Rommel maintains the pressure
12 June 1942: British defensive box positions come under both tank and air attack as the Gazala battles in North Africa continue
Early on the 11th June Rommel had finally broken through the lines at the Bir Hacheim box. The valiant defence by the Free French had seen a bitter struggle over more than two weeks, with both sides taking many casualties. Yet the British had never been in any position to relieve the box and it had proved impossible to keep it properly resupplied. It was eventually worn down by the constant German attacks.
Rommel took some 500 hundred prisoners1 at Bir Hacheim, most of them wounded. Many more of the defenders had managed to make their escape overnight after most ammunition was exhausted on the 10th.
By the afternoon Rommel had ordered his forces back on the attack, intent on maintaining the pressure.
Henry Ritchie2 was with an artillery unit just north of Bir Hacheim, which had ben holding out since the beginning of the battle. Now attention turned to them:
The hollow, booming of the gun fire from the south increased in volume and, shortly after the sun had lifted its red rim clear ofthe desert floor, came the familiar order from the Command Post.
‘Take Posts, Target Tanks’ ‘Bloody hell,’ said Francis, running for the gun in sockless and unlaced boots. ‘Where the hell have they come from?’ We had been assured the night before that there were no enemy tanks nearer than five miles from our sector.
‘Zero five degrees, seven five hundred, one round gunfire. Fire! .. .’ ‘Hullo,’ said Kevin, with his eye to the dial sight, ‘here we go again, ranging with all four guns.’ Ranging with four guns of the troop at the same time indicated important targets and we deduced correctly that there were a number of enemy tanks moving towards our O.P.