Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The plans to attack to the north by the 9th Australian Division

General Montgomery apparently studied his situation all day on 26 October 1942. He had ordered, apparently, General Morshead to plan to attack to the north. Montgomery called a meeting with his commanders at the 9th Australian Division. The meeting included Generals Leese and Lumsden and was held at 11:30am with Morshead. Morshead apparently had this plans ready and presented them. Montgomery was happy with Morshead plans and approved them. The main attack would start late on 28 October. The action was planned to actually start on the "night of 26 October". They would include an attack to the west "near the boundary of the Australian and Highland Divisions. The 7th Motor Brigade was part of this plan and would take "Woodcock and Snipe". This was "near the Trig 33-Kidney Ridge area".

General Freyberg, of the New Zealand Division added his two cents that he thought that a "broad-front infantry attack should be mounted". Of course, he said that he was not able to participate in such an attack. The Highland Division commander was probably not interested in such an attack, either. By early 26 October, "the 8th Army had lost 6,140 men killed, wounded, or missing". After taking those sorts of losses, the enemy still did not give any sign of a collapse. Later on 26 October, Montgomery decided to pull the New Zealand Division into reserve. The 10th Armoured Division would replace the 1st Armoured Division. The Australians would have to carry the load in the attack. They would shuffle units "during the night of 27 to 28 October". Montgomery hoped to draw on XIII Corps infantry for an attack in the north. The South Africans and the 4th Indian Division were affected by plans. They still comtemplated withdrawing the New Zealand Division. The Highland Division would have to relieve the Australian 20th Brigade. The idea was to have the 20th Brigade available for an attack. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Rommel is back and is attacking

Rommel was desperate to push the British out of the German and Italian defenses. The British had caused a bulge into the German and Italian line that greatly concerned Rommel. Rommel called Trig 29 by a different name: "Hill 28". Rommel sent units from the 15th Armored Division, the Littorio Division, "and a Bersaglieri battalion". They used all the artillery that was close, including anti-aircraft guns. They had great difficulty in pushing the British back from where they were located. As Rommel put it: "Rivers of blood were poured out over miserable strips of land".

To the enemy, the 1st Armoured Division seemed to be pushing "northwest towards the coast road". The enemy made continual attacks against the British forces in the north. The British held their ground, partly tanks to artillery support. The fighting on 27 October was particularly intense with the sounds creating rising and falling sound over the day.

Two Australian battalions, the 2/24th and 2/48th were hit hard on both the 26th and 27th mornings. British counter-battery fire directed from Trig 29 was effective enough to force the enemy to move their guns. They were also firing on enemy forces that were trying to form up for an attack. Lieutenant Menzies did good work with his observation post that was pretty out in the open. The Australians came to appreciate Trig 29 more as they could see for "4,000 to 5,000 yards in every direction".

The enemy attempted to attack Trig 29 with some 300 infantry "on the afternoon of 26 October". They were forced to move by artillery fire. At that point, the 2/48th Battalion "had three field regiments and one medium regiment on call". That was more than sufficient to protect the battalion. The enemy also attacked the 20th Brigade on 26 October. They made three attempts with tanks and infantry. The 2/13th Battalion was the target. They which were seasoned veterans of the war in North Africa. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The enemy fights back on 26 October 1942

During the night of 25 to 26 October 1942, the enemy attacked the 2/13th Battalion. They used both tanks and infantry to try again what they had tried in the day but which had failed. The enemy lost three tanks to "Hawkins mines". It seems that two half-tracked troop carriers were also knocked out. The combination of artillery fire with infantry weapons were enough to stop the attack. By dawn, the 2/17th Battalion could see twelve tanks on a ridge to the northwest. They had remained out of sight in the dark. The tanks were able to reach the Australians with their armaments and were able to knock out wheeled vehicles. To the left of the 9th Australian Division, the 1st Armoured Division made an appearance in their usual spot. On the morning of 26 October, they had some thirty Sherman tanks in action, firing on the enemy. They wisely refrained from attacking the enemy anti-tank guns.

During 25 and 26 October, the 9th Australian Division had taken 173 Germans and 67 Italians as prisoners. The Germans were all from the 125th Regiment. The Italians were all from the Trento and Littorio Divisions. The Australian 26th Brigade had taken losses. They had 4 officers and 51 other ranks killed. They also had 20 officers and 236 other ranks wounded or missing.

The 51st Highland Division was also in action on the night of 25 to 26 October. They were successful to a degree on the left side of their division front. Only on the right were there still enemy defensive positions. Otherwise, they had cleared out strong points up to the Oxalic line.

We find that Rommel had been gone from North Africa and he only returned with orders to take over command of operations. General von Thoma had been commanding in Rommel's absence. Things were not going well for the German and Italian army.

Rommel's aim was to retake the old positions in the defenses that had been lost to the British forces. Without that, there was now a bulge towards the west where the British forces had taken German and Italian ground. Rommel was concerned that what they called "Hill 28" had been lost. This was what the British called "Trig 29". This is based on the account given in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Action on 26 October 1942 by Australians

The 2/24th Battalion had started to push northeast at 12:40am on 26 October 1942. The over-optimism continued with a plan to push some 3,000 yards across enemy positions. British intelligence thought that the area would be held by Italians, but they were actually Germans with a few italians. The right company was moving along the wire front. They had split the platoons across the wire. They had been fortunate to be able to move forward fairly freely, but at 100 yards from the objective they hit an enemy strong point. They attacked the position and took it, but the company commander took a serious wound that put him out of action. The position they took had an 88mm gun with forty men, both German and Italian. After that, they were able to advance to their objective.

The plan for the left company was to move forward, move left, and make contact with the 2/48th Battalion. After that, they were supposed to dig in on the northwest "spur" of Trig 29. They had two lieutenant company commanders wounded, so they had a Sergeant-Major as company commander by late in the day. They managed to take several enemy posts. A sergeant "led the attack" and took two posts by himself.

Then there was the attack on the Fig Orchard. Several posts were taken and when they took the Fig Orchard, they discovered that the post was a headquarters and was dug in very deep. One attacking company went past the Fig Orchard and ended up near Thompson's Post. There were two Australian companies and they found themselves under fire from anti-tank guns and mortars. The guns and mortars were located in a post about three hundred yards in front. By 4am, the 2/24th Battalion commander decided that the battalion had taken too many casualties, so he had them pull back about a thousand yards, which put them on a reverse slope. Their right flank was occupied by the "composite force", which was under fire from Thompson's Post and had no cover. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The attack on the night of 25 to 26 October 1942 at Trig 29

The plan for the 2/48th to attack Trig 29 included using a barrage and two infantry companies "forward". Carriers would bring a third company along with other vehicles with anti-tank guns. The next phase included using the 2/24th Battalion to attack the switch line flank. They anticipated an attack on the 2/48th Battalion, but it didn't happen. "At dusk" they captured a group of enemy soldiers that included the 125th Regiment commander and the 125th/II Battalion commander. A prize capture was a map that showed the area to be attacked. The map included minefields and where troops were positioned. After seeing the map at the brigade headquarters, they changed the orders for the 2/24th Battalion and the sappers to make a gap easier and more useful.

The 2/17th Battalion took over the 2/48th defensive positions and freed up the 2/48th for the planned attack. The two companies forward moved up "on foot". They moved forward to about 200 yards from Trig 29. At that point, the carriers drove up to the objective. When they arrived at the "spur", the infantry unloaded and charged. They found that one position was actually a "dug-in tank". Grenades "knocked out the crew". The right company reached its objective after taking officer losses. They took 38 Germans prisoner.

The left company took heavy casualties, but was able to take the position they attacked. Once in place, they started digging in the "rocky soil". They asked for the "consolidation stores to be driven forward. A lucky hit from an enemy shot blew up a truck with mines, and caused five other trucks to also explode. They were "stunned" but got the undamaged trucks moving forward. Captain Potter was ordered back to "B Echelon". He brought back "five composite reorganization stores trucks". "By first light 2,000 mines had been laid". One 2/48th company was looking north. A second company was looking west. A third company "on the left" were looking "west and northwest". They were in touch with the 2/17th Battalion, now holding the ground that the 2/48th Battalion had been holding. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The 9th Australian Division and Trig 29

Montgomery's original plan included an attack against the enemy north of XXX Corps and to the sea. The 9th Australian Division was to attack towards the north and the sea. They hoped to cut off the enemy forces in that area. At the same time, the 1st Armoured Division would try to get into the enemy rear area west of the "salient". On the night of 25 October, the 9th Australian Division would try and take Trig 29. At 10pm, the South Africans would fire off an "artillery program" to attract attention.

Trig 29 was interesting due to its being the high ground in the area. General Morshead had given Brigadier Whitehead a warning that they should be ready to take Trig 29. That warning was passed along to the affected battalion and its companies.

The objective for the 9th Australian Division was not just Trig 29, but also the "high ground running out to the east". The effect would be to move the northern front out some one thousand yards. At the end of the attack, the Australians would be holding west "for about 5,000 yards and on the north for 4,000 yards". The 26th Brigade would then move the front line "from Trig 29 to the front edge of the enemy's defense line". The enemy "switch line" formed a back-up line of defense. The switch line was very prominent. You could recognize it "on the ground" as well as on a map. Interestingly enough, there was a fig orchard which extended down the ridge that connected to Trig 29. The 26th Brigade was expected to use the 2/48th and the 2/24th Battalions to take Trig 29 and "the orchard itself". The 26th Brigade commander intended to use the 2/48th Battalion to take Trig 29 and the 2/24th Battalion to take the fig orchard. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The enemy attacks the 9th Australian Division on 25 October 1942

Two Australian battalions were attacked by the enemy. The 2/13th Battalion took a 1-1/2 hour attack while the 2/17th Battalion was attacked for two hours. The 2/17th Battalion "lost 12 killed and 73 wounded." Each of the battalions had an artillery post observer. To do artillery direction, the officers had to stand so that they could call in the artillery strikes.

Freyberg spoke with Montgomery and General Leese about canceling the New Zealand Division attacks toward the south. General Freyberg wanted to attack to the west, instead, as he felt that the original attack to the west had come close to success. What Montgomery ultimately decided was to attack in the north with the 9th Australian Division. They would pull the armor back but keep it forward in the north. They had the XIII Corps go on the defensive in the south. To the north of XXXth Corps, they had the 1st Armoured Division take over the 24th Armoured Brigade. Early in the morning, the 8th and 9th Armoured Brigades were proven to be at risk. The Australian 2/48th Battalion were to be ready to attack Trig 29 "next night". The plan was for the 9th Australian Division to attempt to cut the enemy off in the north and by the sea. The 1st Armoured Division was to attack "west and northwest" with the goal being to get into the enemy rear area. XXXth Corps ordered the 9th Australian Division to take Trig 29. The South Africans would fire an "artillery program" designed to look like they were attacking.

The British had considered Trig 29 to be a valuable feature. It seemed to dominate the north. It was the highest feature, but "only by 20 feet". Morshead already had thought that they would have to take Trig 29 and he had alerted Brigadier Whitehead as to what he expected. The 9th Australian Division was to "not only take Trig 29, but the "high ground to the east of it." They would have the effect of moving the front forward for about one thousand yards. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 09, 2019

The British situation on 25 October 1942 at El Alamein

25 October 1942 was a day for tank battles. The enemy was reduced to making "probing attacks" across the front line at El Alamein. The Australian historian says that this was what Montgomery wanted to see. The British were taking losses, but were also causing enemy losses. The 1st Armoured Division took losses of 24 tanks, but claimed to have knocked out more than twice that many enemy tanks. We would presume them to be mainly German tank losses. The British armor was doing well enough to have an increasing superiority over the enemy. If the figures for the Germans are accurate, then the British were doing quite well. The numbers are from 23 October to midday on 25 October. The German 15th Armored Division went from 112 tanks on 23 October down to 37 tanks by 25 October. The other enemy armored units did not do as badly. The 21st Armored Division went from 127 tanks to 122 tanks. The Italian armored formations must not have been so heavily committed, as they had numbers similar to 21st Armored Division. All of the Italian divisions except for the Trieste, which had started with only 34 tanks and took no losses, went from 244 tanks down to 233 tanks, not so bad.

The British units had the problem that they were unable to deal with the German anti-tank defense. The British only took with them small numbers of infantry, intended only to take prisoners. They were not able to attack the anti-tank gun positions. The Australian historian notes that the 10th Armoured Division had shown that British armor could fight to an objective, but they were not able to hold the ground during daylight due to the enemy anti-tank gun positions.

The 9th Australian Division found itself being attacked by the enemy against the "bridgehead" area. Using "artillery and mortar fire", they were able to defend against the enemy infantry attacks. The 20th Brigade (Australian) were attacked by tanks "from the west". A combination of artillery fire and tank gunfire was enough to handle what they saw. Infantry anti-tank gun fire was successful in knocking out and stopping an attack. The tactics were to hold the fire until the tanks were very close and then fire on them. They stopped 17 tanks that way. the defending infantry took losses, though. In a meeting, the commanders decided not to use the New Zealand Division to make "crumbling attacks" and instead to rely on the 9th Australian Division. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Events on 25 October 1942 at El Alamein

The 8th Armoured Brigade was moving forward quickly. They had all three of their tank regiments out into the open. The Staffordshire Yeomanry were the first to get free. They were at the El Wishka ridge, but they were shot to pieces by 88mm guns "soon after dawn". This was the reason that the experienced tank commanders were concerned about the situation.

New Zealand division sappers had cleared the paths for the tanks "on time". The New Zealand divisional cavalry was equipped with Stuart light tanks ("Honeys"). They had moved out from the "Oxalic line" to a location "southwest" of El Wishka. This was still in the night, where they had "lost 5 tanks and 4 carriers". They pulled back at "dawn". At 2am, the 9th Armoured Brigade moved forward at 2am. They headed south and west "almost to the Pierson bound".

Far to the south, XIII Corps was having difficulties. Minefield clearing had proceeded, so that they had cleared the "February" minefield. The path through was not very wide, however. The 22nd Armoured Brigade was shot up while trying to move through the path. As many as 31 tanks were knocked out and the way out of the minefield area ended up being blocked. Infantry did somewhat better when attacking in the Munassib Depression, but they took losses that were deemed to be "costly".

The armor was not able to do as well as Montgomery had hoped for. By midday, the tanks had been pulled back from their early morning positions. To the right. the Queens Bays finally had to pull back, because they were taking damaging fire from guns that they could no located. They relocated to a point where the Australians could no longer see them. They did get back into action "later in the day". "in front of the Highland Division, the 2nd Armoured Brigade "remained out with the 24th Armoured Brigade". General Gatehouse ordered the 8th Armoured Brigade to pull back because of the losses they were taking. They were moved "behind Miteiriya Ridge about 7am". The 9th Armoured Brigade was taking "damaging fire", but was out until "afternoon". Their tanks were largely recovered, so they only lost 11 that were not recovered. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, December 02, 2019

The sticky situation on 25 October 1942

General Gatehouse's concerns were described as concern about the situation at dawn was likely to be that his "regiments" would be "exposed and vulnerable". He expected that enemy anti-tank guns would do great damage. The corps commander, General Lumsden did not have the authority to call off the attack. De Guingand woke Montgomery and called a corps commander meeting to be held at 3:30am.

The situation was that three of the four armored brigades that were to move forward to the Pierson line were not having any particular problems. Given that, we can understand why Montgomery was in favor of proceeding with the operation. He could expect some 400 tanks to move forward, ready to "debouch". The 8th Armoured Brigade had only one of the three planned paths that was mine-free. One regiment would move out to connect with the 9th Armoured Brigade. The others would sit on Miteiriya Ridge. They would work at clearing more mines and improving the gaps in the minefields.

After the corps commander conference, Montgomery talked with Lumsden and told him that if the 10th Armoured Division commander was not ready to proceed, he would be replaced with someone who was ready to execute the operation.

Things were arranged so that Montgomery could speak by phone with Gatehouse. The problem was with the tanks commanders, who until now had been able to hedge their bets and not go all out, regardless of the cost. The tank commanders sat in the forward infantry positions, drawing more attention to the positions than the infantry liked. Montgomery wanted them to push forward, regardless of the losses they might incur and push up to the Pierson bound. It was at 6am that the 7/Rifle Brigade vehicles arrived immediately behind the 2/13th Battalion. This was only a portion of the 7/Rifle Brigade. The rest went farther south, to Point 29, not to Trig 33, which was the intent. In the south, the tanks had moved forward near to the Pierson bound. For example, the 24th Armoured Brigade believed it had two regiments on their objective. They might not have actually been that close, but they were near where they were supposed to be. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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