Operation Compass Forces Nazi Arrival in Libya
With the UN clearing the way with a formal resolution, coalition forces launched an air defense suppression campaign to establish a no-fly zone over the country of Libya this week. Attacks from US, French, UK and other regional military forces hit hard, initially with surface vessel and submarine launched tomahawk missiles targeting Gadhafi’s air defense missile network and corresponding command and control (C2) capabilities.
For our readers who may be unfamiliar with air defense concepts of operations, please reference our previous post on this site: You’re on my Radar – A Short Course in Air Defense.
Responding to the destruction of Libyan air sovereignty, Gadhafi labeled the international coalition “terrorists”, and following the successful Odyssey Dawn military operations that established the ability to operate in Libyan Air space with impunity, Gadhafi further labeled the coalition “The New Nazis”, even as his ground forces laid siege to the rebel base at Benghazi.
As history has shown, Nazi forces in fact did enter Cyrenaica and the Benghazi region to rescue an ill-conceived and poorly executed Italian military campaign in September 0f 1940, seventy one years ago.
Led by Marshal Rodolfo Graziani under direct orders from Mussolini, the Italian Tenth Army began their push from their base in Tripoli, set to establish positions as far as Cairo and Alexandria and threatening the Suez canal. But after advancing only sixty miles, Graziani held up his divisions just past Tobruk at Sidi Barrani, digging in and establishing a series of fortified camps that extended south from the coast, short of the Egyptian frontier.
Opposing Graziani in Egypt was a force of 36,000 British soldiers that comprised the Western Desert Force under the command of Major-General Richard O’Conner. Facing a three-to-one disadvantage in men and material, O’Conner was in a poor position to thwart the Italian Army. But after consulting with his commander General Wavell, O’Conner conceived and launched Operation Compass, a series of strong raids on the camps at dawn on December 9 with the 4th Indian Division in the vanguard, supported by 50 Matilda tanks. The British 7th armored was let loose south, outflanking the Italian defensive line and sweeping into the rear, causing the Italians to break and run.
By December 11, more than 38,000 Italian soldiers had surrendered to a numerically inferior force.
With O’Conner and the Australian 6th and British 7th armored in hot pursuit, Graziani was forced to abandon all of Cyrenaica, retreating to a line west of Benghazi. The crushing defeat came as a shock to the German high command, who immediately undertook preparations to provide military aid to Libya. It was less than one week after the pinnacle battle at Beda Fomm when Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel touched down in Tripoli under orders from Hitler to recapture Benghazi and all of Cyrenaica. Two days later, the first German troops arrived in Tripoli by sea, the legendary Deutsches Afrika Corps.
The Nazi’s had arrived in Libya, and set about to rapidly transform the situation, forcing the British Western Desert Force to retreat, and eventually establish a siege position at Benghazi.
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