The first and last battle of 2 Armoured Brigade – 23 January 1942

23 January was the day the Axis won the counter-offensive, by dismembering the only armoured force standing in its way, 2 Armoured Brigade of 1 Armoured Division, in the brigades first and last battle during Operation CRUSADER.

2 Armoured Brigade was committed piecemeal, with the Queen’s Bays ordered to clear Saunnu, while the main body with 10 Royal Hussars and 9 Lancers advanced towards Antelat, with a different objective. West of Saunnu the brigade engaged the tank force of the Deutsches Afrikakorps, and was decisively defeated, essentially dropping out of the battle. On 26 January the brigade could only put a composite regiment into the field, consisting of one squadron with the remnants of the Bays and the 10 Hussars, and two squadrons and RHQ of the 9 Lancers. On 29 January this regiment reports that ‘the order to advance comes as a distinct shock’, and states it would have liked more time to sort itself out.

This day therefore removed the only mobile armoured force from the Commonwealth order of battle, and opened the way for the Axis to advance on to Msus, and then either Benghazi or Gazala.

The human cost to the Commonwealth of this was thankfully small, although 10 Hussars lamented the very heavy officer casualties they suffered.

Grave of Captain R.J. Williams, Adjutant 10 Royal Hussars, on the retreat march to the Gazala position. He was the gunner of the CO’s tank, and was severely wounded on 23 January, dying of his wounds on 28 January, during the retreat. He is now buried at Tobruk War Cemetary, while the remainder of his regiment who were killed on 23 January 1942, are now buried in Benghazi War Cemetary.

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