Battle of Sidi Barrani

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Italian soldiers captured during the Battle of Sidi Barrani

The Battle of Sidi Barrani was the first battle of Operation Compass, the first major Allied operation of the Western Desert Campaign. It took place in December 1940 at Sidi Barrani in modern-day Libya. The operation was a complete success for the Allies.


The Italian Tenth Army under the command of Marshal Rodolfo Graziani gained possession of Sidi Barrani on September 16, three days after entering Egypt from Libya.[1] Graziani chose not to pursue the light British forces retreating from his advance, but to remain at Sidi Barrani and fortify his position and establish lines of communication.[2] In the following months, the British also reinforced their Western Desert Force in Egypt under the command of Lieutenant-General Richard O’Connor with three armored units from the UK,[3] and divisions from India and Australia.[4]

Although the British Western Desert Force was smaller in numbers than the Italian Army, it was much better equipped, with more modern air units, faster tanks, and longer-range artillery. Composed of troops from around the empire, the British Eighth Army was fully motorized, giving it a decisive advantage over the primarily non-motorized Italian infantry.[5]


On the night of December 8, the British gunboats HMS Ladybird and HMS Aphis began shelling Sidi Barrani in preparation for General O’Connor’s attack.[6] On the morning of December 9, the British launched their attack on the Italians’ string of fortified camps around Sidi Barrani, capturing both the Nibeiwa and Tummar West camps on the same day, and taking 4,000 Italian prisoners.[7]

At this point the British divided their column in two. The 7th Armoured Division moved to cut off Sidi Barrani from reinforcements coming from the west, while the rest of the army continued to advance north toward the town.[8] On the morning of December 10, the British 4th Indian Division and 7th Royal Tank Regiment, approaching from the south, attacked Sidi Barrani in coordination with the British Selby Force advancing from the east.[9] With their combined naval and air support, the British easily took the town on the same day.


The total number of prisoners taken by the British during the attack on Sidi Barrani and its surrounding camps was 38,000 troops. They also captured 237 guns and over 70 Italian tanks.[10] After Sidi Barrani, the Italian Army was pressed into full retreat as O’Connor continued his offensive.


  1. ^ Neillands, 2004, 20-21.
  2. ^ Erwin Rommel, 1953, p.91-92.
  3. ^ Neillands, Eighth Army, p22.
  4. ^ Latimer, 2004, pp25-26.
  5. ^ Rommel, 1953, 92.
  6. ^ Latimer, Operation Compass 1940, 32.
  7. ^ Latimer, 2004, 30-31.
  8. ^ Rommel, 1953, 93.
  9. ^ Latimer, 2004, 30-31.
  10. ^ Neillands, Eighth Army, 25.


  • Neillands, Robin. Eighth Army: the triumphant desert army that held the Axis at bay from North Africa to the Alps, 1939-1945. New York: The Overlook Press, 2004.
  • Rommel, Erwin. The Rommel Papers, trans. Paul Findlay. London: Collins, 1953.
  • Latimer, Jon. Operation Compass 1940: Wavell’s Whirlwind Offensive. London: Praeger, 2004.