Thursday, July 05, 2018

General Scobie has a bad impression of the New Zealand Division on 27 November 1941

During the 70th Division occupation of Ed Duda and the attempt at cooperation with the New Zealand Division, General Scobie was very irritated with the New Zealand Division and General Freyberg. General Scobie had ordered two of his senior staff officers to drive to Ed Duda. He had expected that the New Zealand Division would have created a controlled corridor from the rest of the division to Ed Duda. That had not happened and that indicated to General Scobie a sloppiness on the part of the New Zealanders.
Early during 27 November 1941, XIII Corps gave orders to the Tobruk Fortress, the New Zealand Division and to armored units. As soon as the situation had stabilized, they were to advance to the line of Tobruk, El Adem, and the Bir el Gubi track. Those orders went to the Tobruk headquarters, the New Zealand Division, and the 22nd Armoured Brigade. The orders were that the New Zealand Division would continue west on the escarpment. The Tobruk sortie force would continue along in parallel on the north side. The Tobruk sortie force was asked to accomplish a great deal. They were to send "columns", approximating to the German battle groups, to the west to clear away the enemy from between Tobruk and Gambut. They were to occupy all the "landing grounds" in the area.
General Scobie responded that his troops holding Ed Duda needed to be relieved. That needed to happen so that they could provide enough strength for the clearing operation. General Freyberg sent a message that angered General Scobie. General Scobie replied that there were no New Zealand Division troops at Ed Duda on "square 424409." General Freyberg had said that his troops firmly held Ed Duda, when that was clearly not the case. He also had no idea where the Tobruk troops were located and he hoped that they would tell him.
At this point, General Scobie asked point blank if the New Zealand Division held :"Sidi Rezegh and the hill to the north". He also asked if his troops and tanks were under General Scobie's command. That at least got a reply from General Freyberg that the 44th RTR was needed to return to the New Zealand Division, but the 19th Battalion was available to help defend Ed Duda.
The Australian historian gives both the New Zealand Division and the Tobruk sortie force having lack of information about each other that caused severe miscommunication. The Tobruk sortie force was stretched across forty miles with out considering the clearing mission. General Scobie was also not aware of the condition of the New Zealand units and how close they were to the breaking point. He described them as "near exhaustion".
While General Scobie did not want to risk weakening the Tobruk defenses, he also thought that the enemy were close to "cracking" and that that they might see the enemy go into a general retreat back to the frontier between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania. After General Godwin-Austen visited the New Zealand forces at lunchtime. He got a sobering view of just how shakey they were and that there was still the threat of approaching German armored divisions. General Godwin-Austen informed General Scobie that they New Zealand Division was only capable of holding their territory and that the Tobruk sortie force would have to lear a corridor to the New Zealand DIvision. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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