Thursday, August 22, 2019

First, the needs and then the situation on the ground at El Alamein in late August 1942

Rommel was committed to attack in late August 1942. He gave the authorities what he felt were his supply requirements. First, he needed fuel, with six thousand tons needed between 25 August and 30 August. He got a promise to send ten thousand tons, half for the army and half for the air force. The situation was bad, because on 27 August, Rommel only had enough fuel for tracked vehicles to travel one hundred miles and for wheeled vehicles to travel 150 miles. On 30 August, more fuel arrived. Rommel got 1,500 tons from the air force. Also, a ship arrived at Tobruk with some 730 tons. That gave enough fuel to Rommel to start his offensive, but that was all. For better or worse, the units moved forward as scheduled.

The battle to be fought became known as Alam el Halfa. Some sources, such as Correli Barnett, have said that Montegomery used a plan developed by Auchinleck and Eric Dormon-Smith. In any case, the front, such as it was, was held by "three Dominion and one Indian division". The front extended from the coast to Alam Nayil. The New Zealand Division had a "refused flank" on the left side. Beyond them, there were only "mobile forces", what used to be called "columns". General Morshead had been unhappy with the Auchinleck regime approach of being indecisive about whether to compress one's front to the minimum or to stretch out so you were very thin on the ground. The Montgomery policy that they would hold their ground meant that you had to be strong enough to repel an attacker. That may mean that you needed to compress your front to be stronger. You needed to have enough strength to hold a "frontal defense". The reality was that the inland defenses were not very strong. They did add some units so that Alam el Halfa got two 44th Division brigades. Alam el Nayil "hinge" was occupied by the inexperienced 132nd Brigade. They were to protect the New Zealand Division flank. At the last minute, the 5th New Zealand Brigade was moved in to relieve the 132nd Brigade. The Germans were known to be preparing to attack.

At 30 August, the enemy had the 164th Division and the Italian Trento Division covering from the coast to Deir el Shein. The regiments of the German and Italian divisions were "intermingled". Some "stiffening" came from the Ramcke Parachute Brigade and the Folgore Division. Behind the German-Italian line were the mobile German and Italia divisions. The strengths were "about 41,000 German officers and men and about 33,000 Italian". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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