Operation Crusader was a military operation during the Second World War by the British Eighth Army against the Axis forces in North Africa between 18 November and 30 December 1941. The operation was intended to relieve the 1941 Siege of Tobruk; the Eighth Army tried to destroy the Axis armoured force before advancing its infantry. The plan failed when, after a number of inconclusive engagements, the British 7th Armoured Division was defeated by the Afrika Korps at Sidi Rezegh.
Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel ordered German armoured divisions to the Axis fortress positions on the Egyptian border but failed to find the main body of the Allied infantry, which had bypassed the fortresses and headed for Tobruk. Rommel had to withdraw from the frontier to Tobruk and achieved some tactical success in costly fighting. The need to preserve his remaining forces from destruction prompted Rommel to withdraw his army to the defensive line at Gazala, west of Tobruk and then all the way back to El Agheila. It was the first victory over the German ground forces by British forces in the war.
Following the costly failure of Operation Battleaxe, General Archibald Wavell was relieved as Commander-in-Chief Middle East Command and replaced by General Claude Auchinleck. The Western Desert Force was reorganised and renamed the Eighth Army under the command of Lieutenant-General Alan Cunningham replaced by Lieutenant-General Neil Ritchie. The Eighth Army comprised two Corps: XXX Corps under Lieutenant-General Willoughby Norrie and XIII Corps under Lieutenant-General Reade Godwin-Austen.
XXX Corps was made up of 7th Armoured Division (commanded by Major-General William Gott), the understrength South African 1st Infantry Division with two brigades of the Sudan Defence Force (newly arrived from the East African Campaign and commanded by Major-General George Brink) and the independent 22nd Guards Brigade. XIII Corps comprised 4th Indian Infantry Division (commanded by Major-General Frank Messervy), the newly arrived 2nd New Zealand Division (commanded by Major-General Bernard Freyberg) and the 1st Army Tank Brigade.
The Eighth Army also included the Tobruk garrison with the 32nd Army Tank Brigade, and the Australian 9th Division which (in late 1941), was in the process of being replaced by the British 70th Infantry Division and the Polish Carpathian Brigade (commanded by Major-General Stanisław Kopański).Australian Major General Leslie Morshead had been succeeded as Allied commander at Tobruk by British Major General Ronald Scobie. However, by November, the Australian 20th Brigade remained in Tobruk, under Brigadier John Murray.