Operation Brevity, 15-16 May 1941

Operation Brevity, 15-16 May 1941


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Operation Brevity, 15-16 May 1941

Operation Brevity (15-16 May 1941) was a short-lived British offensive carried out to see if the German position east of Tobruk was fragile enough for the siege to be lifted without a major battle.

By the end of Rommel's first offensive (24 March-30 May 1941) the British had been pushed out of almost all of Cyrenaica, apart from the port of Tobruk, which was under siege. The British front line ended up at Buq Buq, to the east of Halfaya Pass.

On 30 April-1 May Rommel carried out an attack on the Tobruk perimeter and managed to get a foothold inside the outer line of defences, but he was unable to make any more progress. General Paulus, who had been sent to get Rommel under control, sent back a report in which he described the overall position of the Africa Corps as being over-extended and difficult to keep supplied. This message was intercepted and decoded by the British and helped convince Churchill that it might only need a minor blow to lift the siege.

General Wavell was waiting for the arrival of a 'Tiger' convoy, carrying tanks and aircraft on the direct route through the Mediterranean, but under pressure from Churchill he agreed to order a small scale offensive. General Gott was given orders to recapture Halfaya Pass, take the village of Sollum on the Egyptian side of the border and Fort Capuzzo on the Libyan side, and then exploit any success by advancing towards Tobruk, as long as that wouldn't endanger his force. This small scale offensive came at the same time as the larger attack, Operation Battleaxe, was postponed to mid June.

Gott's plan was to attack in three columns. On the left a force from the 7th Armoured Brigade (2 Royal Tank Regiment and three 'Jock' columns from the 7th Armoured Division Support Group was to sweep around the German right to reach Sidi Azeiz. In the centre the 22nd (Guards) Brigade and 4 RTR were to clear the top of Halfaya Pass and then take Fort Capuzzo. On the right the Coast Group (2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade and 8th Field Regt, Royal Artillery) was to take to the bottom of the pass and take Sollum village.

At the start of the battle Halfaya pass and Fort Capuzzo were defended by the Herff Detachment, made up of the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion (5th Light Division) and the 605th Anti-Tank Battalion, supported by some Italian guns. The 2nd Battalion, 5th Panzer Regiment, was close by around Sidi Azeiz.

On the morning of 15 May the left and central columns were generally successful. The left column made good progress towards Sidi Azeiz. 2nd Battalion Scots Guards and 4 RTR captured the top of Halfaya Pass, although only after a fierce fight in which Italian guns destroyed seven Matilda IIs. The central column then advanced towards the frontier, and by midday had take Musaid, just to the east of Fort Capuzzo. Only the coast column was struggling, and it took all day for it to clear the base of Halfaya pass. It was then able to move on to take Sollum.

After the fall of Musaid the 1st Battalion, Durham Light Infantry supported by the remaining tanks of 4 RTR captured Fort Capuzzo, but by now only nine Matildas were still operational.

Unfortunatly the Germans had detected the Allied build up, and were prepared for an attack. On the afternoon of 15 May 2/5 Panzer Regiment attacked the Durham Light Infantry, which had now become separated from its armour. Although 7th Armoured Brigade was ordered back to support the Durhams, they were forced back to Musaid.

Overnight more German reinforcements arrived. The 1st Battalion, 6th Panzer Regiment reached Sidi Azeiz at around 3am, but then had to pause to allow more fuel to arrive. At about the same time Gott decided that his positions west of the escarpment that the pass dropped down were too vulnerable. 22nd (Guards) Brigade was ordered to pull back, while 7th Armoured Brigade remained in place to cover Sidi Azeiz.

1/6th Panzer Regiment was finally ready to move by 5pm, but when it reached Capuzzo the Germans discovered that the British had retreated.

This was followed by a period of stalemate, with the British in control of Halfaya Pass. Gott was ordered to try and hold the pass, so that it could be used as the starting point for Operation Battleaxe, but Rommel was equally determined to take it. On 26-27 May a German attack forced the 3rd Battlaion, Coldstream Guards, to abandon the pass with the loss of 173 casualties, four field guns, eight anti-tank guns and five Matilda IIs.

One month later the same area would see heavy fighting during Operation Battleaxe, but once again the Germans would repel this attack, a defeat that helped to end Wavell's time as Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East.


Wargames Obsession

The first attempt on 15 May, was Operation Brevity. Rommel counter-attacked: the British withdrew and by 27 May the Germans had recaptured Halfaya Pass, a passage of time in which Major Edward Thomas earned his Military Cross. Supply shortages obliged the Germans to curtail their advance, so they dug in and fortified their positions at Halfaya with 88 millimetre guns. This was the anchor for the Axis positions, which opposed the Allied forces during the next allied attack — Operation Battleaxe on 15 June. German armour was deployed to draw the British tanks (11th Hussars) onto the concealed 88 mm guns and the first wave was cut down in a few minutes (11 out of 12 tanks were destroyed), earning the pass the nickname "Hellfire Pass". The allied commander, Major Miles, was last heard on the radio reporting, "They are tearing my tanks apart."

The third attempt, Operation Crusader opened on 18 November, with a direct attack on Halfaya Pass and an attempt to outflank Rommel to the south and relieve Tobruk. This was done on 29 November. Rommel, now under pressure, withdrew to El Agheila.
Halfaya Pass was the location of the accidental death of Major-General 'Jock' Campbell (VC), then commander of the British 7th Armoured Division. On 26 February 1942, a month after assuming command, his staff car skidded on a newly laid clay road surface, killing him outright.



The First Battle of Hellfire Pass:

Operation Brevity: Following the Allied withdrawal from the eastern Libyan province of Cyrenaica in April 1941, 13th Corps was reconstituted under Beresford-Peirse and refitted. On 12 May a convoy arrived in the Egyptian city of Alexandria with reinforcements including 220 tanks. General Archibald Wavell, Commander-in-Chief Middle East, was under continual pressure from Churchill to engage Rommel and make amends for the defeat earlier that year.


Contents

In early September 1940, the Italian 10th Army based in Libya conducted the Italian invasion of Egypt and three months later, the British and Commonwealth troops of the Western Desert Force began a counter-offensive, codenamed Operation Compass. In two months, the British advanced 500 miles (800 km), occupying the Italian province of Cyrenaica and destroying the 10th Army. The advance was halted in February 1941 because of supply shortages and to give priority to the Battle of Greece. Renamed XIII Corps and reorganised under HQ Cyrenaica Command (CYRCOM), the troops of the former Western Desert Force adopted a defensive posture. Ώ] Over the next few months, HQ Cyrenaica lost its commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, followed by the 2nd New Zealand Division and the 6th Australian Division when they were sent to Greece in Operation Lustre. The 7th Armoured Division, with virtually no serviceable tanks left, was also withdrawn and sent to the Nile Delta for rest and refitting. ΐ] Α] Wilson was replaced by Lieutenant-General Philip Neame parts of the 2nd Armoured Division and 9th Australian Division were deployed to Cyrenaica but both formations were inexperienced, ill-equipped and in the case of the 2nd Armoured Division, well under strength, after detachments to Greece. Β] Γ]

British Marmon-Herrington Mk II armoured car, as operated by the 11th Hussars

The Italians responded by despatching the 132nd Armoured Division Ariete and 102nd Motorised DivisionTrento to North Africa. Δ] From February 1941 until early May, Operation Sonnenblume saw the arrival of the German Afrika Korps in Tripoli to reinforce their Italian allies. Commanded by Generalleutnant Erwin Rommel and consisting of the 5th Light and 15th Panzer Division, the Afrika Korps was to block Allied attempts to drive the Italians out of the region. Rommel seized on the weakness of his opponents and without waiting for his forces fully to assemble, rapidly went on the offensive. Ε] Ζ] During March and April, the remaining units of the 2nd Armoured Division were destroyed as the Axis forces advanced, which also forced the British and Commonwealth forces into retreat. [lower-alpha 1] ⎖] Neame and the General Officer Commanding British Troops Egypt—Lieutenant-General Richard O'Connor—were captured and the British command structure had to be reorganised. HQ Cyrenaica was dissolved on 14 April and its command functions taken over by a new HQ Western Desert Force (Lieutenant-General Noel Beresford-Peirse). The 9th Australian Infantry Division fell back to the fortress port of Tobruk and the remaining British forces withdrew a further 100 miles (160 km) east to Sollum on the Libyan–Egyptian border. ⎗] ⎘] With the main Axis force conducting the Siege of Tobruk a small battlegroup (Kampfgruppe) commanded by Colonel Maximilian von Herff continued to press eastward. Capturing Fort Capuzzo and Bardia in passing, it then advanced into Egypt by the end of April had taken Sollum and the tactically important Halfaya Pass. Rommel garrisoned these positions, reinforced the Kampfgruppe and ordered it onto the defensive. ⎙] ⎚]

The Tobruk garrison received supplies from the Royal Navy and Rommel was unable to take the port. This failure was significant his front line positions at Sollum were at the end of an extended supply chain that stretched back to Tripoli and was threatened by the Tobruk garrison. The substantial commitment required to invest Tobruk prevented him from building up his forces at Sollum, making further advances into Egypt impractical. [lower-alpha 2] ⎝] ⎞] By maintaining possession of Tobruk, the Allies had regained the initiative. ⎞]


Operation Brevity - May 1941 - Scenario / AAR

This will be the last blog post of 2015, so I will take the opportunity to thank all my readers for their interest over the last year and wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year, here's hoping that 2016 will be gaming heaven.

Operation Brevity 15-16 May 1941

By way of background Brevity was a limited scale offensive conducted by the British in the Desert Campaign. It was intended to deal a blow against the allegedly weak Axis front line forces around Fort Capuzzo and that sector of the Libya / Eygpt border. The operation was a success for a very short space of time before German reinforcements were rushed to halt the Allied advance, the attack was called off by the British High Command after just one day.

Operation Brevity is one of the main areas of interest for our 28mm WW2 actions, with tech limited to stuff in theatre on 31-Dec-41, Brevity, Battleaxe and Crusader form the main focus of the games we will play.


Italian Recon burns early in the battle
I was looking to develop a game to include our rather large Italian forces along with some of the German units one of our regulars has just invested in, rather than go full out historical I decided on a game with a Brevity flavour based around a Fort Capuzzo style action. An Italian Force, lightly armed holding onto a defensive position around a fortified village being reinforced by German units against an initially stronger British Force.

I'm a big fan of variation in scenario set ups with variable arrival times and random reinforcements, most of the stuff we play could be repeated many times and the game would never be the same, not everyones cup of tea and it can lead to some one sided games, however rather that than a points system (uurgh I feel dirty even mentioning points systems !).

Above is a map of our table set up, table size is 12 x 6 (each grid square is 2ft sq), fairly open with some ridge lines and areas of broken ground offering limited cover.

Regular readers will be well aware that commercially available sets of rules rarely survive contact with our group and WW2 is the same. Our rules are based mainly on the Iron Ivan Games WW2 set but with a TooFatLardies style card activation system, we also have a system of random event cards to spice things up. Scale is about 1 fig / veh = 4. Morale as standard for your rule set.

Italian Troops dive for cover whilst under Mortar Attack in the Fort.
Italian Forces

8th Bersagleri - 1 HQ with 2 figs armed with Pistol and SMG, 1 x 50mm Mortar with 2 crew, 3 Platoons each with 10 men containing 1 Leader with SMG, 1 LMG team of 2 men and 7 men with Rifles.


62nd Italian Infantry - 1 HQ as above, 1 x 50mm Mortar with 2 crew, 2 Rifle Platoons each with a Leader with SMG and 10 Riflemen and 2 LMG Platoons each with 1 Leader with SMG, 2 x LMG Teams with 3 men each and 2 Riflemen.

Support Weapons - 1 x 20mm Anti Tank Rifle with 2 crew, 2 x 47mm Anti Tank Guns with 3 crew and 1 x 81mm Mortar with 3 crew.

Recon Squadron with 1 x AB41 Autoblinda Armoured Car and 1 x AS42 armed with 2 x MG

Tank Squadron - 3 x M13/40 Tanks

N.B. During the write up of this post I have discovered that the AS42 entered service in Dec 1942 and therefore is illegal ! The person concerned will be dealt with (quite lightly though as it is rubbish !)

Italians can set up anywhere in within 2 ft of the right hand table edge, i.e the side with the fortified village. The AT guns are dug in and all Italian units start the game hidden.

British Set Up

Three players took command of the Allied Troops and each had a similar force, each player had the following, all Allied units come on the table and are counted as spotted,

Infantry Company - 1 HQ with 3 figures, 1 x 2" Mortar with 2 crew, 1 x Boyes A/T Rifle with two crew and 3 Platoons of 1 Sgt with SMG, 1 Bren Gun Team of 2 men and 7 Riflemen.

Tank Sqn - 3 Tanks with a single Recon vehicle.

Player 1 set up in the top 4 ft of the table entering the table edge on their card activation, with an Infantry Co from the South African Royal Natal Carabiniers, 3 A13 Cruiser Tanks and a Marmon Herrington A/C

Player 2 in the centre 2 foot entering table with 1 Co of York and Lancaster Infantry, a mixed heavy tank Sqn of 2 Valentines and a Matilda with a Marmon Herrington as recon.

Player 3 in the lower 3 foot with another company of the Royal Natals, 3 x Crusader II tanks and a Mark VI Light Tank.

Objectives were straight forward the Allies were to attack and capture the fortified village, the Italians were to hold off the Brits until the Germans could arrive and drive off the Brits.

Everyones favourite tank the "Fat Badger"
Reinforcements

Different rules have different systems so if you are having a go at this game you may need to adapt the following,

Our unit activation deck contains a card for each of the units involved plus 2 cards for the Events and a Tea Break card. For those unfamiliar with this type of game, each card drawn activates that unit which then completes its move / firing etc before moving onto the next unit and so on. When the Tea Break card is drawn the remaining units are restricted in their actions.

Added to that deck for this game are reinforcement cards one for each side. When that card is draw (before the Tea Break) it is removed from the deck and a d6 is rolled. Place one chit on that card per spot on the dice, each time the Tea Break card is drawn remove a chit from the card and when there are no chits left draw a random reinforcement card, placing the reinforcement card back in the game deck and so on. The first 3 reinforcements for the Axis will be German.

Italian 20mm AT Rifle
Available Reinforcements

German - 1 Sqn 3 PzIIIG, 1Sqn 2 PZ IVE, 1 Sqn 3 PZj I, Pz Recon (222 & 231), German Anti Tank (Towed 50mm), German Artillery (1 x Off Table 75mm) , 6 Platoons of PZ Gren

Italians - 2 Sqns of 3 M13/40, 1 Sqn of 3 CV35 Tankettes, 1 Tank HQ unit of 2 M13/40, 6 Platoons of Infantry

British - 1 Sqn of 3 A10 Cruiser Tanks, 1 Tank HQ of 1 x Honey and 1 x Crusader, British Artillery (1 x Off Table 25 pdr), 6 platoons of infantry

German Tank commander surveys his potential targets
How did we get on

More fun at YG HQ over a couple of gaming sessions on the build up to Xmas.

Each of our British players took a different course of action which lead to an interesting breakdown of action on the table. Ian in the North advanced rapidly with his A13 tanks leading the way, the Italian opposition on this side of the table was the weakest with a couple of units of Bersaglieri, the Italian Recon and an A/T gun dug in on the hill. There was a slight embarrassment when one of the A13 s was taken out by the Autoblinda but that was quickly put right as the remaining two made short work of the Italian "armour" on that side.

In the middle it was a case of slow and steady wins the race, Lon packed his infantry in behind the heavy tank Sqn and then had to move forward at the rate of the Fat Badger, which is very slow. Faced with the fortified village in front it wasn't a bad course of action.

In the south Malcolm was faced with the hardest task initially facing the Italian Tanks hull down behind a ridge line and the other A/T gun. The terrain wasn't the best for an infantry assault and the sector bogged down into a static slug fest. The Italians had the advantage as the Crusaders stopped in the open to take them on, whilst the Crusaders added to the Lead content of the hillside the M13/40s took out two of the British tanks, the third eventually retreating to a hull down position themselves.

South African Infantry taking cover
Steve was happy when his Germans took the table for the first time and the first card out was the three PzIIIs which changed the perspective of the game, having only played desert games against Italians before the PzIII was a bit of an eyeopener. They quickly took out one of the Valentines, it damaged the other which then promptly broke down of its own accord, the Matilda was hit a number of times but her heavy armour was a match for the Germans. The next German card was a unit of Pz Gren who quickly got into a prolonged long range firefight with the South Africans on the south side of the table.

The final German reinforcement was the Anti Tank Gun, a spectacular deadly weapon for the period, it set up in the village and managed to get a shot away, which for the Germans sadly missed, unfortunately it had set up too close to the British troops in the middle and was unsupported by any Italian Infantry. The crew were quickly put out of action by the surrounding British troops.

However the game was won in the North by the South African Infantry, the Allied reinforcements were nowhere near as exciting as the Axis ones, two lots of Infantry were first which supported the North and Centre followed by the Tank HQ which arrived too late to take part in the action.

The South African Infantry supported by the Marmon Herrington were able to clear the Italians from the northern ridge and from there attack the side of the village, supported by the York and Lancasters from the centre the British Infantry poured into the fortified area and the game was won.


Battle

On 13 May, Wavell's infantry battalions began to concentrate at their start lines, followed by the tank regiments during the early hours of 15 May. At 06:00, the three columns began their advance, supported overhead by a standing patrol of Hawker Hurricane fighters. [14] [26] [29]

Centre column

Reaching the top of the Halfaya Pass, the 22nd Guards Brigade group ran into heavy opposition from an Italian Bersaglieri infantry company, supported by anti-tank guns, under the command of Colonel Ugo Montemurro. [30] [14] [29] [31] This unit fought tenaciously, doing much to repair the poor impression Rommel had of his Italian allies. [32] Opening fire upon the attacking British tanks, the Bersaglieri found their 47mm anti-tank guns to be unable to penetrate the armour of the Matilda infantry tanks. At 400 yards (370 m), the gunners shifted targets. Now aiming at the tracks and undercarriages, when the tanks raised up crossing low stone walls and rocks, seven tanks were disabled. For his conduct during this action, Rommel recommended that Montemurro be awarded the Iron Cross First Class. [30] At the cost of these seven tanks, the position was taken by C Squadron 4RTR and G Company 2nd Scots Guards, and the brigade group pushed on towards the Bir Wair-Musaid road. At around 08:00, it received the surrender of a large German-Italian camp, and by 10:15 Bir Wair and Musaid had been taken in the face of limited opposition. [14] [29] [31]

A Squadron 4RTR and the 1st Durham Light Infantry (1DLI) continued the advance toward Fort Capuzzo. Concealed in hull down positions behind a ridge near the fort were 20–30 German tanks, supported by anti tank guns. These engaged A Squadron, disabling five tanks, but were forced to withdraw as the squadron pressed its attack. On the final approach to Fort Capuzzo, contact was lost between 4RTR's tanks and 1DLI's leading C Company, and the attack on the fort began without armoured support. The fort was vigorously defended, and it was not until just before midday that C Company, reunited with A Squadron 4RTR and reinforced by A and B Companies 1DLI, eventually took the position. [33] [34] [35] D Company 1DLI—which had been in reserve during the attack—then made a wide left hook to capture a small landing ground to the north of the fort. [34] [35]

In the afternoon, one company of the 2nd Scots Guards probed toward Bardia, the infantry coming under heavy machine gun fire from three positions as they neared Sollum barracks. A group of Universal Carriers—commanded by Sergeant F. Riley—charged the gun positions and quickly neutralised them, but one carrier was disabled when the group was subsequently engaged by anti-tank guns. Riley executed a second charge, silencing these too and taking their crews prisoner. His carrier was hit three times for his actions Riley was awarded the Military Medal, the battalion's first decoration of the war. [lower-alpha 4]

Desert column

On the desert flank, 2RTR advanced with the 7th Armoured Brigade group. During the morning, reports were received of up to 30 German armoured vehicles operating nearby, and A Squadron 2RTR moved to investigate. Most of the German force had pulled back, but three tanks were located and brought under fire. One Panzer IV was disabled and the other two driven off, for the loss of one British tank due to mechanical failure. A second force of 15 German tanks was engaged by two tanks of Noق Troop, destroying a Panzer III and forcing the remainder to withdraw. By midday, the brigade group had reached a position west of Fort Capuzzo, and in the afternoon the nine remaining cruisers of A Squadron 2RTR began a reconnaissance patrol towards Sidi Azeiz. [37]

Coastal column

The advance along the coastal road—which lacked tank support—was held up all morning by determined Italian resistance at the bottom of Halfaya Pass. [14] [36] This objective was finally achieved toward evening when S Company 2nd Rifle Brigade—supported by Australian anti-tank gunners fighting as infantry—overran the Italian positions taking around 130 prisoners. [38] [39]

Axis reactions

Although the German and Italian commands in North Africa knew that a British offensive was imminent, Operation Brevity nevertheless caught them unprepared, and Rommel recorded in his diary that the initial attacks had caused him considerable losses. [40] By midday on 15 May, Axis command was showing signs of confusion. It was erroneously believed that the offensive involved more than 100 tanks, and repeated requests were made to both the Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeronautica for a concerted effort to defeat it. Forces around Tobruk were redeployed east of the besieged city, to block any attempt at relief and to prevent the garrison from breaking out to meet the British advance. [41] Lieutenant-Colonel Hans Cramer was sent to reinforce Kampfgruppe von Herff with a tank battalion from Panzer Regimentو and a battery of 88 mm (3.46 in) FlaK guns, [42] and additional reinforcements under General von Esebeck were despatched the following day. [43]

The Germans concentrated their riposte against the central column. Von Herff—who had been prepared to fall back—instead launched a local counter-attack toward Fort Capuzzo during the afternoon of 15 May with the 2nd Battalion Panzer Regimentم. [44] At around 13:30, D Company 1DLI at the landing ground was overrun, and with no anti-tank support more capable than the Boys anti-tank rifle, the remaining troops of 1DLI were forced to fall back toward Musaid. A fortuitous dust cloud aided their withdrawal, but by 14:45 Panzer Regimentم was reporting that it had recaptured Capuzzo, inflicting heavy casualties on the British and taking 70 prisoners. [35] [44] [45]

On the desert flank, A Squadron 2RTR's patrol toward Sidi Azeiz was being monitored by Panzer Regimentم, but the Germans misidentified the light cruiser tanks as heavily armoured Matilda infantry tanks, and reported that an attack was not possible. Colonel von Herff—believing the British had two divisions operating in the area—had grown uneasy. A Squadron's patrol was interpreted as an attempt to concentrate south of Sidi Azeiz, in preparation for a thrust north the next day such a move threatened to sweep aside von Herff's force and completely unhinge the German front in the Sollum–Bardia area. [40] In response, von Herff broke contact with the British his plan was to join up with Cramer's Panzer Regimentو to mount a concentrated counter-attack the following morning. [38] [40] [46]

British withdrawal

Realising that the 22nd Guards Brigade group would be vulnerable to German armoured counterattacks in the open ground around Bir Wair and Mussaid, Brigadier Gott withdrew it during the early hours of the morning of 16 May. By 10:00, the infantry had taken up new positions back at Halfaya Pass, although the 7th Armoured Brigade group was ordered to remain west of Fort Capuzzo for the time being. [38] [47] [43]

Cramer's reinforcements arrived in the Sidi Azeiz area at 03:00 and reached Fort Capuzzo at 06:30. At around 08:00, he made contact with Kampfgruppe von Herff, but by mid-morning both groups had run out of fuel. The German advance resumed at 16:00 before being stopped by around 17 tanks of 2RTR. The British reported one German tank set alight and another disabled and that an advance of up to fifty tanks had been halted, while the Germans believed that they had repulsed a strong British tank attack. As nightfall approached, von Herff broke off the action and went on to the defensive. He intended to repair his damaged machines, reorganise, and resume offensive operations on 18 May. [48] 2RTR pulled back to Bir el Khireigat, initially followed by two German tanks, one of which withdrew after the other was destroyed. The regiment arrived at Bir el Khireigat, from where it had set out two days previously, at around 02:30 on 17 May. [38] [49]


Axis reactions

Although the German and Italian commands in North Africa knew that a British offensive was imminent, Operation Brevity nevertheless caught them unprepared, and Rommel recorded in his diary that the initial attacks had caused him considerable losses. [ 41 ] By midday on 15 May, Axis command was showing signs of confusion. It was erroneously believed that the offensive involved more than 100 tanks, and repeated requests were made to both the Luftwaffe and the Regia Aeronautica for a concerted effort to defeat it. Forces around Tobruk were redeployed east of the besieged city, to block any attempt at relief and to prevent the garrison from breaking out to meet the British advance. [ 42 ] Lieutenant-Colonel Hans Cramer was sent to reinforce Kampfgruppe von Herff with a tank battalion from Panzer Regiment 8 and a battery of Anti-Aircraft guns, [ 43 ] and additional reinforcements under General von Esebeck were despatched the following day. [ 44 ]

The Germans concentrated their riposte against the central column. Von Herff, who had been prepared to fall back, instead launched a local counterattack towards Fort Capuzzo during the afternoon of 15 May with the 2nd Battalion Panzer Regiment 5. [ 45 ] At around 13:30, D Company 1DLI at the landing ground was overrun, and with no anti-tank support more capable than the Boys anti-tank rifle, the remaining troops of 1DLI were forced to fall back towards Musaid. A fortuitous dust cloud aided their withdrawal, but by 14:45 Panzer Regiment 5 was reporting that it had recaptured Capuzzo, inflicting heavy casualties on the British and taking 70 prisoners. [ 35 ] [ 45 ] [ 46 ]

On the desert flank, A Squadron 2RTR's patrol towards Sidi Azeiz was being monitored by Panzer Regiment 5, but the Germans misidentified the light cruiser tanks as heavily armoured Matilda infantry tanks, and reported that an attack was not possible. Colonel von Herff, believing the British had two divisions operating in the area, had grown uneasy. A Squadron's patrol was interpreted as an attempt to concentrate south of Sidi Azeiz, in preparation for a thrust north the next day—such a move threatened to sweep aside von Herff's force and completely unhinge the German front in the Sollum–Bardia area. [ 41 ] In response, von Herff broke contact with the British his plan was to join up with Cramer's Panzer Regiment 8 to mount a concentrated counterattack the following morning. [ 39 ] [ 41 ] [ 47 ]


Операція «Бревіті»

Операція «Бревіті» (англ. Operation Brevity) — короткочасна битва між британськими військами та італійсько-німецьким угрупованням корпусу «Африка» генерал-лейтенанта Е. Роммеля в ході кампанії в Лівійській пустелі поблизу лівійсько-єгипетського кордону.

За задумом головнокомандувача британськими військами на Близькому Сході, генерала Арчибальда Вейвелла, операція «Бревіті» , мала за мету нанесення раптового та потужного удару по послаблених позиціях противника в районі Соллум-Капуццо-Бардіа на стику кордонів між Італійською Лівією та Єгиптом. Надалі війська Співдружності намагалися прорватися до обложеного Тобруку та визволити оточені в місті підрозділи 8-ї армії. За планом британського командування війська бригадира Вільяма Готта, наступаючи трьома колонами піхоти за підтримки бронетехніки, повинні були розгромити, як вважали британці, дезорганізованого противника та прорватися на оперативний простір, розвиваючи подальший наступ вглиб лівійської території.

З початку наступальна операція Вейвелла розвивалася відповідно до плану, й британським військам вдалося досягти ефекту раптовості, збентеживши війська Роммеля. Попри запеклого опору італійських військ був захоплений стратегічно важливий прохід Халфайа Пасс (араб. مَمَرّ حَلْفَيَا ‎ = Mamarr Ħalfayā) згодом був захоплений важливий форт Капуццо. Однак, здобуті у перші години битви перемоги були легко та швидко ліквідовані фланговими контрударами німецько-італійських військ, що отримали підкріплення вже протягом однієї доби успіх британців був зведений на нуль.

Прохід Халфайа Пасс був визволений військами Роммеля через 11 діб в ході загального наступу німецько-італійських військ літом 1941 року та просування їх вглиб єгипетської території.


German and Italian forces [ edit ]

    - Major GeneralErwin Rommel
      von Herff
      • Reconnaissance Battalion 3
      • 2nd Battalion, Panzer Regiment 5
      • Motorcycle Battalion 15
      • Reconnaissance Battalion 33
      • One Motorised Infantry Battalion, 102 Motorised Division Trento
      • One AA Battery (88 mm Anti aircraft guns)
      • Two AA Platoons (20 mm Anti aircraft guns)
      • Two 105mm leFH Howitzer
      • Defending the border
        • Two Companies, 5th Motorised Infantry Battalion
        • One Mountain Gun Battery (Cannone da 75/27)
        • One AT Battery (Cannone da 47/32 M35)
        • Group Two, 24th artillery regiment
          • One Field Gun Battery (12 Cannone da 105/28)
          • 2nd Battalion, 62nd Infantry Regiment
          • One AT Battery (Cannone da 47/32 M35)
          • One AA Battery (20 mm Anti aircraft guns)

          Following the British attacks General Rommel ordered the following force, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Hans Crammer, to the frontier to defeat the British.

          During the morning of May 16, Rommel ordered further forces to the frontier.

          • Kampfgrppe von Esebeck
            • Schuetzen Regiment 200
              • One battalion
              • Medium tank Company (minus one platoon)

              Latar Belakang [ sunting | sunting sumber ]

              Pada awal 1940, pasukan Italia yang berada di Libya menginvasi Mesir, sehingga tentara Britania dan negara-negara Persemakmuran dari Pasukan Gurun Barat memulai serangan balasan tiga bulan kemudian, yang dinamakan Operasi Compass. Dalam dua bulan Operasi, Pasukan Aliansi berhasil memperluas wilayah sepanjang 500 mil (800 km), dengan menduduki provinsi Italia Cyrenaica dan menghancurkan Pasukan Kesepuluh Italia (Italian Tenth Army), tetapi operasi terpaksa dihentikan pada februari 1941 karena adanya prioritas dalam Pertempuran Yunani. Pasukan ini kemudian berganti Nama menjadi Korps XII dan ditata ulang dibawah Komando HQ Cyrenaica, yang dikemudian hari mantan tentara dari Pasukan Gurun Barat lebih memilih mengambil sikap bertahan. Beberapa bulan kemudian, HQ Cyrenaica kehilangan Komandannya, Letnan Jenderal Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, dan pasukan dari divisi infanteri ke-2 Selandia Baru dan divisi infanteri ke-6 Australia ketika mereka terpaksa ditugaskan ke Yunani. Divisi Lapis Baja Ke-7, dengan hampir tidak ada tank yang tertinggal setelah Operasi Compass, juga ditarik dan dikirim ke Delta Nil untuk diistirahatkan dan diperbaiki. Dalam upaya melakukan serangan balasan, Wilson digantikan oleh Letnan Jenderal Philip Neame, dan Divisi Lapis Baja ke-2 Britania, serta Divisi Infanteri ke-9 Australia ditugaskan ke Cyrenaica, tetapi kedua pasukan tersebut masih belum berpengalaman, minim perlengkapan, dan Divisi Lapis Baja ke-2 belum memilki kekuatan yang mumpuni.

              Italia merespon dengan.mengirimkan Divisi Ariete dan Divisi Trento ke Afrika Utara, mulai dari Februari 1941 dan berlanjut hingga awal Mei, Operasi Sonnenblume melihat kedatangan pasukan Jerman, Afrika Korps di Tripoli untuk memperkuat Aliansi Italia. Dipimpin oleh Jenderal Erwin Rommel yang terdiri dari divisi Panzer ke-15 dan Divisi ke-5. Misi dari Korps Afrika adalah menghadang usaha sekutu untuk mengusir Italia dari wilayah tersebut. Namun Rommel berhasil mengetahui kelemahan lawannya, dan segera melakukan penyerangan tanpa menunggu seluruh pasukannya terkumpul. Selama bulan Maret dan April, Divisi Lapis Baja ke-2 berhasil dilumpuhkan saat pasukan Blok Poros melangkah maju, yang memaksa pasukan Inggris dan Negara-Negara Persemakmuran untuk mundur. Pasukan Sekutu kehilangan arah dengan ditangkapnya Neame dan Letnan Jenderal Richard O'Connor (Komandan Perwira Tentara Britania Mesir), yang mengakibatkan struktur komando Inggris dan Negara-Negara Persemakmuran harus ditata ulang. HQ Cyrenaica dibubarkan pada tanggal 14 April, dan fungsi komando diambil alih oleh HQ Pasukan Gurun Barat yang diaktifkan kembali di bawah Letnan Jenderal Noel Beresford-Peirse. Divisi Infanteri ke-9 Australia kembali mengalami kegagalan di pelabuhan benteng Tobruk, dan sisa pasukan Inggris dan Negara-Negara Persemakmuran menarik diri sejauh 100 mil (160 km) ke arah timur Sollum di perbatasan Libya-Mesir. Dengan pengepungan Thubruq oleh pasukan Jerman - Italia, kelompok pertempuran kecil (Kampfgurppe) yang dipimpin oleh Kolonel Maximilian von Herff terus memberikan tekanan ke arah timur, merebut Benteng Capuzzo dan Bardia, tiba di perbatasan ke Mesir dan pada akhir April telah mengambil alih Sollum dan wilayah taktis Celah Halfaya. Rommel ditempatkan diposisi ini untuk memperkuat kelompok tersebut dan diperintahkan untuk mempertahankannya.

              Garnisun Thubruq -meskipun diisolasi dengan tanah-terus menerima pasokan dan dukungan dari Angkatan Laut Britannia, dan Rommel tidak dapat mengambil alih pelabuhan. Kegagalan ini berakibat signifikan posisi lini depan di Sollum yang merupakan akhir dari rantai pasokan logistik pasukan yang membentang dari Tripoli mendapat ancaman dari garnisun Thubruq, dan komitmen yang besar untuk mengepung Thubruq mencegahnya membangun pasukan di Sollum, sehingga perluasan ke Mesir tak dapat dijalankan. Dengan mempertahankan kepemilikan Tobruk, sekutu mampu membangun kembali strategi baru.


              The new phase at Tobruk in May 1941, and Operation Brevity

              The "new phase" at Tobruk involved replacing the units in the salient captured by the enemy and a new an more aggressive posture. This would prove to be very hard on the Australian infantry, but it was what General Morshead thought was the most appropriate stance to take. The cost in casualties would be large, as they would be constantly probing and testing the enemy. The plan was to push ever more forward and to be on the move after dark, hoping to capture enemy outposts and more ground that had been lost. Brigsdier Wooten, commanding the 18th Brigade was to site his headquarters farther forward than anyone had previously done. Early on 14 May, he had been ordered to stage an operation that would give the impression that it was part of a larger attack. The reason being that the British had launched Operation Brevity on the Egyptian frontier.

              Operation Brevity was planned by General Wavell, without prodding by Churchill in London. The Tiger Convoy was expected to arrive in Egypt about 12 May 1941. Once the Tiger tanks were unloaded, they expected some two weeks of work to ready them to equip units. The men in Egypt understood that, but Churchill really had no idea what was involved. He expected that they would unload the tanks and that they would be instantly ready for action. Wavell, though, was ahead of the game. He had some equipment and units that he could use immediately to strike at the enemy forces just to the west of the frontier. He knew that Rommel's forces were stretched thin. He would strike right away and try to push past Sollum and run up to Tobruk. That would enable the British forces to coordinate with the Australians in Tobruk. The flaw in the plan was that any chance of success was in hands of Brigadier Gott.

              Rommel was an admirer of General Wavell. Rommel credited Wavell with a strategic judgment that could make forces available that could move despite any German and Italian possible moves. The Greek campaign was in the process of ending in a disastrous way. Many of the units evacuated from Greece were transported to the island of Crete in great disarray, as we have seen. The British fully anticipated that German airborne forces would attack Crete. Before the battle for Crete started, Churchill was boasting confidently of their ability to defeat and airborne attack. We have seen that the German airborne forces were unready for a real fight after landing from the air. What won the battle of Crete for the Germans was the airborne troops that were flown in by transport aircraft. They landed on beaches and in dry river beds. The Australian, New Zealand, and British forces in Crete were in great disarray and were unready for a serious fight. Still, if they only had to beat the German airborne forces, they could have done that much.


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