Sidi Rezegh After Action Report – 3./Flak 33

I have previously posted the some AARs on the pivotal battle of the campaign, the destruction of the Allied forces on the Sidi Rezegh landing ground on Sunday of the Dead, 23 November 1941. The report by Ariete Division’s di Nisio column can be found at this link, and that of 6 NZ Brigade at this link.

The report below is from one of the less glamorous German units, an anti-aircraft battery that was subordinated to 15. Panzerdivision’s armoured regiment, Panzerregiment 8. It provided the link between the advancing Panzerregiment on the right (east) and Ariete’s column on the left, during the final attack on Sidi Rezegh.

The battery was equipped with four 8.8cm dual-purpose guns and supported by 2cm light AA guns. More information from a period document can be found at this link.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fd/Bundesarchiv_Bild_101I-443-1574-26,_Nordafrika,_Flakgesch%C3%BCtz.jpg

German 88mm AA gun in firing position in North Africa, June 1942 (courtesy Bundesarchiv via Wikimedia Commons) 

 

COMBAT REPORT

Concerning combat actions of 3./Flakregt.33

from 19 November to 15 December 1941

From 19 November, at the time the code word “Hochwasser” (High Water) was transmitted, 3./Flakregiment 33 was subordinated to Panzerregiment 8 for mobile use. After moving into the concentration area and following that into the alarm area, the following combat actions took place from 20 November:

[…]

23 November Afternoon

1.) Subordination: I./Pz.8[1]

2.) Task: as on 20 November 1941[2]

3.) Operation and combat activity: During the afternoon of this day strong enemy forces were attacked in the same area[3]. The battery was tasked on the left wing of the armoured battalion, and on its own left was connecting to the Italian division Ariete[4] which also attacked. Because of the fast advance of our tanks, as well as dispersedly positioned enemy infantry the battery could, due to the intense MG and rifle fire, not keep up the connection to our tanks. On the other hand the advance of Ariete proceeded only slowly, so that the gap between the two armoured units continued to increase. The enemy recognized this situation and attempted to enter into the gap with a group of tanks supported by infantry, to disturb the attack from the flank. The battery therefore drew all the enemy fire in this space onto itself. Despite strongest opposition it held its position to the beginning of dusk, and thereby prevented the realization of the enemy’s intentions.

4.) Successes:

Destruction of:
5 Cruiser Mk. IV
2 Armoured Cars
1 artillery battery in firing position
20 trucks
1 MG position.

Enemy infantry was engaged with airbursts and fire from 2cm guns.

5.) Ammunition used:

66 AT Shells
33 HE shells contact fuse
36 HE shells timed fuse

6.) Losses

a) Personnel:
1 NCO and 1 OR KIA
1 Off. wounded
7 OR wounded

b) Materiel
1 prime mover with special trailer Type 201 destroyed by direct artillery hit 

Notes

[1]1st Battalion Panzerregiment 8
[2]Task: Support armoured attack and defense against enemy armour acting as tank accompanying battery.
[3]Given as 20km south-east of El Adem. 
[4]Di Nisio column 


 

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3b/Burnt-out_88_mm_Flak_36_near_El_Alamein_1942.jpg

Destroyed 88mm AA gun with prime mover (Sdkfz.7) and Sonderanhaenger 201, El Alamein 1942. Courtesy of Australian War Memorial via Wikimedia.

Ariete’s Actions on Totensonntag – Italian Report

The report below originates from Ariete’s files held at NARA. It is the official after action report from the command of Ariete’s 132nd Tank Regiment, and covers the actions of the Colonna di Nisio (see an overview of its organisation also at this link) during the battle of Totensonntag, November 23, 1941, when it operated with the D.A.K. to destroy 5 South African Brigade and the remainder of the Allied forces on the Sidi Rezegh air field. It is probably the only source other than the war diary that quantifies the losses in tanks that Ariete suffered on the day.

I have written up the war diary at this link.

132 Armoured Regiment Command Staff

Report on Actions at Bir bu Cremisa

23 November 1941 – Year 20 of the Fascist Era

On higher orders, under the command of Brigadier General di Nisio, Deputy Commander of the Ariete Division, an armour-mechanised column  was formed, consisting of two companies of the 8th Tank Battalion and two of the 9th Tank Battalion, one group of 75/27 [guns], one light detachment of portee trucks with 65mm guns, two battalions of Bersaglieri, and two (?) sections of 20mm guns. Its task was to move into the area Bir bu Cremisa, to work with the German forces coming from Gambut. At 08.30 hours, leaving behind in the zone of Bir el Gubi the remainder of the tanks and vehicles, the column, pointing east, moved to reach the target destination.

At about 09.50 hours, after only a few kilometres, enemy vehicles coming from the north-east were recognised.  The column continued its march with the tanks in the van, and most of the vehicles closing up. The tanks pushed forward decisively, and soon were in contact with the enemy elements, leading to lively engagements which the adversary however managed to extract himself from thanks to the higher speed of his vehicles. – About 10.00 the column has to stop because of signs of violent artillery fire from flying enemy batteries from the centre of resistance. The stop is protracted until 13.00 hours and the tanks, in reaction to the situation, form a defensive front with the 2 companies of the 8th facing north, and the 2 of the 9th facing out. At about 13.40 hours, coming from the north-west, a great dust cloud announces the arrival of a column with a certain strength of numerous vehicles. At 14.00 hours the Italian and German forces make contact, fusing into a block of steel that now points, in straight union, at the enemy forces advised to be in the area. After a brief halt, the German forces move pointing in the direction of Bir bu Cremisa, and the Italian forces remain on their left, with the same objective. At 14.25 hours the Germans close up with the enemy from the north, while our armoured vehicles find themselves embroiled with similar English vehicles. At 16.00 hours the fight shows itself to be violent and decisive. The tanks move on the attack in waves, in combat formation, and sustain the collision with resoluteness, stopping various British vehicles in the area. The light artillery of the C.A.M. is launched on the left flank and in-between the M.13 with the order to support with anti-tank fire the fire of our armoured vehicles. The German forces meanwhile continue their operation to annihilate, with their flank protected by our forces. Intense fire from the field artillery continues amid the clash of tanks while dense high columns of smoke engulf the horizon. Close-knit formations of planes survey the area incessantly in search for opportunities to strafe, but are frustrated by the immediate intervention of the anti-air artillery.

At 17.00 hours the struggle does not abate but rather increases in fury and intensity similar to that which happened during the encounter at Bir el Gobi. Regardless, all the tanks proceed orderly with their advance extinguishing the last resistance of the adversary. At 17.30 hours the English waver and rescue the last surviving vehicles, by moving to flee. During this time the daylight diminishes, and the dark gathering on the horizon renders the flames of the fires even more lively. An endless line of similar fires on many places shows the line of retreat of the enemy. German and Italian forces, cooperating closely, now find themselves among the remains of the defeated enemy, as they were during their decisive action of destruction. Also during this action, like the previous one, the tank men have been above any praise. They demonstrated their superb aggressive intent and their sense of unity with their weapon up to making the supreme sacrifice. Against the numerous but unquantifiable losses of the English and an immense number of prisoners stand one dead and four wounded, and two tanks lost (fuori combattimento) and three lightly damaged.

An Assessment of the M3 Stuart Tank

From June 1941 onwards US-built M3 Stuart (nicknamed ‘Honey’ by their British crews) were issued to the 7th Armoured Division. They equipped only 4th Armoured Brigade. The documents below are from the records of US Colonel Bonner Fellers, the US Military Attaché in Cairo. They are an interesting insight into how the M3 Stuart was perceived after its first battle.

It should be noted that Bonner Fellers was a critical observer of the British operations, although it is worth noting in this instance that his views on the M3 are echoed by British sources, e.g. at this link. Nevertheless, in my view the second para of the second note is slanted and highly misleading about the comparative performance of the British and US tanks.

It is also worth noting that whereas contemporary British documents refer to the M3 as ‘Cruiser, American’, i.e. giving it the same designation as e.g. the Crusader, Bonner Fellers correctly refers to it as a ‘Light tank’.

It is also noteable, if only by their absence, that the Italian tanks and guns are not mentioned at all.

No. 279

Milid, Washington from Duke.

Part 1. Following is based on notes brought in from Libya by Mente, who collaborated with Cornog and Piburn.

On 18 November at 05:30 a.m. the 4th Armoured Brigade consisting of the 8th Hussars and 3rd and 5th Tank Regiments began approach march from Alam el ta Lab, equipped with 166 American Light tanks M-3. They covered approximately 70 miles to bivouac that night at point on Trig el Abd near Gabr Meliha. One tank was delayed by clogged fuel line but it rejoined its column at next halt. From various sources it is reported that 22nd Brigade, equipped with English cruiser tanks, lost by mechanical failures anywhere from 7 to 41 tanks in an approach march of 20 miles.

4th Armoured Brigade was attacked on 19 November by approximately 100 tanks of 21st German Panzer Division in vicinity of previous night’s bivouac. Germans had heavy anti-tank guns accompanying each wave of tanks during attack, British had none. Panzer division driven off. There were no casualties in 3rd and 5th tank regiments; unreliable casualty reports list 22 tanks of 8th Hussars missing, of which 15 are known to be destroyed and 7 unaccounted for.

Damage to vehicles consists mainly of broken tracks, tank fires, broken turret rings and damaged suspension system. Apparently armour plate quality superior to that of Germans.

30 November 1941

Part 2. Following interesting facts revealed from all personal observations.

No observed complete penetration to front sloping plate, front tank doors, nor gun shields. Final drive housing struck by what is believed to be 6-pounder armor piercing projectile was dented with no effect on operation.  One penetration reported by armor piercing 6-pounder on edge of door next to T member, numerous penetrations of side plates and back plates with no effect on operation of vehicles. A number of tanks damaged by hit on the sprocket, breaking the teeth; damage to suspension system on the bogie saddles, side plates, and springs. Several tanks were observed with punched rivets. Vehicles were able to return for repair on own power in most cases. Radio performance has been satisfactory although some tanks which were struck by anti-tank fire had radio put out of commission immediately.

All personnel enthusiastic about 37 MM gun. Best range under 1200 yards which gave Germans with heavier weapon slight fire power advantage. The 37 mm will penetrate front sides and rear of German Mark III and Mark IV tanks.

1st December 1941

[…]

It is obvious that American tanks carried the brunt of attack during the first three days of fighting. Personnel of 4th Armoured Brigade are enthusiastic in their praise of American tanks and they have developed confidence in thier vehicles never before known in British Army. This action has conclusively demonstrated to all concerned that the American light tank for its weight is the most mobile, the best armored amd by far the most reliable vehicle in the Western Desert. End of message.

Fellers

So from this, it appears that the M3 was really the little tank that could. Within a few days however, which presumably included the receipt of additional information on what actually happened around Sidi Rezegh, the picture darkened a bit.

No. 309

Milid, Washington.

Part 1. With 8th Army, 2 December.

To include 29 November, 58 American M-3 tanks had been recovered from battlefields. Of these 36 have been repaired in the field. Fourteen of the 22 disabled tanks remaining are a total loss from thermite shell; status of remaining 8 is undetermined. Sixty American tanks have been sent forward; 40 more are in Libya awaiting crews. Including 30 November actual loss of American tanks is estimated at 88.

British have not disclosed their tank losses to me. However, 7th Armored Brigade is out for at least 3 months; on 23 November 7th Brigade had naught tanks battleworthy, on 25 November 6 were battleworthy. 22nd Brigade is refitting in rear area; on 22 November 22nd Brigade had 30 tanks battleworthy, on 25 November 46 were battleworthy. The presumption is the American M-3 has stood up far better under fire and field service than have the British tanks, since American tanks in 4th Brigade have undergone more combat than did 7th or 22nd Brigades.

[…]

Part 2. It is the belief of the British that American M-3 is the fastest, soundest mechanically and most maneuverable tank in Libya. It is outranged, however, by German tanks with 50 mm and 75 mm guns. German tanks shell effectively the M-3 tank from positions beyond effective range of the 37 mm gun, place it at a costly disadvantage.

The 37 mm gun, in a gunnery test with tanks stationary, was slightly superior to British 2-pounders in accuracy, penetration, and rate of fire. However, because the British tank has better internal communications and a power traversed gun platform which rotates with the gun, British claim their tank fire is more effective in battle than that of the American M-3. Automatic breech block is recommended by the British as imperative safety precaution.

German 88 mm anti-tank guns and 75 mm thermite projectiles were most effective against American tanks. Thermite projectiles penetrate, explode inside tank, burn for hours, destroy tank.

Fuel capacity of American M-3 is lower than British and German tanks. Fuel capacity for a minimum of 100 miles is necessary for offensive sweeps which are likely to be followed by combat under conditions which prohibit refueling.

[…]

It is my belief that the M-3 tank is fundamentally sound and when employed with a balanced tank force it needs no basic change in design. British have M-3 as an assault weapon against tanks with superior fire power in the absence of other tanks.

Conclusion: the 37 mm gun has proven to be too light against German Mark II [sic!] and IV tanks.

Fellers

5 December 1941

The conclusions here appear confused. On the one hand the tank needs no change in design, but on the other it can’t be used against tanks with better guns (which would be about any enemy tank it was likely to encounter in the desert), because its gun is too light. Which essentially makes it a short-ranged armoured car, or the equivalent of the German Mark II tank, which had been relegated to protection of supply columns against roving British columns at this stage, but was no longer fielded on the battle field.

bellman

‘Bellman’, an M3 Stuart tank of 8th Hussars, 7th Armoured Division, knocked out near Tobruk, 15 December 1941. IWM Collection (Object 205203664)

 

Further information relevant to the M3 can be found in earlier posts at this link and at this link.

Here is an interview with a 3 R.T.R. veteran, Alan Wollaston, who was at Sidi Rezegh. The part relating to the Western Desert begins at 22:45 mins. He was with the regiment when it was re-equipped with M3 tanks, describing them as wonderful, fast, even though only equipped with a 2-pdr gun, but which they made up for by developing tactics to flank the enemy tanks. He says the crews were ‘very very pleased after the slower English tanks’.

http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80011648

There is a very vivid description of how he became POW at Sidi Rezegh, and his subsequent escape.

17 November and Sunday of the Dead 2013

Not sure how often this would happen, but today the start of Operation CRUSADER and the day by which the anniversary of its most famous engagement, the second battle of Sidi Rezegh on Totensonntag (Sunday of the Dead), is known, fall on the same day. They originally were on 17 and 23 November 1941, respectively.

Below some links from this blog on the battle of Totensonntag 1941.

6 New Zealand Brigade on Totensonntag

Italian Armoured Division Ariete on Totensonntag


Ariete’s Contribution to Sidi Rezegh – di Nisio Column

The official report in the Italian files is already posted at this link. This post brings together more detailed information.

After its defensive victory over 22 Armoured Brigade at Bir el Gubi, Ariete Division remained in the area until 25 November, when it moved off east in pursuit of the supposedly beaten 8 Army. Preceding this however, Panzergruppe Afrika requested support for the encirclement of 7 Armoured Division at Sidi Rezegh. At the order of the Corpo Armata di Manovra, which controlled Ariete, a mobile force was detached to support the Afrikakorps in its fight against 7 Armoured Division. This post gives a timeline and order of battle for this column, which was named after its commander, Brigadier-General di Nisio, Deputy Commander of the Ariete Division.

1. Order of Battle and strength (estimate)

Force Element Equipment Est. Strength
Command

Regimental Command 132nd Tank Regiment

Signals, command vehicles Not known
Armour

8th Tank Battalion

M13-40 2 companies, 30-34 tanks, depending on losses at el Gubi

9th Tank Battalion

M13-40 2 companies, 30-34 tanks, depending on losses at el Gubi
Infantry

5th Lorried Bersaglieri Battalion

Mortars, machine guns 2 rifle companies, 1 machine-gun company, mortars (estimate)

3rd (?) Anti-Tank Company

47/32 AT guns 12 Anti-Tank guns
Artillery

1st Artillery Group

75/27 guns 12 guns (light)

Flying Battery of 2nd Artillery Group

65/17 guns 4 guns (light) (not clear)

Battery of Field Guns

105/28 4 guns (field)

Battery of Lorried Artillery

102/35 guns 4 or 5 guns (old but powerful naval guns)

What is clear from this, the uncertainties notwithstanding, is that this was a well-balanced force of armour, artillery, and infantry. A very considerable step above the force balance the Empire troops were fielding at this time.

2. Timeline and Map

Day/Time Event
23 November
0800 Departure from Bir el Gobi
1300 Joins German column coming from North-East and receives orders to accompany this column from German commander (either Cruewell or Neumann-Silkow). German records give the time of contact as 12.35, at a point 12km north-east of Bir el Gubi.
1400 – 1900 Joins combat at Bir el Gubi. German records show that Ariete was supposed to start at 1400 together with 15. Panzerdivision, covering its right flank. The German attack started at 1500, Ariete reported being in combat at 1600 with enemy armour, which is confirmed by German after-action reports – a group of British tanks attacked from the left into the path of Ariete and the flank of 15. Panzer. The late start led to the flank of 15. Panzer to be uncovered, which caused severe problems to its advance. At the end of the fight The di Nisio column claims 153 POW, amongst whom 3 officers, and large quantities of materiel.
24 November
Morning The column is ordered to rejoin the division which in turn is order to join the pursuit of the 8 Army. The column rests in place, awaiting the arrival of the division. It comes under artillery fire.
Evening The column rejoins the division.
Map of the battle of Totensonntag from the Afrikakorps war diary.  Lighter text and drawing showing Empire troop positions.

Map of the battle of Totensonntag from the Afrikakorps war diary. Lighter text and drawing showing Empire troop positions.

3. Commander

Brigadier General Ismaele di Nisio had an interesting wartime career. Prior to the war, as Lieutenant-Colonel, he authored two training pamphlets, on tanks in combat and infantry patrols. Following his stint as deputy commander of Ariete, he may for a short time have taken over as acting commander, and then rose to command the armoured Young Fascist division (No. 136) during the Gazala battles and at El Alamein. On 8 September 1943, the day of Italy’s surrender, he commanded the 47th “Bari” Infantry Division in Sardinia. He remained a royalist and contined in active command of 9th Corps and the Puglia & Lucania Military District in southern Italy until the end of war.

4. Pictures


Italian soldiers resting in front of a M13/40 tank. From the Bundesarchiv digital collection


Captured 65/17 gun on a (captured) Morris truck, North Africa 1942, from Wikipedia


102/35 gun captured by Empire troops, from Wikipedia


A Bersagliere in North Africa uniform with the typical feathered helmet. From the Italian Army website.

5. Sources

  • War diaries
    • Ariete Division
    • Deutsches Afrikakorps
    • 15. Panzerdivision
  • Web sites

 

The Short but Violent Operation CRUSADER of 6 RTR

In the Wehrmacht, there apparently was a joke that the life of a gunner in the assault artillery was short, but exciting (so much for Germans not having any humour). The same could be said for the participation of 6 RTR in Operation CRUSADER.

There has been an assumption on the internet that the war diary of 6 RTR for Operation CRUSADER has been lost. This does in fact not appear to be the case, and it seems simply to be the case of Liddell-Hart being a bit careless in filing… As before, great thanks are due to the staff and volunteers at the Tank Museum Archives, Bovington, UK.

6 RTR was one of the three armoured regiments in 7th Armoured Brigade, 7th Armoured Division, 30 Corps, 8th Army. The Brigade advanced along the centre line of the division and pushed furthest during the initial phase of the advance, reaching almost to the German siege lines of Tobruk when it seized the Sidi Rezegh airfield on 19 November. After an already exciting day on 20 November, on 21 November the regiment was put into an attack that saw it being annihilated, in a classic screw-up of war. The remains of the regiment left the airfield on 23 November and passed out of CRUSADER into the rear area of 8th Army and to Egypt. It is quite likely that individual crews of the regiment and officers were assigned to replacement tanks joining the battle, but the regiment itself was spent, and would not see action again until May/June 1942.

It is difficult to comprehend what the commanders on Sidi Rezegh (Brigadiers Campbell of Support Group and Davey of 7th Armoured Brigade) were thinking when they ordered 6th RTR to undertake this attack into what must have been known to be a strong position. While Davey after the war appears to blame Campbell (who by then was conveniently dead, as was the Division’s GOC, Gott, meaning they could not defend themselves), his own report written shortly after the operation notes it as a mistake that he allowed 6 RTR to attack, because it split his tank force (with drastic consequences for 7th Hussars (see this older entry), and the battle itself). There is a good discussion at the Axis History Forum on this link.

November 1941 -Missing [see RTR/6RTRdesert.doc]

What appears to be an original is in a separate/older and has ink annotations, probably by Liddel-Hart.

Diary. 6th Royal Tank Regiment. November 1941.

1.-10 Training by Squadrons with emphasis on gunnery.

6.11.41 Major G M Warren joined the Regiment and took over the duties of regimental 2 i/c.

11.11.41 Regiment moved to area Alam el Rs.

12.11.41 Gunnery practice.

13-16 Training by Squadrons.

17.11.41

Operation Order No 4 issued (Appx A); Regimental intention to move to area 440378 with a view to taking up battle positions there

1000. Replenishment party left for Pt 181.

At last light regiment moved into close leaguer. Regimental strength 40 tanks.

18.11.41

0530: Regiment left leaguer area in close column moving out into trident (C Sqn leading) at first light.

0930: Crossed the wire south of gap 75.

1000: Regiment reached Pt 181 and replenished by squadrons.

1200: Regiment continues to advance along divisional axis in the same formation.

1730: Regt arrived at Gabr Fatma (446372) and leaguered for the night with DD Battery RHA.

19.11.41

0600: Regt moved out into open leaguer where necessary maintenance and refueling was carried out. [L-H note: Why so long delays?]

1200: Verbal orders issued for move to Sidi Resegh. C Sqn leading B Sqn protection left, RHQ & A Sqn. Lorry camouflage was dropped.

1630; Aerodrome to south-east of Sidi Rese h, on which enem aircraft could be seen, spotted by leading troop ofC Sqn. Regt attacked and captured aerodrome, little resistance being offered by the defenders. One aircraft shot down in attempting to escape; two transport planes, 17 fighter aircraft and 60 prisoners captured, several other aircraft already destroyed upon the ground.

1800. Regiment leaguered on NE edge of aerodrome with HDD battery RHA and A Echelon. During the night the leaguer was approached by a German patrol which was driven off and 6 prisoners taken by scout car troop under Sgt Hopwood. Enemy movements all night, they appeared to be working quite openly, with no regard to noise made, and seemed to be bringing up guns of some sort from the valley to the north of the regiment’s position. Three times during the night small arms fire was directed into the leaguer and was returned by sentries. All this activity kept everybody awake and inside their tanks.

20.11.41

0500 approx: small arms fire and A/T fire of considerable intensity was directed into the camp from the NE. A Verey light put up from C Sqn revealed a considerable concentration of infantry and A/T guns to the NE. A/T guns and tanks also opened fire at extreme range from NE. another Verey light was put up from rear of the regiment which revealed our position clearly. The regiment engaged the enemy position with MG fire. DD Battery RHA withdrew to the south and took up a position. Several B vehicles ofA1 echelon were destroyed. Two tanks were hit, 2/Lt Hancock, A Sqn, Cpl Hallahan A Sqn and Tpr Bulbick C Sqn were killed.

0600 approx: an attack was carried out on the enemy positions to the East by a troop of A Sqn under Lt Jackson. 15 enemy AT weapons being destroyed. One tank of ours was knocked out and towed out of action. The Regiment continued to engage the enemy until 0930, when they were ordered to withdraw to the south of the aerodrome. Later in the morning the regiment took up position in defence of the aerodrome, A Sqn facing west, B Sqn north, C Sqn east. During the rest of the day the regiment stayed in these positions, whilst an artillery duel took place between our gunners and the Germans, our tanks helping to observe.

During the day B Sqn destroyed one German Mk 1 tank and some infantry. During this action Lt Permuy, Sgt Dunning and Cpl Baker were wounded.

A troop of C Sqn under Lt K Fidler was sent out to investigate the right flank and destroyed one medium gun. Two of our tanks were put out of action, but were towed out safely. L/Cpl Knott was killed. Several tanks rejoined the regiment in the afternoon after having been repaired by their crews.

At dusk the regiment leaguered on the SE corner ofthe aerodrome with A Company 2 RB. B Echelon was attacked b a formation of diver bombers, SSM Cowie being killed.

21.11.41

0600: Regiment moved out of leaguer and took up the same positions as the previous day. Orders received for and attack to be made to the NW with 2 RB with orders to seize and hold the cross-roads at Sidi Resegh and make contact with 38th Bde [this is definitely wrong] who were to attack from Tobruk towards Ed Duda. Start line was from SW corner of aerodrome. A Sq’s task was to occupy Pt 167 (432404), establish 2 RB in that area and protect the left flank of 60th [KRRC] who were making a similar attack on our right with 7th Hussars (though this regiment was later withdrawn to meet an enemy attack from the east.) B & C Sqns were then to go through, capture the cross-roads and link up with 38th Bde at Ed Duda.

0830: Regiment crossed the start line. A Sqn reached their objective with 2 RB. 5 Mk II German tanks, one M13, one 105 mm gun, several AT guns destroyed and 300 prisoners taken. 2/Lt Mitchell’s tank was knocked out and Lt Jackson wounded. The remainder of the Regiment in order RHO, B Sqn, C Sqn, then passed through. Strong enemy gun positions were encountered in the valley to the north ofthe aerodrome, some guns were destroyed, but the attack was stopped after several tanks had reached the escarpment north of Trigh Capuzzo.

During this action the following were killed, wounded or missing:-

LtCol M D B Lister, commanding officer

Major G M Warren, 2 i/c

Capt J R Cuttwell, Adjutant

Lt E Delson, Intelligence officer

2/Lt T R Price, HQ Troop commander

Major F C K M Laing, MC. commanding C Sqn

Major F Miller, commanding B Sqn

Lt M S Hutton, B Sqn.

Several tanks from C Sqn and two from B Sqn were left. these rallied with A Sqn at Pt 167 making a total force of 17 tanks under the command of Capt S D G Longworth OC A Sqn.

6rtr

Operations on Sidi Rezegh Airfield – 20 Nov 1941. Courtesy of CAB44/92

1200. The Regiment being now out of touch with 7th Armoured Bde was put under orders of the Commander Support Group. It was reported that some enemy tanks were approaching from NE. The Regiment formed line ahead and attacked, a brief action took place in which some of the enemy tanks were destroyed, the remainder withdrew rapidly. The Regiment rallied on the aerodrome having suffered no casualties.

Later in the afternoon a large force of German tanks was reported to the south. A patrol of5 tanks under Capt Ainsley was sent out by the Regiment to observe. The patrol reported approximately 100 enemy tanks approaching the aerodrome from the south, they were engaged by our artillery and the Regiment who had taken up a position in line to the south of the aerodrome.

After this engagement which had taken place at extreme range, the enemy withdrew to the SE and continued to shell our positions with artillery and Mk IV tanks. 5 of our tanks had been destroyed in this action. Capt Ainsley was killed. Later most of the enemy tanks withdrew out ofsight to the east, although a few could still be seen supported by a large force of infantry.

In the evening the enemy tanks were again reported to be approaching from the south. The Regiment, now consisting of 12 tanks, was ordered to attack and to prevent them from reaching the aerodrome, until the 22nd Armd Bde could arrive to support us. The Regiment formed battle line and engaged the enemy from a range of about 1,000 yds, our artillery and AT guns also engaged the enemy tanks. The action lasted for approximately 20 minutes in which time three of our tanks were destroyed and four were forced to withdraw with hits in vital parts. It was difficult to ascertain what casualties had been inflicted on the enemy owing to rain which had reduced visibility and the tendency of the German tanks not to catch fire. 5, however, were definitely burning and several more left behind when the enemy again withdrew to the east.

HQ 7th Armd Bde was now located and the Regiment rallied on them. The Regt’s strength was now about 7 tanks, 3 of which were on tow and only 1 fit for action. The night was spent in leaguer with HQ 7 Armed Bde to the south of the aerodrome.

22.11.41

At first light the Regt moved out to take up a defensive position to the SW of the aerodrome, the one fit tank, with 2/ Lt Stainton, was sent on to the aerodrome and was put under the orders ofthe Commander Support Group. 3 other tanks of the Regt which had been in Ordnance [under repair in the workshop], continued to operate with 22nd Armd Bde and 4th Armd Bde. Later in the morning the Regt moved 5 miles south and joined HQ 7th Armd Bde where recovery vehicles could be found. The Regiment spent the remainder of the day in this area, doing what maintenance was possible and having the first meal since before the occupation of the aerodrome. Three more tanks under Capt E L S Gjemre MC [spelling?] now arrived back from Ordnance and were used to escort 600 German and Italian prisoners back from the area of the aerodrome. During the day B Echelon was attacked by a formation of tanks, several vehicles were lost and some of the drivers reported missing.

23.11.41

The Regt moved back along the Divisional axis to B Echelon area Gabr Gatma, escorting prisoners who were handed over to RASC. Leaguered in that area for the night. Major E C Mitford, MC, rejoined the Regiment and took over command.

Below some info from the Axis side:

Combat report excerpt of A.A.3 for 20/21 November 1941
20 November
[…]
Difficult night march via Via Balbia and Axis Road up to Belhamed and from there further east into the left flank of the troops deployed on the Jebel escarpment to take over their flank protection. For this purpose the 2./Flak 18 is subordinated to the battalion.
21 November
Battalion engages tanks which broke through between the positions and receives new instructions from General Rommel. – Return march with continuous tank combat to the Belhamed. – From here battalion is deployed during the afternoon to engage tanks which broke out from Tobruk. 8.8 cm AA destroys six tanks during this. General Rommel drives along amongst the point vehicles of the battalion. At 14.30 hours marching off from Belhamed to Via Balbia to Jebel ascent south of Gambut to secure and hold this. Arrival and subordination of a company from Pz.Pi.200 (engineer battalion of 21.Pz.Div.).

Totensonntag – the Experience of 6 New Zealand Brigade

The battle of Totensonntag saw the destruction of 5th South African Brigade and another hammering of what remained of 7th Support Group of 7th Armoured Division.  The Germans could have won the CRUSADER battle that day, had they stuck around on the battlefield to finish the job, instead of swanning off to the border in a futile (but exciting – for the Commonwealth forces) rush.  Those German forces that brought about the victory suffered heavily, with many officers being killed when they attempted to get their men forward again, and a good number of tanks lost.

The report below is from the commanding officer 6 NZ Brigade, Brigadier Barrowclough DSO (and later Bar, awarded for the battles around Sidi Rezegh), and is appended to the war diary of 1st Army Tank Brigade:

Report from COM 6 N Z Bde, dated 24/11/41

on operations of 23/11/41

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On leading 485391 (a map reference) proceed to and occupy Pt 175 438404 then consolidate.  Then extend South and contact 5 SA Bde 438400.  Left R.V. 1445 hrs and proceeded to Gasr el Arid and contacted enemy.  A few PW taken. Proceeded further 3 m. Message from 30 Corps suggesting moving S of Bir Chleta. In darkness to ran into En Tps at Bir C and were engaged in short action. A No of PWs and tpt AFVs operationg on rd from Gambut driven off by fire. were not attacked by enemy who retured leaving with us British officer who had been PW. He was in 8 H Rgt. He said ravine beyond 175 was very heavily held. 30 Corps then urgently asked us to get into touch with SA Bde. One Bn was despatched to them (about 6 m). They made contact. Attack on 175 met gt opposition. They were heavily shelled with A/Tk guns at end of day only two were effective. Casualties heavy (120) incl Col McNaught and 3 Coy Comds killed.  2 Coys of Res Bn were committed to this op when 26 Bn advised that they were heavily attacked while in contact with SA Bde. SA Bde were over-run.  Reported as streaming southwards. 26 Bn held their ground until nightfall. Were completely isolated. Brig withdrew Bn and closed them on Bde which with its tpt was too long a task to protect. Withdrawal orderly. During afternoon very many casualties on Germans. Sup Bty fired over open sights. Own cas were light. During night Bde concentrated in leaguer with allround A Tk defence. Word received from 7 Armd Div that Tk attack to be expected to-day. At present in very small perimter necessitated by requireùments of all round defence.  Would be glad to disperse a little further if we knew that other units of Div were joining up with us. Had orders to push on with El Ressig (A verbal message). As Armd forces were withdrawing South point was lost.

On news of 7 Armd Div. Recaptured 9 American Tanks being manned by crews of Tank Bn attached. Tanks of this Bn were lost.

Col McNaught            W

Capt McDonald          24 K

Capt Roberts              25 K

Capt Weaney              26 K

Hussars were captured by Germans using American Tanks without recognition signals. Tanks were captured by Arty OP with Tommy guns.

ADS is quite clear.

Two PW here trying to send back to Corps.

Inf has retreated North-West across the flat.

Amn short situation urgent.

The official New Zealand history by Murphy describes the event in this section and the following.

The text is given as in the original report, and I tried to stay close to the original formatting. Here are some explanation for the abbreviations:

ADS – ?

AFV – armoured fighting vehicle

Amn – ammunition

Armd – armoured

A/Tk – anti-tank

Bde – Brigade

Brig – Brigadier

Bn – battalion

bty – battery

Com – commander

Comds – ommanders

Coy – Company

Div – Division

m – mile

PW –  prisoners of war

R.V. – rendez-vous (?)

rd – road

Sup – Support

tpt – transport

Tk – Tank