Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Differing opinions regarding El Alamein and the blocking battle to be fought there in July 1942

There were some very pessimistic opinions among British and Commonwealth commanders in early July 1942. The British were fortunate that they had the best field commander in the Middle East at that time in command of the Eighth Army (General Auchinleck). Not only that, but Auchinleck was optimistic about their chances of beating Rommel at El Alamein. Fortunately, General Norrie, XXX Corps commander, also was optimistic and he took the stand that fighting at El Alamein was a real "last ditch"defense of Egypt. Many others had defeatist attitudes that were unfortunate. You expect that General Gott would be one of those with such a bad attitude, and that he had. He was the last man that you would want to have as a decision-make in the battle to stop Rommel.
The Australian historian said if Auchinleck that he had "an exceptional talent for perceiving his enemies difficulties". Rommel was always an opportunist, trying to surprise his enemies and use infiltration tactics to throw them into a panic. What that meant, was that Rommel was often without a plan and he relied on finding a weakness in his enemy that he could exploit and throw them into a retreat. That meant that Rommel was often at risk for "overreaching" when he was trying for a surprise. His superiors at the "German High Command" were very aware of this weakness and were concerned.
The force that drove up to the British defenses at El Alamein was a skeleton force. They had but "1,700 first-line infantry and 55 tanks forward." The German-Italian force was very short on supplies. They pretty much only had what they had captured from the British in the collapse after the defeat at Gazala. They also knew that the British were being resupplied with tanks and guns that were superior to what the Germans and Italians had in inventory. The British were receiving new medium tanks built in America and armed with 75mm guns. The Lee and Grant tanks had the gun mounted in the hull, but they had Sherman tanks in the pipeline that carried a 75mm gun in a turret. They also were receiving 6pdr anti-tank guns which compared well with the 50mm PAK38 and were probably superior to them. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History and our knowledge of the topic.

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