Thursday, October 15, 2015

SdKfz.251 of Afrikakorps Advances Past Fort Mechili

German Afrikakorps soldiers in an armored personnel carrier Sd.Kfz.251/1 (Sonderkraftfahrzeug 251) Ausf.B advances past the fortified Fort Mechili in Cyrenaica/Libya, Western Desert, North Africa, 8 April 1941. On 31 March 1941, Rommel launched his first offensive into British defense line at El Agheila - Libya with only 8,000 men of 5. leichte-Division (division formed by parceling units from 3. Panzer-Division, thus did not possess full Panzer complement but was fully mechanized ). Panzer-Regiment 5 was its main panzer arm with Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks - enough power to deal with British Crusader tanks. Unbeknown to the Germans, British already withdrawn their main tank force - 7th Royal Tank Regiment - from Libya to augment British offensive against Italian forces in Somali in east Africa down by Indian Ocean. As main British forces retreated along coastal road to along Benghazi - Derna - Tobruk cities, Rommel pursuit followed. He also sent Panzer-Regiment 5 into southern flanking attack to capture Fort Mechili and cut-off British retreat at Derna. German forces would then regroup for final assault onto port city Tobruk where Axis could then land supplies immediately behind frontline, rather depend on arduous long-trek coastal route from Agheila-Tunisia ( of which vulnerable to Allied air attacks ). These open desert flanking maneuvers would be Rommel's hallmark (hence British named their nemesis the "Desert Fox"!). Major coup achieved when British garrison were encircled at Fort Mechili on April 6th by German southern flanking force. British attempted breakout on April 7th was utter disaster. Its 3rd Indian Motor Brigade did not wait for tank reinforcements and ran head-long into German anti-tank, Flak, and Panzer siege lines. British column systematically battered as enemy shells dropped among its vehicle line, majority of which scrambled back to Mechili. Upon Mechili surrender April 8th, Germans captured 2,000 men, virtually entire 3rd Indian Motor Brigade, along with British 2nd Armoured Division commander General Gambier-Parry and his HQ staff. Disgrace was such that on 10 May 1941, British decided not to reform the 2nd Armoured Division and disbanded it outright! As for General Gambier-Parry, after serving 2 years as POW in Italy, he was liberated by the Allies but quickly retired from military service in 1944 even before World War II ended.

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