The Siege of Giarabub was an action fought between Commonwealth and Italian forces in the Western Desert during World War II. It took place between December and March 1941 around the oasis of Giarabub (now Jaghbub), Libya.
Background[edit | edit source]
Giarabub was a small oasis in the Libyan Desert. It lay 320 km south of Bardia and 65 km west of the border with Egypt. Strategically it was the most southerly of a string of border posts established by the Italians to guard their African colony. The town of Giarabub lay to the west of the salt marsh, which extended some 24 km east to west. The town itself was fortified and had a series of outposts around the rim of the marsh. The garrison, of approximately 800 Italians and 1,200 colonial troops was under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Salvatore Castagna, a determined and resourceful officer.
Prelude[edit | edit source]
With the entry of Italy into the Second World War Giarabub was on the front line, guarding the southern flank of the Libyan-Egyptian border. Once the Italian advance in September 1940 had been reversed by Operation Compass in December, the garrison at Giarabub found itself cut off by the advancing British and Commonwealth forces.
Siege[edit | edit source]
The start of the siege saw a garrison of approximately 800 Italians and 1,200 colonial troops at Giarabub under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Castagna. While many of the colonial troops surrendered quickly, the regular troops held firm for weeks and were still in place in mid-March. Although cut off, the garrison was supplied by air and the 6th Australian Division's divisional mechanised cavalry unit which was observing the oasis did not have the strength to attack the position.
In late March Wavell needed the oasis clear to allow him to withdraw the divisional cavalry regiment to join the rest of the division to travel to Greece. The cavalry was joined by 2/9th Australian Infantry Battalion and an attack launched under the leadership of Brigadier George Wootten. In a message on 17 March, Erwin Rommel congratulated the garrison on its defense and assured them that friendly forces would relieve them soon. However, on 21 March, the final attack was launched. It lasted for about two days and once again the Australians and Italians took heavy casualties but the Australians prevailed although 2/9th Battalion alone lost 17 killed and 77 wounded. It was estimated that 250 casualties had been caused to the Italian battalion under the weight of the opening artillery barrage, hand to hand combat and the British air strikes.
Aftermath[edit | edit source]
The resistance of the Italian troops was vastly celebrated by the fascist regime and used to minimize the military defeat in Cyrenaica. It was made the subject of a 1942 propaganda film.
References[edit | edit source]
- The siege of Giarabub T Henderson, AWM 2010
- Wavell in "No. 37638". 3 July 1946. https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/37638/page/
[edit | edit source]
- The Capture of Giarabub (pdf) ch 12, Offficial History Vol I AWM 1961, pp287–304
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