D.A.K. War Diary 26 April 1941

26 April 1941

Weather Situation: max. temp. 30 degrees C, from 11.00 hours to 14.00 hours dust storm[1]

Arrival and Departure of Subordinated Troops:

Of Div. Trento arrived in Acroma:

Regimental staff plus 2nd and 3rd battalions Artillery Regiment 46

On Tobruk front on both sides active reconnaissance and patrol activity. On the left wing of M.G.Batl.8[2] the enemy had cut an about 60m wide gap into the wire during the night 25/26 April. 5.lei.Div. took care to keep it under vigilant observation, also during the dust storm. One company of Pz.Regt.5 was placed behind it. An English reconnaissance patrol coming through this breach around mid-day was completely shot up by the tanks. During the evening hours 5.lei.Div. reported that the gap had now been closed again.

Nordafrika, Panzer III in Fahrt

German Panzer III tanks advancing in North Africa, 1941. Most likely Panzerregiment 5. Courtesy Wikimedia/Bundesarchiv Bildarchiv

14.30 hours a reconnaissance push by four enemy tanks from the area north of 209 to the west was repulsed by our artillery fire.[3]

Around 12.00 hours 5.lei.Div. reported that a patrol of Gruppe Schwerin had noted an English landing attempt about 15km east of Marsa Zeitum[4]. The division already doubted the report. A combat-capable reconnaissance in company strength was sent there and could only note a small vessel that moved west away from the coast.

Concerning the attack of Gruppe Herff[5] to take Halfaya Pass the following reports were received:

15.00 hours: “Moves to attack enemy south of Sollum commenced at 13.00 hours. Enveloping move is intended, advancing east of Point 206.”

19.00 hours: “17.45 hours enemy position east Uadi el Halfaya south-east Point 194 occupied by AT, tanks and artillery.
Gruppe Herff attacking in enveloping move south, takes position and holds it.”

24.00 hours: “Our attack pushed close to coast. Strong artillery reinforcement.New opponent from southwest evades encirclement by moving off north towards Capuzzo.”[6]

halfaya_pass_wwii

Halfaya Pass. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

[1]The war diary of 1 R.T.R. states this blew ‘all day’. The Australian Official History says it reduced visibility to 300 yards.
[2]On the eastern front of Tobruk.
[3]There is nothing about this in the Allied war diaries.
[4]Between Tobruk and Bardia.
[5]Operation Wendepunkt (Turning Point).
[6]The AWM Official History describes it thus:

The pass was bombed and machine-gunned on the evening of the 25th and on the 26th Herff’s force launched an attack against it. The ensconced infantry held to their positions, but their front was narrow and lacked flank protection. Enemy infiltrating along the escarpment threatened to outflank them. The anti-tank gunners of the 12th Battery[7] took part in the battle in an infantry-gun role, using high-explosive shell . Sergeant Templeman’s gun registered a direct hit on an enemy field gun as it was coming into action .

020088

A captured Boehler 47mm AT gun being inspected by Australian soldiers at Tocra, Libya, in early 1941. Courtesy Australian War Memorial, Collection number 020088

After dark the withdrawal plan was put into effect and the code words issued. The 2/Scots Guards established a delaying line from Buq Buq to Alam el Dab, two miles west of Sidi Barrani, through which the forward battalions withdrew. The 12th Battery guns covered the withdrawals of the battalions they were supporting. The two companies of the 1/Durham Light Infantry, covered by Lieutenant Scanlon’s troop, left the Halfaya position at 10.30 p.m., and the rearguard at Salum, with which was Lieutenant Cheetham ‘s troop (less one section), departed at 40 minutes past midnight .

[7]The Battery belonged to 2/3 Australian AT Regiment. Equipped with captured Italian 47mm AT guns. Thanks to user ‘Sheldrake’ on the AHF for pointing this out.

D.A.K. War Diary 25 April 1941

25 April 1941

Weather: max. temp. 28 degrees C

Arrival and Departure of Subordinated Troops:

Arrived in Tripoli:[1]

7./S.R.115
9./S.R.115
10./S.R.115
Stab I./Pz.Regt. 8
1./Pz. Regt. 8

Of Div.Brescia arrived:

3rd Battalion 20th Infantry Regiment

Of Div. Trento arrived in Acroma:

7th Bersaglieri Regiment[2]

Statements by English prisoners confirmed the English intent to, if feasible, bring about a fundamental change of the situation at Tobruk by an enveloping attack from Capuzzo. The English radio claimed that on 21 April “a further 2 Indian regiments and 1 Australian armoured battalion were landed in Tobruk without interference by the enemy.”[3]

Based on observation from the ground by Gruppe Schwerin, nine merchants, two destroyers and one cruiser were in Tobruk harbour on 24 May. On 25 May 18.15 hours Lt.Col. Count Schwerin reported: “2 small enemy destroyers at Uadi Delia, [4] discharging men and materials. Lively motor vehicle traffic to the discharge points.”

Along the whole front of Tobruk reconnaissance pushes by the enemy, in up to company strength and sometimes with tanks, were repulsed throughout the day:

03.00 hours an assault patrol (strength about 60 men) against the southern flank of Gruppe Schwerin was repulsed. The enemy left behind one dead and one severely wounded.
12.30 hours 4-5 English tanks approached Pt. 201 from Pt.209
15.15 hours an enemy push of about one company against the northern flank of Div. Brescia came to a halt in our defensive fire.
22.30 hours the division repulsed a second push against its right wing.[5]

The lively enemy assault patrol activity was effectively supported by the well directed fire of the English artillery. On the left wing of Div. Brescia a 7.5cm battery was put out of action completely by this fire. Because of its limited range the battery could not even return the fire. In the sector of Div. Ariete the English fired under direction of an artillery observer plane[6] and covered a battery of the division.

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A Westland Lysander Mark II of No. 208 Squadron RAF parked at El Adem airfield, Libya, shortly after its occupation on 5 January 1940. In the foreground are the remains of one of eighty-seven wrecked Italian aircraft found on the airfield. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Morning reconnaissance of Fliegerfuehrer Afrika carried out by three Me 110 ascertained: “South of Capuzzo in the wire starting at Uaar cuts every 50m up to about Gabr el Meduar widely dispersed single armoured cars or trucks with front to north. At Sidi Azeiz 12 armoured cars. All vehicles had bombs dropped on them by the 3 Me 110 and were attacked with machine guns and cannon in strafing attacks at a level of 10 metres. On the road Sollum – Sidi el Barrani total quiet during the time of the reconnaissance.”

Gruppe Herff jumped off for counter attack against enemy forces south and south-east of Capuzzo at 12.00 hours. Support of the Luftwaffe was ineffective, since the attack was carried out 35 minutes early and mostly hit our concentration area north and east of Capuzzo and partially on the Via Balbia. The enemy security screen conducted a fighting withdrawal. The enemy artillery fired from positions far to the rear blocking and destructive fire and could not be engaged by our weapons. The attack of Gruppe Herff was broken off at 14.00 hours after reaching Points 206 and 192. Seven enemy armoured cars were destroyed, of which one by planes. Just from our air attack Gruppe Herff lost 7 dead and 10 wounded.

23.20 a directive was issued to Gruppe Herff: “On 26 April after finally pushing back opponent from the southern front take firm possession of the ascent at Point 194 and defend it.”[7]

Air Situation: 24 April 19.30 hours enemy bombing of Derna town and airfield. Enemy bombers and fighters have almost completely ceased to attack ground troops. On Tobruk airfield nine old Italian planes and 7 Hurricanes were ascertained based on take-off observations. Our air force sank an 8,000 ton merchant around lunchtime while it was leaving Tobruk harbour[8]. Destroyers[9] took off during midday hours to support the attack of Gruppe Herff (see above) and at 16.00 hours attacked enemy battery positions east of the border at Gabr Seghir and Sidi Suleiman. After this attack only 2 enemy guns continued firing. One shot down Hurricane crashed onto one Me 110. Both burned out. One Me 110 had to forceland in no-mans land after encountering anti-aircraft fire.

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Force-landed Me 110 of 2.(H)/14.Pz. in North Africa, 1941. Aircraft is 5F+PK. Courtesy Bundesarchiv photographic collection.

Based on the bad experience of the last days with the Italian units a change to the intention to attack at the same time with all divisions along the whole front of Tobruk was required. The plan, which was presented to the Ia and/or chiefs of staff of the divisions at 16.00 hours today, saw the main push on both sides of Ras Mdauur by strong groups of 5.lei. and 15.Pz.Div., on the remaining front mainly tieing down the opponent by local or fake attacks. Written orders about moves in the time 26 to 30 April and the attack itself to be issued in the following days.

An order to Fliegerfuehrer Afrika listed its tasks and delineated them from those of 2.(H)/14.Pz.

X.Fliegerkorps received an order by Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe to immediately carry out the air transport of elements of 15.Pz.Div. in Naples to Derna.

[1]7th company is a rifle company in the 2nd battalion of the regiment. 9th and 10th companies are probably the infantry gun and engineer company of the regiment. The regiment had only two rifle battalions in 1941.
[2]Bersaglieri (Sharpshooters) were the elite light infantry of the Italian army. They were normally fully motorised and easily recognisable from their feathered hats. Bersaglieri regiments were normally only attached to armoured and motorised divisions. At this stage of the war, only two Bersaglieri regiments were in North Africa, 7th with Trento and 8th with Ariete. They were joined by 9th with Trieste in September.
[3]This is not correct, but probably deliberately misleading information. One Indian regiment, 18th Cavalry, was already in the fortress, and there were no Australian armoured units in the desert.
[4]Probably on the eastern side of the fortress.
[5]The AWM volume on Tobruk has the following information on these raids:
03.00 hours – not clear.  A night patrol by 2/48 Battalion went out to ‘Carrier Hill’, Point 201 opposite the Ras Mdaaur sector, but no contact reported .
12.30 hours – not clear.
15.15 hours – This was carried out by ‘A’ Company 2/23 Battalion, and was aimed to keep a sufficient distance of no-mans land between the perimeter and the Axis lines. The raid consisted of three separate patrols, one including a mortar team, and between them they brought in 32 officers including at least one officer and one NCO.
22.30 hours – this was either of two raids: i) a raid by 2/23 Battalion to destro the trucks observed in the afternoon patrol, and which claimed 11 trucks destroyer, or ii) a raid carried out by 18 Indian Cavalry, which brought in 33 prisoners including an officer from a wadi 4,500m out of the perimeter.
Not mentioned is a raid by ‘B’ Company 2/23 battalion that hit a German position south of the Derna Road, which left one German killed and one Australian wounded.
[6]While the last three Hurricanes were withdrawn on this day, two Westland Lysanders of No. 208 Squadron RAF remained with the garrison to carry out Army Co-operation Duties.
[7]Halfaya Pass
[8]There is no evidence I can find for this, and I suspect it to be a false claim.
[9]Me 110

 

D.A.K. War Diary 24 April 1941

Date: 24 April

Weather: max. temperature 19 Degrees C

Arrival and Departure of Subordinated Troops:

Of Div. Brescia arrived:
– Mortar Company Infantry Regiment 19
– Technical Battalion (Genio)

Of Div. Trento arrived in Acroma:
– 102nd Company 4.7cm AT Guns

During an assault patrol of Div. Trento they lost almost completely:
– One company of 1st Battalion Infantry Regiment 61

The fighting reconnaissance ordered by the Corps was carried out by the divisions according to the intent reported during the night (see the same). It hit strong enemy cover after the wire barrier in all places.

24 April

Map Detail of the Tobruk Perimeter. Pink numbers indicate site of actions in this WD entry.

The reconnaissance patrol of Division Trento reached until shortly before the wire barrier at 187. There a sudden fire attack with M.G. from the English position. 130 Italians raised their hands and surrendered or were wounded. 50 men of the company returned.[1][2]

One of the assault patrols of 15. Panzer Division led by Major Hecht, CO of I./Flak 18, upon reporting that it had reached Point 173, 2km south-east of Point 209, received the order to return. This order crossed with a further report by Gruppe Hecht, that it had reached Point 180 in the rear of Ras Mdauuar. All measures were now taken to exploit this success and to push all available forces into this with support from the Luftwaffe.[3] General Rommel, who immediately came to Aroma, noted however that 1) Major Hecht had carried out his order to disengage from the enemy, and 2) that the advance has not gone to 180, but reached right up to the wire barrier immediately south of 209, where it received heavy fire from 209 and frontally. [4] Here again the English showed his tried and tested tactic of letting the enemy come extremely close, and then to open concentrated fire in an ambush.[5]

Grape Herff reported morning of 24 April: “Evening attack on Capuzzo [6] repulsed, Sidi Azeiz[7] occupied by us. Whereabouts of 60 tanks unclear. Reconnaissance proceeding. Enemy artillery fired harassing fire during night and morning from the west on Capuzzo. Naval artillery of heaviest caliber’s on the road Capuzzo – Bardia during the night. Morning low level air attack on Capuzzo. If enemy again pushes artillery and tank screens west of Capuzzo to the north, will counterattack today with two assault groups. Strong enemy position on southwestern edge of Uadi Halfaya[8] 10km south of Sollum………….”

24 April Bardia

Map Detail of Border Sector. Pink numbers indicate locations mentioned in report by Gruppe Herff.

During the late morning hours the enemy broke off the tank advance against the northern wing of Gruppe Herff and moved back south under the impression of the air attack and the ground attack of the Assault Group Herff. Our attack on Point 206[9] and west of it could not push through during the afternoon due to enemy artillery fire.

Directives from D.A.K. to Gruppe Herff requested offensive approach to defense on Egyptian border (see that order).

In various radio messages to the O.K.H. the D.A.K. reported its concerned assessment of the current situation:

“Situation in front of Bardia, Tobruk, becomes more difficult day by day because of arrival of additional English forces……… The loss or encirclement of Bardia – Sollum would lead, because of a lack of forces for defending in two directions, also to the abandonment of the fight for Tobruk. A change of the severely crisis-like situation is only possible by accelerated arrival of German troops by air, including the completion of 5.lei.Div. and by immediate reinforcement of the Luftwaffe, especially ground attack planes, as well as by tasking submarines on the coastal strip Sollum – Tobruk……”

“Italian troops cannot be relied upon.”

O.K.H. answered to this: “Adding forces by air transport is currently not possible, since transport space has not been allocated for Army by O.K.W. Afrikakorps can until beginning of May only count on forces arriving by sea as planned, from early May improvement of arrival by sea and limited air transport possible………..”

[1] Position ‘1’ on the map is the approximate location of this engagement.

[2] The AWM describes the action thus:

The thrust on the left, which came in over the northern shoulder of Ras el Medauuar, was made across more exposed ground . There, during the night, “C” Company of the 2/48th had moved up from the reserve position to relieve “B” Company on the perimeter. Under cover of darkness and a dawn artillery bombardment about a battalion of enemy infantry appeared before the wire opposite Posts S1 and S3, which were occupied by a platoon under Lieutenant Kimber. About a company established itself in the perimeter wire between the two posts [these were about 600 yards apart]. Kimber’s posts were brought under fire but returned it with all weapons while from behind the artillery joined in the deadly work. A fire fight on such terms was all the defenders could have wished for. After about 20 minutes there was a fluttering of white flags, which appeared to have become standard battle equipment of the Italian infantry at Tobruk. Kimber, who had had previous experience of mustering on the battlefield, lost no time in sending out one of his sections. They brought in 107 prisoners, including two officers and several Germans; in addition the Italians left some 40 dead on the battlefield.

I believe it is important to observe that the narrative of both the Germans and the Australians is highly unfair to the Italians in this case. First the Germans are reporting that the Italians immediately gave up, when in reality they fought it out for 20 minutes, quite a long time under the circumstances. Secondly, it is hardly surprising that a unit loses the ability to fight when suffers almost 1/3 of its members killed in 20 minutes, plus an unknown number of wounded. The Italian surrender, caught as they were between two fortified posts, in an area with little cover, and after having suffered substantial casualties, is hard to criticize.

[3] The plan was for Gruppe Hecht to take an all-round defense position for a time and then to attack Point 209 from the rear, while Div. Trento carried out an attack from the west.

[4] Position 2 on the map shows the approximate location of where Gruppe Hecht reached. In the view of war diary No. 1 of 15. Panzer Division, Hecht was probably confused because of the sharp north-easterly turn the wire barrier takes in this sector.

[5] Based on the time stamps in the war diary No.1 of 15. Panzer Division, it is likely that this was the following action, as described in the AWM official history:

As though to show their Italian allies how it should be done, some 30 or 40 Germans made a further thrust about midday to the south of Ras el Medauuar between Posts R3 and R5, this time against Major Loughrey’s company. Fire from the posts forced them to ground about 300 yards from the wire . A patrol was sent out and in a brief running fight as the enemy withdrew several Germans were killed, and seven, including an officer, were captured.

It is interesting to note that the D.A.K. war diary is silent on the German losses suffered. The war diary No. 1 of 15. Panzer Division confirms that Gruppe Hecht suffered losses.

[6] Number 1 on the map. This was an old Italian border fortress that was coming to play an important role in future battles. It was eventually leveled completely.

[7] Number 2 on the map. During CRUSADER this was the scene of the battle in which 5 NZ Brigade was overrun.

[8] Number 3 on the map. It appears at this stage the German command had not yet appreciated the critical nature of Halfaya Pass, and was not overly concerned about not controlling it.

[9] Likely Point 206 southeast of Capuzzo, not Point 206 on the southern edge of the map.