On the morning of 15 June, 1941, the long awaited and eagerly anticipated Operation Battleaxe rolled into motion. Eleventh Indian Brigade and 4th Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) advanced along the escarpment toward the vital Halfaya Pass, defended by 7th Bersagliere backed by anti-tank guns. Also under 4th Indian Division command, the Guards Brigade, accompanied by 7th RTR, pushed on towards Point 206, overlooking the frontier wire.Unfortunately a staff error (for which no satisfactory explanation was ever forthcoming, apart from the inability, twice demonstrated, of a certain general staff officer to count up to three) led to the Buffs and 2 Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders failing to appear on the start lines. The absence of one third of the infantry rather compromised Eighth Army's chances of success in this operation (and rather discouraged the writing of this After Action Report, truth be told). But it was a fairly involving battle all the same, and it was only when starting to write this article that I discovered the 'General Staff's' snafu.
Priority being given to the capture of Halfaya Pass, the Indian infantry attacked from above (Mahratta) and below (Rajputana) the escarpment, led by the Central India Horse (CIH) armoured cars to spy out the defenders, and the Scots Guards and 4th Royal Tanks advancing on the left of the Indian infantry. Supporting this attack was half the Division's artillery.
The attack upon Pt 206 was left to the Coldstream Guards and 7th Royal Tanks, supported by the balance of the Div Artillery. (Just as an aside, here, to give the recon units a role, I enacted that the first attack against enemy in 'D' (Defence) mode required double-5 or double-6 to score hits, but subsequent attacks required only a '6'. Nippy little recon units being capable of rapid movement to get themselves out of trouble, could afford to take the loss without being destroyed, even at the loss of all their strength points (SPs). This allowed the troops with more heft a better chance of doing some damage before the erosion of their own strength became too severe). According to this scheme, the CIH took its lumps and vanished behind the advancing troops. Not that it availed much: three infantry battalions, a tank regiment and a regiment of artillery battered the Halfaya Pass position, and although what remained of the anti-tank units had to pull out, the Bersagliere seemed disinclined to follow.
Meanwhile, the 7th Armoured Brigade and its support group, led by the 11th Hussars, crossed the Frontier Wire without opposition and advanced rapidly towards Hafid Ridge, the capture of which feature was deemed vital to the success of the Operation. The position was held by a panzergrenadier battalion, a reconnaissance unit, a detachment of 8.8cm FlaK guns in anti-tank role, and a battalion from 8th Panzer Regiment. As the main body of the British formation drove north, they left a screen of 2-pounder anti-tank guns not far distant due west of Point 206, by way of a link, or liaison, between the two wings of the Allied push.
The first real Allied success came from the extreme left of the line, with the King's Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) and the Rifle 'Brigade' forcing 33rd Recon Unit off the western end of Hafid Ridge. Following up this success, the infantry, with support from 2nd Royal Tanks rolled up half the remainder of the ridge, leaving the '88s' clinging precariously to the eastern end. Meanwhile, 6th Royal Tanks swung to the right, where a counter-attack by the panzers and gepanzert infantry seemed to be developing, a few miles north of Pt 206. The I/8th Panzer that had begun the day on Pt 208 had dropped to the desert floor to join its sister battalion for a united blow.
By mid-afternoon, the attack on Halfaya had been repulsed, and 11th Brigade was back on its start line. The assault on Pt 206 was still ongoing, but barely.
As night drew in, Eighth Army had cleared Pt 206 and most of Hafid Ridge. But Afrika Korps retained the hold of the rest of the eminence, and, more importantly, the Italians were still in possession of Halfaya Pass.
Eighth Army lost 33SP overall: 7 tanks, 22 infantry, 4 reconnaissance, though 2 of the latter (11 Hussars) counted as destroyed when struck by enemy armour after having been reduced to 0SP. They recovered 4 tank, 11 infantry and 1 recon SP overnight. Not having the Axis figures (I think they lost about 16SP all up during the day), I can not comment upon their recovery, but it did mean that as far as Halfaya Pass was concerned, it would be all to do again on the morrow.
A somewhat revitalised 4th Indian Division began its assault upon Halfaya Pass, bringing in all the resources that could be brought to bear, save 3rd Coldstream Guards occupying Pt 206. That stout battalion had to be left to its own devices, though, as it turned out, they were not seriously attacked throughout the day. By this concerted effort, the Bersagliere were gradually levered out of their dug in positions, and fell back towards the Sollum-Fort Capuzzo line. It was an exiguous Indian Brigade that occupied the hard-won Pass.
At this point 'Jacko' (Paul Jackson, playing the Axis role) had to leave for a mid-afternoon commitment. Although it was fairly plain already that 8th Army had achieved all it was going to achieve, there was still two-thirds of the second day remaining. I decided to play it out solo.
There ended the two-day Operation Battleaxe battle. Its only successes were the capture of Point 206, and carrying of the Halfaya Pass position - though they were sufficient for Lt-Gen Beresford-Pierse to claim a victory. If victory it was, it cost a great deal in manpower and equipment, especially armour.