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The Italian Offensive and Operation Compass September 13, 1940 - February 7, 1941 (Click to enlarge)

Beda Fomm is a small coastal town in southwestern Cyrenaica, Libya located between the much larger port city Benghazi to its north and the larger town of El Agheila further to the southwest. Beda Fomm is known mainly for being the site of the final engagement of Operation Compass in World War II.

World War II

In late January 1941, the British learned that the Italians, fearing the British advance (Operation Compass) were evacuating Cyrenaica by way of Beda Fomm; The British 7th Armoured Division was dispatched to intercept the Italian army. Halfway to their destination, it was evident that the entire division together was too slow so a 'flying column' was sent on a direct route across the desert. On 5 February 1941, they arrived at the town to cut off the retreating remnants of the Italian Tenth Army. The following day, the Italians arrived and attacked, but failed to break through the blockade. For two days, 500 riflemen, a squadron of light tanks and a few field- and anti-tank guns held off 20,000 Italian soldiers with one hundred tanks and two hundred guns. The fighting was close and often hand-to-hand; at one point, a regimental sergeant major captured an Italian tank by hitting the commander over the head with a rifle-butt. The final effort came 7 February when 20 Italian Fiat M13/40 tanks broke through the thin cordon of riflemen and anti-tank guns only to be stopped by field guns, yards from regimental HQ. The officer commanding Italian forces was General Tellera; he was killed by a bullet on the field, and Lt-Gen. Ferdinando Cona assumed command, only to be captured during the battle by Allied forces.

After that failure, with the rest of the 7th Armoured arriving and the 6th Australian Division bearing down on them from the Benghazi, the Italians surrendered.

A fictionalized version of the battle may be found in C.S. Forester's short story "An Egg for the Major," in the collection Gold from Crete.

See also

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