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Old 01-30-2009, 09:49 PM   #10
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Ok, this next one is notes the OP wrote furing the time he was listening to the lecture of Lindemann.


To set the scene a bit, the British had just failed to pull off 'Operation Battleaxe' (an attempt to relieve Tobruk) losing almost 80% of their tanks. The Germans lost 62 tanks but managed to recover 50 of those to fight again.

On arrival in Libya, Lindemann spent his first two months assembling and training a panzer company for the planned November attack to crush the besieged town of Tobruk which had been cut off by the Germans and now lay 70 miles behind the front lines. (Lindemann said that one of the punishments for screwing up in training was being made to jog along behind your tank carrying one of the spare road wheels!)

The biggest difficulty was lack of supplies. Fuel, ammunition and vehicles were having a very tough time crossing the Mediterranean sea due to British submarine and air attacks. The Germans were recieving about 72,000 tons of supplies per month (including only 35 Flak 36 guns all summer), which was not enough to get by on. By November 18th (according to my sources) DAK only had 35 PzII, 58 PzIII, 17 PzIV, 12 Flak 36 and 96 Pak 38 AT guns. The Italians could only field about 140 tanks, mostly M-13s. Other vehicles including captured British equipment helped bulk out the force.

In November a combination of bad weather along the coast and the fact that NO supplies had made it across the Med that month forced Rommel to postpone the attack on Tobruk until Dec3. About the only action was a recce mission to investigate a large supply dump that suggested that the Brits were building up for an assault. While the recon team was almost destroyed during this probe, they did discover that the supply dump was a dummy and captured a South African command tuck which contained orders concerning British withdrawals and made no mention of any planned attack. (these orders were fake, meant to fool the Germans.)

The British had other ideas however and launched 'Operation Crusader' with 724 tanks, 201 of them infantry tanks and the rest cruisers, on November 18th. Designed to do what 'Operation Battleaxe' had failed to do, only on a larger scale, the operation was meant to both relieve Tobruk and drive the DAK out of Cyreniaca. The Germans had no warning of the impending attack until some units of 15th panzer on patrol near Sidi Omar ran into lead elements and reported them as a "Reconaissance in Force". (it was still being called that after two days of heavy fighting). One of Rommels few mistakes. The Brits and Commonwealth forces advanced quickly until they ran into the effects of the weather on the coastal areas.

General Cruwell decided that this was the line of the British attack and ordered von Ravenstein to form a special force- 5th Panzer Regiment with 12 10.5cm howitzers and 4 Flak 36- to move south from Gambut (where the main German supply and repair area was), to Gabr Saleh to attack the British 4th Armoured Brigade there. This unit was called 'Kampfgruppe Stephan' after its commander.
Chasing 3rd Recces armoured cars and doing recce sweeps themselves had broken up 4th Armoureds units. Kampfgruppe Stephan first encountered the 8th Hussars late in the afternoon on the 19th, northeast of Gabr Saleh. In the vicious firefight that followed, 20 Stuart tanks were knocked out mostly by the 88s which were using a new tactic of firing from their trailers.
This was the first time this had been done although 88s had been used at Arras in France as a despiration measure against Matildas and again at Halfaya pass. This was the first time they had been fired from trailers however. It worked very well, the guns could fire, move quickly to another position and fire again. (Lindemann said that this bent the early trailers and later trailers were made much heavier to allow for this.)
5th RTR was called up to assist the 8th Hussars and promptly lost another 3 Stuarts although 12 of the knocked out tanks would later be recovered. Kampfgruppe Stephan lost only 3 tanks with 4 more damaged but recoverable. The two sides withdrew from each other as darkness came on but Kampfgruppe Stephan who had planned to move to Sidi Omar was stuck awaiting fuel from its supply columns.
The rest of 15th and 21st panzer were moved south in the night to support Kampfgruppe Stephan. At dawn on the 20th of November, elements of the 4th Armoured Brigade re-engaged Kampfgruppe Stephan in what would turn into a running battle with Stephan doing a fighting withdrawal to the northwest. Knocking out 8 more stuarts and losing 4 tanks themselves (2 of which were PzIIs) The unit retreated to its rendezvous point with 15th and 21st panzer. The British, thinking they had beaten them, followed only to be engaged by the 15th panzer. 21st having had to stop to refuel.
15th and 21st panzer were ordered to disengage and move west to strike at the 7th Armoured Brigade and other units drawn up at Sidi Rezegh just south east of Tobruk. Moving out in the dark just before dawn on 21 Nov they were so quiet that 4th Armoured brigade (and the 22nd who had by now arrived in support), didn't even realize they had left until dawn light showed the last unit disappearing westward.

The 21st of November had started for the 7th armoured brigade at Sidi Rezegh being ordered north to meet the Tobruk breakout force at El Duda. The British assumed the the retreat earlier meant the end of the German threat in the area. However, just before the attack was supposed to begin, two large German armoured formations appeared on their right flank. This was 15th and 21st panzer in full attack. 7th Armoured Brigade was forced to split its formation with the 7th Hussars and the 2nd RTR moved east to meet them leaving the 6th RTR alone to lead the charge for Tobruk. This move cost the 6thRTR 39 tanks to the field guns and 88s that formed the outer ring of the besiegers forces. 7th Hussar and 2ndRTR fared no better with the 7th nearly being wiped out by 21st panzer in a running fight that made good use of pak and flak guns moving and shooting. By the end of the day only 12 7th Hussar tanks, some damaged, were left running.

This was Lindemanns first combat action and he and his unit did well, knocking out nearly 30 British and Commonwealth vehicles with very few losses to themselves. Another 16 tanks from the 21st panzer attacked the 7th Hussars support group near the Sidi Rezegh airfield. This unit met with less success as they met 25lber guns manned by 60th Field Regiment and were beaten back. A Stuka attack on the guns was unsuccessful due to inaccurate bombing. A British counter attack by 5 Support and HQ company Crusaders was also unsuccessful as all were hit. Fire from the 25lbers continued to hold off 21st panzer but both sides were running low on ammunition and with the arrival of the 22nd Armoured Brigade from Gabr Saleh made the Germans decide to withdraw.
2nd RTR was engaged by 15th panzer and suffered much the same fate as the 7th Hussars.
Rommel in the meantime, had got together a scratch force from the Gambut repair facility and used them to repulse the British breakout attempt from Tobruk at El Duda.

At this point British XXX corps had suffered badly but incomplete intelligence from the front convinced the 8th Army Commnader that things were going well except for the failure to link up with Tobruk and he suggested that the 1st South African Division be brought up from Bir Gubi to aid in the next mornings attack.

DAK commanders decided to disengage and reposition themselves overnight with the 15th panzer being sent to a position east of the British and south of Gambut and the 21st being set up on a line facing south along the escarpement from Sid Rezegh to Belhamed and between the British and Tobruk. The British, including the 22nd Armoured division, seeing these movements interpreted them as a withdrawal from the fight and stayed near the Sidi Rezegh Airfield.
Rommel deciding the chance was too good to miss, told Von Ravenstein to attack the airport in the afternoon of the 21st.
With fire support fron Artillery Gruppe Bottcher (a company Rommel had assembled to bombard Tobruk), the 21st panzers 155th rifle regiment attacked from the north engaging the British infantry protecting the airport while one battalion of 15th panzer swept around and attacked from the west. iIn the dust, smoke and confusion the British even fired on approaching tanks of the 4th Armoured Brigade br mistake as they came in to counter attack. It was all too much for the British and they had no choice but to withdraw from the airport to the south over a protecting ridge. As dusk fell however, 15th panzer came roaring in from the Northeast causing extra chaos. By the end of the action 22nd Armoured Brigade was down to 34 running tanks an 7th Armoured had only 15. German losses were very light. As a bonus, 15th panzer also captured the HQ and Staff of the 4th Armoured Brigade during the night attack, but this was more than offset by the capture of the DAKs entire communication center and staff and codebooks from their base near Gambut by the 6th New Zealand Division.
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