Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Auchinleck's new plan for El Alamein on 7 July 1942

By 7 July 1942, General Auchinleck had given up on his original plan for two columns to cut around the enemy's southern flank and move into his rear areas. Something about the separation between his two corps worried Auchinleck. He now decided that there were vulnerable Italian formations in the north that the fresh Australian soldiers could attack. 5 and 6 July had seen the 26th Australian Brigade moved up along the coast, behind the defended areas. By 8 July, the majority of the 9th Australian Division had been pulled up from Alexandria. The plan for the division from then onward was to keep a skeleton force for each battalion so if a battalion was destroyed, there was a base to rebuild from.
When General Morshead visited XXX Corps headquarters, he learned that General Norrie was leaving for England. The new XXX Corps commander was to be General Ramsden, the 50th Division commander. At 6pm on 7 July, General Ramsden phoned General Morshead to inform him of his new assignment. This meant that General Morshead would report to a general who had less responsibility than Morshead, a short time before. At the time of the call, General Ramsden was still a Major-General, while Morshead, as AIF commander, was a Lieutenant-General. It turned out that during the remainder of First El Alamein, Ramsden and Morshead disagreed and had a poor relationship. The situation was created by the fact that Morshead was not impressed by Ramsden's performance and that affected his attitude.
7 July 1942 saw 24th Brigade ordered to stage a raid with one infantry company with engineers. The strength involved 4 officers, 64 infantrymen, 20 engineers, with six stretcher bearers. The force was assembled at Point 71 at 10:30pm. They moved out by 11pm. They walked about 1400 yards, the front of the group could see enemy troops at about 800 yards. They attacked while the other platoons spread out left and right and also moved in.
The raid seems to have been successfull. The engineers destroyed one M3 Stuart and two Grant tanks, along with a gun and its gun tractor. One man recaptured a British carrier and drove it out. The enemy had fired wildly and inaccurately. The raiding part returned to point 71 by 3am and had a positive affect on 9th Division morale as well as nearby troops. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

From 5 to 6 July 1942, an impression of chaos

The 24th Australian Brigade commander, Brigadier Godfrey, stated at a conference, that the alternative scenario, where his brigade would stand on the ground that it had taken, with tanks and anti-tank guns moving forward in support, could not be executed. He requested a 24 hour delay. Given the state of command in Eighth Army, 4th New Zealand Brigade did not receive word of the cancellation and the brigade went ahead and executed their portion of the plan. At the same time, the New Zealand Division received a message that the enemy might be ready to "withdraw westwards". The result was that the 4th New Zealand Division had been "shooting up the Littorio Armoured Division in its leaguer before breakfast". The situation at the army headquarters was such that they suddenly ordered the New Zealand Division to pull back from the Qattara Box where they could fire their guns at the Ruweisat Ridge. There had apparently been a sudden change in plan by Auchinleck.
On 7 July 1942, Auchinleck had decided that he would move the 9th Australian Division up to the north to be in position to attack what he believed were mostly Italian forces. Two battalions of the 26th Australian Brigade were ordered to the coast, and passed command of both the 24th and 26th Brigades back to the 9th Australian Division. Division headquarters moved up to a position near El Imayid Station. There was now just a "reserve group" defending Alexandria. The division now had a "tentacle" from Army Air Support Control with another "tentacle" accompanying 24th Brigade. The tentacles both provided timely air support and better communications of reconnaissance information.
The group defending Alexandria originally had the 20th Brigade. The 20th Brigade (or at least two battalions) was called to move near El Alamein. That left three infantry battalions and a pioneer battalion near Alexandria, along with other bits and pieces. A week later, the infantry battalions were ordered to rejoin their brigades. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Germans were pulled back and the Italians were holding the front from 5 July 1942

Auchinleck was the one who had requested an Australian brigade because he believed that when Rommel had withdrawn the German divisions from the front that he might be preparing to withdraw to the west. General Morshead had decided to use the 24th Brigade because they were the only Australian brigade to have trained for mobile operations. Auchinleck's optimistic plans were to push west to El Daba. The push to the west never happened in this time frame, because Rommel was still thinking that at some point he could break the British front and push on to Cairo. By 5 July, Auchinleck had decided not to attempt to flank the enemy front with XIII Corps and push into the enemy rear areas. He decided to use XXX Corps and XIII Corps to push to Deir el Shein. By then, the German divisions had been withdrawn, as well as XX Corps (Italian mechanized divisions). Italian infantry from the X and XXI Corps now held the front. The German divisions were left to "rest and reorganize". Rommel still hoped to stage a new attack and push through the British front.
The Australian 24th Brigade was ordered to occupy Ruweisat Ridge. Their duties were to hold a strong defensive position that would allow the 1st Armoured Division and mobile columns from "Wall Group" (Brigadier Waller)to operate. 24th Brigade now reported "directly" to XXX Corps. They replaced the 50th Division headquarters and "Stancol" which was sent "back to the Delta for reorganisation". The commander of Wall Group was from the 10th Indian Division. When General Morshead visited the front, he did not like the improvised organization based on mobile columns.
By 6 July, a plan was in the works for 24th Australian Brigade to stage a raid "on a ridge west of Alam Baoshza. Perhaps they would attack and then withdraw. An alternative version of the plan had them staying and holding the area with tanks and 6pdr anti-tank guns arriving at dawn. This idea was part of an ongoing planning session about a attack on the enemy positions with the goal of breaking through. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Auchinleck wants to take action, makes plans, and wants to pull the 9th Australian Division into the fight at El Alamein in early July 1942

From early July 1942 (at least from 4 July), Auchinleck was making plans that he was not able to execute. He had sent a message late on 4 July that the army "would attack and destroy the enemy in his present position". Auchinleck's initial idea was to use XIII Corps to outflank the enemy on their southwest and push towards across their rear towards the coast road. Nothing was accomplished, though, on 5 July. While the British wasted time, the enemy forces were reorganizing and digging on their positions. The New Zealand historian remarked that plans were made but were never executed.
Back on 3 July, the senior staff officer, Brigadier Walsh, phoned the 9th Australian Division headquarters. They were ordered to reorganize into battle they were ordered to send one battle group (minus one battalion) forward to El Alamein. Using the division in battle groups was contrary to what General Blamey wanted to see. The message got General Morshead to travel to Auchinleck's headquarters. Morshead had an unpleasant conversation with Auchinleck, but before he left the 9th Australian headquarters, he ordered that the 24th Brigade, minus the 2/28th Battalion, should be ready to move by 5am on the next day. That was if they were able to build up the brigade to fix the "deficiencies". Auchinleck backed off and requested that the entire 9th Australian Division be brought forward with General Morshead in command. Morshead did agree to let the brigade group be sent to the XXX Corp if the whole division was to be brought forward so as to fight as a division.
Morshead met with General Norrie, the XXX Corps commander and then flew back to Alexandria in a Westland Lysander. While all this was happening work was underway to add equipment to the 24th Brigade. By noon (apparently) on 3 July, the 9th Australian Division came under XXX Corps command, because on 4 July, the 24th Brigade began moving forward, although roads were clogged with eastbound traffic. 24th Brigade battalions were digging in at tel El Shamama. XXX Corps told the 24th Brigade to be ready for a quick move, meaning that they needed to be ready to start driving their vehicles. The 2/28th Battalion was till back at El Amiriya. 20th Brigade was now in the position defending Alexandria that had been occupired by the 24th Brigade. The Australians now at El Alamein were happy to see the "Allied air superiority". There were still dogfights, and you never knew who would win. A feature of July 1942 was that there were new American light bombers in action, Douglas Bostons and Glenn Martin Baltimores. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Auchinleck tries to make things happen and pulls the 9th Australian Division into the mix from 3 July 1942

The Australian historian's assessment after the fact was that General Auchinleck did not perceive just how desperate the Axis situation was, circa 3 and 4 July 1942. Almost immediately, the New Zealanders noticed that Auchinleck had little confidence in his men's ability to stand and fight. On the bright side, during the night from 4 to 5 July 1942, Auchinleck said that the army would "attack and destroy the enemy in his present position". On the 5th, apparently, the New Zealanders received orders about withdrawing if the
"line collapsed", which was a very unlikely possibility. The plan for a retreat was for XXX Corps to go along the coast to Alexandria. XIII Corps, which included the New Zealand Division would go cross-country to Cairo.
The Eighth Army was a dull sword, so that while General Auchinleck designed operational plans to attack the enemy, the army in its present state was ill-suited to perform tasks that were needed. Still, Auchinleck was able to control the situation while the enemy was reduced to responding to his attacks and movements. During 1941 and 1942, no one with the expertise of General Auchinleck had been making decisions about the army, its procedures and communications mechanisms. That redesign did not happen until the arrival of Bernard Law Montgomery, who instituted report centers that allowed for accurate information to flow to the army commander. Also, when Auchinleck issued orders to Generals Gott and Lumsden, then rewrote the orders into something other than what Auchinleck had intended.
Because of the commanders involved, 4 July progressed in a way that little resembled what Auchinleck had intended. The 22nd Armoured Brigade sent their tanks moving forward along the Ruweisat Ridge. the infantry regiment of the 15th Armored (Panzer) Division was partly overrun. It appeared as if a large number of German soldiers would surrender, but the British armor took artillery fire and pulled back, leaving the would-be prisoners still free. They diarist for the Africa Corps noted that the 15th Armored Division was in a "serious situation". IF there had been more competent British command of the attack, it would have been a fine success. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Action at El Alamein from 3 July 1942

Rommel found that the Eighth Army under General Auchinleck's command, would not panic and run when confronted with infiltration tactics. Rommel hoped that on 3 July 1942, his forces might be able to achieve some success against the British. The 90th Light Division was allowed to dig in where they were and not try to attack. The remnants of the German Africa Corps were ordered to push their 26 running tanks to the east to isolate the South Africans. The British were in somewhat better condition, because the 1st Armoured Division still had 100 running tanks. Rommel still wanted the Italian XX Corps to "deal with the Qattara Box". Auchinleck's plan was for XXX Corps to sit in the coastal region and be ready to fight any attack. XIII Corps would turn the enemy flank and go after their rear areas from Deir el Shein.

On the morning of 3 July, the Africa Corps was looking for a weak spot to attack when they found the 1st Armoured Division. The British tanks moved into hull-down positions, which were not the usual British mode of fighting. The armored units fought all day long on the Ruweisat Ridge. Rommel was pushing the Africa Corps to push past the South African Division on the south side, but they only covered a short distance and stopped.
The 1st Armoured Division was not able to make the move around the enemy flank, but the New Zealand Division achieved a great victory. The Italian Ariete armored division moved out from Alam Nayil, between the Qattara Box and the Ruweisat Ridge. They had a brief encounter with the 4th Armoured Brigade and then were fired on by four New Zealand field batteries.
The Italians reacted so strongly to the artillery fire that 4th New Zealand Brigade attacked "from the south". The 19th New Zealand Battalion was in the lead. Their carrier platoon led an attack with fixed bayonets and captured an outlying Italian group. They then made a "systematic attack" on a larger group of Italians. They Italian morale must have collapsed, as some 350 men surrendered and about 44 medium and field guns were captured. They also captured a large number of vehicles. The New Zealand Division was commanded by Major-General Inglis on a temporary basis. With the Italians being in such serious trouble, he ordered Howard Kippenberger to attack with his 5th Brigade at El Mreir. The Brescia Division was located at El Mreir, and they fired on the 5th Brigade, which eventually dug in where they had arrived.
By the end of 3 July, Rommel had to admit that his army could go no further in its present state. He decided that they needed time to regroup and recover "for at least a fortnight". His army was in a sad state with divisions being down to 1200 to 1300 men. He only had about 36 German tanks still running. They also were "short of ammunition" and we would imagine that they were also short of supplies. We are very familiar with Friedrich von Mellinthin and his book Panzer Battles. On 4 July 1942, he was a staff officer with Rommel. In his book, von Mellinthin called the German-Italian situation "perilous". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

The Axis attack on 1 July 1942 at El Alamein

The Axis attack did occur on 1 July 1942, although the Axis forces were very tired. The German Africa Corps had been held up due to a variety of reasons. The ground was very difficult, causing "heavy going" as they said. There was also a dust storm causing problems. On top of all that, the British were able to launch a substantial air attack on the attacking forces. The Africa Corps had not expected to find any units at Deir el Shein. Deir el Shein turned out to have the 18th Indian Brigade and nine Matilda tanks. A fierce, eight-hour battle was fought against the Indians, who were unsupported, as was the typical British situation. The Germans were able to "overrun" the brigade, which was "virtually destroyed". The battle had slowed down the German advance and they were reduced from 55 tanks down to 37 tanks still runners.
During the afternoon on 1 July, the South African Division artillery fired on the 90th Light Division. The initial German response was to "dig in". By 3:30pm, the Germans were losing their nerve and "many men fled". The 90th Light Division diary had an entry saying that they had stopped what could have turned into a rout. The artillery fire had brought the division's advance to a stop. By early on 2 July, Rommel called off the southern move by the Africa Corps and ordered them to the north to support the 90th Light Division attack on the El Alamein Box.
General Auchinleck took the 18th Indian Brigade loss in stride. He had already decided to narrow the front to a size more easily defended. He thought that they should pull out of Naqb Abu Dweis and Bab el Qattara. During the night of 1 July to 2 July, General Auchinleck ordered the 1st Armoured Division and the New Zealand Division to be ready for a counter-attack from the south.
In the north, the 90th Light Division made a half-hearted attack on the South African troops. The morale of the 90th Light Division was so bad that they never seriously attacked. The Italians of X Corps had also been ordered to attack, further north, but they were  also ineffective and probably dispirited. By the middle of 2 July, General Auchinleck had decided to hit the enemy "flank and rear" with XIII Corps. That caused a tank battle between the 1st Armoured Division and the Africa Corps. The battle lasted until night and was "inconclusive". The Italian armor was in the south but air attack kept them from making any moves. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, February 04, 2019

The Germans would push on "as fast as he could drive" them from 30 June 1942 on wards

As was almost always the case, Rommel's only play in his book was to use infiltration tactics to try and upset the enemy morale. Rommel's men were in bad shape and were short on supplies. They also did not know when they might receive any more. Rommel issued orders to the German Africa Corps and the 90th Light Division to push into British territory before daylight in the area "between the El Alamein position and Deir el Abyad." Rommel ordered the 90th Light Division to turn towards the sea and cut off the El Alamein Box. The German Africa Corps would turn to the south would hit the rear areas of XIII Corps. The Italian Trento Division would attack El Alamein from the west side. The Italian Brescia Division would move forward behind the German Africa Corps. They also had the Italian XX Corps with the Ariete Armored Division and the Triested Motorized Division. They were ordered to attack the Qattara Box. The attack would be on new territory and would be in the dark, so that there would be no real chance to do any reconnaissance prior to attacking.
The British, following Auchinleck's latest ideas and trying to imitate Rommel's battle groups. The South Africans formed up two columns, leaving only one brigade in the box they had occupied. That meant that there were no units facing east from the box. The 50th Division formed three columns, each with eight field guns. The 10th Indian Division and the 5th Indian Division also created columns.
looking back at 30 June 1942, the British rearguard drove through the El Alamein Box. They were closely followed by the 90th Light Division. The Germans stopped short of the box and opened fire with artillery. German aircraft also started bombing the box. The 90th Light Division needed to prepare for the "big attack" planned for the next morning. Being in such a hurry had left the German staff with a mistaken idea of where the British units were deployed. The XXX Corps was actually in the north, but the Germans expected to see the X Corps there. The facts were that both sides were confused and not prepared. Auchinleck at the army headquarters was out of touch with what the situation was on the ground, so was Rommel. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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