Image size: 1600 x 1146 pixel. 300 KB
Date: Monday, 24 November 1941
Place: Between Tobruk and Sidi Omar, Libya
Photographer: Kriegsberichter Ernst A. Zwilling (KB-Kp. Lw. 7) (KB-Zug Lw. 18)
General der Panzertruppe Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel (Kommandierender General Panzergruppe "Afrika") with the 15. Panzer-Division between Tobruk and Sidi Omar. Libya, November 24,1941. A tired and dispirited "Desert Fox" stands in the front of his Horch staff car during the great retreat after his momentarily defeat by the British in the Crusader offensive. The vehicle in th background is an SdKfz 260 armoured radio vehicle from the HQ signals unit. After Operation Battleaxe failed to relieve the siege of Tobruk in June 1941, British General Archibald Wavell was replaced as Commander-in-Chief Middle East by General Claude Auchinleck. Lieutenant General Cunningham, fresh from victory in East Africa, was given command of the new 8th Army, comprising 13th Corps, supplemented by a New Zealand division, and 30th Corps, incorporating South African troops. The Australian division garrisoning Tobruk was replaced by 70th Division, incorporating Polish troops. Rommel now headed the expanded Panzergruppe Afrika, incorporating the Deutsches Afrika Korps; he also had operational control over three Italian divisions. On 18 November, 30th Corps advanced through the southern desert, aiming to engage and destroy enemy tanks before turning north west to rendezvous with a breakout at Tobruk. By 21 November, both 30th Corps and 70th Division were pinned down by the artillery of Rommel's 90th Light Division. The situation was saved by the advance of 13th Corps, which began engaging enemy positions along the coast on 22 November; by 26 November 13th Corps' New Zealand Division had cleared a corridor between Tobruk and 30th Corps. Auchinleck now replaced Cunningham with Ritchie. The Deutsches Afrika Korps withdrew on 6 December, creating a new front line at Gazala, west of Tobruk. In December further skirmishes in western Cyrenaica, with heavy British losses, were followed by German withdrawal to Tripolitania. However, this apparently favourable British position was undermined by inadequate forward defences and an unrealistic assessment of Rommel's intentions. A massive and apparently unexpected counter attack in January destroyed British positions in the south and west, bringing Rommel back to Gazala. The gains of Operation Crusader had proved to be painfully limited.
NARA (National Archives) Identifier 540148 / Local Identifier 242-EAPC-6(M713a)