At 01.30 hours during the night 27 to 28 December 1941 the following radio transmission for 28 December arrived from D.A.K. at the reinforced 15th Rifle Brigade (Rifle Regiment 115, Regiment 200 minus MG Battalion 2, Artillery Regiment 33 minus one light battalion, two companies tank hunter battalion 33, armoured pioneer battalion 33), which was tasked with defence towards the south and south-east in the area Rugbet el Nagina (about 30 km south of Agedabia): „Group Cruewell destroys 28 December enemy group east of 165. It attacks: Geissler with subordinated elements 08.30 hours direction 165, Mot. Corps 09.00 hours direction 164 left 1. 21. Panzer-Division 07.00 hours from area south-east Agedabia direction south, to be able to take effect at 10.00 hours at 164 left 2. Vaerst to rest at 168 for the moment. Will, when attack of northern group takes effect, depending on development of the situation, attack north or north-east. Corps CP from 08.45 hours with Mot. Corps, 163 right 1.5. Stuka mission foreseen; lots of air recognition panels and flares.”
Map of German attack against 22 Armoured Brigade, 28 December 1941. Rommelsriposte.com Collection
During the 27 December Group Vaerst, standing at the eastern limits of Alem el Turch, had stopped an enemy group which intended to bypass the Agedabia position to the south with significant forces. This enemy grouping was to be destroyed in a concentric attack in the area Chor es-Sufan, before it could attempt further enveloping advance north or south.
For Battle Group Geissler the determination of the direction of the attack was difficult at first, since the Italians did not stand in the location relative to the battle group that was apparently assumed by the Corps. It was in any case necessary (and this was probably in the intent of the higher leadership) for Group Geissler to close up to the Italians as quickly as possible, if the planned concentric attack was to succeed. This demand was determining the choice of the direction of the initial attack.
At 02.30 hours the following orders for the 28 December were given to the subordinated units by phone:
- Enemy situation changed, strong enemy group probably in the area Chor es-Sufan. 07.30 hours stand-to for attack direction south-east inside strongpoints in a way that at any moment an attack, with battalions of S.R.115 in column, can be started.
- Regiment 200 (minus M.G.-Btl.2) and Pz. Pi-Btl. 33 07.00 hours ready for move to start behind the S.R.115 already standing-to.
- Artillery with elements surveillance direction south-east, with mass from 07.50 hours ready for immediate start behind riflemen.
- Both Pz.Jg.Kp.33 ready for departure at 07.30 hours.
- Commanders and Commanding Officers of the Pz.Jg.Kp. at 06.30 hours to the Brigade CP. Commander Regiment 200 to bring along radioset. One officer patrol from Pz.Pi.Btl.33 at 06.15 to Brigade CP.
The patrol from the Pz.Pi.Btl.33 which was set off at 06.30 hours has the task to reconnoitre at first in an easterly direction against the enemy suspected there, and to constantly report its observations. If no enemy forces are observed to the east, it has to move south-east. A report about the first enemy contact is of particular importance to the Brigade CO in this situation.
Following the setting off of the reconnaissance, a section consisting of an Ordonnanz officer, an interpreter, and a radio set is set off to the Italian Mot. Corps to establish a connection, especially to co-ordinate the movements of the two formations in time for the attack that is about to proceed. Task:
1.) Establish when, and in which direction, the Italians will start. Which enemy reports are available at the Mot. Corps?
2.) Information about own intent. First report about start and movement direction of the Italians is of particular importance!
During the O-Group at 06.30 hours all commanders are informed about the intent of the Corps, as far as it can be ascertained from the radio order. In addition to the already issued pre-orientation by phone it is added:
“Order of battle for the attack in an at first expected easterly direction: S.R.115 (battalions in column), with them Brigade staff. Right rearwards Regiment 200 with K.B.15 and Pz.Pi.-Bt.33. Behind the rifle regiment the artillery.
Tank hunters protect southern flank, with one company each with S.R.115 and Regiment 200.
A change of the direction of the attack can be expected at any moment after contact is established with the Italians, or on the basis of reports of the officer patrol sent eastwards. Start time foreseen is 08.30 hours. Preparation for defence has to be assured until the start.”
While all units get ready to start, the first messages from the patrol arrive; he has first recognised a large collection of vehicles to the east, which are later identified as Italian. Without further enemy reports, or awaiting the first report of the establishment of contact with the Mot. Corps, start in direction east is ordered at 08.30 hours. At 08.30 hours the Brigade staff drives ahead to S.R.115 which is forming up to start.
The battle group has to surmount some terrain difficulties at first. Reports are sent to Corps that some vehicles get stuck in deep sand. The S.R.115 has particular difficulties with its trucks, only by using prime movers is it possible to slowly cross the difficult sand dunes.
At 09.10 hours visual connection to the Italians is established. The returning liaison officer reports that the Italians did start on the attack in the direction south-east at 09.00 hours, but on foot. At first no forward movement could be recognised.
At 09.14 Corps orders to direct the march south-east and to keep contact to the Italians. A report is made to Corps that contact to the Italians by visual and officer is made and has been established.
At 09.30 combat sounds, in particular strong artillery fire, apparently at Group Vaerst can be heard in the south. The Corps is informed of this.
In the meantime at 09.35 hours the point of the battle group has reached an escarpment offereing a good overview towards south and south-east. At a distance of about 8 to 10 km, from a very good observation position and in clear sight conditions large vehicle agglomerations in an east-west direction are observed in a depression. Furthest to the west about 40 tanks are recognised, also on the northern flank several armoured cars, as well as single tanks, probably to secure to the north.
The opponent appears to no use – albeit too late this time – combat reconnaissance. Single armoured cars are clearly recognisable, approaching the northern escarpment in fast move. The Corps is informed about the recognised enemy. After at 10.00 hours the order has been received from Corps: “Main task to gain ground to south-east, choose best direction after reconnaissance.” and at 10.10 hours a Stuka attack has targeted the centre of the large enemy column, Brigade orders renewed start in direction south-east against the right flank of the enemy in the depression.
The mass of S.R.115 has by now, following surmounting of the terrain difficulties, closed up, and forms up to attack. The first battalion is moved up to the right of the second battalion. About 20 enemy tanks leave the main column at around 10.20 hours and partially move west, with individual tanks also moving north-west and north. The rifle regiment immediately deploys AT guns to cover the regrouping and the change of face into a south-easterly direction. The mass of the tanks recognised in the western part of the depression move ahead south-west at around 10.40 hours. The vehicle columns remain in the original place for the moment.
Regiment 200 receives the order from the Brigade CO, to protect the right flank to follow to the right rear of the attack of S.R.115.
The use of the Pz.Jg.-Kp. Is of particular importance in the attack about to happen, since armoured cars and single tanks are trying at times to move against the battle group from the column. The Pz.Jg.-Kp. subordinated to Regiment 200 has the task to take over tank protection in the right flank.
Following a quick check with the artillery commander, to the rear of the S.R.115, which is advancing with both battalions up front at around 11.00 hours, a heavy battery is deployed to combat the enemy column. The well-placed own fire is very quickly answered by two enemy batteries from the south. The light battalion continues at first to follow behind S.R.115, but then also intervenes in the combat. Unfortunately an effective combating of the numerous and valuable enemy targets is not possible because of a lack of ammunition. Nevertheless the enemy column is at least brought into considerable shock. The sudden appearance of German and Italian troops on the right flank must have completely surprised the enemy.
Because of the relatively strong number of enemy tanks protecting the column the attack can now only be pushed ahead by fire and movement of the AT weapons. The formations of the Mot. Corps are also only slowly gaining ground on foot, leaving the battle group therefore already far ahead.
Since the appearance of Group Vaerst from the south-west can be expected at any moment, the battle group is transmitting to the push group the own location and the most forward line reached, to avoid friendly fire.
After the repulse of some enemy armoured cars which reached close to the most forward elements of S.R.115 by a very dashingly advancing AT gun, the attack, which was delayed for a time due to numerous enemy tanks, is again continued. At 11.50 hours a report about the new start is sent to the D.A.K.
The Brigade receives information at this time that at 12.00 hours Group Vaerst will start the attack from a south-westerly direction. At the same time the radio order is received from the corps: “The decision of the engagement which has to be forced today depends on quick, energetic grappling.”
The enemy artillery, which apparently had not yet recognised the danger threatening from the south-west continues for the time to fire on the battle group, especially on the battery positions, with several batteries. A report is made to D.A.K. that the attack is proceeding, but that about 25 tanks are standing in the south, which delay for the time being a quick move of the battle group, which does not have any tanks. For a time it looks as if the enemy tanks want to turn for an attack north against the battle group. They seem to be unclear about which enemy they should attack, who is the more dangerous opponent for them.
From Brigade the second tank hunter company is made available to S.R.115, which has already deployed its own tank hunters and one tank hunter company ahead of its front, especially to combat the enemy tanks ahead of the right wing. Fire is opened again and again on the closest enemy tanks; local evasive movements are the consequence. Only shortly after 12.00 hours does the mass of the enemy tanks clearly make front to the south-west.
Group Vaerst, which has by now started, can be observed well for the moment from the own height. At around 12.50 hours tank combat ignites there. The Group Vaerst fights over a height with a numerically superior enemy. The artillery of Group Geissler now primarily engages the enemy tanks turning south-west against Group Vaerst, and the artillery protected by them. One heavy battery is silenced.
For the battle group the moment to engage more closely has now arrived. S.R.115 has come across two larger terrain heights secured by infantry forces and single tanks. Against these a planned attack is now ordered. The light artillery battalion is ordered to closely co-operate with the rifle regiment; forward observation officers rush ahead to the battalions. The preparation of the attack against this enemy is reported to the D.A.K. at 12.55 hours. An officer patrol in the southern strip of the 2nd battalion (placed left) is chasing off the enemy armoured cars securing the left height. AT guns of the tank hunters and AT guns of the regiment compete with each other in the combat against the enemy tanks providing security; ahead of the whole front several kills are achieved.
The 21. Pz.Div. has by now advanced well on the left wing of the attack towards the south, and has, in particular with its artillery, intervened effectively in the fight from the north-east. In the enemy column furthest east movement has started. The Italians on foot are still hanging behind considerably, only participating in the fight with their motorised artillery.
Around 13.00 hours at S.R.115 the impression rises temporarily that the enemy tanks advance to attack against the regiment. The tank hunters successfully take up the fight on the right, where the enemy is strongest. The still strongly occupied height before the right wing of the regiment is taken under effective fire by all heavy infantry weapons and the artillery which are in use.
Ahead of the 21.Pz.Div. rearward movements in the direction south-east and east are now recognised. Now elements of the vehicle column in front of the regiment also start to evade south-east, covered by artillery and with numerous tanks providing security. The own fire is, as far as is still possible, increased; the lack of ammunition of the artillery is unfortunately especially in this moment quite noticeably to our disadvantage.
Around 13.45 hours it becomes known that the attack of Group Vaerst has come to a halt in front of built-up positions, but that that the continuation of the attack has been ordered after regrouping. The sound of fighting to the south-west has considerably decreased at this time.
The attack by S.R.115 now continues to gain ground also on the right. The 30 to 40 enemy tanks still present on and in front of the height opposite the 1st battalion S.R.115 are however a considerable threat to the right flank of the battle group, which can be eliminated by an attack of Group Vaerst towards the east. On the request if a new task has been given to Group Vaerst, the corps orders continuation of the attack to Group Geissler, and informed that Group Vaerst stops for the moment.
Around 14.30 hours the Brigade CP, which advances in the sector of the S.R.115 recognises a rearward movement of the enemy tank agglomeration in front of Group Vaerst. This recognition is immediately passed on to Group Vaerst and also the the D.A.K.
The rifle regiment has by now taken the height in front of its right wing and continues to advance south-east. The Brigade CO now pushes the battle group to special speed. Again it appears as if several enemy tanks, despite the already started rearward movement, are turning against the own right flank. Tank rounds are hitting in the rows of the battle group; Group Vaerst, according to a radio report, also thinks it possible that the enemy tanks may turn away north. The immediately starting concentrated fire of all available AT guns makes this intent, should it have been present, impossible. The mass of the enemy tanks is now turning to rapid flight in south-easterly direction. The enemy vehicle columns have by now moved off further to the south. Artillery and tank hunters fire continuously into the retreating enemy; further tank kills are achieved.
The battle group has started the pursuit in south-easterly direction on a wide front. The enemy answers only with single batteries. Also Group Vaerst, to which a liaison officer has been sent, has again commenced the attack and pursues the fleeing enemy tanks, pushing past the right of the disputed height in the direction south-south-east.
The 21.Pz.Div. has made a wide move south and inflicted heavy losses on the fleeing enemy. The Italians are advancing quickly, but are hanging behind considerably since they are on foot. Only single Italian tanks and parts of the motorised artillery can follow the attack echeloned to the left rear.
Around 16.00 hours a group of 20 enemy tanks makes a temporary front again before the S.R.115 and fires into the pursuing battle group. The heavy fire of all immediately deployed AT guns forces it to turn away again soon. Additionally the threat of the Group Vaerst advancing on the right has become to big for the enemy. He turns to flight so quickly that touch with him is almost lost. The enemy artillery fire has now also almost completely stopped. Around 16.45 hours the forward elements of S.R.115 have reached the Uadi el Faregh. The location and the still available, sharply reduced fuel volumes, are reported to the D.A.K.
While Group Vaerst continues to pursue the evading enemy in rapid speed, the pursuit is stopped around 17.00 hours by order of the Brigade CO, after 21.Pz.Div has also come to a stop. The left battalion of S.R.115 has already crossed the Uadi with the tank hunters. After a Stuka attack into the fleeing enemy, the tank hunters shoot up another three enemy thanks; then the connection with the enemy is lost.
At 17.30 hours Group Vaerst also stops the pursuit. On request to the D.A.K. regarding the next steps the final stop of the attacks is ordered.
South of the Uadi el Faregh, a rifle platoon reinforced by AT guns is used for security. Both tank hunter companies assemble at the level of the Brigade CP according to orders to be at the disposition of the Brigade CO. The units of the battle group disperse widely, take up night positioning, and re-supply. After establishing contact with 21.Pz.Div. rest starts.
The closing report of Battle Group Geissler to the D.A.K. is sent at 18.30 hours, and reads:
“Up to the end of the attack enemy in fast retreat south and south-east. Battle group stopped at 169 left 3, to the left rear of Group Vaerst. 21.Pz.Div. about three km to left rear. Own forward security on skyline south of own location. Established so far 15 tanks killed, 12 POW made, five trucks captured. Enemy tank partially new type, apparently US production. Own losses only low.”
As follow-on it could be reported to D.A.K. 30 minutes later that according to the pioneers tasked with the total destruction of all killed enemy tanks the number of killed enemy tanks had increased to 26.
According to radio transmission from D.A.K. from 22.00 Battle Group Geissler was again subordinated to 15.Pz.Div. Connection was established immediately by liaison officer and radio.
The night passed quietly after this day which was such a success for our arms.
The British side of this battle can be gleaned from the war diary entries of 28 Dec 41 the 22nd Royal Gloucestershire Hussars and 4th County of London Yeomanry, who were part of 22nd Armoured Brigade then. They are available at this link for 22nd RGH, scroll down to the bottom of the page and at this link for 4th CLY, scroll down again.
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