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Bardia to Enfidaville

The Enemy on 21 January

The Enemy on 21 January

During 21 January the enemy maintained his existing positions, 90 Light Division opposing 51 (H) Division astride the road west of Corradini and 164 Light holding up 7 Armoured Division just west of Tarhuna. The GAF Brigade was south of Castel Benito, with Africa Panzer Grenadier Regiment behind it, and the Reconnaissance Group south of Azizia, with 15 Panzer Division to its north. The Italians were either withdrawing into the Tripoli defences or were on the way to Zauia.

Rommel had decided not to attempt to make a further stand, as the weight of the attack on his western flank was increasing. He would save his army and abandon Tripoli, while Montgomery wanted Tripoli and looked on the capture of the German army as less urgent. For once the intentions of the opposing commanders were complementary.

So 90 Light Division was ordered to break off contact during the night of 21–22 January, withdraw through Tripoli to west of Sorman and take up a position facing south and east. The XXIst Corps, with oddments of Italian divisions and a rearguard from 90 Light, was to stay in the Tripoli defences at least until the evening of the 22nd, for there was just a chance that the advancing British might not reach Tripoli by 23 January. The 164th Light Division would withdraw to the area south of Zauia, and GAF Brigade was to take over rearguard duties south of Castel Benito. The Reconnaissance Group was to withdraw when under pressure to the south-west of Bianchi; and 15 Panzer would stay at Azizia. page 112 Africa Panzer Grenadier Regiment apparently withdrew to the west, for it disappears from the order of battle for the next few days.

Early on 21 January Rommel received his answer from Marshal Cavallero saying, ‘the Duce's directions are unchanged. The destruction of the army must be avoided, but as much time as possible must be gained.’1 Ignoring the great discrepancy between this and the previous order, it is difficult to quarrel with this latest directive.

1 Narrative, German-Italian Panzer Army.