D.A.K. War Diary Entry 23 April 1941

23 April 1941

Weather: max. temp. 19 degrees C

Arrival and Departure of Subordinated Troops:

Of Div. Brescia arrived in the operational zone:

Staff, Infantry Regiment 20
1st Battalion, Infantry Regiment 20
Support Weapons Company 2nd Battalion, Infantry Regiment 20
Mortar and Infantry Gun Companies, Infantry Regiment 20

On 23 April ground reconnaissance still encountered continuous enemy occupation of the outer ring of fortifications of Tobruk. Aerial reconnaissance only ascertained weaker groupings of 30-50 motor vehicles each between the rings of fortification. No enemy push. Compared to previous days only weak enemy artillery effects.

To finally gain clarity on whether the enemy front before Tobruk was still holding, assault patrols were ordered for all divisions for 24 April 0530 hours, with strong artillery support (see same order).

At midday 23 April a heavy enemy bomb attack hit Gazala airfield but without notable losses. Our air force attached the port of Tobruk twice. Results thus far: 1 ship sunk, 2 ships heavily hit, one of these burning, based on ground observation[1]. 6 Hurricanes, 2 Blenheims were shot down in air combat[2], 2 of our fighters lost. According to ground observation 7 ships were confirmed in the port of Tobruk/Marsa Zeitum, 3 transports, 1 destroyer, 1 submarine, and 3 smaller vessels. The latter could however not be confirmed again by aerial reconnaissance after 1900 hours.

2030 hours report of Gruppe Herff: “1815 hours 60 enemy tanks at Azeiz marching north. Turn to west not excluded.”[3]

The following measures were thereupon ordered by the D.A.K.:

  1. To Fliegerfuehrer AfrikaFliegerfuehrer has to task armed reconnaissance against the enemy tanks early on 24 April, if possible to attack the tanks and to destroy them. Report reconnaissance results soonest to D.A.K., Gruppe Herff, and 5.lei.Div.
  2. Inform 5.lei.Div. for it to carry out potentially required ground reconnaissance and security measures.
  3. Radio message to Gruppe Herff: “The movement of the 60 tanks has to be observed early and continuously on 24 April. If required, the tanks are to be attacked and destroyed with all anti-tank forces. Reconnaissance results continuously to D.A.K.

Around 2200 hours the following radio message arrived from Gruppe Herff: enemy tank attack from the west on Capuzzo, lasting several hours, supported by reinforced artillery, until now repulsed. Fight continues. At 1815 hours 60 enemy tanks, with them a larger number of other motor vehicles and possibly artillery across a wide front and depth in advance west of Capuzzo to Sidi Azeiz. Forward Detachment holds current positions whilst securing to the west. Not yet clear if blocking of road Bardia – Tobruk or advance in the rear of the siege front is intended.  Armoured car reconnaissance patrols attempt to keep in touch during the night. Aerial reconnaissance from daybreak in the area west of the Forward Detachment, and readying of Stukas for immediate support requested.

[1]There is no record on Seekrieg or Wrecksite of ships wrecked at Tobruk on 23 April 1941. It is possible that these hits were obtained on vessels that had been hit in the days or months before.
[2]Only one loss is recorded on this day, Blenheim IV T1873 of No. 55 Sqdn. R.A.F. , lost on an operation to bomb Gazala landing ground No.1. The crew of Sgts. H. Fullarton, H.S. Latta R.N.Z.A.F. and G. McLaren were all killed when their plane crashed into the sea in flames, after a 15 minute running fight that commenced 32km west of Tobruk. It was likely shot down by Oberleutnant Wolfgang Redlich of 1./JG27, flying a Me 109E. Redlich claimed two Blenheims.
[3]This was apparently only an armoured car raid on German transport, executed by 11 Hussars. Nevertheless, it caused another flap at Rommel’s HQ, following the very successful raids by the Tobruk garrison of the previous day.

 

Fabris’ bad day: 22 April 1941

22 April 1941

Weather: max. temp. 19 degrees C

Arrived in the operational Zone:

6./S.R.115
II./A.R.33

Of Div. Brescia only the following fully motorised elements had arrived in front of Tobruk until now:

Divisional staff, complete 1st Fast Artillery Regiment
5th Company, 4.7cm AT guns
71st Company, 4.7cm AT guns

Today the following arrived at the division:

Regimental staff Infantry Regiment 19
Accompanying weapons companies of 1st and 3rd battalions[1]
Infantry gun company Infantry Regiment 19[2]

At dawn 5-6 enemy armoured vehicles pushed against the positions of 5.lei.Div. 1 tank was destroyed.[3]

Div. Ariete reported from 0600 – 0620 hours increased enemy artillery fire in its sector and advance of single enemy tanks in westerly and southwesterly direction from Point 209.

0630 hours English attack of about one battalion with 6-10 tanks from Ras Mdauuar against Abteilung Fabris.[4]

 

Untitled 2

Map of the Raid by Capt. Forbes’ force on 21 April 1941. Courtesy of the AWM, at this link.

0700 hours. The telephone of communications point General on Point 204[5] reports that the enemy tanks had already pushed into the position. The Italians are surrendering.[6]

0730 hours phone call from Commander Div. Brescia: “Enemy tank attack between Point 209 and Via Balbia. Tanks have already penetrated into our positions.”[7]

raid.jpg

Raid of Captain Rattray’s force. Courtesy of AWM at this link.

The Ia of 15.Panz.Div. was called and received the verbal order: “The approaching I./S.R.115 and II./A/R.33 are to be brought up more quickly and to prepare for defense in the area about 30km west of Tobruk.”

Phone order to Div.Trento to prepare the elements of the division around Acroma for defense there and to hold Acroma.

Request to Fliegerfuehrer Afrika: “Smash up enemy on Point 209 and in front of right wing of Div Brescia with bomber planes. Fighters to intervene in ground combat.”

Intercepted English radio messages: 0730 hours! “The tanks are now returning.” 0750 hours: “200 men infantry surrendering.” 0820 hours: “Fight appears to be over, about 200 prisoners are being brought in. Destroyed: 3 or 4 light guns, and between 20 to 30 motorcycles with side cars. 0900 hours: “Our losses: 1 light tank, 1 man.”[8]

The enemy succeeded to break into the AT position of Div.Brescia and to destroy some guns. His attack got stuck in front of artillery positioned safe from tank attack. About 9 tanks were destroyed.[9]

Lieutenant-General Rommel had now driven to Acroma himself: Div.Trento received his order to occupy the late position of Abteilung Fabris. “All the equipment of the Abteilung was lying there undamaged, including the guns with their breechblocks.[10]

The order to 15.Panz.Div. was clarified in writing in such a way that it could take over a switch position with elements of I./Flak 18 either east of Acroma or east of the Cantoniera. (see the order)

On 21 April Div.Trento had received the order to reach the area Bardia – Capuzzo – Sollum, and to defend it. Considering the events of today the order was amended to one reinforced battalion being assigned to take over the late position of Fabris (see that order). One battalion of Div. Trento was to be set on the way to Bardia on 22 April. Gruppe Herff received the instruction (see the same) to execute a devastating blow to the enemy at Sollum once this had arrived, to gain a free hand on this front for the foreseeable future, and to make available further forces for the attack on Tobruk.

Div. Brescia again repulsed an English reconnaissance push against its northern flank during the evening hours. It was remarkable that this was carried out by the enemy without artillery support, and only air support.

According to the report by Major Teetz, who led the elements of Div.Trento in the most forward lines in front of Ras Mdauuar, these attempted several times during the day to leave their positions when under enemy artillery fire even though they were not attacked at all.

The Corps issued an order to all units and offices to have heightened awareness in front of Tobruk and undertake security measures, especially for tank defense (see the same).

[1] These were support weapons for the battalion, normally a platoon of mortars, AT-guns, and 20mm AA guns each.
[2] This company was usually equipped with obsolete 65mm infantry guns.
[3] This was probably the raid by a mixed force of 2/17 Battalion, which became stuck and had to extricate itself. According to the war diary of 1 RTR it’s ‘B’ Squadron stood by to support the raid, but was not called upon. The OOB for this raid, according to the OH, was an infantry company, a company of 2/1 Pioneers, two troops of light tanks, one squadron of cruiser tanks, and a battery of 1 R.H.A. field artillery. The aim was to attack and destroy a battery of field guns.
[4] The order of battle for this raid was ‘C’ Company (Capt. Forbes) and five carriers of 2/48th Battalion the latter with Windeyer’s reserve company, three I-tanks of 7 R.T.R. and four 2-pdr AT guns of ‘M’ Battery 3 R.H.A.
[5] Most likely a German telephone position inside the position of Fabris’ Bersaglieri. I presume that German Point 204 is identical with Point 201 on the map.
[6]The implication that the Italians were not fighting is not fair though. From the Australian OH:

For a short time the Italians stood to their positions and engaged the Australians with infantry weapons at short range but could not halt them, and the sight of the assaulting infantry coming forward with fixed bayonets soon proved too much for the Italians. Generally they surrendered though isolated pockets continued to resist.

[7] This was the second raid of the morning, undertaken by 2/23 battalion on both sides of the Derna road.
[8] The radio messages appear to refer to the raid by 2/48 Battalion, except the last one, which probably refers to the raid by 2/17 Battalion. Losses of the 2/48 raid were 1 portee AT gun, 3 killed, and 6 wounded. The raid brought in 368 prisoners including 16 officers, and captured 4 AA guns, as well as MGs, mortars, transport vehicles and motor cycles as well as maps and orders/instructions. It pretty much eliminated Col. Fabris’ Bersaglieri battalion.
[9] This is likely the assessment of the raid by 2/23 Battalion in the north. In this raid, at least four carriers were lost. Nevertheless, this raid was far more costly than the other two, with both the north and south force ending up in very tough fighting. Of Lt. Hutchinson’s force, 46 men (80%) became casualties, with 24 left behind. The raid brought in 87 prisoners including two officers, and captured 3 AA guns, 5 MGs, and 4 mortars.
[10] Breechblocks were to be removed when retreating from a gun position without the guns, to render them unusable.