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. 6 Hurricanes, 2 Blenheims were shot down in air combat, 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.”
The following measures were thereupon ordered by the D.A.K.:
- To Fliegerfuehrer Afrika: Fliegerfuehrer 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.
- Inform 5.lei.Div. for it to carry out potentially required ground reconnaissance and security measures.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.