1.28 February to 30 March 1941:Transfer to North Africa and Defense of Tripolitania
At the beginning of February 1941, Rommel was promoted to Generalleutnant. He received the mission to reinforce the Italian defenses by reinforcement through German forces in the Buerat-Sirte area, around 300 kilometers southeast of Tripoli. The orders from the Army High Command read, in part:
It is imperative to bring the motorized British formations to a standstill and defeat them through offensive employment of the armored forces.'
Rommel is considered to be a military phenomenon in terms of bravery, audacity and dynamism. In addition, he is considered to be a master tactician. He understood how to successfully employ armored fighting forces by exploiting their mobility and the element of surprise. He did not avoid risk, made rapid, unconventional decisions and was a master of improvisation. He led from the front and was therefore in the position to react immediately and flexibly to changes in the situation. Rommel demanded much from his men and his commanders, but he also demanded the utmost of himself. He eventually was promoted to Generalfeldmarschall and became one of the most famous general officers of the Second World War. His name has become symbolic of the struggle of the German soldier in Africa.
On 16 February 1941, Generalleutnant Rommel was given overall command of the German and Italian forces in the vicinity of the front.
By the same token, it should and must be mentioned that there were also some reservations concerning his qualities as a person and as a leader. OberleutnantHarald Kuhn, a company commander in the regiment, wrote the following in his memoirs:2
Undoubtedly, Rommel appeared before us as a personality.3 Everything about him was out of the ordinary: His personal courage, his energy level, his imagination, his military good fortune but also his need to be in control, his ambition and the ruthlessness with which he brought those qualities to bear. The self-indulgence of that type of personality also brings great danger with it. If it does not succeed in establishing a basis of trust between it and its surroundings, it becomes
all too easily arrogant, impatient, distrustful, unjust and-lonely. Overestimating oneself and arbitrariness seldom allow a relationship of trust develop and lead to the loss of a clear view of reality.
Whenever Rommel toured the battlefield as cool as a cucumber between Tobruk and the Sollum Front in a Fieseier Storch,' even though the airspace was swarming with English fighters, or whenever he was to be found in even the most dangerous of situations-it was said that he had five drivers shot out next to him in his vehicleand we saw how his energy level never wore down, we admired and respected that ...
Whenever we saw and heard that Rommel preferred to be far to the front on days of combat in order to direct individual tanks and assault detachments, instead of making decisions in his headquarters, which the overall situation demanded, or when he once again demonstrated that he had completely underestimated or incorrectly estimated the enemy, then we asked ourselves whether he really was such a great military leader ...
On the other hand, Rommel was of the opinion that a good knowledge of the terrain and the enemy's positions, as well as the better view of the battlefield, often decided a battle more than greater tactical ability.
On 11 February, the first German ground forces (logistical elements) reached the harbor at Tripoli. Rommel arrived on 12 February.
Advance of the initial elements of the 5. leichte Division from 13 February to 4 March 1941, a distance of 600 kilometers from Tripoli to the area west of El Agheila.
On 13 February, the first combat elements of the division, Aufklkrungs-Abteilung 3 (mot) and Panzerjkger-Abteilung 39, disembarked in Tripoli and were directed to the front. They reached the BueratSirte area on 16 February.
Between the positions of the Axis forces in Buerat-Sirte and El Agheila was approximately 300 kilometers of no-man's-land. The English had stop their forward advance a few kilometers west of El Agheila. Rommel had a Kampfgruppe composed
of the reconnaissance battalion and Italian forces advance to the southeast.
On 24 February, the first enemy contact was made between reconnaissance elements on both sides in the El Agheila-Agedabia area.
The insignia of the DAKas applied to the right hull of the Panzer IVof the 2nd Platoon leader of the 8th Company.
As the result of an Armed Forces Daily Report on 26 February, the German public discovered for the first time that the German Army was conducting operations in the North African theater of war:'
Along the Libyan coastline southeast of Agedabia, German and English mounted patrols made contact during the morning hours of 24 February. Anumber ofEnglish vehicles, including a number of armored cars, were destroyed and a few prisoners taken. There were no losses on the German side ...
By 4 March, Panzerjager-Abteilung 39, reinforced by engineers, Flak and Italian troop elements, occupied positions 25 kilometers east of El Agheila. Without tanks and artillery, however, the prospects for continued successful operations were not realizable. For that reason, there was initially no further advance.
On 21 February, orders arrived from the Armed Forces High Command that the German forces in Africa were to be designated as the Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK). It was also announced that a complete armor division-the 15. Panzer-Divisionwould also be sent to the theater in the foreseeable future to reinforce the 5. leichteDivision.e The insignia for the DAK, effective 1 April, was a stylized palm tree with a superimposed swastika .7It was to be added to all vehicles in addition to any formation signs.
The cuff band for members of the DAK, after fulfilling certain conditions (six months in theater, seriously wounded in theater, etc.) It was worn on the right sleeve, 15 centimeters above the cuff.
A few months later, the Army High Command issued a directive that the DAKwas entitled to issue a cuff band with the lettering Afrikakorps. The cuff title was bordered in an olive drab with silver lettering on a dark green background.
Shown above is the Certificate of Issuance of Tropical Uniform and Equipment Articles, as issued to a soldier from the replacement detachment in Neuruppin. It is amazing how quickly the German uniform industrywas able to produce large quantities of tropical clothing in such a relatively short time.
10 March 1941: The company commander's tank of the 5th Company is taken off the ship at Tripoli.
Among the items issued: 3 blankets; 2 tunics; 1 pair of boot trousers (non-mounted); 1 long pair of trousers; 1 pair of shorts (sport); 3 undershorts; 1 set of long johns; 1 overcoat; 3 olive-colored shirts; 3 undershirts; 2 night shirts; 1 scarf; 1 olive-colored tie; 1 pair of gloves; 1 olive-colored undergarment; 4 pairs of olive-colored socks; 2 pair of olive-colored calf-length socks; 1 pair of lace-up boots; 1 pair of lace-up shoes; 1 pair of suspenders; one belt; one pair of swimming trunks; 1 olive-colored pith helmet; 1 olive-colored rucksack; 1 set of load-bearing equipment; 1 mosquito mask; 1 pair of dust and sun glasses; 1 washing basin (made out of sailcloth); etc.
At the beginning of March, the regiment was transported to Africa. The sea transport across the Mediterranean proved to be difficult. After the convoy steamed out on 5 March, British naval forces were reported. The convoy docked in Palermo for 24 hours, affording the soldiers the opportunity to visit the city. On the second attempt, the convoy made it to Tripoli.
Heinz Kilanowski, a member of the 4th Company at the time and 19 years old, recalled the experience:'
On 28 February 1941, Panzer-Regiment 5loaded out in Wiinsdorf. All of the officers and enlisted personnel had been examined for tropical suitability. We crossed the Brenner Pass into Italy. In Naples, the regiment was loaded on 5 ships averaging 10,000-12,000 gross register tons. The convoy consisted of the transports Wachtfels, Reichenfels, Acturus, Alicante and Leverkusen. Italian destroyers provided escort. Between Sicily and Tripoli, we were pursued by English submarines and engaged. English submarines were waiting for us outside of Tripoli as well. The attacks were successfully turned back each time, however. On 10 March, our regiment disembarked in Tripoli.
During the load-out in Naples, a fire started on the Leverkusen, which resulted in the loss of 10 Panzer III's and 3 Panzer IV's.9 As a result, the following vehicles reached the port in Tripoli on 10 March: 7 Panzerbefehlswagen, 25 Panzer I's, 45 Panzer II's, 61 Panzer III's and 17 Panzer IV's.
A parade was held in Tripoli on 12 March, followed by a road march along the coastal road
the Via Balbia-to the front. Over the course of 6 night marches, the regiment reached the Arco dei Fileni-the border marker erected by the Italians-85 kilometers southeast of Nofilia. In the area around the border marker, numerous depots for fuel, rations and ammunition were established in March with an eye towards offensive operations.
The tanks of the 5th and 6th Companies assemble for the parade on 12 March. The crews were issued tropical clothing once they landed.
Tanks of the regiment move through the Arco dei Fileni on the way to the front in the second half of March.
2.31 March to the Middle of June 1941: Recapture of Cyrenaica, Fighting for Tobruk and Operations in the Border Area between Libya and Egypt
Although the English anticipated an attack on El Agheila, they did not count on further offensive operations by the Axis powers at the time.
On 31 March, the 5. ieichte Division, initially formed into two battle groups, moved out to attack. The northern Kampfgruppe advanced along the coastal road through El Agheila in the direction of Marsa el Brega. The southern battle group, which included Panzer-Regiment 5, moved through the desert as a flank guard. The enemy was ejected from his positions and moved back in the direction of Agedabia.
During the morning of 2 April, the motorized riflemen attacked Agedabia head on, while the tanks enveloped. The envelopment took the tank regiment some 60 kilometers into the desert. Ten kilometers
east of Agedabia, the regiment encountered 20 British Cruiser tanks. The regiment destroyed eight enemy tanks, losing one of its own as a complete write-off. Agedabia was taken.
The first large-scale armored engagement in Cyrenaica took place on the evening of 2 April, when 30 British tanks, including the heavily armored Mark II, the "Matilda," moved out in an immediate counterattack. After 45 minutes, the regiment was able to decide the engagement in its favor. It was shown that the German tanks had a decisive advantage as a result of their better tactics, the initiative of the individual tank commanders and their greater maneuverability. Despite that, the "Matilda" remained a feared opponent because of its heavy armor. With 8 centimeters in some locations, it was more heavily armored than any German tank of the time.
A platoon of the 8th Company during the attack on Agedabia. The desert terrain offered ideal conditions for the employment of tanks. Their maneuverability and firepower came especially to the forefront. This image demonstrates how far apart armor needed to be deployed under desert conditions.
The retaking of Cyrenaica by the 5. leichte Division and Italian forces in the spring of 1941.
On 4 April, the northern battle group occupied Bengasi, which had been evacuated by the enemy without a fight. The division then regrouped with three battle groups to continue the attack.
In the north, the reinforced Aufklarungs- Abteilung 3 (mot) continued along the coastal road. In the middle, the regiment, reinforced by the I./ Artillerie-Regiment 75 (mot) headed in the direction of Msus and, in the south, a few tanks reinforced by some motorized riflemen advanced in the direction of Tengeder. Italian forces reinforced the German formations.
On 6 April, the tank regiment took Msus and, on 8 April, El Mechili. In the taking of the desert fort, the 1st Battalion of Major Bolbrinker distinguished itself, with large numbers of prisoners being taken and quantities of supplies captured. Likewise, Derna fell into German hands that same day. El Mechili was the confluence of seven desert trails. From that
location, the attacking forces could advance to the north in the direction of Derna, to the northeast along the coastal road in the area of Tmimi-Gazala or to the east in the direction of Tobruk-Libyan and the Egyptian frontier.
During the attack from El Agheila to El Mechili, the tank regiment suffered from a constant lack of fuel. The fuel calculated to last 500 kilometers was already used up after 170. Waiting for fuel columns, as well as breaks necessary for maintenance, slowed down the continuation of the German attack. In addition, navigation in the desert proved to be extremely difficult, since orienting features were absent and determining one's own location was only done with difficulty. Rommel, circling the advancing forces in his FieselerStorch, drove his men forward and directed forces that were lagging behind. The attack was continued on a broad front between Tobruk and El Adem.
A knocked-out "Matilda." The Mark II heavy infantry tank had armor of up to 8 centimeters. It could be effectively engaged by the 8.8-centimeter Flak at ranges from 1,000 to 2,000 meters before it could bring its 4-centimeter main gun to bear. The 5-centimeter main gun of the Panzer Ill was only effective at ranges under 450 meters, however.
The desert fort of El Mechili was taken on 8 April.
On 9 April, Gazala was taken. The next day, Rommel's forces were at the outside defensive ring around Tobruk, where the bulk of the forces that had withdrawn from Cyrenaica had massed. The garrison of Tobruk numbered some 29,000 men in April 1941, which was numerically considerably stronger than the German forces attacking.
The attack conducted by the tank regiment through the Cyrenaican desert from 31 March to 10 April had taken a considerable toll on the operational status of the tanks, even without taking enemy action into account. An after-action report by the regiment's maintenance company from those days survived the war:10
The average march distance of 700 kilometers had a very negative effect on the tanks. Up to the time when the regiment occupied its positions outside of Tobruk, the number of tanks enumerated below had to be transferred to the maintenance company on account of severe engine and/or running gear damage:
12 of 25 Panzer I's; 2 of 3 Heiner Panzerbefehlswagen I's; 19 of 45 Panzer II's; 44 of 65 Panzer III's or Panzerbefehlswagen III's; and 6 of 17 Panzer IV's.
Altogether, 83 armored vehicles out of 155. The heavy damage was caused when the Trigh el Abd" was crossed at high speed, which was dictated by the tactical situation. Due to the tempo demanded, unsuitable march lengths could not be avoided. Of the 65 panzer III's and Panzerbefehlswagen III's on hand, 44 became disabled with severe engine damage during the march through the desert.
The mistake was always the same. The engine lost power and the oil pressure fell to zero, whereupon the engine quit. Whenever an effort
was made to continue moving after the oil had been changed, the cylinders and pistons seized. Finally, the piston rods on the third or fourth cylinder broke. The cause was the same in every case. The crankcase housing became stopped up to a paste as the result of the fine sand, whereby the transmission of the oil was interrupted. The cylinders and the pistons were worn up to 6 millimeters. Out of 83 disabled tanks, the maintenance company swapped out the engines in 58 vehicles.
The available airfiltersare completely unsuited for the desert, since they did not restrict the fine sand. That caused the clogging of the crankcases. The use of a dry felt filter, as has been mounted on British cars, trucks and armored vehicles, is recommended.
Fifty shock absorbers became unserviceable and had to be swapped out on 65 Panzer III's and the Panzerbefehlswagen III's. Twenty broken springs and 16 sets of tracks were switched on the Panzerffs. The problems with the springs and the shock absorbers was not only as a result of the poor route but also mines. The greasing of the auxiliary brakes as a result of the deficient brake pads was a widely encountered mistake. Sixty maintenance requests in the case of the Panzer III's could be traced back to bad final inspections at the factories.
The ventilator shafts had to be exchanged in 40 cases, because the bearings were deficient. Problems in turret races on eight Panzer Ill's were determined to be caused by sand.
Five Variorex housings had to be exchanged.
The tank regiment had only 25 operational tanks when it launched its first attack against the fortress of Tobruk from the south around 0600 hours on 11 April. More attacks would follow over the next few days.
Mine damage to a Panzer II.
Changing track on a PanzerII in Cyrenaica in April 1941.
The crew from another tank lends a hand.
Photograph from a war correspondent photographer: The first attack on Tobruk on 11 April 1941.
On 15 April, the operations section of the regiment compiled an after-action report on operations between 11 and 14 April:'2
11 April 1941: At 0730 hours, the regiment received orders to attack Tobruk, enveloping from the south, advancing from 32 kilometers west of Tobruk through Acroma. The regiment moved out at 0830 hours, was received by a liaison of the Deutsches Afrika-Korps in Acroma, turned to the east 10 kilometers south of Acroma (based on his directives) and reached the area about 12 kilometers southwest of Tobruk around 1500 hours. The assembly area was immediately taken under artillery fire by the enemy, with the result that the element of surprise was lost.
The regimental commander was personally briefed by the commanding general. At 1600 hours, the regiment just the headquarters and
the 2nd Battalion-moved out to attack. The regiment has been reduced to 25 vehicles. When the high ground, which could be observed by the enemy, was crossed, heavy fires commenced. The regimental attackcame to an unexpected standstill as the result of an defensive ditch that could not be crossed, which went all the wayaround Tobruk. The regiment ordered: "Turn right and look for a passage over the ditch further east." Heavy antitank-gun fire and magnificently directed English artillery fire accompanied the regiment as it deployed and advanced 4 kilometers along the ditch. At 1715 hours, the lead elements of the regiment reached the Tobruk-El Adem road, where a thick belt of mines was identified. The regiment ordered: "Turn south; pull back from the enemy." It conducted further reconnaissance to the east by the 1st Platoon of the 2nd Battalion. In the course of the reconnaissance, which extended into the night and advanced as far as 20 kilometers southeast of Tobruk, Oberleutnant von Hiilsen demonstrated great dexterity and clear thinking. The regiment returned to its lines of departure and oriented once again towards Tobruk. The enemy situation had been presented to the regiment in such a fashion that it was anticipated that he would withdraw when a German tank attack was rolling. The regiment knew nothing of either the ancient Italian tank ditch or of the large numbers of English artillery and antitank guns on hand.
12 April1941: A engineer officer reported that there was supposedly no tank ditch 4 kilometers west of the breakthrough point identified for the regiment on 11 April. Based on that reconnaissance, the regiment was sent to that position at 1515 hours and moved out to attack with 24 vehicles. The English artillery started firing with terrific precision into the ranks of the regiment as early as its approach march halt to reorganize for the attack. At the same time, it was bombed with heavy bombs.
An engineer platoon was attached to the regiment for the attack in case there was actually a tank ditch present it could blow in the walls under the covering fires of the regiment.
As the regiment advanced, the enemy fire intensified to the extent that the engineers were unable to follow the regiment, despite their aggressive movements. At 1600 hours, the lead elements were able to positively identify the enemy field positions. At 1645 hours, the first elements of the regiment reached the tank ditch, which also proved to be non-crossable at this location as well. Artillery and antitank guns fired at the regiment over open sights, which initially remained in place, returned fire and waited for the arrival of the engineers. After they had not arrived after about 15 minutes, the regiment ordered: "Pull back from the enemy." The withdrawal took place in good form, accompanied by English artillery fire.
14 April 1941: After a fake demolition of the tank ditch by the engineers took place during the night of 12-13 April along the western
portion of the English positions around Tobruk, a bridgehead was formed during the evening of 13 April by MGBataillon 8 and engineers at the fork in the road 7 kilometers south of Tobruk, in which crossings over the tank ditch were created for the later crossing of the regiment. The regiment, with the attached Panzerjager-Abteilung 605 and the L/Flak-Regiment 33 in direct support, was directed to close on the bridgehead by 0230 hours and move out, initially north to attack Point 99, at 0430 hours. It was anticipated for the continuation of the attack that the 1st Battalion, with the attached Panzerjager-Abteilung 605, be moved forward against the withdrawing enemy as far as the Via Balbia, oriented to the west. The other battalion was to turn east towards Tobruk.
The enemy was already firing final protective fires as the regiment was closing, but he was unable to inflict any losses. The regiment crossed the line of departure in waves at the bridgehead 4 kilometers west of the initially designated breakthrough point at 0430 hours with 38 tanks, the 2nd Battalion in the lead, the 1st Battalion following. Three guns of Panzerjdger-Abteilung 605 were behind the 1st Battalion. As the first wave engaged the enemy, MGBataillon 8 advanced against the enemy with only 2 V2 platoons instead of 300 men.
The situation appeared to develop favorably; the enemy was surprised. The contact between the advancing tanks and the motorized riflemen was still intact by 0530 hours. '"'hen it started to dawn, however, antitank-gun and artillery fire descended on the regiment from all sides. The motorized riflemen bogged down. At 0600 hours, the regiment crossed Point 99, so as to advance on the Via Balbia. It was all on its own, 6 kilometers deep in enemy territory. The regiment received direct artillery fire from Fort Solaro, the area east of Point 99 and the area around Fort Airenti. To the right and left in the rear, the enemy moved forward with antitank guns against the point of penetration. The regiment had to defend on all sides. At the same moment, six enemy fighters came racing in on a low-level attack. Enemy bombers dropped heavy bombs. In that very uncomfortable situation, approximately 14 enemy tanks attacked from the right rear, among which were two positively identified Mark II's (heavy infantry tanks). The regiment ordered those tanks attacked, with the 1st battalion attacking head on and the 2nd Battalion enveloping to the right. During that engagement, the enemy antitank guns continued to be constantly reinforced.
The impacting shells, the burning tanks and the hissing main-gun rounds greatly hindered the regiment's visibility. When the loss of friendly vehicles had exceeded the bounds of what was acceptable by a considerable margin, the regiment decided to retreat. In good form, firing to all sides, recovering the wounded and the dead from knocked-out tanks, the regiment pulled back. When the point of penetration, which had been reoccupied by the enemy, was reached at 0800 hours, enemy antitank guns moved up again and fired, together with well-camouflaged machine guns, against the tanks moving through the bottleneck. The 200 prisoners that had been taken, who were receiving fire from their comrades, threw themselves to ground, jumped into the trenches and were lost to the regiment. Several German soldiers sitting outside the tanks were wounded or killed. The regiment used the 1st Battalion to cover the retreat through the bottleneck against the antitank guns and machine guns. The heavy, well-aimed artillery fire of the enemy followed the regiment until about 2 kilometers from the point of penetration. The regiment reassembled there, reorganized its formations and prepared to interdict a possible English pursuit, which did not take place, however. The enemy only advanced to the point of penetration with his own armored vehicles. The enemy intelligence that had been announced prior to the attack stated that the
enemy was in the process of "taking down his fortifications" that his artillery was very weak and that his morale was low.
Prior to the start of the attack, the regiment knew not the slightest of the excellently constructed field fortifications, of the individual battery positions nor the unbelievably numerous antitank guns. The presence of strong enemy armor forces was also not known. The regiment moved out into the fight firmly convinced and with unshakeable will to defeat the enemy and take Tobruk. Only the vastly superior enemy, the tremendous casualties and the lack of any type of combat support caused the regiment to bend.
38 armored fighting vehicles went into the fight.
17 armored fighting vehicles were destroyed by the enemy.
2 officers are missing; 7 wounded.
21 noncommissioned officers and enlisted personnel are missing.
10 noncommissioned officers and enlisted personnel are wounded.
That comes to 50% in losses.
The after-action report of the regiment above is supplemented by the firsthand account of Oberleutnant Harald Kuhn, who participated in the fighting as a company commander in the 2nd Battalion:`
Good Friday, 11 April. According to Ronunel's own words, he wants to march into Cairo in a few days. We still do not know him well enough to know how good his judgment of the enemy is. And so, what does Tobruk mean to us? We will overrun it, just like we did Bengasi and Derna. There can't be much with the facilities, which are entered on the maps as a fortress, especially since they had been built by the Italians. We experienced a few weeks ago how they were unable to hold out more than a day during their flight. Based on Rommel's demand to our regiment to hurry up, there can't be too much ahead.
Without any worries, we set out during the morning with the pitiful remnants of the 2nd Battalion, so as to attack through MGBataillon 8 through Acroma from the south. We were greatly surprised to start receiving raging artillery fire as we approached about 20 kilometers from the city. We were speechless when the machine-gun battalion, which was attacking ahead of its, was forced to ground, motionless, after a very short time in a murderous hail of fire.
The desert spread out in front of its, gray yellow and dead. But there were countless eyes hidden there, along with firing batteries. How was that possible? Were the fortifications going to be a difficult nut to crack after all? Rommel must have buoyed up his confidence based on something.
The grenadiers dug in, and then we advanced. One artillery shell next to the other. Dust and dirt swirled around us and made it impossible to identify neighboring vehicles. Terrific fields of vision allowed Tommy to follow every one of our movements in that hellfire.
After feeling our way forward a bit, we arrived at a broad tank ditch that was heavily wired and mined. Behind it, we could see bunkers and heavily improved field fortifications, which could barely be made out, since they barely rose above the earth. There's no getting through!
We moved along that obstacle for 3 or 4 kilometers, always pursued by artillery fire, always looking for a way to get through, before we had to turn back, our business unfinished.
The first setback. It's nothing you like to experience, especially when it comes so unexpectedly!
On Easter Saturday, a second attack in the same manner. This time, we took along engineers, who were supposed to blow a lane through the obstacle. Bombs rained down on its from the air; the same hail of shellfire. The engineers were unable to get to the obstacle and we turned back with unfinished business again.
And so that doesn't look like it'll work either. Remnants of a division, which was never an attack division with the appropriate weapons; instead, it was a blocking formation-after 1,400 kilometers of offensive operations, torn up by the pathless desert. We need more here than being cheeky and a sense of superiority. We are in need of systematic reconnaissance and well-planned employment in view of our modest means. Because the English are appearing to now start acting decisively and have effective means at their disposal.
Despite all that, Rommel has set the third attack for Easter Monday. An attack group has been formed from the 2nd Battalion of our regiment and the rest of MGBataillon 8 in the first wave; behind its, the rest of the 1st Battalion, which has arrived in the meantime, the regimental headquarters, the antitank troops and the Flak forces.
"Don't take the tanks to the buildings of the city; leave that to the infantry!" Rommel said that to my regimental commander, who was designated to lead the attack group.
While we are getting ready, I encounter serious, taciturn faces, in which doubts on the success of the operation were mirrored. The difficult experience of the last two attacks still had us in its grip. But there was no dodging fate; we were soldiers.
We moved out at night at 0030 hours. The engineers worked their way silently forward to the obstacle. At 0100 hours, still outside of the obstacles, there was a murderous blast, and my vehicle leapt into the air, almost throwing me out of the turret. Mine! Badly knocked about, we hobbled forward with a cracked drive sprocket and ripped-off mudguards. A shock in the morning hours.
A short while later, our small group started to waver; they were looking for the prepared lane ahead. That was not so easy in the pitch-black night. Suddenly, contact was lost between the battalion commander's vehicle and the rest of the battalion. Whispered calls ... strained listening . .. a feeling of helplessness. In the end, I was sent forward in my vehicle to reestablish contact. A comical feeling . . . playing boy scout in the dark between mines right next to the enemyf
Behind me were a few more vehicles; we thus searched in vain back and forth. The enemy heard us; his antitank guns barked. The rounds zinged past its with white tails. Occasionally, pyrotechnics arced skyward with a jagged shine. But the darkness covered us and protected us. It also did not allow its to find the breakthrough point we were seeking. It was not until it finally started to turn light in the east that I finally discovered it.
In the meantime, the forward elements were way ahead of us. The English had put their heads down and allowed themselves to be overrun.
We raced through the terrain of the fortified area, fired at on both the left and the right, so its to reestablish contact. At the same time, we took pains to follow the tracks because of the danger of mines. Pyrotechnic signals and radio calls helped give me the direction. Hits were frequently scored against the vehicle.
About half an hour went by before we finally reached the 1st Battalion; it was almost light. We needed the morning light to get oriented and fight, but the enemy was allowing us to fully deploy first.
And, unfortunately, he proved to be the stronger one. His uncounted observers directed the massed steamroller of the oppressive Tobruk artillery on us. The unarmored heavy and light
Flak had not been following us for some timeknocked out or disabled.
To the front, left and right, the resistance stiffened crazily; from behind, English tanks enveloped; the artillery fire became more and more insane; on top of everything else, the Royal Air Forces also attacked) The muzzle flashes blazed away on all sides and the hits smacked against our tanks; the mounted infantry were swept off by the row. All of us were in a trap. Haze, muck and dirt took away our visibility and, with it, fields of fire and orientation. The companies broke apart; there was no longer any deliberate attack. Everyone had his hands full, just keeping the enemy off his back.
Then-misfire in my main gun. A short while later, in the machine gun as well. All efforts to eliminate the problem proved fruitless. Condemned to defenselessness, I attempted to make sense of what was going on around me. A large portion of our vehicles were on fire; a few were still moving about and firing, on fire themselves. It was a terrible, unforgettable picture)
Could Hell be any worse? No one knew how much time had passed. Had it been hours? Minutes? We no longer had a sense for it.
It seemed to take forever until we fought our way back to the point of penetration and slowly came out of the fire beyond. Among the tanks that returned there was not a single one that did not bring considerable scars with it. Shocked, we determined how many of our comrades were missing. The casualties were horrific. A few tears left their traces in the gray, dust-encrusted faces. Was it the sadness felt for lost comrades? Was it the shock of the last few hours? Was it rage? No one said it.
Gradually, the cramped feeling loosened up and we turned to thoughts of what was immediately important. The old vets from the First War claimed they had never experienced a blacker day. The younger ones believed them.
So . . . after we learned to appreciate the strength of the fortress after the first two attacks, we hoped that Rommel had learned as well. Maps were finally printed and distributed in the division, where the defensive positions were marked. Finally, after we had had to pay for the lesson in looking at them with much treasure. Finally, even though our allies had constructed the fortifications, we had to capture an Italian map from the English to have it reproduced! Tobruk was surrounded by three heavily improved belts of fortifications: Concrete bunkers and trenches, wire obstacles, mines, minefields, heavily fortified field positions, numerous strong forts. The fortification belts extended with radii of about 16, 10 and 5 kilometers around the city and harbor. To the untrained eye, nothing stood out. All of the facilities were in the earth and cleverly adopted and camouflaged to the terrain. Even from the air, very little could be made out. Later on, it was said that Tobruk was the most
modern system of fortifications in the world. At the very least, it had made its all very thoughtful inclividualsl
Whenever we considered that the possession of the harbor meant everything to the British for their supplies and that, in addition, Tobruk was the last bulwark before the frontier with Egypt, then we understood why it was defended with any and all means and with extreme stubbornness. If they did not fix us there, then there was no longer any opportunity to do so before Egypt.
All of the remaining forces were brought forward, including the Italians, so as to place a siege ring around the city. At the very least, all land communications were intended to be disrupted. Our air force was to monitor the harbor and make it impossible to use.
My regiment was given an area to the south of the city, to which the immobilized vehicles also had to be towed to be placed into position. No main gun, no machine gun could he left behind. The few operational tanks were consolidated into "hunting parties" so as to interdict any breakout attempts on the part of the Tommies and overwatch a 17-kilometer gap in the front to the right of our sector, which could not be occupied due to a lack of forces.
A knocked-out Panzer III burns out.
There was a transition to the defense all along the line.
While the division attacked Tobruk, its reconnaissance battalion, Aufddrungs-Abteilung3 (mot), continued advancing east. On 12 April, Bardia was taken. After turning back a British counterattack on 22 April at Capuzzo, the battalion continued east to the border of Libya and Egypt and advancing to the Halfaya Pass area by 25 April. For Rommel, Tobruk ,was a thorn in his side. The enemy fortress interrupted the important coastal road for the resupply of the Axis forces, which were brought forward some 1,400 kilometers from Tripoli. The bypass around Tobruk lengthened the journey by another 75 kilometers of tiresome desert marching, which not only led to a loss of time but also additional wear and tear on vehicles before the logistics could reach the forces positioned along the border.
As a result, Rommel attempted to take Tobruk again in May. During April, elements of the 15. Panzer-Division had arrived in Africa: PanzerjkgerAbteilung 33, Kradschutzen-Bataillon 15, elements of Schutzen-Regiment 104 and Schutzen-Regiment 115, Pionier-Bataillon33and the I./Flak-Regiment 18. Those formations were committed to the fighting atTobruk. Elements of four divisions-the 5. ieichteDivision, the 15. Panzer-Division, the Italian ArietcArmor Division and the Italian Brescia Infantry Division-attacked Tobruk from the southwest on the morning of 1 May. The main effort of the attack focused in the Ras el Madauer hill mass.
Once again the outer defensive ring was penetrated, a number of concrete positions taken and the high ground captured, but the attacking
force then reached its culminating point. Rommel ordered the attack called off.
Leutnant Schorm of the 6th Company of the regiment recounted his experiences surrounding the attack on 1 May in his diary: 14
We planned on taking Tobruk. My 4th attack on the city. First call at 0330 hours. Departure at 0430 hours. We lost contact in the darkness and the dust, but then we were able to reestablish contact. We moved through the bottleneck in which so many of our comrades had already fallen. Then we deployed-the 6th Company on the left, the 5th Company on the right, the headquarters behind it, 8th and 7th Companies. The regiment is now being led by Hohmann and consisted of the 5th Company (formerly the 1st and 2nd Companies), the 6th Company (5th and 6th Companies), the 7th Company (those that remain) and the 8th Company (4th and 8th Companies)-in all, 80 tanks.
The British artillery started firing on us all of a sudden. We attacked. No German patrols had been sent ou t ahead of us. One row of cannon after the other appeared in front of us in the triangular field fortifications. The two light platoons of the company and my section were directed to attack from the flank. I attacked. A radio message stated that the company commander of the 6th Company had been hit in the tracks. Then everything happened very quickly. A terrible crash from the right. Artillery? No. It must have been a mine. A rapidly dispatched radio message: "Schorm ran over a mine; attempting to move back in own tracks." Five meters to the rear, then a new explosion-this time, to the left. It was all over with attempting to move. Another radio message: "Ran over another mine when pulling back. Moving to Tank 623." 100 meters back through artillery fire-made it.
Radio orders: "Tanks pull back behind the ridgeline." Considering the circumstances, things went well for the men in the "mine tank." The enemy attacked with tanks but was defeated in the engagement.
Moved back carefully. I then screened north along with the last tank of the company and Leutnant Rocholl. 9 Panzer III's and 3 Panzer II's of the 6th Company had to be abandoned due to mine damage. In my platoon: The platoon leader's tank and the two tanks of the section leader. It goes without saying that the enemy continued to fire on us for some time.
Aslight change in position: forwards and to the right-to the rear and left! When the company commander arrived, I was directed forward along with Leutnant Dim to recover tanks. While we were moving, we received fire from a distance of 550 meters from machine guns and antitank guns. I silenced them with high-explosive rounds and moved backwards in the tracks of Tank 624. Then the tiresome recovery work started. The antitank-gun fire started up again and had to be contained by continuous machine-gun fire from Leutnant Dim. In the process, Leutnant Dim also rolled over a mine and sustained track damage. Finally, I started moving away from there with 624 in tow. Through a gap and then another 800 meters.
Hauptfeldwebel Wilhelm Wendt, the First Sergeant of the 5th Company of the regiment, was simultaneously employed as the platoon leader of the 1st Platoon when the designated platoon leader was no longer available. He later received the Knight's Cross to the Iron Cross on 30 June 1941.
250,000 Mark were saved. The crew was really relieved to have its tank back again. Further back to the battalion. It was late in the afternoon by then.
Dive bombers and two-engined bombers attacked the enemy continuously. Despite that, the Britons conducted repeated immediate counterattacks with tanks. As soon as the aircraft disappeared, the artillery commenced with savage fire.
It started to turn dark. Who was enemy and who was friends? Rounds were fired all over the place, frequently against friendly forces and on tanks employed up front that were on their way back.
Suddenly, radio traffic! The Britons were attacking the gap with infantry. It was true. 2 companies dismounted from their vehicles. All sorts of pyrotechnics climbed into the skiesgreen, red, white. Flares hissed down in the vicinity of our machine guns. It was already too dark to aim. The attack of the enemy had to have been a mistake.
The small Fiat-Ansaldo tanks with the flamethrowers moved forward to clear the triangle. Long streams of flame consisting of f uel oil, thick smoke and a terrible stink! We screened until 2345 hours and then pulled back through the bottleneck. It was a crazy movement through the dirt clouds. At 0300 hours, I had a quick bite to eat next to the tank. Locked up inside the tank for 24 hours-with terrible pain in my limbs and muscle cramps as a consequence, not to mention an unbelievable thirst!
Hauptfeldruebel Wilhelm Wendt wrote about his experiences during the fighting on 1 May:
During the early-morning hours of 1 May, I was attached to the 2nd Company with my platoon. We attacked without delay in the direction of Tobruk, through a gap created by the engineers. After about 3 kilometers, I ran over two mines, one after the other. I then understood what the small piles of rocks thatwere painted white on the enemy side meant: Careful! Minefield! My driver reported to me that the tank would no longer move forward. I jumped out of my tank to see what kind of track damage had been sustained. I attempted to warn the entire company by radio so it would avoid the same fate, but it was too late. Of the 22 tanks of the company, only 2 made it through the minefield unscathed. Under heavy artillery fire, I ran back to warn the other elements of the company of the minefield so that no further unnecessary losses took place.
I received the mission from the company commander, Oberleutnant Grin, to get all of the tanks that were immobilized in the minefield moving again as much as possible. Under heavy antitank-gun and artillery fire, one tank after the other in the minefield was made mobile enough again that it could roll back to the rearward maintenance services. In the process, I always had two tank crews provide alternating covering fire during the recovery in order to hold down a field position in front of us through their fires.
In the course of the mission, which was conducted under the baking summer heat, my comrades came to me and stated they were no
longer in a position to continue working because of their thirst. I decided to have radiator water drained so as to still the thirst. You really had to have drunk one of those "radiator water cocktails" at some point in time to know what miserable swill that radiator broth was. In any event, their thirst was gone, although a portion had a strange rumbling in their stomachs and others had to take a trip with a spade more often than was their norm! Towards 1600 hours, I had accomplished my mission to the extent that all but a few tanks were able to roll back at a snail's pace to the maintenance services.
The entire attack failed after several days, with the result that the troop elements were directed back to their sectors around the ring encircling Tobruk.
In the days that followed, the German forces in the bridgehead around the Ras el Madauer-7 kilometers wide by 3 kilometers deep-had to turn back numerous British counterattacks. That was followed by positional warfare for the next few months, with its corresponding attrition and casualties. The prerequisite for maintaining a siege of Tobruk was holding the positions in the area of the Libyan- Egcptian border and the Halfaya Pass. The Halfaya Pass was of additional importance for the British because it allowed movements in the direction of Capuzzo from the coastal plain across the mountains to the desert area, thus eliminating time-robbing movements through the desert.
As a result, the main effort of the fighting shifted to the Libyan-Egyptian border in the area of Sollum and the Halfaya Pass. In order to reinforce the German forces employed there, elements of the 15. Panzer-Division were dispatched, as well as the 2nd Battalion of the regiment under MajorHohmann.
The English had the intention of delivering a short, sharp blow to the DAK that same May, before all of the 15. Panzer-Division had arrived at the front. The Commander-in-Chief of the British forces, General Wavell, ordered an attack on the Halfaya Pass, Sollum and Capuzzo.
On 15 May, Operation "Brevity" started, employing approximately 100 newly arrived British tanks. It took Halfaya Pass and Capuzzo. The next day, Capuzzo was lost again, when formations of the 15. Panzer-Division, including the recently introduced Panzer-Regiment 8, counterattacked. On 20 May, Generalmajor von Ravenstein was designated as the new commander of the 5. leichteDivision.
The DAK ordered Operation "Skorpion" to retake the Halfaya Pass. On the morning of 27 May, an attack was launched by both Panzer-Regiment 5 and Panzer-Regiment 8, which was successful. Hauptfeldwebel Wendt, still employed as both a platoon leader and the First Sergeant of the 5th Company, experienced the attack as follows:
The 5th Company of Panzer-Regiment 5 was employed as the lead company of the 2nd Battalion. I led the 1st Platoon; the two other platoons were deployed to the right and left of the 1st Platoon on a broad front. My company commander, Oberleutnant Gierga, had already asked the battalion several times whether an attack was finally going to take place. The request was always turned down ... finally, the company commander acted on his own. His order to the company went something like this: "Wendt, attack head on with your platoon; the two other platoons envelop to the right and leftl"
At about 2,000 meters there was an English Ratsch-Bum's battalion with 16 guns in position,
which were constantly taking its under fire. For me, there was only one option. It was to advance on the enemy-more properly, into the enemyas fast as possible. I kicked my driver, Unteroffizier Raadts, in the back and ordered him to move even faster. He shot back: "I'm already doing 43 ... there's no going any faster!"
At 800 meters, I took another firing halt to hold down the enemy. Racing ahead, we entered the enemy artillery position to overrun it. I was moving about 300 meters ahead of my platoon and saw a loader on the English guns carry a shell to the piece when I was about 100 meters away. I thought to myself: Get ready, you're about to make your maker) My crew probably thought the same thing. Having approached to within 30 meters of the first gun, I saw the muzzle flash and immediately felt a hard blow against the armor. For a few seconds, I was mentally dead. The tank continued to roll, however, into the enemy position, even though the driver was no longer thinking about giving it gas. I overcame the shock immediately and asked to anyone listening: "What happened?" No one answered, however.
I then addressed each of my comrades in turn and each confirmed that nothing had happened. I looked out of the turret to get a take on the situation and immediately came to the decision to jump down from the tank to wave over the confused English soldiers to my tank as prisoners. After all, the crews on the English guns must have also been just as perplexed and looked at my actions as the charge of the devil, since they were no longer capable of taking any action.
A gun somewhat off to the side attempted to take flight by moving out quickly, but mywonder- ful gunner, UnteroffizierThomm ("Tommi") fired it tip immediately with a round that hit. The crews only came hesitantly to my tank. I grabbed one of the Englishmen, who attempted to hide beneath the limber of his gun, by the seat of his pants and attempted to pull him up. He then knew what was what and immediately made some gestures that he really had to have something to drink first. I directed him to my tank, where he immediately had some peppermint tea that had been boiled out of saltwater. To this day, I still do not like peppermint tea, since that slippery taste is still in my mouth.
Everything then transpired in a manner that was neither obvious nor fast. The engineer platoon took the prisoners and the spoils-of-war. The hit, that I had received, was, fortunately, on a spare roadwheel that we always had on the front slope of the tank behind the spare track. As a result, the shell had lost most of its effectiveness. Only the headlights on the outside were shattered. On the inside, the radio equipment was no longer completely intact. In the meantime, my company commander, Oberleutnant Gierga, had arrived. I orally reported the completion of my mission. He just said: "Top, I already saw you in heavent" My answer: "I was mentally already with St. Peter, but I'm still here." Later on, I was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class, for my actions.
Following those attacks, a strongpoint defense was established by the 15. Panzer-Division. The forces of the 5. Ieichte Division, which had been employed in the siege ring were relieved by Italian formations. The division became the corps reserve and occupied an assembly area northwest of El Adem. The tank regiment remained with the division. The Italians constructed a 75-kilometer-long bypass route, the "Axis Road," which allowed logistics to flow to the Sollum Front around the beleaguered Tobruk.
3.15-17 June 1941:The Battle of Sollum (Operation'Battleaxe")
The failure of Operation "Brevity" in May did not keep the English from planning to attack the Axis forces again in June. To that end, the English assembled 300 Mark II's and Mark IV's of the 7th Armoured Division and 25,000 men of the Indian 4th Infantry Division. Operation "Battleaxe" started on l5 June with attacks on Halfaya Pass, the Capuzzo area and Sollum.
The first attacks on Capuzzo were turned back by 8.8-centimeter Flak and elements of PanzerRegiment 8, under the command of Hauptmann Johannes Kummel, thereafter called the "Lion of Capuzzo." The continued British attacks led to the capture of the town, however, as well as Musaid and Strongpoint 206. The key terrain of Strongpoint 208 and, above all, Halfaya Pass-defended by the L/Schutzen-Regiment 104 under Hauptmann Bachwithstood all attacks. The English took heavy losses in tanks, which depreciated their over-all offensive combat power decisively.
The division, which had been the corps reserve up to that point and held in the area around Tobruk, was moved to the Sidi Azeiz area the evening of 15 June. Rommel ordered an attack on 16 June from Sidi Azeiz, swinging out through Sidi Omar and landing in the rear of the enemy at Sidi Suleiman.
Once again, Hauptfeldwebel Wendt was there:
During the early-morning hours of 16 June, Panzer-Regiment 5 was employed for the first time against the English positions in the direction of Sidi Omar. After short enemy contact, orders were received to pull back. I had to relinquish leadership of the 1st Platoon to Leutnantlastner, who had recovered from his wounds and returned, and served as a section leader in the platoon. It must have been around 1100 hours, when another attack was ordered. But that one was also called off after short enemy contact. We disengaged from the enemy again to occupy ambush positions in the blazing heat. No tree, no bush ... but sun, plenty of sun!
The contours of the enemy vehicles were obscured to such an extent by the flickering heat that you could no longer tell what type of vehicle you had in front of you. During the afternoon hours-it must have been around 1600 hoursthe regimentwas ordered to attack again. Our 5th Company attacked in the middle of an inverted wedge, with the 1st Platoon in the middle of the company. My platoon leader, Leutnant Kastner, had to go to the rear, since his tank was no longer operational. The company commander transferred leadership of the platoon to me again and cursed like I had never heard him before about the somewhat hesitant attack of his company. I then attacked expeditiously with my platoon and was able to knock out several enemy tanks during a firing halt. I advanced rapidly head-on against the enemy, capitalizing on the elan of my cohesive crew. The English, like a swimming formation, were employed practically across our path. I stopped again and again for short firing halts, during which my gunner, "Tommi," knocked out several tanks each time to help fend off the enemy attack. We took the last firing halt about 400 meters from the enemy. I was able to observe how the enemy started to flee all of a sudden to the rear. I immediately pursued in my tank to keep on his heels. The enemy's defensive fires concentrated on my tank.
I had just given the gunner orders to continue firing while on the move, when I saw that the barrel of the main gun (5-centimeter) had a considerable kink in the middle. I then shook my gunner, grabbing him on the collar, not to fire to avoid a burst barrel. Despite that, we continued to move. We were then hit by an English antitank
gun, a direct hit that penetrated. In all the excitement, I did not realize there were wounded in the tank. It was not until the tank slowed down and then came to a stop that I realized that something had to have happened. I immediately addressed my crew in general: "Did something happen?" Since I received no answer, I addressed them individually: "Tommi, did something happen?" He complained: "Ow ... my legs, my hands hurt so much." Nothing had happened to our radio operator and loader, but our terrific driver, Opi, said nothing. I immediately jumped out of the commander's hatch so as to evacuate our gunner, Unteroffizier Thomm, from the tank and dress his wounds. The radio operator and loader helped me in the process. While we were applying dressings, I asked the radio operator, Hagedorn: "What's going on with Opi?" He looked and reported: "Opi won't be saying another word ... he's dead." I was enraged and answered: "Nonsense, Opi can't be dead. Did you feel his pulse?" "No, I'll take another look." It was determined that he wasn't dead.
I ordered him to get his belt ready so we could evacuate Opi. After that had happened, my commander, Major Kohn, appeared and asked: "Man, Wendt, what's going on?" I cursed and told the commander: "I have two wounded in the vehicle." "Yes, butyou also did it. We got through! I'll call the doc on the radio right away."
The battalion physician was at our location in short order and assumed responsibility for caring for the badly wounded. He had to remove the dressing I had put on, because I had used the most primitive of means (a chair leg). While attending to Unteroffizier Thomm he casually stated: "Straighten out his leg good so I can put on the splint properly. That won't hurt, after All" At that point, Unteroffizier Thomm responded: "Yes, Herr Oberarzt, if l were Winnetou, I wouldn't he feeling any pain. But I'm not W'innetou."16 At the same time, he saw his brother-in-arms on the stretcher and asked the physician: "Take care of our Opi first ... lie is a lot worse off than I am." That gesture was such a demonstration of comradeship that will always remain etched in my mentor. I had to turn away, since that episode had stirred me so much that I could not help but ct-t-. After being treated, both of the men were transported to the field hospital. Both healed completely.
Our successes were only possible with a crew that worked extremely well together, that trusted one another with the knowledge that only a cohesive brotherhood brings about success. After the Battle of Sollum was decided, I was asked whether I had heard the radio order to pull back from the enemy. I had to answer the question with no. My radio operator, Hagedorn, had not heard the message either. That is also the explanation for the fact that I was so far ahead of the company with my tank when I advanced by myself into the enemy ...
I think about what my gunner, Unteroffizier Thomm, said to me once in the tank as he looked up at me: "Herr Haufilfeldwebe4 I am really afraid. But when I see you, I no longer have any fear." But my thoughts were different: "Dear Tonuni, if you only knew how fearful I ant and how often, then you'd certainly lose your trust in me." But that's the way it was. You have to keep yourself in check and self-disciplined when it's a matter of life or death, so much so that it sometimes seemed that your nerves would tear you apart.
Around 0600 hours on 17 June, Sidi Suleiman was taken by the regiment, followed by MG-Bataillon 2, however, the machine-grin battalion was later pushed back to Sidi Omar. The German attack to the enemy's flanks and rear forced the English to pull back to the south to avoid being encircled.
Leutnant Frede, also in the 5th Company of the regiment, recalled his participation in the fighting as follows:"
That evening, our badly plucked IL/Panzer Regitnent 5assembled somewhere close to the wire fence.18I was functioning as the signals officer in the battalion commander's tank, receiving radio traffic, which was supposed to direct the logistics units to us. The battalion commander had gone to a conference at the regiment. Suddenly, an alert: "9 Mark II's at the border fence." Apparently, they wanted to "go home."
The Battle of Sollum from 15-17 June 1941
OberleutnantGierga, the company commander of the 5th, issued orders: "Everyone who still has fuel and ammunition, follow mel" Nine tanks were ready to go; that meant a force ratio of 1:1. That isn't exactly true, since the command tank only had a dummy main gun made out of wood. We moved outon a board front and soon reached the enemy. The Mark II's had a top speed of only 25 kilometers an hour. Gierga had soon reached the lead elements with three tanks and found a good firing position. I headed towards the right flank. Suddenly, a black column of smoke came out of the Mark II in front of me. Apparently,
the left-hand engine had quit. The tank crew dismounted and was picked up by another tank.
The driver observed: "There're eight men in the turret, sitting there like sardines in a can. They're probably not going to fire. Perhaps we could ram their crate?" It was a tempting thought, taking a Mark II with a wooden main gun. We pressed towards the Mark II in the flank; there was a hard crash, then the tank came to a standstill. The English climbed out of the turret, somewhat battered. A senior sergeant from London saluted and said that he though it was fair that we had not engaged his overloaded tank with our main gun. We were a bit ashamed of that praise, and no one had worked up the gumption to tell him the truth.
The weak ring encircling around Sidi Omar-Sidi Suleiman was unable to prevent most of the British forces from pulling back to Sidi Barani. It should be mentioned, however, that the 7th Armoured Division had lost more than 150 tanks, compared to a total loss of 25 tanks for the DAK. The Axis forces were unable to pursue, however, due to logistical issues.
Fort Capuzzo, bitterly contested in the Battle of Sollum.
"Battleaxe" had failed. The largest tank engagement in the desert up to that point had been settled in favor of the Axis, because the Germans had demonstrated superiority in the leadership of large armored formations. General Wavell had initiated the battle on Churchill's directive. He thought that with his numerically superior forces, he could destroy the 5. ieichteDivisionand the 15. PanzerDivision, which had not yet completely arrived. But in the end, he lost the battle. General Auchinleck was designated as the new Commander-in-Chief for the Commonwealth forces in the Near East.
It took months before the English could replace their losses. The German defensive victory ensured that the siege of Tobruk could continue and that the front around Sollum could be stabilized.
4. Knight's Cross Recipients of Panzer-Regiments in May and June 1941
After the conclusion of the fighting, the Armed Forces Daily report announced the following on 20 June (extract):'
In the fighting along the Sollum Front, the acting commander of a tank regiment, Major Bolbrinker . . . the company commander, Oberleutnant Gierga ... distinguished themselves through their extraordinary bravery.
Major Bolbrinker, Oberleutnant von Senfft zu Pilsach, Oberleutnant Gierga and Hauptfeldtuebel Wendt were the first four Knight's Cross recipients of the regiment, recognized for their actions in the fighting in the desert up to June 1941.
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross.
The Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross was a neck order and the highest level of the Iron Cross that was reintroduced in 1939 (following the Iron Cross, Second Class, and the Iron Cross, First Class). Prerequisites for the award were:
• Exceptional personal bravery or successful combat leadership,
Ernst Bolbrinker: born 1898; died 2 July 1982; submitted for the Knight's Cross on 8 May 1941; awarded the Knight's Cross on 15 May 1941 while serving as a Major and the commander of the Ist Battalion of Panzer-Regiment 5.
• A decision made on one's own initiative and
• A decisive success for the conduct of operations in general.
Of the approximately 18 million men who served in the German Armed Forces during the war, only 7,318 received the Knight's Cross.
Ott Friedrich von Senfft zu Pilsach: born 1913; died 1 May 1979; submitted for the Knight's Cross on 18 June 1941; awarded the Knight's Cross on 27 June 1941 while serving as an Oberleutnant and the commander of the 4th Company of Panzer-Regiment 5.
Kurt Gierga: born 1909; died 25 June 1961; submitted for the Knight's Cross on 18 June 1941; awarded the Knight's Cross on 30 June 1941 while serving as a Hauptmann and the commander of the 5th Company of Panzer-Regiment 5.
Wilhelm Wendt: born 1911; died 19 February 1984; submitted for the Knight's Cross on 18 June 1941; awarded the Knight's Cross on 30 June 1941 while serving as a Hauptfeldwebel and a platoon leader and first sergeant in the 5th Company of Panzer-Regiment 5.
5.1 September to the Middle of November 1941: Reorganization and Redesignation of the 5.leichte Division into the 21. Panzer-Division; the Advance South (Operation 'Sommernachtstraum"); and a Period of Relative Rest
By the end of June 1941, the formations of the DAK were relieved in place in the area around Sollum by Italian forces. The German forces in the fieldneededa battlefield reconstitution after months of operations. The period offered a good opportunity for changes in command. As a result, the regiment received Oberstleutnant Stephan as its new commander at the beginning ofJuly 1941.20 Maintenance and servicing of the vehicles and equipment were urgently needed. Replacements that had arrived from Germany could be trained in relative quiet and incorporated into the ranks. Good news for the German forces was the large amount of spoils-of-war. English uniform items found their way into the German ranks and English vehicles supplemented the German inventory.
Maintenance is performed on a Panzerlll in an assembly area. Note the supplemental track and roadwheels on the front slope. They not only provided battlefield-ready replacements, but they also afforded some additional protection for the crew.
For a while, the troops were also able to enjoy the large amount of British rations that had been captured. Once that was exhausted, it was back to the monotonous Axis fare: hard bread, cheese in tubes, canned sardines and Italian canned meat. Back then, canned sardines were something of a delicacy in Europe. In the desert, however, the warmed-up fish tasted terrible and the smell caused queasy stomachs.
The Italian canned meat was of poor quality, half of it consisting of tendons and gristle. The designation on the cans-AM or administration militare-gave rise to a number of created substitutions for the abbreviation: asinus Mussolini, alter Mann ("old man"), arnzerMussolini ("poor Mussolini), Achsenmist ("Axis manure") and so on.
Oberleutnant Kuhn wrote about life in the desert in his memoirs:'
Dear ones back homel
What kind of ideas do you entertain concerning life and activities of your men in Libya? At the beginning, I portrayed the illusions with which we headed south and how they were literally blown away. Only a few of you will be able to form an opinion from the tinted reports of the war correspondents and the descriptions given by comrades in letters that even remotely approaches the truth. Ask a, member of the Africa Corps after a few years what memories have remained most alive for him: Despite the happy tendency of people to quickly purge unpleasant things out of their memories, he would answer: Sandstorms, torturous swarms of flies and bleak monotony.
All of that truly not a suitable subject for a war photographer!
So that means you get pictures of palm groves, oases, camels, donkeys, Arabs or pictures of Tripoli, Bengasi or Derna that are meant to say that's our world. Not by a wide margin! The fighting soldier sees none of that or only after months, if a good or bad circumstance takes him to the rear area. For him, every day means a struggle against the adversity of this country and continuously demands anew a large measure of willpower.
When I went to our battalion physician in Derna after getting a sprained ankle after our nighttime operation on 15 May and saw the green bushes and trees and the blue sea after weeks of sand, he said to tire: 'You're making eyes like a young boy seeing a lit-up Christmas tree for the first time!"
Only the evening bring us some relief, when the storm settles, the flies settle down, the temperature becomes bearable and the clear sky arches above us with uncountable stars. Our eyes then search out the "Seven Sisters" that connect us with you over thousands of kilometers, and quiet, peaceful, longing thoughts grow in the immeasurable silence around us. It should be mentioned that we want those evenings to remain as unforgettable to its as the bad images of the day.
I have already described our bitterest enemy in nature, the sandstorm. A proper ghibli is relatively rare compared to a normal sandstorm. It can be differentiated by its direction. It comes from the south, reaches temperatures of up to 60 degrees [140 degrees Fahrenheit] and is considerably higher. If the ghibli blows the entire day, it is possible that it suddenly changes direction towards evening and, in the process, the temperature
changes a few degrees within a matter of minutes. Sandstorms often make visibility of more than 2 or 3 meters impossible, even in the middle of the day. As a result, combat operations are completely dependant upon them. There is no protection against the sand, even in our tents, something that can be read in the homeland newspapers.
And if no sandstorm is blowing-the worst storms end in May-then the heat plagues its. All activity ceases towards noon. Even on days of fighting, it becomes quieter around noon. Our weathermen have recorded temperatures of up to 75 degrees [167 degrees Fahrenheit]. Pieces of metal become so hot they cannot be touched and even our tireless maintenance personnel have to rest. Yes, it has even happened that uniform items left to dry on the tanks have burned up. Later on, in a newsreel back home, I saw how soldiers fried eggs over-easy on a tank that had been superheated by the sun. Those watching were happy to see how good those "down below" had it. I could have yelled in anger! Even if that event were possible, where were we supposed to get the eggs and, moreover, the grease?
Our nourishment was one of the saddest episodes of those months: Bread, leathery meat in cans-characterized accurately by our soldiers as the "old man"-or canned sardines and dried vegetables; infrequently, a lemon for fresh vitamins. Day-by-day, week-by-week, monthby-month-always the same. What we wouldn't give to have some fresh meat, vegetables or fruit, not to mention eggs! At the most, you can talk an Arab out of a couple of onions or a melon for gouge prices. In the supply depots in Bengasi and Tripoli there were better things on hand, donations form the homeland in the form of canned fruit, canned harp and other unknown pleasures-even, sparkling wine. That was being put up for better times, however, that is-the advance of the English. Then all of those phantasmagoric items were blown sky high!
In contrast, "issue" rations were transported, that is, the "old man," the canned sardines and the dried vegetables. Headline: The Management)
As part of the program of musical requests on the German Radio Network, a soldier in Africa wanted to hear a woman splashing water in a bathtub. You're laughing? The request was filled. For us, the issue of water was one of the more serious ones, not to mention that of women. For you, a toilet is a daily necessity and something you don't think about. For its here, it is a mirage. We take a shovel over our shoulders out into the desert.
But I also want to talk about potable water here. The water from Derna is famous. But it never reaches its. We scoop out of small wells that were bored with great effort that are located hours apart from one another and only provide brackish water. They are filled in large containers that have been eaten away inside with a protective coating of rust. That which we can drink after it has been boiled is a red-brown, salty, warm broth. You don't develop a thirst for it; that's the only good thing about it.
Finally, these rapes of our organisms are the cause of the occasional catastrophic status of our health. Sometimes, as many as 60% of us suffer from dysentery-like diarrhea at the same time. No one is spared. When you have it, you don't know whether you want to live or die. When you have to go down to your knees more than 70 times in a day, then to know what hit you. Colds may also be the cause of all those causes of diarrhea, since all of the colds here hit the kidneys and stomach. The daily departures for the medics often put company commanders in a tight spot when it comes to operational readiness.
In the mental picture you have formed, the word "Africa" conjures up pictures of us-prior to our disillusionment-and pictures of all sorts of wild animals. Well, we can wait for those. I will only name here that which remains in the
memory of every one of Rommel's soldiers: Flies) Hundreds ... thousands ... indeed, billions ... billions upon billions of flies. Will someone dare claim that they are not wild animals? Come on over here and let yourself be tortured by them. Then you will also come to believe that they are the wildest beings that live in God's animal kingdom. And you will no longer recognize yourselves in how you are turned wild by them. Frequently, you despair and want to capitulate, when you have smacked 500 dead, only to have another 1,000 swarm around you, taking their place. But self-preservation demands their constant destruction. For that reason, a soldier here without a fly swatter is as unthinkable as an explorer without a fur coat on the North Pole.
The other little animals here-such as scorpions, rats, field mice, jerboas, horned and sand vipers, yes, even tarantulas-don't do much to contributing to raise ones spirits. Before going to bed, you have to thoroughly search your tent every time; still, it is not infrequent that you find one of these little things in your boots. Nicer, but rare by contrast, at the desert hares and gazelles, but that names everything.
I do not want to close this chapter without saying a word about the technical situation. Due to a lack of experience, our technical preparations were completely insufficient. Just beyond Agedabia, that is, shortly after a few days of operations, the tanks started dying off in droves. Airborne dirt and sand put untold wear and tear on the engines; the local terrain ruined running gear and springs after the shortest of times. By the end of May, that is, after only eight weeks, some of us were already on our third engine. The motorcycles of the division are already completely worn out; the situation for the trucks is not much better. We only receive replacement parts in insufficient quantities. That we are able to roll out at all is exclusively thanks to the service of our drivers and maintenance personnel. They work tirelessly and almost continuously and perform unbelievable things. But who talks about them, especially the maintenance personnel. Who recognizes them out loud? Only the combat soldiers get awards. For that reason, their performance of duty is to be valued even more.
I have to say it one more time: Our armored force is still very young and not everyone who commands in it has grown up with it. Understanding for the needs of a horse is far more widespread in our army than understanding for the needs of vehicles!
Despite all of the difficulties and disgusting things, the morale of our soldiers is unshakeable. Every new operation shakes off the lethargy coming from weeks of lying around and doing nothing and energizes them again to the old levels, allowing them to unfold their unique abilities.
Canned sardines and Italian canned meat, hard tack and cheese in tubes were the main forms of nourishment for the German soldiers in the desert war.
The DAk produced a weekly newspaper for the soldiers. This is the 12 September 1941 issue of Die Oase ("The Oasis"). It was widely read by the troops. The lead-off headline reads that Leningrad has been encircled.
The 1st Company of the regiment during daily life in the desert. A dug-in tent and a dugout under the tank were "home" for weeks and months at a time for the tankers.
Summer 1941: During a period of relative calm, the forces in the field also found time for fun. In this case, the regiment held an "Arab festival."
The regimental band also provided music to soldiers in the field. The regimental band was directed by Obennusikmeister Albert Ott.
Finally, some soldiers were allowed to take home leave. Kuhn also wrote about that:22
The new rest area was near Marsa Luch. An old, shot-up wall that resembled a tower gave the locality its name. From there, we could be employ very quickly either at Tobruk or at Sollum. The watchword was to be ready to go at any time, but we had also been saved from the monotony of the endless, gray desert for a few weeks. We saw the green of a few palms and the changing colors of the sea and-we could jump in at any timel We had become so undemanding that we thought life at Marsa Luch was a paradise. July and August saw reorganization; overhauling of the materiel;
and training of the slowly arriving, completely untrained replacements. There was a lot to do, but there was also time for recreation, at least as far as that was possible under the dominant heat, the tormenting flies and the more than monotonous rations. Just the quiet alone proved our frazzled nerves with a necessary break. Only the English Air Force started to make its presence felt again; was it because it had received reinforcements or was it because our fighters had been weakened in favor of the Eastern Front? In any event, we were not spared bomber and fighter-bomber attacks there.
Who can describe our jubilation when home leave actually started to take place-who had even believed it despite the ever-increasing rumors? Every unitwas allowed to send 2% of its personnel. That meant one man a week for my company, assuming the first one from a group had returned after six weeks. Otherwise, the next group was not allowed to leave. In the best case, the last man in the company would be in line to go after 250 weeks, that is, in five years. On top of that, the six weeks were measured very tightly, if the man spent three weeks in Germany. But the mood meter rocketed skyward in an unimaginable way. The new regimental commander [Oberstleutnant Stephan], an old acquaintance from my time in Paderborn, arrived at the beginning of July. He did not show much understanding for the leave requests of officers. For that reason, no one dared to ask for it. But someone had to start, and since we had not liked one another that much since the first day we had met and I had little to risk, I had no reservations. In any event, I had
The time between military operations was filled with intensive training of the personnel replacements.
little hope that my request to get acquainted with my little boy would be approved. For that reason, my joy was all the greater when it was approved. Despite vigorous protests from the regimental physician, whom I had to see two days previously, I took charge of a transport of 30 leave takers from the division on 25 August. We took a vehicle to the airfield at Benina (near Bengasi), then an aircraft to Catania (Sicily) after intermediate landings in Sirte and Tripoli. From there, it was the train through Messina, Naples, Rome and Munich, with the result that we were in our home city of Berlin, lost and somewhat alienated, after only an eight-day trip on I September.
The "Africa Song" carne into being in 1941. The lyrics to the song, which was based on the melody of Litz Marleen by Norbert Schultze, are seen on the following period postcard.
Tanks Are Rolling Forward in Africa
Lyrics by an unknown soldier; music by Norbert Schultze
Legend: Reconnaissance Battalion 3, Flak Battalion 606, Tank Hunter Battalion 39 and 605, Engineer Battalion 200, 2nd Battalion Artillery Regiment 155, Panzer-Regiment 5, Rifle Regiment 104, Machine-Gun Battalion S.
On 1 September, the division was redesignated and reorganized as the 21. Panzer-Division.
Troop Elements of the 21. Panzer-Division
(As of 1 November 1941)
(Minus command and logistics elements)"
InJuly 1941, the command and control structure of the Axis forces in Africa was changed. Rommel, who had been promoted to General derPanzertruppen after the Battle of Sollum, requested his forces be increased to at least four divisions, Malta be
eliminated as a threat and the convoys be protected better. But the offensive in the East that started on 21 June demanded all the forces Germany had, with the result that only the Division z.b.1. Afriha, which would later become the 90. I.-ichte Division, was formed .21
In addition, Rommel had recommended that the German and Italian forces at the front be formed into a Panzergruppe, an armored field army equivalent. That request was approved, and Rommel was designated the Commander-in-Chief of Panzergruppe "Afrika" on 8 July 1941. In the fall of 1941, the command structure of the Axis forces in North Africa is shown on the previous page.
During the time from July to October 1941, the air forces of both sides continued to remain active and made life difficult for the ground forces in the open terrain.
From 13 to 15 September, the 21. PanzerDivision conducted Operation "Sommernachtstraum" (Operation "Summer Night's Dream"), which was intended to deliver a surprise attack against British logistics forces south of the Sollum Front. To that
end, the division was divided into three battle groups. Elements of the 15. Panzer-Division formed one of the battle groups. Under the command of OberstleutnantStephan, it consisted of Panzer-Regiment 5, the 11./Artilierie-Regiment 155, the 2./MGBataillon 8 and the 1./Pionier-Bataillon 200. The operation was unsuccessful, since there were neither large-scale British combat forces in the vicinity of the border at the time nor the expected logistical elements and depots. After the offensive landed on open air, the attack formations were pulled back to their lines of departure. The 21. Panzer-Division occupied assembly areas between the Via Balbia and the coast, 35 kilometers west of Bardia.
APanzer l of the regiment tows a Stuka that had to make an emergency landing. Although the vehicle was no longer present on the official TO&E of the regiment (1 February 1941), it did not disappear from front-line troop duty until the fall of that year.
Operation "Sommernachtstraum"was not blessed with success. The advance hit empty space.
Panzer-Regiment 5 reported that between 30 March and 14 September 1941, it had destroyed or captured a total of 134 enemy armored vehicles, 2 armored cars, 30 antitank guns or self-propelled carriages, 33 field pieces and one aircraft.21
On 18 October, Dr. Selmayr was assigned to the regiment as a physician. The doctor, who became well respected and liked within the regiment, provided a firsthand account of his experiences:2t
The billeting areas of the regiment were widely dispersed. As the result of danger from the air, the distance between each tent and each vehicle was about 100 meters. I was amazed; I could not find my way around. With somewhat mixed feelings, I reported to the regimental adjutant, OberleutnantBohm, whose billets were in a covered Horch staff car. The reception was cool. The regimental commander, Oberstleutnant Stephan, was not present; he was off hunting gazelle. I was directed to report in to the regimental physician, Oberstabsarzt Dr. Fregeneau. Fregeneau greeted me cordially. He was a doctor in Dar es Salem before the war; active duty; talked a lot about himself, but I liked him. He immediately briefed me on what was going on in the regiment. The regiment was very sick. All diarrhea, which had been treated with tannalbin up to that point. Fregeneau had been the first one to use the good microscopic equipment and determined amoebic dysentery. It was now being treated with yatren and rivanoletten.27 He promised to bring me up to date with the microscopic diagnostics.
In addition to dysentery, there was also jaundice, diphtheria and wounds that "did not heal well." Even in the case of minor wounds, such as those that occur constantly occur from maintaining vehicles or from camel thorn bushes,
developed lubricous scabs, but the wounds absolutely do not heal. Each of the physicians had their own methods for treating them, but nothing worked. At Fregeneau's suggestion, we cleaned the wounds and then placed a small piece of Prontosil bandageY1 on the wound, followed by plaster of Paris. But, as already said, all of the efforts were fruitless. The wounds healed best when there was opportunity to bathe in the sea, but that was only possible in an extremely small number of cases. As it turned cooler, the wounds healed; in my opinion, it was due to the disappearance of the flies; they reappeared when it turned warm.
Losses due to illness were very large; although the soldiers were supposed to remain with the forces in the field, if possible. Within the 2nd Battalion, a large tent was erected for those with diarrhea; where they received something akin to a diet. We had a rest home in Apolonia, where the people were sent to further recover their strength.
The old battalion surgeons had been killed or captured. The 1st Battalion had an Assistenzarzt, Dr. Stabich; the 2nd Battalion Unterarzt Dr. von Brunn. It was supposed to be decided the next day where I should be assigned, since another Assistenzarzt, Dr. Deutschlander, had also arrived. Spent the night with Stabich in the 1st Battalion. Well dug-in tent; nicely furnished. Food wasn't bad, but the coffee! Salt water) Ugh! Disgusting! We emptied my bottle; we also found some wine. Slept on a stretcher. Back to the regimental surgeon the next morning. The division still had not decided how I was to be employed. I was directed to remain here first and pull duty with the maintenance company.
Then I reported to Oberstleutnant Stephan. I climbed into a deeply dug-in tent and reported. Stephan, small, very lively, flyswatter in his hand, offered me a seat. "Take off your glasses!" I was wearing a pair of tinted glasses. "I want to look you in the eyes. Now tell me your life story!" I was somewhat trite to start outwith, then I started to talk. After a short while, he interrupted me, told me one more time about my duty with the maintenance company and released me. A strange bird! Fregeneau, Stabich and I went to the division surgeon and then to the maintenance company. The acting commander was Leutnant Heimke, young, brash but very nice. He was happy that I had come and promised to have me picked up the following afternoon.
At the maintenance company I set up house in a truck from the 2nd Battalion that needed repairing. I set up after a fashion. The clearing station was in a small, round tent. Very meager, especially with regard to instruments and medicines. I muddled about, got my hearing and tried to adopt to my new surroundings.
Wherever l went, I noticed that I was a "newbie" in every respect and that the old "Africans" did not take me completely seriously.
Heimke was a terrific organizer. He lived feudally and even had a mess truck from captured spoils-of-war. The maintenance company knew how to take care of itself. I soon developed good camaraderie with him and his right-hand man, Leutnant Trautvetter. During the evenings, we often sat and played cards, sipping a container of water from Derna.
The typical day in the maintenance company: First call at 0600 hours. I didn't allow myself to be bothered and continued to doze. At 0700 hours, my batman, Braun, brought me coffee. Drunk hot, it was still drinkable, but the salt taste was nauseating. The wells on hand were no longer up to the task, with the result that they only yielded brackish water. Along with the coffee was army bread and bitter marmalade. I did my morning wash-up and then the usual trip with the shovel. Of course, my stool was also
quite thin, but I still felt pretty good. At 0900 hours, there was sick call. Usually around 10 sick soldiers, everything very primitive. I didn't care for the medical NCO. Sent a man to the dentist yesterday to get a tooth extracted, but he carne back today, since he needed permission from the company commander, in accordance with a regimental directive. I was enraged that there was that sort of interference [in medical affairs]. Heimke confirmed the man's statement but immediately agreed that only my directives would be in force. Had a telephonic run-in with a medical NCO, Werner, from the 2nd Battalion, since an ambulance to evacuate a man sick with diphtheria took forever to arrive.
After sick call, gamboled over to Heimke; lunch in myvehicle. Bread with AM, a tough, fatty beef with lots of chucks of fat or canned sardines or tubed cheese, a soft cheese with ill-defined taste. After a noon nap, reading from books from the troop library or books about tropical diseases. At 1700 hours, dinner with all the officers and shop foremen, etc. Dinner varies; get reasonably full. Afterwards, a little chatting with Heimke. As it turned dark, parachute flares and bombs fell on the Via Balbia about 3 kilometers away. About 2200 hours I went to bed.
There was a small officer social in the 4th Company; a little drunkenness. I still don't feel quite comfortable with everyone. Last officer call before the regiment departs. Led by Major Mildebrath: Herr Scorm-the leader of the rear detachment-enemy tanks are approaching you from the east, west and south, and the sea is to the north: What are your orders?"
"Herr Major, I'd summon the regimental bandmaster and order him to play `Enemy all around usl"' General laughter all around, but Mildebrath did not appear pleased. There was supposed to be another get-together on 9 November, but itwas cancelled because the lights didn't work ...
Sick call in the desert. This photo was taken somewhere in the 15. Panzer-Division and shows a battalion physician, Dr. Unverzagt, giving immunization shots.
6.18 November to the End of December 1941: Winter Fighting (British Operation "Crusader")
The English used the time of relative quiet between July and November 1941 to considerably reinforce their forces in North Africa. That was possible by moving around the Cape of Good Hope as far as the Nile. All of the forces were assembled into the newly formed 8th Army, which had approximately 800 tanks-including some 300 Lend-Lease Stuart light tanks from the USA-1,000 artillery pieces and 34,000 trucks. In November, the Royal Air Force had some 550 aircraft on its rosters. The English wanted to launch another offensive in 1941 with those forces. The planned operation received the codename of "Crusader."
For the Axis forces, the question of logistics remained a primary concern for the conduct of war. Only about half of the sea transports made it, with the result that only a portion of the daily needs of some 1,500 tones of logistics reached the forces at the front. Supplies trickled; they did not flow. Panzergruppe Afrika had 182 Panzer III's and IT"s in
the middle of November. The Luftwaffe had a total of 280 operational aircraft.
The German forces were aware that the British forces were being constantly reinforced. Rommel intended to take the beleaguered garrison of Tobruk before the British launched their offensive, so as to free up the siege forces for employment along the Libyan-Egyptian border. It was intended to employ the 15. Panzer-Division and the 90. leichte Division for the assault on Tobruk, scheduled for 20 November. The 21. Panzer-Division and the Italian forces were intended to defend against any possible British offensive efforts from the east and south during the intended offensive, code-named Operation "Hochwasser" (Operation "Flood"). The latter forces occupied their assembly areas by 16 November.
The African winter commenced with rain showers and cold sandstorms. On 17 November, for the first time in 60 years, there was a cloudburst over the desert. The wadis, which had been dried up, filled and actually flooded.
17 November 1941: Cloudburst in the desert.
Under the cover of the weather conditions, the British completed their approach march for their operation. On the morning of 18 November, the British launched their offensive with a strong reconnaissance-in-force along a broad front with some 1,000 tanks and 100,000 soldiers. The objective was to take Cyrenaica and advance on Tripoli. The lead attack elements took Gabr Saleh on 18 November. The German security forces along the border-Aufkliirungs-Abteilung 3 (mot) and Aufklkrunzgs-Abteilung 33 (mot pulled back. The British continued their offensive on 19 November in the direction of Sidi Azeiz, Sidi Rezegh and Bir el Gobi. It was at that point that the headquarters of Panzergruppe Afrika recognized that the British had launched their actual offensive, after it had initially been assumed to just be a reconnaissance-in-force. Rommel dropped his plans to take Tobruk.
During the afternoon of 19 November, the reinforced Panzer-Regiment 5, with 120 operational tanks, encountered strong enemy forces northeast of Gabr Saleh as it advanced as the armored battle group of the 21. Panzer-Division. By that evening, the
British were forced back, having lost 23 Stuarts to the Germans' 3 tanks. The ArieteArmored Division held its positions at Bir el Gobi.
So as to avoid dissipating its strength, the Commanding general of the DAK, Generalleutnant Cruwell, recommended that the identified enemy forces be attacked in succession. An attack was initially conducted on 20 November by both the 15. Panzer-Division and the 21. Panzer-Division in the direction of Sidi Omar. Towards the evening of the same day, the attack was called off because a critical situation had developed in the Sidi Rezegh area in the meantime. It was there that the British had launched their main effort.
During the night of 20-21 November, the DAK disengaged from the enemy and moved northwest. General Auchinleck, the British Commander-inChief, ordered the Tobruk garrison to break out towards El Duda on 21 November. It was intended for the British 7th Armoured Division to launch a relief effort from the direction of Sidi Rezegh. The Tobruk breakout to the southeast led to a penetration that was deep and some 3.5 kilometers wide, but it was not able to completely break through. The attack by the 7th Armoured Division from the south bogged down along the edge of the El Duda-Bel Harried mountain range.
18 and 19 November 1941: Start of Operation "Crusader." Attack by the British on a broad front.
20 to 23 November 1941: "Crusader" develops.
On 22 November, the British encircled the German forces around Sollum. The next day, 7otensonntag,29 has entered the history books as a memorable day for the fighting in North Africa. The 21. Panzer-Division, minus Panzer-Regiment 5, fixed the enemy forces to its front along the mountain range to either side of Sidi Rezegh. That same morning, Panzer-Regiment 5 attacked the British forces from the west, while the 15. Panzer-Division attacked from the east. The Ariete attacked from the south to land in the enemy's rear.
The 15. Panzer-Division fought its way through a defensive sector measuring 8 kilometers wide and 10 kilometers deep; Panzer-Regiment 5 knocked out 32 enemy tanks, 18 antitank guns and 3 batteries of artillery. In all, 2,000 prisoners were taken. Only
portions of the enemy force were able to escape to the southeast. The Armed forces Daily Report of 23 November announced:s0
In North Africa, the German-Italian forces successfully engaged and destroyed more than 260 tanks and about 200 armored vehicles of the British forces that had advanced from the southeast ... The fighting in North Africa continues with heavy fighting.
By the evening of 23 November, Panzer-Regiment 5 had only 32 operational tanks left; Panzer-Regiment 8 of the 15. Panzer-Division had only 61. In all, the DAK had lost 72 tanks in the fighting." While the Germans had no tank reserves, the British held back some 200 tanks in the area around Gabr Saleh.
Despite his numerical superiority, Rommel decided during the night of 23-24 November to advance in the direction of the Libyan-Egyptian frontier with a battle group. It was intended for the DAK to cut off the 8th Army from its rearward lines of communications and then eliminate the enemy forces in the area around Sollum. Rommel left his headquarters and accompanied the lead attack elements in his captured English armored car, a "Mammoth."
Top: 23 November 1941: The Fighting on Totensonntag: The battlefield at Sidi Rezegh.
The two German armored divisions advanced in the direction of Sidi Omar, followed by the Ariete. Panzer-Regiment 5 became engaged in a firefight with enemy tanks north of Gabr Saleh on 24 November; it was initially fixed in place there. The remaining elements of the division reached the border fence around 1600 hours and advanced from there at a fast clip, swinging east in the direction of Halfaya Pass. By the time it turned dark, the division was strung out about 70 kilometers. The 15. Panzer-Division had its forces in the Sidi Omar area that evening. The Arietewas held up and did not close with the German divisions.
On 25 November, the 15. Panzer-Division advanced on a 30-kilometer-wide front between Sidi Azeiz and Sidi Omar to the east, while the 21. PanzerDivision had difficulty in assembling the forces
that had spread out so far the previous day. In the meantime, Panzer-Regiment 5 had disengaged from the enemy forces at Gabr Saleh, but it marched too far to the south with its 21 operational tanks in its effort to close up with it parent division. After the regiment discovered its error and swung to the north, the regimental commander, Oberstleutnant Stephan, was killed in an air attack.sz
Major Mildebrath, the commander of the 1st battalion, was entrusted with acting command of the regiment. The regiment then encountered a belt of antitank guns and mines around Sidi Omar that could not be penetrated. In the course of that fighting, the regiment lost 15 tanks, with the result that it only had 13 operational ones left. Radio contact was then lost between the acting regimental commander's vehicle and the two battalions. As a result, the 1st Battalion continued too far to the south, and the 2nd Battalion too far to the west. It was not until 27 November that the two formations could rejoin.
Knocked-out British Stuart light tanks.
24 to 26 November 1941: The fighting continues.
In the meantime, the situation around Tobruk had taken a dramatic turn for the worse. The enemy's bridgehead had been expanded, and a New Zealand division attacking from the east had taken the high ground between El Duda and Bel Hamed. During the afternoon of 26 November, the two attack forces established contact. As opposed to the assumption made by the German command, the enemy had not been beaten; indeed, after the introduction of reserves, he had resumed the initiative.
The operations officer of Panzergruppe Afrika, Oberstleutnant Westphal, had not had any contact from the command post with Rommel for days. The Commander-in-Chief was with the forces involved in the seesaw fighting around Sollum. When all efforts to reach Rommel had failed, Westphal acted on his own initiative. On 26 November, he issued the following radio order to the forces in the field in
light of the critical situation around Tobruk: "Under rescission of all previous orders, the DAK is to move in the direction of Tobruk as rapidly as possible."
On 27 November, the DAK started moving west from the Sollum Front towards Tobruk. On 29 November, the commander of the 21. Panzer-Division, Generalmajor von Ravenstein, was captured by the British as the result of unfortunate circumstances. GeneralmajorBottcher assumed acting command.
Asa result of the attacks, advances and withdrawal movements of the fighting, there was considerable confusion among the troop elements of both sides on the battlefield. Inadequate radio communications on the German side made command and control exceptionally difficult. Planned operations dissolved into a series of local engagements, which cannot be portrayed here in their entirety due to their number.
Knocked-out English Crusader II tank in November 1941.
On 3 December, the two tank regiments of the DAK had only 34 operational tanks, representing only 13% of their authorized strengths. More than 20% of the tanks were in repair. During the recent round of winter fighting, 167 tanks were completely written off.33
The other combat arms-artillery, Flak, engineers and antitank elements-had only about 50% of their authorized strengths. The logistical troops had also suffered considerable casualties. Particularly disadvantageous was the air superiority of the Royal Air Force and the missing air support on the German side. The Axis forces could not count on any reinforcements before January 1942. The British forces, on the other hand, were able to make up their losses-which had been considerable, numbering some 800 tanks-through their extensive reserves.
The time up to 6 December was marked mostly by reassembling and reorganizing the force. The ring around Tobruk was temporarily closed again. An effort was also made-in vain-to destroy enemy formations in the Bir el Gobi and Gabr Saleh areas.
Rommel recognized that it was no longer possible to maintain the siege of Tobruk, thanks to the British attacks in the El Adem area. In addition, due to the large friendly losses, it was no longer possible to decisively defeat the enemy. Despite considerable success, the Axis forces were unable to turn the tide in favor of the Axis as a result of the winter fighting around Sollum and Tobruk. Based on the situation, it was becoming imperative to prevent Panzergruppe Afrika from being destroyed. That meant the abandonment of terrain in order to pull back to terrain that was particularly well suited for the defense and to wait there until such time as new forces could be introduced for a counterattack.
When the danger of being encircled by the enemy from the south started to demonstrate itself, Rommel ordered the withdrawal of Panzergruppe Afrika on 7 December. It was to move initially to the Gazala Position. That ended the encirclement of Tobruk.
At that point, it was imperative to secure the withdrawal of the non-motorized forces-especially
the Italian infantry divisions, which were not motorized at all-the artillery and the logistics forces. The three German divisions were still strong enough to ensure that. The German command saw its most important mission in preventing the British 8th Army from advancing rapidly through Cyrenaica to the eastern edge of the Sirte Bend.
On 6 December, Panzer-Regiment 5 had 4 Panzer II's, 10 Panzer III's, 5 Panzer IV's and 1 Panzer- befehlsruagen III.
Repairing damaged running gear on a Panzer III.
The abandonment of the front around Tobruk also meant the simultaneous loss of the strongpoints around Sollum. Bardia was able to hold out until 2 January 1942; Halfaya Pass until 17 January. For every day that the brave defenders of Halfaya Pass held out, the English were deprived usage of the coastal road, thus requiring the movement of logistics in a time-consuming and laborious fashion through the desert.
For the Axis forces, the logistical lines of communication were shortened, which allowed Panzergruppe Afrika to supply its elements with sufficient fuel and ammunition from the depots in Tmimi. During the retreat, the formations were able to bring back valuable non-consumables with them to the west.
Enemy penetrations into the Gazala Position were cleaned up by the combined efforts of the two tank regiments. During the night of 16-17 December, the DAKwas able to disengage unnoticed from the enemy out of the Gazala Position and moved 75 kilometers farther west to the area around Mechili, where it established new delaying positions. Stuka attacks on enemy forces attacking to the front brought about effective relief.
The danger of an envelopment from the south started to surface. If the enemy succeeded in taking the area around Agedabia, then the Axis forces in northern Cyrenaica would be cut off. As a result, the positions around Mechili were evacuated and the withdrawal west continued.
It was intended to transport the two remaining missing companies of Panzer-Regiment 5-the 3rd and 7th Companies-on 13 and 19 December. But the transport ships with 11 Panzer II's and 34 Panzer III's were sunk.34
On 20 December, the DAK reached the area around Bengasi. A member of the force at the time wrote of the experience :15
A radio message reached us that the depots in Bengasi had been opened to all. Vehicles from all units, inasmuch as their commanders allowed them, took off. Things were loaded, loaded to the seams: Canned meat, butter, cans of fish, cans of fruit and vegetables, chocolate and cigarettes. There were even sacks of sugar and noodles there. In one area, we found fresh meat and-a rarity-potatoes. Some idle gossipers claimed that some vehicles had shaving cream and toothpaste on board that was enough to last for years. The number of Italians, both in uniform and civilian clothes, and Arabs streaming into the depots grew ever larger.
Wild plundering started. Many carted off so much that they almost collapsed under the load and had to throw away some things after a few hundred meters.
There was mad confusion on the Via Balbia. Italian trucks and armored vehicles, soldiers hanging off, pushed their way between vehicles that were loaded with Italian men, women and children, with household goods piled high. Why the settlers were fleeing was not exactly clear. A British garrison had already been there without doing them any harm. Who would provide them with fuel, rations and water on the long road to Tripoli? Probably the combat forces. You couldn't leave those people to their fate. They were especially endangered during aerial attacks. Soldiers had learned to quickly take cover; but mothers with small children? The pilot, who was attacking a column, probably could not differentiate between military and civilian vehicles.
The 21. PanzeiDivision occupied defensive positions east of Beda Fomm on 23 December. The delaying action there was of decisive importance for the evacuation of the important supply depots in Bengasi. The DAK then marched on 25 December to an area 15 kilometers southwest of Agedabia, the wheeled elements on the Via Balbia, the tracked elements to the south. The new positions were intended to screen the right flank of the field army.
Abandonment of the Tobruk Front and Withdrawal Movements of Panzergruppe Afrika from 9 to 17 December 1941.
On 26 December, the DAK interdicted a thrust towards the Via Balbia. On 28 and 29 December, it attacked the British 22nd Armoured brigade at Haseiat, which was attempting to envelop from the south and advance on the Via Balbia. A large number of enemy vehicles were destroyed during the engagement with few friendly losses.
The DAK spent the last day of the year in an assembly area in the high ground of Belaudah, 20 kilometers southeast of Agedabia. When Operation "Crusader" started on 18 November, Panzer-Regiment 5 had had 124 operational tanks. On 31 December, only eight were reported as operational. During the fighting during the winter, the regiment knocked out or captured 161 enemy tanks and 15 armored cars. It had also eliminated 42 antitank guns and selfpropelled guns, as well as 37 towed artillery pieces. Several hundred prisoners had been taken; vehicles of all types had been captured."
Withdrawal movements of the DAKfrom 17 December to the end of the year.
7. Logistics in Africa, 1941
The forces in North Africa were more dependent on supplies than in Europe, since there was no "selfhelp." Supply was also dependent upon its transport across the Mediterranean or through the Luftwaff. A portion of the trucks available for supply could not be used in the desert and restricted to the few improved roads (e.g., Via Balbia). To relieve the road traffic somewhat, a very limited coastal transport network was established. In the vicinity of
the front, there were no harbors of note, only simple landing docks. The fuel consumption rates, which had been based on European scenarios, turned out to be significantly higher in the tropical climate. In addition, higher consumption of coolant water and lubricants had to be taken into account. The road and terrain conditions shortened the usual life of tires considerably. Portions of the supply columns had to be employed exclusively for the transport of water. Due to the short water supply, the following was rationed: 5 liters a day for each man; 20 liters of coolant water every two clays for armored vehicles and trucks (one fuel can); 40 liters of coolant water for each tank every two days.'
As the result of a ban on the transport of mail, it was reported on 25 May, that 100 tons of field post was warehoused in Naples. The field army requested the mail be air-transported to derma, where it was then sent forward on available space on supply columns.
Starting in the middle of August, navy soap was issued in addition to the army soap. Since it was soluble in salt water, it was well suited for washing clothes in the desert.
Despite that, personal hygiene and the cleaning of clothes remained a problem. There was seldom sufficient water for that purpose and the issued potable water was barely enough to satisfy thirst on hot days.
There were shortages of tank, artillery, antitank and Flak ammunition.
The supply columns often had difficulties finding the combat forces they were supporting and were often exposed to attacks from the air and from armored car patrols.
The forces in the field were able to cover many of their needs for rations and fuel by using captured stocks.
Wear and tear on vehicles was very high. Approximately 40% of the vehicle fleet was undergoing repair at any given time. As a result of the inadequate supply of spare and replacement parts, vehicles were in a non-operational status for long periods.
The maintenance services earned special praise for their efforts in attempting to recover and repair combat vehicles, on the battlefield, if possible. When the combat forces had to give up terrain and the maintenance companies also had to move as a result, many damaged and non-mobile tanks had to be left behind because there was not sufficient recovery capacity.
During the first few months of 1941, approximately 70% of the medical supplies sent to Africa were sunk. Although medicines and dressing materials could be sent by air, there was still a considerable lack of stretchers, operation room equipment, tents, beds, etc.ss
The monotonous nutrition and the complete lack of fresh fruit and vegetables led to a rapid decline in strength on the part of the soldiers and a susceptibility to diseases. There were high numbers of sick due to flesh wounds that did not heal properly, stomach and kidney infections and some cases of jaundice. The losses due to sickness exceeded those due to wounds considerably. In September, 11,000 sick personnel were reported, 25% of the forces in the field.
An incapacitated Panzer III is loaded on a tank transporter for delivery to a maintenance unit.
Based on an agreement with the Italian government, the German soldiers employed in Libya were supposed to get tropical supplemental pay. The Germans believed this should be the same for all ranks, but that did not sit well with the pronounced class system of the Italians, which dictated a sharp distinction between the differing rank groups. This was expressed not only in the differing quality of the uniforms, but also in the rations. For the Germans, rations were distributed equally, regardless of rank. The Italians structured the supplemental pay based on their viewpoint. Enlisted personnel received a supplement of 2 Reichsmark daily, noncommissioned officers 3 Reichsmark and officers 4 Reichsmark. The aggregated amount was paid out upon leaving Africa.
8. Evaluation of the Campaign in Africa, 1941
In 1941, Germany had no interest in a campaign in North Africa. The German Armed Forces were fully committed in Europe. The defeats suffered by the Italian allies in Libya and the political and military consequences-growing ever more disadvantageous and weighty-forced Germany to help the Italians.
The contingents sent to the NorthAfrican theater in 1941-initially two, then three divisions-proved insufficient to meet the requirements of a campaign on another continent against a force, numerically vastly superior in both numbers and combat power. Although North Africa was the main theater of war for the Italians, the burden of fighting increasingly fell to the Germans, for whom Africa was a secondary theater. Much was expected, but little was given in support.
The operations of Panzergruppe Afrika were marked by the effort to employ its numerically inferior forces in an offensive manner and with its main effort at decisive locations. If there were to be any success at all for the Axis forces, then it could only be brought about by offensive operations. Persisting in the defensive would have unavoidably led to the loss of North Africa for the Axis, even as early as 1941. Even the defense was conducted aggressively by Rommel and his commanders, keeping their forces mobile and attacking whenever possible. The possession of terrain played a subordinate role.
Water cans, indicated by the white crosses, are filled at a water point.
The German soldiers in Africa had to improvise to a great extent. Their achievements deserve respect, since they had absolutely no colonial experience.
With some exceptions, the desert offered ideal terrain for motorized and armored forces, which could bring their ability to maneuver and fire to bear without restriction. Tanks, armored cars, 8.8-centimeter Flak and wide-ranging artillery were the ideal weapons systems for the desert. The Italian infantry divisions, on the other hand, possessed little combat value; indeed, they could even be considered somewhat of a hindrance, as was demonstrated during the withdrawal movements of November and December.
During the winter fighting of 1941, the German forces scored a considerable success against the British formations by destroying 814 armored vehicles of all types. Since no reinforcements were forthcoming, however, they proved to be too weak in the end to decide the fighting in their favor. Rommel was able to get his way in withdrawing from the Tobruk Front at the end of 1941 all the way to the border of Tripolitania-abandoning Cyrenaica along the way-against the desires of his superiors. The course of the final fighting of the year made it necessary to conduct a large-scale withdrawal all the way to the Sirte Bend, since only the surrender of Cyrenaica would allow him to retain forces for a later counterattack.
The armored forces of the DAK-Panzer-Regiment 5 of the 21. Panzer-Division and Panzer-Regiment 8 of the 15. Panzer-Division--played a key role in the combined arms fight. Their losses in tanks were correspondingly high.
As a result, Panzer-Regiment 5 end 1941 with only 8 operational tanks, which represented only 4% of its authorized strength of 206 tanks (based on eight companies and the TO&E of 1 February 1941).
9. Overview of Panzer-Regiments in the Campaign in North Africa in 1941
"Christmas Greetings from Africa." A postcard printed for members of the DAK in Libya in 1941.
A German cemetery in Cyrenaica.
"Africa" ring, as worn by Oberleutnant Sandrock, a company commander. It was purchased from a silversmith in the Arab quarter of Tripoli in 1941.
A Panzerbefehlswagen I of the regiment passes the sign for the entrance to Tripoli. Note the water cans on the rear deck of the vehicle.
A Panzer Iof the regimental headquarters is painted in desert camouflage sand (sandgelb) from its original dark gray (panzergrau).
Panzer Hs of the regiment, transported by "lowboy" trailers, roll through the Arco dei Fileni, the Italian victory arch on the border between Tripolitania and Libya.
German and Italian comrades-in-arms pose beside a Panzer III Note the protective coverings placed over the main gun and the coaxial machine gun and the stowage of canteens on the outside of the turret.
The regiment heads towards the front on the Via Balbia, passing light Italian tankettes, referred to by the German tankers as "cookie tins."
The desert after the coastal road was left. PanzerIII's of the regiment advance in the direction of Cyrenaica.
2 April 1941: The regiment undergoes its baptism of fire in the desert. The tank fighting atAgedahia. This photograph was taken through a vision port.
Under enemy fire.
2 April 1941, Agedabia: A knocked-out Mark II.
This Mark II "Matilda" sustained hits on its turret race, side, front and mantlet.
The first British prisioners
Soldiers of the regiment take a look at an Italian M13/40 medium tank.
The advance continues.
The Panzerbefehlswagen III of the regimental commander. The attack starts up.
8 April 1941: Tankers of the regiment after the taking of Derna.
The Panzer Iwas still in service with the regiment in 1941.
Wheeled vehicles of the regiment in Derna.
This Panzer II of the regimental headquarters has sustained a hit in the side. Note that the tanker inspecting the damage is wearing the Panzer beret without the crash helmet and not the iconic billed tropical field cap so often associated with the DAK.
9 April 1941 in the Derna-Tmimi area: The attack on Tobruk is continued.
United in death: Graves of both German and Commonwealth soldiers in the spring of 1941 at El Adem.
Gazala was taken on 9 April 1941 and Rommel's forces were at the gates of Tobruk the next day. A palm tree with a superimposed swastika became the identifying insignia of the DAK
Outside of Tobruk in April 1941: To the right in the picture is Leutnant Gerd Frank-Lindheim of the 6th Company of the regiment. He wears a rubberized overcoat that was originally intended for motorcycle dispatch riders. The officer to his right wears the standard wool tropical overcoat.
A Panzer N, Model D, of the 8th Company outside of Tobruk. It is the platoon leader's vehicle of the 1st Platoon (811).
During the siege of Tobruk, the Italians built a bypass road around the fortress.
At the end of May, tanks of the regiment assemble prior to the launch of Operation "Skorpion," the effort to retake Halfaya Pass.
A British A 9 Cruiser tank knocked out by the 6th Company.
Knocked-out British tankettes.
Providing a wounded soldier with water. The wounded man wears British tanker coveralls and a German overseas cap, which meant he was undoubtedly a German soldier wearing captured stocks.
Key terrain during the fighting for Sollum: Lower Sollum and Halfaya Pass.
5-17 June 1941: The armored engagement at Sollum. Knocked-out British 2-pounder antitank grin mounted on a truck.
Burned-out Panzer III.
Generalleutnant Rommel during the Sollum fighting.
The British suffered considerably more tank losses. A Crusader complete with anachronistic machine-gun turret.
A Mark II captured by the regiment at Sollum. The British driver, seen on the front slope of the tank, seems to enjoy posing with his captors.
A captured "Matilda" is used against its former owners.
Rommel, who was promoted to General der Panzertrauppen after the fighting at Sollum, is seen presenting deserving soldiers of the regiment with awards.
German and Italian military cemetery in Bardia after the summer fighting of 1941.
Soldiers of the regiment inspect a dud from a British 38-centimeter coastal artillery gun.
A Panzer III of the regimental headquarters performs coastal security in the vicinity of Marsa Luch.
The crew of a Panzer III tries to make it as cozy as possible in the assembly area around Marsa Luch.
The forces in the field take it easy after the hard campaigning of the previous few months.
Life in the desert was hard for soldiers of both sides. For the German soldier, it was marked by constant shortages. Improvisation and imagination were in high demand.
Rations issue: given the monotonous food provided, not as popular as it should have been.
A guard post is dug out.
An "air raid bunker" has been dug under this halftrack prime mover. The dugout probably served as quarters for the vehicle's crew.
A "whore's bath" in the desert.
August Klostermann of the 1st Company washes uniform articles with fuel.
A field barber shop.
The rear deck of a tank was never the most comfortable place to sleep.
Tankers of the 4th Company enjoy some time off.
The assembly area of the 2nd Battalion in the Marsa Luch area.
Commanders' call in the 2nd Battalion.
Following the meeting, the regimental band provides a little music.
Men of the 5th Tank of the 1st Platoon of the 6th Company a smoke break.
Oberleutnant Werner Griin in June 1941 as the company commander of the 6th Company. He was decorated with the Knight's Cross to the Iron Cross on 8 February 1943 as a Hauptmann and acting commander of the 1st Battalion of the regiment, marking him as the ninth and last recipient of the high award within the regiment.
The command post and company area of the 6th Company.
Inside the command post and company area.
A game of chess on a Panzer III. Note the bleached-out appearance of the caps on the soldiers. This was sometimes artificially induced by exposing the caps to gas training aids in an enclosed area.
Chess seems to have been a popular pastime in the 6th Company.
An "Arab" fest held by the regiment in the Marsa Luch assembly area.
The regiment maintained a soldiers' home in Appolonia to the west of Derna. It was named after the regimental commander of the time, Oberstleutnant Stephan.
"Derna water" has arrived. The signals officer of the 2nd Battalion, Leutnant Rudolf Wendorff, has provided information concerning water in the desert:
I should mention that we did not have any normal drinking water at Marsa Luch ... instead, it was only salt water. That was a new and unpleasant experience, which I often reflect on. Located between the Mediterranean and the so-called coastal road, there was no normal water; instead there were a few wells with water that had salt in it, which we had to get used to.
We always received tea to drink, but it was this salt tea with a somewhat terrible taste-for weeks and months on end! Health wise, it most certainly did its no damage, but drinking became a true exercise of ditty.
Once a week, we receive normal salt-free water for our tea and for its personally. That was a day of celebration. Feldwebel Jiiptner, the head of the water column, came from the neighboring city of Derna, where he tanked tip specially marked water cans with white crosses with "potable water" from a well that met military standards.
Whenever the truck with this water appeared, there was a hue and cry throughout the battalion that spread across the broad terrain: "Derna water! ... Derna water!"
Cakes are baked for a special occasion within the 6th Company.
Fancy cookies are also on the menu.
An MG 34 mounted on a tripod for air defense.
Late in the summer of 1941: Personnel and materiel replacements for the regiment on the Italian transporter Neptunia during the crossing of the Mediterranean.
November 1941: Oberleutnant Hans Sandrock (third from the viewer's right) and his crew. Sandrock was the company commander of the 1st Company and received the Knight's Cross to the Iron Cross on 18 October 1941.
17 November 1941: The winter in Africa arrived with rain showers and cold sand storms. For the first time in 60 years, there were cloudbursts over the desert. The wadis flooded.
The winter fighting of 1941 started with flooding in the desert.
Werner Fleck, a gunner in the 1st Company (131), looks for his belongings in the flooded tent area.
A impromptu river-crossing operation in the desertl
Waiting for the order to attack. PanzerIll number 131 is the vehicle of the platoon leader, Leutnant Stein.
Situation briefing at the division command half-track.
Oberstleutnant Stephan, on the viewer's left, in consultation with the commander of the 15. PanzerDivision, Generalmajor Neumann-Silkow. Stephan was killed during an air attack on 25 November 1941.
23 November 1941: The regiment fights on Totensonntagin the Sidi Rezegh area.
British soldiers surrender.
Rommel, on the viewer's left, accompanied the attack of the 2nd Battalion. He has donned a tropical field billed cap in lieu of his more typical visor cap.
November 1941: The Panzerbefehlswagen III of Hauptmann Gierga, the commander of the 2nd Battalion. Its turret markings were II 01, augmented by a black, white and red pennant on the antenna. The crew are scanning the horizon for enemy movements.
German artillery, in this instance a 10-cm K18, engages enemy tanks that have broken through.
A crew from the 4th Company observes the enemy from its Panzer IV
1. Author's Note: Nehring, Die Geschichte der deutschen Panzerwaffe, 40. Hereafter referred to as Nehring.
2. Translator's Note: Kraftfalzr-Abteilung= Motorized Battalion. Reichswehr= Federal Armed Forces.
3. Translator's Note: Inspectorate for Motorized Forces.
4. Author's Note: Ritgen, Die Schulen derPanzertruppe des Heeres, 8. Hereafter referred to as Ritgen.
6. Author's Note: Nehring, 60.
7. Translator's Note: im Generalstab= General Staff. This suffix was appended after the rank of all officers accepted in the General Staff.
5. Author's Note: Guderian, Erinnerungen eines Soldaten, 18.
8. Author's Note: The vehicles were produced by the firms of Krupp, Rheinmctall and Daimler-Benz.
9. Author's Note: Ncluiog, 45.
10. Translator's Note: "Living and Working at KAMA from 1929 to 1933."
11. Note: A simple horse-drawn cart, usually with two wheels and drawn by a single horse.
12. Author's Note: Von Hammerstein-Equord was the Army Chief-of-Staff from 1931 to 1934.
13. Translator's Note: Motorization Training Command Zossen.
14. Translator's Note: Roman numerals in front of the regimental designation indicate the number of the battalion; Arabic numerals indicate the company of the regiment. Line companies of combat regiments were numbered consecutively. Headquarters companies were not numbered.
15. Translator's Note: In German, Landwirtschaftlicher Schlepper (La.S.).
16. Author's Note: Kampe, Wunsdorf 24.
17. Translator's Note: 3rd and 8th Mounted Regiments (horse cavalry).
18. Author's Note: Both battalions also had a light tank platoon and a signals platoon.
19. Translator's Note: 1st and 2nd Fighting Vehicle Regiments.
20. Translator's Note: Karnpflehrstab Berlin and Kainpf- wagenbrigade Berlin.
21. Author's Note: Heeresmitteiluna 34, Nummer 85.
22. Author's Note: Referenced dates come from Schlicht and Angolia, Die deutsche Welzrvzacht, 137 and 144.
23. Author's Note: Hettler, Uniformen der deutschen Wehrmacht, 49.
24. Translator's note: There were several varieties of death's heads worn. The one on this badge is the "Brunswick" version. The one worn on the tanker uniform was a different variant.
25. Author's Note: Ritgen, 34.
26. Author's Note: Nehring, 83.
27. Translator Note: Freiherr is a term of nobility, indicating a count.
28. Author's Note: Geschichte der L Abteilung des PanzerRegiments 5, 1.
29. Translator's Note: 3rd Company of the 3rd Motorized Battalion (Prussia)
30. Author's Note: Geschichte derL Abteilung des PanzerRegiments 5, 1.
1. Author's Note: Geschichte der ll./Panzer-Regiment 5,
2. Author's Note: Jentz, Die deutsche Panzertruppe, Vol. 1, 45.
3. The Luftwaffe units, organized as the volunteer "Condor Legion," participated directly in combat operations.
4. Author's Note: Geschichte derL/Panzer-Regiment 5, 2, and Geschichte der IL/Panzer-Regiment 5, 4.
5. Author's Note: TraditionsvereinigungehemaligerAnge- horiger der Panzertruppe des Weltkriegs. Translator's Note: Association of Former Members of the Armored Forces of the World War.
6. Author's Note: Paul, Panzer-General WaltherK Nehring, 73.
7. Author's Note: Kampe, WV ns larf 36.
8. Author's Note: Geschichte der 3. Panzer-Division, 8.
9. Author's Note: Kampe, 37.
10. Author's Note: Nehring, 101. According to Nehring (page 113), the term schnelle Truppenwas replaced by Panzertruppeon 1 April 1943.
11. Author's Note: This section is taken from the periodical Die Wehrmacht, Vol. 2, Issue 22 of 2 November 1938 (published by the Oberkosnmando der Wehrmacht), 52 ff.
12. Author's Note: Nehring, 105.
1. Author's Note: Jentz, Die deutschePanzertruppe, Vol. I, 88.
2. Author's Note: Jentz, 90.
3. Author's Note: Kampe, Wiinsdorf, 41.
4. Author's Note: Ritgen, Die Schulen derPanzertruppen des Heeres, 220.
5. Author's Note: Heller, Das war der Krieg in Polen, 22.
6. Translator's Note: This division later became the 12. Panzer-Division, fighting exclusively in the East after its reorganization and redesignation.
7. Translator's Note: This division later became the 20. Panzer-Grenadier-Division, fighting exclusively in the East after its reorganization and redesignation.
8. Translator's Note: This division later became the 26. PanzerDivision, fighting with distinction in Italy at the end of the war.
9. Translator's Note: SPW=Armored personnel carrier. This was the medium variant, the Sd.Kfz. 251.
10. Author's Note: Kurowski, Die Geschichte des PanzerRegiment 5, 14
11. Translator's Note: Field Army Group North and South, respectively.
12. Author's Note: Geschichte der3. Panzer-Division, 35.
13. Author's Note: Geschichte der3. Panzer-Division, 36.
14. Author's Note: Nehring, 153.
15. Author's Note: Geschichte der 3. Panzer-Division, 37.
17. Author's Note: Geschichte der3. Panzer-Division, 37.
16. Author's Note: He was killed in 1944 as a General der Panzertruppen and the head of Armed Forces Motorization during a bombing raid on Berlin.
1. Author's Note: Jentz, Die deutsche Panzertruppe, Vol. I, 120.
2. Author's Note: Jentz, 107.
3. Translator's Note: There were also large numbers of Czech ranks built by Skoda that were pressed into German service, the most prominent of which was the Panzer38(t), which was actually superior to both the Panzer I and the PanzerII
4. Author's Note: Jentz, 105.
5. Author's Note: Jentz, 109.
6. Author's Note: Geschichte der 3. Panzer-Division, 41. Translator's Note: The machine-gun battalion eventually became Kradschiitzen-Bataiiion 64 of the 14. Panzer-Division. The heavy artillery battalion eventually became the 3rd Battalion of Artillerie-Regiment 75, the divisional artillery.
7. Author's Note:Jentz, 117.
8. Author's Note: Geschichte der 3. PanzerDivision, 41.
9. Author's Note: Geschichte der 3. Panzer-Division, 59.
10. Author's Note: Geschichte der3. Panzer-Division, 61.
11. Author's Note: Doehle, DieAuszeichnungen des Grofi deutschen Reichs, page 104.
12. Author's Note: Geschichte der3. Panzer-Division, 94.
13. Author's Note: Geschichte der3. Panzer-Division, 95.
14. Author's Note: Geschichte der 3. Panzer-Division, 98.
15. Author's Note: Nehring, 128.
1. Author's Note: Aberger, Die 5. (iei.)/21. Panzer-Division in Nord Afriha, 1941-1943, 20. Hereafter referred to as Aberger.
2. Translator's Note: X Air Corps.
3. Author's Note: Die Geschichte der 3. Panzer-Division, 98.
4. Author's Note: Die Geschichte der 3. Panzer-Division, 98.
5. Author's Note: Aberger, 22.
6. Author's Note: Jentz, 160.
7. Translator's Note: 606th Antiaircraft Battalion (SelfPropelled). The 600-level of designation indicated a general-headquarters force. It is not clear from this organization chart whether the battalion was attached to the light division or merely in direct support.
8. Translator's Note: 660th Antitank Battalion.
9. Author's Note: In direct support from the Luftwaffe. Translator's Note: The other antiaircraft formation was an army component.
10. Translator's Note: 200th Infantry Regiment headquarters (Special-Purpose) (Motorized). This was a separate infantry regiment headquarters command and control unit without organic forces, to which the two machine-gun battalions reported.
11. Translator's Note: 2nd and 8th Machine-Gun Battalions (Motorized).
12. Author's Note: Schmitz and Thies, Die Truppenkenn- zeichen, Vol. I, The Army, 663. Hereafter referred to as Schmitz.
13. Author's Note: Schmitz, 543.
1. Author's Note: Aberger, 24.
2. Author's Note: Harald Kuhn, Die Ereignisse imFruh- jahr and Sommer 1941 in Libyens bfuste, 67. Hereafter referred to as Kuhn.
3. Translator's Note: The original German is Personlichkeit, which literally translates as personality, but usually implies much more, as in the sense of (he's a) character, personage, celebrity or, colloquially, "big shot."
4. Translator's Note: The Fieseler Storch was a light and unarmed single-engine utility aircraft that saw service throughout the entire war.
5. Author's Note: Kohler, Wehrsnachtsberichte von den Kkmlifen in Nordafrika vom 11. Januar 1941 bis 7. Februar 1942, 5.
6. Author's Note: Aberger, 34.
7. Author's Note: Schmitz/Thies, 49.
8. Author's Note: Heinz Kilanowski in a letter to the author on 15 September 2001.
9. Author's Note: Jentz, 158.
10. Author's Note: Jentz, 159.
11. Translator's Note: Trigh is an Arabic road for path or trail.
12. Author's Note: Panzer-Regiment 5, Operations Section, Regimental Command Post, Signed by Oberst Olbrich, Authenticated by OberleutnantRocholl, Regimental Adjutant.
13. Author's Note: Kuhn, 30 ff.
14. Author's Note: Jentz, 163.
15. Translator's Note: The soldier jargon of Ratsch-Burn was usually applied to the Soviet 7.62-centimeter antitank gun, so named because the sound of its report and its impact were nearly simultaneous.
16. Translator's Note: W'innetou was the fictional Indian hero of a series of western novels written by German writer Karl May, who was extremely popular in Germany.
17. Author's Note: Aherger, 70.
18. Author's Note: The Libyan-Egyptian frontier.
19. Author's Note: Kohler, 33.
20. Author's Note: Kuhn, 65.
21. Author's Note: Kuhn, 54.
22. Author's Note: Kuhn, 65.
23. Author's Note: Aberger, 79.
24. Translator's Note: z.b.V. = zur besonderen Verwendung= "for special purposes. Thus, the division was literally the Special-Purpose Division "Africa."
25. Author's Note: Aberger, 77.
26. Author's Note: Selmayr, Meine Erlebnisse im Weltkrieg 1939-1945, 6 ff.
27. Translator's Note: Medical compounds often used in the treatment of tropical diseases.
28. Translator's Note: An antibacterial antibiotic that was first developed in Germany.
29. Translator's Note: "Sunday of the dead." Traditionally, the Sunday before the first Advent is set aside to commemorate the dead.
30. Author's Note: Kohler, 48.
31. Author's Note: Aberger, 96.
32. Author's Note: Aberger, 101.
33. Author's Note: Kiihn, 86.
34. Author's Note: Jentz, 174.
35. Author's Note: Aberger, 132 ff.
36. Author's Note: MajorMildebrath, After-Action Report of the Panzer-Regiment 5from 17 November to 31 December 1941.
37. Author's Note: Aberger, 143.
38. Author's Note: Aberger, 155.