Tuesday, November 26, 2019

General Gatehouse on 25 October 1942 at El Alamein

Like the Australian general Morsehead, General Gatehouse was also not eager to commit his troops to operations that were "unjustifiable", but Gatehouse did not have the backing of his government the way that Morshead had. General Lumsden was aware of the issues and he wanted Alex Gatehouse to talk directly with Montgomery. Gatehouse returned to his headquarters and there he received a call from Montgomery. The way that Montgomery spoke irritated Gatehouse. The Australian historian called Montgomery's orders "masterful". As the historian described the situation, we had to see what effect Montgomery's orders had on the battle. The situation at dawn on 25 October was such that the Queen's Bays were getting in position "among the infantry" very near the end of the "bridgehead". The situation was that the tank commanders were not prepared to move forward to the "Pierson bound", at least not "at all costs". The infantry was very uncomfortable to have the tanks in their midst. The infantry considered that they were in the spot that they wanted to be in, while the tanks were not.


By 6am, a portion of the 7/Rifle Brigade had driven forward to right behind the 2/13th Battalion. That was not a comfortable place for the 7/Rifle Brigade to be. They were caught between minefields and lacked the space to disperse for better protection from artillery fire. The Australian historian called the 7/Rifle Brigade "sitting ducks" that the enemy were happy to fire upon. The Australian "R.A.P" ended up having to care for the Rifle Brigade casualties as well as the 2/13th Battalion casualties.

The Australians studied the maps and the ground and decided that "other 7/Rifle Brigade vehicles" had driven to Point 29, rather than Trig 33, which is where they were supposed to go. They also seemed to have some vehicles "near Kidney Ridge", close behind the Highland Division "forward line". The enemy had brought together a group "right in front of the 2/17th Battalion", but artillery fire stopped them from taking any action. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The "breakout attack" on 25 October 1942 at El Alamein

In the area occupied by the Highland Division, the men could hear the sound of tanks approaching from the rear. They were expecting the 7/Rifle Brigade, but they had not arrived yet. They could see that they were getting close to dawn. The 2nd Armoured Brigade was driving forward towards the Oxalic Line. There was an enemy position so strong that it had not been taken yet. This was to the right of the 7/Black Watch. Next to the Highland Division, near Miteiriya Ridge, was where the heaviest action had been occurring. Typically, sorry to say, they had not allowed enough time for sappers to clear a path of mines. An artillery barrage was fired at 10pm, in readiness for three armored brigades to move forward. The enemy forces were waiting in readiness to counter-attack. The center armored brigade, the 8th, had problems. Their mine reconnaissance group had been captured and there was an 88mm gun set at the exit from the cleared path. They had to give up on that path. They were going to send two regiments up the Boat track, but that went badly. You had General Gatehouse on the Boat track. He had seen the problems encountered and was concerned that at daylight, the enemy anti-tank guns would make quick work of his remaining tanks. there was an exchange between Montgomery, Lumsden, the corp commander, and Gatehouse. There was a conference called at 3:30am.

Of the four armored brigades, three had not had any great problems. Montgomery wanted the operation to proceed. He wanted to see some 400 tanks. There was the issue that not all tracks were usable, due to difficulties in clearing mines. Montgomery told Lumsden that he would not accept any lack of enthusiasm and would replace whoever had qualms about proceeding. Montgomery talked with Gatehouse and angered him. The tanks had moved forward. Their commanders were dressed rather colorfully. The tanks were in position near the leading infantry units.

At about 6am, the 7/Rifle Brigade reached the back of the 2/13th Battalion. They found themselves under fire, as the minefield spacing left insufficient room to position their vehicles. The incoming fire did great damage to the 7/Rifle Brigade. It seems that part of the Rifle Brigade vehicles had driven to Point 29, not to Trig 33. The enemy had moved up to the 2/17th Battalion, but were engaged by British artillery fire and stopped. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Fighting near the New Zealand Division in the afternoon of 24 October 1942

Tanks from two armored brigades, the 9th Armnoured Brigade and the 8th Armoured Brigade were engaged in a battle in the morning with enemy tanks, of some 30 to 40 in number. By the end, most of the British tanks were "knocked out". There were survivors, fortunately, and they were able to get "hull down" "behind the crest of the Miteiriya Ridge.

The 2/13th Battalion lost its commander, Colonel Turner, and his adjutant. Major Colvin was ordered to take command. While he was traveling forward, he received orders for a night attack to move up to the Oxalic Line. The attack was planned for 2am. They had tried to make the attack, originally, with just the 2/13th Battalion. Now, they would use the 2/17th as well as the 2/13th Battalion. The plan was for the Australians to take their objective, and then the 7th/Rifle Brigade was to move through and take Point 32, and be beyond the Oxalic Line so that the tanks could drive through, beyond the line.

Major Colvin arrived at the 2/13th Battalion and found that there were almost no officers left. Sergeant Easter, from the 2/13th Battalion, spoke with Major Colvin. Sergeant Easter told him that he expected little resistance. He conferred with the 2/17th Battalion commander, and they agreed to attack silently, without artillery fire. They would have the 40th RTR operating in support for the attack.

The attack would start at 2am on 25 October. As they waited, an enemy aircraft flew over, "dropped a flare and then bombed the start line". The 2/17th Battalion was able to move forward to their objective and take it without a fight. There was fighting and an anti-tank gun portee was knocked out. In the 2/13th area, a vehicle with ammunition was set on fire. There was fighting and losses in the 2/17th area. A few machine guns were able to be setup and used. The left company had no officers left, so the company was commanded by a sergeant. The 2/13th Battalion had better luck and were able to move into the objective and start digging in. They started to take machine gun fire, but the 40th RTR was able to use machine guns to fight back. By 4:50am, they had connected with the Gordons on their left side. By 7am, they were dug in and had their "supporting weapons" in place. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Early on 24 October, the British Desert Air Force attempted to bomb in support of the 9th Australian Division. While later strikes went well, this one misfired and had the British bombers drop 2,000 lb bombs on the 2/13th Battalion. The Australians were fortunate to only have four men hit. There had been elaborate attempts at signaling the aircraft, these signals failed to get the attention of bombing aircraft. A little later, the British "tank-buster" Hurricanes flew in support. They reported knocking out 18 of the 19 tanks in Kiehl Group.

At daylight in the north, they realized that Trig 29 was the key to their defensive operations. The enemy infantry across from the 26th Brigade was less affected by the British artillery fire and was a stronger adversary for the Australians. Enemy artillery was firing in the north, but mostly was hitting behind the forward positions. The enemy started sending out patrols to get more information about the Australian penetration. During the day, sappers were busy expanding clear paths through minefields. The situation was improved enough that hot meals were able to be sent to the forward infantry.

In front of the 51st Highland Division, clear paths through the minefields were extended forward. The situation allowed tanks to be positioned near Double Point 24. This was south of the Australians with the tanks "in action". The Scots were successful in attacking an enemy position that had held out over night. During the "late afternoon", tanks had moved forward and were "clearing other defended localities. They able to have a clear path through minefields to the Oxalic Line. Late in the day, while there was still sun, enemy armor divisions, the 15th Armored and the Italian Littorio Armored Division "attacked out of the sun". The Scots took the brunt of the attacks, and a fierce artillery battle started. The Australians saw the American Priest self-propelled artillery "for the first time". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Orders to continue the battle on 25 October 1942

Montgomery's plan to continue the battle on 25 October 1942 were to execute the plan for 24 October that they had not been able to accomplish. There were apparently some modifications to that, so it was not quite that simple. The two infantry divisions, the 9th Australian and the 51st Highland Division were to advance to the Oxalic Line. The armor would then move through and forward to the "Pierson bound". The armor would fight their way forward, regardless of the success or failure of the infantry. The two armored divisions, the 1st Armoured Division and the 10th Armoured Division would move west. The 9th Armoured Brigade and the New Zealand Division cavalry, equipped with Stuart tanks ("Honeys") would move to the south. The armored brigades would join together on the "Pierson bound". The 9th Armoured Brigade was to help the New Zealand Division attack to the south. The 133rd Lorried Infantry Brigade (a 10th Armoured Division formation) was to move into a New Zealand Division position near the 51st Highland Division.

Freddie De Guingand wrote that General Lumsden was unhappy with the orders for the armored divisions. Montgomery's attitude can be seen when he was said to have ordered Lumsden to "drive his division commanders". The situation with XIII Corps was similar in that the 44th Division and 7th Armoured Division were ordered to execute the plan that they had not been able to accomplish from the first day of the battle.

By daylight in the 9th Australian Division's area, there was heavy firing from every possible source: "tanks, artillery, machine guns, mortars, and snipers". The action was described as "pandemonium". This sort of thing would continue for "several days", although at times the firing was especially "intense".

As the sun rose, they could see enemy tanks moving forward from west to east. The German 15th Armored Division moved in to attack the "bridgehead". The 2/48th Battalion could see the tanks about a thousand yards to the west. This was at about 7:15am. This was also the case at Trig 33. The three Australian field regiments and the 7th Medium Regiment commenced firing pre-planned "concentrations" into the area where the German tanks were located. There were British Sherman tanks behind the 51st Highland Division and to the left of the Australians, and these started engaging the German tanks. They could also see German lorried infantry moving forward, west of the Australians. The German tanks eventually were forced to withdraw, after receiving heavy artillery fire and because damage from the Sherman tanks. Some Sherman tanks were also left on fire. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The wrong assumptions: the initial fight at El Alamein on 23-24 October 1942

The XXX Corps assessment was that Montgomery had been too optimistic in his estimate of what could be accomplished by the forces that he commanded. He had good men with extensive experience. The men had been trained to execute his plan and were well-prepared. Montgomery, himself, lacked the experience that his men had of fighting in the desert. He also lacked experience with fighting their enemy, the Germans and Italians. He had not realized the difficulty in clearing paths through minefields and the time that was required. That, in itself, was significant and may have accounted for the failure to accomplish what Montgomery had planned to do. The Australian historian suggests that Montgomery gave a hint that he also thought that it would take longer to execute the plan.

The "bridgehead" provided for the 8th Armoured Brigade did not extend past the enemy "anti-tank defence'. One possibility was to push the bridgehead farther in to enemy territory. Another possibility was to choose a new location for a bridgehead that was not so heavily defended. A third possibility was to attack the enemy infantry and force the enemy armored forces to attack the British forces.

The key British commanders were drawn to the Miteiriya Ridge area because they had advanced to the "Oxalic Line" and paths had been cleared through the minefields. General Freyberg had looked at the area in the morning of 24 October and was bothered by the 10th Armoured Division concern about advancing. Freyberg had not been able to speak with General Lumsden, so he contacted General Leese. Leese drove forward and met Freyberg. They looked over the area and then drove back to "Freyberg's headquarters". They called Montgomery with the "blower" (perhaps encrypted voice). Soon, General Lumsden arrived at Freyberg's headquarters. The historian thought that Lumsden didn't like the idea of driving through minefield paths and arriving at an enemy anti-tank gun line. Freyberg thouht that they should resume the attack on the night of 24-25 October and the corps commanders agreed. Montgomery ordered that the 10th Armoured Division should drive through the paths in the minefield into the open area past Miteiriya Ridge. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

The enemy situation in early 24 October 1942

Even though the British offensive on 23 October 1942 had failed to achieve its goals, the enemy was unaware of the actual situation. The "British bombardment" at the start of the offensive had the effect of cutting all enemy communications. The enemy saw the British attack on 23 October as being along a front of about five miles. They believed that they had succeeded in stopping the attack between the coast road and the railway. In fact, this was simply a diversionary operation. The units involved were Australian 24th Brigade units. They had been "stopped" by the 115th Panzer Grenadier Regiment. By 2am, the British attack had breached minefields and were approaching the main defense line. Two regiments took the brunt of the attack. They were "the German 382nd Regiment and the Italian 62nd Regiment". They faced "the 9th Australian Division, the 51st Highland Division, and the 2nd New Zealand Division".

As the attack advanced, "the 382nd Regiment was overrun" on the front facing the Australian and New Zealand divisions. Amazingly, the divisions only faced about one battalion each. The attack was only stopped by the 115th Regiment from the 15th Armored Division. They "were located in the second line of defense". At dawn on 24 October, the 62nd Regiment "was virtually destroyed". German battalions on the Australian front and the New Zealand front "had been overrun".

In the morning, General Stumme set out to see what the situation was. Unfortunately for him, they were too close to the action and were fired upon. General Stumme was trying to hold onto the vehicle when he had a heart attack and died. Without a commander, the enemy forces were not able to respond to the current situation. The 90th Light Division then was still sitting in reserve near the coast. The 21st Armored Division was sitting in the south, behind protecting minefields. The 15th Armored Division and the Italian Littorio Armored Division were in the north, facing XXX Corps. The armor in the north turned and attacked the XXX Corps "bridgehead".

At the end of the first day, the British had not succeeded in what Montgomery had planned. Only one of the "bridgeheads" had been taken and cleared of mines, and that happened later than planned. None of the British armored divisions had gotten into the enemy rear area. One had attempted to do so unsuccessfully. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Amazon Ad