Thursday, March 12, 2015


A British offensive operation assayed in November 1942, during the desert campaigns (1940–1943). British 8th Army pressed a real advantage in numbers of tanks against the Afrika Korps and Italians, for once taking General Erwin Rommel by surprise. But British armored doctrine, officers, and training had not mastered combined-arms operations, and the advantage was wasted in sequential brigade-sized tank assaults that were often unsupported even by infantry. The Germans also made mistakes, such as a wasteful counterattack without proper intelligence or air cover. The British offensive failed, possibly along with the command nerve of General Alan Cunningham . The main failure came in the face of heavy casualties inflicted by enemy resistance along the Sidi Rezegh ridge. Hesitation in continuing the advance led to Cunningham’s dismissal and replacement by General Claude Auchinleck, who resumed the attack on November 26. The New Zealand 2nd Division retook the ridge line in a bloody fight, but was assaulted and thrown off the ridge on December 1 by a German counterattack. That rebuff cut the corridor to the besieged British garrison of Tobruk. British and Commonwealth forces suffered nearly 18,000 casualties in CRUSADER while inflicting over 24,000 on the Germans and Italians. Even so, Rommel had again unnerved an offensive by a much larger British 8th Army.

Australian defenders of the coastal fortress city of Tobruk withstood a German siege in 1941, after General Erwin Rommel ’s successful desert campaign isolated the enclave. Fearing to leave an enemy force in his strategic rear as he advanced toward Egypt, Rommel twice attacked the Australian garrison. The Australians held, then counterattacked and captured two battalions of Italians. Two British and Commonwealth attempts to break the siege failed. With war approaching Australia’s shores, Australian troops were mostly pulled out and replaced by British and Polish troops. Rommel was preparing to strike at Tobruk a third time in the fall of 1941 when the British offensive CRUSADER interrupted his plans. The Tobruk garrison fought its way out and linked with British 8th Army. 

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