The Siege of Tobruk May 1941

(Libya, Dispostions, German-Italian Attack, 1-2 May 1941)

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The attack came in the area held by the 26th Australian Brigade, which had the 2/23rd and 2/24th battalions in the line and the 2/48th Battalion in reserve at Wadi Giaida. The Australians expected an attack, after withstanding bombing and artillery-fire on the perimeter defences on 29 April; Axis troops seen massing in the evening of 30 April had been dispersed by artillery-fire. The posts either side of Ras el Medauar were shelled and bombed and German troops began to dribble forward, under cover of dust and the gathering darkness. By 9:30 p.m., the Germans made a small bridgehead as planned but several Australian posts held out, the reconnaissance party vanished and the Italian troops were not able to reach their objectives. The night passed in confused fighting as the Germans tried to reorganise and mop up at Ras el Medauar and attack south-westwards along the perimeter. The new attack failed and by morning, some of the Australian posts were still holding out.

A thick mist rose and German tanks moved eastwards instead of south-east and then ran into the new minefield, where they were engaged by anti-tank guns and repulsed. Tanks of the 15th Panzer Division, tried to drive north but were prevented by anti-tank fire. No German reserves were left and the most advanced troops were south of Wadi Giaida, tired and isolated in a sandstorm. Paulus judged that the attack had failed and Rommel decided to attack on the right to widen the breach. In the afternoon, German tanks attacked south-east towards Bir el Medauar and Morshead sent 15 cruiser and five infantry tanks to counter-attack. The German attack was stopped for a loss of five British tanks and in the evening, the Australian 2/48th Battalion counter-attacked Ras el Medauar but met determined resistance and was repulsed. During the day, 73 and 274 Squadrons had maintained standing patrols over the area and on the morning of 2 May, the fighting around Wadi Giaida continued in a dust storm, as German troops tried to trickle forward. On the night of 3 May, the 18th Australian Brigade made a converging counter-attack with two battalions, which lost co-ordination, failed and was ended, to avoid being caught in the open at daybreak.

The Axis attack had overrun the perimeter defences on a 3 mi (4.8 km) front, to a maximum depth of 2 mi (3.2 km) and captured higher ground useful as a jumping-off position and from which observation points could be established, for a loss of 650 German and 500 Italian casualties.

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(GERMANY)

General Heinrich von Prittwitz

Commander

15th Panzer Division

KIA Tobruk May 1941

ALLIES

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(AUSTRALIA)

Lieutenant General

Sir Leslie James Morshead

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(AUSTRALIA)

Lieutenant General

Sir John Dudley Lavarack

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(POLAND)

General Stanisław Kopański

AXIS

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(GERMANY)

Generalfeldmarschall

Erwin Rommel

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(ITALY)

Tenente-General

Gastone Gambara

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(GERMANY)

Generalfeldmarschall

Friedrich Paulus