Image: This solitary Vickers light tank from 3rd King’s Own Hussars recaptured Fort Capuzzo on 14th December 1940.
Fort Capuzzo was a fort in the colony of Italian Libya, near the Libyan-Egyptian border and next to the Italian Frontier Wire.
The Litoranea Balbo ran south from Bardia to Fort Capuzzo, 13 km inland, west of Sollum, then east across the Egyptian frontier, to the port over the coastal escarpment. The fort was built during Italian colonial repression of Senussi resistance in the Second Italo-Senussi War (1923–1931), as part of a barrier on the Libya-Egypt and Libya-Sudan borders.
The Frontier Wire and a series of forts including Fort Capuzzo were used to stop the Senussi from moving freely across the border. The fort had four crenellated walls enclosing a yard. Living quarters had been built around the edges and provided the base for border guards and Italian army armoured car patrols.
A track ran south from the fort, just west of the frontier wire and the border, to Sidi Omar, Fort Maddalena and Giarabub. The fort changed hands several times during the Western Desert Campaign (1940–1943) of the Second World War.
On 14 June, within a week of the Italian declaration of war on Britain on 10 June 1940, the 7th Hussars and elements of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment, Gladiators of 33 Squadron Royal Air Force (RAF) and Blenheims of 211 Squadron captured Fort Capuzzo; the 11th Hussars took Fort Maddalena about 97 km (60 mi) further south.
The fort was not occupied long for lack of troops and equipment but demolition parties visited each night to destroy Italian ammunition and vehicles. For the rest of June, the British patrolled to the north, south and west and began the Siege of Giarabub.
The Italian 10th Army concentrated in the area from Bardia to Tobruk and brought forward the Maletti Group, a combined tank, infantry and artillery force, equipped with a company of Fiat M11/39 medium tanks, which were superior to the older L3/33 tankettes.
The Italians reoccupied Fort Capuzzo and held it with part of the 2nd Blackshirt Division (Luogotenente Generale Francesco Argentino). On 29 June, the Maletti Group repulsed British tanks with its artillery and then defeated a night attack.
During the frontier skirmishes from 11 June to 9 September, the British claimed to have inflicted 3,500 casualties for a loss of 150 men.
On 16 December, during Operation Compass (9 December 1940 – 9 February 1941) the 4th Armoured Brigade of the Western Desert Force of which the 3rd Hussars were part, captured Sidi Omar and the Italians withdrew from Sollum, Fort Capuzzo and the other frontier forts; Number 9 Field Supply Depot was established at the fort for the Armoured Division.