Monday, September 30, 2019

"Operation Lightfoot": the British attack at El Alamein

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

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

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

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