D.A.K. War Diary Entry 21 April 1941

21 April 1941

Weather: 19 degrees Celsius

Arrival and Departure of Subordinated Troops:

Arrived in Tripoli:
Staff 15.Panz.Div. 2nd Echelon and Staff quarters, staff company S.R.115A.A.33
Remains Signals Battalion 33 (N.A.33) (concentrated in one company due to sinking)[1]
10.5cm artillery battalion Kalamita (1st Battalion 24th Artillery Regiment), until now under Div.Ariete now subordinated to 2nd Fast Artillery Regiment (2nd Articelere)

Morning report Gruppe Herff: “03.15 hours attack of enemy planes with explosive and incendiary bombs and machine guns on right wing Kradschuetzen Btl. 15

During the morning, Div. Brescia captured one paymaster and 12 men who were dispersed from 2nd English armoured division.

Air Situation: During the day lively air activity. During attack on Derna airfield 4 Italian fighters damaged. On 21 April Gazala airfield was twice attacked with bombs, including once by a concentrated formation of 12 planes. Several dead and wounded.

At 17.15 hours 68 of our bombers attacked the harbour of Tobruk. 3 ships of 4 – 5,000 tons suffered in some cases several direct hits. 1 ship burning.[2]

During aerial combat 1 Hurricane was shot down, one of our fighters was lost. The pilot was shot down by Hurricanes while parachuting down.

During the night 20/21 April Tripoli was fired on by heavy naval units until 05.00 hours. No significant losses to German personnel and material, since fire was generally wide. A heavy bombing attack at the same time caused damage to buildings.[3]

A larger convoy with navy escort was reported off the southern tip of Crete, going south. [4]

The Italian high command was sent a message about the further intent of the Corps, see the same.

Appreciation of the situation by the D.A.K., see report to O.K.H.

General Rommel communicated to the commanders or Ia of the divisions his plan for an attack on Tobruk following the re-organisation of forces, for the time around 1 May. Written order with sketch issued on 22 April, see the same.

General staff of the Italian armed forces informed via the military attache in Rome that the bringing up of the two static divisions which had been requested was not possible due to a lack of transport capacity.

Order concerning tasks of I./Flak 18 see the same. The Guastatori battalion subordinated to the Corps arrived and received the order to be ready as reserve (see order).[5]

[1]This was one of the most important units to be severely damaged in the destruction of the Lampo convoy.
[2]Two losses can easily be confirmed for this attack. i) SS Bankura, a 3,159 GRT steamer was hit in the cargo hold and run aground. She was further damaged in future attacks and finally broken up in 1950. See this link. ii) SS Urania, ex. German Patmos, a 1,907 GRT steamer built in 1902. See this link.
[3]Operation MD2 – see this link.
[4]This may have been the force moving from the bombardment of Tripoli back to Alexandria.
[5]XXXII Guastatori. See this post on its sister battalion, XXXIII Guastatori. This history of the 32nd is at this link (in Italian).

 

D.A.K. War Diary 20 April 1941

20 April 1941

Weather:

Maximum temperature 18 degrees, light rain from 0800 to 0900 hours.

Arrival and Departure of Subordinated Troops:

Arrived in the zone of operations:

Staff 15. Panz. Div. 1st Echelon, Ia, Ic, IIa.
Staff I./115, 1./S.R.115, 3./S.R.115, 4./S.R.115, 5./S.R.115

Of Div. Trento arrived in Acroma: 2nd Battalion 62nd Infantry Regiment (until now in Barce)

An enemy raid on Sollum was repulsed with heavy losses to the enemy. A landing attempt undertaken at Bardia at the same time failed. One English major, three officers and 56 men were taken prisoner.[1]

On the Tobruk front a reconnaissance push by single tanks from Fort Ras Mdauuar was repulsed.[2]

Heavy enemy bombing activity during the night and the day. One Wellington bomber shot down.[3]

Three freight steamers entered Tobruk harbour. Attacks by the Luftwaffe were not possible due to low cloud ceiling.

Two coastal freighters that were supposed to bring supplies to Derna were sunk by enemy submarines.[4]

Preparatory measures for the decisive attack against the fortress of Tobruk commenced. To free up the lei.Div. and another Italian division, a request was made to the Italian high command to bring up to Italian static divisions. Via the Italian liaison staff a request was made to make available a larger number of Italian officers with personal knowledge of the Tobruk fortifications.

Order for the conduct of combat against the fortifications of Tobruk, see the same.

Div. Trento received the order to concentrate south and southwest of Acroma and to be ready to march for Bardia on 23 April.

1 See this thread on Axishistory for more detail.
2 There is no record of this in the 1 R.T.R. war diary. It appears based on the Australian official history that this was a carrier patrol which turned around when it noted that Carrier Hill was strongly occupied.
3 There is no recorded loss of a Wellington on this day, according to Bomber Losses.
4 This is possibly conflating two events of the previous days. On 17 April German steamer Samos was sunk on a mine just 1 nautical mile off Benghazi (see this link), while on 17 April, HM/Sub Truant (Lt.Cdr. Haggard R.N. – IWM has an interview with him, see at this link) had sunk the auxiliary schooner V162/Vanna, on her way to Derna with a cargo of ammunition, just 300 metres off Appolonia (see this link and this link for a picture of her being sunk).

hms_truant

HM/Sub Truant, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Movie Sunday – Matilda II

If you are a bit of the nerdish disposition (and chances, given that you are reading this) are that you are, you might be interested in these three videos from UK’s Tank Museum in Bovington, which deal with the Matilda II, the tank that arguably did most to help win the battle of Tobruk during Operation CRUSADER.

Tank Chat #19 – Matilda II

Restoring the Matilda II – Part 1

Restoring the Matilda II – Part 1

Enjoy watching!

Enter the Me 109: D.A.K. War Diary 19 April 1941

19 April 1941

Gruppe Herff reported during the morning weak reconnaissance pushes with tanks and artillery against the western flank of its position, and a bombing attack on Kradschtz. Batl. 15. During a visit to Gruppe Herff, Lt. General Rommel instructed that Bardia had to be absolutely occupied by a German company again, and firmly held.[1]

The 10.5cm artillery battalion Frongia was subordinated to Gruppe Herff, and its arrival ordered for 20 April.[2]

Colonel Freiherr von Esebeck[3] reported to the Commander and took over command of all the elements of 15.Panz.Div. already arrived in front of Tobruk.

During the night 18/19 April heavy enemy air attacks on Tripoli and Gazala airfield. During the day again heavy bombing and strafing attacks on army units. Three Hurricanes attacked Gazala at low level, and destroyed one Ju 52 and three Hs 126 on the ground. Two bombing raids on Derna airfield without success.

During the first operation of four Me 109 of Jagdgeschwader 27, at midday on 19 April, it succeeded in shooting down four Hurricanes. One Me 109 had to force land in our territory. AA artillery of Div.Brescia shot down one loaded English bomber during the afternoon. [4]

me_109e-4trop_jg27_off_north_african_coast_1941

A JG27 Me 109E-4 Tropisch off the North African coast, 1941. The E-variant could be distinguished by the straight wing-ends. These were rounded with the F-variant which entered the theatre from October/November onwards. Source: Wikipedia.

[1]This was Rommel’s reaction to the move to reduce exposure of troops to naval artillery fire.
[2]Probably 105/28 corps artillery guns, a World War I design that continued to soldier on during the war.
[3]Freiherr von Esebeck was commander of 15. Schuetzenbrigade, the infantry brigade of 15.Panz.Div., and thus the logical choice to replace General von Prittwitz and Gaffron. He later rose to General der Panzertruppen, and participated in the conspiracy against Hitler. He ended the war in a concentration camp, and died in poverty in 1955. See this link.
[4]Could have been Blenheim Mk.IV V5438 operating out of Fuka (LG17) with No. 45 Squadron R.A.F., which was however reported lost on operations against Bardia and El Adem on 18 April, reported shot down over Cyrenaica. The crew of three, consisting of F/O H.D.Jones, and Sgts. J Webb and H Keen, were all killed.

D.A.K. War Diary Entry 18 April 1941

18 April 1941

Detachment Santa Maria was put into the gap between Group Schwerin and the mass of 5.lei.Div. on the south-eastern front of Tobruk west of Carmuset Beludeah, and subordinated to 5.lei.Div..

The headquarters of the D.A.K. were since the evening of 17 April on the edge of the Jebel 3km south of the Cantoniera (30km west of Tobruk).

D.A.K. War Diary Entry 17 April 1941

17 April 1941

Morning report by Gruppe Herff: “Very active enemy reconnaissance activity during early morning hours. Enemy push on Capuzzo repulsed, four enemy tanks destroyed. Our reconnaissance meets jointly operating armoured cars and tanks in line Sidi Omar – escarpment south of Sollum. Stronger reconnaissance put towards the east via Gasr el Abid.”

An assault team operation by Gruppe Schwerin against the most north-easterly wing of the Tobruk front hit on strong opponent in built-up, wired positions, which could not be broken through. The AA battery in the area of Gruppe Schwerin engaged two small destroyers entering the port of Tobruk, and motor vehicles on the Via Balbia.

Lt. General Rommel on this day also personally led the attack on Ras Mdaauar, which was carried out on the right wing of Div. Brescia, utilising two companies of Kradschuetzen-Batl. 15, reinforced by infantry guns, and self-propelled AT guns, and elements of Div. Ariete  and one battalion Trento. The attack was supported by the Corps Artillery battalion Frongia, and artillery of Div. Ariete. The attack advanced up to a short distance before the wire blocking the enemy position. General Rommel ordered that the line reached by evening was to be held as base line for the continuation of the attack on 18 April.[1]

Vigorous activity of enemy combat planes against our siege troops, continuing all day.

During the afternoon Fliegerfuehrer Afrika attacked battery positions west of Tobruk, fuel depots, and a fort south of Tobruk with 41 Ju 87. Heavy smoke developed over the battery positions, forceful light and dark fires could be seen from the Gulf of Bomba.

Basic requests to Fliegerfuehrer Afrika see the same.

Reports of Gruppe Herff concerning situation and combat operations see the same.

[1]This is again well documented in the Australian Official History at this link. (p. 167 onwards)

Disaster at Sea: D.A.K. War Diary Entry 16 April 1941

16 April 1941

Weather Situation: max. temp. 25 degrees Celsius

Arrival and Departure of Subordinated Troops:

Complete 20th Naval Transport Squadron sunk by enemy naval forces.[1]

Losses:
21 Officers and Civil Servants
363 NCOs and Other Ranks

Material losses:[2]
Elements H.Q. Staff 15.Panz.Div.
Staff and Staff battery Artl. Regt. 33
Panz. Signals Battalion 33
Staff Rifle Regiment 155
Gun company S.R. 155

Div. Trento lost the following during attack on Ras el Mdaauar:

1st Battalion Infantry Regiment 62
1 platoon 2cm AA guns
Staff and heavy mortar company Infantry Regiment 62

During the afternoon the Commander personally, from the most forward lines, led an attack to take Point 209 Ras Mdaauar. The following were planned to attack: armoured battalion Div. Ariete from the south-east Point 182, Regiment 62 of Div.Trento from er Rus (202), towards the east. Objective 209. The IIa of the Corps, Major Schraepler, with a translator and a radio set was used as liaison officer at this regiment. The attack failed because of the hesitant advance of the armoured battalion of Div. Ariete. During a counterattack by some enemy armoured cars 2 companies of Infantry Regiment 62 led themselves be marched off in captivity.[3]

Tobruk

Map of Tobruk Defenses, from the Australian War Memorial’s Official History, Chapter 4.

A landing attempt in Sollum made by a cruiser during the night 14/15 April remained unsuccessful. Also during the night 15/16 April an enemy raid on Sollum with heavy artillery, naval, and air support was repulsed. Own losses 45 men. Only a permanent patrol was left in Sollum due to continuous enemy fire. Continuous air attacks and fire from naval units caused losses to Gruppe Herff.[4]

Written directive to Gruppe Herff regarding offensively organised defense of Sollum see the same.

Early morning reconnaissance by Fliegerfuehrer Afrika noted that 2 transports had left the port of Tobruk. An attack on the large enemy naval unit reported off Bardia and Sollum was not possible due to dust storm.

Directives from the O.K.W. regarding their appreciation of the situation, see the same.

[1]This was the so-called battle of the Tarigo convoy, named after the command vessel of the escort, Navigatori-class destroyer Luca Tarigo. The whole convoy was lost, including all the escorts. The destroyer’s commander, Commander Pietro de Cristofaro, and its Chief Engineer, Luca Balsofiore, received posthumous Gold Medals for Valor for the action, during which Tarigo sank the Tribal-class destroyer HMS Mohawk. More detail on the battle, and the shifting historical views, can be found at this linkthis link, and this link. The Italian Wikipedia (at this link) has good maps.

rct_tarigo_usmm

Luca Tarigo pre-war, after the first set of structural modifications, showing quite well the forward and centre twin-turrets with their 120mm guns.

[2]Some of the material was recovered later, since all the vessels sank in shallow waters.
[3]The whole desaster is quite well described on p.164 onwards of the Official History of the Australian Army, at this link (opens PDF)
[4]See this link for more detail about these actions.