Failure at Tobruk and a Victoria Cross: D.A.K. War Diary Entry 14 April 1941

Failure at Tobruk and a Victoria Cross: 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 grave in the Middle East of NX15705 Corporal John Hurst Edmondson VC, 2/17 Infantry Battalion AIF, who died on 14 April 1941 from wounds received the previous day during an attack against a German strongpoint near the El Adem road to Tobruk. AWM 3903923[4]

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[5], Commanding Officer Schtz.Regt.115[6] 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.[7]

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]Corporal Edmondson’s VC citation reads as follows:

‘War Office, 1st July, 1941.

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the VICTORIA CROSS to:—

No. 15705 Corporal John Hurst Edmondson, Australian Military Forces.

On the night of 13th–14th April, 1941, a party of German infantry
broke through the wire defences at Tobruk, and established themselves
with at least six machine guns, mortars and two small field pieces. It
was decided to attack them with bayonets, and a party consisting of one
officer, Corporal Edmondson and five privates, took part in the charge.
During the counter-attack Corporal Edmondson was wounded in the neck and
stomach but continued to advance under heavy fire and killed one enemy
with his bayonet. Later, his officer had his bayonet in one of the enemy
and was grasped about the legs by him, when another attacked him from
behind. He called for help, and Corporal Edmondson, who was some yards
away, immediately came to his assistance and in spite of his wounds,
killed both of the enemy. This action undoubtedly saved his officer’s

‘Shortly after returning from this successful counter-attack, Corporal
Edmondson died of his wounds. His actions throughout the operations were
outstanding for resolution, leadership and conspicuous bravery.


John Edmondson 010576

Studio portrait of Corporal John Hurst Edmondson VC, the first Australian to be awarded the Victoria Cross in World War II. He was posthumously awarded the VC for his actions on 13 April, 1941 in Tobruk, Libya. Wikipedia.

[5]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.

[6]Rifle Regiment 115 – motorised infantry.

[7]This was the preliminary to a landing attempt from the sea.