Tuesday, February 25, 2020

German perspective from 29 October 1942 at El Alamein

Rommel attempted to counter the progress made by the 9th Australian Division on 29 October 1942. One thing he did was to put the "northern sector" under the command of the 90th Light Division. They were given the "125th Regimental Group". Rommel ordered them to form a new line and dig positions as quickly as they could. Of course, he wanted the line to be "firmly held". The line would extend from Sidi Abd el Rahman to the coast. In terms of the 9th Australian Division, the line would start near the far southwest corner of the division. The line would be in the "north-northeasterly direction".

The 200th Battle Group (Kampfgruppe) was responsible for the attacks on the 2/15th and 2/17th Battalions on 29 October. The attacks failed to recapture "Bir Sultan Omar" and be able to recapture the line the line that the 2/15th Battalion had broken into. The attack failed, but they were able rescue the remnants of the II/125th Battalion.

The losses suffered by the 164th Division and the Italian Trento Division were so great, that Rommel had to eventually commit most of the Africa Corps to the northern area. Rommel had been forced to leave other areas unprotected in order to fight the Australians in the north.

By now, the authorities in Britain were getting pretty anxious about the course of the Battle of El Alamein. They had thought that with the great superiority in strength, the battle would have been already won. We can image Churchill "bouncing off the walls and ceiling" and wanting to intervene, because he considered himself to be this great military genius, which he was not. The CIGS, Alan Brooke, was also concerned, but he did not want to further inflame Churchill, so he kept quiet. Churchill could not help himself, so he wrote an unpleasant telegram to General Alexander. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Australian 20th Brigade took over the Northern Front on 29 October 1942

The Australian 20th Brigade took control of the "northern sector". They also took over the 2/23rd Battalion. The brigade commander, Brigadier Windeyer, heard that the 26th Brigade was planned to attack on the night of 30-31 October. In response, her told the 2/23rd Battalion to move forward a thousand yards during the night of 29-30 October. This happened and had the effect of "linking" 2/15th Battalion with the 2/13th Battalion. The state of the enemy forces was such that the move was accomplished without any trouble.

Rommel's army had endured extensive losses. By the end of 28 October, the 15th Armored Division had just 21 medium tanks. The 21st Armored Division had 45 medium tanks. The Italian divisions still had 196 tanks. The Germans had lost 1,994 men missing since the start of the 2nd El Alamein battle while the Italians had 1,660 men missing. The German 164th Division had taken heavy losses. The 382nd Regiment had three battalions at the start. They had only one left by the end of 28 October. The one left had lost about one-quarter of its men. One of the battalions of the 115th Regiment was reduced to forty men.

The German 90th Light Division was holding an area near Trig 29. There were two battalions of the 125th Regiment "holding the original front from Thompson's Post across the railway and road to the sea". The II/125th Regiment was sitting in an area that was behind the original "front line" positions.

When the Australians had attacked on the night of 28-29 October, they had broken the German line "between the II/125th Battalion and a battle group from the 90th Light Division. They had also overrun an Italian bersaglieri unit. Rommel responded to the attack by moving armor forward including part of the 15th Armored Division and the Italian Littorio Division. He intended to stage a counter-attack with the armor. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Counterattacks against the Australians on 29 October 1942

During the late morning on 29 October 1942 in the Second El Alamein battle, two enemy counterattacks were sent at the Australians defending Trig 29. The attacks both had a mix of tanks and infantry. The afternoon attack was more serious. The attack lasted for some 45 minutes. The Australians managed to beat off both attacks, but lost six anti-tank guns in the process. Another attack was launched at about 5pm against the "juncture of 2/15th and 2/17th Battalions. The attack continued until it became dark. The attacks were countered by artillery fire, which was helped by Captain Dinning having positioned himself in an observation post on Trig 29 without much cover. The Australians could observe the heavy casualties suffered by the enemy attackers. "As the light faded", the Australians could see the enemy digging in up to a mile from the Australian front lines. Right after midnight, the enemy tried another attack against the two Australian battalions. The 2/17th aid staion was later visited by a truck with Italian wounded driven by an Italian officer. They had a full set of wounded, already, from the 2/15th Battalion.

The enemy made some more attacks before they eventually ceased attacking the 2/15th and 2/17th Battalions. Australian training in "quick and thorough consolidation" along with excellent artillery support had countered the Germans. The Germans tended to counterattack "quickly rather than deliberately". The Australian historian ventured the opinion that the German "quick attacks" would never succeed, while a "deliberate set-piece operation" would have been successful. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Plan revisions on 29 October 1942

General Morshead intervened in the planning process for the next move. He recognized that there was not enough time "before daylight". The attack was postponed and the brigade commander was ordered to ensure that the 2/23rd Battalion was in a better position. He wanted the battalion to be in touch "with the 2/13th on the right" and the "2/15th on the left". The 2/24th and 2/48th Battalions were sent back to their positions where they were to sit. 46th RTR was to withdraw the 8 running tanks that they had left.

The 2/13th Battalion was in a rather shaky situation when dawn occurred on 29 October. They had gaps and a open flank of some one thousand yards. The enemy had laid a minefield which actually afforded some protection to the 2/13th Battalion. Ahead of the battalion, there were several enemy posts. They were probably discomfited by the long open flank.

By 7am, the enemy artillery started to hit the battalion headquarters. They took casualties that left the battalion without a commander. A company commander took command on an interim basis. They asked for help in finding the second-in-command, a major. They found that the second-in-command had been wounded and "evacuated". A captain, the former battalion adjutant was promoted to major and put in command by General Morshead. The major was able to "get reinforcements from B-echelon" and his presence gave the men a boost in morale.

On 29 October, the enemy attacked the 2/15th and 2/17th Battalions. Using Trig 29 as cover, 14 enemy tanks fired on the Australians. They eventually realized that the enemy did not realize where the Australians were positioned. Several enemy vehicles drove into the Australian positions and were "destroyed or captured". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The attack on 28-29 October 1942 goes awry

The attack with tanks and infantry came to a stop when tanks reported seeing mines. This was during the night of 28-29 October 1942 in the north. The engineers checked for mines but "failed to discover any". Only at right before 1am did the tanks move forward. Six German 50mm anti-tank guns stopped the advance. The tanks then scattered with their infantry riders. They were starting to have casualties increasing.

The operation had descended into chaos (or "muddle"). Col. Evans, of the 2/23rd Battalion, pulled together sixty or seventy men and took the gun position with the six anti-tank guns. They captured about 160 prisoners in the process. To the east, another 2/23rd group which was out of touch independently and had some fifteen tanks moved forward in the direction of the "railway". After they had moved some 800 yards, they were stopped by an 88mm gun that knocked out 9 tanks. They lost many infantry in the process. At the same time, Col. Evans "reported" that he was going to dig in where he was, since he had so few men left. He was also not able to reach anyone from the 46th RTR. The 2/23rd Battalion had "lost 29 killed, 172 wounded and 6 missing. The casualties included 2 majors, 4 captains and 10 lieutenants."

Almost operating without information, the 26th Brigade commander came up with a new plan. He wanted to attack with two battalions from the area held by the 2/15th Battalion. He was given the 40th RTR by General Morshead. The unfortunate detail was that the 23rd Armoured Brigade would not commit to a time when the 40th RTR would be available to use. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The 2/23rd and the 46th RTR attack at El Alamein

There was an attack "to the main road" planned using the 2/23rd Battalion and the 46th RTR. The two units had trained together, so you might have expected the attack to go well, but that was not the case. The infantry commander, Lt-Col. Evans, planned to have his men riding on the tanks and on carriers. They were to be part of a general attack that included a 20th Brigade attack. They were waiting to see that the 20th Brigade attack had been successful. One problem was that the enemy was waiting for them. The attack had a barrage fired first. The the attacker advanced once the barrage was fired. One immediate issue was that they soldiers riding on vehicles were exposed to enemy fire. Another issue was the darkness due to no moonlight. Some tanks got off track and ran onto mines. The vehicles in the attack, when they saw other vehicles mined, swerved "left and right" looking for other gaps. The vehicles then attracted a great deal of enemy fire. The left infantry company lost all their officer, leaving a warrant officer in charge. He led the surviving infantry in a successful attack on the closest enemy positions. They took some forty enemy soldiers prisoner. They were the only success in the attack.

They decided to send the sappers out to widen the gaps in the minefield. One issue that was troublesome was that the 2/23rd commander and 46th RTR lost communications. The same thing happened between the 26th Brigade and the 23rd Armoured Brigade. The two headquarters were situated near each other, hoping to make communication easier, but that did not help. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

The attack to the north by Australians late on 28 October 1942

The Australian attackers on 28 October 1942 were quite weak units. The Australian historian describes the companies as being of platoon size. That meant that they were forced to attack on "narrow fronts". There were enemy positions on the left that were not attacked and which therefore became a problem. Those enemy positions began firing mortars at the battalion headquarters and the nearby company. They also found that they enemy had "strewn" the area with "anti-personnel mines". The situation was troubling enough that one company was tasked with "the two enemy posts which were mainly responsible". One patrol that had been sent out was hit by a mortar bomb that killed or wounded all of the ten men but the commander. That caused a second patrol to be "organized". The battalion commander ordered that another patrol be sent out to take the other enemy post. Corporal McKellar's patrol had ten men with him in his patrol. They crossed a minefield and attacked a machine gun crew that was "covering" the mortar crew. They captured the machine guns and their crews. The patrol "rushed" the mortar crew that was "some 30 yards away". The successful patrol returned back to their unit with the captured weapons and prisoners. Another patrol captured another enemy post. That seemed to quiet things down. Burrell's company came back and dug a position "close to the battalion headquarters".

There was more activity happening. The 2/15th Battlion attacked to the north. They started from Trig 29. While they were getting ready, they took heavy enemy artillery fire. The battalion commander was mortally wounded. His adjutant was also wounded. Major Strange took command and led the attack. The attack went well, although they were under machine-gun and mortar fire. They attacked posts that turned out to be "manned mainly by Italians". These were some nine hundred yards from the starting point. They killed 89 Italians and "took some 130 Italian and German prisoners. They found that there were no minefields, so that allowed the vehicles to move forward without a problem. The battalion then dug in where they were. They had lost six killed including a company commander and had 36 men wounded. Three men were found to be missing.

"At first light two enemy tractors approached towing anti-tank guns." The Australians captured the tractors, two guns and took 22 German prisoners. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, February 03, 2020

28 October 1942 new attack

During the morning of 28 October 1942, generals Lumsden and Freyberg both met separately with the Australian General Morshead. As we mentioned, it was after those meetings that Montgomery "warned" Freyberg that the New Zealand Division would "take over the sector" and stage an attack to the west, "along the coast".

The plan had been to have the 26th Brigade be replaced by the 20th Brigade. The enemy staged attacks that caused problems for the relief. Perhaps the enemy had some warning of the plan and tried to disrupt it. Again, as we have mentioned, I believe, Trig 29 was attacked during the morning, but had been ] forced back.

The 20th Brigade attack had stepped off at 10pm. The 2/13th Battalion was in bad shape, as they were very tired, and had lost a great deal of their men. Their companies were only about 35 men in strength. The start line had been set farther back then the plan had indicated. They still moved so fast that hey had to wait for the barrage to be lifted. The enemy were tricky enough to use a trick where they fired behind the barrage, thinking that they would catch advancing troops. That caused hits on "battalion transport" and one "rear companies". Still, the Fig Orchard was taken in fifty minutes. One of the attacking companies "dug in close behind the orchard". The "battalion headquarters was nearby". Quite soon, two other companies "passed through" and "followed a track leading towards the coast". They eventually moved into a position "some 800 yards from Thompson's Post". This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official history.

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