Operation Battleaxe

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Template:Battlebox During World War II, Operation Battleaxe (June 15-17, 1941) was the second British attempt to relieve the Axis Siege of Tobruk.

British Lieutenant General Noel Beresford-Peirse was in charge of this operation. He controlled the Thirteenth corps, which consisted of two divisions - the Seventh Armoured and the Fourth Indian.

His opposition, Germany's Afrika Korps, were led by General Erwin Rommel who had the Fifth Light Division and the Fifteenth Panzer Division at his disposal.

General Beresford-Peirse planned to utilize his Fourth Indian Division to take Halfaya Pass and Fort Capuzzo. The armour would support them and then push on to Hafid Ridge, which was beyond Capuzzo, to engage with Rommel's Panzers.

The planning of Battleaxe was taken with the utmost care, except that the figures of tanks and men under Rommel was underestimated. The Desert Fox had been expanding his forces, and it now included the Fifteenth Panzer Division, which was highly trained and equipped in the arts of tank and anti-tank war. He had also deployed his Italian troops to keep the Siege of Tobruk running.

The Battle

Early on, the Fourth Indian Division was having success, and it quickly took Fort Capuzzo and fended off a German counter-attack. However, British tanks which went into Halfaya Pass (now becoming known as Hellfire Pass) were ambushed.

The Desert Fox had deployed a battery of 88 mm anti-tank guns in Hellfire Pass and dug them into the sand, effectively making a coat of camoflauge around them. As the British tanks entered the pass, the nearly invisible 88mm guns opened fire, destroying all but one of the tanks.

The tanks sent to engage Panzers at Hafid Ridge didn't do much better. Instead of the Panzers they expected to meet, they were met with a barrage of anti-tank artillery fire.

By June 16 at noon, 75% of the British tanks deployed in Battleaxe were destroyed.

Rommel's Counter-offensive

Following the disasters at Hellfire Pass and Hafid Ridge, Rommel decided to attack the already weakened British forces. He assigned his Panzer Division to attack Fort Capuzzo from the north, and he also ordered his Light Division to go east to surround Beresford-Peirse and his Armoured Division.

General Wavell, Britain's Commander-in-Chief Middle East, saw defeat coming and ordered all units to retreat. Battleaxe had officially ended now as an extremely expensive failure.

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