North Africa phase 1 file photo [438]

Operation Compass

8 Dec 1940 - 9 Feb 1941


ww2dbaseAs the Italian invasion into British-occupied Egypt slowed to a halt in Sep 1940, Archibald Wavell ordered British Troops Egypt Lieutenant General Henry Wilson to begin planning a limited operation to push the Italians back in to Libya. The offensive was codenamed Operation Compass. It was originally planned to be a raid to be conducted over a five-day period, but by 28 Nov 1940 the British were so confident in their superiority that Wavell gave the permission for Wilson to escalate the operation on the fly should he find the opportunity to achieve a greater victory. The British plan was to dispatch the Support Group of the British 7th Armoured Division (under Major General Sir Michael O'Moore Creagh) to Sofafi, Egypt to tie down the Italian 63rd Division headquartered there. Meanwhile, the remainder of the 7th Armoured Division and the Indian 4th Division (under Major General Noel Beresford-Peirse) were to advance in two separate columns through the gap between Sofafi to the south and Nibeiwa to the north. After the breakthrough, the British 7th Armoured Division was to attack northwest toward Buq Buq, Egypt while the Indian 4th Division was to attack northeast toward Sidi Barrani, Egypt, attempting to capture Nibeiwa and the Tummars en route. The British Royal Navy was also to participate in the operation by bombarding Sidi Barrani. The operation plan was guarded with great secrecy; as late as 25 and 26 Nov when a rehearsal was held, only a small number of officers knew that the training grounds were modeled after the towns of Nibeiwa and the Tummars.

ww2dbaseBattle of Marmarica/Battle of the Camps
8-12 Dec 1940

ww2dbaseOn 7 Dec, the attackers were in position, and the operation was launched in the early hours of 8 Dec under the overall command of Major General Richard O'Connor. RAF aircraft opened the battle by a surprise attack that destroyed 29 Italian aircraft on the ground. Meanwhile, monitor HMS Terror and gunboat HMS Aphis bombarded Maktila and gunboat HMS Ladybird bombarded Sidi Barrani. Commander of the Italian 10th Army General Mario Berti was on sick leave when the attack began, and General Italo Gariboldi of the 1st "23 March" Blackshirt Division was in charge initially; Berti was on his way back to the front lines as soon as he heard the news of the attack.

ww2dbaseAt 0500 hours on 9 Dec, British artillery bombarded the Italian camp at Nibeiwa from the east for an hour, causing the Maletti Group to reinforce the eastern side of the camp. At 0715 hours, the Italians were surprised by an attack by the Indian 11th Infantry Brigade from the northwest, spearheaded by tanks of the 7th Royal Tank Regiment. Nibeiwa was taken by 0830 hours. General Maletti, for whom this Italian group was named after, was killed. Over 2,000 Italians were captured, as was a large supply cache. The British only lost 8 officers and 48 men. The Indian 5th Infantry Brigade of the Indian 4th Division immediately advanced toward the next target, the Tummars.

ww2dbaseThe attack on the Italian camp of Tummar West began at 1350 hours on the same day, 9 Dec, again spearheaded by the tanks of the 7th Royal Tank Regiment. The Tummars were held by the Italian 2nd Libyan Colonial Infantry Division. Attacking from the northwest, the British tanks broke through with little opposition, but the infantry which came 20 minutes after had a tougher time securing this camp compared to the one at Nibeiwa. Tummar West was mostly secured at 1600 hours save a small pocket of Italian resistance in the northeast corner that would fall given time. Tummar East was taken by nightfall.

ww2dbaseDuring the attacks on Nibeiwa and the Tummars, the 4th Armoured Brigade of the British 7th Armoured Division drove north, forcing the 400-strong Italian garrison at Azziziya to surrender. Meanwhile, Brigadier A. R. Selby's 1,800-strong Selby Force moved forward to seal off the western exits from Maktila despite orders to remain in place a few miles east of Maktila; despite Selby's move, troops of the Italian 1st Libyan Colonial Infantry Division was still able to escape Maktila and move westward.

ww2dbaseThe attack on the primary objective Sidi Barrani began. The initial attack conducted by the Indian 16th Brigade (thus far held in reserve) and elements of the Indian 11th Brigade, transported to Sidi Barrani by trucks. They suffered some casualties en route before reaching the town by 1330 hours. At 1600 hours, with the support with all artillery pieces available to the division, they attacked, once again supported by tanks of the 7th Royal Tank Regiment, capturing the town by nightfall. The Italian 4th "3 January" Blackshirt Division surrendered by the evening of 11 Dec.

ww2dbaseWith Sidi Barrani captured, the Selby Force launched an attack on the Italian 1st Libyan Colonial Infantry Division on 11 Dec, leading to its surrender. Also on the same day, Buq Buq was secured, with large numbers of Italian prisoners and weapons captured.

ww2dbaseWith the operation advancing so successfully thus far, the British forces pressed on with their pursuits, although they quickly experienced supply issues. On the road between Sidi Barrani and Buq Buq, trapped Italian troops became easy targets for the British monitor and gunboats on 11 and 12 Dec.

ww2dbaseThis opening phase of Operation Compass was known to the Italians as the Battle of the Marmarica, named after the coastal plain where the actions took place. To the British, the actions thus far were named the Battle of the Camps as their goals were to capture Italian camps in the area. Between 8 and 11 Dec, the British forces captured or destroyed 237 artillery pieces, 73 medium tanks, and 38,300 Italian and colonial troops.

ww2dbaseAlthough eager to pursue to shattered Italian forces, Wavell transferred the Indian 4th Infantry Division to Sudan for future actions against Italian East Africa, O'Connor became disappointed as he thought he could have further exploited the weakened Italian forces before they could have gained the opportunity to regroup. On 14 Dec, O'Connor was given the Australian 6th Division as replacement; this division had no battle experience and was incompletely equipped.

ww2dbaseBattle of Bardia
3-5 Jan 1941

ww2dbaseDespite losing the Indian 4th Infantry Division, O'Connor pressed on with his attacks. By 15 Dec, Sollum and Halfaya Pass were captured, followed by the advance to Fort Capuzzo on the Libyan side of the border, thus completing the objective of recovering all lost Egyptian territory. The next target was Bardia on the Libyan coast, which was guarded by about 45,000 Italian and colonial troops under the command of Lieutenant General Annibale Bergonzoli, who had orders from Mussolini to fight until the last man to his dismay. The northern sector of Bardia was defended by the Italian 2nd "28 October" Blackshirt Division; the central sector by the 1st "23 March" Blackshirt Division and elements of the 62nd "Marmarica" Infantry Division; the southern sector by the 63rd "Cirene" Infantry Division and the rest of the 62nd "Marmarica" Infantry Division. Bergonzoli also had the remnants of the disbanded 64th "Catanzaro" Infantry Division, some 6,000 Frontier Guard troops, three companies of Bersaglieri, part of the dismounted Vittorio Emanuele cavalry regiment, and a machine gun company of the 60th "Sabratha" Infantry Division. The entire Italian defensive perimeter was about 29 kilometers long, which featured a continuous anti-tank ditch, extensive wire fence, and a double row of concrete strong points about every 730 meters. Bergonzoli requested support on a large scale by German aircraft (which would never come) while he prepared his defenses.

ww2dbaseBritish intelligence reports indicated that Bardia was defended by 20,000 to 23,000 troops, supported by 100 guns, and probably no tanks. This was a serious under-estimation of Italian strength.

ww2dbasePrior to the assault, over 100 bombing sorties were flown against Bardia between 31 Dec 1940 and 2 Jan 1941 by British aircraft in hope that it would demoralize the defenders, possibly leading to their withdraw. As it was certain that an assault was necessary, one last, and the largest, raid was launched during the night of 2-3 Jan 1941 to soften the defenses. In the early morning of 3 Jan, battleships bombarded Bardia, followed by close bombardment by monitor HMS Terror and gunboats HMS Ladybird, HMS Aphis, and HMS Gnat.

ww2dbaseThe leading companies of the ground assault moved into their positions at about 0416 hours on 3 Jan 1941; they were from the 16th Infantry Brigade of the Australian 6th Division, under Major General Iven Mackay. At 0530, an artillery bombardment began. As the infantry moved in from the west side of Bardia, casualties were incurred early, but the barbed wires and other obstacles were destroyed by engineers relatively quickly. Troops of the Australian 17th Infantry Brigade then rushed into the breach, moving alongside 23 Matilda tanks of the 7th Royal Tank Regiment. Although progress slowed, the advance remained steady. On 4 Jan, the Australian 16th Infantry Brigade entered Bardia, capturing many prisoners and dividing the Italian forces into a northern group and a southern group. In the morning of 5 Jan, the Australian 19th Infantry Brigade launched its attack on the Meriega Sector with support from 6 Matilda tanks. By 1115 hours, the C Company of the brigade had reached the Switch Line and captured two strongpoints, while Italian troops in this area began to surrender. In the early afternoon, Italian Lieutenant General Ruggero Tracchia and Brigadier General Alessandro de Guidi were captured; meanwhile, large groups of Italian troops of the northern group were surrendering to the Australian 16th Infantry Brigade and the Support Group of the British 7th Armoured Division outside the fortress. By the end of the day, all Italian troops surrendered, and Bardia fell under Allied control. 36,000 of the defenders became prisoners of war, but Bergonzolli was able to escape by a narrow margin together with a few thousand troops. About 1,000 Italians were killed and 3,000 were wounded, while the Allies suffered 130 killed and 326 wounded, all of whom Australian. In addition to the troops, the Allies also captured 708 vehicles, 26 coastal defense guns, 7 medium guns, 216 field guns, 146 anti-tank guns, 12 medium tanks, and perhaps most importantly, a large but damaged pumping station that would soon become a significant source of fresh water for the Allies in the region.

ww2dbaseThe significant contribution of Australian troops in the Battle of Bardia earned them fame in Allied and friendly neutral nations. In the United States, not yet in the war but strongly favoring the western Allies, the Washington Times-Herald newspaper ran the headline "Hardy Wild-Eyed Aussies Called World's Finest Troops" while the Chicago Daily News newspaper mentioned that Australians "in their realistic attitude towards power politics, prefer to send their boys to fight far overseas rather than fighting a battle in the suburbs of Sydney".

ww2dbaseBattle of Tobruk
21-23 Jan 1941

ww2dbaseUpon capturing Bardia, Libya, the British 7th Armoured Division and Australian 19th Brigade advanced toward Tobruk to the northwest, reaching the port city on 6 Jun. By 9 Jan 1940, Tobruk was surrounded. On 21 Jan, the main British attack began in the morning as field guns opened up on Italian positions before dawn. Dug-in Italian tanks and defensive bunkers gave Australian infantry, who bore the main responsibility of securing the port city, a difficult time, but one by one they were all silenced. After nightfall, the headquarters of the Australian 19th Brigade offered a ceasefire, but General Petassi Manella, commanding officer of the garrison of 25,000 men, rejected the offer, having received a call from Benito Mussolini earlier that day that the Tobruk garrison was to fight until the last man. Later that night, Italian SM.79 bombers carried out a low level attack on the Australian positions unexpectedly; unfortunately, the troop concentration they attacked was actually an enclosure containing 8,000 Italian prisoners of war, and the attack caused hundreds of casualties among their own countrymen. On the following day, Manella surrendered himself, but not his troops. In the afternoon, Italian Brigadier General Vincenzo della Mura, commanding officer of the Italian 61th Infantry Division "Sirte", surrendered the 17,000 men that had been placed under his command. On 23 Jan, Australian forces secured Tobruk. On 24 Jan, all remaining Italian outposts outside of Tobruk were captured. Alongside of the large number of Italian soldiers captured, the Allies also took possession 236 artillery pieces, 23 medium tanks, and 200 other vehicles. The Allies suffered fewer than 500 casualties, most of which were Australian.

ww2dbaseBattle of Derna
26 Jan 1941

ww2dbaseO'Connor ordered the British 7th Armoured Division northwest to the Jebel Akhdar mountains toward Mechili and the Australian 6th Division toward Derna further to the north. En route, on 24 Jan, the Allied troops ran into the newly organized Italian Special Armoured Brigade (Brigata Corazzato Speciale) under the command of General Valentino Babini; the ensuring combat saw the destruction of 9 Italian tanks and 7 British tanks. Heavy infantry action at the Derna airfield, Derna-Giovanni Berta area, and Wadi Derna slowed the Allied advance, but ultimately the Italian counter-offensive would fail to encircle the Allies, and Derna, a town of 10,000 residents, would be taken on 26 Jan. The Italian 60th Infantry Division "Sabratha" suffered heavy casualties as the result of this battle.

ww2dbaseIntercepting the Italian Retreat
5-7 Feb 1941

ww2dbaseThe series of losses suffered by the Italians triggered the decision to evacuate the Cyrenaica of Libya. As the remainder of the Italian Tenth Army fled west, the British 7th Armoured Division was dispatched to give chase inland via Msus and Antelat, while the Australian 6th Division advanced along the coastal road. Major General Creagh formed the Combe Force under Lieutenant Colonel John Combe of the 11th Hussars regiment with about 2,000 men and ordered it to race for the area south of Benghazi. The Combe Force reached the Benghazi-Tripoli road in the afternoon of 5 Feb and set up road blocks near Sidi Saleh about 32 kilometers north of Ajedabia. 30 minutes later, the leading elements of the Italian Tenth Army arrived, engaging them in combat. By the evening, the British 4th Armoured Brigade reached Beda Fomm overlooking the road about 16 kilometers north of the road blocks, thus threatening the rear of the Italians. On 6 and 7 Feb, Italians attempted breakouts with tanks; the fighting was fierce, but generally without positive results. The final breakout attempt took place in the morning of 7 Feb when the last 20 Italian medium tanks of the Italian Special Armoured Brigade broke through the first line of Allied infantry, but the British field guns positions near the regimental headquarters behind stopped the tanks. Discouraged with this latest failure, the Italians surrendered. Both Babini and Bergonzoli were captured. O'Connor dispatched the 11th Hussars regiment toward Agedabia and El Agheila further to the west to wipe out the small groups of Italians that managed to flee.


ww2dbaseBy 9 Feb 1941, as the Allied troops reached El Agheila, Libya, the Italian Tenth Army had ceased to exist. In about 10 weeks, the Allied forces advanced 800 kilometers and captured a total of 130,000 Italian and colonial personnel (including 22 officers of general rank), 400 tanks, and 1,290 artillery pieces; about 32,000 Italian troops were able to escape Cyrenaica. For this victory, the Allies suffered 494 killed and 1,225 wounded. Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Winston Churchill ordered the offensive halted so that some of the men could be routed to defend Greece from Axis attack. The Axis forces, however, did the opposite, transferring in Italian and German troops into North Africa for a major counter-offensive.

ww2dbaseSource: Wikipedia.

Last Major Update: Sep 2010

Operation Compass Interactive Map


Matilda tank of the UK 7th Royal Tank Regiment in North Africa, 19 Dec 194025-Pounder Mark II gun of Sergeant Pearse of 1st Battery, A Troop, Australian 2/1st Field Artillery Regiment bombarding Bardia, Libya, 29 Dec 1940Gladiator biplane aircraft of No. 3 Squadron RAF returning to an airfield near Salum after a patrol over Bardia, Libya, Jan 1941Crew of HMS Ladybird operating a 6-inch 50-caliber Mk XIII gun during the bombardment of Bardia, Libya, 2 Jan 1941
See all 13 photographs of Operation Compass

Operation Compass Timeline

6 Dec 1940 British 7th Armoured Division, British 16th Infantry Brigade, and Indian 4th Infantry Division began preparing for Operation Compass in Egypt.
8 Dec 1940 The British launched Operation Compass from Egypt, aiming to push back Italian troops into Libya. The forces moved through the gap between Italian camps Nibeiwa and Sofafi without being detected.
9 Dec 1940 Beginning at 0500 hours, Allied artillery and aircraft bombarded the Italian camp at Nibeiwa, Egypt for two hours. At 0715 hours, ground troops began moving toward the rear of the fort for attack; they were spotted by Italian aircraft, but it was too late for the Italians to reorganize the defenses. Troops of the Indian 4th Infantry Division, supported by tanks of the British 7th Royal Tank Regiment, captured the camp at 0830 hours. Italian positions at Tummar West and Tummar East were also captured by dusk. Along the coast, tanks of the British 4th Armoured Brigade cut off the main road to prevent an Italian withdrawal. Meanwhile, British monitor HMS Terror and gunboats HMS Ladybird and HMS Aphis bombarded Italian positions at Sidi Barrani and Maktila.
10 Dec 1940 Before dawn, colonial troops of the Libyan 1st Division withdrew from Maktila, Egypt. In the afternoon, Indian 4th Infantry Division and British 7th Royal Tank Regiment captured Sidi Barrani, pushing Italian 4th Blackshirt Division and another Libyan colonial division into the desert.
11 Dec 1940 British 7th Armored Brigade attacked Buq Buq, Egypt, forcing Italian 64th Infantry Division to surrender; meanwhile, Indian 4th Infantry Division and British 7th Royal Tank Regiment forced the surrender of Italian 4th Blackshirt Division and two colonial Libyan divisions in the desert. On the coast, British battleships HMS Barham and HMS Valiant bombarded Italian positions at Sollum, Egypt. The Allied forces had now captured 38,000 Italian prisoners of war, 237 guns, and 73 tanks.
12 Dec 1940 British 7th Armored Brigade moved into the desert to outflank Italian forces at Sollum, Egypt and to cut the road to Bardia, Libya, as the latter port was subjected to carrier aircraft attack by HMS Illustrious. Meanwhile, the first groups of Italian prisoners of war began to arrive by truck at the British headquarters at Mersa Matruh, Egypt.
13 Dec 1940 British 4th Armored Brigade crossed the desert between Halfaya and Sidi Omar in Egypt in an attempt to cut the road to Tobruk, Libya. To counter the British naval bombardment, Italian submarine Neghelli attacked British cruiser HMS Coventry 40 miles northeast of Sidi Barrani, Egypt at 2042 hours, nearly blowing off her bow; she was able to sail under her own power to Alexandria, Egypt for repairs.
15 Dec 1940 Italian troops were driven out of Egypt by the British Operation Compass offensive. At Bardia, Libya, British monitor HMS Terror bombarded the port from 1220 to 1717 hours.
16 Dec 1940 British 4th Armoured Brigade captured Sidi Omar, Egypt, taking 900 Italian troops prisoner.
17 Dec 1940 British monitor HMS Terror and gunboat HMS Ladybird bombarded Bardia, Libya, sinking Italian ships Galata, Vincenzino, and Giuseppina D. in the harbor. On the same day, the British announced that they had captured 20,000 Italian prisoners, including three generals, in Egypt.
19 Dec 1940 British gunboat HMS Aphis bombarded Bardia, Libya in support of Operation Compass. Meanwhile, General O'Connor reported that in the first 10 days of the offensive his forces had suffered 141 killed or missing and 387 wounded.
23 Dec 1940 In Libya, Commander-in-Chief of Italian North Africa General Rodolfo Graziani replaced General Mario Berti of Italian 10th Army with his Chief of Staff General Giuseppe Tellera after the failures in the initial stages of the British Operation Compass offensive.
28 Dec 1940 British monitor HMS Terror bombarded Bardia, Libya keeping up pressure on the 40,000 besieged Italian troops.
29 Dec 1940 In Libya, British aircraft bombed Bardia and airfields at Tobruk, Derna, and Benina. Meanwhile, troops of Australian 6th Division rehearsed attacks on defensive positions similar to those at Bardia.
30 Dec 1940 In Libya, RAF bombers continued to bomb Italian defensive positions at Bardia and airfields at Tobruk, Derna, Benina.
1 Jan 1941 British General O'Connor's Western Desert Force in Egypt was reorganized as the British 13th Corps. Meanwhile, in Libya, RAF aircraft continued to bomb the port of Bardia and the airfields at Tobruk, Derna, and Benina.
2 Jan 1941 Before dawn, British artillery pieces moved into position near Bardia, Libya. During the day, British monitor HMS Terror and British gunboats HMS Ladybird and HMS Aphis bombarded Bardia; Italian aircraft responded without success. After sun down, Wellington bombers of No. 70 Squadron RAF and Bombay bombers of No. 216 Squadron RAF attacked Italian positions at Bardia. Troops of the Australian 6th Division began to prepare for the ground assault.
3 Jan 1941 At 0530 hours, the British artillery barrage began, hitting Italian defensive positions at Bardia, Libya. At 0600 hours, Australian 6th Division began its assault from the west, clearing anti-tank obstacles for the 23 tanks of the British 7th Royal Tank Regiment that began attacking at 0650 hours. Between 0810 and 0855 hours, battleships HMS Warspite, HMS Valiant, and HMS Barham, along with destroyers, monitors, and gunboats, bombarded Bardia with 244 15-inch shells, 270 6-inch shells, 250 4.5-inch shells, and many smaller caliber shells. The ground forces would penetrate 2 miles into the Italian lines.
4 Jan 1941 After an entire day of fighting, Allied troops reached Bardia, Libya at about 1600 hours, splitting the Italian defenders into two groups, shaking Italian morale, causing large numbers of Italian troops to surrender. Jokingly emulating Winston Churchill, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden said "[n]ever has so much been surrendered by so many, to so few." On the same day, Italian General Bergonzoli and his staff withdrew from Bardia toward Tobruk.
5 Jan 1941 Australian 6th Division troops, supported by 6 remaining British Matilda tanks, captured the last Italian defensive position at Bardia, Libya, and the remaining Italian force surrendered soon afterwards. In the battle for Bardia, the Italians suffered 1,000 killed, 3,000 wounded, and 36,000 taken prisoner; 2,000 Italians were able to withdraw to Tobruk, Libya. Australians suffered 130 killed and 326 wounded. The Allies captured a large quantity of Italian equipment, including 26 coastal guns, 7 medium guns, 216 field guns, 26 anti-aircraft guns, 41 infantry guns, 146 anti-tank guns, 12 medium tanks, 115 tankettes, 708 trucks, and water pumps capable of producing 400 tons of fresh water per day.
6 Jan 1941 British 4th Armoured Division advanced 50 miles from Bardia, Libya to capture Belhamed to the east of Tobruk and the airfield at El Adem 8 miles to the south. Patrols were now conducted 10 miles west of Tobruk at Acroma.
7 Jan 1941 Australian 6th Division and British 4th Armoured Division nearly surrounded Tobruk, Libya after capturing Acroma 10 miles to the west.
8 Jan 1941 Australian 6th Division began reconnaissance patrols around Tobruk, Libya. Overnight, a patrol reached the Italian defensive perimeter.
9 Jan 1941 Australian 6th Division and British 7th Armoured Division completed the encirclement of Tobruk, Libya. 25,000 Italian troops were now trapped.
12 Jan 1941 British armored divisions rushed in their efforts to repair tanks and put them into operational status for the upcoming attack on Tobruk, Libya. Meanwhile, HMS Protector departed Bardia, Libya with 1,058 Italian prisoners of war, sailing for Alexandria, Egypt.
20 Jan 1941 RAF Wellington and Blenheim bombers, monitor HMS Terror, and gunboats HMS Gnat and HMS Ladybird attacked Italian positions at Tobruk, Libya overnight.
21 Jan 1941 The Allies began attacking Tobruk, Libya, starting with an artillery barrage at 0540 hours. Australian engineers cleared a path for 18 British Matilda tanks and a few captured Italian tanks to pass through, leading infantrymen. Blenheim aircraft flew overhead throughout the day to provide support. 8,000 Italians were captured in overrun defensive positions, including General Petassi Manella. After nightfall, the headquarters of the Australian 19th Brigade offered Manella a ceasefire, but it was rejected, as the Italian general had orders from Benito Mussolini to fight until the last man. Overnight, Italian bombers attacked the British forward base; some bombs fell on the buildings holding prisoners of war, killing 50-300 Italians.
22 Jan 1941 Italian cruiser San Giorgio was scuttled by her own crew at Tobruk, Libya at 0415 hours. In the afternoon, Brigadier General Vincenzo della Mura surrendered the Italian 61 Infantry Division "Sirte". Meanwhile, Allied troops continued the attacks throughout the day, with monitor HMS Terror and gunboats HMS Gnat and HMS Ladybird continuing to offer support with their guns. British aircraft sank Italian liner Liguria. Before the end of the day, Admiral Massimilian Vietina surrendered to the Australian troops.
23 Jan 1941 Allied troops captured Tobruk, Libya, but fighting would continue at outposts outside the city for another day. In the harbor, British minesweeping trawlers HMT Arthur Cavanagh and HMT Milford Countess began clearing sunken Italian ships.
24 Jan 1941 All Italian outposts surrounding Tobruk, Libya were captured by the Allies. Meanwhile, en route to Derna, Libya, Allied troops encountered units of the newly organized Italian Special Armoured Brigade and defeated them near Mechili, destroying 9 Italian tanks at the cost of 7 British tanks.
26 Jan 1941 In Libya, Italian troops evacuated Mechili while Allied troops captured Derna. General O'Moore Creagh of British 7th Armored Division was ordered to cut the coastal road south of Benghazi.
27 Jan 1941 British troopship Ulster Prince (which would soon depart with Italian prisoners of war) and transports Cingalese Prince, Rosaura, and Chakla (the three brought in supplies and men) became the first Allied ships to arrive in the harbor of recently captured Tobruk, Libya. 100 miles to the northwest, Australian 6th Division captured Fort Rudero near Derna, capturing 290 Italian prisoners and 5 field guns, but the Italian garrison at Wadi Derna nearby continued to pose a serious threat.
28 Jan 1941 Italian artillery at Wadi Derna, Libya continued to pin down Australian 6th Division.
29 Jan 1941 Elements of British 7th Armoured Division outflanked Italian artillery overlooking Derna, Libya, forcing General Bergonzoli to withdraw the guns overnight.
2 Feb 1941 Australian troops advanced west from Derna, Libya, continuing to push back the Italian troops. Meanwhile, Richard O'Connor received the authorization from Archibald Wavell to use tanks of British 7th Armoured Division to flank the Italian retreat.
4 Feb 1941 The Italians began evacuating Benghazi, Libya. At dawn, British 7th Armoured Division departed from Mechili, Libya to move across the desert toward Jebel El Akhdar 150 miles away in an attempt to cut off the Italian retreat.
5 Feb 1941 After crossing 150 miles of desert in 30 hours, armored cars of British 7th Armoured Division set up roadblocks at Sidi Saleh south of Benghazi, Libya, just in time to meet and stop the leading elements of the retreating Italian Tenth Army. In the evening, the British 4th Armoured Brigade reached Beda Fomm 10 miles north of the roadblocks, preventing Italian retreat to the east.
6 Feb 1941 On the Benghazi-Tripoli road in Libya, the trapped Italian Tenth Army attempted to break out without success. Australian 6th Division captured Benghazi while 7th Support Group of British 7th Armoured Division captured Sceleidima; these captures further secured the envelopment of the Italian Tenth Army.
7 Feb 1941 The Italian Italian Special Armoured Brigade saw some initial success in a dawn attempt to break out of the encirclement of the Italian Tenth Army on the Benghazi-Tripoli road in Libya, but the breakthrough was quickly contained by Allied field guns. The 25,000-strong Italian Tenth Army formally surrendered before the end of the day.
9 Feb 1941 Allied troops captured El Agheila, Libya, marking an end of Operation Compass.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Anonymous says:
18 Apr 2007 01:03:24 PM

you misspelled following as foolowing. Nice article, I know people who fought there.
2. philip jones says:
18 Jun 2008 02:38:10 PM

my father was a tank driver in north africa in 1940to1941 driving a matilda tank. he later served in greece where he
taken pow. I know he was in the 7th armourd division but would like to know
the number of the tank regiment he served with
3. Commenter identity confirmed Bill says:
16 Feb 2009 11:49:18 AM

Rommel's AFRIKA CORPS was made up of different german army units, and sent to afrika. always out numbered, the afrika corps would fight a "gentleman's" war in the desert. to hitler the desert was a side show.
4. Commenter identity confirmed Bill says:
17 Feb 2009 01:35:53 PM

I once met a ex-german soldier, who fought with the Afrika Corps. At one time the distance that seperated the two armies, were within shouting distance. The old soldier could smell the tommies boiling their tea. He told me we were soldiers doing our duty, but we were not going to kill today. soon afterward he was captured, and sent to canada.
5. Anonymous says:
23 Mar 2009 04:49:04 PM

Can somebody help me find a Primary Source about the North African Campaign?
6. Commenter identity confirmed BILL says:
22 Jun 2009 08:59:01 AM

Before W.W.II much of the Middle East was ruled by Britian and France under the League of Nations mandates dating from the after-
math of W.W.I.
France and Britian kept troops as part of its
colonial army in North Africa,and Syria many
troops were locally recruited, but officers
and NCO's were from Britian and France.
Iraq was ruled as a British mandate in the
1920's but became independent in 1932, and by treaty with the British. Britian retained oil rights and kept military forces based in the country.
At that time, over 11,000,000 tons of oil was
produced annually by Iran and Iraq, and was
available to the Allies, if they kept control
of these countries.
In 1941 a new threat to the Allies started in
the Middle East. Nationalist in Iraq wanted
to ally themselves with Germany, the Vichy
regime was about to welcome German troops into Syria, and Iran's neutrality threatened vital supply lines for the British, and the
cost of defeat in the oil rich area was just

"The Arabian Freedom Movement in the
Middle East is our ally against England."

Adolf Hitler, May 1941
7. Commenter identity confirmed Alan Chanter says:
27 Sep 2010 02:35:52 AM

Britian ? There is no such bloody place as Britian. Is this some place in the UNTIED STAITS ?
8. Ian McDonnell says:
25 Nov 2010 11:25:55 AM

My father served with the Rifle Brigade in North Africa and told me he was catured there and sent to Greece as a POW.
His name was Reginald Charles McDonnell.
I would love to know more details can anyone point me in the right direction...??
9. Commenter identity confirmed Bill says:
23 Jun 2011 07:55:27 AM

Excuse me Alan Chanter! 27 Sept 2010
The misspelled word, should be Britain, you know that dreary little Island off the coast of Europe.
Spent five days in September 1967, it rained four! One Englishman asked how things were in the States. I told him, the buildings were taller, cars were larger and the people were fatter...and yes he was wearing one of those little derby hats, and carried an unbrella...
I'm sorry, you didn't get anymore out of my commet...except your annoyance at my misspelling.
"Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example"

-Mark Twain-

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered
weak and dreary, Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore-
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my Chamber door.
"Tis some visitor", I muttered "Tapping at my Chamber door-only this, and nothing more".

-From The Ravan-
By Edgan Allen Poe
10. Anonymous says:
21 Nov 2013 01:12:56 AM

My Dad served on the San Giorgio that was anchored in the harbour - Pleasantly surprised to see it actually noted here as it really happened, the ship beings cuttled by the crew and NOT as so many other accounts state she was bombed to smithereens by the British...
11. Anonymous says:
4 Feb 2014 09:39:12 AM

We took over a large Italian building in Benghazi and converted it into a Naafi which we called The Wavell Arms.
Benghazi harbour was full of sunken ships,Italian,German and British.Just their masts were showing above the water.
12. Tony Simmonds says:
5 Feb 2014 09:36:40 AM

I was in the RAF and stationed at Benina airfield near Benghazi.I had learntGerman at school and there were hundreds of German Afrika Korps POWs in Benghazi.One of them Ernst had been a schoolteacher before the war and could speak a little English so we employed him in the Admin Office at Benina.At Christmas he joined us in singing "Silent Night"which we sang in German (Stille Nacht ).When he was repatriated after the war he was in theRussian Zone and he wrote to me asking me to send him a food parcel as they were starving in that Zone.
13. Graeme says:
24 Apr 2015 05:18:09 PM

My father was wounded in Egypt on 7th Feb 1941 and transferred to the 61 British General Hospital in Alexandria. Can anyone adviseme where I can get a full report of the action, then his subsequent list of 'mulitple' injuries and his following record in hospital...regards Graeme
14. Libyan Citezin says:
12 Jul 2015 06:24:48 AM

I am looking for the names of Libyan prisoners of war who were to fought with the Italians in Sidi Barrani
15. Tietie007 says:
8 Jan 2017 02:38:01 AM

Nice job ! Happy new Year !
16. Kathleen MacDonald says:
11 Nov 2017 01:32:12 PM

My father Sgt Arthur Robert Gooch was killed in action Dec 22 1940 under the command of General O'Connor.I believe he was 1 of 144 killed that day.
17. Anonymous says:
27 Apr 2020 08:40:11 AM

What is the total Italian casualties from Operation Compass?

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More on Operation Compass
» Graziani, Rodolfo
» O'Connor, Richard

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Operation Compass Photo Gallery
Matilda tank of the UK 7th Royal Tank Regiment in North Africa, 19 Dec 1940
See all 13 photographs of Operation Compass

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"Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue."

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, 16 Mar 1945

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