20° Gruppo Autonomo C.T. - 151a Squadriglia
Fiat G50 Freccia Regia Aeronautica 20 Gruppo destroyed by the 7th Tank Brigade Sidi Razegh
Fiat G.50 bis, MM.6385, of 151a Squadriglia, 20° Gruppo Autonomo C.T., Sidi Razegh, . Unusual camouflage scheme with Dark Olive Green blotches on Light Hazelnut Brown (Nocciola Chiaro 4) and Light Blue-Grey (Grigio Azzurro Chiaro 1) lower surfaces. On a sudden surprise raid by British tanks onto an advanced landing strip at Sidi Razegh caught 20° Gruppo at dawn, and very few aircraft could take off in time before being gunned. As much as 19 planes were eventually captured and only four of them could take off to escape. Among captured aircraft it was also this one, seemingly field repainted in a two-colour scheme, probably of new colours adopted in the Summer of 1941. Also worth of note is the cowling, now no longer yellow, as that recognition marking had been officially superseded at the end of October. Even the propeller spinner is now of the same colour as the rest of aircraft.
Another FIAT destroyed by the 7th Tank Brigade commanded by Gen. G. Davy at Sidi Rezegh airfield on the morning of .
Magazine Source: Revi No-68 2007 Page 30
Relief of Tobruk 1941
Schematic of the battlefield - Map showig the Western Desert Battle Area Operation Crusader Relief of Tobruk 1941 0A-0C
Operation Crusader was a military operation by the British Eighth Army between – . The operation successfully relieved the 1941 Siege of Tobruk.
The Eighth Army's initial plan to destroy the Axis armoured force before advancing its infantry came apart when, after a number of inconclusive engagements, the British 7th Armoured Division were heavily defeated by the Afrika Korps at Sidi Rezegh. Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel's subsequent advance of his armoured divisions to the Axis fortress positions on the Egyptian border failed to find the main body of the Allied infantry, which had bypassed the fortresses and headed for Tobruk, so Rommel had to withdraw his armoured units to support the fighting at Tobruk. Despite achieving some tactical successes at Tobruk, the need to preserve his remaining forces prompted Rommel to withdraw his army to the defensive line at Gazala, west of Tobruk, and then all the way back to El Agheila. It was the first victory over the German ground forces by British-led forces in the Second World War.
Source: Murphy, W.E.; Fairbrother, Monty C. (editor) (1961). The Relief of Tobruk. The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945. Wellington, NZ: War History Branch, Department of Internal Affairs.
Before dawn on 18 Nov, the British Eighth Army advanced southwest from Mersa Matruh, Egypt, with the British 7th Armoured Division at the spearhead; this main column of the offensive crossed the Egyptian-Libyan border near Fort Maddalena and then turned northwest. Meanwhile, the South African Division protected the southern flank, and the British XIII Corps and the British 4th Armoured Brigade held the area west of Sidi Omar to counter a potential Axis counter offensive through that area. The opening phases of the invasion was originally to be assisted by some of the 724 British and Commonwealth aircraft assigned to the operation, but all ground support missions were canceled due to the unexpected bad weather; on the other side of the token, the bad weather aided the Allied efforts by preventing Axis reconnaissance flights from being launched, which could have detected the preparations for the operations. The first day of the offensive no resistance was met. In the morning of 19 Nov, the Italian Ariete Division halted the 22nd Armoured Brigade of the British 7th Armoured Division at Bir el Gubi; however, the 7th Armoured Brigade and the 7th Support Group of the same division were able to advance near Tobruk, capturing the Sidi Rezegh airfield during the process. Meanwhile on the same day, the British 4th Armoured Brigade engaged 60 tanks, supported by 8.8-centimeter guns, of the German 21st Panzer Division on the offensive's northern flank. On 20 Nov, the British 22nd Armoured Brigade continued its fight with the Italian Ariete Division, the British 7th Armoured Brigade repulsed an infantry counter attack launched by the German 90th Light Infantry Division and the Italian Bologna Division at Sidi Rezegh, and the British 4th Armoured Brigade fought a second tank battle with the German 21st Panzer Division.
With Tobruk relieved, Operation Crusader was considered an overwhelming success, and it was the first major victory over German forces in North Africa. At the end of the operation, the Allies suffered 17,700 casualties and lost 278 tanks and 300 aircraft; the Axis suffered 38,300 casualties and lost 300 tanks and 600 aircraft.
Operation Crusader photo gallery
Map showig Cunningham's Crusader Battle Plan Nov 1941 0A
Cunningham's plan for Operation Crusader: 17 November 1941 
Photo: Operation Crusader A Crusader MkI passes a burning German Panzer IV 01
Photo: Operation Crusader Battlefield remains at Sidi Regez Western Desert Libya 1941 01
Photo: Operation Crusader damaged German Panzer IIIs in the Valley of Death near Belhamed Libya 01
Photo: Operation Crusader tanks moving to forward positions in the Western Desert 01
Photo: Operation Crusader Tobruk 1941 British Matilda tanks move forward at Tobruk 01
Before dawn on 18 November, Eighth Army launched a surprise attack, advancing west from its base at Mersa Matruh and crossing the Libyan border near Fort Maddalena, some 50 miles (80 km) south of Sidi Omar, and then pushing to the northwest. Eighth Army were relying on the Desert Air Force to provide them with two clear days without serious air opposition but torrential rain and storms the night before the offensive resulted in the cancellation of all the air-raids planned to interdict the Axis airfields and destroy their aircraft on the ground. However, initially all went well for the Allies. 7th Armoured division's 7th Armoured Brigade advanced northwest towards Tobruk with 22nd Armoured Brigade to their left. XIII Corps and New Zealand Division made its flanking advance with 4th Armoured Brigade on its left and 4th Indian Division's 7th Infantry Brigade on its right flank at Sidi Omar. On the first day no resistance was encountered as Eighth Army closed on the enemy positions.
On the morning of 19 November the advance of the 22nd Armoured Brigade was blunted by the Ariete Division at Bir el Gubi which continued to take a major toll of British armour in the opening phase of the battle. In the division's center 7th Armoured Brigade and the 7th Support Group raced forward almost to within sight of Tobruk and took Sidi Rezegh airfield while on the right flank 4th Armoured Brigade came into contact that evening with a force of 60 tanks supported by 88 mm gun batteries and anti-tank units from 21st Panzer Division (which had been moving south from Gambut) and became heavily engaged.
On 20 November, 22nd Armoured Brigade fought a second engagement with the Ariete Division and 7th Armoured repulsed an infantry counter-attack by the 90th Light and Bologna Divisions at Sidi Rezegh. 4th Armoured fought a second engagement with 21st Panzer pitting their Stuart tanks' greater speed against the enemy's heavier guns.
Eighth Army were fortunate at this time that 15th Panzer Division had been ordered to Sidi Azeiz where there was no British armour to engage. However, 4th Armoured soon started to receive intelligence that the two German Panzer divisions were linking up. In his original battle plan Cunningham had hoped for this so that he would be able to bring his own larger tank force to bear and defeat the Afrika Korps armour. However, by attaching 4th Armoured Brigade to XIII Corps, allowing 22nd Armoured Brigade to be sidetracked fighting the Ariete Division and letting 7th Armoured Brigade to forge towards Tobruk, his armoured force was by this time hopelessly dispersed. 22nd Armoured Brigade were therefore disengaged from the Ariete and ordered to move east and support 4th Armoured Brigade (while infantry and artillery elements of 1st South African Division were to hold the Ariete) and 4th Armoured were released from their role of defending XIII Corps' flank.
In the afternoon of 20 November, 4th Armoured were engaged with 15th Panzer Division (21st Panzer having temporarily withdrawn for lack of fuel and ammunition). It was too late in the day for a decisive action but 4th Armoured nevertheless lost some 40 tanks and by this time were down to less than two-thirds their original strength of 164 tanks. 22nd Armoured arrived at dusk, too late to have an impact, and during the night of the 20th Rommel pulled all his tanks northwest for an attack on Sidi Rezegh.
Further to the north, Brigadier Davy’s 7th Armoured Brigade had advanced almost to Sidi Rezegh without being confronted by any of the enemy other than some armoured cars from Aufklärungs-Abteilung 33 (motorisiert). The brigade soon reached the southern escarpment that sloped down before Sidi Rezegh. On the floor of the valley was an airfield complete with a large number of Italian aircraft, their ground crews oblivious to the arrival of the British.
Brigadier Davy soon had armoured cars and Crusaders from the 6th Royal Tank Regiment sweeping down from the heights into the valley, strafing the enemy aircraft parked helplessly on the ground. Those that tried to take off were mercilessly shot down and those that were unable to move were blasted by guns or crushed under the tracks of the charging tanks. Within a very short time the airfield was taken and a squadron of tanks pushed on to crest the main northern escarpment at Sidi Rezegh on the other side of the valley.
Campaign 220 OPERATION CRUSADER 1941 Rommel in Retreat by KEN FORD
Here they stumbled on outposts of the German 90. leichte- Division in their well-established defensive positions. With no infantry to support them, the Crusaders were forced to move back down into the valley. Other tanks tried to move westwards towards the track that ran up from Bir el Gubi to El Adem, but these too met the dug-in infantry of the Italian 17a Divisione ‘Pavia’ and turned back. By nightfall, this success in the north had led XXX Corps commander Lt. Gen. Norrie to begin moving the 7th Armoured Division’s Support Group up to join the 7th Armoured Brigade along the valley floor.
The sudden arrival of British tanks at Sidi Rezegh now made the enemy troops surrounding Tobruk seem vulnerable. The 90. leichte-Division holding the northern escarpment was particularly badly placed for there was little German armour within striking distance of the British on the airfield. The division’s commander, Gen.Maj. Sümmermann, called for reinforcements and a number of 100mm guns were rushed down from Bardia on the coast together with a battalion of Italian infantry of the 25a Divisione ‘Bologna’ and a battalion of German engineers. This latest advance by Eighth Army was again seen by Gen.Lt. Crüwell at his headquarters as something more than mere diversionary tactics by the British.
The commander of 21. Panzer-Division, Gen.Lt. von Ravenstein, agreed with him and was becoming a little anxious about British moves to the south of his formation. When news of 7th Armoured Brigade’s advance onto the escarpment south of Sidi Rezegh reached Rommel, he began to have second thoughts about the reasons behind all this British activity. He gave Crüwell permission for an armoured Kampfgruppe from 21. Panzer-Division to destroy the enemy threat in the south. Oberstleutnant Stephan was ordered to take his Panzer-Regiment 5, reinforced with 12 105mm howitzers and four 88mm anti-tank guns, to confront the enemy near Gabr Saleh. The advancing Germans met the Stuart tanks of Brigadier Gatehouse’s 4th Armoured Brigade, less elements of the 3rd and 5th RTRs which were supporting some armoured cars to the north-west, in the late afternoon.
Kampfgruppe Stephan with its mix of Panzer IIIs and Panzer IVs and a few Panzer IIs, 85 tanks in total, was more or less matched in numbers by 4th Armoured Brigade’s remaining tanks. The two sides now met each other in the first large-scale tank-versus-tank clash in open desert of the war. The Germans moved into the battle with their anti-tank guns behind them and the British advancing to meet them. The speed of the British tanks took them right into the German lines to fight a close-quarters action in which their inferior main armament was less of a handicap. Order was soon lost and the battle became a tank-stalking-tank encounter, with each side inextricably mixed up with the other. The area was soon engulfed in smoke and dust, which lessened the deadly effect of the German anti-tank guns.
The fight raged on through the afternoon with neither side in complete control of its own forces. As the day wore on and the light began to fade, the Germans withdrew to join up with a support column that had arrived to their rear to refuel and to resupply their forces. The British were kept at arm’s length by a screen of anti-tank guns, unable to interfere with the static enemy vehicles through a lack of support from their own artillery. The 4th Armoured Brigade then retired southwards and left the battlefield to the enemy. As soon as they had left, German engineers came forwards to recover their damaged Panzers whilst those immobile tanks of Eighth Army were destroyed to prevent their reuse. Not all of the British damaged tanks had been left behind, however, for some were towed away for repair. Nonetheless, some 24 Stuarts had been put out of action in the battle. The Germans claimed that their losses were two Panzer IIIs and one Panzer II destroyed and four damaged Panzer IIIs, which were recovered; the British claimed they had knocked out 24 of them, an exaggeration that was to have later repercussions.
Map showig The opening moves of 18 and 19 November 1941 
1. 18 November: XXX Corps begins Operation Crusader with an advance towards Gabr Saleh with 7th Armoured Division and 22nd Armoured Brigade.
2. XII Corps begins its advance with the New Zealand Division and the 4th Indian Division crossing the wire and advancing to get behind the Axis defences.
3. By nightfall, the armoured formations of 7th Armoured Division and the 7th Support Groups are all in place around Gabr Saleh waiting for the expected counterattack by German armour.
4. 19 November: Rommel fails to make his move, so 7th Armoured Brigade advances towards Sidi Rezegh.
5. The 22nd Armoured Brigade moves towards Bir el Gubi against the Italian 132a Divisione Corazzata ‘Ariete’.
6. The 7th Armoured Brigade takes Sidi Rezegh airfield.
7. The 22nd Armoured Brigade is repulsed by the Italians at Bir el Gubi.
8. Rommel moves his 90. leichte-Division south to help screen the British approach to Tobruk by the 7th Armoured Brigade.
9. Rommel allows the commander of the Afrika Korps to send an armoured battlegroup (Kampfgruppe Stephan) to advance against the British armour in the south.
10. The 15. Panzer-Division moves south to the Trigh Capuzzo ready to move east or west against Eighth Army.
11. Kampfgruppe Stephen of 21. Panzer-Division clashes with 4th Armoured Brigade in an inconclusive tank-versus-tank action.
Photo: Operation Crusader British armoured cars cross a wide expanse of barren desert IWM CM2202
British armoured cars cross a wide expanse of barren desert. The reconnaissance vehicles are widely spaced to reduce the risk of being hit by marauding enemy aircraft. The absence of any identifiable features on the harsh landscape made navigation difficult. (IWM CM2202)
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