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Operation Compass

Operation Compass
Part of the Western Desert Campaign of World War II
British Vickers light tanks on desert patrol, 2 August 1940.
Date9 December 1940 – 9 February 1941
LocationSidi Barrani, Egypt to El Agheila, Libya
Result Allied victory

23x15px United Kingdom

23x15px Australia
23x15px Free France
23x15px Italy
Commanders and leaders
23x15px Archibald Wavell
23x15px Henry Maitland Wilson
23x15px Richard O'Connor
23x15px Rodolfo Graziani
23x15px Italo Gariboldi
23x15px Mario Berti
23x15px Giuseppe Tellera 
23x15px Pietro Maletti 
23x15px Annibale Bergonzoli (POW)
36,000 soldiers
120 guns
275 tanks
142 aircraft
150,000 soldiers
1,600 guns
600 tankettes and tanks
331 aircraft
Casualties and losses
500 killed
1,373 wounded
55 missing
15 aircraft
3,000 killed
133,298 captured
420 tanks
845 guns
564 aircraft

Operation Compass was the first big Allied military operation of the Western Desert Campaign during World War II. British and other Commonwealth forces attacked Italian forces in western Egypt and eastern Libya in December 1940, with great success. The Western Desert Force (Lieutenant-General Sir Richard O'Connor) with about 30,000 men, advanced from Mersa Matruh in Egypt on a five-day raid on the Italian positions of the 10th Army (Marshal Rodolfo Graziani), which had about 150,000 men in fortified posts around Sidi Barrani and in eastern Libya (Cyrenaica).

The 10th Army was swiftly defeated and the British prolonged the operation, to pursue the remnants of the 10th Army to Beda Fomm and El Agheila on the Gulf of Sirte. The British lost 1,900 killed and wounded, about 10 percent of their infantry and took 138,000 Italian and Libyan prisoners, hundreds of tanks and over 1,000 guns and aircraft. The British were unable to continue beyond El Agheila, due to broken-down and worn out vehicles and the diversion of the best-equipped units to the Greek Campaign.


10th Army

When war was declared, the 5th Army (General Italo Gariboldi) was in the west of Libya in Tripolitania and the 10th Army (General Mario Berti) was in Cyrenaica, the eastern province. Once the French in Tunisia no longer posed a threat to Tripolitania, units of the 5th Army were used to reinforce the 10th Army. When Balbo was killed, Marshal Graziani took his place as Governor-General of Libya. Graziani expressed doubts about the capabilities of his large non-mechanized force to defeat the British, who though smaller in numbers were largely motorised. After being reinforced from the 5th Army, the 10th Army controlled the equivalent of four corps with 150,000 infantry, 1,600 guns, 600 tankettes and tanks and 331 aircraft. .[1] The XX Corps had the Italian 60 Infantry Division Sabratha.[2] The XXI Corps had the 1st Blackshirt Division 23 Marzo, the 2nd Blackshirt Division 28 Ottobre and the 63 Infantry Division Cirene. The XXII Corps had the 61st Infantry Division Sirte.[3] The XXIII Corps had the 4th Blackshirt Division 3 Gennaio and the 64th Infantry Division Catanzaro.[4]

The new "Group of Libyan Divisions" (Gruppo Divisioni Libiche) had the Maletti Group, the 1st Libyan Division Sibelle commanded by Major-General Luigi Sibelle, and the 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori commanded by Major-General Armando Pescatori.[4] The only unit Berti had that was not an infantry division was the partially motorized and lightly armoured Maletti Group. Raggruppamento Maletti (General Pietro Maletti) was formed at Derna on 8 July 1940, with seven Libyan motorized infantry battalions, a company of Fiat M11/39 tanks, a company of L3/33 tankettes, motorized artillery and supply units as the main motorized unit of the 10th Army. On 29 August, as more tanks arrived from Italy, the Comando carri della Libia (Libyan Tank Command) was formed under the command of Colonel Valentini with three Raggruppamenti. Raggruppamento Aresca (Colonel Aresca) with the I Medium Tank Battalion and the 31st, 61st and 62nd light tank battalions, Raggruppamento Trivioli (Colonel Antonio Trivioli), with the II Medium Tank Battalion, less one company and the IX, XX, and LXI light tank battalions and Raggruppamento Maletti with the LX light tank battalion and the remaining M11/39 company from the II Medium Tank Battalion.[5] Raggruppamento Maletti became part of the Regio Corpo Truppe Coloniali della Libia (Royal Corps of Libyan Colonial Troops), with the 1st Libyan Division Sibelle and the 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori.[6]

Western Desert Force

Middle East Command under General Archibald Wavell had about 36,000 soldiers, 120 guns, 275 tanks and 142 aircraft, in two squadrons of Hurricanes, one of Gloster Gladiators, three of Blenheims, three of Wellingtons and one of Bombays, about 46 fighters and 116 bombers.[7] The Western Desert Force was commanded by Lieutenant-General Richard O'Connor with the 4th Indian Infantry Division (Major-General Noel Beresford-Peirse) and the 7th Armoured Division (Major-General Sir Michael O'Moore Creagh). From 14 December, troops of the 6th Australian Infantry Division (Major-General Iven Giffard Mackay), replaced the 4th Indian Division, which was sent to East Africa, less one brigade. The British had some fast Cruiser Mk I, Cruiser Mk II and Cruiser Mk III tanks with Ordnance QF 2-pounder guns, which were superior to Fiat M11/39 tanks. The British also had a small number of Matilda II infantry tanks that while slow, were well armoured and also equipped with the 2-pounder. The armour of the Matilda tanks could not be penetrated by Italian anti-tank guns or field guns.[8]

Border skirmishes

File:WesternDesertBattle Area1941 en.svg
Area of operations December 1940 to February 1941 (click to enlarge)

Italy declared war on Britain and France on 10 June 1940. During the next few months there were raids and skirmishes between Italian forces in Libya and British and Commonwealth forces in Egypt. On 12 June 1940, the Mediterranean Fleet bombarded Tobruk. The force included the cruisers HMS Liverpool and HMS Gloucester also exchanged fire with the Italian cruiser San Giorgio. Royal Air Force Blenheim bombers from No. 45, No. 55 and No. 211 squadrons, hit the San Giorgio with one bomb.[9] On 19 June, the British submarine HMS Parthian fired two torpedoes at San Giorgio but missed. San Giorgio's role was then to support the local anti-aircraft units and claimed 47 British aircraft shot down or damaged. San Giorgio also shot down the Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 aircraft carrying Italo Balbo, the Governor-General of Libya and Commander-in-chief of Italian forces in North Africa.[10]


Operazione E

Areas of Operazione E and Operation Compass (click to enlarge)

On 13 September 1940, elements of the Italian 10th Army advanced into Egypt in Operazione E. As the Italians advanced, the small British force at Sollum withdrew to the main defensive positions east of Mersa Matruh.[11] The Italian advance was harassed by the 3rd Coldstream Guards, attached artillery and other units.[12] After recapturing Fort Capuzzo, the Italians advanced approximately Script error: No such module "convert". in three days. On 16 September, the advance stopped at Maktila, Script error: No such module "convert". beyond Sidi Barrani. The Italians dug in and awaited reinforcements and supplies along the Via della Vittoria, an extension of the Via Balbia being built from the frontier, in five fortified camps around Sidi Barrani which ran from Maktila, Script error: No such module "convert". east on the coast, southward through Tummar East, Tummar West and Nibeiwa, to Sofafi on the escarpment to the south-west.[13]

British plan

Following the Italian advance, Wavell ordered the commander of British Troops Egypt, Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, to plan a limited operation to push the Italians back. Operation Compass, for administrative reasons, was originally planned as a five-day raid but consideration was given to continuing the operation to exploit success.[14][15] On 28 November, Wavell wrote to Wilson that,

I do not entertain extravagant hopes of this operation but I do wish to make certain that if a big opportunity occurs we are prepared morally, mentally and administratively to use it to the fullest.

— Wavell[16]

The 7th Support Group was to observe the Italian camps on the escarpment around Sofafi, to prevent the garrisons from interfering, while the rest of the division and 4th Indian Division passed through the Sofafi–Nibeiwa gap. An Indian brigade and Infantry tanks (I tanks) of 7th Royal Tank Regiment (7th RTR) would attack Nibeiwa from the west, as the 7th Armoured Division protected their northern flank. Once Nibeiwa was captured, a second Indian brigade and the 7th RTR would attack the Tummars. Selby Force (3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards plus some artillery) from the Matruh garrison was to contain the enemy camp at Maktila on the coast and the Royal Navy would bombard Maktila and Sidi Barrani.[17] Preparations were kept secret and only a few officers knew during the training exercise held from 25–26 November, that the objectives marked out near Matruh were replicas of Nibeiwa and Tummar; the troops were also told that a second exercise was to follow and did not know that the operation was real until 7 December, as they arrived at their jumping-off points.[18]

British assembly

Late on 8 December, an Italian reconnaissance aircrew reported that attack on Maktila and Nibeiwa was imminent but Maletti was not informed. On 9 December, the 1st Libyan Division Sibelle was at Maktila and the 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori was at Tummar. The Maletti Group was at Nibiewa and the 4th Blackshirt Division 3 Jennaio and the headquarters of the Libyan Corps were at Sidi Barrani. The 63rd Infantry Division Cirene and the headquarters of XXI Corps were at Sofafi and the 64th Infantry Division Catanzaro was at Buq Buq. The headquarters of the XXIII Corps and the 2nd Blackshirt Division "28 Ottobre" were in Sollum and Halfaya Pass respectively and the 62nd Infantry Division Marmarica was at Sidi Omar, south of Sollum.[19] Berti was on sick leave and Gariboldi, the 1st Blackshirt Division 23 Marzo and the 10th Army HQ were far back at Bardia. (By the time Berti arrived in Libya, so had the British.)[20]

Operation Compass (la battaglia della Marmarica Battle of the Marmarica) began on the night of 7/8 December. The Western Desert Force with the 7th Armoured Division, 4th Indian Division and the 16th Infantry Brigade advanced Script error: No such module "convert". to their start line. The RAF made attacks on Italian airfields and destroyed or damaged 29 aircraft on the ground. Selby Force (Brigadier A. R. Selby) with 1,800 men, the maximum for whom transport could be found, moved up from Matruh, set up a brigade of dummy tanks in the desert and reached a position south-east of Maktila by dawn on 9 December. Maktila had been bombarded by the monitor HMS Terror and the gunboat HMS Aphis; Sidi Barrani had been shelled by the gunboat HMS Ladybird.[21]

Battle of the Camps


At 5:00 a.m. on 9 December, a detachment of artillery commenced diversionary fire from the east for an hour, on the fortified camp at Nibeiwa, which was occupied by the Maletti Group and at 7:15 a.m. the divisional artillery began a preliminary bombardment. The 11th Indian Infantry Brigade, with 7th RTR under command, attacked Nibeiwa from the north-west, which reconnaissance had established as the weakest sector. By 8:30 a.m., Nibeiwa had been captured; Maletti had been killed in the fighting and 2,000 Italian and Libyan soldiers had been taken prisoner. Large quantities of supplies were captured and the British had casualties of eight officers and forty-eight men.[22]

The Tummars

The attack commenced on Tummar West at 1:50 p.m., after the 7th RTR had refuelled and artillery had bombarded the defences for an hour. Another north-west approach was made, the tanks broke through the perimeter and were followed twenty minutes later by the infantry. The defenders held out for longer than the Nibeiwa garrison but by 4:00 p.m. Tummar West was overrun, except for the north-eastern corner. The tanks moved on to Tummar East, the greater part of which was captured by nightfall. The 4th Armoured Brigade had advanced to Azziziya, where the garrison of 400 men surrendered. Light patrols of the 7th Hussars pushed forward to cut the road from Sidi Barrani to Buq Buq, while armoured cars of the 11th Hussars ranged further west. The tanks of 7th Armoured Brigade were held in reserve.[23]


Unaware of the situation at the Tummars, Selby sent units to cut the western exits from Maktila but the 1st Libyan Division Sibelle filtered through and escaped.[24] Selby Force followed up the retreat of the 1st Libyan Division Sibelle, as it moved the Script error: No such module "convert". from Maktila to Sidi Barrani and drove part of the column into sand dunes north of the coast road. Cruiser tanks of the 6th Royal Tank Regiment (6th RTR) arrived in a sandstorm and overran the Italians in the dunes at about 5:15 p.m., then joined Selby Force to continue the pursuit. The Italian defenders were caught at Sidi Barrani, in a pocket Script error: No such module "convert". backing on to the sea. When the British attacked again at dawn on 11 December, mass surrenders began everywhere except at Point 90, where troops of the 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori held out for a short time and then 2,000 troops surrendered.[25]

Sidi Barrani, Buq Buq and Sofafi

On 10 December, the 16th Infantry Brigade was brought forward from 4th Indian Division reserve and with part of the 11th Indian Brigade under command, was sent forward in lorries to attack Sidi Barrani. While moving across exposed ground, some casualties were incurred but with support from artillery and the 7th RTR, it was in position barring the south and south western exits to Sidi Barrani by 1:30 p.m. The British attacked at 4:00 p.m. supported by the divisional artillery and the town fell by nightfall; the remains of the two Libyan Divisions and the 4th Blackshirt Division 3 Gennaio were trapped between the 16th Infantry Brigade and Selby Force. On 11 December, Selby Force supported by some tanks, attacked and overran the 1st Libyan Division Sibelle and by the evening, the 4th Blackshirt Division 3 Gennaio had also surrendered. On 11 December, the 7th Armoured Brigade was ordered out of reserve and relieved 4th Armoured Brigade in the Buq Buq area to mop up and captured large numbers of men and guns. A patrol from the 7th Support Group entered Rabia and found it empty. The 63rd Division Cirene had withdrawn from Rabia and Sofafi overnight. An order to the 4th Armoured Brigade to cut them off west of Sofafi arrived too late and the Italians were able to make their way along the top of the escarpment, to join Italian forces at Halfaya.[26]


Matilda tank with crew displaying a captured Italian flag

Over the next few days the British 4th Armoured Brigade, on top of the escarpment and the 7th Armoured Brigade on the coast, attempted a pursuit but supply problems and the large number of prisoners (twenty times the number planned for) impeded the advance. Italian forces crowded along the coast road retreating from Sidi Barrani and Buq Buq, were bombarded by Terror and the two gunboats, which fired on the Sollum area all day and most of the night of 11 December. Late on 12 December, the Italian positions in Egypt, were reduced to the approaches to Sollum and the area of Sidi Omar. The Italians had lost 38,289 Italian and Libyan casualties, 73 tanks and 237 guns against 634 British casualties.[27] The WDF paused to reorganise and then moved quickly west along the Via della Vittoria, through Halfaya Pass and re-captured Fort Capuzzo in Libya.[28]


Sollum, Halfaya and Fort Capuzzo

Main article: Fort Capuzzo
File:Rolls-Royce Armoured Car Bardia 1940.jpg
A 1924 Rolls-Royce Armoured Car with modified turret, in the Bardia area of the Western Desert, 1940.

Exploitation continued by the two armoured brigades and the 7th Support Group, with the infantry of 16th Infantry Brigade (which had not gone with the 4th Indian division to the Sudan) following up. By 15 December, Sollum and the Halfaya Pass had been captured. The British advance by-passed Italian garrisons further south in the desert. Fort Capuzzo, Script error: No such module "convert". inland, at the end of the frontier wire, was captured en passant by 7th Armoured Division in December 1940, as it advanced westwards to Bardia. The 7th Armoured Division concentrated south-west of Bardia, waiting for the arrival of 6th Australian Division. By this time the WDF had taken 38,300 prisoners and captured 237 guns and 73 tanks, while suffering casualties of 133 killed, 387 wounded and eight missing.[29]


Main article: Battle of Bardia

The 6th Australian Division (Major General Iven Mackay) attacked the Italian XXIII Corps (Lieutenant General Annibale Bergonzoli) Bardia from 3–5 January 1941, assisted by air support, naval gunfire and artillery barrages. The 16th Australian Infantry Brigade attacked at dawn from the west, where the defences were known to be weak. Sappers blew gaps in the barbed wire with Bangalore torpedoes and filled in and broke down the sides of the anti-tank ditch with picks and shovels. The Australian infantry and 23 Matilda II tanks of the 7th RTR overran the Italian defences and took 8,000 prisoners.[30]

The 17th Australian Infantry Brigade exploited the breach made in the perimeter and pressed south, as far as a secondary line of defences known as the Switch Line. On the second day, the 16th Australian Infantry Brigade captured the township of Bardia, cutting the fortress in two. Thousands of prisoners were taken and the remnants of the Italian garrison held only the northern and southernmost parts of the fortress. On the third day, the 19th Australian Infantry Brigade advanced south from Bardia, supported by artillery and the remaining six Matilda tanks. The 17th Australian Infantry Brigade attacked and the two brigades reduced the southern sector of the fortress. The Italian garrisons in the north surrendered to the 16th Australian Infantry Brigade and the 7th Support Group outside the fortress; about 25,000 prisoners were taken, along with 400 guns, 130 light and medium tanks and hundreds of motor vehicles.[31]

Capture of Tobruk

File:Awm 005392 2nd11th.jpg
Men of the Australian 2nd/11th Battalion, 6th Division pictured during the Battle of Tobruk, 22 January 1941.

The 2/3rd Australian Battalion attacked at 5:40 a.m. on 21 January and after an hour, the 16th Australian Brigade and 18 I tanks broke through to a depth of Script error: No such module "convert". on a Script error: No such module "convert". front. The 16th Australian Brigade fanned out at 8:40 a.m. and the 19th Australian Brigade advanced north, behind an artillery barrage and counter-battery fire on the Italian artillery. The 2/8th Australian Battalion was held up at the Bardia–El Adem crossroads, by a force of dug-in tanks and machine-gun nests but at 2:00 p.m., the Australians attacked again and broke through on the right. On the left the Australians were counter-attacked by seven tanks and infantry behind an artillery barrage and were repulsed by the Australian infantry, two anti-tank guns and two I tanks. More resistance was met near Pilastrino, which held out until 9:30 p.m. and the area around Solero was captured along with Mannella.[32]

During the day, Blenheims of 55 and 113 squadrons flew 56 sorties against Tobruk and the Gladiators and Hurricanes of 3 Squadron RAAF and 73 and 274 squadrons RAF, patrolled to the west. Half of the Tobruk area had been captured by nightfall and the Italians began demolitions at the harbour. At dawn, Major-General Della Mura, commander of the 61st Infantry Division Sirte, surrendered with several thousand of his troops. The 6th Australian Cavalry Regiment reached the port and took the surrender of Admiral Vietina and the naval garrison. By 3:45 p.m., 15,000 prisoners, 208 guns and 87 tanks had been captured for the loss of 400 men, 355 of them Australian. Most of the demolitions conducted by the Italians had been of stores rather than installations; the Inshore Squadron began minesweeping and opened the port on 24 January.[33]

Babini Group

In late 1940, Comando Supremo organized the Brigata Corazzata Speciale (Special Armoured Brigade, BCS or Babini Group) and rushed it to Libya. The Babini Group had new Fiat M13/40 tanks, superior to the M11/39s of the Raggruppamento Maletti (Maletti Group). The M13/40 had a turret-mounted Cannone da 47/32 M35 gun, capable of penetrating the armour of British light and cruiser tanks but except for command vehicles, the M13s did not carry radio. The Babini Group also had three Bersaglieri battalions, one motorcycle battalion, an artillery regiment, two anti-tank gun companies, an engineer company and supply units. The tank force included the III Battalion and the V Battalion of the 131st Armoured Division "Centauro" with 139 × M13/40s but 82 had just arrived at Benghazi and required ten days to be made operational.[34]


File:Tobruk Agedabia road2.jpg
<center>Tobruk–Agedabia, 1940–1941

The British continued the advance towards Derna with the 19th Australian Brigade of the 6th Australian Division and sent another Australian brigade to reinforce the 7th Armoured Division south of the Jebel Akhdar mountains, for an advance on Mechili.[35] On 24 January, the 4th Armoured Brigade engaged tanks of the Babini Group north of Mechili on the Derna–Mechili track. The British knocked out eight tanks and lost a cruiser and six light tanks.[36] The 2/11th Australian Battalion engaged the 60th Division Sabratha and Bersaglieri companies of the Babini Group at Derna airfield on 25 January and made slow progress against determined resistance. Italian bombers and fighters flew sorties against the 2/11th Australian Battalion, as it attacked the Italian-held airfield and nearby heights.[37]

In the Derna–Giovanni Berta area, held by the 60th Division Sabratha and Bersaglieri, Italian counter-attacks taking place around Wadi Derna. On 26 January, the 2/4th Battalion cut the road running south from Derna to Mechili and a company crossed Wadi Derna. On the northern edge of the wadi, an Italian counter-attack was a costly failure, with 40 Italians killed and 56 captured. On 27 January, the 2/4th Australian Battalion repulsed another battalion-strength attack.[38] The Babini Group ambushed a column of armoured vehicles of the 6th Australian Cavalry Regiment and took the survivors prisoner. The advance of other units south of Wadi Derna, threatened the Babini Group with encirclement and it disengaged on the night of 26/27 January. The 4th Armoured Brigade pursued the Babini Group but had to give up on 28 January, due to mud, rain, breakdowns and fuel shortage; Derna fell on 30 January.[39]

Battle of Beda Fomm

Main article: Battle of Beda Fomm

In late January, the British learned that the Italians were retreating along the Litoranea Balbo (Via Balbia) from Benghazi. The 7th Armoured Division was dispatched to intercept the remnants of the 10th Army by moving through the desert, south of the Jebel Akhdar (Green Mountain) via Msus and Antelat, as the 6th Australian Division pursued the Italians along the coast road, north of the jebel. The terrain slowed the British tanks and Combe Force (Lieutenant-Colonel J. F. B. Combe), a flying column of wheeled vehicles, was sent ahead across the chord of the jebel.[40]

Late on 5 February, Combe Force arrived at the Via Balbia south of Benghazi and set up road blocks near Sidi Saleh, about Script error: No such module "convert". north of Ajedabia and Script error: No such module "convert". south-west of Antelat. The leading elements of the 10th Army arrived thirty minutes later. Next day the Italians attacked to break through the road block and continued to attack into 7 February. With British reinforcements arriving and the Australians pressing down the road from Benghazi, the 10th Army surrendered. From Benghazi to Agedabia, the British took 25,000 prisoners, captured 107 tanks and 93 guns.[41]

Desert operations


Italian garrisons held Giarabub Script error: No such module "convert". south of Sollum, Kuffra Oasis, Jalo at the west end of the Great Sand Sea and Murzuk, Script error: No such module "convert". south of Tripoli. The oasis of Giarabub was attacked in January 1941 and captured in March by the 6th Australian Cavalry Regiment and an Australian infantry battalion. Further south, on the far side of the Sand Sea, the oasis of Kufra was attacked by Free French force from French Equatorial Africa, in concert with Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) patrols. Kufra fell after the two-month Capture of Kufra in March 1941. Further west, on the border with the French territory of Chad, the Italian base at Murzuk was raided in January, when two patrols of the new Long Range Patrol Unit and a local sheikh travelled Script error: No such module "convert"., to rendezvous near Kayugi, with a small Free French detachment.[42]

The force attacked Murzuk and destroyed three aircraft and a hangar; the French commander was killed, most of the Italians surrendered and several prisoners were taken.[42] The raiders then shot up three forts and departed. An Italian garrison at Uweinat Script error: No such module "convert". inland and the closest Libyan base to the East African Empire, was withdrawn. British patrols visited Faya and met another French detachment with General Philippe Leclerc for an attack on Kufra. The British were strafed by aircraft and attacked by armoured cars of the Italian Auto-Saharan Company, which destroyed several lorries. Leclerc decided that an attack on Kufra was not possible and the remaining British returned to Cairo, after a 45-day journey of Script error: No such module "convert".. Kufra was captured on 1 March, by the French and became the new LRDG base in April.[42]



Approximate totals of captures:
Western Desert and Cyrenaica
(9 December 1940 – 8 February 1941)[43]
Place PoW Tanks Guns
Sidi Barrani 38,289 73 297
Sidi Omar 900 0 8
Bardia 42,000 130 275
Tobruk 25,000 87 208
Mechili 100 13 0
2,000 10 24
25,000 107 93
Total 133,298 420 845


The WDF lost 500 killed, 55 missing, and 1,373 wounded.[44] The RAF lost 15 aircraft, comprising 6 Hurricanes, 5 Gladiators, three Wellingtons, a Valentia and a Blenheim.[45] The 10th Army lost 133,298 men taken prisoner, 420 tanks and 845 guns.[43]

Subsequent operations

Main article: Battle of Greece

A week after the Italian surrender at Beda Fomm, the Defence Committee in London, ordered Cyrenaica to be held with the minimum of forces and the surplus sent to Greece. In the WDF (now XIII Corps), the 6th Australian Division was fully equipped and had few losses to replace. The 7th Armoured Division had been operating for eight months, had worn out its mechanical equipment and was withdrawn to refit. Two regiments of the 2nd Armoured Division with the WDF were also worn out, leaving the division with only four tank regiments. The 6th Australian Division went to Greece in March with an armoured brigade group of the 2nd Armoured Division; the remainder of the division and the new 9th Australian Division, minus two brigades and most of its transport sent to Greece, were replaced by two under-equipped brigades of the 7th Australian Division. The division took over in Cyrenaica, on the assumption that the Italians could not begin a counter-offensive until May, even with German reinforcements.[46]

The 2nd Armoured Division in Cyrenaica had the 3rd Armoured Brigade, with an understrength light tank regiment, a second regiment using captured Italian tanks and a cruiser tank regiment from mid-March, with worn-out tanks. The 2nd Support Group had only one motor battalion, a field artillery regiment, one anti-tank battery and a machine-gun company; most of the divisional transport had gone to Greece.[46] A few thousand men of the 10th Army escaped the disaster in Cyrenaica but the 5th Army in Tripolitania had four divisions. The Sirte, Tmed Hassan and Buerat strongholds were reinforced from Italy, which brought the 10th and 5th armies up to about 150,000 men. German reinforcements were sent to Libya to form a blocking detachment (Sperrverband) under Directive 22 (11 January), these being the first units of the Afrika Korps (Generalleutnant Erwin Rommel). On 25 March 1941, Graziani was replaced Gariboldi[47]

Order of battle

See also


  1. ^ Details taken from Christie (1999) unless specified.[48]
  2. ^ The Western Desert Force consisted of about 31,000 soldiers, 120 guns, 275 tanks and sixty armoured cars. The Italian 10th Army in Egypt consisted of 80,000 troops. 250 guns and 125 tanks. The 4th Indian Division was exchanged with the 6th Australian Division for the pursuit after the first part of Operation Compass.[49]


  1. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, p. 266.
  2. ^ Macksey 1971, p. 121.
  3. ^ Macksey 1971, p. 106.
  4. ^ a b Hunt 1990, p. 51.
  5. ^ Christie 1999, pp. 32, 48.
  6. ^ Walker 2003, p. 61.
  7. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, p. 262.
  8. ^ Pitt 1980, p. 102.
  9. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, pp. 112–113.
  10. ^ Hunt 1990, p. 21.
  11. ^ Mackenzie 1951, pp. 26–27.
  12. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, p. 210.
  13. ^ Mackenzie 1951, p. 27.
  14. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, p. 264.
  15. ^ Mead 2007, p. 331.
  16. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, p. 265.
  17. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, pp. 260–261.
  18. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, pp. 263, 265.
  19. ^ Macksey 1971, p. 68.
  20. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, p. 281.
  21. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, pp. 265–267.
  22. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, pp. 267–268.
  23. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, pp. 268–269.
  24. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, p. 269.
  25. ^ Pitt 1980, p. 114.
  26. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, p. 270.
  27. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, pp. 271–273.
  28. ^ Bierman & Smith 2002, p. 46.
  29. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, p. 273.
  30. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, pp. 282–284.
  31. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, pp. 284–287.
  32. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, pp. 292–293.
  33. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, p. 293.
  34. ^ Walker 2003, p. 63.
  35. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, pp. 353.
  36. ^ Long 1952, p. 242.
  37. ^ Long 1952, pp. 242–245.
  38. ^ Long 1952, pp. 245–247, 250.
  39. ^ Long 1952, pp. 250–253, 255–256.
  40. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, pp. 351–356.
  41. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, pp. 356–362.
  42. ^ a b c Playfair et al. 1954, p. 297.
  43. ^ a b CCIS 1941.
  44. ^ Wavell 1946, p. 3,268.
  45. ^ Latimer 2013, p. 87.
  46. ^ a b Playfair et al. 1956, pp. 2–3.
  47. ^ Playfair et al. 1954, pp. 359–362.
  48. ^ Christie 1999, pp. 65, 68–78.
  49. ^ Christie 1999, p. 86.



Further reading

  • Buckingham, William F. (2012) [2008]. Tobruk: The Great Siege, 1941–42. The History Press. ISBN 978-0-75244-501-4. 
  • Churchill, Winston (1949). Their Finest Hour. The Second World War II (1st ed.). Houghton Mifflin. 
  • Coulthard-Clark, Chris (2001). The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles. Crow's Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-634-7. 
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