British forces take Bardia,
along with 8,000 Axis prisoners.
Rommel's battered forces reach the
Tripolitanian frontier having evaded all British attempts to
cut them off.
British capture Sollum.
The last German garrison at Halfaya
in Cyrenaica surrenders, with about 5,500 prisoners taken.
Two Axis transports, the Mongevino
and Ankara land 45 German tanks at Benghazi as reinforcement,
while axis forces evacuate the city.
British troops capture Benghazi.
Without consulting higher authority,
Rommel launches a counter-offensive against the 8th Army. The
21st Panzer Division quickly seizes Mersa Brega, while the 15th
Panzer Division advances to Wadi Faregh and swings north towards
Agedabia, brushing aside the attempts by the 1st Armoured Division
to stop them.
Rommels command is redesignated as
Panzer Army Afrika. German panzers capture Agedabia and trap
part of the British 1st Armoured Division in the Antelat - Sannu
area, destroying about 70 of its tanks.
General Cavallero, C in C, Italian
High Command and Field Marshall Albert Kesselring, German C
in C, South, fly to Rommel's advanced HQ. The Italians want
Rommel to stop his offensive and withdraw to his start line,
but Rommel rejects this demand. The Italians therefore refuse
to allow their troops to advance any further east, but undeterred,
Rommel presses on with just the Afrika Korps.
German troops capture Msus, which threatens
the 4th Indian Divisions position at Benghazi. Lieutenant General
Ritchie, orders the 4th Indian Division to withdraw to a line
running from Derna to Mechili, but this order is countermanded
by General Auchinleck who wanted the 8th Army to counter-attack.
However, the 8th Army was to widely dispersed and Rommels forces
were advancing too quickly.
German troops launch a feint attack
from Msus, towards Mechili. This successfully deceives the British
in to believing that the Germans will attempt cut the coast
road far to the east of Benghazi and so they begin to hurriedly
evacuate the 4th Indian Division from Benghazi along the coast
German forces capture Benghazi, along
with a large quantity of supplies.
The 4th Indian Division continues to
withdraw along the coast road towards Derna.
The commander of the British
XIII Corps, Godwin-Austen, resigns as a result of Lieutenant
General Ritchie bypassing him and dealing direct with his divisional
The Afrika Korps recaptures Derna.
Hahas Pasha forms a new Egyptian Cabinet, becomes the Military
Governor and dissolves Parliament the next day.
After just over 2 weeks of frenetic
action, Rommel's counter-offensive comes to a halt in front
of the Gazala line, a series of self supporting fortified boxes
running south from Gazala for a 100 miles to Bir Hacheim. Although
not complete, it presents too much of an obstacle for the Afrika
Korps who by this time are running low on fuel and reserves.
Churchill exhorts General Auchinleck
to launch an offensive against the German and Italian forces
that are gathering in front of the Gazala line. He reminds Auchinleck
that the longer he waits, the more time Rommel will have to
rebuild his strength. To this General Auchinleck reply's that
his intention is to first build up an armoured striking force
as quickly as possible and strengthen the defenses of the Gazala
line. Only then would he mount a major offensive, which he advised
Churchill would be in early June.
Axis bombers attack the
port of Alexandria in Egypt.
British forces land at
Diego Suarez and Antsirene on Vichy French held Madagascar in
an pre-emptive strike to stop the Japanese from using it as
an advanced base.
Vichy French resistance ends in Madagascar.
The battle for the Gazala line begins
(Operation Venezia), as the Afrika Korps thrusts south with
560 tanks and around the southern end of the Eighth Army's defensive
positions towards Tobruk. However the Free French forces at
Bir Hacheim manage hold up this advance.
The Afrika Korps, having pushed round
the British defenses, move northeast. They are engaged by elements
of the British 1st and 7th Armoured Divisions. Many tank losses
were taken by both sides, although as the battle went on the
British armour became increasingly scattered. The Italian Ariete
Armoured Division continued to meet stiff resistance from the
Free French at Bir Hacheim, while the Italian Trieste Motorised
Division further north, found itself grinding through minefields
under heavy fire as a result of a navigation error.
Heavy fighting continues at the southern
end of the Gazala line, although by now Rommel's forces are
beginning to run out of fuel and his tanks are becoming scattered.
In order to shorten his supply lines he decides to punch a hole
through the Gazala line.
The Afrika Korps take up defensive
positions in the 'Cauldron' in readiness for their attempt to
punch through the Gazala line.
The battle of the 'Cauldron' begins
as Rommel attacks the fortified box in the Gazala line that
is held by the 150th Brigade of the British 50th Division. The
Italians attack from the west as elements of the Afrika Korps
attack from the east. Meanwhile Rommel's anti-tank gunners,
repulse a number of British armoured counter-attacks against
his position in the 'Cauldron'. However, Lieutenant General
Ritchie is hampered by his inability to concentrate his armour
and so is unable to relieve the 150th Brigade.
Rommel takes the fortified
‘box’ that is held by the British 150th Brigade
in the Gazala defensive line and secures the 'Cauldron'. This
enables him to get much needed supplies flowing. Rommel now
turns the German 90th Light Division and the Italian Ariete
Armoured Division against Bir Hacheim in an attempt to wipe
out the Free French garrison which still holds out. He also
distracts the British by sending the 21st Panzer Division northeast
to operate nearer to Tobruk.
The Eighth Army launches
a counter-attack against the Afrika Korps forces that are inside
the 'Cauldron. This is codenamed 'Aberdeen', but went disastrously
wrong from the start, with an infantry tank brigade being destroyed
in minefields and an Indian infantry brigade attacking the wrong
positions. This left the remainder of the force, the 22nd Armoured
Brigade to be repulsed easily by the untouched German defenses.
British losses for this operation were 150 tanks, 133 guns and
6,000 troops. At this point in the battle, the British forces
in the northern part of the Gazala line (1st South African and
the remainder of the British 50th Division), were still in a
strong position and so General Auchinleck and Lieutenant General
Ritchie decide to hold the line facing south from the Knightsbridge
defensive box to El Adem with the remainder of their infantry
and tank forces and wait for Rommel's next move.
German and Italian troops finally captures
Bir Hacheim from the Free French, which had been totally cut
off since the 26th May 1942.
Rommel, having now brought up tank
reserves, could now muster 124 tanks against the 248 British
tanks. He therefore attacked the British positions between Knightsbridge
and El Adem, trapping much of the British armour.
German tanks and anti-tank batteries
destroy 138 British tanks in and around the Knightsbridge pocket.
This left the Eighth Army with only 75 armoured vehicles operational
and threatened the main British supply route along the Trigh
Capuzzo, which in turn threatened the 1st South African and
British 50th Division which were still defending the northern
part of the Gazala line. Lieutenant General Ritchie, without
informing General Auchinleck, who wanted to hold west of Tobruk,
ordered these two divisions to pull back towards Tobruk.
Auchinleck tells Ritchie that Tobruk
must be held, a fact that Churchill reiterates to him. The Eighth
Army now holds a line directly in front of Tobruk, running from
the coast to Acroma, then southeast to El Adem and then directly
south to Bir El Gobi.
Rommel launches an attack against Eighth
Army's new defensive line, but is repulsed. However, General
Norrie was worried that XXX Corps lacked sufficient tanks to
defend this line for very long.
Lieutenant General Ritchie gives General
Norrie permission to withdraw XXX Corps past Tobruk and as far
as Mersa Matruh to re-equip. General Gott's XIII is ordered
to take up defensive positions on the Egyptian frontier. This
left the city exposed to another siege, for which its defenses
were inadequate, having been allowed to deteriorate during the
The Eighth Army's withdrawal reaches
the Egyptian frontier, leaving behind the 2nd South African
Division to form the basis of a 30,000 strong garrison at Tobruk.
Rommel isolates Tobruk by cutting the
coast road at Gambut. The cities position is made worse after
the desert air force loses its forward airfields as so is unable
to give much assistance to its defenders. The Eighth Army evacuates
Sidi Rezegh and El Adem.
Rommel launches a surprise attack from
the southeast against Tobruk. This throw's the garrison into
confusion which allows German troops to breach the outer defenses.
Tobruk falls to the Germans, who capture
32,000 prisoners, 2,000 tons of fuel, 5,000 tons of food and
German advanced elements reach the
Egyptian border. Rommel signals Kesselring for permission to
continue the advance in to Egypt, pointing out that at Tobruk
his forces has captured large quantities of fuel and supplies.
The Germans advance into Egypt as the
British retreat continues. Sollum and Sidi Barrani are evacuated
by the Eighth Army.
The Germans capture Sidi Barrani, Sollum
and the Halfaya Pass in Libya as the Eighth Army retreats to
Mersa Matruh in Egypt. General Auchinleck relieves Lieutenant
General Ritchie and takes personal command of the Eighth Army,
with plans to hold Rommel if he could at Mersa Matruh, but more
definitely at the El Alamein line, or if that failed the Suez
Rommel is made a Field Marshal and
launches attacks against Mersa Matruh. Meanwhile, Kesselring,
Cavallero (Italian Chief of Staff in Rome) and Bastico (Italian
C-in-C in Libya) arrive at Rommel's HQ and give permission for
him to continue his advance in to Egypt.
German troops begin to outflank the
British positions at Mersa Matruh. As this happens the British
start to withdraw towards the El Alamein line, confirming radio
intercepts that had indicated they would.
German advance units capture Fuqa and
report increasing confusion in the retreating British units.
Rommel takes Mersa Matruh after heavy
fighting and captures 6,000 prisoners along with large quantities
of supplies. British disarray increases as German advance units
mix with British rear units which are reatreating as fast as
possible for the relative safety of the El Alamein defensive
position. Mussolini arrives at Derna in Libya to prepare for
the triumphal entry into Cairo. Alexandria is bombed.
Rommel spearheads reaches
El Alamein. The port facilities at Alexandria are prepared for
demolition, should the axis forces not be stopped at El Alamein.
In what became known as 'Ash Wednesday', British HQ is Cairo
begins to destroy classified papers and prepares for evacuation
to Palestine. A brave but disorganized Eighth Army is addressed
by General Auchinleck, who tells them, that 'He (Rommel) hopes
to take Egypt by bluff. Lets show him where to get off.' This
comes as 'Ultra' interceptions told them that Rommel would attack
their positions at El Alamein the following day.
Rommel captures 2,000 prisoners
from the El Alamein ‘box’ but loses 18 of his 55
The British hold El Alamein
despite heavy attacks, Rommel is now down to 26 tanks.
Due to exhaustion and lack of supplies,
especially fuel for the armoured divisions, Rommel orders his
German and Italian forces to suspend all offensive operations
before El Alamein and begin constructing defensive positions.
troops to after being reduced to 13 tanks in a final effort
to break through.
Axis troops start laying minefields
in front of their positions at El Alamein.
Despite continuous attacks by the British
Eighth Army, Panzer Army Afrika manages to hold on to its positions
before El Alamein.
Renewed German attacks against the
British defenses at El Alamein bog down in the face of stubborn
A British attack against axis positions
to the South of El Alamein is repulsed.
New Zealander troops attack ‘Kidney’
Ridge in three days of fighting, which costs Rommel 2,600 prisoners
and 115 guns captured.
Mussolini temporarily abandons his
‘Victory March on Cairo’ and returns to Rome.
Auchinleck musters 323
tanks against Rommel’s 92 in the second battle of ‘Kidney’
Ridge, but loses 131 tanks and 2,600 men.
Fierce fighting continues
along the El Alamein front.
An Australian attack at Alamein fails
and the Eighth Army goes over to the defensive after taking
7,000 Axis prisoners. This concludes the first battle of El
Churchill visits the Eighth
Army at El Alamein and decides to replace Auchinleck.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower
is appointed as commander-in-chief of allied forces preparing
to invade North Africa.
The creation of the Palestine Regiment
of the British Army is announced. General Gott, the Eighth Army's
commander designate, is shot down while en route for Cairo.
Montgomery is chosen instead.
Montgomery takes command of Eighth
Army, two days early.
Alexander replaces Auchinleck as C-in-C
of the Middle East. Montgomery’s appointment officially
Auchinleck announces the
capture of 10,000 Axis troops in last two months of fighting
in North Africa.
Rommel begins his final
attempt to break through at El Alamein in the battle of Alam
Halfa. However, the 15th Panzer Division fails to break through
the 8th Army's lines and sustains heavy casualties losing about
30 tanks forcing the Germans to withdraw back to their start
The RAF makes a record
number of sorties in North Africa as desert battle rages. Rommel’s
withdrawal is speeded up by heavy New Zealand pressure.
Rommel is back to the positions held
on the 31st August, having lost 51 tanks (out of 515), 70 guns,
400 trucks and 2,865 men. The Eighth Army losses were 1,640
men and 68 tanks.
The Eighth Army stabilizes
its line at Alam el Haifa, after Montgomery suspends the battle.
British desert raids reach Benghazi
and Barer. A combined forces attack on Tobruk is also made.
The Governor General of Madagascar
asks for an armistice.
Peace talks in Madagascar break down.
British forces land on the east coast
of Madagascar and occupy Tamatave.
Field Marshal Rommel takes
a medical leave and hands over command to General von Thoma.
British troops occupy the capital of Madagascar.
Top-scoring Luftwaffe ace
and Diamonds winner Hans-Joachim Marseille (158 British aircraft)
of 3./JG 27 is killed in a flying accident.
Montgomery issues the final
plan to senior commanders for the Second battle of El Alamein.
The final ‘Torch’ (invasion
of NW Africa) plans are issued.
The Second Battle of El Alamein begins
with a 1,000-gun bombardment. The Eighth Army gains ground on
a 6-mile front and repulses Axis counter-attacks.
Montgomery switches the attack to the
North. Rommel breaks off his sick leave to take charge of the
critical situation in which the axis forces now find themselves.
The Eighth Army begins re-grouping
its divisions at El Alamein for the final breakout.
A counter-attack by the 21st Panzer-Division
to push the attacking British forces back into the German minefields
fails, costing them 50 Panzer's. This leaves the axis forces
with just 81 operational tanks.
the breakout at El Alamein gets under way. Rommel has only 32
Panzer's left intact.
Rejecting out of hand Field Marshal
Rommel's proposal to withdraw the Afrika Korps, now down to
about 40 tanks, to the Fuka line, Hitler orders him to stand
The Italian 20th Motorised Corps is
destroyed. Rommel re-issues his orders for retreat with only
12 tanks left. 10,724 Axis prisoners are taken by the British,
including nine generals.
The British attack Rommel’s rearguard,
which is now almost 100 miles to west of El Alamein. A peace
treaty is signed in Madagascar with the Vichy French.
Further progress made by the Eighth
Army with 20,000 further Axis prisoners being claimed.
Operation 'Torch' begins with Anglo-American
forces under Lieutenant General Eisenhower landing in Morocco
and Algeria against minimal Vichy French resistance. Mersa Matruh
is re-taken by British.
US troops advance on both sides of
Oran, taking 2,000 French prisoners after stiff resistance.
German paratroops are landed in Tunisia without opposition from
The Americans capture Oran. Petain
takes command of all Vichy forces. British successes in Egypt
continue with the capture of Sidi Barrani.
The British 8th Army retakes Sollum
and Bardia, while Panzer Army Afrika continues its withdrawal
The Eighth Army captures Tobruk and
Montgomery says: ‘We have completely smashed the German
and Italian armies’.
British paratroops engage German troops
in Tunisia, while the first clashes occur between the newly
landed U.S. and German forces.
Laval is given absolute power by Vichy
British troops engage a German tank
column only 30 miles from Tunis.
The Eighth Army reaches Benghazi.
Retreating before the British 8th Army
(Montgomery), Panzer Army Afrika reaches El Agheila.
Laval sets up Phalange Africaine, to
fight allies in Africa.
British troops are only 22 miles from
British paratroops drop south of Tunis.
German forces in Tunisia
German troops occupy the
port of Bizerte in Tunisia.
Rommel begins to retreat from his positions
El Agheila, as the Eighth Army continues advance in to Libya.
Admiral Darlan is assassinated by a
young Frenchman in Algiers.
The French authorities execute Admiral
General Giraud becomes the leader of
General De Gaulle welcomes
Giraud’s appointment and calls for French unity.