Artillery Statistics for Middle East Command 4 November 1941

Artillery Statistics for Middle East Command 4 November 1941

On 5 November 1941 Middle East Command issued a complete list of guns present in Middle East Command. This is preserved in WO169/949 in the UK National Archives, and reproduced in the table below. In an earlier post I had published the medium artillery numbers. It can be found at this link, and is from the same document.

25-pr and Quad, 22 Dec 1941

Instrument of war during the triumphant pursuit in late 1941. “A 25-pdr field gun and ‘Quad’ artillery tractor, 22 December 1941.” (IWM E7245)

Large 000000arty

 

Artillery as a killer during the retreat in December 1941. “The result of an Italian ammunition column which came under our heavy shellfire near Derna.” (IWM E7309)

MOST SECRET

ARTILLERY SITUATION IN MIDDLE EAST

AS AT 4 NOVEMBER 1941

(excl. CD and AA)[1] 

COPY NO. 16

CRME/3612/RA

5. Nov. 41

APPENDIX “A” ATTD.

1. ARMAMENT FD. ARTY (a) Guns in Units – 25-pdr Mk II on Mk I carriage

Unit

 

Number of Guns

 Remarks

Seven British Fd. Regiments at 24 each

4 RHA, 60 Fd, 51 Fd, 31 Fd, 72 Fd, 74 Fd, 124 Fd)

168

 

Nine British or Ind Regts at 16 each

1 RHA, 2 RHA, 104 RHA, 107 RHA, 1 Fd, 4 Fd, 8 Fd, 25 Fd, 28 Fd)

144

 
1 S.A. Div Arty

 

64

(4 S.A. Fd Regt short of men)

2 S.A. Div Arty[2]

 

72

 

1 N.Z. Div Arty

 

72

 

6 Aust Div Arty[3]

 

72

 

7 Aust Div Arty[3]

 

72

 

9 Aust Div Arty[3]

 

72

 

Two Army Fd Regts RAA

 

48

 

Polish Carpathian Arty

 

16

 

1 Greek Fd Regt[4]

 

24

 

Schools and Depots

 

20

 

L.R.D.G.

 

1

 

144 Fd Regt

 

Nil (Armed with a variety of weapons in Tobruk)[5]

Total:-

 

845

 

 

 

 

 

 (b) Available not yet issued:-

Unit

 

Number of Guns

 Remarks

En Route to Tobruk

 

20

(8 for Polish Fd Regt + 12 for 144 Fd Regt)[6]

In Ordnance Depots

 

144

 

Total:-

 

131

 

 

 

   

  (c) Advised and released:- 

Convoy[7]

 

Number of Guns

 Remarks

Guns of 11 RHA

 

24  
W.S.12

 

20

 

R.246 

 (Slow Convoy)

20

 

Canadian, 

 Oct – Dec prod.

66
U.K. production 

 Oct.

48  
 Total:-

 

186  

 Note:- 8 25-pdrs have been despatched to E Africa. (d) Total 25-pr guns in M.E.

Status

 

Number of Guns

 Remarks

Shipped and advised

 

1162  
W.E. of 40 Fd Regts 

 at 24 guns each

960

 

Reserves Complete equipments

202

 

  Carriages only 104  
  Barrels only 72  
  Jackets only 6  

 (e) 18/25-pdrs

Location

 

Number of Guns

 Remarks

Base Depots

 

8

 

Ordnance Depots

 

14

 

Total:-

 

22

 

 

 

   

16 have been despatched to East Africa. A certain number of carriages have been used for 18-pdr. pieces in order to raise the standard of 18-prs Mk V sent to India. Large 000000port

New Zealand 2-pdr anti-tank gun mounted on a truck in the portee role, 3 December 1941. This  photo became the basis for a painting by Peter McIntyre. (IWM E3743E)

2. A-Tk Weapons (a) Guns with Units

Unit

 

2-prs

 18-prs

3 RHA

 

36

 

102 A-Tk

 

36

 

65 A-Tk

 

48

 

73 A-Tk[8]

 (late 73 Med.)

48

 16

7 N.Z. A-Tk

 

48

 16

1 S.A. A-Tk

 

48

 16

2 S.A. A-Tk[2]

 

48

 16

2/1 Aust A-Tk[3]

 

72

 

2/2 Aust A-Tk[3]

 

36

 

2/3 Aust A-Tk

 

 

Tobruk

 (149 A-Tk etc.)

40

 9

4 Ind Div A-Tk Coy

 

9

 

Greek A-Tk Bty

 

3

 

Cyprus

 

4  

Schools etc.

 

1

 

 Total:-

 

 437

 73

 (b) Available not yet issued:- 

Unit

 

2-prs

18-prs

In Ordnance Depots

 

15

11

In ports

 (ex SS Steelworker)

48

 

En Route to Tobruk

 

8

 

 Total:-

 

 71  11

  (c) Advised and released:-  

Unit

 

2-prs

18-prs

Guns of 76 A-Tk

 

36

 

W.S.12

 

54

 

Canadian Prod. UK Prod

Jul – Sep

Oct

50

76

 

 Total:-

 

216  

 (d)  

Status

 

2-prs

18-prs

W.E. of THREE A-Tk Regts

 at 36 guns each

108

 

W.E. of NINE A-Tk Regts

 at 64 guns each

576

 

W.E. of TEN Div Recce units

at 12 guns each

120

 

Total:-

 

804  
2-pr guns in M.E.

 shipped and advised

724

 

No. of 2-prs therefore

 required immediately

80

 

In addition a further 16 2-prs each will be required  to complete 

THREE A-Tk Regts, arriving in future convoys, from 48 to 64 guns

48

 

Total 2-prs 

required therefore

128

 

 

 

   

  (2) 37 mm Bofors A-Tk Distribution:-  

Unit

 

37 mm Bofors

Remarks

Tobruk

 

26

 

4 Ind Div

 

18

 

Ordnance Depots

 

12

 

Total:-

 

56  

 (c) 47/32mm Distribution:-  

Unit

 

2-prs

Remarks

Tobruk

 

42

 

L.R.D.G.

 

6

 

Ordnance Depots

 

6

 

Total:-

 

54  

(g) Note:- 6 18-prs Mk V were despatched to India in Sep., a further 18 are being despatched this month.

NOTES:

[1] CD – Coastal Defense, AA – Anti-Aircraft
[2] At El Alamein, with one battery with ‘E’ Force
[3] In Syria [4] Not in action during CRUSADER
[5] The famous ‘Bush Artillery’, mostly captured Italian guns.
[6] These guns would have arrived and been issued prior to operations commencing
[7] None of these guns would have made it to the theatre before operations commenced.

[8] One battery with ‘E’ Force

British and US tank deliveries to Egypt July 1941 to January 1942

In previous posts I have provided information on German (at this link) and Italian (at this link) tank deliveries to North Africa. At the request of David, here’s an overview of tank reinforcements sent to Egypt. It is broken down by convoy, except for the US deliveries, for which this information is not available. Here instead I have used the closest report to month end (they were issued weekly to the Prime Minister), taken the ‘in theatre’ number for that report, and substracted the ‘in theatre’ number for the previous month-end report. So e.g. for end July 40 M3 Light are reported ‘in theatre’, while for end August 109 are reported. August deliveries are therefore 69. It’s not perfect, but in the absence of convoy information it’s the best I can do. I hope readers find this useful.

What is clear from the table below is that the allied supply chain outdelivered the Axis chain by a very considerable margin during this period. In fact, it delivered more tanks in these six months than the Germans managed in the more than two years they shipped tanks to North Africa! The convoys that did this were the W.S. series (nicknamed ‘Winston Specials’). You can find detailed information about the movements and arrival times at this link or at this link. I noted in particular the delivery of 60 M3 light tanks on W.S.12, the only ones to come to Egypt via the UK. I wonder who decided on that…

What is shocking however is to compare the number of deliveries with the number of tanks operational on 7 February, in this older post, and that is where it becomes clear why this high level of deliveries was desparately needed to stay in the game in North Africa.  With 1,184 tanks delivered, and another 356 on hand, substracting the 100 that had been sent to Burma with 7 Armoured Brigade, but adding another 66 M3 Medium that had arrived in the interim, leaves a total of 1,506. Yet on 7 February only 350 were operational, i.e. less than had been operational on 2 July 1941, while another 893 were estimated to undergo repairs and maintenance, and 36 M3 Light were with 10 Armoured Division in Palestine, making for an estimated total of 1,279. This implies 227 total losses, but this was quickly revised upwards, to an estimate of 390 (180 Crusader (sic!), 130 M3 Light, 80 I-tanks). I believe to these losses have to be added the losses of 7 Armoured Brigade and 1 R.T.R., which were equipped with older Cruiser marks, and this would increase losses by another up to 150. By 9 February GHQ M.E. had decided that older Cruiser marks were no longer considered for the tank strength return, since they had become obsolete and/or so worn out not to matter anymore on the battlefield. Total losses of about 540 cruiser and I-tanks sounds believable to me.

In terms of types, I would guess about half of the UK I-tank deliveries would have been Matilda II, the other half Valentines. For the British cruisers, most if not all of them would have been Crusaders, I would guess.

Convoy

 

Month of Arrival

M3 Light (Medium)

UK Cruiser

I-Tank

Light Tank Mk. VI

Armoured Cars

W.S.8b 07/41 12 14
W.S.8x 07/41 50 50
W.S.9 07/41 20 20 251
US 07/41 402
W.S.10 08/41 21 30 251
US 08/41 69
W.S.10x 09/41 1663
US 09/41 53
W.S.114 10/41 30 60 35 501
US6 10/41 152(2)
W.S.12 11/41 60 124 52 35 831
US6,7 11/41 9(1)
US6 12/41 97(11)
W.S.12z 01/42 55 381
Totals  By type 480(14) 478 226 65 221
Totals 1,184 tanks
227 Light tanks and ACs

1 Humber Armoured Cars (probably Mk. I), could also include a small number of Daimler Armoured Cars

2 Includes 4 M2A4, mentioned here for completeness.

3 22 Armoured Brigade

4  Remainder 1 Armoured Division

5 AA tanks with Besa Quad MG mounts, belonging to 1 Armoured Division, but lent out on arrival to 1 Army Tank Brigade.

6 Number in brackets are M3 Medium tanks received in theatre during the month.

7 8 M3 Light reported as ‘lost at sea’

On a side note, Churchill was not a happy man about the situation with conflicting tank strength reports, as shown by this rather cranky note of his:

Prime Minister’s Personal Minute – Serial No. D223/1

Colonel Jacob.

Where are the 120 odd [tanks] which were to have arrived on the 8th [July], and where are the rest of the first 60 Americans? Why did the Minister of State say the other day “We have only 100 tanks fit for action” when you show 211? Are these figures telegraphed from Cairo, or do you make them up here, or do the War Office.

W.S.C.

23. 7. 41

Colonel Jacob probably thought ‘Ouch!’ when he read this.’ His reply then explained the matter a bit further, and is quite clear in what probably went on regarding the difference, explaining that the difference probably related to tanks unloaded from W.S.8(b) and (x), but not yet received by a depot in the Delta, tanks undergoing minor repairs, and excluding the tanks in Tobruk. Still, poor Colonel Jacob could probably have done without this…

8th Army’s Order of Battle and Tank Strength after CRUSADER – 7 February 1942

8th Army’s Order of Battle and Tank Strength after CRUSADER – 7 February 1942

Background

On 7 February 1942 the War Office in London reported to the Prime Minister on the state of forces in North Africa,as it was known at the time in London. The document can be found in WO216/15 in the National Archives in Kew. It shows how much the main units which participated in the battle had suffered.

Disposition of Troops in Cyrenaica & Egypt
Sector Command Formation Remarks
(a) Western Desert
  (i) 13 Corps
    1 S.A. Division Less one Brigade
    4 Indian Division [1]
    200 Guards Brigade [2]
    150 Infantry Brigade Group [3]
    Free French Brigade Group  
    Polish Brigade Group  
    Six Armd. Car Regts.  
    Reserve column from 1 Armd. Divn. Under command H.Q. of 1st Support Group.
  (ii) Reserve in forward area[4]
    1 Armoured Divn Less Reserve column and 200 Gds. Bde.
      Temporary Composition of division is:
      H.Q.
      2nd Armd. Bde.
      Composite Rgt. From 22 Armd. Bde.
      200 Gds. Bde.
      1 Support Group
    38 Indian Inf. Bde. [5]
  (iii) In Frontier and Railhead area under command of H.Q. 30 Armd. Corps
    1 Army Tank Brigade  
    2 S.A. Divn.  
    7 Indian Inf. Bde. Reorganising[6]
(b) British Troops in Egypt
  (i) At Mersa Matruh
    5 S.A. Bde. Reorganising[7]
  (ii) In Delta and Canal Areas
    2 N.Z. Divn. Reorganising and training
    7 Armd. Divn. Less 7 Armd. Bde sailing for Far East – reorganizing and re-equipping[8]
    22 Armd. Bde ex 1 Armd. Div Re-equipping[9]
    32 Army Tank Bde Elements only; awaiting reorganisation
    3 Indian Motor Brigade Shortly arriving from SYRIA as reserve for VIII Army.
    Two British infantry battalions Including one M.G. Battalion
    Three Indian State Forces battalions  
    One Czech Infantry battalion  
    2 Armd. Divn Remnants only; awaiting reorganisation[10]

Notes

[1]The division had fought all of Crusader and all three of its Brigades, 5, 7, and 11 had suffered heavily.
[2]The Brigade would not have been in a good state.
[3]New arrival, fresh troops.
[4]These units were around Tobruk and the Libyan/Egyptian border. The list is missing ‘E’ Force.
[5]New arrival, Tobruk garrison.
[6]The brigade had escaped (barely) from Benghazi, losing about 20% of its strength there. 
[7]The brigade had been overrun at Sidi Rezegh. 
[8]Only two regiments were sent. See below.
[9]The division was only made up to its full tank strength by mid April 1942.
[10] This was the division that had been overrun in April 1941 during the Axis advance. It never was reformed.

Crusaderrepaired

Large E 007014 2

 

Tank State

The same document also gives the tank situation in the Middle East, and it is here that we can see very clearly the hammering the Commonwealth forces had received in the recent operation, but also the effort that was made to rebuild them. A document in the same folder, from mid-October, shows the expectation that by 1st November the 8th Army would be able to field 508 cruiser tanks (340 British of varying marks, 168 US M3 tanks) and 150 infantry tanks, and this number almost certainly excluded the 95 British tanks in Tobruk (28 Cruisers and 67 Matildas).

 

Distribution of Tanks in Egypt and Cyrenaica as known in War Office on 7.2.42
Status Cruisers Infantry Tanks Remarks
Serviceable Tanks      
Cyrenaica      
2 Armoured Bde. And composite Regiment from 22 Armoured Brigade 128   Including tanks handed over by 22 Armd. Bde.
Frontier Area      
1 Army Tank Bde.   111  
Delta Area      
4 Armd. Bde 106    
Base Ordnance Depots   5 Ready for the field by 15th February
(b) Tanks in Command not accounted for above (i.e. tanks under repair and being made desertworthy and in use as training vehicles) 654 239  
Estimated total in Egypt and Cyrenaica 888 355  
Note: Exact figures for tank casualties are not known in The War Office. The above figures are therefore based on estimates only.

A more detailed document from around the same time gives the following figures, including Tobruk:

  • Cruisers British 372 + 29 immediate reserve;
  • Infantry Tanks 189 + 38 immediate reserve;
  • Cruisers US 166 + 32 immediate reserve;
  • light tanks 94.
  • Total Cruisers and Infantry Tanks: 628.

Tanks under repair/inspection and unloading in the Delta:

  • Cruisers British 66;
  • Infantry Tanks 48;
  • Cruisers US 91;
  • light tanks 14.
  • Total Cruisers and Infantry tanks under repair/inspection and unloading: 205.

Total number of tanks in North Africa:

  • All types, cruisers and I tanks (excl. light tanks): 833, of which 75% were available for the operation.

This shows that by February the number of tanks in North Africa had risen to be higher than before CRUSADER, but that the number of operational tanks was lower, even though it was still substantially higher than the Axis tank numbers. Nevertheless, in the forward area the numbers of tanks were about even with possibly a slight numerical advantage to the Axis, and more importantly, the quality of tanks would have strongly favoured the Axis forces.  Not a comfortable situation, and again the lack of fuel supply meant that the Axis could not exploit this situation.

One book-keeping item to keep in mind is that 7 Armoured Brigade was sent off with two regiments and 106 M3 tanks (if I recall correctly) to the Far East. Had that not been the case, the number of operational tanks would have been more comfortable to Middle East command in Cairo.

The Tobruk Breakout from the Other Side of the Hill

The Tobruk Breakout from the Other Side of the Hill

Background

The text below is the translation of the evening report of Div.z.b.V.Afrika for 21 November 41, the day the Tobruk garrison started its breakout.

Operations of Div.z.b.V. Afrika

On 21 November the division was under pressure from two sides. 7th Support Group with 7th Armoured Brigade attacked S.R.155‘s (Rifle Regiment 155) positions on the escarpment from their position at Sidi Rezegh, while the Tobruk garrison attacked the strongpoints at Belhamed, occupied by the reinforced III./S.R.155, III./IR255 and III./IR347 (3rd battalions of infantry regiments 155, 255 and 347, respectively) from inside the perimeter, with considerable support from the infantry tanks of 4 RTR and D Squadron 7 RTR. The experience of a platoon of III./IR255 has been detailed in an older entry at this link. In the present entry, the official German version of the events of the day, as reported up the chain of command, is given. In the future I intend to translate the war diary entry of the division for this day.

The evening report is a masterpiece of not directly telling the unpleasant news from the siege front. It starts by referring to the attack which was repulsed on the right wing, failing to mention that it succeeded on the left wing, and then goes on to list the positions still held. But it does not refer to the positions the division actually lost, so the recipient of the report would need to get a map of the strongpoint system to figure out himself where the Tobruk garrison was now established (which I have done). Even though it never says so, it is clear that the division did not have a particularly good day, also indicated that the intent for the next day was defensive, instead of counter-attacking to retake the lost ground.

 

Map of Tobruk Fortifications in Breakout Sector – German Map based on Italian/British data. Rommelsriposte.com Collection

Day 1 of the Tobruk Breakout – Progress

It is a bit tricky to get the German and British accounts to match, because the British reports are in the context of their objectives, which did not completely overlap with the German strongpoints. With that said, the events of the day as I can make them out (and this is really a work in progress) were roughly as follows:

  • 0630 – D Squadron 7 RTR and 2nd King’s Own take parts of position 19 (objective Butch) on the northern edge of the breakout area, opposite R73.
  • 0630 – An attack against position 13 (Tugun) by 2nd Queens fails.
  • 0715 –2nd Black Watch take part of position 18 (Jill). 2nd Black Watch advances on their objective. A company 2nd Beds and Herts is installed to hold it.
  • 0750 – 2nd Black Watch is reported to be in trouble behind Jill.
  • Time uncertain – B Squadron (reserve) 4 RTR attacks position east of Tugun (could be part of position 14) and hands it over to the infantry. It then moves on to support the 2nd Black Watch which by now is held up before objective Tiger. The Italian artillery battalion referred to in the daily report was probably at this position, since 2nd Black Watch reported taking 12 field guns (one battalion) here.
  • 1015 – A and C Squadron 4 RTR and remnants of 2nd Black Watch take position 16 (Tiger) after heavy losses to the infantry and many tank casualties. This was the battalion HQ .
  • Time uncertain – A troop each of A and C Squadron 4 RTR attack position 11 (Jack) on point 145 and take it. This was the battalion HQ of Major Maythaler, III./IR155 (reported missing in the daily report below).
  • Time uncertain – British tanks push on to Carmuset Beludeah to the southwest, but are repulsed.
  • 1545 – D Squadron 7 RTR tanks with 10 Matildas and B Company 2nd Queens reinforced by A Company of 2nd Beds and Herts, and supported by three regiments of field artillery (72 guns) within an hour from jumping off quickly take the eastern end position 13 (Tugun) on the southwestern edge of the breakout, opposite R65.

Intelligence Failures

It appears that the reconnaissance prior to the attack had failed to understand completely the extent of the fortification system (as it had missed the fact that the Italian troops had been relieved by Germans), and if one looks at the German and the British maps at the same time, it is clear that the British had only a weak understanding of the siege front system, and I wonder how much the British units replacing the Australians did actually patrol and/or how successful they were.

There is also a bit of apologia going on in at least some Empire publications, where it is claimed that the presence of Germans was a surprise (correct) because they had only moved into the Italian positions 2 days before the breakout. This statement is not correct, as the war diary of Div. z.b.V. makes very clear – the Germans had moved in 10 days beforehand, and were very active patrolling themselves. They had been issued Italian uniforms for deception reasons, but this would of course not helped in case of a man being captured.  From Auchinleck’s despatch it appears that the breakout was primarily planned on the basis of aerial photography, and this probably accounts for the lack of real understanding of the fortification system, and its occupants.

 

Official Reports

1) Evening Report of Division z.b.V for 21 November, from IWM Captured German Records Archive, Duxford

Div.z.b.V.Afrika

Divisional Command Post, the 20 November 41

Dept. Ia

Added by hand:

Transmission time 20.15 hours

No. 211/1 Ia

Evening report for 21 November 41

After repulsed enemy tank attack before right wing division holds strongpoints 1, 2, 20 in forward line, 5, 6 in rearward line. Mass of artillery at and north of Bu Amud.

Belhamed occupied by reinforced Pi.900 [Pionier/Engineer Battalion 900, an independent unit consisting of two sapper companies attached to Div.z.b.V.] without 1st company. Divisional reserve S.R.155 holds escarpment south of Sidi Rezegh until west of [Point ]171 (5 km south of it). About 30% losses.

Pz.Jg.Abt.605 [Panzerjägerabteilung/Anti-Tank Battalion 605 – an independent anti-tank unit with 27 self-propelled Czech 4.7cm ATGs in three companies of 9 vehicles, mounted on partially armoured Pz.I chassis – you can see pictures at this link; a total of 202 were built]with one company at Afrika-Rgt. [361 – a regiment formed of former members of the French Foreign Legion and attached to Div.z.b.V.]. Remainder to 80% casualties. Afrika-Rgt. holds position, hardly any losses.

Enemy attacked with one tank battalion, with at least 50 heavy Mk.II/R.T.R, accompanied by one infantry battalion. Breakthrough between defense works 64 and 71 [of the Tobruk defenses originally built by the Italians]. Follow-up push direction south-south-east, later turning in to east-north-east. Enemy tank spearhead in southern direction on Belhamed broke through with 6 tanks, and there destroyed. The division destroyed on Tobruk Front 18, at S.R.155 25, total 43 enemy tanks. 8 prisoners, including one Major, brought in.

Losses and Casualties:

Missing:

Major Maythaler

3 reinforced companies

1 Italian artillery battalion with weapons

Of I.R.155 [typo, should probably be S.R.155] and

Pz.Jg.Abt.605 numbers not known yet.

Afrika-Rgt. 361 one man dead, 7 wounded (including one officer)

Losses in weapons: 13 4.7cm ATG at Pz.JG.Abt.605

Intent for 22 November:

Defense of currently held position, strongpoints 1, 2, 20, 5 and 6. Mine belt laid before Point 145 (2 km southwest Sidi Scegheilif) via 146 (2 km south of it) – 1 km southeast of it.

One company each north of strongpoint 5 and 6 of Italian battalion I./40 [1st battalion 40th Regiment, one of the infantry regiments of Italian 25th Infantry Division “Bologna”]. Div.Bologna intends to create new strongpoint at Carmuset Beludeah for 2 reinforced companies.

D.A.K. [Deutsches Afrika Korps]has subordinated Afrika-Rgt.361 to 21.Pz.Div. [21st Panzer Division]since 16.00 hours 21 November.

For the divisional command

The First Officer of the General Staff

Signed – unreadable

2) The evening report from TOBFORT states the success of the day, and indicates the range of units that were caught and the damage inflicted.

To: 8th ARMY (R) 30 Corps
From: TOBFORT
21/11/41
T.O.O. 2200/21
T.O.R. 1443/22*

IMMEDIATE

During morning first phases of attack successfully carried out.
BUTCH 422420 TIGER 423417 JACK 424419 Captured.
Some delay in operations due to strong resistance at TUGUN 418418.**
TUGUN captured by 1530 hrs.
Counter attack 1730 hrs. successfully driven off.

Situation tonight.
Strong posts captured having been consolidated and are held by 14 BDE.
32 Tank Bde leaguering inside perimeter through gap minefield.
Out tank casualties on Mine Field fairly heavy.
About 1100 prisoners captured of which half are GERMANS.

Identifications.
GERMAN 3 Bn 2(55?) Inf. Regt.*** 3 Bn 155 Lorried Inf. Regt. This last was called 3 Bn. 268 Inf. Regt. until 6 weeks ago.
ITALIAN. The whole 1 Battery 205 Arty Regt. BOLOGNA killed or captured.**** 2 Bn 16 Inf. Regt. SAVONA. P.W. states only Mortar Pl. of 16 Regt. remained in TOBRUK area.
2 Bn. 44 Inf. Regt. BOLOGNA 1 Bn 40 Inf. Regt. BOLOGNA. H.Q. (including C.O.) of unknown Bn. 40 Inf. Regt. captured at TUGUN.*****

Losses

As a consequence of the twin failure to understand the extent of the fortifications, and the thickening of the siege front in this sector, losses were high amongs the attackers. The worst experience was that of the 2nd Battalion The Black Watch, which suffered 79 men killed and 197 wounded out of 612 men who started the attack, and is detailed at this link.

The tank destruction claims made in the German report below are believable. Total infantry tank casualties (of all types, i.e. repairable included) in the Tobruk breakout on 21 November amounted to 11 in D Squadron 7 RTR, and 32 in 4 RTR, out of the about 65 that they had started with. Many tanks were damaged on mines. In the end, many of the tanks were recovered and repaired however, e.g. 4 RTR reported only 12 total write offs for the whole of Operation CRUSADER. In addition to the Matildas, the 26 cruiser tanks of 1 RTR also advanced, and the next day 8 of them were serviceable, bringing total tank losses for the day (excluding light tanks, of which a number were also lost or damaged) to 61.

History’s Verdict?

The Australian Official History (Tobruk, Ch.11, Ed Duda) sums the day up as follows:

It had been a day of great achievement . A wedge three miles deep had been driven through one of the strongest sections of the encircling defences. To secure the corridor against sniping and cross-fire, further operations would be required, but it was already possible for garrison forces to debouch into the open desert, whatever perils might lie beyond . Five hundred and fifty German prisoners (including 20 officers) and 527 Italian (including 18 officers) had been taken, but at great cost in loss of life . In the 2/Black Watch alone, there were 200 dead.

Despite it being over optimistic (there is no way the garrison could have ‘debouched into the desert’ on 22 November, in my view, and the error on the numbers killed for 2nd Black Watch, I believe this assessment to be far closer to the truth than the dismissive view of the events given by the evening report of Division z.b.V. Apart from the considerable number of POWs taken (for which I have what appears as a different set of numbers in a message by Tobruk Fortress HQ to 8th Army of 23 November, namely 449 German and 834 Italian), there were also 10 105mm guns and 12 75mm guns captured. The breakout severely damaged the Bologna division, causing heavy losses to all the infantry battalions in the 40th Infantry Regiment, and destroying the heavy artillery battalion of 205th Artillery Regiment, as well as one of the light battalions.  After this day the division can only have been a shell for the remainder of the battle.

Notes

* Note the time it took to be received.

** So much for the idea that the Italians were not fighters…

*** This battalion was destroyed on this day, it was not requested that it be rebuilt in the wash-up after CRUSADER.

**** On 23 November, with no major further action, TOBFORT reported 10 105mm and 12 75mm guns captured. By 1600 of 23 Nov, 449 Germans and 834 Italians had been captured in the breakout. Of these 4/37 Germans and 4/36 Italians had been captured on 22 November, when WOLF 426415 and LION 421415 had been seized without opposition, and TUGUN fully occupied.

***** This seems to have been 1 Bn 40 (42?) Infantry, of which on 22 November 2/3rds, including the C.O. and 3 officers are reported captured.

Many thanks to Stephen Walton of the IWM for his invaluable help.