Defending Position 19 – What happened next to the remains of 11th Company 255th Infantry Regiment?

Defending Position 19 – What happened next to the remains of 11th Company 255th Infantry Regiment?

I realize that in the prior post at this link I promised to finish the translation of the report by the commander of a platoon of 11th Company 255th (11./I.R.255) Infantry Regiment, but I somehow never got round to it. So here it is. It is an interesting insight into the process of withdrawing out of a really tricky situation.


Camouflaged MG position – No. 15, likely at Tobruk. Rommelsriposte Collection.

[…]I was then subordinated with my platoon to the 3rd Battalion 347th Infantry Regiment (III./I.R.347). Here I occupied Strongpoint 5 until 5 December 41, 18.00 hours. At 06.00 hours on 5 December 41 Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant) Hollmann of S.R. 155 (155th Rifle Regiment) came up and told me that the division was withdrawing from this area, that I had the task to hold the strongpoint until dusk, to cover the retreat of the division. To the right of me everything was evacuated, while to the left one platoon remained in Strongpoint 6.

On 5 December 41 at 18.00 hours I broke contact and retreated to the Via Balbo(1). After I assembled here with First Lieutenant Hollmann and the platoon from Strongpoint 6, we marched to 1 km east of Sidi Rezegh during the night (2). First Lieutenant Hollmann had driven ahead to make contact with the division, but did not return. After we took a short rest here, we marched on into the direction of El Adem at 09.00 hours. Shortly after we started heavy artillery fire fell on the Trigh Capuzzo. Since about 2/3rd of the men had severely blistered feet, I did load the footsore on Italian trucks and armoured vehicles, and sent them off in the direction of El Adem, which I had nominated as assembly point. With the remaining three NCOs and two men I jumped on a truck at the end.

At El Adem I was sent to the “White House”. Here I assembled my men. Since I did not get any information about the location of the division, I went to the straggler collection point (3). On 8 December 41 I reported to the division, and since then I am immediately subordinated to the division’s Ib (4) with the remaining command of III./I.R.255.



From the narrative, it appears that the platoons from strongpoint 5 and 6 marched pretty much straight south until they hit the Trigh Capuzzo, and then turned west to move to El Adem. Since 90th Light did not have any trucks to move its men, they were either reduced to move on shank’s pony (their legs, for the non-native English speakers), or to hitch a lift with the somewhat better motorized Italians.

  1. This could be either the Axis Bypass Road around Tobruk, or a misnaming of the Via Balbia. Given the location of Strongpoints 5 and 6, the latter is more likely. The personal account by Corporal Mork (see links – Persons) seems to confirm that at least some German soldiers called the Via Balbia Via Balbo.
  2. Probably 7-10 km, but I’ll confirm that.
  3. Versprengtensammelstelle
  4. The division’s general staff officer responsible for supply and administration
A Note on German Army Military Unit Designations

A Note on German Army Military Unit Designations


In light of the discussion in the comments section on this prior entry, I think it might be useful to explain my understanding of German unit terminology as it was used in 1941 (there were some changes throughout the war).  This is also helpful because in our book we will stick as much as possible to this, and because there are some distinct differences between English language and German terminology. The aim of this entry is to explain our translations, but also to elucidate debate on whether they are correct. Regarding the comparisons, I use British instead of Commonwealth below, and English when the term is identical for the British and US armies.


I start from the bottom up. Terminology was slightly different by arm of service in some cases. Artillery probably the most pronounced. It is important to note that regimental anti-tank and infantry gun companies used infantry terms, not artillery terms, while divisional and Heerestruppen (see below) anti-tank units would use artillery terminology. In the motorised infantry, the infantrymen would be called Schütze (Rifleman), and the regiment was called Schützenregiment (Rifle Regiment) until a renaming in early 1942 when they received the more famous title Panzergrenadier. These regiments were more common in Africa than leg infantry. Regarding the typical commander ranks, please note that the German army was not that hung up on what rank commanded what unit.  In particular in cases where attrition hit heavily (as it did during CRUSADER), lower ranks would take command of formations based on need, and then either promoted into the appropriate rank, or replaced by a more senior officer.

Army Units, Commands, and Formations on Permanent Establishments

Trupp = a small group dedicated to a specific task. E.g. Nachrichtentrupp = signals section attached to a battalion HQ.  These could be on permanent establishment (Funktrupp – radio section or Kompanietrupp – company HQ), or on an ad-hoc establishment (Aufklärungstrupp – reconnaissance patrol/Sabotagetrupp – raiding column).

Gruppe = English Section or US Squad, the smallest permanent unit in an infantry formation, usually 8-12 men commanded by a senior Private (Obergefreiter) or junior NCO (Unteroffizier) . Their heaviest weapon would be a light machine gun (or two), around which the tactics were built. The term Gruppe is confusingly sometimes also used as shorthand for Kampfgruppe (see below) – it is then followed by the name of the commanding officer (Gruppe Marcks = The Kampfgruppe commanded by Oberst Marcks)

Zug = English Platoon, made up of three Gruppen and a HQ Trupp, and commanded by a senior NCO (Portepee Unteroffizier, often a Hauptfeldwebel) or a junior officer (Leutnant = 2nd Lieutenant). In the artillery a Zug consisted of two guns, and there were usually two per battery. The English term would be Section or Troop. In the infantry it would usually be equipped with a light mortar as direct support. A tank platoon usually consisted of five tanks.

Kompanie = English company, made up of three platoons and a Kompanietrupp HQ and commanded by an Oberleutnant (1st Lieutenant) or a Hauptmann (Captain). In the field artillery a Kompanie would be called a Batterie, just like in English, and consisted of two Züge with four guns in total, and a HQ. In cavalry and reconnaissance units the term was normally Schwadron (Squadron), and it  would be commanded by an Oberleutnant or a Rittmeister, equivalent to a Captain. Kompanien are numbered consecutively throughout a regiment with Arabic numerals, which gave the Germans an efficient way to refer to them in orders and reports, and made it unnecessary to refer to the battalion as well. E.g. 7./S.R.155 would be the seventh company in Schützenregiment 155, and it would be in the 2nd battalion (see below). In armour units the term was Kompanie, and there would be four platoons and a HQ. Abbreviated Kp.

Batallion  = English Battalion, in the infantry consisting usually of three infantry companies and a support company (schwere Kompanie = heavy company) with machine guns and mortars, and a HQ with small signals and logistics support.  In the artillery, armour, and cavalry the term for battalion was Abteilung, and it would usually be preceded by the arm of service, if directly refered to (e.g. Aufklärungsabteilung 33 – reconnaissance battalion 33). In 1941 an armoured battalion (Panzerabteilung) consisted of three light and a heavy company (with Panzer III and IV, respectively), a reconnaissance section with Panzer II, and a HQ with a command tank on either Panzer I or Panzer III chassis.

Screenshot 2020 01 18 17 10 34

Report on personnel strength issues with I./S.R.104, 1 Nov. 1941. collection.

In the artillery a standard Abteilung consisted of three batteries with 12 guns in total. Usually commanded by a Major (same as in English), occasionally by an Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant-Colonel). Batallione would be numbered consecutively in a regiment with Roman numerals, so II./AR155 would be the second battalion (Abteilung) of artillery regiment 155. Independent Batallione (divisional units or Heerestruppen (see below) would usually be numbered in Arabic numerals based on their divisional parent unit (e.g. Feldersatzbatallion 200 – Field Replacement/Training Battalion 200 of 21. Panzerdivision), but with the relatively chaotic establishments in North Africa, this rule did not hold there, and there was a lot of mixing going on. Abbreviated Btl.

Regiment = British Brigade, US Regiment (not English Regiment!). This usually consisted of three battalions, support companies, and a HQ in the infantry,  and of four Abteilungen (three light, one heavy) in the artillery. In the motorised infantry there would normally only be two battalions in 1941. An infantry regiment would normally have 14 companies, 12 in the three battalions (nine infantry, three support companies), plus an anti-tank and and infantry gun company as regimental support. Usually commanded by an Oberst (Colonel), or a Lieutenant Colonel. Abbreviated Rgt, or IR/SR/PR/AR (infantry, rifle, tank, artillery regiment).

Brigade = no equivalent in British terms, maybe Combat Command in a US Armoured Division in 1944/45. In 1941 this was grouping of two rifle (motorised infantry) regiments in an armoured division. Usually commanded by a Colonel, or a Generalmajor (= US Brigadier-General, but not British Brigadier), the most junior General officer rank. As war went on, Brigades would become even rarer than they were initially, and a Generalmajor would usually command a division. In Africa 15. Schützenbrigade (15th Rifle Brigade) was the infantry arm of 15. Panzerdivision.

Division = as in English. A formation consisting of three or four regiments (e.g. three infantry, one artillery, or one infantry, one armour, one artillery), or a Brigade, an armoured,  and an artillery regiment. Usually commanded by a Generalmajor (Brigadier General), or a Generalleutnant (Major-General). The Germans called Divisions Grosseinheiten (large formations), and in German doctrine they were the smallest formation capable of sustained combat without support. Divisions also controlled permanently assigned divisional units such as anti-tank battalions (Panzerjägerbatallion), reconnaissance battalions (Aufklärungsabteilung), and engineer battalions (Pionierbatallion). Divisions also added significant amounts of support troops to their constituent units, which enable these to function in the field. These include field mail services, military police, signals, logistics and signals support, medical, bakery and butcher companies, etc. Abbreviated Div.

Korps = as in English or US Corps. A group of two to four divisions, with a permanent HQ.  Korps HQs would have significantly more capable signals elements than a divisional HQ, and have an important role in logistics support for the divisions it commands, controlling higher level logistics formations such as Grosstransportraum units.  Besides the divisions they could also control Heerestruppen (see below), which were independent formations assigned on a needs basis, usually by an army command. Usually commanded by a Generalleutnant. The German contribution in Africa started as a Korps. The term Panzerkorps (Armoured Corps) was used from 1942, but not in Africa, it replaced the prior Mot. Korps (motorised Korps), which was the term used for Corps HQs controlling primarily armoured and motorised units.

Arko (Artilleriekommandeur) = British AGRA (Army Group Royal Artillery), US ?. An independent artillery command which would have significant signals assets and other dedicated support such as survey or mapping units, to be able to control artillery assets above divisional level for concentration of firepower.  In status probably equivalent to a Division or a Brigade, and usually attached to a Korps or an Armee. It would also be used to control artillerie Heerestruppen (see below), such as siege or coastal artillery. Arko 104 under Generalmajor Böttcher (later Oberst Mickl) was attached to Panzergruppe Afrika to deal with artillery needs during the siege and assault on Tobruk.

Panzergruppe = no equivalent. A Panzergruppe was an odd invention that worked well for the Germans in the early war. Essentially this was a Corps HQ with an elevated status, and under direct control of a Heeresgruppe (army group), as a mobile arm. Usually commanded by a General der Panzertruppen or a General der Kavallerie (General, with an indication of the arm of service where they originated from). The German HQ in North Africa was upgraded to a Panzergruppe in summer 1941.

Armee = Army. A grouping of two or more Korps, usually commanded by a General der (insert arm of service here), or a Generaloberst (Colonel-General, the highest German General rank). An Armee HQ would add even more signals capability, and important logistics support. In 1942 the German HQ in Africa was upgraded to army status, and Rommel was promoted to Generaloberst. A Panzerarmee (Armoured Army) was primarily just a cool-sounding name, it did not indicate that it would control only armoured units (or indeed any).

Other terms:

Heerestruppen – literally: army troops. Independent battalions with specialised support or combat functions. These could be assigned temporarily to support a formation. In North Africa they primarily included artillery units, such as coastal and super-heavy artillery, and Beobachtungsabteilung 11 (a counter battery observation battalion).  Panzerjägerabteilung 605 with its self-propelled ATGs was also  Heerestruppe. The existence of these units gave the German army considerable flexibility in responding to needs along wide frontages.

Kampfgruppe – British (Commander Name) Column, although usually much bigger in size than these, and well supported by German army doctrine, which is not something that can be said for the British approach to columns, especially during CRUSADER (many thanks to Jon for making that point).

A Kampfgruppe was an ad-hoc combat formation (always, it would never be a permanent establishment, even though the duration of its existence could be relatively long) assembled to respond to a specific and temporary need. Usually built around a regimental, sometimes a battalion HQ, and named after its commander. During the counterattack in January, Kampfgruppe Marcks under Oberst Marcks distinguished itself in defeating 4th Indian Division, earning its commander the Knights Cross. Once the specific task was no longer relevant, it would be disbanded, and the individual formations returned to their parent units. Sometimes abbreviated Gruppe, followed by the commander’s name (e.g. Gruppe Crüwell during the retreat from the Gazala position in December 41).

Kolonnenraum – literally: column space. This refers to indepent truck supply units on the army level. In German terminology is only used as a supply term, while the British used it as a combat formation term (e.g. Currie Column during the pursuit from the Gazala position to Agedabia).

Korück (Kommandeur Rueckwaertiges Armeegebiet) – no English equivalent. The commander of the army rear area was responsible for army installations in the rear areas, and for security in these areas. He would have some security forces at his disposal for this purpose. The rear area was usually not specifically defined.  During CRUSADER, Korueck was Generalmajor Schmitt, who then commanded the German forces in the Bardia fortress. He became the first German general to surrender his command to Commonwealth forces in World War II when Bardia fell on 2 January 42. No doubt a distinction he could have done without.

Numbering of German units

The numbering schematic for German units followed a strict code:

Kompanie: Arabic

Battalion: Roman

Regiment: Arabic

Division: Arabic

Corps: Roman

Army: Arabic

Army Group: Named (e.g. Afrika, Nord)


1./S.R.200 = first company, Rifle Regiment 200

III./I.R.247 = 3rd battalion, Infantry Regiment 247


The above is the general. Over the course of a multi-front, six year war, there were many exceptions to this rule, such as Korpsabteilung C, or Armeeabteilung Narwa. There were Festungs- or Sicherungsdivisionen and God knows what else.

Order of Battle Division z.b.V. Afrika (Africa Special Purpose Division), 10 November 41

Order of Battle Division z.b.V. Afrika (Africa Special Purpose Division), 10 November 41


The division that would become famous later as 90th Light Division started its life as a formation of odds and sods, thrown together quickly out of whatever was available while a much more important war raged in the east. During Operation CRUSADER, on 27 November, it was renamed 90th Light Africa Division (90. leichte Afrika-Division), and it was under this name that it would acquire a fighting record that made it well respected by its enemies. But before that, it would be very severely depleted in the two weeks from the start of Operation CRUSADER, so much so that it did not play a combat role in the January counteroffensive in 1942, although it did participate in the advance.


The division had originally been formed in June 1941 for service in Africa.  It lost some elements to enemy action during transport across the Mediterranean, and had other elements added to it after arrival. In the end it was a hotchpotch, and lacked vital supply, signals, and logistics elements which would have been standard in ordinary divisions, making it much less combat-capable than the name implies. The lack of motorization was going to be a real problem during the retreat from Tobruk, and probably contributed to the decision to take the division out of the line and send it to Agedabia in early December, two weeks before the general retreat.

The division was  also very weak indeed in artillery (one of its two assigned artillery battalions came from the artillery regiment originally formed for 21st Panzer). Nevertheless that did not matter too much, since it was meant for stationary use on the Tobruk siege front, where it would be responsible for the break-in planned for late November, with all the support (and it was plenty) of the heavy artillery of Arko 104 at its disposal.


Unknown command post, probably Tobruk-Belhamed sector, November/December 1941. collection.


A few remarks about the structure of the organisation, which was peculiar in other aspects as well. It is worth noting that the infantry companies had very high firepower when it comes to light machine guns, including many captured Empire weapons. With the exception of the 3rd battalion 347th Infantry Regiment (III./I.R.347) the rifle companies had double the firepower of the standard rifle company. It is no wonder that the account of the 2nd Battalion The Black Watch of their attack against the siege front on 21st November speaks of the heavy volume of automatic weapons fire they encountered, and that the ridge where it came from became known to them as “Spandau Ridge” (“Spandau” in this case not referring to the Berlin suburb, but the German army light machine gun, a term originating in World War I).

What is also noticeable about the order of battle is the lack of balance in the infantry companies.  The companies in the 155th Regiment are very well equipped for firepower, especially by the standards of the typical German infantry company at the time. With heavy mortars, a lot of machine guns, and two light infantry guns, any strongpoint defended by such a company would have been a serious obstacle to an attack. The companies in the 3rd battalion 347th Regiment are a bit less well equipped, but are still doing okay. On the other hand, the companies in the 3rd battalion 255th Regiment, and especially all companies in the “Afrika” Regiment 361 are much weaker, and according to the war diary, most of the heavy weapons of the regiment seem to have been stuck in Naples when CRUSADER started.

The order of battle below is from the NARA records, and dated 11 November 41. Many thanks to my friend James for getting it.

The interpretation of the hand-written/-drawn OOB would not have been possible without the explanation of the symbols on Dr. Leo Niehorster’s OOB site at this link.

Afrika Artilleriebatallion 361

The Artillerieabteilung did not join the division prior to CRUSADER. It arrived on two Italian navy armed merchant cruisers (Citta di Genova and Citta di Tunisi). See this older entry. Its men were then stuck in Benghazi and without guns. They never joined the siege front.

An interesting question has arisen about the guns of “Afrika” Artillery Battalion 361 – the drawn order of battle clearly shows mountain guns, presumably 7.5cm Gebirgskanone 36, although it is also possible that an older type would have been used for this cinderella formation. But information I recently was made aware of by a fellow researcher shows that captured Russian field guns, presumably the Feldkanone 36(r).

I have my doubts that the first issue of guns to the “Afrika” Artillery Battalion 361 was of this type, but if anyone knows for sure, or has pictures that can clearly be dated to CRUSADER or before, I’d be very grateful. Following CRUSADER, the number of captured Russian guns in the desert became substantial, as this Intelligence Bulleting shows

Order of battle: Division z.b.V. “Afrika”

Divisional Command

Motorised Signals Platoon

259th Motorised Mapping Detachment

155th Rifle Regiment (Schützenregiment 155)

Staff with Signals, Despatch Riders, Engineer Detachments (all motorised)

Three Infantry battalions

Each battalion with:

staff (signals, engineers);

three rifle companies with 18 light MGs, 6 light anti-tank rifles, 2 8.1cm mortars and 2 7.5 cm light infantry guns each; and

one support company with 8 heavy machine-guns and 6 8.1 cm mortars.

3rd Battalion 255th Infantry Regiment (III./I.R.255)

Three rifle companies with 18 light MGs, 6 light anti-tank rifles, no mortars, no heavy anti-tank rifles; and

one support company with 8 heavy machine-guns.

3rd Battalion 347th Infantry Regiment (III./I.R.347)

Three rifle companies with 15 light MGs, 6 light anti-tank rifles, and 2 8.1cm mortars; and

one support company with 12 heavy MGs and 6 8.1 cm mortars.

“Afrika” Regiment 361


Two Infantry battalions

Each battalion with;

three rifle companies with 18 light MGs; and

one support company with 2 heavy machine-guns.

605th Anti-Tank Battalion (Panzerjägerabteilung 605)

Staff with Signals Platoon (motorised)

Three companies with 5 light MGs and 9 4.7cm ATGs (Czech) on Panzer I chassis, each.

Reconnaissance company

Staff platoon with 3 armoured MG carriers (captured) attached.

One platoon motorised with 6 VW un-armoured cars Kübelwagen.

One platoon armoured cars (tracked? Probably an error)

Artillery Regiment 155 (Artillerie Regiment 155)

2nd Battalion 155th Artillery Regiment (II./A.R.155)

Staff with motorised signals and survey platoon

Three batteries with 2 light MGs and 4 10.5 cm light Field Howitzers 18, no prime movers

“Afrika” Artillery Battalion 361 (Afrika Artillerieabteilung)

Staff with signals platoon

Two batteries with 2 light machine guns and 4 7.5 cm mountain guns each, no prime movers

Engineer Battalion 900 (motorised) (Pionierbatallion 900)

Staff with 1 heavy anti-tank rifle and 1 3.7 cm ATG

Two motorised engineer companies with 12 light MGs each.

Light engineer column (motorised)

The Tobruk Breakout from the Other Side of the Hill

The text below is the translation of the evening report of Div.z.b.V.Afrika for 21 November 41, the day the Tobruk garrison started its breakout. On this day the division was under pressure from two sides. 7th Support Group with 7th Armoured Brigade attacked S.R.155‘s (Rifle Regiment 155) positions on the escarpment from their position at Sidi Rezegh, while the Tobruk garrison attacked the strongpoints at Belhamed, occupied by the reinforced III./S.R.155, III./IR255 and III./IR347 (3rd battalions of infantry regiments 155, 255 and 347, respectively) from inside the perimeter, with considerable support from the infantry tanks of 4 RTR and D Squadron 7 RTR. The experience of a platoon of III./IR255 has been detailed in an older entry at this link. In the present entry, the official German version of the events of the day, as reported up the chain of command, is given. In the future I intend to translate the war diary entry of the division for this day.

The evening report is a masterpiece of not directly telling the unpleasant news from the siege front. It starts by referring to the attack which was repulsed on the right wing, failing to mention that it succeeded on the left wing, and then goes on to list the positions still held. But it does not refer to the positions the division actually lost, so the recipient of the report would need to get a map of the strongpoint system to figure out himself where the Tobruk garrison was now established (which I have done). Even though it never says so, it is clear that the division did not have a particularly good day, also indicated that the intent for the next day was defensive, instead of counter-attacking to retake the lost ground.

Map of Tobruk Fortifications in Breakout Sector - German Map based on Italian/British data

The events of the day as I can make them out (and this is really a work in progress) were roughly as follows:

0630 – D Squadron 7 RTR and 2nd King’s Own take parts of position 19 (objective Butch) on the northern edge of the breakout area, opposite R73.

0630 – An attack against position 13 (Tugun) by 2nd Queens fails.

0715 –2nd Black Watch take part of position 18 (Jill). 2nd Black Watch advances on their objective. A company 2nd Beds and Herts is installed to hold it.

0750 – 2nd Black Watch is reported to be in trouble behind Jill.

Time uncertain – B Squadron (reserve) 4 RTR attacks position east of Tugun (could be part of position 14) and hands it over to the infantry. It then moves on to support the 2nd Black Watch which by now is held up before objective Tiger. The Italian artillery battalion referred to in the daily report was probably at this position, since 2nd Black Watch reported taking 12 field guns (one battalion) here.

1015 – A and C Squadron 4 RTR and remnants of 2nd Black Watch take position 16 (Tiger) after heavy losses to the infantry and many tank casualties. This was the battalion HQ .

Time uncertain – A troop each of A and C Squadron 4 RTR attack position 11 (Jack) on point 145 and take it. This was the battalion HQ of Major Maythaler, III./IR155 (reported missing in the daily report below).

Time uncertain – British tanks push on to Carmuset Beludeah to the southwest, but are repulsed.

1545 – D Squadron 7 RTR tanks with 10 Matildas and B Company 2nd Queens reinforced by A Company of 2nd Beds and Herts, and supported by three regiments of field artillery (72 guns) within an hour from jumping off quickly take the eastern end position 13 (Tugun) on the southwestern edge of the breakout, opposite R65.

It is a bit tricky to get the German and British accounts to match, because the British reports are in the context of their objectives, which did not completely overlap with the German strongpoints. It appears that the reconnaissance prior to the attack had failed to understand completely the extent of the fortification system (as it had missed the fact that the Italian troops had been relieved by Germans), and if one looks at the German and the British maps at the same time, it is clear that the British had only a weak understanding of the siege front system, and I wonder how much the British units replacing the Australians did actually patrol. There is also a bit of apologia going on in at least some Commonwealth publications, where it is claimed that the presence of Germans was a surprise (correct) because they had only moved into the Italian positions 2 days before the breakout. This is not correct, as the war diary of Div. z.b.V. makes very clear – the Germans had moved in 10 days beforehand, and were very active patrolling themselves. They had been issued Italian uniforms for deception reasons, but this would of course not helped in case of a man being captured.  From Auchinleck’s despatch it appears that the breakout was primarily planned on the basis of aerial photography, and this probably accounts for the lack of real understanding of the fortification system, and its occupants.

As a consequence of the twin failure to understand the extent of the fortifications, and the thickening of the siege front in this sector, losses were high amongs the attackers. The worst experience was that of the 2nd Battalion The Black Watch, which suffered 79 men killed and 197 wounded out of 612 men who started the attack, and is detailed at this link.

The tank destruction claims made in the German report below are believable. Total infantry tank casualties (of all types, i.e. repairable included) in the Tobruk breakout on 21 November amounted to 11 in D Squadron 7 RTR, and 32 in 4 RTR, out of the about 65 that they had started with. Many tanks were damaged on mines. In the end, many of the tanks were recovered and repaired however, e.g. 4 RTR reported only 12 total write offs for the whole of Operation CRUSADER. In addition to the Matildas, the 26 cruiser tanks of 1 RTR also advanced, and the next day 8 of them were serviceable, bringing total tank losses for the day (excluding light tanks, of which a number were also lost or damaged) to 61.

The Australian Official History (Tobruk, Ch.11, Ed Duda) sums the day up as follows:

It had been a day of great achievement . A wedge three miles deep had been driven through one of the strongest sections of the encircling defences. To secure the corridor against sniping and cross-fire, further operations would be required, but it was already possible for garrison forces to debouch into the open desert, whatever perils might lie beyond . Five hundred and fifty German prisoners (including 20 officers) and 527 Italian (including 18 officers) had been taken, but at great cost in loss of life . In the 2/Black Watch alone, there were 200 dead.

Despite it being over optimistic (there is no way the garrison could have ‘debouched into the desert’ on 22 November, in my view, and the error on the numbers killed for 2nd Black Watch, I believe this assessment to be far closer to the truth than the dismissive view of the events given by the evening report of Division z.b.V. Apart from the considerable number of POWs taken (for which I have what appears as a different set of numbers in a message by Tobruk Fortress HQ to 8th Army of 23 November, namely 449 German and 834 Italian), there were also 10 105mm guns and 12 75mm guns captured. The breakout severely damaged the Bologna division, causing heavy losses to all the infantry battalions in the 40th Infantry Regiment, and destroying the heavy artillery battalion of 205th Artillery Regiment, as well as one of the light battalions.  After this day the division can only have been a shell for the remainder of the battle.

Evening Report of Division z.b.V for 21 November, from IWM Captured German Records Archive, Duxford


Divisional Command Post, the 20 November 41

Dept. Ia

Added by hand:

Transmission time 20.15 hours

No. 211/1 Ia

Evening report for 21 November 41

After repulsed enemy tank attack before right wing division holds strongpoints 1, 2, 20 in forward line, 5, 6 in rearward line. Mass of artillery at and north of Bu Amud.

Belhamed occupied by reinforced Pi.900 [Pionier/Engineer Battalion 900, an independent unit consisting of two sapper companies attached to Div.z.b.V.] without 1st company. Divisional reserve S.R.155 holds escarpment south of Sidi Rezegh until west of [Point ]171 (5 km south of it). About 30% losses.

Pz.Jg.Abt.605 [Panzerjägerabteilung/Anti-Tank Battalion 605 – an independent anti-tank unit with 27 self-propelled Czech 4.7cm ATGs in three companies of 9 vehicles, mounted on partially armoured Pz.I chassis – you can see pictures at this link; a total of 202 were built]with one company at Afrika-Rgt. [361 – a regiment formed of former members of the French Foreign Legion and attached to Div.z.b.V.]. Remainder to 80% casualties. Afrika-Rgt. holds position, hardly any losses.

Enemy attacked with one tank battalion, with at least 50 heavy Mk.II/R.T.R, accompanied by one infantry battalion. Breakthrough between defense works 64 and 71 [of the Tobruk defenses originally built by the Italians]. Follow-up push direction south-south-east, later turning in to east-north-east. Enemy tank spearhead in southern direction on Belhamed broke through with 6 tanks, and there destroyed. The division destroyed on Tobruk Front 18, at S.R.155 25, total 43 enemy tanks. 8 prisoners, including one Major, brought in.

Losses and Casualties:


Major Maythaler

3 reinforced companies

1 Italian artillery battalion with weapons

Of I.R.155 [typo, should probably be S.R.155] and

Pz.Jg.Abt.605 numbers not known yet.

Afrika-Rgt. 361 one man dead, 7 wounded (including one officer)

Losses in weapons: 13 4.7cm ATG at Pz.JG.Abt.605

Intent for 22 November:

Defense of currently held position, strongpoints 1, 2, 20, 5 and 6. Mine belt laid before Point 145 (2 km southwest Sidi Scegheilif) via 146 (2 km south of it) – 1 km southeast of it.

One company each north of strongpoint 5 and 6 of Italian battalion I./40 [1st battalion 40th Regiment, one of the infantry regiments of Italian 25th Infantry Division “Bologna”]. Div.Bologna intends to create new strongpoint at Carmuset Beludeah for 2 reinforced companies.

D.A.K. [Deutsches Afrika Korps]has subordinated Afrika-Rgt.361 to 21.Pz.Div. [21st Panzer Division]since 16.00 hours 21 November.

For the divisional command

The First Officer of the General Staff

Signed – unreadable

The evening report from TOBFORT states the success of the day, and indicates the range of units that were caught and the damage inflicted.

To: 8th ARMY (R) 30 Corps
T.O.O. 2200/21
T.O.R. 1443/22*


During morning first phases of attack successfully carried out.
BUTCH 422420 TIGER 423417 JACK 424419 Captured.
Some delay in operations due to strong resistance at TUGUN 418418.**
TUGUN captured by 1530 hrs.
Counter attack 1730 hrs. successfully driven off.

Situation tonight.
Strong posts captured having been consolidated and are held by 14 BDE.
32 Tank Bde leaguering inside perimeter through gap minefield.
Out tank casualties on Mine Field fairly heavy.
About 1100 prisoners captured of which half are GERMANS.

GERMAN 3 Bn 2(55?) Inf. Regt.*** 3 Bn 155 Lorried Inf. Regt. This last was called 3 Bn. 268 Inf. Regt. until 6 weeks ago.
ITALIAN. The whole 1 Battery 205 Arty Regt. BOLOGNA killed or captured.**** 2 Bn 16 Inf. Regt. SAVONA. P.W. states only Mortar Pl. of 16 Regt. remained in TOBRUK area.
2 Bn. 44 Inf. Regt. BOLOGNA 1 Bn 40 Inf. Regt. BOLOGNA. H.Q. (including C.O.) of unknown Bn. 40 Inf. Regt. captured at TUGUN.*****

* Note the time it took to be received.
** So much for the idea that the Italians were not fighters…
*** This battalion was destroyed on this day, it was not requested that it be rebuilt in the wash-up after CRUSADER.
**** On 23 November, with no major further action, TOBFORT reported 10 105mm and 12 75mm guns captured. By 1600 of 23 Nov, 449 Germans and 834 Italians had been captured in the breakout. Of these 4/37 Germans and 4/36 Italians had been captured on 22 November, when WOLF 426415 and LION 421415 had been seized without opposition, and TUGUN fully occupied.
***** This seems to have been 1 Bn 40 (42?) Infantry, of which on 22 November 2/3rds, including the C.O. and 3 officers are reported captured.

Many thanks to Stephen Walton of the IWM for his invaluable help.