D.A.K. War Diary 15 April 1941

15 April 1941

Weather: max. temp. 18 degrees C, at 07.00 hours light rain.

Arrival and Departure of Subordinated Troops

Arrived in Tripoli:

Staff 15.Panz.Div. 1st Squadron, Ia, Ic, IIa
Staff I./S.R.115[1]
1./S.R.115
2./S.R.115
3./S.R.115
4./S.R.115
5./S.R.115
6./S.R.115
II./A.R.33

Arrived in the zone of operations:

4./K.B.15[2]
5./K.B.15

During an attack on Tobruk under command of Div.Brescia the following elements of Div.Trento were lost:

Heavy mortar company of Infantry Regiment 61[3]
2 rifle platoons 2nd Battalion Infantry Regiment 61

Assessment of the situation after the failed attack on 14 April, see yesterday’s evening report to O.K.H. Forward Detachment Knabe reports: “Enemy surprise attack on 15 April 05.30 hours in company strength with heavy artillery support, climbing up rocky ledges at Sollum unseen. Attack was repulsed. ” A.A.3 noted strong mobile security screens of the enemy (tanks, armoured cars, and motorised batteries) in the line Sidi Omar – Point 194 south of Sollum. 4 Ju 52 of Fliegerfuehrer Afrika were shot up and set on fire by Hurricanes after landing at Bardia. The intent of Fliegerfuehrer to move operating grounds to Bardia and el Adem was given up.

In and off the harbour of Tobruk one battleship, one cruiser, and four destroyers were observed, suspected embarkations. The D.A.K. requests ruthless operations by the Luftwaffe against all ships leaving Tobruk.[4]

Div. Ariete repulsed an attack by 6 enemy tanks coming from Ras Mdaauar.[5] On the eastern front of Tobruk six Australians, who claimed they arrived in Tobruk by sea just a short time ago, were captured during a night operation by the English.

During the day several enemy bombing attacks on Tobruk siege troops and forward detachments on Sollum front.

Detachment Santa Maria and Fabris were subordinated to 5.lei.Div., the 2nd Fast Artillery Regiment[6] under Colonel Grati was subordinated to Div.Ariete (see written orders).

[1]Rifle Regiment 115. The listed companies would comprise 5 rifle companies (Nos. 1-3, 5-6) and one heavy weapons company with HMGs and 81mm mortars (No.4)
[2]Motorcycle Rifle Battalion 15. The two companies would comprise the heavy company with 3×3.7cm AT guns, 2x 7.5cm infantry guns, and an engineer platoon, and the machine gun company with HMGs and 81mm mortars. See organisation at this link.
[3]Equipped with 81mm mortars
[4]Arguably this shows a continued failure to appreciate the situation. In fact the Axis forces should have rejoiced at any troops leaving Tobruk and made this as easy as possible, since it would have made it much easier to take the fortress.
[5]There is no evidence for this attack in the war diary of 1 R.T.R., the cruiser force of the Tobruk Fortress. Rather there is an explicit statement that the force was at rest during the day. This would make me think this attack did not happen. The only possibility in my view is that a move of ‘C’ Squadron to a new area was mistaken for an attack.
[6]2nd Articelere

Failure at Tobruk: D.A.K. War Diary Entry 14 April 1941

14 April 1941

Weather: max. temp. 19 degrees C.

Arrival and Departure of Subordinated Troops:

Arrived in the zone of operations:

Command staff 1st Squadron Staff 15.Panz.Div.

Of Div.Trento arrived in the Tobruk Sector:

Div. Staff
Infantry Regiment 62 (without 2nd Battalion in Barce) with M.G. Battalion[1][2]
7th and 8th Batteries 2cm AA guns
161st Detachment Carabinieri

Combat strength of M.G.Batl.8 after the first attack on Tobruk:
About 300 officers, NCOs, and ORs, compared to previous ration strength of 1,400 men.[3]

There remain:

Sub-Unit Strength
1st Company 2 heavy MG (s.M.G.) platoons
2nd Company 1 platoon with 4 s.M.G. and one AT rifle (ATR)
3rd Company 1 s.M.G. section, 1 ATR
4th Company 2 AT guns, 2 heavy mortars (81mm)
5th Company Only trucks and supply vehicles/installations
6th Company Not used yet, remains in the rear in training

Artillery battalion Frongia (10.5cm guns) arrived in the area Bir Scerif and was subordinated to Div.Ariete.

The decisive attack by 5.lei.Div. on Tobruk commenced at 04.30 hours.

 While M.G.Batl.8 succeeded to break through the belt of fortifications just west of the road el Adem – Tobruk, it could not widen the break-in. The tank attack of Panz.Regiment 5 had to turn back about 5km south of Tobruk in front of concentrated AT and artillery fire, when it had become impossible for M.G.Batl.8 to follow the attack. A large part of the battalion was cut off in the break-in area, captured or killed.

The attack was supported by elements of I./Flak 18, firing from open positions in the most forward line, and by an attack by Stukas from 06.00 to 06.30 on the centre of Tobruk 5k to the west.

At midday the Corps ordered to move onto the defensive in front of Tobruk. Detachment Schwerin was put into the front on both sides of Sidi Daud on the eastern front. The mass of 5.lei.Div. on both sides of the road El Adem – [word missing, probably ‘Tobruk’] road up to 4km west of it, then Div.Ariete up to but excluding Ras Mdaauar, one regiment Trento was subordinated to Div.Brescia for the occupation of Point 204, 4km west of Ras Mdaauar.

The report by Div.Brescia that it had occupied Point 187 north of Ras Mdaauar without a fight was not confirmed in any way. This false report could also be traced back to the complete absence of maps covering the Fortress Tobruk.

Div.Brescia defended in its old sector on both sides of the Via Balbia 16km before Tobruk.

A second attack originally planned for 18.00 hours on 14 April, was not undertaken.

The command about the forces employed at Bardia – Capuzzo – Sollum was given to Col. von Herff[4], Commanding Officer Schtz.Regt.115[5] of the 15.Pz.Div.

Task: to temporarily move to the defensive in the triangle Bardia – Sollum – Sidi Omar. Ground reconnaissance up to the line Maddalena – Barrani. Reported garrisons of Sidi Omar and Gasr el Abid are to be eliminated in special operations.

Forward Detachment Knabe was taken under fire by two enemy escort destroyers in the Bay of Sollum, and repulsed an enemy attack supported by 4 batteries. A.A.3 reported one heavy naval unit and 3 escort destroyers off Bardia. The battalion changed its position to 5km south of Bardia to escape observation from the sea.[6]

Throughout all these days, since the encirclement of Tobruk the English had complete air superiority at Tobruk, and in rolling operations bombed the besieging troops every day. In verbal conferences the commanding general of X.Fliegerkorps confirmed the impending tasking of fighter forces to the Commander of the D.A.K.

[1]62nd Infantry is one of the oldest units in the Italian army, still in existence. It dates back to 1861, and was formed of units from the old army of Sardinia, and is today based in Sicily.
[2]Based on Leo Niehorster’s OOB for the Italian motorised division (at this link), this would mean that in effect only one rifle battalion had arrived.
[3]See also this older post at this link.
[4]Colonel von Herff joined the SS in November 1941 at the invitation of Himmler and rose to Major General there. He survived the war by a few months, but died of a stroke while in captivity in September 1945. He was involved in the brutal suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943, and had knowledge of the Nazi activities to destroy the European Jews and other unwanted groups of society.
[5]Rifle Regiment 115 – motorised infantry.
[6]This was the preliminary to a landing attempt from the sea.

D.A.K. War Diary Entry 13 April 1941

13 April 1941

Weather: max. temp. 19 degrees C

Arrival and Departure of Subordinated Troops:

Arrived in the operational zone:

Panz.Jaeg.Abteilung 33
Late in the afternoon, the first elements of Div.Trento reached the area at km 42 on the Via Balbia west of Tobruk:

Infantry Regiment 61
1st Battalion 46th Artillery Regiment (10cm howitzers)
104th and 106th AT Companies, 4.7cm
160th Carabinieri Battalion[1]

According to the information available at the D.A.K., at this time the English did not have immediately available and combat-ready troops to prevent the advance on Egypt. According to aerial reconnaissance, the opponent was very weak at Capuzzo – Sollum, and there were no forces until far behind Marsa Matruh.

The intent of the Afrikakorps was therefore to continue for the moment with the accelerated advance eastward with forward detachments, to defeat all rapidly brought up English reserves in succession, before the enemy[2] was able to pull stronger forces out of Abyssinia or Greece. The mass of the troops should follow after supply had been secured. The precondition for this was the taking of Tobruk, which had to be pursued by all means.

Forward Detachment Knabe and A.A.3 received the order to take Sollum in a joint attack. Additional task: advance on Marsa Matruh. In the van reinforced Kradsch.Batl.15, following this A.A.3 with the task to cover the southern flank and secure the tracks leading to Siwa. At 09.00 hours Col. Montemurro received the order to reinforce the garrison of Bardia with his battalion. The intent was to later bring up the whole of Div.Ariete. The latter’s forward elements arrived at El Adem around 15.00 hours.

Forward Detachment Knabe took Fort Capuzzo at 13.00 hours through an enveloping attack, at 15.15. hours Sollum after now only weak enemy resistance, and afterwards set itself up for defense in this line.

At 18.00 hours the 5.lei.Div. carried out an attack with M.G.Batl.8 and some tanks, supported by Col. Grati’s artillery regiment and I./Flak 18, to take the road junction south of Tobruk which was important as jumping off point for the occupation of Tobruk and as artillery observation point. On the right wing of M.G.Batl.8 it was possible to take the tank ditch and wire barrier, but the objective of the attack was not reached.

During enemy air attack on the harbour of Tripoli one medium Italian vessel was hit, and burned out.[3]

[1]The original text says ‘Abteilung’, which normally means battalion, but in this case it’s probably just a mistranslation from Italian, and this is the organic Carabinieri (military police) section of the Trento division.
[2]The German text uses ‘Feind’ (enemy) and ‘Gegner’ (opponent) interchangeably.
[3]This was the steamer San Giulia, whose bridge was burned, with one officer missing.

Nerd Heaven has Arrived

     
 The mail man was busy. Two volumes of Mattesini’s ‘Correspondence and Technical-Operational Directives of the Italian High Command of the Navy’, covering the year 1941, three volumes of the official history to complement the two I already have, with ‘Submarines in the Med’ Vol. I and II, ‘Defense of the Traffic in North Africa – June 1940 to 30 September 1941’ and ‘Merchant Ships Lost’ joining ‘Statistical Data’ and ‘Defense of the Traffic in North Africa – 1 October 1941 to 30 September 1942’. I think I’m covered in the navy. For now.

D.A.K. War Diary Entry 12 April 1941

12 April 1941

Weather: max. temp. 17 degrees Celsius

Arrival and Departure of Subordinated Troops:

Arrived in the operational zone:
2x fast artillery regiments (Articelere)
Colonel Grati (Corps Artillery Regiment)

Reinforced A.A.3 reported 10.00 hours: “Bardia occupied without fight.”

Forward Detachment Knabe, advancing on Trigh Enver Bei, reached area G. el Arid by evening, there at 18.15 hours clash with three enemy tanks.

The encirclement ring around Tobruk was closed in the east on both sides of Sidi Daud by Detachment Graf Schwerin. An attack of Panz.Regiment 5 on Tobruk from the southeast had to turn around in front of the anti-tank ditch.

Order to 5.lei.Div. for the occupation of Tobruk, see the same.

Order to Div.Trento see the same.

In front of Tobruk arrived: 1.) Artillery Regiment Grati, task to go into position during morning 13 April. 2.) Detachment Fabris task to take over securing south and southeast at El Adem airfield.

The D.A.K. was not informed about the exact position and status of the permanent fortification works of Tobruk by 12 April. Conduct of operations and orders were based solely on the 1:400,000 map. No information from the Italian High Command was received.

On the morning of 12 April the command post of the Afrikakorps was 4km west of the road Tobruk – El Adem, about 22km south of Tobruk.

The tanker Persiana with 2,200 cubic metres of petrol was torpedoed and sank.[1]

[1]The actual name was Persiano. She was a small, old tanker, built in 1889. She was sunk by HM/Sub Tetrarch.

D.A.K. War Diary Entry 11 April 1941

11 April 1941

Weather: max. temp. 19 degrees Celsius

Arrival and Departure of Subordinated Troops:

Arrived in Tripoli:
4./K.B.15
5./K.B.15

Arrived in the zone of operations:
Stb./K.B.15
1./K.B.15
2./K.B.15
3./K.B.15
Pz.Jaeg.Abt.33[1]

The ring around Tobruk was closed by 5.lei.Div. in the east and south. Div.Brescia held its position at Uadi el Schel on both sides of the Via Balbia.

The combat air reconnaissance above Tobruk showed at 07.30 hours:

“German troops just north of El Adem. The enemy in Tobruk has front towards south-east at B. el Azazi. Further enemy has taken positions on the mountain ridge 20km south-east of Tobruk. West of Tobruk abandoned positions.”

Following a first reconnaissance push of Panz.Regiment 5 west of the road El Adem – Tobruk in direction Fort Pilastrino, the regimental commander reported: “South of Tobruk in Sghifet el Chuer an anti-tank ditch with a lot of AT guns and mines.”

At the road junction south of Tobruk an English advance by 14 tanks was repulsed in the evening. Panz.Jaeger-Abteilung 605 destroyed six tanks.[2] 2./(H)14 reported during early evening that the enemy group of 100 trucks, artillery and tanks standing until now at El Adem had retreated in flight on the Trigh Enver towards the east. A.A.3 therefore received the order at 17.20 hours: “Reinforced A.A.3 immediately jumps off on Via Balbia towards Bardia as Forward Detachment to the Corps. I expect that the Battalion will reach Bardia during the night.”

Forward Detachment Knabe[3] was formed from Kradschuetzenbatl. 15Panz.Jaeg.Abtlg.33, one heavy and one light battery[4], and Flak 18. It received the task to take up the pursuit via El Adem to Sollum, jumping off on 12 April with sunrise. Preliminary objective Sollum. Forward Detachment Knabe was immediately subordinated to the Corps, just as A.A.3.

Detachments Montemurro and Fabris of Div.Ariete were pulled up via Derna and subordinated to 5.lei.Div. The remainder of I./Flak 18 was ordered to El Adem to be at the disposal of the Corps.

[1]Units numbered ’33’ belonged to 15.Panzer, as divisional units.
[2]These were tanks of ‘B’ and ‘C’ Squadron 1 R.T.R. Two tanks were lost by these squadrons, both burned, and 4 German tanks were claimed as destroyed.
[3]Gustav Georg Knabe was the commanding officer of Motorcycle Rifle Battalion 15.
[4]Heavy = 15cm, light = 10.5cm

D.A.K. War Diary Entry 10 April 1941

10 April 1941

The Commander assessed the situation on 10 April:

“I am convinced the enemy is retreating, we have to push after him with all forces. Target to be made clear to every man is the Suez canal. To prevent a breakout of the enemy from Tobruk, an encirclement has to be pursued by all means.”

A.A.3, of Forward Detachment Prittwitz which, together with elements of Brescia was in the area 47-35km before Tobruk during the morning, was sent towards the Via Balbia east of Tobruk via Acroma – el Adem. At 12.00 hours it encountered enemy at El Adem (100 – 850 motor vehicles, 2cm AA and heavy tanks).[1]

The mass of Forward Detachment Prittwitz should at first attack the enemy in Tobruk from the west, to then follow A.A.3 after being relieved by Brescia. At 11.00 hours the commanding officer M.G. Batallion 8 reported to the Commander  at km16 ahead of Tobruk: “M.G.8 made contact with the enemy, 2 heavy tanks destroyed, battalion takes position and prepares attack to tie him down.”[2]

When driving ahead towards the frontline at 12.00 hours on 10 April, Major General von Prittwitz died 16km west of Tobruk in the forward line.[3] The command of the Forward Detachments was taken over by Lt.Col. Graf Schwerin.

Lt. General Rommel ordered that, for the night 10/11 April, Div. Brescia should relieve Forward Detachment Graf Schwerin, this should follow A.A.35.lei.Div. should close up in a nightmarch behind the the Forward Detachment.

The most forward elements of Div.Ariete were noted by reconnaissance plane at Tengeder. It received the order to advance on El Adem to be at the disposal of the Commander, jumping off immediately, and to send forward there a mixed, combat-capable battalion, to accelerate the move. Arrival latest on 11 April.

I.Flak 18 and 2./Pz.Jaeg.33 stood at the track junction Mteifel – el Chebir at 08.00 hours and urgently requested supply with petrol and rations.

The Detachment had been without water for 24 hours.

The command post of the Afrikakorps was moved to the Cantoniere Aim el Gazala, the combat airfield of 2./(H)14 to the nearby airfield. The Ia of the Corps arrived at the command squadron midday, coming from Agedabia – Derna.

[1]These were likely elements of 2nd Armoured Division, but it is not clear where the tanks came from.
[2]It is likely they hit the resistance line of Tobruk.
[3]In the general chaos, where the local situation was unclear, the car with the General had passed the most forward Axis position without noticing, and was taken under fire by Australian guns. Both he and his driver were killed.