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Bardia to Enfidaville

The Enemy on 17 January

page 102

The Enemy on 17 January

The 90th Light Division continued its withdrawal along the line of the main road back towards Misurata. The 164th Light Division, Africa Panzer Grenadier Regiment and Centauro Battle Group were in and around Beni Ulid. The intention was that 164 Light should act as rearguard after 15 Panzer and the reconnaissance units had passed through, for Beni Ulid was a bottleneck. This left a large gap in the German line, which GAF Brigade filled by moving across from the main road to Bir Dufan. A further gap still remained between that place and Beni Ulid and it was through this that 8 Armoured Brigade had penetrated. In front of 2 NZ Division 3 Reconnaissance Unit covered the retirement of 15 Panzer Division to Beni Ulid, and at last light was still to the east of that village. After a bad day 33 Reconnaissance Unit had escaped 4 Light Armoured Brigade only by the barest margin with the help of a few tanks from 15 Panzer Division.

As on the two previous nights, Rommel decided that he could not stand, particularly as his line had been breached by 8 Armoured Brigade. At 7 p.m. he gave orders for all main bodies to retire to the TarhunaHoms line and for the Italian non-motorised troops already there to go back to the close defences of Tripoli. These ran in an irregular line on an arc about 15 miles from the town, were by no means strong, and presented no real obstacle.

Rommel also indicated to Superlibia that not even the motorised formations could make an effective stand on the TarhunaHoms line, but would also have to move back to Tripoli, which would be threatened by 20 or 21 January. His main reason for these conclusions was the shortage of all supplies, for he considered that with better maintenance he could hold the TarhunaHoms line for some time. The going to the south-west, where an outflanking attack might be made, was known to be very bad—as 2 NZ Division was to discover.