Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The enemy attacks the 9th Australian Division on 25 October 1942

Two Australian battalions were attacked by the enemy. The 2/13th Battalion took a 1-1/2 hour attack while the 2/17th Battalion was attacked for two hours. The 2/17th Battalion "lost 12 killed and 73 wounded." Each of the battalions had an artillery post observer. To do artillery direction, the officers had to stand so that they could call in the artillery strikes.

Freyberg spoke with Montgomery and General Leese about canceling the New Zealand Division attacks toward the south. General Freyberg wanted to attack to the west, instead, as he felt that the original attack to the west had come close to success. What Montgomery ultimately decided was to attack in the north with the 9th Australian Division. They would pull the armor back but keep it forward in the north. They had the XIII Corps go on the defensive in the south. To the north of XXXth Corps, they had the 1st Armoured Division take over the 24th Armoured Brigade. Early in the morning, the 8th and 9th Armoured Brigades were proven to be at risk. The Australian 2/48th Battalion were to be ready to attack Trig 29 "next night". The plan was for the 9th Australian Division to attempt to cut the enemy off in the north and by the sea. The 1st Armoured Division was to attack "west and northwest" with the goal being to get into the enemy rear area. XXXth Corps ordered the 9th Australian Division to take Trig 29. The South Africans would fire an "artillery program" designed to look like they were attacking.

The British had considered Trig 29 to be a valuable feature. It seemed to dominate the north. It was the highest feature, but "only by 20 feet". Morshead already had thought that they would have to take Trig 29 and he had alerted Brigadier Whitehead as to what he expected. The 9th Australian Division was to "not only take Trig 29, but the "high ground to the east of it." They would have the effect of moving the front forward for about one thousand yards. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 09, 2019

The British situation on 25 October 1942 at El Alamein

25 October 1942 was a day for tank battles. The enemy was reduced to making "probing attacks" across the front line at El Alamein. The Australian historian says that this was what Montgomery wanted to see. The British were taking losses, but were also causing enemy losses. The 1st Armoured Division took losses of 24 tanks, but claimed to have knocked out more than twice that many enemy tanks. We would presume them to be mainly German tank losses. The British armor was doing well enough to have an increasing superiority over the enemy. If the figures for the Germans are accurate, then the British were doing quite well. The numbers are from 23 October to midday on 25 October. The German 15th Armored Division went from 112 tanks on 23 October down to 37 tanks by 25 October. The other enemy armored units did not do as badly. The 21st Armored Division went from 127 tanks to 122 tanks. The Italian armored formations must not have been so heavily committed, as they had numbers similar to 21st Armored Division. All of the Italian divisions except for the Trieste, which had started with only 34 tanks and took no losses, went from 244 tanks down to 233 tanks, not so bad.

The British units had the problem that they were unable to deal with the German anti-tank defense. The British only took with them small numbers of infantry, intended only to take prisoners. They were not able to attack the anti-tank gun positions. The Australian historian notes that the 10th Armoured Division had shown that British armor could fight to an objective, but they were not able to hold the ground during daylight due to the enemy anti-tank gun positions.

The 9th Australian Division found itself being attacked by the enemy against the "bridgehead" area. Using "artillery and mortar fire", they were able to defend against the enemy infantry attacks. The 20th Brigade (Australian) were attacked by tanks "from the west". A combination of artillery fire and tank gunfire was enough to handle what they saw. Infantry anti-tank gun fire was successful in knocking out and stopping an attack. The tactics were to hold the fire until the tanks were very close and then fire on them. They stopped 17 tanks that way. the defending infantry took losses, though. In a meeting, the commanders decided not to use the New Zealand Division to make "crumbling attacks" and instead to rely on the 9th Australian Division. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Events on 25 October 1942 at El Alamein

The 8th Armoured Brigade was moving forward quickly. They had all three of their tank regiments out into the open. The Staffordshire Yeomanry were the first to get free. They were at the El Wishka ridge, but they were shot to pieces by 88mm guns "soon after dawn". This was the reason that the experienced tank commanders were concerned about the situation.

New Zealand division sappers had cleared the paths for the tanks "on time". The New Zealand divisional cavalry was equipped with Stuart light tanks ("Honeys"). They had moved out from the "Oxalic line" to a location "southwest" of El Wishka. This was still in the night, where they had "lost 5 tanks and 4 carriers". They pulled back at "dawn". At 2am, the 9th Armoured Brigade moved forward at 2am. They headed south and west "almost to the Pierson bound".

Far to the south, XIII Corps was having difficulties. Minefield clearing had proceeded, so that they had cleared the "February" minefield. The path through was not very wide, however. The 22nd Armoured Brigade was shot up while trying to move through the path. As many as 31 tanks were knocked out and the way out of the minefield area ended up being blocked. Infantry did somewhat better when attacking in the Munassib Depression, but they took losses that were deemed to be "costly".

The armor was not able to do as well as Montgomery had hoped for. By midday, the tanks had been pulled back from their early morning positions. To the right. the Queens Bays finally had to pull back, because they were taking damaging fire from guns that they could no located. They relocated to a point where the Australians could no longer see them. They did get back into action "later in the day". "in front of the Highland Division, the 2nd Armoured Brigade "remained out with the 24th Armoured Brigade". General Gatehouse ordered the 8th Armoured Brigade to pull back because of the losses they were taking. They were moved "behind Miteiriya Ridge about 7am". The 9th Armoured Brigade was taking "damaging fire", but was out until "afternoon". Their tanks were largely recovered, so they only lost 11 that were not recovered. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 02, 2019

The sticky situation on 25 October 1942

General Gatehouse's concerns were described as concern about the situation at dawn was likely to be that his "regiments" would be "exposed and vulnerable". He expected that enemy anti-tank guns would do great damage. The corps commander, General Lumsden did not have the authority to call off the attack. De Guingand woke Montgomery and called a corps commander meeting to be held at 3:30am.

The situation was that three of the four armored brigades that were to move forward to the Pierson line were not having any particular problems. Given that, we can understand why Montgomery was in favor of proceeding with the operation. He could expect some 400 tanks to move forward, ready to "debouch". The 8th Armoured Brigade had only one of the three planned paths that was mine-free. One regiment would move out to connect with the 9th Armoured Brigade. The others would sit on Miteiriya Ridge. They would work at clearing more mines and improving the gaps in the minefields.

After the corps commander conference, Montgomery talked with Lumsden and told him that if the 10th Armoured Division commander was not ready to proceed, he would be replaced with someone who was ready to execute the operation.

Things were arranged so that Montgomery could speak by phone with Gatehouse. The problem was with the tanks commanders, who until now had been able to hedge their bets and not go all out, regardless of the cost. The tank commanders sat in the forward infantry positions, drawing more attention to the positions than the infantry liked. Montgomery wanted them to push forward, regardless of the losses they might incur and push up to the Pierson bound. It was at 6am that the 7/Rifle Brigade vehicles arrived immediately behind the 2/13th Battalion. This was only a portion of the 7/Rifle Brigade. The rest went farther south, to Point 29, not to Trig 33, which was the intent. In the south, the tanks had moved forward near to the Pierson bound. For example, the 24th Armoured Brigade believed it had two regiments on their objective. They might not have actually been that close, but they were near where they were supposed to be. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

General Gatehouse on 25 October 1942 at El Alamein

Like the Australian general Morsehead, General Gatehouse was also not eager to commit his troops to operations that were "unjustifiable", but Gatehouse did not have the backing of his government the way that Morshead had. General Lumsden was aware of the issues and he wanted Alex Gatehouse to talk directly with Montgomery. Gatehouse returned to his headquarters and there he received a call from Montgomery. The way that Montgomery spoke irritated Gatehouse. The Australian historian called Montgomery's orders "masterful". As the historian described the situation, we had to see what effect Montgomery's orders had on the battle. The situation at dawn on 25 October was such that the Queen's Bays were getting in position "among the infantry" very near the end of the "bridgehead". The situation was that the tank commanders were not prepared to move forward to the "Pierson bound", at least not "at all costs". The infantry was very uncomfortable to have the tanks in their midst. The infantry considered that they were in the spot that they wanted to be in, while the tanks were not.

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By 6am, a portion of the 7/Rifle Brigade had driven forward to right behind the 2/13th Battalion. That was not a comfortable place for the 7/Rifle Brigade to be. They were caught between minefields and lacked the space to disperse for better protection from artillery fire. The Australian historian called the 7/Rifle Brigade "sitting ducks" that the enemy were happy to fire upon. The Australian "R.A.P" ended up having to care for the Rifle Brigade casualties as well as the 2/13th Battalion casualties.

The Australians studied the maps and the ground and decided that "other 7/Rifle Brigade vehicles" had driven to Point 29, rather than Trig 33, which is where they were supposed to go. They also seemed to have some vehicles "near Kidney Ridge", close behind the Highland Division "forward line". The enemy had brought together a group "right in front of the 2/17th Battalion", but artillery fire stopped them from taking any action. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The "breakout attack" on 25 October 1942 at El Alamein

In the area occupied by the Highland Division, the men could hear the sound of tanks approaching from the rear. They were expecting the 7/Rifle Brigade, but they had not arrived yet. They could see that they were getting close to dawn. The 2nd Armoured Brigade was driving forward towards the Oxalic Line. There was an enemy position so strong that it had not been taken yet. This was to the right of the 7/Black Watch. Next to the Highland Division, near Miteiriya Ridge, was where the heaviest action had been occurring. Typically, sorry to say, they had not allowed enough time for sappers to clear a path of mines. An artillery barrage was fired at 10pm, in readiness for three armored brigades to move forward. The enemy forces were waiting in readiness to counter-attack. The center armored brigade, the 8th, had problems. Their mine reconnaissance group had been captured and there was an 88mm gun set at the exit from the cleared path. They had to give up on that path. They were going to send two regiments up the Boat track, but that went badly. You had General Gatehouse on the Boat track. He had seen the problems encountered and was concerned that at daylight, the enemy anti-tank guns would make quick work of his remaining tanks. there was an exchange between Montgomery, Lumsden, the corp commander, and Gatehouse. There was a conference called at 3:30am.

Of the four armored brigades, three had not had any great problems. Montgomery wanted the operation to proceed. He wanted to see some 400 tanks. There was the issue that not all tracks were usable, due to difficulties in clearing mines. Montgomery told Lumsden that he would not accept any lack of enthusiasm and would replace whoever had qualms about proceeding. Montgomery talked with Gatehouse and angered him. The tanks had moved forward. Their commanders were dressed rather colorfully. The tanks were in position near the leading infantry units.

At about 6am, the 7/Rifle Brigade reached the back of the 2/13th Battalion. They found themselves under fire, as the minefield spacing left insufficient room to position their vehicles. The incoming fire did great damage to the 7/Rifle Brigade. It seems that part of the Rifle Brigade vehicles had driven to Point 29, not to Trig 33. The enemy had moved up to the 2/17th Battalion, but were engaged by British artillery fire and stopped. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Fighting near the New Zealand Division in the afternoon of 24 October 1942

Tanks from two armored brigades, the 9th Armnoured Brigade and the 8th Armoured Brigade were engaged in a battle in the morning with enemy tanks, of some 30 to 40 in number. By the end, most of the British tanks were "knocked out". There were survivors, fortunately, and they were able to get "hull down" "behind the crest of the Miteiriya Ridge.

The 2/13th Battalion lost its commander, Colonel Turner, and his adjutant. Major Colvin was ordered to take command. While he was traveling forward, he received orders for a night attack to move up to the Oxalic Line. The attack was planned for 2am. They had tried to make the attack, originally, with just the 2/13th Battalion. Now, they would use the 2/17th as well as the 2/13th Battalion. The plan was for the Australians to take their objective, and then the 7th/Rifle Brigade was to move through and take Point 32, and be beyond the Oxalic Line so that the tanks could drive through, beyond the line.

Major Colvin arrived at the 2/13th Battalion and found that there were almost no officers left. Sergeant Easter, from the 2/13th Battalion, spoke with Major Colvin. Sergeant Easter told him that he expected little resistance. He conferred with the 2/17th Battalion commander, and they agreed to attack silently, without artillery fire. They would have the 40th RTR operating in support for the attack.

The attack would start at 2am on 25 October. As they waited, an enemy aircraft flew over, "dropped a flare and then bombed the start line". The 2/17th Battalion was able to move forward to their objective and take it without a fight. There was fighting and an anti-tank gun portee was knocked out. In the 2/13th area, a vehicle with ammunition was set on fire. There was fighting and losses in the 2/17th area. A few machine guns were able to be setup and used. The left company had no officers left, so the company was commanded by a sergeant. The 2/13th Battalion had better luck and were able to move into the objective and start digging in. They started to take machine gun fire, but the 40th RTR was able to use machine guns to fight back. By 4:50am, they had connected with the Gordons on their left side. By 7am, they were dug in and had their "supporting weapons" in place. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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