The table below gives easy access to the daily reports. The background to these reports is as follows:
The reports were made daily to the High Command of the Army’s Foreign Armies West office (OKH – Fremde Heere West) in Berlin. They were normally a page long and followed a fairly standard format. The reports presented here, unlike e.g. war diaries or combat reports which could often be written up long after the events, were not written with the benefit of hindsight, they are the real view of the intelligence department on the day, or the evening at the end of the day. The time stamps and notifications on them make this clear. They are therefore fairly unique documents that give the reader a direct insight into what the Panzergruppe command was thinking about who and where the enemy were, and what they did and intended to do in the CRUSADER battle.
The reports originated from the Ic (intelligence) department in the Panzergruppe staff, headed by Major von Mellenthin. The assessment was based on the analysis of reports from combat units, POW interrogations, radio interception and aerial reconnaissance from both German and Italian sources. Given the complexity and rapidity of events it was often wrong of course, and it reflects the German view of the battle as it evolved, rather than sober historical analysis, and as such is a prime first-hand source on the battle.
An editorial note, I have tried to preserve the reports as much as possible in translating and transcribing them. The result is sometimes stilted English, and that there are strikethroughs in the reports. My guess for their production is as follows: the initial report was handwritten, then typed up. While this happened further thought would be given to the situation, and when the handwritten version was handed to von Mellenthin for sign-off, he introduced further changes by striking out elements and/or adding handwritten notes. This would then be passed on to the radio room for transmission. Since this somewhat illuminates the thought process underlying the analysis, I am trying to preserve it as much as I can. Furthermore, I am trying to use the Dominion Army designations unless there is a good reason to use the German designations. But that will remain a judgement call, and I hope it makes sense.
A word of warning – these reports are very raw. They will only make sense if you have some background knowledge of Operation CRUSADER. Whatever you do, do NOT try to get this knowledge from these reports. There are far too many errors in them.
This report was sent to Berlin at 23.45 hours on 24 November.
Enemy behaviour 24 November 1941
Cauldron southeast Tobruk cleaned up. Large volume of captured war materials and rising prisoner numbers at present not completely clear. In the cauldron were fighting: 4 Armoured Brigade, 22 Armoured Brigade, Support Group 7 Armoured Division, and one brigade 1 South African Division. Only weak elements succeeded in escaping east and southeast. In the course of the day three battle groups were established:
Under command 30 Corps south and southeast B. el Gubi 1 South African (minus one brigade) and 22 Guards Brigade (apparently in the main only arriving from Maddalena), remnants 4 Armoured Brigade, 4 South African Armoured Car battalion. In the area Gambut up to 25 km south of it newly arrived 2 brigades 2 South African Division, 1 battalion 1 Army Tank Brigade, and remnants 4 Armoured Brigade.
Both groups remained in their areas today without major movements.
Under command 13 Corps 4 Indian attacking Sollum front at Sidi Omar, 2 New Zealand on Sollum. Mass 1 Army Tank Brigade probably divided amongst the two division. Sollum front continues to hold.
Enemy desert column Benghazi – Agedabia is reported to have reached Oasis Aujila (350km southeast of Benghazi) on 23 November.
Showing the chaos of the day, this intel assessment was heavily rewritten, and both the first page of an original showing edits and a final version have survived. It was finalised at 00.15 hours of 24 November and sent off to Berlin at 07.03 hours the same day.
Around midday the encirclement of enemy forces in the area southeast of Tobruk was completed. At this time the 4 and 7 Armoured Brigades and 1 South African Brigades were in this space. The mass of these formations is moving towards its destruction. Numerous tanks and combat vehicles as well as some batteries were destroyed. Amongst the POWs is the commander of 4 Armoured Brigade.
The mass 1 South African Division south and southwest B.el Gubi, 22 Armoured Brigade in area 30 kmn southeast B. el Gubi. One tank battalion 1 Army Tank Brigade with a motorised battalion reached 16.00 hours, driving west from the area southwest Bardia the airfield Gambut. On Sollum front the mass 1 Army Tank Brigade and elements New Zealand Division attacked with focus on Lower Sollum and Sidi Omar. These places fell into enemy hands.
Supposed order of battle confirmed by captured situation map and operation order (important captured material by special courier to OKH). According to this, Army Command 8 with 13 and 30 Army Corps, division line 30 km south S. Omar – B. Gibni – S. Azeiz.
30 Army Corps with New Zealand, 4 Indian, 1 Army Tank Brigade, 13 Army Corps with 7 Armoured Division (with this 22 Guards Birgade, thus far used for security in the rear areas) and 1 South African Division.
This was sent at 20.40 hours 21 November 1941 by Major von Mellenthin to Berlin.
Enemy Behaviour on 21 November 1941:
On Sollum front enemy quiet all day but through air reconnaissance recognised attack preparations in front as well as against rear. On Tobruk front enemy attempted in co-ordination with the advance from south-east a breakout with about 40 tanks, this was repulsed. The advance of 22 and 7 Armoured Brigades placed west of Bu Meliha against Tobruk was stopped during the morning hours on both flanks of Sidi Rezegh by forces of the Tobruk front. Through advance of D.A.K. from area Bu Meliha towards Sidi Rezegh forward (22 Armoured Brigade) enemy suffered heavy losses. Details still missing. The rearward situated 7 armoured brigade does not appear to have entered combat yet. 7 armoured division has entered combat with elements in area Sidi Rezegh. 4 Armoured Brigade concentrated in area southwest Sidi Omar, appears to be held ready there for advance into the back of the Sollum front. 1 South African Division successfully repulsed at El Gubi by Italian Ariete Division. About the fast enemy forces advancing in the direction Benghazi – Agedabia no details are known.
Order of Battle 7 Armoured Division based on captured documents.
4 Armoured Brigade with 8 Hussars, 3 and 5 R.T.R.
7 Armoured Brigade with 7 Hussars, 2 and 6 R.T.R.
6 R.T.R. entered combat with 42 cruisers Mk. VI.
22 Armoured Brigade with 3 CLY, 4 CLY and RGH.
7 Rifle Brigade with 1 K.R.R.C., 2 R.B. and 38 R.T.R.
It has to be expected that the mass of 7 Armoured Division on 22 November will continue to attack towards Tobruk, while the Sollum front will be attacked frontally by 4 Indian Division and possibly from the rear by 22 Armoured Brigade.
This was sent at 22.00 hours 22 November 1941 by Major von Mellenthin to Berlin.
Enemy Behaviour on 22 November 1941:
Also today no attacks from Egypt on Sollum front. Instead during the morning hours advance 7 Armoured Brigade with 7 Rifle Brigade and 38 Battalion from area southwest Sidi Omar on Sidi Azeiz. 38 Tank Battalion with a motorised battalion forward to push on Marsa Luch. Via Balbia in area north B. el Gabr blocked by this formation. 7 and 22 Armoured Brigades stationed in area just south Sidi Rezegh northeast of B. el Gubi – B. el Chelb also today attempted unsuccessfully to break through to Tobruk via Sidi Rezegh. Related to this, on 21 November loss of 2017 tanks to German units reported. Also the attack from the south of elements 1 South African Division against Division Ariete was successfully repulsed with the loss of 50 tanks and 150 other vehicles. During the afternoon hours British tank formations ceased their attacks. Opponent in Tobruk supported British breakthrough attempts from southeast only by artillery fire. In his unsuccessful breakout attempts on 21 November he lost 27 tanks until now. [replaced by hand: in bitter counterattacks [unreadable] heavy losses] The fast enemy formations set in the direction Agedabia reached the area 60km southwest of it in the afternoon 22 November. Column has numerous losses due to air attacks. Supply depot for this colum is reported 100 km south of B. Tengeder.
Calculation of enemy tanks used in the Tobruk – Sollum battle:
Based on captured code name list and other material.
- 1 Army Tank Brigade on Sollum front under 4 Indian Division: 150 I Tank Mk. II
- 4 Armoured Brigade and 38 R.T.R. (rear of Sollum front): 170 medium tanks
- 7 and 22 Armoured Brigades southeast of Tobruk: 260 medium tanks
- In Tobruk 2 battalions 1 and 4 R.T.R.: 80 I Tank Mk. II
Total at least 230 heavy and 430 medium tanks.
According to POW reports, 8 Hussars equipped with American tanks.
Advance of armoured brigade into back of Sollum front shows that enemy wants to break through this front first, in order to then task mass of tank units on Tobruk. This seems to be required to secure his supply base on the coastal road.
It is possible that the [handwritten: knocked about] 2 Armoured Brigades southeast of Tobruk will cease their attacks until the mass of tank units on the Sollum front will be freed to advance on both sides of the Via Balbia towards Tobruk. t
The picture below shows the hand-drawn sketch by Lieutenant Block, aerial reconnaissance observer who carried out the aerial recce of 07.05 to 07.30 hours. It shows vehicle numbers and movement directions (upper left inside the circle), vehicle assembly areas (500 vehicles, small circle at lower right of circle), and air defense encountered.