Monday, February 18, 2019

November 27, 1941: British Relieve Tobruk

Thursday 27 November 1941

Tanks in North Africa, 27 November 1941
A British tank passes a burning German Panzer IV in North Africa in this nicely colorized shot. See the details of this shot below.
Battle of the Mediterranean: The British relieve Tobruk on 27 November 1941 when the 6th New Zealand Brigade overcomes the Italian 9th Bersaglieri Regiment at Ed Duda and the 32nd Tank Brigade and accompanying units create a small corridor to the port. This action technically justifies the British Operation Crusader, but the British have suffered severe tank losses as German General Erwin Rommel sent his main panzer forces into the British rear. After three days of deliberation, British Commander-in-Chief Middle East Command General Claude Auchinleck makes the very hard decision to relieve Eighth Army commander Lieutenant-General Alan Cunningham and replace him with Lieutenant-General Neil Ritchie. This is a very rare case of a general being sacked at the very moment that he achieves his main objective. Thus, in some sense, Operation Crusader has become a Pyrrhic victory for the British, at least so far.

Tanks in North Africa, 27 November 1941
This is the original of the shot above. "A Crusader tank passes a burning German PzKpfw IV tank, 27 November 1941." (Davies, L.B. Lt., © IWM (E 6752)).
General Rommel, meanwhile, is fighting a completely different campaign to the southeast. He sends 15th Panzer Division to Bir el Chleta, where it runs into 22nd Armored Brigade. The sides are roughly equal in tanks at about 50 until 4th Armored Brigade rushes up from the northeast. In conjunction with the RAF Desert Air Force, the British tankers wreak havoc on the panzers. However, after darkness falls, the British forces inexplicably move to the south to regroup, leaving the surviving German forces free to threaten the narrow British corridor to Tobruk to the northeast. During the night, General Rommel confers with Afrika Corps commander General Crüwell and, while Rommel wants the panzers to cut the corridor, Crüwell convinces Rommel to instead attack the British tanks to the south. Once this is done, the men agree that 15th Panzer can be resupplied and have a better chance of once again isolating Tobruk.

Tanks in North Africa, 27 November 1941
"The Axis Offensive 1941 - 1942: A British Crusader tank passes a burning German Pzkw Mk IV tank during Operation Crusader." 27 November 1941. It is fairly obvious from comparing this picture to the ones above that the Crusader tank and crew have been carefully posed while the photographer takes multiple shots of this "action scene" from different angles. Is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not, propaganda shots are taken by all armies and they create a good historical record. (Davies, L.B. Lt., © IWM (E 6751)).
Eastern Front: The German commanders in the Army Group South section of the front prepare for the final evacuation of Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia. General Ewald von Kleist's First Panzer Army will withdraw toward Taganrog and the Mius River, which is considered an easily defensible winter line. It will be an unforced withdrawal, and thus all units can be expected to reach the safety of the Mius River in good order. There, they can enter winter quarters and await the spring to retake Rostov and advance into the oil-rich Caucasus.

Jewish residents of Würzburg being deported to Riga, Latvia, 27 November 1941
Jews were for the first time deported from Würzburg toward the East on 27 November 1941. These deportees will wind up Riga, Latvia in a few days to become residents of the Jungfernhof concentration camp (Yad Vashem Photo Archives 7900/58, Courtesy of the State Archives in Würzburg (Staatsarchiv Würzburg)).
The Wehrmacht at this point has only occupied Rostov for six days, but the local commanders knew virtually from the day that they took Rostov that it was indefensible. Soviet 37th Army is waiting to march into Rostov after the Germans leave. While Army Group South commander Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt does not have permission to withdraw, Adolf Hitler is in Berlin attending to other affairs. He is out of touch with developments at the front and thus is not available to countermand any orders. Hitler could return to the Wolfsschanze headquarters in East Prussia any day now, though, so if the withdrawal is to be completed without his interference, it will have to be done soon. Everyone knows that Hitler's standard response to any difficult military situation is to not retreat and that ordering a withdrawal without his permission will displease him, so there likely will be consequences. This is accepted by the commanders on the spot.

SS Lurline departing on 27 November 1941
SS Lurline sets sail on 27 November 1941. It makes regular voyages from San Francisco to Honolulu, Hawaii and is at sea on 7 December 1941 between those two ports.
In the Crimea, General Erich von Manstein decides to postpone his offensive against Sevastopol until 17 December. He is concerned about supply difficulties - four out of five railway locomotives have broken down due to frost and road transport has been reduced by 50% - and the Soviet unit holding the port shows no signs of cracking. Hitler still wants the entire Crimea, including Sevastopol, taken as soon as possible, but Manstein feels he isn't ready. However, on the other side, General Petrov, the Red Army commander at Sevastopol, figures that holding out at Sevastopol will help divert German forces from Moscow. So, for the time being, both sides just try to maintain the status quo. Advantage Soviets.

Sailor Harold Dunn aboard HMAS Parramatta, KIA,27 November 1941
Ordinary Seaman Harold Clyde Dunn aboard HMAS Parramatta. KIA 27 November 1941 (Australian War Memorial).
US Military: Negotiations with the Japanese have broken down completely, so President Roosevelt meets with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General George Marshall and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Harold Stark. The consensus is that the Japanese will attack somewhere, but it is unknown where and Japanee intentions "cannot be forecast." Marshall and Stark submit a memo to the President today which states in part:
The most essential thing, from the United States point of view, is to gain time... [Military action should be avoided] so long as consistent with the national policy... [Military action should be contemplated] only if Japan attacks or directly threatens the United States, British, or Dutch territory.
The War Council meets later in the day and, at the urging of Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, drafts and sends a war warning for Hawaii, Panama, San Francisco, and the Philippines. The warning cautions local commanders to let the Japanese make the "first overt act" but to "undertake such reconnaissance and other measures" as necessary. The operative plan in case of an attack is Rainbow 5, which assumes that the United States will be allied with Britain and France and contemplates offensive operations by American forces in Europe, Africa, or both. The major assumption of Rainbow 5 is that the United States will follow a "Europe first" policy while temporarily going on the defensive in the Pacific.

Celebratory handshake after relief of Tobruk garrison in North Africa, 27 November 1941
Ceremonial handshake between the Eighth Army relief force commander and the commander of the garrison at Tobruk on 27 November 1941. Original caption: "Relief of Tobruk. Join up of 8th Army and Tobruk garrison, 27 November 1941. Lieutenant-Colonel S F Hartnell is on the left. British official photograph. Notes on the back of file print include 'Prob 19 NZ Bn [?] at Ed Duda. NZ Officer - Lt/Col S F Hartnell. Tobruk - Link-up - 2 Libyan Campaign. 19 NZ Bn - Ed Duda. 32 Army Tank Bde - Ed Duda.'"

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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