Egyptian Frontier, 1940
This Action covers the initial period of domination of the frontier area by our light forces, when constant brushes occurred with the enemy, in which losses were inflicted on him.
The Honour has been emblazoned by the 7th Hussars.
Both the 7th and 11th Hussars of the 7th Armoured Division conducted a series of cross-border raids on Italian outposts. On June 12, 1940, the 11th Hussars raided several Italian defensive positions and took many prisoners. Two days later, Fort Capuzzo and Fort Maddalena were captured by this same regiment along with some light tanks of the 7th Hussars and infantry of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps.
After initial skirmishes along the Libyan-Egyptian frontier during the summer, the Italians commenced their invasion of Egypt. On September 13, 1940, the Italian XXI (Metropolitan) Corps advanced 60 miles into Egypt. At Sidi Barrani, the Italians halted and began fortifying makeshift camps to the south.
Ostensibly, the reason for the halt to their eastward advance was a shortage of supplies, principally water, and a desire not to extend their distance from Libyan bases.
The British forces withdrew steadily as the enemy advanced. Maj Gen Sir Richard O’Connor’s initial strategy was to avoid a confrontation with the larger Italian force at the frontier. The main part of his Western Desert Force was to retreat to Mersa Matruh, which was near a stronghold called the Baggush Box. Mersa Matruh was about 150 miles west of the great Egyptian port city of Alexandria and was relatively easy to supply.
O’Connor did, however, leave a thin screen of three battalions of infantry supported by artillery covering a 20-mile front. This small force was accompanied by light tanks of the 7th Hussars and armoured cars of the 11th Hussars, along with two motor battalions of the 60th Rifles and the Rifle Brigade with two regiments of motorized RHA to retard the Italian advance.
During the Italian march to Sidi Barrani, the Italians suffered 3,500 casualties while the British lost 160 men.