Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Axis forces fight back on 10 July 1942

At Panzerarmee Afrika headquarters, Rommel was absent. The officer left in charge, Lt-Col Von Mellenthin showed his usual energy and initiative. He ordered a portion of the 382nd regiment (they were a component of the newly arrived 164th Division) to form a defensive position facing he Australian advance. Lt-Col Von Mellenthin also commandeered some machine guns and anti-aircraft guns to be part of his improvised force. They were able to halt the Australian advance at the coast rail line.

Rommel had been caught in the south at Bab el Qattara. He hurried north with a battle group assembled from the 15th Panzer Division. The counter attack mounted broke through the 26th Australian Brigade front, but was thrown back. They left behind four knocked out Pzkw III tanks, one with spaced armour. All four had been knocked out by 2pdr anti-tank guns firing at their sides, where the armour was weaker. The British forces ended the day with about 1500 prisoners, most of them Italian. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The action at El Alamein on 10 July 1942

The British attack on the planned objectives started very early on the morning of 10 July 1942. Some Germans likened the bombardment to "drum fire" from the Great War. There were salt marshes near the coast road, and some of the infantry tanks bogged down in them. Others went forward with the infantry, however. The Australians had 32 Valentines and the South Africans had 8 Matildas. Eight tanks continued in support of the Australians, who had cleared the Italians from the Sabratha Division from around the coast road. By 10am, the South Africans had captured Tell el Makh Khad and were preparing to defend what they had captured. The Australians were also occupying what they had taken, but were only preparing to attack one end of Tell el Eisa. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

8 July 1942 in the north

General Ramsden had been appointed to replace General Norrie as 30th Corps commander. General Auchinleck ordered him to capture Tell el Eisa and Tell el Makh Khad on 8 July 1942. These were low ridges, lightly defended and manned by Italian troops. 13th Corps would block reinforcements from the south that might move north in response to the attack. The 2nd Armoured Brigade would come under 13th Corps command on 9 July. The 9th Australian Division would take Tell el Eisa while the 1st South African Division would attack Tell el Makh Khad. The two divisions would have infantry tank support. The 1st Armoured Division would provide a force to mount a raid on El Daba. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A change in air operations

Once the Axis forces had rested from attacking the British positions at El Alamein, the air forces were able to shift their focus to targets further in the Axis rear. As soon as 5 July 1942, they commenced attacks on the Axis air fields. At the same date, Wellingtons hit Tobruk and Liberators hit Benghazi. The British air commander switched his fighters to the fighter-bomber role and made life quite difficult for the Axis forces with their attacks. Beaufighters were employed to intercept Axis air transport coming into North Africa from Crete. They only achieved modest success on 8 and 9 July. Several transport formations were intercepted near Tobruk, but inflicted minor casualties. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Columns in action after 4 July 1942

General Auchinleck had started to think that he would launch 13th Corps in an attack in the south, and then thought better of the idea. Instead, the action was confined to a raid by the 23rd New Zealand Battalion and some columns. The only column which achieved anything noteworthy was a column from the 7th Motor Brigade. This column slipped through to the Axis rear and shelled the air field at Fuka on 7 July 1942, in the evening. The column was able to elude pursuers and rejoined the brigade after traveling in the dark. The SAS, with help from the LRDG, attacked another air field and destroyed some more Italian CR-42 fighters. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History and overlaps some other posts.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rommel regrouping on 4 July 1942 and later

Rommel hoped to form a armour reserve by replacing the German troops with Italians in the line at El Alamein. The panzer divisions, and 90th Light Division, and Italian 20th corps (armoured and mechanized divisions) would be relieved by the Italian 10th and 21st Corps. The German air force, with Stuka divebombers provided support for the moves. The troops were heartened by the long delayed reappearance of the Stukas. When the 21st Panzer Division moved on 4 July, the British commanders misinterpreted that as a retreat. Rommel hoped to cut off the New Zealand Division, but the British focus changed from the south to the north. In fact, the 21st Panzer Division made a full attack on Bab el Qattara, which had been recently abandoned by the British. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The situation by 4 July 1942

The fighting on 3 July 1942 had forced the Axis forces to go over to the defensive. The German divisional strength was extremely low, Rommel reporting them as only 1200 to 1500 men. He also complained about the effective British bombing at night, as it made supplying the troops almost impossible. The Italians may have been in even worse shape at that date. Auchinleck was encouraged enough to imagine that they might be pursuing Rommel's forces back from this position. It was not to be, as when the British probed towards the Axis positions, they were stopped by anti-tank gun screens that were hastily assembled. Some more smaller attacks were mounted over the next few days, but there was little success. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The action on 3 July 1942 at El Alamein

As we saw, the British armour had let the Germans attack and had left the Germans in extreme distress. In the South, the New Zealanders had a good start to the day, from 7am. Columns from the New Zealand Division had engaged Ariete Division artillery and infantry. 19th Battalion of the 4th New Zealand Brigade had attacked and captured 44 guns and had taken 350 prisoners, with weapons and transport. The 5th New Zealand Brigade had attacked El Mreir, where the Brescia Division was located. By the next morning, the brigade had secured a position close to the Qattara Depression. The Royal Air Force flew 900 sorties up to sunset on 3 July. The Desert Air Force had flown 770 of those sorties. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

2 July to 3 July 1942 at El Alamein

Even though the British armour, backed by their artillery and New Zealand and 7th Motor Brigade columns, were left in possession of the ground, Rommel considered the fight on 2 July to have been indecisive. Rommel intended to attack the next day, although the German tank strength was down to 26 runners. The Italian 10th Corps would hold El Mreir, while the 20th Corps would more forward in the south.

The British mounted heavy air attacks all night, including one where the attacking Wellington was destroyed by the blast on the ground. The Axis ground forces did not receive the force of the attack, however, which was directed against the supply dumps near the coast.

General Auchinleck also intended to continue with his current plan. He made a few adjustments, as he placed the 1st Armoured Division under 30th Corps command. He ordered the 13th Corps to turn the enemy flank and attack their rear. The British armour actually absorbed the Axis attack in place, fighting a sharp action near Ruweisat Ridge. As we heard, the Germans started 3 July with 26 tanks while the 4th Armoured Brigade had 18 Grants, 22 Stuarts, and 12 Valentines. The 22nd Armoured Brigade had a further 20 Grants, 28 Stuarts, and 8 mixed cruisers, probably mostly Crusaders. The Official History, in Vol.III., upon which this account is based, says that at the end of the tank battle, the German troops were at the breaking point.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The afternoon of 2 July 1942

Two things happened at El Alamein, on the afternoon of 2 July 1942. One was the German attack against the El Alamein defences. The other was the counter-attack by 13 Corps. The 1st South African Brigade successfully withstood the German attack, supported by "Robcol" from the 10th Indian Division. General Pienaar was still worried about exposing his troops to capture, unsupported by armour. General Auchinleck responded to that concern by replacing the brigade with "Ackcol" from the 50th Division. The 90th Light Division made no progress and complained about the heavy air attacks that had a strong fighter escort. Two armoured battles were fought further south: the 4th Armoured Brigade versus the 15th Panzer Division and the 22nd Armoured Brigade versus the 21st Panzer Division. The Germans retreated, leaving the British on the ground under dispute. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

2 July 1942 at El Alamein

Early on 2 July 1942, the 90th Light Division had attacked without success at El Alamein. Instead of sending the DAK around the British rear, Rommel redirected them to help the 90th Light Division break through to the coast road.

General Auchinleck also changed his plans, given the progression of the battle. Rather than have the %th Indian Division HQ and the 9th Indian Brigade be exposed in the far south, they would leave a column and pull back. The same was ordered for the 6th NZ Brigade somewhat further to the north. With Rommel clearly readying an attack at El Alamein in the north, Auchinleck planned a counter-attack by the 13th Corps, with the 30th Corps containing the Axis attack. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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