Tuesday, November 30, 2010

the Allied bomber force in North Africa in late August 1942

The American air force was in the process of establishing itself in North Africa. They had B-25 Mitchells and P-40F Kittyhawk IIs. There were also soem American-built B-24 Liberators and a very few B-17 Flying Fortresses. The Britiwh had140 medium bombeers and 25 heavy bombers. The medium bombers were probably Wellingtons, previously classed as heavy bombers. Late on 30 August 1942, Wellingtons, led by Albacore pathfinders, hit Axis forces assembling for the planned attack. The day bomber force, by 30 August, consisted primarly of Douglas Boston and Martin Baltimore aircraft. There was also a very small number of Marylands left in service. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Montgomery's plans prior to Alam el Halfa

Right before the Battle of Alam el Halfa, Montgomery talked about his planned offensive. He would attack in October, and he would form a corps that mimicked the DAK. The new 10th Corps would be strong in armour. In keeping with that plan, Montgomery urged General Brian Horrocks to preserve his armour, so as to be ready for the attack in October.

For the immediate battle, Montgomery intended to use the Desert Air Force to continuously attack the Axis forces. He would also keep the Luftwaffe from interfering in the battle. The convoy battles in August 1942 were largely fought by the Italian air force, which allowed the German air forces to be repositioned to better support Rommel. The Axis air force in North Africa was now 720 aircraft strong, although about 450 were actually serviceable. To oppose them, the British had about 400 serviceable aircraft. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The British position on 30 Augusts 1942

The 30th Corps, now an infantry corps, lay in the north. They were behind defenses that had considerable depth. The 23rd Armoured Brigade, consisting of Valentine tanks, lay in reserve. A mixed 13th Corps lay to the south. There was the New Zealand Division, the 44th Division, the 7th Armoured Division, having little strength, and the 10th Armoured Division, still using the old, two-armoured brigade organization. The 44th Infantry Division (with only two brigades), held the Alam el Halfa ridge. The New Zealand Division was deployed in front of the ridge. The 7th Armoured Division was to the south, while the two stronger armoured brigades had their tanks dug into the ground. All the classic photographs of the battle show the dug-in tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rommel's plan vs. reality for Alam el Halfa

Rommel hoped to catch the British by surprise on 30 August 1942, but in fact, the British expected the attack. Rommel's hope for the timing was as over-optimistic as any of Auchinleck's plans. The two German reconnaissance units would penetrate deeply and then turn north. To their west would be the Deutsche Afrika Korps, with the Italian 20th Corps (Ariete and Trieste divisions) to their west. The 90th Light Division would be to the Italians' west, with the Italian infantry corps to their west. All would penetrate and then turn north in their respective positions. As for the timing, an example was the plan for the DAK, which would go 30 miles in seven hours. The remaining Axis troops would hold their front against any British attack. The Germans had 203 battle tanks: 93-Pzkw III's, 73-Pzkw III "special", 10-Pzkw IV, and 27 Pzkw IV "special". The Italians had 243 medium tanks, but many were in poor condition. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Axis supply situation was grim

By late August 1942, the Axis ability to ship supplies to North Africa had deteriorated further. Many of the ships dispatched towards Libyan ports were sunk. Rommel decided to gamble on a quick victory and decided to proceed with his planned attack. Even the fuel supply to the front was problematic, as Tobruk was 350 miles from El Alamein. At the same time, Rommel was experiencing incrasingly bad health problems. It was so bad that on 22 August, he had requested that General Guderian be sent to command in his place. Rommel was informed that not only was General Guderian not available, but no one else was, either. Rommel's plan of attack was that his troops would move forward on 30 August, at 11pm. They would initially move to the east, but would then turn north. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rommel in August 1942

Rommel knew in August 1942, that time was running out for any chance of defeating the British in North Africa. He was acutely aware of the convoys bringing reinforcements and equipment that were headed for Egypt. He also knew that he was unlikely to receive any substantial reinforcements. There was still a window where he had a chance to win a substantial victory. While the British were solidly placed in the north and the extreme south, there was an opening in the middle that might allow him to break through and turn north to the coast road. He could surround the emplacements on the coast and take them. To have a chance, he needed moonlight, which dictated a date in late August. To attack, however, he needed supplies delivered to the troops at the front. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The air forces in August 1942

The British were really anxious to keep the Axis air strength in North Africa from growing, at the beginning of August 1942. The British conducted a bombing campaign against Axis landing grounds during the month. The one success that they had was when they destroyed ten aircraft on the night of 8/9 August. At the same time, the Germans changed commanders for their air force. Major-General Hans Seideman took over from General van Waldau, and he stayed in command for the rest of the North African campaign. Both Axis air forces concentrated on increasing their strength during the month. Operations were hampered by the lack of fuel for aircraft. The supply improved in the second half of August, and the Germans concentrated on fighter operations against the British. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Run up to battle: August 1942

By the middle of August, the British became aware of Axis troop movements to the south of the El Alamein front. The Axis used fighter aircraft to shield their movements, making reconnaissance difficult. The British responded by escorting their reconnaissance aircraft with a large number of fighters. In August, the British lost eight reconnaissance aircraft and pilots, with another fifteen aircraft damaged. They had flown 481 sorties up to 20 August 1942, but then flew another 492 sorties in the remaining ten days of the month. Wellingtons were used tactically after 21 August against targets on the battlefield. These attacks prior to the actual start of the Battle of Alam el Halfa made life very difficult for the Axis troops. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Operations in the air in August 1942

The shipping situation was so bad, due to losses of suitable ships, that the Germans were forced to send troops and what supplies could be carried. There were as many as 500 aircraft engaged in this effort to help German forces in North Africa. For some reason, the British had difficulty in stopping these flights. The British used long-range Beaufighters in the effort to stop them. They also used bombers against the bases in Crete. The air reconnaissance to support the effort was conducted by photo-reconnaissance Spitfires and Baltimores. Tactical reconnaissance was left to Tomahawk I's and Hurricane I and IIA aircraft. Administrators in the UK were not willing to risk valuable Spitfires for the low-altitude reconnaissance work, even though they would have cut losses in the operations. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Axis supply situation in the late summer and fall 1942

While the British supply situation had greatly improved by August 1942, the Axis forces were not receiving adequate supplies. There were adequate supplies in Italy, waiting to be sent to North Africa, but there were some serious obstacles. Rommel complained that when supplies were sent, that the Italians monopolized the available space on cargo ships. One issue was the lack of Italian escorts for convoys. The primary issue was lack of fuel for the escorts. Another serious problem was the scarcity of coastal cargo ships by this date, after sustained losses in transit. Once supplies arrived in North Africa, getting them to the front was problematic, partly due to the poor condition of the coast road and partly due to the unreliable vehicles due to the lack of spare parts. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Official History.

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