Friday, December 31, 2010

The New Zealand Division attacks

The New Zealand Division attack to close minefield gaps started with raids by the 6th New Zealand Brigade, starting at about 11pm on 3 September 1942. The raids, however, put the enemy on notice that something was happening. The 132nd Brigade was slow to reach the starting line, and when they did, the enemy was waiting for them. The 132nd Brigade commander, Brigadier Robertson, was severely wounded. The 6th New Zealand Brigade commander, Brigadier Clifton, was captured when he drove into an enemy position. The only bright spot was the 5th New Zealand Brigade, which not only reached its objective but penetrated beyond, thanks to the 28th Maori Battalion. In the early afternoon of 4 September, the enemy launched a counter attack, which was repelled. Another attempted attack was broken up by the New Zealand Division artillery, with bomber help. With the pitiful results of the attack, General Freyberg proposed a withdrawal, which happened in the night of 4th/5th September, with more losses. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The battle after the Battle of Alam el Halfa

General Montgomery realized at the end of the Battle of Alam el Halfa that the Eighth Army was not ready for an attack with the aim of busting open the front. He still wanted time to prepare for the big attack. After the end of the last battle, he wanted to only harass the enemy, although he would proceed with General Freyberg's planned attack to close the minefield gaps.

That attack would begin late on 3 September 1942. The 132nd Infantry Brigade had been replaced in the line by the 5th Indian Brigade, so it became available for the planned attack. The attack would consist of two three mile advances. The second would have the 151st Infantry Brigade by 4 September. The 7th Armoured Brigade would attack to the west in support of the operation.
The attackers on 3 September consisted of the 132nd Infantry Brigade and the 5th New Zealand Brigade with supporting Valentine tank squadrons. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The attacks on 3 September 1942 went badly

The plan on 3 September 1942 was to attack at 10:30am with two brigades, the 132nd Brigade and the 5th New Zealand Brigade. The 6th New Zealand Brigade would attack at 11pm in support of the 132nd Brigade. Each brigade had a supporting Valentine squadron. The 132nd Brigade was new to the Desert and was slow to reach the starting line. The enemy was waiting for the attack and created confusion in the new troops. The 132nd Brigade commander was wounded and the brigade lost 697 killed, wounded, and missing. The 5th New Zealand Brigade achieved success, penetrating the enemy lines and doing much damage behind the front. After the attack stalled, General Freyberg, the New Zealand Division commander, ordered a withdrawal, which happened after the sun went down. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Australians attack on 1 September 1942

A battalion of the 9th Australian Division staged a raid early on 1 September 1942. They were supported by the 40th RTR, equipped with Valentine tanks. The raid was to the west of the Tel el Eisa. They were supported by day bombers in their attack. The Australian raiders were opposed by the German 164th Division. The gap for the attack could not be held, although they succeeded in capturing 140 German prisoners. The raiders had casualties of 135. The supporting 40th RTR lost seven Valentines in the fight. This was pretty much the end of fighting on the ground in the Battle of Alam el Halfa. The Desert Air Force continued operations through the day and into the night. This is based on the account in VOl.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On 1 September 1942

While the 21st Panzer Division was not able to travel, the 15th Panzer Division was still able to operate. They started a flanking move around the 22nd Armoured Brigade, to the right. As we said, the 8th Armoured Brigade had been ordered up in support, but was held by the German anti-tank screen. Still, by noon, Rommel realized that there was little prospect of bringing fuel forward and decided to go into a defensive posture. General Montgomery's response was order the 30th Corps to form a reserve and ordered the 2nd South African Division to move to the north of Alam el Halfa. He also pulled a 50th Division brigade forward. They were replaced on airfield protection by a 51st Division brigade. We happen to know that for this operation, the 8th Armoured Brigade had 12 Crusader and 72 Grant tanks. They also had two Field Regiments and an Anti-tank Regiment of the Royal Artillery. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The end of the first day, 31 August 1942

General Montgomery was pleased with how the first day of battle had gone. This was 31 August 1942. Once the two German panzer divisions were known, Montgomery placed the 23rd Armoured Brigade, with 100 Valentine tanks, under 10th Armoured Division command. They were positioned between the New Zealand Division and the 22nd Armoured Brigade. The dust storm during the day had kept the Desert Air Force from intervening in the battle. The dust storm died down at dusk, and this allowed the air force to operate. Night bombers hit the Axis transport, doing great damage. The action resumed on the ground early on 1 September. The 15th Panzer Division tried to bypass the 22nd Armoured Brigade to the right. The British responded by sending the 8th Armoured Brigade against them, but they were stopped by the German anti-tank screen. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The first tank fight of Alam el Halfa

On the German side, the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions were advancing. They ignored the decoy Crusaders of the 22nd Armoured Brigade and were going to move post. When that happened, the 22nd Armoured Brigade moved some of its Grants into view. This drew the 21st Panzer Division into a gun battle. They moved towards the 3/4 County of London Yeomanry, the center regiment. The Royal Scots Greys and 1st and 104th RHA, along with some of the 44th Division artillery. The 15th Panzer Division started to go around the right flank, when the current DAK commander, General von Vaerst, stopped the attack. In other actions, the 7th Light Armoured Brigade had fallen back when the German reconnaissance group advanced. The Italian mobile corps had come forward on the left flank of the DAK. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Early on 31 August 1942

The Battle of Alam el Halfa had started right before and right after midnight between 30 August and 31 August 1942. The Axis forces had reached a minefield by 2am. They were facing the 7th Motor Brigade and the 7th Light Armoured Brigade. After General Nehring was wounded, Colonel Bayerlein commanded the DAK. Rommel arrived at the DAK headquarters at 9am. Rommel was ready to give up the fight, but Colonel Bayerlein argued that they should still try and capture Alam el Halfa. The attack was rescheduled to noon. The DAK would attack the western end of Alam el Halfa, which was an unfortunate choice. The situation deteriorated further due to a dust storm. The attack was delayed further. At the point of attack there were two Crusader squadrons positioned as decoys, while the Grant tanks and 6pdr anti-tank guns were all dug in. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

the Allied bomber force in North Africa in late August 1942

The American air force was in the process of establishing itself in North Africa. They had B-25 Mitchells and P-40F Kittyhawk IIs. There were also soem American-built B-24 Liberators and a very few B-17 Flying Fortresses. The Britiwh had140 medium bombeers and 25 heavy bombers. The medium bombers were probably Wellingtons, previously classed as heavy bombers. Late on 30 August 1942, Wellingtons, led by Albacore pathfinders, hit Axis forces assembling for the planned attack. The day bomber force, by 30 August, consisted primarly of Douglas Boston and Martin Baltimore aircraft. There was also a very small number of Marylands left in service. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Montgomery's plans prior to Alam el Halfa

Right before the Battle of Alam el Halfa, Montgomery talked about his planned offensive. He would attack in October, and he would form a corps that mimicked the DAK. The new 10th Corps would be strong in armour. In keeping with that plan, Montgomery urged General Brian Horrocks to preserve his armour, so as to be ready for the attack in October.

For the immediate battle, Montgomery intended to use the Desert Air Force to continuously attack the Axis forces. He would also keep the Luftwaffe from interfering in the battle. The convoy battles in August 1942 were largely fought by the Italian air force, which allowed the German air forces to be repositioned to better support Rommel. The Axis air force in North Africa was now 720 aircraft strong, although about 450 were actually serviceable. To oppose them, the British had about 400 serviceable aircraft. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The British position on 30 Augusts 1942

The 30th Corps, now an infantry corps, lay in the north. They were behind defenses that had considerable depth. The 23rd Armoured Brigade, consisting of Valentine tanks, lay in reserve. A mixed 13th Corps lay to the south. There was the New Zealand Division, the 44th Division, the 7th Armoured Division, having little strength, and the 10th Armoured Division, still using the old, two-armoured brigade organization. The 44th Infantry Division (with only two brigades), held the Alam el Halfa ridge. The New Zealand Division was deployed in front of the ridge. The 7th Armoured Division was to the south, while the two stronger armoured brigades had their tanks dug into the ground. All the classic photographs of the battle show the dug-in tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rommel's plan vs. reality for Alam el Halfa

Rommel hoped to catch the British by surprise on 30 August 1942, but in fact, the British expected the attack. Rommel's hope for the timing was as over-optimistic as any of Auchinleck's plans. The two German reconnaissance units would penetrate deeply and then turn north. To their west would be the Deutsche Afrika Korps, with the Italian 20th Corps (Ariete and Trieste divisions) to their west. The 90th Light Division would be to the Italians' west, with the Italian infantry corps to their west. All would penetrate and then turn north in their respective positions. As for the timing, an example was the plan for the DAK, which would go 30 miles in seven hours. The remaining Axis troops would hold their front against any British attack. The Germans had 203 battle tanks: 93-Pzkw III's, 73-Pzkw III "special", 10-Pzkw IV, and 27 Pzkw IV "special". The Italians had 243 medium tanks, but many were in poor condition. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Axis supply situation was grim

By late August 1942, the Axis ability to ship supplies to North Africa had deteriorated further. Many of the ships dispatched towards Libyan ports were sunk. Rommel decided to gamble on a quick victory and decided to proceed with his planned attack. Even the fuel supply to the front was problematic, as Tobruk was 350 miles from El Alamein. At the same time, Rommel was experiencing incrasingly bad health problems. It was so bad that on 22 August, he had requested that General Guderian be sent to command in his place. Rommel was informed that not only was General Guderian not available, but no one else was, either. Rommel's plan of attack was that his troops would move forward on 30 August, at 11pm. They would initially move to the east, but would then turn north. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rommel in August 1942

Rommel knew in August 1942, that time was running out for any chance of defeating the British in North Africa. He was acutely aware of the convoys bringing reinforcements and equipment that were headed for Egypt. He also knew that he was unlikely to receive any substantial reinforcements. There was still a window where he had a chance to win a substantial victory. While the British were solidly placed in the north and the extreme south, there was an opening in the middle that might allow him to break through and turn north to the coast road. He could surround the emplacements on the coast and take them. To have a chance, he needed moonlight, which dictated a date in late August. To attack, however, he needed supplies delivered to the troops at the front. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The air forces in August 1942

The British were really anxious to keep the Axis air strength in North Africa from growing, at the beginning of August 1942. The British conducted a bombing campaign against Axis landing grounds during the month. The one success that they had was when they destroyed ten aircraft on the night of 8/9 August. At the same time, the Germans changed commanders for their air force. Major-General Hans Seideman took over from General van Waldau, and he stayed in command for the rest of the North African campaign. Both Axis air forces concentrated on increasing their strength during the month. Operations were hampered by the lack of fuel for aircraft. The supply improved in the second half of August, and the Germans concentrated on fighter operations against the British. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Run up to battle: August 1942

By the middle of August, the British became aware of Axis troop movements to the south of the El Alamein front. The Axis used fighter aircraft to shield their movements, making reconnaissance difficult. The British responded by escorting their reconnaissance aircraft with a large number of fighters. In August, the British lost eight reconnaissance aircraft and pilots, with another fifteen aircraft damaged. They had flown 481 sorties up to 20 August 1942, but then flew another 492 sorties in the remaining ten days of the month. Wellingtons were used tactically after 21 August against targets on the battlefield. These attacks prior to the actual start of the Battle of Alam el Halfa made life very difficult for the Axis troops. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Operations in the air in August 1942

The shipping situation was so bad, due to losses of suitable ships, that the Germans were forced to send troops and what supplies could be carried. There were as many as 500 aircraft engaged in this effort to help German forces in North Africa. For some reason, the British had difficulty in stopping these flights. The British used long-range Beaufighters in the effort to stop them. They also used bombers against the bases in Crete. The air reconnaissance to support the effort was conducted by photo-reconnaissance Spitfires and Baltimores. Tactical reconnaissance was left to Tomahawk I's and Hurricane I and IIA aircraft. Administrators in the UK were not willing to risk valuable Spitfires for the low-altitude reconnaissance work, even though they would have cut losses in the operations. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Axis supply situation in the late summer and fall 1942

While the British supply situation had greatly improved by August 1942, the Axis forces were not receiving adequate supplies. There were adequate supplies in Italy, waiting to be sent to North Africa, but there were some serious obstacles. Rommel complained that when supplies were sent, that the Italians monopolized the available space on cargo ships. One issue was the lack of Italian escorts for convoys. The primary issue was lack of fuel for the escorts. Another serious problem was the scarcity of coastal cargo ships by this date, after sustained losses in transit. Once supplies arrived in North Africa, getting them to the front was problematic, partly due to the poor condition of the coast road and partly due to the unreliable vehicles due to the lack of spare parts. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Command questions and an army for Persia and Iraq

Because the Prime Minister wanted the new commanders in the Middle East to focus on defeating Rommel, he proposed a separate command for Persia and Iraq. He proposed that General Auchinleck be the commander. Auchinleck, himself, opposed the idea, as he felt that command over forces in Persia and Iraq belonged with the Middle East. Because General Auchinleck refused the command, General Maitland Wilson was appointed as commander. Auchinleck left the Middle East with Churchill's undiminished admiration, despite all the troubles. Auchinleck had been able to stop the Axis advance in the July battles and had thrown the Axis back on the defensive, with the British forces on the attack. Auchinleck had reported that the British would not be ready until mid-September, but in the event, the attack was not launched until 23 October. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History, which we have summarized here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The air strength situation in the summer and fall 1942

As the American air presence built up in the Middle East, supplies of replacement aircraft to the British were not keeping pace with losses. 11 RAF fighter squadrons had been reduced to half-strength. 9 more squadrons had no aircraft. The British were receiving Kittyhawks and Baltimores from the United States, but not in numbers sufficient to make good the losses. The Merlin-engined Kittyhawks all went to American squadrons. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that the American squadrons were not ready for combat operations. There was plan to limit the RAF to just 65 squadrons and to have 24 American squadrons. Even if the RAF were reduced in strength, they still needed to replace obsolescent aircraft. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tanks shipped to the British forces in the Middle East

Tanks are the common factor in two tables in the Official History. One table gives tanks shipped to the Middle East from the UK in 1942, up until September:

January 60
February 143
March 74
April 264
May 113
June 179
July 114
August 254
September 34

This shows the tanks shipped to the Middle East from North America:

January 102
February 192
March 251
April 73
May 25
June 3
July 33
August 132
September 407

We don't know this, but we can only imagine that many of the 407 in September were M4 Sherman tanks. This information is from Vol.III of the Official History: The Mediterranean and Middle East.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

General Montgomery takes command

General Montgomery addressed officers at the Army headquarters to inform them of his high-level plans and intentions and to start the process of building some enthusiasm. Montgomery intended to defend Egypt at El Alamein. The army would succeed there or die. Montgomery knew that a great influx of reinforcements was en route and that the army's circumstances would be completely changed. Montgomery planned to hit Rommel's army, and keep hitting them, until they were out of North Africa. The British and their allies would finally have the resources available to make that a reality. One of Montgomery's first acts was to bring the headquarters at Burg El Arab, where they would be close to the air force headquarters for better cooperation. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The replacements: August 1942

After General Gott's death, the CIGS tapped Lt-General Bernard Law Montgomery to command the Eighth Army with General Alexander as his theater commander. Churchill's instructions to Alexander were to "take or destroy" the Axis army. All other activities were to be subordinated to that task. The policy was "no more retreats" and that the army would fight with the divisions kept intact. Given the static situation that the British found themselves in at the El Alamein line, General Montgomery was the man they needed to fight the coming battle. Montgomery was the master of the static battle on a fixed front. He was not the man to fight the fluid, mobile battle. The plan was to wait to fight until all the preparations were made, at least if Rommel permitted that to happen. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Churchill gives Auchinleck guidance

On 12 July 1942, the Prime Minster, Winston Churchill informed General Auchinleck that there no available divisions that could be sent to the northern front by October. At this date, there still had to be negotiations with the Americans about future plans and dispositions. Churchill recommended beating Rommel as the best solution for now. The General Staff expected that the winter would postpone the threat in the north until spring 1943.

Churchill had long been an Auchinleck supporter. He had from early on encouraged him to take command of the army in the field. Auchinleck had always thought that taking command of the army would cause the overall theater command to suffer, so he kept looking for subordinates to fill in as proxies in the army command. By May 1942, Churchill had become increasingly irritated that Auchinleck would not step in and command the army when Churchill had urged him to do so. By the time of his visit to the Middle East in the fall of 1942, Churchill decided that new commanders were needed in the Middle East to fight Rommel. He would move Auchinleck to a different command in the area (Iraq and Persia). Churchill wanted General Brook, the CIGS, to theater commander, but he demurred. Instead, Harold Alexander was become theater commander with Lt-General Gott as the 8th Army commander. These plans were disrupted when General Gott was killed when a Bombay was intercepted by German fighters, was forced down, and destroyed. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Uncertainty in the Middle East

During the summer of 1942, the commanders in the Middle East became increasingly concerned about threats from the north against their position. The Germans might well blitz across Russia and down the east side of the Black Sea. The smaller countries like Iran (the British insisted on calling it Persia), Iraq, and Syria might throw their support to the Germans. The commanders had hoped to get a better intelligence assessment from Britain, but received none and, in fact, no guidance at all. In Britain, the War Office dismissed the idea that there was anything of substance to the concerns of those in the Middle East. The Middle East commanders worried that all their forces were engaged in the desert and that they had no defenses facing north. They were keenly aware of the forces that had been diverted to the Far East after December 1941, and had some vague hope that some of them might be pulled back to face the uncertain threat. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, October 11, 2010

High level meetings in July 1942

Winston Churchill was in negotiations with the Americans in July 1942, at a time when the British had no military successes. The Americans had been keen for a cross-channel invasion in 1942, but Churchill was able to dissuade them and to put in place plans more compatible with what he wanted to see happen. He was successful in getting the Americans to agree to a North African invasion and to postpone the cross-Channel invasion until the Allies were better prepared. The North African invasion was named "Torch" and was planned for 30 October 1942.

After these discussions, Churchill turned his attention to the Middle East. He had the sense that a change of leadership was needed in North Africa and the Mediterranean Theater. The British ought to have beaten Rommel in North African, and the generally held opinion was that with a better general, they would have. While Churchill was thinking of visiting the Middle East, he received an invitation from Stalin to visit Moscow. In the event, he made the trip on an American B-24 Liberator, an aircraft with the necessary range. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The situation at the end of July 1942

General Auchinleck had persisted in attacks that always seem to end in disaster because he sensed that the Axis forces were close to the breaking point. Too much was being tried on an ad hoc basis, but Rommel agreed with Auchinleck's assessment that his forces were being pushed to the limit. General Auchinleck thought that the Italians were at the point of collapse, so he concentrated on attacking them. Rommel wrote on 17 July 1942 that the British were destroying Italian formations, one at a time. The Germans were too weak, however, to fight without the Italians. The Axis forces were fortunate to survive this period with their lines intact and it was a very close thing. The saving grace for the Axis was that the British operations were hastily mounted and without adequate preparation or planning. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Tanks, anti-tank mines, and anti-tank guns

The Official History's assessment was that at the end of July 1942, the British had not figured how to use infantry and armour in cooperation, at least in a changed environment dominated by more powerful anti-tank guns (used offensively) and by widespread use of anti-tank mines. The British plans for the battles in July were formulated as if the old situation were still in place. That is, that infantry could attack and open up corridors for armour to advance into the enemy's rear area.

The situation had also changed in that Rommel had gone on the defensive, rather than being prepared to blitz to exploit British weakness. The land in the narrows between the Qattara Depression and the Mediterranean was fast being blocked by mines and barbed wire. Fortunately for the British, by November, they would be commanded by the master of the fixed-piece battle, Bernard Law Montgomery.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

British special operations in support of the attack

An effort was made with British special forces (the SAS and the LRDG) against Axis airfields in the night of 26/27 July 1942. They estimated that they destroyed 30 aircraft in this raid. In addition, tank fire destroyed three German aircraft. It is unclear what Italian losses were. On 27 July, the British air force made a special effort to support the army. The operational tempo was starting reduce the available air strength, but the 27th was the biggest day in the last ten days (since 17 July). The effort was wasted in a sense, since the infantry was left unsupported by armour and decimated in the attack. The problem was that the widespread use of anti-tank mines that had not previously been a factor. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The 69th Brigade comes to a bad end

Since the 69th Brigade had moved forward, starting at 1:30am, they were able to reach their objective with two battalions. As we know, they were lacking their planned anti-tank gun support. In the confused situation on the morning of 27 July 1942, the 2nd Armoured Brigade was not able to come forward in support. The Germans realized the exposed position of the 69th Brigade and attacked. The 6th Durham Light Infantry and the 5th East Yorks were overrun. The 2/28 Australian Battalion was supposed to be clearing mines, but they received heavy fire, so that they were not able to clear the way for the 50th RTR. The 50th RTR lost heavily and then the Australians were overrun as well. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The operation starts to go wrong

A feature of Auchinleck-planned operations is that the timelines tended to be over-optimistic. The attack early on 27 July 1942 was no exception. The Australians had taken their objective by 3am. The 69th Brigade moved forward when they learned that progress had been made in clearing gaps in the minefields. Two of the brigade's battalions got through the gaps and reached their objective by 8am. Their anti-tank support did not come forward as was needed. Only a small detachment was near the forward infantry. After that, the situation deteriorated. Confusion reigned among the infantry that was supposed to clear gaps for tanks. That meant that the 2nd Armoured Brigade was not able to advance on the planned schedule. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, September 20, 2010

One last attempt to break the Axis front

General Auchinleck planned one last attack to attempt to break the Axis front at El Alamein. The attack was planned for 26 July 1942 and would be mounted in the north. 30th Corps was augmented by the 1st Armoured Division (without the 22nd Armoured Brigade), the 4th Light Armoured Brigade, and the 69th Infantry Brigade. The 13th Corps would hold and make a feint on tbeir front. The attack would start on the night of 26/27 July 1942. The South Africans would lift mines and mark a path through the minefield. At 1am, the 24th Australian Brigade would advance and take one end of the Miteirya Ridge. At that point, the 69th Infantry Brigade would move forward through the minefield gap. They would be followed by the 2nd Armoured Brigade and the 4th Light Armoured Brigade. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

30th Corps, now an infantry corps

The odd situation in the British army in the desert included the fact that the 13th Corps and 30th Corps had switched roles. The 30th Corps had contained the armoured divisions, while the 13th Corps had the infantry divisions. Now, it was the 30th Corps that had the infantry. The 9th Australian Division, now in 30th Corps, attacked early on 22 July 1942. The division consisted of the 24th and 26th Brigades. The Australians were successful in the first phase of the attack, taking the ridge at Tell el Makh Khad. The second phase of the attack started at 7pm, when the 24th Australian Brigade. The 50th RTR was intended to act in support, but ended up operating independently, as they were not trained in infantry support. As darkness fell, they had lost 23 tanks and withdrew as planned. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The 2nd Armoured Brigade tries to intervene

An effort was made to bring the 2nd Armoured Brigade into action in support of the 23rd Armoured Brigade and the New Zealanders. This meant clearing a path through minefields so that the tanks could more forward. Finally, at 5pm, the 9th Lancers and 6th RTR were able to roll. They almost immediately came under artillery fire and anti-tank gun fire. They lost five tanks that burnt and others were hit. General Gatehouse had already been wounded, so the acting commander, Brigadier Fisher called off the attack. By the time the regiments had backed out, the brigade had lost 21 tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The 161st Indian Motor Brigade attacks

On the night of 20/21 July 1942, the attacking 161st Indian Motor Brigade also ran into problems, much as the New Zealanders had. Their northern flank was protected by the 2nd Regiment Botha. The brigade had somewhat mixed results, but the 1/1st Punjab regiment took 190 prisoners. In fact, the enemy defenders were shaken by this attack. By 8am, the two regiments of the 23rd Armoured Brigade had arrived in support. The 40th RTR quickly lost 17 tanks to mines and anti-tank guns. 15 tanks succeeded in reaching the objective, but without support, they were rapidly knocked out. The 15 was reduced to five effective tanks. The 46th RTR had a similar experience. All together, the brigade had 40 tanks knocked out and 47 others damaged. After the 21st Panzer Division attacked at 11am, the brigade was ordered to withdraw. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Another disaster for the New Zealanders

In the attack on 21 July 1942, the 6th New Zealand Brigade captured their objective, although some vehicles and troops got lost in the dark. General Inglis was chagrined to hear that his troops were in danger from German tanks. In the event, the brigade was overrun, Brigadier Clifton was captured, and almost 700 men were lost. Brigadier Clifton succeeded in escaping, after pretending to be a private. Again, the New Zealanders were not properly supported by British armour. In this battle, two 2nd Armoured Brigade regiments had tried to come to the New Zealanders' assistance, but one ran afoul of a minefield while the other was held up by the usual aggressive use of anti-tank guns by the Germans. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Trouble for the 1st Armoured Division on 18 July 1942

Harassing air attacks would trouble both sides involved in the battles at El Alamein in July 1942. An air attack on 18 July wounded the 1st Armoured Division commander, General Lumsden, and Brigadier Raymond Briggs, one of his armoured brigade commanders. A desert veteran, Major-General Gatehouse, was called forward to command the 1st Armoured Division. General Gatehouse only arrived at the front in the evening of 20 July, when plans had already formulated for his division's role in the coming attack. Sadly, the 1st Armoured Division would again be too late coming to the aid of New Zealanders left exposed to German attack. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The planned attack on 21 July 1942

Grand plans were made on 19 July 1942 to attack on 21 July. Very elaborate instructions were given to 13th Corps to break through and to push to the west. The main attack would come at Deir el Shein and Deir el Abyad with a secondary attack in the south. General Auchinleck fully expected to bust the Axis front open and to be able to exploit to the west. The 13th and 30th Corps had reversed their previous roles, as 30th Corps was given a static task with the 13th Corps being in the mobile role. The air attack would being with Wellingtons and Albacores during the night of 21st to 22nd July. In the morning, a there would be a very large attack with light bombers and fighter-bombers. The fatal flaw was to give important assignments to inexperienced units and that insufficient time was allowed for the initial operations. There was also an over-optimistic assessment of British ability to overcome Axis minefields. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

British forces after the three day battle (circa 18 July 1942)

The British had considerable strength left on 18 July 1942, after three days of fighting where they took losses. They had two infantry divisions at nearly full strength: the 1st South African and the 9th Australian Divisions. The New Zealand Division and the 5th Indian Division had both been reduced to two brigades. The 7th Armoured Division was being reconstituted as a mechanized division, with the 4th Light Armoured Brigade, the 7th Motor Brigade, and the 69th Infantry Brigade. The 1st Armoured Division still had a strong tank force: 61 Grants, 81 Crusaders, and 31 Stuarts. There were also two independent brigade groups available: the 161st Indian Motor Brigade and the 23rd Armoured Brigade. The latter brigade was equipped primarily with Valentine tanks, along with Matilda close support tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The situation on 18 July 1942

General Auchinleck believed that after the previous three days of battle, the Axis forces were in a greatly reduced state by 18 July 1942. He believed that by striking the Italians again, they would collapse. Certainly, by 21 July 1942, the Germans had only 42 tanks as runners with another 100 to repair. Their operational tanks included 6 Pzkw IIs, 27 Pzkw IIIs (probably 5cm L42), 6 Pzkw IIIs (5cm L60), 1 Pzkw IV (75mm L24), and 1 Pzkw IV (probably 75mm L46). The British greatly outnumbered the German tanks, as they had in excess of 172 tanks, including 61 Grant tanks with the 75mm medium velocity, dual-purpose gun in a sponson. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Air activity from 14 to 17 July 1942

During the battle from 14 to 17 July 1942, the Desert Air Force had made a great effort to aid the Army. Altogether, some 1,900 sorties were flown during this period in direct support of the Army. On 17 July, eight Allied Liberators made a daylight raid on Tobruk. They flew over Tobruk, approaching from over the sea. The bombing raid was made without loss. The 1,900 sorties was equivalent to every available aircraft flying at least two sorties. The Official History gives a lot of credit to the aircraft maintenance infrastructure in supporting this operation. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Unhappy New Zealanders after taking heavy casualties

During the period of 14 to 17 July, 1942, the New Zealanders had been committed to battle and had heavy casualties that they blamed on lack of support. This period had cost the New Zealand Division as much as 1,405 officers and men. These were either killed or wounded or taken prisoner by the Axis forces. The New Zealand forces had been initially successful in their operations. What had gone wrong is that they had moved forward and then were left vulnerable to attacking German armour. General Auchinleck felt that they needed to take some risks in order to make an attack that might cause the enemy to retreat from El Alamein. The New Zealand Division commander had been told that the 1st Armoured Division would support his division's operations. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Australians on 17 July 1942

The Australians attacked with infantry tank support on 17 July 1942. The forces engaged consisted of the 24th Australian Brigade supported by one squadron from the 44th RTR. They attacked towards Miteirya Ridge and at least produced some 800 prisoners from the Italian Trieste Motorized Division. In return, the Axis forces responded with bombing and a counter-attack that included the German reconnaissance units. The Australian brigade had over 300 casualties from the attack. The Australian brigade consolidated a bit north of Tell el Makh Khad. This is based on the account in Vol.III in the Official History.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Action on 16 July 1942 at El Alamein

The Axis forces were concerned that the British might break open their position with an attack by armour. They decided to preempt such a move with their own attack. Early on 16 July 1942, they attacked the 5th Indian Brigade "near Pt 64". The Axis forces were repulsed, but communications traffic indicated that another attack was likely. In preparation for such an attack, the 2nd Armoured Brigade was augmented by a regiment from the 22nd Armoured Brigade. They were well-supported by artillery. The expected attack started at 7:30pm and was defeated. The Australians had tried to retake ground near Tell el Eisa, but the artillery fire was too heavy to hold the captured territory. The operations on 16 July were well-supported by the air force, as there were 641 sorties by both fighters and fighter-bombers on that day. This was a record number. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, August 09, 2010

From later on 15 July 1942

By late on 15 July 1942, General Gott directed the NZ division commander to reduce the front he was holding. This was after General Gott had received word of the fate of the 4th NZ Brigade. The other parts of the front were less eventful. The 90th Light Division and the Italian Ariete Armoured Division tried to attack to the north, but were repulsed by the 22nd Armoured Brigade and by what was left of the 7th Armoured Division. The once-strong division had been reduced to the 7th Motor Brigade with 8 Stuarts and three armoured car regiments. The German air force had launched attacks with Ju-87 and Ju-88 bombers without effect. The British air force accomplished more with as many as 150 fighter-bomber sorties. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Thr 4th NZ Brigade in dire straits

Once Rommel had realized that the two Italian divisions, the Pavia and the Brescia Divisions, had disintegrated, he decided to push German troops into the breach. General Nehring would command a scratch group: the two reconnaissance units, a part of the 21st Panzer Division, and part of the 15th Panzer Division (Baade Gruppe). The attack started at 5pm on 15 July 1942. The 4th NZ Brigade took the brunt of the attack, and they were unsupported. They had minimal anti-tank capability, which was soon overwhelmed, and the infantry was unable to resist. 380 were quickly put into the bag, including Captain Upham, who was awarded a bar to his Victoria Cross for his actions. By 6pm, the attack reached the brigade headquarters and captured them and the brigade commander, Brigadier Burrows. Brigadier Burrows later escaped. By 6:15pm, the 2nd Armoured Brigade appeared and stopped the German advance. By dusk, the Germans withdrew, leaving the British in possession of the ground. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The New Zealanders regroup

During the first part of 15 July 1942, the New Zealanders became scattered and had pockets of enemy troops in their rear. After the 22nd NZ Battalion had been overrun by German tanks, Sergeant Elliot and some men from his battalion, as well as the 21st and 23rd Battalions moved north, only to find themselves within an Italian position. Sergeant Elliot organized and led the attack that took 200 Italians prisoner before they New Zealanders withdrew. Sergeant Elliot had been wounded three times in the battle. He received the Victoria Cross for his efforts and bravery. The isolated pockets of Axis troops in the rear continued to be a problem. They prevented forward movement of vehicles and tied down the British forces with their fire. Artillery fire was what finally weakened resistance to the point where positions could be taken. Only by 4pm were vehicles able to move forward to Ruweisat Ridge. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official history.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The 2nd Armoured Brigade intervenes

After Brigadier Kippenberger had contacted the NZ Division commander and the 1st Armoured Division commander, the 2nd Armoured Brigade had moved forward on hte morning of 15 July 1942. Unfortunately, two of its regiments ran onto minefields near "Strong Point 2". The remaining regiment was able to support the 5th Indian Brigade in its attack. They helped capture Point 64. Now, the British task was to deal with the bypassed Axis forces in their rear. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Axis forces respond on 15 July 1942

As survivors of the Brescia and Pavia divisions moved towards the rear, they told stories about the British attack that hurt Axis morale. The one setback to the Allied cause was made by a small detachment from the 8th Panzer Regiment. They had about 8 to 10 tanks and had moved past the advancing British forces and encountered the unfortunate 22nd NZ Battalion. The New Zealanders had just four anti-tank guns on portees and these were quickly disabled. The New Zealand infantry was caught without cover or the ability to fight tanks, so about 350 men surrendered. They were rapidly sent towards the Axis rear. Brigadier Kippenberger had seen some of these events at a distance and hurried to report to his division commander, General Inglis, about what had happened. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

An assessment of the New Zealand Division on 15 July 1942

The New Zealand Division had commenced its attack at about 11pm on 14 July 1942. The night was dark, as there was no moon. FAA Albacores were out dropping flares to provide illumination for the advancing troops. They also dropped bombs on Axis transport behind the lines. Both the 4th NZ Brigade and the 5th NZ Brigade were short-handed, so they both advanced on very narrow fronts. They reached the Axis minefields and then received MG fire. The troops gradually became dispersed as they reached their objectives. In the process of moving forward, Axis troops were bypassed and were left untouched. When the 5th NZ Brigade reached its objective, they had lost track of their anti-tank guns. They were advancing more slowly and were to the rear. They were having the usual British problems with unreliable communications, which had dogged them through the great battles. At least the 4th NZ Brigade was able to keep their anti-tank guns forward and was able to place them forward in the German style. The 5th brigade had also bypassed many Axis strong points, which were now in their rear. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The New Zealand Division commences its attack: 14/15 July 1942 at El Alamein

At 11pm on 14 July 1692, the New Zealand Division moved forward towards its objective, which lay six miles away. The Division consisted of the 5th NZ Brigade on the right and the 4th NZ Brigade on the left. The 5th NZ Brigade reached the objective by dawn, but had one battalion complete dispersed in the process. The 4th NZ Brigade also reached its objective and had moved some anti-tank guns forward, German-style. One problem was that the division artillery and reserve were out of support range. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Auchinleck's plan of attack for 14 July 1942

General Auchinleck thought that his forces should be able to break the Axis center. He planned the attack for 14 July 1942. In the event, the battle lasted through 17 July. Forces from 30th and 13th Corps were chosen for the attack: 5th Indian Brigade from 30th Corps and the two-brigade New Zealand Division from 13th Corps. The 1st Armoured Division was on the left of the New Zealand Division and was ready to move forward if a breakthrough was achieved. The 1st Armoured Brigade also provided a battle group "Wall Group" to support 30th Corps. Before the attack even began, the 22nd Armoured Brigade was diverted to Alam Nayil to fight some Axis tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

British armour on 15 July 1942

The two British armoured brigades engaged in the next battle were the 2nd Armoured Brigade and the 22nd Armoured Brigade. Their strength on 15 July 1942 consisted of:

2nd Armoured Brigade
6th RTR (with 1 squadron of 10th Hussars)
3/5 RTR
9th Lancers (with 1 squadron of 2nd Royal Gloucester Hussars)

equipped with 46 Grants, 11 Stuarts, and 59 Crusaders

22nd Armoured Brigade
3rd County of London Yeomanry
joined in the afternoon by the Royal Scots Greys

equipped with 31 Grants, 21 Stuarts, and 23 Crusaders

This is based on Note 1 on page 349 of Vol.III of the Official History. I find this sort of information helpful, as the usual high-level descriptions lack actual strength data.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Air action on 11 and 12 July 1942

The strong British effort in the north brought out the Axis air forces to support their beleaguered troops. Several large formations of Ju-87 and Ju-88 bombers, escorted by fighters, attempted to intervene. They all were intercepted by British fighters and were forced to turn back. The British, in turn, tried to intercept the Axis transports headed for Africa from Crete. They succeeded in attacking a formation and shot down a Ju-52 transport for the cost of one Beaufighter lost. Both sides had two aircraft damaged. Over the night of 11/12 July, the Wellingtons bombing Tobruk had a Halifax as companion. This was the first British four-engined heavy bomber used in the Middle East. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Australians on 11 July 1942

The 2/24th Australian Battalion staged an attack, starting at 6:30am on 11 July 1942. They were supported by Valentine infantry tanks from the 44th RTR. The objective was the Tell el Eisa, which fell to them by midday on 11 July. They sent off a column of "tanks, infantry in carriers, and field and anti-tank guns" to Deir el Abyad. In transit, an Italian infantry battalion surrendered to the column. The column was stopped at Miteirya Ridge. They received so much attention that by evening, they withdrew to the El Alamein defences. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Axis forces fight back on 10 July 1942

At Panzerarmee Afrika headquarters, Rommel was absent. The officer left in charge, Lt-Col Von Mellenthin showed his usual energy and initiative. He ordered a portion of the 382nd regiment (they were a component of the newly arrived 164th Division) to form a defensive position facing he Australian advance. Lt-Col Von Mellenthin also commandeered some machine guns and anti-aircraft guns to be part of his improvised force. They were able to halt the Australian advance at the coast rail line.

Rommel had been caught in the south at Bab el Qattara. He hurried north with a battle group assembled from the 15th Panzer Division. The counter attack mounted broke through the 26th Australian Brigade front, but was thrown back. They left behind four knocked out Pzkw III tanks, one with spaced armour. All four had been knocked out by 2pdr anti-tank guns firing at their sides, where the armour was weaker. The British forces ended the day with about 1500 prisoners, most of them Italian. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The action at El Alamein on 10 July 1942

The British attack on the planned objectives started very early on the morning of 10 July 1942. Some Germans likened the bombardment to "drum fire" from the Great War. There were salt marshes near the coast road, and some of the infantry tanks bogged down in them. Others went forward with the infantry, however. The Australians had 32 Valentines and the South Africans had 8 Matildas. Eight tanks continued in support of the Australians, who had cleared the Italians from the Sabratha Division from around the coast road. By 10am, the South Africans had captured Tell el Makh Khad and were preparing to defend what they had captured. The Australians were also occupying what they had taken, but were only preparing to attack one end of Tell el Eisa. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

8 July 1942 in the north

General Ramsden had been appointed to replace General Norrie as 30th Corps commander. General Auchinleck ordered him to capture Tell el Eisa and Tell el Makh Khad on 8 July 1942. These were low ridges, lightly defended and manned by Italian troops. 13th Corps would block reinforcements from the south that might move north in response to the attack. The 2nd Armoured Brigade would come under 13th Corps command on 9 July. The 9th Australian Division would take Tell el Eisa while the 1st South African Division would attack Tell el Makh Khad. The two divisions would have infantry tank support. The 1st Armoured Division would provide a force to mount a raid on El Daba. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A change in air operations

Once the Axis forces had rested from attacking the British positions at El Alamein, the air forces were able to shift their focus to targets further in the Axis rear. As soon as 5 July 1942, they commenced attacks on the Axis air fields. At the same date, Wellingtons hit Tobruk and Liberators hit Benghazi. The British air commander switched his fighters to the fighter-bomber role and made life quite difficult for the Axis forces with their attacks. Beaufighters were employed to intercept Axis air transport coming into North Africa from Crete. They only achieved modest success on 8 and 9 July. Several transport formations were intercepted near Tobruk, but inflicted minor casualties. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Columns in action after 4 July 1942

General Auchinleck had started to think that he would launch 13th Corps in an attack in the south, and then thought better of the idea. Instead, the action was confined to a raid by the 23rd New Zealand Battalion and some columns. The only column which achieved anything noteworthy was a column from the 7th Motor Brigade. This column slipped through to the Axis rear and shelled the air field at Fuka on 7 July 1942, in the evening. The column was able to elude pursuers and rejoined the brigade after traveling in the dark. The SAS, with help from the LRDG, attacked another air field and destroyed some more Italian CR-42 fighters. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History and overlaps some other posts.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rommel regrouping on 4 July 1942 and later

Rommel hoped to form a armour reserve by replacing the German troops with Italians in the line at El Alamein. The panzer divisions, and 90th Light Division, and Italian 20th corps (armoured and mechanized divisions) would be relieved by the Italian 10th and 21st Corps. The German air force, with Stuka divebombers provided support for the moves. The troops were heartened by the long delayed reappearance of the Stukas. When the 21st Panzer Division moved on 4 July, the British commanders misinterpreted that as a retreat. Rommel hoped to cut off the New Zealand Division, but the British focus changed from the south to the north. In fact, the 21st Panzer Division made a full attack on Bab el Qattara, which had been recently abandoned by the British. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The situation by 4 July 1942

The fighting on 3 July 1942 had forced the Axis forces to go over to the defensive. The German divisional strength was extremely low, Rommel reporting them as only 1200 to 1500 men. He also complained about the effective British bombing at night, as it made supplying the troops almost impossible. The Italians may have been in even worse shape at that date. Auchinleck was encouraged enough to imagine that they might be pursuing Rommel's forces back from this position. It was not to be, as when the British probed towards the Axis positions, they were stopped by anti-tank gun screens that were hastily assembled. Some more smaller attacks were mounted over the next few days, but there was little success. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The action on 3 July 1942 at El Alamein

As we saw, the British armour had let the Germans attack and had left the Germans in extreme distress. In the South, the New Zealanders had a good start to the day, from 7am. Columns from the New Zealand Division had engaged Ariete Division artillery and infantry. 19th Battalion of the 4th New Zealand Brigade had attacked and captured 44 guns and had taken 350 prisoners, with weapons and transport. The 5th New Zealand Brigade had attacked El Mreir, where the Brescia Division was located. By the next morning, the brigade had secured a position close to the Qattara Depression. The Royal Air Force flew 900 sorties up to sunset on 3 July. The Desert Air Force had flown 770 of those sorties. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

2 July to 3 July 1942 at El Alamein

Even though the British armour, backed by their artillery and New Zealand and 7th Motor Brigade columns, were left in possession of the ground, Rommel considered the fight on 2 July to have been indecisive. Rommel intended to attack the next day, although the German tank strength was down to 26 runners. The Italian 10th Corps would hold El Mreir, while the 20th Corps would more forward in the south.

The British mounted heavy air attacks all night, including one where the attacking Wellington was destroyed by the blast on the ground. The Axis ground forces did not receive the force of the attack, however, which was directed against the supply dumps near the coast.

General Auchinleck also intended to continue with his current plan. He made a few adjustments, as he placed the 1st Armoured Division under 30th Corps command. He ordered the 13th Corps to turn the enemy flank and attack their rear. The British armour actually absorbed the Axis attack in place, fighting a sharp action near Ruweisat Ridge. As we heard, the Germans started 3 July with 26 tanks while the 4th Armoured Brigade had 18 Grants, 22 Stuarts, and 12 Valentines. The 22nd Armoured Brigade had a further 20 Grants, 28 Stuarts, and 8 mixed cruisers, probably mostly Crusaders. The Official History, in Vol.III., upon which this account is based, says that at the end of the tank battle, the German troops were at the breaking point.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The afternoon of 2 July 1942

Two things happened at El Alamein, on the afternoon of 2 July 1942. One was the German attack against the El Alamein defences. The other was the counter-attack by 13 Corps. The 1st South African Brigade successfully withstood the German attack, supported by "Robcol" from the 10th Indian Division. General Pienaar was still worried about exposing his troops to capture, unsupported by armour. General Auchinleck responded to that concern by replacing the brigade with "Ackcol" from the 50th Division. The 90th Light Division made no progress and complained about the heavy air attacks that had a strong fighter escort. Two armoured battles were fought further south: the 4th Armoured Brigade versus the 15th Panzer Division and the 22nd Armoured Brigade versus the 21st Panzer Division. The Germans retreated, leaving the British on the ground under dispute. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

2 July 1942 at El Alamein

Early on 2 July 1942, the 90th Light Division had attacked without success at El Alamein. Instead of sending the DAK around the British rear, Rommel redirected them to help the 90th Light Division break through to the coast road.

General Auchinleck also changed his plans, given the progression of the battle. Rather than have the %th Indian Division HQ and the 9th Indian Brigade be exposed in the far south, they would leave a column and pull back. The same was ordered for the 6th NZ Brigade somewhat further to the north. With Rommel clearly readying an attack at El Alamein in the north, Auchinleck planned a counter-attack by the 13th Corps, with the 30th Corps containing the Axis attack. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Later on 1 July 1942 at El Alamein

While the 18th Indian Infantry Brigade was still putting up a gallant defence on 1 July 1942, the other parts of the Axis attack came slowly to a halt. The Italian portion of the attack achieved nothing. The 90th Light Division was stopped and was digging positions. After attacking the 18th Indian Infantry Brigade, the Deutsche Afrika Korps was reduced to 37 running tanks. They had been under frequent air attack during the fight. Rommel still hoped to continue his attack as planned, but by the next morning, had had to concede that the attack had stalled. He hoped to regroup on 2 July and try to break through to the coast. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The afternoon of 1 July 1942 at El Alamein

Only at 1:30pm did 30th Corps HQ realize that the 18th Indian Infantry Brigade was in extreme danger. They were informed by the 1st South African Division of the situation. The armoured cars, however, made an erroneous report that made the brigade position was quiet. This report was made at 2:30pm. Finally, at the last moment, 30th Corps ordered the 22nd Armoured Brigade towards Deir el Shein, where the 18th Indian Infantry Brigade was near collapse. The 22nd Armoured Brigade ran into German armour and had fight. The Germans were from the 15th Panzer Division and were driven back.

Over the same period, the 90th Light Division had gotten in trouble. They had finally been able to disengage from the El Alamein position by 1:30pm. They came under fire from the entire 1st South African Division (all three brigades). They lost their composure and when they had regained it, they had "gone to ground". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The heroes of the 18th Indian Infantry Brigade

As we said, the 18th Indian Infantry Brigade had just arrived in the desert from Iraq. The brigade had a temporary commander, Lt-Col Gray, of the 2/3 Gurkha Rifles. The brigade operated under the overall command of the 1st South African Division. The brigade, with three battalions, had arrived without artillery, but on the night of 30 June 1942, they received 23-25pdr guns. They also had 16-6pdr ATG's. The South African engineers helped the brigade carve out defences from the rocky soil. Nine Matilda's were sent to reinforce the brigade. The idea was that the brigade would be organized as a column. By the morning of 1 July, the enemy artillery was registering their guns on the brigade's position and they knew an attack was imminent. The Axis forces had forced a hole in the minefield by 1pm. About a dozen German tanks passed through the gap. Another eight tanks arrived by 4pm and that doomed the brigade. At 5pm, all of the Matildas were knocked out. The attack was only against two of the three battalions: the 2/5 Essex Regiment and the 4/11 Sikhs. The 2/3 Gurkhas were unengaged. The position fell by 7pm, but only after a spirited defence by the brigade. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, May 17, 2010

At the beginning of July 1942 at El Alamein

At the end of June, Rommel could either try to blitz his way through the British positions at El Alamein or he could take time to study the situation. Rommel had so much success against the British with mobile, unscripted operations, he tried another one. The problem was that the British had forces in positions that were a surprise to the Germans. Instead of the 18th Indian Brigade being forward at Deir el Abyad, they were further back on Deir el Shein. The 1st South Africans were at Alam el Onsol, where they were totally unsuspected. The 4th Armoured Brigade and 22nd Armoured Brigade were sitting forward and to the southwest of the South Africans. Rommel intended to send the 90th Light Division and the Afrika Korps through the British positions and then swing up to the coast, cutting off El Alamein. The Italians would attack El Alamein frontally and also follow the mobile German force. Quite quickly, the situation went badly for the Axis forces. The two panzer divisions becamed entangled and confused. The 90th Light Division lost their way and ran into the El Alamein position directly. Instead of moving in the dark, the Germans were only at Deir el Shein at daylight. The DAK commander decided to attack the 18th Indian Brigade, newly arrived from Iraq. The brigade was defeated, but only after hard fighting that saw only two of the three battalions engaged. Their brave defence gave time for the British armour to recover and come into action. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The German air situation in late July 1942

In late July 1942, Rommel was pressing to be able to break the British line at El Alamein. To aid that goal, Rommel wanted to see more air operations over Egypt. The German air forces, though, had problems. With defense of the Axis supply lines at sea being critical, the Germans had to divide their air forces between attacking Malta and shipping and in support of the army and against Egypt. That was especially true of the air forces based on Sicily. More than half of the available Ju-88 bombers were based there. They were largely used in the anti-shipping role as well as bombing Malta. The biggest problem was a shortage of German fighters. They were operating at a increased tempo, plus they faced late-model Spitfires for the first time. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rommel's opinions on 21 July 1942

In the course of fighting in the desert, Rommel had come to respect the New Zealand and 9th Australian Divisions. By late July, those divisions had the opportunity to train up to an effective level. Rommel also respected the British artillery, from the 25pdr field guns up to the medium and heavy artillery. At the start of the fighting, the British had started with an odd collection of artillery, much of it from the Great War, such as the 18pdr field gun, the 4.5in howitzer, and the 60pdr medium gun. By the summer of 1942, they been equipped with the latest war production, such as the 5.5in and 4.5in guns. The British also benefited from the short supply lines. That situation also aided the air force, so that they were able to attack the Axis supply lines and sea traffic. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Rommel asks for reinforcements

By late July 1942, Rommel had given his high command a grim assessment of his situation in North Africa. He made a plea for German troops, for more "Special" tanks (Pzkw IV Ausf F2 and Pzkw III Ausf. J Sdkfz 141/1), 5cm PAK 38 and 88mm anti-tank guns, more armoured cars, and "recovery vehicles". He also asked for the air force in North Africa to be strengthened. He wanted more air power not only to protect his troops and equipment, but to attack the canal. The high command had anticipated the sort of problems that Rommel complained about, so they were no surprise. That is why that had attempted to persuade Rommel to pursue a more cautious plan. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, May 03, 2010

British success in July 1942 meant an Axis disappointment

At the end of June 1942, Rommel fully expected to be able to blitz all the way to the Suez Canal. Instead, his army was stopped and thrown onto the defensive. After the first week of July, Rommel knew that he had been stopped and by the end of July, the Axis command was worried that they would be thrown back. So certain of success were the Axis leaders that Mussolini had flown across to North Africa to be there when they captured the canal. Mussolini did act to increase the Italian air force in North Africa, in support of the army. Mussolini returned to Italy on 20 July, after it was obvious that the Axis army would not be able to advance further. Both the Germans and Italians concentrated on increasing their army, after it had been weakened by the battles from May to July 1942. German losses, in fact, were about 70% of their initial strength. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Behind the lines

While the Axis had staged air attacks against Alexandria, the Canal and the Red Sea, they achieved little. They did close the canal for a week with mines, but they were cleared. They inflicted some damage at Port Said, but it was not severe. They did sink a water boat, damaged a boom defence vessel, and sank an Egyptian coast guard vessel on 28 July 1942. The volume of shipping was unaffected and supplies, men, and equipment continued to arrive in the Middle East. The port of Suez was not affected, as they Axis commanders did not recognize its importance and vulnerability. The fleet had left Alexandria due to the close proximity of Axis air fields. Ships were based at Haifa and Port Said. Over four nights from 12 to 20 July, ships bombarded Matruh by the light of flares dropped by Albacores. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The air situation in July 1942

The official history notes that a feature of the air actions in July 1942 was that the British lost many fighter aircraft in combat. Losses of Kittyhawks were particularly great. Many squadrons had lost more than half their strength. A German general commented that while British fighter losses had been great, the British had maintained a capable fighter capability, nonetheless. He mentioned that the arrival of Spitfire squadrons in the desert had given the British an aircraft that was a match for the Me-109s. Oddly enough, the Germans had not hit the targets in the rear of the battle zone with very many bomber strikes. They had concentrated on ground support of the Axis armies at El Alamein. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More about the British air effort in July 1942

When they were not supporting the army at El Alamein, the British air forces were engaged in a wide variety of operations. They hit distant targets with bombs, such as "Benghazi, Tobruk and Matruh", as well as Heraklion and Suda Bay. The types of operations included the strikes, providing air cover, and all types of reconnaissance (strategic, tactical, survey, and photography). The British air losses in July 1942 exceeded those of the German and Italian air forces. The British lost 113 aircraft "against about 80 German and 18 Italian".

Both Axis and British air forces and armies had difficulty in cooperating in July. The organizations that had been built up on the British side were all disrupted by the defeats and long retreat. Also, Auchinleck's HQ was separate from Air Marshal Conyngham's. The British were successful enough that the Axis forces were forced to disperse widely in the night. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The RAF in July 1942 in the desert

The retreat of the desert air force to Egypt resulted in a great dislocation. There was a shortage of airfields due to the large number of aircraft that were involved. One result was that the medium and heavy bombers were moved to airfields in Palestine. The fighters and light bombers were located from behind the front to airfields in Cairo and the Canal Zone.

With the front stabilized at El Alamein, the air force was able to commence a high intensity of operations against Axis forces. From 1 July to 27 July, there were an average of 570 sorties per day. The targets included the enemy supply lines, against the German and Italian air forces, and the actual direct support to the army. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The action in July 1942 at El Alamein

The action at El Alamein in July 1942 consisted of a series of strokes and counter strokes. At first, Rommel tried to penetrate the line immediately south of El Alamein and turn towards the south. He was stopped by the attacks of 30th Corps from the north and 13th Corps from the south. The next phase saw 30th Corps still blocking Rommel while the 13th Corps tried to cut to the north and northwest. They were stopped. Then, on 10 July, the 30th Corps staged an assault at Tell el Aisa that put Rommel on the defensive. On 14 and 16 July, Auchinleck attacked twice at Ruweisat Ridge (a familiar name) to bust through the Axis center. He was stopped. He tried next at El Mreir without success on 21 and 22 July. These attacks were mostly made by 13th Corps. A short time later, 30th Corps tried attacks at Tell el Aisa and Miteirya Ridge without result. At this point, Auchinleck decided to rest and refit the army. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Contingency plans

Given the string of defeats suffered by the Eighth Army, General Auchinleck thought it prudent to make contingency plans in the event that Rommel would be able to push past El Alamein. In that case, Auchinleck planned a fighting retreat, never withdrawing without a fight. Defences were built deeper into Egypt and communications, in the sense of moving supplies, were improved. A "Nile Flotilla" was organized by the Royal Navy. All military schools were closed and the men were organized into improvised units. In the worst case, a force would stand on the canal while the main force would retreat along the Nile. If needed, the GHQ would move to Gaza, with a section left in Cairo. General Auchinleck declined to destroy anything needed by the Egyptian people. Still, plans were made for demolishing essential services and stocks of supplies. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

No "last stand" at El Alamein

General Auchinleck recognized the ascendancy of the Axis forces in July 1942. The defences at El Alamein were only partially completed. The British troops had been recently defeated and had lost a good deal of equipment. As we have said, Auchinleck's primary concern was to keep the army in being, rather than risk losing what was left. General Auchinleck intended to fight to stop the Axis advance, but there was no certainty that was possible. Very discretely, west of the Nile, defences were prepared and land was flooded. Great care was taken to not panic the Egyptian people and alarm the government. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Auchinleck's plan for El Alamein

General Auchinleck wanted to hold some positions at El Alamein, but keep other forces mobile. For better or worse, the infantry divisions would form battle groups that would be controlled by the division commanders. He also wanted the corps commanders in control at a higher level, to ensure that concentrations were made at the decisive points in the battle. In the past, the corps commanders had not been so closely in touch with operations. Anything that did not provide a tactical use would be sent to the rear. Auchinleck's primary concern was to keep the army intact, even if that meant a further retreat. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Back to the desert to El Alamein

As June 1942 ended, Rommel was intent on blitzing on t0 the Nile Delta. He hoped to keep the British on the run and not allow them to block his forward progress. General Auchinleck, for his part, was intent on setting up a blocking line at the narrow point of El Alamein. A few troops were already there and there were men streaming back from Mersa Matruh. Other troops were in transit from Iraq and Palestine, headed for El Alamein.

In the end, Auchinleck was successful and Rommel failed. Rommel's task was made more difficult by the lack of transport and the unpreparedness of the Axis transport organization. They had been promised a six week pause to recover after Tobruk fell, but that never happened. The leading Axis forces reached El Alamein about the same time as the forces retreating from Mersa Matruh. General Auchinleck planned to hold strong points, rather than establish a complete line. He hoped to "channel" the Axis forces into positions where they could be successfully engaged. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Air exploits in July 1942

Two events of note associated with aviators took place in July 1942. In one case, six Bristol Bombays were loaded with 1500 gallons of fuel and 60 gallons of oil. On the night of 9/10 July, they flew to an abandoned landing field near Fort Maddalena. Ten Fleet Air Arm Fairey Albacores flew in and fueled up for a mission. They intended to attack an Axis convoy near Crete. Sadly, they didn't sink any ships, but it was a good attempt.

In another incident, a Beaufort had to make a forced landing behind enemy lines. They were taken prisoner and were being flown to Italy. However, they were able to takeover the seaplane they were on and fly it to Malta. The seaplane was later used in service from Malta. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Effects of the retreat on land

The army's retreat to the east in June to July 1942 put great pressure on the navy and air force. The withdrawal of the fleet from Alexandria only made matters worse. Benghazi and even Tobruk were difficult to raid from the air. Benghazi could only be hit by B-24 Liberators, which had a great range with a good bomb load. The convoys in June and August had diverted the submarine force away from attacking Axis shipping in order to support the convoy operations. With the loss of the submarine tender Medway, the submarines ended up being based in Beirut, which had been a French submarine base. The navy had requested more submarines and destroyers, but only the submarines were available. The submarines previously based on Gibraltar were moved east to Beirut. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

More about Malta

After the Pedestal convoy, the main concern on Malta was food for the populace. In a rather desperate measure, they slaughtered the entire of Malta's livestock, for meat and so they did not have to be fed. This was obviously only a short term measure, and the island's livestock would have to eventually be replaced. Lack of fuel for aircraft was a major issue, as well. The island relied upon risky missions by submarines and the minelayer Welshman for the aviation fuel. Fighter aircraft were always being lost, so the aircraft carrier Furious ferried another 29 Spitfires to Malta. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Phases in the effort to keep Malta supplied

As the nature of the war changed over time, there were distinct phases in the effort to resupply Malta. The first phase was the 6-1/2 months between Italy's declaration of war and the end of 1940. 21 ships arrived at Malta without loss during this period. Once the German air forces arrived on the scene, the dynamics changed radically. From January 1941 to August 1942, 82 ships were sent towards Malta, while 49 actually arrived. The remaining 23 were sunk in transit. The fast minelayer Welshman made three trips from May 1942 to July 1942. Submarines also carried supplies to Malta on 31 occasions. Operations to ferry aircraft to Malta from August 1940 to August 1942 succeeded in bringing in 670 Hurricanes and Spitfires. They were ferried on aircraft carriers to within range and then flown off to Malta. The period from the defeat at Gazala to August was one of the most difficult of the war in North Africa. The lack of airbases within range in North Africa forced the dispatch of a large naval force for Pedestal that took heavy losses. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Axis forces that attacked the Pedestal convoy

The British could take some solace from the fact that very strong Axis forces had opposed them in the Pedestal convoy. The Axis forces had inflicted almost devastating losses. Some 400 Italian and 200 German aircraft had been positioned to strike the convoy. Crete and North Africa had been stripped of aircraft so that a large force could attack the convoy. Twenty submarines, including 3 German and 17 Italian, were spread between the Balearic Islands and Algeria and in front of the Skerki Channel. A minefield was laid off Cape Bon. 4 German and 19 Italian motor torpedo boats were placed south of Cape Bon. Events had started to go wrong when the Italian submarine Axum had hit the two fighter direction ships. After that, as the convoy was spread over a greater distance, the motor torpedo boats had been very successful in the night. The next day, the Axis aircraft were dominant. The convoy was fortunate to be spared attack by Italian cruisers. This great effort on the Axis side was the final serious opposition to convoys. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The merchant ships of the Pedestal convoy

The Pedestal convoy commander, Admiral Syfert had special praise for the men who manned the merchant ships in the convoy. Five merchant ships actually arrived at Malta, and the oiler Ohio had to be brought in by the destroyers Penn (P-class), Bramham (Hunt type 2), and Ledbury (also Hunt type 2) and the minesweeper Rye (turbine-engined Bangor class). Captain D. W. Mason, master of the Ohio, "received the George Cross for his outstanding services". The merchant ship Brisbane Star had sailed independently after being damaged and had arrived at Malta safely. The other merchant ships, the Port Chalmers, Melbourne Star, and Rochester Star, had arrived with the naval escort. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

After Pedestal

Despite making a massive effort to support the Pedestal convoy, the Royal Navy took heavy losses, perhaps due to the inadequate AA armament of ships in mid-1942. The Fleet Air Arm took the greatest losses on the British side. They lost 13 aircraft in combat and 16 with the loss of the Eagle. The RAF lost but 5 aircraft while the Axis air forces lost 35 aircraft during the operation. On the run back to Gibraltar, the two merchant ships from Malta arrived without incident. The warships, on the other hand, were heavily attacked, but took no more damage. They arrived at Gibraltar on 15 June 1942. They had to fight their way through the same motor torpedo boats, submarines, and aircraft as on the way to Malta. A diversion run from the east towards Malta was not disturbed by the enemy. The merchantmen were disappointed to not be making the difficult run to Malta. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Pedestal convoy: the morning of 13 August 1942

After 7:30am on 13 August 1942, the captain of the cruiser Manchester decided to scuttle the ship after she had been severely damaged by a torpedo fired by a motor torpedo boat. In the daytime, the air attacks recommenced while the motor torpedo boat threat subsided. At one point in the night, four Italian cruisers seemed to be a threat, but they turned to the east. After 8am, with long range Spitfires and Beaufighters providing air cover, the attacks started. The merchantman "Waimarama was hit and blew up". The tanker Ohio took engine damage during more attacks. By 11:30am, the convoy was 80 miles from Malta. They were now within range of short range Spitfires from Malta. Three merchant ships, the Port Chalmers, the Melbourne Star, and Rochester Castle arrived at Malta, escorted by minesweepers. The tanker Ohio arrived in Malta on 15 August with two destroyers tied alongside to provide steering and power. The Brisbane Star had been boarded by the French near Tunisia, but had arrived at Malta on 14 August. The other ship that had been straggling, the Dorset, had been sunk by further attacks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Heavy attacks on Pedestal in the night of 12-13 August 1942

The Pedestal convoy steered south of Zembra Island to avoid the minefields in the Sicilian Narrows. The ships in the convoy were scattered over a large distance, making defence much harder. After Midnight, the motor torpedo boat attacks started. They had an immediate success when they torpedoed the cruiser Manchester. Five of the merchant ships were also hit in the attacks. The attacks on the merchant ships all happened between 3:15am and 4:30am. The Rochester Castle was the only survivor, but was still able to make 13 knots. By 5:30am, the cruiser Charybdis and destroyers Eskimo and Somali had joined the main force. They had been sent as reinforcements as the escort had been damaged. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Pedestal convoy takes damage on 12 August 1942

After 7pm on 12 August 1942, after the air attack from Sicily had ended, the cruiser Nigeria, the AA cruiser Cairo, and the oil tanker Ohio all took hits from torpedoes fired by the Italian submarine Axum. The Nigeria was sent back to Gibraltar, the Cairo had to be sunk, and the Ohio continued towards Malta. This was followed by another air attack that caused considerable damage: the Empire Hope was bombed and had to be scuttled, the Clan Ferguson blew up after being hit by a torpedo, the Brisbane Star was also torpedoed but could continue towards Malta. After this air attack, an Italian submarine torpedoed the cruiser Kenya, which was able to continue with the convoy. The attacks would only increase in intensity and effectiveness. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The last half of 11 July 1942: the Pedestal convoy

In the last of the midday air attacks on 11 July 1942, an Italian bomber dropped an armour-piercing bomb on the aircraft carrier Victorious. The bomb broke up on hitting the armoured flight deck and the ship was undamaged. After passing north of Galita Island, the convoy fought off a series of submarine attacks. The destroyer Ithuriel sank the Italian submarine Cobalto during this time. By 6:30pm, air attacks recommenced, this time from aircraft based on Sicily. Two casualties happened within the half hour of attacks. The destroyer Foresight was disabled and had to be sunk. The other casualty was the aircraft carrier Indomitable, which took three bomb hits on her flight deck, which became unusable. Her aircraft had to land on the Victorious. Force Z turned away at 7pm and Force X was left to take the convoy in to Malta. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The first air attacks on the Pedestal convoy

At sunset on 11 July 1942, the Pedestal convoy was about 200 miles west of Sardinia. The Germans launched an attack with 36 aircraft on the convoy. The attack seems to have been timed to occur at sunset. The attackers were difficult to see, but were beaten off with no damage to the convoy. During the night, the Sardinian airfields were attacked by Liberators and Beaufighters. A morning attack on 12 July did no harm. The main attack of the day came at the middle of the day. The attackers came from Sardinia and were 70 strong, escorted by fighters. The first wave consisted of 10 Italian torpedo bombers, probably SM-79s, armed with circling torpedoes. Several more waves followed. The only damage was to the merchant ship Deucalion. She was ordered to hug the Tunisian coast with her escort. After beating off one attack, a second of Italian torpedo bombers hit her and caused her to explode. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The opening act of Vigorous

The Vigorous convoy consisted of 11 British and 3 American merchant ships. One wsa the fast tanker Ohio, which could make 15 knots. The convoy entered the Mediterranean on 10 August 1942. Axis reconnaissance aircraft were constantly following the convoy. The Furious launched her Spitfires in the early afternoon. A major mishap occurred at 1:15pm when the Eagle was torpedoded by U-73. The Eagle sank in only 8 minutes, although most of the crew was rescued. After the Furious had launched all her Spitfires, she turned back to Gibraltar. The destroyer Wolverine rammed and sank an Italian submarine Dagabur while en route to Gibraltar. This is based on the account in VOl.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Situation at Malta

The fighter strength at Malta had been reduced to 80 aircraft by the end of July 1942. Since the losses averaged 17 per week, the decision was made to fly in more aircraft on board the old Furious. The Furious was to be a secondary operation taking advantage of the main Pedestal convoy. Some of the lessons learned from Harpoon and Vigorous caused there to be two oilers and a fleet tug, all escorted by four corvettes. There were also 8 additional destroyers. These would be available to escorte the Furious back to Gibraltar. Force X also had a fleet tug attached. Submarines were positioned to attack any Italian surface warships. Malta had its air strength augmented for the Pedestal operation. The peak numbers available included: "100 Spitfires, 36 Beaufighters, 30 Beauforts, 3 Wellingtons, 2 B-24 Liberatorss, 2 Baltimores, 3 FAA Albacores and Swordfish". There were also reconnaissance aircraft: "5 Baltimores, 6 P.R.U. Spitfires and 5 Wellington VIIIs". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The forces for "Pedestal"

The next convoy to be planned was seen as the final hope for Malta. This was the "Pedestal" convoy. The British finally committed a large naval force to escort the convoy. The escort fleet consisted of the aircraft carriers Victorious, Indomitable, and Eagle, along with the battleships Nelson and Rodney. The cruisers earmarked for the convoy were the three Dido class ships, Sirius, Phoebe, and Charybdis, and the Nigeria, Kenya, and Manchester. In addition, the old C-class cruiser Cairo was along as an AA cruiser, with a total of 24 destroyers. The air contingent on the carriers were also significant:

Victorious: 16 Fulmars, 6 Hurricanes, and 14 Albacores
Indomitable: 10 F4F Martlets, 24 Hurricanes, and 14 Albacores
Eagle: 16 Hurricanes

This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

More of the war at sea in late June and July 1942

Admiral Harwood had moved from Alexandria to Ismailia on 2 July 1942. A few days before, on 30 June, the submarine depot ship Medway had been torpedoed and sunk while on the way to Haifa. Haifa had seemed like a good possible submarine base. Not only was the Medway sunk, but the almost 90 torpedoes on board were lost. Fortunately, 47 were recovered from the wreck. As the navy grew to understand that Alexandria was going to be safe from attack by land for the near future, Admiral Harwood and his staff returned there by 8 August. A difficult situation had arisen when the British withdrew from Alexandria, as the French squadron stayed behind. He did not want to be attacked by his erstwhile allies, as other French squadrons had been. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Other events in June 1942

While the Harpoon and Vigorous convoys were at sea, the British withdrew from the Gazala line. Within five days after the convoys, Tobruk was taken by the Axis forces. There was the rapid advance after Tobruk fell so that the Axis forces had occupied Mersa Matruh by 28 June 1942. Admiral Harwood responded to those events by dispersing the fleet and moving merchant shipping and unneeded warships to the south of the Suez Canal. In the meantime, the Queen Elizabeth was repaired so that she could be moved out of drydock, before being moved further out of harms way before being sent to Norfolk, Virginia for permanent repairs. The extent of the danger from a further Axis advance was unclear, so perparations were made to block Alexandria, if necessary. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Malta resurgent in July 1942

The Axis air forces dropped more than 700 tons of bombs on Malta in July 1942. Most of the bombs were dropped in the first half of the month. They succeeded in destroying 17 aircraft and damaging many more. In that same first two weeks, Malta's defenders flew almost 1,000 sortees. Of the 136 Spitfires, 36 were lost from enemy action, but the enemy lost 65 aircraft during the same period. The defence was so strong that the Axis air forces had to send more escort fighters with the bombers. By late July, they were forced to resort to fighter-bomber attacks and forgo bomber attacks. On 15 July, Air Vice-Marshal Lloyd was replaced by Air Vice-Marshal Park as AOC Malta. He had served as AOC Malta for just over a year. He moved to Air Marshal Tedder's staff from Malta. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The failure of the June 1942 convoys

The operation to run two convoys to Malta in June 1942 was a failure. 17 merchant ships had been sent in two convoys, one from either end of the Mediterranean Sea, but only two ships arrived at Malta. Of the remainder, six were sunk and nine had turned back in the face of attacks by surface ships, submarines, and especially, aircraft. The main problem at Malta was fuel for aircraft. The continued air attacks were rapidly depleting the remaining stocks. Fortunately, the submarines Parthian and Clyde were able to bring in "aviation spirit, ammunition and special stores". In two operations, the aircraft carrier Eagle flew in 59 Spitfires. The fast minelayer Welshman, having a large internal volume for cargo, brought more "special stores". The situation had improved enough by late June that Admiral Harwood ordered the 10th Submarine Flotilla to return to Malta. One fruit of the Harpoon convoy was the presence of the minesweepers at Malta, and they were able to make headway on clearing mines. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Vigorous convoy returns to Alexandria

At 1:45pm on 15 June 1942, the Vigorous convoy and escort were still steaming eastward. At this time, the Italian fleet was still heading in their direction, apparently undamaged. The convoy escort was suffering heavily by this time. The cruiser Birmingham had been damaged by a near miss a couple of hours earlier. The Newcastle had been previously torpedoed by a motor torpedo boat and had a reduced speed. Admiral Harwood gave Admiral Vian discretion to do what he thought best by 2:20pm. The next lost came at about 3:20pm when the Hunt class destroyer Airdale was hit and had to be sunk. Good news came that the Italian fleet had apparently headed back to Taranto at 3pm. The problem was that the ships were running low on AA ammunition. The remaining Hunt class destroyers were reduced to "less than 30% of ammunition left". Admiral Harwood had hoped to send the fastest ships on to Malta, but ordered them back to Alexandria after receiving this status report. During the night, the cruiser Hermione was torpedoed and sunk by U.205. In the morning, the Australian destroyer Nestor had to be sunk after being hit during air attacks. The convoy escort and part of the convoy arrived at Alexandria late on 16 June. Admiral Vian had sent part of the convoy to Port Said. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Early on 15 June 1942: the Vigorous convoy

In the night and early in the morning, British aircraft mounted attacks on the Italian fleet. Wellingtons from Malta attacked with torpedoes at midnight, but were unsuccessful, partly due to an effective smoke screen. At 6am, Beauforts attacked, thinking that they hit the battleships, but they had stopped the cruiser Trento, instead. British submarines also attacked at about the time the Beaufort attack occurred. They missed the battleships, but the damaged Trento was sunk at 10am by P.35. B-24 Liberators attacked at 9am and scored one bomb hit n the Littorio, but she was not seriously damaged. A further attack by Beauforts was planned for the time of the Liberator attack, but they were intercepted by German fighters. Two were lost and five had to turn back. The remainder attacked, but had no success. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Italian fleet menaces the Vigorous convoy

A Martin Baltimore based on Malta was on a maritime reconnaissance mission when the crew spotted the Italian fleet leaving Taranto at 6:45pm on 14 June 1942. The battleships were misidentified as Cavour class, when they were actually the faster Littorio class. The harbor at Taranto was photographed by a reconnaissance aircraft at 8pm. The photographs showed that the Cavours were still at Taranto, so that meant that the battleships that the Baltimore saw were Littorios. Admiral Vian could see, by 11pm, that he might be intercepted by the Italian fleet in the morning. At Admiral Harwood's orders, they continued west until 2am and then turned east. Right after this, the cruiser Newcastle was torpedoed by a motor torpedo boat, but was able to continue at 24 knots. A bit later, the destroyer Hardy was torpedoed and had to be sunk. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

14 June 1942: the Vigorous Convoy

During the day on 14 June 1942, the Vigorous Convoy was in range of shored-based fighter cover. Late in the afternoon, they passed out of range so that only long-range Kittyhawks and Beaufighters were providing cover. Between 4:30pm and 9:15pm, seven different air attacks were mounted by Ju-87's and Ju-88's. At about 6pm, the merchant ship Bhutan was hit and sunk. The merchant ship Potaro was damaged but stayed with the convoy. As the sun set, the destroyer Pakenham had a near miss from a submarine-fired torpedo. A little while later, six motor torpedo boats were seen. After sunset, aircraft dropped flares to help the submarines and torpedo boats.

Earlier on 14 June, the main Italian fleet sortied from Taranto, intending to attack the convoy. The fleet was substantial: two battleships, 2-8-inch gun cruisers, 2-6-in gun cruisers, and 12 destroyers. They were on course to intercept the convoy at 9am on 15 June. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Decoy Convoy

A day-and-a-half ahead of the Vigorous convoy, 11 ships sailed with an escort as a DecoyConvoy. The idea was to draw the Italian fleet to the decoy convoy and keep them away from the main body of the Vigorous Convoy that sailed later. The Decoy Convoy had an escort consisting of the old cruiser Coventry and 8 destroyers. Early in the game, the merchant ship, City of Calcutta, was bombed and had to be sent into Tobruk. They rendezvoused with the main body on 13 June 1942. One more merchant ship, the Elizabeth Bakke, was not able to maintain the speed of the convoy. That left the Decoy Convoy with 9 merchant ships. Early on 14 June, the Dutch ship Aagtekirk was also left behind as the ship was not able to steam the convoy speed. The Aagtekirk and her escort were attacked by 40 aircraft. The Aagtekirk sank about 12 miles from Tobruk. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Allied air power in support of the Vigorous convoy

A torpedo striking force was based at Malta and on the Libyan border in Egypt. Torpedo-armed Wellingtons and Beauforts were at Malta. More Beauforts were based just inside Egypt from Libya. American B-24 Liberators from the Halverson Detachment were based at Fayid. they had raided Rumania on 12 June 1942 and then were kept in the Middle East for use against the Italian fleet. There was also fighter cover for part of the run to Malta. The short range fighters based behind the front would provide cover at the beginning of the voyage and then Kittyhawks with external fuel tanks and Beaufighters would provide air cover when the Vigorous convoy was beyond the range of the short range fighters. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official history.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Vigorous convoy: June 1942

In parallel to the Harpoon convoy in the west, the Vigorous convoy was commenced from the east. Admiral Harwood and Air Marshal Tedder commanded from shore. Rear-Admiral Philip Vian commanded at sea. Rear-Admiral Vian had commanded the convoy in March and intended to generally follow the earlier plan. This time, the convoy and escort were both larger than before. The escort consisted of the former battleship Centurion, armed only with AA guns, seven cruisers, one AA cruiser, 26 destroyers, four corvettes, two minesweepers, four motor torpedo boats, and two rescue ships. There was also a screen of nine submarines that would defend the convoy to the north and would move with the convoy. There were also about forty aircraft available. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Harpoon Convoy arrives at Malta

By the late afternoon on 15 June 1942, the Italian surface force had turned for home. They were low on ammunition and were in danger of attack by Malta-based aircraft. There was a further air attack, but no ships were damaged. The escort as well as the two surviving merchant ships arrived at Malta. In the confusion about what channel to take to enter Malta, five ships were mined. One, the Polish Kujawiak, sank. Still, 15,000 tons of stores had arrived at Malta. A heavy price had been paid to get them there, though. Two destroyers were sunk, a cruiser was damaged, as were three destroyers and a minesweeper. Late on 16 June, the convoy escort sailed for Gibraltar where they arrived late on 17 June. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More British ships lost

As noted, the British were very fortunate that the Italian commander, with the two cruisers, had broken off the action. He could have easily destroyed the survivors. This all was happening on 15 June 1942. The Italians, later in the day, swept through the scene of the previous encounter and found the destroyer Hebe, all by itself. The British commander turned back with the cruiser Cairo and three fleet destroyers. When the British could see the Italians in the distance, the Italians turned to engage some unseen targets. These would almost certainly have been the destroyers Partridge and Bedouin. The Partridge had been able to tow the Bedouin. They were headed for the coast of Tunisia, hoping to elude the Italians. Italian aircraft found them and torpedoed the Bedouin, sinking her. They also probably sank the tanker Kentucky and the cargo ship Burdwan about this time. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Harpoon convoy loses two ships

The Ju-87 attack at about 9:30am disabled the tanker Kentucky. The minesweeper towed the Kentucky, but the convoy was now reduced to 6 knots. The merchant ship Chant was sunk in the attack. The convoy was very fortunate that the Italian cruisers had left, as they could easily have destroyed the convoy. Still, the convoy was without air cover, except for a period when long range Spitfires were present and repelled an air attack. Another air attack at 11:20am disabled the merchant ship Burdwan. The convoy was reduced to two merchant ships, Troilus and Orari, as the convoy commander, Captain Hardy, decided to have the Kentucky and Burdwan sunk, as they were a burden on the convoy, being disabled. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

15 June 1942: a desperate fight

By 7am, the British had two fleet destroyers disabled: the Bedouin and Partridge. The British destroyers had disabled one Italian destroyer, the Vivaldi. The Italian admiral sent his three other destroyers to help the Vivaldi, leaving the two cruisers to fight the remaining British ships. The cruiser Cairo and the Hunt class destroyers were able to shield the convoy, but were unable to join the action at this point. The Cairo and destroyers headed back towards the convoy and laid down smoke to shield the merchant ships. By 8:40am, the Italian admiral ordered a withdrawal and the Harpoon convoy survived for a while longer. The convoy had maneuvered, however, and that had slowed progress by three hours. When the AA defence ships had been drawn into the surface battle, that left the convoy exposed to air attack. That came in the form of 8-Ju-87 divebombers. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Harpoon convoy runs towards Malta

While the Harpoon convoy had a quiet night on the night of 14/15 June 1942, they would face a strong Italian surface force the next morning. A fast surface force had been sent to intercept the convoy. The VII Division consisted of the cruisers Eugenio di Savoia and Montecuccoli (named after the 17th Century Austrian general Raimondo Montecuccoli), with five destroyers. The Harpoon convoy was 30 miles south of Pantelleria when they heard that the Italian ships were close. The AA cruiser Cairo only had 4inch guns, so the fight was left to the fleet destroyers with 4.7in guns and 21inch torpedoes. The Italians opened fire at 6:40am on 15 June. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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