An Afrika Korps armoured column heads up to the front in late March 1941.
War in the Desert!
 
 
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01/01/1941 The Western Desert Force is renamed as the XIII Corps.
02/01/1941 Royal Navy bombards Bardia in North Africa day and night.
03/01/1941 Australian 6th Division breaks through the Italian defences around Bardia.
05/01/1941 General Bergonzoli surrenders the Italian XXIII Corps at Bardia to the Australians. 45,000 Italian prisoners and 130 tanks are captured by the Australians for just 500 casualties.
06/01/1941 Churchill demands that troops be released from Wavell's offensive and sent to Greece.
07/01/1941 Tobruk is surrounded, but the British are unable to assault it immediately as supplies and reinforcements need to be brought up.
11/01/1941 Hitler confirms in Directive No.22, his intentions to send military support to the Italians in Libya. The operation is to be named 'Sunflower'.
17/01/1941 During the night, the Italians evacuate Kassala and Gallalabat in the Sudan.
19/01/1941 British troops under General Platt, re-occupy Kassala in the Sudan and advance into Eritrea.
20/01/1941 Emperor Haile Selassie crosses the Abyssinian border at Um Idla.
21/01/1941 British and Australian forces breach the defenses at Tobruk.
22/01/1941 Tobruk surrenders to British and Australian troops who capture 25,000 Italians, along with 208 guns and 87 tanks. Combined British and Australian losses were about 450. The British government now orders Wavells XIII Corps to capture Benghazi.
23/01/1941 The British 4th Armoured Brigade reaches Mechili, but cannot attack as its garrison is stronger than first thought and so has to bring the rest of the 7th Armoured Division up.
24/01/1941 General Cunningham's 'Southern Force' invades Italian Somaliland from Garissa and Bura in Kenya.
26/01/1941 The Italians evacuate Mechili during the night.
27/01/1941 The 7th Armoured Division captures Mechili. Meanwhile the Australians have bumped into strong Italian defences at Derna and so Wavell decides to halt further offensive action until reinforcements and supply can be brought up.
30/01/1941 Australian troops capture Derna as the Italians begin to withdraw towards Benghazi. The 1st South African Division launches a feint attack against Mega in southern Abyssinia, in order to prevent the Italians from sending troops to reinforce their hard pressed forces in Somaliland.
31/01/1941 The Italian garrison at Metemma in northern Abyssinia, having been under increasing pressure for the past 3 weeks, begins to withdraw towards Gondar, allowing the 9th Indian Brigade to occupy the town.
 
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01/02/1941
Agordat in Eritrea falls to the 5th Indian Division after 2 days of fighting.
02/02/1941 5th Indian Division captures Barentu, forcing the Italians to withdraw towards the mountain fortress at Keren.
03/02/1941 The British 'Northern Force' bumps into the Italian defences at Keren, but fail to crack them open. General Platt decides he must build up his forces for a major assault.
04/02/1941 RAF reconnaissance planes report that the Italians are beginning to evacuate Benghazi in a withdrawal towards El Agheila. The 7th Armoured Division is given immediate instructions to advance from Mechili across the desert in order to cut off the Italians escape route.
05/02/1941 An advanced column of armoured cars from the 7th Armoured Division intercept the Italian retreat about 70 miles south of Benghazi.
06/02/1941 Australian forces capture Benghazi along with six senior Italian Generals. Italian forces make repeated attempts to break through the weak British blocking forces at Beda Fomm, but cannot. Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel is appointed to command the German forces being sent to Africa.
12/02/1941 Again, the Italians make further breakout attempts, which all fail. Later in the day the Italians surrender 20,000 men, 200 guns and 120 tanks to just 3,000 British troops. Anthony Eden makes a speech parodying Winston Churchill's famous 'Battle of Britain' speech. He says "Never has so much been surrendered, by so many, to so few". Lieutenant General Rommel arrives in Tripoli and reports to General Gariboldi who has replaced Marshal Graziani as commander of the Italian Army in Libya.
14/02/1941 Kurmuk near the Ethiopian border in Sudan is recaptured by British forces. Leading elements of the German 5th Light Division arrive at Tripoli and are immediately moved up to Sirte to take up defensive positions.
23/02/1941 Free French forces land in Eritrea.
24/02/1941 Reconnaissance elements of the German 5th Light Division clash with British forces for the first time in Africa, at Nofilia near El Agheila.
25/02/1941 British Nigerian troops of the 11th African Division occupy Mogadishu, the capital of Italian Somaliland, having advanced up the coast. Meanwhile the 12th African Division pushes up the river Juba in Italian Somaliland towards the Abyssinian border town of Dolo.
 
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01/03/1941
The 11th African Division begins a lighting pursuit of the retreating Italian forces north from Mogadishu, towards the Ogaden Plateau.
04/03/1941 The British start to transfer the first contingent of troops from Egypt to Greece. These are to be under the command of General Maitland Wilson.
06/03/1941 German aircraft mine the Suez canal, blocking it for 3 weeks.
11/03/1941 The German 5th Light Division has now completely arrived in Libya and is ordered to prepare for an attack on El Agheila. Meanwhile, Rommel has flown back to Germany for further orders and has been told that when the 15th Panzer Division has arrived in Libya at the end of May he is to recapture Benghazi.
15/03/1941 The British 'Northern Force' having concentrated the 4th and 5th Indian Divisions begin their offensive for Italian fortress of Keren in Eritrea.
16/03/1941 British troops from Aden, land at and capture Berbera in Italian occupied British Somaliland.
17/03/1941 The 11th African Division captures Jijiga in central Abyssinia, having advanced 744 miles up the Italian built Strada Imperiale in just seventeen days.
20/03/1941 The Berbera force and elements of the 11th African Division meet at Hargeisa inside British Somaliland.
24/03/1941 Rommel, conducts a limited offensive to recapture El Agheila from the British, which succeeds with startling ease. This encourages Rommel to push forward towards Mersa Brega. British Somaliland is now clear of Italians.
27/03/1941 British troops finally take Keren, although they suffer nearly 4,000 casualties in the process, while the Italians lose some 3,000 men. The Italians are forced to withdraw towards Asmara. The 11th African Division captures Harar in Abyssinia after the Italians have declared it an 'open town'.
31/03/1941 The 5th Light Division engages the British 2nd Armoured Division near Mersa Brega, as it attempts to capture the town. The battle rages all day and results in the British withdrawing towards Agedabia.
 
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01/04/1941 General Platt and his 'Northern Force' capture Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. A pro-axis coup, led by Raschid Ali seizes power in Iraq.
02/04/1941 The 5th Light Division recaptures Agedabia from the British and fans out into three columns, two of which race across the desert in an attempt to cut off the retreating British, while the third pushes up the coast road towards Benghazi. Rear Admiral Bonnetti, the commander of the Italian Red Sea Flotilla orders his seven destroyers out on 'do or die' missions. All the destroyers are sunk or captured without achieving any worthwhile results.
03/04/1941 A Pro-Axis coup in Iraq begins, led by Rashid Ali.
04/04/1941 German and Italian troops enter Benghazi unopposed.
06/04/1941 Elements of the 5th Light Division capture Mechili and threaten to cut of the 9th Australian Division which is withdrawing at speed towards Tobruk along the coast. Haile Selassie's troops occupy the Italian forts at Debra Markos, after their epic march through the Abyssinian hinterland, relying on camels to carry all their supplies. The 11th African Division captures Addis Ababa, the capital of Abyssinia, taking 8,000 Italians prisoner.
07/04/1941 Derna is captured the 5th Light Division along with Generals Neame and O'Connor later in the day.
08/04/1941 The British 'Northern Force' captures Massawa, the last Italian stronghold in Eritrea. This removes any remaining threat to British convoys sailing through the Red Sea.
09/04/1941 Rommel's forces take Bardia.
10/04/1941 The 9th Australian Division withdraws into Tobruk.
11/04/1941 Rommel makes an attempt to capture Tobruk off the march. However, the 9th Australian Division repulses the attack, forcing the Germans to think again. By now the Germans are pretty exhausted after 3 weeks of continuous action and their vehicles in serious need of an overhaul.
12/04/1941 German armoured units complete the encirclement of Tobruk and push on up the coast road towards the Egyptian frontier.
13/04/1941 German advance spearheads capture Sollum. Rommel receives orders from Berlin that he is to consolidate on the Egyptian frontier and concentrate of capturing Tobruk. Only then will he be allowed to push into Egypt. The result of this order is that Rommel decides to rest his exhausted troops and wait until the 15th Panzer Division arrives at the end of May before making a major assault against Tobruk.
18/04/1941 Britain warns Italy that if Cairo is bombed, then the RAF will attack Rome.
19/04/1941 A Brigade from the British 10th Indian Division land at Basra in southern Iraq.
26/04/1941 The Italian fortress of Dessie, south of Amba Alagi is captured by South African forces.
27/04/1941 German troops cross the Egyptian border and capture the Halfaya Pass, forcing the British to pull back to defensive a line running from Buq Buq on the coast to Sofafi, some 50km in to the desert. The British also begin construction of a major defensive line in front of Mersa Matruh.
29/04/1941 Another Brigade from the British 10th Indian Division lands at Basra, ignoring Iraqi's protests. The Iraqi Army lays siege to The RAF base at Habbaniyh, although RAF planes fly numerous air strikes against them.
30/04/1941 The Afrika Korps second attempt to capture Tobruk is again repulsed by the Australians.
 
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02/05/1941 The Iraqi's attack the British base at Habbaniya, but are repulsed.
05/05/1941 Emperor Haile Selassie returns to Addis Ababa 5 years after his country was occupied by the Italians.
06/05/1941 The last Brigade of the British 10th Indian Division arrives at Basra with its commander Major General Bill Slim. Axis aircraft begin to land at the Mosul airfield in northern Iraq.
09/05/1941 A British Brigade sized column (Habforce), moves across the Iraqi border from Palastine.
13/05/1941 German aircraft begin to operate over Iraq in support of the rebellion by anti-British Iraqi forces.
14/05/1941 British aircraft launch attacks against airfields in Syria which have been put at axis disposal by the Vichy French authorities.
15/05/1941 The British Army under Auchinleck, launch an offensive, operation 'Brevity' against the Afrika Korps and manage to recapture Halfaya Pass, Sollum and Capuzzo.
16/05/1941 The Afrika Korps counter-attack against the British and retake Sollum and Capuzzo, although the Halfaya Pass remains in British hands. Berlin orders Rommel to leave Tobruk to the Italians and to concentrate the Afrika Korps near the Egyptian border. The Italian forces under the Duke of Aosta surrender to British forces at Amba Alagi in Abyssinia.
18/05/1941 General Dentz tells the French Army in Syria to "match force with force". The 5th Indian Division captures the Italian fortress of Amba Alagi after 18 days of fighting. The British column from Palastine (Habforce), arrives at Habbaniyah and relieves its garrison.
19/05/1941 The British capture Fallujah in Iraq after fierce fighting. They also bomb Baghdad airport.
20/05/1941 Churchill announces the end of Abyssinian campaign as the Duke of Aosta signs the formal Italian surrender. The British took just 94 days to win the East African campaign.
22/05/1941 British forces capture the last Italian stronghold in southern Abyssinia.
24/05/1941 King George VI makes South African Premier, General Smuts a Field Marshal, the first man born in an overseas dominion to attain that rank.
27/05/1941 Having been reinforced by the 15th Panzer Division, Rommel retakes the Halfaya Pass on Egyptian border. The 10th Indian Division begins to advance north from Basra towards Baghdad.
30/05/1941 The revolt in Iraq collapses as the British near Baghdad. The Iraqi leader Rashid Ali flees in to Persia (Iran).
31/05/1941 British forces enter Baghdad and an armistice is signed. The terms of the armistice require that all axis personnel in Iraq are to be interned and that Iraq support the British cause against the axis.
 
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01/06/1941 British forces enter Baghdad and reinstate the Regent.
02/06/1941 A Greek government-in-exile is formed in Egypt.
03/06/1941 New Iraqi government is formed.
04/06/1941 Luftwaffe bombers carry out a night raid on the port of Alexandria in Egypt, killing 100 people. The Egyptian Cabinet resigns.
08/06/1941 British, Commonwealth and Free French forces invade Syria and the Lebanon ('Operation Explorer') with air and naval support. The British offer Syria independence in an effort to stimulate Syrian revolt against their Vichy rulers. Vichy France protests vigorously at these British proposals.
09/06/1941 British advance 40 miles into southern Syria and the Lebanon capturing Tyre in the process.
10/06/1941 British advance breaks through Vichy opposition in Syria.
15/06/1941 The British Army begins 'Operation Battleaxe’ to relieve Australian held Tobruk and then advance towards Derna. However, they meet fierce counter attacks by the Afrika Korps and are unable to make any headway.
16/06/1941 The British attempt to continue their offensive, but suffer heavy tank losses to German 88mm Flak guns.
17/06/1941 The Afrika Korps beats back the British attack at Sollum causing the British to call off ‘Operation Battleaxe’ with 1,000 British casualties and 91 tanks lost, for German losses of just 12 tanks.
18/06/1941 Free French troops occupy Damascus in Syria. Germany and Turkey sign a ten-year non-aggression pact.
21/06/1941 British forces occupy Damascus, but Vichy forces continue to fight on. In light of this, British forces from Iraq invade Syria in order to crush their resistance.
 
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05/07/1941 General Wavell is relieved of his command as C-in-C of the Middle East, by General Sir Claude Auchinleck.
06/07/1941 Axis aircraft bomb Tobruk and Sidi Barrani.
09/07/1941 General Dentz sues for peace in the Middle East.
11/07/1941 Vichy government rejects Syrian armistice terms but Dentz accepts.
12/07/1941 The last Vichy French troops in Syria surrender to British and Free French forces.
14/07/1941 An armistice is signed at Acre between Vichy and British/Free French forces. This requires all French material to be handed over to the British and gives the Vichy French the choice of joining the Free French or returning to France. Most opt for the latter. During the campaign the Vichy French suffered 3,350 killed or wounded, while the British and Free French lost about 2,400 men.
15/07/1941 British forces enter Beirut.
26/07/1941 General Sir Claude Auchinleck flies to London for talks about future offensive operations to relieve Tobruk.
 
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01/08/1941 Fighting flares up around the perimeter of Tobruk.
19/08/1941 A brigade of the 9th Australian Division which is besieged at Tobruk is relieved by sea, as Polish reinforcements arrive.
25/08/1941 British and Russian troops invade Iran against slight opposition after their initially friendly demands, had been rejected.
26/08/1941 British troops complete the occupation of the vital Abadan oilfields in Iran.
27/08/1941 The Iranian government under Ali Furughi orders a cease-fire.
28/08/1941 After demands from the Australian Prime Minister, the British agree to relieve the remainder of the 9th Australian Division from Tobruk.
31/08/1941 British forces reach Hamadan, Iran and have now secured the Persian Gulf.
 
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02/09/1941 General Sir Claude Auchinleck issues his first directive in respect to the forthcoming British Offensive, 'Operation Crusader', by ordering General Sir Alan Cunningham to produce a plan for the relief of Tobruk and the re-conquest of Cyrenaica.
05/09/1941 British release General Dentz, after Vichy releases British POWs in Syria
10/09/1941 The British and Russians demand that Iran expels all Axis nationals with 48 hours.
14/09/1941 Rommel launches a probing operation with the 21st Panzer Division towards Sidi Barrani in the belief that a British fuel dump was located there. The British forces begin to fall back.
16/09/1941 The Shah of Iran abdicates and his son, Crown Prince 'Mohammad Reza Pahlavi' takes over.
17/09/1941 British and Russian troops occupy Teheran, after Iran failed to comply with their demand to expel all Axis nationals.
25/09/1941 Rommel, having discovered that their wasn't a British fuel dump at Sidi Barrani and believing that that British had taken up a purely defensive posture, withdrew the 21st Panzer Division back to the Libyan-Egyptian border.
26/09/1941 The British Eighth Army is formed in Egypt in preparation for 'Operation Crusader' and now includes both XIII and XXX Corps. At the same time the British Ninth Army is created in Palestine and the Tenth Army in Iraq and Iran to guard against Turkey entering the war on the Axis side.
27/09/1941 After more than 3 months of fighting, British forces in Abyssinia capture the Wolchefit Pass, thereby opening the route to Gondar, the last Italian held town in East Africa.
 
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03/10/1941 General Cunningham's plan for 'Operation Crusader' is approved by General Auchinleck to be launched on the 11th November. The aim is for XXX Corps, which includes the bulk of the British Armour to draw the 15th and 21st Panzer Division into combat and destroy their tank strength. Then, XIII Corps, having contained the axis forces on the frontier, would envelop them from the south and advance on Tobruk, whose garrison would break out at an opportune moment and link up. While all this was happening, a smaller element called 'Oasis Force' would advance further west in to Libya than the main force, in order to deceive Rommel as to where the main effort was to be made. Further smaller operations were to be mounted by the SAS on Axis airfields in Libya in an attempt to destroy aircraft on the ground.
23/10/1941 It is decided that British forces should make their main approach on Gondar in Abyssinia, from the direction of Adowa due to the better road conditions.
31/10/1941 The RAF's Mediterranean raids continue, with Benghazi being bombed 14 times and Tripoli 10 times.
 
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03/11/1941
General Auchinleck is forced to postpone 'Operation Crusader' for 1 week so as to enable the 1st South African Division, which had recently arrived from Abyssinia to under go more training.
17/11/1941 A British night commando raid on what is thought to be Rommel's HQ at Breda Littoria in the Jebel Akhdar in Libya, fails when it is found to be only a logistical HQ and that Rommel is away on a visit to Rome. Also, the SAS raid on axis airfields fails when the transport aircraft are blown off course by a sandstorm.
18/11/1941 At 6am 'Operation Crusader’, the British Eighth Army's offensive to relieve Tobruk begins. Rommel, who arrives back from Rome that day, is caught by surprise, allowing the British XXX Corps to advance 50-miles and capture the axis airfield 10 miles south of Sidi Rezegh. The Germans, believing that the British are about to encircle Bardia, send the Afrika Korps on a wild goose chase in that direction.
20/11/1941 The British garrison is ordered to break out and link up with XXX Corps. However, Rommel, now realizing the threat sent the Afrika Korps to attack at Sidi Rezegh.
22/11/1941 A confused battle continues around Sidi Rezegh, with XXX Corps being forced to stop it advance towards Tobruk after the loss of many tanks and for the Tobruk break-out to be halted. Better news for XIII Corps though as it captures Sidi Omar and Capuzzo.
23/11/1941 Axis forces destroy the 5th South African Brigade after days of tank battles round Tobruk.
24/11/1941 Rommel gives orders for his tanks to cut off the British supply routes by thrusting towards the Egyptian frontier, or as it became known, the 'dash for the wire'. By the end of the day Rommel's tanks had reached the frontier and caused complete confusion in the rear of the Eighth Army.
25/11/1941 Rommel continues his attacks at the rear of the Eighth Army.
26/11/1941 Due to Rommel's bold move, General Cunningham wants to halt the offensive and fall back to the frontier. General Auchinleck overrides him on this and replaces him as commander of the Eighth Army with General Ritchie.
27/11/1941 The Tobruk garrison links up the the New Zealand Division of the Eighth Army at El Duda. Rommel forces, now under constant attack by the RAF is forced to turn his forces around in order to deal with this new development. Gondar, the last Italian held town in East Africa surrenders to British forces after a tough battle. The Italian commander, General Nasi surrenders 23,500 men, while the British suffer 500 casualties.
 
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05/12/1941 In order to mount a final attack on the British forces around Bir El Gobi, Rommel orders the evacuation of the eastern part of the Tobruk perimeter, but the attack fails.
07/12/1941 The German and Italian forces withdraw to a defensive position at Gazala.
08/12/1941 The Eighth Army officially relieves the Tobruk garrison.
15/12/1941 The Eighth Army attack the German and Italian positions at Gazala. Rommel, fearful that the British will outflank him, orders the retreat.
19/12/1941 British retake Derna from axis forces.
21/12/1941 British successes continue in North Africa.
23/12/1941 Under continuous pressure, Rommel and his Afrika Korps start to evacuate Benghazi.
25/12/1941 The British retake Benghazi.
 
 
 
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