Battle of Kufra
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseThe oasis town of Kufra in southeastern Libya had been under Italian control since 1931. The Italian base there consisted of the Buma airfield, a radio station, and a fort at El Tag. The Free French Forces had 5,000 men, most of whom colonial troops of the Senegalese Light Infantry Regiment of Chad under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Jean Colonna d'Ornano stationed in Chad. In early 1941, General Charles de Gaulle ordered an incursion into southern Libya, and Kufra was an obvious target. D'Ornano personally led several hundred men on the incursion, while the British Long Range Desert Group dispatched a small force under Major Pat Clayton for support; the Clayton force was consisted of the G (Guards) and T (New Zealand) Patrols, totaling 76 men and 26 vehicles.
ww2dbaseThe first action took place at the Italian airfield at Murzuk in southwestern Libya on 6 Jan 1941, where d'Ornano attacked in daylight alongside of elements of Clayton's force. The Italian defense, surprised, quickly crumbled. However, D'Ornano was killed in this raid, thus Colonel Philippe Leclerc took over command of the French troops.
ww2dbaseOn 31 Jan, the French force, 400 men in 60 trucks supported by 2 armored cars and 2 mountain guns, moved toward the fortress at El Tag near Kufra. Meanwhile, as the British force moved independently at Kufra, they were detected by their Italian counterpart, the Auto-Saharan Company, which moved to intercept. The T Patrol was overwhelmed by an Italian attack supported aircraft, losing four trucks and Clayton was captured. The remaining British troops fled into Egypt and ceased to participate in the battle. The capture of the Clayton meant a copy of the invasion plan had fallen into Italian hands, but Leclerc decided to continue. On 16 Feb, he abandoned several broken-down armored cars and trucks. On 17 Feb, an Italian Auto-Saharan Company detachment attacked them unsuccessfully. Shortly after, the French troops reached Kufra and laid siege to El Tag, bombarding the fort daily with a 75-millimeter mountain gun and several 81-millimeter mortars. On 28 Feb, the inexperienced Italian reserve officer (with the rank of captain) lost his will to fight and began surrender negotiations. On 1 Mar, all units in the Kufra area surrendered to the French forces.
ww2dbaseDuring the Battle of Kufra, the Italians suffered 3 killed and 4 wounded, all of whom were Libyan colonial soldiers. The French had 4 killed and 21 wounded. The French allowed the Italians to withdraw to the northwest, but kept most of their equipment, including 8 armored cars, 6 trucks, 4 20-millimeter cannons, and 54 machine guns.
Battle of Kufra Timeline
|6 Jan 1941||A Free French force under Lieutenant Colonel Jean Colonna d'Ornano attacked Murzuk airfield in southwestern Libya from Chad, capturing the airfield, but d'Ornano was killed in action.|
|31 Jan 1941||Free French forces from Chad, French Equatorial Africa attacked the Italian forces at Kufra, Libya, supported by T Patrol of the British Long Range Desert Group.|
|17 Feb 1941||An Italian Auto-Saharan Company detachment counterattacked Free French and British forces near Kufra, Libya in failure.|
|18 Feb 1941||Free French forces besieged El Tag fort at Kufra, Libya, bombarding the fort with 75-millimeter field guns (whose range was longer than their Italian counterparts) and 81-millimeter mortars.|
|28 Feb 1941||Italian forces at Kufra, Libya began surrender negotiations with Free French and British forces.|
|1 Mar 1941||Free French forces from Chad captured Kufra in southeastern Libya. The Italians suffered 3 killed (all 3 were Libyan colonial troops), 4 wounded, and 282 captured (29 Italians, 273 Libyan colonial troops); the French suffered 4 killed and 21 wounded.|
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