Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseThe British Operation Compass offensive that began in late 1940 was so successful the Italian 10th Army in North Africa was nearly wiped out, and the entire region was in danger of falling under Allied control. Although Adolf Hitler's main concern was the planning of opening a new war with the Soviet Union, he decided to reinforce the Italians with a small force in attempt to reverse the unfavorable situation. On 6 Feb 1941, the German High Command ordered Operation Sonnenblume, which called for the German Army and Air Force to organize a force to be transferred to North Africa. This operation was completed in two phases.
ww2dbaseThe first phase began only two days later, on 8 Feb, when the first German units departed Naples, Italy aboard transports, arriving 11 Feb. On 12 Feb, Erwin Rommel arrived in North Africa; charged with all German operations in North Africa, he immediately set out to observe the situation. The first sizable force, consisted of 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion and the 39th Anti-Tank Battalion, arrived in Tripoli, Libya on 14 Feb. On 18 Feb, the German 5th Light Division (later renamed the 21st Panzer Division) was established in Italy for operations in North Africa, which was to encompass the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion and the 39th Anti-Tank Battalion; the main strength of the 5th Light Division, the 5th Panzer Regiment with more than 100 vehicles, was transported to North Africa in two convoys between 8 and 10 Mar 1941.
ww2dbaseThe second phase began on 25 Apr when the 8th Panzer Regiment of the 15th Panzer Division embarked on three convoys for their journey from Italy to North Africa; the convoys arrived by 6 May, delivering the regiment's 146 vehicles.
Last Major Update: Nov 2010
Operation Sonnenblume Timeline
|11 Jan 1941||Adolf Hitler issued F├╝hrer Directive 22, which called for Operation Alpine Violets, which was to deploy German units in North Africa and Albania to aid Italian war efforts.|
|6 Feb 1941||Erwin Rommel, unexpectedly summoned from leave, was instructed by Adolf Hitler's headquarters that he was to proceed to Libya forthwith, as commander of the German troops which would be shortly arriving there and would be called the German Afrika Korps.|
|6 Feb 1941||The German High Command issued the order for Operation Sonnenblume, which called for the organization and transfer of a German force to reinforce Italian forces in North Africa.|
|8 Feb 1941||German troops began departing Naples, Italy for North Africa.|
|10 Feb 1941||The first German convoy, carrying German troops and with one Italian destroyer and three torpedo boats in escort, departed Palermo, Sicily, Italy for Tripoli, Libya.|
|11 Feb 1941||The first German troops arrived at Tripoli, Libya.|
|12 Feb 1941||The second German convoy, consisted of ships Adana, Aegina, Kybfels, and Ruhr with German troops on board, departed Naples, Italy for North Africa. Italian destroyer Camicia Nera and torpedo boat Procione escorted the transports.|
|14 Feb 1941||The second convoy of German troops arrived at Tripoli, Libya, which included the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion and the 39th Anti-Tank Battalion.|
|18 Feb 1941||The German 5th Light Division (later renamed the 21st Panzer Division) was formed for operations in North Africa.|
|19 Feb 1941||The name German Africa Korps (Deutsches Afrikakorps) was established for German forces in North Africa. It began to patrol out of Tripoli, Libya.|
|20 Feb 1941||The German Africa Korps made contact with British patrols for the first time in North Africa, near El Agheila between Benghazi and Tripoli in Libya. In the sea, British submarine HMS Regent attacked German ships Arta, Heraklea, Menes, and Martiza carrying German Afrika Korps troops from Naples, Italy to Tripoli escorted by Italian destroyers Freccia, Saetta, and Turbine; Menes was damaged by a torpedo hit but was able to be towed to Tripoli; Saetta counterattacked HMS Regent, causing damage.|
|24 Feb 1941||A German patrol with tanks, armored cars, and motorcycles ambushed a British and Australian patrol west of El Agheila, Libya, taking 3 prisoners.|
|3 Mar 1941||Erwin Rommel moved German 5th Light Division to a narrow pass 17 miles west of the Allied forward positions at El Agheila, Libya to block any Allied advances toward Tripoli. He also ordered the construction of defensive positions in the desert to the south to prevent the Allies from bypassing the pass.|
|8 Mar 1941||The Panzer Regiment of German 5th Light Division departed Naples, Italy aboard freighters Alicante, Arcturus, Wachtfels, and Rialto bound for Tripoli, Libya in two convoys.|
|10 Mar 1941||The German 5th Panzer Regiment arrived in North Africa.|
|11 Mar 1941||The Panzer Regiment of German 5th Light Division completed disembarking from freighters at Tripoli, Libya. A parade was staged with the newly arrived tanks, with some of the tanks going around the town multiple times to make their numbers seem greater. The tanks headed east toward Sirte after the parade.|
|26 Mar 1941||Winston Churchill sent a message to Archibald Wavell, hinting at Wavell's timidity in countering the recent Axis advances in Libya; he said "[w]e are naturally concerned at rapid German advance to El Agheila. It is their habit to push on wherever they are not resisted. I presume you are only waiting for the tortoise to stick his head out far enough before chopping it off."|
|29 Mar 1941||After 3 days of inaction caused by sandstorms, German tanks and armored cars advanced at El Agheila, Libya, engaging British counterparts in the desert between El Agheila and Mersa Brega. Behind Allied lines, Luftwaffe aircraft destroyed an Allied train carrying gasoline.|
|30 Mar 1941||Erwin Rommel ordered German 5th Light Division commander General Johannes Streich to capture Mersa Brega, Libya.|
|25 Apr 1941||The German 8th Panzer Regiment departed Italy in three convoys for North Africa.|
|6 May 1941||The German 8th Panzer Regiment arrived in North Africa.|
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