D.A.K. War Diary Entry 6 April 1941

6 April 1941

The impression of the Ia concerning the enemy situation on the morning of 6 April was that the English were evading destruction by us, with their mass retreating on Tobruk. Embarkations possible in the port of Tobruk. For the conduct of operations in absence of the commander however his outdated and incomplete radio order to concentrate all forces on Mechili was relevant.[1] Desirable however was Tobruk as goal to block the coastal road and prevent embarkation, and to only screen at Mechili.[2]

Colonel Olbrich received order through Aide de Camp to accelerate reaching Mechili with all elements through ruthless action (see attachment), Div.Ariete to immediately jump off for Sceleidima via Agedabia – Ghemines – Solluch (see attachment).

In front of Mechili Lt.General Rommel directed the attack in person. Marching at night, together with the vanguard of the M.G.Batl. Ponath[3], the Commander met at 06.30 hours 25km south of Mechili with the vanguard of Forward Detachment Schwerin (Lt. Behrend). Major Heymer, who spent the night with one Henschel and one Storch[4] in the middle of the landing ground at Mechili amongst the enemy, reported: “Mechili strongly occupied, lively traffic in eastern direction.”

Lt.General Rommel gave the following orders:

“Lt. Behrend, driving most rapidly, to circumvent Mechili in the east and to block the track to Derna.”

“Lt.Col. Ponath, following Lt. Behrend, to advance to the Via Balbia on the track Mechili – Derna, and to secure it and block in both directions.”

“Lt.Col. Graf Schwerin, who arrived with the first elements at 07.00 hours, to encircle Mechili from the east and south-east (Detachments Santa Maria and Prinz Bentheim under command).

The combat aerial reconnaissance by 2.(H)/14 Pz. ascertained at 07.30 hours: “Garrison in and around Mechili in dug-in positions, some behind wire. In Mechili 230-300 motor vehicles, 3km east 50-70 motor vehicles. On the tracks leading east, further large motor vehicle concentrations.”

Lt. Konrad, who flew forward to the Commander as Aide de Camp on 6 April, reported the situation on the advance route at 10.00 hours as follows:

“Elements AT companies and MG companies scattered about on track between Bir el Hamarin and B. Tengeder, there also Detachment Fabris stationary without fuel. One tank battalion staff and 12 tanks at Ben Gania. Tanks unable to move, since oil is too hot and thin, and oil pressure too low. Area southwest Ben Gania some lost tanks that have moved off track, some of them stationary. On Trigh el Abd direction M.el Grara further scattered Italian guns and tank columns.”

The command post of the Commander was from 11.00 hours 10km south of Mechili at the command post of regimental staff z.b.V.200[5], from 19.00 hours on the Sebcha southeast of Mechili.

Nordafrika, Schützenpanzer mit Sender

German Command Post during the Advance in April 1941.

The attack planned by Lt.General Rommel for 15.00 hours had to be postponed due to a heavy sand storm. Lt.Col. Ponath reported his position 35km south of Mechili at 19.00 hours.

Gruppe Olbrich advanced incomprehensibly slowly. The last position report on 6 April, 13.00 hours, was 20km east of Msus. The Ia insisted several times to advance quickly on Mechili.

Of the two columns of Div.Brescia the southern one reached at 16.30 hours the track junction 24km east of el Abiar, the northern one 13.45 hours during advance east of Baracca towards Barce encountered enemy near Maddalena at 17.00 hours, which it intended to attack during the morning of 7 April. Command of the northern column was taken over by General von Kirchheim on this day, the southern column was added to A.A.3 during the evening.

No operations of the Luftwaffe during this day due to continuing dust storms. Fliegerfuehrer Afrika moved with some elements to Benina.

Nordafrika, Soldat mit Sandschutz

German soldier with dust protection, April 1941

The supply of the troops in front of Mechili was carried out by 5 Jus[7] despite the Ghibli. For 7 April Lt.General Rommel also ordered all available transport planes there, with supplies. On 6 April, Colonel Olbrich was also at the end of his petrol consumption units which had been calculated for 500km, and requested supply of 50 cubic metres petrol and 10 cubic metres water to Msus.

[1]Probably one of the first instances in North Africa where Rommel’s desire to lead from the front collided with his responsibilities as a Corps commander. It was not to be the last one.
[2]It is notable that the staff officers were considering a much bolder solution than cutting the road at Derna or Tmimi. It is also interesting to consider how much the officers thought back to Dunkirk.
[3]Lt.Col. Ponath, commanding officer of M.G.Batl.8 died in the first attack on Tobruk, on 14 April 1941.
[4]Fieseler Storch, a specialised liaison/reconnaissance plane with STOL capabilities, produced in Kassel, just like the Henschel HS126.
[5]The specially created regiment to control Mg.Batl. 8 and 2.
[7]Junkers 52 transports.

D.A.K. War Diary 5 April 1941

5 April 1941

Weather: max. temperature 33 degrees Celsius

Arrival and Departure of Subordinated Troops:

Arrived in Tripoli:

Stb./K.B.15, 1./K.B.15, 2.K.B.15, 3.K.B.15[1]

During the morning 5 April the enemy retreated with strong columns on Via Balbia between Cirene – Lamluda and Tmimi – Gazala. The use of destroyers[2] against enemy columns around Derna and eastward up to the Gulf of Bomba had extraordinary success. Stukas in repeated operations attacked tank and motor vehicle columns at and north of Msus during the morning and afternoon. An attempt of this enemy to break through via Ben Gania – Tengeder or Caranis – Mechili had to be expected during the course of 5 April. 13 English transports and one cruiser were reported in the port of Tobruk. Probably embarkations.[3]

At 09.30 hours Lt.General Rommel ordered the commander Div.Ariete to establish two more forward detachments apart from Forward Detachment Fabris, and to march on Ben Gania and Mechili with these. The divisional commander should take over the leadership of the forward detachments himself.

At 12.00 hours order to Lt.Col. Olbricht[4] (Troops: Pz.Rgt.5, M.G.Bat.2, one battery A.R.75, one company Pz.Jg.): “Advance with tanks from Zuetina via Antelat to Msus, open this from the south. M.G.Batl.2 to be sent ahead via Solluch on good road to Msus, blocking from the west until tanks arrive. From Msus to advance further northeast. Order whether to advance on Mechili or Tmimi will be given in due time by General via radio or courier plane. The Italian 7th Medium Tank Battalion of Div.Ariete is to be subordinated to Regt. Olbricht and is to be pulled up by this regiment.”

5.lei.Div. and Fliegerfuehrer Afrika received the task to prepare an air landing operation at Tmimi for the evening hours 5 April. Strength one platoon AT guns and as many MGs and mines as possible. Task: blocking of the coastal road.

During the night 5/6 April the van of Forward Detachments Graf Schwerin, advancing in northeasterly direction, reached Tengeder at 21.00 hours. The Detachment Santa Maria and troops of General Streich had closed up to 30km. Detachment Fabris was still advancing on Ben Gania at 18.00 hours. Graf Schwerin, as well as General Streich, requested urgent supply with rations and fuel for 6 April, via air to Gadd el Amahr and Mechili. The reinforced Regiment Olbricht at 22.30 hours stood with its southern group near Antelat and with its northern group at Raherbet bel Gardan. He intended to reunite both elements in Msus on 6 April, 08.00 hours. Msus was reported free of enemy at midnight.

At 18.00 hours A.A.3 reported 40 enemy tanks marching towards A.A. from northeast at track junction 25km east of el Abiar. An attack did however not take place, probably because of setting darkness. Since the Battalion reported only one fuel load[5], accelerated supply was instructed by Ib 5.lei.Div.[6]

Of the two forward detachments of Div.Brescia the right one reached Regima at 20.00 hours, the left one Driana.

At 14.00 hours 5 April the commander of the Afrikakorps flew to the forward detachments operating on Mechili and personnally took command of these troops. The command post Agedabia remained occupied by the Ia, who issued the guidelines of the commander to the marching groups of the corps from here. The combat landing ground of 2./(H)14 Pz. was moved from Agedabia to Ben Gania on 5 April.

[1]Staff and companies 1-3 of motorcycle rifle battalion 15, the first units of 15.Panzer to arrive in North Africa.
[2]Me 110 heavy fighters
[3]The cruiser could well have been the disabled Italian San Giorgio (see this link), and the suspicion that the transports were embarking, rather than disembarking, troops was probably one of the first documented instances of wishful thinking by the German command in regards to Tobruk.
[4]Actually Dr. Ing. Herbert Olbrich, Commander of Panzerregiment 5. He was sacked after the failure of the attack on Tobruk, and was killed in action as commander of Panzerregiment 4 in Russia in September 1942. See this link.
[5]one fuel load was sufficient for 100km under normal driving conditions, i.e. considerably less in the desert.
[6]Ib = supply officer.