Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Changes made from 27July 1942

From 27 July 1942, we were near the end of General Auchinleck's tenure in the Middle East. This was the day that included the disaster to the 2/28th Battalion. On 27 July 1942, Auchinleck appointed Brigadier de Guingand as senior staff officer at Eighth Army Headquarters. de Guingand felt he was not qualified for the position. In fact, though, he was Auchinleck's best appointment in the Middle East during his time in command. At least the Australian historian considered de Guingand as "brilliant and successful".

Also on 27 July, Eric Dorman-Smith gave Auchinleck his paper about their situation and how hey might make changes to improve the Eighth Army. One main point was that the enemy were not strong enough to attempt a break through to the Delta and least with any chance of success. They would be making a big gamble if they attempted such an operation. He also presented a plan for what seems to be like what Bernard Law Montgomery eventually executed as the Battle of Alam el Halfa. de Guingand did offer criticism of the "Observation Post" idea, which he thought was ineffective and would cause the artillery to be moved around, causing confusion. de Guingand thought that there were too many "plans and schemes" being considered and thought that contingency plans for withdrawals to the east would cause the army to be unable to stand and fight in place. On 29 July, General Auchinleck met with General McCreary, his adviser on armor. Auchinleck told him that he had been considering assigning an armored brigade to each infantry division in hopes of getting better support. McCreary disagreed with Auchinleck, who told him that if he was so much in disagreement, that Auchinleck should replace him.

On 29 July, General Ramsden met with General Morshead. Morshead told him that he was not ready to make any more attacks without some assurance that "British armour would fight". It seems that the problem would not be solved until Bernard Law Montgomery arrived on the scene and the crisis situation at the Second Battle of El Alamein for the problem to be resolved. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The 2/28th Battalion surrendered on 27 July 1942 in the First Battle for El Alamein

The end for the 2/28th Battalion came when they were essentially overrun by the Germans. Up to 10am, they still were not pressed so hard as to consider surrender. The situation was that tanks "were closing in from three directions". The forward company on the left side was overrun by the enemy. A warrant officer from A Company responded by calling for his men to keep firing their weapons. Tanks were coming closer to the battalion headquarters. A Bren gunner ran out and commenced firing, but he was killed by fire from a tank. When the battalion commander witness this event, he called for his men to surrender. Many of the men of the battalion were very emotional as they were lined up to be marched into captivity. British artillery was still firing in support, and some of the men from the 2/28th Battalion were killed by friendly fire. One platoon quite forward was firing until they were overrun by German tanks.

The Australians were marched about five miles to the German rear areas, where they were loaded onto trucks and were driven to Daba. The Australians were prepared for such an event as what happened to the 2/28th Battalion. They "regrouped" the battalion. They had two echelons, one being the operational portion and an administration portion. There were 98 men in the operational portion and 105 men in the administration portion which had drivers and administrators.

The 2/28th Battalion had achieved some success by pushing into the German positions. They had pushed into two units from the 90th Light Division, the I/361st Battalion and the I/200th Battalion. The Australians had pushed in some five to seven kilometers. The units had taken losses, with part of the I/361st Battalion being destroyed. The advance of the 50th RTR was stopped by I/115th Battalion and 33rd Reconnaissance Unit, along with artillery fire. The German counter-attack came to the east and to the north. In part, anti-tank guns came into play to halt the British infantry tanks. The counter-attack was successful, since they "they took about 700 prisoners" (largely Australians) and knocked out "20 to 25 tanks". Rommel's assessment was that his forces would be able to hold their front, but that the "British" forces had stopped his advance. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

27 July 1942 "we are in trouble" from the 2/28th Battalion

The 2/28th Battalion sat on Ruin Ridge, hoping that men from the 2/43rd Battalion, the 69th Brigade, and the 2nd Armoured Brigade would arrive. There was constant anti-tank gun and machine-gun fire all night. At about 3am, the battalion sent out men to destroy a German 50mm anti-tank gun that was hitting vehicles in the minefield gap. They found that the gun was too well-protected by infantry. By 4:30am, they were concerned about not hearing anything about ammunition arriving. They sent out someone at about 4:30am to investigate. The man's vehicle was mined. The men got through on foot to the 2/43rd Battalion. They were able to speak with Brigadier Godfrey, commanding the 24th Brigade and told him of the ammunition situation and the need for anti-tank guns.

Some eighteen German trucks drove up just before dawn and unloaded infantry. They were on the right side. The 2/28th Battalion could not call in artillery support and were running out of ammunition. There was a fight with small arms. The 2/28th was doing pretty well in the fight. ONe company could see tanks and armored cars approaching. They first thought that they must be British, but they proved to be German. The company commander was killed in the fight. The battalion radio was just repaired and they communicated with the brigade headquarters. As the enemy attacked, the Australians sent message about artillery support, which they got. The Australians had anti-tank guns, and they had some success, knocking out eight German tanks and armored cars. A gun on the right was fought by a battery sergeant-major until the gun was knocked out and the man was killed.

They sent a message at 9:43am talking about being surrounded by tanks and asking for artillery fire.

The 50th RTR tried to help, but was hit hard, losing 22 tanks of which only ten were later recovered. The survivors so far from the 2/28th Battalion watched as the tanks were battered. They thought that the 2nd Armoured Brigade would get involved, but typically, they were afraid of fighting and would not venture through they minefield until they had some sort of guarantee from the infantry. By the time that the 2nd Armoured Brigade was ready to get involved, it was too late to help. At 10:30am, the 2/28th Battalion sent a message that they had to "give in". A few men fought on until the afternoon. One group did not hear of the surrender and fought until they were overrun by tanks. They were marched back as prisoners for about five miles and then were loaded onto trucks. Of the 2/28th Battalion, two officers and 63 men were killed or wounded. Another twenty officers and 469 men were missing. They may have well been prisoners. At this time, the 69th Brigade had lost about six hundred men. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The fighting on Ruin Ridge on 27 July 1942

The two front companies of Australians had arrived at Ruin Ridge by 1:10am. At the minefield, enough of a gap had been cleared that vehicles moved forward. The first vehicles were bringing six anti-tank guns, and also had two carriers and a truck with a machine-gun. The enemy hit vehicles following them and four were burning. That blocked further passage through the minefield and lit everything around. Other vehicles drove back to the "assembly area". Five out of ten carriers were left and they started transporting prisoners. They got some 115 Germans and 12 Italians out. The 2/28th Battalion asked for more ammunition. The 2/43rd Battalion got the message. Major Simpson, in charge of 2/28th's supply vehicles decided to try to run the ammunition forward to the battalion. Some seven or eight vehicles "followed the tape" and arrived successfully. Other trucks hit mines and burned. Wounded men were evacuated from those hit during the initial move forward. A medical officer went out to tend wounded men he had heard were lying in the minefield. He did that until Germans took him and 11 patients prisoner.

The artillery observer on the ridge with the 2/28th was unable to use his radio because of interference. He was sent back to the brigade headquarters to ask for ammunition and telephone cable. The observer was killed in a fight with enemy troops. The carrier was knocked out, but the driver got back to the brigade headquarters. The brigade commander ordered the 2/43rd to send its ammunition truck forward to the 2/28th Battalion. They also called in artillery to try and silence the enemy gun covering the minefield. They were unable to get the truck through with the ammunition.

The 24th Brigade commander, Brigadier Godfrey could not get information about what was happening to the 2/28th Battalion. They expected that the 2/28th Battalion would be in trouble by dawn. The 69th Brigade moved forward at about 2am. They got hung up and became disorganized. After what progress was made, the enemy attacked and overran two battalions. The 2nd Armoured Brigade was supposed to move forward at 7am, but the commander decided that there was not a large enough gap in the minefield to pass through. At dawn on 27 July, the 24th Brigade was out of touch with the 2/28th Battalion, so they did not realize just how bad the situation was. When Brigadier Godfrey heard that the armor would not go forward, he ordered the 2/43rd Battalion to try and destroy the gun covering the minefield. The 50th RTR was at first asked to carry ammunition to the 2/28th Battalion, but then to go forward and rescue them. At 8:45am they heard the 2/28th's radio saying that they were in trouble. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The next Australian attack on Ruin Ridge on 26 to 27 July 1942

General Morshead wrote an instruction on 24 July 1942 to the 9th Australian Division. He seems to have been embarrassed by the last attempt to attack Ruin Ridge. The Australians had been at their peak efficiency while they were garrisoning Tobruk in 1941. His instruction addressed reconnaissance by officers, for one thing that they should not be so obvious about their reconnaissance to keep the enemy from being warned. He also told officers that they needed to inform their troops quickly about what they had learned. Another point was that tanks could not sit in support for an extended period, as they would expect to have too many losses. Tanks would, after a period on the objective, "rally" to a position behind the infantry. The purpose of tanks in support was to destroy machine-guns. The infantry's purpose was "to destroy anti-tank guns and artillery", the enemies of tanks.

For the second attempt on Ruin Ridge, the 2/28th Battalion had spent planning and reconnaissance time. The battalion stepped out at exactly midnight of 26 to 27 July. The moon was bright and they attacked with two companies in the front, with a width of some 800 yards. They were trying to move at 100 yards in two minutes. The 2/28th Battalion had a new commander, Lt-Col. McCarter. He told the officers to expect fire from the sides as they moved forward. He suggested that the men "fire from the hip" without changing direction or stopping.

After traveling some 800 yards from the start, the right front and rear companies took officer casualties, including company commanders. They were taking fire from machine-guns, mortars and field guns. There were vehicles in company carrying supporting weapons, but they took anti-tank gun fire and then ran onto a minefield. Five vehicles were knocked out and some were burning.

At least this time, the front companies had reached Ruin Ridge by 1:10am. On the left side, the rear company charged with bayonets and cleared the objective. The 2/28th Battalion commander had moved his headquarters forward to a point some 900 yards from the "ruin" (to the northwest). They were having communication problems because they could not get good wire laid through the minefield while they were receiving fire. To make matters worse, the battalion radio had been destroyed. ON the site, the men tried to dig in, but the ground was too hard to do much. They had three wounded company commanders, another factor. On Ruin Ridge, they were receiving heavy enemy fire. They had been unable to hit the enemy guns that fired across the minefield. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 10, 2019

A new offensive at El Alamein to start on the night of 26-27 July 1942

Generals Ramsden and Morshead had decided that the offensive should start during the night of 26 to 27 July 1942. The objective for the offensive was to attack the enemy positions on Miteiriya Ridge and break through to the enemy's rear areas. The 9th Australian Division would use the 24th Brigade. The reliable 2/28th Battalion would capture Ruin Ridge. They would have artillery support for their attack. After taking Ruin Ridge, they would create a position on the left flank of the 24th Brigade and on the right side of the 69th Brigade. The 69th Brigade had their own objective to take. Once the 2/28th and the 69th Brigade had performed their roles, the 2/43rd Battalion would move forward and taken the next ridge to the west of Ruin Ridge. If they needed the help, they could use the 50th RTR. If they did not need the tank help, the 50th RTR should push westward and take ground between Trig 30 and Point 27. This was near someplace called El Wishka. If they caused the enemy to withdraw, the 20th Brigade (Australians) would follow the enemy withdrawal.

General Auchinleck published a "Special Order of the Day" to the men of the Eighth Army, praising their achievement in stopping the enemy advance on Egypt and thrown the enemy on the defensive. The enemy was attempting to resupply their army, but the navy and air force are attacking the ships with supplies. Auchinleck said that they needed to keep fighting, as they were close to breaking the enemy.

British intelligence had an assessment of the enemy strength as of 25 July in the evening. They believed that the Italian strength in the El Alamein area was low, with about 9,100 men, some 70 field and medium guns, 45 anti-tank guns, 15 armored cars, and about 12 tanks. For the Germans, they were thought to have "two battalions of the 382nd Regiment, the Kiehl Group and 33rd Reconnaissance Regiment, the 361st Regiemental Group (two battalions), the Briehl Group and the 200th Regiment. These totaled about 3,580 men and had from 106 to 120 guns in support including 26 to 29 88mm weapons."

The Germans were holding an area north and east of Ruin Ridge. They only had light forces, but were equipped with "machine-guns, anti-tank guns and a few field guns". There were stronger forces south and west of Ruin Ridge. They knew that the enemy (presumably Germans) had tanks available. The British were aware of the existence of a minefield on east side of the Qattara Track. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Sorting things out in the push to Ruin Ridge on 22 July 1942 at El Alamein

The authorities determined that, yes, the advance towards Ruin Ridge had stopped far short of the objective. The 50th RTR was new to battle and they had a hard time, having lost some 23 tanks in the fight. They infantry had told them that they had gone too far forward, which seems to have not to be true. The brigade commander, Brigadier Godfrey went forward with Brigadier Richards to the 2/28th Battalion. He ordered them to spread out to the sides, put out patrols and make contact with the 2/32nd Battalion. They also were to advance as far as they could. They did manage to contact the 2/32nd Battalion by 9:23am. They may have been disappointed with their progress, but the enemy was forced to move the 90th Light Division and parts of three Italian divisions to hold their left flank. The Australians had apparently captured almost a entire company of the I/155th Battalion. Tanks from the 21st Armored Division were called upon to attack the Australians and their tank support. They accounted for 23 tanks with 12 of that number knocked out by the Briehl Group (a battle group). The Australian historian called Auchinleck's attack, "costly and abortive". Auchinleck was concerned that the enemy was being reinforced and would be tougher to fight if they waited longer. The Australians were the most effective unit available to Auchinleck. He wanted to attack some more as soon as an attack could be mounted.

The new attack would be by XXX Corps with the 1st Armoured Division, short of one armored brigade, the 4th Light Armoured Brigade, and the 69th Infantry Brigade. The 1st South African Division would go after the enemy mine field south-east pf Miteiriyha Ridge. They would make a gap. The 24th Australian Brigade would attack the eastern end of the ridge and then push north. The 69th Brigade would also push through and move on Deir el Dhib. Two armored brigades would push into the enemy rear area. The Australian historian was again critical of the plan. Auchineleck watnted to attack on the night of 24-25 July, but General Ramsden thought that the South Africans were too tired. The 69th Brigade commander also wanted more rest for the brigade. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, June 03, 2019

The attack on Ruin Ridge goes badly

Being in too much of a hurry to bother to do the right things, the attack intended to reach Ruin Ridge did not go well. An infantry platoon was to ride the second "wave of tanks" got on the the first "wave" by mistake. The tanks only had infantry on board, although they were supposed to carry sappers as well. Because of the lack of preparation, the tanks went the wrong way and ran onto a minefield, losing about 20 tanks. The other tanks, traveling with carriers, pushed out to a ridge that the tank commander thought was the right distance for Ruin Ridge, but probably was not. The tanks did manage to scatter some enemy soldiers and they sat and waited for the 2/28th Battalion to reach them. The rest of the 2/28th got a late start. They actually advanced in an "extended line formation." General Morshead was watching the 2/28th Battalion moving forward and he had the impression that they would succeed.

There was no news reporting the situation until 10:45pm. The 2/28th Battalion had lost their wireless van early in the advance. One thing that happened is that an unexpected fifty German prisoners arrived at the 2/13th Battalion. They finally were able to communicate and they got a report at 11:45pm from COlonel Cox that they had reached a ridge with a ruin at the end. The tanks had withdrawn and the infantry "were getting in position on the reverse slope". They could see some ten Italian tanks.

So far, the 2/28th Battalion had taken 59 German prisoners from the 90th Light Division. They also had five Italian prisoners from the Trento Division. They had losses, though, of two officers and 52 other men. Tanks returned in support, but were gathered back further than was wanted. At that point, Brigadier Richards of the 1st Army Tank Brigade went forward to investigate, because he thought that they were not on the intended objective. He returned from his reconnaissance and reported that they were actually about three thousand yards short of Ruin Ridge. A "Forward Observation Officer accompanying the 2/28th Battalion reported that he considered them about 2,500 yards to far from Ruin Ridge. The brigade commander decided that they were "deployed west of the road on a front of 400 yards between Kilos 8 and 9." Officers had been fooled by seeing some ruins into thinking that they were at Ruin Ridge when they were still short of the place. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian OFficial History.

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