Thursday, June 28, 2018

The plan for Ed Duda on 26 November 1941

The plan was to move forward at 12:05pm on 26 November 1941. Shortly before the Tobruk sortie force headed for Ed Duda, they got a message from the New Zealand Division saying that they were held up at Sidi Rezegh and at a hill aboutr 2 miles to the north-northeast. Despite that, the Tobruk force was committed to moving forward as planned. The 4th RTR was equipped with Matildas. They led the movement, followed by cruiser tanks and light tanks from the 1st RTR. They had artillery support from the 1st RHA. They crossed the four or five miles of desert in a short time. They reached the top of Ed Duda and then intended to run down to the "by-pass road", when they found themselves facing enemy guns at point-blank range. The tanks carried Besa machine guns, and they used them to fight the closest guns. The 1st RHA did what they could to engage the other guns.
After about 45 minutes, Brigadier Willison sent the 1/Essex forward. They had their carrier platoon in the lead Brigadier Willison thought that they made a "find spectacle". When the men had reached within about two hundred yards from the edge of the escarpment, they were hit hard ("bombed"). Despite taking heavy losses, the advance carried forward and took their objectives. The armored brigade drove to the "left flank" where they were ready to support the infantry if they were needed.
They found out that the 1/Essex had been mistakenly bombed by the RAF. The 1/Esses were in a position with the ability to defend in all directions. They were bothered by some German 210mm guns. Some German infantry attacked, but were driven back and about seventy prisoners were captured. Since the British controlled the access road now, they were able to set  ambushes that caught some German and Italians by surprise.
It turned out that the New Zealand Division were having trouble reaching Ed Duda, which the armored brigade had already occupied at about 1:30pm. General Scobie sent a message to General Freyberg that they had occupied Ed Duda and asked if they would please not have them bombed.
The New Zealand plan had been to make a night attack during the night of 25-26 November. The 4th and 6th New Zealand Brigades would take Belhamed and Sidi Rezegh. They would then push on to Ed Duda. Belhamed turned out to be easy to take, but the fight for Sidi Rezegh did not go so well. The 6th Brigade was the one having a lot of trouble. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Scrambled cipher messages and misunderstandings and an attack on Ed Duda

The use of manual cipher systems that were laboriously applied seems to have created confusion in communication, not security. The communications in question were between General Godwin-Austen, the XIII Corps commander, and General Scobie, the Tobruk fortress commander. The plan seems to have been for the New Zealand Division to actually capture Ed Duda, but General Scobie had thought that his men would have to taken Ed Duda. General Freyberg and the New Zealand Division hoped to advance to Ed Duda during the night of 25-26 November 1941. They hoped that General Scobie's men would be able to move forward to Ed Duda sometime after daylight on 26 November.
General Godwin-Austen wanted Scobie to know that he did not need to take Ed Duda, as that was for the New Zealand Division to do. They did expected General Scobie and his men to make a diversionary attack that would divert attention from the New Zealand Division. General Scobie had a meeting prior to the planned diversion and ordered the Polish Brigade to make a feint in the west very early in the day. The enemy was not bothered by the feint. In fact, they attacked from the "twin pimples" area. The alternate plan then was to make the diversion in the sortie corridor and would be made against the eastern side.
In the evening at the Tobruk headquarters, they read that they New Zealand Division would attack Ed Duda at about 9pm. General Scobie's forces attacked the enemy outposts at Butch and Wolf. Men of the 2/Leicester and one squadron from the 7th RTR had a degree of success near the wrecked plane landmark. The operation near outpost Wolf did not do so well. The attack near Wolf involved the 2/Yorks and Lancs along with tanks from the 4th RTR. They took some 150 prisoners but the enemy counter-attacked and recaptured part of the area. At 7am the next morning, they attacked and took Wolf and some 150 prisoners. As many as 300 more enemy soldiers were able to escape across the escarpment. They could hear fighting some time after midnight, and they thought that they could hear 25pdrs firing.
The fortress troops got the codeword to attack Ed Duda by about 11am on 26 November. General Scobie seems to have decided to attack on his own. Communications were so bad, that the Tobruk forces had to intercept communications not directed at them in order to learn what was happening. They learned that a New Zealand brigade had taken Sidi Rezegh and was moving towards Ed Duda. Another message had wondered when the Tobruk sortie force would attack. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Auchinleck replaces General Cunningham on 25 November 1941

The British seemed to be oblivious to what was actually happening, which saved them from losing the battle. Rommel had an opportunity to hit the British rear areas where there were administrative organizations as well as "supply bases". General Auchinleck had no idea what the actual situation was on the ground, so he ordered the commanders to keep attacking. The New Zealand Division also was in position to hit Rommel's vulnerable rear areas, but didn't know they were there.
General Auchinleck was a notorious poor judge of people. He had lost confidence in General Cunningham, so he removed him and replaced him with a very bad choice, Neil Ritchie, who was promoted to Lieutenant General for his new post. General Smith, "Chief of the General Staff in the Middle East" brought Ritchie to meet Cunningham, and informed him that he was being replaced.
Most of the New Zealand Division with "most of the 1st Army Tank Brigade" were moving towards Tobruk on the Trigh Capuzzo. back on 23 November, New Zealand units and the 8th RTR had taken Point 175 from the 361st Africa Regiment. 25 November saw the 4th New Zealand Brigade pushed out enemy troops from the escarpment above the Trigh Capuzzo. They also took Zaafran. The 6th New Zealand Brigade captured the blockhouse and moved onto the edge of the Sidi Rezegh airfield. Since the British had no idea of what the real situation was, they could make plans that were at odds with reality. General Scobie, the Tobruk fortress commander, was cut off from information, although his signal intercept people were able to give him better information than his superiors had bothered to give him.
When General Scobie found that he was to cooperate with XIIIth Corps to Ed Duda and Sidi Rezegh, he ordered a group to consist of the 32nd Army Tank Brigade with the 1/Essex, to comprise all arms, to assembled during the night. General Scobie's plan was seemingly for the armored brigade to charge some seven thousand yards to Ed Duda, with an infantry battalion, and hold the place. Oddly enough, General Godwin-Austen assumed that his troops from the frontier would take the place, instead. Long messages were sent encoded, so that they had to be decoded to be read. General Godwin-Austen wanted the New Zealand Division to take Ed Duda prior to the sortie force from Tobruk would move towards the place.
In the evening, the fortress attacked strong points Butch and Wolf. The attack on Wolf was not successful until 7am on 26 November, when it was taken. There seemed to be fighting at Belhamed and beyong, towards El Adem. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Conflicting plans in the continued battles for Sidi Rezegh and the Egyptian frontie

We have to think that General Auchinleck was only vaguely aware of the risks he was taking in continuing the battle against the enemy forces on 24 November 1941. Auchinleck took full responsibility for the operations from that point. He still intended to defeat the German armor and drive the enemy back to the Tripolitanian frontier. He intended to recapture the ridge from Sidi Rezegh to Ed Duda. They would then make contact with the Tobruk sortie force. He depended on two New Zealand brigades and some Valentine infantry tanks to accomplish the task. That matched quite well what the commanders on the spot were doing. The 6th New Zealand Brigade moved up to Sidi Rezegh on 23 November. Their field artillery and anti-tank guns accounted from some of the German tank losses. The 26th New Zealand Battalion as only near the battlefield, wihile the 25th and 26th New Zealand Battalions were heavily engaged fighting German infantry from the 361st Regiment. The fighting took place near point 175.
The XIIIth Corps Commander was informed by General Cunningham on 24 November that he was took take charge of the relief effort for Tobruk, including the 70th Division and the Polish brigade. General Godwin-Austen had considered using the South African Division, but only one brigade was still uncomitted. By the end of 23 November, the Sidi Rezegh battlefield seemed to be a bad situation. The British felt defeated and were waiting to be gathered up by the enemy. The British 7th Armoured Division started 24 November in tatters.
Rommel's next move was typical of how he functioned. His mobile forces would drive to the southeast and turn and catch the British on the Egyptian-Libyan Frontier in the rear. By the evening of 24 November the 21st Armored Division had crossed into Egypt and was making for Halfaya Pass. The 15th Armored Division, though, had stopped while still in Libya. The Italian armored division, the Ariete was still near Bir el Gubi. By 25 November, the 21st Armored Division headquarters had reached the Halfaya area. they were having trouble getting fuel for making a move on Capuzzo. Their armored regiment had been spent by attacking Indian troops in the vicinity of the Omars. The 15th Armored Division was also low on fuel and had made moves against the New Zealand Divisiion rear. The Ariete Division accomplished little while sparring with the 1st South African Brigade near Gabr Saleh.
The German Africa Corps had spent much of 26 November working their supply problems. The 15th Armroed Division was near Bardia. The 21st Armored Division was still near Halfaya. The each sent a battle group to hit New Zealand battalions near Capuzzo, Musaid, and "upper Salum". The New Zealand battalions were able to hold onto their positions. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

70th Division and XIII Corps infantry and tanks were still effective from 22 November 1941

The events of 22 November 1941 left General Scobie with the impression that there was something wrong with the Crusader Operation. He decided to strengthen the position of the Tobruk Sortie force. They would go after nearby enemy outposts keep the pressure on the enemy.
In the afternoon, 32nd Army Tank Brigade along with infantry and the 1st RHA took outpost Lion. This lay to the right from outpost Tiger. General Scobie read a report that evening that the enemy had taken Sidi Rezegh. He also interpreted a message to mean that the New Zealand Division was moving to the "Tobruk front". On 23 November, the sortie force took Dalby Square. The enemy staged a counter-attack, but they British were able to hold onto Dalby Square. They captured some three hundred prisoners. The Tobruk force also captured the west part of Outpost Tugun.
The Tobruk sortie force had fired a lot of rounds of ammunition so far. General Scobie had asked to be resupplied with ammunition, but he received a reply that they could not send one to his force. That meant that the sortie force needed to conserve what ammunition it had. The Tobruk anti-aircraft guns did counter-battery firing..
At the start of the sortie from Tobruk, the Australian 2/13th Battalion was split into two parts. One part created a defensive position at the pass near Pilastrano. Two other companies were employed to continue to hold the Wadi Schel. They were involved with other tasks, such as grave digging at Tiger and guarding prisoners at the prisoner-of-war camp. Early on 23 November, they could see a wrecked ship on the coast. This was the wreck of the Maria Giovanni schooner, which had missed the harbor entrance and had run on the shore. The wreck was out of field gun range, so they tried to use anti-aircraft guns to destroy the wreck, but failed.
During the night on 24 November, Polish soldiers relieved the Australians at the Wadi Schel so that they were able rejoin the Australians near Pilastrano. That left the Australians with little to do for the time. That lasted for about two days.
General Scobie and his staff were studying message traffic. That seemed to show the enemy position becoming critical. The received orders to attack Ed Duda the next day with the New Zealand Division. They had been still short of ammunition, but then heard that they would receive some 600 tons from a ship that was due to arrive during the night on 26 November.
The situation early on 23 November was cause for General Cunningham to ask General Auchinleck to join him at the front. The Eighth Army staff had compiled British and enemy tank losses. The actual situation was even worse than they thought. During the first four days, the British ahd lost about 530 tanks. The enemy was thought to have lost only 100 tanks. The 7th Armoured Division had started with 500 cruiser tanks. After the four days, they had less than 90 runners. They thought that the enemy still had 250 tanks, of which 170 were German.
General Auchinleck ordered General Cunningham on 24 November to keep attacking, even fighting to the "last tank". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 11, 2018

22 and 23 November 1941 near Sidi Rezegh

22 November 1941 was a bad day for the British. Fighting near Sidi Rezegh, the British armor was defeated. The German 21st Armored Division moved into a position at Belhamed. They were engaged by the 7th Armoured Brigade and the artillery from the 7th Support Group. The 4th and 22nd Armoured Brigades fought with the 15th Armored Division rearguard. By mid-morning, General Scobie was ordered to move the sortie force to Ed Duda and "shoot up the enemy tanks on the Trigh Capuzzo". The 7th Armoured Division was not in a position to support the attack at Ed Duda, but there was nothing that indicated that such an attack would be the wrong thing to do.
About this time, the 4th Armoured Brigade was ordered to the Trigh 175, which lay on the north escarpment. The 5th South African Brigade was sent to the Trigh 178. Eventually, the 22nd Armoured Brigade was also sent to the Trigh 178 area.
By midday, General Scobie was informed that the situation had improved so that he did not need to attack. The situation near Sidi Rezegh seemed to be compatible with that assessment. The 5th South African Brigade was ordered to clear enemy forces from the from the south escarpment by the Trigh 178. Rommel overrode the British plans by ordering the 21st Armored Division to attack and recapture the airfield at Sidi Rezegh. The division was split into tanks and infantry, with the tanks to attack from the west and the infantry would attack from the north. They had the support of the army artillery group that was located near Belhamed.
The German infantry attack hit the 7th Support Group and pushed it off the escarpment above the airfield. The German tank attack hit the remains of the 7th Armoured Brigade. The 22nd Armoured Brigade launched a counter-attack. British tanks fired mainly at German tanks. The Germans used 88mm and 50mm anti-tank guns to shoot the British tanks to pieces. The 4th Armoured Brigade came up after the initial battle. By the time night had fallend, the 7th Armoured Brigade had only ten tanks left. The 22nd Armoured Brigade still had 24 tanks, about half a battalion. One German tank regiment overran the 4th Armoured Brigade headquarters and captured the entire headquarters except for the brigade commander. The Germans also captured 35 tanks and some guns.
This day saw the XIII Corpss in operation for the first time in the battle. General Freyberg had rodered the 6th New Zealaad Brigade to the Trigh Capuzzo to reinforce the British near Sidi Rezegh. General Scobie, the Tobruk fortress commander and 70th Division commander realized that something was wrong. His reaction to that was to strengthen his forces hold on the corridor out of Tobruk.
General Freyberg realized that he wanted the whole New Zealand Division near Sidi Rezegh, not just one brigade. They did leave some units behind to hold what they had captured, but the main division force would move to Sidi Rezegh. General Godwin-Austen agreed with the move.
On 23 November 1941, "Totensonntag" (Sunday of the Dead), The Germans had some 160 tanks, infantry battalions and assault engineers to attack the forces at Sidi Rezegh. British armor there was only 34 tanks, the remains of the 7th and 22nd Armoured Brigades. The 5th South African Brigade was also present. The Germans started the attack with about 170 tanks and ended the day with about 100 tanks. The British forces were decimated. The armored units had lost most of their remaining tanks. The 5th South African brigade was overrun and dispersed. By the next day, the 7th Armoured Division was reduced to ten running tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

The situation was close to being changed for the better on 21 November 1941 near Tobruk

Early on 21 November 1941, General Norrie had proposed to General Cunningham that this might be a good opportunity to use XIII Corps against enemy positions near the Egyptian frontier. General Norrie had a mistaken impression about the previous day's situation, which was overly optimistic. General Cunningham knew about the German armored divisions move to the west, so this suggestion made sense to him. Cunningham told General Godwin-Austen that he could go into action, which is what he wanted to do anyway. General Godwin-Austen thought that his corps would be better utilized fighting rather than sitting, not in action. The proposed operation ultimately had the benefit of distracting Rommel at a critical point when he was within reach of winning. This eventually led to the tide of event turning in the British favor.
Not that long after the Support Group had taken a position on the ridge, just south from Belhamed, they were attacked on the eastern end by the German 21st Armored Division. The 7th Armoured Brigade and the 7th Support Group fought the two German armored divisions. During the battle, Brigadier "Jock" Campbell was able keep from being destroyed, although they were pretty badly beaten by superior force. The Australian historian says that the British lost 15 to compared to the Germans. By night time, the 7th Armoured Brigade was reduced to 28 tanks still in operation. The other two British armored brigades had not joined the battle, as they had not been able to keep up with the Germans.
General Cunningham was at his command post that was far from the scene of the battle. Communication was slow, and those reports that he did see, were often inaccurate. He attempted to influence the course of the battle, but because his understanding was based on a mistaken impression of earlier information. He thought that the German armored forces were retreating and the sortie from Tobruk was about to approach Ed Duda. He thought that the force at Sidi Rezegh was not trying to move to Ed Duda to link up with the Tobruk sortie. Cunningham's appreciation was that a short move at night to Ed Duda would join the two groups. Generals Norrie and Gott were more focused on the events at Sidi Rezegh and to them, they thought that it was more important to clear German infantry that were on the escarpment to the southwest. The 5th South African Brigade was moved close to do the clearing.
The enemy commanders had some disagreements as to the best moves to make. They eventually decided to send the 21st Armored Division to Belhamed to join the 155th and 361st Regiments. They would be in position to block any move from Sidi Rezegh to meet the Tobruk sortie. They sent the 15th Armored Division into the desert some "7 miles south of Gambut". They thought that the division would be in position to hit the British flank. They were in difficult ground, which left them in a spot that would prove to be dangerous to the British. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

From 20 to 21 November 1941 and the fighting for Sidi Rezegh

General Gott, the 7th Armoured Division commander, was involved with the battle for Sidi Rezegh. He had been at Sidi Rezegh earlier in the day. After that, he had ordered the South Africans to send a brigade to Sidi Rezegh. They had dispatched the 5th South African Brigade. They were to be at Sidi Rezegh by 7am on 21 November 1941,, but they stopped at nightfall, we believe. They were still 17 miles away from Sidi Rezegh.
The South African division, although only one brigade was present, stayed at El Gubi with XXXth Corps' only medium regiment. The force at El  Gubi was to "mask" the Italian armored division, the Ariete. That seems to be an odd command to give a division, as masking was not explained.
General Gott arrived back at Sidi Rezegh in the evening of 20 November. He ordered the 7th Armoured Brigade and the Support Group to attack the enemy on the ridge above the airfield at Sidi Rezegh. They were supposed to open a path to the Trigh Capuzzo and Ed Duda. They would meet the Tobruk sortie force at Ed Duda. They attacked the morning of 21 November at 7:45am. The 70th Division group had started their sortie from Tobruk. The South African brigade had not arrived yet, as they were slowed by mud. Infantry from the Support Group captured the ridge. Tanks from the 6th RTR were able to push through, anticipating that they would be able to travel to Ed Duda. There was a problem, though. Rommel was present and sent four 88mm guns with the 3rd Reconnaissance Unit to stop the tanks. The 6th RTR "was shot to pieces". They had managed to save enough tanks to form a squadron from the remains of the battalion.
General Gott traveled to meet the South African brigade. He stopped them some ten miles from Sidi Rezegh. Gott stayed with the brigade for much of the day. For some reason, he did not tell the brigade commander about the plan to send his brigade to Ed Duda to meet the sortie group from Tobruk.
The successes of the first part of Operation Crusader were the capture of the ridge at Sidi Rezegh and the captured of posts Tiger and Jack by the Tobruk sortie forces. The situation took turns for the worse quite soon after those successes. At Gabr Saleh, the enemy tanks pulled back and headed for Sidi Rezegh. The 4th and 22nd Armoured Brigades chased the Germans,m who were thought to be fleeing. The British were able to catch the Germans and started a tank battle until the British started to run out of fuel. The German armor kept going, so that by 8am, they were getting close to Sidi Rezegh. The Germans attacked the Support Group on the ridge, who were desperately trying to hold the captured ground. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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