Combat Report Kampfgruppe Briel on Gambut Airfield – 21 November to 3 December 1941

Below a relatively straightforward combat report by Captain Briel, CO of the self-propelled anti-aircraft battalion 606, equipped with 2cm AA guns. The main attack on 23 November was undertaken by 4 N.Z. Brigade, which afterwards was drawn off south. Through its east-facing defence of Gambut, Briel’s Kampfgruppe ensured that the vital rear services of the Panzergruppe which were located north of the Via Balbia, could continue to work throughout the battle. The area was only cleared up by 2 S.A. Division in the middle of December.

The map below from the New Zealand Official History shows this quite neatly.

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AA Btl. 606

COMMANDER                                                                    Btl. CP 4 Dec 1941

 

Battle Report

Concerning the combat of the combat group tasked with the protection of the Via Balbia

 

21. Nov. 41

At 21.00 hours the 20mm platoon of 1st Company, which was tasked with the protection of the ration depot, was tasked with the protection of the supply services of 21. Panzerdivision against advancing English forces.

 

22. Nov. 41

On 22 November I received the order to carry the order to move the supply services to the Ib of the division. When I arrived there, the 20mm platoon was in combat with 6 English tanks, 8 armoured cars, and about 150 riflemen. The riflemen had already crossed the Via Balbia northwards, and advanced on the depot. Realising that immediate and resolute action was required here, I resolved to protect the area of the division with all available forces.

I immediately assembled two rifle platoons from the remaining force of 1./Fla 606, the battalion staff of Fla.606, and riflemen of the butcher company, which through a northern envelopment threw back the English riflemen to the south.

The English laid on heavy artillery fire from the Jebel escarpment into the area 19km west of Bardia and north of this point.

The position was held nevertheless until the supply services of the division and remaining forces had moved off into the new area.

Since not everything could be removed from the depot on this day, I gave the order that the elements present had to hold the position until the next day. From the position MG nests and foxholes were effectively attacked, and losses were caused to the English.

Around evening time the English crossed the Via Balbia northwards with six tanks and riflemen.

Further armoured cars advanced on the Jebel escarpment, deeply enveloping our position.

Thus the danger developed that the small group would be encircled. I waited for dusk, and then avoided encirclement by a change of position.

To allow resistance against the vastly superior enemy, at least for as long as it took to completely remove all the depots, I started to assemble a combat group.

On the evening of 22 Nov. I subordinated to the combat group the 4th platoon of Supply Company 200, to be used as riflemen. A further addition were 2 20mm guns of I./Flak 33.

 

23. Nov. 41

During dawn I moved with the small combat group again into the original position, and prevented the advance of the English. The English again put down heavy artillery fire on the position in order to push us out. But the position was held.

Around 14.00 hours I observed that a strong English detachment advanced rapidly on the Jebel escarpment, and that three armoured cars had already advanced towards the brown house [probably a Casa Cantoniera?] on the Via Balbia.

Since during the day the last columns had moved off to remaining commands, I now saw the main task in preventing the enemy’s advance against the supply services of the 15.Pz.-Div., and especially the tank repair company [Pz.Werkstatt-Komp.].

I changed position with the combat group on the double towards the brown house. When the combat group arrived, artillery fire already lay on both sides of the brown house, and two rifle companies advanced from the airfield in the direction of the brown house.

The security force which had been put on the airfield during the morning had already, according to orders, displaced towards the position south of the brown house. When the six 20mm guns rolled into position at the brown house a 2.5 hour fight developed. I subordinated 2 50mm AT guns and three tanks of Pz.-Rgt.8 which had just come from the Werkstatt.-Kp. to the combat group. With these forces and increasing artillery fire it was not only possible to prevent increasing the advance by the English, but the English riflemen and armoured cars retreated onto Gambut airfield.

During the fight the English put down about 240 rounds of artillery fire on our forward positions. Our weapons fired around 2,000 rounds 20mm.

Around 17.00 hours I subordinated to myself a 150mm howitzer of 9./A.R.33 coming from the Werkstatt, which took the serpentine and the Jebel escarpment under fire, and provided valuable service to the combat group.

 

24. Nov. 41

During the night enemy patrols were repulsed.

During the night I established through reconnaissance the position of the enemy artillery, and following the reconnaissance had the howitzer fire.

The success was excellent. The English battery had to repeatedly change position, the OP could no longer stay on the Jebel escarpment, and the English columns drove in wild confusion on the airfield.

To establish a clear situation for the next night, I faked an attack on Gambut with five tanks and all available riflemen while our artillery delivered a lively fire. The success was excellent.

The English columns moved off south, on the Jebel escarpment south of the airfield armoured cars remained in position as security.

The task which I had set the combat group was fulfilled, even though the enemy was very much superior in weapons and numbers.

The position was held, the supply services of the D.A.K. were protected, and could ensure supply.

 

25. Nov. 41

30 Panzerpioniere [soldiers from an armoured engineer battalion] of Pz.-Pi.-Btl.200 [of 21.Pz.Div.] were subordinated to the combat group. On this day both sides engaged in patrol activity. Results from reconnaissance were constantly passed on to the D.A.K. via the Ib of 15.Pz.-Div.

 

26. Nov. 41

On 26 November I established liaison with Div.z.b.V. to have clarity on the general situation. I received there the order from the divisional commander to hold the position at Gambut under any circumstance in order to ensure the supply of the D.A.K., especially with fuel and ammunition. Following my return I informed my combat group about the meaning of its task, and ordered the position to be built up into a defensive position. The engineers produced moveable barriers, and the guns were dug in.

Also on this day I had reconnaissance carried out to km 16 in the direction of Bardia, and towards the south up the Jebel limit of the airfield.

The incoming results were immediately passed on to the Div. z.b.V. and the D.A.K. by the means mentioned above.

 

27. Nov. 41

During the morning reconnaissance patrol activity by us.

During evening the Panzergruppe and Korps staffs arrived on the airfield Gambut. I reported immediately and established security for the protection of the staffs on the airfield. The chief of staff confirmed the measures taken as correct based on the general situation, and I now received the order from Korps to hold the position under any circumstance because of its immense importance for the assurance of supply.

 

28. Nov. 41

During the early morning of 28 November the guns of the combat group, in co-operation with the guns of 2./Fla-606 which were tasked with the protection of the Korps staff, during an English air attack shot down:

            2 bombers and

            2 fighters

During the day my combat group was temporarily subordinated to Lieutenant-Colonel Knabe [OC PR8]. This subordinated relation ceased however after only a few hours and the combat group became independent again. The combat group of Lieutenant-Colonel Knabe reinforced me with one infantry gun [either 75 or 150mm] and three 37mm AA guns.

29. Nov. 41

By order of Div. z.b.V. the heavy howitzer [the one taken over on 22 November] had to be sent off to the Tobruk front. During the day reconnaissance patrol activity.

 

30. Nov. 41

During the morning lively English reconnaissance activity with armoured cars from east and south against the positions of the combat group. In the area east and south-east of the airfield single English vehicles. During the day I received the order from the Div. z.b.V. to send off all heavy weapons above 20mm, furthermore a platoon of 20mm, and the armoured engineers to the Batallion Kolbeck [see related article].

Because of the time when this move was ordered, the release of these elements from the position could not be missed by the English reconnaissance patrols. Half an hour after the elements had moved off, the English pushed from east and south against my position, which at this point in time was only occupier by 4 20mm guns and some other guns. The fight against the advancing enemy was taken up, as ordered.

Through a despatch rider sent to Div.z.b.V. I succeeded in having the elements which I had been ordered to send off stopped, and returned to my command. [this is an interesting interplay with the situation on the Tobruk front, where the next day Battalion Kolbeck’s attack failed miserably, partially for want of fire support.]

These elements returned on the double to the defensive position and by their immediate use and continuous fire the enemy could be stopped.

The defensive combat lasted until 03.00 hours in the morning. Because all elements of the small combat groups did their utmost throughout, the advance of the again vastly superior in weapons and men English could be prevented.

 

1. Dec. 41

During the night the English brought his artillery into position on the airfield Gambut, and from 06.45 to 10.30 hours prepared a new attack against the Via Balbia. During the time indicated 330 to 340 rounds of artillery were fired by the English on our positions, calibre 80-90mm. The hits in the brown house on the Via Balbia are witness to this fire.

When the English then tried a renewed advance with infantry, this attempt was again repulsed decisively in fighting.

A renewed start to the artillery fire was prevented by the immediate use of the 4th and 7th batteries of Art.-Rgt.33 [of 15.Pz.-Div.] which arrived by accident from Bardia.

These two batteries completely secured the defensive success of the combat group, by forcing the entire British battalion off the airfield by excellently placed fire.

Our immediately started reconnaissance showed that the English retreated onto the Jebel south of the airfield. During the course of the afternoon all heavy weapons had finally to be handed over to Div.z.b.V. on its orders.

 

2. Dec. 41

No combat during the morning.

During the afternoon an English truck column, accompanied by four armoured cars and two tanks, was taken under long distance fire by the 20mm platoon of the combat group which was tasked with securing the airfield.

The column therefore turned and retreated on the Jebel escarpment south of the Via Balbia in the direction of Bardia. At 18.00 hours [difficult to read] a forward detachment of 15.Pz.Div. arrived, which leaguered north of the road and advanced against Bardia early on 3 Dec.

 

3. Dec. 41

I reported the situation and the advance of the forward detachment via Ordonnanz officer to the D.A.K., and received the order:

            The task of the combat group is fulfilled.

            The combat group is to be dissolved.

            Elements Fla.-Btl. 606 will report to 21.Pz.Div.

 

Personnel losses

            2 dead

            13 wounded [3 seriously wounded]

            4 POW

 

Materiel losses

3 guns

1 special trailer

 

At 13.00 hours I arrived with the elements Fla.Btl.606 at the 21.Pz.Div.

The other elements were relieved and sent back to their units.

 

Signed:

Briel

Hauptmann

 

Panzerarmee Intelligence Assessment 6 February 1942

1. Enemy Behaviour 6 February 1942

Reconnaissance activity in the area southeast Mechili by a reconnaissance battalion of 1st Armoured Division based at Segnali. Further improvement of the defensive front B. Hacheim – B. el Harmat – Acroma and north under cover of the security screen formed in the line B. Hacheim by 150th Brigade and the 6th and 7th South African Reconnaissance Regiments of Force E. Recognised in the defensive line: 1st Armoured Division from B. Hacheim to B. el Harmat, following on 1st South African Division to north of Trigh Enver Bey, following on from there probably Polish Brigade. From about 2km south of Acroma to the coast 4th Indian Division with 11th Indian Brigade south of Acroma and north of it 5ht Indian Brigade. XIII Corps in Tobruk, there also 70th Division and 1st light Free French Division as well as 32nd Army Tank Brigade. Aerial reconnaissance noted today only weak traffic between Tobruk and Bardia. At the end loop of the railway 500 wagons and 300 motor vehicles. 

2. Deserters from 4th Indian Division state that of 5th Indian Division only the 29th Brigade is in North Africa. 10th and 38th Brigades of this division are supposed to be on Cyprus. Nevertheless, 38th Brigade has appeared in the radio picture in the area of Tobruk for a few weeks now.

Panzerarmee Afrika

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Panzerarmee Intelligence Assessment 5 February 1942

ENEMY FORCES NORTH AFRICA

Status as of 5 February 1942

1. 8th Army Controls the following formations:

Formation

Estimated Combat Power

Infantry Battalions

Artillery Regiments

Tanks

a) XIII Corps Area Tobruk Gazala B. Hacheim with:

4th Indian Division

5th Ind. Bde (1)

6

2 light

 

7th Ind. Bde (1)

 

11th Ind. Bde

1 medium

 

8 R.T.R.  (2)

 

 

40 (I)

1st Armd. Division

2nd Armd. Bde.

 

1

30 (m)

1st Support Grp.

2

1

 

200th Guards Bde.

3

1

 

Force E

 

1

 

150th Bde.

3

1

 

Polish Bde.

3

1

 

1st Light Free French Div. (3)

5

2

40 (m)

Reinforced 70th Div. (4)
(Remains 32nd Army Tk. Bde.)

9 (garrison)

Fortress Art.

25 (I)

1st South African Div.

6

2

 

 

b) XXX Corps in area SollumBardiaTobruk and south of it with:

2nd South African Division

9 (garrison)

2 light

2 medium

 

(Remains 1st Army Tank Bde)

 

 

 

22nd Armd. Bde (rebuilding)

 

 

30 (m)

 

 

 

 

Total

31

18 garrison

10 light

1 medium

2 light and 2 medium Bardia and Tobruk art.

100 (m)

65 (I)

c) In the Delta and Western Egypt:

7th Armd. Div.

1 brigade ready middle of February

2/3rd 50th Engl. Div.

Occupation Troops

7th Engl. Division

Occupation Troops

12th Engl. Division

Occupation Troops

Elements 5th Indian Div.

Occupation Troops

2 Greek Brigades

Occupation Troops

(1) heavy losses

(2) subordinated from 1st Army Tank Brigade

(3) mechanised

(4) Tobruk garrison 

2. Analysis

In Marmarica there are currently British formations with a strength of 6 – 7 infantry divisions, of which 2 divisions are tied down as occupation troops of Tobruk, Bardia, and Halfway. Also 1st Armoured Division with 60 cruiser tanks and army tank regiments with about 90 infantry tanks.

The enemy formations in the Delta and Western Egypt are tied down there as occupation troops, apart from 7th Armoured Division, of which, according to orientation from the OKH (1), 1 armoured brigade is ready by early February.

The accordingly available British troops ready to take the field (4-5 partially motorised infantry divisions, 150 cruiser tanks and 90 infantry tanks) are only capable of defensive battle. The announced departure of 8 infantry and 2 armoured divisions from mainland Britain has not been noticed yet in the Middle East, according to orientation from OKH. The arrival of infantry divisions has to be expected in the near future, furthermore additions and replacements for the rebuilding of the heavily hit formations.

Whether the British formations sent from home will be used in the Middle or the Far East is not clear yet, but in any case a new British offensive, if any, is not expected before the beginning of April.

(1) Oberkommando des Heeres – High Command of the Army.

 

Panzerarmee Intelligence Assessment 4 February 1942

1. Enemy Behaviour on 4 February 1942

4th Indian Division retreated via Tmimi, Gazala, into the area of Acroma, protected by reconnaissance forces of Force E standing at and south of Gazala. 1st Armoured Division retreated on both sides of the Trigh el Abd, up to the area of B. el Harmat.

The following are to be presumed in the area B. Hacheim – Acroma and north of it during the evening of today: 1st Armoured Division, 150th Brigade, 1st South African Division, Polish Brigade, 1st Light French Brigade and 4th Indian Division.

Overall Impression: It appears that, protected by a security screen in the line Mteifel el Chebir – Ain el Gazala, an enemy defensive line is forming west of Tobruk between B. Hacheim – Acroma and north of it.

2. During January 1942 the below were destroyed or captured:

377 tanks and armoured cars (as well as armoured vehicles)

192 guns

1,220 motor vehicles (most of them destroyed)

50 planes (shot down or destroyed by army units)

3,300 prisoners of war were brought in

3. Tank situation of 2nd Armoured Brigade based on captured papers

a) 16 December 194 arrived at Matruh

Staff 9 M3 and 1 Mk. VI

Bays 17 M3 and 35 Mk. VI

9th Lancers 17 M3 and 35 Mk. VI

10th Hussars 17 M3 and 35 Mk. VI

b) 18 January 1942 at Antelat

Bays – 44

9th Lancers – 46

10th Hussars – 48

in total 138 medium tanks

Panzerarmee Afrika

Ic

Notes:

M3 = US-built M£ Stuart light tank

Mk. VI = British-built Cruiser Mk. VI Crusader

The 16 December total arrives at 163 tanks, the ordinary total expected in a 1941 armoured brigade would have been 166. 

The 18 January total is pre-combat, but after a long approach march, much of it on tracks. This number was also mixed, although the M3 and Mk. VI have not been broken out.

Panzerarmee Intelligence Assessment 3 February 1942

1. Enemy Behaviour on 3 February 1942

Today 4th Indian Division retreated via Derna to Tmimi, covered by rear guards of 5th Indian Brigade at Gasr el Carmysa, Martha, and Si. Umm er Rzem. During the evening hours still combat south of Si. Umm er Rzem. 1st Armoured Division also, at least with elements, retreated from Mechili 40km east.

2. A Polish POW taken near Martuba states: strength French Brigade 5,000 Polish, 900 Czech. In Tobruk there are 3 battalions of French.

3. Assessment of the currently available enemy formations in North Africa

British defensive line in the triangle Tobruk – Ain el Gazala – B. Hacheim is being established. Available for this: heavily hit 1st Armoured Division and 4th Indian Division, Polish Brigade, 1st South African Division (one brigade), 150th Brigade, 1st French Light Brigade, 22nd Armoured Brigade (in replenishment), 70th Division with remains 32nd Army Tank Brigade tied down as Tobruk garrison, 2nd South African Division tied down as garrison Bardia and Sollum front. Therefore available for mobile defense line west of Tobruk at present: about 150 tanks, 18 battalions, 9 light and 3 medium artillery regiments.

Panzerarmee Afrika

Ic

Notes:

In Item 1 the original sentence stated that there was still combat at Si. Umm er Rzem, but then ‘at’ and ‘still’ were struck out and replaced by an unreadable insert, reproduced below. Thanks to Matti for solving this!

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Item 2. was added by hand to the typed report. It should refer to the Polish Brigade, but that is not what is written there. Many thanks to Horst Weber and his mother who helped decipher the handwriting on this thread.

Panzerarmee Intelligence Assessment, 2 February 1942

1. Enemy Behaviour 2 February 1942

Today 11 Indian Brigade retreated in the direction of Derna after giving up its rearguard positions at De Martino.

5 Indian Brigade, evading towards Martha further south, was attacked by German combat groups in the area of Gasr el Carmusa during the afternoon. Group Ergh has retreated up to the area Abiar es Saadi. 1 Armoured Division continues to remain in the area Mechili, reconnaissance forces still northeast of B. el Melezz. Remains 7 Indian Infantry Brigade have pushed through into the area southeast of Mechili following the battles of 29 January. According to radio reconnaissance, 1 South African Division, until now suspected in the area of Bardia, now appears with one brigade in the area of Gazala. 150 Brigade has moved from Mersa Matruh to the area west of Tobruk. It is reinforced in particular with mines, sandbags, aand barbed wire.

2. Overall Impression

Following the evacuation of Cyrenaica, the opponent brings up reinforcements into the area west of Tobruk to establish a defensive line there.

Panzerarmee Afrika

Ic 

Panzerarmee Intelligence Assessment 1 February 1942

1. Enemy Behaviour 1 February 1942

After overcoming determined resistance at Maraua (elements 5th Indian Brigade), German battle groups advanced further east. The advance was delayed by numerous road destructions and mining. During the evening renewed resistance at and north of De Martine (11th Indian Brigade). There recognised 4th Battery.

2. Overall Impression

Opponent continued the evacuation of Cyrenaica on 1 February.