|63rd Infantry Division Cirene|
|Engagements||World War II|
The 63rd Infantry Division Cirene was an infantry division of the Italian Army during World War II. The Cirene Division was sent to Libya in October 1939. It took part in the Italian invasion of Egypt in September 1940 and was destroyed during the British counter-attack (Operation Compass) in January 1941.
The Italian invasion of Egypt started in September 1940, with the objective of capturing the Suez Canal, but after the capture of Sidi Barrani on 16 September, the Italian Army formed a defensive line composed of big outposts separated by wide desert areas. At the southern end of the line was the Cirene Division in four strong points around the rocky hill of Bir Sofafi; Alam Rabia, the crossroads at point 236, the crossroads at Qabe Mahdi and point 226 at Bir Sofafi. They were separated from the next formation to the north, the Maletti Group by a 30 km (19 mi) gap. The opening stage of the British counter-attack Operation Compass was known by the Italians as the "Battle of the Marmarica" after the name of the coastal plain where the battle was fought. The British knew it as the "Battle of the Camps" after the individual Italian camps set up in a defensive line outside of Sidi Barrani. On 11 December a patrol from British 7th Support Group entered Rabia to find it empty. The Cirene Division had withdrawn from there and Sofafi overnight. An order to the withdrawing 4th Armoured Brigade to cut them off west of Sofafi arrived too late and they were able to make their way along the top of the escarpment to link with Italian forces at Halfya. By 15 December the Italian commander Annibale Bergonzoli had approximately 40,000 defenders under his command. The Italian divisions defending the perimeter of Bardia included remnants of the Cirene, the 62 Infantry Division Marmarica, the 1 Blackshirt Division 23 Marzo, and the 2 Blackshirt Division 28 Ottobre. These divisions guarded an 18-mile (29 km) perimeter which had a permanent anti-tank ditch, extensive wire fence, and a double row of concrete strong points. On 3 January 1941, the British forces resumed their offensive. As the Allied forces advanced, the Italian units were surrounded, cut off from supply, and defeated. After some hard fighting, one position after another surrendered. The Australians captured Bardia on 5 January, taking 45,000 prisoners and 462 guns for a loss of 130 dead and 326 wounded of their own. However the fighting was fierce. An Australian historian later wrote that "in parts their defence was most efficient and often extremely brave."
Order of Battle
- An Italian Infantry Division normally consisted of two Infantry Regiments (three Battalions each), an Artillery Regiment, a Mortar Battalion (two companies), an Anti Tank Company, a Blackshirt Legion of two Battalions was sometimes attached. Each Division had only about 7,000 men, The Infantry and Artillery Regiments contained 1,650 men, the Blackshirt Legion 1,200, each company 150 men.
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