D.A.K. War Diary 28 April 1941

D.A.K. War Diary 28 April 1941

Weather: max. temp 26 degrees C

Arrival and Departure of subordinated troops:

Arrived by air in Benina:

Staff Pz.Pi.Batl. 33
1./Pz.Pi.Batl.33
3./Pz.Pi.Batl.33

One battalion of Artillery Regiment Dalmote (Corps Artillery Regt.) arrived west of Das Mdauuar.

On Tobruk front lively patrol activity by both sides.

Luftwaffe attacked 2 ships at 11.30 hours in Tobruk harbour of 1-2,000 tons. Hit close to ships side. [1] Direct hits were obtained in heavy AA battery on promontory. To commence the planned attack on Tobruk Stukas attacked battery positions and fortifications with great success during the afternoon. Fighters attacked ground targets in strafing attacks. Burning trucks and explosions in ammunition stores were also observed by siege troops 1 Blenheim and 1 Hurricane were shot down.[2]

https://www.awm.gov.au/images/collection/items/ACCNUM_SCREEN/127950.JPG

  ARMED BOARDING VESSEL CHAKLA, UNDER BOMBING ATTACK IN TOBRUK HARBOUR, 1941-04-29. NOTE HER CAMOUFLAGE SCHEME, THE COLOURS OF WHICH ARE PROBABLY 507A (THE DARKER GREY) AND 507C. THE CHAKLA WAS SUNK AS A RESULT OF THE ATTACK. (STILL FROM A CINE FILM)

 2200 hours the area of Division Trento was under heaviest fire by naval artillery of heavy calibre.

1250 hours following order issued to Gruppe Herff:
“Occupation of track climbing up at Pt. 191 and Suleiman important. Protection has to be so strong in MGs, ATGs and single guns that it hold as long against enemy attacks until support from the rear arrives.” Operations order followed by courier officer on 29 April (see the same).

2200 hours reported Gruppe Herff: “South of line Sidi Omar – Sidi Suleiman 5km southeast Pt. 191 enemy secures with armoured cars and tanks, evade when we advance. Coastal plain up to 15km southeast of Sollum free of enemy. 
Security pushed forward up to 6km southeast Sollum across the track leading from the desert to plain.”

NewImage

 

1942 British Map of the area. Sidi Suleiman (Pt. 206) to the south centre. Halfaya Pass (probably Point 191) to the left above it. 

Replenishment of 5.lei.Div. by bringing in troops via air was announced by O.K.H.

[1]This was a joint German-Italian attack. The close hit was caught on film, and ABV Chakla (3,081t) was sunk as a result of the attack. Her sister ABV Chakdina was sunk on 5 December with heavy loss of life, when leaving Tobruk with POW on board, and the last of the three, ABV Chantala, ran on a mine outside Tobruk on 7 December 1941 and was lost.
[2]ID to follow. 

Battalion Kolbeck–The other side of the Hill

I have previously written about the failed attack of Battalion Kolbeck, a last throw of the dice by the Axis on the Tobruk front, at this link. Tom has now been kind enough to type up the war diary of the 2nd Beds & Herts Regiment, an infantry battalion, and provide it to me.  The Beds & Herts, in 14 Infantry Brigade, 70 Division, Tobruk Fortress,  were at the receiving end of this failed attempt to push in the Tobruk garrison’s position in the wake of the defeat of the 2nd New Zealand Division on the Zaafran (see this link).

1 December 1941 Bir Bel Hamed

0200 Bn arrives at new area. Coys are placed in position. Consolidation commences at once. Work is immediately carried out on the completion of a protective minefield which runs right along the Eastern side of the “Corridor” to the foot of the escarpment at BEL HAMED.

0630 Sounds of a battle are heard coming from the direction of BEL HAMED. Impossible to see what is occurring owing to the fact that the Bn’s position is so low and is dominated by the escarpment. Tanks are occasionally observed, but they confine their activities to the top of the escarpment.

0730 Lt-Col Hassell is evacuated to TOBRUCH on account of sickness. Command of the Bn devolves upon Major R.A.W. Stevenson.

It is now obvious that the enemy has launched a heavy dawn attack on the BEL HAMED feature, supported by tanks.

A large number of transport vehicles come back through the Bn positions. They are intercepted and re-directed towards TOBRUCH.

0740 “Stops” are placed on all tracks leading towards the Bn area to control “refugees”. It is impossible to collect coherent information regarding the position on the escarpment but it is possible to understand that the New Zealand Bde has been rather badly cut up.

0815 Twelve 25-pdrs and crews are collected and taken under command together with one troop of A.A. Bredas.

The Bn is now acting as a rallying point.

One Coy 2/13 Aust Inf Bn is rallied and used to stiffen “A” Coy’s front, which is directly opposed to the enemy’s presumed line of advance.

18th New Zealand Bn withdraws down the escarpment but rallys [sic] on the Bn position and is used to extend “A” Coy’s front to the South West and along the line of the road back on to the escarpment.

1445 The sounds of battle gradually grow dim. It is impossible to conjecture why the enemy did not come forward to the edge of the escarpment when he would have placed this Bn in a most invidious position, as the escarpment dominates every single position in the Bn area.

The position is now stabilised with 18th New Zealand Bn established on the edge of the escarpment to the EAST of “A” Coy and the Bn established as shown in “Annexure A”.

1449 Commander 1st R.H.A. arrives and takes over command of the 25-pounders.

1515 Enemy commence counter-battery shoot on the 25-pdr battery which is forced to withdraw from its forward position.

The situation is now defined as follows:-

(a) The position held by the Bn is organised for all round defence both for each Company and the Bn as a whole.

(b) The Anti-Tank defence of the Bn is strong, consisting of 10 2-pdr anti-tank guns and a continuous anti-tank minefield extending along the whole of the North front.

(c) 18th New Zealand Bn is in position on the edge of the escarpment so preventing observation of the Bn area from that position.

BUT

(i) The Bn area is dominated by the BEL HAMED feature.

(ii) 18th New Zealand Bn are tired.

(iii) 18th New Zealand Bn are only holding a small area on the escarpment.

THEREFORE

(i) It is essential that 18th New Zealand Bn area should be as strong as possible.

(ii) If the enemy advances to the BEL HAMED feature and occupies it, both the 18th New Zealand Bn area and this Bn’s area would be untenable.

1645 Orders are received from Bde H.Q. to be prepared to withdraw to a position in rear of TIGER during the night.

1730 C.O. (Major R.A.W. Stevenson) holds conference at Bn HQ in preparation for withdrawal. This conference is attended by all Company Commanders.

1800 Orders received from Bde H.Q. that there will be NO withdrawal. The Bn is ordered to consolidate on the present position.

1815 “B” Coy report movement of tanks and infantry to their front, i.e. to NORTH.

“A” Coy report movement of tanks and infantry in valley to the north of their area.

1822 “A” and “B” Coys report that they are being heavily attacked by enemy infantry supported by tanks.

1827 18th New Zealand Bn report that they are also being attacked on their left rear (from NW?). It appears that the greater part of the weight of the enemy attack is falling on “B” Coy which is in a rather isolated position.

1905 It appears that a party of New Zealanders may be trying to make contact with the TOBRUCH forces. This leads to confusion and doubt as to whether the attack launched on “A” and “B” Coys might be by own troops. Fortunately “A” Coy are able to ascertain definitely that the attacks are definitely GERMAN.

1907 Artillery defensive fire falls on defensive line laid down; 300 yds in front of “B” Coy.

It can be stated here that the thought of friendly troops being involved in this attack cannot possibly have arisen if full information were available.

1925 One Platoon detached from “D” Coy to strengthen “B” Coy. This Platoon fails to reach “B” Coy’s area. Communication with “B” Coy by ‘phone is cut.

2000 It is definitely established that “B” Coy’s position has been over-run by the enemy.

Communication with Bde H.Q. has been precarious throughout the whole day. At the most critical period both W/T and L/T communication broke down completely, hence causing the embarrassing delay in obtaining artillery defensive fire.

2005 Stragglers from “B” Coy arrive at Bn H.Q. and “D” Coy.

An additional complication is now presented. Owing to the break down in communication with Bde H.Q., the ration convoy has arrived in the Bn Area. It was stopped by “D” Coy and the rations have been dumped in that area. A system of policing and checking ration convoys in areas in proximity to the enemy must be established, preferably controlled by Brigade Headquarters.

The situation is examined and found to be as follows:-

(a) “B” Coy area is in enemy hands.

(b) Enemy attack is held up in front of “A” Coy and left rear of 18th New Zealand Bn.

(c) The enemy is in a position to exploit attack on “B” Coy to take Bn H.Q. and attack “C” Coy from rear or avoid that Coy altogether.

2015 “A” Coy and 18th New Zealand Bn report that enemy are no longer pressing attack but are evidently “digging in” in triangle between “A” Coy and 18th New Zealand Bn.

2020 There is no sign of the enemy exploiting from “B” Coy area. His information must be vague regarding our dispositions.

2300 The following plan is put into operation:-

(a) The salient formed by “B” Coy area is to be “sealed off” by an anti-tank minefield of Italian box mines, single row at four yards spacing.

(b) “C” Coy (less one Platoon) to be moved to a position 150 yds N.E. of Bn H.Q. commanding the re-entrant to the rear (SOUTH) of “B” Coy area.

(c) One Platoon to remain in original “C” Coy area for the local protection of the anti-tank gun detachment (two guns).

(d) Should there be no further advance by the enemy from “B” Coy area all available weapons will fire on that area from first light.

2330 Work on minefield commences. This is carried out within 100 yds from the enemy who can be plainly heard by the working party.

There is no opposition either to the mine laying party or to the move of “C” Coy (less one Platoon) in spite of the fact that, in the former case, a 30-cwt lorry had to be used for transporting the anti-tank mines.

2 December 1941 BIR BEL HAMED

0145 Arrangements detailed above are completed.

0614 There is not sufficient light to reveal the enemy. It is estimated that there are about 400 men in “B” Coy’s former position and about 1200 in front of “A” Coy between the line of “AXIS” road and the Western edge of the escarpment.

All available weapons are brought to bear on the enemy on all fronts.

The enemy has brought forward Anti-tank guns. These are silenced within a very short period of time by accurate Bren gun fire. He has three tanks which cruise along the front “hull down”. One is knocked out by a well aimed round from the detachment of the Polish Anti-Tank Battery.

The situation as far as we are concerned is extremely good.

(i) The minefield has not been penetrated.

(ii) The enemy in front of “A” Coy are caught in enfilade and are also over-looked by the 18th New Zealand Bn.

(iii) The enemy on “B” Coy’s position are on a forward slope, on which excellent observation is obtained both by “C” Coy and Bn HQ (which is now a fighting unit).

The fire of all arms brought to bear on the enemy must be devastating. In particular it is necessary to mention the effect of well controlled Mortar fire.

0630 Artillery fire is brought down on “B” Coy’s area.

0720 Enemy commences to withdraw. In front of “A” Coy he endeavours to put up a smoke screen, which is not effective.

0723 One detachment of the mortar platoon is moved forward from “D” Coy area to a position from which observation on the enemy can be obtained.

0730 The enemy is definitely beaten off. He is using dead ground in front of “B” Coy area to re-form. This area is heavily mortared and shelled by us.

0747 Artillery fire is shifted to the area in front of “A” Coy. Fire is controlled by O.C. “A” Coy by ‘phone to F.O.O. at Bn HQ, who in turn relays by W/T to his battery.

0817 Orders are given to Carrier Platoon (now only two bren carriers strong) to follow up the retreat of the enemy. Unfortunately one bren carrier runs onto our own minefield and is put out of action.

OBSERVATIONS.

(a) ENEMY.

(i) It appears that he had no information of our dispositions.

(ii) He “sat down” after over-running “B” Coy instead of exploiting his success which would have carried him right through the Bn defensive position.

(b) OWN TROOPS.

(i) Defensive works must be orgoinously [sic] developed.

(ii) The labour in laying the anti-tank minefield on nights 30 Nov/1 Dec and 1/2 Dec was amply repaid.

(iii) Defensive fire by Bn weapons MUST be co-ordinated most carefully, for mutual support. This should be the first task on taking up a defensive position. In this connection it should be remembered that mortars, also, must be given definite “fixed line” tasks.

(iv) Unless a most careful reconnaissance and rehearsal has been held, it is impracticable to re-inforce or counter-attack by night.

(v) The Bn’s task was greatly facilitated by the total absence of enemy artillery fire.

RESULTS OF OPERATIONS.

Estimated casualties to enemy – Killed 60 (32 confirmed)

Wounded 200 (87 confirmed)

Prisoners about 50 (including wounded)

Captured equipment – 4 anti-tank guns.

A large number of assorted automatic weapons.

One light tank.

Nine vehicles.

Own Casualties. – One killed.

Eight missing.

Remainder of day is spent in further consolidation of Bn position.

2045 Bn stands by for a further attack. Attack fails to materialize on Bn front.

First Taste of Gazala – 13 Dec 41

Deep in the D.A.K. (German Africa Corps) war diaries there is a captured report on the actions of 7 Indian Brigade, for the period 18 November 41 to 10 January 42. It has been translated into German, and below is my attempt at re-translation. I presume the report was captured when 7 Indian Brigade had to hurriedly abandon Benghazi during the Axis counter-offensive on 29 January.

Below I have translated the report on the action of 7 Indian Brigade, in particular 25 Field Regiment RA, during the first clash in the Gazala line. This was a notable action, which ended reasonably well for the Commonwealth forces, unlike the destruction of the Buffs just to the north, two days later. It was the start to three days of very hard fighting in the Gazala line, which ended with the retreat of the Axis forces due to supply difficulties and a fear of being enveloped by Commonwealth armour from the south.

Underlined text reflects underlining by the German intelligence officer working on the text.

On 12 Dec contact was made with the camouflaged enemy positions in places where the ground was flat and where the enemy had full view, while he was difficult to make out. 5 Brigade to our right and 7 Support Group to our left met determined resistance. Opposite 7 Brigade was a deep cut which was not a target [1]. Contact was established with Support Group to attack the flank of the opposite position. To this end on 13 Dec reconnaissance was carried out and 25 Field Regiment, protected by carriers and AT guns, reconnoitered the enemy positions, while the 4 Sikh Regiment stood ready on trucks close-by. Suddenly the carriers reported 40 enemy tanks [2], supported by artillery, which approached the battery positions of 25 Field Regiment in overlapping advance. This was a longed-for opportunity for 25 Field Regiment. They opened fire and held on to their positions. The 4 Sikh Regiment was slowly and in full order withdrawn from the battlefield. Additional AT guns and the ‘I’ Tanks [3] were brought up. The German tactics were exemplary and could be observed in full detail. Their observation posts were in the tanks and their mobile artillery and Mark IV tanks advanced slowly in overwatch, while firing across the visible range [4]. Our … (guns? Part of text missing) fell back into the group position and fired with good effect. 12 enemy tanks were destroyed [5], at the cost of 31 Battery however, which was overrun when all guns had become disabled. All men and guns were brought in, because 12 Battery drove off the tanks, which evaded a clash [6]. The bravery of 25 Field Regiment and 65 AT Regt were beyond praise.

The following lessons were drawn:

  1. Guns must be dug in and protected by some Vickers MMG to force the enemy to close up his tanks.
  2. The enemy has to be covered in fog to prevent his gaining sight of the guns until the enemy tanks appear at a distance of 1,200 yards or less from the gun position. [7]
  3. Guns must be placed/installed such so that they can be turned the full 360 degrees.

Comments

The day saw some very heavy fighting which, despite the heavy losses suffered, ended well for the Axis. Not only was the developing attack by 7 Indian Brigade headed off, but furthermore the threatening gap between Ariete and Trieste had been closed, and the situation at the Italian motorized corps had been stabilized by the intervention of the D.A.K. At the same time, the command of 7 Indian Brigade had shown that it could move with some elasticity, and it had succeeded in inflicting very heavy losses on the Axis tank force. Once again, just like outside The Omars on 26 November it was shown that the 25-pdr. was a superb weapon in defending against Axis armour.

[1] This is probably a translation error and should read ‘making selection of an objective difficult.’ This was a deep cut at the gap between Ariete and Trieste divisions which endangered the whole of the Gazala line.

[2] A handwritten note in the margin says ‘Gruppe Menny’. This group had 38 medium tanks available to it, the remaining tank strength of the D.A.K. At the same time, Ariete attacked with all three tank battalions, with a probable strength of about 30+ tanks, even though the D.A.K. war diary claims only 12 Italian tanks attacked. It is however not clear where this information would have come from, since the 15. Pz.Div. war diary states no numbers for the Italian tanks, and most of the text in the D.A.K. war diary is verbatim lifted from it.

[3] Ten Valentine tanks from 8 R.T.R.

[4] This is missing some more detail. It appears that this long-range fire by the Mark IVs (equipped with 75mm howitzers) was used to protect the Mark III tanks and lorried infantry in the advance.

[5] German tank strength fell by 16, of which 9 medium tanks and one of the last three command tanks, between the evening of 12 and 13 December, so this is likely to be an underestimate, considering that the Italian tank force almost certainly suffered some losses as well, even tough some losses would have been suffered in the tank engagement later one the day.

[6] D.A.K. war diary remarks on this: “Further attack against a position on a height to the southeast is broken off due to determined strong resistance and the losses caused by this.”

[7] On the other hand, as pointed out by a comment on a report on the employment of artillery in support of armoured formations issued after CRUSADER, this smoke screen would provide a good cover for the enemy to develop his attack.

Sources:

War Diary D.A.K.

War Diary 15. Pz.Div.

War Diary Ariete Divisional Command

War Diary 132 Tank Regiment

Report by 7 Indian Brigade 18 November 1941 to 10 January 1942, translation in War Diary D.A.K.

Report on Operations of 4 Indian Division 18 November 1941 to 18 January 1942

French 155mm Schneider guns – revisited

The question of where, when, where from was discussed a bit in this older post.

I have now been able to look through 7 Support Group’s war diary. The Intelligence Summaries (I.S.) of this diary are of very great value.

Intelligence Summary No.7, containing information up to 0800 hours 17 Dec 41 contains information on captured guns which is given below. This confirms that the Canon de 155 Mle.1917 was in fact used by the Germans during CRUSADER, a question that had hitherto been open to some extent.

5. ENEMY EQUIPMENT. (From 7 A.D. I.S. Nos.53 and 54)

(1) The following guns, the late property of 61 Inf. Regt. and 46 Mot. Arty. Regt.[1], have been discovered around 372432[2].

Nineteen Hotchkiss 25 mm.[3]

Eight 47/32s.[4]

Two 20 mm AA A/Tk

Four 87/27s[5]

Four 155mm FRENCH guns.

There are also four 47/32 at 465439[6] and another 155 mm gun at 364443[7], of unknown ownership.

(2). The four FRENCH 155 mm reported above were made by PUTEAUX, and had evidently been used by GERMANS, as the FRENCH directions were supplemented by GERMAN translations. One had the date 1918 on the carriage and 1925 on the breech. Of those seen one was destroyed but two at least appeared to be in working order and one of them was being salvaged.

These guns, according to P.W’s[8], came from TUNISIA where they were acquired by the Armistice Commission[9].

 

[1]Both regiments belonged to the Trento motorised division, indicating that the guns were captured at the northern end of the Gazala line, where a large part of the division was captured.

[2] In the Gazala line, on a line north-west of Acroma.

[3] These could theoretically also be the new German heavy ATR called schwere Panzerbuechse 41, a 28/20mm heavy squeeze-bore anti-tank rifle, although this is unlikely if they were really captured from the Italians. On the other hand, I have not come across Hotchkiss 25mm A/Tk guns in the Italian forces.

[4] The standard anti-tank gun of the Italian army, designed by Boehler in Austria and manufactured under license by Breda.

[5] Probably around Gazala or Tmimi.

[6] Should be 75/27.

[7] Probably a typo, since this position would be in the Mediterranean, north of Gambut. It is likely to be 439465, at Bu Amud in the former positions of Bologna division in the encirclement ring, and these guns were probably abandoned early on in the breakout.

[8] Prisoners of War

[9] The Armistice Commission was a German military commission charged with supervising the armistice arrangement with France, and to procure goods and services for the German armed forces in France. It was established as part of the Armistice of Compiegne.

First Impressions

It took Rommel a few days until after Crusader had started until he decided to take his fingers out of is ears and stop singing “lalala I can’t hear you”.  Final confirmation was not accepted until the BBC on 20 November helpfully to the Germans broadcast the news that a major offensive was underway.  The text is given in the Ic (staff officer intelligence) copy of the “Tobruk Truth” news leaflets circulated inside the fortress, with the astute observation that English broadcast service and secrecy seem to be in crass contradiction to each other.

On 18 November the divisional order of the day, issued at 14h10 hours, and preserved in the war diary of Division z.b.V. (soon to be renamed 90th Light Africadivision, the name under which it acquired some fame) does not foresee this, and gives an insight into the first impression of the offensive:

1) Enemy with weakish armoured reconnaissance forces, including tanks from south- and southeasterly direction across Trigh el Abd pushed east of Gobi to the north.

This was in fact 7th Armoured Division with its three armoured brigades, and no news of the Commonwealth assault on the frontier had yet filtered through to Division z.b.V.

Many thanks to my friend James for getting this one from NARA for me.