Battle of Beda Fomm

Western Desert Battle Area 1941

Western Desert Battle Area 1941

Summary: Battle of Beda Fomm is an integral part of the compass action. When the Italian army attacking Egypt was defeated the British counterattack. The army hoped to retreated westward and restructuring. However, due to the road conditions were not ideal, the Italian army retreated slowly. Therefore, it was possible to send a part of the British army to intersperse quickly on the route through the Italian army retreated and in order to complete destroy the army. A part of the Sixth Division of the Australian army was responsible for blocking evacuation routes of the Italian army and afterwards waiting for the main force to arrive to fully destroy the Italian army. Although the ratio of the number of British and Italian Army is 1 in 10, they still stuck to their positions. The 7th Armored Division troops arrived in time and finally 20,000 Italian troops surrendered.

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The Battle of Beda Fomm was a military engagement between British and Italian forces during North African Campaign of World War II. The Battle of Beda Fomm was considered as the last phase of the Operation Compass.

As the Operation Compass progressed by the British army, Italian armed forces began further back, the British intelligence services to find out that the Italian army was preparing to move to withdraw from Bede Fomm, a small coastal town in the southwest of Cyrenaica in Libya.

The British decided to dispatch 7th Armoured Division across the desert to Bede Fomm, as the Italian 10th Army retreating to cut off the pass, while the Australians were chasing the Italians along the coast. The road had to take the 7th Armoured Division went through very rough terrain, however, hardly had been identified: the desert south of Jebel Akhdar. Thus the tank regiments of the division began to endure. It was decided that the fastest units in the division, the 4th Armoured Brigade and elements of the 11th Hussars, and the road ahead to send block at Bede Fomm.  After this battle group, however, began to rush forward too quickly, it was decided that the infantry of the Rifle Brigade in trucks to the battle group to send reinforcement. The entire group was commanded by Lieutenant General John Combe and was therefore called Comb Force.

Comb Force, with a total strength of about 2000 men, went as quickly as possible through the desert to Bede Fomm. On the morning of 5 February, Comb Force took position of Msus, northeast of Bede Fomm, to Sidi Saleh, south of the town. A few hours after noon, the first Italians were in sight. A Company of the Rifle Brigade and C Company of the 11th Hussars stopped column. The Italians began to move to the sea, in the hope to push to the south, but it also became embroiled in fights with Comb Force.

Elements of the 7th Hussars went along with the A Company of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment in the attack against an Italian convoy, which was destroyed. At 18h, a column of Italian infantry attacked. During this operation, a British soldier on foot took two Italian tank crews, captured by the tank and jumping with his arms out to force the crew.

British Vikers light tanks on desert patrol

British Vikers light tanks on desert patrol

The rest of the day and at night there were shots fired sporadically. The next morning, however, three Italian columns were in the attack on the roadblock at Bede Fomm. The Italians were supported by 300 vehicles, but the first two columns were relatively easily established and many were made prisoners. Around 11:30, the third attack was repulsed. Next to an imminent shortage of ammunition, began the steady stream of prisoners to be a problem for the small British force.  It was quickly established a protected area where the prisoners were guarded by a platoon of C Company, 2nd Rifle Brigade. Later that day arrived, the rest of the 4th Armoured Brigade attacked the Italians and their flank north of Beda Fomm.

A rapid collapse of the Italians was not visible and the focus of the battle shifted to a small hill a few kilometers north of the roadblock. There was a tank battle between the British cruiser tanks entrenched positions and attacking Italian tanks down the road trying to advance. The hill changed during the battle continued occupation and had now the defenders of the roadblock Italians drive along the dunes trying to break.

Just when the ammunition stocks of the 3rd and 7th Hussars began to run out, the 1st Royal Tank Regiment arrived on the battlefield. The first RTR shot an Italian convoy apart and gave way to the conductive nature Hussars to regroup, as they are still working, but six tanks at their disposal.  Around half past two in the afternoon, another Italian convoy and destroyed the British came to know that Italian tanks undertook an escape attempt in a northeasterly direction. With a minimum of forces drove the British tanks, the Italians: in the south the 7th Hussars worked their way up in an Italian convoy while the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment same convoy rolled up from the north. In the center was the first RTR and the last three tanks of the 3rd Hussars an Italian armored column that went to the northwest.

On the evening of February 6, 1941, the Italians tried again to break through. Three columns of tanks were able to thin the ranks of the Rifle Brigade to penetrate, but the attack was repulsed and 500 Italians were captured. The rest of the night was quiet at Bede Fomm, and everywhere in the area were burning tanks and Italian soldiers who tried to surrender.

In the early hours of February 7, around half past six, was the last Italian breakthrough attempt.  Twenty Italian Fiat M13/40 tanks broke through the British lines at Sidi Saleh thin, but were a few meters from the British headquarters stopped by anti-tank guns. The trucks with the Italian infantry were quickly stopped by British mitrailleurgevuur. The Italian commander, General Tellera, was shot in the head by a bullet and died. Lieutenant General Bergonzoli took command and surrendered to the British, along with the rest of the 10th Army. The Battle of Beda Fomm ended.

The British managed to take 25,000 Italian prisoners. The material damage was for the Italians also considerable: 100 tanks, 216 guns and 1,500 other vehicles fell into the hands of the British Army. The three days after the end of the battle the British were engaged in gathering all the stocks that the Italians had left behind: clothes, food, medicine, weapons, petrol…

The Battle of Beda Fomm opened the way to Benghazi and also made sure that the Italian forces in North Africais no longer a threat directly. This put British troops free for the defense of Greece.  The British 7th Armoured Division, nicknamed as the Desert Rats, it became the front line because they call for replacements.

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