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Tobruk Timeline

Authored By Dan Alex | Last Updated: 4/3/2015

Rommel took on the Gazala Line, making steady progress against the Allies in North Africa, and eventually claimed the jewel that was Tobruk.

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Erwin Rommel made a name for himself as one of the most famous of the German generals in World War 2 (1939-1945) thanks in large part to his command in the North Africa Campaign. Prior to this, his exploits were well known as he led Panzer forces during the Battle of France and the final efforts to drive the Allies out of the French coast at Dunkirk. His next assignments brought him to North Africa in 1941 where his primary enemy would be the British and Commonwealth forces where it was soon witnessed that Rommel could overtake positions being held by numerically larger enemy forces.


Part of Rommel's success in the desert - indeed he was nicknamed the "Desert Fox" - was in understanding how little a role the desert terrain would play in tactics developed for European warfare. The wide open spaces of the desert opened themselves up to flanking maneuvers more than anything and Rommel understood this as the secret to his success in North Africa. From the port city of Tripoli, the Axis forces made their way beyond Sirte and El Agheila heading north towards Benghazi and Al Bayda. Beyond them lay the strategically important port city of Tobruk which was under Allied control. As the Axis forces moved forward, their supply lines ran perilously thin with some logistics aided by capturing enemy supplies.


With 561 tanks on hand made up largely of German Panzers with a trusted Italian contingent, he went to work during May of 1942 against an Allied force with some 900 tanks under its control. The defenders were well-entrenched along a stout defensive line and further protected by minefields while the attackers were well-versed in their art and helped by Close-Air Support (CAS) provided by the experienced Luftwaffe.


The Battle of Gazala, held just outside of Tobruk began on May 26th and would last until June 21st, 1942. Some of the far less mobile Italian armored force was sent northwards and successfully used as a diversion which freed the German Panzers to concentrate along the south - a tactic used multiple times in previous desert battles which claimed victories for the Axis. Partially encircled, the Allies attempted several counter-maneuvers to head off total annihilation. The fluidity of the Axis forces outshone the rigid command structure of the Allies as the counterattacks were put down one after the other. The Germans were able to bring their potent 88mm FlaK guns to bear against the newest Allied tank - the M3 Grant / Lee Medium Tank - which featured good armor protection and provided the most trouble for the Germans and Italians. Allied tactics were to fail them but still managed to reduce Rommel's forces some. The German supply lines remained a concern so a night time action on May 29th braved the Allied minefields to bring much-needed supplies to the attacking force.


The fighting lasted two weeks with either side attempting to not surrender the initiative. The Allied forces eventually began surrender ground and made their way back to Tobruk. The port city would fall to the Axis force and provided a new resupply base beyond the one arranged at far away Tripoli. From Tobruk, the war would come to El Alamein (Egypt) which produced two notable battles in itself - the first in July of 1942 and the second from October to November of 1942 - both becoming Allied victories that would finally turn the tide of the North African Campaign in favor of the Allies.


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There are a total of 26 the Tobruk Timeline Events. Entries are listed below by date of occurrence.

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.