After General Wavell’s failures with Operation Brevity (May 1941) and Operation Battleaxe (June 1941), General Sir Claude Auchinleck, the new commander of Middle East Forces, was under pressure to launch a renewed attack on Axis forces. The Allies hoped to destroy Rommel’s powerful Panzergruppe Afrika and lift the siege on British and Commonwealth troops in Tobruk. Allied forces would advance through the southern desert, engage and destroy enemy tanks, then turn northwest to assist with a breakout at Tobruk. The capture of Sidi Rezegh was the key to the success of the operation. The fierce and bloody battle there came at a huge loss of life and capture for New Zealand troops, yet it exhausted Rommel’s armies, stretched Axis supply lines and facilitated the relief of Tobruk. It is generally considered that Rommel’s dash to the wire, the ensuing chaos and Auchinleck’s sheer determination, were paramount in this first defeat of Rommel in North Africa.
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