Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The 9th Australian Division plan for an attack to the north at 2nd El Alamein

Although General Morshead's plan for October 1942 for an attack to take the coast road towards the north had a great deal of artillery support, the Australian historian says that most of the guns were generally in position to support the attack. The exception was the artillery support for the 2/13th Battalion. Not only did they have suitable artillery support, but they had "timed enfilade fire by the machine-guns of Macarthur-Onslow's composite force". The historian mentions that to support the attack towards the coast road, the guns would fire "in enfilade". To fire in support of the attack to the east, into the rear of the enemy, they would have "to fire in the face of the advancing infantry." The historian says: "For the latter phase the plan provided for timed concentrations about 200 yards deep receding ahead of the infantry".

General Morshead discussed his plans with his corps commander, Leese, on 27 October 1942. He then met with Montgomery where Morshead spoke of the need for armor support on their "left flank". Montgomery agreed that what Morshead planned were appropriate tactics to use. Montgomery was skeptical that the armor would actually do what he needed.

Morshead than presented the plan to his brigade commanders and other senior officers (we think) in the afternoon of 27 October. The 20th Brigade commander had been absent due to "a severe illness". Morshead held a final briefing at 7am on 28 October and followed up with a written order. They would make the attack during the night of 28 to 29 October. The 20th Brigade would be "relieved by the 152nd Highland Brigade." After that, the 20th Brigade would move into the spot previously occupied by the 26th Brigade. That would allow the 26th Brigade to conduct the planned attack. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Australians ready to attack in the north after 26 October 1942

The Australian historian thinks that Montgomery, circa 26 October 1942, was just thinking of "crumbling" operations int he north to wear down the enemy forces. What General Morshead was proposing was leading up to a breakout to the west. They were nominally just continuing the ongoing attack towards the north. Morhead wanted to take the coast road to make evacuation operations easier. In any case, Montgomery opted for continued major attacks from the night of 27 to 28 October 1942. Morshead did not want to wait and wanted to continue the attack northward immediately. He wanted to take the coast road and for "three kilometers to the west". The Australians would use "all three of the brigades". They would also use a portion of the 23rd Armoured Brigade, but just one regiment. They would have extra artillery from the "51st, 2nd New Zealand and 10th Armoured Division." They would also have the support of all three medium artillery regiments. That would give the Australians the impressive number of guns: 360.

At the beginning of the Australian attack, the 20th Brigade would hold the "flanks". The 2/13th Battalion would move forward "along the switch line". They would hold a position "south of Thompson's Post". What was to be the left would have the 2/17th Battalion in position at Trig 29. The third battalion, the 2/15th, would move north on the west flank. After those initial moves, the 26th Brigade would move into action. The plan was for the 2/23rd Battalion and the 46th RTR to attack northeast the goal being to cut the coast road "about Kilo 113". The 2/48th Battalion would attack the enemy's rear by moving eastwards. The 2/24th Battalion would move along and take Thompson's Post. The attack would be from the north. The 24th Brigade would continue to hold the coast road defenses. They would also capture the enemy post near "the Kilo 109 area". Each brigade would have a field company in support. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Enemy action and the next British plan in late October 1942

The night of 26 to 27 October 1942 had seen the Highland, South African, and New Zealand divisions successfully cleaning out enemy positions south of Kidney Ridge. At this point, the enemy was able to keep a solid front facing the east. The Australian historian characterizes Rommel's plans after he had arrived back as a series of "forlon-hope attacks". Montgomery was happy with that, as he preferred to have the enemy attack his forces rather than the other way around.

With attacks near Kidney Ridge and Trig 29, Rommel assumed that the British were trying to attack north to the coast road. He responded by having the 21st Armored Division and "part of Ariete" to a position to be ready to counterattack. Rommel also sent artillery from the south up to the north. The 90th Light Division had been sitting at Daba, waiting for orders. Rommel ordered them and the 361st Battle Group to "the line south of Sidi el Rahman". This was during the night of 26 to 27 October. Rommel sent the 159th Battle Group to a position near Trig 29. He sent the 200th Battle Group to a position "between Ghazal and the coast".

27 October saw "strong counterattacks" ordered by Rommel. The 90th Light Division was to attack Trig 29 from a location to the north. The 21st Armored Division would attack "Kidney Ridge from the south". They would have infantry to assist the attack. The infantry would be from 15th Armored Division and the 164th Division. The 155th Battle Group was sent to Trig 29, but they could only get to within 500 yards west of Trig 29. British artillery fire halted the infantry advance, so Rommel ordered them to dig in and hold the ground they sat on. The 155th Battle Group "were dug in north-west of Trig 29". "The 361st Regimental Group", along with the 90th Light Division, were sitting on the rail line "south of Abd el Rahman". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Fighting at Kidney Ridge, circa 27 October 1942

The left side of the German force touched the left side of the 2/24th Battalion. The enemy staged a determined attack that included infantry and tanks. They were beaten back with machine gun fire, mortars, and artillery fire. The right side of the German attack was mounted against the 2/17th Battalion. Again, supporting fire called in were sufficient to stop the attack as far back as 400 yards from the Australian line. At the same time, the enemy sent tanks against the Kidney Ridge position.

The Kidney Ridge name was rather misleading, because the feature was actually a depression with raised edges. The feature was defended by a considerable enemy force. The feature was defended strongly enough to stop the 1st Armoured Division from advancing. A strong British force was attempting to take the feature. Forces from the 1st Armoured Division and the 51st Highland Division were involved. An odd circumstance was created by someone misreading a map of the area. On the 27th, a group of 19-6pdr anti-tank guns was manned by the 2/Rifle Brigade. The guns were in a very exposed position the gun position was named "Snipe". They had knocked out a considerable number of enemy tanks. The last attack came "straight at them" and they broke that attack as well. They had knocked out some sixty or seventy tanks and self-propelled guns. The historian says that as many as 32 were total losses, not fit to be recovered.

Apparently on the night of 26 to 27 October, the 2/Rifle Brigade pulled back. A battalion of the 133rd Lorried Infantry Brigade could not find their position, so they gave up and withdrew. Another wayward battalion from the 133rd Brigade got lost and dug in the wrong place. They ended up being overrun by the enemy.

The 2/Rifle Brigade showed that if the infantry were to push forward and set up anti-tank guns, they would be able to hold off enemy tank attacks. In the case of the 1st Armoured Division, they kept making the same mistake: sending out single battalions with "open flanks" when they needed to make an advance on a "broad front". Because of this sort of mistake, the enemy was able to hold Kidney Ridge past the end of October. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Events at El Alamein from 27 October 1942

As part of Rommel's attempt to regain ground, he sent "at least a company of infantry" with some fifteen tanks against the 2/13th Battalion. They called in artillery fire in support. That fire and an "infantry fire-curtain" was sufficient to stop the attack. The enemy tried a second attack which was also stopped. After that, a patrol was sent out some 400 yards further. They had a private with a wire and phone go out and look at the defended front. The private was hiding in a knocked out tank for cover. He called in information about "enemy salvage parties" as well as the location of an 88mm gun. Once fired on, the gun was pulled back. After he saw some enemy troops near Kidney Ridge, he went there and met a carrier from the 7th Motor Brigade. They took a group of 30 prisoners with them.

By the afternoon on 27 October, four enemy tanks checked out the Australian Trig 29 position. The situation became more critical as a large group of enemy vehicles gathered "near the Sidi Rahman Mosque". This was reported and the request resulted in British bombers bombing the area. The result was columns of black smoke from burning enemy vehicles. After a further two hours had passed, the enemy moved troop carriers about 1,400 yards from the Australian front. Artillery fire was called in on the vehicles. After another thirty minutes, they could see enemy forces, about a battalion, that were moving forward towards the Australian positions. The three regiments of field artillery opened fire on the enemy. The 2/48th Battalion also fired "mortars, machine guns, and rifles". The area around Trig 29 was hit by enemy artillery fire coming in to support the infantry attack. The British mortars and artillery were told to "cease firing" so that the machine guns could see the enemy. The enemy troops pulled back and started to dig in about 800 yards back from the Australian positions. The personnel losses had been heavy and they could hear the wounded. Australian patrols found the area in front filled with "enemy dead". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Turmoil due to the Australian government in October 1942

While Montgomery was hoping to use the Australians to "break the at El Alamein", the Australian government was growing concerned about the defense of Australia. One problem was that the United States told the Australians that they could not "provide a superior naval force concerned solely with the defense of Australia and New Zealand". At the same time, General Blamey wrote the government that he was concerned that they lacked the military strength to defeat a Japanese invasion. The government learned that General MacArthur now believed that the 9th Australian Division should be returned to Australia.

The Australian government was aware of the shortage of military strength to complete their order of battle for the defense of Australia.

Australia had three divisions in New Guinea at this time. Being in the tropics was having a bad effect on the troops. The Australian government thought that they could re-create the 9th Australian Division "by disbanding other formations". The consensus was that the 9th Division should be requested to be withdrawn from the Middle East.

In Britain, the commanders wanted to go forward with Montgomery's operation that was planned. The Australians wanted the British to understand that there were no reinforcements to be sent from Australia. General Morshead heard from the Australian government right before the planned attack. Morshead, in response, went to see Montgomery at 11am on 27 October. General Alexander made a pitch to keep the 9th Australian Division, as "it was the one he could least afford to lose".

Early on 27 October, the enemy attacked the 2/13th Battalion. Artillery fire successfully repelled the attack. In the afternoon, Trig 29 was heavily pressed by the enemy. There was firing by both sides near Trig 29. Heavy artillery fire supported the 2/48th Battalion defense. There was so much "dust and smoke", they needed to stop firing so that machine guns could see to fire. The attackers had been Germans, who had to pull back. There was continued fighting involving the 2/17th Battalion and the 2/24th. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The plans to attack to the north by the 9th Australian Division

General Montgomery apparently studied his situation all day on 26 October 1942. He had ordered, apparently, General Morshead to plan to attack to the north. Montgomery called a meeting with his commanders at the 9th Australian Division. The meeting included Generals Leese and Lumsden and was held at 11:30am with Morshead. Morshead apparently had this plans ready and presented them. Montgomery was happy with Morshead plans and approved them. The main attack would start late on 28 October. The action was planned to actually start on the "night of 26 October". They would include an attack to the west "near the boundary of the Australian and Highland Divisions. The 7th Motor Brigade was part of this plan and would take "Woodcock and Snipe". This was "near the Trig 33-Kidney Ridge area".

General Freyberg, of the New Zealand Division added his two cents that he thought that a "broad-front infantry attack should be mounted". Of course, he said that he was not able to participate in such an attack. The Highland Division commander was probably not interested in such an attack, either. By early 26 October, "the 8th Army had lost 6,140 men killed, wounded, or missing". After taking those sorts of losses, the enemy still did not give any sign of a collapse. Later on 26 October, Montgomery decided to pull the New Zealand Division into reserve. The 10th Armoured Division would replace the 1st Armoured Division. The Australians would have to carry the load in the attack. They would shuffle units "during the night of 27 to 28 October". Montgomery hoped to draw on XIII Corps infantry for an attack in the north. The South Africans and the 4th Indian Division were affected by plans. They still comtemplated withdrawing the New Zealand Division. The Highland Division would have to relieve the Australian 20th Brigade. The idea was to have the 20th Brigade available for an attack. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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