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Battle of Mechilli-Derna January 1941

Wargames

Member
The information I'm finding on the Italian forces involved varies, especially in tanks (in one account, M11/39's are included). In general, it appears one brigade of 60th Infantry Division was at Derna wadi and the other brigade at Mechilli (but with no actual position given). One battalion of 10th Bersaglieri is given at Derna and two (XXV and XXVII at Mechilli (in reserve?), 12 75/27 guns detached from the 25a Divisione fanteria 'Bologna', battalions VI and XXl of 37 M13/40 tanks each, and unidentified units forming the Piana, Bignami, and Babini "regiments" with no mention of location. I figured the members here might know.
 
I am happy that at least one of the visitors to this forum is interested in the organic history of the Royal Army in this period and the vicissitudes that accompanied it from Sidi el Barrani to Beda Fomm....it is also true that given the dramatic lack of primary sources for the period (almost all the TRUE documents were lost together with the 10th Army) It is NOT very easy to reconstruct that story....anyway you can try..at first, however, the situation that had arisen in AS in the Royal Army after the fall of Tobruk and Bardia ....the Italian command was trying to "patch up" an ugly laceration and haemorrhage of men and armaments that had arisen after these events. To do this, he had implemented all the forces left in the field, at least the most mobile ones if they could be called that... therefore, following the Italian usage of "put a patch on" he had created many battle groups coming mostly from the only two almost intact units that he had left in hand namely the Armored Brigade and the Sabratha Division. These, as I said, had been reinforced with the few units arriving from the motherland at that time and entrusted to officers belonging to the 20th Army Corps, dividing them. Hence in fact the arduous task of understanding the compositions of these small groups which, among other things, with the passage of time and the advance of the campaign changed continuously due to the continuous losses often due to the sudden retreats that the troops for the majority chronically deprived of means of transport had to suffer continuously. However, over the years of research I have proved that a solid starting point still remains the deployment shown in the EMS map attached to the official book of the Army General Staff in the 60s of the last century which I am attaching a copy of .... good job and if you will need help with the definition of the units let me know....
All the best
Maurizio
 

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Wargames

Member
Great map! Not a bad defense. Of course, I'm having trouble identifying anything. The Giovani Berta area looks like it correctly assumed the British would try and flank them from the south end of Derna Wadi. I see regimental flags for the 85th Infantry, a 26th Regiment of something? The 2nd armor? and the 10th Bersaglieri. Shouldn't there be another infantry regiment or is it off the south end of the map? What's the 26th? Artillery?
 

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
As Maurizio indicated, sorting out the actual Italian forces at that time is a challenge. The earlier Italian official history and the associated maps remain the best source for the battles during Compass thru Beda Fomm.
TanOfficalsBedaFomm.jpeg

No part of the 10º rgt. bersaglieri was at Derna. Looking at the map Maurizio posted, the 10º rgt. berg. is together towards the left side of the map marked as the Riserva d'armata. The «Sabratha» is scattered covering too much ground. No M11/39s were with «Babini».

The defense of Derna was a hodge-podge of units. My book Infantrymen of the Air has a detailed account of the battle as the 1º btg. paracadutisti libici was a significant part of the defense.

The motorized elements of the divisions in the 5ª Armata were detached and rushed forward to reinforce the remains of the 10ª Armata. These were mainly the artillery units and the MG battalions. The colonne and raggruppamenti formed in the latter part of the campaign were mostly composed of these units with little infantry. Very ad hoc.

Pista! Jeff
 
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jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
Wargames, what accounts are you reading?
 

Wargames

Member
Wargames, what accounts are you reading?

My comments on the 26th and 85th Regiments come from Maurizio's map. My initial question comes from this convoluted mess, an article that contradicts itself with the actual number of M13/40 tanks then available:

" The Italian forces defending Mechili comprised Generale di Brigata Valentino Babini’s Raggruppamento 'Babini', the Raggruppamento motorizzato 'Piana' and Generale di Brigata Mario Bignami’s Colonna 'Bignami'. The Raggruppamento 'Babini' had 138 officers, 2,200 men including the 10o Reggimento Bersaglieri, 57 M13/40 medium tanks, 25 L3 tankettes, six armoured cars, eight 75-mm (2.95-in) guns, eight 100-mm (3.94-in) guns, eight 47-mm guns, 16 machine guns including four 12.7-mm (0.5-in) heavy machine guns, seven Solothurn anti-tank rifles, six mortars, 30 flamethrowers, 90 light trucks, 160 heavy trucks and 180 motorcycles. The Raggruppamento motorizzato 'Piana' had 121 officers, 2,241 men, 12 105-mm (4.13-in) 105/28 guns, 24 75-mm (2.95-in) 75/27 guns, 12 65-mm (2.56-in) 65/17 mm guns, 12 machine guns, 18 45-mm mortars, 10 flamethrowers, 115 light trucks, 83 heavy trucks and 120 motorcycles. The Colonna 'Bignani' had the XXV and XXVII Battaglioni Motorizzati Bersaglieri, a group of 12 75-mm (2.95-in) 75/27 guns detached from the 25a Divisione fanteria 'Bologna' and the VI and XXI Battaglioni di Carri Armati with 37 M13/40 tanks each. The Raggruppamento motorizzato 'Piana' and the Colonna 'Bignami' were kept in reserve."
It can be found here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_at_Mechili

It goes on to state "...the 60th Infantry Division "Sabratha" and the Babini Group, which had 120 tanks. The tank force included 82 new M.13/40 tanks..." when the above quote from the same author totals 129 M13/40 tanks and 25 L3. The author gave a total Italian force of:

5,000 men
129 tanks
25 tankettes
6 armoured cars
84 guns

Some of it might be accurate. The 85th and 10th Regiments would total about 5,000 men. I don't think they had armoured cars (Maybe AB40's?). 84 guns would have to include Sabratha's artillery regiment which is not found on the map.

Another site gives 30 flamethrowers and an unknown number of M11/39's. When I couldn't resolve the contradictions, I posted here. I hoped someone could correct the mess. It does read with the sound of authority. I wonder if anyone can correct Wikipeda?
 
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Wargames

Member
My book Infantrymen of the Air has a detailed account of the battle as the 1º btg. paracadutisti libici was a significant part of the defense.

I didn't know you had written a book. I might be interested in buying it. What opinion do you have of the Libyan parachute battalions of 1940? I see they were given the wadi to cover, the most important sector.
 
Wargames
Don't trust too much what Wikipedia tells you especially about the consistency of the units under certain circumstances. Keep in mind that, at least in the field of Italian units, even the primary texts often give approximate and contradictory definitions that can be resolved only with an accurate search in the archives or by cross-referencing the data. However, in the specific case, Wikipedia's data on the Piana and the Armored Brigade date back to 17 December 1940, while the Mechili battle took place on the 24th, therefore something could certainly have changed in the personnel of the three units you mentioned. Il Piana, for example, which was none other than the Sabratha Motorized Group was diverted to Mechili without its 2nd Motorized Nucleus and therefore it certainly arrived there with a much lower force than that mentioned by Wikipedia (I think about 1600 men in total and with minor armament). Moreover, both he and Bignami, who at the time were none other than the 10th Army Reserve, did not really participate in the clashes. Therefore it is very difficult to have a precise picture of the situation at the moment.
All the best
Maurizio
 
The cannons of the Sabratha were divided into the Raggruppamento Piana and the garrison of Giovanni Berta (if you look carefully you will see the symbol of the cannon with the number 42 which corresponds to the Sabratha regiment) as well as in other groupings while the only M11 tanks still available at moment (few) had been sent to the barrage of Siret el Chreiba to await the Australian vanguards (if you look carefully you will see the symbol on the map).... also keep in mind that at the moment in all of Northern Africa (and also in Italy) there were no AB-type armored cars. The only ones that existed were reconditioned Lancia Jota armored cars and some French and English armored cars belonging to PB....moreover, some daredevils had also managed to put two Lancia IZM back into operation, which however did not last long.
All the best
Maurizio
 

Wargames

Member
I have found the following OOB for the Italians at Derna/Mechilli:

Fteiah airfield area (east of Derna): 4 M11/39 tanks, 6-20mm guns, 60th Bersaglieri Motorcycle Company (less 2 platoons).

Fort Rudero, Fteiah plain: 2 x 75/27 guns 1 x 47/32 gun, and a machinegun platoon

Martuba-Derna crossroad: Tonini battalion: a 75/27 field arty battery from 10th Arty Rgt, eleven 47/32 AT guns, six 20mm guns.

Wadi Derna (southern portion of the Derna line): 2nd Battalion, 86th Inf. Rgt., Sabratha Division, Depot infantry battalion from 115th Inf. Rgt, Marmarica Division, 17th Machinegun Battalion from Brescia Division.

Town of Derna: Elements, 55th Machinegun Bn from Savona Division 18th Libyan Inf. Bn. an artillery battery.

Fort Piemonte, Fteiah plain: 2 x 75/27 guns 1 x 47/32 gun, a machinegun platoon

Reserve: 2 platoons of 201st Bersaglieri Motorcycle Coy. 4 x 20mm guns 2 armored cars (decrepit Lancia WWI model) a Motorcycle Carabinieri team.

Derna Sector Artillery: 1st Group (Battalion), 75/27 field guns (20 guns used in anti-tank role) 7th Group, 75/46 AA guns (7 guns), 5th 20mm AA battery, 256th 65/17 light gun battery, 5 x 47/32 guns, one 76/40 gun battery, two 102/45 gun batteries, one 152/45 gun battery, one 120/45 gun battery, seven Scotti light guns.

Mechilli sector: Bambini Armored brigade (2 medium tank battalions, 1 motorcycle battalion, artillery and support units) with 10th Bersaglieri Regiment (2 battalions) and another medium tank battalion on the way.

The Libyan parachutists (480 men) were combined with the Pancano Group (370 men, 3-47/32mm guns, 4-75/27 guns, 12-20mm guns, 4 M11/39 tanks, 1 captured Humber armored car, 22 trucks and 12 motorcycles.) to form the Tonini Battalion (850 men, 8x 47/32mm guns, 8 Fiat M35 machineguns, 30 Breda M30 LMGs, 12x 20mm guns, and 5 batteries of 75/27mm guns.).

The XX HQ flag on our posted map by Maurizio includes the 85th Regiment of the 60th Division.

On January 23rd the immediate area around Derna under General Bergonzoli numbered approximately 5,000 men and a fair amount of heavy, field and light artillery units. The whole sector from Derna down to Mechilli then up to Barce and Giovanni Berta totaled some 11,000 men.

Source: Italians vs Australians in Derna, 1940 by Stefan Farrelly, Line of Comunications, December 2007 pages 28-29

Does any of this agree?

The Australians are given as 2/4, 2/5, 2/6, 2/7, 2/8 battalions of the 19th brigade.
 
Wargames...I'm not familiar with your sources of information but roughly the OOB is fine...as far as PAI is concerned the first AB 40 armored car had it in late 1941....first were used modernized Lancia Jotas, some Lancia IZ and pure Rolls Royce and Laffly of Preda Bellica.
ALl the best
Maurizio
 

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
The OB is a mix of correct units but not correctly placed/organized. I am not at home, so don't have my books handy. Chapter 4 of Infantrymen of the Air covers the Libyan paratroops and the Battle of Derna. IIRC, 6–8 maps cover the battle.

XVII btg. mtr. is from «Pavia», not «Brescia».

19th Aust Bde was 2/4, 2/8, 2/11. A/6th Aust Div Cavalry and artillery was attached.
 
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Kustosz2137

New Member
I highly doubt that any M11 tanks participated in this battle; of 2 battalions present in AS (I btg. c. M, II btg. c. M) 2nd was entirely destroyed at the beginning of Operation Compass, while 1st retreated with rest of the Brigata Corazzata Speciale from Sidi Barrani; BCS eventually reached Mechilli, but M11 battalion was left for defense of Gazala on 14th December. Eventually remains of this unit retreated to Tobruk and were lost on 21st same month. As far as I know not even single tank survived fall of Tobruk (not counting these captured by Australians), only some crew members managed to retreat.
It is possible that retreating units salvaged some broken tanks left in the desert during operation E, but I doubt that they would stay untouched for so long, especially when entire offensive stopped at Sidi Barrani and there was plenty of time to find and repair them.
 

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
Your skepticism would normally be justified but not in this case. My discussion of the M11/39 tanks is footnoted in my book.

I highly doubt that any M11 tanks participated in this battle; of 2 battalions present in AS (I btg. c. M, II btg. c. M) 2nd was entirely destroyed at the beginning of Operation Compass, while 1st retreated with rest of the Brigata Corazzata Speciale from Sidi Barrani; BCS eventually reached Mechilli, but M11 battalion was left for defense of Gazala on 14th December.
The M11/39s were never part of the brg. cor. speciale. The 1º btg. M retreat to Tobruk. From there, gruppo «Pancano» was created as the recce element for the brigade and was moved to Gazala. The four operational M11/39 tanks (called a plotone formazione) were part of «Pancano». All the remaining M11/39 tanks were inoperable, so the crewmen were sent to Bengasi to man the 36 M13/40 tanks that had arrived without crews (becoming the XXI btg. M IIRC). «Pancano» never joined the brigade but was diverted to Derna instead.

The Italian and Australian accounts both agree that the M11/39 platoon executed a counteratack at Derna on either the 26 or 27 Jan. (I am not at home, so can't access my notes).

This is a early version of the first Derna map in the book that I have on my laptop. It is not the final version, but is close.
Map 4.3 Derna 18-24 Jan 1941 copy 1.jpeg

Pista! Jeff
 
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Kustosz2137

New Member
The M11/39s were never part of the brg. cor. speciale.
Huh? That's something new, even in your article about BCS 1st and 2nd Btg. Carri M are mentioned in it's theoretical OOB
"

« brigata corazzata speciale »[13]​

Comando brigata
Stato Maggiore
Nucleo moto. CC.RR. I off/2 NCO/17 EM 1 autovetture, 1 autoleggere, 15 M/C
Drappello autombilistico 3 autovetture, 1 autoleggere, 1 furgoncino, 6 M/C

Regg. Bersaglieri Autoport 10° rgt. Bersaglieri
Comando
3 btg.
Cp. 47/32

Btg. motorciclisti
Comando
3 cp. Motorcicli

Comando carri
Comando
17° cp. Motorciclisti without one plt.
Drappello automone

4° regg. Carri
Comando
XXI btg. carri L
I btg. carri M (M11/39) 31 M11/39
II btg. carri M (M11/39) 36 M11/39
Btr. da 20mm
Pl. Nebbiogeno (Smoke platoon)

Regg. misto carrista
Comando
LXI btg. carri L
III carri M (M13/40) 37 M13/40
6 fuciloni Solothurn 2 each from d.f.Sirte, Cirene, Marmarica

2 cp. 47/32 autocarrate 1 cp. from 55°; 1 cp. earmarked

Reggimento artiglieria
Comando
Gr. 75/27 con T.L.A. 2 batteries, from 12° art. df
Gr. 75/27CK 2 batteries, from d cc.nn. 23 marzo
Gr. 100/17 con T.L.A. 2 batteries, from df. Cirene
2 btr. da 20 1 btr. from df Cirene, 1 btr. earmarked

Compagnia mista genio
Pl. artieri d’arresto from Comando Superiore genio
Pl. radio/trasmissore from Comando Superiore genio

Reparto sezione sussistenza
Reparto sezione sanità

Autogruppo

2 Autoporto from Intendenza A.S.; rgt. Bers. autoporto.
"
 

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
As I stated, I am away from home and couldn't access my notes. So my error in making that statement.

That article was written in 2015. Seven years later collecting many more books and a trip to the archives can change the picture.

If you read the article, it continues with.....

As can be seen, the brigade was to be assembled using assets from a number of units. As active operations were ongoing, most of the parent units were loath to give up their designated elements and delayed for as long as possible. Additionally, the assigned units would continue to be carried as part of their parent units for administrative purposes, further complicating the situation. On 8 December 1940, the brigade was organizing near Marsa Lucch (between Tobruk and Bardia). Present were:[16]

I btg. M (M11/39)
III btg. M (M13/40)
LX btg. carri L.
Btg. bersaglieri motociclisti
Gruppo da 75/27
Gruppo da 100/17

The II btg. M never joined the brigade. A point that was unclear when I wrote that article in 2015 is how much of the I btg. M was actually with the brigade when it moved to Gazala. From research since that year and the discovery of gruppo «Pancano», it is likely that most of that battalion was left inoperable in Tobruk and only the four M11/39s made the move to Gazala. Gruppo «Pancano» first appears in the accounts at Gazala. There is one reference that the gruppo moved from a unstated location south of Tobruk. It is possible that it was formed in Tobruk when most of the M11/39s were inoperable. At this point it is unlikely that the I btg. M was a functional part of the brigade and likely never was. Just my opinion.

Clearly more research would be great, but has been previously stated that many documents were lost.

Pista! Jeff
 
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