January 2016 Book Update

Happy new year 2’16!

As an update on the progress, which continues to be too slow, we are now hoping for the first book to be published in autumn 2016

Whilst it was originally planned to publish a small booklet on the operation against Gialo/Jalo, of something like 65 pages, the research on the subject has brought to light a wealth of new information, in particular also from the Italian side. This has brought us to about 150 pages plain text until now and we are still not at the end…

In the meantime we have also increased the format of the book, from the original 17×22cm we went to 19×27cm since we think that this suites much better to the grown dimension of the book.

We thank you for being patient.

We are still looking for relevant historical photographs of this desert operation. Further we are looking for historical photographs of the Jalo oasis in Libya.

If you think that you could contribute something to the project or if you have a particular interest in it – please address to info@desertstories.org

http://www.desertstories.org/index.php?article_id=244

A day in the life of 13 Corps – 8 Jan. 42

The text below was meant to be a standard daily entry in the narrative of the Commonwealth side. It shows and analyses events on a daily basis from the Commonwealth perspective.

Having written and researched it however, I had to conclude that life’s too short, and this level of detail is impossible to achieve for daily entries. Between having two small kids and a fairly (and increasingly) demanding day-job, there is no chance that I could manage this level of work, especially when you get into some of the days where multiple units were in contact.

So I have decided that this could go online, since I won’t use it in the book, but still put an awful lot of work into this. It is still of interest I feel, to show the action on a quiet day in the lull between the Axis abandoning Agedabia, and the resumption of major combat operations.

Happy reading, and please keep in mind that the below has not been edited to final publication level!

 

Allied Position [1]

Forward Area

Activity fell into two distinct groups, to the north of and straddling Uadi Faregh the Guards Brigade was occupying and moving beyond Agedabia, and 7 Support Group in the centre of the line continued pushing west. To the east E Force was actively patrolling, and 1 Armoured Division reached Saunnu to the north-east.

The northern advance, directed towards the south-west via Agedabia, was much delayed by mines, which 2 Scots Guards were set to clear throughout the day. At the same time 3 Coldstream Guards were ordered to advance further southwest. Because of the heavy mining and the low visibility caused by a sandstorm, the Coldstreams took until 1500 hours to move past the town and onto the Via Balbia and the Haban (Ridotta el Gtafia) track. They did not encounter opposition in their advance, but lost touch between companies owing to the dark. At dusk No.2 Company engaged enemy rearguards of 90.lei.Afrika-Div. which then withdrew. Somewhat inexplicably however, at 1950 hours 4 Indian Division reported to 13 Corps that Guards Brigade was held up by roadblocks on the Via Balbia and the desert track towards the Ridotta el Gtafia, about 12km south-west of Agedabia.

Further south, the KDG had made contact with 11 Hussars, and reported two armoured cars and one tank at Haban (1 on the map below). Unknown to the KDG, these belonged to the reinforced A.A.33 which covered this area and track. One column of 7 Support Group was reported to be in touch with Axis forces south of el Haselat (3′), about 55km south-south-east of Agedabia where the track to Gialo Oasis crossed the Uadi el Faregh, this was probably CURRY column reporting contact with the other elements of A.A.33.

CURRY also reported the area along the Wadi al Faregh between el Haselat and Maaten Bettafal (4 on the map), 90 km to the south-west of Agedabia and about 40km south of the Via Balbia, free of the enemy, with a radius of 8 miles (13km) around Bettafal showing no major signs of Axis forces. Worryingly though, the advance of all these motorized columns was held up not just by bad going, but also by supply difficulties.  E Force columns and patrols were covering the southeastern flank of the advance, and ordered to continue to do so.

7 Support Group issued a comprehensive operational order on 8 January, which foresaw it keeping contact with and harassing the enemy on a line running from Haban to Maaten Burruei about 70 km to the south-west, and to prepare the ground for a further advance of 1 Armoured Division in this direction.

This included, most importantly, an order to 12 Lancers[2] to push far west with the aim to ascertain enemy presence in the area of Maaten Burruei. They were expected to be in place at their destination at 1200 on 10 January. If no enemy was found at Maaten Burruei, further reconnaissance to the west was to be carried out, and 7 Support Group would follow up to occupy Maaten Burruei on 11 January.

To the north of their patrolling area, the KDG was meant to establish a link to them and thereby the beginnings of a cohesive line, and a cover of the southern flank of the Via Balbia. This was to be achieved by pushing patrols out to Bir es Suera (6), Bir el Ginn (7), and Maaten Belcleibat (5’, about 20km north of Mn. Burruei), while at the same time keeping a link with 11 Hussars further to the north.

The day also saw orders going out to the L.R.D.G. patrols based at Gialo, to push a patrol far north-west with the aim to ascertain enemy presence in the area of Marada Oasis.

Air Operations

Tactical recces and fighter sweeps were carried out over the northern area of the Axis position as well as along the Wadi al Faregh, showing Axis forces in place throughout, and including Maaten Giofer and Maaten Belcleibat. A medium recce on the Marada area was attempted by No. 60 Squadron S.A.A.F., but this failed due to extreme haze up to 18,000 feet, although the crew was treated to a marvelous sunset.[3] The reason for this was probably the very heavy sand storm, which also made any bombing impossible. Five Wellingtons from No. 108 Squadron operating out of Egypt were detailed to raid motor transport at Marsa el Brega, but failed to find the target, and bombed alternative locations instead, with no loss. Seven Marylands of No.21 Squadron S.A.A.F. attacked Marble Arch L.G., but found no planes there, and instead bombed stores and a small vessel at Ras el Garguigh[4].

Naval Operations

A small convoy with petrol and ammunition reached Benghazi, but could not be unloaded due to weather.

Operational Considerations

A signal from 1 Armoured Division to 13 Corps was intercepted by Adv. HQ 8 Army, resulting in a request by Ritchie to Godwin-Austen to not expose the southern advance to an envelopment from the north. This was an early concern about the possibility of an Axis counter-strike, which foresaw the design of the plan implemented by Rommel in his attack on 21 January. The war diary of 7 Support Group also raises the possibility of a counter-attack, which it states should not be dismissed.

The next day however, this possibility was dismissed by Godwin-Austen, who pointed out that while he took note of the Army Commander’s concerns, he saw “[…]no reason for apprehension at this time.”, and wished to take advantage of the current momentum to push reconnaissance further west before the Axis could establish counter patrols. This was behind the orders to the KDG and the 12 Lancers.

A key aspect of the move of 12 Lancers to Maaten Burruei was also to recce a track which could be taken by 1 Armoured Division. The route through the Wadi el Faregh  itself was deemed unsuitable for a large force. The L.R.D.G. patrol to be sent to Marada was to ascertain if armoured forces were at the oasis[5], since these would be able to participate in a pincer movement against a push of 1 Armoured Division west from Maaten Burruei. Air reconnaissance had not been carried out yet of this area.[6].

Godwin-Austen was probably feeling that confirmation of his view came by way of the plans for the Axis withdrawal which had been captured, and which outlined in detail the plans for the withdrawal to the Marada – Mersa el Brega position, and to which the observed enemy behavior conformed. Furthermore, the 7 Support Group’s Intelligence Assessment No. 12, issued on 7 January, included an analysis of enemy tank strengths that concluded this could not be much more than about 60 – 65, reducing the risk of any counter-strike.

Map of the Agedabia Sector showing key locations, from German intel files.

German map of Agedabia sector

Strategic Considerations

General Auchinleck informed Churchill that the retreat from Agedabia into the line Agheila – Marada, which he considered favourable for defence, was happening. He also pointed out that a further advance required the building up of supplies at Benghazi[7]. This port however had been quite effectively sabotaged, and the other ports were only slowly coming into operation. Tobruk was still only handling 600 tons a day, while the requirement for an advance to Buerat was calculated to be 400 tons of petrol per day alone. Derna could not handle ships with more than 15 feet draught and therefore could not make a meaningful contribution[8]. The consequence of this situation was that 1 Armoured Division had transmitted to its Brigades an order by 13 Corps to restrict petrol consumption on 6 January. On 8 January this was deciphered by German radio reconnaissance and passed to the Ic of Panzergruppe, giving the Axis forces some measure of security about future enemy intentions.

A discussion had also commenced between the Chiefs Of Staff in the UK and Middle East Command on the consequence of a failure to crack the Axis position with this final push. The suggestion from Middle East Command had been to give up the whole of the recently conquered area, including Tobruk, and to retreat to the Libyan/Egyptian frontier, thereby reducing pressure on supplies, and stabilising the front in a defensible position.  C.O.S. in the UK pointed out the consequences of such a retreat regarding the ability to attack the Axis supply into North Africa, and the effect this would have on Malta. This concern appears overdone however, since arguably the situation would not be worse than it was up the start of CRUSADER.

On 8 January also, an analysis of the Hurricane fighter/army co-operation[9] situation was received by the R.A.F. HQ in Cairo, in copy to a message from London to Washington. This outlined in detail the situation with competing requests from the Far East and Russia, and advising that due to the need for tropicalisation, no Spitfires could be expected for another four months, even though 70 were allocated to the Middle East each month. Reliance therefore had to be placed on the Kittyhawk as mainstay of the fighter force. Interestingly, the analysis is treating requirements for Hurricane deliveries in support of Operation GYMNAST, the planned invasion of Sicily following a complete victory in Libya, as a given.[10]

Assessment

The resistance on the Via Balbia itself, together with the absence of Axis forces in the south and the rapid advance enabled by this absence there, led to an increasing risk that the southern forces were exposing themselves to a counter-strike from the north.

This was mitigated to some extent by the known weakness of the Axis forces, and had to be weighed against the possibility to seize ground in locations that negated to some degree the geographical advantage of the Agheila position. Maaten Burruei was a key location in this regard, since it sat right between the two impassable salt lakes and controlled this gap, just about 10km east of the track to Marada which would be the lifeline for any force placed there. The occupation of Burruei therefore opened the possibility to use this gap to push a force into the centre of the emerging Axis position.

The ground reconnaissance of the suitability of the terrain south of the Wadi al Faregh, to be carried out by 12 Lancers on their way to Maaten Burruei, was necessary to ascertain whether a southern envelopment of the Axis position on the Via Balbia, rather than a frontal attack, was possible. 1 Armoured Division had to be able to advance with a secure northern flank into the position between the salt lakes, in order to achieve this.

The next days would therefore be critical in shaping the operational planning of 8 Army’s next attack.


[1]WO 169/4053, WO169/4982 and WO169/4005

[2]Supported by one section of 25-pdr guns from 2 R.H.A. and one battery (minus one troop) of A/Tk guns from 102 (NH) R.H.A.

[3]AIR54/89

[4]AIR54/16 – curiously the war diary of No.21 Squadron instead refers to an attack on Sert (presumably Sirte), with results that were seen as unsatisfactory due to insufficient reconnaissance being provided.

[5]There was a suspicion that the Italian Corpo Armato di Manovra, or rather what was left of it, was placed there.

[6]AIR27/1241

[7] WO201/396 Personal ciphers from General Auchinleck to Prime Minister Churchill

[8]ADM234/334 Battle Summary 52 ‘The Tobruk Run’

[9]Army co-operation squadrons undertook reconnaissance and/or ground support missions. They were directly

[10]AIR20/2109 Personal ciphers Tedder to C.A.S.

A costly Strike– No 107 Squadron 11 October 1941

No. 107 Squadron was one of two Bristol Blenheim Mk. IV equipped light bomber squadrons on Malta during the time of Operation CRUSADER. It carried out anti-shipping strikes throughout the central Mediterranean, as well as ground strafing of traffic on the coastal road in Libya, and bomb attacks on fixed installations. The squadron was commanded until his death in action by Wing Commander Harte, a South African, followed Flight Sergeant (later Air Marshal Sir) Ivor Broom, and then from December 1941 by W/Cdr Dunlevie, a Canadian. In January 1942 the squadron was disbanded and the remnants moved back to the UK, where they reformed and converted to Douglas Bostons.

Operating light bombers from Malta was not a task which would have been appreciated by a life insurance underwriter. The picture below shows the daring of the pilots quite well, and repeatedly there is talk of ‘attack at mast height’ in the ORB. But many of the crews paid for this with their lives.

Bristol Blenheim Mark IVs of No. 18 Squadron RAF head back for Luqa, Malta, at low level after bombing a target in the port of Locri, Italy. Photograph taken from the mid-upper turret of the leading aircraft. Courtesy of the IWM Collection.

11 October 1941 was a bad day for the squadron. Two Blenheims were lost on operations on the day. The squadron ORB has a good account of this, and the Italian official naval history has a full account of the attack on the small convoy undertaken by No. 107 Squadron. Both are given below. The relevant references are AIR27/842, held at Kew, and La Marina Italiana Nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale Vol. VII – LA DIFESA DEL TRAFICO CON L’AFRICA SETTENTRIONALE Dal 1 Ottobre 1941 Al 30 Settembre 1942.

The convoy consisted of the following vessels:

Steamer Priaruggia, 1,196 GRT, built in 1925. Finally sunk 28 November 41 in Benghazi harbour, when she was hit and blew up during a night raid, still carrying the cargo of ammunition she carried on 11 October.

Steam tanker Alberto Fassio, 2,298 GRT, built in the US in 1914. Finally sunk on 26 July 1943 when it hit a mine off Preveza, Greece.

Escorted by Torpediniera (Spica class corvette, Alcione sub-series) Partenope under the command of Capitano di Corvetta B. de Moratti. Finally lost when she was captured by German troops in dry dock after the Italian surrender, while under repair, and broken up 1945.


Partenope in wartime colour scheme. Courtesy of the U.S.M.M. Italian Corvettes 1881 – 1964, 2nd Volume 1974.

The Royal Air Force view.

11 October

Six Blenheims captained by F/O. Greenhill, Sgt. Routh, Sgt. Broome, Sgt. Level, Sg.t Baker, and Sgt. Hopkinson were ordered to attack shipping in the GULF OF SIRTE. 3,000 lb of bombs were dropped. Total flying time was 20 hrs. 50 mins. At 14.04 hours they located one m/v 3 – 5,000 tons, one Cargo boat 1 – 1,500 tons and one corvette in a position 31.53′ N 15.43′ E. They were escorted by ONE twin-engined monoplane. F/O Greenhill hit the large m/v forward and his aircraft was then seen by Sgt. Harrison to be hit in the belly and crash in the sea as he climbed over the ship. The vessel held fire until the aircraft was 50 yards away. Sgt. Broome attacked the same vessel and hit it aft and left the vessel in flames with grey smoke pouring from it. He was chased by the escort plane which did not get within firing range. Sgt. Harrison saw Sgt. Routh attack the small Cargo boat, set it on fire and then crash into the sea having been hit by guns from the large m/v. Sgt. Leven, Sgt. Baker and Sgt. Hopkinson did not make an attack and brought back their bombs. Four aircraft returned safely, but it is not thought that there could be any survivors from the two aircraft shot down. The crews of the aircraft were as follows:

F/O Greenhill, Sgt. Smith, Sgt. Whidden

Sgt. Routh, Sgt. Parker, Sgt. McLeod.

What is noticeable is the reasonably good identification of the size of the vessels (even though they got the type of propulsion and size of A Fassio wrong), the description of the attack, which claimed serious hits on both vessels even though only one was hit, and that three aircraft chose not to press the attack, presumably because of a mixture of respect for the anti-air defense, and the believe that both vessels might have been finished.

The Italian side – the Italian history uses this case as an example of the strong defense put up by the coastal convoys:

From a practical perspective however, the coastal vessels were anything but easy targets, and not only because of their small size, but because they always reacted very lively, together with the escorting corvette, sometimes inflicting severe losses on the attacker. Many episodes could be cited in evidence, but it is sufficient to give just one as an example; that of the attack suffered on the afternoon of 11 October by a convoy consisting of the steamer Priaruggia, the tanker A Fassio, escorted by the corvette Partenope under Lieutenant-Commander B. de Moratti.

The convoy, which left Tripoli at 1600 hours on 10 October, was attacked by three Bristol Blenheim in low-level flight, about 24 hours later. Regarding this the commander of the escort writes the following in his report:

    At 15.02 the left vessel advised of three enemy bombers which approached the convoy in low-level flight. The formation at that moment was as follows: Partenope in front, zig-zagging, steamer Priaruggia and tanker A Fassio in line abreast (Fassio to the right), with Priaruggia slightly behind. The escorting plane was far off, ahead of the formation. The three Bristol Blenheim planes formed in an offset formation on the left of the convoy, coming roughly from the north-east. Partenope immediately opened fire with its central 20mm gun at a distance of about 800 metres. While turning and climbing the planes dropped a series of small bombs and strafed the convoy with machine guns. Of the bombs, one hit Priaruggia at the base of the funnel, the others drop to the left and right of the steamer, as well as between Partenope and the steamer. Almost at the same time, two planes appear to be hit by the precise fire of Partenope, one in a staggering turn trying to touch down on the water, hitting hard, and then dives into the sea breaking up. The other, on fire, still manages a half turn, then dives into the sea head first, vanishing completely. The third plane carries out a wide turn, then continues to remain cruising for some minutes. During this time three German transport plane pass on the horizon on the westerly route.

I am turning around, and order Fassio to remain in the area, zig-zagging. I am moving towards the life boats and rescue floats of the Priaruggia which, after emitting abundant black smoke and steam, now appears intact everywhere apart from the centre, where it shows damage to the base of the funnel, the masts, and the loading equipment. I am ordering to put the wounded on board of Partenope, and the able to return on board the steamer to prepare the tow. In the meantime I move to the area where the remains of one of the shot-down planes are and where a wounded airman reacts to calls. I set the whaler into the sea to recover the airman and a yellow bag, which contained emergency signalling equipment. The wounded airman is tended to together with the wounded of the Priaruggia. He shows splinter wounds on the right knee and leg, and other wounds on the forehead, the right hand, and the front of his body.

16.00 – 17.58 Fassio extends a tow and commences the turn to move to Ras Cara, in line with my orders. During the maneuver the tow breaks. With a new tow, Fassio moves towards Ras Cara. During the move to Misurata, the tow breaks again. Taking up the tow again to move to Misurata where, by order of Marilibia, the Priaruggia and the wounded have to be brought.

During the last five miles I pull slightly ahead of Fassio, to disembark the personnel.

23.16 – 00.25 Arrival at Misurata. Drop anchor. The Fassio, coming closer, communicates that it has broken the tow for a fourth time, and that neither it nor the Priaruggia have any more cables. It therefore left Priaruggia behind, about five miles off Misurata.

00.25 – 01.28 Leave Misurata and move towards the steamer Priaruggia which I find about four miles at 95 degrees off Misurata with a part of the crew in the launch, about to pull away from the ship.

Communicate to that part of the crew that a tug will soon arrive. At 01.28, with all the crew on board, Priaruggia drops anchor.

I should mention the act of a torpedo operator who threw himself into the sea to rescue the enemy airman while waiting for the launch.

Priaruggia is then towed to Tripoli by the tug Ciclope with the escort of the corvette Cascino, and reaches the port without problems on the 13 November. In the overall account on the positive side are two shot-down enemy planes – one of which, prior to crashing, hits the foremast of the Piaruggia, bursting into flames, and breaking off the mast; – on the negative side the not heavy damage of the steamer which remains immobilised only for a few days.

From the Italian account it is clear that Priaruggia must have appeared very badly hit, but it is also clear that Fassio was neither hit nor attacked. The episode shows very clearly the dangers the pilots on Malta exposed themselves to, and the brutal and very quick end that awaited most of them. Fassio arrived in Benghasi on 13 October.

The lost planes were Z7618 and Z9663. While Sergeant Whidden survived the crash, he died of his wounds in hospital shortly after. (Many thanks to Brian for this information, provided in this thread.) Their loss was not completely in vain however. As is pointed out in this threadPriaruggia was badly enough damaged that she had to return in tow to Tripoli after an initial stay at Misurata. When she arrived (still with the same cargo, including ammunition) in Benghazi six weeks later, after the conclusion of repairs, she was bombed on the night of her arrival, and all her cargo was lost when she blew up.

The statistics below show the activity and losses of No. 107 Squadron during October 1941.

Date

Planes Sorties

Planes Lost

Share

Type of mission

3 October 8 0 Bombing
4 October 8 1 16% Shipping
5 October 2+2 0 Recce/Bombing
6 October 4 0 Shipping/Strafing
7 October 1 0 Armed Recce
8 October 6 0 Strafing
9 October 2+4 2 33% Strafing/Shipping
10 October 2 0 Recce
11 October 6 2 33% Shipping
13 October 4 0 Strafing
17 October 6 0 Strafing/Bombing
21 October 6 0 Shipping
23 October 4 0 Shipping
25 October 6 0 Strafing/Bombing
28 October 4 0 Bombing
29 October 2 0 Bombing
29 October 4 0 Bombing
30 October 4+3 0 Bombing/Shipping

Missions were flown on 18 days, and a total of 21 missions was flown. Total sorties were 88, and losses were 5 planes (a loss rate of 5.7%), all on shipping strikes. What is of importance to note however is that all losses occurred on shipping strikes (2 planes were lost by collision, one of them flown by the squadron commander, the other 3 due to enemy action). So for shipping strikes alone, the loss rate was 14.3%, or rather meaning 1 in 7 planes would not return – quite sobering.

Progress on Books

We think after three years it might be time for an update, also because the project has changed considerably in the course of researching it.

1) Change of Scope

There is a slight change of scope, in that it has now been extended to provide the most extensive cover yet of the Operations of Oasis Force under Brigadier Reid. This will be a stand-alone book, co-authored by me, Andreas, Kuno Gross (co-author of ‘Incident at Jebel Sherif’, ‘The Occupation of Kufra’, and author of ‘The Bagnold Sun Compass’), and Roberto Chiarvetto, who co-authored the former two books with Kuno. This is a book we are very excited about. It’ll be a self-publishing venture, and we hope to have it out by early 2012. More on that in a few weeks.

Nevertheless, the project is still focused on Operation CRUSADER, and nothing else.

2) Change of Approach

The initial intent was to publish a very simple, one-volume history of CRUSADER from the German perspective. In the course of developing this, it became clear that there is no satisfactory treatment of this very important operation from the Commonwealth side. In the conceptualisation of this, it became clear that it will not be possible to fit this into one volume. We have undertaken very considerable archival research at Kew, the UK’s National Archives, to lift a lot of the original unit records, messages, reports, etc., and have by now probably the foremost library on this matter outside the archive.

We will also be giving a much higher importance to the air battle than originally planned. For this we will lean on Michele Palermo’s ‘Le Battaglie Aeree in Africa Settentrionale’ (The Air Battles over North Africa), which covers November and December (see for this link for a preview, and this link to order. As well as Michele’s and Ludovico Slongo’s earlier ‘Ali d’Africa’, the history of 1st Italian Fighter Wing (see this link for preview, and this link to order). Both books are bilingual, and a very important addition to our knowledge. Especially Michele’s Battaglie supercedes Shores and Ring’s prior standard work.

Michele has confirmed that he is interested to work with me on Vol. III, which will cover a period he has not yet addressed in detail.

3) Outputs

First, obviously the book on Oasis Force.

For the main opus, we are now looking at a 3-volume edition, with the first edition to be published in January 2013 (if all goes well). The order will be somewhat off, being Vol. III (El-Agheila and the Counteroffensive), Vol. I (Sidi Rezegh, Tobruk), Vol.II (Pursuit, Gazala, Agedabia, siege and occupation of Bardia and Halfaya). This will follow the way the Germans split the battle into phases. It will also ensure that each volume will have sufficient amounts of things going on to be of interest in its own right.

We are in detailed discussions about a publishing contract for Vol. III, and would presume that the same publisher will go with all three volumes.

We welcome comments on this.

The Cost of War

Every so often it is good to be reminded of the human cost of the events that this blog is talking about. I came across this picture, which shows the German war cemetery at Fort Capuzzo (thanks to Trapperjoe of the Deutsches Afrika-Korps Forum) in a British war diary. Fort Capuzzo had of course seen very heavy fighting throughout 1941. It must have been snapped while driving past on the way to or from the frontline, either in December 41, or in February 42. It is rare to find pictures by British soldiers, since as I understand it, the use of cameras was not allowed, unlike in the German army.

First Battle of Bir el Gobi – What Happened There?

Much has been made of the defense of Biro l Gobi on 19 November 1941 by the Italian Ariete division. One can easily argue that this is where it all started to go wrong for the Commonwealth. But then again, with the possible exception of the taking of Sidi Omar by 7 Indian Brigade, it is hard to see what went right at the start…

Facts

22 Armoured Brigade put in a piecemeal attack on Bir el Gobi early on 19 November. They got checked by the Ariete division and its supporting units, and had to withdraw after suffering losses. The attack was not renewed, instead 22 Armoured Brigade went to help out (and be destroyed in the process) at Sidi Rezegh on 21 to 23 November, and 1 South African Division’s 1 South African Brigade was then tasked with ‘masking’ the Bir el Gobi position. Ariete stayed in the area a few more days before moving off north to participate in the ‘dash to the wire’ on 24 November.

Claims

Now for some of the claims that are being made. These include that 22 Armoured Brigade lost over 50 tanks that day; that this battle was a big victory of the Italian forces; that it demonstrated the prowess of the Italian army at arms; that it derailed CRUSADER; that 22 Armoured Brigade and 7 Armoured Division command blundered into the position, not knowing that Ariete was there; that 22 Armoured Brigade put in a mindless Balaklava frontal charge into the position; that Ariete was supported by German forces; that the Commonwealth forces did not consider Italian tanks serious opponents, and were not aware of their number, underestimating Ariete’s strength; that the Commonwealth command considered Bir el Gobi a defeat at the time.

Sources

War diaries are available online at this link for the three armoured regiments participating (2 Royal Gloucestershire Hussars RGH, 3 and 4 County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters) CLY), with 4 CLY missing November 1941 at this link, unfortunately, and for the 11 Hussars, the reconnaissance unit of 22 Armoured Brigade. 22 Armoured Brigade war diary, and after battle reports and war diaries from 7 Armoured Division are available too, including its message log. None of these conclusively addresses the issue of British tank losses, but taken together they help form a picture. Further material is available in the UK archives, as well as an after action report by Ariete, which is held at NARA, in College Park. War diaries for Ariete are also available. We also have access to the regimental history of the 2 Royal Gloucestershire Hussars, and hopefully soon to that of both CLY regiments, as well as Viscount Cranley’s book about 3 CLY. The UK sources are of variable quality and reliability, and the Italian report is written in that peculiar Italian style…

In our book, we intend to discuss this battle in detail, drawing on the period sources available to us. We hope we will be able to deal with some of the misconceptions at least, and provide as closely as possible a definitive account of the battle. This is just one of the areas where we hope to add to the knowledge of what happened during Operation CRUSADER.