Desert Prelude: Operation Compass: 2


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For personifications of nature, see the page Mother Nature ; note that there may invariably be some overlap between that page and this. A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe," a part limited in time and space.

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He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish it but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind. If justice be not a natural principle, then there is no such thing as injustice; and all the crimes of which the world has been the scene, have been no crimes at all; but only simple events, like the falling of the rain, or the setting of the sun; events of which the victims had no more reason to complain than they had to complain of the running of the streams, or the growth of vegetation.

If justice be not a natural principle, governments so-called have no more right or reason to take cognizance of it, or to pretend or profess to take cognizance of it, than they have to take cognizance, or to pretend or profess to take cognizance, of any other nonentity; and all their professions of establishing justice, or of maintaining justice, or of rewarding justice, are simply the mere gibberish of fools, or the frauds of imposters. In Axis forces drove the British back again and captured Tobruk after the Battle of Gazala but failed to gain a decisive victory. The war in the desert became a sideshow for Germany once the war against the Soviet Union began on 22 June Italy and Germany never had sufficient resources or the means to deliver them to defeat the British, whose conquest of Libya was delayed by the diversion forces to Greece and the Levant in and the Far East in Supreme Headquarters had the 5th Army General Italo Gariboldi and the 10th Army General Mario Berti which in mid had nine metropolitan divisions of about 13, men each, three Blackshirt and two Libyan divisions with 8, men each.

Italian army divisions had been reorganised in the late s, from three regiments each to two and reservists were recalled in , along with the usual call-up of conscripts. Morale was considered to be high and the army had recent experience of military operations; the Italian navy had prospered under the Fascist regime, which had paid for fast, well-built and well-armed ships and a large submarine fleet but the navy lacked experience and training.

The air force had been ready for war in but had stagnated by and was not considered by the British to be capable of maintaining a high rate of operations; the 5th Army with eight divisions was based in Tripolitania , the western half of Libya opposite Tunisia and the 10th Army with six infantry divisions, held Cyrenaica in the east. The British had based forces in Egypt since but these were greatly reduced by the terms of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of ; the small British and Commonwealth force garrisoned the Suez Canal and the Red Sea route.

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In Libya, the Royal Army had about , men and in Egypt, the British had about 36, troops, with another 27, men training in Palestine. British forces included the Mobile Division Egypt Major-General Percy Hobart , one of only two British armoured training formations, which in mid was renamed Armoured Division Egypt on 16 February , it became the 7th Armoured Division ; the Egypt—Libya border was defended by the Egyptian Frontier Force and in June , the headquarters of the 6th Infantry Division Major-General Richard O'Connor took over command in the Western Desert, with instructions to drive back the Italians from their frontier posts and dominate the hinterland if war began.

The 7th Armoured Division less the 7th Armoured Brigade, assembled at Mersa Matruh and sent the 7th Support Group forward towards the frontier as a covering force, where the RAF also moved most of its bombers; Malta was also reinforced. In Tunisia, the French had eight divisions, capable only of limited operations and in Syria were three poorly armed and trained divisions, about 40, troops and border guards, on occupation duties against the civilian population.

Italian land and air forces in Libya greatly outnumbered the British in Egypt but suffered from poor morale and were handicapped by some inferior equipment. In Italian East Africa were another , Italian and African troops with guns, light tanks and 20, lorries; Italy declared war from 11 June In British parlance, the term "Western Desert" applied to the desert of Egypt west of the Nile but came to describe the whole area of conflict, including eastern Cyrenaica in Libya.

Bedouin tracks linked wells and the easier traversed ground; navigation was by sun, star, compass and "desert sense", good perception of the environment gained by experience; when Italian troops advanced into Egypt in September , the Maletti Group got lost leaving Sidi Omar, disappeared and had to be found by aircraft. In spring and summer, days are miserably hot and nights very cold; [8] the Sirocco Gibleh or Ghibli , a hot desert wind, blows clouds of fine sand, which reduces visibility to a few metres and coats eyes, lungs, machinery, food and equipment; motor vehicles and aircraft need special oil filters and the barren ground means that supplies for military operations have to be transported from outside.

A third of the Italian merchant marine was interned after Italy declared war and by September , half of the remainder had been sunk, although much of this was replaced by new building, salvage and transfers of German ships. From June to May , 16 percent of shipments were sunk. Fuel oil shortages in Italy, the small size of the ports in Libya and the need to meet civilian demand, meant the inefficient dispatch of large numbers of small convoys.

Oberkommando des Heeres OKH , German army high command concluded that German forces in Libya could not be supplied sufficiently for a decisive offensive, unless Italian forces were withdrawn to Italy, which was a politically impossible condition. The geographical position of Italy made it possible that the Mediterranean could be closed if war came and make the Mediterranean Fleet based in Egypt dependent on the Suez Canal.

In , Wavell began to plan a base in the Middle East, to support about fifteen divisions , men , six in Egypt and three in Palestine and the rest further afield. Much of the material was imported from the colonies and the rest obtained locally by stimulating the production of import substitutes; the plan for a garrison of nine divisions in Egypt and Palestine, was increased to fourteen by June and then to 23 by March By March the MESC had replaced about Liberty Ship deliveries worth of imports with increased local production of potatoes, cooking oil, dairy products and fish; cattle drives from Sudan obviated the need for refrigerated shipping.

A water pipeline was begun along the railway and sources of water surveyed. Wells were dug but most filled with salt water and in the main sources of fresh water were Roman aqueducts at Mersa Matruh and Maaten Baggush. Water-boats from Alexandria and a distillation plant at Matruh increased supply but rigorous economy had to be enforced and much water had to be moved overland to outlying areas; the number of vehicles available in was inadequate and lorries were diverted to provide the Armoured Division with a better rear link; only the desert-worthy vehicles could be risked off-road, which left tanks unable to move far from Matruh.

On 11 June , hostilities commenced and the British were ordered to dominate the frontier and isolate Giarabub ; the British crossed into Libya that night, exchanged fire with Italian troops at Sidi Omar and discovered that some Italians were unaware that war had been declared.

Desert Prelude: Operation Compass v. 2

At an engagement near the frontier wire at Nezuet Ghirba, an Italian force of 17 light tanks, four guns and infantry was defeated by a mixed force of British tanks, artillery and motorised infantry. The British patrolled the frontier area as far west as Tobruk, establishing dominance over the 10th Army. Sand wore out equipment quickly, shortening the track life of tanks, spare parts ran out and only half the tank strength could be kept operational.

Benito Mussolini had no plans to invade Egypt, intending to remain on the defensive in Libya if war came. After the fall of France in , the 5th Army could send reinforcements east and on 7 August, Mussolini ordered an invasion, to occupy Egypt and establish a land connexion with Italian East Africa. In August a lull fell on the frontier, most of the British armoured units had been withdrawn from the frontier to Mersa Matruh, to conserve their ability to defend the port and the 7th Support Group took over, to establish observation posts from Sollum to Fort Maddalena, ready to delay an Italian offensive; Hussars reconnoitred further into Libya; [24] the Libyan divisions lacked the transport necessary to operate with the Maletti Group, which had a medium, two mixed and four light tank battalions, on the escarpment and were redeployed to the coast road.

On 9 September, the Maletti Group got lost en route to Sidi Omar and Graziani cancelled a flanking move and concentrated on the coast road, with five divisions and the Maletti Group; the 4th Blackshirt and 64th Catanzaro divisions stayed in reserve at Tobruk; the 5th Squadra a mixed air unit with about serviceable aircraft, airfield equipment and transport, stood by to support the advance and occupy airfields.

The Italian invasion of Egypt 13—18 September , began as a limited tactical operation towards Mersa Matruh, rather than for the strategic objectives sketched in Rome, due to the chronic lack of transport, fuel and wireless equipment, even with transfers from the 5th Army. Musiad was subjected to a "spectacular" artillery bombardment at dawn and occupied. An Italian force of fifty tanks attempted a flanking move, which led the British rearguard to retire east of Sidi Barrani , which was occupied by the 1st Blackshirt Division and Graziani halted the advance; the British resumed observation and the 7th Armoured Division prepared to challenge an attack on Mersa Matruh.

British road demolitions were repaired, wells cleaned and work commenced on a water pipe-line from the frontier, to accumulate supplies for the resumption of the advance in mid-December. Egypt broke off diplomatic relations with the Axis and Italian aircraft bombed Cairo on 19 October. British naval and air operations to harass the Italian army continued and caused damage which prisoners reported had lowered morale.

Armoured car patrols dominated no man's land but the loss of advanced landing grounds reduced the effectiveness of the RAF and Malta was put out of range. Operation Compass, a British counter-attack on an Italian advance on Matruh was planned to destroy the Italian force and most of the WDF was moved up to the port. An extra armoured car company joined in the reconnaissance operations far behind the front line; the WDF had been reinforced by a new tank regiment with Matilda II tanks and after a month, the British began to prepare a raid on the central group of Italian encampments and then on Sofafi of 4—5 days' duration, rather than wait for the Italians.

A counter-attack from Tummar East was repulsed and the camp taken the next day.


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A 7th Armoured Division screen to the west prevented the reinforcement of Sidi Barrani and on 10 December, the British cut the coast road and the 7th Armoured Division mopped up around Buq Buq, taking many prisoners. On 11 December, the Italians were defeated at Sidi Barrani; Rabia and Sofafi were abandoned and the 7th Armoured Division pursued along the coast and the escarpment.

From 9—11 December, the British had taken 38, prisoners, guns, 73 tanks and about 1, vehicles for casualties.


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  • Bardia fell between 14 December and 5 January ; the British lost Australian infantry casualties and 17 of 23 tanks, for 40, Italian casualties and prisoners, more than guns, tanks and hundreds of lorries. The Australians pressed on and captured half of the Tobruk defences by nightfall. The Australians took 25, prisoners, guns and 87 tanks, for a loss of Australian and 45 British troops. The BCS slipped away and from 26—28 January the British tanks bogged down in heavy rain; Derna was abandoned next day.

    Combe , a flying column of wheeled vehicles, was sent ahead across the chord of the jebel. Next day the Italians attacked to break through the roadblock and continued to attack into 7 February. With British reinforcements arriving and the Australians pressing down the road from Benghazi, the 10th Army surrendered. From Benghazi—Agedabia, the British took 25, prisoners, captured tanks and 93 guns of the totals for Operation Compass of , men, tanks and guns. On 9 February, Churchill ordered the advance to stop and troops to be dispatched to Greece to take part in the Greco-Italian War ; Operation Marita , a German attack through Macedonia was thought imminent; the British were unable to continue beyond El Agheila anyway, because of vehicle breakdowns, exhaustion and the effect of the much longer supply transport distance from the base in Egypt.

    Desert Prelude v. 2: Operation Compass

    A few thousand men of the 10th Army escaped the disaster in Cyrenaica but the 5th Army in Tripolitania had four divisions; the Sirte, Tmed Hassan and Buerat strongholds were reinforced from Italy, which brought the 10th and 5th Armies up to about , men. German reinforcements were sent to Libya to form a blocking detachment Sperrverband under Directive 22 11 January , these being the first units of the Afrika Korps Generalleutnant Erwin Rommel.

    A week after the Italian surrender at Beda Fomm, the Defence Committee in London, ordered Cyrenaica to be held with the minimum of forces and the surplus sent to Greece. In the Western Desert Force now XIII Corps , the 6th Australian Division was fully equipped and had few losses to replace; the 7th Armoured Division had been operating for eight months, had worn out its mechanical equipment and was withdrawn to refit. Two regiments of the 2nd Armoured Division with the WDF were also worn out, leaving the division with only four tank regiments; the 6th Australian Division went to Greece in March, with an armoured brigade group of the 2nd Armoured Division; the remainder of the division and the new 9th Australian Division, minus two brigades and most of its transport was sent to Greece, it was replaced by two under-equipped brigades of the 7th Australian Division.

    The division took over in Cyrenaica, on the assumption that the Italians could not begin a counter-offensive until May, even with German reinforcements. Apart from an armoured brigade group of the 2nd Armoured Division, which had been withdrawn for the Greek campaign, the rest of the division had been destroyed. Several Axis attempts to seize Tobruk failed and the front line settled on the Egyptian border. Tobruk was defended by a force of some 25, Eighth Army troops, well stocked with supplies and linked to Egypt by the Royal Navy. The garrison had armoured cars and captured Italian tanks, which could raid Axis supply convoys as they passed Tobruk for the frontier, which made impossible an Axis invasion of Egypt.

    After three weeks Rommel suspended the attacks and resumed the siege. Operation Brevity 15—16 May was a limited offensive, to inflict attrition on the Axis forces and to secure positions for a general offensive towards Tobruk. The British attacked with a small tank-infantry force in three columns, Desert , Centre and Coast. Desert Column with the British cruiser tanks, was to advance inland and destroy tanks found en route to Sidi Aziz.

    Coast Column was to take Sollum and the foot of Halfaya Pass. Sollum, Halfaya Pass and Fort Capuzzo were captured but then the fort was lost to a counter-attack. A German counter-attack on 16 May threatened the force at the top of the pass and a retirement was ordered covered by Desert Column; the Germans recovered Musaid and a general British retirement began to a line from Sidi Omar to Sidi Suleiman and Sollum, which left only Halfaya Pass in British possession.

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    German casualties were men, three tanks destroyed and several damaged. Italian casualties were , of whom were captured. During the evening of 26 May, Kampfgruppe von Herff Oberst Maximilian von Herff , comprising three panzer battalions, assembled on the coast at the foot of Halfaya Pass and attacked the next morning, intending to bluff the British into retiring; [48] the pass was defended by the 3rd Coldstream Guards Lieutenant-Colonel Moubray and supporting units but the bluff became a genuine attack and secured a commanding position, leaving the British in danger of being surrounded.

    Gott authorised a withdrawal and Moubray extricated the battalion. There were no reinforcements nearby and Gott ordered a withdrawal from the pass, which was re-occupied by the Axis; [49] the Italo-German positions on the frontier were fortified with barbed wire and minefields, covered by 50 mm and 88 mm anti-tank guns.

    Desert Prelude: Operation Compass: 2 Desert Prelude: Operation Compass: 2
    Desert Prelude: Operation Compass: 2 Desert Prelude: Operation Compass: 2
    Desert Prelude: Operation Compass: 2 Desert Prelude: Operation Compass: 2
    Desert Prelude: Operation Compass: 2 Desert Prelude: Operation Compass: 2
    Desert Prelude: Operation Compass: 2 Desert Prelude: Operation Compass: 2
    Desert Prelude: Operation Compass: 2 Desert Prelude: Operation Compass: 2
    Desert Prelude: Operation Compass: 2 Desert Prelude: Operation Compass: 2
    Desert Prelude: Operation Compass: 2 Desert Prelude: Operation Compass: 2

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