Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Orders to continue the battle on 25 October 1942

Montgomery's plan to continue the battle on 25 October 1942 were to execute the plan for 24 October that they had not been able to accomplish. There were apparently some modifications to that, so it was not quite that simple. The two infantry divisions, the 9th Australian and the 51st Highland Division were to advance to the Oxalic Line. The armor would then move through and forward to the "Pierson bound". The armor would fight their way forward, regardless of the success or failure of the infantry. The two armored divisions, the 1st Armoured Division and the 10th Armoured Division would move west. The 9th Armoured Brigade and the New Zealand Division cavalry, equipped with Stuart tanks ("Honeys") would move to the south. The armored brigades would join together on the "Pierson bound". The 9th Armoured Brigade was to help the New Zealand Division attack to the south. The 133rd Lorried Infantry Brigade (a 10th Armoured Division formation) was to move into a New Zealand Division position near the 51st Highland Division.

Freddie De Guingand wrote that General Lumsden was unhappy with the orders for the armored divisions. Montgomery's attitude can be seen when he was said to have ordered Lumsden to "drive his division commanders". The situation with XIII Corps was similar in that the 44th Division and 7th Armoured Division were ordered to execute the plan that they had not been able to accomplish from the first day of the battle.

By daylight in the 9th Australian Division's area, there was heavy firing from every possible source: "tanks, artillery, machine guns, mortars, and snipers". The action was described as "pandemonium". This sort of thing would continue for "several days", although at times the firing was especially "intense".

As the sun rose, they could see enemy tanks moving forward from west to east. The German 15th Armored Division moved in to attack the "bridgehead". The 2/48th Battalion could see the tanks about a thousand yards to the west. This was at about 7:15am. This was also the case at Trig 33. The three Australian field regiments and the 7th Medium Regiment commenced firing pre-planned "concentrations" into the area where the German tanks were located. There were British Sherman tanks behind the 51st Highland Division and to the left of the Australians, and these started engaging the German tanks. They could also see German lorried infantry moving forward, west of the Australians. The German tanks eventually were forced to withdraw, after receiving heavy artillery fire and because damage from the Sherman tanks. Some Sherman tanks were also left on fire. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The wrong assumptions: the initial fight at El Alamein on 23-24 October 1942

The XXX Corps assessment was that Montgomery had been too optimistic in his estimate of what could be accomplished by the forces that he commanded. He had good men with extensive experience. The men had been trained to execute his plan and were well-prepared. Montgomery, himself, lacked the experience that his men had of fighting in the desert. He also lacked experience with fighting their enemy, the Germans and Italians. He had not realized the difficulty in clearing paths through minefields and the time that was required. That, in itself, was significant and may have accounted for the failure to accomplish what Montgomery had planned to do. The Australian historian suggests that Montgomery gave a hint that he also thought that it would take longer to execute the plan.

The "bridgehead" provided for the 8th Armoured Brigade did not extend past the enemy "anti-tank defence'. One possibility was to push the bridgehead farther in to enemy territory. Another possibility was to choose a new location for a bridgehead that was not so heavily defended. A third possibility was to attack the enemy infantry and force the enemy armored forces to attack the British forces.

The key British commanders were drawn to the Miteiriya Ridge area because they had advanced to the "Oxalic Line" and paths had been cleared through the minefields. General Freyberg had looked at the area in the morning of 24 October and was bothered by the 10th Armoured Division concern about advancing. Freyberg had not been able to speak with General Lumsden, so he contacted General Leese. Leese drove forward and met Freyberg. They looked over the area and then drove back to "Freyberg's headquarters". They called Montgomery with the "blower" (perhaps encrypted voice). Soon, General Lumsden arrived at Freyberg's headquarters. The historian thought that Lumsden didn't like the idea of driving through minefield paths and arriving at an enemy anti-tank gun line. Freyberg thouht that they should resume the attack on the night of 24-25 October and the corps commanders agreed. Montgomery ordered that the 10th Armoured Division should drive through the paths in the minefield into the open area past Miteiriya Ridge. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

The enemy situation in early 24 October 1942

Even though the British offensive on 23 October 1942 had failed to achieve its goals, the enemy was unaware of the actual situation. The "British bombardment" at the start of the offensive had the effect of cutting all enemy communications. The enemy saw the British attack on 23 October as being along a front of about five miles. They believed that they had succeeded in stopping the attack between the coast road and the railway. In fact, this was simply a diversionary operation. The units involved were Australian 24th Brigade units. They had been "stopped" by the 115th Panzer Grenadier Regiment. By 2am, the British attack had breached minefields and were approaching the main defense line. Two regiments took the brunt of the attack. They were "the German 382nd Regiment and the Italian 62nd Regiment". They faced "the 9th Australian Division, the 51st Highland Division, and the 2nd New Zealand Division".

As the attack advanced, "the 382nd Regiment was overrun" on the front facing the Australian and New Zealand divisions. Amazingly, the divisions only faced about one battalion each. The attack was only stopped by the 115th Regiment from the 15th Armored Division. They "were located in the second line of defense". At dawn on 24 October, the 62nd Regiment "was virtually destroyed". German battalions on the Australian front and the New Zealand front "had been overrun".

In the morning, General Stumme set out to see what the situation was. Unfortunately for him, they were too close to the action and were fired upon. General Stumme was trying to hold onto the vehicle when he had a heart attack and died. Without a commander, the enemy forces were not able to respond to the current situation. The 90th Light Division then was still sitting in reserve near the coast. The 21st Armored Division was sitting in the south, behind protecting minefields. The 15th Armored Division and the Italian Littorio Armored Division were in the north, facing XXX Corps. The armor in the north turned and attacked the XXX Corps "bridgehead".

At the end of the first day, the British had not succeeded in what Montgomery had planned. Only one of the "bridgeheads" had been taken and cleared of mines, and that happened later than planned. None of the British armored divisions had gotten into the enemy rear area. One had attempted to do so unsuccessfully. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Action by the 20th and 24th Brigades in the early part of the 2nd El Alamein

For the second phase, the Australian 20th Brigade had the 2/13th Battalion and the 40th RTR. The 2/13th Battalion needed to move forward on a wider front than some of the other battalions. While the main minefields had paths created, there were many smaller minefields over some 1,600 yards. The paths were not ready for the tanks, so the infantry had to attack without the expected tank support. The 2/13th Battalion was in contact with the 2/48th Battalion to the right. An attack in concert with the Gordon Highlanders did not succeed.

By 3am, infantry had been able to move forward, but the paths had not been cleared for the tanks. The infantry without their supporting tanks ran into crossfire from enemy posts. The infantry really needed to wait for tanks to be ready to move up. Given the situation, the 2/13th Battalion was ordered to dig in where they were positioned.

The tanks arrived somewhat after dawn, which was good, because they were needed. The infantry were able to show the tanks what to attack and the enemy positions were destroyed. While the 20th Brigade attack had proceeded, the 24th Brigade had made some diversions. "Just before midnight" there was a remote-control dummy display with some fifty dummies. The enemy opened fire on them, which was what was desired. The goal of the 24th Brigade "demonstrations" was to bring artillery "down on them".

Men from the 2/43rd Battalion were sent to raid "positions east of Kilo 110". They blew a hole in the enemy wire and reached their objective, where they destroyed an anti-tank gun. During the withdrawal, men were hit and had to be carried out.

Another raid was sent out from the 2/28th Battalion. They included both infantry and sappers. They were able to break through and reached their objective. They took losses and some were not able to get through the wire. The raid lost "three killed, 9 wounded, and 2 missing".

The 24th Brigade had drawn enemy artillery fire for some four hours, which was their goal. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The start of the battle had much noise on 23 October 1942

You had the sound of artillery, bombers flying over, and large mortar bombs exploding. For another fifteen minutes, you had the sound of counter-battery fire and then everything was quiet. Approaching 10pm, you had the two searchlights that came together and that signaled artillery to fire. At the same time, the infantry moved forward. They were trained to be able to move at an exact speed. The signalmen were running their wires along to the right of the stakes to follow. The men were in fact following Montgomery's detail plan. There were details such as "traffic control points".

The infantry moving forward were more heavily loaded than usual, since that was part of the master plan. At the front of XXX Corps, the men broke into the enemy positions and "took their initial objectives". One Australian battalion reached their final objectives at about midnight. The engineers were working to clear paths through the minefields. The paths were needed for vehicles towing anti-tank guns and vehicles loaded with ammunition. The minefields that they knew about had paths cleared, but they found additional minefields that also needed paths to be cleared.

The Australian 20th Brigade attacked with two battalions, the 2/17th and 2/15th battalions. The engineers (sappers) with the 2/17th Battalion were able to clear gaps in the minefields. The men with the 2/15th Battalion found that they were in an area filled with "anti-personnel and anti-tank mines". They were only able to clear a path by 12:30am.

As the Australians advanced, the artillery bombardment continued. What they found, was that there was an enemy defense in depth that was beyond that the British maps showed. The enemy positions had wire, mines, and booby-traps. The Australians were well-prepared to deal with such things. There was fairly strong "resistance" from the enemy. As they moved forward, the men found that the Bofors guns firing tracers in the air were very helpful. By 3:45am, the success signal was sent.

The 26th Brigade attack in the north had succeeded "brilliantly". The engineers continued to clear paths that were mine-free. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Second El Alamein starting on 23 October 1942

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

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

Monday, October 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The start of the Second El Alamein battle

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Montgomery's Second Plan for the Battle of El Alamein

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Montgomery changed his plan before the battle in October 1942

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

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

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

Monday, September 30, 2019

"Operation Lightfoot": the British attack at El Alamein

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Plans for the battle in October 1942

This is Montgomery's original plan for the Second El Alamein. In the north, XXX Corps would make two penetrations of the enemy defenses. X Corp would move forward through the penetrations to take a position astride the enemy supply lines. The hope was that would cause Rommel to use his armored forces to attack X Corps. XIII Corps would attack in the south with the 7th Armoured Division and hoped to draw enemy armor to attack them, making the situation in the north easier for X Corps.

The British had gathered a great deal of information about the German and Italian defensive positions, They had photographs from aerial reconnaissance and photographs taken by ground patrols. One feature of the methods used for photographing was that minefields tended to be concealed. Winds blowing sand helped to hide the minefields. The enemy defenses that had been found were described in intelligence summaries released in week two of October 1942. In the area from the sea coast to Deir el Shein varied from three thousand to seven thousand yards wide. There were actually two bands of defenses that were spread some three thousand yards apart. There were partitions between the bands that were located four or five thousand yards apart. Defenses in the north were very strong with another strong area near West Point 23. The second band of defenses was laid in parallel to the first band. The second was often located on reverse slopes of ridges. This was from Miteiriya to Deir el Shein. South from Deir el Shein, there were gaps in the defenses. South from Himeimat, the defensive positions had not been built up as they were in the north.

Montgomery personally presented the plan to all levels from corps commanders down to battalion commander. The attack in the north would be made by four infantry divisions. An attack in the south would be made by most of two infantry divisions. Two armored divisions would move forward at dawn in the north. A third armored division would move forward in the south. They had some one thousand tanks in the divisions with more available as replacements. They would use close to one thousand guns in the opening artillery barrage. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Planning for the battle in October 1942

There were plans for two attacks on Rommel's supply lines planned prior to the battle. One raid was made at Tobruk while another was made at Benghazi. They failed to damage anything useful. That left the planning to begin for the battle. A major piece was the creation of a supply system to provide what was needed by the army. They wanted not only to create the supply system, but to hide it from the enemy. They also planned to take steps to disrupt the enemy operations. After Auchinleck's operations that had been part of the First Battle of El Alamein, the enemy had constructed defensive positions along the north-south line. Now, like the later static defense of the Atlantic Wall. The defensive positions had considerable depth. They were apparently stronger in the north, near the 9th Australian Division, than they were in the south. The defensive works in the north were about six thousand yards wide. There were minefields, and gaps in the minefields designed so that advancing tanks would be exposed to anti-tank gun fire from the side. There was "an anti-tank gun line" that \ actually included dug in tanks. The guns were concealed so as to be difficult to see. Rommel called his positions "devil's gardens" and thought that they would be effective in stopping a British advance. Rommel's supervisor, Field Marshal Kesselring, was somewhat skeptical about their efficiency. It was true that anti-tank guns, firing at lone range, would make tank operations much more difficult. For a while, they had been able to function as mobile cavalry and could be more effective, but that was to change.

In the end, Montgomery had made two plans for the battle. The first was distributed on 15 September. The second was distributed on 6 October. The second built on the framework of the first plan. Due to the enemy's defensive line, the initial attack would have to be made by infantry. They would set up the force so that the enemy would have to attack the British armor sitting on ground that they had chosen. The British army would not start with an armor attack on enemy armored forces. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Moving towards the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942

One point not yet discussed is the situation in regards to air power. In raw numbers, the British had more than five hundred aircraft in North Africa while the Germans and Italians had about 350. The enemy did have the ability to shift aircraft from Italy and to use aircraft from Crete in North Africa. The raw numbers don't take into account the superiority of German Messerschmitt Bf-109F and G fighters.

Right before the battle began, the Desert Air Force (as it was known) was organized into fighter groups and bomber wings. No. 211 Group had 17 fighter squadrons on hand. No. 212 Group had 8 fighter squadrons. There was No. 3 South African Air Force Wing equipped with three day bomber squadrons. There was No. 232 Wing that had two day bomber squadrons. There were also Americans in the field with the No. 12 Medium Bombardment Group with three bomber squadrons. There was also the No.285 Wing with three reconnaissance squadrons and two flights. There were more squadrons than these, including "night-bombers and long-range fighters".

There was the usual problem in that Churchill was impatient for action, while Montgomery liked to have a nice, tidy plan and operation. Alan Brooke was quoted as saying that Churchill was always a potential source of trouble. Like Hitler, he had an inflated sense of his abilities as a military commander. Churchill was waiting for Alexander and Montgomery's plan to be executed, but Churchill was very aware of the perilous situation with Malta.

They had originally thought that they would be able to attack in September, but with experience of the Battle of Alam el Halfa, they had to rethink their plan. They wanted to attack the enemy during the night, but with the benefit of bright moonlight. They also needed time for training. The full moon in October was on October 24. Alexander chose 23 October as the date for the attack. Montgomery helped Alexander draft the message to be sent to the Prime Minister. Montgomery wrote four points on a piece of paper. They were: "1) Rommel's attack had delayed their preparations. 2) The condition of the moon restricted potential attack dates in September and October. 3) If the attack happened in September, the army would not be sufficiently trained or equipped. 4) An attack in September would be likely to fail while an attack in October would ensure a complete victory". Another factor, we have not mentioned, was the planned Allied invasion of French North Africa on 8 November. Alexander and Montgomery expected a British victory over Rommel would have a favorable impact on the French and Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 16, 2019

"Ali Baba Morshead and his 20,000 thieves"

At Tobruk, the enemy had called the 9th Australian Division the "Rats of Tobruk". They had accepted that name for themselves, at that point in time. Now, the enemy had called them "Ali Baba Morshead and his 20,000 Thieves". They also accepted that name.

Alan Brooke had selected the right man to command the Eighth Army in Bernard Montgomery. He had successfully held the El Alamein area against the German and Italian attack at Alam el Halfa. Montgomery knew how to inspire confidence in his men and was successful. He had a good, solid administration of the Eighth Army now, not the hit-or-miss, always changing plans, that they had seen under Auchinleck. Montgomery had a plan and was preparing to execute the plan.

September and October 1942 was a time for reinforcing the Eighth Army. As they pointed out, some 41,000 men arrived as reinforcements for the Eighth Army. This was from 1 August to 23 October, the big date. They received some "one thousand tanks, 360 carriers, and 8,700 others vehicles. New divisions had arrived with their artillery. They were the 8th Armoured Division and 44th and 51st Infantry Divisions. They also had more artillery in the form of "two medium and six field regiments". By 23 October or so, they had "832 25pdrs, 32-4.5in guns, 20-5.5in, 24-105mm; also 735 6pdr and 521 2pdr anti-tank guns."

The Eighth Army was well-equipped with tanks. They had as many as 1,029 tanks ready for action. They had some 200 tanks ready as replacements, "with a thousand in the workshops". At the same time, the Germans were hurting. They only had 218 tanks ready for action with another 21 in workshops. The Italians had some 278 tanks available for use at the start of the battle.

during early September, 318 American Sherman tanks "arrived at Suez". General Alexander planned to use these to equip three armored brigades. The Shermans were superior to everything the Germans had except for the Pzkw IV Specials, of which they only had about thirty. The British were now equipped with enough vehicles to enable the army to chase the enemy forces across the desert. They never been that well provided for with transport, but now they had it. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The 51st Highland Division is an "affiliate" of the 9th Australian Division. Also, General Morshead is acting XXX Corps commander at least for a week

The 51st Highland Division had just arrived in the desert. A new idea was tried so that the 51st Highland Division was to be an "affiliate" of the 9th Australian Division. Both divisions thought that the affiliation was a good idea and should almost be a standard practice. The Scots thought that the Australians had different ideas about discipline, but the Scots admired the Australian approach to operating. They kept their weapons clean of sand, their slit trenches were well-cared for and equipped. They checked their patrols to make sure that men did not carry identification. The kept quiet at night and did not show any lights. When a patrol returned, they marked information on maps which expanded the group knowledge of enemy positions.

8 September saw General Morshead acting as XXX Corp commander. General Ramsden went on leave in Cairo for a week. It turned out to only be five days, as Montgomery informed Morshead that General Leese would be XXX Corps commander as of 15 September. The officers took a look at the ground for a supposed move forward of 24th Brigade. The secret reason for the move was to "secure" the ground that would be the site used for the infantry attack in the coming offensive. During the night, the 24th Brigade had begun work in new positions. on September 18 to 19, two battalions moved into the positions that had been prepared.

That night, the South African Division moved forward, as did the 9th Australian Division. In two nights, the South Africans moved over and took possession of the 2/28th Battalion positions.

The British forces were abruptly informed in late September that they were going to use American terminology from there on out. For example, what used to be called "Zero Hour" became "H Hour". Operations would start on D Day from now on.

Sitting at El Alamein, the men of the 9th Australian Division came to admire their commander, General Morshead, more than they had when they were sitting at Tobruk. At the same time, the men of the Eighth Army came to increasing confidence in Bernard Law Montgomery. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Assessment of the attack on 1 September 1942

The Germans and their Italian allies now occupied a heavily defended line near El Alamein. The Australian attack on 1 September 1942 was not as successful as they had hoped it would be. Major Gehrmann was the 2/13th Field Company commander during the raid. The Major thought, prior to the attack, that the attack would fail for a number of reasons. His six reasons were:

"1. The force was too small. 2. The front was too narrow. 3. The flanks were insecure. 4. The proposed penetration was too narrow. 5. The information was too scanty. 6. The operation was unsuitable for tanks."

The operation was not a total loss, because they had learned some things that they could apply in the next attack. One thing that stood out was that there were still problems with infantry trying to cooperate with armored units. The tanks did not like being sent into anti-tank gun fire from guns that were beyond the range of tank guns. Despite a new commander, some of the same old issues were at work.

At Alam el Halfa, Montgomery did not spread out the army, but kept the armor and infantry close together. Armor had the benefit of support from the infantry division artillery.

During late summer 1942, the 9th Australian Division battalions were actively patrolling in front of their positions. One objective was to build an order of battle describing the enemy units in their area. The enemy were also actively engaged in patrolling. They also relished the opportunity to fight the Australian patrols that they encountered.

The enemy were busy at night building defensive positions. Their working parties were active and had units covering them. The Australians also noticed that the enemy were making noises to attract their attention. These were described as "tapping of tools on stones, coughing, lighting cigarettes and so on". One night, they had an encounter with another patrol. It turned out that they had fought a South African patrol and wounded some of them. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Operation Bulimba (the right spelling)

The 9th Australian Division "diversionary attack" would launch early on 1 September 1942. The objective was enemy positions near Point 23. They were to start at 5:35am on 1 September. The plan was for the infantry to arrive at the minefield at "first light". The initial push would not involve artillery fire. They would have air support, 9th Australian Division artillery support, and the 7th Medium Regiment also firing in support. Artillery fire would follow 15 minutes after the start of the operation. They would eventually push to the south, "returning at 3pm". The entire group would then pull back to the division area.

The infantry unloaded from their trucks at 5:15am. They got ready at the "taped start line". That area was about a thousand yards ahead of their "forward defended localities". That was about 2,500 yards from their objective. The attack started exactly on time. Their front was about six hundred yards with two infantry companies next to each other. They moved forward to the wire at the enemy minefield "just before the artillery fire lifted". The company on the right took enemy fire and lost men. They eventually were stopped. The left company did better. They followed the artillery barrage and got across the minefield without a problem. Engineer parties started clearing mines. The minefield was about five hundred yards wide.

The left company was well-led and reached their objective. Private Bambling stepped up after his section leader was killed and led the remainder to the enemy positions. After doing well, he was wounded. A tank arrived and fired two rounds to knock out the enemy post. The left company finally took 39 prisoners. They thought that they may have killed as many as 100 Germans. The company had lost two officers and some 35 other men.

The battalion commander, Colonel Ogle had positioned himself about 150 yards into the minefield. When he learned that he right company had lost its commander, he started to move there in his carrier. He hit a mine and "was seriously wounded". He ordered his Major to come forward and take command of the battalion. Major Grace arrived at the battalion headquarters at approximately 6:45am. They were unable to communicate with the companies at that point. Ogle's radio operator in the knocked out carrier kept his radio operating. The carrier was hit by an artillery shell, but the radio operator was able to continue his work.The situation became increasingly tough. Suther's company was to withdraw. They had gone forward behind Snell's company. The fourth company, on the right rear, had better luck. They got to their objective and took "relatively light losses".

The engineers had been able to open gaps in the minefield. By now, they had come under heavy enemy fire. There were mishaps with tanks in the gaps in the minefield. Four tanks had reached Major Grace, but they refused to move without orders from their unit. at 7:30am, two more tanks move forward through a gap. They were asked to collect the other four tanks and be ready to fight what seemed to be an enemy attack. The tanks ended waiting near the battalion headquarters. Major Grace decided at 9am to withdraw the survivors of his battalion. The brigade commander was not really aware of the situation and had told Major Grace to not withdraw, but by the time the message was received, they were withdrawing. They were able to successfully withdraw and got compliments, including from Brigadier Windeyer. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

The aftermath of the attack at Alam el Halfa

In terms of killed, wounded, or missing, the Germans had 1,859 men lost. The Italian losses were 1,051 men. The German-Italian forces lost 49 tanks. The British losses were comparable: 1,750 men lost and 67 tanks. General von Mellenthin thought that the battle was the turning point in the war, the first of many losses that predicted the loss of Germany in the war. Von Mellenthin was a writer and is known for his memoirs, Panzer Battles.

During the German-Italian attack, the 1st South African Brigade launched a raid on Italian forces and brought back 56 Trento Division prisoners. For their part, the German Ramcke Parachute Brigade hit the 9th Indian Brigade which was parked at Ruweisat Ridge. The Germans broke into the Indian position. That triggered a counter-attack by infantry and tanks (presumably Valentines). The Ramcke Brigade had casualties. They lost 11 men "killed or wounded" and had 49 men missing (possibly made prisoner).

We like the Australian "diversionary attack name" "Operation Bulimea. The Australian 20th Brigade "attacked before dawn" on the start day of the battle. They hit West Point 23 as the site of a "bridgehead". It was a long ways fromSidi Abd el Rahman, which dominated the area. They had chosen the target because the ground was suitable for wheeled vehicles.

The attacking force included the 2/15th Battalion along with a 40th RTR squadron (presumably Valentines). Major McIntyre was a 9th Divisional Cavalry officer and he commanded the attacking force. This was intended to be an all-arms force, so there were other units attached for the operation. The 2/15th Battalion had been made available by being replaced by 2/13th Battalion. The relief happened over 20 and 21 August 1942. During the night of 25-26 August, the attacking group would be assembled. The assembly would happen after the code word Bulimea was sent. At dawn, they would take enemy positions near West Point 23. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Battle of Alam el Halfa progresses

On 1 September 1942, you had the 21st Armored Divisions stalled. The 15th Armored Division (we always translate the German to the English equivalent) was trying to execute the penetration and turn to the north. The British used artillery and air attacks against the German armored units. Montgomery was using infantry in the battle. He ordered the 2nd South African Brigade to move to spot north of Alam el Halfa. He alerted the New Zealand Division that they needed to be ready to attack to the south, across the enemy tracks.

By the end of the day on 1 September, the German reconnaissance units had been heavily attacked from the air and were had suffered. The 15th Armored Division was still a threat to Point 132. Fuel supply was a problem that was developing. There was only fuel for operations up to 5 September. The fuel situation actually forced the enemy forces to go into a defensive posture.

On 2 September, there was an opportunity for the British to use armor to hit the rear of the German armor. Montgomery opted to stick with infantry operations. He was going to use the New Zealand Division in the attack. The British now had the sense that they were in a strong position and would succeed. The attack would use the 5th and 6th New Zealand brigades and the 132nd (British) Brigade. The 132nd Brigade would attack on the right with the 5th New Zealand Brigade on the left. Both would have squadrons of Valentine tanks in support.

The attack may have been rushed somewhat while the enemy forces were reinforcing the "most vulnerable point". As it was, the 132nd Brigade started an hour late. They were still very inexperienced compared to the other units. The 5th New Zealand Brigade had more success and had reached their objective. They were able to repel to attacks against them. Montgomery and his staff talked with General Freyberg and agreed that they were better off withdrawing rather than making new attacks. The 5th New Zealand Brigade had "275 casualties" while the 132nd Brigade was worse off, having 697 casualties. The ground attack could wait, as the air attacks on the enemy were being effective. From the start of Alam hel Halfa, the enemy had lost 170 vehicles destroyed and had some 270 damaged. They had also used up a great deal of their fuel.

The enemy was content to withdraw, according to their plan from the start. The British were content to let the withdrawal proceed. The enemy still had a position that included the British minefields where they had lifted mines and were still holding Himeimat, a high point that dominated the area in the southern part of the El Alamein position. Brian Horrocks was not happy letting the Germans hold the land they took, but Montgomery did not want to take any risks, a point that Rommel had noticed. This is based on account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Battle of Alam el Halfa in late August 1942

The German plan asked the German Africa Corps to drive some seven miles, starting from 11pm on 30 August and 6am the next morning. The presence of minefields, the position and size being unknown, were a complication. The recipients of the attack were the now weak 7th Armoured Division, consisting of the 7th Motor Brigade and the 4th Light Armoured Brigade. It the enemy units succeeded in breaking through the British line, they could be expected to have to fight one or more of the 10th Armoured Division brigades, of which there were three. There was also the 5th New Zealand Brigade on the left flank. There was also the familiar 22nd Armoured Brigade with two brigades of the 44th Division sitting on Alam el Halfa, the ridge. Forward of the ridge lay the 8th Armoured Brigade.

The German armored divisions were late in starting. The 15th Armored Division began to advance at 1pm. The 21st Armored Division started forward at about 2pm. The 21st Armored Division lost its commander during operations on the day. The British tanks and guns hit the German armor quite hard. They stopped advancing at dusk given how tough the fighting was. Montgomery's staff was following events and the German Africa Corps position. They ordered the 23rd Armoured Brigade to move into the space between the New Zealand Division and the 10th Armoured Division. During the night, the air force was dropping flares to provide light and attacked enemy vehicles with bombs with some success. There were fires burning from fuel and vehicles.

On 1 September, the German Africa Corps stopped moving forward. British day bombers hit them hard. The 21st Armored Division was stopped. They may have been out of fuel, but the 15th Armored Division tried to move past the British armor. The German armor was hard-pressed by air attacks and British artillery. Montgomery was involved with the operations and at one point ordered the 2nd South African Brigade to move to a position that was south of Alam el Halfa. He told the New Zealand Division to prepare to attack to the south, to hit the enemy "line of communication". The 15th Armored Division was still a potent force that was a "threat" to Point 132. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Standard practice: August 1942 near El Alamein

From early 1941 until late August 1942, some standard practices had developed. Where you were going to have a defensive position, you anchored one flank on the coast of the Mediterranean. From there to some distance to the south, you constructed defenses in a line. Those defenses needed to be fairly strong, with infantry, anti-tank guns, and field artillery. You would also lay mines and wire. Behind the line, you would build more defensive areas, leaving gaps between them. In the gaps, you would have armored formations. If an enemy tried to turn the flank of the defensive line, the armor would have opportunities top attack the enemy force.

At El Alamein, from the coast to the Qattara Depression was a great distance. The ground from the coast to the depression was too long to be uniformly strongly held. From the coast were located three "Dominion" divisions and one Indian Division. Then you had the New Zealand Division, which had a "refused flank". Then to the south were "light forces" (what Auchinleck called "columns"). You had the three ridge lines running back from the strongly-held front. They were the El Miteiriya, Ruweisat, and Alam el Halfa. While the Australian historian doesn't say that Montgomery and Alexander used Aunchinleck's plan (although others do say that), the Australian says that the defense of the rear of the line was based on Alam el Halfa. In the days of Auchinleck, there was a tension between wanting to hold the shortest front and the desire to extend the ground to be strongly held in front of the Alamein Box. Despite Montegomery's dislike of the "box", we have to still use that terminology, as the Australian historian also uses the term.

The reality of the situation was at odds with Montegomery's desired terminology. He would say "what we have we hold". To do that meant committing more infantry units. There was concern enough that there was some reshuffling of brigades so that the experienced 5th New Zealand Brigade was moved in, in place of the raw 132nd Brigade. The defenders were very aware that the enemy forces were assembling nearby for an impending attack. Rommel had decided to attack in the south between Alam Nayil and Qaret el Himeimat. Rommel planned to use the German Africa Corps, the Reconnaissance Group, Italian XX Corps (their two Italian armored divisions), and then the 90th Light Division. They expected to break through the front, turn towards the sea, and push to the coast. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

First, the needs and then the situation on the ground at El Alamein in late August 1942

Rommel was committed to attack in late August 1942. He gave the authorities what he felt were his supply requirements. First, he needed fuel, with six thousand tons needed between 25 August and 30 August. He got a promise to send ten thousand tons, half for the army and half for the air force. The situation was bad, because on 27 August, Rommel only had enough fuel for tracked vehicles to travel one hundred miles and for wheeled vehicles to travel 150 miles. On 30 August, more fuel arrived. Rommel got 1,500 tons from the air force. Also, a ship arrived at Tobruk with some 730 tons. That gave enough fuel to Rommel to start his offensive, but that was all. For better or worse, the units moved forward as scheduled.

The battle to be fought became known as Alam el Halfa. Some sources, such as Correli Barnett, have said that Montegomery used a plan developed by Auchinleck and Eric Dormon-Smith. In any case, the front, such as it was, was held by "three Dominion and one Indian division". The front extended from the coast to Alam Nayil. The New Zealand Division had a "refused flank" on the left side. Beyond them, there were only "mobile forces", what used to be called "columns". General Morshead had been unhappy with the Auchinleck regime approach of being indecisive about whether to compress one's front to the minimum or to stretch out so you were very thin on the ground. The Montgomery policy that they would hold their ground meant that you had to be strong enough to repel an attacker. That may mean that you needed to compress your front to be stronger. You needed to have enough strength to hold a "frontal defense". The reality was that the inland defenses were not very strong. They did add some units so that Alam el Halfa got two 44th Division brigades. Alam el Nayil "hinge" was occupied by the inexperienced 132nd Brigade. They were to protect the New Zealand Division flank. At the last minute, the 5th New Zealand Brigade was moved in to relieve the 132nd Brigade. The Germans were known to be preparing to attack.

At 30 August, the enemy had the 164th Division and the Italian Trento Division covering from the coast to Deir el Shein. The regiments of the German and Italian divisions were "intermingled". Some "stiffening" came from the Ramcke Parachute Brigade and the Folgore Division. Behind the German-Italian line were the mobile German and Italia divisions. The strengths were "about 41,000 German officers and men and about 33,000 Italian". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Possible courses of action in North Africa in August 1942

One appealing plan for the German-Italian army in North Africa was to give up some ground to pull the British out from their defenses into the open. Rommel was an expert in fighting a mobile battle, while Montgomery and the British were better at fighting from static positions. The problem was that "Hitler would never allow" a pullback from the present positions. The only alternative, then, was to build up the Axis forces for a final push to the Nile Delta. For that to be a possibility would require the Axis to improve their position in the war at sea (and in the air).

Not only was the war at sea an issue, but the supply lines by road were also a problem. Rommel believed that coastal shipping, protected by air, was a possible solution. They had a good forward port in Tobruk, but they lacked sufficient unloading equipment. They also needed German involvement in railroad supply traffic. They needed German staff, German train engines and carriages. Vehicles "needed to be sent to Tripoli and Benghazi".

The situation seemed to require Rommel to stage an attack to the east during August. They fully expected large shipments of equipment to arrive in September from American and Britain. The shipments were thought to be in response to the capture of Tobruk. Rommel told his commanders on 7 August to be ready for an attack. He informed the German Africa Corps, the Italian XX Corps, and the 90th Light Division. The two German armored divisions were pulled back for preparations for an attack. Rommel then informed his commanders that he favored waiting for the "moonlit period" at the end of August. The armor needed moonlight to make the attack during the night.

For an attack, the German-Italian forces needed tanks and fuel. Most prized were the so-called "Specials", the tanks upgraded for combat on the Eastern Front. They carried upgraded protection with spaced armor, and with longer-barreled guns. The Pzkw IVF2 had the 75mm L43 and some of the G had the L43 guns, but later production had the 75mm L48 gun. The "special" PzKw III tanks had the longer-barreled 50mm gun. The Germans were able to build up to 203 Pzkw III and IV tanks, of which the majority were "specials". The Italians had 281 tanks for the planned offensive. They had not had such strength since the start of the Gazala battle. The problem with the situation was the fuel shortage. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Changes with the new regime from 19 August 1942.

General Alexander had given Bernard Law Montgomery written orders that confirmed his previous verbal orders. The orders were simple: The first priority is to prepare to attack the German-Italian force and to destroy them. Second, while preparing to attack, they must hold their present positions and not allow the enemy to penetrate to the east. All troops in the army were to be notified of these orders. Also, under Montgomery, there was to be a change in terminology. The term "box" was no longer to be used for a defended area. They woiuld no longer talk about "battle groups". Outposts were now to be called "forward defended localities"A hot button for Montgomery was that units needed to be assembled close together so that their commander could address them. Montgomery also liked "concert performances "in forward areas" and that he wanted to see training in forward areas with live ammunition.

Units were starting to receive equipment that had long been out of supply. The exception to that was that they were still short of wire. The cavalry regiment expected to receive more Crusader tanks to bring them up to the establishment of 28 tanks. Infantry battalions were to receive four Vickers guns. They would also receive eight 2-pdr anti-tank guns. The 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment got 64-6pdr Anti-Tank Guns. They passed their 2pdr guns to the infantry units.

A welcome change was the provision of a medium machine-gun platoon for infantry battalions.

In some ways, the German-Italian army was defeated by naval action. Rommel was the master of maneuver warfare. The British forces fought better in static situations. Auchinleck's experiments with organization and formation were attempts to improve that situation. Rommel based his approach on his experience in the Alps during the Great War. He utilized infiltration tactics in every way he could. In his early operations in Cyrenaica in 1941, Rommel threw the British "back on their heels and ran over them. It is interesting to think that Montgomery was the master of static warfare and that he overcame Rommel's mastery of mobile tactics.

For Rommel to be able to attempt to break through to the Nile, he would need to be reinforced. By mid-August, they were starting to see results. From 30 percent strength on 21 July, the German "formations" were at 75 percent strength by 15 August. The biggest problem was the superiority of British air and naval strength. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

More patrolling in August 1942 near El Alamein

On the night of 16-17 August 1942, a 19-man patrol set out to the southwest. Most men were from the 2/43rd Battalion, but there was also Captain Bakewell from the 2/3rd Pioneers. The plan was to move out some four thousand yards. After only covering 2,600 yards, they could hear an enemy working party. After another 800 yards, they ran into a minefield. The Australians could hear Germans talking. At this point, the posted four Bren gunners. A little further on, they ran into a position with some fifty men. The Australians attacked with grenades, grabbed three prisoners, and shot and bayonetted twelve or more men. The prisoners proved to be Italian. The turned and started to head back when they came under fire by mortars and machine-guns. Getting past them took an hour or more. They had lost track of Captain Bakewell, the pioneer, and the four Bren gunners. Some men searched and found Captain Bakewell and the Bren bunners. The captain had been hurt by a booby-trap. The Bren gunners were able to take him some 200 yards, but he asked to be left due to the severity of his wounds. The found the missing men or in some cases, they had just gotten back independently.

Continued Australian patrolling found that small groups of Germans were being positioned to help the Italian units. The Australians continued to be actively patrolling at night, keeping their ascendancy. The enemy counter measures included wiring and booby-trapping the positions that were vulnerable to Australian aggressive patrolling. Patrolling had become more hazardous, so the only deep penetrations had to be done by strong and well-planned raids. On 22 August, the Australians got gifts from the enemy, in the form of six-to-eight inch leaflets. They had the division sign and a message: "Aussies! The Yankees are having a jolly good time in your country. And you?" Another message said "Diggers! You are defending Alamein Box. What about Port Darwin?" The Australians collected the two messages and some were sold as souvenirs.

The elites were still making noises, as they had a new army commander and still had a restless Churchill, anxious to attack the enemy. General Alexander had enough clout with the CIGS, Alan Brooke, that he was able to limit himself to telling General Montgomery to hold on in place and keep the enemy from penetrating to the east. In the meantime, they were to prepare for an offensive against the enemy in the El Alamein area. This is based on the account on Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Australians aggressively patrolling in August 1942

There was considerable patrolling by Australians in early to mid-August 1942. We saw the 2/15th Battalion to the west along the rail line and the coast. The 2/17th Battalion was also patrolling along the rail line and to the south, where the enemy positions were farther from the Australian defenses. Another battalion, the 2/13th Battalion was patrols to the southwest, moving through the 2/17th Battalion positions.

We saw on 13 August at 9pm, a patrol was sent out from the 2;17th Battalion to make a deep penetration into the enemy territory. They fought and action with enemy troops and then eventually withdrew with no losses. This was when on the 14th, was when the 2/17th Battalion had sent out two patrols. This is where they had found what they named "Thompson's Post". A second patrol had found that the enemy forces was working hard to improve their position. They closed a gap in their wire and were working with air hammers as well as picks and shovels. The purpose of this area was to attempt to control the coast road from below.

The 2/13th Battalion sent out a small patrol consisting of an officer and seven men. They advanced about 2,800 yards and then "went to ground". There were some enemy working parties, with one near the Australians. They started towards one working party, but were challenged by a sentry. They charged the enemy, but the officer was shot and his second was killed. They lost one man as a prisoner, but the others were able to guide themselves out by the constellation that the officer had told them about.

During the day, the 9th Australian Division cavalry patrolled. On 15 August, the 2/13th Battalion sent men with the cavalry to become familiar with the territory to the west and to the north from East Point 23.They would be better prepared by knowing the ground in daylight, rather than going out in the dark for the first time. Talking with a prisoner seemed to indicate that the Italians were on a feature called "Cloverleaf" and later "Suthers' Hill". They sent Major Suthers' company on a raid of the hill. If possible, he would leave men on the hill and send the other men to raid Cloverleaf. The company went forward, but some four hundred yards shot of Suther's Hill, they ran into an area filled with booby traps had ten men wounded. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Aggressive patrolling in early to mid-August 1942 at El Alamein

In the north at El Alamein, the 2/15th Battalion were patrolling behind the enemy lines between the railroad line and the coast. Their buddies in the 2/17th Battalion were patrolling the area from the railroad line and to the south. The enemy positions were farther away from the Australian positions in the south. A 2/17th Battalion patrol set out in the evening and returned by 3:30am the next morning. They made a deep penetration into enemy territory, some 5,500 yards. When the patrol was at 4,090 yards deep, a German Spandau machine-gun fired on the patrol, but the gun was aiming high. They went another 800 yards deep, and saw trip wires. Finally, at 5,478 yards, they found a "breast-high wire on long pickets". The wire rattled a warning when the scout hit the wire. A German sentry gave a challenge to the Australians. The Australians "went to ground" for some minutes. When they moved forward again, there was another challenge. The Australians then charged and were fired on by men in trenches. The Australians responded with grenades, sub-machine guns and rifle fire. After an exchange of fire lasting some two minutes, the Australians withdrew. The Australians were unscathed in this exchange.

On the evening of 14 August, "the 2/17th Battalion sent out two patrols". One patrol was to follow up the patrolling from the 13th-14th. The other was to check out an area south of the rail line. Some officers had been probing the area "without permission". The enemy was believed to be digging defenses. The second patrol that was following up the unofficial scouting was to move forward about 6,000 yards. After that, they would turn southwest, moving another 1,400 yards. Once they had done that, they would return to the starting point. That second patrol had 12 men. They traveled some 4,000 yards when they found two fences. Beyond the fences was a very well-developed defensive position. The area was empty, but had trenches and a pill-box. Suddenly, they saw some fifty enemy soldiers approaching them, but who had not seen the Australians. When the enemy were down to twenty yards away, the Australians opened fire and then moved north to the rail line. The leader, Lieutenant Thompson was wounded by "grenade splinters" and was "stunned". Corporal Monaghan took charge and was able to guide the patrol out of danger. They had found a very extensive enemy position some five hundred yards south of the rail line. The position was about 5,500 yards west of the Tel el Eisa station. They named the enemy position "Thompson's Post." This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Friday, August 02, 2019

The aftermath of the Australian patrol action in early August 1942

The Australians were ready with a plan to deal with the condition that the patrol lost the element of surprise. The plan was that when surprise was seen to have been lost, intensive fire would begin from "machine-guns, artillery, and mortars". The idea was that the enemy would think that a broad-front attack had been launched and they would likely be confused by the action. The plan caused the enemy to lay down their defensive fire plan. The result was that the enemy fire safely passed over the retreating patrol. Point 25 and Trig 33 were the recipients of the enemy fire. Captain Cobb believed that there were a continuous line of defenses from the coast to Point 25. The prisoner that had been taken was with the 125th Regiment that had just arrived from Crete.

The enemy appeared to be unaware that the Australians had abandoned El Makh Khad. On 7 August, an enemy reconnaissance gave them information about the withdrawal. General Morshead decided that the Australians needed to occupy posts around that area. The idea was that occupying posts would keep the enemy from getting too close a look at El Alamein and Tel el Eisa. To carry out Morshead's plan, one company of the 2/13th Battalion moved into Trig 22. The 2/13th Field Company immediately laid a protective minefield. A patrol was sent out about 1,800 yards forward. That had the effect of drawing enemy fire. Also on 7 August, the 2/43rd Battalion put a company "with anti-tank uns and machine-guns astride the Qattara Track". This was "east-southeast from Trig 22.

On 8 August, the 2/43rd Battalion replaced the company from the 2/13th Battalion. They took over a portion of the Makh Khad Ridge. They sent out patrols about half-way to the Ruin Ridge. They didn't see any minefields or enemy soldiers.

The 2/15th Battalion sent out a 17 man patrol towards a path that was often traveled by German working parties. After the patrol had traveled about 2,400 yards, they sighted a forty man working party. They Australians could see other working parties, but they were too far away to be easily attacked. The patrol sat for about thirty minutes. They could see a 25 man working party approaching. The patrol leader tossed a grenade as a signal for his men to start firing. The Australians had two Bren guns, four sub-machine guns, and six rifles. They killed or wounded every German in the working party. They carried out one wounded German. One of the Australians was wounded and one man was missing. Again, a pre-planned fire support was shot in support of the patrol. Once again, the enemy fired his defensive fire. The Australian patrol was able to pull back without any problems. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Early August 1942 at El Alamein

Early August 1942 saw the men of the 9th Australian Division improving their defenses in preparation for what was expected by mid-August. Rommel was predicted to launching an attack by mid-August. The infantry and engineers were busy laying mines and doing more digging for better defensive positions. At night, some men were always on watch. Others were able to sleep knowing that their turn to stand watch was coming. Other men were engaged in "deep patrolling" of the enemy area.

August was peak season for flies. The flies interfered with eating and sleeping. For example, the 9th Australian Divisional Cavalry had so many flies at midday, that they had to forego eating lunch, except for a small amount. Part of the problem was that there were still dead bodies in the area. 20th Brigade starting working on checking the area and burying bodies. In a few weeks, the fly situation had greatly improved.

The Australian 20th Brigade was positioned with two battalions forward with the third battalion in reserve. 20th Brigade had only been in place since 3 August 1942. The brigade commander had decreed that they would fire on any enemy soldiers that were seen They would also patrol into enemy territory and conduct raids on enemy positions. That would be very similar to their time at Tobruk. They would be engaged with the same enemy, just in a new spot. The first 20th Brigade patrol was sent out at 9pm on 4 August. The patrol was led by Captain Cobb with 12 other men. They traveled some 1,500 yards north, which put them in the middle of an enemy position. They were challenged and they "knew that surprise had been lost". They crawled some sixty yards forward when they heard the bolt of a Spandau machine gun. The captain tossed a grenade in the direction of the sound. The machine gun started firing and the captain and some other men were wounded. Despite being wounded, the captain and men moved forward towards the machine gun, which had stopped firing. One of the men had a Thompson sub-machine gun and was causing a large commotion. The captain then ordered the patrol to withdraw. They had lost one man killed and others wounded. They had a prisoner, but he was killed by another enemy soldier with a sub-machine gun. The captain "blacked out" and was carried back. They had reached the Bren guns. The men on the patrol had done well and had not hesitated to carry on even though they had lost the element of surprise. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Comparing general experience levels in August 1942

The Australian general Blamey "had been a regular from 1906 to 1925". We already knew that Bernard Law Montgomery was a "buffoon" although a very successful one. Montgomery flat out stated that Blamey's characterization of British commanders was correct: that the Dominion officers had not been produced by the British army training and experience system. The Australian historian thought that another issue that was not stated was that Generals Auchinleck and Ramsden had been "difficult" to deal with. The Australian historian then proceeded to examine officers. Freyberg was a former regular army officer. His wartime record was impressive. He was also more senior at Major-General than Alexander, Montgomery, Wilson, and Auchinleck. He was only nine months behind General Wavell. Despite that, Freyberg was still must a division commander in the campaign for Greece, Crete, and North Africa. Only in 1944 was Freyberg appointed to be a corps commander. During 1942 and beyond, major command appointments were decide by the CIGS, Alan Brooke.

There were Australian politics involved, as well. General Morshead wanted to see Brigadier Ramsey appointed as division commander is something happened to Morshead. There was the concern that Brigadier Tovell was senior to Ramsey. Morshead's solution was to have Tovell recalled to Australia and given a higher command. The problem with that solution was that General Blamey had other plans for men. Blamey also wanted to send a Major-General to North Africa to be Morshead's deputy. Morshead asked Blamey to let him approve of a deputy, because Morshead wanted to work with someone who would be compatible with him. Blamey named J.E.S. Stevens as his caondidate deputy to General Morshead. Morshead told Blamey what Stevens would be acceptable to him. We find that the discussion about Dominion officers being corps commanders had a positive effect on the British officers. Montgomery told MOrshead that if General Leese became a casuaty, MOrshead would succeed him as XXX Corps commander. This si based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

General Blamey reacts to the command changes in the Middle East in August 1942

Despite our concerns about General Blamey, he was a tireless advocate for the Australian Army. Blamey's partner in government in August 1942 was the Labour prime minister, Mr. Curtin. After seeing General Morshead perform well in 1941 and 1942, often under great duress, General Blamey took a special interest in promoting Morshead's cause. On 21 August 1942, General Blamey wrote Mr. Curtin, saying that some of the British generals promoted to corps commanders had less experience and success in battle than General Morshead had shown. General Blamey told Mr. Curtin that he felt that General Morshead was deserving of being appointed as a corp commander. Blamey even stated that Morshead being being passed over for corps commander was detrimental to the morale of Australian troops in the Middle East.

The British were apparently saying that only British officers were eligible for corps commander. Here, you had Bernard Law Montegomery asking for Brian Horrocks to be a corps commander. Brian Horrocks had apparently last commanded a machine gun battalion in France, but Montgomery was engaged in promoting Brian Horrocks cause. General Morshead replied back that he was busy commanding the 9th Australian Division to be concerned with having hurt feelings. We can only decide that it was General Blamey had the hurt feelings. Mr. Churchill said his piece, saying that he had great confidence in General Morshead and had asked that he be considered for corps command. General Brooke, the CIGS, had told MOntgomery that he should consider Morshead for corps commander. We suspect that perhaps Montgomery had some prejudice against using Dominion officers as corps commanders.

On 13 September 1941, General Morshead had spoken with General Alexander about corps command, and that corps command had been discussed with the Australian government and General Blamey. We get the sense that Montgomery did had prejudice about Dominion officers, particularly General Morshead for corp commander. Montgomery did allow that General Morshead could command the corps, if General Leese were a casualty. General Montgomery derided officers who were not professional British soldiers. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Once in command, Montgomery laid down the rules to be followed in August 1942

When General Montgomery appeared on the scene, he "stole" two days of command from General Auchinleck. Montgomery did not believe in "Jock columns or battle groups". At least on paper, he wanted to fight divisions as intact units and in a somewhat contradictory fashion, said he would fight brigades as brigades. In the desert, they were used to having brigades as the normal fighting unit. In the past, they had often treated battalions as if they were brigades, but Montgomery was opposed to doing such. He wanted the divisions to hold their ground with no plans to withdraw any further. Montgomery tried an Australian hat but he did not understand how they were worn. Montgomery eventually settled on wearing a beret as his signature headgear. It turns out that Montgomery had an Australian connection, because his father had been Bishop of Tasmania at some point.

He disliked some of what Auchinleck and Eric Dorman-Smith had thought was a good idea. There were not more mentions of "boxes". He also did not like the term "consolidate", which he thought should be referred to as reorganization. Montgomery also wanted to use a real Chief of Staff, unlike Auchinleck's system of using an assistant chief of staff in Eric Dorman-Smith. He also expected when he issued orders that they would be acted upon, they were not to be a topic for debate.

There had been an idea that men should not wear their division insignia ("flashes"). Montgomery disagreed and said that flashes should be worn. Another step was that anti-tank guns should be fired for training the gunners. There apparently had been a concern to conserve ammunition so that six-pounder gunners had never fired their guns.

Montgomery chose to have his headquarters close to the front. Alexander chose to locate a tactical headquarters near Montgomery's headquarters. The Desert Air Force headquarters was also near where Montgomery chose to locate his headquarters. Since Montgomery expected an attack by Rommel's forces quite soon, he got control of the 44th Division, which he put on Alam el Halfa Ridge. Montgomery asked Alexander if he could have General Horrocks in Egypt to command XIII Corps. General Lumsden eventually commanded X Corps. When Churchill returned to Egypt, he was happy with the way that his changes had affected the organization. This is based on the account in Vol. III Of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Auchinleck replaced in August 1942

I have long been an admirer of Churchill or at least his writings. After studying in detail, the events of 1941 and into 1942, I have become aware of his shortcomings. While we have been aware of Auchinleck's shortcomings in 1942, Churchill was pretty much unaware of the merits of Auchinleck. That resulted in his removal and replacement in August 1942. Churchill was unhappy with Auchinleck because of Auchinleck's refusal to act prematurely and attack the Germans and Italians almost immediately. Once Auchinleck was replaced, his successors waited much later to attack. Churchill was an armchair general, much in the manner of Hitler on the German side. In Churchill's case, he had military training as an officer and had commanded troops in the Great War.

We were interested to read General Morshead's take on Auchinleck in the Official History. Morshead wrote to Auchinleck saying "I am very sorry and very surprised that you are going away, and every single member of hte A.I.F. will be as regretful as I am, for we all hold you in the highest regard." Churchill had offered a position to Aucnhinleck, but he declined the offer, as he thought that the proposal was unsound. After being relieved, Auchinleck was off to India. Morshead had a high opinion of Auchinleck, after seeing him in action in late 1941 abd through 1942 up through August. Auchinleck had brought the Crusader battle to a successful conclusion and saved the day, really, although he was helped by the New Zealand division and the Australians. In 1942, when things had gone very badly, he stepped in and stopped the enemy forces at El Alamein, in the first battle there. He was aided by the strong showing by the Australians and the infantry tank units. The cruiser tank units under General Gott did not perform as well. Sadly, Gott's death when his plane was shot down was a blessing in the Bernard Law Montgomery was a much better general and he acquitted himself well for the rest of the war. Montgomery had personal traits that were easy to dislike, being rather vain and cautious. When he was able to fight a set-piece battle, he was very able. He did not show up so well in mobile, quickly-changing situations. Auchinleck and his assistant, Eric Dorman-Smith, had studied Rommel's methods and at least tried to find a formula that would work as well for the British. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Big plans made during July and August 1942

The situation at El Alamein in July 1942 had put Churchill into a panic. He wanted to immediately travel to the Middle East to try and influence events. The CIGS, General Brooke, was much more level-headed than Churchill and he persuaded Churchill to wait while the situation stabilized. Brooke did get Churchill's permission for General Brooke to travel to the Middle East by himself. The news about the American Sherman tanks and self-propelled guns being sent to North Africa was good news, but experienced observers knew that would goad Churchill into demands for an immediate offensive with the new tanks. American officials visited London and met with their British counterparts to discuss strategy for the next year. They agreed to invade North Africa soon and to wait to invade continental Europe.

General Auchinleck's recent communications just inflamed Churchill. Churchill did not want to wait for a new offensive to mid-September. You would have to imagine that made Churchill ready to fire Auchinleck and replace him with a man who would listen to his orders from Churchill to keep on the offensive. Churchill flew into Cairo on 3 August 1942. He had a meeting with General Brooke and General Auchinleck that evening. They wanted to replace Auchinleck as Eighth Army commander, when his actual appointment was as theater commander. Brooke was pretty sharp, he recommended Bernard Law Montgomery as army commander. Churchill wanted General Gott, but Brooke said that Churchill did not know anything about Gott. Churchill resisted Montgomery, since his arrival in the theater would delay Churchill's premature offensive.

A great question to decide was whether to defend the Persian oil fields or to hold Egypt. General Brooke's position was that if the southern Russian front broke, they had to defend the Persian oil fields, even if it meant losing Egypt. Churchill did not really agree with this policy, as he wanted to resolve the situation in North African as the first thing to do. Apparently on 5 August, Churchill and General Brooke visited the 9th Australian Division. Churchill was very complimentary to the Australians, They then visited Eighth Army headquarters and met with General Gott. Churchill was impressed by Gott while General Brooke had his misgivings confirmed. On 6 August, Churchill decided to replace Auchinleck. Churchill wanted General Brooke to take over as theater commander, but Brooke wanted to stay as CIGS. General Alexander would then be the new theater commander with Gott as Eighth Army commander. The Australian historian thought that Gott was responsible for the bad things that had happened. As soon as 7 August, General Gott was killed when his plane was shot down. CHurchill then agreed to Montgomery as Eighth Army commander. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

The situations in the Middle East and in the Far East up to August 1942

In the light of events in the Far East, General Morshead's requests for reinforcements for the Middle East seem extravagant. The Japanese forces in New Guinea were now in position to threaten Port Moresby. General Blamey's position on the situation is interesting. He says that they need another corps of three divisions. The Ausralian Prime Minster, Mr. Curtin, made that request to Franklin Roosevelt. At the same time, Mr. Curtin approved sending the reinforcements that General Morsehead had requested. In the event, circumstances caused Mr. Curtin to change his mind.

In the Middle East, the Eighth Army Headquarters was making contingency plans for bad outcomes that were "dispiriting" to the men. They decided in early August to pull out of the Makh Khad ridge area that they had recently captured. The El Alamein Box would continue to be important fortifications. Auchinleck, at this point, was still commander, and he wanted to reduce the force needed to hold the front line. He wanted time to regroup and prepare for new attacks starting in the middle of September. The 9th Australian Division had different ideas, as they expected the enemy to create a force that might attack as soon as mid-August. You had XXX Corps, ready to hold its positions while increasing the depth of their defenses. The Australian plans were to move the 24th Brigade into the El Alamein Box. Over the course of two nights, they would swap the positions of the 20th and 26th Brigades. The 20th Brigade would occupy the area between Trig 33 and Pointy 26, being in place by August 3. They would be connected to the El Alamein Box and would add minefields to the defenses. The 9th Australian Division would defend the coast with support from the 50th RTR. On Ruweisat Ridge, they had the South African Division touching the 5th Indian Division. You had the New Zealand Division defending the right side of the XIII Corps. Part of the South Africans were in back of the 9th Australian Division.

The high level decision makers were deliberating what they should do next. The British had Mr. Churchill and Sir Alan Brooke as negotiators. The Americans had Franklin Roosevelt and the American Chiefs of Staff. The Americans made a move that would greatly help the British situation in the Middle East. They would send one hundred self-propelled guns and three hundred Sherman tanks. Churchill was to visit the Middle East and meet with Stalin in Russia. We believe that Churchill had lost confidence in Auchinleck and hoped to make a change. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Australian considerations due to events in the Far East in 1942

In May 1942, pulling the 9th Australian Division back home was discussed. The Australian government was eventually convinced to leave their division in the Middle East. The argument was that oil fields in the Middle East were in danger of German attack from the north. If those oilfields were lost, then there would be problems with supplying Australia with oil. We have difficulty in estimating how real the danger was to the oil fields. Certainly, Germany was desperate for oil supplies, so perhaps this was a reasonable argument. On 10 May 1942, there were some 32,700 Australians in the Middle East. That number was gradually reduced by July 1942. In Australia, the decided in July that they needed to send about 6,000 more men to the Middle East to replace losses.

Mr. Churchill's misjudgments in 1941 caused considerable political instability in Australia. The had gone through some quick changes of government following the Greek campaign. They ended up with John Curtin, head of the Australian Labour Party, as prime minister. He stayed in place until he died in 1945. The Japanese attacks starting in December 1941 threw the Far East into turmoil. What concerned the Australian government most was the Japanese invasion of New Guinea in March 1942. The Japanese landed forces on the north coast of New Guinea on 21 July. The Australians eventually realized that their base at Port Moresby, in Papua, was now very vulnerable to Japanese attack. Besides that, Papua is only 90 miles from Australia. The Australian government felt that Churchill and his advisers in Britain were disregarding the situation in the Far East and the dangers there.

By the end of July 1942, at the conclusion of the First Battle of El Alamein, the 9th Australian Division had 2,552 casualties from the fighting. Given that information, Mr. Curtin approved that 3,978 men be sent to the Middle East as reinforcements. Mr. Curtin made the point, though, that his position was still that all Australian forces should return to Australia to participate in the war in southwest Pacific area.The news of reinforcements prompted General Morshead to comment that the numbers sent were insufficient. Morshead wanted to see 6,113 men sent to the Middle East as reinforcements. This is based on account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Retrospective on failures in late July 1942

The extent of the disastrous attack on Ruin Ridge caused General Morshead great unhappiness. He blamed the cautiousness of British armored formations for the failure. They had run into a minefield that had not been found prior to the attack. The minefield was about 900 yards from Ruin Ridge. They also had considerable difficulties communicating. The unit on Ruin Ridge also had no flank protection, so it was very vulnerable to German attack. He especially blamed the 1st Armoured Division for not providing the promised support. The Australians now tended to expect British armor to fight German tanks, while at Tobruk, the Australians would fight infantry with the tanks and then let artillery fight the tanks. That had been a formula which had served them well at Tobruk. At Tobruk, the Australians would "lie low", hold their ground, fight the German and Italian infantry, and let the artillery in the rear fire on the tanks.

The 1st Army Tank Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Richards, has performed well. It was the cruiser tank units, like the 1st Armoured Division, which had confidence problems because they had no faith in the tanks or methods. In the First Battle of El Alamein, infantry won the successes. The German successes were with armor, as their infantry did not fare well fighting the Australians, particularly. Both the Italians and the 90th Light Division had a hard time in the battles such as the attack on Ruin Ridge. The Australian historian placed the blame on commanders, not on the men in the tanks. There had been lack of coordination between the infantry units and the armored units. The historian thought that the minefield issues should be dealt with by giving armored units their own specialist engineers and equipment for clearing paths through minefields.

The Eighth Army had finished July 1942 feeling uneasy, but they had not failed to hold the enemy forces. Fighting under General Auchinleck's command, they had stopped Rommel's army. They had taken Tel el Eisa from the enemy. Rommel no longer had the ability to push in to the British rear areas. The 9th Australian Division had regained their fighting form. They hd grown rusty since Tobruk, but they were now back at their peak. The situation in Australia since May 1942 were such that they were not able to send reinforcements to the Middle East. On 14 July 1942, they had decided in Australia that they could send about six thousand reinforcements to the Middle East. This was about the same time that General Morshead asked for reinforcements. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Changes made from 27July 1942

From 27 July 1942, we were near the end of General Auchinleck's tenure in the Middle East. This was the day that included the disaster to the 2/28th Battalion. On 27 July 1942, Auchinleck appointed Brigadier de Guingand as senior staff officer at Eighth Army Headquarters. de Guingand felt he was not qualified for the position. In fact, though, he was Auchinleck's best appointment in the Middle East during his time in command. At least the Australian historian considered de Guingand as "brilliant and successful".

Also on 27 July, Eric Dorman-Smith gave Auchinleck his paper about their situation and how hey might make changes to improve the Eighth Army. One main point was that the enemy were not strong enough to attempt a break through to the Delta and least with any chance of success. They would be making a big gamble if they attempted such an operation. He also presented a plan for what seems to be like what Bernard Law Montgomery eventually executed as the Battle of Alam el Halfa. de Guingand did offer criticism of the "Observation Post" idea, which he thought was ineffective and would cause the artillery to be moved around, causing confusion. de Guingand thought that there were too many "plans and schemes" being considered and thought that contingency plans for withdrawals to the east would cause the army to be unable to stand and fight in place. On 29 July, General Auchinleck met with General McCreary, his adviser on armor. Auchinleck told him that he had been considering assigning an armored brigade to each infantry division in hopes of getting better support. McCreary disagreed with Auchinleck, who told him that if he was so much in disagreement, that Auchinleck should replace him.

On 29 July, General Ramsden met with General Morshead. Morshead told him that he was not ready to make any more attacks without some assurance that "British armour would fight". It seems that the problem would not be solved until Bernard Law Montgomery arrived on the scene and the crisis situation at the Second Battle of El Alamein for the problem to be resolved. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The 2/28th Battalion surrendered on 27 July 1942 in the First Battle for El Alamein

The end for the 2/28th Battalion came when they were essentially overrun by the Germans. Up to 10am, they still were not pressed so hard as to consider surrender. The situation was that tanks "were closing in from three directions". The forward company on the left side was overrun by the enemy. A warrant officer from A Company responded by calling for his men to keep firing their weapons. Tanks were coming closer to the battalion headquarters. A Bren gunner ran out and commenced firing, but he was killed by fire from a tank. When the battalion commander witness this event, he called for his men to surrender. Many of the men of the battalion were very emotional as they were lined up to be marched into captivity. British artillery was still firing in support, and some of the men from the 2/28th Battalion were killed by friendly fire. One platoon quite forward was firing until they were overrun by German tanks.

The Australians were marched about five miles to the German rear areas, where they were loaded onto trucks and were driven to Daba. The Australians were prepared for such an event as what happened to the 2/28th Battalion. They "regrouped" the battalion. They had two echelons, one being the operational portion and an administration portion. There were 98 men in the operational portion and 105 men in the administration portion which had drivers and administrators.

The 2/28th Battalion had achieved some success by pushing into the German positions. They had pushed into two units from the 90th Light Division, the I/361st Battalion and the I/200th Battalion. The Australians had pushed in some five to seven kilometers. The units had taken losses, with part of the I/361st Battalion being destroyed. The advance of the 50th RTR was stopped by I/115th Battalion and 33rd Reconnaissance Unit, along with artillery fire. The German counter-attack came to the east and to the north. In part, anti-tank guns came into play to halt the British infantry tanks. The counter-attack was successful, since they "they took about 700 prisoners" (largely Australians) and knocked out "20 to 25 tanks". Rommel's assessment was that his forces would be able to hold their front, but that the "British" forces had stopped his advance. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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