Thursday, February 14, 2019

November 23, 1941: Germans Take Klin, Huge Battle in North Africa

Sunday 23 November 1941

Sidi Rezegh in North Africa, 23 November 1941
Panzers knocked out near Sidi Rezegh on 23 November 1941. Fierce fighting continues near Tobruk with the outcome of the British Eighth Army's Operation Crusader still very much in doubt.
Eastern Front: The Wehrmacht makes more progress toward Moscow on 23 November 1941, capturing Klin in Moscow Oblast (the capture of cities can take days, some sources place the city's complete capture on 24 November). The panzers now are 85 km (53 miles) northwest of Moscow, the closest of any German forces.

Maginot Line pillbox in France, 23 November 1941
 A bunker of the French Maginot Line at Haut-Rhin (Oberelsass), Grand Est Region of France on 23 November 1941. At this stage of World War II, these bunkers seem like quaint relics of a bygone age that will never be needed ever again (Proietti, Ugo, Federal Archive Bild 212-336).
The attack on Klin is a major German success that results from five days of increasing pressure and an envelopment from three sides - north, west, and south. The German 7th Panzer (Generalmajor Hans Freiherr von Funck) and 106th Infantry Divisions attack Klin from the west while 6th Panzer and 14th Motorized Divisions attack from the north. The Red Army defends in the north with the 107th Motorized Rifle and 5th Tank Divisions and in the west with the remains of a cadet regiment and the 25th Tank Brigade. Southwest of Klin, most of the German 2nd Panzer Division and 35th Infantry Division also advance, taking Gorki (six kilometers south of Klin) and then turn north to help capture the city. At the same time, part of the 2nd Panzer Division turns south toward Solnechnogorsk, fighting off Soviet counterattacks. The Red Army has men fighting fiercely, but are overwhelmed by superior German firepower.

Philip John Gardner, VC, in North Africa, 23 November 1941
"Gardner, Philip John: Place and date of deed Tobruk, North Africa, 23 November 1941." Gardner wins the Victoria Cross on 23 November 1941 when, as an acting Captain in the 4th Royal Tank Regiment, he takes two tanks to the rescue of two armored cars of the King's Dragoon Guards. Gardner braves counterfire to get out of his tank, hitch a tow rope to one of the cars, lift a badly injured officer into it, and then return to the car after the tow rope breaks. He transfers the wounded officer to one of his tanks and then - after being wounded in the neck - brings his tanks back to British lines. Gardner later was captured in 1942 and spent the remained of the war as a POW. Mr. Gardner passed away on 16 February 2003, and his VC is on display at the Imperial War Museum. © IWM (E 7479).
The Soviet forces on the western axis of Klin are too weak to combat German panzers moving towards them from three directions. Late in the day, the Stavka finally allows them to retreat to Klin's southwestern outskirts rather than be surrounded. The 2nd Panzer forces destroy over two dozen Soviet tanks and secure intact several bridges over the Moscow/ Volga canal. The day winds up with the Soviets pushed back about 2-4 km south of Solnechnogorsk (about 35 km from Moscow) and panzers fighting in the center of Klin.

British soldiers at Sidi Rezegh in North Africa, 23 November 1941
Some survivors of Sidi Rezegh, 23 November 1941. After the battle, Gunner C H Glass (left) and what remained of the 3rd Field Regiment (THA) returned to Mersa Matruh in Egypt to be re-formed as a fighting unit (Photo: By courtesy,  SA National Museum of Military History).
General Franz Halder and Army Group Center Commander Field Marshal Fedor von Bock have a telephone conversation in which they feel cautiously optimistic at the day's events. Halder writes in his diary:
Situation on the northern wing of Army Group Center is good. Klin taken. Now we must try to get the rest of the entire front in flux by putting on pressure from the north.
Halder's comment reveals both success and failure. The success at Klin is good, but only if it can shake the entire front loose. Everywhere else around Moscow, the Wehrmacht is at a standstill despite optimistic plans.

British soldiers at Sidi Rezegh in North Africa, 23 November 1941
Lt Col Ian Buchan 'Tiger' Whyte, DC, and a captain of the 3rd Field Regiment (THA) pose in front of some of the 32 German tanks knocked out by their guns at Sidi Rezegh on 'Totensonntag', 23 November 1941. (Photo: By courtesy, SA National Museum of Military History).
South of Moscow, at Tula, General Guderian's panzers are no longer moving forward, and Halder even poses the rhetorical question, "What can Guderian still accomplish?" The problem for the Germans is that an envelopment of Moscow requires progress in more than one direction - and the only troops still moving forward are in the north. Unless Guderian can break the Red Army resistance and continue north on the Moscow highway, it is highly unlikely that just one arm of a pincer movement can accomplish the gigantic task of taking Moscow.

PBY-5 Catalinas which arrive on Oahu on 23 November 1941
"Nine U.S. Navy Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina patrol bombers fly in formation in the Hawaiian area, circa November 1941. These planes, from Patrol Squadron 14 (VP-14), arrived on Oahu on 23 November 1941. The plane closest to the camera is "14-P-1", which on 7 December 1941 was flown by Ens. William P. Tanner during the attack with USS Ward (DD-139) on a Japanese midget submarine. Most of the other planes were destroyed at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay." (Official U.S. Navy photograph 80-G-279382).
Over the past week, the Soviets have made some tentative experimental crossings of Lake Ladoga to supply Leningrad. The city's more than one million inhabitants otherwise are getting virtually no supplies. Since those experimental crossings were successful, today the Soviets run a major convoy of 60 trucks which bring in 33 tons of flour and 2.5 tons of other supplies across the frozen lake. The hazards of driving across include the ice breaking under the heavily laden trucks, which does happen occasionally, and occasional shells falling nearby from German artillery on the south shore. However, Russian truck drivers are tough and used to taking risks that would be considered unacceptable elsewhere. In any event, they have no choice, as everyone understands the result of refusing to follow orders.

Sailors of HMS Marigold, 23 November 1941
"Lieut J Grenwick, RNR, the Captain of the MARIGOLD, in the center with the ship's company." These sailors are aboard the Royal Navy corvette which sank U-433 south of Malaga, Spain on 16 November 1941. The British believe at the time this picture is taken that U-433 sank the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal on 14 November 1941, so they take this celebratory "revenge" photo. However, in fact, U-81 sank the aircraft carrier, and it got away. Gibraltar, 23 November 1941. © IWM (A 6349).
Even these successful truck convoys may be too late. Leningrad is in very poor shape. It requires about 600 tons of supplies per day for the survival of its people, but this is out of the question, and it hasn't received any supplies except those few tons that can be flown in for weeks already. Looking ahead, the situation is a virtual mirror image of the situation the Germans will face in Stalingrad, though even worse because of the larger population in Leningrad. There really is no good solution for the people of Leningrad, as there is no way out for all but a relative handful of VIPs and not enough food for those who remain. Even if the city were to surrender - which is absolutely out of the question - the population knows it would be mistreated by the Germans and perhaps be treated even worse than they are already. So, the city holds out and people starve to death.

Map of Sidi Rezegh battle in North Africa, 23 November 1941
The situation at Sidi Rezegh near Tobruk on 23 November 1941.
Battle of the Mediterranean: The Germans consider the North African campaign to be a sideshow to the main event in the Soviet Union. However, it is a very serious affair to the British, and they are determined to rescue their encircled comrades in Tobruk. General Erwin Rommel finally is in full legal command of Afrika Corps after Italian authorities in Rome bow to the inevitable and agree to put Italian XX Mobile Corps (Ariete and Trieste Divisions) under his direct command early in the day. The two sides have been "mixing it" for several days now without any sign of a final decision, and Rommel decides to try for the win. He orders a concentric attack on the British 7th Armored Division southeast of Tobruk by having his panzers advance from the north and the Italian Corps Gambara from the south. The German commander on the spot, however, General Cruewell, has no faith in the Italians. He crafts his own plan (before receiving Rommel's orders at 04:30) to send his panzers south and then attack with them toward the north - thereby not relying on the Italians.

Condor Memorial dedication in Spain, 23 November 1941
Inauguration of a memorial to the fallen of the German Condor Legion in Madrid, Spain on 23 November 1941. This was financed by the German government. The monument was removed in 2017. (La Vanguardia Espanola of 23 November 1941).
The German attack launches at 07:30, a bit later than planned, and the 4th South African Armored Cars unit sees it coming over five or six miles. However, the 8th Army Headquarters does not believe the report and tells the South Africans that they are mistaken. This enables the panzers to advance virtually unmolested while they could still be brought under artillery fire. The panzers of the 15th Panzer Division blast through startled British supply columns and keep going. This unexpected attack into the British rear echelons causes panic and chaos, and only scattered British units are in a position to return fire. These British units do, however, at least slow the Germans, but the action is an unqualified German success - until General Cruewell inexplicably decides to withdraw to regroup. This enables the British also to recover somewhat, but the panzers renew their advance around noontime and finally do link up with the Italians. The day turns into a disaster for Eighth Army, and recriminations ring out in Cairo as Lieutenant-General C.W.M. Norrie in command of 30th Corps ponders ways to salvage the situation over coming days. The day is a brilliant success for General Erwin Rommel, but the British are still very much in the fight.

Condor Memorial dedication in Spain, 23 November 1941
The front page of the La Vanguardia Espanola newspaper of Barcelona of 23 November 1941, showing the dedication of the German memorial to the fallen of the Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War.

November 1941

November 1, 1941: Finns Attack Toward Murmansk Railway
November 2, 1941: Manstein Isolates Sevastopol
November 3, 1941: Japan Prepares to Attack
November 4, 1941: German Advances in the South
November 5, 1941: Last Peace Effort By Japan
November 6, 1941: Stalin Casts Blame in an Unexpected Direction
November 7, 1941: Stalin's Big Parade
November 8, 1941: Germans Take Tikhvin
November 9, 1941: Duisburg Convoy Destruction
November 10, 1941: Manstein Attacks Sevastopol
November 11, 1941: Finland's Double Game Erupts
November 12, 1941: T-34 Tanks Take Charge
November 13, 1941: German Orsha Conference
November 14, 1941: German Supply Network Breaking Down
November 15, 1941: Operation Typhoon Resumes
November 16, 1941: Manstein Captures Kerch
November 17, 1941: Finland Halts Operations
November 18, 1941: British Operation Crusader
November 19, 1941: Sydney vs. Kormoran Duel
November 20, 1941: The US Rejects Final Japanese Demand
November 21, 1941: Germans Take Rostov
November 22, 1941: Kleist in Trouble at Rostov
November 23, 1941: Germans Take Klin, Huge Battle in North Africa
November 24, 1941: Rommel Counterattacks
November 25, 1941: HMS Barham Sunk
November 26, 1941: Japanese Fleet Sails
November 27, 1941: British Relieve Tobruk
November 28, 1941: Rostov Evacuated, German Closest Approach to Moscow
November 29, 1941: Hitler Furious About Retreat
November 30, 1941: Japan Sets the Date for its Attack


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