Thursday, May 27, 2010

Later on 1 July 1942 at El Alamein

While the 18th Indian Infantry Brigade was still putting up a gallant defence on 1 July 1942, the other parts of the Axis attack came slowly to a halt. The Italian portion of the attack achieved nothing. The 90th Light Division was stopped and was digging positions. After attacking the 18th Indian Infantry Brigade, the Deutsche Afrika Korps was reduced to 37 running tanks. They had been under frequent air attack during the fight. Rommel still hoped to continue his attack as planned, but by the next morning, had had to concede that the attack had stalled. He hoped to regroup on 2 July and try to break through to the coast. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The afternoon of 1 July 1942 at El Alamein

Only at 1:30pm did 30th Corps HQ realize that the 18th Indian Infantry Brigade was in extreme danger. They were informed by the 1st South African Division of the situation. The armoured cars, however, made an erroneous report that made the brigade position was quiet. This report was made at 2:30pm. Finally, at the last moment, 30th Corps ordered the 22nd Armoured Brigade towards Deir el Shein, where the 18th Indian Infantry Brigade was near collapse. The 22nd Armoured Brigade ran into German armour and had fight. The Germans were from the 15th Panzer Division and were driven back.

Over the same period, the 90th Light Division had gotten in trouble. They had finally been able to disengage from the El Alamein position by 1:30pm. They came under fire from the entire 1st South African Division (all three brigades). They lost their composure and when they had regained it, they had "gone to ground". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The heroes of the 18th Indian Infantry Brigade

As we said, the 18th Indian Infantry Brigade had just arrived in the desert from Iraq. The brigade had a temporary commander, Lt-Col Gray, of the 2/3 Gurkha Rifles. The brigade operated under the overall command of the 1st South African Division. The brigade, with three battalions, had arrived without artillery, but on the night of 30 June 1942, they received 23-25pdr guns. They also had 16-6pdr ATG's. The South African engineers helped the brigade carve out defences from the rocky soil. Nine Matilda's were sent to reinforce the brigade. The idea was that the brigade would be organized as a column. By the morning of 1 July, the enemy artillery was registering their guns on the brigade's position and they knew an attack was imminent. The Axis forces had forced a hole in the minefield by 1pm. About a dozen German tanks passed through the gap. Another eight tanks arrived by 4pm and that doomed the brigade. At 5pm, all of the Matildas were knocked out. The attack was only against two of the three battalions: the 2/5 Essex Regiment and the 4/11 Sikhs. The 2/3 Gurkhas were unengaged. The position fell by 7pm, but only after a spirited defence by the brigade. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, May 17, 2010

At the beginning of July 1942 at El Alamein

At the end of June, Rommel could either try to blitz his way through the British positions at El Alamein or he could take time to study the situation. Rommel had so much success against the British with mobile, unscripted operations, he tried another one. The problem was that the British had forces in positions that were a surprise to the Germans. Instead of the 18th Indian Brigade being forward at Deir el Abyad, they were further back on Deir el Shein. The 1st South Africans were at Alam el Onsol, where they were totally unsuspected. The 4th Armoured Brigade and 22nd Armoured Brigade were sitting forward and to the southwest of the South Africans. Rommel intended to send the 90th Light Division and the Afrika Korps through the British positions and then swing up to the coast, cutting off El Alamein. The Italians would attack El Alamein frontally and also follow the mobile German force. Quite quickly, the situation went badly for the Axis forces. The two panzer divisions becamed entangled and confused. The 90th Light Division lost their way and ran into the El Alamein position directly. Instead of moving in the dark, the Germans were only at Deir el Shein at daylight. The DAK commander decided to attack the 18th Indian Brigade, newly arrived from Iraq. The brigade was defeated, but only after hard fighting that saw only two of the three battalions engaged. Their brave defence gave time for the British armour to recover and come into action. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The German air situation in late July 1942

In late July 1942, Rommel was pressing to be able to break the British line at El Alamein. To aid that goal, Rommel wanted to see more air operations over Egypt. The German air forces, though, had problems. With defense of the Axis supply lines at sea being critical, the Germans had to divide their air forces between attacking Malta and shipping and in support of the army and against Egypt. That was especially true of the air forces based on Sicily. More than half of the available Ju-88 bombers were based there. They were largely used in the anti-shipping role as well as bombing Malta. The biggest problem was a shortage of German fighters. They were operating at a increased tempo, plus they faced late-model Spitfires for the first time. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rommel's opinions on 21 July 1942

In the course of fighting in the desert, Rommel had come to respect the New Zealand and 9th Australian Divisions. By late July, those divisions had the opportunity to train up to an effective level. Rommel also respected the British artillery, from the 25pdr field guns up to the medium and heavy artillery. At the start of the fighting, the British had started with an odd collection of artillery, much of it from the Great War, such as the 18pdr field gun, the 4.5in howitzer, and the 60pdr medium gun. By the summer of 1942, they been equipped with the latest war production, such as the 5.5in and 4.5in guns. The British also benefited from the short supply lines. That situation also aided the air force, so that they were able to attack the Axis supply lines and sea traffic. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Rommel asks for reinforcements

By late July 1942, Rommel had given his high command a grim assessment of his situation in North Africa. He made a plea for German troops, for more "Special" tanks (Pzkw IV Ausf F2 and Pzkw III Ausf. J Sdkfz 141/1), 5cm PAK 38 and 88mm anti-tank guns, more armoured cars, and "recovery vehicles". He also asked for the air force in North Africa to be strengthened. He wanted more air power not only to protect his troops and equipment, but to attack the canal. The high command had anticipated the sort of problems that Rommel complained about, so they were no surprise. That is why that had attempted to persuade Rommel to pursue a more cautious plan. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, May 03, 2010

British success in July 1942 meant an Axis disappointment

At the end of June 1942, Rommel fully expected to be able to blitz all the way to the Suez Canal. Instead, his army was stopped and thrown onto the defensive. After the first week of July, Rommel knew that he had been stopped and by the end of July, the Axis command was worried that they would be thrown back. So certain of success were the Axis leaders that Mussolini had flown across to North Africa to be there when they captured the canal. Mussolini did act to increase the Italian air force in North Africa, in support of the army. Mussolini returned to Italy on 20 July, after it was obvious that the Axis army would not be able to advance further. Both the Germans and Italians concentrated on increasing their army, after it had been weakened by the battles from May to July 1942. German losses, in fact, were about 70% of their initial strength. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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