Fabris’ bad day: 22 April 1941

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]

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]


Untitled 2

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




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]

Screen Shot 2020 04 20 at 4 36 25 PM

Bersaglieri Motorcyclists in North Africa, during the initial Italian advance, September 1940. Italian Archives.

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] Abteilung Fabris was based around Lt.Col. Fabris command, IIIa Bersaglieri batallion, a motorcycle battalion. Fabris fell at the head of his men, and was posthumously decorated with the Silver Medal for Military Valour. 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.