MECHILI & DERNA FALL
Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's Off To Hell We Go.....
THE MIDDLE AND FAR EAST - WW2
Following the fall of Tobruk the main body of forces, with Wavells blessing, pushed on to Derna along the coast road while the 11th Hussars followed by the 7th armoured formations headed inland westwards to Mechili where the Babini Group, a 70 tank armoured brigade lay waiting. Enroute near the cross road to Mechili the 7th Armoured ran into about 50 M13's and promptly traded salvos, the sparring ended with the loss of 7 Brittish tanks to the Italians nine. Enemy air activity was fortunately light as the RAF front line squadrons were unable to provide the coverage they had been. This as a result of their quickly dwindling numbers from months of activity wilth little servicing combined with the inability to establish landing grounds fast enough to keep pace with the rapid advance. As longmore put it: "The overly ponderous standard Squadron organization did not lend itself to such conditions". Nonetheless fighter patrols were kept at a sufficient level to prevent enemy aircraft from inflicting significant troop casualties or slowing their rapid advance. The Blenheims and Wellingtons not being dependent on these forward landing grounds continued bombing the Italian aerodromes.
The 7th Armoured arriving at Mechili on the 23rd engaged Babini, however the Italians threw all effort into the battle and used their armour to good effect. As they sparred for position and exchanged volleys at medium range among explosions and clouds of dust, the Italians clearly took the initial lead destroying many of the11th Hussars light tanks and pounding the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment. The 2nd Royal Tank Regiment regrouped and counter attacked, the Italians erred in positioning along a ridge and were descimated. Despite their relative success, Graziani is supposedly to have ordered Babini to withdraw after missinformation was recieved as to the strength of the forces facing Babini. Where they could withdraw to was anyones guess, but on the 27th January the 7th Armoured rumbled into the village uncontested. Settling in at Mechili exhausted, they awaited a re-supply which included new vehicles from a special convoy that Wavell had dispatched to off load at his recent conquest Tobruk.
Meanwhile at Derna, fortified by the 60th Sabratha, 17th Pavia and 27th Brescia Divisions under Bergonzoli, the Italians once again were putting up a strong well planned resistance. This is no doubt largely due to the fact that Derna had not been subjected to bombing attacks immediately prior to the assault as was the case with Tobruk and Bardia. It had however been bombed extensively beforehand which only emphasizes that unless it is followed by immediate ground assault, the morale breaking advantage is entirely lost. There was no great hordes of surrendering Italians this time. A particularly fierce battle ensued over the aerodrome at Siret el Chreiba well protected by Italian artillery, and similar enemy determination was encountered throughout their defenses. With the assault all but stalled, again however, Graziani inexplicably ordered his troops to withdraw and the 6th Division, having been told the Italians had left, swarmed into an empty town. Empty that is of troops, there was however an estimated 90,000 Italian colonist civilians which now became the responsibility of the British to protect. A huge and uneeded burden, particularly in light of their greatly stretched line of supply and the task that still lay ahead. It wasn't long and chaos within the town ensued,
TO BE CONTINUED........................................
NAG, NAG, NAG
Churchill wasn't long to renew his harping on stripping Egypt of troops to support other theaters. Immediately on sensing the capture of Benghazi would be successfull, he fired off a telegram to General Ismay, Chiefs of Staff Committee on feb 6th suggesting that a battalion be removed from Egypt to strengthen Crete, and since it would be such a hassle to do so, he may as well send two. The Chiefs of Staff in London had grave missgivings but deferred the decision to the Generals on the spot. If denuding Egypt of troops at the pinnacle of the first major success of the war could be called a dumb decision, his remark to Ismay was just plain thoughtless "it seems a pity to let the bakers cart go with only one loaf, when the journey is so expensive and the load available, and it might as easily carry two. Pray consider this. But no delay." On the heels of this telegram would come a flurry of others as he turned up the pressure on his old harp of sending troops to Greece.This despite the fact that Greece still steadfastedly refused to accept them! Come hell or high water Churchill was going to honour his committment to help the Greeks, whether they wanted it or not, and regardless of the cost. He knew, as did everybody that there was little to no chance of success and as it was his crusade and his alone, this put him in a very precarious position when the inevitable failure of this fiasco took place. To cover his rear and to surround himself with the maximum number of scapegoats, having finally badgered a committment of sending the maximum of troops and materials to Greece, he continued to badger them untill he had something in writing from most everyone involved stating that they supported this folly. General Wavell, to his credit, never did cave in, the lack of which in Churchills memoirs is blatently conspicuous by its absence. Sir Anthony Edens beaten submission of support supposedly crossed in the mail with Churchills brilliant insurance against future claims of coersion "Do not consider yourselves obligated to a Greek enterprise if in your hearts you feel it will only be another Norwegian fiasco. If no good plan can be made please say so. But of course you know how valuable success would be." This flimsy sent after he had all the necessary scapegoats in hand requires no further comment.
~ News Chronicle ~
Saturday, February 8, 1941
THE WHIRLWIND TRIUMPH OF BENGHAZI
Italians Caught on Two Sides by Brilliant Pincer Move
From BERTHA GASTER
News Chronicle Correspondent
IN A SEVEN-DAY WHIRLWIND CAMPAIGN, THE IMPERIAL ARMY OF THE NILE HAS SWEPT THROUGH THE 175-MILE STRETCH OF HILL AND DALE OF CENTRAL CYRENAICA, SHOT PAST VILLAGES AND SETTLEMENTS IN ENDLESS SUCCESSION, SMASHED ENEMY AERODROMES IN A SERIES OF DEVASTATING RAIDS, AND TAKEN BENGHAZI.
GET YOUR PAPER HERE, READ ALL ABOUT IT
Despite the broken morale of the Italians and the lack of any effective air opposition, the rapidity of the latest success is greater than anyone dreamed. It was expected that progress over the plateau, where the country is eminently suitable for defensive fighting, would be slow and protracted. In fact, the rate of advance has been about as quick as troops could make it on ordinary line march without opposition.
On thursday night our planes were still bombing Benghazi and the neighbouring aerodrome of Benina. Today both are in our hands, and the occupation of one-third of Libya is complete. It is 60 days since the campaign against Sidi Barrani began. In that time we have advanced 440 miles from Mersa Matruh over hitherto impregnable desert captured three well-defended strongholds, taken more than 110,000 prisoners, and brought Mussolini's North African Empire crashing about his ears.
And it is no secret that the original intention of the British leaders was limited to smashing Graziani's preparations for an attack on Egypt and pushing the Italians back to the frontier. The rest of this amazing campaign has been one brilliant improvisation after another, often by the men on the spot. The final assault on Benghazi was made in the face of a furious blinding sandstorm. In achieving this victory, which surely will go down in history as one of the most shattering and complete of all time, our casualties, as far as can be told, are at present under 2,000. Once the advance started, the momentum gradually increased until the last lap (Derna-Cyrene-Benghazi) achieved in the extraordinary time of one week
Here is part of the booty which fell into British hands at Tobruk. Line after line of Italian mechanised transport vehicles stand abandoned in the desert out side the town. Over the town itself roll clouds of smoke from burning oil and petrol dumps.
Swept Round Mountain Plateau
It may now be revealed that the fall of Benghazi yesterday afternoon was mainly due to a masterly flanking movement by our armoured formations, which swept round the whole mountain plateau of Jebel Akhdar by the desert track, splitting off southwards from Bomba. Beating down a slight attempt at resistance at Mechili, 50 miles south, they ploughed their way for five days across the waterless desert in blinding sandstorms, while the Australians were racing through the uplands to the north behind the fleeing Italians. By a masterpiece of timing they came out on the coastal road leading to Tripoli, south of Benghazi, somewhere in the neighbourhood of Solluch, and cut the Italian retreat as the Australians came up from the north and hemmed in both sides.
With the last life line to Tripoli straddled by the waiting tanks of the British the Italians in Benghazi threw in their hands with almost no resistance, and yesterday afternoon the Australian troops ended the 450-mile drive of the Army of the Nile with the triumphant march through the streets of Benghazi. It now appears certain that, contrary to expectation, Graziani had no intention of making any stand at all in Cyrenaica. The resistance put up at Derna was not so much to allow the Italians to re-form somewhere in the hills as to permit them to get as much as possible out of Benghazi before our troops arrived. The capital itself, which lies on a spit of land with salt lakes each side, had no regular system of fortifications, only a few barbed wire defences on the landward edge. It is not known yet what we have caught in the bag. The best part of the two divisions were known to have been there recently but it is too soon yet to say how man managed to get away before the road was cut.
A Country as Large as France
Benghazi, with a port as good as Tobruk, capable of taking a 20,000-ton liner, is a modern capital, with a peace-time population of 65,000, of which about 20,000 are Italian. Reports that the town is on fire are not confirmed, but it is highly probable that the Italians fired dumps and stores before leaving. With the capture of Benghazi our possession of Cyrenaica is complete. Except for a few pockets outstanding here and there, which still remain to be cleared up, we are now in complete control of a country as large as France. Fertile lands and rich colonies, upon which Mussolini lavished millions of lire are lost to him, and exactly 30 years after Italy proudly proclaimed the annexation of Cyrenaica the British flag floats triumphantly over the Governor's palace. The blow to Italy cannot be exaggerated. When the war began, Mussolini had 15 divisions in the field. Today, 10 of them have been captured or destroyed. About 110,000 men are in the prison camps of Egypt and India. The remaining five have lost half their equipment and armament to the British, who have taken nearly 300 tanks, more than 1,000 guns, and a thousand machineguns and small arms.
Graziani Faces Hopeless Situation
A great natural barrier of desert stretches hundreds of miles westward of Benghazi to Tripoli. With the depleted and demoralised forces under his command it is impossible for Marshal Graziani to attempt another desert advance infinitely greater than the one into Egypt, which cost him so dear. We are 10 times safer in Cyrenaica than we were in Egypt, and the latest and decisive blow to Mussolini spells the complete and final collapse of all his hopes in North Africa. First news of the fall of Benghazi came in a five-word communiqué from Cairo: "Benghazi is in our hands," it said. Then came the full communiqué, saying: "Libya: Benghazi surrendered yesterday. By brilliant operations the British armoured forces moving south of the Jebel Akda established themselves astride the Italian lines of communication leading southwards from Benghazi. At the same time Australian troops, advancing from Derna, gave the retreating enemy forces no respite. Demoralised and outmanoeuvred, the enemy were unable to put into effect plans for the defence of Benghazi." The Italians have not yet admitted the fall of Benghazi, but their communiqué yesterday said: "In Cyrenaica a violent battle is in progress between Italian troops and enemy motorised troops in the district south of Benghazi."
End of Tobruk's Floating Fort
On fire amidships, her decks awash, the Italian cruiser San Giorgio sinks slowly at her moorings in Tobruk harbour. The cruiser, with an armament of four 10in guns and eight 7.5s was badly damaged by the R.A.F. last year. Since then she has been used as a fortress in Tobruk Harbour, mounting heavy anti-aircraft guns in addition to her original armament. Anti-torpedo booms did not save her when , in capturing the town, combined British forces battered Tobruk's harbour and defences.