Operation Compass

From Academic Kids

Operation Compass was a World War II Allied military operation in the Western Desert Campaign. Italian troops had attacked from their colony of Libya into British-controlled Egypt, and occupied Sidi Barrani. On December 8 1940 British, and Indian troops under the command of Major-General O'Connor attacked against the Italian rear, via a gap in the defenses south of Sidi Barrani. Planning of the operation (and discovery of the gap) is credited to Brigadier Eric Dorman-Smith, who served as an adviser to O'Connor.

As a counter-espionage measure, many of the troops involved were not informed that the operation wasn't an exercise, until they were very nearly engaged in combat. The attack was supported by 25 Pounder artillery and Blenheim bombers and was centered on the advance of Mk.II Matilda tanks. Within an hour of the onset of combat, Italian General Pietro Maletti would be dead and 4,000 Italian soldiers would surrender. Within three days, 237 artillery, 73 tanks, and 38,300 soldiers would be captured. The attacking forces would move west along the Via della Vittoria, through Halfaya Pass, and capture Fort Capuzzo, Libya.

O'Connor wanted to continuing attacking, at least as far as Benghazi; however, General Wavell had ordered the Indian 4th Infantry Division to take part in an offensive against Italian forces in Italian East Africa. O'Connor would state, "[This] came as a complete and very unpleasant surprise...It put paid to the question of immediate exploitation...". The Australian 6th Division replaced the Indians. The attack would eventually continue, ending with the 7th Armoured Division cutting off the Italian retreat.

After 10 weeks the Allies had advanced 800km, destroying 400 tanks, 1,292 artillery pieces and capturing 130,000 POWs. The Allies suffered 494 dead and 1,225 wounded. However the advance stopped short of driving the Italians out of North Africa. As the advance reached Al Argheila, Churchill ordered that it be stopped, and troops dispatched to defend Greece. A few weeks later the first troops of the German Afrika Korps would begin arriving in Tripoli (Operation Sonnenblume), and the desert war would take a completely different turn. (1 - p.50)


  • Bonner Fellers
    • "General Wavell told me they were going to do manoeuvres, so I went up as an observer, and God dammit - it was the works."
  • Anonymous Coldstream Guards officer
    • "We have about 5 acres [20,000 m²] of officers and 200 acres [800,000 m²] of other ranks." (1 - p.46)


  1. The Battle of Alamein: Turning Point, World War II by John Bierman and Colin Smith (2002)fr:Opération Compass

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