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Second World War History > From Gazala to Tobruk Timline

From Gazala to Tobruk Timeline

Rommel takes on the Gazala Line - making steady progress against the Allies in North Africa - inevitably taking the jewel of Tobruk.

Authored By Staff Writer

German Panzer General Erwin Rommel had already distinguished himself in battle during the First World War. His subsequent successes in the early phases of World War 2 brought about even more notice. Rommel maneuvered his Panzer forces to victory in the Battle for France and pushed the Allies off the coast at Dunkirk. By the time of actions in North Africa, Rommel was a highly respected officer with the right combination of experience and instincts that most generals never achieve.


1941 saw Rommel and the German Army completing actions in North Africa, capturing strategic coastal cities to further their interest in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Though often times coming up against larger Allied forces, his Panzer troops seemed to dial up the victory each time, adding more and more credibility to Rommel's legacy - ultimately delivering onto him the title of "Desert Fox".


Rommel had proven a master of adjusting his tactics to put his troops in the best possible position in achieving the victory. He understood that fighting in the wide open spaces of a desert required tactics that were wholly different than those needed when fighting throughout the cities, towns and countrysides of Europe. With a force numbering just 561 tanks made up of Germans and Italians, Rommel faced a larger British force of some 900 tanks. One major advantage that Rommel maintained was the on-call services of the experienced German luftwaffe.


Rommel and his Panzer forces finally began their assault on the heavily defended British line at Gazala in May of 1942. He utilized his Italian armor contingent as a diversion to pull Allied resources to the north while launching his vastly superior German armor at points along the south of the line. The British responded to the trap with a series of uncoordinated offensives that were quickly put down. As the Germans progressed, their supply lines grew precariously thin, at some points forcing the front of the Panzer Army to rely solely on captured supplies from the retreated or defeated Allies.


Some two weeks of fighting, at the cost of lives (the entire British 150th Brigade was utterly destroyed) and 30% of Rommel's tank force, the Gazala Line finally broke and the Allies retreated in haste. The last jewel in Rommel's crown would be the taking of the post city of Tobruk - which eventually fell to the Germans on June 21st. The German supply lines throughout northern Africa were now settled and safe.

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Total Gazala to Tobruk Events: 26

1942
Tuesday
May 26th

Group Cruewell, made up of the Italian X and XI Corps, launches an assault on the northern portion of the Gazala Line in an attempt to divert Allied forces from the real attack coming from the south.

1942
Tuesday
May 26th

Rommel begins his offense against the Gazala Line, made up of some 50 miles of British defenses.

1942
Tuesday
May 26th

Beginning at 7:00PM, the German 90th Infantry Division, the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions and the Italian XX Corps under Rommel launch their offensive along the southern portion of the Gazala Line.

1942
Wednesday
May 27th

German forces south of Bir Hacheim make progress and begin to move northwards.

1942
Wednesday
May 27th

The 1st Free French Brigade at Bir Hacheim holds off the German progress.

1942
Monday
June 1st

Nearly 30% of German tanks have been lost in Rommel's offensive.

1942
Thursday
May 28th

While trying to take Sidra Ridge, German Panzer force casaulties begin to mount significantly.

1942
Sunday
May 31st

As the Allied defense along the Gazala line holds, Rommel is forced to change tactics, now concentrating his forces against the British 150th Brigade near Sidi Muftah.

1942
Sunday
May 31st

Rommel orders his forces to begin defensive preparations across a 10 mile stretch.

1942
Monday
June 1st - June 3rd

A German pocket develops near Sidi Muftah.

1942
Saturday
June 6th

The British 150th Brigade is utterly destroyed under the German assault, resulting in 4,000 British prisoners of war.

1942
Friday
June 5th

The Allies attempt an offensive to drive the German pocket back from Sidi Muftah and fail. 230 Allied tanks are lost in the attack.

1942
Wednesday
June 10th

The 1st Free French Brigade at Bir Hacheim can hold no more and retreat under the mounting German pressure.

1942
Thursday
June 11th

The German Army breaks out of their pocket near Sidi Muftah.

1942
Thursday
June 11th

German forces breaking out near Sidi Muftah target the British 7th Armored Division near El Adem.

1942
Thursday
June 11th

The Allies go into full retreat as the Germans advance.

1942
Thursday
June 18th

The city of Tobruk, defended by the 2nd South African Division, is completely surrounded by German forces.

1942
Saturday
June 20th

Rommel begins his offensive against the defenders in Tobruk.

1942
Saturday
June 20th

Artillery shells and Luftwaffe bombs rain upon Tobruk.

1942
Saturday
June 20th

At 7:00PM, the German 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions have made it past Tobruk's first line of defense, making headway into the city.

1942
Sunday
June 21st

The 2nd South African Division under Allied General Klopper officially concede defeat and hand control of Tobruk to the Germans.

1941
Monday
March 24th

Rommel begins his attack near El Agheila.

1941
Wednesday
April 2nd

Rommel's forces reach Agedabia.

1941
Sunday
April 6th

Rommel reaches Mechili.

1941
Monday
April 7th

Rommel reaches Derna.

1941
Thursday
May 15th

The British launch Operation Brevity against Rommel's dug-in forces, making little progress against the prepared defenders.
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