Thursday, May 30, 2019

22 July 1942 at El Alamein, General Morshead is involved

During the day on 22 July 1942, General Morshead visited 24th Brigade headquarters a number of times. The general was waiting to hear that the brigade had achieved the first phase goals. "Just before 3:45pm" heard that the 2/32nd Battalion now had solid possession of its ground. General Morshead was thinking ahead to the exploitation phase. The situation was not quite so rosy, as Point 24 was still to be resolved. General Morshead consulted with General Ramsden and they decided not to continue with armor and infantry exploitation some 2,000 and 4,000 yards. They would still push to the south with the goal of reaching Ruin Ridge by dusk and setting up positions on the back side during the night.

They had planned to use the 2/28th Battalion for the westward move that was cancelled, so they decided to use the battalion for the push to the south. The 2/28th would take the place of the 2/43rd Battalion. The 50th RTR would be used for the attack on Ruin Ridge. Two squadrons would transport infantry and engineers. They were to cover six miles in just an hour. The tanks would have some six-pounders and machine-guns following them. Behind all that would be the rest of the 2/28th Battalion on foot, covering two miles in an hour. At the rear would follow the remainder of the 50th RTR. The 50th RTR, with 52 Valentine tanks would move into hull down spots on Ruin Ridge. They were to say there until the main group of the 2/28th Battalion arrived. They would be able to withdraw once the 2/28th Battalion was in place.

Ruin Ridge had been attacked four days earlier, so they hoped that the enemy would not expect another attack so soon. They optimistically expected that they could skimp on preparation, which was a bad idea. Major Cox, of the 2/28th Battalion had just received "oral orders" for an attack starting at 7pm. Here they were leaving the brigade headquarters at 5pm. The 24th Brigade commander, Brigadier Godfrey heard between 6pm and 7pm that a reconnaissance aircraft had seen some five hundred vehicles dispersed on Miteiriya Ridge> They were infantry reported digging positions and the report mentioned twenty gun positions. Brigadier Godfrey reported the news to Colonel Wells as 9th Australian Division headquarters. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

22 and 23 July 1942 with the 24th Brigade at El Alamein

Operations on 22 July 1942 had been tough for the Australians in the north at El Alamein. The 2/32nd Battalion was to attack Trig 22. They knew that Trig 22 was well-defended and had anti-tank guns and machine-guns. The 2/32nd Battalion was reduced to three 90-man companies, short of NCO's. The commander got the loan of one 2/43rd Battalion company for the attack. The attack was made with three companies in front. They stepped out at 5:30am with 1,700 yards to travel. They had fifteen minutes of artillery support before the attack started. The 2/43rd Company took the first fire from the enemy. They were stopped by heavy fire and forced to dig in. The company commander was hit and died. The 2/32nd Battalion company in the middle also lost its company commander. The company reached its objective, but was then pinned down by enemy fire. The third company "captured three anti-tank guns". But the company was stopped short, below Trig 22 and had to dig in as well. An Australian commanding a machine-gun section, charged a German machine gun in a sanger. The Lieutenant had only a pistol, but he used it very effectively. One of his men shot the German machine-gunner. They then fired on the Germans with the Spandau which eventually jammed.

On the right, the 2/43rd Company was till pinned down by artillery fire from two field guns. The reserve company was sent out to attack the gun position. They were supported by artillery and mortars. They took the position and forced the Germans to retreat. Later, Australian engineers ventured out and damaged the German guns. Suddenly at 9:45pm, the Germans hit the Australians with artillery and then sent tanks and armored cars at the center company. The company commander was killed and 66 Australians were taken prisoner. Artillery fire finally forced the tanks to withdraw.

The tanks and armored cars, along with several self-propelled guns attacked next at Trig 22. There was a protracted fight where two of the armored cars and the two moblie guns were disabled. The Australians were finally able to position some anti-tank guns to protect Trig 22 from further attacks. They also dug positions "back from the crest". The 24th Brigade had taken 57 German prisoners in the fighting, all from the 1/155th Infantry Battalion. This is based on the account in VOl.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Tough fighting by Australians on 22 to 23 July 1942 in the north at El Alamein

While the 2/248th Battalion, commanded by Lt-Col. Hammer, was in difficulty. D Company of the 2/48th Battalion was without a commander and the company "had lost coheision". Despite that, small groups of men were able to hold on in their positions. One remaining section was commanded by a private. They had been able to overrun some enemy "posts". Those men noticed a knocked out Valentine tank. Germans had taken the crew prisoner along with two Australians from the section. Private Ashby's aection was able to shoot up the Germans and free the prisoners.

B Company of the 2/48th Battalion was now commanded by a Sergeant. He was able to call Lt-Col.Hammer and told him that they still holding their ground, but he didn't have map, so he didn't know where he was. Lt-Col.Hammer picked men for a force to go help B Company. He got men from his headquarters, the Headquarters Company, and some fifty men who had just arrived as reinforcements. He also pulled A Company from its positions and sent them all, along with some machine-guns and an anti-tank gun troop. B Company called just as the group had moved out. B Company was surrounded but would fight their way out. Only 15 men were able to get out from their positions. Lt-Col.Hammer ordered A Company to re-take East Point 24. They did that and laid wire and mines.

Late in the day on 22 July 1942, the 2/23rd Battalion, commanded by Lt-Col.Evans, they had been involved in desperate fighting. A Company from the 2/23rd Battalion was preparing positions close to the railway. They had lost touch with two platoons and the company commander may have been killed. The 2/23rd Battalion had taken losses. They had some 1oo wounded and had about fifty missing. They had lost 43 NCO's.

The infantry of the two battalions were fine men. They had been pushed back from a great deal of the ground that they had taken. Just holding on as well as they had was all they had been asked to do. As the 23rd of July began, they realized that the had withdrawn from around "East and West Point 24". The 2/23rd Battalion was reorganized based on their surviving strength, so they now had two companies. One of the companies was at East Point 24. The second company was between Esst Point 24 and the 2/24th Battalion. The 2/48th Battalion was stretched along the rail line to the east. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Germans counter-attack the Australians on 22 July 1942 at El Alamein

The Germans attacked East Point 24 at about 8am on 22 July 1942. The position was occupied by companies of the 2/23rd Battalion. There was a company on the left and one on the right. The left company was threatened, but was able to hold on for three hours. At least one part of the right company was able to keep the enemy back. The battalion commander sent his second-in-command forward in a carrier. He was to inform the the Australians at East Point 24 to hold on, as he was sending his other company (A) forward to provide support. However, the situation changed when the 2/23rd commander learned that the 2/24th Battalion was "withdrawing from the Ring Contour". That left A Company of the 2/23rd Battalion in an exposed position. A Company had started forward at 8:30am. While the situation deteriorated greatly, a Corporal in control of a carrier did a commendable job (he was Corporal McCloskey). The Corporal was originally sent to carry "a mortar detachment forward". After he transported the mortar detachment, he went back to get ammunition. As he traveled, he "stopped to pick up wounded men". He then took the mortar bombs to the mortar detachment. He realized that communications were poor, so he traveled between the companies to contact company commanders. He carried wounded men back to the rear. His carrier was hit and damaged. He was knocked out but recovered consciousness and repaired his carrier and continued to do useful things.

A man from the company on the right was able to reach the battalion headquarters to inform Lt-Col. Evans that the men of the company were pinned down by enemy fire. The company commander had been killed and "the other officers and half the company were casualties". The battalion commander ordered a smoke screen laid down, and some 30 men were able to escape. The acting company commander had been wounded and couldn't walk. He was rescued by a patrol after dark.

The battalion had lost touch with the left 2/23rd Battalion company. They were able to hold their ground until 11am. The company was essentially eliminated, but A Company from the 2/23rd Battalion had arrived and was keeping the Germans back from East Point 24. Lt-Col. Evans of the 2/23rd got 80 men together to the "positions between Trig 33 and Tel el Eisa". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

22 and 23 July 1942 in the north at El Alamein

The 26th Brigade was to attack the enemy positions that blocked the coast road. The understanding by the 2/24th Battalion company was that the 2/23rd Battalion company would attack at the same time. They had some concerns about their ability to make contact. A signal was sent up "over Ring Contour 25" and that was the signal to attack. They tried to move forward, but took "terrible enemy fire".
The main operation for the 2/23rd Battalion had two companies forward with heavy artillery support. Once they reached "East Point 24", the dust churned up made visibility difficult. At that point they became involved in a "fierce fight". They felt able to signal success at 6:20am. They had captured and sent back some 24 German prisoners.

The 2/48th Battalion heard at 5:55am that the other battalions had reached their objectives. On hearing the news, they moved to the left of the 2/23rd Battalion, moving towards West Point 24. They started to take heavy enemy fire. The situation was that they were attacking prepared positions and took heavy losses, especially in leadership, such as officers. Men returning to the battalion headquarters reported that they had taken heavy losses. The battalion commander did not understand the extent of the losses, as he thought that there would have been men left needing support.

They had sent a section of carriers to provide support, but the carriers reported having many men wounded and supporting weapons sent forward on vehicles could not get through. The 2/48th Battalion commander requested help from tanks. From the Australian perspective, the tanks were extremely slow in moving forward. The tank commander had estimated 30 minutes would be enough for them to move up in support. The reality was that they took 4-1/2 hours, which was unacceptable. The tankers were extremely cautious. Then they saw signs of a minefield, they stopped and wanted talk before moving again. While they were moving forward, two tanks were knocked out by an enemy anti-tank gun. At that point, the tanks withdrew, leaving the Australians without support.

An Australian private had been left to guard German prisoners. They were close to their own lines and they were under heavy German fire. He managed to keep control of the prisoners and eventually was able to take them to the battalion headquarters. He had managed to keep the prisoners for some fourteen hours. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Operations at El Alamein from 19 to 23 July 1942

The Australians had become very proficient at executing raids during the night during their occupation of Tobruk. During the night of 19 to 20 July, 1942, the 2/28th Battalion sent a company of infantry with "20 sappers of the 2/7th Field Company". They raided enemy positions near Trig 22. They left their unit at 12:25am and were gone over an hour. They returned to their unit at about 3:40am. They found a tank which a sapper destroyed with a "No.73 grenade". They thought that some three or four enemy were killed "in or around the tank".
Despite the planned attack (besides the raid), the 26th Brigade were left to hold "the salient in the north". That meant that the 2/24th and 2/48th Battalions had to continue defending their lines. That meant for an offensive operation, they only had two companies each. They had to hope for the best, as they were left without any reserves. Three companies from two battalions would push forward along the coast road. That left the rest of the battalions to take East Point 24 and West Point 24.
What the 26th Brigade was to do was to attack the enemy positions blocking the coast road and be ready to push into the headquarters area and (wishful thinking, we suppose) to push on to Mersa Matruh, Tobruk, and Tripoli. The Australian historian notes that they were attacking the enemy's strongest postions, not their weakest. The historian thought that they should have used a larger force to push along the coast road.
The situation was such that when Major Weir arrived from Alexandria to take command of the 2/24th Battalion, he was surprised to find that his battalion was ordered to make an attack the next morning. The accidental firing of a Very light "probably alerted the enemy". When the attack commenced, enemy artillerty fire hit right away. They men were forced to attack while traveling through "heavy machine-gun fire". The men who took their objectives were then forced to endure heavy enemy fire. Most officers were wounded and a new lieutenant had to find a way to take command.

Major Weir, the new commander of the 2/24th Battalion withdrew two companies that were in danger and he got the brigade commander's permission when he was able to communicate. Some men did not get the word to withdraw and were eventually overrun. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

The lead-in to the 9th Australian Division operation, where General Morshead was very unhappy

General Morshead, the 9th Australian Division commander disliked General Ramsden, the XXX Corp commander. They had a two hour meeting where Morshead told General Ramsden that he disagreed with the plan for the attack on 22 July 1942. After hearing about the conference, General Auchinleck sent for General Morshead for another meeting at XXX Corps headquarters. The meeting attendees were General Morshead, General Auchinleck, General Ramsden, and Eric Dorman-Smith, DCGS. The DCGS took notes for the meeting. Auchinleck laid out the plan for the XIII Corps attack. If you read The Desert Generals, you learn that Eric Dorman-Smith was sort of "co-conspirator" during this period with Auchinleck. They were intent on making radical changes to how operations were conducted with the aim of becoming more competitive with Rommel's forces. Eric Dorman-Smith was disliked by the.
In the meeting, General Morshead objected that his division would be too dispersed to give the necessary support. Morshead told Auchinleck that the Australian objectives were much more difficult than Auchinleck and Ramsden realized. General Auchinleck apparently did not like how Morshead had responded, although he did not let Morshead know that. General Auchinleck told General Morshead that he wanted a willing commander for the operation. General Morshead told Auchinleck that he just wanted tasks that he could reasonably be sure of accomplishing with the goal of minimizing casualties  while performing the needed operation.The Desert Generals book has the time of the meeting wrong, in that the meeting was prior to the attack on 22 July, not for an operation on 24 July.
In the time leading up to the attack on 22 July, the men of the 9th Australian Division, at least those in the battalions facing the enemy, were given no rest. They were involved in active patrolling. The 2/48th Battalion diary noted that the "heat and flies" made  sleep during the day impossible. At night, they were too busy "digging and patrolling". They took to sending one man each day to the beach to be able to sleep. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, May 06, 2019

The XXX Corps battle at El Alamein from 22 July 1942 onwards

The XXX Corps operations on 22 July 1942 involved the South African Division and the 9th Australian Division. Almost typically, General Morshead was unhappy with what General Auchinleck had assigned for his division to accomplish. The South African role in the battle was to capture a depression "to the north of Deir el Shein." The 9th Australian Division was to attack with two brigades. That would then be succeeded by tank and infantry push to the west and then turn to the south. The Australians were to push onto the Meteiriya Ridge in their "turn to the south". The Australians were to have the 1st Army Tank Brigade and the 5th RTR in support. They would also have the South African artillery firing in their support.
The Australian attack would occur in three "phases". After the first phase of the attack, there was a two hour pause planned to allow time for the artillery to more forward. During the first phase, the 26th Brigade would make two attacks. One was straight out to take "Ring Contour 25". The other attack was planned to cross the road and railway to take the high ground associated with Point 24 (which had two high points). The 24th Brigade role was to attack from "the Tel Makh Khad Ridge." They were to take the high ground that dominated Point 24. Once the two Australian brigades had taken their objectives, the 9th Australian Divisiional Cavalry would control the area between the brigades to obstruct any enemy movements.
The second phase of the plan was for the 50th RTR to Point 21 west of the 24th Brigade. The 2/28th Battalion was to come forward to hold Point 21. The third phase would see the 50th RTR would capture "Trig 30 on Ruin Ridge". Another Australian battalion, the 2/43rd, would move forward to hold Trig 30. To make the 2/28th Battalion available for the operation, the 2/13th Battalion was assigned to the 24th Btigade. They were to take over the 2/28th responsibilities prior to the attack. The 20th Australian Brigade was to push forward to exploit the expected successes. They would move towards Daba following the night of 22 to 23 July. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

The attack on 21 July 1942 in the El Alamein area

The Australian historian is quick to criticize General Auchinleck's plans. XIII Corps would attack with the new 161st Indian Motor Brigade to push along the Ruweisat Ridge toward Trig 63. The 2nd New Zealand Division would push north to the El Mreir depression. They would take the eastern portion. After that the 23rd Armoured Brigade, with infantry tanks mounting 2pdr guns would drive forward into the enemy "headquarters and administrative area". They would go between the two German armored divisions and towards the German Africa Corps. The tanks of the mobile British formations would be saved for the push to the west after having broken through.
The attack stepped off on 21 July. The South African division took a depression on the Indian motor brigade's right. The Indian motor brigade attack failed to achieve its objective. The 6th New Zealand Brigade was successful, but they were left without the tank support that they had believed they had been promised. The brigade took 700 casualties and Brigadier Clifton was captured. He was able to escape "later in the day".
The reserve Indian battalion attacked at 8am and was able to "reach" Point 23. The 23rd Armoured Brigade set off to the west, but took heavy tank losses. Still, their move "threw the enemy into confusion". They did not withdraw, howoever. XIII Corps had executed all their plans and had not intention of doing more. The 2nd Armoured Brigade came up to support the 23rd Armoured Brigade to allow them to withdraw. The 23rd Armoured Brigade was reduced to 7 running tanks of the 87 they had started with. At least half of the tank losses were recovered so that they could be repaired.
The Australian historian rated the efforts of 21 July as a disaster. General Inglis, now commanding the 2nd New Zealand Division stated that he refused to take part in another operation like they had just executed. They were supposed to have tank support which was actually absent. He wanted to have his own tanks under his own command. The New Zealand Division lost 904 men, of which 69 were officers. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Amazon Ad