Sunday, February 06, 2005

On this day in military 1941

On this day in military history….in 1941. The British 7th Armoured Division (“The Desert Rats”) destroys the Italian 10th Army at the battle of Beda Fomm. In September 1940, Mussolini ordered his forces in Libya to attack the British in Egypt. The Italian forces advanced about 50 kilometers across the Libya/Egypt border, stopped at Sidi Barrani along the coast road and started digging in. In December 1940, the British West Desert Force launched Operation Compass which exploited a gap in the Italian defenses at Sidi Barrani to attack the Italian rear. Not wanting to be cut off, the Italian forces started a general retreat with quickly turned into a veritable “sauve-qui-peut” (ever notice how words for military defeat are always French?).

Along the north coast of Cyrenaica in eastern Libya, the distance from Tobruk to Benghazi on the Gulf of Sirte is over 320 kilometers along the coast. However, across the desert, the distance is only 240 kilometers. The Italian Army was retreating along the coast road with elements of the British Army in hot pursuit. The rest of the British Army decided to take a “short cut” across the “bulge” to the Gulf of Sirte and catch the Italian Army before they could escape.

As the Italian 10th Army was traveling south along the coast road from Benghazi to El Agheila, the British 7th Armoured Division (11th Hussars) arrived first and set up a blocking position along the coast road to the south of Beda Fomm. The Italians encountered the blocking force and as they were trying to break thru, the rest of the 7th Armoured Division (3rd and 7th Hussars) struck the Italian left flank at Beda Fomm. At that point, being trapped in a classic “L” ambush on a divisional/corps scale, the Italians decided to surrender. Over 25,000 prisoners, 100 tanks, 210 guns and 1,500 other vehicles were captured by the British Army.


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