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About the Series
This article is part of a series: Maps of the Desert War. In this series I explore battles and operations that took place during the WW2 North African Campaign (or more precisely – its Western Desert part). For decades I've been reading about the campaign, but I've often had hard time to find maps that go with the riveting stories I read. But since I've started the research for my new game design, I needed to have a well researched and detailed maps, in order to create game scenarios. And this is how this series came to be - as a result of my ongoing research.
HERE you can download the full, high-resolution version of the maps. They are FREE TO USE (we only kindly ask you to credit us when you do so).
Operation Crusader (18 November-30 December 1941) was Rommel's first defeat in North Africa. It was a very complex operation, which will be described here with a series of maps. I will try to show the situation day-by-day, and zoom in on the action when needed. I will also accompany each map with a short description of events. If you wish to learn more about the operation, I advise you to look at the Sources section at the end of this article.
The Battle (continued)
24 November (Dash to the Wire)
After the victory on Totensonntag, Rommel concludes that the British armour is defeated and that one final push is needed to win this battle. He decides to shift the weight on the south and to send his massed armoured forces towards the frontier. This is the start of so called "Dash to the Wire". It begins around midday on 24 November, when 15th and 21st Panzer are withdrawn from the main battle, and sent south-east along the Trigh el Abd. Rommel leads the attack in person, leaving the army without its commander at a key moment. The German lightning advance creates great chaos on the Allied side - the Germans pass through several British headquarters, and almost capture General Cunningham himself. But they miss the massive Allied supply dumps just to the south of Gabr Saleh, losing the chance to get some badly needed fuel. That night Rommel almost gets captured, when his car breaks down after crossing the Frontier Wire. Luckily for him, General Cruewell spots him and takes him into his Mammoth command vehicle. Two leading German commanders spend the night unprotected in British territory, a mere rock-throw away from enemy forces.
The Axis forces arrive on the frontier, stretched and low on supplies. They make ineffective piecemeal attacks with little to show for it. Ariete (which was meant to join the Panzer divisions in the dash) runs into the 1st South African Brigade east of Bir el Gubi, and gets halted. Two New Zealand brigades continue to push west, taking the Gambut airfield and moving close to Belhamed.
Two brigades from 2nd New Zealand Division advance along the escarpment near Sidi Rezegh and capture Belhamed and Sidi Rezegh. Tobruk garrison captures Ed Duda. Auchinleck relieves Cunningham of the command of Eighth Army and replaces him with Major-General Neil Ritchie. 15th and 21st Panzer divisions move into Bardia fortress in order to refuel and restock, while Ariete slips the Allied screening forces and move towards Sidi Azeiz.
The Allies succeed in linking up with Tobruk garrison. The German HQ realises that the crisis is developing, and order the armour divisions to return to Tobruk area.
29 November-1 December
The battle rages around Sidi Rezegh, and the Allies fight stubbornly with their mostly infantry force. Two New Zealand brigades suffer heavy casualties and are withdrawn back to Egypt, and the siege of Tobruk is re-established.
Fighting becomes sporadic, as both sides are exhausted after weeks of fighting. Ritchie brings fresh 2nd South African Division from the reserve and puts it on the frontier. Rommel tries to concentrate his remaining forces against XXX Corps, but all their counter-attacks fail.
Rommel regroups his forces and tries to reestablish the position in the south, around Bir el Gubi. His attacks drive off the 11th Indian Brigade, but are too weak to press on. The Allies begin moving more forces from the frontier towards Tobruk and El Adem.
Rommel realises that his forces will not be able to contain the British pressure for too long. He has no reserves, while the Eighth Army is growing stronger and is receiving new formations from Egypt. So he orders a fighting withdrawal back to the Gazala line.
Tobruk is liberated after an eight-month siege. On 15 December the Eight Army attacks the German-Italian Gazala Line combining a frontal assault on the line, with a flanking move on the south. Rommel orders a retreat desert back to El Agheila position, where the line stabilises by the end of the year.
Le Operazioni In Africa Settentrionale Vol. II Tobruk (Marzo 1941-Gennaio 1942)
Stato maggiore dell'esercito, Ufficio storico, Mario Montanari. 1993.
The War in the Mediterranean and the Middle East Volume III. British Fortunes Reach their Lowest Ebb
Naval & Military Press, Major-General I. S. O. Playfair; and others. Uckfield, UK, 2004.
The Crucible of War: Western Desert 1941
Paragon House, Barrie Pitt. New York, 1989.
Operation Crusader 1941. Rommel in Retreat
Osprey Publishing, Ken Ford. Oxford, UK, 2010.
Battle Orders: Rommel's Afrika Korps, Tobruk to El Alamein
Osprey Publishing, Pier Paolo Battisteli. Oxford, UK, 2006.
The Sidi Rezeg Battles 1941
Oxford University Press, J.A.I. Agar-Hamilton & L.C.F. Turner. Oxford, UK, 1957.
Spellmount Limited, Major-General F.W. von Mellenthin. Stroud, UK, 2008.
Crusader: Eighth Army's Forgotten Victory, November 1941-January 1942
Leo Cooper, Richard Humble. 1987.
Rommel's North Africa Campaign: September 1940-november 1942 (Great Campaigns)
Combined Publishing, Jack Greene & Alessandro Massignani. Conshohocken, USA, 1999.
The Rommel Papers
DaCapo Press, Erwin Rommel & B.H. Liddell-Hart (ed.). 1982.
Operation Crusader 1941 FULL WW2 Documentary BATTLESTORM
YouTube, uploaded by TIK. 2019. https://youtu.be/Ji7MZYB4dho
The Crusader Project
— Sir Winston Churchill, following the Second Battle of El Alamein
Attack at Dawn: North Africa website: https://www.attackatdawn.com/