Battle of Gazala

Battle of Gazala

Battle of Gazala

This article is about a important battle occured during Desert War of North African Campaign of World War II.

The Battle of Gazala was fought in the Western Desert Campaign of World War II between May 26 and June 21 of 1942, between the Panzer Army Afrika commanded by Erwin Rommel and the British Eighth Army, commanded by Claude Auchinleck.

On 13 September, 1940, Italian forces invaded Egypt from their bases in Libya. At that time, Egypt was a British colony and Libya was Italian colony. The Italians occupied a small region west of the Egypt and established defensive positions at Sidi Barrani. On 9 December, the British launched the Operation Compass to make the Italians back to the Agheila of Libya. During the operation, British army captured a large number of Italian prisoners.

The defeat of the Italian army forced Hitler to send reinforcements to North Africa to prevent a total collapse of the Italians. In February 1941, the first units of what later became known as the Afrika Korps arrived in Libya, under the command of General Erwin Rommel. Initially, Rommel only had orders to maintain the position against possible attacks by the Allies, but seeing that little resistance of the Allies, Rommel began an offensive that forced the British to withdrew to the border with Egypt. After several unsuccessful counterattacks on 18 November of 1941, the British launched the Operation Crusader which proved a success, and before the end of the year, was to recapture all the territory lost during last spring to The Agheila.

As a result of the Operation Crusader, it seemed that the Afrika Korps had been finally defeated, but the conflicts were taking place in the Middle East, it forced British troops to withdraw from Northern Africa, meanwhile, the Axis forces had received new supplies from Tripoli. Rommel noticed immediately the change in status and on 21 January, 1942, it launched their second offensive.  The Germans forced the allies back to Gazala, where the advance was temporarily halted.

The position of Gazala, where had recourse of the British forces, was organized a long time ago.  Their defense was good and the conditions under them gave the English Laren many areas of support well fortified, which protected each other across their fires. All were deeply artillats and equipped, and supplied in such a way that could, if necessary, to sustain the fight on their own for a long time.

British prisoners leaving Tobruk

British prisoners leaving Tobruk

Covering the whole place, there was a deep and wide mined zone, complemented by minefields own points of support before being mentioned, and surrounding each of these separately. The most important points of the position were: Tobruk, Gazala, Knighsbridge and El Adem. And at the southern end, covering the left wing of the defense, Bir-Hakeim, decorated by the free French strong position, under the command of General Koenig. The British Eighth Army, which occupied the position of Gazala, was composed of 13 divisions, about 180,000 men, equipped and placed under the command of the English General Neil Ritchie.

The British plan was not only to resist. General Neil Ritchie projected to launch an attack exploiting the likely time of the arrest to their strong Italian-German, well-organized positions.  But the time factor played a role principalissim this time in the course of events. The two adversaries need to reorganize their forces, to embrace and prepare properly for the attack. And Ritchie was generally left to make a little difference in days. Fully prepared and ready, fixed one of the last days of May to trigger an attack.

At that time, Italian-German forces consisted of about 13 divisions, of which four were armored, the troops were thus balanced. But Italian-German canton of moral superiority was evident.  These forces had just made a victorious campaign and had confidence in themselves and their possibilities, because they felt so well directed and knew that his rearguard stood next to tight supplies of all kinds, the lines of communication with their metropolitan bases free and were sufficiently protected and that the left wing, the most dangerous, remained assured.

It was true indeed that the time domain of the Mediterranean Sea was held by the Axis. This condition was essential for the development of the offensive, which would have been madness to try to hang in the open sea. British then passed through a severe collapse in its naval power. The major losses in the Far East in their struggle against the Italian-German aircraft were unable to maintain because the same level above its naval power in the Mediterranean.

And this situation of inferiority, created partly by themselves, they were able to get a good game of the Axis powers, making it immediately to enable the strongest of all the offensive which had hitherto held in Libya .

In the early days of the offensive, the British positions were attacked from the front. Forces light penetrated the intervals, deepening boldly on some points, but were not contained and there were important events. Meanwhile, the armored units were located towards the south, and began to encircle the British front to the left wing. In the end, if this was the position of Bir Hakeim, defended, as we had already said, by French forces assigned to General de Gaulle. There was a fierce struggle around this position, and when after 15 days, on the 11-June, reached Gen. Erwin Rommel seized it, the battle of Gazala remained strong weapons against Allied.

The German general skillfully exploited their success with all his might towards the rapid conversion of the North and taking opposite positions of all the British line. Rommel’s goal was to reach the sea and cut off the retreat of British forces in thickness. On June 15, it reached the coast at the height of Acroma, and remained covering this. A considerable part of the damaged and dispersed the British Eighth Army fell prisoners. Another reached break through towards the east, marching to the pursuit of new lines of defense.

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