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. ©www.SecondWorldWarHistory.com
There are a total of (26) entries in the Timeline of the March from Gazala to Tobruk (April - November 1941). Entries are listed below by earliest date to latest date.