Tobruk outside perimeter area april 1941

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Peter89
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Re: Tobruk outside perimeter area april 1941

Post by Peter89 » 15 Jul 2022 14:35

Sorry to interrupt, but I came across a few sources recently, concerning this theater and time period. I think it is entirely possible that war diaries and personal accounts are overrated in many lower level units. By the nature of these operations, a lot of units got confused, and even their commanders had precious little idea what they were doing and where they were doing it. I can prove that happened on the German side, but I'd wager the same was true for the British and Italians, too.
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Re: Tobruk outside perimeter area april 1941

Post by Urmel » 15 Jul 2022 14:57

Yes, 100%. They need to be read with great care, a full understanding of the tactical and operational situation, and cross-checked against other unit records as well as records of higher commands and the enemy (also at various levels), to ascertain their validity.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

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Re: Tobruk outside perimeter area april 1941

Post by Urmel » 15 Jul 2022 14:58

ClintHardware wrote:
15 Jul 2022 14:27
What utter Crêpe. Get your head into the unit war diaries and find out what was seen and done at the time it happened and compare both sides' actions. I am amazed with your response Urmel.
Come on. Where was Gruppe Herff 'dealt with'? Time, date, nature and location of the action please.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

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Re: Tobruk outside perimeter area april 1941

Post by ClintHardware » 17 Jul 2022 06:42

I looked at each of the war diaries of the units of 7th Support Group as well as 7th Support Group's own WD and the CAB 146/10 and the DAK KTB (IIRC) to understand who saw what and what they did during the period 10th April to 14th May. I was also interested in Leutnant Schorm's comments which are only marginal but still interesting. No one had previously put the firefight of the 12th May together in any media and yet it forms part of the impact on Panzer Abteilung Hohmann leading up to the 15th May.
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Re: Tobruk outside perimeter area april 1941

Post by Urmel » 17 Jul 2022 09:36

We are talking about April here and Brigadier Gott's failure to conform to his orders to hold and secure the Bardia area, which you dispute.
understand why the British put up such a poor performance in "preventing enemy securing area BARDIA - CAPUZZO - SOLLUM" as ordered.
They don't think they did. They were content to withdraw as required in order to fight when ready in places of their choosing as far as possible by using their Mobility.
I think Gott did very well in causing what soon became Gruppe Herff to waste precious fuel and hold locations where they could be found and later dealt with.
In reality what happened in April is that Allied forces did not manage to fulfil their order to prevent the enemy from securing Bardia - Capuzzo - Sollum, they did not seriously interfere with the enemy in the sector, and the enemy secured considerable terrain beyond this triangle, most notably Halfaya Pass and Point 207. All of this is a matter of record. The idea that this was all part of a cunning plan of a mobile defense is reaching for straws. The Allied defense in the sector collapsed over the course of two weeks. Brevity briefly recovered some territory, most notably Halfaya, but it wasn't enough to secure holding on to it, and with Operation Skorpion the tussle ended, with the pass remaining under Axis control until 17 January 1942, essentially wrecking the pursuit of the Axis after CRUSADER.

14 April http://rommelsriposte.com/2016/04/24/fa ... pril-1941/
Herff is given command with the following order: "Task: to temporarily move to the defensive in the triangle Bardia - Sollum - Sidi Omar. Ground reconnaissance up to the line Maddalena - Barrani. Reported garrisons of Sidi Omar and Gasr el Abid are to be eliminated in special operations." Knabe is getting engaged with an enemy attack which he claims he repulses.

16 April http://rommelsriposte.com/2016/05/03/de ... pril-1941/
Sollum becomes no-mans land for a short time following a major effort by the Allied forces to deal with it. "A landing attempt in Sollum made by a cruiser during the night 14/15 April remained unsuccessful. Also during the night 15/16 April an enemy raid on Sollum with heavy artillery, naval, and air support was repulsed. Own losses 45 men. Only a permanent patrol was left in Sollum due to continuous enemy fire. Continuous air attacks and fire from naval units caused losses to Gruppe Herff." and Herff is ordered to conduct an active defense: "Written directive to Gruppe Herff regarding offensively organised defense of Sollum see the same." (document has not survived as far as I can see)

17 April http://rommelsriposte.com/2016/05/03/d- ... pril-1941/
Another night attempt on Herff which seems to have been kicked back without undue issues, while the reconnaissance forces start to get a handle on the terrain between Tobruk and Capuzzo to the south. "Morning report by Gruppe Herff: "Very active enemy reconnaissance activity during early morning hours. Enemy push on Capuzzo repulsed, four enemy tanks destroyed. Our reconnaissance meets jointly operating armoured cars and tanks in line Sidi Omar - escarpment south of Sollum. Stronger reconnaissance put towards the east via Gasr el Abid."

19 April http://rommelsriposte.com/2016/05/04/en ... pril-1941/
Herff is visited by Rommel and the law is laid down that the sector is to be firmly held. "Gruppe Herff reported during the morning weak reconnaissance pushes with tanks and artillery against the western flank of its position, and a bombing attack on Kradschtz. Batl. 15. During a visit to Gruppe Herff, Lt. General Rommel instructed that Bardia had to be absolutely occupied by a German company again, and firmly held." He's also reinforced with a battalion of Italian 105s.

21 April http://rommelsriposte.com/2016/05/29/d- ... pril-1941/
Continuing air attacks. "Morning report Gruppe Herff: "03.15 hours attack of enemy planes with explosive and incendiary bombs and machine guns on right wing Kradschuetzen Btl. 15" It is notable that there is no report about the Commando landing.

22 April http://rommelsriposte.com/2016/06/05/fa ... pril-1941/
It is now clear what the Axis plan is. Reinforce the Bardia - Sollum sector to secure it from enemy attack by placing a strong Italian force there. Then turn all available forces on Tobruk. An Australian attack at Tobruk scuttles this to an extent, but the vision remains. "On 21 April Div.Trento had received the order to reach the area Bardia - Capuzzo - Sollum, and to defend it. Considering the events of today the order was amended to one reinforced battalion being assigned to take over the late position of Fabris (see that order). One battalion of Div. Trento was to be set on the way to Bardia on 22 April. Gruppe Herff received the instruction (see the same) to execute a devastating blow to the enemy at Sollum once this had arrived, to gain a free hand on this front for the foreseeable future, and to make available further forces for the attack on Tobruk."

23 April http://rommelsriposte.com/2016/06/19/d- ... pril-1941/
We can get a glimpse here how the Axis reaction to a major attack in the frontier sector would have unfolded. 1) allocate air assets, and 2) send 5. lei. Division east to defeat it. "2030 hours report of Gruppe Herff: "1815 hours 60 enemy tanks at Azeiz marching north. Turn to west not excluded."

The following measures were thereupon ordered by the D.A.K.:

1. To Fliegerfuehrer Afrika: Fliegerfuehrer has to task armed reconnaissance against the enemy tanks early on 24 April, if possible to attack the tanks and to destroy them. Report reconnaissance results soonest to D.A.K., Gruppe Herff, and 5.lei.Div.
2. Inform 5.lei.Div. for it to carry out potentially required ground reconnaissance and security measures.
3. Radio message to Gruppe Herff: "The movement of the 60 tanks has to be observed early and continuously on 24 April. If required, the tanks are to be attacked and destroyed with all anti-tank forces. Reconnaissance results continuously to D.A.K.

Around 2200 hours the following radio message arrived from Gruppe Herff: enemy tank attack from the west on Capuzzo, lasting several hours, supported by reinforced artillery, until now repulsed. Fight continues. At 1815 hours 60 enemy tanks, with them a larger number of other motor vehicles and possibly artillery across a wide front and depth in advance west of Capuzzo to Sidi Azeiz. Forward Detachment holds current positions whilst securing to the west. Not yet clear if blocking of road Bardia - Tobruk or advance in the rear of the siege front is intended.  Armoured car reconnaissance patrols attempt to keep in touch during the night. Aerial reconnaissance from daybreak in the area west of the Forward Detachment, and readying of Stukas for immediate support requested.
"

24 April http://rommelsriposte.com/2016/08/12/d- ... pril-1941/
The attempt to deal with Herff (if that's what it was) had failed, and instead Herff remained in control of his sector. But they now also had identified the enemy position at Halfaya, and there's nothing that gets the Germans going like an identified enemy position. "Gruppe Herff reported morning of 24 April: “Evening attack on Capuzzo repulsed, Sidi Azeiz occupied by us. Whereabouts of 60 tanks unclear. Reconnaissance proceeding. Enemy artillery fired harassing fire during night and morning from the west on Capuzzo. Naval artillery of heaviest caliber’s on the road Capuzzo - Bardia during the night. Morning low level air attack on Capuzzo. If enemy again pushes artillery and tank screens west of Capuzzo to the north, will counterattack today with two assault groups. Strong enemy position on southwestern edge of Uadi Halfaya 10km south of Sollum. During the late morning hours the enemy broke off the tank advance against the northern wing of Gruppe Herff and moved back south under the impression of the air attack and the ground attack of the Assault Group Herff. Our attack on Point 206[9] and west of it could not push through during the afternoon due to enemy artillery fire.

Directives from D.A.K. to Gruppe Herff requested offensive approach to defense on Egyptian border (see that order)."


25 April http://rommelsriposte.com/2016/08/27/d- ... pril-1941/
The German command finally had enough, and attacked south. This led to the most devastatingly successful attack on Gruppe Herff until now, by the (checks notes) Luftwaffe. Important to note that contrary to Herff's prior claim that he was in control of Sidi Azeiz, enemy armoured cars hung around there. "Morning reconnaissance of Fliegerfuehrer Afrika carried out by three Me 110 ascertained: "South of Capuzzo in the wire starting at Uaar cuts every 50m up to about Gabr el Meduar widely dispersed single armoured cars or trucks with front to north. At Sidi Azeiz 12 armoured cars. All vehicles had bombs dropped on them by the 3 Me 110 and were attacked with machine guns and cannon in strafing attacks at a level of 10 metres. On the road Sollum - Sidi el Barrani total quiet during the time of the reconnaissance."

"Gruppe Herff jumped off for counter attack against enemy forces south and south-east of Capuzzo at 12.00 hours. Support of the Luftwaffe was ineffective, since the attack was carried out 35 minutes early and mostly hit our concentration area north and east of Capuzzo and partially on the Via Balbia. The enemy security screen conducted a fighting withdrawal. The enemy artillery fired from positions far to the rear blocking and destructive fire and could not be engaged by our weapons. The attack of Gruppe Herff was broken off at 14.00 hours after reaching Points 206 and 192. Seven enemy armoured cars were destroyed, of which one by planes. Just from our air attack Gruppe Herff lost 7 dead and 10 wounded.

23.20 a directive was issued to Gruppe Herff: "On 26 April after finally pushing back opponent from the southern front take firm possession of the ascent at Point 194 and defend it."

Air Situation: 24 April 19.30 hours enemy bombing of Derna town and airfield. Enemy bombers and fighters have almost completely ceased to attack ground troops. On Tobruk airfield nine old Italian planes and 7 Hurricanes were ascertained based on take-off observations. Our air force sank an 8,000 ton merchant around lunchtime while it was leaving Tobruk harbour[8]. Destroyers[9] took off during midday hours to support the attack of Gruppe Herff (see above) and at 16.00 hours attacked enemy battery positions east of the border at Gabr Seghir and Sidi Suleiman. After this attack only 2 enemy guns continued firing. One shot down Hurricane crashed onto one Me 110. Both burned out. One Me 110 had to forceland in no-mans land after encountering anti-aircraft fire."


26 April http://rommelsriposte.com/2016/08/28/d- ... pril-1941/
Halfaya is being attacked all day, and during the night the Allied forces withdraw to Sidi Barrani, essentially having been turfed off the escarpment now. "Concerning the attack of Gruppe Herff[5] to take Halfaya Pass the following reports were received:
15.00 hours: "Moves to attack enemy south of Sollum commenced at 13.00 hours. Enveloping move is intended, advancing east of Point 206."
19.00 hours: "17.45 hours enemy position east Uadi el Halfaya south-east Point 194 occupied by AT, tanks and artillery.
Gruppe Herff attacking in enveloping move south, takes position and holds it."
24.00 hours: "Our attack pushed close to coast. Strong artillery reinforcement.New opponent from southwest evades encirclement by moving off north towards Capuzzo."
The Australian official history took a close interest as the AT component of the Halfaya garrison was 12 Battery of 2/3 AT Regiment, equipped with captured Italian 47/32 guns: The pass was bombed and machine-gunned on the evening of the 25th and on the 26th Herff's force launched an attack against it. The ensconced infantry held to their positions, but their front was narrow and lacked flank protection. Enemy infiltrating along the escarpment threatened to outflank them. The anti-tank gunners of the 12th Battery[7] took part in the battle in an infantry-gun role, using high-explosive shell. Sergeant Templeman's gun registered a direct hit on an enemy field gun as it was coming into action .
After dark the withdrawal plan was put into effect and the code words issued. The 2/Scots Guards established a delaying line from Buq Buq to Alam el Dab, two miles west of Sidi Barrani, through which the forward battalions withdrew. The 12th Battery guns covered the withdrawals of the battalions they were supporting. The two companies of the 1/Durham Light Infantry, covered by Lieutenant Scanlon's troop, left the Halfaya position at 10.30 p.m., and the rearguard at Salum, with which was Lieutenant Cheetham 's troop (less one section), departed at 40 minutes past midnight.


27 April http://rommelsriposte.com/2017/01/04/d- ... pril-1941/
Positions in the border area are now consolidated, with key points occupied. There are at least 10 miles of no-mans-land and further reinforcements are allocated to Herff. On Sollum front enemy has apparently pulled back towards the ridgeline 10km east of Sidi Suleiman with one reinforced battalion. No more contact with the enemy on our security line. Our reconnaissance was hampered by heavy losses of armoured cars during the recent combats.
1345 hours order issued to Gruppe Herff to take Point 191 and Sidi Suleiman at 1700 hours following our air attack with a strong assault patrol and to hold it (see that order).
2100 hours reports Gruppe Herff: “As ordered, posts have been pushed out at Sidi Suleiman - Point 191.” The units foreseen for the attack on Tobruk were set in march from the Sollum front following dusk, as outlined in the order “concerning move of formations”. Gruppe Herff was reordered as follows.
In the area Capuzzo - Sollum Battalion Montemurro and one company Battl. Trento, Artillery Battalion Frongia. In Bardia 1 Battl. Trento. A.A.3 as mobile reserve 6km south of Bardia on the road Bardia - Capuzzo. Standing patrols in the line Sidi Omar - Sidi Suleiman - Point 191. Mobile reconnaissance against the enemy across this line towards south and east.
In line with radio communication of 27 April 1850 hours Gruppe Herff was also left with an additional company Kradschuetzen Batl. 15 and one light AA platoon I./18. These were readied as reserve north of Capuzzo to be at the call of Gruppe Herff.


28 April http://rommelsriposte.com/2017/01/04/d- ... pril-1941/
Further consolidation, and trying to pin down the enemy to the east, but they are not interested in a fight. "1250 hours following order issued to Gruppe Herff:
“Occupation of track climbing up at Pt. 191 and Suleiman important. Protection has to be so strong in MGs, ATGs and single guns that it hold as long against enemy attacks until support from the rear arrives.” Operations order followed by courier officer on 29 April (see the same).
2200 hours reported Gruppe Herff: “South of line Sidi Omar - Sidi Suleiman 5km southeast Pt. 191 enemy secures with armoured cars and tanks, evade when we advance. Coastal plain up to 15km southeast of Sollum free of enemy. 
Security pushed forward up to 6km southeast Sollum across the track leading from the desert to plain.""


So, what can we conclude from this?

1. Gruppe Herff was never 'dealt with' and if there was a grand plan to achieve the order of "preventing enemy securing area BARDIA - CAPUZZO - SOLLUM" through a mobile 'fix 'em and hit 'em' defense, it never came together. The attempts on Sollum in mid-April (which are really the closest to this) never made much sense, as holding Sollum without holding the escarpment above it was not a feasible proposition. Other than the Sollum attempts, there were some inconsequential armoured car raids. So what?
2. This wasn't for want of trying. From 15-20 April there were constant attacks that in some cases required reserves to be brought in. They all failed.
3. Instead of 'dealing with' Gruppe Herff on the basis of knowing where they were, Gruppe Herff dealt with the remaining Allied forces on the escarpment over the course of two weeks, pushing them off, and most importantly taking Halfaya Pass, which wasn't strongly enough defended.
4. The continued actions had an effect in making the Germans realise the criticality of the sector, and led to reinforcements being allocated, but these were not large in the overall scheme of things.
5. Gott manifestly failed to execute his order, and no matter what he told himself and his superiors in his war diary, did not even manage to walk away from this exchange of blows with his dignity intact. He had been soundly beaten.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

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Re: Tobruk outside perimeter area april 1941

Post by ClintHardware » 19 Jul 2022 11:41

I don't agree. Those units holding Halfaya began with a plan to withdraw because they expected to be attacked. The plan is in the war diaries and was updated several times. The defence of Halfaya was very important but not critical. The loss of Halfaya did not stop later operations or reconnaissance and raiding of Axis positions. Gott's units were not present to clear and destroy Axis units because they lacked the armour and sufficient artillery to do so. The Axis units were watched and intercepted with ground raids and air interdiction and thus dealt with whilst awaiting a later operation to clear them. A lot was learnt and flexibility demonstrated. British losses were not significant.
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Re: Tobruk outside perimeter area april 1941

Post by Urmel » 20 Jul 2022 21:02

The fact that the units had a plan to withdraw is just another element of proof that Gott failed to execute his orders.

Whether he was able to do so or not with the forces available is another discussion. If not, he should have raised it up the chain rather than making up things on the ground, and in the interim losing vital ground that wasn't his to give up. Brigadiers free-lancing is what the rot in WDF/13 Corps/8 Army command was all about.
The Axis units were watched and intercepted with ground raids and air interdiction and thus dealt with
They evidently were not. By the end of the month they were in possession of the whole plateau and had pushed Gott at least 15 miles east - to claim they were 'dealt with' maybe a comfortable fantasy, but it is a fantasy anyway. If anyone was 'dealt with' it was Gott and his command.
whilst awaiting a later operation to clear them.
Which never happened and in any case is neither here nor there. His orders were to prevent the enemy from securing the area, not to lose it and prepare for a counter-strike.

For the record Bardia and Sollum were not cleared until January 1942, Capuzzo until November 1942.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

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Re: Tobruk outside perimeter area april 1941

Post by ClintHardware » 21 Jul 2022 06:27

I can't agree with your statements. 10th April - 14th May Gott did what he could with what he had at the frontier. The only armour Gott had were the 15 Vickers Light Tanks equipping one squadron of the 7th Hussars who had been sent initially to support the 3rd Coldstream Guards and later raided Capuzzo with no intention of taking it. TRIO Force was formed from three Columns led by Jock Campbell which caused Panzer Abteilung Hohmann to reinforce Herff by the 9th May to cope with what such a force might try.

When the Matildas of the 4th RTR were present for BREVITY they took the top of Halfaya in 90 minutes followed up by the 2nd Scots Guards to clear the positions. The Italians at the foot of Halfaya held out all day till 1730 hours against the forward elements of the 2nd Rifle Brigade which was very creditable.

However BREVITY, BATTLEAXE and CRUSADER fall outside of the time frame whose initial actions against Herff interested me. Until I put all the war diaries together I had never read in any book or account written in the last 80 years anything about the last equipped elements of 2nd Support Group withdrawing from outside Tobruk to the Libyan-Egyptian frontier and fighting there until fully relieved by increasing units of 7th Support Group. And yet its a short fascinating period of history beginning the Column fighting phase.
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Re: Tobruk outside perimeter area april 1941

Post by ClintHardware » 21 Jul 2022 06:30

Also where is the charge against Gott made that he did not follow orders?

Outside the scope if this topic is the surprising effect the 6th Australian Cavalry Regiment had on Panzer Abteilung Hohmann during BREVITY with their Vickers Light Tanks and Carriers raiding the Sidi Azeiz area 15th-16th May. It seems Hohmann did not know what they were armed with.
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Re: Tobruk outside perimeter area april 1941

Post by Urmel » 21 Jul 2022 13:02

ClintHardware wrote:
21 Jul 2022 06:27
And yet its a short fascinating period of history beginning the Column fighting phase.
And that is exactly the problem.
ClintHardware wrote:
21 Jul 2022 06:30
Also where is the charge against Gott made that he did not follow orders?
ClintHardware wrote:Wavell was fairly irrelevant in terms of his orders to formations on the ground. The officers did what was possible with the few troops under command[...]
The officers did not manage to prevent the enemy from securing the plateau, as Bardia was occupied without any resistance at 10am 12 April and by 14 April all of the main locations except for Halfaya had been occupied, and Herff had been ordered to go over to the defensive. Continuing harassment by columns did not do anything to change that, and wasn't more than pinpricks.

Whether the Allied officers tried their best with the means at their disposal is another discussion altogether. Whether the orders they had received were realistic and achievable is another discussion altogether.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

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Re: Tobruk outside perimeter area april 1941

Post by ClintHardware » 21 Jul 2022 18:25

The single platoon of the 1st DLI were not present to hold Bardia but blow up the water supply with RE support, and no senior officer believed it could be held with what was available. And the major locations of the plateau were not needed to be held until a suitably resourced operation could be launched to take them. BATTLEAXE wasn't suitably resourced and was doubted by Wavell right before it began.

Meanwhile, dueling with Herff in the desert was useful training and the details of the raid on Capuzzo to brass up the defenders and withdraw having done so underlines the overall intention to do no more than watch and challenge Herff' units 10th April - 14th May.

If there is no contemporary statement that Gott failed then we should not create such a statement 80 years later without stating that it is a post-war author's opinion of what seems to have occurred. If there is such a statement from Wavell it would be good to read it.
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Re: Tobruk outside perimeter area april 1941

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 21 Jul 2022 20:43

ClintHardware wrote:
21 Jul 2022 18:25
BATTLEAXE wasn't suitably resourced and was doubted by Wavell right before it began.
Which calls into question his command credentials surely? I do have a lot of time for Wavell but if he seriously had doubts about Op "BATTLEAXE" he should have fought his corner harder.

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Re: Tobruk outside perimeter area april 1941

Post by David W » 21 Jul 2022 21:03

Against the Prime Minister, that was easier said than done. There is only so much resistance he could offer.

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Re: Tobruk outside perimeter area april 1941

Post by Peter89 » 22 Jul 2022 07:51

If Battleaxe didn't happen, the British wouldn't be prompted to adress a series of issues. The structural dynamics behind how they reached the level to Crusader is way less emphasized than it should have been. The whole force structure of the British was inadequate. Playfair is neutral enough, but does not go as deep as Porch. These failures were of crucial importance, because not simply the troops and the generals learned, but the Londonites too. They were learning how to win, and they had the strategic depth and resources for that. One might even argue that an overly successful and premature victory could leave the British with false ideas and a much weaker organizational structure, both of which could offset their superiority in resources.
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Re: Tobruk outside perimeter area april 1941

Post by Urmel » 22 Jul 2022 09:28

Peter89 wrote:
22 Jul 2022 07:51
If Battleaxe didn't happen, the British wouldn't be prompted to adress a series of issues. The structural dynamics behind how they reached the level to Crusader is way less emphasized than it should have been. The whole force structure of the British was inadequate. Playfair is neutral enough, but does not go as deep as Porch. These failures were of crucial importance, because not simply the troops and the generals learned, but the Londonites too. They were learning how to win, and they had the strategic depth and resources for that. One might even argue that an overly successful and premature victory could leave the British with false ideas and a much weaker organizational structure, both of which could offset their superiority in resources.
Which issues (other than air support, which is well documented by Bechtold) were addressed? They ended up getting a lot more stuff and additional formations, but that was in the pipeline anyway, they didn't have to lose BATTLEAXE for that to happen.
The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

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