9th Australian Division Versus the Africa Corps: an Infantry Division Against Tobruk, Libya, 1941

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On the evening of 30 April, after a day's bombing and shelling, the Axis assault fell on 26th Australian Infantry Brigade. A number of Australian strong points held out and disrupted Axis movements as did newly laid minefields which the Axis had failed to reconnoitre. Paulus suggested there was no prospect of success and Rommel decided to push laterally to widen the front of penetration. Fighting continued with the Australians counterattacking unsuccessfully to regain the lost ground and Axis forces attempting to infiltrate forward once more.

By the early hours of 4 May, with neither side making progress, the battle was called off. Australian troops man shallow front-line trenches in the Tobruk perimeter, 13 August At about , tanks moved up to the perimeter wire in front of S. Post S1 was the first to succumb. These tanks then proceeded to attack S. On each tank were riding German infantrymen, who under cover of the tanks' fire, ran forwards with grenades.

Then came the turn of 9th Platoon's dug-in posts R. After a fight in which three were killed and four wounded, the posts surrendered.

The crews of two RHA 2-pounders put up a fight, knocking out some of the tanks, but when the guns tried to turn to engage tanks moving to their flank, they exposed themselves to German machine-gunners, with the gunners either killed or wounded. Post S.

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Nevertheless, "C" Company suffered 20 men killed and wounded, and another 44 taken prisoner in the fighting in the northern sector that largely employed troops from the Brescia Infantry Division. According to an Australian defender, "That night the slightest move would bring a flare over our position and the area would be lit like day.

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We passed a night of merry hell as the pounding went on. Nevertheless, Posts R. After they had been taken prisoner, General Rommel spoke to them "for you the war is over and I wish you good luck", recalled Corporal Jones.

The 51st Field Regiment had been constantly firing, causing an entire German battalion to go to ground and, according to Rommel, creating panic in the Italian infantry. Seven British Cruiser and five Matilda tanks also appeared in the Italian area of penetration, engaging in an inconclusive battle with Italian tanks. The attack faltered when the tanks leading the assault ran into a minefield placed by Morshead to stop any breaches of the Blue Line. A tank officer recalled: "Two companies get off their motor lorries and extend in battle order.

All sorts of light signals go up — green, white, red.

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The flares hiss down near our own MGs. It is already too late to take aim. Well, the attack is a failure. The little Fiat-Ansaldos go up in front with flame-throwers in order to clean up the triangle. Long streaks of flame, thick smoke, filthy stink. We provide cover until hours, then retire through the gap. It is a mad drive through the dust. At hours have snack beside tank.

Rommel's troops had captured fifteen posts on an arc of three-and-a-half miles of the perimeter, including its highest fort. But the Australians had largely contained this Italo-German thrust. In Poland, France, and Belgium, once the tanks got through the soldiers took it for granted that they were beaten. But you are like demons.


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The tanks break through and your infantry still keep fighting. Nevertheless, Australian losses had been considerable. Rommel placed the blame for the failure to capture Tobruk squarely on the Italians. The Australians fought hard to win back their positions. Much fierce hand-to-hand fighting took place from 1 May till the end of August when finally the weary soldiers of the 7th Bersaglieri were ordered to Ain Gazala to rest and refit. Time up there wasn't exactly pleasurable. The Germans pummelled us with trench mortar bombs and also had fixed machine guns firing on us.

The heavy losses incurred by the attackers led the commanders of the Italian divisions and the German 5th Light Division to argue against further attacks until better preparations could be made. Impressed by the conduct of the Australians, Rommel decided to hold off further major attacks until the end of November , awaiting the arrival of more German forces and allowing more training of his forces in the art of siege warfare. The Australian commanders remained determined to recapture the ground lost on 1 May.

On 3 May, the Australians launched a counterattack employing the 18th Brigade but by 4 May were only able to recapture one bunker. The Commanding Officer of the 32nd Combat Sappers—Colonel Emilio Caizzo—was killed in a satchel attack on an Australian machine-gun position, an action which earned him a posthumous Gold Medal. An Italian narrative has recorded: On the night on 16 May , two platoons of the 3rd Combat Engineer Company in union with assault groups of the " Brescia " Infantry Division, which had been sent as reinforcements on the 11th of that month, initiated the attack.

With total disregard to danger and usual stealthiness, the combat sappers opened three paths in the wire fencing in front of each assault group. They used explosive charges in tubes.

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Fighting side by side with the assaulters, in fierce hand-to-hand combat, they inflicted heavy losses on the enemy, and obtained the objective. The Italian attackers then came under intense machine-gun fire — with the loss of officers, the attack faltered, and those who were not killed or taken prisoner were only able to retreat through the gaps in the wire with difficulty. The attack was skilfully planned and supported by more than 60 field guns, but the enemy infantry swiftly replied, and the attack failed with heavy loss of lives.

This was the last Australian effort to recover the lost fortifications. Soldiers of Czechoslovak 11th Infantry Battalion. In the summer of , Lieutenant-General Thomas Blamey —commander of the Second Australian Imperial Force , with the support of the prime minister of Australia—requested the withdrawal of the 9th Australian Division from Tobruk in order to meet the strong desire of the Australians that all their forces in the Middle East should fight under one command. General Claude Auchinleck —who had replaced Wavell as C-in-C Middle East Command in Cairo—agreed in principle but was not anxious to expedite the operation because a troop movement of this size would have to be made by fast warships during moonless periods of the month because of the risk of air attacks to shipping at a time when every resource needed to be concentrated on the planned Operation Crusader.

Based on reports from Australian H. Middle East that the health of the troops had been suffering, the new Australian prime minister Arthur Fadden and his successor John Curtin rejected requests from Winston Churchill to change their minds and the replacement of the division was effected by the Royal Navy between August and October.

The Australians were gradually withdrawn. Matilda tanks at Tobruk, September This opened with an attack on the Axis frontier positions. After capturing the frontier, the brigades of the 7th Armoured Division were intended to reform and continue on north to relieve Tobruk.

Once joined by the Tobruk garrison, the combined forces would then press the offensive westwards, driving the Germans as far back as they could be pushed. However stubborn resistance, and an Axis counter-attack, thwarted these intentions, and the Tobruk garrison had no chance to sortie out. Auchinleck launched a major offensive, Operation Crusader , on 18 November This opened with an outflanking movement that brought Eighth Army to within 30 miles of the Tobruk perimeter.

It was planned that 70th Division would break out from Tobruk on 21 December and cut the German lines of communication to the troops on the border to the southeast. At the same time 7th Armoured would advance from Sidi Rezegh to link with them and roll up the Axis positions around Tobruk. The strength of 70th Division's attack surprised their opponents, Rommel having underestimated the garrison's size and particularly its armoured strength.

Fighting was intense as the three pronged attack, consisting of the 2nd King's Own on the right flank, the 2nd Battalion, Black Watch as the central force and the 2nd Queen's Own on the left flank, advanced to capture a series of prepared strongpoints leading to Ed Duda. The Black Watch lost an estimated men and their commanding officer. The 2nd York and Lancaster Regiment , with tank support, took strongpoint Tiger leaving a yard gap between the corridor and Ed Duda. Engineer Branch Historical Digital Repository.

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