Benghazi Derby. British/Australian/Indian Divisions Flee From Bersaglieri SpearheadsGen Neame wrote a scathing letter on 30 March 1941 to Gen Morshead regading discipline and control within the 9th Div, citing incidents of drunkenness, theft, disobedience, stealing, shooting, pilfering supplies and rustling which had occurred on a large scale ever since the Australians arrived at Barce. Expressing his contempt for such soldiers who lacked discipline, sobriety and obedience to orders, Neame closed Benghazi and Barce to most of the troops and requested Morshead to do all in his power to enforce military law and expectation. Focusing on the Australian officers, he blamed them for the apparent lawlessness as they 'seldom do enforce discipline or orders and more often endeavour to condone or whitewash the offence'. He considered that they were incapable of commanding their men and concluded: 'Your Division will never be a useful instrument of war unless and until you can enforce discipline'. In fact Neame argued, such men who behaved in this manner were helping the enemy.
(Tobruk's Easter Battle 1941: The Forgotten Fifteenth's Date with Rommel's Champion, John H. G. Mackenzie-Smith, p. 18, Boolarong Press, 2011)These incidents include the murder of Italian women in Benghazi (the murder scene being photographed by Germans during the advance), photographs of a looted ossuary (reputedly by New Zealand troops), and general reports of destruction, rape, and some reports of murder.
(Rommel's North Africa Campaign: September 1940-November 1942, Jack Greene, Alessandro Massignani, p. 133, Da Capo Press, 2007)Rommel also harboured prejudice towards the Australians, considering them to be badly trained, inexperienced and a poorly armed rabble.
(Tobruk's Easter Battle 1941: The Forgotten Fifteenth's Date with Rommel's Champion, John H. G. Mackenzie-Smith, p. 18, Boolarong Press, 2011)On March 15, Rommel sent a force of Italians, south, across the desert, to occupy Murzuch. http://www.coconuttimes.com/articles/Re ... THE-RESCUE
(ROMMEL TO THE RESCUE)On 20 March responsibility for the forward area switched from 9th Australian to 2nd Armoured ... On 24 March Axis troops occupied El Agheila and, six days later, Wavell told Neame that, since no reinforcements could be provided for two months, he was to delay the enemy during that time.
(British Armoured Divisions and their Commanders, 1939-1945, Richard Doherty, p. 43, Pen and Sword, 2013 )On 31 March Rommel advanced from El Agheila, and the partially equipped elements of 2nd Armoured Division and 9th Australian Division, which had relieved the better equipped and very desert-worthy 7th Armoured Division and 6th Australian Division, were soon in full retreat, the former by the desert route to Mekili and the latter over the Jebel.
(Wait for the Waggon, D J Sutton , p. 131, Pen and Sword, 1998) On 24 March, Axis attacks forced the outposts of the British 2nd Armored Division in El Agheila to fall back to Mersa Brega. On 2 April, a German force pushed the British out of that town. Following this, several Axis divisions (the Ariete Armored, the 102nd Trento Motorized Division, the Italian 27th Brescia Division, and the German 5th Light Division) continued the advance ... Rommel sent "Group Schwerin," and a motorized group under Colonel Nicolini Santamaria, on a path towards Mechili. A group of motorized artillery and Bersaglieri under Lieutenant-Colonel Gino Fabris followed behind. Fifth Panzer Regiment and part of the Ariete Division traveled toward Mechili via Msus. Meanwhile, the 27th Brescia Division (under General Giacomo Lombardi) marched along the Coast Road to the port of Derna.
(Regio Esercito: The Italian Royal Army in Mussolini's Wars, 1935-1943, Patrick Cloutier, p. 75, Lulu Press, 2013)The Royal Air Force had sent the best squadrons in the Middle East to support the operations in Greece, leaving the bombers and fighters of the Regia Aeronautica a free hand to harass the retreating British mercilessly
. (Field Marshal: The Life and Death of Erwin Rommel, Daniel Allen Butler, p. 210, Casemate, 2015)The Italian ARIETE Division moved into El Agheila and captured thirty trucks.
(World War II Sea War, Volume 3: The Royal Navy is Bloodied in the Mediterranean, Donald A Bertke, Gordon Smith, Don Kindell, p. 373)The seeming ease with which the 5th Light had captured El Agheila encouraged Rommel to press deeper into Cyrenaica
... (Operation Barbarossa: The Complete Organisational and Statistical Analysis, Nigel Askey, p. 434, Lulu Press, 2013)His forces captured El Agheila on March 25. The British and neutral press treated this step as a minor episode of desert warfare, but when General Rommel's force recaptured Benghazi on April 4, no further illusions were possible
. (The New International Year Book, p. 736, 1942)The Germans under Erwin Rommel attacked the British at Mersa Brega on 31 March, however, and the 9th Division, around Benghazi, was placed in grave danger
. (Armies of Empire: The 9th Australian and 50th British Divisions in Battle 1939–1945, Allan Converse, p. ?, Cambridge University Press, 2011)Having captured El Agheila with ease, on 2 April, Rommel split his force into three columns: two raced across Cyrenaica, while the third headed along the coast to Benghazi, which it captured, unopposed, on 4 April.
(An Englishman at War: The Wartime Diaries of Stanley Christopherson DSO MC TD 1939-45, Stanley Christopherson, James Holland, p. 155, Random House, 2013)On 4 April, freed from restraint, Rommel resumed his offensive plans by ordering Colonna Fabris, or Fabris Column – consisting of 3 Bersaglieri Battalion and some motorized artillery from Ariete, under Lieutenant Colonel Gino Fabris – to follow Group Schwerin. The rest of Ariete and 5 Panzer Regiment were sent towards Mechili along a track through Msus to the north, and 27 Brescia Infantry Division was sent along the coast road towards Derna. By evening Group Schwering had reached Ben Gasia
... (Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini's Elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa, Ian Walker, p. ?, Crowood, 2012)At 4.00 p.m. on 4 April it fought the first ground action of the 9th Division's war, when German mobile forces attacked it at Er Regima Pass. In a confusing action, several enemy armoured vehicles were knocked out by the Battalion and supporting British artillery. This support, and their resolution, enabled the Battalion's three lightly armed companies to hold off 3000 well-equipped men till dark when relieving transport arrived.
. (That Magnificent 9th: An Illustrated History of the 9th Australian Division 1940-46, Mark Johnston, p. 17, Allen & Unwin, 2002)
... the immovable 2/13 was again attacked at Barce. The German force consisting of 16 tanks, armoured cars and 2000 infantry inflicted significant casualties on the Australians
... (Tobruk's Easter Battle 1941: The Forgotten Fifteenth's Date with Rommel's Champion, John H. G. Mackenzie-Smith, p. 18, Boolarong Press, 2011)Of the 88 POW of the 2/13th Infantry Battalion lost to the Germans, nearly all were taken at the battle of Er Regima, East of Benghazi in April, 1941
. http://www.anzacpow.com/part_4__nominal ... th_brigade
(The 20th Brigade) He did not want to advance merely along the coastal road, he hoped also to attack the enemy from the desert and cut him off. 5 Panzer Regiment, 3 Reconnaissance Unit, 2 Machine-Gun Battalion and the tank unit of the ltalian Ariete Division attacked
... (North African campaign, 1940-1943, Werner Haupt, James K. W. Bingham, p.35, Macdonald & Co., 1969)By 4 April Rommel's spearheads seized Benghazi and advanced to the northeastof Antelat, compelling the British 3rd Armoured to withdraw and, because of a lack of fuel, practically disintegrate in the process
. (Battle Story: Tobruk 1941, Pier Battistelli, p. ?, The History Press, 2011)Later in 1941, a lieutenant in the 2/48th Battalion recalled that 'when we were withdrawing from Benghazi, we were outflanked and never expected to see home again ... By a miracle and an error of Jerry we got out of it'. Had events taken a slightly different turn in the Benghazi Handicap, the 9th Division might have been strangled at birth ... had the 20th and 26th Brigades been destroyed the Division's story would have been very different. Indeed so would the history of the North African campaign
. (That Magnificent 9th: An Illustrated History of the 9th Australian Division 1940-46, Mark Johnston, p. 17, Allen & Unwin, 2002)In Cirenaica, le truppe italiane e germaniche sviluppando il successo conseguito nella zona di Agedabia, hanno raggiunto sin da ieri mattina Bengasi e spinto colonne motorizzate oltre detta città. http://www.alieuomini.it/pagine/dettagl ... _n,54.html
(Bollettini di Guerra, N. 298 - N. 329, Aprile 1941)... Agedabia and the port of Zuetina were recaptured, together with 800 prisoners ... http://www.coconuttimes.com/articles/Re ... THE-RESCUE
(ROMMEL TO THE RESCUE)
... the Ariete Armoured Division and the Brescia Infantry Division captured Agedabia and the port of Zuetina; the British retreated to Benghazi and Mechili.
(Defence Journal, Volumes 4-5, p. 202)Having abandoned the Mersa Brega position, the British were powerless to prevent Axis forces from advancing along the coast road and fanning out to the east by desert tracks. Their armoured division ... lost so many vehicles from mechanical breakdowns that it was soon reduced to impotence. The 9th Australian Division had to be hastily pulled back from its stand-by positions at Benghazi to Tobruk.
(Hidden Weapons, Basil Collier, p. 138, Pen and Sword, 2006)In the face of a determined advance by strong Italian and German forces, disposing numerous tanks, and in pursuance of the policy of waiting to choose our own battle ground, our light covering detachments have withdrawn to selected areas. In the course of this withdrawal we evacuated Benghazi after destroying all the captured military stores and equipment. Benghazi is indefensible from a military viewpoint, and has not been used by us as a port. https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid= ... 4559&hl=en
(BRITISH LEAVE BENGHAZI, The Age, 5 April 1941)By 4 April the British were in full retreat and the German 3rd Reconnaissance Unit entered Benghazi during the day, to find masses of valuable British equipment and the port virtually intact
. (The war in the Desert, Roger Parkinson, p. 42, Hart-Davis MacGibbon, 1976)With gallows humor, some British Tommies later dubbed their hurried withdrawal "The Tobruk Derby" or "The Benghazi Handicap." More typical perhaps was the reaction of one soldier who described that week as seven of the most inglorious
... (WWII: Time-Life History of the Second World War, p. 218, Barnes & Noble Books, 1989)Moreover, the division's first taste of combat was a demoralizing headlong retreat, the so-called 'Benghazi Handicap' back to Tobruk.
(The Australian Army in World War II, Mark Johnston, p. 48, Osprey Publishing, 2007)Rommel decided to make a bid for all of Cyrenaica in a single stroke, although the only support for his Germans was two weak Italian divisions. He ordered a double envelopment, sending the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion straight along the Via Balbia toward Benghazi, while directing the 5th Panzer Regiment and the Italian Ariete Armored Division (sixty tanks) across the chord of the Cyrenaican bulge to El Mechili, just south of the "Green Mountain" of Jebel el Akdar. If the panzers continued northward, they could block the British retreat along the coast. The effect was instantaneous; the British hurriedly evacuated Benghazi and fell back in confusion.
(How Great Generals Win, Bevin Alexander, p. 248, W. W. Norton & Company, 2002 )Deciding not to stand firm at Barce and knowing that Benghazi was to be abandoned, the Australians spent the next four days making their way via the clogged coast road, with two newly acquired carriers, first to Derna and then El Gazala.
(Tobruk's Easter Battle 1941: The Forgotten Fifteenth's Date with Rommel's Champion, John H. G. Mackenzie-Smith, p. 17, Boolarong Press, 2011)In Cirenaica, le forze corazzate e motorizzate italo - tedesche — superando forti resistenze nemiche — hanno occupato Barce e Tocra. L'avanzata continua. http://www.alieuomini.it/pagine/dettagl ... _n,54.html
(Bollettini di Guerra, N. 298 - N. 329, Aprile 1941)On April 6, Italian armor of the Ariete Division and the two Bersaglieri battalions began to reach Fort Mechili. The Bersaglieri were elite Italian soldiers. The defenders were British, Australian and Indian soldiers. Two days later, Maj. Gen. Michael D. Gambier-Parry, commander British 2nd Armored Division, surrendered Fort Mechili to Col. Ugo Montemurro, commander of one of the Bersaglieri battalions, together with another 3000 prisoners, and enough supplies and fuel to allow the Axis advance to continue. Also among those captured was Brigadier General Edward William Drummond Vaughan, commander of the Third Indian Motor Brigade. For this, General Rommel personally pinned the Iron Cross, Second Class, to the chest of the Italian Colonel. He was the first Italian to be awarded the Iron Cross. http://www.coconuttimes.com/articles/Re ... THE-RESCUE
(ROMMEL TO THE RESCUE)The ARIETE Division reached Tengeder.
(World War II Sea War, Volume 3: The Royal Navy is Bloodied in the Mediterranean, Donald A Bertke, Gordon Smith, Don Kindell, p. 373)By 4.30 a.m. on 7th April the first Australian units were beginning to arrive at Tmimi, where the 26th Australian Infantry Brigade took up a defensive position.
(The Mediterranean and Middle East: The Germans come to the help of their ally (1941), Ian Stanley Ord Playfair, p. 8 , H.M. Stationery Office, 1954)Meanwhile, the Brescia Division recaptured Tmimi, on the coast, after its evacuation by the enemy. http://www.coconuttimes.com/articles/Re ... THE-RESCUE
(ROMMEL TO THE RESCUE)On April 7, Derna was retaken, together with 1000 prisoners. http://www.coconuttimes.com/articles/Re ... THE-RESCUE
(ROMMEL TO THE RESCUE)Amidst the confusion of this so-called 'Benghazi Handicap', part of the 2/15th Battalion, including its headquarters and Lieutenant-Colonel Marlan, were captured
. (That Magnificent 9th: An Illustrated History of the 9th Australian Division 1940-46, Mark Johnston, p. 17, Allen & Unwin, 2002)In that brief action near Martuba the 2/15 Bn suffered a significant loss CO Lt-Col Marlan, 2/IC Major Barton, five other officers, Padre Arkell and 150 NCOs and ORs were made POWs ... Of the 507 Australians captured during the ill-fated withdrawal from Benghazi, 163 came from the Battalion
... (Tobruk's Easter Battle 1941: The Forgotten Fifteenth's Date with Rommel's Champion, John H. G. Mackenzie-Smith,pp. 21-22, Boolarong Press, 2011)On April 8, the Afrika Korps completed the destruction of the 2nd Armoured Division, Major General Michael D. Gambier-Parry, the commander of the 2nd Armoured, and Brigadier Vaughan, the commander of the Indian 3d Motor Brigade, were captured, along with 3,000 of their men.
(Rommel's Desert Commanders: The Men who Served the Desert Fox, North Africa, 1941-1942, Samuel W. Mitcham, p. 18, Greenwood Publishing, 2007)Advanced German elements took some Australian prisoners around Derna and at Mechili, where most of the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade and part of 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment were destroyed
. (Armies of Empire: The 9th Australian and 50th British Divisions in Battle 1939–1945, Allan Converse, p. ?, Cambridge University Press, 2011)They took El Mechili from Australian anti-tank troops only when the defenders had fired their last shot
. (Stalag Australia: German Prisoners of War in Australia, Barbara Winter, p. 4, Angus & Robertson, 1986)He made good progress with both columns and on 6th April General Gambier-Parry was summoned to surrender the position at Mechili which had been hastily occupied by the 3d Indian Motor Brigade and part of the 2nd Motor Brigade of the 2nd Armoured Division. The demand was made in the name of General Zaglio, commanding the Pavia Division
... (A Don at War, David Hunt, Sir David, KCMG OBE Hunt, p. ?, Routledge, 2014)The victory must have been especially sweet for the men of the Ariete Division, partly as recompense for past humiliations at British hands, and partly because it was an all-Italian triumph; Generalmajor Streich, Oberstleutnan Dr. Olbrich and Panzer Regiment 5 arrived too late to take part in the action and Gambier-Parry actually surrendered to Colonna Montemurro.
(Tobruk: The Great Siege, 1941–42, William F. Buckingham, p. ?, Random House, 2010)On April 8, the same day Mechili fell, he received fresh reinforcements in the form of the 605th Antitank Battalion, the vanguard of the 15th Panzer Division. At their head rode Maj. Gen. Henrich von Prittwitz und Gaffron, a promising and energetic divisional commander. Rommel immediately placed him in charge of a pursuit force: a combat group made up of the 3d Reconnaissance, 8th Machine Gun, and 605th Antitank Battalions. Before the day was out they took 800 more prisoners along the Coastal Road and streamed forward again, in the direction of Tobruk
... (Triumphant Fox: Erwin Rommel and the Rise of the Afrika Korps, Samuel. W. Mitcham, p. ?, Stackpole Books, 2014)On April 8, von Prittwitz cut off and captured one of the Australian rearguards (800 men), but he was unable to prevent Morshead from retiring into the fortress
. (The Rise of the Wehrmacht: Vol. 1, Samuel. W. Mitcham, p. 433, ABC-CLIO, 2008)