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.

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