#02 - Holding back the Flood (8 April 1941) - PzC 04 Tobruk '41
#02 - Holding back the Flood (8 April 1941)By Wig Graves
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el Mechili, 8 April 1941: After breaking through the British defenses at el Agheila and Mersa Brega, Rommel divided his forces into four Kampfgruppe for the pursuit. One force would follow the coast road, nipping at the heels of the 9th Australian Division, while the remainder attempted to cut them off with flanking moves through the desert. On the British side, the retreat of the 2nd Armoured Division had turned into disaster. Losses due to mechanical failures and fuel shortages, far exceeded those caused by the enemy and the division, in effect, melted away. As indications of the pending disaster began to filter back through the command structure, the 3rd Indian Motor Brigade (which had been training south of Tobruk) was ordered to move 160 kilometers west, to the old fort, and important desert supply depot, at el Mechili. There they were to form a rally point for the retreating 2nd Armoured Division. They arrived on 4 April, just ahead of the lead elements of the Afrika Korps. But while German and Italian strength continued to grow over the next few days, the only British reinforcements to arrive were the command elements of 2nd Armoured Division, whose brigades had mistakenly been sent east by alternate routes. A total of three ultimatums were sent in, (the third signed by Rommel himself), but Indian resolve was not deterred. At dusk, on 7 April, both sides made their plans, the Germans to break-in, the Indians to break-out. The Indians got the jump, on the morning of 8 April, with an attack against the Italians holding the northeast portion of the perimeter. This attack failed, due to poor coordination, partially caused by the opening of the German attack from the south. While a portion of the Indians would make their way to safety through the thinly held western perimeter, most were captured, along with the huge stockpiles of British supplies and petrol. But their sacrifice was justified. For three critical days they stood between Rommel and Tobruk, and the time they bought allowed the 9th Australian Division to reach the fortress and organize its defenses.