Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The plans to attack to the north by the 9th Australian Division

General Montgomery apparently studied his situation all day on 26 October 1942. He had ordered, apparently, General Morshead to plan to attack to the north. Montgomery called a meeting with his commanders at the 9th Australian Division. The meeting included Generals Leese and Lumsden and was held at 11:30am with Morshead. Morshead apparently had this plans ready and presented them. Montgomery was happy with Morshead plans and approved them. The main attack would start late on 28 October. The action was planned to actually start on the "night of 26 October". They would include an attack to the west "near the boundary of the Australian and Highland Divisions. The 7th Motor Brigade was part of this plan and would take "Woodcock and Snipe". This was "near the Trig 33-Kidney Ridge area".

General Freyberg, of the New Zealand Division added his two cents that he thought that a "broad-front infantry attack should be mounted". Of course, he said that he was not able to participate in such an attack. The Highland Division commander was probably not interested in such an attack, either. By early 26 October, "the 8th Army had lost 6,140 men killed, wounded, or missing". After taking those sorts of losses, the enemy still did not give any sign of a collapse. Later on 26 October, Montgomery decided to pull the New Zealand Division into reserve. The 10th Armoured Division would replace the 1st Armoured Division. The Australians would have to carry the load in the attack. They would shuffle units "during the night of 27 to 28 October". Montgomery hoped to draw on XIII Corps infantry for an attack in the north. The South Africans and the 4th Indian Division were affected by plans. They still comtemplated withdrawing the New Zealand Division. The Highland Division would have to relieve the Australian 20th Brigade. The idea was to have the 20th Brigade available for an attack. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Rommel is back and is attacking

Rommel was desperate to push the British out of the German and Italian defenses. The British had caused a bulge into the German and Italian line that greatly concerned Rommel. Rommel called Trig 29 by a different name: "Hill 28". Rommel sent units from the 15th Armored Division, the Littorio Division, "and a Bersaglieri battalion". They used all the artillery that was close, including anti-aircraft guns. They had great difficulty in pushing the British back from where they were located. As Rommel put it: "Rivers of blood were poured out over miserable strips of land".

To the enemy, the 1st Armoured Division seemed to be pushing "northwest towards the coast road". The enemy made continual attacks against the British forces in the north. The British held their ground, partly tanks to artillery support. The fighting on 27 October was particularly intense with the sounds creating rising and falling sound over the day.

Two Australian battalions, the 2/24th and 2/48th were hit hard on both the 26th and 27th mornings. British counter-battery fire directed from Trig 29 was effective enough to force the enemy to move their guns. They were also firing on enemy forces that were trying to form up for an attack. Lieutenant Menzies did good work with his observation post that was pretty out in the open. The Australians came to appreciate Trig 29 more as they could see for "4,000 to 5,000 yards in every direction".

The enemy attempted to attack Trig 29 with some 300 infantry "on the afternoon of 26 October". They were forced to move by artillery fire. At that point, the 2/48th Battalion "had three field regiments and one medium regiment on call". That was more than sufficient to protect the battalion. The enemy also attacked the 20th Brigade on 26 October. They made three attempts with tanks and infantry. The 2/13th Battalion was the target. They which were seasoned veterans of the war in North Africa. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The enemy fights back on 26 October 1942

During the night of 25 to 26 October 1942, the enemy attacked the 2/13th Battalion. They used both tanks and infantry to try again what they had tried in the day but which had failed. The enemy lost three tanks to "Hawkins mines". It seems that two half-tracked troop carriers were also knocked out. The combination of artillery fire with infantry weapons were enough to stop the attack. By dawn, the 2/17th Battalion could see twelve tanks on a ridge to the northwest. They had remained out of sight in the dark. The tanks were able to reach the Australians with their armaments and were able to knock out wheeled vehicles. To the left of the 9th Australian Division, the 1st Armoured Division made an appearance in their usual spot. On the morning of 26 October, they had some thirty Sherman tanks in action, firing on the enemy. They wisely refrained from attacking the enemy anti-tank guns.

During 25 and 26 October, the 9th Australian Division had taken 173 Germans and 67 Italians as prisoners. The Germans were all from the 125th Regiment. The Italians were all from the Trento and Littorio Divisions. The Australian 26th Brigade had taken losses. They had 4 officers and 51 other ranks killed. They also had 20 officers and 236 other ranks wounded or missing.

The 51st Highland Division was also in action on the night of 25 to 26 October. They were successful to a degree on the left side of their division front. Only on the right were there still enemy defensive positions. Otherwise, they had cleared out strong points up to the Oxalic line.

We find that Rommel had been gone from North Africa and he only returned with orders to take over command of operations. General von Thoma had been commanding in Rommel's absence. Things were not going well for the German and Italian army.

Rommel's aim was to retake the old positions in the defenses that had been lost to the British forces. Without that, there was now a bulge towards the west where the British forces had taken German and Italian ground. Rommel was concerned that what they called "Hill 28" had been lost. This was what the British called "Trig 29". This is based on the account given in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Action on 26 October 1942 by Australians

The 2/24th Battalion had started to push northeast at 12:40am on 26 October 1942. The over-optimism continued with a plan to push some 3,000 yards across enemy positions. British intelligence thought that the area would be held by Italians, but they were actually Germans with a few italians. The right company was moving along the wire front. They had split the platoons across the wire. They had been fortunate to be able to move forward fairly freely, but at 100 yards from the objective they hit an enemy strong point. They attacked the position and took it, but the company commander took a serious wound that put him out of action. The position they took had an 88mm gun with forty men, both German and Italian. After that, they were able to advance to their objective.

The plan for the left company was to move forward, move left, and make contact with the 2/48th Battalion. After that, they were supposed to dig in on the northwest "spur" of Trig 29. They had two lieutenant company commanders wounded, so they had a Sergeant-Major as company commander by late in the day. They managed to take several enemy posts. A sergeant "led the attack" and took two posts by himself.

Then there was the attack on the Fig Orchard. Several posts were taken and when they took the Fig Orchard, they discovered that the post was a headquarters and was dug in very deep. One attacking company went past the Fig Orchard and ended up near Thompson's Post. There were two Australian companies and they found themselves under fire from anti-tank guns and mortars. The guns and mortars were located in a post about three hundred yards in front. By 4am, the 2/24th Battalion commander decided that the battalion had taken too many casualties, so he had them pull back about a thousand yards, which put them on a reverse slope. Their right flank was occupied by the "composite force", which was under fire from Thompson's Post and had no cover. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The attack on the night of 25 to 26 October 1942 at Trig 29

The plan for the 2/48th to attack Trig 29 included using a barrage and two infantry companies "forward". Carriers would bring a third company along with other vehicles with anti-tank guns. The next phase included using the 2/24th Battalion to attack the switch line flank. They anticipated an attack on the 2/48th Battalion, but it didn't happen. "At dusk" they captured a group of enemy soldiers that included the 125th Regiment commander and the 125th/II Battalion commander. A prize capture was a map that showed the area to be attacked. The map included minefields and where troops were positioned. After seeing the map at the brigade headquarters, they changed the orders for the 2/24th Battalion and the sappers to make a gap easier and more useful.

The 2/17th Battalion took over the 2/48th defensive positions and freed up the 2/48th for the planned attack. The two companies forward moved up "on foot". They moved forward to about 200 yards from Trig 29. At that point, the carriers drove up to the objective. When they arrived at the "spur", the infantry unloaded and charged. They found that one position was actually a "dug-in tank". Grenades "knocked out the crew". The right company reached its objective after taking officer losses. They took 38 Germans prisoner.

The left company took heavy casualties, but was able to take the position they attacked. Once in place, they started digging in the "rocky soil". They asked for the "consolidation stores to be driven forward. A lucky hit from an enemy shot blew up a truck with mines, and caused five other trucks to also explode. They were "stunned" but got the undamaged trucks moving forward. Captain Potter was ordered back to "B Echelon". He brought back "five composite reorganization stores trucks". "By first light 2,000 mines had been laid". One 2/48th company was looking north. A second company was looking west. A third company "on the left" were looking "west and northwest". They were in touch with the 2/17th Battalion, now holding the ground that the 2/48th Battalion had been holding. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The 9th Australian Division and Trig 29

Montgomery's original plan included an attack against the enemy north of XXX Corps and to the sea. The 9th Australian Division was to attack towards the north and the sea. They hoped to cut off the enemy forces in that area. At the same time, the 1st Armoured Division would try to get into the enemy rear area west of the "salient". On the night of 25 October, the 9th Australian Division would try and take Trig 29. At 10pm, the South Africans would fire off an "artillery program" to attract attention.

Trig 29 was interesting due to its being the high ground in the area. General Morshead had given Brigadier Whitehead a warning that they should be ready to take Trig 29. That warning was passed along to the affected battalion and its companies.

The objective for the 9th Australian Division was not just Trig 29, but also the "high ground running out to the east". The effect would be to move the northern front out some one thousand yards. At the end of the attack, the Australians would be holding west "for about 5,000 yards and on the north for 4,000 yards". The 26th Brigade would then move the front line "from Trig 29 to the front edge of the enemy's defense line". The enemy "switch line" formed a back-up line of defense. The switch line was very prominent. You could recognize it "on the ground" as well as on a map. Interestingly enough, there was a fig orchard which extended down the ridge that connected to Trig 29. The 26th Brigade was expected to use the 2/48th and the 2/24th Battalions to take Trig 29 and "the orchard itself". The 26th Brigade commander intended to use the 2/48th Battalion to take Trig 29 and the 2/24th Battalion to take the fig orchard. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The enemy attacks the 9th Australian Division on 25 October 1942

Two Australian battalions were attacked by the enemy. The 2/13th Battalion took a 1-1/2 hour attack while the 2/17th Battalion was attacked for two hours. The 2/17th Battalion "lost 12 killed and 73 wounded." Each of the battalions had an artillery post observer. To do artillery direction, the officers had to stand so that they could call in the artillery strikes.

Freyberg spoke with Montgomery and General Leese about canceling the New Zealand Division attacks toward the south. General Freyberg wanted to attack to the west, instead, as he felt that the original attack to the west had come close to success. What Montgomery ultimately decided was to attack in the north with the 9th Australian Division. They would pull the armor back but keep it forward in the north. They had the XIII Corps go on the defensive in the south. To the north of XXXth Corps, they had the 1st Armoured Division take over the 24th Armoured Brigade. Early in the morning, the 8th and 9th Armoured Brigades were proven to be at risk. The Australian 2/48th Battalion were to be ready to attack Trig 29 "next night". The plan was for the 9th Australian Division to attempt to cut the enemy off in the north and by the sea. The 1st Armoured Division was to attack "west and northwest" with the goal being to get into the enemy rear area. XXXth Corps ordered the 9th Australian Division to take Trig 29. The South Africans would fire an "artillery program" designed to look like they were attacking.

The British had considered Trig 29 to be a valuable feature. It seemed to dominate the north. It was the highest feature, but "only by 20 feet". Morshead already had thought that they would have to take Trig 29 and he had alerted Brigadier Whitehead as to what he expected. The 9th Australian Division was to "not only take Trig 29, but the "high ground to the east of it." They would have the effect of moving the front forward for about one thousand yards. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 09, 2019

The British situation on 25 October 1942 at El Alamein

25 October 1942 was a day for tank battles. The enemy was reduced to making "probing attacks" across the front line at El Alamein. The Australian historian says that this was what Montgomery wanted to see. The British were taking losses, but were also causing enemy losses. The 1st Armoured Division took losses of 24 tanks, but claimed to have knocked out more than twice that many enemy tanks. We would presume them to be mainly German tank losses. The British armor was doing well enough to have an increasing superiority over the enemy. If the figures for the Germans are accurate, then the British were doing quite well. The numbers are from 23 October to midday on 25 October. The German 15th Armored Division went from 112 tanks on 23 October down to 37 tanks by 25 October. The other enemy armored units did not do as badly. The 21st Armored Division went from 127 tanks to 122 tanks. The Italian armored formations must not have been so heavily committed, as they had numbers similar to 21st Armored Division. All of the Italian divisions except for the Trieste, which had started with only 34 tanks and took no losses, went from 244 tanks down to 233 tanks, not so bad.

The British units had the problem that they were unable to deal with the German anti-tank defense. The British only took with them small numbers of infantry, intended only to take prisoners. They were not able to attack the anti-tank gun positions. The Australian historian notes that the 10th Armoured Division had shown that British armor could fight to an objective, but they were not able to hold the ground during daylight due to the enemy anti-tank gun positions.

The 9th Australian Division found itself being attacked by the enemy against the "bridgehead" area. Using "artillery and mortar fire", they were able to defend against the enemy infantry attacks. The 20th Brigade (Australian) were attacked by tanks "from the west". A combination of artillery fire and tank gunfire was enough to handle what they saw. Infantry anti-tank gun fire was successful in knocking out and stopping an attack. The tactics were to hold the fire until the tanks were very close and then fire on them. They stopped 17 tanks that way. the defending infantry took losses, though. In a meeting, the commanders decided not to use the New Zealand Division to make "crumbling attacks" and instead to rely on the 9th Australian Division. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Events on 25 October 1942 at El Alamein

The 8th Armoured Brigade was moving forward quickly. They had all three of their tank regiments out into the open. The Staffordshire Yeomanry were the first to get free. They were at the El Wishka ridge, but they were shot to pieces by 88mm guns "soon after dawn". This was the reason that the experienced tank commanders were concerned about the situation.

New Zealand division sappers had cleared the paths for the tanks "on time". The New Zealand divisional cavalry was equipped with Stuart light tanks ("Honeys"). They had moved out from the "Oxalic line" to a location "southwest" of El Wishka. This was still in the night, where they had "lost 5 tanks and 4 carriers". They pulled back at "dawn". At 2am, the 9th Armoured Brigade moved forward at 2am. They headed south and west "almost to the Pierson bound".

Far to the south, XIII Corps was having difficulties. Minefield clearing had proceeded, so that they had cleared the "February" minefield. The path through was not very wide, however. The 22nd Armoured Brigade was shot up while trying to move through the path. As many as 31 tanks were knocked out and the way out of the minefield area ended up being blocked. Infantry did somewhat better when attacking in the Munassib Depression, but they took losses that were deemed to be "costly".

The armor was not able to do as well as Montgomery had hoped for. By midday, the tanks had been pulled back from their early morning positions. To the right. the Queens Bays finally had to pull back, because they were taking damaging fire from guns that they could no located. They relocated to a point where the Australians could no longer see them. They did get back into action "later in the day". "in front of the Highland Division, the 2nd Armoured Brigade "remained out with the 24th Armoured Brigade". General Gatehouse ordered the 8th Armoured Brigade to pull back because of the losses they were taking. They were moved "behind Miteiriya Ridge about 7am". The 9th Armoured Brigade was taking "damaging fire", but was out until "afternoon". Their tanks were largely recovered, so they only lost 11 that were not recovered. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 02, 2019

The sticky situation on 25 October 1942

General Gatehouse's concerns were described as concern about the situation at dawn was likely to be that his "regiments" would be "exposed and vulnerable". He expected that enemy anti-tank guns would do great damage. The corps commander, General Lumsden did not have the authority to call off the attack. De Guingand woke Montgomery and called a corps commander meeting to be held at 3:30am.

The situation was that three of the four armored brigades that were to move forward to the Pierson line were not having any particular problems. Given that, we can understand why Montgomery was in favor of proceeding with the operation. He could expect some 400 tanks to move forward, ready to "debouch". The 8th Armoured Brigade had only one of the three planned paths that was mine-free. One regiment would move out to connect with the 9th Armoured Brigade. The others would sit on Miteiriya Ridge. They would work at clearing more mines and improving the gaps in the minefields.

After the corps commander conference, Montgomery talked with Lumsden and told him that if the 10th Armoured Division commander was not ready to proceed, he would be replaced with someone who was ready to execute the operation.

Things were arranged so that Montgomery could speak by phone with Gatehouse. The problem was with the tanks commanders, who until now had been able to hedge their bets and not go all out, regardless of the cost. The tank commanders sat in the forward infantry positions, drawing more attention to the positions than the infantry liked. Montgomery wanted them to push forward, regardless of the losses they might incur and push up to the Pierson bound. It was at 6am that the 7/Rifle Brigade vehicles arrived immediately behind the 2/13th Battalion. This was only a portion of the 7/Rifle Brigade. The rest went farther south, to Point 29, not to Trig 33, which was the intent. In the south, the tanks had moved forward near to the Pierson bound. For example, the 24th Armoured Brigade believed it had two regiments on their objective. They might not have actually been that close, but they were near where they were supposed to be. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

General Gatehouse on 25 October 1942 at El Alamein

Like the Australian general Morsehead, General Gatehouse was also not eager to commit his troops to operations that were "unjustifiable", but Gatehouse did not have the backing of his government the way that Morshead had. General Lumsden was aware of the issues and he wanted Alex Gatehouse to talk directly with Montgomery. Gatehouse returned to his headquarters and there he received a call from Montgomery. The way that Montgomery spoke irritated Gatehouse. The Australian historian called Montgomery's orders "masterful". As the historian described the situation, we had to see what effect Montgomery's orders had on the battle. The situation at dawn on 25 October was such that the Queen's Bays were getting in position "among the infantry" very near the end of the "bridgehead". The situation was that the tank commanders were not prepared to move forward to the "Pierson bound", at least not "at all costs". The infantry was very uncomfortable to have the tanks in their midst. The infantry considered that they were in the spot that they wanted to be in, while the tanks were not.


By 6am, a portion of the 7/Rifle Brigade had driven forward to right behind the 2/13th Battalion. That was not a comfortable place for the 7/Rifle Brigade to be. They were caught between minefields and lacked the space to disperse for better protection from artillery fire. The Australian historian called the 7/Rifle Brigade "sitting ducks" that the enemy were happy to fire upon. The Australian "R.A.P" ended up having to care for the Rifle Brigade casualties as well as the 2/13th Battalion casualties.

The Australians studied the maps and the ground and decided that "other 7/Rifle Brigade vehicles" had driven to Point 29, rather than Trig 33, which is where they were supposed to go. They also seemed to have some vehicles "near Kidney Ridge", close behind the Highland Division "forward line". The enemy had brought together a group "right in front of the 2/17th Battalion", but artillery fire stopped them from taking any action. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The "breakout attack" on 25 October 1942 at El Alamein

In the area occupied by the Highland Division, the men could hear the sound of tanks approaching from the rear. They were expecting the 7/Rifle Brigade, but they had not arrived yet. They could see that they were getting close to dawn. The 2nd Armoured Brigade was driving forward towards the Oxalic Line. There was an enemy position so strong that it had not been taken yet. This was to the right of the 7/Black Watch. Next to the Highland Division, near Miteiriya Ridge, was where the heaviest action had been occurring. Typically, sorry to say, they had not allowed enough time for sappers to clear a path of mines. An artillery barrage was fired at 10pm, in readiness for three armored brigades to move forward. The enemy forces were waiting in readiness to counter-attack. The center armored brigade, the 8th, had problems. Their mine reconnaissance group had been captured and there was an 88mm gun set at the exit from the cleared path. They had to give up on that path. They were going to send two regiments up the Boat track, but that went badly. You had General Gatehouse on the Boat track. He had seen the problems encountered and was concerned that at daylight, the enemy anti-tank guns would make quick work of his remaining tanks. there was an exchange between Montgomery, Lumsden, the corp commander, and Gatehouse. There was a conference called at 3:30am.

Of the four armored brigades, three had not had any great problems. Montgomery wanted the operation to proceed. He wanted to see some 400 tanks. There was the issue that not all tracks were usable, due to difficulties in clearing mines. Montgomery told Lumsden that he would not accept any lack of enthusiasm and would replace whoever had qualms about proceeding. Montgomery talked with Gatehouse and angered him. The tanks had moved forward. Their commanders were dressed rather colorfully. The tanks were in position near the leading infantry units.

At about 6am, the 7/Rifle Brigade reached the back of the 2/13th Battalion. They found themselves under fire, as the minefield spacing left insufficient room to position their vehicles. The incoming fire did great damage to the 7/Rifle Brigade. It seems that part of the Rifle Brigade vehicles had driven to Point 29, not to Trig 33. The enemy had moved up to the 2/17th Battalion, but were engaged by British artillery fire and stopped. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Fighting near the New Zealand Division in the afternoon of 24 October 1942

Tanks from two armored brigades, the 9th Armnoured Brigade and the 8th Armoured Brigade were engaged in a battle in the morning with enemy tanks, of some 30 to 40 in number. By the end, most of the British tanks were "knocked out". There were survivors, fortunately, and they were able to get "hull down" "behind the crest of the Miteiriya Ridge.

The 2/13th Battalion lost its commander, Colonel Turner, and his adjutant. Major Colvin was ordered to take command. While he was traveling forward, he received orders for a night attack to move up to the Oxalic Line. The attack was planned for 2am. They had tried to make the attack, originally, with just the 2/13th Battalion. Now, they would use the 2/17th as well as the 2/13th Battalion. The plan was for the Australians to take their objective, and then the 7th/Rifle Brigade was to move through and take Point 32, and be beyond the Oxalic Line so that the tanks could drive through, beyond the line.

Major Colvin arrived at the 2/13th Battalion and found that there were almost no officers left. Sergeant Easter, from the 2/13th Battalion, spoke with Major Colvin. Sergeant Easter told him that he expected little resistance. He conferred with the 2/17th Battalion commander, and they agreed to attack silently, without artillery fire. They would have the 40th RTR operating in support for the attack.

The attack would start at 2am on 25 October. As they waited, an enemy aircraft flew over, "dropped a flare and then bombed the start line". The 2/17th Battalion was able to move forward to their objective and take it without a fight. There was fighting and an anti-tank gun portee was knocked out. In the 2/13th area, a vehicle with ammunition was set on fire. There was fighting and losses in the 2/17th area. A few machine guns were able to be setup and used. The left company had no officers left, so the company was commanded by a sergeant. The 2/13th Battalion had better luck and were able to move into the objective and start digging in. They started to take machine gun fire, but the 40th RTR was able to use machine guns to fight back. By 4:50am, they had connected with the Gordons on their left side. By 7am, they were dug in and had their "supporting weapons" in place. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Early on 24 October, the British Desert Air Force attempted to bomb in support of the 9th Australian Division. While later strikes went well, this one misfired and had the British bombers drop 2,000 lb bombs on the 2/13th Battalion. The Australians were fortunate to only have four men hit. There had been elaborate attempts at signaling the aircraft, these signals failed to get the attention of bombing aircraft. A little later, the British "tank-buster" Hurricanes flew in support. They reported knocking out 18 of the 19 tanks in Kiehl Group.

At daylight in the north, they realized that Trig 29 was the key to their defensive operations. The enemy infantry across from the 26th Brigade was less affected by the British artillery fire and was a stronger adversary for the Australians. Enemy artillery was firing in the north, but mostly was hitting behind the forward positions. The enemy started sending out patrols to get more information about the Australian penetration. During the day, sappers were busy expanding clear paths through minefields. The situation was improved enough that hot meals were able to be sent to the forward infantry.

In front of the 51st Highland Division, clear paths through the minefields were extended forward. The situation allowed tanks to be positioned near Double Point 24. This was south of the Australians with the tanks "in action". The Scots were successful in attacking an enemy position that had held out over night. During the "late afternoon", tanks had moved forward and were "clearing other defended localities. They able to have a clear path through minefields to the Oxalic Line. Late in the day, while there was still sun, enemy armor divisions, the 15th Armored and the Italian Littorio Armored Division "attacked out of the sun". The Scots took the brunt of the attacks, and a fierce artillery battle started. The Australians saw the American Priest self-propelled artillery "for the first time". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Orders to continue the battle on 25 October 1942

Montgomery's plan to continue the battle on 25 October 1942 were to execute the plan for 24 October that they had not been able to accomplish. There were apparently some modifications to that, so it was not quite that simple. The two infantry divisions, the 9th Australian and the 51st Highland Division were to advance to the Oxalic Line. The armor would then move through and forward to the "Pierson bound". The armor would fight their way forward, regardless of the success or failure of the infantry. The two armored divisions, the 1st Armoured Division and the 10th Armoured Division would move west. The 9th Armoured Brigade and the New Zealand Division cavalry, equipped with Stuart tanks ("Honeys") would move to the south. The armored brigades would join together on the "Pierson bound". The 9th Armoured Brigade was to help the New Zealand Division attack to the south. The 133rd Lorried Infantry Brigade (a 10th Armoured Division formation) was to move into a New Zealand Division position near the 51st Highland Division.

Freddie De Guingand wrote that General Lumsden was unhappy with the orders for the armored divisions. Montgomery's attitude can be seen when he was said to have ordered Lumsden to "drive his division commanders". The situation with XIII Corps was similar in that the 44th Division and 7th Armoured Division were ordered to execute the plan that they had not been able to accomplish from the first day of the battle.

By daylight in the 9th Australian Division's area, there was heavy firing from every possible source: "tanks, artillery, machine guns, mortars, and snipers". The action was described as "pandemonium". This sort of thing would continue for "several days", although at times the firing was especially "intense".

As the sun rose, they could see enemy tanks moving forward from west to east. The German 15th Armored Division moved in to attack the "bridgehead". The 2/48th Battalion could see the tanks about a thousand yards to the west. This was at about 7:15am. This was also the case at Trig 33. The three Australian field regiments and the 7th Medium Regiment commenced firing pre-planned "concentrations" into the area where the German tanks were located. There were British Sherman tanks behind the 51st Highland Division and to the left of the Australians, and these started engaging the German tanks. They could also see German lorried infantry moving forward, west of the Australians. The German tanks eventually were forced to withdraw, after receiving heavy artillery fire and because damage from the Sherman tanks. Some Sherman tanks were also left on fire. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The wrong assumptions: the initial fight at El Alamein on 23-24 October 1942

The XXX Corps assessment was that Montgomery had been too optimistic in his estimate of what could be accomplished by the forces that he commanded. He had good men with extensive experience. The men had been trained to execute his plan and were well-prepared. Montgomery, himself, lacked the experience that his men had of fighting in the desert. He also lacked experience with fighting their enemy, the Germans and Italians. He had not realized the difficulty in clearing paths through minefields and the time that was required. That, in itself, was significant and may have accounted for the failure to accomplish what Montgomery had planned to do. The Australian historian suggests that Montgomery gave a hint that he also thought that it would take longer to execute the plan.

The "bridgehead" provided for the 8th Armoured Brigade did not extend past the enemy "anti-tank defence'. One possibility was to push the bridgehead farther in to enemy territory. Another possibility was to choose a new location for a bridgehead that was not so heavily defended. A third possibility was to attack the enemy infantry and force the enemy armored forces to attack the British forces.

The key British commanders were drawn to the Miteiriya Ridge area because they had advanced to the "Oxalic Line" and paths had been cleared through the minefields. General Freyberg had looked at the area in the morning of 24 October and was bothered by the 10th Armoured Division concern about advancing. Freyberg had not been able to speak with General Lumsden, so he contacted General Leese. Leese drove forward and met Freyberg. They looked over the area and then drove back to "Freyberg's headquarters". They called Montgomery with the "blower" (perhaps encrypted voice). Soon, General Lumsden arrived at Freyberg's headquarters. The historian thought that Lumsden didn't like the idea of driving through minefield paths and arriving at an enemy anti-tank gun line. Freyberg thouht that they should resume the attack on the night of 24-25 October and the corps commanders agreed. Montgomery ordered that the 10th Armoured Division should drive through the paths in the minefield into the open area past Miteiriya Ridge. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

The enemy situation in early 24 October 1942

Even though the British offensive on 23 October 1942 had failed to achieve its goals, the enemy was unaware of the actual situation. The "British bombardment" at the start of the offensive had the effect of cutting all enemy communications. The enemy saw the British attack on 23 October as being along a front of about five miles. They believed that they had succeeded in stopping the attack between the coast road and the railway. In fact, this was simply a diversionary operation. The units involved were Australian 24th Brigade units. They had been "stopped" by the 115th Panzer Grenadier Regiment. By 2am, the British attack had breached minefields and were approaching the main defense line. Two regiments took the brunt of the attack. They were "the German 382nd Regiment and the Italian 62nd Regiment". They faced "the 9th Australian Division, the 51st Highland Division, and the 2nd New Zealand Division".

As the attack advanced, "the 382nd Regiment was overrun" on the front facing the Australian and New Zealand divisions. Amazingly, the divisions only faced about one battalion each. The attack was only stopped by the 115th Regiment from the 15th Armored Division. They "were located in the second line of defense". At dawn on 24 October, the 62nd Regiment "was virtually destroyed". German battalions on the Australian front and the New Zealand front "had been overrun".

In the morning, General Stumme set out to see what the situation was. Unfortunately for him, they were too close to the action and were fired upon. General Stumme was trying to hold onto the vehicle when he had a heart attack and died. Without a commander, the enemy forces were not able to respond to the current situation. The 90th Light Division then was still sitting in reserve near the coast. The 21st Armored Division was sitting in the south, behind protecting minefields. The 15th Armored Division and the Italian Littorio Armored Division were in the north, facing XXX Corps. The armor in the north turned and attacked the XXX Corps "bridgehead".

At the end of the first day, the British had not succeeded in what Montgomery had planned. Only one of the "bridgeheads" had been taken and cleared of mines, and that happened later than planned. None of the British armored divisions had gotten into the enemy rear area. One had attempted to do so unsuccessfully. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Action by the 20th and 24th Brigades in the early part of the 2nd El Alamein

For the second phase, the Australian 20th Brigade had the 2/13th Battalion and the 40th RTR. The 2/13th Battalion needed to move forward on a wider front than some of the other battalions. While the main minefields had paths created, there were many smaller minefields over some 1,600 yards. The paths were not ready for the tanks, so the infantry had to attack without the expected tank support. The 2/13th Battalion was in contact with the 2/48th Battalion to the right. An attack in concert with the Gordon Highlanders did not succeed.

By 3am, infantry had been able to move forward, but the paths had not been cleared for the tanks. The infantry without their supporting tanks ran into crossfire from enemy posts. The infantry really needed to wait for tanks to be ready to move up. Given the situation, the 2/13th Battalion was ordered to dig in where they were positioned.

The tanks arrived somewhat after dawn, which was good, because they were needed. The infantry were able to show the tanks what to attack and the enemy positions were destroyed. While the 20th Brigade attack had proceeded, the 24th Brigade had made some diversions. "Just before midnight" there was a remote-control dummy display with some fifty dummies. The enemy opened fire on them, which was what was desired. The goal of the 24th Brigade "demonstrations" was to bring artillery "down on them".

Men from the 2/43rd Battalion were sent to raid "positions east of Kilo 110". They blew a hole in the enemy wire and reached their objective, where they destroyed an anti-tank gun. During the withdrawal, men were hit and had to be carried out.

Another raid was sent out from the 2/28th Battalion. They included both infantry and sappers. They were able to break through and reached their objective. They took losses and some were not able to get through the wire. The raid lost "three killed, 9 wounded, and 2 missing".

The 24th Brigade had drawn enemy artillery fire for some four hours, which was their goal. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The start of the battle had much noise on 23 October 1942

You had the sound of artillery, bombers flying over, and large mortar bombs exploding. For another fifteen minutes, you had the sound of counter-battery fire and then everything was quiet. Approaching 10pm, you had the two searchlights that came together and that signaled artillery to fire. At the same time, the infantry moved forward. They were trained to be able to move at an exact speed. The signalmen were running their wires along to the right of the stakes to follow. The men were in fact following Montgomery's detail plan. There were details such as "traffic control points".

The infantry moving forward were more heavily loaded than usual, since that was part of the master plan. At the front of XXX Corps, the men broke into the enemy positions and "took their initial objectives". One Australian battalion reached their final objectives at about midnight. The engineers were working to clear paths through the minefields. The paths were needed for vehicles towing anti-tank guns and vehicles loaded with ammunition. The minefields that they knew about had paths cleared, but they found additional minefields that also needed paths to be cleared.

The Australian 20th Brigade attacked with two battalions, the 2/17th and 2/15th battalions. The engineers (sappers) with the 2/17th Battalion were able to clear gaps in the minefields. The men with the 2/15th Battalion found that they were in an area filled with "anti-personnel and anti-tank mines". They were only able to clear a path by 12:30am.

As the Australians advanced, the artillery bombardment continued. What they found, was that there was an enemy defense in depth that was beyond that the British maps showed. The enemy positions had wire, mines, and booby-traps. The Australians were well-prepared to deal with such things. There was fairly strong "resistance" from the enemy. As they moved forward, the men found that the Bofors guns firing tracers in the air were very helpful. By 3:45am, the success signal was sent.

The 26th Brigade attack in the north had succeeded "brilliantly". The engineers continued to clear paths that were mine-free. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Second El Alamein starting on 23 October 1942

Starting in late afternoon on 23 October 1942, vehicles rolled out from under their camouflage nets and started line up in their assigned positions. From the front to the east, you saw for about thirty miles behind the front lines, vehicles driving east to get into their places. The way the system worked, you saw parallel lines of traffic, so allow for the mass movement that was needed. As the sun was setting, you had the infantry divisions moving into their assigned places. From "right to left" you had the 9th Australian Division, the 51st Highland Division, the 2nd New Zealand Division, 1st South African Division, and the 4th Indian Division (an old North African veteran). Following the infantry divisions were the 1st Armoured Division and the 10th Armoured Division. Supporting artillery units included the 1st RHA and the 104th RHA. Towards the south you had the 50th Division and the 44th Division. You also had a Greek Brigade and then the 7th Armoured Division. The 1st Free French Brigade was to their left. That night there was a large moon, almost full. As it became dark, they served food to the men in front. tapes were put in place to show the line that they would follow. As the transport had moved into place, you lost the road noise that they had previously heard. Everything became quiet, as the men waited for the time to move forward. Soon, the men could hear the sound of aircraft approaching from the east. They were British bombers. soon, you could see the flashes of the "long-range guns" firing. At 9:40pm, there was a great sound of field artillery firing. Soon, the artillery fire from guns firing "rapidly" and in large numbers could be heard.

The infantry moving forward were heavily loaded with ammunition and some grenades. They had food, pick or shovel, and four sand bags. They had to carry all that and still be ready to fight. The men quickly took their initial objectives, but they were surprised by the effort required to clear mines. On the far right of the attack was the 2/24th Battalion. They found that they were taking 25pdr rounds that were falling short. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The 9th Australian Division was very strong and Montgomery's plan was very detailed for the 2nd El Alamein battle

Montgomery's plan had a very detailed artillery fire plan for the 9th Australian Division. We are left with the impression, right or wrong, that the plan expected to advance the infantry units faster than would actually prove possible. The plan divided up the enemy territory into areas that could be fired on by artillery. The small areas were named so that they could be called out by name. They could call the guns to fire on the areas by name (such as Fremantle). When the call went out, several field regiments would start firing on the named area.

The engineers were to enable the infantry to pass through mined areas. Engineer companies were assigned to support the infantry brigades. The engineers worked prior to the attack to clear mines from the areas that lay east of the attack.

The Australians now had a much stronger anti-tank gun inventory. The 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment now was armed with as many as 64 6-pdr anti-tank guns. The 2pdr anti-tank guns were pushed down to arm the anti-tank platoons in the infantry battalions. There were also a large supply of "Hawkins anti-tank mines". The 9th Australian Division cavalry was now exceptionally well-equipped. They had Crusader tanks, some 15 in number, and five American Stuart tanks, as well as a collection of 52 carriers.

The infantry now had machine-gun platoons. The Australians were also equipped with Italian weapons.

The plan was laid out for the men prior to the battle. The plan was meant to achieve success and bring and end to the war in North Africa. The goal of the presentations was to inspire confidence in the men. The Corps commander had wanted to advance the start time to 9:30pm, but General Morshead wanted to keep it at 10pm, which it was kept. The men spent October 23 in slit trenches, bothered by the heat and flies.

The men were having trouble staying in place, waiting for the action. As the men waited for 10pm, they could hear the approach of the British bomber aircraft. Everyone was waiting for the battle to start. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The start of the Second El Alamein battle

In the beginning, in the south, the 44th Division work to make gaps in the two British minefields left after Alam el Halfa. The gaps were needed to allow the 7th Armoured Division to move into the enemy rear areas. Montgomery's hope was that the 7th Armoured Division would keep the enemy armor in the south.

In the north, along the road, there was a large concentration of artillery. The area had sand dunes that helped to protect the artillery. The 1st South African Division was to attack the southern portion of the XXX Corps area. The 9th Australian Division had extra forces available to help the attack go well. They had a tank regiment, the 40th RTR and a British mortar company armed with 4.2in mortars. They also had extra artillery attached for a period of time. They had "six troops of field artillery, the 7th Medium Regiment, and a battery of the 64th Medium Regiment". Their task was to capture a large area of the enemy's defenses that was "about six thousand yards deep and 3,300 yards wide". The Australians needed to help X Corps move to the west and to form a line that faced north. The Australians needed to take an area that included land west of Point 23. They would probably not have seen any enemy positions east of that point. They Australians would have "fresh troops" available to cover the great distance that they had to cross.

The initial objectives would be taken by some battalions. New battalions would come forward and make the next attack. The first phase would use three battalions. The second phase would use two battalions. As companies took their objective, they would develop the area as a defensive position. The Australians would use two battalions of the 26th Brigade with the 20th Brigade on the left. The 24th Brigade would "continue to hold the existing front on the coast".

The 26th Brigade was provided with an ad hoc force that would protect the brigade's "open right flank". The ad hoc group had "a company of a machine gun battalion, a pioneer company, and a divisional cavalry squadron, and anti-tank guns.

26th Brigade would have to "form two fronts", one to the north, which would be long, and a front facing west. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Montgomery's Second Plan for the Battle of El Alamein

Montgomery issued a set of orders for the actual battle that looked a lot like his original plan. XXX Corps and XIII Corps would attack by moonlight. The attack in the north was the largest of the attacks. In the north, the armor would still move forward. Infantry would attack at 10pm on 23 October. They would try to take over the enemy minefields and capture the enemy defensive positions. They would particularly attempt to take the enemy field gun positions. They wanted to move the British armor into the enemy rear areas "before dawn". As the battle progressed, over a number of days, the infantry would try and "pinch out" enemy forces.

XXX Corps had four infantry divisions to use for the attack in the north. They were to take their objectives by 3am. That needed to happen to allow the British armor to move forward before dawn. The line that had the objectives was called the "Oxalic Line". Once the infantry objectives had been taken, then the X Corps would first move to the Oxalic Line. They would then move forward in "two bounds", the first being about 2,000 yards beyond Oxalic. The second "bound" would try to take "high ground" at Tel el Aqqaqir. They would hold the area "with tanks, motorized infantry and anti-tank guns." The idea being to hold an area that blocked the enemy lines of communication from north to south. They hoped that taking that area would cause the enemy to attack with tanks. In the north, the move forward would be executed by the 2nd Armoured Brigade and the 2nd Motor Brigade. The 23rd Armoured Brigade was to support the infantry with four tank regiments. The three infantry divisions in the north each had one of the "tank regiments". The New Zealand Division had only two infantry brigades but had one armored brigade, the 9th Armoured Brigade. The New Zealand Division would eventually switch over to being part of X Corps.

For the XIII Corps attack in the south, "the 44th Division" would move to take the old British minefields left after Alam el Halfa, and make gaps in them. The gaps were needed to allow the 7th Armoured Division to move forward into the enemy rear. Two other operations were that the 50th Division would be positioned in the Munassib Depression and the 1st Free French Brigade would go after Himeimat. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

The 9th Australian Division in the run up to the battle of El Alamein

The 9th Australian Division was being reconfigured prior the battle. They moved the 26th Brigade into the coastal region, replacing the 20th Brigade. The 20th Brigade began training for the battle. Their training was different than what the 26th Brigade had been practicing, because their roles in the battle differed. The training matched so well what they would be expected to do in the battle. The training matched the battle roles so well that the men mentioned that the battle was "just like an exercise".

The Australian 24th Brigade ended up being relieved by a 51st Highland Division brigade. The 24th Brigade was given some rest before the battle. By mid-October, they were back in the line with everyone else. They moved into the coast area, replacing the 26th Brigade. The Australian historian remarks that the brigade was training for their greatest challenge yet in the desert.

The 51st Highland Division rotated its brigades, giving each brigade about one week in the line, in the left-most slot in the line. During the night of 19-20 October, the 51st Highland Division took over command of the most-southern area. They would attack from this position in the battle.

Right before the battle, the 8th Army was organized into corps. XXX Corps had one armored brigade and five infantry divisions, including the 9th Australian Divisions. XIII Corps had one armored division and two infantry divisions. X Corps had three armored divisions, but the 8th Armoured Division was incomplete and was broken up with its units transferred to other divisions. For the battle, the army had greater than 220,000 men, some 900 tanks, and some 900 guns, both field and medium.

The Eighth Army faced an army of "four German and eight Italian divisions. There were the two German armored divisions, two Italian armored divisions, and one motorized division (Trieste). The German infantry was concentrated in the 90th Light Division and the 164th Light Division with the help of the Ramcke Parachute Brigade. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Trying to ensure that night infantry attacks would be successful in October 1942

The Australians usually staged infantry attacks with two companies side-by-side. They provided "guide parties", so that the battalion center line and each of the company center lines had the guides. This had not been followed in the past, but this should have been a great improvement. Every man would know how far they were to go. They also would know how far each "bound" had covered. They used tapes to mark center lines and had lights on stakes shining back. They also would use "report and traffic control centers". When vehicles and guns were sent forward, these measures would help to get them to the right locations.

Another part of the new system was to employ light-anti-aircraft guns firing tracers in the air. The concept was tested on 19 October to be sure that they could fire the tracers without hurting the infantry. One section of the 4th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment was given the duty of firing tracers to help guide the infantry.

The 9th Australian Division had ordered that when objectives were taken, that should be immediately reported by the fastest method available. That would be duplicated using the other communication methods that were available.

Montgomery directed that all training be done with an eye to each unit's role in the battle plan. There was not time to do other training that was not directly relevant to the battle. In this case, the men trained all day and seemed to have to train all night. That was not exactly true, but it seemed like it. Training was done and then repeated. The infantry and their supporting units trained together. When the time came for the battle, the men were to carry out operations that that had previously been trained to do. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Montgomery changed his plan before the battle in October 1942

Both the British armor commanders and General Montgomery all started to have doubts about the plan for the upcoming battle. The original plan had great detail about minefield clearance. The concern that was causing doubts was the enemy "concealed anti-tank guns". In the battle, they found that the enemy had a network of anti-tank guns a greater distance behind the front line. The British armor commanders had hard experience from earlier in 1942 where they had large numbers of tanks knocked out by anti-tank guns. The new plan was to attack the enemy infantry divisions, not their armor. The plan was released to successive levels of command as the date for the battle approached. The 9th Australian Division received some six hundred rounds per field gun. The ammunition was moved by night and was stored underground. The British had a fuel container problem. The work-around was to collect the German containers ("Jerry cans") from the infantry units and pass them on to the armor. There was a "cover plan" that was meant to confuse the enemy about the location and date of the attack.

They instituted an air bombing program in September that was similar to what was planned for the real battle. Everything was planned with the aim of confusing the enemy about the time and location of main attack. They had things planned for moving the X Corps armor from the south up to the north, and using dummy tanks at the southern location and at the northern location. They had a dummy pipeline leading to the south. They used dummy vehicles at both the leaving and arriving destinations. They tried to disguise the dummy vehicles from detection from the air. For the X Corps movements through the XXX Corps area required road construction. A great deal of road construction occurred within two days of the battle. For marking routes, tape was pinned to the ground. A feature of the plan was that armor formations were to clear their own paths of mines. They units lacked sufficient engineers, so more were added.

The 9th Australian Division spend time checking the enemy minefields before the battle started. The Australians used guide parties to help ensure that the right people got to the right place in the battle. The Australians also experimented with using light-anti-aircraft guns to fire tracers over the heads of infantry to help guide them. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 30, 2019

"Operation Lightfoot": the British attack at El Alamein

The Australian historian describes the plan as attacks in the north and south designed to "trap the enemy in their defenses" and to "destroy them there". The attack in the north was to be executed by XXX Corps, and would try to break into enemy defenses between the sea and the ridge at Miteiriya. They assumed that the main concentration of enemy artillery would be included. They were to destroy all of the enemy artillery. X Corps would then pass through the "bridge head" and push into enemy territory. In the south, XIII Corps was to capture Himeimat. One feature was to send the 4th Light Armoured Brigade to take Daba, the supply areas, and airfields.

The attack would start in moonlight and would have heavy artillery support. The northern attack would have the four infantry divisions: 9th Australian, 51st Highland, 2nd New Zealand, and 1st South African. They would have the 23rd Armoured Brigade in support. The New Zealand Division was to take the western end of Miteiriya Rigde. XXX Corps was to make gaps in the enemy minefields, so that X Corps armor could move through enemy minefields and into enemy territory to the west. X Corps would then turn on the ridge held by the New Zealand Division and land across the enemy supply lines. The plan expected that the British armor would be in place, ready to fight, by "first light". Montgomery hoped that the enemy would be "forced" to fight X Corps on ground that X Corps had chosen. The enemy armored forces would be hit in their flank. The goal was to destroy the enemy armored force so that the rest of their army could be easily captured. To the Australians, this was new territory, because they were usually left in the front at dawn and expected to be attacked by enemy tanks. In this plan, the British tanks were to be out front.

The British armored units had concerns about the plan. There were the usual concerns about clearing gaps in enemy minefields. They were also concerned about the issue of anti-tank guns firing flash-less shots. The thought was there that they might be have taken heavy anti-tank gun losses as they moved their tanks forward. For example, the 22nd Armoured Brigade was warned about the importance of maintaining their tank strength so that they could use their tanks to fight enemy tanks. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Plans for the battle in October 1942

This is Montgomery's original plan for the Second El Alamein. In the north, XXX Corps would make two penetrations of the enemy defenses. X Corp would move forward through the penetrations to take a position astride the enemy supply lines. The hope was that would cause Rommel to use his armored forces to attack X Corps. XIII Corps would attack in the south with the 7th Armoured Division and hoped to draw enemy armor to attack them, making the situation in the north easier for X Corps.

The British had gathered a great deal of information about the German and Italian defensive positions, They had photographs from aerial reconnaissance and photographs taken by ground patrols. One feature of the methods used for photographing was that minefields tended to be concealed. Winds blowing sand helped to hide the minefields. The enemy defenses that had been found were described in intelligence summaries released in week two of October 1942. In the area from the sea coast to Deir el Shein varied from three thousand to seven thousand yards wide. There were actually two bands of defenses that were spread some three thousand yards apart. There were partitions between the bands that were located four or five thousand yards apart. Defenses in the north were very strong with another strong area near West Point 23. The second band of defenses was laid in parallel to the first band. The second was often located on reverse slopes of ridges. This was from Miteiriya to Deir el Shein. South from Deir el Shein, there were gaps in the defenses. South from Himeimat, the defensive positions had not been built up as they were in the north.

Montgomery personally presented the plan to all levels from corps commanders down to battalion commander. The attack in the north would be made by four infantry divisions. An attack in the south would be made by most of two infantry divisions. Two armored divisions would move forward at dawn in the north. A third armored division would move forward in the south. They had some one thousand tanks in the divisions with more available as replacements. They would use close to one thousand guns in the opening artillery barrage. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Planning for the battle in October 1942

There were plans for two attacks on Rommel's supply lines planned prior to the battle. One raid was made at Tobruk while another was made at Benghazi. They failed to damage anything useful. That left the planning to begin for the battle. A major piece was the creation of a supply system to provide what was needed by the army. They wanted not only to create the supply system, but to hide it from the enemy. They also planned to take steps to disrupt the enemy operations. After Auchinleck's operations that had been part of the First Battle of El Alamein, the enemy had constructed defensive positions along the north-south line. Now, like the later static defense of the Atlantic Wall. The defensive positions had considerable depth. They were apparently stronger in the north, near the 9th Australian Division, than they were in the south. The defensive works in the north were about six thousand yards wide. There were minefields, and gaps in the minefields designed so that advancing tanks would be exposed to anti-tank gun fire from the side. There was "an anti-tank gun line" that \ actually included dug in tanks. The guns were concealed so as to be difficult to see. Rommel called his positions "devil's gardens" and thought that they would be effective in stopping a British advance. Rommel's supervisor, Field Marshal Kesselring, was somewhat skeptical about their efficiency. It was true that anti-tank guns, firing at lone range, would make tank operations much more difficult. For a while, they had been able to function as mobile cavalry and could be more effective, but that was to change.

In the end, Montgomery had made two plans for the battle. The first was distributed on 15 September. The second was distributed on 6 October. The second built on the framework of the first plan. Due to the enemy's defensive line, the initial attack would have to be made by infantry. They would set up the force so that the enemy would have to attack the British armor sitting on ground that they had chosen. The British army would not start with an armor attack on enemy armored forces. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Moving towards the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942

One point not yet discussed is the situation in regards to air power. In raw numbers, the British had more than five hundred aircraft in North Africa while the Germans and Italians had about 350. The enemy did have the ability to shift aircraft from Italy and to use aircraft from Crete in North Africa. The raw numbers don't take into account the superiority of German Messerschmitt Bf-109F and G fighters.

Right before the battle began, the Desert Air Force (as it was known) was organized into fighter groups and bomber wings. No. 211 Group had 17 fighter squadrons on hand. No. 212 Group had 8 fighter squadrons. There was No. 3 South African Air Force Wing equipped with three day bomber squadrons. There was No. 232 Wing that had two day bomber squadrons. There were also Americans in the field with the No. 12 Medium Bombardment Group with three bomber squadrons. There was also the No.285 Wing with three reconnaissance squadrons and two flights. There were more squadrons than these, including "night-bombers and long-range fighters".

There was the usual problem in that Churchill was impatient for action, while Montgomery liked to have a nice, tidy plan and operation. Alan Brooke was quoted as saying that Churchill was always a potential source of trouble. Like Hitler, he had an inflated sense of his abilities as a military commander. Churchill was waiting for Alexander and Montgomery's plan to be executed, but Churchill was very aware of the perilous situation with Malta.

They had originally thought that they would be able to attack in September, but with experience of the Battle of Alam el Halfa, they had to rethink their plan. They wanted to attack the enemy during the night, but with the benefit of bright moonlight. They also needed time for training. The full moon in October was on October 24. Alexander chose 23 October as the date for the attack. Montgomery helped Alexander draft the message to be sent to the Prime Minister. Montgomery wrote four points on a piece of paper. They were: "1) Rommel's attack had delayed their preparations. 2) The condition of the moon restricted potential attack dates in September and October. 3) If the attack happened in September, the army would not be sufficiently trained or equipped. 4) An attack in September would be likely to fail while an attack in October would ensure a complete victory". Another factor, we have not mentioned, was the planned Allied invasion of French North Africa on 8 November. Alexander and Montgomery expected a British victory over Rommel would have a favorable impact on the French and Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 16, 2019

"Ali Baba Morshead and his 20,000 thieves"

At Tobruk, the enemy had called the 9th Australian Division the "Rats of Tobruk". They had accepted that name for themselves, at that point in time. Now, the enemy had called them "Ali Baba Morshead and his 20,000 Thieves". They also accepted that name.

Alan Brooke had selected the right man to command the Eighth Army in Bernard Montgomery. He had successfully held the El Alamein area against the German and Italian attack at Alam el Halfa. Montgomery knew how to inspire confidence in his men and was successful. He had a good, solid administration of the Eighth Army now, not the hit-or-miss, always changing plans, that they had seen under Auchinleck. Montgomery had a plan and was preparing to execute the plan.

September and October 1942 was a time for reinforcing the Eighth Army. As they pointed out, some 41,000 men arrived as reinforcements for the Eighth Army. This was from 1 August to 23 October, the big date. They received some "one thousand tanks, 360 carriers, and 8,700 others vehicles. New divisions had arrived with their artillery. They were the 8th Armoured Division and 44th and 51st Infantry Divisions. They also had more artillery in the form of "two medium and six field regiments". By 23 October or so, they had "832 25pdrs, 32-4.5in guns, 20-5.5in, 24-105mm; also 735 6pdr and 521 2pdr anti-tank guns."

The Eighth Army was well-equipped with tanks. They had as many as 1,029 tanks ready for action. They had some 200 tanks ready as replacements, "with a thousand in the workshops". At the same time, the Germans were hurting. They only had 218 tanks ready for action with another 21 in workshops. The Italians had some 278 tanks available for use at the start of the battle.

during early September, 318 American Sherman tanks "arrived at Suez". General Alexander planned to use these to equip three armored brigades. The Shermans were superior to everything the Germans had except for the Pzkw IV Specials, of which they only had about thirty. The British were now equipped with enough vehicles to enable the army to chase the enemy forces across the desert. They never been that well provided for with transport, but now they had it. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The 51st Highland Division is an "affiliate" of the 9th Australian Division. Also, General Morshead is acting XXX Corps commander at least for a week

The 51st Highland Division had just arrived in the desert. A new idea was tried so that the 51st Highland Division was to be an "affiliate" of the 9th Australian Division. Both divisions thought that the affiliation was a good idea and should almost be a standard practice. The Scots thought that the Australians had different ideas about discipline, but the Scots admired the Australian approach to operating. They kept their weapons clean of sand, their slit trenches were well-cared for and equipped. They checked their patrols to make sure that men did not carry identification. The kept quiet at night and did not show any lights. When a patrol returned, they marked information on maps which expanded the group knowledge of enemy positions.

8 September saw General Morshead acting as XXX Corp commander. General Ramsden went on leave in Cairo for a week. It turned out to only be five days, as Montgomery informed Morshead that General Leese would be XXX Corps commander as of 15 September. The officers took a look at the ground for a supposed move forward of 24th Brigade. The secret reason for the move was to "secure" the ground that would be the site used for the infantry attack in the coming offensive. During the night, the 24th Brigade had begun work in new positions. on September 18 to 19, two battalions moved into the positions that had been prepared.

That night, the South African Division moved forward, as did the 9th Australian Division. In two nights, the South Africans moved over and took possession of the 2/28th Battalion positions.

The British forces were abruptly informed in late September that they were going to use American terminology from there on out. For example, what used to be called "Zero Hour" became "H Hour". Operations would start on D Day from now on.

Sitting at El Alamein, the men of the 9th Australian Division came to admire their commander, General Morshead, more than they had when they were sitting at Tobruk. At the same time, the men of the Eighth Army came to increasing confidence in Bernard Law Montgomery. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Assessment of the attack on 1 September 1942

The Germans and their Italian allies now occupied a heavily defended line near El Alamein. The Australian attack on 1 September 1942 was not as successful as they had hoped it would be. Major Gehrmann was the 2/13th Field Company commander during the raid. The Major thought, prior to the attack, that the attack would fail for a number of reasons. His six reasons were:

"1. The force was too small. 2. The front was too narrow. 3. The flanks were insecure. 4. The proposed penetration was too narrow. 5. The information was too scanty. 6. The operation was unsuitable for tanks."

The operation was not a total loss, because they had learned some things that they could apply in the next attack. One thing that stood out was that there were still problems with infantry trying to cooperate with armored units. The tanks did not like being sent into anti-tank gun fire from guns that were beyond the range of tank guns. Despite a new commander, some of the same old issues were at work.

At Alam el Halfa, Montgomery did not spread out the army, but kept the armor and infantry close together. Armor had the benefit of support from the infantry division artillery.

During late summer 1942, the 9th Australian Division battalions were actively patrolling in front of their positions. One objective was to build an order of battle describing the enemy units in their area. The enemy were also actively engaged in patrolling. They also relished the opportunity to fight the Australian patrols that they encountered.

The enemy were busy at night building defensive positions. Their working parties were active and had units covering them. The Australians also noticed that the enemy were making noises to attract their attention. These were described as "tapping of tools on stones, coughing, lighting cigarettes and so on". One night, they had an encounter with another patrol. It turned out that they had fought a South African patrol and wounded some of them. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Operation Bulimba (the right spelling)

The 9th Australian Division "diversionary attack" would launch early on 1 September 1942. The objective was enemy positions near Point 23. They were to start at 5:35am on 1 September. The plan was for the infantry to arrive at the minefield at "first light". The initial push would not involve artillery fire. They would have air support, 9th Australian Division artillery support, and the 7th Medium Regiment also firing in support. Artillery fire would follow 15 minutes after the start of the operation. They would eventually push to the south, "returning at 3pm". The entire group would then pull back to the division area.

The infantry unloaded from their trucks at 5:15am. They got ready at the "taped start line". That area was about a thousand yards ahead of their "forward defended localities". That was about 2,500 yards from their objective. The attack started exactly on time. Their front was about six hundred yards with two infantry companies next to each other. They moved forward to the wire at the enemy minefield "just before the artillery fire lifted". The company on the right took enemy fire and lost men. They eventually were stopped. The left company did better. They followed the artillery barrage and got across the minefield without a problem. Engineer parties started clearing mines. The minefield was about five hundred yards wide.

The left company was well-led and reached their objective. Private Bambling stepped up after his section leader was killed and led the remainder to the enemy positions. After doing well, he was wounded. A tank arrived and fired two rounds to knock out the enemy post. The left company finally took 39 prisoners. They thought that they may have killed as many as 100 Germans. The company had lost two officers and some 35 other men.

The battalion commander, Colonel Ogle had positioned himself about 150 yards into the minefield. When he learned that he right company had lost its commander, he started to move there in his carrier. He hit a mine and "was seriously wounded". He ordered his Major to come forward and take command of the battalion. Major Grace arrived at the battalion headquarters at approximately 6:45am. They were unable to communicate with the companies at that point. Ogle's radio operator in the knocked out carrier kept his radio operating. The carrier was hit by an artillery shell, but the radio operator was able to continue his work.The situation became increasingly tough. Suther's company was to withdraw. They had gone forward behind Snell's company. The fourth company, on the right rear, had better luck. They got to their objective and took "relatively light losses".

The engineers had been able to open gaps in the minefield. By now, they had come under heavy enemy fire. There were mishaps with tanks in the gaps in the minefield. Four tanks had reached Major Grace, but they refused to move without orders from their unit. at 7:30am, two more tanks move forward through a gap. They were asked to collect the other four tanks and be ready to fight what seemed to be an enemy attack. The tanks ended waiting near the battalion headquarters. Major Grace decided at 9am to withdraw the survivors of his battalion. The brigade commander was not really aware of the situation and had told Major Grace to not withdraw, but by the time the message was received, they were withdrawing. They were able to successfully withdraw and got compliments, including from Brigadier Windeyer. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

The aftermath of the attack at Alam el Halfa

In terms of killed, wounded, or missing, the Germans had 1,859 men lost. The Italian losses were 1,051 men. The German-Italian forces lost 49 tanks. The British losses were comparable: 1,750 men lost and 67 tanks. General von Mellenthin thought that the battle was the turning point in the war, the first of many losses that predicted the loss of Germany in the war. Von Mellenthin was a writer and is known for his memoirs, Panzer Battles.

During the German-Italian attack, the 1st South African Brigade launched a raid on Italian forces and brought back 56 Trento Division prisoners. For their part, the German Ramcke Parachute Brigade hit the 9th Indian Brigade which was parked at Ruweisat Ridge. The Germans broke into the Indian position. That triggered a counter-attack by infantry and tanks (presumably Valentines). The Ramcke Brigade had casualties. They lost 11 men "killed or wounded" and had 49 men missing (possibly made prisoner).

We like the Australian "diversionary attack name" "Operation Bulimea. The Australian 20th Brigade "attacked before dawn" on the start day of the battle. They hit West Point 23 as the site of a "bridgehead". It was a long ways fromSidi Abd el Rahman, which dominated the area. They had chosen the target because the ground was suitable for wheeled vehicles.

The attacking force included the 2/15th Battalion along with a 40th RTR squadron (presumably Valentines). Major McIntyre was a 9th Divisional Cavalry officer and he commanded the attacking force. This was intended to be an all-arms force, so there were other units attached for the operation. The 2/15th Battalion had been made available by being replaced by 2/13th Battalion. The relief happened over 20 and 21 August 1942. During the night of 25-26 August, the attacking group would be assembled. The assembly would happen after the code word Bulimea was sent. At dawn, they would take enemy positions near West Point 23. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Battle of Alam el Halfa progresses

On 1 September 1942, you had the 21st Armored Divisions stalled. The 15th Armored Division (we always translate the German to the English equivalent) was trying to execute the penetration and turn to the north. The British used artillery and air attacks against the German armored units. Montgomery was using infantry in the battle. He ordered the 2nd South African Brigade to move to spot north of Alam el Halfa. He alerted the New Zealand Division that they needed to be ready to attack to the south, across the enemy tracks.

By the end of the day on 1 September, the German reconnaissance units had been heavily attacked from the air and were had suffered. The 15th Armored Division was still a threat to Point 132. Fuel supply was a problem that was developing. There was only fuel for operations up to 5 September. The fuel situation actually forced the enemy forces to go into a defensive posture.

On 2 September, there was an opportunity for the British to use armor to hit the rear of the German armor. Montgomery opted to stick with infantry operations. He was going to use the New Zealand Division in the attack. The British now had the sense that they were in a strong position and would succeed. The attack would use the 5th and 6th New Zealand brigades and the 132nd (British) Brigade. The 132nd Brigade would attack on the right with the 5th New Zealand Brigade on the left. Both would have squadrons of Valentine tanks in support.

The attack may have been rushed somewhat while the enemy forces were reinforcing the "most vulnerable point". As it was, the 132nd Brigade started an hour late. They were still very inexperienced compared to the other units. The 5th New Zealand Brigade had more success and had reached their objective. They were able to repel to attacks against them. Montgomery and his staff talked with General Freyberg and agreed that they were better off withdrawing rather than making new attacks. The 5th New Zealand Brigade had "275 casualties" while the 132nd Brigade was worse off, having 697 casualties. The ground attack could wait, as the air attacks on the enemy were being effective. From the start of Alam hel Halfa, the enemy had lost 170 vehicles destroyed and had some 270 damaged. They had also used up a great deal of their fuel.

The enemy was content to withdraw, according to their plan from the start. The British were content to let the withdrawal proceed. The enemy still had a position that included the British minefields where they had lifted mines and were still holding Himeimat, a high point that dominated the area in the southern part of the El Alamein position. Brian Horrocks was not happy letting the Germans hold the land they took, but Montgomery did not want to take any risks, a point that Rommel had noticed. This is based on account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Battle of Alam el Halfa in late August 1942

The German plan asked the German Africa Corps to drive some seven miles, starting from 11pm on 30 August and 6am the next morning. The presence of minefields, the position and size being unknown, were a complication. The recipients of the attack were the now weak 7th Armoured Division, consisting of the 7th Motor Brigade and the 4th Light Armoured Brigade. It the enemy units succeeded in breaking through the British line, they could be expected to have to fight one or more of the 10th Armoured Division brigades, of which there were three. There was also the 5th New Zealand Brigade on the left flank. There was also the familiar 22nd Armoured Brigade with two brigades of the 44th Division sitting on Alam el Halfa, the ridge. Forward of the ridge lay the 8th Armoured Brigade.

The German armored divisions were late in starting. The 15th Armored Division began to advance at 1pm. The 21st Armored Division started forward at about 2pm. The 21st Armored Division lost its commander during operations on the day. The British tanks and guns hit the German armor quite hard. They stopped advancing at dusk given how tough the fighting was. Montgomery's staff was following events and the German Africa Corps position. They ordered the 23rd Armoured Brigade to move into the space between the New Zealand Division and the 10th Armoured Division. During the night, the air force was dropping flares to provide light and attacked enemy vehicles with bombs with some success. There were fires burning from fuel and vehicles.

On 1 September, the German Africa Corps stopped moving forward. British day bombers hit them hard. The 21st Armored Division was stopped. They may have been out of fuel, but the 15th Armored Division tried to move past the British armor. The German armor was hard-pressed by air attacks and British artillery. Montgomery was involved with the operations and at one point ordered the 2nd South African Brigade to move to a position that was south of Alam el Halfa. He told the New Zealand Division to prepare to attack to the south, to hit the enemy "line of communication". The 15th Armored Division was still a potent force that was a "threat" to Point 132. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Standard practice: August 1942 near El Alamein

From early 1941 until late August 1942, some standard practices had developed. Where you were going to have a defensive position, you anchored one flank on the coast of the Mediterranean. From there to some distance to the south, you constructed defenses in a line. Those defenses needed to be fairly strong, with infantry, anti-tank guns, and field artillery. You would also lay mines and wire. Behind the line, you would build more defensive areas, leaving gaps between them. In the gaps, you would have armored formations. If an enemy tried to turn the flank of the defensive line, the armor would have opportunities top attack the enemy force.

At El Alamein, from the coast to the Qattara Depression was a great distance. The ground from the coast to the depression was too long to be uniformly strongly held. From the coast were located three "Dominion" divisions and one Indian Division. Then you had the New Zealand Division, which had a "refused flank". Then to the south were "light forces" (what Auchinleck called "columns"). You had the three ridge lines running back from the strongly-held front. They were the El Miteiriya, Ruweisat, and Alam el Halfa. While the Australian historian doesn't say that Montgomery and Alexander used Aunchinleck's plan (although others do say that), the Australian says that the defense of the rear of the line was based on Alam el Halfa. In the days of Auchinleck, there was a tension between wanting to hold the shortest front and the desire to extend the ground to be strongly held in front of the Alamein Box. Despite Montegomery's dislike of the "box", we have to still use that terminology, as the Australian historian also uses the term.

The reality of the situation was at odds with Montegomery's desired terminology. He would say "what we have we hold". To do that meant committing more infantry units. There was concern enough that there was some reshuffling of brigades so that the experienced 5th New Zealand Brigade was moved in, in place of the raw 132nd Brigade. The defenders were very aware that the enemy forces were assembling nearby for an impending attack. Rommel had decided to attack in the south between Alam Nayil and Qaret el Himeimat. Rommel planned to use the German Africa Corps, the Reconnaissance Group, Italian XX Corps (their two Italian armored divisions), and then the 90th Light Division. They expected to break through the front, turn towards the sea, and push to the coast. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

First, the needs and then the situation on the ground at El Alamein in late August 1942

Rommel was committed to attack in late August 1942. He gave the authorities what he felt were his supply requirements. First, he needed fuel, with six thousand tons needed between 25 August and 30 August. He got a promise to send ten thousand tons, half for the army and half for the air force. The situation was bad, because on 27 August, Rommel only had enough fuel for tracked vehicles to travel one hundred miles and for wheeled vehicles to travel 150 miles. On 30 August, more fuel arrived. Rommel got 1,500 tons from the air force. Also, a ship arrived at Tobruk with some 730 tons. That gave enough fuel to Rommel to start his offensive, but that was all. For better or worse, the units moved forward as scheduled.

The battle to be fought became known as Alam el Halfa. Some sources, such as Correli Barnett, have said that Montegomery used a plan developed by Auchinleck and Eric Dormon-Smith. In any case, the front, such as it was, was held by "three Dominion and one Indian division". The front extended from the coast to Alam Nayil. The New Zealand Division had a "refused flank" on the left side. Beyond them, there were only "mobile forces", what used to be called "columns". General Morshead had been unhappy with the Auchinleck regime approach of being indecisive about whether to compress one's front to the minimum or to stretch out so you were very thin on the ground. The Montgomery policy that they would hold their ground meant that you had to be strong enough to repel an attacker. That may mean that you needed to compress your front to be stronger. You needed to have enough strength to hold a "frontal defense". The reality was that the inland defenses were not very strong. They did add some units so that Alam el Halfa got two 44th Division brigades. Alam el Nayil "hinge" was occupied by the inexperienced 132nd Brigade. They were to protect the New Zealand Division flank. At the last minute, the 5th New Zealand Brigade was moved in to relieve the 132nd Brigade. The Germans were known to be preparing to attack.

At 30 August, the enemy had the 164th Division and the Italian Trento Division covering from the coast to Deir el Shein. The regiments of the German and Italian divisions were "intermingled". Some "stiffening" came from the Ramcke Parachute Brigade and the Folgore Division. Behind the German-Italian line were the mobile German and Italia divisions. The strengths were "about 41,000 German officers and men and about 33,000 Italian". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Possible courses of action in North Africa in August 1942

One appealing plan for the German-Italian army in North Africa was to give up some ground to pull the British out from their defenses into the open. Rommel was an expert in fighting a mobile battle, while Montgomery and the British were better at fighting from static positions. The problem was that "Hitler would never allow" a pullback from the present positions. The only alternative, then, was to build up the Axis forces for a final push to the Nile Delta. For that to be a possibility would require the Axis to improve their position in the war at sea (and in the air).

Not only was the war at sea an issue, but the supply lines by road were also a problem. Rommel believed that coastal shipping, protected by air, was a possible solution. They had a good forward port in Tobruk, but they lacked sufficient unloading equipment. They also needed German involvement in railroad supply traffic. They needed German staff, German train engines and carriages. Vehicles "needed to be sent to Tripoli and Benghazi".

The situation seemed to require Rommel to stage an attack to the east during August. They fully expected large shipments of equipment to arrive in September from American and Britain. The shipments were thought to be in response to the capture of Tobruk. Rommel told his commanders on 7 August to be ready for an attack. He informed the German Africa Corps, the Italian XX Corps, and the 90th Light Division. The two German armored divisions were pulled back for preparations for an attack. Rommel then informed his commanders that he favored waiting for the "moonlit period" at the end of August. The armor needed moonlight to make the attack during the night.

For an attack, the German-Italian forces needed tanks and fuel. Most prized were the so-called "Specials", the tanks upgraded for combat on the Eastern Front. They carried upgraded protection with spaced armor, and with longer-barreled guns. The Pzkw IVF2 had the 75mm L43 and some of the G had the L43 guns, but later production had the 75mm L48 gun. The "special" PzKw III tanks had the longer-barreled 50mm gun. The Germans were able to build up to 203 Pzkw III and IV tanks, of which the majority were "specials". The Italians had 281 tanks for the planned offensive. They had not had such strength since the start of the Gazala battle. The problem with the situation was the fuel shortage. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Changes with the new regime from 19 August 1942.

General Alexander had given Bernard Law Montgomery written orders that confirmed his previous verbal orders. The orders were simple: The first priority is to prepare to attack the German-Italian force and to destroy them. Second, while preparing to attack, they must hold their present positions and not allow the enemy to penetrate to the east. All troops in the army were to be notified of these orders. Also, under Montgomery, there was to be a change in terminology. The term "box" was no longer to be used for a defended area. They woiuld no longer talk about "battle groups". Outposts were now to be called "forward defended localities"A hot button for Montgomery was that units needed to be assembled close together so that their commander could address them. Montgomery also liked "concert performances "in forward areas" and that he wanted to see training in forward areas with live ammunition.

Units were starting to receive equipment that had long been out of supply. The exception to that was that they were still short of wire. The cavalry regiment expected to receive more Crusader tanks to bring them up to the establishment of 28 tanks. Infantry battalions were to receive four Vickers guns. They would also receive eight 2-pdr anti-tank guns. The 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment got 64-6pdr Anti-Tank Guns. They passed their 2pdr guns to the infantry units.

A welcome change was the provision of a medium machine-gun platoon for infantry battalions.

In some ways, the German-Italian army was defeated by naval action. Rommel was the master of maneuver warfare. The British forces fought better in static situations. Auchinleck's experiments with organization and formation were attempts to improve that situation. Rommel based his approach on his experience in the Alps during the Great War. He utilized infiltration tactics in every way he could. In his early operations in Cyrenaica in 1941, Rommel threw the British "back on their heels and ran over them. It is interesting to think that Montgomery was the master of static warfare and that he overcame Rommel's mastery of mobile tactics.

For Rommel to be able to attempt to break through to the Nile, he would need to be reinforced. By mid-August, they were starting to see results. From 30 percent strength on 21 July, the German "formations" were at 75 percent strength by 15 August. The biggest problem was the superiority of British air and naval strength. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

More patrolling in August 1942 near El Alamein

On the night of 16-17 August 1942, a 19-man patrol set out to the southwest. Most men were from the 2/43rd Battalion, but there was also Captain Bakewell from the 2/3rd Pioneers. The plan was to move out some four thousand yards. After only covering 2,600 yards, they could hear an enemy working party. After another 800 yards, they ran into a minefield. The Australians could hear Germans talking. At this point, the posted four Bren gunners. A little further on, they ran into a position with some fifty men. The Australians attacked with grenades, grabbed three prisoners, and shot and bayonetted twelve or more men. The prisoners proved to be Italian. The turned and started to head back when they came under fire by mortars and machine-guns. Getting past them took an hour or more. They had lost track of Captain Bakewell, the pioneer, and the four Bren gunners. Some men searched and found Captain Bakewell and the Bren bunners. The captain had been hurt by a booby-trap. The Bren gunners were able to take him some 200 yards, but he asked to be left due to the severity of his wounds. The found the missing men or in some cases, they had just gotten back independently.

Continued Australian patrolling found that small groups of Germans were being positioned to help the Italian units. The Australians continued to be actively patrolling at night, keeping their ascendancy. The enemy counter measures included wiring and booby-trapping the positions that were vulnerable to Australian aggressive patrolling. Patrolling had become more hazardous, so the only deep penetrations had to be done by strong and well-planned raids. On 22 August, the Australians got gifts from the enemy, in the form of six-to-eight inch leaflets. They had the division sign and a message: "Aussies! The Yankees are having a jolly good time in your country. And you?" Another message said "Diggers! You are defending Alamein Box. What about Port Darwin?" The Australians collected the two messages and some were sold as souvenirs.

The elites were still making noises, as they had a new army commander and still had a restless Churchill, anxious to attack the enemy. General Alexander had enough clout with the CIGS, Alan Brooke, that he was able to limit himself to telling General Montgomery to hold on in place and keep the enemy from penetrating to the east. In the meantime, they were to prepare for an offensive against the enemy in the El Alamein area. This is based on the account on Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Australians aggressively patrolling in August 1942

There was considerable patrolling by Australians in early to mid-August 1942. We saw the 2/15th Battalion to the west along the rail line and the coast. The 2/17th Battalion was also patrolling along the rail line and to the south, where the enemy positions were farther from the Australian defenses. Another battalion, the 2/13th Battalion was patrols to the southwest, moving through the 2/17th Battalion positions.

We saw on 13 August at 9pm, a patrol was sent out from the 2;17th Battalion to make a deep penetration into the enemy territory. They fought and action with enemy troops and then eventually withdrew with no losses. This was when on the 14th, was when the 2/17th Battalion had sent out two patrols. This is where they had found what they named "Thompson's Post". A second patrol had found that the enemy forces was working hard to improve their position. They closed a gap in their wire and were working with air hammers as well as picks and shovels. The purpose of this area was to attempt to control the coast road from below.

The 2/13th Battalion sent out a small patrol consisting of an officer and seven men. They advanced about 2,800 yards and then "went to ground". There were some enemy working parties, with one near the Australians. They started towards one working party, but were challenged by a sentry. They charged the enemy, but the officer was shot and his second was killed. They lost one man as a prisoner, but the others were able to guide themselves out by the constellation that the officer had told them about.

During the day, the 9th Australian Division cavalry patrolled. On 15 August, the 2/13th Battalion sent men with the cavalry to become familiar with the territory to the west and to the north from East Point 23.They would be better prepared by knowing the ground in daylight, rather than going out in the dark for the first time. Talking with a prisoner seemed to indicate that the Italians were on a feature called "Cloverleaf" and later "Suthers' Hill". They sent Major Suthers' company on a raid of the hill. If possible, he would leave men on the hill and send the other men to raid Cloverleaf. The company went forward, but some four hundred yards shot of Suther's Hill, they ran into an area filled with booby traps had ten men wounded. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Aggressive patrolling in early to mid-August 1942 at El Alamein

In the north at El Alamein, the 2/15th Battalion were patrolling behind the enemy lines between the railroad line and the coast. Their buddies in the 2/17th Battalion were patrolling the area from the railroad line and to the south. The enemy positions were farther away from the Australian positions in the south. A 2/17th Battalion patrol set out in the evening and returned by 3:30am the next morning. They made a deep penetration into enemy territory, some 5,500 yards. When the patrol was at 4,090 yards deep, a German Spandau machine-gun fired on the patrol, but the gun was aiming high. They went another 800 yards deep, and saw trip wires. Finally, at 5,478 yards, they found a "breast-high wire on long pickets". The wire rattled a warning when the scout hit the wire. A German sentry gave a challenge to the Australians. The Australians "went to ground" for some minutes. When they moved forward again, there was another challenge. The Australians then charged and were fired on by men in trenches. The Australians responded with grenades, sub-machine guns and rifle fire. After an exchange of fire lasting some two minutes, the Australians withdrew. The Australians were unscathed in this exchange.

On the evening of 14 August, "the 2/17th Battalion sent out two patrols". One patrol was to follow up the patrolling from the 13th-14th. The other was to check out an area south of the rail line. Some officers had been probing the area "without permission". The enemy was believed to be digging defenses. The second patrol that was following up the unofficial scouting was to move forward about 6,000 yards. After that, they would turn southwest, moving another 1,400 yards. Once they had done that, they would return to the starting point. That second patrol had 12 men. They traveled some 4,000 yards when they found two fences. Beyond the fences was a very well-developed defensive position. The area was empty, but had trenches and a pill-box. Suddenly, they saw some fifty enemy soldiers approaching them, but who had not seen the Australians. When the enemy were down to twenty yards away, the Australians opened fire and then moved north to the rail line. The leader, Lieutenant Thompson was wounded by "grenade splinters" and was "stunned". Corporal Monaghan took charge and was able to guide the patrol out of danger. They had found a very extensive enemy position some five hundred yards south of the rail line. The position was about 5,500 yards west of the Tel el Eisa station. They named the enemy position "Thompson's Post." This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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