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The Battle of the Omars (Information Bulletin No. 11, U.S. War Department)
§Table of
§List of
  Part 1
  Part 2
§7 Ind Inf
§U.S. Army
§4 Ind Arty
  Part 3
   and Lessons
  Appendix A
   88-mm. Gun
Appendix B

Part 1 (pg. 1 - 7)


[Figure 1. Disposition of British Forces on the Evening of November 18, 1941.]

Figure 1. Disposition of British Forces on the Evening of
November 18, 1941.


1. PLANS (fig. 1)

   a. Axis Dispositions

Prior to the British drive into Cyrenaica in November 1941, the Axis forces had organized a series of fortified positions extending from Halfaya Pass to Libyan Omar, inclusive. Any British effort for relief of Tobruk was thereby forced to enter Cyrenaica south of Bir Sheferzen. The fortified triangle Bardia--Sidi Omar--Halfaya Pass guaranteed the Germans and Italians, whose main forces were located generally to the northwest, "elbow room" in which they could deploy their armed forces in the frontier area and make effective dispositions to counter the British effort, from whatever direction and in whatever form it might come. Opposing the British in the general area between the fortified triangle and Tobruk were the German 15th and 21st Armored Divisions, the Italian Trento and Bologna Infantry Divisions, and the Italian Ariete Armored Division.

Halfaya Pass and the line from Salum southwest to Sidi Omar were held by the Italian Savona Division reinforced with a sprinkling of German troops, mostly artillery. The enemy outpost line from Halfaya Pass southwest to Libyan Sheferzen was lightly held by armored-car and tank detachments.

   b. British Plans

The XIII Corps comprised the 1st New Zealand Division, the 4th Indian Division (less the 5th Indian Regiment),* and corps troops (see fig. 2). The mission of the XIII Corps was to advance rapidly to the north and seize the area east of the 48th grid, formation -- divisions abreast, 4th Indian Division on the right; boundary between divisions -- the fence** paralleling the Egyptian--Libyan border.


*The 5th Indian Regiment was in army reserve, and the 11th Indian Regiment was to advance along the coastal plain against Halfaya Pass, some 25 miles to the northeast.

**This fence is approximately 8 feet high and consists of two rows of posts, about 10 yards apart, strung with barbed wire. Between the rows of posts is a mass of concertina wire. Although the fence does present a real obstacle to tanks, the area is often filled with mines, and consequently both tanks and infantry seldom attempt to pass through the fence except at gaps known to be free of mines.

- 1 -

[Figure 2.  Organization of the 4th Indian Division (-) on November 18, 1941.]

Figure 2. Organization of the 4th Indian Division (-)
on November 18, 1941.


*Detailed organization is given only for those units directly involved in the Battle of the Omars.

**Because of the great distance involved in North Africa, all infantry troops are moved by trucks.

†The characteristics of the various types of British guns are as follows:
 1. The 25-pounder, the standard field gun of the British Army, is an 88-mm. (3.45-inch) gun howitzer with a rate of fire of 4 to 5 rounds per minute, a muzzle velocity of 1,470-1,750 feet per second, and a maximum effective range of 12,500 yards.
 2. The 2-pounder antitank gun is a 40-mm. (1.58-inch) gun with a rate of fire of 22 rounds per minute and a muzzle velocity of 2,600 feet per second.
 3. The 4.5-inch gun has a rate of fire of about 4 rounds per minute, a muzzle velocity of 2,300 feet per second, and an effective range of 20,500 yards.
 4. The 6-inch howitzer has a rate of fire of about 2 rounds per minute, a muzzle velocity of 1,400 feet per second, and an effective range of 11,400 yards.

- 2 -

Assembly areas: 4th Indian Division at Bir Sheferzen; 1st New Zealand Division at area 16 miles southwest of Omar Nuovo.

Command post of the XIII Corps: a point 17 miles south of Sidi Omar (in Libya just west of the border).


   a. Plan for Movement to Assembly Areas

The 7th Indian Infantry (less the Royal Sussex Battalion) was directed to move in four columns in trucks, from the vicinity of Playground, as follows: the night of November 16/17 to intermediate positions in the vicinity of Alam el Fakhri; the night of November 17/18 to assembly positions as indicated in figure 3.

1st Column
Punjab Battalion,
1 battalion of eight 25-pounders,
1 battery of four 40-mm. Bofors antiaircraft guns,
1 platoon of three 2-pounder antitank guns;

2d Column
2 companies of the Sikh Battalion,
1 Bren-gun carrier platoon of thirteen carriers,
Regimental antitank company, less three platoons,
         total of three guns,
1 antiaircraft battalion, less two batteries, total
         of four guns,
Regimental Headquarters;

3d Column
Sikh Battalion less two companies,
1 battalion of eight 25-pounders,
1 battery of four 40-mm. Bofors antiaircraft guns,
1 platoon of three 2-pounder antitank guns;

4th Column
B echelon (supply units).

- 3 -

[Figure 3. Movement to the Assembly Area of the 7th Indian Infantry.]

Figure 3. Movement to the Assembly Area of the 7th Indian Infantry.

- 4 -

[Figure 4. Typical Movement of an Armored Unit on the Libyan Plateau.]

Figure 4. Typical Movement of an Armored Unit on the Libyan Plateau.

Note the wide dispersion of vehicles and clouds
of dust caused by movement in the desert.


All movements were to be made with utmost secrecy, under cover of darkness in trucks furnished by corps. The New Zealand Cavalry Squadron (light tanks and armored cars) was to protect the left flank of the 7th Indian Infantry during movement and then to occupy a position in the vicinity of Bir Gibni. Assembly positions were to be occupied by daylight November 18. The Royal Sussex Battalion was directed to remain at Playground in division reserve.

   b. The Movement

On the night of November 16/17, the four columns of the regiment as listed above moved successively from Playground to their intermediate positions. The routes had been previously reconnoitered. The first column was in the vicinity of Alam el Fakhri, the other columns in separate areas, each about 3 miles east of the preceding column.

The 1st column moved by way of Point 200 west through El Beida to Point 188, thence northeast to Point 194 and on to Point 195, where it went into two defensive positions. The first positions faced west, north, and northeast around Point 195, and the second faced west from Point 194 to Point 198. There was an interval of about 2,000 yards between the adjacent flanks of these positions.

The 2d column moved through Alam el Fakhri to Point 202, northwest to Gasr el Abid, and thence north to Got en Neghil, where it also went into two defensive positions, the first across the track from Fort Maddalena to Sidi Omar and abreast of the north combat group of the 1st column, and the second facing northeast and east around Bir Sheferzen. There were intervals of 1,500 to 2,000 yards between these defended positions. The Regimental Command Post was established on the trail at the point indicated in figure 3. The formation adopted was typical of formations used in the desert in that it was composed of several positions, each capable of all-round defense, and also capable of mutual support, since the intervals could be covered by the fire of antitank weapons.

The 3d column followed the 2d to Point 202, thence northwest to Qaret el Bakarat, where it went into position with flanks refused facing northeast and east around Point 200. A detachment consisting of one infantry platoon, one antitank platoon, and one platoon of Bren-gun carriers was immediately dispatched to the area in the vicinity of Point 203, where it organized a small all-round defensive area. This detachment thus provided protection for the right flank of the regiment.  

- 5 -

The 4th column followed the 2d into the Got en Neghil position and occupied an area south of the Regimental Command Post.

During the night of November 17/18, three companies of infantry tanks* were moved into an assembly position in the Qaret el Ruweibit area and attached to the 7th Indian Regiment. The movement of the 7th Indian Regiment and of the tank forces was apparently completed without detection, and by daylight on November 18, positions had been hastily organized and partial mine fields laid in the intervals between defensive areas. These fields were in the form of a triangle with the apex toward the enemy, the outer line laid with live mines and the remainder of the field with dummy mines.

The success of these night movements was due to careful planning and reconnaissance. The routes were reconnoitered and the compass bearings for the movements of the various columns were determined prior to the movement. In addition, guides were placed at triangulation points and other terrain features to insure against loss of direction. These guides were provided with one-way lights (shielded from all but one direction) which were flashed on and off at previously determined time intervals. In accordance with the standing operating procedure of British desert units, the intelligence officer acted as the unit navigation officer, thus being responsible for reconnaissance of routes, the placing of guides, and the maintenance of direction while the regiment was moving.


   a. November 19-21 (fig. 1)

Movement northward of the XIII Corps started on November 19, but because of resistance offered by the strongly held Axis positions in the Omars the 4th Indian Division (i.e., the 7th Indian Regiment and supporting units) was able to advance only a few miles. To avoid exposing its right flank, the New Zealand Division moved north only a few miles to a position northwest of Libyan Sheferzen.

On November 19 the Royal Sussex Battalion of the 7th Indian Regiment, which had been released to regimental control the preceding _____________

*These infantry tanks have the following characteristics: weight, 28 tons; crew, 4; armor base, 2.75 inches; armament, one .303 machine gun, one 2-pounder gun.

- 6 -

[Figure 5. British Command Post in the North African Desert.]

Figure 5. British Command Post in the North African Desert.

Command Post vehicles are protected to some
extent from air attack by dispersion. The
vehicles in this picture are at normal intervals.


day, moved northwest across the border, with one company of infantry tanks attached, and seized the high ground at Bu Deheua. This move afforded protection to the interior flanks of both the 4th Indian and the New Zealand Divisions, and the latter was ordered to advance rapidly to the north and cut the Axis lines of communication between Bardia and the Axis forces lying a few miles to the northwest of Zauiet umm Rucba. The 4th Indian Division was to advance to the north, with the 11th Indian Regiment moving up the coast against Halfaya Pass, and the 7th Indian Regiment seizing the Axis positions in the Omars.

The Royal Sussex Battalion, in its new position at Bu Deheua, was threatened with a tank attack from the vicinity of Tlata Gbur throughout November 19. The commanding officer of the 7th Indian Regiment reinforced the Royal Sussex with tank battalion headquarters and another company of tanks, but the attack did not materialize. During the night of November 19/20 he moved the Punjabs and the third company of tanks to the vicinity of Bu Deheua. Regimental headquarters, however, moved only as far as Got el Mahatta, where the terrain afforded cover. Security was provided by the Sikh Battalion.

On November 20 and 21 the New Zealand Division moved north as planned and accomplished its mission. It also cut the water pipeline supplying Bardia and Salum at a point about 7 miles west of Bardia. Since the 4th Indian Division, however, was still unable to advance because of the strong Axis position in the Omars, the division commander chose to attack and the warning order was issued on November 21.

   b. Warning Orders (figs. 6, 9, and 10)

The commanding general of the 4th Indian Division personally issued oral orders at about 4:00 p.m., November 21, to the commanding officers of the 7th Indian Infantry and the 4th Indian Division Artillery. After this each of these commanders issued written orders to his respective forces.*

Following are (I) the order actually issued by the commanding officer, 7th Indian Infantry, (II) that order as it would have been written by a U.S. Army regimental commander,** and (III) the order issued by the commanding officer, 4th Indian Division Artillery. _____________

*It is of interest to note that these orders were received by all elements concerned at 6:00 a.m., November 22, 5 1/2 hours before the time of attack.

**This order is included to provide a basis of comparison between U.S. and British field orders and tactical doctrine, and will be further discussed in paragraph 5 of this bulletin.

- 7 -

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