On 18 November 1941. Operation Crusader, the third, and ultimately successful attempt to relieve the Siege of Tobruk, began.
Operation Crusader was a military operation of the Western Desert Campaign during the Second World War by the British Eighth Army (with Australian, Comonwealth, Indian and Allied contingents) against the Axis forces (German and Italian) in North Africa commanded by Generalleutnant Erwin Rommel.
The operation ran from 18 November to 30 December 1941, and was intended to bypass Axis defences on the Egyptian–Libyan frontier, defeat the Axis armoured forces and relieve the 1941 Siege of Tobruk.
On 18 November 1941, the Eighth Army launched a surprise attack. From 18 to 22 November, the dispersal of British armoured units led to them suffering 530 tank losses and inflicted Axis losses of about 100 tanks. On 23 November, the 5th South African Brigade was destroyed at Sidi Rezegh but inflicted many German tank casualties.
On 24 November Rommel ordered the “dash to the wire” and caused chaos in the British rear echelons but allowed the British armoured forces to recover. On 27 November, the New Zealanders reached the Tobruk garrison and relieved the siege.
The battle continued into December when supply shortages forced Rommel to narrow his front and to shorten his lines of communication.
On 7 December 1941, Rommel withdrew the Axis forces to the Gazala position and on 15 December he ordered a withdrawal to El Agheila. The 2nd South African Division captured Bardia on 2 January 1942, Sollum on 12 January and the fortified Halfaya position on 17 January, taking about 13,800 prisoners.
On 21 January 1942, Rommel launched a surprise counter-attack and drove the Eighth Army back to Gazala where both sides regrouped. The Battle of Gazala began at the end of May 1942.