Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Auchinleck makes plans and then changes them from 17 and 18 July 1942 and beyond

The evening of 17 July 1942 started with a carrier raid near the Tel el Eisa. The raid was conducted by three carrier sections from the 2/48th Battalion. The raid had artillery, machine-gun, and mortar support. The carriers ended up firing some 3,400 rounds from their guns during the raid. They had crossed the rail line near the station and then drove to the two points of point 24 (East and West). After doing that, they returned to their starting point. On the return there was a mishap where the carriers ran onto their own minefield and took six casualties and had  three damaged carriers.
Far to the south from the 9th Australian Division, the 7th Armoured Division staged several successful attacks on the enemy. Their impression was that the enemy had thinned out their forces in the south.
Auchinleck's first idea, expressed later on 17 July was to attack the enemy flanks at the end of July. Before that, the "British" forces at El Alamein would keep pressure on the enemy. The XXX Corps role was to destroy the Italian forces they faced. On 18 July, Auchinleck changed his mind and issued a new set of orders. Instead, right away, they would attack (by 21 July) the center, near Ruweisat Ridge. The forces in the south would move against the enemy left and rear. XIII Corps would attack near Deir el Shein, Deir el  Abyad, and Buweibat el Raml. They hoped to break through and chase the enemy to "Daba and Fuka". Meanwhile, XXX Corps would attack in the north. Auchinleck's staff made plans for what to do while pursuing the enemy.
The British were reading Rommel's communications for one thing. They also had received two new brigades: the 161st Indian Motor Brigade and the 23rd Armoured Brigade Group. The reality was that the British had a much greater strength than the enemy. The British thought that the Germans had 31 tanks when they actually had 38 (not many). The Italians were thought to have 70 tanks when they actually had 59. The 1st Armoured Division now had 61 Grant tanks, 81 Crusaders and 31 Stuart light tanks. The 23rd Armoired Brigade had 150 Valentine and a few Matilda tanks. The 1st Army Tank Brigade also had infantry tanks. The 23rd Armoured Brigade waws essentially and Army Tank Brigade. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

17 to 19 July 1942 at El Alamein

Rommel was very concerned about the situation near El Alamein. He wrote his wife on 17 July 1942, remarking that the "enemy" (the Australians) were using their infantry strength to attack and destroy Italian "formations". There were not enough Germans to fight without Italian support. The 9th Australian Division's attacks caused enough damage to make the enemy decide to not attack at the "center".
Tanks (probably German) attacked the two Australian battalions where they touched. In the attack on the 2/32nd Battalion, a gunner was able to knock out six tanks. Still, the 2/32nd Battalion lost 22 men as prisoners where the front platoons had been overrun. The situation was tense, but they were able to pull back to a firm line some 1500 yards behind the previous position at "the telegraph line". The Qattara track cut across where the two battalions touched each other.
The 24th Brigade "brigade major" went forward to see the situation. He told Brigadier Godfrey that they front was solid. Godfrey then ordered the 2/28th Battalion to attack during the night and take the ground that they had just lost. They moved forward after midnight and pushed forward to the objective, which they reached by 1:30am. The attackers had seen very few enemy infantry and had destroyed one enemy tank. Their only casualties were two men wounded.Australian sappers got busy after that and initially laid 2500 mines. The next night, they laid more mines to the field.
The new situation found the 24th Brigade in a triangle by battalions. The 2/28th was at the forward point with the other two spread behind at the telegraph line. The 2/32nd Battalion was to the northwest and the 2/43rd Battalion was to the southeast. The 2/28th Battalion sent out a carrier patrol at sunrise. They found a German machine gun ("Spandau") firing occasionally. The gun was protected by a mine field. The gun was manned by one man. The carrier patrol also noticed German tanks and armored cars scouting around the Makh Khad Ridge. Soon, enemy artillery was firing "air bursts" over the 2/28th Battalion. The firing was apparently from 88mm AA guns which caused heavy casualties in the 2/28th Battalion.
The enemy held off attacking on 18 July 1942. The German situation was very difficult. The two German armored divisions had very few running tanks. the 15th  Armored Division had 9 tanks while the 21st Armored Division had 19 tanks. The 90th Light Division was sent north to take the place of four Italian divisions that had "collapsed". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Australians in action on 17 July 1942 at El Alamein

The 2/43rd Battalion was now under attack by tanks and infantry where they were at Ruin Ridge, but they were without anti-tank support and were also low on ammunition. To make matters worse, they no longer could communicate with the field artillery. The battalion commander wanted to move farther foward some eight hundred yards, but he was informed by the 44th RTR squadron commander that he could not help with such a move. The alternative plan was to withdraw and permission was granted for the move. They ended up on Makh Khad Ridge. They were then located to the left of the 2/32nd Battalion. The 2/43rd had some accomplishments. In their fight, they "had destroyed 13 guns and 12 machine-guns and three heavy mortars".
The fighting at Trig 22 was becoming increasingly tough. They were now taking heavy shelling. The enemy had started to fire "air bursts", which were very damaging due to the positions being very shallow with no cover. The enemy launched an attack with tanks and armored cars at 10am. 2-pdr fire and fire from a captured Italian Breda 20mm forced the attackers to withdraw. The Breda was damaged but the gunner, a corporal, was able to repair the gun. He used the gun to fire at soft vehicles "and low-flying aircraft".
The enemy continued to apply pressure against the two battalions. One issue was that the enemy had been able to put a post on Trig 22. At least, the two Australian battalions were in contact. The 24th Brigade commander, Brigadier Godfrey gave permission for a reorganization of the 2/32nd Battalion positions to form a line "that followed the telegraph poles and linking with the 2/43rd's positions astride the Qattara track".
The 24th Brigade had accomplished enough to draw attention (however unwanted). They had overrun Italian units from the Trieste Division and from the 7th Bersaglieri Regiment and had penetrated the Trento Division front. Rommel had ordered German units to the area. He also ordered General Nehring to change to a defensive posture. Rommel wanted a regiment from the 90th Light Division, but all he got was a battalion. In the north, the enemy forces at near Tel el Eisa were "not happy". That was with the 26th Australian Brigade not pressing them. German armor and infantry pulled back to where they had been on 16 July. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Tough fighting early on 17 July 1942 near Trig 22

The 2/32nd Battalion moved out at 2:30am. In what was just 15 minutes or so, they came under fire from the enemy with "artillery, mortars, and machine-guns". By 5:15am, the right company had gone some 1,500 yards past Trig 22. The other two companies took their objectives. The 2/32nd took about 160 prisoners. The three companies that had attacked were spread wide over a 2,500 yard front. They had left gaps between the companies. Some Australian anti-tank guns and machine-guns were in place on Trig 22. An enemy counter-attack had taken the crest of Trig 22. The 2/32nd Battalion commander sent his fourth company against the crest which it took again by 7:45am. They had taken their objectives by 8:45am. The 9th Australian Division cavalry had seven tanks and 15 carriers. This was their first fight while equipped with tanks. Previously, they had carriers, although they may have had some British light tanks. They were able to knock out "some anti-tank guns and machine-gun posts".
Starting at 6am, the 2/43rd Battalion attacked onto the Qattara track. They had two companies forward with a third following. They experienced heavy enemy fire. They arrived at Ruin Ridge at about 7am. The left company had a fight to break through enemy positions. The ground was "broken", which must have made progress difficult. Everyone man but one in the left section was wounded. The un-wounded man carried a Bren gun and eventually rejoined his platoon after moving another thousand yards. One company captured some four hundred enemy soldiers. They arrived at Ruin Ridge by 7:30am. They could see that there were 19 enemy guns firing from 300 yards away. The company commander led an attack with a scratch group, including men from his headquarters. They added 150 more prisoners to their bag. They were short of anti-tank grenades and wanted to preserve what they could for use against tanks, so they only destroyed three of the guns.
The other foward company from the 2/43rd moved across 2,500 yards under artillery fire until they were fired on from a position. The men attacked while "firing from the hip" which allowed them to overrun the enemy, who surrendered in the face of the attack. They kept going another thousand yards where they reached machine-guns and an anti-tank gun, probably Italian. The Australians attacked from the side and caused the enemy to stand and surrender. After the anti-tank gun fired two more rounds, the gunner was killed. Once they had occupied Ruin Ridge, they could see 7 tanks and some four hundred vehicles in the distance. A corporal moved forward and observed the enemy to "direct his platoon's fire". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Australians dominate and are again used for more attacks in July 1942

The 2/23rd Battalion had "overran" the last existent battalion of  the Italian Sabratha Division. They had also hit a German battalion, the I/382nd Infantry Regiment. The situation was desperate enough to cause Rommel to send help from the south that he had planned to use to follow-up on successes at Ruweisat Ridge. So the 33rd Reconnaissance Battalion, the Briehl Group of the 90th Light Division, and a 104th Regiment battalion. By ten to ten, the 21st Armored Division reported that heavy fire from the right made any advance impossible. By 1:40pm, 5th Armored Regiment had to change to a defensive posture. A strong infantry force had moved into position to attack the two Australian infantry companies at Tel el Eisa.
In the fighting leading up to this situation, just one Australian brigade had managed to capture and hold "high ground west of the El Alamein fortress and nogth of the railway." They had hit the enemy so that they had lost some 2,000 killed, wounded and took 3,708 prisoners. They Germans and Italians suffered from Australian artillery fire and machine guns. For once, Australian artillery and machine gun units had been used to support Australian infantry. The Austalians also had "direct air support" for the first time,
Brigadier Ramsey was now the 9th Australian Division artillery commander. Had previously commanded the artillery at Mersa Matruh. He had served as an enlisted artilleryman in the Great War and received a commission after the end of the war. At the start of the second war, Ramsey had been a division artillery commander. He stepped back down and formed the 2/2nd Field Regiment. After that, he had been the corps medium artillery commander. "He wasa schoolmaster and university lecturer and destined to fill the most senior posts has branch of the teaching profession offered."
By 17 July, General Auchinleck planned to attack the enemy forces "in the center" at Ruweisat Ridge. The 24th Australian Brigade would attack from the north. They would try to take Makh Khad Ridge and then push some five thousand yards "towards Ruin Ridge". The 2/32nd Battalion would take Trig 22 without artillery preparation during the night. By dawn, the 2/43rd Battalion "would pass through" with a 44th RTR Valentine squadron to take Ruin Ridge to the south. Most of the 44th RTR with the 9th Australian Divisional Cavalry, equipped with Crusader tanks would guard the flank, and if needed, help with Trig 22. There was heavy artillery support provided. They had the 9th Australian DIvision artillery, the 1st South African Division artillery, along with two British field regiments. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Action on 15 July 1942 "in the north" at El Alamein

As early as 4:15am on 15 July, the Germans ordered tanks from the 5th Armored Regiment as well as infantry to stage an attack on the Australians. The infantry that was immediately involved were men from the II;104th Battalion. They pushed ahead and crossed the railroad "north-west of the cutting at 5:50am. By 8am, 12 tanks belonging to the 5th Armored Regiment pushed to the east, running along to the north of the rail line. At 2pm, the unit reported that they had moved back into positions that they had previously held. They were not able to bring up heavy weapons due to the heavy artillery fire.
By later in the afternoon, the Germans were unable to continue forward and in fact had to move against an attack coming from "south-east of the El Alamein Box". The one infantry battalion from the 104th Regiment was left on their own to hold "the northern sector". New orders for the 5th Armored Regiment were to attack starting at 4:30am on 16 July. They were to attack "in the south-east".
On the opposing side, the Australians planned to retake "Point 24", which had two hills connected, as we remember. Half of the 2/23rd Battalion with five tanks were allocated for the attack. The attack was launched in the morning. One company of the 2/23rd Battalion with two  troops from the 8th RTR moved out at 5:20am. The enemy had a position "at the railway cutting". They fired on the leading Australians. A successful attack with grenades and sub-machine-guns took the enemy position (a "post"). The active Australian company was able to take the eastern portion of Point 24 by 6:30am.
The second company from the 2/23rd Battalion moved through the first. They were supported by tanks from the 44th RTR. They were able to take the western part of Point 24 by 7:45am. The company commander had gone to help a wounded man and while returning, he "was killed by a shell". The Australians took 601 prisoners, including 41 Germans. They also took three colonels prisoner, one of which was a German. Of the attacking Australians, they lost some 90 men killed or wounded. That was 90 out of about 200 men who attacked. At 11:30am, Lt-Col. Evans came forward to inspect the situation. The enemy was able to fire on the positions so he ordered the men to withdraw from what he considered to be a valueless area. They had no machine guns, ant-tank guns. They continued to take losses, so they withdrew with no further losses. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

New plan for 15 July 1942 at El Alamein

The Australian 20th Brigade was organized as a brigade group. During the afternoon of 15 July 1942, they had moved into positions near Auchinleck's "tactical headquarters". The brigade had orders to be executed at 5:30am on 16 July. They were to break into three battalion battle groups "in mobile box formation" and travel to the Mubarik tomb which was "behind the 5th Indian Division".  The British had intelligence that indicated that Rommel was planning to attack the 5th Indian Division. The 20th Brigade Group (as it was) set up a defensive line that was quite hastily constructed. All this happened without General Morshead being informed. When Morshead learned of developments, he immediately phoned General Auchinleck and told him that what had been done was contrary to their agreement and also to Morshead's "charter". At first, General Auchinleck agreed to return 20th Brigade to the 9th Austraslian Division. However, Auchinleck called Morshead back to tell him that Auchinleck was being "heavily attacked". Morshead relented in those circumstances and let Auchinleck continue to use the 20th Brigade. Auchinleck was not able to return the 20th Brigade until 17 July.
Meanwhile, on 15 July, Rommel attacked 26th Brigade. Rommel was handicapped by having sent reinforcements to General Nehring of the German Africa Corps. During the night before the attack, men from 2/48th Battalion could hear vehicles in the area near the Tel el Eisa railroad station. The battalion fired on the force that was close by. By morning, they noticed some 15 German vehicles "near the wire" and that there two machine guns and two anti-tank guns setup close to the rail station. The Australians attacked and took 32 prisoners and captured the vehicles (initially). The vehicles were stripped of "ammunition and equipment" and were then destroyed. During the night of 15-16 July, men from the 2/48th Battalion attacked German engineers engaged in removing the minefield. They took seven of hte engineers prisoner.
Back at dawn on 15 July, the men of the 2/24th Battalion saw ten German tanks and as many as 70 vehicles carrying infantry. They were driving in the direction of Trig 33. The enemy fired a heavy artillery barrage starting at about 7:30am. A significant attack was sent with 35 tanks and "seven companies of infantry". The tanks reached the foot of Trig 33 with 14 tanks having scaled the Trig. The accompanying infantry was beaten back while the tanks eventually pulled back. Another attack was sent forward at 8:15am. They had 25 tanks but they were again repulsed. The 44th Tank Regiment attacked with "light tanks" (presumably Stuarts). The enemy again sent an attack (the third). They did not have any tank support and they were beaten back after about a half-hour fight. Another attack with tanks and infantry "at midday" was stopped by artillerty and machine guns. That day, they destroyed ten German tanks and they took 63 prisoners. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

14-15 July 1942 a success "up to a point"

The New Zealand Divsion was "hung out to dry" by the 1st Armoured Division. To a degree, the New Zealand Division created their own problem by bypassing significant German units. In one case, eight German tanks were bypassed. As day broke, the German tanks attacked the 22nd New Zealand Battalion. The New Zealanders had expected to see tanks, but British ones not German. The New Zealand anti-tank guns engaged the tanks, but after a "fierce fight", the New Zealanders surrendered with some 350 taken prisoner, as we previously had mentioned.
On the morning of 15 July, the Africa Corps commander reported the attack at Deir el Shein to Rommel. Rommel ordered German forces to head for the British "penetration". He sent the 3rd Reconaissance Unit and a battle group of 100 infantry with other arms heading south. The Baade Group with 200 infantry and some artillery, along with the 33rd Reconnaisance Unit driving north. An attack started at 5pm from the north that included the available tanks from the 15th Armored Division. One issue was the Baade Group did not reach the battle area. Still, the 4th New Zealand Brigade was overrun due to the non-support by the 1st Armoured Division. Still, a few tanks from the 2nd Armoured Brigade came up to the battle to support the New Zealanders. General Gott told the New Zealanders that they could withdraw to "a line from Trig 63 to to a position south-west of Alam el Dihmaniya". The British armor created some very great anger over their failure to support the New Zealand Division.  They particularly were angry with the Briitsh commanders involved in the bad situation.
Auchinleck's plan for the battle was good enough that "some 2,000 men of the Brescia and Pavia had surrendered, and in Rommel's words, the 'line south-east of Deir el Shein collapsed'". The problem was that the British armor's failure to support the 2nd New Zealand Division caused the loss  of 1,405 "killed, wounded or missing".
The great New Zealand officer at this time a brigadier, Howard Kippenberger not only blamed the British armor but said that the New Zealanders could have done more to get better cooridate support from the armor. Still, this was another example where the British armor seemed afraid to fight the Germans. This is based on the accoiunt in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, April 01, 2019

14 to 15 July 1942 at El Alamein

Some of the tanks that had been engaged at Point 24 cut across the front of the 2/48th Battalion near the Tel el Eisa rail station. When no one fired on the tanks, they continued on towards Point 26. Field guns opened fire on the tanks and turned west where Australian anti-tank guns fired on the tanks. Nearby infantry also fired on the tanks. Some of the tanks exploded and burnt. The survivors withdrew under fire. The Australians of 2/3rd Anti-Tank Regiment claimed seven tanks knocked out, four by one gun and three by the other. In the morning, the 1st Army Tank Brigade sent tanks forward to support the Australians. In the light, they counted ten German tanks knocked out!
Rommel had planned an attack on 15 July, but Auchinleck's attack on Ruweisat Ridge caused Rommel to have to reduce what he would do at Tel el Eisa. Auchinleck had planned to break through the enemy forces in the center and wipe out the enemy north of Ruweisat Ridge. He also wanted to destroy the enemy forces that lay to the east from the track from El Alamein-to-Ab Dweis. XXX Corps would capture the eastern portion of Ruweisat Ridge and then attack south and capture Miteiriya Ridge. XIII Corps was also in the plan and was to push to Trig 63 in the west of Ruweisat Ridge and then move to the northwest. Auchinleck decided on 14 July to attack that night. The corps were to achieve their objectives by 4:30am on 15 July. The orders to "XIII Corps and 1st Armoured Division" show that Auchinleck had actually decided on a more limited set of objectives. They realized later that the conferences that were held did not successfully communicate how the cooperation between units was to occur. For example, the New Zealand Division had expected to have close armor support. General Lumsden understood that his armor only needed to come forward when requested. The lack of support by two armored brigades had unfortunate consequences.
The XXX Corps attack was launched by the 5th Indian Brigade. One battalion was held up by fire, while another was pushed back.
2nd New Zealand Division attacked from the XIII Corps area. They had two brigades engaged, the 4th and 5th, They moved forward starting at 11pm. They moved until they encountered minefield. They bypassed enemy positions and kept moving forward. The New Zealand brigades had reached their objectives, but were not in good condition. They expected to have two armored brigades ready to support them and the Indian brigade, but they were instead sitting stopped, in the rear, waiting for orders. Some German tanks had been bypassed, and these attacked the New Zealanders. New Zealand anti-tank guns engaged the tanks, but the New Zaaland Division lost 350 prisoners. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Offiicial History.

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