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Operaton Compass Timeline

Authored By Dan Alex | Last Updated: 7/10/2014

The Italians were not up to the task as 150,000 troops fell to some 36,000 Allied soldiers.

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In September of 1940, Italian forces laid a foothold in Libya and passed on into Egypt to occupy several key positions. There, they arranged for defensive camps to awai tthe Allied response consisting of British, Indian and New Zealand troops of just 36,000-strong. Operation Compass then followed on December 9th after several days of offshore bombing from Royal Navy forces. The Allies moved on with relative ease and engaged the Italians in battle directly. The Italian Army - whose quality of training had always been called into question - either surrendered, retreated or died where it stood. The Allies then made substantial headway throughout the campaign and eventually secured the key port city of Tobruk, ensuring any future North African operations could be fully supplied by ship while damaging enemy supply lines in turn.


In the end, a better-trained 36,000 coalition force took 115,000 prisoners of war, dealing an embarrassing defeat to the Italian psyche while delivering an astounding shot in the arm to the Allies when they needed it most. Additionally, the Italians lost a stock of 400 tanks and nearly 1,300 artillery pieces as well as about 1,250 aircraft. The operation marked the first major Allied military operation of the Desert Campaign in the West ad it proved a decisive victory.


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There are a total of 16 Operation Compass Timeline Events. Entries are listed below by date of occurrence.

1940
Sunday
September 1st - September 30th

Italian forces, led by Marshal Graziani invade Egypt. During the month, the Italian army sets up a series of six defensive positions south of occupied Sidi Barrani known simply as Nibeiwa, Tummar East, Tummar West, North Sofafi, East Sofafi and West Sofafi.

1940
Friday
December 6th - December 8th

The Western Desert Force in Egypt, under the command of Major-General Richard O'Connor, set up pre-assault positions. The force includes 36,000 total men from the 7th Armored Division, 4th Indian Division and the New Zealand Division. They set up their initial position southeast of the Italian fort at Nibeiwa.

1940
Sunday
December 8th - December 9th

Aircraft of the Royal Navy are put into action against Italian forces dug in at Maktila and Barrani. Bombers are sent in to soften targets for the initial ground assault.

1940
Monday
December 9th

Operation Compass is officially launched.

1940
Monday
December 9th

The British 7th Armored Division launches attacks on the Italian camps positioned near Sofafi and Rabia and makes its way toward the critical ocean-side road near Buqbug.

1940
Monday
December 9th

The British 7th Tank Regiment, along with the 4th Indian Division, attack Italian positions at Tummar West and Nibeiwa.

1940
Tuesday
December 10th

The Italian camps at Tummar East fall to the Allies.

1940
Tuesday
December 10th

Italian forces stationed at Sidi Barrani are all but surrounded by the Allies.

1940
Tuesday
December 10th

Selby Force has removed the Italian 1st Libyan Division out of Maktila.

1940
Tuesday
December 10th

Selby Force sets its eyes on Sidi Barrani.

1940
Tuesday
December 10th

The Italian XXI Corps is in full retreat.

1940
Tuesday
December 10th

Some 38,000 Italian soldiers are taken prisoner by the Allies.

1940
Wednesday
December 11th

Royal Navy bombers begin attacks on Italian-held Sollum.

1940
Wednesday
December 11th

The Italian Catanzaro Division is captured, delivering another 30,000 Italian prisoners of war.

1941
Wednesday
January 22nd

The Allies take Tobruk, a key port city vital to North Africa operations.

1941
Wednesday
January 22nd

Operation Compass is effectively over, netting some 130,000 total Italian prisoners.