Second World War, 1939-1945
Battle of Bardia
Bardia is a small town on the Mediterranean coast of Libya, in the region of Cyrenaica, approximately 30 kilometres from the Egyptian border. During the early decades of the 20th century it was developed as a military outpost during Italy's colonisation of the region. Prior to the Second World War it was fortified by the construction of an arc of defensive posts, 29 kilometres long, around the town and its small harbour.
Bardia was the site of the first battle fought by Australian troops in the Second World War. On the morning of 3 January 1941, troops of the 16th Brigade of the 6th Australian Division attacked and broke through the western face of the defensive perimeter, while the 2/6th Battalion mounted a diversion in the south. Troops of the 17th Australian Brigade joined the fighting later in the morning to clear the southern portion of the Italian defences, while the 16th Brigade advanced toward Bardia itself. Bardia was captured late in the afternoon of 4 January, but Italian resistance in the southern portion of the perimeter, which had been particularly determined, did not cease until the morning of 5 January; the diversionary force had encountered the toughest fighting of all. The attack had cost the 6th Division 130 men killed and 326 wounded but netted them approximately 40,000 Italian prisoners and large quantities of arms, rations, equipment, and alcohol. All of which was put to good use by the Australians.
In April 1941, the Axis offensive in Cyrenaica carried them back to Bardia which was again occupied as a strongpoint for their defence of the frontier. Neither of the two British offensives of mid-1941 - Operation Brevity (15-27 May) and Operation Battleaxe (15-17 June) - got within striking distance of Bardia, and when Operation Crusader was launched on 18 November, part of the plan was to isolate Bardia and deal with its garrison later. It was duly assaulted by the 2nd South African Division between 31 December 1941 and 2 January 1942, and captured with 8,000 prisoners.
The town was occupied by the Axis forces for the third and last time in June 1942, and abandoned without a fight following their defeat at El Alamein in November 1942.