63rd Infantry Division Cirene
|63rd Infantry Division Cirene|
|Colors||red on left, blue on right|
|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 formed 1 October 1937 in Marj and destroyed 5 January 1941 in Bardia. (Operation Compass) in January 1941.
By 10 June 1940, the Cirene division was stationed at Al Adam (now Tobruk Airport), with the rear areas protection duty. In the August, 1940, it was transferred to the Sallum-Bardia front area. The Italian invasion of Egypt has started 9 September 1940. 13 September 1940 the Cirene division also started to participate, entering Egyptian territory 13 September 1940 and reaching Sidi Barrani on 16 September 1940. Afterward, 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 Buqbuq sector, where the Cirene Division has fortified in four strong points around the rocky hill near Ābār Abū Safāfī (Bir Sofafi), ‘Alam ar Rābiyah (Alam Rabia), the crossroads at point 236 Coordinates: , the crossroads at Qabr el Mahdi (Qabe Mahdi) and point 226 near Ābār Abū Safāfī (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 1940, a patrol from British 7th Support Group entered Rabia to find it empty. The Cirene Division had withdrawn from there and Ābār Abū Safāfī (Sofafi) overnight. An order to the withdrawing 4th Armoured Brigade to cut them off west of Ābār Abū Safāfī (Sofafi) arrived too late and they were able to make their way along the top of the escarpment to link with Italian forces at Naqb al Ḩalfāyah during general retreat to Sallum. The losses during 11–14 December 1940 retread were moderate to severe.
By 15 December the Italian commander Annibale Bergonzoli had approximately 40,000 defenders under his command. But situation has deteriorated rapidly due heavy aerial bombardment and further Allied attacks. The Italian divisions defending the perimeter of Sallum to Bardia included remnants of the Cirene, the 62 Infantry Division Marmarica, the 1 Blackshirt Division 23 Marzo, and the 2 Blackshirt Division 28 Ottobre. At first, the Cirene division guarded Marsá al Murayghah (Mrega) zone which was a part of an 18-mile (29 km) perimeter which had a permanent anti-tank ditch, extensive wire fence, and a double row of concrete strong points. But soon enemy bombardment on the front line has increased to the intolerable level, therefore the bulk of Cirene personnel have retreated to Bardia city proper. On 3 January 1941, the British forces resumed their offensive, starting a Battle of Bardia. 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. Whenever the Italians choose to fight, the fighting was fierce. An Australian historian later wrote that "in parts their defence was most efficient and often extremely brave." But the majority of Italian units have surrendered without fight, their morale sapped by hunger, thirst, lice and dysentery.
Order of Battle
- 157. Infantry Regiment
- 158. Infantry Regiment
- 45. Artillery Regiment [nb 1]
- 63a Armor battalion (transferred to 64th Infantry Division Catanzaro 9 December 1940)
- 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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- Playfair, p 270
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- Churchill 1949, p. 616
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