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.