Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–45

The Relief of Tobruk

by W. E. Murphy

War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs

Wellington, New Zealand


The authors of the volumes in this series of histories prepared under the supervision of the War History Branch of the Department of Internal Affairs have been given full access to official documents. They and the Editor-in-Chief are responsible for the statements made and the views expressed by them.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: After Greece and Crete

Chapter 2: Lull in the Desert War

Chapter 3: Preparing for Action

Chapter 4: The CRUSADER Plan

Chapter 5: Eighth Army and Panzer Group Africa

Chapter 6: From Baggush to the Libyan Frontier

Chapter 7: A Disastrous Beginning

Chapter 8: The Frontier Operations Begin

Chapter 9: Heading for Tobruk

Chapter 10: Sunday of the Dead

Chapter 11: The Attack on Point 175

Chapter 12: The Matruh Stakes

Chapter 13: The Capture of the Blockhouse

Chapter 14: Success at Belhamed; Failure at Sidi Rezegh

Chapter 15: Joining Hands with the Tobruk Garrison

Chapter 16: A Costly Night Attack on Sidi Rezegh

Chapter 17: Rommel’s ‘Evil Dream’

Chapter 18: Two Attacks on Capuzzo

Chapter 19: The Loss of 5 Brigade Headquarters

Chapter 20: Rommel Returns to the Tobruk Front

Chapter 21: Increasing Pressure on 6 Brigade

Chapter 22: Counter-attack on the Tobruk Corridor

Chapter 23: Sidi Rezegh is Lost

Chapter 24: Belhamed and Zaafran

Chapter 25: Plodding on Westwards

Chapter 26: Gazala and Beyond

Appendix 1

Appendix 2

New Zealand Honours and Awards in CRUSADER Campaign





Men of 19 Battalion pass a Matilda of 4 Royal Tanks at Ed Duda after the link-up with Tobruk – Ceremonial parade at Baggush before the battle – A chilly autumn swim at Baggush – A relief model of the battle area – New Zealanders and Indians extend the desert railway – Fifth Brigade drives towards the frontier – Crossing the frontier wire – A Divisional Cavalry Bren carrier pauses in muddy going inside Libya – Crusader tanks advance across scrubland – An armoured-car patrol – A desert convoy led by a Stuart tank – An early conference in Libya – A quick meal during a halt in the advance – Valentines of 8 Royal Tanks drive past New Zealand field guns – New Zealand Bofors crew ready for action at dawn, 22 November 1941 – Sidi Azeiz – Fort Capuzzo – C Squadron, 8 Royal Tanks, with 6 Brigade – An 88 is towed away from Gambut by a ‘half-track’ as 4 Brigade arrives, 23 November – Men of 20 Battalion move past Valentines of A Squadron, 8 Royal Tanks, near Bir el Chleta, 24 November – An early batch of German prisoners – The Blockhouse – The ‘Mosque’ at Sidi Rezegh – An artillery signals truck in action – Infantry of the Tobruk garrison advance in the break-out battle – German prisoners on Belhamed on 26 November – Major-General R. M. Scobie confers with his predecessor, Major-General L. J. Morshead, on taking command of the Tobruk garrison – Tobruk, an aerial mosaic looking south-eastwards towards the main battlefield at Sidi Rezegh – A and B Companies of 19 Battalion pass 4 Royal Tanks in a thrust from Ed Duda to link up with 6 Brigade, 27 November – Lieutenant-Colonel S. F. Hartnell of 19 Battalion greets Brigadier A. C. Willison of 32 Army Tank Brigade at Ed Duda – Brigadier H. R. B. Watkins of 1 Army Tank Brigade confers with Lieutenant-Colonel W. G. Gentry after a Stuka raid – Brigadier L. M. Inglis, commanding 4 Infantry Brigade – Marked map captured with General von Ravenstein on 29 November – 15 Panzer Division bears down on 6 Brigade at Sidi Rezegh, 30 November – Closing in on 6 Brigade – General Freyberg speaks by wireless to 30 Corps – A portée of L Troop in action on 1 December – Smoke over Belhamed, 1 December – Belhamed, 1 December – A blazing Signals truck on Belhamed – Guns of 4 Field Regiment prepare for anti-tank action after Belhamed is lost – Retreat from Zaafran, 1 December – New Zealand vehicles enter Tobruk – Lieutenant-General Sir Alan Cunningham, first commander of Eighth Army – Lieutenant-General C. W. M. Norrie, GOC 30 Corps – Bardia – Sollum from the air – A Vickers gun of 4 MG Company in action at Menastir with 22 Battalion – Scene of fierce fighting outside Bardia – The turret of a Matilda tank holed by a German anti-tank gun – Transport under fire in the lee of an escarpment – A corner of the captured MDS near Point 175 – The prisoner-of-war compound after Bardia fell – A Bofors being manhandled up an escarpment on the way to Gazala – Stuka raid on transport near Gazala – Italians captured in the Gazala line march past a Vickers gun – A New Zealand 25-pounder firing in the Gazala battle – Lieutenant-General N. M. Ritchie – Lieutenant-General A. R. Godwin-Austen, GOC 13 Corps – Major-General W. H. E. Gott, GOC 7 Armoured Division – General Auchinleck congratulates General Freyberg after the campaign – General Rommel seated on a German armoured truck, February 1942 – General Bastico, C-in-C of the Italian High Command in North Africa – Major-General von Ravenstein, GOC 21 Panzer Division – Major-General Neumann-Silkow, GOC 15 Panzer Division – Major-General Sümmermann, GOC 90 Light Division


The Mediterranean Theatre

The Battle Area

The Armoured Battle, 19–22 November 1941

Belhamed and Zaafran, 1 December 1941

In text

BATTLEAXE Operation, 15–17 June 1941

The Move to the Assembly Area, 11–14 November 1941

The Approach March, 15–18 November 1941

13 Corps Operations, 19 November

The New Zealand Division advances, afternoon and evening of 21 November

Operations of 5 Brigade, 22 November

Attack on the Omar forts, 7 Indian Brigade, 22 November

The Capture of Sollum Barracks, 23 November

Blocking the Via Balbia, 22 November

The Division advances westwards, 23 November

The Attack on 5 South African Brigade, 3–6 p.m., 23 November

6 Brigade, approximately 1 p.m., 23 November

Attack and counter-attack at Point 175, afternoon of 23 November

Rommel’s dash to the Frontier, 24 November

The Capture of Point 175, B Company, 24 Battalion, 24 November

Attack on Point 172, 20 Battalion, 24 November

The Capture of the Blockhouse, 25 November

Parallel attacks by 4 and 6 Brigades, night 25–26 November

Linking up with Tobruk, 26 November and night 26–27 November

‘Sidi Rezegh is Ours’ – morning 27 November

A Wasted Day at the Frontier, 25 November

Frontier Operations, 26 November; two night attacks on Capuzzo, 26–27 November

The Capture of 5 Brigade Headquarters, 27 November

Attack on Capuzzo, afternoon of 27 November

The Capture of Jalo

Rommel returns to the Tobruk front, 27 November

Sweeping the Corridor as the Panzers return, 28 November

Operations, 29 November: Attacks on Ed Duda and Point 175

Counter-attack on Sidi Rezegh, 30 November

Action at Menastir, 3 December

Fighting near Bir el-Gubi, 4–5 December

The Second Attack on Ed Duda, 4 December

Approaching Gazala, 11–12 December

Assault on the Gazala line, 13–16 December

A lost chance, 16 December

Pursuit across Cyrenaica, December 1941–January 1942

Frontier Operations, 16 December 1941–17 January 1942

The occupations given in the biographical footnotes are those on enlistment. The ranks are those held on discharge or at the date of death.