The Siege of Tobruk lasted for 241 days in 1941, after Axis forces advanced through Cyrenaica from El Agheila in Operation Sonnenblume against Allied forces in Libya, during the Western Desert Campaign (1940–1943) of the Second World War. In late 1940, the Allies had defeated the Italian 10th Army during Operation Compass (9 December 1940 – 9 February 1941) and trapped the remnants at Beda Fomm. During early 1941, much of the Western Desert Force (WDF) was sent to the Greek and Syrian campaigns. As German troops and Italian reinforcements reached Libya, only a skeleton Allied force remained, short of equipment and supplies.
The Axis powers, also known as "Rome–Berlin–Tokyo Axis", were the nations that fought in World War II against the Allies. The Axis powers agreed on their opposition to the Allies, but did not completely coordinate their activity.
Cyrenaica is the eastern coastal region of Libya. Also known as Pentapolis in antiquity, it formed part of the Roman province of Crete and Cyrenaica, later divided into Libya Pentapolis and Libya Sicca. During the Islamic period, the area came to be known as Barqa, after the city of Barca.
El Agheila is a coastal city at the southern end of the Gulf of Sidra in far western Cyrenaica, Libya. In 1988 it was placed in Ajdabiya District; it was in that district until 1995. It was removed from Ajdabiya District in 1995 but in 2001 it was placed back into Ajdabiya District. In 2007, El Agheila was placed within the enlarged Al Wahat District.
Operation Sonnenblume(6 February – 25 May 1941), forced the Allies into a retreat to the Egyptian border. A garrison, consisting mostly of the 9th Australian Division (Lieutenant-General Leslie Morshead) remained at Tobruk, to deny the port to the Axis, while the WDF reorganised and prepared a counter-offensive. The Axis siege of Tobruk began on 10 April, when the port was attacked by a force under Generalleutnant Erwin Rommel and continued during three relief attempts, Operation Brevity (15–16 May), Operation Battleaxe (15–17 June) and Operation Crusader (18 November – 30 December). The occupation of Tobruk deprived the Axis of a supply port closer to the Egypt–Libya border than Benghazi, 560 mi (900 km) west of the Egyptian frontier, which was within the range of RAF bombers; Tripoli was 930 mi (1,500 km) to the west in Tripolitania.
The 9th Division was a division of the Australian Army that served during World War II. It was the fourth division raised for the Second Australian Imperial Force. The distinctions of the division include it being:
Lieutenant General Sir Leslie James Morshead, was an Australian soldier, teacher, businessman, and farmer, whose military career spanned both world wars. During the Second World War, he led the Australian and British troops at the Siege of Tobruk (1941) and at the Second Battle of El Alamein, achieving decisive victories over Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps. A strict and demanding officer, his soldiers nicknamed him "Ming the Merciless", later simply "Ming", after the villain in the Flash Gordon comics.
Tobruk or Tobruck is a port city on Libya's eastern Mediterranean coast, near the border with Egypt. It is the capital of the Butnan District and has a population of 120,000.
The siege diverted Axis troops from the frontier and the Tobruk garrison repulsed several Axis attacks. The port was frequently bombarded by artillery, dive-bombers and medium bombers, as the RAF flew defensive sorties from airfields far away in Egypt. Allied naval forces, such as the British Mediterranean Fleet (including the Inshore Squadron) ran the blockade, carrying reinforcements and supplies in and wounded and prisoners out. On 27 November, Tobruk was relieved by the Eighth Army (which controlled British and other Allied ground forces in the Western Desert from September 1941) in Operation Crusader.
The British Mediterranean Fleet also known as the Mediterranean Station was part of the Royal Navy. The Fleet was one of the most prestigious commands in the navy for the majority of its history, defending the vital sea link between the United Kingdom and the majority of the British Empire in the Eastern Hemisphere. The first Commander-in-Chief for the Mediterranean Fleet was the appointment of General at Sea Robert Blake in September 1654 the Fleet was in existence until 1967.
The Eighth Army was a field army formation of the British Army during the Second World War, fighting in the North African and Italian campaigns. Units came from Australia, British India, Canada, Free French Forces, Greece, New Zealand, Poland, Rhodesia, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
The Western Desert Campaign was fought from Mersa Matruh in Egypt to Gazala in Cyrenaica on the Libyan coast, an area about 390 kilometres (240 mi) wide along Via Balbia along the coast, the only paved road. A sand sea 150 mi (240 km) inland marked the southern limit of the desert, which was at its widest at Giarabub and Siwa; in British parlance, the Western Desert came to include eastern Cyrenaica in Libya. Extending inland from the coast lies a raised, flat plain of stony desert, about 500 ft (150 m) above sea level, for 120–190 mi (200–300 km) to the sand sea. Scorpions, vipers and flies populated the region, which was inhabited by a small number of nomads. Bedouin tracks linked wells and the more easily traversed ground; navigation was by sun, star, compass and "desert sense", good perception of the environment gained by experience. When Italian troops advanced into Egypt in September 1940, the Maletti Group got lost leaving Sidi Omar and had to be found by aircraft.
An erg is a broad, flat area of desert covered with wind-swept sand with little or no vegetative cover. The term takes its name from the Arabic word ʿarq (عرق), meaning "dune field". Strictly speaking, an erg is defined as a desert area that contains more than 125 km2 (48 sq mi) of aeolian or wind-blown sand and where sand covers more than 20% of the surface. Smaller areas are known as "dune fields". The largest hot desert in the world, the Sahara, covers 9 million square kilometres and contains several ergs, such as the Chech Erg and the Issaouane Erg in Algeria. Approximately 85% of all the Earth's mobile sand is found in ergs that are greater than 32,000 km2 (12,355 sq mi). Ergs are also found on other celestial bodies, such as Venus, Mars, and Saturn's moon Titan.
The Bedouin or Bedu are a grouping of nomadic Arab people who have historically inhabited the desert regions in North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Iraq and the Levant. The English word bedouin comes from the Arabic badawī, which means "desert dweller", and is traditionally contrasted with ḥāḍir, the term for sedentary people. Bedouin territory stretches from the vast deserts of North Africa to the rocky sands of the Middle East. They are traditionally divided into tribes, or clans, and share a common culture of herding camels and goats. The vast majority of Bedouin adhere to Islam.
The Raggruppamento Maletti was an ad hoc mechanised unit formed by the Italian Royal Army in Italian North Africa, during the initial stages of the Western Desert Campaign of World War II. The Italian army had three armoured divisions in Europe but all were needed for the occupation of Albania and the forthcoming invasion of Greece, which began on 28 October 1940. The Raggruppamento Maletti was formed in June 1940, as part of the 10th Army and contained all of the M11/39 medium tanks in Libya.
In spring and summer, days are miserably hot and nights very cold; the Sirocco (Gibleh or Ghibli), a hot desert wind, blows clouds of fine sand, which reduces visibility to a few metres and coats eyes, lungs, machinery, food and equipment; motor vehicles and aircraft need special oil filters and the barren ground means that supplies for military operations have to be transported from outside. 1,400–1,600 mi (2,300–2,600 km) to 300–900 mi (480–1,450 km), which was made worse by the lack of standard parts for German and Italian types. The ground is a hard surface which drops to sea level in steps, with the coast cut by ravines. The Italian fortifications at Tobruk included an outer perimeter, comprising a double semi-circle of dug-in strong points with concrete walls, positioned well for forward observation, an inner anti-tank ditch, some parts of which were behind barbed wire and/or included booby traps, as well as several more fortified positions closer to the port, at the Bardia–El Adem road junction and towards Fort Pilastrino.German engines tended to overheat and tank engine life fell from
Sirocco, scirocco, jugo or, rarely, siroc is a Mediterranean wind that comes from the Sahara and can reach hurricane speeds in North Africa and Southern Europe, especially during the summer season.
On the morning of 5 January 1941, as soon as the 63rd Infantry Division Cirene garrisoning Bardia surrendered, the 7th Armoured Brigade set off for El Adem (now Tobruk Airport) and next day began to cut off the port. (The Western Desert Force was renamed XIII Corps on 1 January.) The Australian 19th Brigade group reached the eastern defences of Tobruk on 7 January and the 16th Brigade group took over on the west side. The British 4th Armoured Brigade moved to the west part of the perimeter, the Support Group blocked the western exits and the British 7th Armoured Brigade screened the force from interference from the west, although little resistance had been met during the moves from Bardia. The Regia Aeronautica had lost many aircraft since Operation Compass began and the main repair depot at El Adem was captured, causing the Italians great difficulty in maintaining the serviceability of the remaining aircraft.
The 63rd Infantry Division Cirene was an auto-transportable infantry division of the Italian Army during World War II. The Cirene Division was formed 1 October 1937 in Marj and destroyed 5 January 1941 in Bardia. in January 1941. The Cirene was classified as an auto-transportable division, meaning staff and equipment could be transported on cars and trucks, although not simultaneously.
Tobruk International Airport is an airport serving the Mediterranean port city of Tobruk, capital of the Butnan District of Libya. The airport is 23 kilometres (14 mi) south of Tobruk, at the town of Al Adm.
XIII Corps was a corps-sized formation of the British Army that fought on the Western Front during the First World War and was reformed for service during the Second World War, serving in the Mediterranean and Middle East throughout its service.
The attack was to be made against the perimeter east of the El Adem road, where a battalion of the 16th Australian Brigade was to capture the defences in a night attack, through which the rest of the brigade and the 7th RTR would pass and fan out east and west, then advance towards the harbour. The Australian 17th Brigade and the Support Group were to stage diversions either side of the attack and Italian artillery positions were to be located for counter-battery fire. Sandstorms blew up and grounded the Desert Air Force for much of the time but raids were carried out on Tobruk and the Italian bomber bases at Benina and Berka. On the night of 20/21 January, several ships and gunboats bombarded the harbour; destroyers waited further out to attack the Italian cruiser San Giorgio, if the crew tried to escape; and then Wellington bombers flew over Tobruk, to drown the sound of the assembly for the attack.
The 2/3rd Australian Battalion attacked at 5:40 a.m. on 21 January, covered by artillery, through an area where engineers had disabled booby traps and then began to lift mines, to make paths through the wire and over the anti-tank ditch. After an hour, the 16th Australian Brigade and 18 infantry tanks broke through 1 mi (1.6 km) deep on a 1 mi (1.6 km) front, against patchy resistance. As the 16th Australian Brigade fanned out at 8:40 a.m., the 19th Australian Brigade advanced north, behind an artillery barrage and counter-battery fire on the Italian artillery. The 2/8th Australian Battalion was held up at the Bardia–El Adem crossroads by a force of dug-in tanks and machine-gun nests but at 2:00 p.m. the Australians attacked again and broke through on the right. On the left, the Australians were counter-attacked by seven tanks and infantry behind an artillery barrage, which was driven off by the Australians, two anti-tank guns and two infantry tanks. More resistance was met near Pilastrino, which held out until 9:30 p.m. and the area around Solero was captured, along with the XXII Corps and garrison commander, General Pitassi Manella.
The 2/8th Australian Battalion had marched 20 mi (32 km) since the morning, fighting for 5 mi (8.0 km) and lost 100 casualties. During the day, Blenheims of 55 and 113 squadrons flew 56 sorties against Tobruk and the Gloster Gladiators and Hawker Hurricanes of No. 3 Squadron RAAF, No. 73 Squadron RAF and No. 274 Squadron RAF had patrolled to the west. Half of the Tobruk area had been captured by nightfall and the Italians began demolitions at the harbour. The San Giorgio, having been ordered to stay and help with the defence until the end, fired on the advancing Australian troops up to the time when the naval base fell, then was blown up by her crew to avoid capture. A general advance was ordered for the morning and at dawn, the commander of the Sirte Division, Major-General Della Mura surrendered with several thousand of his troops and the defence collapsed. The Australian 6th Divisional Cavalry Regiment reached the port and took the surrender of Admiral Massimiliano Vietina and the Regia Marina garrison. By 3:45 p.m. resistance had ceased and 20,000 prisoners,208 guns and 87 tanks were captured. Another 18 officers and 750 Italian soldiers had been killed in the fighting and 30 officers and 2,250 men had been wounded. XIII Corps lost 400 men,355 of them Australian. Most of the demolitions had been of stores rather than installations and the Inshore Squadron began mine sweeping and opened the port on 24 January.
In February 1941, the Allies defeated the 10th Army and the 5°Squadra of the Regia Aeronautica , after which Allied leaders decided to hold the area with minimal forces and send the remainder of the WDF to Greece. The Australian 9th Division and the British 2nd Armoured Division (Major-General Michael Gambier-Parry), minus a brigade group sent to Greece, were left to garrison Cyrenaica under Cyrenaica Command (Cyrcom: Lieutenant-General Henry Maitland Wilson), despite the inadequacy of the force if the Germans sent reinforcements to Libya. Command in Egypt was taken over by Lieutenant-General Richard O'Connor and the XIII Corps HQ was replaced by the HQ of the 1st Australian Corps (Lieutenant-General Thomas Blamey). It was believed by Wavell and the GHQ in Egypt that the Germans could not attack until May, when the 9th Australian Division, two more divisions and support troops, particularly artillery would be ready and the tanks of the 2nd Armoured Division would have been overhauled.
The 2nd Armoured Division had a reconnaissance regiment and the 3rd Armoured Brigade (Brigadier Reginald Rimington), which had an under-strength light tank regiment and one equipped with captured Fiat M13/40 tanks. The cruiser regiment arrived in late March with worn-out tracks, after many breakdowns en route and brought the division up to an under-strength armoured brigade. Most of the British tanks were worn out and the Italian tanks were slow and unreliable. The British 2nd Support Group (similar to a small infantry brigade) had only a motor battalion, a 25-pounder field gun regiment, an anti-tank battery and a machine-gun company. The division was short of transport and its workshops were understaffed and lacked spare parts. Two brigades of the 9th Australian Division (Major-General Leslie Morshead) were swapped with two from the 7th Australian Division (Major-General John Lavarack), which had insufficient training, equipment and transport.
Lack of transport made it impossible to supply a garrison west of El Agheila, the most favourable position for a defensive line and restricted the 2nd Armoured Division to movement between supply dumps, reducing its limited mobility further. In February, Lieutenant-General Philip Neame took over Cyrcom and predicted that the armoured division would lose many tanks through breakdowns if it had to move far. Neame asked for a proper armoured division, two infantry divisions and adequate air support to hold the area; he was told that there was little to send and none of that before April. In early March, the 9th Australian Division began to relieve the 6th Australian Division (Major-General Iven Mackay) at Mersa Brega for shipment to Greece, which demonstrated the difficulty of tactical moves with insufficient transport and it was withdrawn to the area east of Benghazi.
Neame was ordered to conserve the tanks units, retire as far as Benghazi if pressed, to abandon it if necessary and hold the high ground nearby for as long as possible, with no prospect of reinforcement before May. Neame was to fight a delaying action up the Via Balbia towards Benghazi and then the defiles near Er Regima and Barce; the tanks would move to Antelat to operate against the flank and rear of an attacker moving up the road or across the desert to Tobruk, falling back on a flank if necessary. On 20 March, the 2nd Armoured Division took over from the Australians, who moved back to Tocra, near Er Regima. The force was to use depots at Msus, Tecnis, Martuba, Mechili and Tmimi, El Magrun and Benghazi as a substitute for lorry-borne supply. The 3rd Indian Motor Brigade (Brigadier E. W. D. Vaughan) arrived in late March, with lorries but no tanks, artillery, anti-tank guns and only half its wireless sets; the brigade was based at Martuba, ready to use its vehicles to move towards Derna, Barce or Mechili.
On 24 March, Rommel advanced with the new Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK). The 3rd Armoured Brigade was south-east of Mersa Brega, where the 2nd Support Group held an 8 mi (13 km) front; the Australians were 150 mi (240 km) to the north, minus a brigade left at Tobruk, deficient in much equipment and out of contact with the 2nd Armoured Division. Allied air reconnaissance had observed German troops west of El Agheila on 25 February and by 5 March, it was expected that the German commander would consolidate the defence of Tripolitania before trying to recapture Cyrenaica and then invade Egypt, using bases at Sirte and Nofilia but not before April. Rommel was identified on 8 March but local intelligence was hard to find under the restrictions to preserve the few troops and vehicles near the front and avoid the danger of the faster German eight-wheeler armoured cars, which inhibited Allied tactical reconnaissance.
On 3 April, Gambier-Parry had received a report that a large enemy armoured force was advancing on Msus, site of the main divisional supply dump. The 3rd Armoured Brigade moved there and found that the petrol had been destroyed to prevent capture. The tank brigade was reduced by losses and breakdowns to 12 Cruiser tanks,20 light tanks and 20 Italian tanks. Neame received conflicting reports about the positions of the Allied and Axis forces and news on 5 April that a large Axis force was advancing on El Abiar led him to order the 9th Australian Division back to Wadi Cuff and the elements of the 2nd Armoured Division to guard the desert flank and retire to Mechili. Other reports led Neame to countermand these orders, which caused the Australians much confusion. On 6 April, Allied air reconnaissance reported that there were Axis columns in the desert and the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade repulsed an attack at Mechili, which led to O'Connor at the Cyrcom headquarters (Neame had left to visit Gambier-Parry) to order a general withdrawal.
Rommel had intended to attack Mechili on 7 April but the Axis forces were scattered, short of fuel and tired. Group Fabris moved forward during the morning but the 132nd Armoured Division Ariete (Ariete Division) and Group Streich took all day to arrive, having been attacked all day by the RAF. A Squadron of the LRDG had appeared from the south, to harass Axis movements. By nightfall on 7 April, the 9th Australian Division (less the 24th Infantry Brigade) and British 2nd Support Group had blocked the Via Balbia at Acroma, about 15 mi (24 km) west of Tobruk, where the 18th and 24th Infantry Brigades were preparing the defences. (The 18th Australian Infantry Brigade had arrived from Egypt by sea after the dispatch of the 7th Australian Division to Greece had been cancelled.) A small force held El Adem, south of Tobruk to observe the approaches from the south and south-west and at Mechili, Gambier-Parry had the 2nd Armoured Division headquarters soft-skinned vehicles and a cruiser tank, most of the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade, M Battery 1st Royal Horse Artillery, part of the 2/3rd Australian Anti-tank Regiment and elements of other units.
The Germans tried twice to bluff Gambier-Parry into surrender but he received orders from Cyrcom to break out and retreat to El Adem and decided to attack at dawn, to gain a measure of surprise. On 8 April, A Squadron of the 18th Cavalry broke through and then turned to attack Italian artillery, as some Indian troops of the 11th Prince Albert Victor's Own Cavalry (Frontier Force) got away. Most of the garrison was pinned down and after a second attempt at 8:00 a.m. when small parties of the 2nd Royal Lancers escaped. The garrison had fired most of its small arms ammunition at the vision slits of the German tanks, which had hung back in fear of mines and when Italian infantry attacked, had little left. Gambier-Parry and 2,700–3,000 British, Indian and Australian troops surrendered to the 17th Infantry Division Pavia (General Pietro Zaglio).
Axis supplies came from Europe and deliveries were moved by road; after Operation Compass (December 1940 – February 1941), only Tripoli remained, which had a maximum capacity of four troopships or five cargo ships at once, about 45,000 long tons (46,000 t) per month. Tripoli to Benghazi was 600 mi (970 km) along the Via Balbia, which was only half-way to Alexandria. The road could flood, was vulnerable to the DAF and alternative desert tracks increased vehicle wear. The Axis advance of 300 mi (480 km) to the Egyptian frontier in early 1941, increased the road transport distance for supplies to 1,100 mi (1,800 km). Benghazi was captured in April but coastal shipping could only carry 15,000 long tons (15,241 t) and the port was within range of the DAF. Tobruk could take about 1,500 long tons (1,524 t) per day but lack of shipping made its capture irrelevant.
A German motorised division needed 350 long tons (360 t) per day and moving the supplies 300 mi (480 km)took 1,170 two-ton lorries. With seven Axis divisions, air and naval units, 70,000 long tons (71,000 t) of supplies per month were needed. Vichy agreed to Bizerta being used for supplies but none passed through until late 1942. From February–May 1941, a surplus of 45,000 long tons (46,000 t) was delivered; attacks from Malta had some affect but in May, the worst month for ship losses, 91 percent of supplies arrived. Lack of transport in Libya left German supplies in Tripoli and the Italians had only 7,000 lorries for deliveries to 225,000 men. A record amount of supplies arrived in June but at the front, the shortages worsened.
There were fewer Axis attacks on Malta from June and ships sunk increased from 19 percent in July, to 25 percent in September, when Benghazi was bombed and ships diverted to Tripoli; air supply in October made little difference. Deliveries averaged 72,000 long tons (73,000 t) per month from July–October but the consumption of 30–50 percent of fuel deliveries by road transport and truck unserviceability of 35 percent reduced deliveries to the front. In November, a five-ship convoy was sunk during Operation Crusader and ground attacks on road convoys stopped journeys in daylight. Lack of deliveries and the Eighth Army offensive, forced a retreat to El Agheila from 4 December, crowding the Via Balbia where Allied ambushes destroyed about half of the remaining Axis transport.
Work on the fortifications at Tobruk had begun in March, using the Italian defences, two lines of concrete bunkers 8–9 mi (13–14 km) away from the port, making a perimeter about 30 mi (48 km) long, far enough out to keep artillery out of range of the port. Few intermediate defences had been built by the Italians except at the Bardia–El Adem road junction, the barbed wire was in disrepair and an anti-tank ditch was unfinished. The Allies selected another line about 2 mi (3.2 km) back from the perimeter and worked on this while the original line was refurbished. Two battalions of the Australian 24th Infantry Brigade and the newly arrived Australian 18th Brigade (which had been detached from the 7th Division) took over the perimeter and the Australian 20th and 26th brigades took up a covering position on the outside until 9 April, while more work was done on the defences. Once inside, the three 9th Australian Division brigades took over the defences and the 18th Brigade went into reserve.
A cadre of the British 3rd Armoured Brigade was refitting at Tobruk, with personnel and equipment sent from Egypt by sea and had a regiment of armoured cars, two composite regiments with 15 light, 26 cruiser and a troop of four infantry tanks. There were four 25-pounder regiments, two anti-tank regiments and an anti-tank company in each infantry brigade, the British 4th Anti-Aircraft Brigade had sixteen heavy and fifty-nine light guns, all but two Bofors guns being sited around the harbour. Rear area units had accumulated at Tobruk and 1⁄3 of the 36,000 personnel were in base units or local refugees and prisoners of war. Morshead planned an active defence and stressed that, with battalions holding 5 mi (8.0 km) frontages, a break-in should be expected anywhere that the attackers made a serious effort and that it should be eliminated, since there would be no withdrawal.
By 8 April, the most advanced German units had arrived at Derna but some units which had cut across the chord of the Jebel Akhdar, ran out of water and fuel at Tengeder. Heinrich von Prittwitz und Gaffron, the commander of the 15th Panzer Division was sent ahead with a column of reconnaissance, anti-tank, machine-gun and artillery units, to block the eastern exit from Tobruk, as the 5th Light Division moved from the south-west and the 27th Infantry Division Brescia advanced from the west. On 10 April, Rommel made the Suez Canal the objective of the Afrika Korps and ordered that a break out from Tobruk be prevented. Next day the port was invested but the rush ended with the 5th Light Division on the east side, the Prittwitz group to the south (Prittwitz having been killed) and the 27th Infantry Division Brescia to the west. Reconnaissance Unit 3 went on to Bardia and a composite force was sent on to Sollum to try to reach Mersa Matruh. The British Mobile Force (Brigadier William Gott), on the frontier from Halfaya Pass to Sidi Barrani, conducted a delaying-action around Sollum and Capuzzo.
From 11–12 April, the 5th Panzer Regiment probed the defences of the 20th Australian Brigade near the El Adem road. The tanks were held off by artillery-fire; German infantry who reached the anti-tank ditch were forced back by Australian infantry. The Germans were surprised, having assumed that the shipping at Tobruk was to evacuate the garrison and planned a night attack by the 5th Light Division for 13/14 April. Groups of Axis vehicles were attacked by 45 and 55 squadrons RAF, which rearmed at the airfields inside the perimeter. The attack began after dark, with an attempt to get over the anti-tank ditch west of the El Adem road in the 2/17th Australian Battalion sector, which the Australians repulsed. Another attempt was made later and by dawn a small bridgehead had been established, where the 5th Panzer Regiment drove through and turned northwards, ready to divide into one column for the harbour and one to move west to stop the escape of the garrison.
The German tanks were engaged head on by the 1st RHA and veered away, only to drive into the path of the British cruiser tanks, waiting hull-down and received anti-tank fire from three sides, losing sixteen of 38 tanks and retreated. The Australian infantry had stood their ground and pinned down the German infantry. As the retreat continued, every gun and aircraft at Tobruk fired into the area and the German 8th Machine-Gun Battalion lost about 75 percent of its men, for a garrison loss of 26 men killed,64 wounded, two tanks and a field gun knocked out. Attacks from the south were abandoned and the 5th Light Division dug in, with the Schwerin Group (renamed after Prittwitz had been killed) to the east.
On 16 April, Rommel led an attack from the west, with the 132nd Armoured Division Ariete reinforced by the 62nd Infantry Regiment of the 102nd Motorised Division Trento. The 2/48th Australian Battalion counter-attacked and took 803 prisoners. In the morning, the 132nd Armoured Division Ariete attacked again and some tanks reached the most advanced Australian posts, found that their infantry had not followed and retired after five tanks were knocked out. Morshead ordered the garrison to exploit Axis disorganisation and their inability to quickly dig in on stony ground, through conducting patrols and small sorties. On 22 April, a company of the 2/48th Australian Battalion, three infantry tanks and a troop of 25-pounders, raided a hillock held by the Fabris Detachment south-west of Ras el Medauar; the raiders destroyed two guns and took 370 prisoners. At the same time a company of the 2/23rd Battalion advanced across the Derna road and in a costly attack, took about 100 prisoners from the 27th Infantry Division Brescia, which led the Germans to hurry on the 15th Panzer Division from Tripoli.
The defeat of the Axis attacks in April greatly improved the situation in Tobruk but Fliegerkorps X had sent 150–200 aircraft to Libya from Sicily in February, which flew frequent dive-bomber sorties by day and medium-bomber raids by day and night on the docks, buildings, anti-aircraft sites, artillery positions and the airfields. Westland Lysander aircraft and all but the most essential ground crew of 6 and 73 squadrons were withdrawn to Egypt. At least ten Hawker Hurricane fighters were based at the port during the day and on 19 April, Hurricanes of 73 and 274 squadrons, intercepted a Stuka raid escorted by fighters. After another two days, 73 Squadron was down to five operational aircraft with very tired pilots. By 23 April, three more Hurricanes had been shot down, a further 2 were damaged and on 25 April the squadron was withdrawn. The fighters of 274 Squadron stayed at Gerawla and 6 Squadron remained at Tobruk to fly tactical reconnaissance sorties. Fighter cover could only be maintained at intervals by the last 14 Hurricanes in the desert; Axis airfields at Gazala, Derna and Benina, were bombed at dusk and night to limit Axis air attacks on Tobruk.
In March, destroyers were withdrawn from the Inshore Squadron to escort convoys to Greece and in April, four more ships joined the squadron. As the army retreated to Tobruk and the frontier, coastal operations were conducted on the nights of 10–11 April by gunboats, which bombarded transport on the Via Balbia around Bomba and Gambut airfield and on the night of 12 April, six destroyers and two cruisers made a coastal sweep from Ras Tayones to Ras et Tin. Next day, three ships bombarded Sollum and on 15 April, transport was bombarded at Bardia and Capuzzo, as Gazala airfield was shelled again. For the rest of April, naval bombardments continued along the Libyan coast on the Via Balbia, airfields and ports. A Commando raid was carried out on Bardia and supply runs began to Tobruk. From 11 April – 10 December,47,280 men were taken from Tobruk, 34,113 were brought in and 33,946 long tons (34,491 t) of stores delivered; 34 ships were sunk and 33 damaged.
The Bardia raid was planned for the night of 19/20 April, by 'A' Battalion, Layforce to disrupt Axis lines of communication and damage installations and equipment. The landing force sailed to the area in HMS Glengyle, escorted by the anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Coventry and the destroyers HMAS Stuart, Voyager and Waterhen. The Commandos of 'A' Battalion and a troop of tanks from the Royal Tank Regiment were to land on four beaches from Landing Craft Assault (LCA). On arrival, one LCA could not be lowered and there were difficulties releasing the others. On the run-in, there were no lights to guide them in, because the advance Folbot section had been delayed, when their submarine HMS Triumph had to dive and take evasive action when it was mistakenly attacked by Allied aircraft. As a result of these issues the main force was late and landed on the wrong beaches, albeit unopposed. Once ashore the Commandos found that the port was empty of Axis forces and faulty intelligence led to some objectives being missed and others turning out not to exist. The Commandos destroyed an Italian supply dump and a coastal artillery battery before re-embarking. Seventy men got lost, ended up on the wrong evacuation beach and were captured.
After the failure to capture Tobruk off the march, Comando Supremo and OKW agreed that Tobruk should be captured and supplies accumulated, before the advance into Egypt was resumed. Rommel thought that Tobruk could only be taken by a deliberate attack, which could not begin until support units had arrived in the area and the Luftwaffe had been reinforced, particularly with transport aircraft to carry ammunition, fuel and water. On 27 April, Major-General Friedrich Paulus a Deputy Chief of the General Staff, arrived from Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) in Berlin, to question Rommel on his intentions, impress on him that there was little more help available and to forecast the defensive possibilities of the area, if Sollum was lost. Paulus refused to allow an attack planned for 30 April, until he had studied the situation and on 29 April, allowed the attack to go ahead, as did Gariboldi who had arrived on 28 April. Nothing more ambitious than securing the Axis hold on the Egyptian frontier, from Siwa Oasis north to Sollum was envisaged.
The Tobruk garrison continued work on the defences and sowed minefields, the first being planted in the south-west, between the outer and inner perimeters. Twelve infantry tanks had been delivered among 5,000 long tons (5,100 t) of supplies landed during the month, despite Axis bombing of the harbour and the sinking of two supply ships. The Axis attack was to be made in the south-west, either side of the hillock of Ras el Medauar, about two weeks after the previous attempt, using the 5th Light Division on the right and the 15th Panzer Division on the left, even though it had only recently arrived in Africa. At 8:00 p.m. on 30 April, the divisions were to break into the Tobruk defences, followed by assault groups from the Ariete Division and 27th Infantry Division Brescia to roll up the flanks. German infantry would press forward to reconnoitre the vicinity of Fort Pilastrino, to see if the attack could continue to the harbour. If not, the Italian infantry would dig in on the flanks and artillery would be moved forward for an attack the next day.
The attack came in the area held by the 26th Australian Brigade, which had the 2/23rd and 2/24th battalions in the line and the 2/48th Battalion in reserve at Wadi Giaida. The Australians expected an attack, after withstanding bombing and artillery-fire on the perimeter defences on 29 April; Axis troops seen massing in the evening of 30 April had been dispersed by artillery-fire. The posts either side of Ras el Medauar were shelled and bombed and German troops began to dribble forward, under cover of dust and the gathering darkness. By 9:30 p.m., the Germans made a small bridgehead as planned but several Australian posts held out, the reconnaissance party vanished and the Italian troops were not able to reach their objectives. The night passed in confused fighting as the Germans tried to reorganise and mop up at Ras el Medauar and attack south-westwards along the perimeter. The new attack failed and by morning, some of the Australian posts were still holding out.
A thick mist rose and German tanks moved eastwards instead of south-east and then ran into the new minefield, where they were engaged by anti-tank guns and repulsed. Tanks of the 15th Panzer Division, tried to drive north but were prevented by anti-tank fire. No German reserves were left and the most advanced troops were south of Wadi Giaida, tired and isolated in a sandstorm. Paulus judged that the attack had failed and Rommel decided to attack on the right to widen the breach. In the afternoon, German tanks attacked south-east towards Bir el Medauar and Morshead sent 15 cruiser and five infantry tanks to counter-attack. The German attack was stopped for a loss of five British tanks and in the evening, the Australian 2/48th Battalion counter-attacked Ras el Medauar but met determined resistance and was repulsed. During the day, 73 and 274 Squadrons had maintained standing patrols over the area and on the morning of 2 May, the fighting around Wadi Giaida continued in a dust storm, as German troops tried to trickle forward. On the night of 3 May, the 18th Australian Brigade made a converging counter-attack with two battalions, which lost co-ordination, failed and was ended, to avoid being caught in the open at daybreak.
The Axis attack had overrun the perimeter defences on a 3 mi (4.8 km) front, to a maximum depth of 2 mi (3.2 km) and captured higher ground useful as a jumping-off position and from which observation points could be established, for a loss of 650 German and 500 Italian casualties. The 8th Bersaglieri Regiment of the 132nd Armoured Division Ariete had captured most of the Australian positions. Paulus ordered that no more attacks be made, unless the Allies were evacuating the port. The DAK was to hold Cyrenaica regardless of who held Sollum, Bardia or Tobruk and a new line was to be built further back at Gazala. In a report on 12 May, Paulus wrote that sea communications between Italy and Libya should be reinforced, that any air and anti-aircraft units sent to Libya should be German and that the army in Libya needed ammunition, fuel and food first, then more vehicles before the dispatch of more men, of whom medium artillery and anti-tank gun crews should have priority. The Tobruk garrison settled into a routine of patrols, air raids and minor attacks, some to regain positions in the Medauar salient and some in connexion with WDF operations.
The Twin Pimples was a defensive strong point outside Tobruk, on two hills close together which overlooked the Tobruk perimeter. It was held by the Italian Army, and the 18th King Edward's Own Cavalry (normally part of the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade) held the perimeter opposite. No. 8 Commando was selected to carry out an attack on the Twin Pimples, which conducted patrols for several days with the Indians, to reconnoitre the ground. 43 members of No. 8 Commando and some Australian Engineers crossed the Italian forward positions and a supply road, to attack the Twin Pimples from behind.The 18th Cavalry Regiment was to mount a diversion, while
The Commandos advanced at 11:00 p.m. on the night of 17/18 July and crossed the Italian lines undetected. At the supply road they took cover, waited until 1:00 a.m. and edged forward just before the diversion by the 18th Cavalry. The diversion attracted Italian machine-gun fire and very lights, as the Commandos got within 30 yd (27 m) of the Twin Pimples before challenge, at which the commandos attacked. The password Jock was used when a position had been taken and the Italians were swiftly overcome. The Australian engineers planted explosives on several mortars and an ammunition dump. The plan assumed that it would take 15 minutes for Italian artillery to open fire and the raiders were only about 100 yd (91 m) away, when the Italian shelling began.
Operation Brevity (15–16 May) was a limited offensive to inflict attrition on the Axis forces and to secure positions for a general offensive towards Tobruk. The Allies attacked with a small tank-infantry force in three columns and seized the top of the Halfaya Pass, Bir Wair and Musaid, then pressed on and took Fort Capuzzo. The coast group failed to capture the bottom of the Halfaya Pass. The garrison on the east side of the Tobruk defences was strengthened in case of a sortie and a German counter-attack recovered Musaid. The coast group eventually overran the foot of the pass; but, the next day, Allied retirements against German counter-attacks to a line from Sidi Omar to Sidi Suleiman and Sollum, left all but Halfaya Pass in German hands. On 26 May, Operation Skorpion, a German attack on the pass, succeeded and the Allies were ejected. Brevity failed to achieve most of its objectives, only briefly holding the Halfaya Pass. The Allies lost 206 casualties, five tanks destroyed and 13 damaged. German casualties were 258 men, three tanks destroyed and several damaged. The Italians had 395 casualties, of whom 347 were captured. On 12 May, the Tiger convoy lost one ship and arrived in Alexandria with 238 tanks, to re-equip the 7th Armoured Division and 43 aircraft; on 28 May, planning began for Operation Battleaxe.
Operation Battleaxe, 15–17 June 1941 was intended to lift the siege of Tobruk and capture eastern Cyrenaica. The attack was to be conducted by the 7th Armoured Division and a composite infantry force based on the 4th Indian Division headquarters, with two brigades. The infantry were to attack in the area of Bardia, Sollum, Halfaya and Capuzzo, with the tanks guarding the southern flank. The Tobruk garrison was to stand by but not to sortie until XIII Corps drew close. The Halfaya Pass attack failed, Point 206 was captured and only one of three attacks on Hafid Ridge succeeded.
At the end of 15 June only 48 British tanks remained operational and next day, a German counter-attack forced back the Allies on the western flank but was repulsed in the centre; the Allies were reduced to 21 Cruiser tanks and 17 Infantry tanks. On 17 June, the Allies evaded encirclement by two Panzer regiments and ended the operation. The Allies had 969 casualties,27 cruiser and 64 Infantry tanks were knocked out or broke down and lost; the RAF lost 36 aircraft. German losses were 678 men (Italian losses are unknown), twelve tanks and ten aircraft. General Wavell, the XIII Corps commander, Lieutenant-General Noel Beresford-Peirse and Major-General Michael O'Moore Creagh the 7th Armoured Division commander were sacked and Auchinleck took over as Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East.
In mid-1941, Blamey, as commander of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), with the support of the Australian government, requested the withdrawal of the 9th Division from Tobruk. Blamey wrote that the health of the Australian division had deteriorated "to the point where it was not longer capable of resisting attack"; he also wanted to unite Australian forces in the Middle East. Auchinleck agreed but noted that a troop movement this big could only be made by fast warships during moonless periods, to evade air attacks. The Mediterranean Fleet was busy elsewhere, the Inshore Squadron was carrying supplies into Tobruk and Operation Crusader was being prepared. The Australian withdrawal began in the August non-moon period and from 19–29 August,6,116 men of the Polish Carpathian Independent Rifle Brigade and Czechoslovak 11th Infantry Battalion and 1,297 long tons (1,318 t) of stores were landed.
The navy took out 5,040 men of the 18th Australian Infantry Brigade and the Indian 18th King Edward's Own Cavalry, on three destroyers, a minelayer and one destroyer carrying supplies, with cruiser escorts as anti-aircraft ships, a cruiser and a destroyer being damaged. From 19–27 September, the British 16th Infantry Brigade, 70th Infantry Division (Major-General Ronald Scobie), the HQ of the 32nd Army Tank Brigade and the 4th Royal Tank Regiment with 6,308 men and more 2,000 long tons (2,032 t) of supplies arrived, while 5,989 men of the 24th Australian Infantry Brigade left, with no loss of ships. From 12–25 October, the rest of the 70th Infantry Division was delivered and most of the Australians removed. Ship losses on normal delivery runs, led to the 2/13th Australian Battalion and two companies of the 2/15th Battalion remaining in Tobruk. Command of the garrison passed from Morshead to Scobie.
Operation Crusader began on 18 November 1941, with an outflanking movement that brought the Eighth Army to within 30 mi (48 km) of the Tobruk perimeter. It was planned that the 70th Infantry Division would break out from Tobruk on 21 December, to cut the German line of communication to the troops on the border to the south-east. The 7th Armoured Division would advance from Sidi Rezegh, to rendezvous and roll up the Axis positions around Tobruk. The 2nd New Zealand Division, attached to XIII Corps, would take advantage of the distraction of the 21st Panzer Division and 15th Panzer Division and advance to the Sidi Azeiz area, overlooking the Axis defences at Bardia. The 70th Infantry Division attack surprised Rommel, who had underestimated the size of the garrison and number of tanks in Tobruk. A three pronged attack by the 2nd King's Own on the right flank, the 2nd Battalion, Black Watch in the centre and the 2nd Queen's Own on the left flank, advanced to capture a series of strong points leading to Ed Duda.
By mid afternoon, the Allies had advanced about 3.5 mi (5.6 km) towards Ed Duda on the main supply road, where they paused as it became clear that 7th Armoured Division would not arrive. The central attack by the Black Watch, involved a charge under massed machine-gun fire to strongpoint Tiger, which incurred 201 casualties. On 22 November, Scobie ordered the position to be consolidated and the corridor widened, ready for the Eighth Army. The 2nd York and Lancaster Regiment with tank support, took strong point Lion leaving a 7,000 yd (6,400 m) gap between the corridor and Ed Duda. On 26 November, Scobie ordered an attack on the Ed Duda ridge and in the early hours of 27 November, the Tobruk garrison captured the ridge and later met a small force of New Zealanders advancing from the south. The 7th Armoured Division had planned its attack northwards to Tobruk for 8:30 a.m. on 21 November. At 7:45 a.m. patrols reported the arrival from the south-east of about 200 tanks. The 7th Armoured Brigade and a battery of field artillery turned to meet this threat and without the tanks, the northward attack by the Support Group failed; by the end of the day, the 7th Armoured Brigade had only 40 of 160 tanks operational.
On 22 November, the Bologna Division repulsed an attack from Tobruk towards Sidi Rezegh and next day, Rommel sent the Afrika Korps towards the Egyptian border (the Dash to the Wire) to exploit the victory and destroy XXX Corps. The blow mostly fell on empty desert and gave the Eighth Army time to regroup and re-arm. The Afrika Korps was ordered back to Tobruk, where the 70th Infantry Division and the New Zealand Division had gained the initiative. At noon on 27 November, the 15th Panzer Division reached Bir el Chleta and met the 22nd Armoured Brigade (reduced to a composite regiment of fewer than fifty tanks), which was joined later by the 4th Armoured Brigade. As night fell the British tanks disengaged and the New Zealand Division, fighting at the south-east end of the corridor into Tobruk, was endangered by the Afrika Korps.On 4 December, Rommel attacked Ed Duda and was repulsed by the 14th Infantry Brigade of the 70th Infantry Division. Rommel ordered a retirement from the eastern perimeter of Tobruk, to concentrate against XXX Corps to the south. On 7 December, the 4th Armoured Brigade engaged 15th Panzer Division and knocked out eleven tanks. Rommel was told on 5 December, by Comando Supremo that supply could not improve until the end of the month, when airborne deliveries from Sicily began. Rommel decided to abandon Tobruk and withdraw to Gazala, which led to the relief of Tobruk and the occupation of Cyrenaica.
For much of the siege, Tobruk was defended by the 9th Australian Division and other troops. General Archibald Wavell, the Commander-in-Chief of Middle East Command ordered Morshead to defend the port for eight weeks; the Australians held on for over five months, before being gradually withdrawn during September and replaced by the 70th Infantry Division, the Polish Carpathian Brigade and Czechoslovak 11th Infantry Battalion (East). The fresh defenders held Tobruk until they broke out on 21 November and held open an 8 mi (13 km) corridor, unsupported for several days, then captured Ed Duda on 26 November, to link with the advancing Eighth Army, during Operation Crusader.
The Tobruk Ferry Service, made up of Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy warships, played an important role in the defence of Tobruk providing gunfire support, supplies, fresh troops and by ferrying out the wounded. Control of Tobruk was useful to the Allies because it was the only significant port east of Benghazi and west of Alexandria. The supply of Axis troops on the Egyptian frontier could have been eased by sea transport to Tobruk. The siege of Tobruk was the first occasion in the war that German Panzer units had been stopped.The siege of Tobruk was lifted in December 1941 in the course of Operation Crusader. Axis forces re-captured the port on 21 June 1942, after defeating the Eighth Army in the Battle of Gazala. During the course of the siege, two destroyers, three sloops, seven anti-submarine vessels and minesweepers, seven store carriers and schooners, six A lighters and one fast minelayer were sunk, a total of 26 ships. Seven destroyers, a sloop, eleven anti-submarine and minesweeping vessels, three gunboats and a schooner were damaged, a total of 23 vessels. Six Merchant Navy ships and a schooner were sunk and six merchant ships were damaged; a total of 62 ships were sunk or damaged.
The Rats of Tobruk suffered at least 3,836 casualties, there being a small difference in Australian casualty figures quoted in the Australian and British official histories. Most of the Australian garrison withdrew from Tobruk between August and October but others remained in Tobruk for the duration. In Australia in the War of 1939–1945 (1967) the Australian Official History, Maughan recorded 9th Australian Division casualties from 8 April – 25 October, including two days before the siege started, as 746 killed,1,996 wounded,604 prisoners, that 507 Australians were captured between 28 March 1941 and the investment of Tobruk and 467 more were taken during the siege.
In the British Official History (1956), Playfair calculated the losses in the table created by Harrison in 1999. 1,130 killed,4,255 wounded and 3,851 missing. Libyan losses were 184 killed and German casualties for the same period were about 538 killed,1,657 wounded, about 681 missing and from 74–150 Axis aircraft shot down.When Harrison calculated other losses, there was no RAF casualty list but he recorded ten aircrew and six ground crew burials at the cemetery and six aircrew shot down in the harbour. Italian casualties from 15 February to 18 November were
The First Battle of El Alamein was a battle of the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War, fought in Egypt between Axis forces of the Panzer Army Africa and Allied forces of the Eighth Army.
The Second Battle of El Alamein was a battle of the Second World War that took place near the Egyptian railway halt of El Alamein. The First Battle of El Alamein and the Battle of Alam el Halfa had prevented the Axis from advancing further into Egypt.
The Battle of Bir Hakeim took place at Bir Hakeim, an oasis in the Libyan desert south and west of Tobruk, during the Battle of Gazala. The 1st Free French Brigade defended the position from 26 May – 11 June against much larger Axis forces of Panzerarmee Afrika. The Panzerarmee captured Tobruk ten days later but the delay imposed on the Axis offensive by the defence of the fortress influenced the cancellation of Operation Herkules, the plan for an Axis invasion of Malta. Rommel continued to advance and invaded Egypt, slowed by British delaying actions until the First Battle of El Alamein in July, where the Axis advance was stopped. Both sides used the battle for propaganda, Winston Churchill renamed the Free French as the Fighting French and Hitler called the French the second best fighters after the Germans.
Operation Compass was the first large Allied military operation of the Western Desert Campaign (1940–1943) during the Second World War. British and other Commonwealth and Allied forces attacked Italian forces in western Egypt and Cyrenaica, the eastern province of Libya, from December 1940 to February 1941. The Western Desert Force with about 36,000 men, advanced from Mersa Matruh in Egypt on a five-day raid against the Italian positions of the 10th Army, which had about 150,000 men in fortified posts around Sidi Barrani in Egypt and in Cyrenaica.
Operation Sonnenblume was the name given to the dispatch of German troops to North Africa in February 1941, during the Second World War. The Italian 10th Army had been destroyed by the British and Allied Western Desert Force attacks during Operation Compass (9 December 1940 – 9 February 1941). The first units of the new Deutsches Afrikakorps departed Naples for Africa and arrived on 11 February 1941. On 14 February, advanced units of the 5th Light Afrika Division, Aufklärungsbataillon 3 and Panzerjägerabteilung 39 arrived in Tripoli, Libya and were sent immediately to the front line at Sirte.
The 1st South African Infantry Division was an infantry division of the army of the Union of South Africa. During World War II the division served in East Africa from 1940 to 1941 and in the Western Desert Campaign from 1941 to 1942. The division was disbanded on 1 January 1943, for conversion into what would become the 6th South African Armoured Division. The division was also briefly active after the war from 1 July 1948 to 1 November 1949.
Operation Battleaxe was a British Army operation during the Second World War in June 1941, to clear eastern Cyrenaica of German and Italian forces and raise the Siege of Tobruk. It was the first time during the war that a significant German force fought on the defensive. The British lost over half of their tanks on the first day and only one of three attacks succeeded.
Operation Crusader was a military operation during the Second World War by the British Eighth Army against the Axis forces in North Africa between 18 November and 30 December 1941. The operation was intended to relieve the 1941 Siege of Tobruk; the Eighth Army tried to destroy the Axis armoured force before advancing its infantry. The plan failed when, after a number of inconclusive engagements, the British 7th Armoured Division was defeated by the Afrika Korps at Sidi Rezegh.
The Western Desert campaign, took place in the deserts of Egypt and Libya and was the main theatre in the North African Campaign during the Second World War. The campaign began in September 1940 with the Italian invasion of Egypt; Operation Compass, a British five-day raid in December 1940, led to the destruction of the Italian 10th Army. Benito Mussolini sought help from Adolf Hitler, who responded with a small German force sent to Tripoli under Directive 22. The German Afrika Korps was under nominal Italian command but Italian dependency on Nazi Germany made it the dominant partner.
Operation Brevity was a limited offensive conducted in mid-May 1941, during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. Conceived by the commander-in-chief of the British Middle East Command, General Archibald Wavell, Brevity was intended to be a rapid blow against weak Axis front-line forces in the Sollum–Capuzzo–Bardia area of the border between Egypt and Libya. Although the operation got off to a promising start, throwing the Axis high command into confusion, most of its early gains were lost to local counter-attacks, and with German reinforcements being rushed to the front the operation was called off after one day.
The Battle of Gazala was fought during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War, west of the port of Tobruk in Libya, from 26 May to 21 June 1942. Axis troops of the Panzerarmee Afrika consisted of German and Italian units. Allied forces were mainly British, Indian, South African and Free French.
The 2nd Armoured Division was an armoured division of the British Army, active during the Second World War. The division was created on 15 December 1939 and disbanded on 10 May 1941, after part of the division was captured at Mechili in Libya from 5 to 8 April 1941, by German and Italian forces during the Western Desert Campaign and part was lost in the Battle of Greece (6–30 April).
The Battle of El Agheila was a brief engagement of the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. It took place in December 1942 between Allied forces of the Eighth Army and the Axis forces of the German-Italian Panzer Army, during the long Axis withdrawal from El Alamein to Tunis. It ended with the German-Italian Panzer Army resuming its retreat towards Tunisia, where the Tunisia Campaign had begun with Operation Torch (8–16 November 1942).
The 102nd Motorised Division Trento was a motorised infantry division of the Italian Army during World War II. It was formed in 1939 and kept in reserve in Italy until it was moved to North Africa in February 1941. It took part in Axis attacks across North Africa, following the Allied Operation Compass and suffered heavy losses at Tobruk. The division was then reformed and took part in all of the major battles of the Western Desert Campaign until it was destroyed during the Second Battle of El Alamein.
Operation Skorpion or Unternehmen Skorpion was a military operation during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. The operation was fought by Axis forces under the command of Colonel Maximilian von Herff and British forces under Lieutenant-General William "Strafer" Gott. A counter-attack was made on British positions at Halfaya Pass in north-western Egypt, which had been captured during Operation Brevity (15–16 May).Unternehmen Skorpion was the second offensive operation commanded by Rommel in Africa.
The Italian invasion of Egypt was an offensive in the Second World War, against British, Commonwealth and Free French forces in Egypt. The invasion by the Italian 10th Army ended border skirmishing on the frontier and began the Western Desert Campaign (1940–1943) proper. The goal of the Italian forces in Libya was to seize the Suez Canal by advancing along the Egyptian coast. After numerous delays, the scope of the offensive was reduced to an advance as far as Sidi Barrani, with attacks on British forces in the area.
The 3rd Indian Motor Brigade was formed in 1940 by the Indian Army during World War II. In 1941, the brigade was surrounded at Mechili by Axis forces during Operation Sonnenblume and suffered many casualties, breaking out of the encirclement. One cavalry regiment then took part in the Siege of Tobruk and then the brigade was reconstituted in Egypt. In August, the brigade, under Brigadier A. A. E. Filose, was re-equipped at Mena in Egypt and in September moved to north-east Syria. In May 1942, during the Battle of Gazala the brigade held a defensive box at Point 171 near Bir Hakeim and was again overrun by units of the Afrika Korps and Italian forces. On 28 May, the remnants of the brigade were sent back to Buq Buq to reform and about 800 of the men taken prisoner rejoined soon afterwards. The Axis had released 600 prisoners from captivity after 48 hours, due to a water-shortage, who reached the Free French fighting the Battle of Bir Hakeim (26 May – 11 June) and another 200 men were liberated by a British column.
The Battle of Point 175 was a military engagement of the Western Desert Campaign that took place during Operation Crusader from 29 November – 1 December 1941, during the Second World War. Point 175 is a small rise just south of the Trigh Capuzzo, a desert track east of Sidi Rezegh and south of Zaafran, with a good view of the vicinity. In early November 1941, the feature was held by German infantry of Division z.b.V. Afrika. Troops of the 2nd New Zealand Division and Infantry tanks of the 1st Army Tank Brigade attacked and captured Point 175 on 23 November, during the Battle of Sidi Rezegh, at the start of Operation Crusader. The New Zealand troops then attacked westwards and made contact with the Tobruk garrison, which had broken out to meet them. From 29 November – 1 December, the New Zealanders defended the point and the area to the west against Axis attempts to sever the link with the Tobruk garrison and regain control of the local roads. The new 132nd Armoured Division Ariete re-captured Point 175 late on 29 November.
The 64th Infantry Division Catanzaro was an auto-transportable Infantry Division of the Italian Army during World War II. The Catanzaro Division was created 3 June 1940 in Acroma, Libya and was destroyed 5 January 1941 in Bardia. The Catanzaro was classified as an auto-transportable division, meaning staff and equipment could be transported on cars and trucks, although not simultaneously.
The Battle of Sidi Barrani(10–11 December 1940) was the opening battle of Operation Compass, the first big British attack of the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. Sidi Barrani on the Mediterranean coast in Egypt, had been occupied by the Italian 10th Army, during the Italian invasion of Egypt (9–16 September 1940) and was attacked by British, Commonwealth and imperial troops, who re-captured the port. While retreating from Sidi Barrani and Buq Buq, the 10th Army divisions crowded on the coast road and were easy targets for HMS Terror and two gunboats, which bombarded the Sollum area all day and most of the night of 11 December. By late on 12 December, the only Italian positions left in Egypt were at the approaches to Sollum and the vicinity of Sidi Omar. The British took 38,300 prisoners for a loss of 624 men and prolonged the five-day raid on Italian positions in Egypt, eventually capturing Cyrenaica and most of the 10th Army.
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