Monday, December 31, 2018

General Auchinleck in command and high-level consultation between Churchill, the Australian Government and the United States

The position established at El Alamein involved the XXX Corps Headquarters, still commanded by General Norrie, the 1st South African Division, and the 2nd Free French Brigade Group. Brigade groups were infantry brigades that were augmented at least by artillery and possibly engineers or cavalry. One major change instituted by Auchinleck was the breakdown of units into battle groups. Auchinleck and his associate, Eric Dorman-Smith, theorized that part of Rommel's success was due to his use of battle groups ("kampfgruppen"). In Auchinleck's scheme, artillery became the primary arm and infantry was relegated to defending the guns.
General Auchinleck's priority "was to keep his force intact".  He disassembled his units into battle groups, which were to operate independently between Mersa Matruh and El Alamein. Auchinleck wanted to have a mobile defense in place, but the reality was that there was a precipitous retreat to El Alamein.
The Germans attacked during the evening of 26 June 1942. The New Zealand Division (two brigades) was located at Minqar Qaim. The 21st Armored Division attacked the New Zealand Division from the east. The 15th Armored Division attacked from the west. The 90th Light Division cut the connecting road between XIII Corps and X Corps. I am sad to say that General Gott withdrawing XIII Corps and abandoning X Corps was typical of him. That left X Corps cut off in Mersa Matruh, a situation that Auchinleck had wanted to avoid. New Zealand Division was able to break out and withdraw on El Alamein. 50th Division and the 10th Indian Division broke out from Mersa Matruh the following night. In the process, the divisions took heavy losses that meant that they had to be withdrawn to "regroup".
When the Australians heard of Tobruk's fall, they were shaken. Seemiingly, all their work in 1941 to defend Tobruk had gone for nothing. Given the news of recent events in the desert left many Australians to expect to be sent back to the desert to rejoin the New Zealand Division. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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