Thursday, April 29, 2010

Behind the lines

While the Axis had staged air attacks against Alexandria, the Canal and the Red Sea, they achieved little. They did close the canal for a week with mines, but they were cleared. They inflicted some damage at Port Said, but it was not severe. They did sink a water boat, damaged a boom defence vessel, and sank an Egyptian coast guard vessel on 28 July 1942. The volume of shipping was unaffected and supplies, men, and equipment continued to arrive in the Middle East. The port of Suez was not affected, as they Axis commanders did not recognize its importance and vulnerability. The fleet had left Alexandria due to the close proximity of Axis air fields. Ships were based at Haifa and Port Said. Over four nights from 12 to 20 July, ships bombarded Matruh by the light of flares dropped by Albacores. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The air situation in July 1942

The official history notes that a feature of the air actions in July 1942 was that the British lost many fighter aircraft in combat. Losses of Kittyhawks were particularly great. Many squadrons had lost more than half their strength. A German general commented that while British fighter losses had been great, the British had maintained a capable fighter capability, nonetheless. He mentioned that the arrival of Spitfire squadrons in the desert had given the British an aircraft that was a match for the Me-109s. Oddly enough, the Germans had not hit the targets in the rear of the battle zone with very many bomber strikes. They had concentrated on ground support of the Axis armies at El Alamein. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More about the British air effort in July 1942

When they were not supporting the army at El Alamein, the British air forces were engaged in a wide variety of operations. They hit distant targets with bombs, such as "Benghazi, Tobruk and Matruh", as well as Heraklion and Suda Bay. The types of operations included the strikes, providing air cover, and all types of reconnaissance (strategic, tactical, survey, and photography). The British air losses in July 1942 exceeded those of the German and Italian air forces. The British lost 113 aircraft "against about 80 German and 18 Italian".

Both Axis and British air forces and armies had difficulty in cooperating in July. The organizations that had been built up on the British side were all disrupted by the defeats and long retreat. Also, Auchinleck's HQ was separate from Air Marshal Conyngham's. The British were successful enough that the Axis forces were forced to disperse widely in the night. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The RAF in July 1942 in the desert

The retreat of the desert air force to Egypt resulted in a great dislocation. There was a shortage of airfields due to the large number of aircraft that were involved. One result was that the medium and heavy bombers were moved to airfields in Palestine. The fighters and light bombers were located from behind the front to airfields in Cairo and the Canal Zone.

With the front stabilized at El Alamein, the air force was able to commence a high intensity of operations against Axis forces. From 1 July to 27 July, there were an average of 570 sorties per day. The targets included the enemy supply lines, against the German and Italian air forces, and the actual direct support to the army. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The action in July 1942 at El Alamein

The action at El Alamein in July 1942 consisted of a series of strokes and counter strokes. At first, Rommel tried to penetrate the line immediately south of El Alamein and turn towards the south. He was stopped by the attacks of 30th Corps from the north and 13th Corps from the south. The next phase saw 30th Corps still blocking Rommel while the 13th Corps tried to cut to the north and northwest. They were stopped. Then, on 10 July, the 30th Corps staged an assault at Tell el Aisa that put Rommel on the defensive. On 14 and 16 July, Auchinleck attacked twice at Ruweisat Ridge (a familiar name) to bust through the Axis center. He was stopped. He tried next at El Mreir without success on 21 and 22 July. These attacks were mostly made by 13th Corps. A short time later, 30th Corps tried attacks at Tell el Aisa and Miteirya Ridge without result. At this point, Auchinleck decided to rest and refit the army. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Contingency plans

Given the string of defeats suffered by the Eighth Army, General Auchinleck thought it prudent to make contingency plans in the event that Rommel would be able to push past El Alamein. In that case, Auchinleck planned a fighting retreat, never withdrawing without a fight. Defences were built deeper into Egypt and communications, in the sense of moving supplies, were improved. A "Nile Flotilla" was organized by the Royal Navy. All military schools were closed and the men were organized into improvised units. In the worst case, a force would stand on the canal while the main force would retreat along the Nile. If needed, the GHQ would move to Gaza, with a section left in Cairo. General Auchinleck declined to destroy anything needed by the Egyptian people. Still, plans were made for demolishing essential services and stocks of supplies. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

No "last stand" at El Alamein

General Auchinleck recognized the ascendancy of the Axis forces in July 1942. The defences at El Alamein were only partially completed. The British troops had been recently defeated and had lost a good deal of equipment. As we have said, Auchinleck's primary concern was to keep the army in being, rather than risk losing what was left. General Auchinleck intended to fight to stop the Axis advance, but there was no certainty that was possible. Very discretely, west of the Nile, defences were prepared and land was flooded. Great care was taken to not panic the Egyptian people and alarm the government. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Auchinleck's plan for El Alamein

General Auchinleck wanted to hold some positions at El Alamein, but keep other forces mobile. For better or worse, the infantry divisions would form battle groups that would be controlled by the division commanders. He also wanted the corps commanders in control at a higher level, to ensure that concentrations were made at the decisive points in the battle. In the past, the corps commanders had not been so closely in touch with operations. Anything that did not provide a tactical use would be sent to the rear. Auchinleck's primary concern was to keep the army intact, even if that meant a further retreat. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Back to the desert to El Alamein

As June 1942 ended, Rommel was intent on blitzing on t0 the Nile Delta. He hoped to keep the British on the run and not allow them to block his forward progress. General Auchinleck, for his part, was intent on setting up a blocking line at the narrow point of El Alamein. A few troops were already there and there were men streaming back from Mersa Matruh. Other troops were in transit from Iraq and Palestine, headed for El Alamein.

In the end, Auchinleck was successful and Rommel failed. Rommel's task was made more difficult by the lack of transport and the unpreparedness of the Axis transport organization. They had been promised a six week pause to recover after Tobruk fell, but that never happened. The leading Axis forces reached El Alamein about the same time as the forces retreating from Mersa Matruh. General Auchinleck planned to hold strong points, rather than establish a complete line. He hoped to "channel" the Axis forces into positions where they could be successfully engaged. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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