Battle of Gazala - Aftermath


Immediately after his capture of Tobruk Rommel was promoted field-marshal. By contrast, the defeat at Gazala and Tobruk's surrender led to the dismissal of Ritchie with Auchinleck taking direct command of the Eighth Army.

After capturing Tobruk, Panzer Army Afrika advanced towards Egypt. Auchinleck bought time by refusing to confront Rommel's forces directly but harried them using relatively small but powerful battle groups. He decided to abandon the Mersa Matruh position because it had an open flank to the south of the sort well exploited by Rommel at Gazala. He decided instead to withdraw a further 100 miles or more east to near El Alamein where the steep slopes of the Qattara Depression ruled out the possibility of armour moving round the southern flank of his defences.

Despite this victory, Axis armour losses were irreplaceable. The weakening of the Panzer Divisions after the battle had severely damaged the power of the Afrika Korps. As a result, Rommel was not able to take advantage of this success and pursue Operation Aida. The substantial reinforcements of American-made armour ensured the British had numerical superiority for the rest of the North African Campaign.

Rommel made several attacks on the Alamein Line between 30 June and 1 July in the First Battle of El Alamein but was repulsed. Despite Auchinleck's success in halting the Axis advance here, Churchill had lost confidence in him. He had shown considerable talent as an army commander but his choice of subordinates had proved weak or unlucky. He had expected Neil Ritchie to command an army having only had command experience as a divisional commander; he moved Eighth Army's most experienced armour commander, Gott, from 7th Armoured Division to command XIII Corps, an infantry formation; he moved Frank Messervy to command 7th Armoured Division having only had infantry and cavalry command experience.

Rommel knew the serious position of the Axis forces after the battle. Rommel noted in his diary on 4 July; "Our own forces are worn out". On 5 July, Rommel describes the situation as critical; on 17 July, he says, "The enemy, superior especially in infantry, is swallowing up one Italian unit after the other. The Germans are much too weak to hold themselves. I could weep!". In August, Auchinleck was replaced as Eighth Army commander by XIII Corps commander Lieutenant-General William Gott and as C-in-C Middle East Command by General Sir Harold Alexander. Gott was killed in an air crash on the way to take up his command and Bernard Montgomery was appointed in his place.

An attempted landing was made at Tobruk during the night of 13–14 September 1942 (Operation Agreement). The British force was to remain at Tobruk for a full day, leaving with a sizeable proportion of the 16,000 British prisoners. The assumption was made that the defending Italian forces would not put up much of a fight. The raiding forces failed in the face of heavy fire from the Italian coastal batteries that sank HMS Sikh and spirited resistance from the Italian San Marco Marine battalion stationed there. As resistance collapsed and the raiding force withdrew, a Luftwaffe Junkers 88 (Oblt. Göbel) sank the light cruiser HMS Coventry and a Regia Aeronautica Macchi C.200 (Major Viale) sank the destroyer HMS Zulu. The total British killed and wounded incurred during Operation Agreement included 280 naval personnel, 300 Royal Marines and 160 soldiers killed, wounded or captured.

Lt. Colonel Henry Robert Bowreman Foote was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during the battle.

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