Fall of Tobruk, a few questions

Nov 2019
2
Thebes
During the battle of Gazala, Tobruk fell very fast. Why was this fast, when the place had resisted for many months previously ? Did they lack anti tank guns ? Did they lack ammunition, food or water to hold a siege ? It seems the South African commander changed his mind overnight from breaking out through the siege to surrendering, why so ?

Also, Rommel did capture huge amounts of oil in Tobruk, and also a port. Why did he not manage to pursue the Commonwealth armies to the Nile ?
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,374
Italy, Lago Maggiore
The Venezia variant [at least this is what Italian history books say, I'm curious to hear from foreign sources] was the victorious key, even if one of the two Italian armored formations didn't listened to Rommel's order, keeping on following the original plan [!]. While the "Ariete" listened to Rommel the "Trieste" ignored him because of not so clear reasons ... you know Italians ... Anyway it was May 26th, in the afternoon, when Rommel issued the order "Venezia!".

Now, we have to say that Nehring and Baldassarre took advantage also from a send storm who made their formations quite difficult to see while they were moving. But as for I know British planes noted them ... The Indians faced the Italian Ariete. The Italian Ariete defeated the Indians and then the French, but the cost wasn't low.

The German XXI Panzer left the Ariete alone to fight to outflank the enemy formations [in good substance that was the Venezia variant, while the "Trieste" was doing something useless! And passing through mined fields ... great choice!]. Near the XXI there was the XV which suffered the British assault.

It was the Ariete to face the British forces to open a way for the supplies to the XV [which was suffering lack of supplies in the center of the forces of the Axis]. And the Ariete was able [using AA guns against the British tanks] to reject them.

And the rest of the battle is known [with the Trieste which was able to find a way to do something useful!].

About Egypt, Rommel wanted it: Mussolini and Hitler agreed with him [while German and Italian commands wanted Malta, and Malta was a well more strategical target, there was a plan to conquer it: C3].
 
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Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,741
Dispargum
The Tobruk defenses had been neglected, even dismantled after the siege but before the Battle of Gazala so that Tobruk was no longer the fortress that it had been before. Nevertheless there does seem to have been a command failure on the part of the British. Contradictory orders were passing back and forth - hold Tobruk, don't hold Tobruk - which served only to confuse things. The decision to hold Tobruk during the first siege may have been mostly Churchill's doing. The army may have never thought it was a good idea. Even after the British victory in the Crusader Battle and the raising of the siege of Tobruk, there seems to have been an opinion in the army that Tobruk should never have been left to be cut off like that. The second time around, those officers thinking this way were more successful at imposing their view upon the army, even if it did result in confusion and a big and embarrassing surrender.

Rommel did not really stop after taking Tobruk. Tobruk fell on June 21. By June 27 or so, Rommel was already at Mersa Matruh and at El Alamein by July 1. He did not really stop despite most of his tanks being broken down as a result of Gazala. Also, the British were stronger in the air than the Germans/Italians were. During that week after Tobruk fell Rommel also secured permission from Mussolini to invade Egypt, which Rommel had not previously had. Mussolini had planned to invade Malta that summer until Rommel changed his mind. Rommel was quite busy that week.
 

redcoat

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,900
Stockport Cheshire UK
During the battle of Gazala, Tobruk fell very fast. Why was this fast, when the place had resisted for many months previously ? Did they lack anti tank guns ? Did they lack ammunition, food or water to hold a siege ? It seems the South African commander changed his mind overnight from breaking out through the siege to surrendering, why so ?
It was the dead hand of Churchill which caused the defeat of the South Africans at Tobruk.
The commander of the Commonwealth forces, Auckinleck, knew that the defenses around Tobruk had been stripped down since the previous siege and had planned to abandon the port during the retreat, but Churchill was horrified and told him to hold it. So Auckinleck was forced to try and cobble up a force to protect the port but the German advance was too quick and the Axis took the port before they had a chance to organise an effective defence

Also, Rommel did capture huge amounts of oil in Tobruk, and also a port. Why did he not manage to pursue the Commonwealth armies to the Nile ?
The Commonwealth forces stopped the Axis advance at the First Battle Of El Alamein
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,741
Dispargum
One other thing occurred to me. During the 1941 Siege of Tobruk the Royal Navy had control of the Mediterranean so it was relatively easy to run supplies and reinforcements into Tobruk. In November and December 1941, the Royal Navy suffered a series of disasters and lost control of the Med. Ark Royal and Barham were sunk by U-boats in separate incidents. Queen Elizabeth and Valiant were disabled by Italian midget subs. Force K, a cruiser-destroyer force based out of Malta, lost three ships in a minefield and was forced to evacuate Malta when the Germans and Italians increased their air attacks there. So it would have been more difficult to resupply Tobruk during a second siege in the summer of '42 or so the Army could have thought. There were few major British warships in the Eastern Med in the spring and summer of '42.
 
Sep 2019
118
Turkey
Biggest reason was Hitler wanted to move most of the air force and the troops to Russia . I believe that Rommel is not given the necessary support .if success would be achieved in north africa more raw materials could be provided .
 

redcoat

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,900
Stockport Cheshire UK
Biggest reason was Hitler wanted to move most of the air force and the troops to Russia . I believe that Rommel is not given the necessary support .if success would be achieved in north africa more raw materials could be provided .
North Africa was a side show that Hitler was dragged into by Italian failure. There was no major strategic advantage to gain in any major involvement which took vital supplies off the Eastern front.
Victory would not have knocked Britain out of the war, and the claimed access to oil was nothing more than a fantasy, the logistical problems in obtaining and then transporting this oil was outside the ability of Germany to resolve while it was still at war with the Soviet Union or Britain
 
Apr 2014
411
Istanbul Turkey
After Siege of Tobruk was lifted in December 1941 as a result of Operation Crusader , its defences were neglected , many minefields were lifted and detached mines were used to construct Gazala Line and defensive entrenchments and bunkers were not as good as or any deep in June 1942 as they had been in 1941. Besides garrison commander 2nd South African Division commander General Klopper was not an inspired choice to keep up defensive perimeter. Most importantly Churchill intervaned all the way from London instructed Mediterranean Theater commander Auchinleck (who was also not as good as his recent apologists claim to be) to hold Tobruk with a sizable garrison at all costs and Auckinleck despite supposed to know better , couldn't say no so he reinforced and increased the size of total defeat at Gazala Line by reinforcing already doomed perimeter of Tobruk by keeping 2nd South African Division and at least two independent brigades inside Tobruk. Rest is history.

The booty Rommel and Afrikakorps captured in Tobruk was not as big as it was thought. Yes , a sizable amount of supplies fell into Axis hands BUT compared the size of Panzer Army Afrika and overambitious plans of Rommel invading Egypt and Suez with contantly extending rear logistical tail and supplies it would consume (and these plans revised improvised at last minute by Rommel himself whose last triumphs in Gazala and Tobruk along with captured British supplies got over his head) , it was simply not enough. It was just sufficient to put Panzer Army (which itself was tired and suffered extensive losses since Operation Venezzia , attack of Gazala Line) into Egypt and that's it. There was not a steady logistical/supply system properly functioning that would sustain Panzer Army Afrika all the way in the Egypt and keep it there operational even for a brief time , especially considering only Axis held deep harbour-Tripoli-was 3.000 miles west of El Alamein (best British defensive position reinforced by natural barriers like sea at north and Quattara Depression at south , and 8th Army was not as routed as it was thought after Battle of Gazala) and as Panzer Army advanced further to east towards Nile Delta in a naive and very miscalculated move (by overrated Desert Fox himself since he was in favour of marching into Egypt as soon as possible after fall of Tobruk without a logistical sustainence system , at this he was extremely overoptimistic and over ambitious especially receiving Field Marshal baton from Hitler in June 1942 after capture of Tobruk and declared victory prematurely ) they got further and further away from Tripoli their main supply base , not to mention Royal Navy and RAF Desert Air Force became very active in Mediterranean after June 1942 (especially Desert Air Force) against Axis supply columns in desert. Meanwhile 8th Army defeated at Gazala and Tobruk and demoralised , rallied with an extra reorganisation effort just in time in El Alamein defences with help of extra reinforcements from Middle East (9th Australian Division and 5th Indian Division ) and as British retreated towards east , their supply link at their rear towards Alexandria (best deep harbour in the theater , held by British and supply base most developed since before the war ) got shorter and shorter. And with loss of his best intel resource (wireless decryption of US Consultate and military attache Col. Bonard Fellars reports from Cairo to Washington , when US State Dept changed their wireless code , Rommel unable to reach that intelligenge resource anymore ) he advanced blindly into Egypt till bumped headfirst to Alamein defences.

After the war , with effect of both Allied (especially Churchill to cover up his strategic intervention blunders to field commanders during wartime and his pre war politics of starving British Army out of funding with his Ten Year No War Rule as Chancellor of Exchequer ) and Axis propaganda (Nazi propaganda Minister Goebbels created a superstar from Rommel during first half of 1942 especially to divert and distract German public attention from huge Soviet winter offensive in Eastern Front) and revised Cold War realities (when first pro Rommel works were published like Desmond Youngs biography in 1950'ies-which later became a Hollywood movie Rommel being played by James Mason- and memoirs of his Rommel's ex Chief of Staff General Hans Spiedel who became post war NATO Chief of Staff , it was essetial to create good honest German image to convince western public of creating West Germany , its new army and their joining to NATO) , popular historians and entertainers in West created an image of Rommel the Noble Knight German Badass War Genius and superhuman German Afrikakorps myth (no mention of Italians of course who made up more than half of Panzer Army Africa and whose shots killed or wounded their opponents too.) Besides Allies also during and after the war in public image were trying to reflect their war effort bigger in public (after all they werte fighting four German and six Italian divisions till end of 1942 while in Eastern Front Red Army was fighting almost 300 Axis divisions most of them German units with gigantic casualty rate for both sides) by magnifying their opposition in shape of Rommel the Desert genius and his Afrikakorps gentelmen/supermen illusion. Despite his outstanding record as division and corps command , Rommel was no genius , not even a good army commander and he was especially a bad army group or theater commander , he was promoted field marshal too early and too young without necessary staff experience of staff school studies or aware of logistical realities of a constantly functional logistical supply chain. His constant war of movement and mobile warfare tactics with German mission oriented approach operational method (none were invented by Rommel but he made full use of them) dazzling the need of a romantic hero fighting against a desperate odds image , combined with initial batch of lackluster and bad British generals in Desert Campaign in 1941 spring-1942 summer who were still trying to figure out best organisational balance and operational method and in some kind of organisational and operational confusion / flux (British were aping German methods and unit organisational structure too much till 1942 summer which was a bad move since Germans were better in these methods) , created German supersoldiers of Panzer Army and Rommel the Genius legend. However Rommel was strategically and logistically very flawed and made very serious strategic mistakes , overdone/overworked the forces under his command beyond their capacities and eventually , was wiped out in desert campaign by much more professional general (hated and villified Montgomery who was actually aware of his own forces capabilities , limits , strong and weak aspects of his army , what his own troops could do and could not do and knew how to take maximum efficiency from them without overextending/overperforming them to death and by decreasing and compensating battlefield casaulties of his army by firepower and material expenditure and realising importance a chain of constantly functioning supply link better than Germans) in three or four battles between August 1942- March 1943 (Alam el Halfa , Second Battle of Alamein , Battle of El Aghelia and Battle of Medenine)
 
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Apr 2014
411
Istanbul Turkey
Most amusing fact of Rommel myth is his fanbase and German Wehrboro historians attempts explain their beloved superstar hero Rommel's defeats and failures (which unfortunetely became mainstream popular history) :

-"If only Rommel was properly supplied and given support by that evil Hitler whom Rommel opposed since his birth , he could easily wipe out that dirty British in Africa who fought ungentelmanly and unsportsmanlike by bringing too many weapons , guns , supplies and reinforcements , cut Rommel's supply lines in Mediterranean unfairly and cheated whole game by reading Rommel's mail by decrypting Enigma messages and Rommel then could capture Egypt , Suez and Middle East and win the war for Germany" (a classical tragic story of a romantic hero who deprived of his glory due to caprice of fate)

The fact is : Rommel's main mission given to him by his superiors (Hitler and OKW) when he was assigned just one corps of German forces at Africa (initially just two divisions in 1941 , later grew gradually to four German divisions and one extra brigade during 1942) in February 1941 , was not to play next conquerer of Egypt after Mark Anthony. His mission assigned to him by his superiors (the officers whom he was supposed to obey as a soldier) was to support and keep Italian Army from crumbling after British offensive in Egypt and Libya in 1940-1941 and prevent loss of Libya during 1941-1943. German resources , forces and logistical support assigned to African Theater (which was a showcase compared to Eastern Front where majority of German military effort and resources would focus after 1941 spring) were portioned accordingly. It was Rommel who got out of his assigned mission parameters and his own logistical supply limits recklessly and run his army to a death ride into Egypt during 1942. The reason why no more German logistical supplies or reinforcements sent to African front was simple (1) OKW staff officers could read the figures and distances involved and realised that embark / deembark unloading loading facilities and capacity of docks at Tripoli harbour was sufficient to supply only three or maximum four German and equal number of Italian units if Panzer Army remained and defended Libya as it was tasked and supposed to do ! And distances involved to cross Mediterranean under British naval and air interdiction then to cross western desert till reaching front line under RAF Desert Air Force superiorty was a little too much. Tripoli harbour was the only deep harbour and it was not as developed as British held Alexandria (and its distyance from El Alamein was 3.000 miles ,according to Paul Carell same distance from Dusseldorff to Moscow) , only light cargo vessels could dock to Benghazi which changed hands between British and Germans constantly and Tobruk harbour was too damaged to use when it fell in June 1942. There was not enough shipping capacity or enough vessels left to supply that many Axis divisions anyway in 1942. His own superiors in Berlin actually saw the strategic situation better than Rommel whose actions in field got him fame and an illusion of rightousness Rommwel should have planned his strategy according to strategic realities at hand , not according to his wishes and his desires to twist the reality and to risk his entire army-Panzer Army lost %60 of its strength just in Second Battle of Alamein alone. (2) German war effort would mainly focus against Russia after 1941 summer , it was an inevitable truth decided by his superiors , everyone know that , except Rommel himself who tried to force his superiors to divert more resources into Mediterranean by marching towards Egypt and Nile Delta , and was punished (or rather his army was punished) for his own egoism.
 
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Lee-Sensei

Ad Honorem
Aug 2012
2,122
Does anyone here deny this? Around here, the consensus seems to be that he was a brilliant tactician, but a poor logistician and strategist that was promoted above his level.