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.

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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.

German armoured recovery

The wartime US intelligence document below gives a good overview of the organisation of German armour recorvery and maintenance.

http://www.lonesentry.com/articles/ttt08/german-tank-maintenance-recovery.html

Recommended reading.

The picture below shows the heavy recovery vehicle in action, in this case on captured almost certainly during CRUSADER, when the workshops of both German armoured divisions fell into the hands of the Allied troops.

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TANK HOSPITAL IN THE WESTERN DESERT. A CAPTURED GERMAN FAMO ZUGKRAFTWAGEN F3 18 TON HALF TRACK HAS BEEN PUT TO VERY GOOD USE FOR HAULING A DAMAGED BRITISH CRUSADER TANK BACK TO THE HOSPITAL. Courtesy AWM.

 

D.A.K. War Diary Entry 27 April 1941

D.A.K. War Diary Entry 27 April 1941

Weather: max. Temp. 19 degrees C

Arrival and departure of subordinated troops:

Arrived by air (personnel)

Staff 15th Rifle Brigade
Staff I./I.R.104
3./S.R.104
4./S.R.104

Arrived in the operational zone:

Staff company S.R.115

Arrived of Div. Brescia:

227th Company 4.7cm ATG

On the frontline of Tobruk continuous active movement at and behind the enemy positions, in some areas limited enemy advances and artillery activity. Noticeably weak air activity.

On Sollum front enemy has apparently pulled back towards the ridgeline 10km east of Sidi Suleiman with one reinforced battalion. No more contact with the enemy on our security line. Our reconnaissance was hampered by heavy losses of armoured cars during the recent combats.

1345 hours order issued to Gruppe Herff to take Point 191 and Sidi Suleiman at 1700 hours following our air attack with a strong assault patrol and to hold it (see that order).

2100 hours reports Gruppe Herff: “As ordered, posts have been pushed out at Sidi Suleiman – Point 191.”[1] The units foreseen for the attack on Tobruk were set in march from the Sollum front following dusk, as outlined in the order “concerning move of formations”. Gruppe Herff was reordered as follows.

In the area Capuzzo – Sollum Battalion Montemurro and one company Battl. Trento, Artillery Battalion Frongia. In Bardia 1 Battl. Trento. A.A.3 as mobile reserve 6km south of Bardia on the road Bardia – Capuzzo. Standing patrols in the line Sidi Omar – Sidi Suleiman – Point 191. Mobile reconnaissance against the enemy across this line towards south and east.

In line with radio communication of 27 April 1850 hours Gruppe Herff was also left with an additional company Kradschuetzen Batl. 15 and one light AA platoon I./18. These were readied as reserve north of Capuzzo to be at the call of Gruppe Herff.

Bombers of Fliegerfuehrer Afrika successfully attacked AA positions in Tobruk.

Elements of 15. Pz.Div. were sent by air to Bengasi. An application was made to O.K.H. for immediate transport to Gazala, since no column space was available to bring these up.

[1]Probably Halfaya Pass. Sidi Suleiman seems to be Pt. 205

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

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

Gambut airfield, located just south of the Via Balbia between Tobruk and Fort Capuzzo, served as a jumping off airfield for the Axis air forces, and was the centre of a vast agglomeration of supply and logistics installations for Panzergruppe, with e.g. repair shops for the armoured divisions close by. 

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Gambut airfield in 1942 after its re-capture. It had become an airfield for the Royal Air Force after CRUSADER. Bundesarchiv.

At the start of CRUSADER it became a backwater, and one that inexplicably was not taken into serious consideration as an objective by the Empire forces, who had their focus on Bardia itself, and the area around Belhamed, Sidi Rezegh, and the Zaafran, probably due to flawed intelligence about the location of rear area services for Panzergruppe. While the airfield was attacked, it was never done in all seriousness, and a relatively weak defense managed to hold on to it until it withdrew as part of the overall retreat into the Gazala line. The failure to take the area and clean it up meant that the repair shops could continue to function and send e.g. repaired tanks back into battle outside Tobruk.

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 after the withdrawal of the combat troops. Hauptmann Briel received the Ritterkreuz for his defense of the airfield.

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

NewImage

Map from New Zealand Official History. New Zealand Archives.

 

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.

 

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North Africa, 2cm AA gun on 1t prime mover, February 1942. Bundesarchiv. Almost certainly one of Haumptmann Briel’s guns.

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 (more likely) 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

 

Initial Transport of the Afrikakorps to North Africa

While not strictly related to CRUSADER, this information is nevertheless of interest and relevance. This post was born from this discussion thread on the Axis History Forum.

Below the initial transports of Army units covering 5.lei.Division (later to become 21st Panzer) and I./Flak 18, as well as some smaller units I guess. Where available the size of the ship is given when it is first mentioned (thanks to Mescal on AHF for this), and any damage due to enemy action is also mentioned. Luftwaffe transports are not included in this. The organisational unit of were small convoys, termed ‘Staffel’ in German. Attached to these were supply ships which carried purely supply apparently, rather than new units.

1st Staffel 8 Feb 41 (back in Naples 18 Feb, so 10-day roundtrip):
Ankara (4,768 GRT)
Arcturus (2,596 GRT)
Alicante (2,140 GRT)

2nd Staffel 12 Feb 41
Kybfels (7,764 GRT)
Adana (4,205 GRT)
Aegina (2,447 GRT)
Ruhr (5,954 GRT)

3rd Staffel 17 Feb 41
Menes (5,609 GRT – torpedoed and damaged on return journey by HM/Sub Regent, who herself was damaged in the counter attack)
Arta (2,452 GRT)
Maritza (2,910 GRT)
Herakleia (1,927 GRT)

4th Staffel 23 Feb 41:
Ankara
Marburg (7,564 GRT)
Reichenfels (7,744 GRT)
Kybfels

5th Staffel 25 Feb 41:
Leverkusen (7,368 GRT)
Wachtfels (8,467 GRT)
Alicante (2,140 GRT)
Arcturus

6th Staffel 1 Mar 41:
Castellon (2,086 GRT)
Ruhr
Maritza
Amsterdam (8,673 GRT – Italian vessel, not sure whether she carried German load)

7th Staffel
Adana
Aegina
Arta
Herakleia
Sabaudia (1,590 – Italian(?) attached as supply ship)

8th. Staffel 5 Mar 41
Ankara
Marburg
Reichenfels
Kybfels

9th Staffel 7 Mar 41:
Alicante
Arcturus
Wachtfels

10th Staffel 12 Mar 41
Castelleon
Ruhr
Maritza
Leverkusen (this was after the famous fire which caused the loss of 13 tanks, according to WD CO Naval Transport)

11th Staffel 14 Mar 41
Adana
Aegina
Herakleia
Galilea (8,040 GRT)
Arta (supply ship)

12th Staffel 16/17 Mar 41
Marburg (16 March from Naples)
Reichenfels (dto)
Ankara (17 Mar from Palermo, re-directed to pick up 150 urgently needed vehicles)
Kybfels (dto)

13th Staffel 19 Mar 41
Arcturus
Wachtfels
Santa Fe (4,627 GRT?)
Procida (1,842 GRT)

14th Staffel 22 Mar 41:
Alicante
Leverkusen
Castellon
Maritza

15th Staffel 26 Mar 41:
Adana
Herakleia (sunk by submarine HM/Sub Utmost off Tunisian coast, 69 out of 206 soldiers on board lost)
Ruhr (damaged by submarine HMS Utmost off Tunisian coast)
Galilea (damaged by submarine HM/Sub Upright on return journey, beached in Tripoli a few days later)
Samos (2,576 GRT – supply ship)

Also 26 Mar 41, tanker Persiano (2,474 GRT) with fuel for the army from Naples.

16th Staffel – 29/30 Mar 41
Marburg (29 March from Naples)
Kybfels (dto)
Ankara (30 Mar from Palermo)
Reichenfels (dto)

17th Staffel – 2 Apr 41
Maritza
Procida
Alicante
Santa Fe

18th Staffel – 8 Apr 41 (last troops of the original contingent)
Wachtfels
Arcturus
Leverkusen
Castellon

19th Staffel – 11 Apr 41 (last load of original units, possibly first load of 15th Panzer)
Ankara
Marburg
Kybfels
Reichenfels

Various Runs – 10 Apr 41
Persiano (tanker – attacked 40nm north of Tripoli by HM/Sub Tetrach, set on fire and sunk)
1st Supply Runs to Benghazi:
Samos from Tripoli
Ramb III (3,667 GRT, Italian vessel) from Naples, effective loading capacity only 1,100 tons due to ballast
Motor sailing vessels for coastal traffic from Trapani:
Rosina
Giorgina
Unione
Luigi
Frieda

The organisation of the transport had to be made with the consideration of several constraints.

1)  Harbour capacity in Tripoli was restricted by a policy of not unloading at night, to reduce the risk of enemy air attacks disrupting unloading and maybe blocking quays by sinking ships alongside. My guess is that at dusk ships were moved off the quays into more open water. This essentially reduced capacity by about 50%, is my guess. See this older post on port capacity.

2)  Ships were of different sizes and speeds, so slow and fast convoys were organised, and optimisation of unloading was an issue, since ideally convoys were supposed to return together.

3)  Italian reinforcement convoys continued at the same time as the German transports, and convoys were timed to reduce the number of ships in Tripoli harbour at any given time. This also indicates the very heavy call on Italian escort vessels, which would have been in service non-stop.

4)  There was a conflict between the Kriegsmarine and the army (Rommel/Halder, who for a change saw eye to eye on something) about the loading of ships. The navy wanted to send troops and vehicles separately, to presumably reduce risk to losing troops if a slower supply vessel was sunk, while the army wanted them to be sent together, in order to have the units immediately ready for action once they hit the quayside in Tripoli. Following a number of ship losses the navy method was adopted.

5)  There was no capacity at first at the receiving end to handle navy matters, and everything had to be run from Italy. This included coastal convoys in North Africa.

6)  Not all ships were available immediately, and arrived in drips and drops throughout the period. Furthermore, not all ships were protected against magnetic mines from the outset.

7)  The Luftwaffe had to be given space on the ships as well, but it wasn’t fully integrated into the transport system, and there appears to sometimes have been a lack of clarity on when supplies would arrive.

8)  AA armament on the ships had to be organised, and when the Luftwaffe refused to provide it, it had to be borrowed from the Italians. This left vessels relatively weakly equipped for AA defense, and they had to rely on the escorts. Navy AA detachments (Marinebordflakkompanie Sued)only arrived during the period. See this older post for AA equipment about half a year later.

Source for all this: War Diary Naval Transport Command South for 1941, while the identity of the attacking subs is based on Royal Navy Day by Day. Many thanks to Dirk for sending this war diary through!

German tanks sent in 1st half of Jan. 42

Until now I believed that a total of 54 tanks  tanks had been sent from Italy to the Afrikakorps on the M.43 convoy on 5 Jan 42. Jan very kindly sent me the loading lists for the convoy. From these, I can ascertain that the actual number was 56 tanks, not 54. Of these there were 47 mediums (37 Mk. III, 10 Mk. IV), and 9 light (Mk. II) tanks. So far, so good in the accounting errors department.

Now however, until today I believed that the next tank shipment was the operation T.18, which delivered a similar number of German tanks. Instead, in the loading lists I have now come across the lists for the German navy lighters (Marinefaehrpraehme, MFPs), which operated out of Palermo, where they were constructed. On 5/6 Jan, MFPs 152 – 159, a total of 8 lighters, were loaded with 24 medium tanks, 15 Mk. III, and 9 Mk. IV, to go to Tripoli.

The trip took them maybe 2-3 days, so this would mean that by about 10 January, a total of 71 new medium tanks had been received in North Africa.

UPDATE 15 June 2012: The MFP convoy was delayed due to a lack of escorts and weather, and only arrived at the end of February, after staying at Palermo for a while. The Panzer III on this convoy were the first ‘Specials’, with the long 50mm gun to be sent to Africa.

For the next trip, operation T.18, and the single runners Wachtfels, Atlas, and Trapani (which carried 10/4/4 tanks for a total of 18) it appears that tanks sent were 3/60/15/2 (Mk. II/III/IV/command tanks), plus 4 undefined, for a total of 84 tanks, of which 66 were on T.18. This convoy is normally given with 71 tanks for the Germans, and a total of 98 tanks (presumably including the Italian tanks).

UPDATE 15 June 2012: Atlas did arrive on 23 January, while Wachtfels only arrived on 23 February, and Trapani only on 7 February probably again due to lack of escorts.

In any case, this would make the reinforcements to Panzergruppe during January 12 light tanks, and 152 mediums/others (112 Mk. III, 34 Mk. IV, 4 undefined, and 2 command tanks).

Update 15 June 2012: given the above corrections, the number would drop back to the original 56 tanks sent with operation M.43. 

I would like to see if this can be confirmed?

Below the document with the chassis numbers:

German loading document for tank transfer Jan 1942

Combat Report 15th Rifle Brigade – 28 Dec 41

Combat Report 15th Rifle Brigade – 28 Dec 41

 

15th Rifle Brigade
?? January 1942
Combat Report
About the attack and pursuit against the English 22nd Armoured Brigade at Uadi Faregh on 28 December 1941
 

At 01.30 hours during the night 27 to 28 December 1941 the following radio transmission for 28 December arrived from D.A.K. at the reinforced 15th Rifle Brigade (Rifle Regiment 115, Regiment 200 minus MG Battalion 2, Artillery Regiment 33 minus one light battalion, two companies tank hunter battalion 33, armoured pioneer battalion 33), which was tasked with defence towards the south and south-east in the area Rugbet el Nagina (about 30 km south of Agedabia): „Group Cruewell destroys 28 December enemy group east of 165. It attacks: Geissler with subordinated elements 08.30 hours direction 165, Mot. Corps 09.00 hours direction 164 left 1. 21. Panzer-Division 07.00 hours from area south-east Agedabia direction south, to be able to take effect at 10.00 hours at 164 left 2. Vaerst to rest at 168 for the moment. Will, when attack of northern group takes effect, depending on development of the situation, attack north or north-east. Corps CP from 08.45 hours with Mot. Corps, 163 right 1.5. Stuka mission foreseen; lots of air recognition panels and flares.”

Map of German attack against 22 Armoured Brigade, 28 December 1941. Rommelsriposte.com Collection

During the 27 December Group Vaerst, standing at the eastern limits of Alem el Turch, had stopped an enemy group which intended to bypass the Agedabia position to the south with significant forces. This enemy grouping was to be destroyed in a concentric attack in the area Chor es-Sufan, before it could attempt further enveloping advance north or south.

For Battle Group Geissler the determination of the direction of the attack was difficult at first, since the Italians did not stand in the location relative to the battle group that was apparently assumed by the Corps. It was in any case necessary (and this was probably in the intent of the higher leadership) for Group Geissler to close up to the Italians as quickly as possible, if the planned concentric attack was to succeed. This demand was determining the choice of the direction of the initial attack.

At 02.30 hours the following orders for the 28 December were given to the subordinated units by phone:

“Enemy situation changed, strong enemy group probably in the area Chor es-Sufan. 07.30 hours stand-to for attack direction south-east inside strongpoints in a way that at any moment an attack, with battalions of S.R.115 in column, can be started.

Regiment 200 (minus M.G.-Btl.2) and Pz. Pi-Btl. 33 07.00 hours ready for move to start behind the S.R.115 already standing-to.

Artillery with elements surveillance direction south-east, with mass from 07.50 hours ready for immediate start behind riflemen.

Both Pz.Jg.Kp.33 ready for departure at 07.30 hours.

Commanders and Commanding Officers of the Pz.Jg.Kp. at 06.30 hours to the Brigade CP. Commander Regiment 200 to bring along radioset. One officer patrol from Pz.Pi.Btl.33 at 06.15 to Brigade CP.

The patrol from the Pz.Pi.Btl.33 which was set off at 06.30 hours has the task to reconnoitre at first in an easterly direction against the enemy suspected there, and to constantly report its observations. If no enemy forces are observed to the east, it has to move south-east. A report about the first enemy contact is of particular importance to the Brigade CO in this situation.

Following the setting off of the reconnaissance, a section consisting of an Ordonnanz officer, an interpreter, and a radio set is set off to the Italian Mot. Corps to establish a connection, especially to co-ordinate the movements of the two formations in time for the attack that is about to proceed. Task:

1.) Establish when, and in which direction, the Italians will start. Which enemy reports are available at the Mot. Corps?

2.) Information about own intent. First report about start and movement direction of the Italians is of particular importance!

During the O-Group at 06.30 hours all commanders are informed about the intent of the Corps, as far as it can be ascertained from the radio order. In addition to the already issued pre-orientation by phone it is added:

“Order of battle for the attack in an at first expected easterly direction: S.R.115 (battalions in column), with them Brigade staff. Right rearwards Regiment 200 with K.B.15 and Pz.Pi.-Bt.33. Behind the rifle regiment the artillery.

Tank hunters protect southern flank, with one company each with S.R.115 and Regiment 200.
A change of the direction of the attack can be expected at any moment after contact is established with the Italians, or on the basis of reports of the officer patrol sent eastwards. Start time foreseen is 08.30 hours. Preparation for defence has to be assured until the start.”

While all units get ready to start, the first messages from the patrol arrive; he has first recognised a large collection of vehicles to the east, which are later identified as Italian. Without further enemy reports, or awaiting the first report of the establishment of contact with the Mot. Corps, start in direction east is ordered at 08.30 hours. At 08.30 hours the Brigade staff drives ahead to S.R.115 which is forming up to start.

The battle group has to surmount some terrain difficulties at first. Reports are sent to Corps that some vehicles get stuck in deep sand. The S.R.115 has particular difficulties with its trucks, only by using prime movers is it possible to slowly cross the difficult sand dunes.

At 09.10 hours visual connection to the Italians is established. The returning liaison officer reports that the Italians did start on the attack in the direction south-east at 09.00 hours, but on foot. At first no forward movement could be recognised.

At 09.14 Corps orders to direct the march south-east and to keep contact to the Italians. A report is made to Corps that contact to the Italians by visual and officer is made and has been established.
At 09.30 combat sounds, in particular strong artillery fire, apparently at Group Vaerst can be heard in the south. The Corps is informed of this.

In the meantime at 09.35 hours the point of the battle group has reached an escarpment offereing a good overview towards south and south-east. At a distance of about 8 to 10 km, from a very good observation position and in clear sight conditions large vehicle agglomerations in an east-west direction are observed in a depression. Furthest to the west about 40 tanks are recognised, also on the northern flank several armoured cars, as well as single tanks, probably to secure to the north.

The opponent appears to no use – albeit too late this time – combat reconnaissance. Single armoured cars are clearly recognisable, approaching the northern escarpment in fast move. The Corps is informed about the recognised enemy. After at 10.00 hours the order has been received from Corps: “Main task to gain ground to south-east, choose best direction after reconnaissance.” and at 10.10 hours a Stuka attack has targeted the centre of the large enemy column, Brigade orders renewed start in direction south-east against the right flank of the enemy in the depression.

The mass of S.R.115 has by now, following surmounting of the terrain difficulties, closed up, and forms up to attack. The first battalion is moved up to the right of the second battalion. About 20 enemy tanks leave the main column at around 10.20 hours and partially move west, with individual tanks also moving north-west and north. The rifle regiment immediately deploys AT guns to cover the regrouping and the change of face into a south-easterly direction. The mass of the tanks recognised in the western part of the depression move ahead south-west at around 10.40 hours. The vehicle columns remain in the original place for the moment.

Regiment 200 receives the order from the Brigade CO, to protect the right flank to follow to the right rear of the attack of S.R.115.

The use of the Pz.Jg.-Kp. Is of particular importance in the attack about to happen, since armoured cars and single tanks are trying at times to move against the battle group from the column. The Pz.Jg.-Kp. subordinated to Regiment 200 has the task to take over tank protection in the right flank.
Following a quick check with the artillery commander, to the rear of the S.R.115, which is advancing with both battalions up front at around 11.00 hours, a heavy battery is deployed to combat the enemy column. The well-placed own fire is very quickly answered by two enemy batteries from the south. The light battalion continues at first to follow behind S.R.115, but then also intervenes in the combat. Unfortunately an effective combating of the numerous and valuable enemy targets is not possible because of a lack of ammunition. Nevertheless the enemy column is at least brought into considerable shock. The sudden appearance of German and Italian troops on the right flank must have completely surprised the enemy.

Because of the relatively strong number of enemy tanks protecting the column the attack can now only be pushed ahead by fire and movement of the AT weapons. The formations of the Mot. Corps are also only slowly gaining ground on foot, leaving the battle group therefore already far ahead.
Since the appearance of Group Vaerst from the south-west can be expected at any moment, the battle group is transmitting to the push group the own location and the most forward line reached, to avoid friendly fire.

After the repulse of some enemy armoured cars which reached close to the most forward elements of S.R.115 by a very dashingly advancing AT gun, the attack, which was delayed for a time due to numerous enemy tanks, is again continued. At 11.50 hours a report about the new start is sent to the D.A.K.

The Brigade receives information at this time that at 12.00 hours Group Vaerst will start the attack from a south-westerly direction. At the same time the radio order is received from the corps: “The decision of the engagement which has to be forced today depends on quick, energetic grappling.”
The enemy artillery, which apparently had not yet recognised the danger threatening from the south-west continues for the time to fire on the battle group, especially on the battery positions, with several batteries. A report is made to D.A.K. that the attack is proceeding, but that about 25 tanks are standing in the south, which delay for the time being a quick move of the battle group, which does not have any tanks. For a time it looks as if the enemy tanks want to turn for an attack north against the battle group. They seem to be unclear about which enemy they should attack, who is the more dangerous opponent for them.

From Brigade the second tank hunter company is made available to S.R.115, which has already deployed its own tank hunters and one tank hunter company ahead of its front, especially to combat the enemy tanks ahead of the right wing. Fire is opened again and again on the closest enemy tanks; local evasive movements are the consequence. Only shortly after 12.00 hours does the mass of the enemy tanks clearly make front to the south-west.

Group Vaerst, which has by now started, can be observed well for the moment from the own height. At around 12.50 hours tank combat ignites there. The Group Vaerst fights over a height with a numerically superior enemy. The artillery of Group Geissler now primarily engages the enemy tanks turning south-west against Group Vaerst, and the artillery protected by them. One heavy battery is silenced.
For the battle group the moment to engage more closely has now arrived. S.R.115 has come across two larger terrain heights secured by infantry forces and single tanks. Against these a planned attack is now ordered. The light artillery battalion is ordered to closely co-operate with the rifle regiment; forward observation officers rush ahead to the battalions. The preparation of the attack against this enemy is reported to the D.A.K. at 12.55 hours. An officer patrol in the southern strip of the 2nd battalion (placed left) is chasing off the enemy armoured cars securing the left height. AT guns of the tank hunters and AT guns of the regiment compete with each other in the combat against the enemy tanks providing security; ahead of the whole front several kills are achieved.

The 21. Pz.Div. has by now advanced well on the left wing of the attack towards the south, and has, in particular with its artillery, intervened effectively in the fight from the north-east. In the enemy column furthest east movement has started. The Italians on foot are still hanging behind considerably, only participating in the fight with their motorised artillery.

Around 13.00 hours at S.R.115 the impression rises temporarily that the enemy tanks advance to attack against the regiment. The tank hunters successfully take up the fight on the right, where the enemy is strongest. The still strongly occupied height before the right wing of the regiment is taken under effective fire by all heavy infantry weapons and the artillery which are in use.

Ahead of the 21.Pz.Div. rearward movements in the direction south-east and east are now recognised. Now elements of the vehicle column in front of the regiment also start to evade south-east, covered by artillery and with numerous tanks providing security. The own fire is, as far as is still possible, increased; the lack of ammunition of the artillery is unfortunately especially in this moment quite noticeably to our disadvantage.

Around 13.45 hours it becomes known that the attack of Group Vaerst has come to a halt in front of built-up positions, but that that the continuation of the attack has been ordered after regrouping. The sound of fighting to the south-west has considerably decreased at this time.

The attack by S.R.115 now continues to gain ground also on the right. The 30 to 40 enemy tanks still present on and in front of the height opposite the 1st battalion S.R.115 are however a considerable threat to the right flank of the battle group, which can be eliminated by an attack of Group Vaerst towards the east. On the request if a new task has been given to Group Vaerst, the corps orders continuation of the attack to Group Geissler, and informed that Group Vaerst stops for the moment.
Around 14.30 hours the Brigade CP, which advances in the sector of the S.R.115 recognises a rearward movement of the enemy tank agglomeration in front of Group Vaerst. This recognition is immediately passed on to Group Vaerst and also the the D.A.K.

The rifle regiment has by now taken the height in front of its right wing and continues to advance south-east. The Brigade CO now pushes the battle group to special speed. Again it appears as if several enemy tanks, despite the already started rearward movement, are turning against the own right flank. Tank rounds are hitting in the rows of the battle group; Group Vaerst, according to a radio report, also thinks it possible that the enemy tanks may turn away north. The immediately starting concentrated fire of all available AT guns makes this intent, should it have been present, impossible. The mass of the enemy tanks is now turning to rapid flight in south-easterly direction. The enemy vehicle columns have by now moved off further to the south. Artillery and tank hunters fire continuously into the retreating enemy; further tank kills are achieved.

The battle group has started the pursuit in south-easterly direction on a wide front. The enemy answers only with single batteries. Also Group Vaerst, to which a liaison officer has been sent, has again commenced the attack and pursues the fleeing enemy tanks, pushing past the right of the disputed height in the direction south-south-east.

The 21.Pz.Div. has made a wide move south and inflicted heavy losses on the fleeing enemy. The Italians are advancing quickly, but are hanging behind considerably since they are on foot. Only single Italian tanks and parts of the motorised artillery can follow the attack echeloned to the left rear.
Around 16.00 hours a group of 20 enemy tanks makes a temporary front again before the S.R.115 and fires into the pursuing battle group. The heavy fire of all immediately deployed AT guns forces it to turn away again soon. Additionally the threat of the Group Vaerst advancing on the right has become to big for the enemy. He turns to flight so quickly that touch with him is almost lost. The enemy artillery fire has now also almost completely stopped. Around 16.45 hours the forward elements of S.R.115 have reached the Uadi el Faregh. The location and the still available, sharply reduced fuel volumes, are reported to the D.A.K.

While Group Vaerst continues to pursue the evading enemy in rapid speed, the pursuit is stopped around 17.00 hours by order of the Brigade CO, after 21.Pz.Div has also come to a stop. The left battalion of S.R.115 has already crossed the Uadi with the tank hunters. After a Stuka attack into the fleeing enemy, the tank hunters shoot up another three enemy thanks; then the connection with the enemy is lost.

At 17.30 hours Group Vaerst also stops the pursuit. On request to the D.A.K. regarding the next steps the final stop of the attacks is ordered.

South of the Uadi el Faregh, a rifle platoon reinforced by AT guns is used for security. Both tank hunter companies assemble at the level of the Brigade CP according to orders to be at the disposition of the Brigade CO. The units of the battle group disperse widely, take up night positioning, and re-supply. After establishing contact with 21.Pz.Div. rest starts.

The closing report of Battle Group Geissler to the D.A.K. is sent at 18.30 hours, and reads:
“Up to the end of the attack enemy in fast retreat south and south-east. Battle group stopped at 169 left 3, to the left rear of Group Vaerst. 21.Pz.Div. about three km to left rear. Own forward security on skyline south of own location. Established so far 15 tanks killed, 12 POW made, five trucks captured. Enemy tank partially new type, apparently US production. Own losses only low.”

As follow-on it could be reported to D.A.K. 30 minutes later that according to the pioneers tasked with the total destruction of all killed enemy tanks the number of killed enemy tanks had increased to 26.
According to radio transmission from D.A.K. from 22.00 Battle Group Geissler was again subordinated to 15.Pz.Div. Connection was established immediately by liaison officer and radio.

The night passed quietly after this day which was such a success for our arms.

Geissler

The British side of this battle can be gleaned from the war diary entries of 28 Dec 41 the 22nd Royal Gloucestershire Hussars and 4th County of London Yeomanry, who were part of 22nd Armoured Brigade then. They are available at this link for 22nd RGH, scroll down to the bottom of the page and at this link for 4th CLY, scroll down again.