Operation Battleaxe


        After the reverses caused by Rommel's first offensive in the desert,  Churchill decided that decisive action needed to be taken to reverse the course of events in North Africa.  A fast convoy was arranged which would sail by the most direct route thru the Straits of Gibralter instead of the usual long but safe route around Africa and thru the Suez Canal to Alexandria.  This route would be more perilous but would shave 40 days off the transport time.  The convoy was codenamed Tiger and would contain 50 Hurricane fighters and almost 300 tanks, including 50 of the new Crusader cruiser tank.  The reinforcements were to be used for a major new offensive against the Axis.  One of the five transports struck a mine in the Mediterranean and 57 Matildas (an entire battalion!) and 10 Hurricanes went to the bottom.  The tanks and planes that arrived in Alexandria on May 12, however, provided a major boost to the desert force.  Although the new tanks would not be ready for use for another month, their arrival allowed Operation Brevity to go forward on May 15 with nearly all previously existing tanks.

        The newly arrived tanks were used to bring the depleted 7th Armored Division up to some sort of fighting strength and an assault was planned for June using the 7th Armored Division, the 4th Indian Infantry Division and the 22nd Brigade.  The assault would have three major phases.  Phase one was to take Halfaya Pass and the Sollum area and stabilize the frontier, destroying most of the Axis tanks in the process.  Phase two was for the 7th Armored to drive to Tobruk and break the siege while the rest of the forces finished mopping up near Sollum.  Phase Three was for the 7th Armored and the Auzzies from Tobruk to drive west as least as far as Derna and Mechili and then to see how events developed from there.

        For Phase One, the forces were divided into three groups with objectives very similar to Operation Brevity.  The Coast Force would take Halfaya Pass.  The Escarpment Force, with most of the Matildas, would take the strongpoints behind it, including Fort Capuzzo and Sollum.  The 7th Armored Group, with all the cruiser tanks, would seek out the German armor and attempt to destroy it in open battle while cutting off the retreat of the Axis forces on the frontier, hopefully bagging the whole lot.

        The battle did not go as planned and only the Escarpment Group was successful. The Allies lost over 100 tanks in three days of battle(more than half their total) while the Germans ended up with a net loss of just 12 (after salvage and repair from the battlefield). The end result was a change of commanders in the Middle East and stalemate for the next five months.


Allied Forces

    Coast Group

    Escarpment Group

    7th Armored Group

Axis Forces

   Axis Forces