Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Second El Alamein starting on 23 October 1942

Starting in late afternoon on 23 October 1942, vehicles rolled out from under their camouflage nets and started line up in their assigned positions. From the front to the east, you saw for about thirty miles behind the front lines, vehicles driving east to get into their places. The way the system worked, you saw parallel lines of traffic, so allow for the mass movement that was needed. As the sun was setting, you had the infantry divisions moving into their assigned places. From "right to left" you had the 9th Australian Division, the 51st Highland Division, the 2nd New Zealand Division, 1st South African Division, and the 4th Indian Division (an old North African veteran). Following the infantry divisions were the 1st Armoured Division and the 10th Armoured Division. Supporting artillery units included the 1st RHA and the 104th RHA. Towards the south you had the 50th Division and the 44th Division. You also had a Greek Brigade and then the 7th Armoured Division. The 1st Free French Brigade was to their left. That night there was a large moon, almost full. As it became dark, they served food to the men in front. tapes were put in place to show the line that they would follow. As the transport had moved into place, you lost the road noise that they had previously heard. Everything became quiet, as the men waited for the time to move forward. Soon, the men could hear the sound of aircraft approaching from the east. They were British bombers. soon, you could see the flashes of the "long-range guns" firing. At 9:40pm, there was a great sound of field artillery firing. Soon, the artillery fire from guns firing "rapidly" and in large numbers could be heard.

The infantry moving forward were heavily loaded with ammunition and some grenades. They had food, pick or shovel, and four sand bags. They had to carry all that and still be ready to fight. The men quickly took their initial objectives, but they were surprised by the effort required to clear mines. On the far right of the attack was the 2/24th Battalion. They found that they were taking 25pdr rounds that were falling short. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The 9th Australian Division was very strong and Montgomery's plan was very detailed for the 2nd El Alamein battle

Montgomery's plan had a very detailed artillery fire plan for the 9th Australian Division. We are left with the impression, right or wrong, that the plan expected to advance the infantry units faster than would actually prove possible. The plan divided up the enemy territory into areas that could be fired on by artillery. The small areas were named so that they could be called out by name. They could call the guns to fire on the areas by name (such as Fremantle). When the call went out, several field regiments would start firing on the named area.

The engineers were to enable the infantry to pass through mined areas. Engineer companies were assigned to support the infantry brigades. The engineers worked prior to the attack to clear mines from the areas that lay east of the attack.

The Australians now had a much stronger anti-tank gun inventory. The 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment now was armed with as many as 64 6-pdr anti-tank guns. The 2pdr anti-tank guns were pushed down to arm the anti-tank platoons in the infantry battalions. There were also a large supply of "Hawkins anti-tank mines". The 9th Australian Division cavalry was now exceptionally well-equipped. They had Crusader tanks, some 15 in number, and five American Stuart tanks, as well as a collection of 52 carriers.

The infantry now had machine-gun platoons. The Australians were also equipped with Italian weapons.

The plan was laid out for the men prior to the battle. The plan was meant to achieve success and bring and end to the war in North Africa. The goal of the presentations was to inspire confidence in the men. The Corps commander had wanted to advance the start time to 9:30pm, but General Morshead wanted to keep it at 10pm, which it was kept. The men spent October 23 in slit trenches, bothered by the heat and flies.

The men were having trouble staying in place, waiting for the action. As the men waited for 10pm, they could hear the approach of the British bomber aircraft. Everyone was waiting for the battle to start. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The start of the Second El Alamein battle

In the beginning, in the south, the 44th Division work to make gaps in the two British minefields left after Alam el Halfa. The gaps were needed to allow the 7th Armoured Division to move into the enemy rear areas. Montgomery's hope was that the 7th Armoured Division would keep the enemy armor in the south.

In the north, along the road, there was a large concentration of artillery. The area had sand dunes that helped to protect the artillery. The 1st South African Division was to attack the southern portion of the XXX Corps area. The 9th Australian Division had extra forces available to help the attack go well. They had a tank regiment, the 40th RTR and a British mortar company armed with 4.2in mortars. They also had extra artillery attached for a period of time. They had "six troops of field artillery, the 7th Medium Regiment, and a battery of the 64th Medium Regiment". Their task was to capture a large area of the enemy's defenses that was "about six thousand yards deep and 3,300 yards wide". The Australians needed to help X Corps move to the west and to form a line that faced north. The Australians needed to take an area that included land west of Point 23. They would probably not have seen any enemy positions east of that point. They Australians would have "fresh troops" available to cover the great distance that they had to cross.

The initial objectives would be taken by some battalions. New battalions would come forward and make the next attack. The first phase would use three battalions. The second phase would use two battalions. As companies took their objective, they would develop the area as a defensive position. The Australians would use two battalions of the 26th Brigade with the 20th Brigade on the left. The 24th Brigade would "continue to hold the existing front on the coast".

The 26th Brigade was provided with an ad hoc force that would protect the brigade's "open right flank". The ad hoc group had "a company of a machine gun battalion, a pioneer company, and a divisional cavalry squadron, and anti-tank guns.

26th Brigade would have to "form two fronts", one to the north, which would be long, and a front facing west. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Montgomery's Second Plan for the Battle of El Alamein

Montgomery issued a set of orders for the actual battle that looked a lot like his original plan. XXX Corps and XIII Corps would attack by moonlight. The attack in the north was the largest of the attacks. In the north, the armor would still move forward. Infantry would attack at 10pm on 23 October. They would try to take over the enemy minefields and capture the enemy defensive positions. They would particularly attempt to take the enemy field gun positions. They wanted to move the British armor into the enemy rear areas "before dawn". As the battle progressed, over a number of days, the infantry would try and "pinch out" enemy forces.

XXX Corps had four infantry divisions to use for the attack in the north. They were to take their objectives by 3am. That needed to happen to allow the British armor to move forward before dawn. The line that had the objectives was called the "Oxalic Line". Once the infantry objectives had been taken, then the X Corps would first move to the Oxalic Line. They would then move forward in "two bounds", the first being about 2,000 yards beyond Oxalic. The second "bound" would try to take "high ground" at Tel el Aqqaqir. They would hold the area "with tanks, motorized infantry and anti-tank guns." The idea being to hold an area that blocked the enemy lines of communication from north to south. They hoped that taking that area would cause the enemy to attack with tanks. In the north, the move forward would be executed by the 2nd Armoured Brigade and the 2nd Motor Brigade. The 23rd Armoured Brigade was to support the infantry with four tank regiments. The three infantry divisions in the north each had one of the "tank regiments". The New Zealand Division had only two infantry brigades but had one armored brigade, the 9th Armoured Brigade. The New Zealand Division would eventually switch over to being part of X Corps.

For the XIII Corps attack in the south, "the 44th Division" would move to take the old British minefields left after Alam el Halfa, and make gaps in them. The gaps were needed to allow the 7th Armoured Division to move forward into the enemy rear. Two other operations were that the 50th Division would be positioned in the Munassib Depression and the 1st Free French Brigade would go after Himeimat. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

The 9th Australian Division in the run up to the battle of El Alamein

The 9th Australian Division was being reconfigured prior the battle. They moved the 26th Brigade into the coastal region, replacing the 20th Brigade. The 20th Brigade began training for the battle. Their training was different than what the 26th Brigade had been practicing, because their roles in the battle differed. The training matched so well what they would be expected to do in the battle. The training matched the battle roles so well that the men mentioned that the battle was "just like an exercise".

The Australian 24th Brigade ended up being relieved by a 51st Highland Division brigade. The 24th Brigade was given some rest before the battle. By mid-October, they were back in the line with everyone else. They moved into the coast area, replacing the 26th Brigade. The Australian historian remarks that the brigade was training for their greatest challenge yet in the desert.

The 51st Highland Division rotated its brigades, giving each brigade about one week in the line, in the left-most slot in the line. During the night of 19-20 October, the 51st Highland Division took over command of the most-southern area. They would attack from this position in the battle.

Right before the battle, the 8th Army was organized into corps. XXX Corps had one armored brigade and five infantry divisions, including the 9th Australian Divisions. XIII Corps had one armored division and two infantry divisions. X Corps had three armored divisions, but the 8th Armoured Division was incomplete and was broken up with its units transferred to other divisions. For the battle, the army had greater than 220,000 men, some 900 tanks, and some 900 guns, both field and medium.

The Eighth Army faced an army of "four German and eight Italian divisions. There were the two German armored divisions, two Italian armored divisions, and one motorized division (Trieste). The German infantry was concentrated in the 90th Light Division and the 164th Light Division with the help of the Ramcke Parachute Brigade. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Trying to ensure that night infantry attacks would be successful in October 1942

The Australians usually staged infantry attacks with two companies side-by-side. They provided "guide parties", so that the battalion center line and each of the company center lines had the guides. This had not been followed in the past, but this should have been a great improvement. Every man would know how far they were to go. They also would know how far each "bound" had covered. They used tapes to mark center lines and had lights on stakes shining back. They also would use "report and traffic control centers". When vehicles and guns were sent forward, these measures would help to get them to the right locations.

Another part of the new system was to employ light-anti-aircraft guns firing tracers in the air. The concept was tested on 19 October to be sure that they could fire the tracers without hurting the infantry. One section of the 4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment was given the duty of firing tracers to help guide the infantry.

The 9th Australian Division had ordered that when objectives were taken, that should be immediately reported by the fastest method available. That would be duplicated using the other communication methods that were available.

Montgomery directed that all training be done with an eye to each unit's role in the battle plan. There was not time to do other training that was not directly relevant to the battle. In this case, the men trained all day and seemed to have to train all night. That was not exactly true, but it seemed like it. Training was done and then repeated. The infantry and their supporting units trained together. When the time came for the battle, the men were to carry out operations that that had previously been trained to do. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Montgomery changed his plan before the battle in October 1942

Both the British armor commanders and General Montgomery all started to have doubts about the plan for the upcoming battle. The original plan had great detail about minefield clearance. The concern that was causing doubts was the enemy "concealed anti-tank guns". In the battle, they found that the enemy had a network of anti-tank guns a greater distance behind the front line. The British armor commanders had hard experience from earlier in 1942 where they had large numbers of tanks knocked out by anti-tank guns. The new plan was to attack the enemy infantry divisions, not their armor. The plan was released to successive levels of command as the date for the battle approached. The 9th Australian Division received some six hundred rounds per field gun. The ammunition was moved by night and was stored underground. The British had a fuel container problem. The work-around was to collect the German containers ("Jerry cans") from the infantry units and pass them on to the armor. There was a "cover plan" that was meant to confuse the enemy about the location and date of the attack.

They instituted an air bombing program in September that was similar to what was planned for the real battle. Everything was planned with the aim of confusing the enemy about the time and location of main attack. They had things planned for moving the X Corps armor from the south up to the north, and using dummy tanks at the southern location and at the northern location. They had a dummy pipeline leading to the south. They used dummy vehicles at both the leaving and arriving destinations. They tried to disguise the dummy vehicles from detection from the air. For the X Corps movements through the XXX Corps area required road construction. A great deal of road construction occurred within two days of the battle. For marking routes, tape was pinned to the ground. A feature of the plan was that armor formations were to clear their own paths of mines. They units lacked sufficient engineers, so more were added.

The 9th Australian Division spend time checking the enemy minefields before the battle started. The Australians used guide parties to help ensure that the right people got to the right place in the battle. The Australians also experimented with using light-anti-aircraft guns to fire tracers over the heads of infantry to help guide them. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 30, 2019

"Operation Lightfoot": the British attack at El Alamein

The Australian historian describes the plan as attacks in the north and south designed to "trap the enemy in their defenses" and to "destroy them there". The attack in the north was to be executed by XXX Corps, and would try to break into enemy defenses between the sea and the ridge at Miteiriya. They assumed that the main concentration of enemy artillery would be included. They were to destroy all of the enemy artillery. X Corps would then pass through the "bridge head" and push into enemy territory. In the south, XIII Corps was to capture Himeimat. One feature was to send the 4th Light Armoured Brigade to take Daba, the supply areas, and airfields.

The attack would start in moonlight and would have heavy artillery support. The northern attack would have the four infantry divisions: 9th Australian, 51st Highland, 2nd New Zealand, and 1st South African. They would have the 23rd Armoured Brigade in support. The New Zealand Division was to take the western end of Miteiriya Rigde. XXX Corps was to make gaps in the enemy minefields, so that X Corps armor could move through enemy minefields and into enemy territory to the west. X Corps would then turn on the ridge held by the New Zealand Division and land across the enemy supply lines. The plan expected that the British armor would be in place, ready to fight, by "first light". Montgomery hoped that the enemy would be "forced" to fight X Corps on ground that X Corps had chosen. The enemy armored forces would be hit in their flank. The goal was to destroy the enemy armored force so that the rest of their army could be easily captured. To the Australians, this was new territory, because they were usually left in the front at dawn and expected to be attacked by enemy tanks. In this plan, the British tanks were to be out front.

The British armored units had concerns about the plan. There were the usual concerns about clearing gaps in enemy minefields. They were also concerned about the issue of anti-tank guns firing flash-less shots. The thought was there that they might be have taken heavy anti-tank gun losses as they moved their tanks forward. For example, the 22nd Armoured Brigade was warned about the importance of maintaining their tank strength so that they could use their tanks to fight enemy tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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