The Relief of Tobruk
CHAPTER 17 — Rommel's ‘Evil Dream’
Rommel's ‘Evil Dream’
THE struggle to establish the Tobruk Corridor had gone on in a separate compartment of the campaign from that in which Rommel was operating and, despite crossed lines of communication, interaction between the two remained at a remarkably low level. Freyberg and Scobie knew next to nothing of what the German armour was doing and an event as important as the dismissal of the Eighth Army Commander took place without their knowledge. So far as 13 Corps knew, the Axis tank strength was too low for decisive action and the revived power of the British armour was well able to deal with it. But relative tank strengths gave no good guide to the fighting ability of 15 Panzer Division, which was still stronger than the British armour and able to stage a counter-attack against the Corridor of far greater weight than Freyberg and Scobie envisaged. If 21 Panzer Division had not been reduced in the mean-time to a shadow of its former strength they would probably have faced disaster.
The dash to the frontier, in the opinion of Rommel's closest associates, was a mistake; but on 25 November it was not an irretrievable one. Rommel could well exploit the panicky situation in the rear areas of Eighth Army by seizing huge stocks of military supplies and cutting supply routes, by crippling the RAF fighter force while it lay helpless on the ground, and by spreading chaos and dismay in widening circles until crusader became submerged (as Cunningham feared it might) in anxieties for the safety of Egypt. But he chose instead to attack objectives which were either unprofitable or illusory.
With Cruewell and Gause, however, he first had to avoid capture by one of many British detachments near where he spent an uncomfortable night somewhere north of Maddalena. In this he was lucky, and early on the 25th his little group made its way northwards unmolested, crossed the Wire, and joined Cruewell's tiny head-quarters at Gasr el Abid.page 298
In the light of the latest information, which was sparse, Rommel and Cruewell then conferred on their next step. Ariete had been delayed and was not at hand to help surround the British forces Rommel believed were besieging his frontier garrisons, and there was no news of Trieste Division, but he could not afford to wait. Through Cruewell he therefore ordered 15 Panzer to attack these British forces from the north-west and drive them on to the mine-fields, deploying for this purpose on a wide front between Sidi Omar and Sidi Azeiz and raising clouds of dust to give the impression of greater strength than Neumann-Silkow actually possessed. At the same time 21 Panzer was to attack from the south-east with its greatest force on the left at Sidi Omar. He also conceived of a thrust by a mixed force southwards to seize Jarabub, to cut the L of C of the British force reported to be deep into the hinterland of Cyrenaica and threatening Jalo and Aujila. But he gave no thought to Eighth Army Headquarters, nor to the huge supply depots which must exist in the neighbourhood, nor even to the nearby landing grounds from which the RAF fighters operated. The raid to Bir Habata by 33 Reconnaissance Unit, which he had ordered the previous night, had not yet started for lack of petrol and ammunition and Cruewell reported accordingly; but this evoked no comment from Rommel, whose interests were firmly fixed on a largely non-existent enemy to the north.
Rommel was accustomed to giving orders on broad lines, leaving the details for the Panzer Group or Africa Corps staffs to fill in; but in this case no staff worthy of the name was at hand and the nebulous nature of the enemy he proposed to attack, which would have been disclosed to trained staff officers by the lack of specific information as to units and locations, remained obscured. It did not even emerge in this discussion that both panzer divisions were badly situated to carry out their share of his new scheme. Having prepared to attack northwards, 15 Panzer would now have to draw back, rearrange all its march schedules, and deploy on a different front from that envisaged the previous night. Unless this division was quickly and effectively committed to action in the frontier area, however, most of the effect of the operation as a whole on the minds of the senior British commanders (if Rommel was in fact aiming at their minds) would be lost.
Instead of striking thin air Rommel might have made it his business to get in touch with Major-General de Giorgis at Bir Ghirba and find out from him all he could about the British dispositions in the frontier area, concerting with Savona Division a course of action based on knowledge rather than intuition. By so doing Rommel would have learned that Omar Nuovo and all but page 299 the western part of Libyan Omar had fallen into British hands. But he seems not to have known where de Giorgis was. Rommel's orders and later accounts strongly suggest that he thought the southern anchor of his frontier line was still intact, though threatened by mobile forces of some size. ‘South and east of Sidi Omar an enemy group of considerable strength with much artillery had been recognised’, Kriebel says in his post-war narrative, and this evidently refers to 4/11 Sikh and 1 Field Regiment, RA.1
These two units were east of the Omars at first light, getting ready to move but not ready to fight where they were. When what looked like twenty-five German tanks2 fired on a troop of the field regiment at 7.30 a.m., there followed anxious moments until the tanks withdrew out of range. The guns were then hastily dug in where the ground permitted, and where it was too hard they went into action without any sort of cover.
Meanwhile Cruewell had passed Rommel's orders on to von Ravenstein near Halfaya and then ran across Colonel Stephan of 5 Panzer Regiment and told him to report at once with his regiment to Headquarters of 21 Panzer. This meant driving north-eastwards, either through or round the British force with which the tanks had already clashed, though Stephan may not have been fully aware of this. But the matter was soon afterwards taken out of Stephan's hands by the RAF, which strafed his columns and inflicted wounds on him from which he later died.
1 4/11 Sikh had formed up outside the minefields to escort supplies to 5 NZ Bde, and though this mission had been cancelled the unit was still outside the defences. 1 Fd Regt, RA, was poised to tackle the ‘raiding parties’ which had crossed into Egypt, in conjunction with CIH.
Quickly thinking things over, Mildebrath decided to swing to the right round the flank of the British force and then make his way to Halfaya as originally ordered; but even this course was denied him. The gun position was more extensive than he thought and the intended outflanking move became a frontal assault which met the full force of the guns of 52 Battery and a troop of 11 Field Battery. Some tanks got to within 300 yards, but at this range the 25-pounder fire was too much and they broke away to the south-east, ‘with the vengeful guns buffeting them’, as the history of 4 Indian Division says. ‘Seven smashed tanks dotted the plain, and troops of South African anti-tank gunners, which arrived too late to join the action, finished off another as it hobbled away.’1 Thus arguments in many an artillery mess about what would happen in a ‘straight-out’ clash between panzers and 25-pounders were settled in favour of the latter. As the battle report of 5 Panzer Regiment adds, ‘Most of the regiment's remaining tanks and guns also received some battle scar’ and tank ammunition was running low.
The price the gunners paid for their success was sadly in evidence to Lieutenant-Colonel Dobree of 1 Field Regiment, RA, and others who toured the battlefield after the Germans had gone. It was ‘exactly like some of the more gruesome Gunner battle pictures that one used to see on the walls of messes’, Dobree says: ‘damaged guns, bits of limbers, blown up ammunition, dead and wounded everywhere.’2 Of 66 casualties all told, 42 were in 52 Field Battery (out of 73 in that battery who were in action this day). Five guns were knocked out, but all were repaired and back in action next day.
2 Royal Artillery Commemoration Book, 1939–1945, p. 192.
3 5 Pz Regt battle report.
The unlucky major could not argue with Rommel and had to do the best he could. If his orders entailed attacking Libyan Omar then he would attack; but it was quite impossible to do so on a ‘wide front’ as his regiment was now down to the strength of about ‘a reinforced company’1 and his communications were altogether too tenuous to cover a wide area. Three damaged tanks were towed forward to bolster up his dwindling fire power and, though still short of ammunition and petrol, he set off northwards soon after 1 p.m.
His determination may have deserved a change of luck but did not get it. After a brush with the five remaining tanks of 42 Royal Tanks, Mildebrath pushed on until he came upon what looked like a ‘position about 12 km wide along the frontier’ but was actually the two Omars, with which he was evidently unfamiliar. To the mystification of the defenders of Omar Nuovo (‘Frongia’), who expected the enemy to know where their own minefields were, 5 Panzer Regiment steadily closed in on them and seemed likely to try to charge through the minefields. To the infantry it was evident that the contest, when it started in earnest, would be between the German tanks and the defending guns, and they rose from their trenches to get a better view.
1 5 Pz Regt battle report.
2 Some 15 tanks all told had got into the western part of Libyan Omar and did not rejoin the regiment until some days later, minus eight lost in the meantime in other misadventures.
The operations of 15 Panzer Division this day were scarcely more successful. Heavy air attacks persisted for some time in the morning and caused many casualties. Before 9 a.m. Rommel ordered Neumann-Silkow to advance at once with his right flank level with Libyan Omar; on reaching there he was to deploy over a wide front stretching northwards to Sidi Azeiz to ‘hem in the enemy in the Sollum area’.1 This again suggests that he expected Libyan Omar to be in friendly hands and he was aiming at an enemy he thought faced the frontier line between there and the coast.2 Even so it was a tall order, and Neumann-Silkow promptly disbanded the force he had formed on Corps orders to carry out Ariete's blocking role in the Bir Gibni area, so as to have more troops to cover the 20 miles between Libyan Omar and Sidi Azeiz. He also ignored the Corps order to supply the infantry battalion, guns, and other detachments required for the excursion to Jarabub and thus put paid to this scheme, which might have had far more favourable repercussions from the German point of view than anything else Rommel at present contemplated. To add a further impression of strength the supply lorries were also added to the battle array of 15 Panzer, to the detriment of their proper role.
All this took time, however, especially under air attack, and refuelling caused further delay. It was 1.45 p.m. before the division got properly under way, half an hour later it clashed briefly with British tanks, and at 3 p.m. 8 Panzer Regiment came up against what looked like a ‘strong enemy force’ but which was actually the Light Recovery Section of 1 Army Tank Brigade.
1 15 Pz Div diary.
General Neumann-Silkow had suffered all day from a shortage of petrol and at 12.30 p.m., when he reported ‘enemy in strength at Sidi Azeiz’, he had been ordered to attack with his ‘main body’ and destroy this force; but it was far more urgent to refuel and restock with ammunition. Though a ‘large supply column’ reached him during the night, practically no supplies got through to 21 Panzer and this division, in the euphemistic words of the Africa Corps diary, ‘had not yet succeeded’ by midday ‘in assembling its forces and launching a unified attack’. General von Ravenstein with a small headquarters group was at ‘Faltenbacher’ strongpoint south-west of Halfaya, 5 Panzer Regiment was in course of dissolution, and Knabe Group ‘on the way to the division, but apparently engaged against its will in fighting east of Sidi Omar’. Von Ravenstein succeeded in assembling a battalion to attack Capuzzo early in the afternoon but it could not do so, also for lack of petrol. Later in the afternoon Knabe joined him but he, too, was in urgent need of fuel.
1 Some 45 men were lost in this action on the British side, all but two of them captured and most of them from 42 R Tks. See Masters, pp. 116–20.
Back at Gasr el Abid the small Corps Headquarters did its best to keep up the normal staff routine and by a roundabout way through 21 Panzer received a signal from Westphal at El Adem at 9.45 a.m. on the 25th stating that attacks had broken through the centre of Boettcher Group, opening a gap between Trento and Pavia which he was plugging with elements of Trieste. Westphal feared a concurrent extension of the Tobruk garrison's operations to join hands and asked for a panzer division to intervene at once. This message did not reach Cruewell until 4 p.m. and Rommel did not receive it until 10.30 a.m. on the 26th.
Cruewell had feared that such a situation might arise at Tobruk when he first learned of the frontier scheme and his war diary sets out his view:
The situation in front of Tobruk proved that, although the enemy had been defeated in the hard fighting on 23 Nov, he had not yet been destroyed, and therefore full advantage had not been taken of the early successes. Pz Gp, contrary to the advice of the Corps Commander, had taken the surprising step of moving Africa Corps away to the Sollum front, quitting the battlefield and the vast quantity of captured material there. The enemy had thus been able to reassemble, retake much of the equipment and weapons he had lost, and reorganise his forces.
Thus he did not realise that the forces in question were fresh and independent of those he had defeated. In particular, he had not identified them as the New Zealand Division, though he strongly suspected that the garrison at Sidi Azeiz was a New Zealand brigade with ‘part of an Indian division with a large number of Mk II tanks’ – a most flattering estimate of Hargest's headquarters group. His proposals for next day, however, were sound and for 5 New Zealand Brigade ominous. They were to destroy the force at Sidi Azeiz, clear Capuzzo, and ‘ensure supplies for both Pz divisions from stores at Bardia’, to attack with 21 Panzer from the east with the main weight (as Rommel specified) at Libyan Omar, and to get ready the group destined for Jarabub. Ariete was known at 5.15 p.m. to be ‘attacking an enemy force but meeting heavy resistance’ and was therefore left out of these calculations.
1 Of hemming in the frontier forts from the south.
With Rommel and Cruewell thus acting at cross purposes only confusion could result. No matter how much he exerted the force of his personality, Rommel could not create a significant fighting potential from the battered and weary remnants of 21 Panzer. At the same time Neumann-Silkow, who alone had the strength to produce effective action, had developed serious doubts about the whole scheme and was less hopeful than Cruewell of being able to maintain the frontier operations from Bardia. ‘Intend to carry on against the Sollum front’, he signalled to Corps at 8.10 p.m., ‘but this will only be possible if contact is made with the Tobruk supply base.’ His misgivings on this score were only slightly abated by the supply column which reached him in the night and it was evident to him that a return to the Tobruk front could not long be delayed. Both Rommel and Cruewell signalled for fighter cover next day against the torment from the air which had hampered them greatly; but in vain. Fighters from Gazala could not operate so far east. At El Adem Westphal was almost frantically trying to attract Rommel's attention to the very serious predicament in which he found himself. On the 25th he sent two aircraft to drop situation maps and other details, but both were shot down. After sending several wireless signals without acknowledgment he signalled to Cruewell at 10.57 p.m. in more moderate terms, having come to the curious opinion that the threat which he so greatly feared in the morning was now fading. By wireless interception he learned that two brigades and elements of one armoured brigade south-east of El Gubi were withdrawing and General Boettcher claimed to have repulsed an attack by two tank detachments of the New Zealand Division. The situation looked so favourable that Boettcher Group and Trieste Division were getting ready to stage a pursuit. Within a very short time 4 New Zealand Brigade, by seizing Belhamed, must have disillusioned him.page 307
If Rommel did in fact intend by the sudden move of his whole armoured force1 to the frontier area to shatter the nerve of the opposing commander and cause him to withdraw into Egypt he gained a partial success, but British misconceptions made his move seem less significant than its magnitude warranted. In any case, the crusader plan had been modified as much by circumstance and decision at lower levels as by the C-in-C, and Cunningham's few direct interventions had done little to affect the course of events. By the 25th an immediate full-scale retreat of Eighth Army was difficult, if not impossible, to bring about. Those who were fighting the battle outside Tobruk had the bit between their teeth. When Cunningham began to think of retreat and Auchinleck decided to dismiss him, the change was therefore less influential on the outcome of the campaign than might be supposed.
In his various statements on the subject Auchinleck gives three reasons for dismissing the Army Commander: defensive thinking due to heavy tank losses, undue concern about Rommel's dash to the frontier, and lack of confidence in his ability ‘to carry out my intentions’.2 With his calm presence and firm insistence that crusader must continue, Auchinleck had achieved his purpose regarding the first and Cunningham obeyed him ‘loyally’, though there was in fact every justification for ‘defensive thinking’ by the evening of the 23rd. On the second score, both Auchinleck and Cunningham greatly under-estimated the scope and power of Rommel's move, which was on the face of it highly dangerous. On the morning of the 25th crusader was trembling on the brink; by evening the striking power of Africa Corps had declined by loss and other circumstance enough to allow Eighth Army a chance of survival and even, if Rommel failed to develop effective action quickly, a chance of victory (though the odds were still against this).
2 Despatch, p. 339.
The choice of a successor was an unfortunate one, as Auchinleck soon realised, and led in a very short time to a dangerous duality of command in which Auchinleck peered over the newcomer's shoulder and the new Army Commander, Ritchie, freshly promoted lieutenant-general,1 kept glancing backwards for confirmation of his decisions. Auchinleck spent much of the next fortnight at Army Headquarters and it would have been better had he taken over command himself, as Churchill and Dill recommended on the 27th.2
Ritchie's background and experience were inadequate for the task. As De Guingand says, ‘It was an incredible responsibility to throw on his shoulders’.3 The obvious choice, if not Auchinleck himself, was Godwin-Austen, whose determination to continue the offensive was beyond question. Norrie, being as he says himself ‘armour-trained’, was needed in his present capacity and Freyberg could well have taken over 13 Corps. But Auchinleck wanted to disturb things as little as possible and seems to have regarded the appointment as very temporary, to tide over the crisis. This passed, however, regardless of the change of command and Ritchie could not then be replaced until he lost the more promising Gazala battle next summer. Then Auchinleck himself took command and kept it until he, too, was replaced. It was not Auchinleck's move but Rommel's ‘brilliant brain-storm’ which ‘saved the Eighth Army from defeat’4 on this occasion; in May and June of 1942 Rommel was in better form.5
1 He had been Auchinleck's Deputy Chief of Staff and had never held an important command in the field.
3 Op. cit., p. 99.
4 ‘Strategicus’, The War Moves East, p. 75.
5 The news when it leaked out was astounding. ‘It didn't sound so good’, Russell Hill writes (The Desert War, p. 84); ‘you don't usually change generals in the midst of a battle.’ Alexander Clifford ‘did not believe it’ (Three Against Rommel, p. 157). ‘We argued about it until we went to sleep, and next day we drove back to Army Battle Headquarters to see what we could find out. There were rumours, but no one knew anything definite.’
The area of 30 Corps by the morning of the 25th had been compressed south of the Trigh el-Abd except for Pienaar's 1 South African Brigade, which was astride it at El Esem. Norrie's current policy was to ‘reorganise his troops behind an armoured car screen thrown out to the north to protect 62 FMC on which the immediate supply of the Corps depended, and to guard his lines of communication eastwards through the Wire.’1 The reconnaissance units faced north with 4 South African Armoured Car Regiment on the right, the King's Dragoon Guards (less a squadron in Tobruk) in the centre, and 11 Hussars (less a squadron with 22 Armoured Brigade) on the left.
Behind these, four Jock Columns formed up on a wide arc guarding the FMCs, each strong enough to rebuff curiosity but not to fight a pitched battle. They each consisted in the main of about two companies of infantry with field and anti-tank artillery, and were useful in the present circumstances in that they could cover a large area of ground against light enemy forces; but they needed some way of concentrating quickly under unified command against any major threat which might present itself, and no such way was provided. This was the persistent weakness of this Jock Column policy and much colourful publicity, sentimentally associated with the gallant ‘Jock’ Campbell after whom the columns were named, only served to hide it and present these columns as giant-killers, which they were not. Once the enemy concentrated, the Jock Columns could inflict scratches on him but no serious wounds. In this manner most of the remaining strength of the Support Group and much of 22 Guards Brigade was dissipated, the rest being committed in direct defence of the FMCs.
All that had happened so far was that the artillery of Ariete and 7 Medium Regiment, RA, and 7 South African Field Regiment had exchanged fire, but little damage was done within the South African lines and there were no serious casualties. When the tanks of 4 Armoured Brigade interposed themselves between the Italians and South Africans and added the fire of 4 RHA to the current artillery duel, neither side cared seriously to challenge the other. An uneasy stalemate was thus maintained until dark. The Italian commander seems to have made just as much ado to his superiors about the fighting here as Pienaar did; but it was no part of his task to get heavily committed. Rommel badly wanted him in the frontier area and after dark that was where he headed.
Norrie was most anxious that Pienaar should stay where he was and several times questioned Brink on this point and was reassured. The messages between Brink and Pienaar, however, allowed some slight grounds for misunderstanding and in the evening Pienaar withdrew. Gatehouse opposed this move; but he had to follow in continuation of his task of protecting the South African brigade. Pienaar showed less reluctance on this occasion than on the night of the 22nd–23rd to undertake a move in the dark and reached 65 FMC in a most expeditious manner by 10.45 p.m. The ‘Battle of Taieb el-Esem’ was over and Brink was much embarrassed, expecting recriminations from Norrie, who had independent and more moderate reports of what had happened from 4 South African Armoured Car Regiment; but Norrie seemed unperturbed. His first thought was still to protect the FMCs against light enemy forces; but he had it in mind that 1 South African Brigade might be needed to help the New Zealanders and told Brink that Pienaar should be ready to move north at short notice for this purpose. Pienaar's withdrawal, however, had made it much harder for 30 Corps to help the New Zealand Division.
The presence of Ariete near Taieb el-Esem did serve a purpose, however, that was unintended and perhaps most important. Pienaar spoke of German tanks facing him and, when aerial reconnaissance reported this concentration, Eighth Army concluded, as the United Kingdom narrative states, that the ‘bulk of the enemy armour, together with a proportion of artillery and lorry-borne infantry, page 311 remained confronting 1 SA Bde at Taieb el Essem’. This allowed Army to estimate the ‘raiding force’ which ‘might have crossed the frontier in the Sheferzen area’ as no more than 30 tanks and 500 infantry, and 4 Indian Division was therefore told to mop up the enemy along the L of C of 13 Corps as far west as Bir Gibni, a task actually far beyond General Messervy's strength.
Messervy then had his 7 Brigade and Divisional Headquarters in the Omars, 11 Brigade on the coastal flat facing Halfaya, and 5 Brigade still trying to assemble its scattered elements for a mobile role. In this endeavour 5 Indian Brigade was not having much success and it was simultaneously trying to put the Playground and North Point areas, suddenly of vital importance, into a state of defence.1 Messervy was now under Army command, and behind his positions Brigadier Medley, BRA Eighth Army, was forming defences along the escarpment as far east as Sofafi. At Libyan Omar 7 Indian Brigade now had to contend with the tanks of II Battalion, 5 Panzer Regiment, but these could do little in the maze of mines and ditches. The Indians overcame one of the three remaining platoons of the original Axis garrison in an early-morning attack on the 27th, but the final mopping up of Libyan Omar had to be left until later, when ammunition became more plentiful.
The most pressing danger to 13 Corps was that the enemy would seize the huge stocks of supplies of all kinds which were dispersed over an area far too large to guard effectively at 50 FMC, south of Sheferzen, and for the early part of 25 November this danger seemed only too real. The Field Supply Depot, the Field Ammunition Depot, the POL dump, the Ordnance Field Park, the RE dump, the water point, the NAAFI/EFI stores,2 the labour camp, the PW cage and the Field Post Office covered an area of more than sixty square kilometres centred on the administrative headquarters, 50 FMC, staffed by a handful of New Zealanders under Major Closey.3 But Closey was soon to find that the difficulties of control introduced by this wide dispersion were more than offset by the security gained. It needed a thorough and systematic investigation to disclose the value of this great prize; but the Germans who came this way, with Rommel urging them to greater efforts elsewhere, had neither time nor encouragement for this.
1 The Column policy also reached out towards Messervy and he was expected to form mobile columns from his 5 Bde; but he could not do so.
2 Navy, Army, Air Force Institute/Expeditionary Force Institute—a mouthful to describe the body which organised British services canteens and provided entertainment for the forces.
1 The other NZ FMC staff, ‘B’ NZ FMC under Maj F. W. Huggins, now realised that it could not open up 51 FMC as intended west of Sidi Omar and instead was sent this day to take over 46 FMC in the 30 Corps area.
Supplying the New Zealand Division in its advanced position was becoming more and more difficult and this subject exercised many minds deeply. At 13 Corps Headquarters two possibilities were explored: air supply and replenishment from Tobruk. The first came to nothing, though the Division was warned to be ready and given the necessary code signals. The second was premature and Tobruk could not in any case supply much of the most urgently needed item, 25-pounder ammunition, since its stocks of this were dwindling fast. Administration from Rear Headquarters near Sidi Azeiz was under the circumstances hopeless and it was therefore decided to move Rear Headquarters and Administration Group, including two NZASC companies, to Bir el-Haleizin, a point a few miles south of Bir Sciafsciuf. This seemed conveniently near to the Division and was not likely to be affected by Freyberg's efforts to link up with Tobruk. The Ammunition Company was already near Haleizin, less one section with 5 Brigade, and was glad to receive on behalf of the Division petrol, ammunition and water brought in this morning by 65 General Transport Company, RASC, from 62 FMC, plus two German prisoners and a Fiat car, which betokened an adventurous journey. The move of Rear Division and Administration Group took place in the afternoon with little or no sign of enemy1 until after dark, when flares were seen. The huge group of vehicles spent the night a few miles short of its destination and had no trouble covering the remaining distance next morning.
1 Though one detachment of nine lorries captured seven Germans on the way and handed them to 1 Army Tk Bde.
To attend to the needs of 5 Brigade, another composite supply company was formed, again under Captain Roberts of the Supply Column, with C Section of the Ammunition Company, B and H Sections of the Supply Column, and a few lorries of 4 RMT Company for water-carrying. There were no lorries for POL, but none were likely to be needed for some time. Roberts duly assembled his vehicles and left for Sidi Azeiz at 4 p.m. On the way he caught sight of the vast bulk of 15 Panzer Division heading in the same direction and reported accordingly to Brigade Headquarters when he reached there at 5.30. He could not do much until one of the FMCs, preferably the 50th, was reported open and the route was clear. Meanwhile his lorries added greatly to the congestion at Sidi Azeiz, so that at 1 a.m. on the 26th he was told to go on to 22 Battalion at Menastir, where the ample folds of the escarpment could shelter the composite company until it could be used.