Friday, June 17, 2011

Day 656 June 17, 1941

Operation Battleaxe. Starting at 4.30 AM, German 5th Light and 15th Panzer Divisions drive East to cut off the British still attacking Halfaya Pass. General Messervy senses the trap and orders 22nd Guards Brigade at Fort Capuzzo and 11th Indian Brigade at Halfaya Pass to retreat. 7th Armoured Division tanks form a screen against the advancing Panzers until 4 PM, allowing the retreating infantry to avoid the German encirclement. British losses during Battleaxe are 381 killed and missing, 588 wounded, 91 tanks (27 cruiser tanks and 64 Matildas), 33 RAF fighters and 3 bombers. Wavell will be replaced as CIC Middle East by Churchill for this failure to relieve Tobruk with the new tanks from the Tiger convoy. Germans lose 328 killed and missing, 350 wounded, only 12 tanks and 10 aircraft. Although Egypt lies undefended before him, Rommel cannot exploit this success due to long supply lines from Tripoli and the threat from Allied forces at Tobruk.

At 3.15 AM 250 miles Southwest of Ireland, U-43 sinks British MV Cathrine (24 crew lost, 3 in a lifeboat rescued after 33 days by the British trawler Boreas).

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