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.

[…]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.

Hartz

Lieutenant

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

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

  1. I think you’ve mis-labelled note (3) as (2) in the text. Also, I assume that 11 Kp. were initially facing west (ie, facing the Tobruk Garrsison on the lines of circumvallation, rather than NZ Div and others on the lines of contravallation), and thus in the fourth sentence their right was to the north and left was to the south? This makes sense since you’d expect the encirclement to be first withdrawn from the north near the coast, then progressively collapse to the south and west as the withdrawal got underway.

    Interesting passage – odd that so many guys had blistered feet. They don’t appear to have moved all that far that night, and from what i understand they weren’t moving around a great deal in the days befrehand. They must either have had very soft feet, or been taking very poor care of themselves (something their platoon commanders would get an absolute rocket for in the British army), or perhaps their diet was so poor that something like scurvy was widespread within the company.

    • Hi Jon

      That’s correct, they were facing west throughout. In terms of collapsing the encirclement front however, this did not follow the logic, but rather the southern elements had moved out before the northern ones. My guess is that strongpoints 5 and 6 were considered important due to their proximity to the Via Balbia, which they may have been able to cover with fire during daylight, thus interfering with linking up between the garrison and the forces encircling Bardia.

      Regarding the feet, I can think of multiple possible reasons: poor diet is a good one, lack of supply of proper boots (these guys had been in the desert since May, I think), lack of opportunity for toughening up through route marches, so when they did have to march their feet were no longer up to it, and probably a combination of the above.

      All the best

      Andreas

  2. Socks…
    What was their sock situation?

    Personally, I can never have too many pairs of socks – swap them out at every halt. Lots of socks = many miles of marching.

    • Hi James

      As the WW1 joke went, everyone in our army carries the Field Marshals baton in his backpack, but we think you’ll discard it soon for an extra pair of socks. 🙂

      Always good to have an experienced infantry man come in. The honest answer is that I don’t know. But if we consider the general supply situation, the fact that Div. z.b.V. did have no logistical assets as part of its formal structure (there is no supply column in the OOB of 10 November, the fact that the first priority at the time was to haul forward food, ammunition, and fuel for the assault on Tobruk, and the fact that III./I.R.255 was an ‘orphan’ battalion with no regimental staff to look after it in Africa, we can speculate that they probably had little to nothing of anything, including socks.

      All the best

      Andreas

  3. Hello,
    I was researching some papers and docs that I have relating to a German Second Lieutenant that died at Tobruk in Nov. 1941. Among the papers I found a document with the Feldpost envelope(both dated Feb. 25 1942 to his wife or mother, and it is signed by this guy in translation above; Oberleutnant Hollmann of the 3rd Battalion!!!!! How crazy is that??? And this is a recent blog post!
    Anyway I was cataloging this group to offer it for sale.

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