D.A.K. War Diary Entry 18 March 1941

18 March 1941

Arrival and Departure of Subordinated Troops

Arrived in Tripoli with the 11th and 12th Naval Transport Squadrons:

Elements Courier Squadron, I./Jg. 27, elements Pz.Jaeg.605[1]

The report by the commander of a Destroyer Group, which partially confirmed Arabic agent reports, raises the suspicion that the enemy is withdrawing substantial forces from the area Solluch – Agedabia – Marsa el Brega. The fact that the English are pulling French troops forward could, based on the experience of the campaign in France, point towards a lack of intent to hold the position at Marsa el Brega. Complete overview of agent reports see note by Ia.

The German Afrikakorps requested from Fliegerfuehrer Afrika reinforced reconnaissance efforts in the area Sollum – Derna – Benghazi – South.

5.lei.Div. was pre-alerted as instructed by telephone order from the Commander in Chief: “Preparation of a violent reconnaissance push towards Marsa el Brega in co-operation with Fliegerfuehrer Afrika with the task to ascertain whether the enemy wants to continue to hold. If possible cut off remaining elements and take possession of the narrows of Marsa Brega with strong security elements or a forward detachment. Execution only on order from the Afrikakorps.”

Lt.Co. Count Schwerin remained for the moment in Hun, on 18 and 19 March, while a flank detachment advanced on Zella.

I./Flak 33 reported a Hurricane shot down. Pilot burned his plane and was then captured.

The transport out of Naples of the troops required fro the offensive: remainder 5.lei.Div. and 15.Pz.Div. experienced further blockages. The arrival of the point of the transport move of 15.Panz.Division in Naples, which had been requested for 20 March, was delayed. Reason allegedly failure to be ready for tropical use. An urgent request was made to O.K.H. to accelerate the transports, since otherwise the operational intent would not be possible to be executed.

Because the Italians did not accept five shops in the convoy, the ship Samos of the 13th Shipping Squadron (elements I./A.R.75Kol.Abt.533[2]) had to be unloaded.  In future convoys will only depart with four vessels.

[1]This was an independent battalion with self-propelled, armoured AT guns of 47mm calibre on the Panzer I chassis.
[2]First battalion of artillery regiment 75 and a supply truck battalion.

D.A.K. War Diary 17 March 1941

17 March 1941

Arrival and Departure of Subordinated Troops:

Infantry Div. Brescia subordinated to D.A.K. for operations:

Agents and aerial reconnaissance confirmed the shape of an enemy line of security via B. es Suera – B. el Ginn – B. Bilal – Gtafia – el Haselat (throughout armoured car security screen).

Gialo was reported free of enemy by aerial reconnaissance on 17 March. Movement into this direction seems to be a local, temporarily limited reconnaissance push.

On the airfield at Agedabia 6 enemy planes were noted by the air force and successfully attacked.

Operation Graf Schwerin[1] successfully reached Hun on 16 March.

Div. Ariete carried out its first reconnaissance push to the south in the direction of Bir el Merduma.

The second comprehensive proposal about the conduct of the intended offensive operation was submitted to the O.K.H.[2]. For 18 March a conference about the proposal was planned with His Excellency Gariboldi, and after that continued flight of the Commander in Chief to Berlin via Rome, for a presentation to the Chief of the General Staff of the Army[3] was planned.[4]

[1]This was a reconnaissance operation into the deep south of Libya. Some more information here at this link.
[2]The German Army High Command
[3]Colonel-General Franz Halder, not a man too much enarmoured with Rommel.
[4]This was the first mention of the offensive plans towards Mersa el Brega.

 

 

D.A.K. War Diary 19 March 1941

19 March 1941

Arrival and Departure of Subordinated Troops:

Arrived in the zone of operations:

Regimental Staff Pz.Regiment 5, II. Pz.Regiment 5, I./Flak 18, until now subordinated to X.Fliegerkorps is subordinated to Afrikakorps

The impression strengthens that the enemy is withdrawing forces from the area Sollum[1] – Gemines – Agedabia, and only has a strong rearguard standing at Marsa Brega – Bilal – Gtafia.

Relief of 5.lei.Div. by Div. Brescia in the defensive position executed as planned in Operation Order of 15 March. By evening 18 March elements of heavy weapons and artillery of Brescia had arrived at Pz.Jaeg.39. On the evening of 19 March the Italian Commander of Italian Infantry Regiment 19 took over command in the sector northern edge Sebcha el Chebira – Coast. Pz.Jaeg.39  could be pulled back to the Via Balbia in the area 34.5 – 37[2].

Lt.Col. Count Schwerin[3] reported intent to continue to march to Sebcha on 20 March, while sending a flank detachment to Brach. The flank detachment sent to Zella returned to Hun during the evening 19 March. It rests on 20 March to reunite with Detachment Schwerin in Sebcha on 21 March.

19 March, 03.00 hours Sirt is being bombed.  Targets apparently airfield and AA on the roof of the HQ. Three tents of the air force field hospital were hit. Losses: 1 severely, 1 lightly wounded.

5.lei.Div. reports one Vickers Wellington[4] shot down by I./Flak 33, crew of six sergeants captured, plane was set on fire beforehand.

German and Italian air forced bombed motor vehicle and tank concentrations in the area Gtafia – Bilal. Stukas achieved direct hits in Fort Zuetina.

Result of the conference of the Commander in Chief and the Chief of Staff about the planned execution of the attack operation see activity report. The Italian High Command agreed in principle. His Excellency Gariboldi emphasised at the end that he could not attack one day earlier, but also not one day later than the preparations had finished. He pointed out that he could unfortunately not control the speed of arrival of the required reinforcements, but that this was a matter for Rome.

[1]Should be Solluch.
[2]Probably kilometre markers on Via Balbia.
[3]Officer Commanding Aufklaerungsabteilung 3, now on a special mission to the deep south.
[4]This was a rather curious inciden, in which a No. 3 Squadron Training Flight Wellington Ic W5630 lost its way on a direct delivery flight from Adishall in England to Benina. The crew, ex No. 9 Squadron, could not get directions because of the radio being unserviceable and ended up over Axis territory, where it was hit by AA fire. The crew consisted of:
Sgt. A.D. Mackay
Sgt. A.L. Millington
Sgt. A.R. Butler
Sgt. J.W.T. House
Sgt. W. Ainsbury
Sgt. S.H.R. Bevan R.N.Z.A.F.

D.A.K. War Diary 20 March 1941

20 March 1941

Arrival and Departure of Subordinated Troops.

One medium tank battalion arrived at Div.Ariete.

Assessment of enemy position was reported to O.K.H.[1]  in the evening report[2]: “Based on reports of the last days it’s not excluded that the enemy is fully poised for defence, and has moved back the mass of its forces into the Cyrenaica north and east of Benghazi.”

“Forward forces still southwest of Agedabia. Defensive line Mersa el Brega (security patrols at Bescer) – southern tip Sebeha es Seghira and mobile tank security at Uadi Faregh from Bettafal to Ain en Naga, security in Haselat, reserves around Bilal, Gtafia.”

According to Italian reports Giarabub was strongly attacked. For 21 March support of the defenders by two Ju 88 planned.[3]

[page 21 missing]

The following measures were taken or ordered in this regard:

  • Major Appel, Corps Staff, Afrikakorps was named Commander of Marada.
  • Forces situated in Marada until now were reinforced so that now a full AT company is at their disposal. Task for the garrison of Marada is to defend Marada and to carry out ground reconnaissance up to Bir Zelten – Ain Si Mohammed – Maaten Gheizel.
  • Preparation of the supply of Gialo.
  • Request to the Luftwaffe to reconnoitre by air the water supplies at Gialo and the condition of the tracks connecting Ain Si Mohammed – Gialo.
  • Request to the Italian High Command to make available Italian froces to secure the rear links of the attacking forces by occupying an defending the gaps and to carry out supplying and repair of air fields.

The plan is to occupy Gialo after the execution of the Mersa el Brega operation[3], and to use the current garrison of Marada for this. It is intended to further reinforce the Battalion Major Appel by additional forces, maybe from the Battalion Santa Maria[4].

3) An advance by de Gaulle troops from French West Africa against Tripolitania was not considered to be of decisive importance. To smash French attempts to attack against Murzuk[5], Air Operation South was requested from Fliegerfuehrer AfrikaFliegerfuehrer Afrika intends in this regard to stock the airfield Zella accordingly, so that from there simultaneous operations by heavy fighter wings to the east and the south up to the area of Gatrun and south of it could be carried out.

As a first measure, the stocking up of Zella is planned for a one-off Group-level sortie towards south.

On 17th, 18th, 19th March Tripolis was attacked, two tugs were hit.[6]

Italian air force bombed on 17/18 March the port of Benghazi, and on 18/19 March the airfield at Berka.

[1]Oberkommando des Heeres, German Army High Command
[2]These reports were sent every evening, summing up events of the day, and plans for the next day.
[3]The oasis of Giarabub had not been occupied by Empire forces at this stage, but was under siege by a mixed force led by Australians. The entry probably refers to the attack by two companies of Australian 2/9 Battalion on 19 March. The history of the siege from the Australian side can be found at this link.
[4]A motorised reconnaissance column under Major Nicolini Santamaria, probably consisting of:
2x infantry platoons with MG and rifles
1x 20mm gun on a FIAT 626 lorry,
1x tank platoon (L35) and
1x artillery battery 77/28
[5]Murzuk is in the deep south of Libya, close to the border with Chad.
[6]One Wellington was lost during these operations on the night 17/18 March, damaged beyond repair on landing at Benina (Wellington Ic T2732 of No. 70 Squadron), but with no losses to the crew.