Sixes and Snake eyes Rommel's luck in an alternate 1942 desert war

  • Prologue - Writers basic background essay and perspective establishment

    This thread will be my attempt to create an alternate history to the Battle of Gazala

    Historically Gazala, Tobruk(42) and Mersa Matruh are typically lumped together. If one looks at the historical accounting of these 3 actions over the course of late May and most of June 1942, this was a decisive axis victory. Troop losses favored the axis nearly 10 to 1 across these actions, on top of incredible material losses to the allies in tanks, trucks, aircraft, artillery pieces, ammunition, and raw supplies like water and fuel. The axis captured numerous general officers and destroyed nearly the whole command structure of the X and XIII corps various formations assigned to the Gazala line

    How did this happen? The British and commonwealth forces outnumbered the Axis in ground forces something like 5:4, although the axis air forces outnumbered the British at the start of the Gazala battle 5:4. The British where lavishly supplied with fuel, ammunition, motorized transport, whilst the axis where chronically short of supplies throughout the campaign, the spring of 1942, did represent the best supply situation they had experienced to date. The X fliegerkorps based in Sicily, along with Italian Regia Aeronautica forces had bombed Malta relentlessly, driving Royal Navy force K away, and loosening the choke hold on Rommel's supply lines to Tripoli. Additionally Goering had negotiated clandestine use of Tunisian ports and transfer of some French military assets to the Panzer Army Africa.

    In equipment the German divisions of the Panzer Army Africa, where somewhat better off than their British counter parts. British cruiser tanks guns where underpowered, and had poor anti infantry performance. Their most effective tanks where American lend leased Lee tanks which despite having easily penetrated armor and an awkward turret layout reminiscent of the 20's designed French Char B series tanks, Did feature a hard hitting 75mm gun which could knock out German tanks at much superior ranges to most British tanks and anti tank guns. The transmissions and long roach march ability of British tanks of this era was notoriously poor. The Luftwaffe and Italian air force had a minor edge in the quality of their machines at that moment

    So how did the British and their commonwealth allies lose in such a lopsided manner, and allow Rommel to get within 90 miles of Alexandria, having their army destroyed and embarrassed? When the forces where by combined measure, at parity. This scandal was so great that it generated a no confidence motion against Winston Churchill

    The vastly oversimplified answer is command competence, namely the gross disparity in the high tactical competence of the Panzer Army Africa staff, radiated right down to its company commanders vs large scale criminal level command incompetence exercised by the British 8th army staff, from Auchinlek/Ritchie's staff right down to their company commanders. One can even add severely unhelpful political interference by Winston Churchill to the ledger of poor command competence on the British side, especially when seeing the debacle that occurred at Tobruk

    Sir Alan Brook, the chief of the imperial general staff, and regarded by most postwar and independent reviews, as a smart man, regarded Auchinlek's staff as completely incompetent, and was instrumental in forcing their removal in later 1942 and ultimate replacement with Montgomery.

    The running joke in Auchinlek's command was that two regiment's could only be assured of cooperating if their commanders slept with each other's wives, and given the performance at Gazala, it would be hard to rate this as anything other than a truism; the problems where not merely confined to the army, on the day Rommel launched his Gazala offensive, the desert airforce only had a single recon aircraft operating, and it was shot down first thing in the morning, letting everyone along the gazala line get surprised by axis tank columns materializing in their rear.

    The existence of the Gazala line represented a wholesale British/Commonwealth rejection of every lesson taught by the 2nd world war up to that date, including their own experiences in France in 1940 and previous battles in the desert in 1940-1942. XIII corps formations where placed into defensive boxes, in theory backed by artillery and minefields but in practice, there were wide gaps, and artillery lacked the range to be mutually supporting between the boxes, and the boxes separated the divisions into penny packet brigades who could be defeated in detail by the combined might of the Africa Corps fighting as a cohesive unit. Ritchie and Auchinlek in effect created the same paper thin sort of line that field Marshal Graziani had created at Capuzzo, and where in turn just as vulnerable to massed armor bursting through and disrupting rear areas. The prized armored reserves operated in small Brigade groups with no coorindation with supporting arms, perhaps understandable as lacking in experience in 1939 or 1940 but criminally negligent by mid 1942. Nor was the command incompetence the sole province of 3 star generals, indeed Brigade, regiment battalion and company commanders along the Gazala line failed to respond the Africa corps movements and exercised (with only a few notable exceptions) no initiative to extricate themselves from the trap their superiors had put them in the position of. For as much as they fought bravely, they died or where taken prisoner at 10x the rate of the axis... British troops at the Somme and Gallipoli might hardly have noticed a difference and still been keen to drop the lions lead by donkeys remark of 1916

    We should also note the significant failures of intelligence on the British side; for as much praise as they rightly deserve for project ultra, the 8th army radio network leaked, the desert air force radio network leaked, 8th army and middle east command headquarters leaked, and Rommel didn't depend entirely on Enigma, thus many of his orders went by courier or the more secure Italian military cipher network and the 8th army was left guessing when his offensive would begin

    So against that historical backdrop, which my timeline will begin from, I shall introduce a single change that I believe creates the window for a more complete victory, namely a poorer performance by the only Allied unit that was well served in the battle of Gazalla, General Keonig's free French Brigade

    It cannot be understated how brilliant a command performance was executed by general Keonig and his 3700 man strong brigade. surrounded in the first hours of the campaign by their exposure at the southern end of the line, they held back the 5 strongest divisions of the Panzer Army Africa and the entire might of their air force for 16 days, their ability to delay Rommel's supplies via the long detour around them created such critical shortages among Rommel's speerheads that he contemplated having to surrender and end the campaign in Africa right then and there. This timeline will see the point of departure, as having Luftwaffe bombers and Italian artillery locate and destroy General Keonig's hq on the first day of the battle, killing him and his staff. That first 48 hours where critical, as Rommel had coincidentally attacked at a time when the French Brigade was desperately low on water. Historically Keonig kicked his men back into line and they fought with a ferocity every bit as impressive as their fathers at Verdun, in my timeline, bereft of their commander and staff the XX italian motorized corps is able to penetrate their position in the confusion and compel their surrender

    I look forward to sharing this timeline with you
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    Chapter 1
  • Chaper 1

    05-27-1942 1040hrs
    3.3 km w-nw of Bir Hakeim

    Autoblinda 41 (equipped with sand tires) #20 commander, staff sgt Gandolfi, divisional staff officer Major Martini, Luftwaffe coordinator Major Steiner observing
    1st recon platoon
    recon battalion
    101st Motorized Infantry Division "Trieste"

    SSG: There sirs, that recessed dugout, it's quite cleverly hidden but we used the antenna's and telephone lines to orient our search, we have been watching it since just before daybreak, we are certain that is the French Command post, staff cars have been parking a small distance off, over there and throwing on canvas covers to conceal themselves before going on foot the rest of the way to the post
    MM: (after conferring with Major Steiner) Sargent, you are to pull back 1000 meters, the rest of your battalion is being brought up along with the 36th and 38th truckborne battalions and Collonnello Verdi with them to lead the assault. The artillery battalion and the Luftwaffe will provide suppressive fire in advance of your assault.

    We will focus our fire programs and bombing attacks against your identified targets Sargent, as soon as the sun's angle reaches your back, hit the French with everything you have, favor your lines of advance and attack to the east and south east so you can pin the French against the 132nd, but your first target is the headquarters, living prisoners, and documents are a priority. The Trento division will launch a further attack from the north to pin those forces away from you, and have been ordered to march one of their regiments on your tail, to envelope the western half of the French forces. There's already a medal going in for you, for your work this morning, you can earn another one tonight Sargent

    05-27-1942 1725hrs
    6000 meters above Bir Hakeim (and falling fast)

    JU-87D STG 2 #6 Feldwebel Dorne Pilot Grefreiter Martin Rear Gunner, escorted by two Schwarms 2nd staffel JG27 with BF-109's (newest model)

    The Stuka was in a near vertical dive, late arriving Hurricanes and Kitty hawks where engaged with the escort, Dorne's staffel commander was a mere 250 meters ahead of him and fired 4 red smoke rockets into the target area to identify it for the rest of the group (the staffel commander being given precise coordinates by Major Steiner via ground to air set), not that Dorne needed it, he could see the French below rushing to the bunker, he armed his bomb and dropped it just a moment before pulling out of his dive. It was a direct hit, flying point artillery at it's finest, smoke billowed from the bunker and area around its as the rest of his squadron released their bombs, strafed the trenches around the bunker and rejoined in formation for the flight back to Bengazhi

    05-27-1942 1729hrs
    600 meters and closing from the Bir Hakeim box permiter west north west, in identified gap in minefields

    Autoblinda 41 (equipped with sand tires) #20 commander, staff sgt Gandolfi, divisional staff officer Major Martini, observing
    1st recon platoon
    recon battalion- Battle Group Verdi
    101st Motorized Infantry Division "Trieste"

    Major Martini watched as the French all went to ground, from the waves of Italian and German Stukas. Other than the concentrated strike on the observed brigade headquarters, it was a repeat of the classic fire plan of 1940 developed by General's Guderian and Kesselring, chiefly waves of stukas maintained station overhead, some performing bombing or strafing runs, others conducting fake bombing or strafing runs, whilst circling BF-109's maintained escort for the bombers. This had the effect of nailing the free French to their trenches Trieste's 65mm,100mm, and 149mm cannons had opened up and where showering the Bir Hakeim box with high explosives.

    Gandolfi's battalion surged through the gap in the minefields catching the 2 batteries of 2 pounder anti tank guns, seprated from their gunners whom had gone to shelter and quickly captured them. Gandolfi's platoon rolled right behind the creeping barrage (Martini updating firing coordinates via radio periodically, close behind Gandolfi in an appropriated British "Mammouth" command vehicle. French staff officers staggered and stumbled out of the command post as it belched smoke and flames. Gandolfi's platoon half dismounted and quickly disarmed the Brigade HQ security platoon and detained numerous staff officers in various wounded states. Staff Sargent Gandolfi's driver pointed to a dead Frenchman just inside the bunker door as they began to clear it (ultimately unecessary as those not killed by the kinetic force of the blast had succumb to the flames and smoke) "Stelle" (stars) meaning they had a dead general at their feet

    SSG "Go fetch the major as soon as the fire is put out, grab anything that looks useful"
    Chapter 2
  • Chapter 2

    05-27-1942 2210hrs
    Captured Free French Brigade HQ, Bir Hakeim Box

    "Trieste" Divisional HQ Unit, Major General Arnaldo Azzi Commanding, Battle Group Verdi Security
    101st Motorized Infantry Division "Trieste"

    MGAA: Staring jaw half slacked at the near complete singed minefield map that had been located by members of SSG Gandolfi's platoon Get this to PAA staff immediately, remain there until they produce enough copies so that each battalion in the division has their own. You are to hand this document directly to Field Marshal Bastico or the PAA chief of staff, and no one else

    SSG: What is that sir?

    MGAA: It is my endorsement for you to receive the gold medal of valor for bravery in the face of the enemy

    SSG: Thank you sir

    MGAA: Martini, see to prisoners being brought back to Bengazi, Borgia, you see to the captured equipment, limber up anything worth taking into Egypt, spike or burn the rest; just a shame we didn't find much water, petrol or ration tins, the French seem to have been in as tight a jam with their supplies as we have been. Division needs to be on the move by 2400

    maintain the pace direct East, south of the Trigh El Abd path, through the gaps in the minefields we now know about, our objective is Bir el Harmat, which should interdict supplies going to the British forces on our left, Trento division from XXX corps will eventually slot in our left, but in the meantime we will use the minefields and darkness only to screen our flanks until they catch up, there aren't any good attacking or defending lanes south of the trail anyway, so I doubt the British will come for us. That defensive box didn't appear to have any armor attached

    Author's note: This ends the primary initial point of departure from the historical battle of Gazala. For reference the French where indeed surrounded by the 101st Trieste Motorized Division and the 132nd Ariete Armored division on the first day of the campaign, and General Keonig's forward command post was indeed vulnerable to bombing and shelling, and the French brigade was overdue for resupply. The decapitation strike here by Trieste, combined with infiltration/shock action and confusion of command on the French side has seen them over-run the box in the manner many of the boxes where destroyed in the historical battle including boxes destroyed by Trieste. Trieste's above stated path of advance is historical (after they historically broke the French box 2 weeks later than this time line)

    The italian XX corps has gained a great deal of freedom of movement by this change. There would be well in excess of 30 miles of maneuver room in between the 150th British brigade box at Sidi Muftah and the 3rd Indian Brigade far to the south in the desert This will have devastating down stream effects on the 8th army due to Ariete, 15th, 21st panzer and 90th light Afrika division having vastly increased supply security in their drive to the British vitals, which will be covered in the following chapter(s)

    The capture of the minefield map is semi historical, the 90th light Afrika division captured complete maps of all the Gazala minefields a few hours later than this historically when they over-ran the HQ of the 7th armored brigade
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    Chapter 3
  • Chapter 3

    05-27-42 2200
    DAK Advanced HQ about 30 KM E-SE of Bir Hakeim
    GeneralOberst Irwin Rommel command, situational update briefing by Oberst Siegfried Westphal, chief of DAK staff operations


    The 101st has reported the complete collapse of French forces stationed in the Bir Hakeim box and is driving towards Bir El Harmat, they report 3200 prisoners and a few worthwhile artillery pieces

    The 132nd has scattered and destroyed the small British/Indian force south of Bir Hakeim, 1000 prisoners including their general, they seem to the be last tattered remains of the infantry force we crushed at Begahzi a couple of months ago. They identified as the "3rd Indian Motorized Brigade" disorganized reinforced British battalion rabble may have been more apt

    21st Panzer has made good progress towards Bir El Harmat and has only encounterd scattered British patrols and supply convoys. Per your instructions, and due to the fast progress of the Italian XX corps, they will shift their attacks further east and bypass Bir El Harmat in the morning. Von Vaerests wounds are not life threatening and he should be fit for duty in a couple of days

    15th Panzer has identified and surrounded the 4th armored brigade whom where marching towards the French box head long with limited recon patrols. They claim 48 tanks knocked out and 700 prisoners. 15th panzer reports the loss of 11 of their own tanks, 4 of which they deem repairable. They have captured 31 usable British tanks and their Panzergrenadier regiment will remain behind tomorrow to salvage the battlefield and pick over the area for supplies. Their recon battalion captured some fuel wagons with 20,000 gallons of petrol They will continue to drive East-North East to Support the 90th Light Division, but may be some hours behind the other formations whom where less engaged

    90th light has made excellent progress as you know from our visit with GeneralMajor von Kleeman. They encountered the HQ of the 7th armored Brigade and captured their entire staff, including the commanding general by surprise, they also captured numerous maps and documents, and 5 company's worth of trucks, and 3 batteries of good mobile field artillery. With their intelligence windfall they are preparing to skirt east around the balance of the 7th brigade and race for the main British supply dumps at El Adem tomorrow. If the British do not retreat later tomorrow we will detail battle groups from the 90th light and 15th panzer to surround and destroy the 7th armored position. They are known to have several squadrons of the American Grant tanks, initial encounters have shown they are very dangerous in a tank duel, and are better engaged by anti guns and artillery

    The 5 Italian line infantry divisions are continuing their demonstration attacks and artillery barrages along the Bir Temrad line opposite Gazla, except for the Trento division which on General Azzi's orders has skirted directly along the Trigh el Abd, to protect the flank 101st division. The Brescia and Pavia divisions have sent 6 truck born companies each to Trento, so in effect they have 2 mobile regiments instead of their normal 1. Trento has been made responsible to escort and deliver resupply convoys to the XX Corps and the DAK and is being provided with minefield maps. The DAK and Ariete tanks are all topped off on British fuel at the moment. Major Steiner has asked that we possibly transfer captured fuel stocks to the Luftwaffe and Reggia Aeornautica if that becomes possible later as they will need to displace forward to temporary fields as we advance Rommel nodded and agreed with that as a concept

    Authors Note and perspective: The above mostly represents the historical progress of the XX corps and the DAK in the first 36 hours of the offensive. The changes as per the initial 2 chapters is having the 101st Trieste division defeat and capture the Free French Brigade, and having the augmented Trento division moved up to support them. These maneuvers all happened in the original timeline, just later, as it took the DAK and XX corps 2 weeks to defeat the French box in the historical timeline. We will start to truly see the effects of Trieste's victory the following day as the DAK and XX corps continue their advance

    I have allowed for the historical wounding of General Von Vaerest in one of the few British spoiling air attacks of the day

    For those wondering how did the desert air force and the British armored corps get caught so flat footed and dispersed, one should look at my initial note about intelligence gaps on the British command side from the first post, additionally as part of Operation Venice, General Rommel had ordered the DAK and XX corps to march in circles in front of the 1st South African Division and elements of the 50th British division at the northern end of the Gazala line the day before the offensive, including having several of his truck companies having aircraft engines mounted in the rear beds to kick up huge clouds of sand and dust, to make the British think he was assembling all of his armor for an attack in the north, the desert air force, ultra and British ground recon completely missed his mobile divisions, then pushing themselves on a night march to turn the southern flank of the Gazala line. The other captures of Generals, staff officers and documents noted above here in chapter 3 are historical. Rommel's 621st signals battalion was instrumental in steering the DAK and Ariete's recon battalions direct into the British and common wealth HQ's via their sophisticated and well practiced radio triangulation and interception; and as noted in chapter 1, British radio security under Auchinlek and Ritchie's command was lax at best
    Chapter 4
  • Chapter 4 segment 1- The shopping spree

    Black Thursday 05-28-42 2300
    Forward HQ 90th light Africa division, Commander GeneralMajor von Kleeman (30km E-SE of Tobruk, El Adem area)
    Prisoner interrogation Lt. General William "Strafer" Gott Commander British XIII Corps

    Von Kleeman could shake off the exhaustion, 60 hours strait of marching, fighting and more marching

    Today was Black Thursday for the British 8th army

    Flush with their maps of British positions in the area, handily confiscated yesterday from the 7th armored brigade, the 90th light had performed a brilliant right hook around the 1st British army tank brigade (historical) destroying and capturing much of their rear transport, including 6 full water tankers. By mid day they reached what he could only consider paradise, the British El Adem supply dump:

    This region had been built up over the previous several months to nourish General Ritchie's long planned and forever delayed attack against the PAA at Gazala, and his men where upon the greatest shopping spree of their lives, hundreds of thousands of gallons of petrol, water, hundreds of thousands of rations, cigarettes, millions of rounds of ammunition, 4 dozen running tanks under repair, and 26 British aircraft of the Desert airforce (which his unit destroyed on the ground)

    They of course stirred up a furious response from panicked and surprised British rear security and logistic forces, but 90th light outnumbered them 8 to 1 and was reinforced right after lunch by the panzer regiment of the 15th Panzer division (butterfly from their eastward displacement) which gave them complete control of the area

    Security was turned over to the 15th and Kleeman drove his half tracks and trucks full speed to the North East, vectored on by two of their divisions attached Fiesler storch aircraft and the 621st radio interception company which had identified the HQ of the XIII corps less than 10km away

    90th light surged that distance in 30 minutes catching William Strafer Gott's corps command post in the process of limbering up to retreat following reports of the DAK reaching El Adem. They where quickly bracketed by self propelled artillery and anti guns, and Kleeman's armored cars dashed for the post hosing the area down with machine gun and 20mm auto cannon fire, with mechanized infantry right behind them hopping out of their half tracks grabbing staff officers and sprinting for documents before they could be burned. The entire corps staff including General Gott was scooped up in the maneuver having no armor or force greater than their tiny security company and an AA platoon them to defend them from the entire 90th division. Maps obtained, aircraft and prisoner interrogations showed there where no forces between the 90th and the even larger British supply dump at Belhamed

    Exhausted and starving, but riding aboard Gott's confiscated command vehicle, and with their fuel tanks refilled from the El Adem dump, 90th light pushed on all through the afternoon reaching the front of the British rail head and the Desert air force base at Gambut, destroying another 40 British aircraft, with the recon battalion reaching the coast by 9pm. The supplies for a 2 month army offensive where before the 90th light including rail cars, tanks, trucks, ammo, cannons and everything they could want for the rest of the year. More rear area headquarters and logistics officers where captured

    The capture of Gambut and Belhamed had significant tactical and strategic consequences, beyond the supply booty. In theory all of the British and common wealth forces on the Gazala line where now cut off, including the huge garrisons at Gazala itself and Tobruk. Gambut was within fairly easy aircraft ferry range to Malta, and had been being used to try and succor the starving garrison and populace of that island which was straddled across the PAA supply lines back to Italy. The Desert airforce lost significant numbers of machines, and pilots captured and huge stocks of forward fuel and would have to displace some distance back over the next couple of days, conceeding air superiority over the Gazala line to the Luftwaffe and Regia Aeornautica. The loss of XIII corps HQ and other staffs in the rear had dramatic effects on command and control throughout the area, which was already suffering from DAK forces stampeding their supply zones

    As General Kleeman mused to General Gott, showing him a map of 90th light's progress the last 48 hours, they had reach 100 percent behind the British and knifed them in the neck before they even knew they where there

    author's note and perspective: XIII corps HQ very nearly had this happen to them historically, missing being over run and captured by the 90th light by about 2 hours. 90th light could not pursue them because they needed to remain at El Adem to safeguard the huge cache of supplies they had captured. The British 1st army tank brigade punched air historically on this day and completely missed the 90th light, and largely became immobilized because 90th light captured or destroyed most of their supply tail. X corps HQ also missed being captured by 90th light historically by only a few hours, but 90th light's orders where not to march in their direction anyway. XIII corps HQ was directly between the supply dumps at El Adem and Belhamed/Gambut

    Our timeline has seen the 15th panzer division maneuver inbetween the 1st tank brigade and the 2nd guards brigade (directions and instructions provided by 90th light who was advancing faster than them) and seen them able to join the battle at El Adem, and then hold the area so 90th light could resume it's lightening advance to the rear. All well possible with the elimination of the Free French box and the historical divisional spacing of the 8th army on 5-28-42
    Chapter 4.2
  • Chapter 4 segment 2- The shopping spree

    Black Thursday 05-28-42 2359 Bir El Harmat
    Forward HQ DAK GeneralOberst Rommel commanding, briefing by Oberst Siegfried Westphal, chief of DAK operations

    Today was Black Thursday for the British 8th army

    OSW: 90th light's field reports are simply incredible and the high level prisoners are on their way back. The glut of supplies at Belhamed isn't even countable, if we can ultimately retain them, it may be possible to motorize more of the Italian line divisions, even temporarily, but this may be wishful thinking, 90th light is more than 25km separated from the rest of the army and has no real contact with the rest of our formations; they don't even have a way to carry everything back; OKW and Commando Supremo did respond positively for our request for individual reinforcements to be flown in, at night to Gambut and be mated to some of the captured British kit; I will report back once something is decided there

    15th panzer has cleaned up the remains of the 4th tank brigade and is fully assembled on the supply dump at El Adem, they are organizing to send some of the British mobile equipment to the rear for our Italian allies, and retaining the rest for themselves and 90th light. Motorcycle and armored car platoons are going back and forth to Gambut, but they would need several hours notice to reinforce 90th light if that becomes imperative. 90th light itself is a glutton right now, if they had to retreat we would need to give them at least 12 hours to limber up and burn everything else, even then we would be wasting much; this condition cannot remain for long once the British see how thin we are

    21st Panzer has skirted the main minefields and Bir el Harmat itself. They report capturing and destroying much of the rear elements of the 22nd British Army tank brigade, including their mobile tank repair workshop They are expecting a counter attack from the 22nd tomorrow and are preparing for a defensive action in conjunction with the Ariete division

    132nd Ariete arrived here in Bir el Harmat early today and captured some staff and logistics units of the 50th British division They have taken position opposite the 22nd British Army tank brigade. There are is a liason officer at each regiment of Ariete and the 21st Panzer, so their action should be well coordinated tomorrow. The luftwaffe and reggia aeronautica will have some evening strikes on the 22nd and larger strikes at day break

    101st Trieste has cleared the minefields and scattered some British patrols and mobile columns, and will reach Sidi Muftah in the morning, which should allow them to dominate the supply lines of the British 150th Brigade defensive box

    102nd Trento division has two regiments enveloping the Sidi Muftah box from the south and east and their other two regiments have cleared a path in the mine field and should have it fully enveloped from the north and west in the morning. They have clear more paths in the mine fields for XX corps and DAK artillery/AA assets to displace forward here to Bir El Harmat, most should be in place later tomorrow. Trento doesn't report any British movements of deploying for breakout

    The 4 remaining Italian line divisions are holding and demonstrating opposite Gazala. No obvious British assembly for attack in their sectors as of this evening. All division commanders are hungry for the trucks from El Adem and Belhamad

    Air resistance noticeably slackened late today due to the actions of 90th light and British command staffs being over run. The hits on our columns where they are occurring is locally devastating, we must keep tighter grips on British forces so they desert air force cannot distinguish us from their ground troops

    Authors note and perspective: 15th panzer's butterflied movement was addressed in the last chapter. 21st panzer is east of the original timeline which would put them into the 22nd Armored Brigades supply zone, Ariete is at their historical location, Trieste and Trento are butterflied into the encirclement of the 150th British Brigade. (the 150th brigade was encircled and destroyed historically, by XX corps and the 21st panzer division, later than this, due to the need extended resistance of the Free French Box at Bir Hacheim and the lack of security in the supply lines to the XX corps and the DAK)
    chapter 5
  • Chapter 5- Aftermath of Black Thursday, Napoleon's position

    05-29-42 1000 hours
    HQ 8th Army and Middle East Command, Cairo Egypt, LT General Neil Ritchie and Field Marshal Claude Auchinlek commanding respectively

    The options for general Ritchie, where boundless as they where fraught with danger. Although communications where patchy, especially with the disappearance of General Gott and the XIII corps staff HQ, he was starting to grasp the disaster that befallen the 8th army on Black Thursday

    The glaring emergency was the presence of DAK formations currently occupying the 8th army's supply structure at El Adem and Gambut respectively. This was a knife at the 8th army's throat. The theater commander agreed that the highest priority had to be the restoration of communications to the troops on the Gazala line

    There was another concern as well. Namely reports had been received by the 150th Brigade that 2 big divisions of Italian troops had arrived at Sidi Muftah and that the minefields had been penetrated to their north, by what was tentatively identified as the Trento division. Ritchie could see that except for a supporting battalion of the 7th armored brigade that had been in reserve just outside Sidi Muftah, the 150th brigade was cut off, and in grave danger

    The communications issues and the heavy disruption to the airforce made things all the more difficult. A more shrewd and experienced commander than General Ritchie would have recognized that he had many tanks in depots in Egypt and more ability to reinforce than Rommel, and would have massed the two strong guards Brigades and the remaining two brigades of the 50th British division to pierce the Italian infantry on the coastal road, drive on Bengahzi and end the campaign in Africa right then and there, but Neil Ritchie was not that general.

    Not only did he concur with his superior that the restoration of communications was the most important, he had telegrams from London that almost smoked arriving every few hours asking how the army could possibly have left Gambut undefended and that Tobruk should be defended like it had been in 1941 should it become surrounded. Ritchie's grumbling that the raw and poorly rated South Africans where not the Elite Australian infantry that had defended the place before, and that the defenses had been allowed to fall into disrepair under his predecessor fell on deaf hours, as London continued to extoll him that he had 1100 tanks under his command and that the axis couldn't have many more than 300, and that he should seek battle and destroy the DAK (These notes from Churchill to Middle East HQ are historical except for the Gambut part)

    General Ritchie could only grit his teeth at the interference. At least London was only 250 miles away in the last war, their meddling then was more well informed in his opinion. London was now 2200 miles away, and never apologized or changed their ways of constantly underestimating Rommel's strength and ability to reinforce. He was on the attack now, that was for sure, yet London had said he wouldn't be able to attack for another 8 weeks. They had said he had 20 tanks left in the winter and we should drive like hell for Tripoli, instead he had received many dozens of replacement vehicles, which our own local informants warned us about, which we passed on to London, but where ordered to continue on; Rommel catching us badly over extended and defeating us at the Second Battle of El Agehlia. Ritchie was heard to remark in the Officers club once even before Black Thursday that if he heard about Rommel's last 20 tanks ever again he would punch the Prime Minister in the gut

    Historical map of Gazala 5-27 for reference; credit to Master Sargent Napoleon Spencer (British Royal Army) white paper on the battle of Gazala

    To counter the Germans on the supply nodes, the army had been damaged, and the choices where difficult. The 4th tank brigade had been defeated by the 21st and elements of the 15th panzer, and had lost all of their grant tanks and in no position to help as their supply tail had been captured. The 7th tank brigade would have to be completely rebuilt from scratch with a new commander after their devastating encounters with the 90th light and 15th panzer division.

    That left the already hard pressed 22nd and 1st armored brigades whom where in correct position to reform and attack El Adem, but both formations had lost significant rear command and control HQ units, and much of their truck companies to 21st panzer and 90th light respectively the day before. 22nd also had axis tank divisions on either side of it and was being bombed heavily from the air. This left Ritchie's only intact striking power as the 32nd tank brigade and the 2 guards infantry brigades; with Ritchie and Auchinlek concurring that pulling the 50th division or the 1st South African Division off Gazala would invite Field Marshal Bastico's other divisions to advance up the coastal road and drive on Tobruk. Ritchie didn't even want to imagine London's reaction if he was to do that

    X corps would have the formations reassigned to them the formations would move along the Trigh Capuzzo trail at best independent speed to dislodge the axis from El Adem, and then hopefully victorious, drive on Gambut

    Coordination and other problems would make the earliest possible move out appoximately 1600 hours. General Ritchie could just hope the 150th could hold on until he restored the rear areas

    Will edit in authors note and perspective this evening
  • Chapter 6.1 - Trial by air

    05-29-1942 23:59 Approx 25 KM west of Sidi Muftah
    Temporary HQ OB Sud Temporary command all formations except DAK and Ariete, Commander Field Marshal "Smiling" Albert Kesslring, Chief of Staff Oberst Wilhelm Speidel briefing

    Dark, deep rings circled Kesselring's eyes, it had been the 84th hour of very high tempo operations, today being the most high tempo for his command. The smile and optimism where still there even if the exhaustion presented the most

    Flying himself, as was his way and style of command, into Gambut just as the sun head peaked over the horizon, he toured the conditions of the 90th light division and watched the fruits of his command's last 24 hours of work.

    Although 90th light had avoided fighting the combat elements of any major British formations, they where still down 20 percent from their starting points, and their infantry strength was critical to the DAK and PAA order of battle. On Westphal and Kleeman's request Kesselrings staff had been steadily airlifting in troops from Crete, nearly 1300 so far. Not Kleeman's veteran warriors but German troops none the less, with captured British trucks and artillery pieces waiting for them at Gambut. His staff was making further arrangements in Rome, Athens and Berlin for fresh infantry to continue to be flown in to Gambut and Bengazi to replenish the PAA ranks

    This had initially been controversial inside of Kesselring's own staff who wanted to preserve that infantry strength for his planned operation Herkules, rather than feed it to Rommel in Libya. Kesselring himself had felt much the same way until Kleeman reported capturing Gambut and reaching the coast. In the field Marshal's eyes this instantly changed the equation before him as it turned Rommel's deep raid behind the lines, into an encirclement; and he had plenty of experience in those, failed and successful, be it Dunkirk in 1940 or Army Group Center's initial drive into Russia in 1941. When Kesselring had called it an encirclement, Speidel had laughed and said it was a tissue paper encirclement or more aptly a badger getting to a bees nest the size of a panzer 3; but Kesselring replied that all encirclements are tissue paper when they first form, and that maximum support had to be given to ensure the bag could be held. "There is a powerful difference between defeating a division which withdraws to rebuild itself and capturing them wholesale, we learned this over and over in Russia"

    That would have been more than enough to keep the field marshal busy; but Rommel's deputy, GeneralderPanzerTruppen Ludwig Cruwell's pilot had gotten lost flying over the Gazala line and accidently landed amongst the 50th British division and had gotten their party captured. Kesselring as the senior officer on scene took command of all elements in the North, despite not being a Heer officer.

    He had been busy making a difference on the ground anyway, the Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica had launched in excess of 400 sorties on the exposed 22nd armored brigade during the day. 21st Panzer and the 132nd Ariete had launched concentric attacks, most powerfully by 21st panzer earlier in the day with the sun at their backs, and Ariete later in the day. Corps level artillery, AAA and 21st Panzer's anti tank guns took a large toll on the formation, which had already lost its commander and most of the command staff the previous 36 hours, and was mostly without orders until it was far too late. Weakened by airstrikes and attacks in their rear (the Luftwaffe proving especially formidable with the disruption inflicted on the Desert Air Force) 21st panzer was able to break the brigade and over-run them, linking hands late in the day with Ariete and taking most of the formation prisoner, and leaving the battlefield to be scavenged by tireless DAK tank repair crews

    This created significant security and operational risks to the British/Scottish Guards brigades and the 32nd armored brigade whom where marshaling for their attack on El Adem; which Kesselring and Rommel had been briefed about via leaks in British GHQ in Cairo. It also increased the Panzer Army Africa's grip on the 150th British Brigade box from something that could be withdrawn from with loss of equipment, to an iron grasp of tanks, infantry, artillery and airpower; such that their destruction or surrender was all but certain. Immediate armored support for them had been defeated, and the 8th army's reserves where headed in the opposite direction, and as had occurred the previous 2 days, the huge garrisons at Gazala and Tobruk showed no signs of moving to relieve their distressed comrades to the south

    Will edit in Author's note and perspective later today
    6.1 perspective
  • author's note and perspective for 6.1

    Kesselring assuming command of Northern forces is historical

    Kesselring authorizing airlift of reinforcements is historical (ish)... this occurred in the original timeline as the battle of Gazala progressed, Rommel ultimately received something like 4000 infantry replacements from the Crete Garrison and later on after first Alamein, Kesselring begrudgingly granted the PAA the forces that had been left in reserve for Herkules. In this time line Kesselring is more impressed by the DAK/PAA success at Gazala and authorizes the reinforcements earlier, and with possession of in tact fields and captured booty at Gambut, the German replacements can be made use of in good order.

    The timeline will use air transported German reinforcements to address Rommel's unsustainable attrition rate, which even if improved by a bigger victory at Gazala is still a constant emergency

    22nd armored dice roll contemplation and evaluation:

    Historically 22nd engaged in tremendous duels with bogged down DAK elements at this time (who had no fuel due to Bir Hakeim hold out), and gave as good as they got... 4 for the British historically since 22nd had lost many crews and had been significantly reorganized in the spring. They then where ordered to attack Rommel's defensive position at the cauldron which went disasterously, and the formation had to retreat and be completely rebuilt. 2 on the dice, they had a number of unlucky breaks in the cauldron attacks

    The timeline displaces 21st panzer and Ariete to attack 22nd front and back because Bir Hakeim falls Position reflects intended march routes and positioning for PAA mobile formations in that area based on my original roll of 3/4 for the Trieste Division. 22nd is more disrupted and isolated because of this positioning and lacks close air support due to more successful advance by 90th light division. 90th lights roll considered 1 after collapse at Bir Hakeim. 22nd is decapitiated like other formations in the south due to 21st panzer's superior position vs the original timeline (roll of 2). They are attacked front and back, without orders or much air support by 2+ times their number, and collapse inflicting moderate losses on their attackers (roll of 2/3)

    Investment and future destruction of 150th box not considered dice roll due to historical positioning of the box making it a death sentence (ie the PAA destroyed the box with the battle not going as well for them historically). 8th army refusing to release the Gazala or Toburk garrisons by this stage not considered a dice roll as they had historical emphatic orders from London that forbade them from doing so, and London was not convinced historically to allow the formations to withdraw, until after the battle had been lost
  • Chapter 6.2 A leaky ship

    05-29-1942 23:59 El Adem British supply dump and airbase Mobile HQ 15th Panzerdivision Commander (acting) Oberst Eduard Craseman

    Craseman was one of GeneralOberst Rommel's favorites, and one of the more experienced line commanders in the Heer. Having commanded a forward battalion with the 1st Panzer division in it's drive through Poland, and helping to capture Warsaw, and then participated as a leading unit commander in Rommel's 7th Panzer Division's lightening drive across Northern France in 1940. It was no surprise to any one who had served in the ghost division that Rommel requested Craseman come to serve under him in Africa in 1941

    Craseman had commanded a regiment in the 15th since landing in Libya with distinction, winning the coveted knights cross medal. The normal divisional commander GeneralMajor Von Vaerest had been wounded on the second day of the offensive and was brought back to Tripoli for recovery. Crasemen enjoyed Rommel and the men's trust and respect and had kept the division on Rommel's timetable

    After their scraps with British armor in the south the division was at about 75 percent strength. Rommel had informed him that he would be counter attacked by the British late last night but those forces seemed to be still en route to him. All the better in his opinion, two infantry battalions of the 90th light had been driven back to El Adem to stiffen his hold on the area, and their forces where intended to be gradually relieved of the immense security responsibility at Belhamed. Most of Hauptmann Seebohme's people had relocated to his headquarters and where beginning to locate British forces via their radio triangualation equipment as they neared Craseman's troops

    Craseman was an artilleryman by trade, from his earliest days in the army commanding batteries on the eastern and western front in the first world war, so the fresh British cannons from the factory laying before him at El Adem where like a small Christmas in May. Craseman eschewed the 6 pounder anti guns, he was not impressed with what he considered their primative shells, but he delightfully put several captured trucks and prime movers to work locating nearly 2 dozen captured 25 pounder cannons and 11 3.7Inch aa guns to supplement his own artillery park. The troops had been well fed and hydrated the past 24 hours on captured British stocks, all the tanks where full of fuel; the division was ready

    Will edit in additional authors notes and commentary soon
  • Chapter 6.3 Napoleon's central position

    05-29-42 23:59 hrs British 8th army and Middle East HQ Cairo Egypt Reporting back to American President Roosevelt and Joint Chiefs of Staff; Colonel Bonner Fellers, American military attache to MEGHQ

    Transmission to Washington:
    Eighth army reserves 2 infantry 1 armored brigade en route to dangerous Axis concentrations at El Adem
    Desert Air Force on heals, many machines lost on ground
    22nd Armored Brigade assumed defeated and broken; 75 percent of British armor formations defeated; Axis losses likely over estimated by Eighth Army
    Many armored formations headquarters lost, many rear area staff headquarters lost, communications with remaining units south and east of coastal road heavily impacted
    Remaining units on Gazala line imperiled, supply routes insecure, center section of line possible total loss
    Italian units appear to marshal for assault on northern section of line
    Axis position at Belhamed major strategic lapse, recriminations in HQ due to failure to defend
    Axis supply situation boosted by capture of eighth army offensive supply depots
    Discussion on going in GHQ relocate final assets in Egypt to Gazala, relocate divisions from deeper Middle East Command to Egypt
    GHQ has orders from London to make iron stands at Gazala and Tobruk
    British Royal Navy Med Command demands regular motoring time update between Rommel and Alexandria; assessed today with General Ritchie, heavy argument ensued, Navy considers itself senior service; may begin preparing demolition program if Rommel crosses into Egypt

    Personal observations: Regard 8th army in Napoleon's central position; superior to any one grouping around it, but surrounded. Eighth army has morale problems and ongoing issues with combined arms. Rate counter attack chance of success no greater than 1/3, command disruption is dangerous and will take time to address; regard threat to troops along coastal road as mortal. South African division at Tobruk not rated as ready for combat. If Axis captures Tobruk, major security threat to Egypt emerges. Recriminations from London serious, rumors of partial or complete change to 8th army or GHQ command possible. Gott confirmed captured, was their best general. Ritchie overwhelmed and frustrated. Last command conference devolved into blame placement on failure at Gambut, some staff officers requesting to build defensive lines in Egypt and not immediately dispatch remaining reserves to Libya. Royal navy has no plans to evacuate or support Tobruk, they advise units all committed or under repair; loss of lines of communications and inexperience of remaining troops commands serious

    End Transmission

    Will edit in authors perspective and notes later
    authors note/perspective 6.3
  • the summer of 1942 is one of those stranger than fiction events; given the incredibly high losses the axis took in 1941, and the entry of the United states into the war, the material and manpower advantage vs the axis was at least 4-1 by even the most conservative measure... the war had been going on for 3 years, good commanders and tactics should long since have been identified, applicable vehicles to the desert with hard hitting cannons, and fighter aircraft which could hold sway by combination of numbers and superior engineering; and yet we had Neil Ritchie and Semyon Timoshenko commanding the armies at the decisive point, both sending their armies to be encircled and defeated, and pass theater initiative to the axis whom had no business having it; both under enormous and unhelpful political pressure to take the fight to the axis

    I like to keep both fronts in parallel in my head, it should be remembered by the reader that the day after Rommel's offensive started the final resistance to Paulus/Kleist Bag at Kharkov collapsed, costing the Red army just about 300k casualties and over 1000 tanks; Bonner Fellers was told by laison officers and other attaches that Army Group South had come down on the Ukraine like a hammer on a pane of glass, and members of Auchinlek's staff regarded this as a real long term security threat to their theater (ie they believed the Germans could capture the Caucuses, and disrupt Lend Lease operations in Persia, and eventually threaten the canal zone from the north)... I use that as an example of just how far removed from plausibility mindsets were getting themselves worked into then because of how poorly that part of the war was going

    Edits: Will consider this author's note and perspective for 6.3

    The great calamity that occurred in the Summer and fall gave more craziness in allied staffs than any other time except for the fall of 1940. When Army Group A recaptured Rostov, Stalin emphatically demanded the western allies deploy 30!... 30!....30! divisions to the southern end of his front, the imperial general staff in London made contingency plans to deploy 3 divisions into the Caucuses, and the American joint chiefs made plans to deploy an entire air force to the middle east and numerous logistical and line of communications assets.

    Churchill was all about doing this too until, if one believes the rumors that only the vote of no confidence after the Tobruk disaster, and Brook threatening to resign if a single British or Commonwealth soldier was deployed to Russian soil (after Brook had tried repeatedly reminding the PM about the poor fate of British soldiers in "allied" Russian territory in the north and south at the end of the last war) stopped that little operation from being born... Mr. Churchill did love him some peripheral death traps. He was very lucky Brook was a calm, intelligent level headed man

    I could literally introduce into the timeline that 2nd New Zealand, the Australians and 5th British division get deployed to the caucuses instead of El Alamein and have it be completely plausible because of Churchill/Stalin's meddling and pressure on their staffs and public relations. I could have operation torch cancelled and have those forces sent to Egypt and Basra under these conditions as well.... strange times; Brook and Marshal never get enough credit for being adults in a room

    final edit of items:

    We discussed Rommel's "luck" in having a high quality intel apparatus against his opponents in the 8th army without even the slightest mention of the "luck" of the British having project ultra or operation double cross, or the Russians having the Red Orchestra; 6's existed throughout the war, and there where some intelligent people in charge of comms security and some really dumb people too

    The abwehr, kriegsmarine and German foreign office decryption departments where all very good at their work (breaking enemy codes), as remarked by all post war reviews, and many former analysts where prized lecturers at NATO for years after the war

    Fellers finding out he was compromised was honestly more of an exception than a rule, keeping in mind that he told his own superiors for 6! months before Gazala that he thought the black code was compromised by German agents and they told him to shut up.

    The Germans captured high level allied officers throughout 1942 who knew either directly or scary amounts indirectly about project ultra and didn't change or figure out anything was wrong. Rommel requested a Gestapo investigation into signals security in November 1942 because he felt too many of his transports where being intercepted for it to be just chance, he was told to shut up. The allies risked sending high level officers; repeatedly into German territory who had knowledge of project ultra like Mark Clark and Matthew Ridgeway, if you tried writing that as fiction you would be laughed out of a forum

    British bomber command radio practices tipped their raids THE ENTIRE WAR; even the blithering idiots in charge of Luftwaffe signals intelligence couldn't believe it; and they tipped their hand the entire second half of the war that they knew about the raids by having their intruders go on LOL visits to the bases before the missions would launch and concentrating their nightfighter wings directly along the bomber streams. The bomber barons never once for a second thought they might be tipping their raids even when Spaatz saw their practice and tried convincing that their radio practices where crazy; by comparison American radio discipline, which at best was average, was enough that the blithering idiots in charge of Luftwaffe signals intel couldn't figure out what their targets where... AFTER THEY HAD ALREADY DROPPED THEIR BOMBS

    as stated above some 6's can only be defended by the fact they actually happened :)
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    chapter 7
  • Chapter 7

    05-30-42 23:59 hrs British 8th army and Middle East HQ Cairo Egypt Reporting back to American President Roosevelt and Joint Chiefs of Staff; Colonel Bonner Fellers, American military attache to MEGHQ

    Transmission to Washington:

    Briefings from 8th army and GHQ off schedule due to chaotic combat situation in Libya
    String of German columns reported by desert air force between El Adem and points south
    Desert airforce has lost control of sky above Gazala and Tobruk
    Attacks by British and Scots guards Brigades are repulsed, details and communications are extremely limited, as axis columns have captured or bombed many radio relay stations in the desert. 8th army communication functionality rated at best 35 percent
    32nd armored brigade delayed by air attacks and internal army redistribution of fuel, still has not started their assault on El Adem, Ritchie discusses canceling their attack or having them and other elements to the north withdraw from Axis armor
    Axis tank divisions east of Bir El Harmat driving east into rear of Guards brigades instead of north against Knights Bridge defensive boxes per desert airforce (and counter to previous 8th army assessment). 8th army underestimated regrouping needed and movement potential of these forces
    Recon elements of the above already in contact with guards brigades; guards brigades in grave danger of encirclement
    Guards brigades under heavy air attacks
    Guards brigades under significant artillery bombardment
    Reports of Italian infantry and motorized formations being on all sides of the Sidi Muftah box
    Sidi Muftah box under air attack and artillery bombardment, assault likely imminent
    Ritchie requests withdrawal of Gazala box to relieve Sidi Muftah box, GHQ and London denies request
    Ritchie requests withdrawal of Tobruk garrison to retake Belhamed, London denies request
    Ritchie is advised by London that Tobruk is not permitted to be abandoned, and it is not permitted to be unmasked by withdrawing from Gazala
    Axis appear to be utilizing fields at Gambut as forward air force base, only limited bombing of Tobruk so far; Ritchie discloses axis may have captured HEAVY artillery at Belhamed, with corresponding ammunition supplies which could possibly be used against Tobruk
    8th army staff officers disclose loss of large quantities of fuel and other desert supplies to Rommel at Belhamed
    GHQ preparing transfer orders for for remaining combat forces in deep theater areas and base formations in Egypt
    Receiving conflicting and presumed inaccurate counts of remaining Axis and British tanks
    German armored cars patrolling outskirts of Tobruk
    British/Indian Brigades at the Knights Bridge box are deemed insufficient by GHQ to relieve Sidi Muftah encirclement without armored support; Ritchie unsure if any battle with those formations can be won outside of their defensive boxes. Ritchie issues no orders to them or remaining forces along the coastal road the last 2 days
    Ritchie furious with London, Ritchie and staff officers expect to reorganize command structure of 8th army to account for large number of senior officers captured as soon as crisis passes
    Royal Navy Contacts privately confide that they believe Rommel will invade Egypt
    Royal Navy again advises impossible to resupply Tobruk, Ritchie lacks authority to force matter with their branch
    South African coordinating staff officers in Cairo are demanding the army withdraw, they fear mortal threat to their army corps along the coastal road
    Mixed views permeate GHQ some are more optimistic; but some are agitating to withdraw back to Egyptian frontier and build defensive works in Egypt

    Personal observations: 8th army has lost most strategic window into the battle. Fate of 22nd armored brigade still being evaluated, but private talks with officers say the formation was routed and captured. Using our commands best judgment, and taking average of reports Rommel likely has tank superiority tonight, in Libya, at least until depot tanks can be brought up from Egypt. Eastward wheel of DAK from Bir El Harmat has caught Ritchie's troops very badly exposed and unprepared. Reporting from front is chaotic, but Auchinleks updated field map shows a cauldron forming around those formations. Ritchie lack of authority on the forces in the North is compounding strategic command failures; Guards and armored brigades being committed piecemeal, and overwhelmed by locally superior axis forces; reports from more forthcoming private talks with staff officers comment that artillery coordination is falling apart in the south and many assaults are going against completely unsuppressed positions

    Desert airforce projects confidence that Axis pilots will be more tired starting tomorrow and that they have moved up some fighter aircraft to Tobruk to try and contest more effectively over the battlefield. Privately staff officers say there is no ammunition or bombs for the planes and that the army should withdraw into better air cover from Egypt; they advise the army cannot be protected

    Our staff continues to regard 8th army use of combined arms and coordination as poor, tactical field positioning of the divisions for this battle has been poor and cast away their superiority in tanks. There are rumors that every officer in Cairo will be relieved. There are rumors situation causes political problems for London command upcoming trip to Washington. Our staff concurs with evaluation of 2nd South African division and general poor state of affairs at Tobruk, we rated it's ability to withstand a 4 week siege yesterday as 1/2; after General Ritchie disclosures today we rate this as 1/5

    In ability to correctly evaluate axis tank strength, and movement options causing significant tactical errors. It's been privately disclosed to our staff that the DAK controls all of the southern battlefields and is salvaging all of the repairable tanks belonging to both parties for their use. Auchinlek's chief of staff refuses to take repaired tanks at any ratio, even conservative ones into account when evaluating Rommel's remaining strength. The man is not wise for his position as we have previously commented

    With DAK driving east we regard threat to Guards brigades as mortal; we regard threat to center of Gazala line as hopeless in light of Ritchie disclosure about lack of offensive capabilities in his middle areas. We regard threat to large garrison divisions in the north as somewhat reduced from yesterday, as axis tanks are driving east for now instead of north; this provided that London grants Ritchie freedom to withdraw the divisions. 8th army withdrawal to Egypt is all but certain in our opinion; we believe Auchinlek uncertain about undermining moral by starting to build defensive lines in Egypt; he is receiving mixed advice on this subject

    End Transmission

    Will add follow up authors thoughts and perspective in separate post
  • Chapter 7.1

    05-30-42 23:59 Panzer Army Africa Command Post Bir El Harmat Libya Commander GeneralOberst Erwin Rommel, briefing presented by Oberst Seigfried Westphal (Chief of DAK operations) and Hauptman Albert Seebohme Commander 621st Radio interception company, also receiving briefings, Field Marshal "Smiling" Albert Kesselring commander OB Sud

    It had been a busy day for General Rommel, on his staff's unanimous pleading, he had slept 7 hours the previous night and woken just before dawn greatly refreshed and clear headed. 21st panzer was asked to put in a very hard day, their regrouping cancelled overnight and the scavenging of the battlefield left to the Ariete tank division; they where ordered to drive east at day break

    Rommel personally lead a supply convoy through swept paths in the mine field along the Trigh el Abd strip road into 21st panzer's encampment; he carried with him briefcases full of medals, but also crates full of ammunition, and a battalion of Ariete escorted corps artillery and AAA to the 21st panzer on Rommel's tail. Concurrent with this; companies of the 15th panzer's infantry regiment, in appropriated British trucks, with their British markings still on them, to confuse possible desert air force low flying aircraft, had driven south and then west, packed to the brim with fuel cannisters, food and water; appropriated from El Adem

    Rommel's plan for the day, code named among his staff sudkanal (south canal), was intended to take advantage of his intelligence trump cards, namely that Hauptman Seebohme's operators had identified the guard's brigades, and their relative spacing en route to El Adem, and he had received a full read out of Bonner Fellers updates the previous 24 hours, which included him unintentionally leaking to Rommel that the 8th army expected 21st Panzer and Ariete to continue their drive north to try and perform a full encirclement of the Gazala line

    Instead 21st panzer would be pushed, hard, weakened by detachments of crews of lost vehicles; and the need to facilitate captured equipment to the rear. The British again would have the sun in their eyes the entire day, as their attack to the east against 15th panzer evolved just before lunch, and they would be attacked from the rear by the 21st panzer late in the day with the sun at their back.

    Although 21st panzer was tired and down 35 percent strength, 15th panzer had largely rested the last 48 hours, and fattened on the supply dumps. Two battalions of the 90th light had arrived early in the day to stiffen their infantry strength. 90th light had now received 2380 infantry replacements from the Crete garrison and was fairly close to full strength on paper and would begin more serious probing of the Tobruk perimeter soon, but today was recon in force

    15th panzer was augmented by good numbers of captured British field and AAA guns; and they and their comrades in the 21st enjoyed strong air support arranged by Marshal Kesselring in conjunction with ground observers and Seebohme/Feller report suggested targets. Having flown 8 missions a day the previous 4 days, Kesselring however did rotate a few crews to have an earlier end to their day.

    The guards brigades had arrived piece meal, the Scots first, this section of the desert having very little in the way of land marks or any terrain features at all; and with much of their own communications and intelligence network, much of their first clue that they had stumbled upon the 15th Panzer's defensive perimeter of El Adem, was engagement by British and German artillery and AAA (barrels depressed for horizontal fire) and visited by shrieking stukas, and diving ME-109s. The Scots planned suppressive artillery barrage was late and fell in many empty places when it did come, when the main body of the 201st arrived to try and stiffen the drive, the 15th panzer counter attacked, leap frogging their 50mm anti guns, covered by their 88mm cannons, mechanized infantry and tanks advanced under the cover of the artillery and inflicted considerable losses on the guards; and when the sun shifted into the western sky 21st panzers tanks and artillery where upon the guards from behind, with coordinates being radioed by 15th panzer and fixed by one of captain Seebohme's platoons

    It wasn't a turkey shoot, the guard, where excellent infantry, but it was a DAK over run because of their concentration of nearly 220 tanks on the formation caught in the open. The guards scattered and fled north, with mechanized infantry in hot pursuit, multiple battalion commanders where killed or captured. The charge of the guards brigade would become a lingering story of the desert warfare and one of the cardinal criticisms against Ritchie; a culmination of all the worst habits of the 8th army and his command of not sending units with the proper support and frittering away material and manpower superiority to be impaled on German cannons

    The strategic ball was in Rommel's court, in his mind it always was; the defeat of all of Ritchie's reserves in the south cemented his hold on British lines of communication, he was simply amazed that the enormous garrisons at Tobruk and Gazala wouldn't be called to dislodge his slender forces off their supply nodes, especially Kleeman's penetration at Belhamed which only ever was a scratch division, there where reports of reserves being rushed to the frontier to eventually be pressed against Kleeman, but this was still some time in the future

    Seebohme and Westphal showed Rommel several captured maps and provided him with a composite of best known positions of the British and Panzer Army Africa, he essentially had two choices, rotate the 21st panzer to El Adem to rest for a day and allow 15th panzer and Ariete to drive on Knights Bridge box directly behind the Gazala mine fields, in a close envelopment

    He stared at the map, and when presented with Westphal's more bold option, it had already been decided in his mind as the best course of action; 21st panzer would have to bear the burden be refueled tonight at El Adem, and drive with their sister division as soon as able, directly north along the Trigh Bir Hakeim road on Arcoma, west of Tobruk. His captured maps showed only scattered and light forces between himself and Arcoma, Kleeman's detached forces would have to maintain security and communications at El Adem. Possession of Arcoma and the road network at the coast there would allow the Panzer Army Africa to further dominate the supply lines to the troops at Gazala, and it would allow him to completely invest the Garrison at Tobruk. Rommel felt that if he held Arcoma and was able to keep his pressure coming from the south, that line of retreat options from the balance of the troops manning the Gazala line would become very limited

    Whats more reports from the broken American codes showed the British where desperately concerned about their trapped Brigade at Sidi Muftah which had been encircled by Trieste and Trento. Rommel decided that he would use Sidi Muftah as a fire sack to draw in what British armor remained in the north; Trieste and Trento would be ordered to keep a belt buckle grip on the British, but not to perform a true assault, just recons in force and demonstrations, they where to otherwise dig in and prepare for a defensive battle; Ariete which had largely cleaned up the battlefield near Bir El Harmat would be ordered to move north west tonight and encamp on allagh ridge; and take defensive positions to screen the Ariete from British forces at Knightsbridge

    Kesselring advised that many fighter and bomber pilots where falling asleep on their runway alerts and that missions had to be curtailed for at 12 hours to restore crews composure. Rommel having benefitted from some sleep himself agreed with his superior and would schedule his positions and movements accordingly. Rommel implored field Marshal Kesselring to keep up the air lift of troops, 21st panzer was down 45 percent strength and 15th was down 33 percent; Ariete was down 25 percent but would re-evaluate at dawn, they where making some progress repairing their equipment and may be closer to full strength. Kesselring advised that he had overflown the battlefield several times during the day and understood that Rommel had found the Schwerpunkt, and that OB Sud was calling on other commands in Germany, France, Norway and the Balkans to find aircraft and good troops to be lifted to Africa

    The commander of OB Sud announced that he had conferred with Field Marshal Bastico and Ugo Cavallero, and that some assets ear marked for opteration Herkules would be made available as reinforcements in Libya; Kesselring's chief of staff was going to fly back to Berlin tomorrow to have a 1:1 meeting with Rudolf Schmundt Hitler's Army Personel adjudent, about requesting tank crewman who could be flown to Africa as replacements for the Panzer Army's lost crews. Rommel thanked Kesselring for his support and announced he would be riding with the 21st as soon as they could move out, they where tired, but he knew from experience that having the general traveling with them got tired asses and elbows moving

    will make another post with authors thoughts and commentary
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    Chapter 8
  • Chapter 8

    05-31-42 1930 hours Arcoma Libya, Panzer Army HQ mobile traveling group, Panzer III Ausf J "Lilli 3" 5th Panzer Regiment 21st Panzer Division, commander Stabsfeldwebel Lothar Bix, GeneralOberst Erwin Rommel sitting on top of tank, rendering it Army HQ

    Rommel lightly kicked Bix in the boot to wake him up, wake up Stabber, we have arrived in Arcoma, field kitchen is serving your platoon next

    Bix half shuffled and stumbled off the tank, which left a distinct impression on Rommel, 21st panzer, no matter how much general Von Bismark might boast about them being the best division in the army, they needed at least 1 day of rest; Rommel thought Lilli 3 smelled like piss far more than even a desert tank should; the encampment was being set up; or more objectively, the men where dropping of exhaustion in or next to their machines

    The blessing for them was that a quartermaster platoon from 15th panzer and 2 from 90th light had arrived right on their heels, loaded with appropriated British water and rations. Rommel hoped a good nights rest would restore their vigor, the tankers had been worked very hard the last 72 hours and it was showing

    He had other reasons to be hopeful, earlier in the day, his mind, bored of the endless sand driving in the Panzer III had wandered back to a heated conversation he had with field Marshal Kesselring back in January. Rommel had been pressing for his rebound offensive, which would become the 2nd battle of El Agelhia, to which the commander of OB Sud had objected. Rommel in one of his more insubordinate displays of ego tapped his blue max and his knights cross saying I know what it takes to win a war with nothing. Kesselring, never letting his poker face or smile dissipate, reached into his pocket and pulled out his balloon artillery observers badge and held it up to Rommel, I fought my war too. Rommel instantly regretted his underestimation of the field marshal; even if Rommel could think and be told he was the best soldier in the last war... the balloon observers... he had seen a number of them shot down by artillery in 1914 in France, men covered in flames jumping to their deaths, leutants... like him, please forgive my temper sir

    The field marshal still never surrendered his smile, tapped the German eagle on his left breast and extended his hand, same side general.

    After that incident, Rommel could disagree with everything Kesselring did and thought, but he carved out a distinct respect for the man himself. And that respect only grew when Kesselring landed right alongside their column earlier that day bearing good news

    The airlift had now brought in 4000 men to the 90th light, and starting later today, the men of the 2nd parachute brigade "Ramcke" would start to be air lifted into Libya; the Panzer Army would be responsible for their transport and supporting equipment; Kesselring had already passed on word to General Kleeman about his new guests and he would make the arrangements for the Luftwaffe men. But the bigger surprise was the next words out of his mouth

    FMAK: Berlin has issued us a replacement commander for Von Vaerest, while he recovers from his wounds
    GOER: That isn't necessary, the army surgeon has assured us he can return to duty soon and Craseman is man enough for the job
    FMAK: It's General Major Raus
    (Rommel was a man never at a loss for words or immediate reaction to something, but he was confounded by what Kesselring had just said)...Berlin, would release Raus? He IS the 6th panzer division
    FMAK: It made sense to Oberst Schmundt and the fuhrer, that if Raus' men where coming to africa, that their general should come too
    (his eyes nearly welling up) the DAK is getting the 6th panzer division?
    FMAK: No, there's nothing left of it's tanks anyway, all lost in Russia. the survivors of the 11th Panzer Regiment and it's other troops are going to be flown to Africa and merged into the 15th panzer division, and Raus will become the new commander. The 6th panzer division itself will be rebuilt from scratch in France; you are only getting men
    GOER: Those Westphelians are good men! Thank you and your staff sir for your confidence and backing of the Army
    FMAK: We are working on the Commando Supremo to free up more troops there as well, and wipe that smile off your face, or I will lose my reputation as the army's eternal optimist
    (Without even attempting to follow that order) yes sir Rommel called on Oberst Bayerlin and Westphal to let them know the good news; the 6th panzer crews would be flown into Tripoli for the desert tankers course and then reassigned to the 15th panzer division whenever and wherever they could be mated. Raus would be sent to Africa from Brittany as soon as possible. Rommel had met Raus several times in 1939 and 1940 and came away with a high impression of the Austrian tank commander. Rommel had requested him in Africa in his initial deployment, but General Kempf held on to Raus like a newborn baby and wouldn't release him from the 6th; Rommel had requested him again when the 15th panzer's first commander General Prittwitz had been killed in action near Tobruk, and General Landgraf of the 6th panzer fought tooth and nail to keep him in command of the 6th Panzer's 11th Panzer Regiment, and with the 6th scheduled to play a large roll in Barbarossa, Raus was denied to the DAK

    The 6th had fought a long brutal war from June 1941 until March 1942 when it was pulled off the line with the spring mud in Russia to be rebuilt in France. Raus division was intended to be replenished as 10 percent over regulation strength as the army's main strategic reserve for the fall, but Kesselring's optimism, and blandishments about all the equipment they had captured in Africa, had convinced high command that the division could be newborn in France, and the veteran personel, fed to Rommel's army in Africa, with Raus at their head

    Italian motorcycle messengers where coming too and from Arcoma reporting on events to the west, and Crasemen... no Raus' troops where pulling up to the east of Arcoma outside the Tobruk perimeter and supplies needed to be brought up and distributed and 90th light now reported that the 29th Indian motorized had started appearing east of belhamed; Rommel smiled at that, east of Belhamed, certainly not where he would have sent them, he mused to himself that the big garrison of troops at Tobruk would never move; reading the latest intercepts of Colonel Fellers reporting, he believed he had the battle won
  • Chapter 8.1

    05-31-42 23:59 hrs British 8th army and Middle East HQ Cairo Egypt Reporting back to American President Roosevelt and Joint Chiefs of Staff; Colonel Bonner Fellers, American military attache to MEGHQ

    Urgent updates:

    Briefings are off schedule due to chaotic nature of battle and fatigue/stress of staff officers; will provide 2-3 updates per day as appropriate and ordered
    Guards troops routed by Africa Corps, many prisoners taken including commanders
    Axis controls all recoverable battlefields and roads south and east of Gazala and the coastal road
    Failure of guards attack, and prior army internal supply reshuffle to support relief attack, and continued axis grip on El Adem creates supply shortages for 8th army
    29th Indian still relocating to counter attack Belhamed from the East, London continues to forbid withdrawal or participation of Tobruk garrison to relieve Belhamed
    Local spies and British intelligence sources believe axis bringing in fresh troops by air
    Auchinlek over rode Ritchie early in day and ordered 8th and 9th Indian and 32nd tank brigade to counter attack axis forces at Sidi Muftah to relieve trapped 150th brigade
    Per private conversations with staff officers, attacks proceeding poorly due to axis field and anti tank artillery, lack of 8th army advance artillery and surprise arrival of large numbers of Italian tanks; Ritchie and Auchinlek do not acknowledge outcome of attacks; they portray optimism about relief of 150th brigade
    Reports of heavy air attacks against counter attack troops at Sidi Muftah
    Desert airforce commanders acknowledge supply and condition difficulties inside of Gazala battle area, they advise difficulty maintaining required sortie rates, air force staff officers more vocal today about recommending withdrawal of troops who are yet in close battle/encirclement
    More, but not majority of GHQ staff officers recommending withdrawal of entire 8th army including garrisons to the Egyptian border
    Auchinlek developing plans for fresh troops to drive on the coastal road and restore supply conditions to front line troops, units for this are still many days out, Auchinlek says he believes troops at Gazala can hold on; says Rommel has lost many tanks
    Royal Navy staff officers advise siege supply of Tobruk impossible and naval evacuation of Tobruk impossible, majority recommend demolition and overland troop withdrawal. They advise all ships committed or under repair. Privately Royal Navy staff officers regard threat to entire 8th army as grave and believe Rommel will invade Egypt
    Communications problems have escalated; 8th army reports less than 10 percent communication efficiency for remaining forces south and east of Gazala; communications with units on Gazala line reduced to GHQ estimated 50 percent efficiency (see personal observations) this may be a generous over estimate by GHQ
    GHQ believes based on Rommel's moves yesterday, that he will drive east to the Egyptian border, a repeat of his "dash to the wire" from last year; GHQ is hopeful that fresh formations arriving from Egypt can engage and defeat him there separated at great distances from his bases
    Auchinlek and Ritchie jointly request freedom/authority to move troops at Gazala to support operations, London denies
    GHQ estimation of Rommel drive to border incorrect; large axis tank columns reported in Arcoma
    South African staff sections disrupted, captured or dispersed by DAK at Arcoma; staff officers not providing proper briefings, they advise situation as critical and evolving rapidly
    South African staff officers privately advise that many supplies and much of their command sections possibly lost at Arcoma
    South African staff officers privately advise that arrival of DAK at Arcoma creates mortal peril to their troops at Gazala and Tobruk
    South African staff officers request Ritchie to order withdrawal of 1st South African to east of Arcoma to avoid encirclement
    South African staff officers reject proposed counter attack at Arcoma siting failure of guards attacks and limited ability to restock ammunition at Gazala
    Ritchie defers decision about Arcoma counter attack
    Our staff urgently revaluating situation
    Rumors rampant in GHQ and city of Cairo itself; some GHQ staff officers losing nerve over arrival of tanks at Arcoma
    Rumors at GHQ that all commanders will be relieved by London
    London and GHQ now have numerous impasses regarding command authority of troops on the coastal road
    GHQ now presenting 3 simultaneous estimates of Rommel's remaining tank and infantry strength; Ritchie is accepting middle case, Auchinlek chief of staff accepts best case and bases counter attack proposals at Arcoma on these
    Auchinlek chief of staff ignores context of DAK retaining battlefield for estimated tank strength; due to loss of communications and many units captured it has become hazardous to guess how many tanks the DAK is destroying vs capturing/repairing for their own use

    Personal observations:
    GHQ command temper gravely impacted tonight, many staff officers whom had been confident, heavily impacted by Rommel arrival at Arcoma
    Our staff (will provide further review tomorrow) now estimates ability of Tobruk garrison to withstand a 4 week siege as 1/15
    Going on private disclosure of heavy losses at Sidi Muftah, which is still difficult to obtain a clear picture of; we regard the 150th brigade chance of relief as hopeless; 150th brigade beginning to report shortages of ammunition, water and fuel; collapse or surrender is likely; Ritchie and Auchinlek do not acknowledge this possibility and do not have a contingency plan for troops further north once the box falls
    Privately, South African staff officers acknowledge ranging by captured heavy British (captured) guns on Tobruk, and significant probing/recon in force activity on the south east of the perimeter; they privately advise the south east defenses are very weak, and that a full throated assault from the south east could break into the port and heavily impact the garrison
    Using our own analysis, and an assumption that the 32nd tank brigade is in worse condition than Ritchie has acknowledged, our staff is near certain Rommel has tank superiority on the Gazala battlefield
    We regard threat to Tobruk garrison as mortal in light of Axis probes and disclosures from South African staff
    We regard threat to troops at Gazala as greatly escalated from previous estimate
    One staff officer says "this is Dunkirk with no one to bring us home"
    South African staff officers appealing directly back to their political leaders to apply pressure on Ritchie and London; command impasses creating significant strategic impairment to the army
    We regard all forces south and east of Gazala as defeated as lost, which Ritchie has not acknowledged
    We regard degraded communications as mortal threat to all remaining troops at Gazala

    End Transmission

    Same time and date Bletchley Park Britain desk of Jean Alington; Project Ultra code breaker

    Decryption pile on her desk for Abwehr field communications grows, unworked on due to desperate need to keep up efforts on decrypting PAA communications and increased Luftwaffe theater communications

    Those messages, languishing on her busy desk contain information on operation Salaam and Condor

    The platoon of Hauptman Seebohme's assigned to operation Salaam makes contact with secret agent Eppler in Cairo at their command post in Arcoma
  • Chapter 9

    06-01-42 23:59 hrs British 8th army and Middle East HQ Cairo Egypt Reporting back to American President Roosevelt and Joint Chiefs of Staff; Colonel Bonner Fellers, American military attache to MEGHQ

    Urgent updates

    Situation inside GHQ and frontlines increasingly chaotic, briefings are off schedule; will report 2-3 times per day or more as ordered
    Brig general Haydon advises all artillery ammunition exhausted and is surrendering command to Axis forces; 150th brigade and minor tank elements are gone
    This opens significant gap in Ritchie center of line; allowing further investment of forces on the coastal road
    Remaining forces at Knights bridge have axis forces on all sides; but are not in a close envelopement
    Ritchie requests permission to execute operation freeborn (evacuation of Gazala line and Tobruk)
    Auchinlek orders units to declare how much fuel and ammunition they have remaining to assess if operation free born is possible for the remaining troops in the north
    Privately staff officers advise that Indian formations at Knightsbridge do not have enough fuel or a safe avenue of advance for freeborne unless German units driven back
    GHQ requests permission from London for freeborn, answer not yet received
    Privately staff officers advise that formations at Knightsbridge have many wounded and may not be able to withstand an encirclement
    Desert Airforce fighters are making max effort from Sidi Barani and frontier airfields but they are experiencing heavy consumption of drop tanks and short time on station; high pressure on kitty hawks which are only units with sufficient range
    Significant axis artillery strikes on Tobruk, tank and infantry assaults; situation developing, difficult to obtain reporting on Tobruk since yesterday; scattered reports of axis tank columns all along Tobruk perimeter;
    South African Staff officers privately advise that Garrison and defenses are weak and that freeborn for Tobruk should have been ordered 2 days ago
    South African staff officers privately advise 29th Indian is not strong enough to reopen communication back to Egypt; some previously defeated tank formations being ad hoc reassembled in their wake to support attacks to retake Belhamed;
    No concrete briefings given when 29th will actually attack
    Various sources claim fresh German troops arriving at Belhamed
    Local spies say 35000 troops at Belhamed; local spies report large concentrations of armor along Tobruk perimeter that doesn't match limited communication from field
    Communication with troops along coastal road heavily impacted, two 8th army staff officers preparing new assessment of communications with surviving formations on coastal road
    Privately staff officers believe Rommel has obtained many intelligence documents in captured HQ
    South African staff officers privately advise minefield maps of Tobruk position possibly lost or captured when Arcoma overun
    Ritchie acknowledges for first time that large stockpiles of axis ammunition had not been disposed of at El Adem after the British recaptured this area in Operation Crusader; this may explain surprise movements and engagements by the DAK; Ritchie acknowledges that it is likely the axis would have grabbed these munitions in tact to resupply their army
    Ritchie believes we may have spies inside GHQ; Auchinlek disagrees and claims all in GHQ are his handpicked people. Rumor throughout GHQ that General Smith advocates for General Ritchie to be relieved and that Smith himself would take over the 8th army
    Desert airforce staff emphatically endorses freeborn
    Royal Navy staff emphatically endorses freeborn
    Per private conversations some commonwealth staff officers (especially the south africans) appealing outside chain of command at GHQ to their political leaders to pressure London for freeborn
    Spies and other intelligence sources advise new armored formations arriving to Tripoli
    Royal Navy staff officers reiterate evacuation or siege supply of Tobruk is impossible for them
    Royal Navy staff officers privately advise they believe Rommel will invade Egypt
    Royal Navy staff officers preparing plans to open sluices to flood the Nile Delta if Rommel invades Egypt, GHQ estimates Rommel has very limited Bridging equipment
    Royal Navy staff officers privately advise they are preparing plan of demolitions in case Rommel may capture Alexandria
    Royal Navy staff officers privately advise several important vessels under repair, and that evacuation of fleet would be very difficult
    Auchinlek and Ritchie vigorously oppose all Royal Navy contingency plans for Egypt citing morale impact
    Auchinlek and Ritchie press navy to transport reinforcement from middle east and other parts of command to Egypt faster
    First light raids on rail head to frontier; will report more on this later
    Auchinlek preparing special operations counterstroke against theater axis air bases
    Royal Navy staff officers report several enemy submarines outside Tobruk

    Personal observations
    GHQ staff gravely impacted by army being split in half, high levels of anxiety permeate the GHQ all the time now
    Auchinlek and Ritchie do not acknowledge the army as having been separated, but their maps do acknowledge such
    The impasse with London has done great strategic harm to the army; our staff felt Freeborn should have been ordered 48 hours ago
    In light of continued disclosures from South African staff officers; our staff regards Tobruk garrison to be in critical risk of defeat
    South African staff officers privately advise that attacks today where largely in the south east; where the defenses are weak, they advise Axis tanks penetrating the perimeter in unknown numbers
    Ritchie and his staff are only just beginning to acknowledge the large quantities of supplies that Rommel has stolen from them; General Smith downplays this; going forward we will prepare our own analysis based on lend lease receipts and rail head manifests; 8th army counting methods have proven unreliable
    Auchinlek and London discussed for first time asking USA ground troops be deployed to Egypt to restore front; our staff HIGHLY recommends if any USA divisions introduced, they have separate army command and supply command
    South African staff officers privately advised for first time that many of their troops in Tobruk do not have enough vehicles to execute freeborn even if the orders come; General Smith temporarily removed us from room when we asked about the viability of Freeborn
    Our staff estimates that Toburk harbor will be compromised very shortly; the ability of the garrison to hold out is still being evaluated due to many new disclosures; our 4 week siege model is likely no longer helpful
    Our staff believes the forces at Knights bridge have 1/2 chance of break out to the east if freeborn is ordered tomorrow; only if they leave their wounded behind
    Our staff believes the forces at Gazala have a 1/3 chance to break out to the east presuming much german armor is invested at Tobruk and that they leave much equipment and their wounded behind
    Movement of investment forces from Sidi Muftah critical to the above; if those siege formations get to Sidra Ridge or the coastal road, the Knightsbridge or Gazala formations respectively are near certain lost
    8th army in our opinion is gravely weakened at some risk of collapse; if Rommel wanted to invade Egypt and capture the delta; now is the time
    Our staff believes that freeborn means abandoning most of army's equipment and supplies to Rommel; which would greatly ease his known shortages
    GHQ does not have clear picture if Rommel means to press Tobruk or Gazala first

    end transmission

    bolded items are otl events or quotes with only dates different for the timeline
  • Chapter 9.1

    06-01-1942 23:59hrs Panzer Army Africa Command Post, Arcoma Libya, Commander GeneralOberst Irwin Rommel, Chief of Operations Oberst Siegfried Westphal Commander 621st Radio Interception Company Hauptman Alfred Seebohme

    GOER: For decisive leadership in the face of the enemy Hauptman Alfred Seebohme is hereby awarded the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross, he is promoted to major with seniority effective 5-1-42

    Captain Seebohme had been instrumental in the destruction of the 150th brigade box; braving British artillery fire and potential brushes with armored car patrols, his listening posts and intercepted communications to the 150th regarding their orders into interdict the swept mine fields to their north and south to delay/damage axis supply convoys; Seebohme had suggested and then commanded a continuation of General Rommel's initial ruse de guerre against the forces at Gazala; namely that a number of trucks had aircraft engines mounted to their beds; for the express purpose of kicking up large dust clouds to confuse British observation

    These had been initially used the day before the offensive started, as the DAK and Italian mobile corps marched in circles opposite the British and South Africans at Gazala to try to demonstrate to the 8th army that Rommel was assembling armor for an attack; the trucks added to this by stirring up great sand clouds; which gave the appearance from the ground and from 10000 feet that the entire DAK was being marshaled for a frontal assault on Gazala

    Although most supplies had gone through further to the south, direct through Bir Hakeim where there where better paths available after the French Box was defeated; and the DAK had partially lived off the land, Seebohme had been able to show his superiors the orders issued to 150th; 2 specially detailed platoons marched the dust trucks through the swept paths around Sidi Muftah, which as Seebohme expected drew great amounts of artillery fire onto largely empty desert; already isolated the first day of the offensive; the 150th had consumed much of it's remaining stores the previous day in the attempt to link up with relief attacks from Knightsbridge

    The emplacement of Ariete and corps artillery assets on Aalagh ridge, had caught these forces by surprise, which lead to the attacks being defeated; and both the Indians and the British suffering considerable casualties; assaults on dug in Italian anti tank guns and machine guns where costly failures; especially in the eastern section of the box where they went into the fresh Trieste division

    As much as General Haydon's ammunition was in it's final reserves; it was also the burden of the wounded, and the heavy air attacks on the box that lead him to send a white flag party through the lines to seek terms with his Italian counterparts; the failure of the relief attacks lead to subordinate commanders recommending the unit not continue to suffer; as a second attempt could see the whole sale slaughter of the brigade. The 150th had a difficult war; a first wave territorial formation activated 1939 when war was declared over Poland, they had several near death encirclement brushes with the German army in Belgium; and where evacuated out of Dunkirk in June 1940; one of the first formations to be rebuilt to defend the home islands from invasion; they had eventually been redeployed to Africa; separated from their mother division several times whom remained the Cyprus or other Middle Eastern Garrison duties. Then placed by General Ritchie in a badly exposed section of the line; too far from mutually supporting fire from their sister brigades to the north, or the French to the south; the unit would not be re-raised by London during this war

    Rommel would pin a medal on Colonel Fellers himself if he could; the accidental disclosure of glaring weaknesses in the Tobruk perimeter had been confirmed with captured documents at Arcoma; which was being exploited by the 90th light and elements of the 15th panzer division; The south africans for reasons Rommel couldn't understand had much of their ammunition stockpiles located in the south eastern areas of the fortress; which fell in the first few hours of the assault. Why would the South Africans put the ammunition where it was easiest for German tanks to get at it; it was one of a number of strange command decisions Rommel was finding himself having to double think; reading Fellers notes gave part of the answer; political conflict, but the deployment of the Garrison; especially once he disrupted their communications looked badly disjointed. General Kleeman was reporting steady progress, and one of Seebohme's squads was well forward, and had identified the 2nd south african divisions command post and had it under artillery fire

    The first 640 paratroopers of the Ramcke Brigade had been flown in and would continue to relieve the 90th light division of it's great burden at Belhamed, general Raus had landed at Tripoli and was briefly overseeing some of the new Littorio division's personel being unloaded; the division would still not be fully ready or delivered for a few weeks; the first elements where getting their desert familiarization course just now. Marshal Kesselring advised that priority would be given to the Ramcke brigades remaining paratroop infantry and then troopers of the 6th panzer would be brought in to make good some of Rommel's crew losses. Rommel bit his tongue when considering that, he had accomplished much; but lost much; a more shrewd commander he thought would realize that both generals had each other by the balls; but Ritchie's mailbox showed he didn't see it that way.

    Kesselring advised as well that some additional Italian replacements where being put into the pipeline, with the belief that Rommel had found the schewpunkt and would defeat the 8th army; Marhsal Cavallero had authorized the release of troops from the Livorno assault and landing division; and the special tank regiment (Italian tankers put through a vigorous training program on captured Russian tanks which where intended for operation Herkules) no concrete dates or schedule for these troops had been established yet; but Rommel would still be delighted to eventually have them; he was going to have an army sized army now; well enough replacements to keep his army an army he hoped

    Marshal Kesselring had told Rommel with Herkules now postponed indefinently, additional air support could be made available at least temporarily to support his assault on Gazala and Tobruk. Kesselring believed his fighter aircraft would largely have air supremecy over Gazala itself and air superiority over Tobruk for the time being; Kesselring's staff was still working on other commands, and with the Luftwaffe and Heer personel offices to free up more troops and aircraft for the Panzer Army; but with the execution of Case Blue imminent, the cabinets had been emptied, hard; giving Rommel the personel of the 6th as replacements was already a controversial decision within high command; not all of whom where as optimistic as Kesselring; and the commander of OB Sud ran into a stone wall trying to free up anything from units which had finished their great counter attack at Kharkov

    Rommel gave 21st most of the day off so their service crews could deal with some of their sickening backlog of work and the tank crews could make up for lack of sleep; Rommel himself and a couple of junior officers had gone down to the coast and put their feet in the water; from his time as younger man he knew such days like this were essential if he was going to keep pushing the men into hard combat on the end of a string; the 4 star general himself added 6 hours of sleep to his severely negative account
  • Chapter 9.2

    06-01-42 23:59 hrs British 8th army and Middle East HQ Cairo Egypt Reporting back to American President Roosevelt and Joint Chiefs of Staff; Colonel Bonner Fellers, American military attache to MEGHQ

    Urgent 2nd update:

    Staff briefings off schedule and disjointed due to chaotic situation at the front, will report 2-3 times as a day as necessary or ordered
    GHQ staff officers atmosphere gravely impacted by Rommel reaching coast
    Ritchie's staff re-evaluating operation freeborn due to axis tanks blocking roads and trails behind the Gazala boxes
    GHQ staff officers privately advise they are increasing minimum fuel calculations for freeborn due to inability to use roads/trails
    GHQ staff officers privately advise that Indian formations at Knightsbridge do not have enough fuel to conduct freeborn under revised guidelines
    GHQ staff officers privately advise they do not have clear picture of how tightly surrounded troops at Knights Bridge
    Desert Air force will have photo recon planes up at first light looking for axis columns advancing out of Sidi Muftah
    Desert Air force will have photo recon planes up at first light to evaluate Tobruk position
    Communications with Tobruk garrison heavily impacted
    Communications with remaining infantry and armor along the coastal road heavily impacted
    South African staff officers privately confide their position at Tobruk in grave peril
    South African staff officers have heated arguments with General Smith and Auchinlek and demand freeborn be executed immediately
    South African staff officers do not accept fuel guidelines as revised by Ritchie's staff for freeborn
    South African staff officers demand some remaining Army fuel be internally redistributed to their 1st division for evacuation
    South African staff officers vigorously oppose counter attack on Arcoma, and recommend army go around Axis concentrations and withdraw to the Egypt
    Desert airforce staff officers emphatically endorse freeborn to be executed immediately, even if London further delays authorization
    Desert airforce staff officers disclose in full briefing that they can no longer protect the troops west of Toburk
    Royal Navy emphatically endorses freeborn and general evacuation of the army back to Egypt
    Royal Navy staff officers decline any missions to succor the Tobruk garrison; citing previous rejection of holding or supplying the fortress
    Royal Navy staff officers engage in heated argument with General Smith when they demand an estimated motoring time between Rommel and Alexandria in the event 8th army is lost in Libya
    GHQ staff officers even privately will not provide estimates of Rommel possible motoring times to the delta in the event of catastrophic defeat; our staff will evaluate and prepare our own estimate
    Royal Navy staff officers engage in heated argument with General Smith when they ask for reliable disclosure of how much fuel Rommel has taken from them
    GHQ staff officers even privately will not provide estimates of how much fuel Rommel has; our staff will prepare our own estimate;
    Royal Navy staff officers announce in briefing that if Rommel reaches Mersah Matruh; that this represents a red line for the fleet to be evacuated; as this would allow axis dive bombers to hit Alexandria with fighter escorts
    General Smith and Royal Navy Staff officers engage in heated argument concerning possible evacuation of the fleet; General Smith asks what happens to my troops on Malta, Royal Navy officers reply, they starve, like your troops in Libya are forced to starve under your failed command; our staff is removed from the room; shouting can be heard throughout the command post
    Atmosphere in Cairo being penetrated by rumors of heavy 8th army defeat
    GHQ staff officers privately confide they have serious morale and desertion problem
    A GHQ staff officer suggests planning for evacuation of command(s) to Khartom and Suez; he is removed from the command post
    Royal Navy staff officers have vigorous argument with Auchinlek and GHQ staff about red lines for flooding Nile Delta and demolition of Alexandria dockyard
    Royal Navy officers have vigorous argument with GHQ and South African staff officers about Tobruk harbor demolitions; both sides do not have clear picture as to what actual orders are to the garrison concerning the dockyards; our staff will try to have more private conversations with the South Africans to assess this
    Desert air force staff officers advise they can more effectively defend the army once it withdraws; they advise their base structure in Egypt is in tact
    Desert air force staff officers privately advise they are performing staff studies about evacuation of their commands if Rommel reaches the delta
    Heated arguments occur between Desert air force staff officers and Royal Navy staff officers about ability to shield the fleet from air attack
    A Royal Navy staff officer suggests a red line on the closure of the Suez Canal be considered if Rommel reaches the delta; he says escorted dive bomber attacks on the canal are grave risk to ships. This officer and his superior have closed door (assumed) heated exchange with General Auchinlek and Smith
    General Ritchie announces all GHQ staff will be subject to interrogations, to rout out spy(s)
    GHQ local security battalion commander requests authorization for martial law in Cairo in addition to curfew and blackout in the event of Rommel invading Egypt; vigorous argument throughout GHQ erupts; we are escorted outside
    General Ritchie requests guns, searchlights, fighter squadrons and other equipment from the canal defense zone be brought up to the frontier to assist the 8th army; furious argument with Royal Navy and Desert air force staff officers erupts; we are escorted from the room
    American attache team removed from GHQ command post no less than 6 separate times in last 18hours
    GHQ local security commander recommends closing by force all Cairo bars and brothels to improve operational security; furious argument throughout GHQ erupts, we are escorted out of the room
    GHQ local security commander recommends sweep of Cairo and Alexandria to look for deserters and black marketeers; argument ensues in front of our staff
    Generals Auchinlek and Ritchie cable ask our staff how quickly USA ground troops and air squadrons can be deployed to Egypt
    Generals Auchinlek and Ritchie ask how quickly can an advance USA corps or Army staff be deployed to Egypt
    8th army estimates of their own remaining tanks and infantry vary wildly; General Ritchie's assessment is closest to our own, General Smith continues to believe Rommel much weaker than our staff considers him
    8th army estimates of Rommel's remaining tanks and infantry vary wildly; we will prepare our own estimate
    GHQ staff officers even privately will admit or estimate how many tanks they have under repair or running on any of the fronts facing Rommel. Our staff, will try to conduct an interview with reassembling armor commanders on the frontier and try to get a better picture of this
    Our staff HIGHLY recommends if USA forces introduced to Egypt, that they have separate army and supply commands
    Royal Navy staff officers ask about alteration of lend lease delivery points in the event of Rommel reaching the delta; furious argument occurs in front of our staff; we recommend Naval Attache staff perform study of relocating material delivery to Sudan or Basra
    Richtie and Auchinlek ask London to request urgent tank and aircraft deliveries from USA to replace losses
    Our staff, despite lack of formal briefings on remaining troop strength, advises that provision of replacement equipment by USA is critical to GHQ survival
    Our staff is now of the opinion that if the Tobruk garrison and port are taken that the risk to remaining troops at Gazala and Knightbridge is grave
    Our staff is revaluating odds of troops being able to evacuate in operation freeborn
    Our staff for tonight regards the destruction of all remaining British forces in Libya regardless of authorization for freeborn as 1/2 please note that this item is only inclusive of forces at Knights bridge and points to it's north; we believe forces scattered in the south over the last several days should be able to withdraw back to Egypt for refit

    Will provide personal observations in final transmission later today; situation is evolving rapidly

    End transmission
  • Chapter 9.3

    06-01-42 23:59 hrs British 8th army and Middle East HQ Cairo Egypt Reporting back to American President Roosevelt and Joint Chiefs of Staff; Colonel Bonner Fellers, American military attache to MEGHQ

    Urgent 3rd update (personal observations only):

    Repeated flare ups between staff officers and commanders among the branches; leading to our frequent removal from GHQ, creating voids in our understanding of the battle
    Request senior officers and or members of the government impress on GHQ to honor agreement for "full access" so we can make accurate reports to chain of command
    We concur with Ritchie that there is some sort of operational security problem in the theater; we have made this observation and stand by it since February
    We presume there to be local spies in Alexandria, Cairo and Suez
    Privately GHQ staff officers have conducted interviews with evacuated/wounded troops; they advise many secret documents and maps likely captured by Rommel; which may explain his clever movements around the minefields of the Gazala line, and frequent ambushes of headquarters/rear area units
    8th army coordination of supporting arms may be poorer than even previously evaluated, GHQ staff officers advise units are attacking unsuppressed axis emplacements and that artillery and armor use at Knightsbridge was poor
    Serious conflicts between Smith and Ritchie, causing tactical and strategic errors
    Rumors persist in GHQ that every officer will be relieved by London
    Rumors in GHQ that Ritchie will be relieved and replaced by Smith, or that Auchinlek will take direct command of 8th army
    Situation at front so grave that even immediate resolution of command impasses may not save the army
    Private conversations with Royal Navy staff officers concerning the fate of Malta, in the event of Alexandria falling or being evacuated are very troubling; their staff is discussing cancelation or postponement of Operation Vigorous/Julius
    Private conversations with Royal Navy and Air Force give concerning responses about the ability to evacuate troops from Malta if it cannot be safely supplied
    Private conversations with GHQ staff officers give concerning responses about the ability of Malta to withstand an invasion if it is not supplied with food and gasoline
    Private conversations with GHQ staff officers give concerning responses about the ability to ably battle the DAK in the event Malta falls, and they have more secure supply lines to the main Libyan ports
    Atmosphere in GHQ is troubling and can be seen spilling in small but growing amounts into Cairo
    Heated exchanges between Ritchie and Smith occurred several times today, and conflict brewed over into staffs, but most especially over failure of attacks out of Knightsbridge, and over identification of either new German units or supernumeraries at Belhamed
    Ritchie blames Smith for Knightsbridge attack being "hasty"
    Our staff cannot currently obtain reliable status update of the troops at Knightsbridge, the disclosures on their fuel while troubling do not tell how many fighting men they have left, General Smith and our laison officer refuse to comment on this question and say it is still being evaluated in the face of disrupted communications
    General Smith doesn't regard the troops at Knights bridge as surrounded, our staff review of GHQ position maps shows axis forces on all sides; but it is not clear if that is currently a coincidental battle placement due to other events or if Rommel intends to invest Knightsbridge now that he has broken through in the center
    Commander at Knights Bridge requests execute operation free born, whilst our staff is evaluating the prospects of freeborn on the whole, the Indians at Knights bridge have Italian armor to their south and west and German armor to their north and east; we regard their ability to evacuate as the most hazardous of the 8th army (except for the Tobruk garrison whom we identify are already in a close battle or state of siege)
    GHQ staff officers privately advise that some surviving elements of the Guards formations, driven into the Tobruk perimeter by German armor; when pressed about remaining strength of these forces we are only told "limited"
    GHQ staff officers even privately will not put timetable even best case on ability of 50th division and 1st south african to with stand a siege or close envelopment, our staff will perform it's own evaluation after the recon photos are assessed tomorrow
    GHQ staff officers privately hope that Rommel will attack the remaining Northumbrians and the South Africans, instead of investing the forces at Knightsbridge; they advise formations in the north have good artillery and anti tank support; and the units are largely full strength; some defeated armored units being reconstituted in their sector; no concrete answers from Smith concerning their number of running tanks or fuel availability
    No answers from Smith or any GHQ officer as to what equipment would be left behind when and if freeborn is launched; only private answer received is "dunkirk" which my staff takes to mean that large amounts of army equipment would be intended to be abandoned
    I asked our laison officer if the 8th army could reasonably fight any battles in Egypt if the army equipment is "dunkirk" in the Libyan desert, he excused himself from the room; our staff will try to prepare own estimate of defensive options in Egypt under the possibility of catastrophic defeat of the 8th army
    General Smith is impressing a very difficult atmosphere on the GHQ, Ritchie tries to exclude him from discussions with Auchinlek
    Privately Royal Navy and Desert Air Force officers lobby their superiors to apply pressure for the relief of Ritchie and Smith
    Privately GHQ officers lobby Auchinlek to relieve Ritchie and Smith
    I tried asking General Smith and South African staff officers if operation freeborn could include the 1st south african and the Northumbrians trying to recover the Tobruk garrison during their proposed evacuation, this produced several different answers; and escalated into confrontation between Smith and South Africans, with Smith saying that the 2nd South Africans had their own evacuation plan to execute for freeborn.
    Per previous report South African staff officers have already privately advised their second division doesn't have enough vehicles for freeborn, regardless of their combat situation; this is likely the source of their conflict with General Smith's statement
    Privately South African staff officers appealing to their government to apply pressure to London for the relief of Smith and Ritchie... and Auchinlek
    Our best objective view, is that the South Africans in the Tobruk pocket are receiving conflicting or possibly no instructions at all; the fortress by all accounts so far has been ill prepared for a siege and the pressure applied from London to hold the fortress poorly matches the field conditions or the quality of the troops in the fortress
    Auchinlek requests ICGS officers come to Egypt to see situation first hand; command impasse is very troubling
    GHQ private disclosure of deserter/morale problems is concerning, no staff officer will answer questions on this currently
    Auchinlek, Smith and Ritchie all shaken by fall of Sidi Muftah box
    Auchinlek questions why box would fall so quickly, this escalates among the staff; morale issue is brought up; we are removed from the room
    Will try to use our interviews at the frontier to make our own staff analysis of morale/discipline/desertion problems

    End transmission