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Bardia

The Battle of Bardia was fought over three days in the city of Bardia in Libya from 3-5 January 1941, as part of Operation Compass, the first military operation of the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War.

Major General Iven Mackay's 6th Division assaulted the strongly held Italian fortress of Bardia, Libya, assisted by air support and naval gunfire, and under the cover of an artillery barrage. The 16th Infantry Brigade attacked at dawn from the west, where the defences were known to be weak. Sappers blew gaps in the barbed wire with Bangalore torpedoes and filled in and broke down the sides of the anti-tank ditch with picks and shovels. This allowed the infantry and 23 tanks of the 7th Royal Tank Regiment to enter the fortress and capture all their objectives, along with 8,000 prisoners. In the second phase of the operation, the 17th Infantry Brigade exploited the breach made in the perimeter, and pressed south as far as a secondary line of defences known as the Switch Line.

On the second day, the 16th Infantry Brigade captured the township of Bardia, cutting the fortress in two. Thousands of prisoners were taken, and the Italian garrison held out only in the northern and southernmost parts of the fortress.

On the third day, the 19th Infantry Brigade advanced south from Bardia, supported by artillery and the Matilda tanks, by then reduced in number to just six. Its advance allowed the 17th Infantry Brigade to progress, and the two brigades reduced the southern sector of the fortress. Meanwhile, the Italian garrisons in the north surrendered to the 16th Infantry Brigade and the Support Group of the British 7th Armoured Division outside the fortress. In all, some 36,000 Italian prisoners were taken.

The Rand Light Infantry formed part of the 3 South African Infantry Brigade, 2 South African Division, which saw action at the abortive assault on Bardia on 16 December and during the successful capture of the town.

The victory at Bardia enabled the Allied forces to continue the advance into Libya and ultimately capture most of Cyrenaica. In turn this would lead to German intervention in the fighting in North Africa, changing the nature of the war in that theatre. Bardia raised confidence in the possibility of an ultimate Allied victory around the world, and led to the Lend-Lease Act being passed in the United States (a program under which the United States supplied Allied nations with food, oil, and materiel, including warships, warplanes, along with and other weaponry between 1941 and August 1945.


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