Surrender at Bardia


Italy having declared war on the British Empire and its allies in June 1940, the war in North Africa began with `Field Marshal' Graziani's `offensive' into Egypt of September 1940, little more than a token infantry push across the Libyan frontier, but sufficient to force General Wavell's forces to retreat to Mersa Matruh, west of El Alamein. Graziani, critically short of transport, adopted a defensive posture along a line south east of Sidi Barani. One Italian veteran reports that Great War tactics were adopted, trenches being dug despite their futility in the spacious conditions of desert warfare, perfect for mobile flank assaults. In December 1940 Wavell counterattacked with motorised forces, inferior in number but superior in mobility, driving inland through the Italian right flank and concentrating on the coastal city of Bardia well to the rear of the Italian position, cutting off the main Italian line of retreat. Forty thousand Italians surrendered in two days, the remainder of their forces retreating in disorder back to Libya. Australian troops accepted many surrenders as above, and in recognition of their contribution, thousands of Italian POWs were ship to Australia and employed to promote the Allied war effort as agricultural labour. This military debacle set the scene for Hitler's dispatch of Rommel and the Africa Corp to North Africa.

Photo from `Active Service with Australia in the Middle East' Australian War Memorial 1941

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