Tuesday, April 07, 2020

The Australians on 1 to 2 November 1942 as Operation Supercharge starts

Later on 1 November 1942, the 24th Brigade was hit hard. The brigade commander was killed and others were killed or wounded. Col. Evans was appointed as the new brigade commander and he went to the headquarters area. At sunset, the Germans attacked. Attacks came from the west and northeast. Defensive fire was effective in stopping the attacks. The 20th Brigade also took fire during the 1st. The fighting in the Saucer continued to about 2:30am. About that time, they could hear a large bombardment starting to the south. This was the start of Montgomery's Operation Supercharge.

The 20th Brigade was under fire for much of 1 November. The composite force was told to send "machine guns, anti-tank guns, and pioneers forward to help the 2/43rd Battalion to the area between the rail line and the road. When the machiner-gunners reached the area, they were told that there was not room for them. They then moved into an area to support both battalions (2/43rd and 2/28th). They were in "position by 3:30am".
"For the rest of the night the 24th Brigade battalions were reorganized". The goal was to "give each battalion more room" and to have a reserve battalion in postion. The Desert Air Force had provided good support throughout 1 November. The enemy had dispersed to reduce their vulnerability to air attack. Fourteen attacks by 19 bombers (a "football team") were made on 1 November.
The 24th Brigade took 487 casualties from 30 October to 2 November. They were mostly taken before Operation Supercharge started. The 9th Australian Division had been asked to draw as much of the enemy strength to the north prior to Operation Supercharge.
Rommel ordered some 21st Armored Division and 90th Light Division units to attack to "reestablish contact with the 125th Regiment and the X Bersaglieri in the coastal area". The attack succeeded in that the Australians were pushed back across the rail line. That left 90th Light Division infantry along the rail line "facing south". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Fight in front of the 2/28th Battalion on 1 November 1942

German tanks attacked the 2/28th Battalion position. The tanks moved forward and then got into hull-down positions. The tanks concentrated their fire on anti-tank guns with some success. The guns were those of the 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment. Relatively  quickly, twelve 6-pdr Anti-tank guns and two two-pounders were disabled. The men of the 2/28th Battalion did not like having the tanks so close, so they opened up with all their weapons at the tanks. By 2:30pm, the German tanks pulled back, because they apparently realized that their infantry could not get through. The Rhodesian anti-tank gunners got special attention from the Germans and lost eight of their guns. While the fighting had died down, a troop of anti-tank guns was sent across the rail line and got into action.
At about 3:25pm, the enemy sent more tanks and infantry to attack the 2/43rd and 2/28th Battalions. The attack came from the north and hit the northwest "company of the 2/43rd Battalion." They managed to overrun a platoon "on Barrell Hill". The some of the men of the platoon were made prisoners. A sergeant regrouped his men and counter-attacked. He was able to retake the positions that had been overrun, except for one. Eventually, the enemy decided to withdraw. The 2/28th Battalion was also attacked, but they managed to hold on.
Some of the tanks pushed on "towards Thompson's Post". They also were going to try to attack with infantry, but they were shelled by British guns and stopped. German infantry on tanks and self-propelled guns moved forward. Austraslian fire was able to stop the attack. They succeeded in knocking out two self-propelled guns. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

1 November 1942 at El Alamein in the north

What was left of the 2/24th and the 2/48th Battalion were moved back to the
coast "sector". They were still next to the enemy forces where they were placed. 1 November
1942 was a Sunday. At the "Saucer", they were in close to the enemy in all directions. That was
only obvious when there was light. The enemy started firing on the Saucer
with a variety of weapons, including 88mm guns firing "air bursts". Most guns were firing
from the west and northwest. There were still some firing from the northeast and southeast.
The enemy was both short of guns and ammunition, so the British were able to hurt them
with greater firepower. As we mentioned, it was at 8:30am that the enemy launched an
unsuccessful airraid. They were met by British and American fighter aircraft and took losses.

The British intercepted a message from Rommel that ordered the 90th Light Division and the 21st Armored Division to attack "Barrell Hill". Barrell Hill lay between the road and rail line.
They thought that Rommel did not understand how strong the area was defended. General Morshead drove to the Saucer to meet with his brigade commander. The enemy repeatedly attacked three Australian battalions. They were hitting the area between the road and rail line. The Australians were successful in fighting with their mortars against the Germans.
Infantry and tanks were used in the first attack. As many was eight or more 88mm guns were firing air burst shells over the Australians. Bombers were called in on the first attack. At 12:45pm, some six tanks attacked the 2/43rd Battalion. The enemy was able to push back on platoon from Barrel Hill, but they were able to retake the position. Anti-tank guns knocked out three tanks and an 88mm gun. This happened to to the north of the Australian battalion. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, March 30, 2020

31 October to 1 November 1942 at El Alamein

Fighting during the day on 31 October had pushed the Australians off the coast road. At dark, the Pioneers regrouped and dug in to the south of the railway, using the embankment. At the saucer, the defenders managed to hold on. The Germans had attacked with tanks and infantry. Each attack had been stopped by defensive gunfire. Rommel decided to use the Africa Corps to attack to release the 125th Regiment. Battle Group Pfeiffer was formed with 15 tanks along with some self-propelled guns. It would move to the mosque by 11am and move along the railway. Rommel decided to have the battle group attack to the north of the rail line.
An attack by 361st Regiment infantry was stopped by tanks and infantry. The attack by Group Pfeiffer and the 361st Regiment had initial success. They were eventually stopped by tanks and infantry. By 5:35pm, they had contacted the 125th Regiment. They had difficulty in moving forward along the rail line and were eventually stopped. This was when General Morshead decided to replace the 26th Brigade by the 24th Brigade. The replacement worked out and was finished by 3:30am. The enemy was very tired, which helped.
A rebuilt 2/28th Battalion replaced the 2/24th. The 2/43rd replaced the 2/48th. The 2/32nd Battalion stayed in position as did the 2/3rd Pioneeers. Brigadier Godfrey commanded from the Saucer. The Saucer was in disarray, Dispositions were made by commanders on the spot. Anti-tank guns and machine guns were brought in. An artillery duel started on 1 November. The Germans were low on guns and ammunition, so they had a hard time. At 8:40am, a divebomber raid was intercepted by British and American fighters. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.</p>

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The British commanders had a very unrealistic expectation about what the planned attack might accomplish. That is, the coast road was not open and the defenses on either side of the road had not been taken. In retrospect, we cannot understand why that the forces available for the attack might have accomplished any of that. The responsibility for what happened was General Morshead and his staff's. There were four "weak battalions" in the north soon to face trouble. There was the 2/3rd Pioneer Battalion, and the 2/32nd Battalion on a line that crossed the rail line. There was a gap on the left before you would see the 2/15th Battalion. The remnants of the 2/48th Battalion sat behind the 2/32nd Battalion. There was also the remaining men from the 2/24th Battalion. The first unit to receive enemy fire was the Pioneers. The Germans asked for the Pioneers to surrender, but they refused. The Pioneer company was then "encircled". The 2/48th Battalion had most of the 40th RTR arrive to support them. There were two squadrons of tanks that moved into hull-down positions. They were located north of the railway. At about 11:30am, some fifteen German medium tanks drove to the north of the road. The Germans drew enough fire that they eventually pulled back. Accompanying infantry was pushed back by artillery fire.
One company of Pioneers was being pressed and was without ammunition. They were eventually overrun and most were taken prisoner. It seems that something like three officers and 43 men may have been captured by the Germans. The Germans eventually staged an attack on the saucer by early afternoon. The German pressure had eventually forced the British to pull off the road.
Rommel had a Africa Corps battlegroup that had some 15 tanks and some self-propelled guns. They were to move to the mosque and then move across the railroad. They were to help the 125th Regiment. At first, the battle group attack seemed to be succeeding. Eventually, the British were able to stop the attack with tanks and infantry in the defense. They had stopped the attack by 7pm.
Morshead considered the situation and decided to go ahead with the plan to relieve the 26th Brigade by the 24th Brigade. He sent orders at about 7:30pm and the relief had happened by 3:30am. The enemy was too tired to interfere. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The situation of the 2/24th and 2/48th Battalions on 31 October 1941

As we saw, the 2/24th Battalion was withdrawn. The same was true of the 2/48th Battalion. Lt-Col. Hammer had withdrawn his survivors to the base at the Saucer. Once there, they dug in "just to the east of the 2/32nd Battalion. In their battle, they had taken some 200 prisoners, all of them German. As far back as 23 October, the battalion had 30 officers and "656 other ranks".
During this operation, the 9th Australian Division had taken 544 prisoners, mostly German but also some Italian. While the infantry had fought hard, the medical staff had been overworked. The wounded were brought to the Blockhouse in the Saucer.  The German medical staff worked alongside the Australians.
Welcome reinforcements in the form of a Rhodesian anti-tank unit had arrived and were assigned to support the 2/32nd Battalion. In the next morning, more anti-tank guns and gunners arrived. They were Australian anti-tank gunners and guns.
The Pioneers had been waiting for orders. The commander then asked for orders, and received orders to attack after the scheduled time to attack. One company that was to move the farthest was sent off shortly before dawn, with little time remaining. The Pioneers were to advance and then dig-in. The Pioneers were stuck without any communication equipment. They were in need of artillery support, but had no way to call it in. The Pioneers were sitting in a saucer with no supporting weapons, being fired on from three sides, perhaps.
After the 26th Brigade attack, Rommel had realized that they would not be able to hold the El Alamein position and that they would need to withdraw to Fuka. Late pm 30 October, Rommel expected a British "breakthrough" and would try to meet it to give his infantry time to withdraw. The Axis forces had received more fuel, so Rommel told the 21st Armored Division that they would need to be "mobile" by the next morning and should "hand-over" to the Italian Trieste Division.
The 90th Light Division had formed a defensive line. The attack by the 2/24th and 2/48th Battalions had also hit the 90th Light Division forces. An Italian light artillery unit was also hit and "overrun". Rommel got a message saying that 30 British tanks had moved forward to the main road. Rommel set up a command post near the Sidi Abd el Rahman mosque. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Hard times for the 2/24th and 2/48th Battalions on 31 October 1942

We would say that the tasks given to the 2/24th and 2/48th Battalion in the fight to the north were beyond what was reasonable. We can only say that when you recognize that both battalions had taken heavy losses that had reduced them to token strength. The men still showed great spirit. The remnants of the right company in the advance, now commanded by Lieutenant Allen, charged an enemy post that had held up a company, and using grenades and bayonets, "overcame" the post. Robbins had led his company wide to the left to escape a minefield. His battalion commander never heard from Robbins, because he had been killed, and "all his  platoon commanders and headquarters men had been either killed or wounded". They had been "caught in the open" and lost 16 men attacking their objective. Sergeant Kibby took command and led and attack on the "objective". Kibby was killed and the surviving soldiers were "forced to ground twenty yards from the objective.
Colonel Hammer, the 2/48th Battalion commander, held a meeting of the commanders of what remained of his battalion. There were only 41 men surviving from the 2/48th Battalion. Colonel Hammer decided to make contact with the 2/24th Battalion to see if it was even feasible for the 2/48th Battalion to hold their ground "north of the road". Colonel Hammer ventured off on his own, with only a pistol, to find the 2/24th Battalion. Colonel Hammer had found the 2/24th Headquarters, but not the battalion commander. When he returned to his battalion, he had been shot "through the face". He ordered a retreat "to the blockhouse". He assumed that the 2/24th would also withdraw. That was actually not the case, but they both withdrew anyway. Both the 2/24th and 2/48th remnants had reached the "saucer" before dawn. The 2/24th had the misfortune to go through "a minefield of aerial bombs, of which two exploded. Two carriers arrived and took the wounded out. The two battalions were near the 2/32nd Battalion positions. There had been 54 men left from the 2/24th Battalion. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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