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Bardia to Enfidaville

The Enemy on 19–20 January

The Enemy on 19–20 January

Rommel's comment about this time was that ‘the British commander was now conducting his operations far more energetically than he had done in the past.’1 He was impressed by the increased momentum, including 2 NZ Division's night advance, which was duly noted, although the formation was not identified. While he was satisfied with the resistance that his troops had made to a direct assault on the Tarhuna area (by 7 Armoured Division), he was becoming nervous about the outflanking move, which was more obvious every day. The advance of 4 Light Armoured Brigade towards Garian had been magnified into an attack by a full armoured division, and Rommel came to the conclusion that if his forces were to avoid being cut off he must move away to the west without delay—to the west and not to Tripoli. The first sign that the fall of Tripoli was inevitable shows in the orders issued to the Axis forces on the evening of 19 January. The 164th Light Division and the GAF Brigade were to block the TarhunaCastel Benito road until the evening of the 20th; the reconnaissance group (3, 33, and Nizza units) were to deploy south, south-east and south-west of Azizia and 15 Panzer was in army reserve thereabouts. The whole of the Italian XXI Corps was to evacuate the Homs position at once, part moving to the Tripoli defences and part back to Zauia, west of Tripoli. The XXth Corps, comprising the Young Fascists and Centauro Battle Group, was also to go to Zauia, and 90 Light Division was left to carry out a fighting withdrawal along the coastal road.

1 Rommel Papers, p. 387.