However, the defenders of Tobruk were not simply sitting around unprepared as they were quite aware of the importance of the harbor to the Axis lines of communication. Protection at Tobruk could be counted upon by Italian and German air, sea, and land forces.
German defensive responsibilities were lead by General-Major Otto Deindl. Besides the usual hodgepodge of troops that could typically be found at behind the lines supply points, Deindl had units under his command that included the entirety or elements of the 613 Motorized Military Police Company, two companies of Wachbataillon Afrika, the Motorized 909 Pioneer Company, and several AA groups sporting approximately four dozen of the legendary, and lethal, 88 mm Flak guns.
The Italian garrison force at the time of the attack fell under the command of Rear Admiral Giuseppe Lombardi, who happened to be at the installation on inspection. The normal garrison commander was away from the port at the time of the attack, thus Lombardi was the highest ranking Axis officer overseeing Tobruk’s defense during the Agreement assault. As with the Germans, there was a potpourri of different Italian units stationed at Tobruk, with the 18th Cg. RR Carabinieri Battalion and the crack marines of the 3rd Battalion,’San Marco’ Regiment serving as the harbors main defenders. The crushingly effective fight put up by the San Marco Marines during Operation Agreement earned them the nickname of the “Tobruk Battalion” for all eternity.
Approximately 160 men strong, the ‘San Marco’ Regiment were commanded by the able Lieutenant Colotto. It had been only a few weeks prior that the San Marco Regiment had conducted their own ‘behind the lines’ operation. Transported east down the coast from the harbor, the Marines were successfully dropped off undetected behind British territory, and making their way inland, proceeded to cut a rail line that ran between El Alamein and Alexandria.
The Axis would also be able to call upon a strong, and as it proved dominating, air contingent for defense of Tobruk. Among the aircraft scattered about on surrounding air fields were dozens of Italian Macchi C. 200 Saetta fighter-bombers, Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero bombers, Fiat CR.42 Falco fighters, and the excellent Macchi C.202 Folgore fighters. German aircraft included Junkers JU88’s and Messerschmitt Bf 110 heavy fighters. In addition, several more JU88’s and the legendary JU 87 Stuka dive-bombers could be summoned from Crete and Sidi Barrani. What would further emphasize the numerical Axis dominance in the air was that following the initial RAF preparatory bombing run, the attacking British forces would receive no air support over Tobruk during the course of the operation. The inevitable supremacy in the skies by Italian and German aircraft would carry dire consequences for the attackers.
Three Italian destroyers, along with several other German and Italian coastal vessels were stationed in the harbor itself. This array of daunting firepower should have been enough to give one pause on pursuing a commando style attack against the installation. But the wheels put in motion would not be stopped, and the garrison of Tobruk and the attacking soldiers of the United Kingdom had a date with destiny that September night.
The Secondary Operations:
OPERATION BIGAMY, the Benghazi Raid.
The “simultaneous” raid against the port at Benghazi was to be conducted strictly by land-based forces, with a portion of the attackers traversing nearly 1000 kilometers of desert to reach their destination. The main strike force was codenamed Force X, and consisted of LRDG and SAS patrols. Force X transportation comprised of 40 jeeps armed with Vickers guns and several three ton Ford trucks. Upon reaching the Benghazi area the convoy was to travel down the main road, Via Balbia, and relying on stealth and surprise, assail the harbor with the goal of rendering it temporarily inoperable. Targets included oil storage and pumping stations, cranes, general port facilities, along with sinking as many Axis vessels as possible in order to block the port from the ability to accept future traffic. Once the mission was complete, Force X was to pull back to the Gialo oasis and assist the Sudan Defense Force in capturing the fort located within from the 200 strong Italian contingents holding it.
Attack against airfield at Brace
The Italian airfield at Barce was to be assaulted by 2 patrols from the LRDG. Sixty four men crammed into five jeeps and twelve Chevy trucks would first have to cross over 1100 miles of desert just to reach their target. The attack aimed to destroy or damage as many Axis aircraft as possible and was designed to be a straightforward assault relying on surprise and speed; a classic hit and run operation.
Operation against Italian ‘fort’ at Gialo .
The Sudan Defense Force, lead by LRDG patrol YI and Y2, was slated to attack the Italian garrison at Gialo a few days following the other ‘Agreement’ operations were initiated. The goal of this mission was for the British to secure Gialo as a rallying point for elements of the other ‘Agreement’ forces to fall back to as they made their return to friendly territory on completion of their individual missions. The British did not anticipate much trouble in dealing with the isolated Italian soldiers at Gialo; this assumption would be an underestimation that would prove costly for the attackers.