Sunday, November 29, 2009

The situation at Mersa Matruh deteriorates

The attack on the New Zealand Division at Minqar Qaim seems to have caused General Gott to decide that his troops needed to withdraw to the east. He sent a cryptic message to General Lumsden, 1st Armoured Division commander that authorized him "to withdraw east of the Bir Khalda track". The message indicated that the New Zealand Division had already left Minqar Qaim, which was not the case. The New Zealand division also received a message, possibly from General Gott. After General Freyberg was wounded, Brigadier Inglis, the acting division commander, decided to withdraw to the El Alamein line. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The British armour threw the Germans on the defensive: after 4pm on 27 June 1942

After the New Zealand Division had its transport scattered, General Freyberg asked for help from the 1st Armoured Division. This was at 4pm. The 4th Armoured Brigade had moved about 10 miles to the west of the New Zealand Division. They had sent the 3rd County of London Yeomanry (3rd CLY) towards the New Zealanders to support them, but they mistakenly had fired on the British tanks. Still, the 3rd CLY and the newly arrive Queen's Bays (with many tanks in company) posed a great enough threat to the 21st Panzer Division that they broke off their attack. Meanwhile, General Gott was planning to withdraw, based on General Auchinleck's orders to prevent the 8th Army units from being surrounded and pinned down. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

By 27 June 1942, the Axis forces were stretched thin

On 27 June 1942, Rommel was again trying to win through intimidating the British forces while having little actual fighting power. At the time that Rommel ordered the 21st Panzer Division to advance around the south of Mersa Matruh and attack the pocket of strength at Minqar Qaim, they were reduced to five Pzkw II and 16 Pzkw III tanks. Of course, the panzer division also had infantry and artillery. This reduced force was in the process of surrounding the New Zealand Division by 2pm. Earlier, at 12:30pm, General Gott had visited the New Zealanders. They were receiving heavy incoming artillery fire at this time. It was after this that the 10th Corps was ordered to attack towards Minqar Qaim to draw off the attacking force. The one thing that 21st Panzer's attack accomplished was to drive off the transport for the 4th and 4th New Zealand Brigades. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

27 June 1942 at Mersa Matruh

On 27 June 1942, Axis forces moved around the south of Mersa Matruh to block the coast road and trap retreating British forces. The New Zealand Division was located south of Mersa Matruh, at Minqar Qaim. By midday, Rommel directed the 21st Panzer Division to attack the forces located at Minqar Qaim and by 2pm, they had started to encircle the New Zealand Division. The army took steps to send support to the New Zealanders. The 10th Corps would attack south. The 50th Division and 5th Indian Brigade were moving towards objectives nearby. What really relieved the pressure was a move by the 1st Armoured Division that threw the 21st Panzer Division on the defensive. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Axis forces attack on 26 June 1942

The heavy British air attacks had delayed the advance and had inflicted many casualties on the DAK and the Italian forces. The 90th Light Division and 21st Panzer Division did manage to break up Gleecol and Leathercol. The British units realized that a major advance was underway. By early on 27 June, the 90th Light Division had some heavy fighting and by afternoon withdrew and tried to be inconspicuous. The DAK was oblivious to the New Zealand Division, but had made little progress. The 15th Panzer Division was moving east above the escarpment while the 21st Panzer Division was below. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Auchinleck assumes command

General Auchinleck arived at Maaten Baggush on 25 June 1942, after he assumed command of the Eighth Army. He left his CGS, Lt-General Corbett in Cairo to act on "all matters except those of the highest strategic or political importance". General Auchinleck immediately changed the plan to defend Mersa Matruh and decided to keep the army mobile and able to fight a withdrawal back to El Alamein. Auchinleck's first move was to change the organization to brigade groups whose main strength was artillery. General Freyberg did not want to change the New Zealand organization, and was able to make two brigades mobile. It is unclear what the difference was between brigade groups and the New Zealand mobile brigades, which were undoubtedly supported by artillery. Presumably, the New Zealand division was not subdivided into all-arms columns, which the British brigades may have been. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The plan to defend Mersa Matruh

Like Tobruk, the defences at Mersa Matruh were in poor repair. The position was not particularly defensible, but rather the place had a history. The Crusader battle had been launched from Mersa Matruh, for example. The actual arrangements were in disarray. There were the forces retreating from the frontier. There were reinforcement arriving, such as the politically sensitive New Zealand division, under the command of General Freyberg. There were units releaving others, and the overall impression was of chaos. By 25 June 1942, General Auchinleck had had enough. He relieved General Ritchie and personally took command of the Eighth Army. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Where was the Luftwaffe?

As Axis forces finally advanced to the east on 24 June 1942, there was almost no sign of the Luftwaffe. In fact, all the Axis air forces had been preparing for an all-out assault on Malta, along with an invasion. There had also been heavy fighting around Bir Hacheim and Tobruk. The sole appearance of Axis aircraft were the few reconnaissance aircraft that overflew the retreating British troops. the Axis air forces would require a great deal of preparation and transport to move forward to support the rapidly advancing mobile forces (the DAK and Italian 20th Corps). This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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