Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Operations at El Alamein from 19 to 23 July 1942

The Australians had become very proficient at executing raids during the night during their occupation of Tobruk. During the night of 19 to 20 July, 1942, the 2/28th Battalion sent a company of infantry with "20 sappers of the 2/7th Field Company". They raided enemy positions near Trig 22. They left their unit at 12:25am and were gone over an hour. They returned to their unit at about 3:40am. They found a tank which a sapper destroyed with a "No.73 grenade". They thought that some three or four enemy were killed "in or around the tank".
Despite the planned attack (besides the raid), the 26th Brigade were left to hold "the salient in the north". That meant that the 2/24th and 2/48th Battalions had to continue defending their lines. That meant for an offensive operation, they only had two companies each. They had to hope for the best, as they were left without any reserves. Three companies from two battalions would push forward along the coast road. That left the rest of the battalions to take East Point 24 and West Point 24.
What the 26th Brigade was to do was to attack the enemy positions blocking the coast road and be ready to push into the headquarters area and (wishful thinking, we suppose) to push on to Mersa Matruh, Tobruk, and Tripoli. The Australian historian notes that they were attacking the enemy's strongest postions, not their weakest. The historian thought that they should have used a larger force to push along the coast road.
The situation was such that when Major Weir arrived from Alexandria to take command of the 2/24th Battalion, he was surprised to find that his battalion was ordered to make an attack the next morning. The accidental firing of a Very light "probably alerted the enemy". When the attack commenced, enemy artillerty fire hit right away. They men were forced to attack while traveling through "heavy machine-gun fire". The men who took their objectives were then forced to endure heavy enemy fire. Most officers were wounded and a new lieutenant had to find a way to take command.

Major Weir, the new commander of the 2/24th Battalion withdrew two companies that were in danger and he got the brigade commander's permission when he was able to communicate. Some men did not get the word to withdraw and were eventually overrun. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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