General Morshead still had his smaller concerns to deal with. He complained to General Wilson that he needed three brigades to adequately defend Tripoli. General Morshead was then called back to Cairo for a three day meeting with General Blamey. He also spent time with ceremony regarding General Blamey's leaving the Middle East. Attendees included General  Auchinleck, General Freyberg and his wife, He wished General Blamey and his wife farewell when they flew from Cairo airport to South Africa on 7 March 1942. Because of security concerns, the general announcement about General Morshead's promotion was not made for three weeks. There were still 45,000 Australians in the Middle East at that date, but some ten thousand were due to leave for Australia. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The 9th Australian Division in February 1942 in Syria

February 1942 had better weather than January had. There was one day of "torrential rain", but that was just in the 2/13th Battalion area. The temperature grew warmer towards the end of the month. The men were hearing news about the war in the Far East. The Japanese army was advancing and there was "the air raid against Darwin". There had also been a rumor of Sydney being bombed, but that was false. The Australians wondered if they should be "at home" rather than in Syria.
The Free French forces were also in  Syria, but the ordinary soldiers did not meet them. Only commanders had contact. The British had hoped for contact with Turkish troops on the frontier, but that did not happen during the day. At night, they were "friendly and eager" to have some Australian tea.
One concern was the behavior of Australian soldiers during the occupation of Syria. General Morshead had tight control of how the men were dressed and how they behaved. "Leave" followed tight rules. Most of the men naturally were well-behaved. Esprit d'Corps was usually enough to keep men in line. Senior officers in the division staff were kept informed about how things were handled.
The Australians in Tripoli had set a good enough example that the civilians became friendly with them. The situation had improved enough that the string of complaints about Australians coming from "General Auchinleck, General Maitland Wilson and the Spears Mission" had stopped. The main problems became men visiting villages that were prohibited and later by selling "government property" for cash.
The men were more enthusiastic about training than they were about digging defenses at Tripoli. Some useful unit training occurred during the three days a week set aside for such exercises. Men were able to fire their weapons and were acquainted with "wire crushing" and the "spigot anti-tank mortar". The 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment "received 32 guns".  They created a range where they could practice shooting at targets. One feature of February is that small  groups were sent back to Australia to training replacement troops. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The British get their way on 4 February 1941 in Egypt and then back to Syria

The cadets from the Officer Candidate Training Unit were informed about the ultimatum given to the Egyptian government and were sent to the palace of King Farouk. They arrived before 9pm and were formed up in parade. The Egyptian royal guard presented arms in response. The British ambassador arrived after 9pm and went to speak to the king. He was there for about 15 minutes and then left. After he left, Nahas Pasha was asked to form a government. He did accept the request, although he wrote a letter for the British ambassador saying that neither the treaty between Egypt and Great Britain nor the fact of Egypt being a sovereign nation should allow the British to force political changes in Egypt. The British agreed that they would treat Egypt as a valuable ally and enter into a collaboration with them. This calmed the political situation. Elections were held that approved of the agreement, although the political opposition disliked the deal. The whole incident was kept secret until after the end of the war. The incident was one of many reasons that ended the British military occupation of Egypt after the war.
Back to Syria, in early February 1942, General Morshead traveled the 20th Brigade area for five days, seeing the situation for himself. He disliked having the 20th Brigade at Aleppo, as it seemed exposed and that they would not be able to withdraw. He remembered his experience in 1941 in the withdrawal from western Cyrenaica into Tobruk. In addition, 20th Brigade was considered to be the 9th Australian Division reserve. He thought that is they really would have six weeks warning, they should blow demolitions immediately. He was also skeptical about how long the air force would use the "covering landing grounds". He thought that they would almost immediately abandon them, leaving 20th Brigade with air cover.
General Morshead was also unhappy with the emphasis on building defenses at the expense of training. The Australians had previously been permitted to traing for three days a week and then build defenses for three days. General Morshead objected to the situation and General Wilson, 9th Army Commander, agreed that training was important. They agreed that they could hire civilians to dig so that Australians could train. Another problem was equipment for the 9th Australian Division. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Tobruk-style defense positions at Tripoli and unrest in Egypt in February 1942

Men from the 2/24th Battalion were located in positions in a curved line that lay on Azge, Kafr, and Aya-Khlaisse. Men from the 2/48th Battalion were "on the plateau behind them". Tobruk veterans immediately recognized that the positions around Tripoli reminded them of Tobruk. They had learned a great deal from their Tobruk experience and used that to improve the Tripoli defenses. Some positions were moved and overall, they used Tobruk-style positions rather than the traditional type.
A Middle-East Officer Cadet Training Unit was maintained in Egypt for the use of British and Commonwealth units. In February 1942, the Australians had men attending the training. They had some additional duties that occurred spontaneously that were not part of the officer training course. The political situation in Egypt deteriorated suddenly. Egypt had a king, Farouk, who was just 22 years old in February 1942. He was considered to have "pro-Italian sympathies". Egypt had a parliament and a prime minister, Sirry Pasha. He had been loyal to the occupying British. In late December 1941, the finance minister resigned. Sirry Pasha resigned on 2 February 1942. There had been "student demonstrations" thought to have been inspired by King Farouk.
The British were aware of the progression of events and had moved a composite brigade into Cairo. The brigade was composed of British, New Zealand, and South African troops. On 3 February, the British ambassador  visited King Farouk and told him that the British wanted him to appoint Nahas Pasha as prime minister. Nahas Pasha was "leader of the Wafdists, the anti-British party". King Farouk did not immediately make the move.
At the officer candidate academy, the men had been practicing with "mobile battle-column tactics, with tanks". Eventually, the  men were told to have live ammunition ready. "At midday" on 4 February, the British ambassador gave King Farouk an ultimatum. The ultimatum was to expire at 8pm on 4 February. Before that time, "the mixed brigade surrounded the palace." At 8:30pm, the officer candidates were assembled and were sent "to the palace to force the issue". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The 9th Australian Division taking over Syria in January 1941

Since the Tripoli fortress was so important, as we mentioned, two brigades were in residence. The brigades were the 24th and 26th. The 24th was to the "right" or east, we would think. The 24th Brigade was in French-built winter quarters in Tripoli. They did send small groups of section-size forward to the defenses. The 28th Battalion had replaced the 2/14th Battalion near Srar. They had one company extended out of support reach, 24 miles away. They had one company in reserve. The men sent out had to travel by "pack-mules", because there were only tracks made more difficult by constant rain. The tracks were incompatible with vehicles, so that was the only option.
One battalion, the 2/43rd, was located at Arbe. They were to the left of the 2/28th Battalion. By "to the left", they must have meant if you were looking at a map, with the north at the top, left would have been to the west. The 2/43rd were sitting on the slope of the Jebel rtourbol. They were near Kafr Aya, and had a goarge between them and the 2/28th Battalion. The third battalion was held in reserve at El Ayoun. They were also responsible for security for the 24th Brigade.
The 26th Brigade was to hold the coast. They were in the Legoult Barracks, which also held the 2/48th Battalion. The 2/23rd Battalion was housed in the Beit Ghanein Barracks. The battalions were still obligated to send patrols to the forward lines to work on improving the defenses. This travel had to be made on foot. That mean that two to three  hours a day were lost in travel time. This was made necessary by the lack of tents. Once tents became avaiable, men camped near the forward area, saving travel time. The 2/24th Battalion was already living in tents "in the foothills east of Madjlaya. They eventually sent two companies to postions on an arc on the eastern and northeastern "slopes of the Jebel Tourbol". The defenses near Tripoli started to remind the Australians of the defenses that surrounded Tobruk. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The situation in Syria in January 1942

With the 20th Brigade Headquarters located in Aleppo, there were also the brigade administrative units. In addition, the 2/15th Battalion had a substantial presence in the barracks at Aleppo Idlib, but was also scattered among three frontier posts. The 2/13th Battalion, which had remained at Tobruk when the other Australians had left, was situated at Latakia. Latakia is about 100 miles distant but was more when you had to travel by road. Latakia put the battalion in a position to block the coast road from Turkey. The 2/13th headquarters and two companies were located near the town. One company was initially put at Bedriye, a village some 40 miles northeast of Latakia. Another company was put a Kassab in the mountains. The two companies were eventually pulled "back to Latakia for training". One platoon was left at Kassab "for show."
Unit commanders were kept busy conducting reconnaissance. That was true down to the platoon leader level. The Australians were interested in learning about the country and the people with their "customs and the novel and sometimes quaint styles of dress". The Australians had good relations with the people. The inhabitants of Afrine were Kurds, and like today, they cooperated with the soldiers.
Unlike Tobruk, the men had very little work to do on contructing defenses. 20th Brigade wanted to concentrate on training, although winter storms and weather in January in Syria impeded training. Storms hit the Syrian coast during the last week of January. Two ships had run ashore at Latakia in the storms. The 2/13th Battalion had huts and tents blown down. 27 January saw a snow storm that made travel difficult and they were unable to travel to the posts on the frontier, except for the groups near the railroad. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Turkey and the MIddle East in late 1941 and early 1942

Turkey was a concern to the British due to their central location and the possible threat of a German attack into the Middle East. Such an attack might come through Turkey. Turkey was considered unable to stop a German attack through their country. The Turkish army was largely equipped with archaic weapons. The British were supplying them with weapons and equipment to improve the situation. Turkey was also concerned about making any commitments to foreign governments. Both Germany and Britain might pose risks to Turkish independence. Turkey was attempting to maintain neutrality in the war, to keep from being drawn into the conflict. You could imagine Germany conquering Turkey while you could imagine the Britain trying to colonize Turkey.
The British were in such a precarious position that all they could do is hope that Germany did not attack from the north. There were natural barriers in the form of mountains and the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. All these issues were on General Auchinleck's mind. At times, we have thought that he spent more time considering how to deal with an attack from the north than was wise, as the risk seems pretty low from our distant perspective.
Ninth Army had responsibility for defending agsinst an attack from the north. They planned for a defense that did not include moving into Turkey. They would simply fight "delaying actions" along the border with Turkey and Syria. They would depend on "fortresses" in Lebanon and Palestine. General Blamey strongly disagreed with what was planned. The I Australian Corps was to be responsible for constructing fortresses at "Tripoli and Djedeide". They were also responsible for defensive demolitions in front of an attacking enemy.
With the 9th Australian Division now occupying Syria, the 20th Brigade had inherited the responsibility for defending the Syrian border with Turkey. They would also have to fight a delaying battle while falling back on the fortress at Tripoli. The 20th Brigade, because of how responsibilities fell, was stretched across 100 miles, not counting the small detachments holding villages. 20th Brigade was supported by the 9th Australian Divisional Cavalry. They were based in Aleppo. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

The move to Syria in January 1942

Teams of men left Palestine for Syria on 9 January 1942. The main bodies of units left Palestine starting on 11 January and kept leaving until 18 January. The trips were through very cold, winter weather. They convoys carried men in open trucks, so that they were exposed to the cold. They drove north along the coast road, first to Tripoli. The mountains could be seen in the distance with snow on the peaks.
The 20th Brigade was first to move north. The 2/17th Battalion arrived at Tripoli on 13 January. They immediately continued onwards to Afrine. Afrine was about 20 miles north-northwest of Aleppo. The 2/13th Battalion drove to Latakia as well as "two frontier outposts". Their fellow battalion, the 2/15th, arrived the day after the 2/13th. There was a barracks for them at Idlib, as well some "tin huts". Two of the companies ended up traveling to Aleppo, where the 20th Brigade headquarters was located.
Components of the 24th Brigade came to Tripoli on 15 and 16 January 1942. They put the brigade headquarters at Madjlaya. The 9th Division headquarters was established in Tripoli on 16 January 1942. Brigadier Tovell was temporarily commanding the division. General Morshead was absent, as he was visiting I Australian Corps at Aley. He stayed until General Lavarack traveled to Lake Tiberius to travel by flying boat to the Far East on 19 January. General Morshead was acting as corps commander and traveled to Broumane to 9th Army Headquarters.
The rest of the 9th Australian Division arrived at Tripoli. This was the 26th Brigade, which came to Tripoli on 18 and 19 January 1942. Most of the aritllery also arrived in the area with other division-level units.
The British took Syria to prevent the Germans from pushing between Turkey and Palestine. The British were still concerned about a possible German attack by way of Turkey. The Russian successes in couter-attacking the Germans during the winter helped to ease the concerns, but they were still present. Winston Churchill wrote to President Roosevelt to present his views of the situation. He wrote the paper in December 1941. Churchill's summary said that while there was still a German threat against the Middle East oil fields, that the threat was diminished. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Plans made an overcome by events in December 1941

The British army had suffered in the process of raising the seige of Tobruk. The cost had been very far beyond what had been expected. The Eighth Army was even short of infantry divisions. 9th Army had requested on 10 December a division for the GHQ Reserve in the Nile Delta. 9th Army wanted the 7th Australian Division that was currently in Syria. They wanted to replace the 7th Australian Division with the 9th Australian Division in Syria. General Blamey objected due to the 9th Australian Division never being trained prior to being sent into action in early 1941. The immediate issue was solved because General Freyberg wanted the New Zealand Division to be sent to Syria.
The new situation in the Far East was going to affect the future employment of the Australian infantry divisions. Just on 7 December, the Japanese had landed troops in Thailand, Malaya, and had attacked the United States at "Pearl Harbor, Wake Island, Guam", They also had attacked Hong Kong and Ocean Island. In another two weeks, the Japanese had taken the north of Malaya and had landed in Borneo. They soon would capture Hong Kong and had invaded the Philippines. By 21 December, the Middle East expected to be ordered to send reinforcements to the Far East. 7th Australian Division would be kept in Syria for now. In about a week, the 7th Australian Division was to go to Gaza for "training" while the 9th Australian Division would be sent to Syria, with General Blamey accepting the move.
In early 1942, the British Government sent a message to the Australian Government suggesting that two Australian Divisions should return to the Far East. By 6 January 1942, the Australian Government had agreed with the proposed move. By 7 January, the British issued orders for the 9th Australian Division to relieve the Australian Division in Syria.
The 9th Australian Division would assume responsibility for a large section of northern Syria. This was a some 1,200 square mile area. The area was adjacent to Turkey. The 20th Brigade would move to the area near the Turkish border. The 24th Brigade would move to Madjlaya. This was three miles to the southeast from Tripoli. The 26th Brigade would actually move into Tripoli. Part of the deal would involve sending independent battalions off to remote locations. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Life after Tobruk in the lands east of Cyrenaica from September 1941

Then the units of the 9th Australian Division were withdrawn from Tobruk by sea, they were taken by minlayer and destroyer to the harbor at Alexandria. They had a short stay and then were sent by train to Palestine to the AIF base. The first units arrived in late September 1941. Except for the 2/13th Battalion, which stayed in Tobruk, the rest were the 24th Brigade and supporting units. The other brigades arrived in October, with the 26th arriving prior to the 20th Brigade. General Morshead arrived at the end of October.
The Australians were eased into their new situation. They immediately were given two days off with no responsibilities. They also received treats sent from Australia. After that break, they were put back into a normal routine. After being in Tobruk for so long, the units were re-equipped and prepared for training. One of the benefits of their location is that they were often given day leave to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They also got longer leave to Haifa. Those who rated, got leave in Cairo.
Shortly after arriving, General Morshead got a tour of Syria. After that, he went to the Nile Delta and then onto Kenya for a month of leave. The general met with Brigadier Murray and representatives of the rest of the division, except for the 2/13th Battalion, newly arrived from Tobruk. While Morshead was in Cairo, he received a medal from General Sikorski, the Polish Prime Minister in exile. The Australian 26th Brigade supplied a band and honor guard.
Because Axis agents were thought to be trying to start trouble in Palestine, the British command decided to start sending patrols to villages. The Ausralians were ordered to send those patrols to Gaza. These were being done for propaganda purposes, to show that there really were strong untis in Palestine. They would hold parades in the center of towns with a band playing music. The patrols were either a company or even half a battalion. They would meet with the local officials to get permission to hold the parade.
The 9th Australian Division sent one company to guard the 9th Army Headquarters in Broumane, Syria. This was the first of many guard requests to which they needed to respond. That had a major effect on training for the division. General Morshead eventually met with General Lavarack and asked if the guards could be provided by "base troops". General Lavarack commanded I Australian Corps. With that settled, 9th Australian Division was able to concentrate on training, their new mission. When the men were not training, they took part in sports. The Australians sent three crews to a regarra in Tel Aviv that included "Jewish and Paletstinian Plice crews." 20th Brigade provided some hockey teams that competed with RAF teams at various gases.
The 2/13th Battalion only arrived in Palestine on 20 December 1941. They had planned to give them a lavish welcome, but their train arrived late, so that didn't happen. The 9th Australian Division had been receiving regular reinforcements, so the division was close to full strength. They got their cavalry regiment back as well as the 2/8th FIeld Regiment. The 2/7ty Field Regiment was still absent, sitting ate the artillery school in Cairo. Except for 2/7th Field Company, their engineers were still in Syria. Brigade anti-tank companies were disbanded and two were combined into the 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment. One company were metged into 4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 29, 2018

The situation from December 1941 until January 1942

The Japanese attacks on 7 December and 8 December 1941 had a profound effect on the situation in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Not the least of the effects were in the naval sphere. On land, the British were not as well-led as the Germans. Strange as it seems, the advance to the west was to be led by General Godwin-Austen and the XIII Corps. The enemy forces on the Egyptian frontier were to be reduced by the mobile XXX Corps commanded by General Norrie. The British were not very rushed to pursue the enemy forces. If Rommel had been in there place, he would have pushed very hard in pursuit. The 5th New Zealand Brigade, without General Freyberg's input, was brought to the front to lead the attack with the 1st RHA and the 32nd Army Tank Brigade. The New Zealand brigade arrived at Gazala on 13 December. They were put on the right of the line. The Polish Carpathian Brigade was to their left, in the center of the British line. When the 5th Indian Brigade arrived, they were sent to Bir en Naghia. The 7th Indian Brigade was put on the left of the line at Gazala. General Gott never wanted to engage the Germans. He wanted to outflank them or threaten them, but not fight them. The German armored forces were very ready to attack and fight, despite their weakened state. 13 December saw a German armor attack on the 17th Indian Brigade, in which some artillery was overrun in the attack.
There was a serious argument between General Godwin-Austen and General Gott. General Godwin-Austen wanted the British armor to attack and destroy the German armor. Gott did noto want to risk fighting. He seems to have little faith in the British cruiser and light tanks to stand up to German armor in serious combat. General Gott was able to not do any more than maneuver his tanks. An attack was planned at Gazala for 15 December 1941. The infantry units would make a 'frontal attack" at Gazala. The British armor would make a flanking move around the left end of the line. The attack by the New Zealand brigade and the Polish brigade succeeded. The enemy could still cause casualties, as southwest of Alam Hamza, they overran the 1/Buffs. The 4th Armoured Brigade ended up in Bir el Eleba. General Godwin-Austen still pushed for a fight by British armor. We still believe that General Gott and Alex Gatehouse lacked confidence in their ability to fight the Germans. The only equipment that they had that was very effective were the American-built M3 Stuart light tanks. With their governors removed they could reach 40 mph. They were lightly armed, however. On 16 December, Gatehouse requested and received permission to send his tanks against the enemy rear areas, which caused considerable panic. Brigadier Gatehouse's moves caused Rommel to withdraw to Western Cyrenaica. He had seen the 7th Support Group moving towards Tengender, which was enough for Rommel. But while the British had held onto their armored forces, so had the Germans.
With the British advance to the west, the RAF was able to occupy airfields, including at Mechili. The situation was in flux, however, as Fliegerkorps II was moving into the theater. The Germans were also actively pursuing a anti-shipping campaign with their submarine force. The British were able to sink three German submarines in November and December. The submarines were seeing success against shipping supplying Tobruk. The British fleet at Alexandria was suffering losses. They included cruisers and destroyers. The worst thing happened when Italian under water demoliatin forces were able to damage the battleships Valiant and Queen Elizabeth. At the same time, Australian had to pull ships back into their home waters to fight the Japanese. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

2/13th Battalion in transition from 10 December 1941

From 10 December 1941, the situation for the 2/13th Battalion got much better. There were fewer restrictions. They no longer had to report shelling and situation. They no longer had limits on lights. They now had time to talk and could visit "their patrol objectives". Just when they were getting comfortable, late in the day on 13 December, they received advance word about having to leave Tobruk. The higher authorities wanted the battalion to leave "at first light on 15th December". They were needed to take 1,500 prisoners of war to Egypt. At 3pm on 14 December, they were in parade formation so that General Scobie could wish the battalion farewell. The reality was that only "officesr and NCO's were allowed to attend. There was always a concern about creating target for air attack. That meant that the numbers present were rather small, but "impressive". General Scobie wanted to not just wish farewell to the battalion but to complement the men of the 9th Australian Division for their defense of Tobruk. He mentioned the circumstances surrounding the 2/13th Battalions involvement after the division had left and had spoken about their "brilliant and masterful" counterattack and expressed sorrow over their colonel's being wounded. While the general spoke, a message arrived canceling the battalion's move.

In fact, they left Tobruk at 7:30am on 16 December 1941. They left by way of the El Adem Road. They went to a place on the escarpment south of El Adem. After that, they crossed the "recent battlefield." They drove to a gap in the Egyptian frontier wire at K62 by 4:15pm. Lieutenant Martin did the navigation for the convoy and he got them right to the exact spot needed. They unloaded and rested until the next day, when they traveled to the rail head. Right after 9am on  18 December, the men boarded the train, some 30 men to a "goods van". Some 60 hours later, they reached Palestine. While the 2/13th Battalion had stayed at Tobruk under General Scobie's command, the battalion had 39 men killed and 36 men wounded.
The Australians sat out the next six months or so. They had missed the fall of Fortress Tobruk to Rommel. The time spent waiting was pretty unproductive. Tobruk and Bardia were not particularly important by themselves. They had been developed by the Italians to product their "prosperous Italian colony."  They Italian Supreme Command agreed to lift the siege of Tobruk, but expressed a desire to hold the western part of Cyrenaica. They suggested trying to hold from Benghazi to the west. They wanted to see a force holding Adgedabia. General Bastico agreed with the concepts and discussed with Rommel holding a line at Gazala, that they would develop. The 90th Light Division was pulled back to Adgedabia. At the same time, about 8 December, the Brescia and Trento Divisions were withdrawn from Tobruk.
By the morning of 8 December, the British could see that they enemy were in a general retreat. General Norrie ordered the 7th Armoured DIvision to the area south of Acroma that was eventually called Knightsbridge. He also ordered the 4th Indian Divsion to push west from El Adem. The 4th Indian Division met the advance guard of the 70th Division on 10 December. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Big changes affect the fighting in North Africa 7-8 December 1941

Events happened to overlap in such a way that sorting dates out is rather difficult. It was apparently the night of 7-8 December 1941 when the attack had been planned against Bir el Azazi. Due to delays, the operation was eventually canceled. A patrol from the 2/Queens had moved against outpost Queen (in the past this had been called Bondi). The attack against the Queens outpost had been repelled. They had lost nine men in the process.
The original plan had been for the 2/13th Battalion to attack Bir el Azazi while the force moving to El Adem passed by. This was on the left flank of the Italian Trento Division. The 23rd Brigade push started at 8:30pm. The 1/Durham Light Infantry would move to Point 157. The 4/Border would then move past and take Point 162. The operation went smoothly until the 1/Durham Light Infantry had traveled about 5,000 yards and had encountered a rearguard of the Pavia Division. The Italians had fought hard, but where taken after midnight, thanks to the presence of 32nd Army Tank Brigade infantry tanks. They took some 150 prisoners, but lost "11 killed and 25 wounded." The 4/Border Battalion had moved forward to Point 162 and took the position. Soldiers from the Tobruk garrison had been responsible for breaking open the enemy positions. XXX Corps had drawn enemy mechanized forces away from Tobruk, allowing the successful operation to proceed.
Events on the night of 7 to 8 December 1941 were very important. General Auchinleck considered that the siege of Tobruk had been "lifted" on 7 December 1941. That was also concurrent with Rommel's decision to withdraw his army back to Gazala. By morning of 8 December 1941, the strategic situation had been radically changed, as there had been the attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor  The British were also attacked in the Far East. Fairly quickly, the battlehip Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser Repulse were both sunk by landbased aircraft. The immediate effect in the Middle East was that the Briish supply situation deteriorated.
8 December 1941 at dawn saw the 70th Division spread out thinly. General Scobie did not know at that point that the enemy forces were in retreat. He had heard that there were strong forces holding El Adem. Despite his concerns, he believed that the best course of action to continue attacking the enemy. During the day on 8 December and that night, they concentrated on clearing the road to El Adem. On the next day, General Scobie heard that the 5th New Zealand Brigade would be moving along the bypass road. General Scobie sent the 2/Leicestershire Battalion to Point 156. That way, the New Zealand brigade would be able to get a good look at the terrain that they were to move across. At Point 156, they made contact with the 7th Indian Brigade. The night of 9-10 December, 70gh Division took the Medauuar salient. The morning of 10 December saw the Polish Cavalry Regiment moving along on the Derna Road. At noon, Acroma as captured.
The Australians of the 2/13th Battalion only had a minor role in these operations. Later on 9 December, they were to occupy and defend from posts R7 to R40. Early on 10 December, they were assigned a former enemy position at Bir el Carmusa. Then on 11 December they were reassigned to the "Twin Poles" area. This was during the day when it was light. This si based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A new situation near Tobruk from 6 December 1941 onwards

The German Africa Corps was able to successfully disengage from the British and start the drive back to Gazala. The Germans did not expect that the disengagement would happen incident, but it did proceed smoothly. During the afternoon of 7 December 1941 (a pivotal date), General Ritchie ordered XIII Corps to push towards El Adem, regardless of what XXX Corps did. From the day before, early in the day, armored cars drove out to clear the Bardia Road road block. British infantry moved into the abandoned strong points Freddie and Walter. Patrols were sent out to the southeast to the vicinity of Bu Amud. General Scobie was getting anxious about the lack of activity and information. He felt like the enemy was escaping when they could be pursuing them.
During the afternoon on 6 December, men of the King's Dragoon Guards and the 11th Hussars met near Ed Duda. There was also a meeting between Major Loder-Symonds and Brigadier Jock Campbell, the 7th Support Group commander. Major Loder-Symonds' battery coordinate firing with the "support group column". A jock column, Wilson column made contact with the New Zealand dressing station that lay near Point 175. The dressing station had come under control of the enemy forces and only now was freed. After darkness fell, a 2nd South African Division column arrived from Menastir by driving along the coastal road.
A directove decreed tjat tje 70th Division and the 2nd South African Division were responsible for collecting enemy stragglers. The area that they would be working was from the coast to the desert betweeen Bardia and Tobruk. The 70th Division would be working from Gambut west while the South Africans would work Gambut to the east.During the morning of 7 December, General Scobie dispatched a column to search the area between Tobruk and Gambut. They returned to Tobruk by 6pm. They had seen a lot and had taken some fifty prisoners. Other small groups were also sent out to look for salvageable equipement and anything else that would be useful. One thing that was particularly interesting was that they had found the gun that they had called "Bardia Bill". The gun was intact and they had bagged a German master gunner. The gunner had wanted to stay with his gun. XIII Corps found that XXX Corps did not intend to push to El Adem, so the decision was made to use 70th Division to carry out the operation.
Back on the night of 5 to 6 December, the 2/13th Battalion had patrols out. They found that there was still enemy forces in Bir el Azazi. Early on 6 December, they had seen enemy movements behind the strong point. They had planned to attack that night, with tanks, even. The operation was canceled before anything happened. British artillery still fired into the rear of BIr el Azizi. They enemy responded by firing on the 2/13th Posotions. That was what they usually expected from the enemy. Another order came through requiring an attack that night. They were somewhat wary, because they had a bad history of trying to attack strong point Plonk (apparently at this location). The start line was defined ontime, but nothing else happened smoothly. The tranportation arrive late and there was not enough of it. Infantry and tanks were late arriving. At 9pm, despite that, artillery and machine guns opened fire. The tanks still were not there, so thet attack was postponed twice. A series of problems caused the attack to not happen. By midday the next day,, a patrol found that the enemy had pulled out from the strong point. That saved them from having to attack. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 15, 2018

From 5 December 1941 with Rommel and events unfolding

The Italian High Command sent a staff officer to inform Rommel and General Bastico that supplies from 5 December 1941 to the end of the year would be very limited. The plan was to only send fuel, food, and medical supplies. Rommel only saw the officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Montezemolo a day later. Rommel, however, very likely had already been informed. Another major event was that Hitler was sending an "air fleet and defences" to the area to achieve air superiority and to protect shipping to North Africa. Rommel was thinking of a temporary withdrawal but with the prospect of a rebound in the new year.
Rommel then recalled the forces that had been sent to the frontier. They included the German Africa Corps and the Italian mechanized corps. The recall gave the 5th New Zealand Brigade a reprieve. The 90th Light Division was ordered back to the Ed Duda-Belhamed-Bir Salem area. The Italian Bologna Division was ordered to withdraw from the east during the night. Early on 5 December saw the two German armored divisions were in one case, three miles west of Ed Duda and the other was five miles west of El Adem.
By then, the German armor had been reduced to a total of fifty tanks. To take any action, they needed support from the Italian Ariete Division and Trieste Division. They were to move near Gubi and then attack British supply dumps. Rommel would have liked to move quickly, but the Italians were not able to respond very fast. Rommel lost patience and sent German divisions to El Gubi. In the process, they overran the 11th Indian Brigade. General Gott's usual operations allowed the 4th Amoured Brigade to leaguer 70 miles away, where they could rest undisturbed.
The XXX Corps attack on El Adem had to be postponed. The units in the vicinity of El Gubi were in a state of confusion. That applied to both German and British untis. They had been able to start to reorgamze the remnants of the 11th Indian Brigade, which was then withdrawn. The Germans followed them, moving towards the 2nd Guards Brigade. They were saved from being overrun when Rommel sent them a message ordering them to change over to a defensive posture. The British 4th Armoured Brigade was now close, northeast of El Gubi. They had set up a defensive position where they sat. They had an armored car screen out to provide warning. One thing that happened was that General Neumann-Silkow was fatally wounded. He had been the 15th Armored Division commander. The Germans and Italians were suffering under increased attack by British air and artillery.
Early on 7 December, General Ritchie had ordered XXX Corps to advance as soon as they could move. General Norrie should inform General Godwin-Austen of the plans. By now, General Gott was feeling cautious and told General Norrie that he thought that the Germans were firming up. General Norrie decided to sit still. Rommel was visiting the German Africa Corps headquarters early on 7 December. He told them that if they could not beat the British on the 7th, they would have to pull back to the Gazala area. Rommel did not make any plans to fight and instead, after dark, was going to pull back from the British and withdraw. Supply columns were actually withdrawn starting in the afternoon. As usual, at night on 7 to 8 December, the 4th Armoured Brigade set up a night leaguer southeast of El Gubi. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Major developments from 4-5 December 1941 near Tobruk

A plan was proposed for the 2/13th Battalion to send a patrol to Outpost Plonk. If the enemy withdrew, they would set up an observation post. Outpost Bondi (also called Queen) was planned to be raided by another battalion. The 2/13th Battalion commander, now Major Colvin, had plans to use carrier platoons to strengthen the force  Before anything could actually happen, the brigade commander canceled the operations at 7:30pm.
The situation was changing. For example, the enemy forces that had been attacking Ed Duda had withdrawn and the enemy defenses near Ed Duda were abandoned. Reports came in that indicated that there was major movement of enemy forces from the east heading west. Tobruk sent out a group with anti-tank guns and machine guns to the Trigh Capuzzo. They fired on enemy columns driving west. There was a bottleneck between Ed Duda and the "next escarpment". Approaching columns were engaged and the situation got very tense, such that enemy attempting to pass through were "thrown into confusion."
23rd Brigade took command of all forces at Ed Duda. They were talking about assembling a battle group during the night to be ready to move west towards El Adem. As darkness approached, a Polish anti-tank gun group arrived. They reported that many outposts had been abandoned by the enemy. The local commanders responded by sending out patrols to occupy the empty outposts. Another disruption of plans occurred when XIII Corps canceled the advance to El Adem. The enemy withdrawal had caused the XXX Corps attack to be canceled.
From the German perspective, we learn that by morning on 4 December 1941, the Germans were going to push the east and destroy the British forces on the Egyptian frontier. They were also going to attack Ed Duda. Almost immediately, the attack on Ed Duda ran into trouble. There were four battle groups attacking Ed Duda. Mickl Group attacked from the west. Engineers from the 200th and 900th Engineer Battalions attacked from the south. The 8th Machine Gun Battalion attacked from the southeast. 90th Light Division infantry attacked from the east. The attacks were not made in concert and the only gains at all were those from the 8th Machine Gun Battalion. While the attacks on Ed Duda happened a British Jock Column raided and captured anti-tank guns and made prisoners.
Events of 5 December 1941 were remarkable. On the morning of 5 December, Rommel hoped to break the extension from Tobruk to Ed Duda and then push to Sidi Omar. By evening, Rommel had abandoned those operations. He concentrated German and Italian armored forces to be ready to fight XXX Corps. He abandonded all the ground from Tobruk east to the Egyptian frontier. There were also no German-Italian forces left on the east side of Tobruk. Rommel sent his armored forces to a position near El Gubi. The motivation for the changes is unclear, but the suggestion was that Rommel had read an intercepted message from General Ritchie to General Norrie. There are no German records that mention the message, but Rommel's changes were made shortly after the message was sent.
During the afternoon, Rommel ordered artillery and other unis from east of Tobruk to withdraw. Rommel had learned about the 2nd South African Division arriving at the Egyptian frontier. The 4th Indian Division was on the move on the Trigh el Abd. But the question remains "why did Rommel lift the seige of Tobruk? This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Austrsalian Official History.

Monday, October 08, 2018

3 to 4 December 1941 and beyond

The enemy made a heavy and damaging attack on Ed Duda while the 2/13th Battalion were transported back to the Tobruk perimeter. The attack started at first light on 4 December 1941. They attacked from the west, south, and southeast. The 4/Border were initiated at Ed Duda, trying to hold a position that they had never seen in daylight. The 1/Essex were the recipients of the attack from the west side. Defensive fire and a mobile carrier force were able to break up the attack. The carriers were manned by New Zealand soldiers. The enemy then attacked Bir Belhamed against the 18th New Zealand Battalion were also repelled. The attack from the southeast succeeded in crossing the bypass road. A counterattack by the Essex with the help of a company from the 4/Border recovered the lost ground and were able to penetrate a thousand yards into the enemy positions. The counterattack had help from the 4 RTR. The enemy, however had brought forward 88mm which knocked out 15 Matilda tanks, a devastating loss. Heavy machine gun fire kept anyone from escaping from the tanks and pinned down the 4/Border Battalion. The enemy had succeeded in taking the ground.
The Germans appeared to be push from Belhamed along the ridge to join the group attacking the Borders. The Germans were firing mortars at the 18th New Zealand Battalion. Two tanks had come up to attack the battalion, but one was mined and the other knocked out by a gun. The Germans were unable to make a damaging attack.
General Godwin-Austen issued an "order of the day" in response to the attacks by the Germans. He told the men that they were fighting the battle that would result in retaking Cyrenaica. He said that the battle would be won by those that kept with the fight the longest. They needed to continue to hold Ed Duda, if it was possible. They would be fighting with the help of XXX Corps in the battle about to be fought.
When the 4/Border counterattacked, but were not able to deal with the enemy machine guns, a two battalion attack was planned. They hoped to recover the knocked out tanks. Because the 4/Border and the 18th New Zealand Battalion were cut off, communications were difficult. The 14th Brigade commander decided that the attack would not be needed and that patrols could do the job. By 8pm, the enemy was seen to be withdrawing. The men were able to start work to recover the knocked out tanks. By "first ligth" on 5 December, the enemy was gone and the enemy wounded were made prisoners. They had also captured the enemy 88mm guns that had been so effective against the infantry tanks.
5 December saw about two hours of heavy shelling against the Tobruk fortress. The 2/13th Battalion counted about 1500 to 1700 shells exploding. The 2/13th Battalion intelligence officer thought that this might be preparation for an attack against Bir el Azazi.
Late in the afternoon, the 1/Durham Light Infantry were ordered to move out at once. This seemed to involve an enemy withdrawal. They also thought that the battalion would be in a thrust to El Adem. Right after that, the 2/13th were ordered to attack Bir el Azazi. They had expected to have tanks halp them, but now there were none available.Artillery would fire on the eenemy positions and the guns that had fired on them that morning. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Fighting at Bir el Gubi from 5 December 1941

General Norrie met with General Frank Messervy, the 4th Indian Division commander. General Messervy had only recently been intimately involved with fighting on the Egyptian frontier, so he was an expert on the topic. One of the 4th Indian Division brigades was now involved in the operations at Bir el Gubi. Once they had connected up, they drove to the 7th Armoured Division headquarters to talk with General Gott. Generals Norrie and Messervy were opposed to pulling back to the east. They were prepared to deal with any problems that they might encounter, because the benefits of keeping the infantry and artillery to the west were great. They had been ordered to send armor to the east, so they were ready to send the 4th Armoured Brigade to the Egyptian frontier area. They had decided to make another push to take Bir el Gubi at dawn on 5 December 1941.
During the early morning of 5 December 1941, General Ritchie had ordered that the enemy forces on the Egyptian frontier needed to be disposed of. The Australian historian had doubts that General Auchinleck had been aware of Ritchie's change of plan. By daylight on 5 December, the situation on the Eyptian frontier was in good shape. The commanders to the west pretty much ignored General Ritchie's latest change. The German armored force that had been a concern had already pulled back to the west.
By day on the 5th, General Auchinleck was feeling more confident and liked the use of Jock Columns to fight the enemy forces. Auchinleck thought that they had been an important factor in preventing the enemy from pushing more to the east. Being an old Indian Army soldier, he liked the 4th Indian Division leading the push against Bir el Gubi. The Italians, though, were able to beat back all the attacks against them. The British had indications that there was something happening at Hagfet en Nezha, "between El Adem and Bir el Gubi." General Norrie let General Gott know that he wanted the 4th Armoured Brigade to start driving toward El Adem in the morning. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

1 to 5 December 1941 regarding plans and operations

General Norrie was able to return to his duties as XXX Corps commander, after having to command South African troops. He considered General Ritchie's proposal to attack El Adem. General Norrie was concerned that too few resources would be committed to such an operation (sort of like had happened at Sidi Rezegh). He received promises that there would be sufficient resources committed to such an attack. Given that assurance, General Norrie gave the 4th Armoured Brigade a day to rest and refit after a day near Tobruk. General Gott, the 7th Armoured Division commander, had a plan for threatening the German-Italian flank. General Norrie canceled that plan and had everyone preparing for a push to El Adem. Norrie's plan included taking control of Bir el Gubi and then to attack El Adem from the south.
An Italian force was at Bir el Gubi. There was a battalion of "Fascist Youth" and an Italian reconnaissance unit. The reconnaissance unit had light tanks, medium tanks, and light artillery pieces. Prior to an attack at Bir el Gubi, forces were moved into position. The 11th Indian Btigade traveled to Bir Duedar, just to the south of Bir el Gubi. Some columns formed by the 1st South African Brigade were operating in the area. The 11th Indian Brigade was driven 47 miles at night to be in position for an attack on the west and southwest side. They had no opportunity for scouting, so they achieved mixed results. The 2/5th Mahratta took a strong point. The 2/Camerons were beaten back by the Italian battalion. The 4th Armoured Brigade fought with the Italian reconnaissance unit. The British had 98 of their 126 total tanks in the fight. The tank battle was fougth about three miles north of Bir el Gubi. They claimed to have destroyed 11 M13/40 tanks. Armored cars from the King's Dragoon Guards and South African units hit Axis supply dumps north and west of Bir el Gubi, and also fired on vehicle columns.
Later in the evening, they attacked the Italian battalion again and were again beaten off. Just to throw everyone off-stride, General Ritchie asked General Norrie to send tanks to counter enemy tanks that were advancing on the Egyptian frontier area. General Norrie complained about having to follow Rommel's every move, but he was ordered to pull the British armor back towards the frontier, seemingly abandoning the planned attack on El Adem. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Rommel's plan is executed from 3 December 1941

Rommel's two columns set out for the frontier area at dawn on 3 December 1941. They would face a reorganized British force there near the frontier. The 5th Indian Brigade and the 5th New Zealand Brigade were assigned to "masking" Bardia. The reorganization near Bardia happened on 1 and 2 December 1941. They had the 5th New Zealand Brigade in the north of Bardia and covering the coastal road.
Early on 3 December, a mixed column of New Zealand "cavalry and infantry saw the approaching German force commanded by Geissler. They notified the 5th New Zealand Brigade about the German force. About the same time, a column from the Central Indian Horse reported the approach of Knabe's force. Interestingly, Geissler's force attacked, being very confident, and were soundly defeated. A surviving company-sized remnant from the 15th Motor Cycle Battalion was gathered and were put into a blocking position. Knabe's group had a better outcome, but they were in a long-range duel with Goldforce and the 7th Support Group jock columns. Knabe was not confident enough that he could break off to help Geissler. That night, he was ordered to pull back to Gasr el Arid.
The New Zealand contribution to winning Operation Crusader needs to include their efforts to defeat Geissler's fighting force. We need to recognize the successes of the New Zealand Division and the Tobruk garrison between 18 November and 4 December. They inflicted losses on the 15th and 21st Armored Divisions and the 90th Light Division. The German Africa Corps staff reacted by sending the remaining part of the 15th Armored Division to Gasr el Arid early in the morning. They were to join Knabe's force and the Ariete Division. They still kept back part of the 21st Armored Division artillery, the 8th Machine Gun Battalion, and an engineer unit. They were intended for use in an attack on Ed Duda. The column sent to join Knabe arrived, despite being bombed. They pushed farther east and caused Goldforce to have to withdraw. There was some concern that the Germans might destroy the 5th New Zealand Brigade in the north. The Germans in fact planned to attack that afternoon.
General Auchinleck was now with General Ritchie at 8th Army Headquarters. They warned the 2nd South African Division about the German sin the north. The 2nd South African Division had arrived at Sidi Omar at 9am that morning. General Norrie was ordered to withdraw the 4th Armoured Btigade. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Rommel's plan to send supplies to the troops on the border with Egypt showed the condition of the enemy forces. The columns sent to the east were small and did not contain any tanks. The tanks had to be grounded for maintenance. Monitoring the British communications indicated that they did not need to be concerned about a British tank attack. They thought that they might be free from tank attack until 3 December 1941. General Cruewell, the German Africa Corps commander, thought that they should send the entire force, minus tanks, rather than sending small detachments. Rommel disregarded General Cruewell's concerns and proceeded with the operation as he planned. The two forces heading to the east would include one traveling on the Via Balbia and the other on the Trigh Capuzzo. The northern group would include units from the 15th Armored Division. The force would be a battalion-sized all-arms group built around the 15th Motor Cycle Battalion. They had been recently engaged in capturing Belhamed. The southern group was drawn from the 21st Armored Division. The force was similar, except this group received three tanks. A regiment with extra troops was supposed to follow the two columns. The rest of the German Africa Corps was not involved since they were assigned to destroying the British forces at Ed Duda. The north and south columns assembled on 2 December and moved forward on 3 December. The force to attack Ed Duda was to have the army artillery assigned and would cooperate with the Italian XXI Corps.
British units on the Egyptian frontier were reorganized in early December  The 22nd New Zealand Battalion became the nucleus for a new 5th New Zealand Brigade. The purpose was to increase the fighting power available in the area to keep the enemy from sending supplies from the frontier to the units near Tobruk. This was a concern of General Ritchie, which was based on a misunderstanding of the situation. British forces "on the Bardia front" had reorganized on 1 and 2 December 1941. The 5th New Zealand Brigade would cover the northern part of the area. They had two battalions in a forward position and a third in reserve. The two forward battalions were deployed facing to the east. The New Zealand Cavalry was sent to patrol towards the west. A similar force in the south, named Goldforce, patrolled on the Trigh Capuzzo. Goldforce was a mixed unit of cavalry with men from the Central Indian Horse and the 31st Field Regiment. To the east of them was the 5th Indian Brigade. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Action at the Appendix from 3 November 1941 and beyond

Not that long after the advance party from the Borders arrived at the 2/13th Battalion, an artillery battle was joined at the extremity of the "appendix" that stuck out from Tobruk to Ed Duda. The enemy fire was concentrated on outpost "Doc". This was on the right side of the appendix. The commander and staff of the 2/13th Battalion observed an enemy attack that resulted in "Dalby Square" being captured. The attackers consisted of three companies of motorized infantry. The majority of the 4/Border arrived at 1:45am at Ed Duda to relieve the 2/13th Battalion. Their transportation was on the vehicles that had brought the 4/Border. By 3am, the Australians were ready and eager to return to Tobruk, which seemed ironic.
The column drove through the night until they arrived at the Tobruk perimeter. The battalion would defend the perimeter from Post R37 to Post R59. They were deployed with three companies in line and the fourth in reserve. The 1/Durham Light Infantry were to ride the vehicles that had brought the 2/13th Battalion to Tobruk. They in fact did not leave, but they stayed in the "forward area", presumably in the perimeter defenses. There appears to have been a change in plan, which left too many men in close quarters. There was a limited amount of cover, so this exposed men to fire. The plan to send a force with tanks from Ed Duda to El Adem seems to have been a factor. The original thinking had been to send the 2/13th with the force sent to El Adem, but they decided to use the 1;Durham Light Infantry in their place. With the enemy operations near Ed Duda, the advance to El Adem was postponed.
Back on 30 November 1941, General Bastico visited Rommel at his headquarters. They talked about developments and agreed that they were now in a battle of attrition. With their supply line difficulties, they could do little more until shipments of tanks and "other vehicles" could be sent. Both Rommel and General Bastico had already been told that they would not see any tank and truck shipments in the foreseeable future. Rommel talked about his troops having suffered severely, which the Australian historian thought referred to the German and Italian soldiers on the Egyptian frontier. They were especially in need of supplies. General  Bastico was considering sending supplies to Bardia via submarines or aircraft. Early in the day on 1 December, Rommel had visited General Cruewell, the German Africa Corps commandr, and they discussed the desperate straights of the Solumn garrison. This was while Rommel was pummeling the New Zealand Division resulting in their withdrawal from the combat zone. Rommel wanted to make some sort of push to the east, egen if it was just an "advance guard".
Late on 1 December, Rommel sent out messages indicating his new plans. He planned to send out the advance guard, but would send two columns to the east. The German Africa Corps would form the northern column while the Italian Ariete Armored Division and the Trieste Mechanized Division would form the southern column. The southern column would also have the 33rd Reconnaissance unti to lead the way. Tht evening, Rommel and the reconnaissance unit drove to point 175. Rommel told General Cruewell that they needed to move as soon as the "Cauldron" had emptied. He also ordered them to "take food to Bardia". This is based on the account in Vol.II of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Action on 2 December 1941 and beyond near Tobruk

General Godwin-Austen told General Ritchie that his forces were confident of their ability to hold the extension from Tobruk to Ed Duda. He would relieve the most tired troops with groups of Poles. He also reported that they were gradually advancing towards El Adem. He did say that 70th Division was not in a position to provide a brigade group for the proposed advance along "the northern edge of the escarpment". 70th Division was totally committed to other responsibilities. The "4 Border" would take over Ed Duda from the 2/13th Battalion, which would then move to the southern perimeter. They would relieve the 1/Durham Light Infantry, which would then move to the reserve on the northern side of the corridor.
General Scobie had a plan to send to groups to attack El Adem in coordination with XXX Corps. One group would move along the escarpment from Ed Duda to El Adem. The group would have two infantry battalions, one tank squadron, one field regiment, one anti-tank battery, and a machine gun company. The other group would leave the Tobruk perimeter and attack the previous outpost "Plonk". They would then move beyond to a feature that they called "the walled village." This group would have the 2/13th Battalion, using one of their companies and a squadron of infantry tanks. These objectives were along the boundary between two Italian infantry divisions, the Trento and Bologna divisions. These were covering the main route, the Tobruk-El Adem Road.
The division perimeter responsbilities at Tobruk were reassigned. The Polish brigade now had the perimeter from posts R34 and R35 to the sea. The 16th Brigade would cover the rest of the perimeter. That freed the 23rd Brigade to move to Ed Duda. The 14th Brigade, with four battalions and  the 1st RHA would hold the rest of the corridor.
The morning on 3 December 1941 was "abnormally quiet". By later in the morning, the enemy became more active. They sent some tanks on a reconnaissance near Belhamed. The appearance of British infantry tanks from the 32nd Army Tank Brigade seemed to scare them away. The Australians from the 2/13th Battalion were become encouraged that their side might be on the verge of winning. They could see, for the first time, that the British actually had air superiority. Actually, the enemy was still strong in the air. The previous day saw the 5th South African Brigade under heavy dive bomber attack. The last evening saw Ed Duda overflown by two Me-109 fighters doing reconnaissance.
Right after midday on 3 December, the 2/13th Battalion got word through the 1/Essex, that they needed to send an advance group to the 1st Durban Light Infantry. They were given notice that they needed to be ready to move at 4am the next morning. The Australians apparently did not respond to the news. They were awakened at 4am by a group from the "Borders". Their advanced group didn't leave until 5:30am. They only arrived at the Durham Light Infantry headquarters at 7pm. They were on the left side of the El Adem Road portion of the perimeter. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Holding on from 1 December 1941 and later near Tobruk and points west

< p>General Ritchie had been ready to withdraw from Ed Duda, but the men on the spot were offended by the idea. They were holding on and were increasing their defenses. Once General Godwin-Austen heard about Colonel Nichols of the 1/Essex, he concurred that they should hold on to their ground. Other commanders in 70th Division offered suggestions for operations to improve their position. Early on 2 December 1941, then, the position of Colonel Nichols and his battalion affected the situation, because by withdrawing, they would have allowed Rommel to concentrate his units on the Egyptian Frontier.
The fall of Belhamed to the enemy exposed the 2/13th Battalion to heavier shelling. The enemy presumable had new observation posts that could see the battalion. The mortar platoon arrived and then a New Zealand field artillery troop. They offered a target for strafing, presumably meaning by aircraft. 1pm saw Colonel Burrows visit the 1/Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire at Bir Belhamed. He also talked with the 18th New Zealand Battalion. When enemy movement was seen, they expected an enemy attack, but that did not happen. A move that seemed to indicate a pending attack to break the connecting corridor from Ed Duda ended when they were shelled. A little later, a 210mm shell landed and exploded, but did not fragment. Colonel Burrows was seriously wounded, however. Major Colvin was not incapacitated and he took charge of the battalion. Major Colvin adjusted the defenses in light of potential threats. He also called forward Captain Gillan to take over the headquarters company. The headquarters now included some specialist troops who were without equipment.
Right after dark at Ed Duda, some companies changed responsibilities. To the east, there was fighting where German infantry hit the 1/Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire battalion. The New Zealand battalion also fought off an enemy group. The enemy had broken into one company at Bir Belhamed. Some British troops were broken into small pockets. Once that there was daylight, they captured some Germans. About 9am, some German assault engineers and anti-tank gunners attacked. Between the British and New Zealand battalions, they were able to throw back the attacking troops. Some men captured were from the 90th Light Division, from a new battalion, tentatively named after the commander, the Kolbeck Battalion. These men were some who had been liberated from a New Zealand prisoner of war camp.
The units in the corridor from Tobruk to Ed Duda were understandbly nervous about their situation during 2 December. In fact, the German situation was difficult. They had infantry which had been severely beaten. Many tanks were broken down and were in need of repair. The enemy had no other forces to follow up on the real successes that they had experienced. At this point, Rommel needed some time to recover from the heavy fighting that they had experienced.
On 1 December 1941, General Godwin-Austen had requested that a senior officer able to make decisions be sent to XIII Corps headquarters. General Ritchie arrived on 2 December. General Godwin-Austen had been disappointed that the 7th Armoured Division had not attacked the enemy tanks. General Godwin-Austen did not believe that his forces were in a position to attack towards El Adem without the enemy tank forces having been attacked. This is based onthe account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 10, 2018

General Auchinleck gets involved from 30 November 1941

General Auchinleck gave Churchill his impression of the current situation on 30 November 1941. He portrayed the situation in more glowing terms than the reality justified. That was more because he had not been closely involved with events and had to rely on input from others and his impressions. The British were hampered by their poor communications systems and methods of operation. General Ritchie, for example, visited XXX Corps headquarters, expecting to see General Norrie, who was elsewhere. The Australian historian mentions that the most important decisions about the conduct of the battle were made by Ritchie's subordinate, without consulting him. Then again, they had asked him if they should abandon the area created by the Tobruk garrison breakout, and he did not reply until twelve hours later.
The Australian historian thought that General Ritchie must have spent most of 30 November at XXX Corps headquarters. They had a current situation map that he found to be very informative. He was able to develop the outline of a plan for operations in the future. Ritchie could see on the map the enemy armored formations, "surrounded by anti-tank guns".  General Ritchie thought that they should try to entice the enemy armor to move out into open ground, where the British could harass them, "never leave it alone". General Ritchie thought that they should send a 4th Indian Division brigade against El Adem, and send armored cars to raid supposed enemy supply lines from  Tmimi and Acroma. He thought that there must be a supply line from Bardia to enemy units west of Bardia. In reality, Rommel was trying to get more supplies into Bardia, not move them out.
General Ritchie returned to 8th Army Headquarters from XXX Corps. The first thing he did was to tell General Godwin-Austen to continue to hold the area between Tobruk and Ed Duda with the force that they had, as there was nothing available to help. General Auchinleck then arrived at 8th Army Headquarters. He stayed there and was involved with operations for the next ten days. They also endorsed using 7th Support Group units and equipment in Jock Columns. XXX Corps would take command of the 1st South African Brigade, the 22nd Guards Brigade, and eventually, the 4th Indian Division. That would happen after they were replaced by the 2nd South African Division on the Egyptian frontier.
In a meeting at 11am on 1 December at Brigadier Willison's headquarters, decisions were made about pressing topics. They would reorganize so that the 2/13th Battalion had its own companies. The Australians would hold positions from Ed Duda to the bypass road. This was on the escarpment. The 1st RHA mortars and carriers would be pulled out. They would be replaced by New Zealand equivelents.
The enemy mounted three attacks against outposts. One was on Jill and two were against Jack (since renamed Happy). About midday, the 1/Essex were warned to be ready to withdraw "from Ed Duda after dark if Belhamed fell to the enemy". Colonel Nichols was disturbed at the idea that they should withdraw. The enemy had just made some half-hearted attacks that the 1/Essex could handle.  There was no need to withdraw. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

The Cauldron and British and enemy issues on 1 December 1941

The Australian historian was critical of Brigadier Gatehouse and his timidity in the fight on 1 December 1941. Certainly, if Gatehouse's armored brigade had attacked, they would have taken losses. The historian thought that constantly yielding the battlefield to the Germans was not a way to win a battle. The German armored divisions were free to concentrate against the British infantry, particularly the New Zealand Division. We also notice that the Germans were hard-pressed to pull together a force to fight the battle at the Cauldron. The 90th Light Division was reduced to organizing a battalion from soldiers freed from a New Zealand prisoner of war camp. They were not able to fight at this point in the battle. The 115th Motorized Infantry Regiment was attempting to regroup after being beaten in battle at Sidi Rezegh. The 21st Armored Division was also in poor shape. They were said to be taking a very pessimistic view and were "sending alarming reports". The German Africa Corps did have the advantage of a strong medium and heavy artillery force. Besides the artillery, the main German strength were the 8th Armored Regiment with some forty tanks, "the 2nd Machine Gun Battalion, and the 15th Motorcycle Battalion." Before the British armored brigade had joined the battle, this force had fought a hard fight with a New Zealand battalion and the 6th Field Regiment. While the Germans had perhaps 24 Pzkw III and Pzkw IV tanks, Gatehouse's brigade had 115 tanks. But the British tanks had pulled back, leaving the Germans to continue to batter the New Zealand Division.
The Germans planned an attack at 4:30pm on the New Zealand artillery, which had planned to withdraw at 5:30pm. To help the artillery were five Matildas from the 44th RTR and a few Valentines from the 8th RTR. This was a close-fought battle with artillery firing at point-blank range. Some guns were abandoned at the withdrawal. The Germans were very tired so they rested when the British and New Zealanders withdrew. They were admonished by General Cruewell for stopping, because he wanted them to move on Zaafran. He ordered them to take Zaafran at "daybreak".
At 6:45pm, the remnants of the New Zealand Division formed up into a traveling order and then drove east and south their was back to Egypt to rest and rebuild. On the way, they had traveled to Bir Gibni by 3:30am on 2 December 1941. The 1st South African Brigade was in position at Taieb el Esem. The 4th Armoured Brigade was in a night leaguer, as they wre wont to do. This night, they were at Bir Berraneb. This was a far as 24 miles from Ed Duda. The attempted relief of Tobruk had failed.
Rommel had not succeeded in restoring the situation to what it had been prior to the start of Operation Crusader. The Tobruk force, mainly 70th Division, was still at Ed Duda. British forces on the Egyptian frontier were attacking the German and Italian positions at Salum, Bardia, and the "Omars" (such as Sidi Omar). There was also a strong British force on the Trigh el Abd that was a potential threat. The outcome would depend as much on British moves as on anything Rommel would decide to do. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 03, 2018

The battle near Sidi Rezegh and Ed Duda playes out on 1 December 1941

The Australian historian remarks that Brigadier Gatehouse did not feel that he had to "charge" the enemy when encountered. Rather, he could use his judgement about how to conduct the action to protect his tanks and personnel from unnecessary loss. Gatehouses brigade drove down from the escarpment near the Sidi Rezegh airfield. There may have been times when they might have engaged the enemy under risky circumstances. By this time, the New Zealand Division had been driven from Belhamed and Sidi Rezegh. The 1st South African Brigade had made a strong attack on Point 175, but had failed to penetrate the enemy shield. The 21st Armored Brigade had blocked the attack. North of the British armored brigade, the remains of the 6th New Zealand Brigade manned a defensive position. Their 25th Battalion was still at the blockhouse in the Sidi Rezegh area. They had two groups of infantry tanks to their north. The 8th RTR had five tanks left. Even further north were seven infantry tanks of the 44th RTR. They were there to shield anti-tank guns and field artillery, located in a wadi. They still had about 40 25pdr Field Guns left. They represented the main fighting force that survived from the New Zealand Division. There were a handful of other units or groups left, in addition.
Rommel had pulled in most of the German Africa Corps. They were closing in on the New Zealand Division and the other units. Rommel called the situation "the Cauldron". New the 6th New Zealand Brigade and Brigadier Gatehouse's armored brigade were the German 8th Armored Regiment and the 200th Motorized Infantry Regiment. They lay north of the Trigh Capuzzo. On the south side were the "Mickl artillery group" and the 115th Motorized Infantry Regiment. The German force outgunned the New Zealand Division artillery. The 90th Light Division was also on the north side of the Cauldron. The Italian Ariete Armored Division was east of the Cauldron. The 21st Armored Division was sitting on the Trigh Capuzzo.
Brigadier Gatehouse was very uncomfortable with the situation he found himself in. Gatehouse was aware of the strong enemy artillery force that was present. He also believed that they were too late to keep the New Zealand Division from having to withdraw.He knew about the enemy heavy artillery that was nearby. Given the disparity in tank strengths, Brigadier Gatehouse was not ready to attack the enemy tanks. The 6th New Zealand Brigade commander had decided that they needed to withdraw to Zaafran. Brigadier Gatehouse had been in communication with General Gott about the situation. His brigade was caught in a fight with Italian tanks "in front" and some German tanks on the right. The New Zealand transport had disappeared, so Gatehouse considered that his responsibility to them had ended.
Tanks from the 15th Armored Division had expected that Gatehouse's brigade would attack. By early afternoon, the British armored Brigade had driven off towards the south so that they could resupply. The situation had left the 6th New Zealand Brigade wondering what had happened. They were thankful for the presence of the brigade, but were surprised when the brigade suddenly disappeared. They had also expected that the British tanks would have had more of an effect on the course of the battle. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The critical point in the Crusader battle, 1 December 1941

When General Scobie found that the New Zealand troops from Belhamed were withdrawing towards the Tobruk sortie force, he had them diverted and employed in the "forward posts". The enemy had staged an attack from the east against the "corridor". This attack was driven back. They apparently had killed fifty of the enemy and had taken another fifty as prisoners.
The one New Zealand battalion at Belhamed, the 18th, had been facing Ed Duda. They had been able to hold their ground, but eventually started to pull back to the west. Major Loder-Symonds had finally been able to get two mobile artillery observation posts in place. He had been able to call in artillery fire to support the New Zealand withdrawal. B/O Battery were able to drive back a group of German tanks that had been trying to cut off the New Zealand battalion. Major Loder-Symonds was able to speak to the New Zealand Battalion commander, who seemed to be very able. The major told the New Zealand commander that the artillery would stay and provide anti-tank protection, if his men could take positions "just in front of the guns". He also showed the New Zealand commander the enemy minefield that they could use as part of their defenses. The New Zealand battalion moved onto the ridge "west of Belhamed". Very soon, a column of vehicles approached with the remnants of the New Zealand Division artillery. This included one troop from the 6th New Zealand Field Regiment. Major Loder-Symonds was able to incorporate them "alongside B Battery". That gave them a line of eight guns that could fire as a unit. There was some concern that B Battery could be forced to withdraw, so "Rocket Troop" was sent to a position at Belhamed where they would be in a position to provide support. Rocket Troop was shelled and took some casualties, but where able to hold on "until after dark".

The 2/13th Battalion was still in place on the ridge by Belhamed and Ed Duda. They were able to observe the German attack on Belhamed with tanks. The also observed the 18th New Zealand Battalion pull back. By 10am, they heard about a German group. Later, they could see what might have been Germans "beyond the bypass road". The 2/13th Battalion heard at 10:30am that Belhamed had fallen to the enemy. A conference was planned for 11am at Brigadier Willison's headquarters.
They were now at the critical point in the Crusader battle. They had almost been defeated on Totensonntag, but 70th Division,, the New Zealand Division, and the army tank brigades had kept the British forces from being defeated. On 1 December, the New Zealand Division had taken important losses. The German armored divisions had been ordered to attack and to defeat them.
In the German Africa Corps, the custom was to move in to attack while the sky was still dark. They planned an attack on Belhamed at 6:30am. Brigadier Gatehouse had been ordered to check out the situation at dawn, which would have been later than the planned German moves. The time was 9am when the composite armored brigade approached over the "northern Sidi Rezegh escarpment. Brigadier Gatehouse had been given orders that would have been bad to have executed as given. He was to attack and be relentless, fighting to the last tank, if necessary. Gatehouse had the 5th RTR commander contact the New Zealand Division and plan hoow to  attack the enemy tanks. Brigadier Gatehouse did not feel required to  make reckless charges against the enemy. His responsibility was to make the best use of his resources in tanks and men and not throw them away. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Events on 30 November 1941 to 1 December 1941 near Sidi Rezegh

The situation late on 30 November 1941 saw the 1st South African Brigade sitting on the escarpment where General Norrie had led them. The 6th New Zealand Brigade was all but destroyed. The Italian Ariete Armored Division was on the Trigh Capuzzo, with the 21st Armored Division behind them. The South Africans sent out a strike group towards Point 175, but they were stopped by units from the 21st Armored Division, including the 3rd Recennaissance Unit. The Australians were sitting on the ridge, with two New Zealand companies to their east, near the place where the bypass road crossed the ridge.
Eighth Army senior officers were busy during the night.. They had different amounts of information about the situation, and their personalities shaped how they responded. General Freyberg was prepared to ask his men to sacrifice themselves, as needed, for the good of the division. General Freyberg believed that his division was still obligated to hold the ground they defended. For one thing, the corridor to Tobruk depended on them. The commander of the 6th New Zealand Brigade had proposed withdrawing, but that was unacceptable to General Freyberg. General Freyberg's view was that the 1st South African Brigade and the British armor would need to participate in the battle to hold the ground they occupied. General Freyberg sent his chief artillery offcier to Tobruk to talk with General Godwin-Austen about Freyberg's view of what was needed. General Freyberg also sent two officers to talk with the South African brigade comander. "He beileved that the South Africans had been placed under his command." They were to tell him that Sidi Rezegh had been captured by the enemy. The New Zealand Division needs Sidi Rezegh recaptured prior to dawn on 1 December. The South Africans were ordered to retake Sidi Rezegh immeditately.
The New Zealand artillery commander, Brigadier Miles only reached XIII Corps headquarters after midnight. The officers sent to the South African brigade arrived at 1:40am. The South Africans were quite close to General Norrie, so when they received the message relayed from General Freyberg, the South African commander went to talk with General Norrie. They decided that capturing Point 175 was not possible prior to dawn. The attack could restart at dawin, at best.
General Godwin-Austen sent out encoded wireless message to the major unit commanders. The 7th Armoured Division needed to concentrate and focus on defeating the German armored units. If the South Africans could take Point 175 and Sidi Rezegh, then they should try to establish themselves in controll of those positions. If that failed, then the New Zealand Division needed to move "behind Ed Duda". They would also need to hold onto Belhamed. Anything else can be given up, if all elsle failed. They might have ordered the New Zealand Division to withdraw immediately, but there was not realy time for that to be a realistic possibility.
Geenral Scobie was paying xlose attention to events and plans. He was aware ofo the rishs of having 70th Division soldiers from Tobruk outside of the fortress defenses when the situaion was in doubt.  Infantry tank runners were not more than twenty by now. He was intent on holding onto Ed Duda and Belhamed. General Gott told Brigadier Gatehouse that he needed to attack the enemy tanks. They were very close to morning and the enemy forces were clearly on the move, intent on causing them trouble.
The 32nd Army Tank Brigade dealt with an enemy group between outposts Butch and Tiger. at dawn, there was heavy mist. While there still was mist, they started to receive incoming artillery fire at Belhamed. The New Zealand Division units near Belhamed were being attacked. They had support by the 1st RHA, but some British tanks were knocked out by mines and anti-tank gun fire. The New Zealanders "were without tank support and being overrun."  This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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