Innovation in Action – Airborne Artillery Spotting

Innovation in Action – Airborne Artillery Spotting

Background

Operation CRUSADER saw a range of innovations on the Empire side, in particular related to the integration of air/land battle. In a previous post I have provided some information on the arrangements for close air support by strike aircraft (see this link). I have also written up a book review of Mike Bechtold’s excellent ‘ Flying to Victory’ at this link). Finally, I have provided some analysis of how effective close air support was at this link.

This entry concerns itself with another form of support, the utilization of aircraft to spot for artillery batteries. It is something taken for granted today, and indeed became a major feature of the war on the Allied side by 1944, with the famous Auster aircraft carrying spotter/pilots and enabling Allied artillery to strike at will on the battlefield.

In 1941, this kind of support was by no means as well developed, but it nevertheless was utilised by Army Cooperation (AC) squadrons at least. These squadrons flew a range of planes, including Westland Lysanders, and Hawker Hurricanes. Two designated squadrons were operational in Operation CRUSADER, one for each of the British Army Corps – No. 208 Squadron R.A.F. and No. 451 Squadron R.A.A.F. They carried out short-range reconnaissance, message delivery flights, and other duties. 

451 squadron

Hurricane Tac. R Mark I, Z4641, of No. 451 Squadron RAAF, in flight during a reconnaissance sortie over Libya, with another aircraft of the Squadron acting as a ‘sweeper’ in the background. The pilot is Flight Lieutenant G F Morley-Mower[1]. (IWM CM2206)

451 Squadron R.A.A.F. (AC) on 30 December 1941

Just prior to 30 December, No.451 Squadron had been relieved in Cyrenaica by No. 208 Squadron, and returned to the Libyan-Egyptian border, subordinated to 30 Corps for the operation against Bardia/Halfaya that was about to begin. 30 December was a busy day for the squadron, with nine sorties in total. The squadron was based at Sidi Azeiz, ironically until 18 November the base for 2.(H)/14, Panzergruppetactical reconnaissance unit. Sorties on the day were as follows:

General Reconnaissance

SGT.WATTS carried out a tactical reconnaissance of BARDIA. One small ship in 51963957. One large moving from shore at 51943965.

One small moron boat moving about in harbour towards East headland.

Medium A/A from harbour vicinity. A/A positions at 517398

SGT. HOWLANDS carried out a Photographic reconnaissance. After landing at L.G.75 had abandon photographs owing to bad weather. Dummy railhead[2] reported easily distinguishable. 

F/LT. MORLEY-MOWER carried out a photographic reconnaissance, did not quite cover area due to bad weather.

P/O. HUTLEY carried out a tactical reconnaissance of BARDIA area. Small craft reported in harbour sunk.

Bardia451

Bardia Area, Empire 1942 map utilizing the same coordinate system as report below. Red dots mark artillery strike locations. Rommelsriposte.com Collection.

Artillery Spotting

P/O. ACHILLES carried out an artillery reconnaissance BARDIA. Engaged and registered target S.B.

F/LT. SPRINGBETT carried out an artillery reconnaissance BARDIA. Targets T.D. 51673947 and T/F/ 51483908 engaged.

P/O.MACDONALD carried out an artillery reconnaissance BARDIA. 4 gun pits 52063874 and MET[3] – tents 52093885, successfully engaged.

P/O. ROBERTSON carried out an artillery reconnaissance BARDIA HARBOUR. Ships spotted, not engaged, faulty R/T.[4]

LT. THOMPSON carried out an artillery reconnaissance BARDIA HARBOUR. Engaged one ship successfully, 1 direct hit under water line. A/A 88 and Breda[5]

P/O.HUDSON carried out an artillery reconnaissance BARDIA. Engaged dump 51503990 satisfactorily. Heavy explosion observed at 51354013 by ranging rounds.[6]

F/LT. FERGUSON carried out an artillery reconnaissance BARDIA. Engaged 4 tanks 51483942, fire ineffective due to movement of tanks and bad R/T.

[1]Flight Lieutenant Morley-Mower served with 451 Squadron in December 1941. This and the type of plane makes me think this picture dates to CRUSADER.

[2]This refers to the Empire dummy railhead at Sidi Barrani.

[3] Motor Enemy Transport

[4]Radio Transmitter

[5]Meaning heavy (88mm) and light (20mm) anti-air guns engaged him.

[6]Marked by red X on the map.

 

 

Blenheims over Magrun , 22 December 1941

Blenheims over Magrun , 22 December 1941

Background

Following the retreat from the Gazala position the Desert Air Force quickly moved west in pursuit, and within days had operations going at Gazala and Mechili landing grounds which were used as staging and concentration posts from which to hit the Axis forces, in particular their air force, in the enemy rear areas. 


002 Lage NA 29 Dec 1941 Part 2

German Situation Map, 29 December 1941, by which time Magrun had been occupied by Empire forces for almost a week. Rommelsriposte.com Collection. 

The role of ULTRA

A major effort was made on 22 December to disrupt operations and destroy planes and ground assets on Magrun airfield.

ULTRA intercepts during the previous days had shown that the landing ground had become a major concentration area for the Axis air forces, and had also placed the battle HQ of Panzergruppe at Magrun[1], and noted that Luftwaffe supplies going into Magrun were considered inadequate, on 21 December. This was the short period during which Bletchley Park was reading the Panzergruppe communications almost in real time. 

In consequence, 13 Corps and the Desert Air Force command laid on two operations on the ground and in the air, to interrupt the Axis on the landing ground. This consisted of 13 Corps directing 22 Guards Brigade onto Margin late on 21 December, and 204 Group setting up multiple raids for 22 December. These operations on 22 December were therefore what would be called ‘intelligence-led’ today, in reaction to this information, and showed how quickly ULTRA intercepts could be turned into operational action. 

Magrun order

Order to 205 Group to put in maximum effort night 21/22 December. AIR23/6489, TNA, Kew.

In particular, a message from Fliegerfuehrer to his Chief of Staff had been intercepted, asking when additional fuel would arrive for the aircraft that were arriving at Magrun, and informing that i) the delivery on the Regia Marina submarine Micca to Benghazi had only been Italian fuel, and that 16,000 ltrs. of fuel that had arrived at Maraua, the previous HQ, had been entirely used up. It was therefore reasonable to presume that at any given moment the next day substantial numbers of Luftwaffe aircraft would be on the ground at Magrun, either delivering fuel, or arriving to be refueled, and constituting a major target. 

Magrun

ULTRA message to Prime Minister, 21 Dec. 1941. UK National Archives, HW1 Series. Rommelsriposte.com Collection.

On 22 December, the following attacks went in:

1. Night 21/22 December, night raid by Wellingtons. Results inconclusive.

2. Morning fighter sweep (see below)

3. Morning attack by Bostons, claiming four planes destroyed on the ground.

4. Afternoon attack by 270 Wing Blenheims, claiming 2 Ju 52 destroyed, 2 probably destroyed, and 2 more damaged, all on the ground.

5. Afternoon attack by Marylands (2 and 3 of Nos. 12 and 21 Squadron S.A.A.F. respectively), which fail to bomb due to the target being insufficiently covered by patchy cloud at 5-6,000 ft, exposing the unescorted Marylands to too high risk in a low attack.

large_0000008

Bombs from Bristol Blenheim Mark IVs of No. 270 Wing RAF explode among Junkers Ju 52s parked on the landing ground at El Magrun, Libya, in the afternoon of 22 December 1941. Blenheims, from Nos, 14 and 84 Squadrons RAF and the Lorraine Squadron of the Free French Air Force, made a series of attacks on El Magrun on 21-22 December, which was being used extensively by the Luftwaffe to provide air support for their retiring ground forces during operation CRUSADER (Courtesy IWM CM2017)

Raids on Magrun Airfield 22 December

Magrun airfield was located 71km south of Benghazi, and was abandoned on 22 December. Prior to leaving there was still heavy activity on it, with crews and stores being removed. It had been used by the Regia Aeronautica, and the first mention of a German plane on the landing ground was not until 20 December, when the Luftwaffe started to occupy it during the retreat. It became the target of a major effort on 22 December. The landing ground had no facilities, but was closely located to the road, and protected by a fort to the north-east.

First went the fighters, a combination of Tomahawks from Nos. 112 and 250 Squadrons, out of Mechili landing ground, went to the air field for a ground strafing attack at 0940 hours. The famous No. 112 Squadron (with its Sharkmouth insignia) undertook one of the last operations with Tomahawks.

112 Squadron

A flight of 6 Tommies[2][3] led by Flight Lieutenant WESTENRA took MAGRUN aerodrome by surprise coming out of the sun. F/Lt. WESTENRA damaged a Ju 87 and with Pilot Officer BARTLE destroyed a Ju 87. P/o Duke destroyed a Ju 52 while he probably destroyed a Ju 87 with Sgt. CARSON. A further sweep in the afternoon produced nothing of interest and no enemy aircraft were seen.[4]

250 Squadron

7 a/c in conjunction with 112, 2 & 4 Squdns. made fighter wing sweep to Magrun aerodrome and ground staffed it. Sgt. Dunlow shot down a JU. 87 which was coming in to land – Sgt. [unreadable] damaged one in like circumstances. At least 4 fires were left burning on the aerodrome. A number of JU 52’s being destroyed.

The No. 2 Squadron S.A.A.F. report notes a successful strafing action, with 2x Ju 52 destroyed, 2x Ju 87 damaged, as well as 1x Ju 88 and curiously 1x Do.215 damaged[5].

112 Squadron LG122Pilots of No. 112 Squadron RAF grouped round the nose of one of their Curtiss Tomahawks at LG 122, Egypt. Those identified are, (left to right): Sergeant R F Leu, Pilot Officer N F Duke, Flying Officers J F Soden (on wing) and P H Humphreys, Squadron Leader F V Morello (Commanding Officer), Flight Lieutenant C F Ambrose, Flying Officer E Dickenson (killed in action 28 May 1942), Sergeant H G Burney (killed in action 30 May 1942), Flying Officers D F Westenra, J J P Sabourin (killed in action 6 October 1942, while flying with No. 145 Squadron RAF), N Bowker and J P Bartle, and Sergeant K F Carson. (IWM CM1820)

While the time isn’t clear, it is likely that the Douglas Bostons of No. 24 Squadrons S.A.A.F. went later in the morning, unescorted. It was the last mission of the year for the squadron.

22-12-41 Nine Bostons bombed aircraft on Sid-amud-el-Magrun aerodrome 60-70 aircraft (including 30 JU52’s) dispersed on NW side of aerodrome. 8x 500 HE bombs fell in and slightly short of dispersal area and 24x 250 HE among aircraft and one was seen to be burning on aerodrome on approaching target. 4x 250 bombs hung up slightly and overshot, falling edge of dispersal area. 7/10 cloud over target. Total bombs 8×500 and 28x 250. Total flying time 22.5 hours.

The second light bomber daylight raid on Magnum on 22 December was fairly typical of the period. It was meant to be a major effort by 276 Wing, putting into the air a large number of Blenheims from all its squadrons for two consecutive raids. The operation order is crisp and clear.

.- Os.C. No’s. 14, 45, 84, and Lorraine [5] Squadrons

From: .- No. 270 Wing

A.659 22/12/41 SECRET Operation Order No. 61

6 aircraft of Lorraine Squadron are to land at GAZALA t 0815 on 22/12/41. Aircraft are to link up with 8 aircraft of 84 Squadron already there. 84 Squadron are to lead formation of 12 aircraft after briefing and fighter escort arranged. 

6 aircraft of 14 Squadron are to land at GAZALA at 0830 hours 22/12/41 and join up with 7 aircraft of 45 Squadron already there.

14 Squadron will lead 45 Squadron on second sorry. Standard bomb load will be carried by all aircraft.

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

Group Captain, Commanding,

No. 270 Wing, R.A.F.

Fighter escort was provided by Nos. 2 and 4 S.A.A.F. Squadrons and Nos. 112 and 250 Squadrons RAF. The raid encountered two Me. 109F, but no engagement ensued. The fighters reported strong and accurate light AA fire.  

All six operational Blenheims from 14 Squadron accordingly left Gambut at 0515, and arrived at Gazala at 0605. The detailed record explains that due to problems with communication and cloud cover over the airfield only 3 aircraft arrived, the others returning. I suspect the issue was that the aircraft went to Mechili rather than Gazala landing grounds.

Therefore, 14 Squadron ultimately only put up three Blenheims for Magrun, ships 9656 J, 5950 V, and 5947 M, crewed by Wing Cdr. Buchanan, Sgts. Chaplin and Ball; Sgts. Willis, Young, and New; and Pilot Officers Wilbon, McKenny, and Sgt. Webster, respectively. 

Following the raid, the three planes returned to Gazala, from where they left at 1100 to return to base at 1445.

Proceeding to EL MECHILI where fighter escort was provided these 3 aircraft formed part of a wing formation. On the aerodrome at Magrun six Ju. 52’s and six 109’s were seen, and our aircraft at 1320 hours G.M.T. from 5,000 feet dropped 4x 250 lbs bombs each. Two Ju. 88’s[6] and one M.T. were seen to be hit, all the bombs fell in target area. Heavy slight A.A. was experienced, two of our aircraft were hit, but all however returned to base.

German records (kindly provided by Andrew from airwarpublications.com) show that the Allied cliaims on the while were reasonably accurate. They are given below as received. Total losses amounted to one Ju 88 reconnaissance, 3x Me109F, 2 x Ju 52 and 2x Ju 87 on this day.

– 22.12.1941: 2.(F)/123 Ju 88 destroyed by strafing at Sidi el Magrun [loss list]
– 22.12.1941: I./J.G. 27 Bf 109 destroyed by own troops at Magrun [loss list]
– 22.12.1941: II./J.G. 27 Bf 109 crash-landing at Magrun, 40 per cent damage [loss list]
– 22.12.1941: III./J.G. 27 Bf 109 crashed due to Motorschaden, 100 per cent loss [loss list]
– 22.12.1941: K.Gr.z.b.V. 300 Ju 52 destroyed by bombs at Sidi el Magrun [loss list]
– 22.12.1941: K.Gr.z.b.V. 400 Ju 52 destroyed by bombs at Sidi el Magrun [loss list]
– 22.12.1941: II./St.G. 1 Ju 87 R-4 damaged by bombs at El Magrus [sic], 60 per cent damage [loss list]
– 22.12.1941: II./St.G. 2 Ju 87 R-3 force landing due to damage from enemy fighter, 100 per cent loss [loss list]  

Screen Shot 2019 12 22 at 11 04 20 AM

No. 14 Squadron Daily Report Sheet, 22 December 1941. AIR27/199 TNA, Kew. 

Waterlogged1

A Bristol Blenheim Mark IV, ‘U’ (serial number unclear) of No. 45 Squadron RAF, undergoes an engine overhaul at waterlogged Gambut, Libya, after violent rainstorms in November and December 1941 rendered many of the forward airfields unusable during Operation CRUSADER.

112 Squadron Pilots 

Three notable pilots  of No. 112 Squadron RAF, photographed on reaching the end of their tour of operations with the Squadron in North Africa, (left to right): Flight Lieutenant D F “Jerry” Westenra, Flying Officer N F Duke and Flight Lieutenant P H “Hunk” Humphreys. Each of them wears the top button of his dress tunic undone as the (unofficial) mark of the fighter pilot at the time. (IWM CM2504)

Westenra was a New Zealander from Christchurch, who joined 112 Squadron early in 1941, flying with them in Greece, Crete, and in the Western Desert where he was made a flight commander. He is reputed to have urged the adoption of the ‘Sharkmouth’ insignia by the Squadron in September 1941. At the conclusion of his tour in March 1942, he received the DFC for shooting down five enemy aircraft. In 1943 Westenra flew with No. 601 Squadron RAF in North Africa, and commanded No. 93 Squadron RAF in Italy. In March 1944 he was appointed to commandNo. 65 Squadron RAF during the Normandy Invasion, returning to New Zealand in September 1944.

Duke was posted to 112 Squadron in February 1941 after serving with No. 92 Squadron RAF in the United Kingdom. Despite being shot down twice, he achieved an impressive tally of eight confirmed victories in the Western Desert before leaving the Squadron in April 1942. He was then posted to El Ballah as an instructor at the Fighter School before rejoining 92 Squadron in the Western Desert in November 1942 and a adding further 14 victories to his total. In June 1943 he became Chief Flying Instructor at No.73 Operational Training Unit at Abu Sueir, but returned to operations as Commanding Officer of No. 145 Squadron RAF in Italy in March 1944. He returned to the United Kingdom in January 1945 with 28 victories to become a test pilot with Hawkers.

Humphreys joined 112 Squadron as a flight commander in November 1941 after serving with Nos 152 and 92 Squadrons RAF. Like Duke, he left theSquadron in April 1942 to instruct at the Fighter School at El Ballah before returning to operations with No. 92 Squadron RAF in early 1943. He later took command of this Squadron and led it to Malta, Sicily and Italy before another rest from operations in November 1943. In April 1944 Humphreys returned to Italy to command No. 111 Squadron RAF, and left for the United Kingdom in November 1944 on his appointment as Station Commander at RAF Castle Bromwich. He was killed in a flying accident in 1947.

Notes

[1]Incorrectly, since Panzergruppe HQ was in Agedabia at this time.
[2]Tomahawk P-40 fighters
[3]Only five in the ORB, ships AN303 F/Lt. Westenra, AN289 Sgt. Carson W., AN 274 P/O Bartle, AK531 Sgt. Carson K., and AK354, P/O Duke.
[4]This sweep was probably the escort mission for the Blenheim raid.
[5]The type wasn’t present in the desert, although it could have been an older Do 17Z operating as a second line aircraft with the staff of Fliegerfuehrer.
[6]No. 342 Squadron R.A.F.
[7]Should probably be Ju 52s.

The Lorraine Squadron in CRUSADER

The Lorraine Squadron in CRUSADER

Background

Just at the start of CRUSADER, Flight published an interesting article on the Free French Air Force, with some interesting pictures (if anyone can tell me what kind of a plane General Valin is standing in front of, I’d be grateful – I thought it was a Bf 108, but it has a fixed undercarriage, so that can’t be it). The article can be found at this link. The Flightglobal archive is generally very interesting, by the way.

Free French Blenheims

A Free French flight equipped with Blenheims had operated during the East African campaign earlier in 1941. In October 1941, this was upgraded to a squadron, which became the major contribution by the Free French to Operation CRUSADER.

It was the 1st Bombing Group, known as the Lorraine squadron, a Bristol Blenheim equipped light bomber squadron consisting of two flights. In the course of operations, it lost 1/3rd of its flying personnel killed, missing or wounded, including  its newly arrived commander in December, Lt.Col. Pijeaud, was killed on his first mission when his plane was attacked by Axis fighters.

After the withdrawal of Axis forces to the west, the Group remained on the Egyptian border, based on Gambut airfield. After helping the Axis on the way by bombing rear area installations such as El Magrun airfield halfway between Benghazi and Agedabia (see below), it engaged in the bombardment of the Axis border fortifications of Bardia and Halfaya (see this older post). In the middle of January 1942 it was withdrawn for refitting to Syria.

During the 16 days before the surrender of the Halfaya garrison, the Lorraine flew 300 sorties against it, from Gambut airfield. In fact, together with other light bomber units the amount of sorties climbed to a level prompting inquiries from Whitehall if this was really necessary!

Lorraine Squadron in Modern View

This French language site has some good information on the unit, including pictures. At this link you can find a nice colour profile of a Bristol Blenheim Mk.IV in Free French colours. Just ignore the statement that they were operating in the Western Desert in February 1942. Funnily enough, it appears Airfix (ah, bane of my youth) also did a kit of the Lorraine Blenheim (apparently its a good kit too – check the link through the picture below).

7538017220SDC13748
Dramatic Artwork of Lorraine Blenheims bombing Halfaya/Sollum on a vintage Airfix pack.

Towards the end of the CRUSADER battles, the Free French 1st Fighter Group Alsace started operations in the air defense of Egypt, based at Ismailia on the Suez Canal, having just been re-equipped with Hurricane I fighters. Some information on this can be found at this link.

A lot of good information about Free French forces in North Africa can be found at this link.

Supreme Sacrifice – the loss of HMS Kandahar

Supreme Sacrifice – the loss of HMS Kandahar

Background

HMS Kandahar, a K-class destroyer, was one of two ships lost on the night of 18/19 December 1941, when Force K ran into the Italian ’T’ minefield north of Tripoli, trying to intercept the M.42 convoy from Naples, carrying urgently needed tanks and supplies to Axis forces in North Africa. Having come to the aid of the stricken HMS Neptune, a light cruiser that first hit a mine at 0106 hours on 19 December, HMS Kandahar herself was mined at 0318 hours that same morning. The mine blew off her bow, and she drifted, without power or steering, slowly in an East-South-Easterly direction.

The light cruiser HMS Penelope and the destroyer HMS Jaguar had stayed with the stricken ships. HMS Jaguar then sought out the drifting HMS Kandahar, but it took until the next morning before she found her. The idea was to either attempt to take her in tow or take off survivors. Either was a perilous business, just about 15 miles off the North African coast, and with daylight coming up, but she managed to do this undetected. 

HMS Jaguar dropping depth charges 1940 IWM A868

HMS Jaguar Dropping Depth Charges, 1942. Wikipedia.

Awards

The superbly executed rescue work earned her captain, Lieutenant Commander  Lionel Rupert Knyvet Tyrwhitt D.S.C., the Distinguished Service Order, even though he disobeyed the order to return to Malta if he had not found HMS Kandahar by 0300. He found her at 0420 on 20 December 1941 and remained with her until 0620, when she was sunk by HMS Jaguar with a torpedo.

This officer was in command of H.M.S. Jaguar when she came to the assistance of H.M.S. Kandahar.

His instructions were that if he had not found Kandahar by 0300/20 he was to return to Malta. He had not found the ship by this time, but he was so certain that she was in the vicinity that he persevered and made contact at 0420. His ship handling when bringing Jaguar alongside in bad weather conditions was perfect. The weather, however, was too bad and Jaguar was ordered to lie off and pick survivors after Kandahar had abandoned ship, and to leave not later than 0530. Again Lieutenant Commander Tyrwhitt’s ship handling was excellent and expedited the recovery of survivors. Nevertheless this was not completed by 0530, and Jaguar remained till 0620 within 15 miles of the enemy coast until the job was completed.

Lieutenant Commander Tyrwhitt’s perseverance and determination was responsible for the recovery of so many survivors.

Lt.Cdr. Trywhitt died when HMS Jaguar was attacked by German submarine U-652 off Sidi Barrani on 26 March 1942. Two of four torpedoes struck her, setting her on fire and causing her to sink quickly, taking with her almost 200 men including her captain.

Apart from the DSO for the captain, the Admiralty recognized the service and sacrifice of both crews, by awarding a total of two OBEs, two Albert Medals, three British Empire Medals, one Posthumous Mention in Despatches, and six Mention in Despatches.

The two medals that stand out are the Albert Medals. Both were posthumous awards, and they are the highest award for gallantry displayed in saving lives at sea. Admiral Pridham-Wippell then ‘strongly recommended’ the award of the Albert Medal for both ratings.

Pridham

Vice-Admiral Pridham Wippell, 2 i/c Mediterranean Fleet, May 1942, Alexandria. IWM A8850 

More detail is provided in the letter from the Admiralty to the Home Office, which requested the award of the Albert Medal.

We recommend the Posthumous Award of the Albert Medal to Acting Yeoman of Signals George Patrick McDowell, D/JX.143268 and Leading Seaman Cyril Hambly, D/JX.133146 for gallantry in saving life at sea.

When H.M.S. Jaguar succeeded in finding H.M.S. Kandahar, which had struck a mine and was sinking, the weather too bad for her to be able to take off survivors by going alongside, and she was ordered to lie off and pick up survivors after Kandahar had abandoned ship. Nets were hung over her side to help men who had swam over, or come over on rafts, to climb on board.

Acting Yeoman of Signals George Patrick McDowell, D/JX.143268 and Leading Seaman Cyril Hambly, D/JX.133146 both showed the most self-sacrificing gallantry.

They had swum over to Jaguar, but to climb the side of the ship plunging in the heavy seas was not easy, and though they could have climbed on board themselves, they stayed in the water helping others who could not, until they lost all strength and were drowned.

Both men were young, McDowell only 22, and Hambly 28. The request for an immediate award read as follows.

HMS Nile

This rating lost his life helping other men to board H.M.S. Jaguar.

Having swum over to “Jaguar” instead of heaving himself inboard, McDowell/Hambly stayed in the water helping others up the net until he lost strength and was drowned. 

I consider his conduct deserving of the highest award for gallantry and self sacrifice.

Captain (D) 14th Destroyer Flotilla

14 January 1942

Unfortunately I do not know who the officer signing the recommendation was, he appears to have been the Commander in charge of HMS Nile. Maybe someone can help?

Signature

The award was recommended to the King on 11 May 1942 by Home Secretary Morrison, and so approved, as can be seen below.

Gri

Sources

Adm 1/12294 H.M.S. Kandahar

The End Outside Tobruk – 4 December 1941

The End Outside Tobruk – 4 December 1941

Background

After two weeks of hard fighting, and two mistaken expectations of victory (see here), 4 December 1941 was the day Panzergruppe packed it in outside Tobruk. The war diary of 90.lei. Afrika-Div. notes how the division, together with the equally hard-hit Italian Bologna division[1] was expected to undertake another attack to clean the remaining enemy pockets of the Belhamed height and re-establish the siege ring. This led to a “dramatic exchange of words” between the GOC of the division and General Crüwell of the Afrikakorps at lunch time. In the end however, General Sümmermann got his way partially and obtained a delay of the attack from 1400 hours to 1600 hours. It never took place. At 1500 hours the order to retreat came and the battle outside Tobruk was lost.

0898

Unknown Command Post during the battle for the salient. Rommelsriposte Collection.

15.00 hours General Crüwell passes on order from General Rommel as follows:

The armoured corps retreats west into the area 30km west of el Adem. 90.lei.Div. holds its position and continues to close of Fortress Tobruk from the east and south-east. In this regard the division takes command of the Belhamed and from 19.00 hours Ed Duda. In this regard Gruppe Mickl is subordinated. 21.Pz.Div. takes care of establishing communications Mickl to Sümmermann. In the rear the division will be covered by Mot. Korps Gambarra in the area of Sidi Rezegh. This creates a corridor. Through this corridor, on the night 4 to 5 December, the whole of the artillery of the division will be moved to el Adem. Prime movers will be allocated. 

Following receipt of this order the intended attack is no longer considered[…]

22.15 hours a new order from Pz.Gr. that apart from small rear guards also the division will be pulled out of its prior positions. Positions Belhamed, ed Duda, to be held and later to pull pack on El Adem. To the south stands Mot. Korps Gambarra and protects against attacks from the right flank. This order is immediately transmitted to the troops.

Lt. Hollmann became the leader of the rear guards, which consisted of one section per company. These were to hold until dawn, feint occupation of the position, and then in the late morning hours retreat as well.[2]

Underscoring further the deflation of the day is the report by Artillerie Regiment 33, which participated in the second attempt to reach Bardia.

Advance on Sidi Azeiz and Rearward March via el Adem on 4.12.41

On 4.12. 15.Pz.Div. advanced from the area Zaafran on Sidi Azeiz.

Order of march (large units)

Tank battalion Ramsauer

II./A.R.33

III./A.R.33

The march was at first disturbed by artillery fire from the south, but from Gasr el Arid went without any noticeable events.At Sidi Azeiz the tanks in the van met weak enemy who retreated immediately. The II. and III./A.R.33 went into firing position immediately and took the fleeing enemy as well as the abandoned leaguer under ricochet fire.[3] An enemy battery returned fire but without major effects.

During the afternoon the rear march commenced, at first into the area of Zaafran. During the night it became known that the enemy had managed to connect with Tobruk. The division united with its supply columns in the area of the junction with the Zaafran track on the Trigh Capuzzo and at 02.00 hours on 5.12. broke through to the west. The artillery marched in the group of 15. Schtz.Brigade.[4] Apart from attacks by enemy bombers no special events.

What had happened was that the advance guard of 15.Pz. had run into 31 Field Regiment of 4 Indian Division, who were in no mood to entertain them. Their diary describes the inconclusive action.

4 December

Enemy reported clear of SIDI AZEIZ at first light and our O.P.s felt their way forward, finding no opposition. At mid-day 14 enemy tanks with guns and lorried infantry observed approaching SIDI AZEIZ. Tanks in close formation. C.O. ordered fire to be held which appeared to make the enemy uneasy. No doubt he wanted to confirm where our gun positions were. Tanks appeared to split up and attempt reconnaissance. Some spasmodic shelling. We engaged enemy A/Tk guns observed being toward across skyline and they withdrew. Finally enemy column and tanks withdrew, admitting defeat and apparently with nothing accomplished.

 

Notes

[1]Bologna reported a strength of 3 rifle companies, 1 machine-gun company, and two artillery batteries on this day. 
[2] You can read about how this went at this link.
[3]In this mode rounds would ricochet off the ground, and generate airbursts.
[4]The infantry of the division.