After the defeat of Operation Battleaxe in June, a lull ensued in North Africa. German demands for the offensive begun in Russia in June relegated Africa to a secondary front. Rommel was ordered to sit in his present position and was not given enough reinforcements and supplies for another major offensive. The siege of Tobruk continued. The Aussies were withdraw from Tobruk over the summer and replaced by the British 70th Division and a brigade of Polish troops. Meanwhile, with the help of U.S. Lend-Lease, the Brits built a whole new army partially equipped with American built tanks and fortified with Commonwealth troops from the far corners of the empire. The 8th Army was formed, consisting of XXX and XIII corps. British tank strength soared to almost 800, giving them nearly a 2 to 1 edge over the Axis forces. Axis strength also increased during this period but the Royal Navy severely limited the Axis supply line.
By November, the 8th Army was ready to strike. The newly planned operation was named for the new Crusader tank, which had just seen its first action in Operation Battleaxe, but was now present in large numbers. The plan was similar to the two earlier failed offensives. The infantry of XIII Corps would advance to the south of Halfaya Pass this time and then circle north to cut the coastal road, with a brigade of Matilda and Valentine infantry tanks in support. XXX Corps, led by the reinforced 7th Armored Division, would swing far to the south and attempt to destroy the German panzers of the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions in the open desert. They would then help trap the retreating Italian and German infantry and would link up with an breakout offensive by the defenders of Tobruk. With the siege broken, the whole force would then advance as far as possible to the west.
As before, the plan did not survive intact against Rommel. By the time the 7th Armored was ready to tackle the German panzers, the division had become too spread out. Rommel defeated the 7th Armored Division in detail with the panzers of the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions in a battle at Sidi Rezegh and then advanced to the border to deal with the infantry. He missed them, however, and before he could get back to Tobruk, they had linked up with the defenders of Tobruk and the siege had been lifted. Heavy losses incurred so far compelled the Axis forces to withdraw all the way back to their original start point at El Agheila and the British were able to claim a temporary victory over Rommel and his Afrika Korps.
Allied Forces (8th Army)
Deutches Afrika Korps
Italian XX Corps
Italian XXI Corps