Tuesday, March 31, 2020

1 November 1942 at El Alamein in the north

What was left of the 2/24th and the 2/48th Battalion were moved back to the
coast "sector". They were still next to the enemy forces where they were placed. 1 November
1942 was a Sunday. At the "Saucer", they were in close to the enemy in all directions. That was
only obvious when there was light. The enemy started firing on the Saucer
with a variety of weapons, including 88mm guns firing "air bursts". Most guns were firing
from the west and northwest. There were still some firing from the northeast and southeast.
The enemy was both short of guns and ammunition, so the British were able to hurt them
with greater firepower. As we mentioned, it was at 8:30am that the enemy launched an
unsuccessful airraid. They were met by British and American fighter aircraft and took losses.

The British intercepted a message from Rommel that ordered the 90th Light Division and the 21st Armored Division to attack "Barrell Hill". Barrell Hill lay between the road and rail line.
They thought that Rommel did not understand how strong the area was defended. General Morshead drove to the Saucer to meet with his brigade commander. The enemy repeatedly attacked three Australian battalions. They were hitting the area between the road and rail line. The Australians were successful in fighting with their mortars against the Germans.
Infantry and tanks were used in the first attack. As many was eight or more 88mm guns were firing air burst shells over the Australians. Bombers were called in on the first attack. At 12:45pm, some six tanks attacked the 2/43rd Battalion. The enemy was able to push back on platoon from Barrel Hill, but they were able to retake the position. Anti-tank guns knocked out three tanks and an 88mm gun. This happened to to the north of the Australian battalion. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, March 30, 2020

31 October to 1 November 1942 at El Alamein

Fighting during the day on 31 October had pushed the Australians off the coast road. At dark, the Pioneers regrouped and dug in to the south of the railway, using the embankment. At the saucer, the defenders managed to hold on. The Germans had attacked with tanks and infantry. Each attack had been stopped by defensive gunfire. Rommel decided to use the Africa Corps to attack to release the 125th Regiment. Battle Group Pfeiffer was formed with 15 tanks along with some self-propelled guns. It would move to the mosque by 11am and move along the railway. Rommel decided to have the battle group attack to the north of the rail line.
An attack by 361st Regiment infantry was stopped by tanks and infantry. The attack by Group Pfeiffer and the 361st Regiment had initial success. They were eventually stopped by tanks and infantry. By 5:35pm, they had contacted the 125th Regiment. They had difficulty in moving forward along the rail line and were eventually stopped. This was when General Morshead decided to replace the 26th Brigade by the 24th Brigade. The replacement worked out and was finished by 3:30am. The enemy was very tired, which helped.
A rebuilt 2/28th Battalion replaced the 2/24th. The 2/43rd replaced the 2/48th. The 2/32nd Battalion stayed in position as did the 2/3rd Pioneeers. Brigadier Godfrey commanded from the Saucer. The Saucer was in disarray, Dispositions were made by commanders on the spot. Anti-tank guns and machine guns were brought in. An artillery duel started on 1 November. The Germans were low on guns and ammunition, so they had a hard time. At 8:40am, a divebomber raid was intercepted by British and American fighters. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.</p>

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The British commanders had a very unrealistic expectation about what the planned attack might accomplish. That is, the coast road was not open and the defenses on either side of the road had not been taken. In retrospect, we cannot understand why that the forces available for the attack might have accomplished any of that. The responsibility for what happened was General Morshead and his staff's. There were four "weak battalions" in the north soon to face trouble. There was the 2/3rd Pioneer Battalion, and the 2/32nd Battalion on a line that crossed the rail line. There was a gap on the left before you would see the 2/15th Battalion. The remnants of the 2/48th Battalion sat behind the 2/32nd Battalion. There was also the remaining men from the 2/24th Battalion. The first unit to receive enemy fire was the Pioneers. The Germans asked for the Pioneers to surrender, but they refused. The Pioneer company was then "encircled". The 2/48th Battalion had most of the 40th RTR arrive to support them. There were two squadrons of tanks that moved into hull-down positions. They were located north of the railway. At about 11:30am, some fifteen German medium tanks drove to the north of the road. The Germans drew enough fire that they eventually pulled back. Accompanying infantry was pushed back by artillery fire.
One company of Pioneers was being pressed and was without ammunition. They were eventually overrun and most were taken prisoner. It seems that something like three officers and 43 men may have been captured by the Germans. The Germans eventually staged an attack on the saucer by early afternoon. The German pressure had eventually forced the British to pull off the road.
Rommel had a Africa Corps battlegroup that had some 15 tanks and some self-propelled guns. They were to move to the mosque and then move across the railroad. They were to help the 125th Regiment. At first, the battle group attack seemed to be succeeding. Eventually, the British were able to stop the attack with tanks and infantry in the defense. They had stopped the attack by 7pm.
Morshead considered the situation and decided to go ahead with the plan to relieve the 26th Brigade by the 24th Brigade. He sent orders at about 7:30pm and the relief had happened by 3:30am. The enemy was too tired to interfere. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The situation of the 2/24th and 2/48th Battalions on 31 October 1941

As we saw, the 2/24th Battalion was withdrawn. The same was true of the 2/48th Battalion. Lt-Col. Hammer had withdrawn his survivors to the base at the Saucer. Once there, they dug in "just to the east of the 2/32nd Battalion. In their battle, they had taken some 200 prisoners, all of them German. As far back as 23 October, the battalion had 30 officers and "656 other ranks".
During this operation, the 9th Australian Division had taken 544 prisoners, mostly German but also some Italian. While the infantry had fought hard, the medical staff had been overworked. The wounded were brought to the Blockhouse in the Saucer.  The German medical staff worked alongside the Australians.
Welcome reinforcements in the form of a Rhodesian anti-tank unit had arrived and were assigned to support the 2/32nd Battalion. In the next morning, more anti-tank guns and gunners arrived. They were Australian anti-tank gunners and guns.
The Pioneers had been waiting for orders. The commander then asked for orders, and received orders to attack after the scheduled time to attack. One company that was to move the farthest was sent off shortly before dawn, with little time remaining. The Pioneers were to advance and then dig-in. The Pioneers were stuck without any communication equipment. They were in need of artillery support, but had no way to call it in. The Pioneers were sitting in a saucer with no supporting weapons, being fired on from three sides, perhaps.
After the 26th Brigade attack, Rommel had realized that they would not be able to hold the El Alamein position and that they would need to withdraw to Fuka. Late pm 30 October, Rommel expected a British "breakthrough" and would try to meet it to give his infantry time to withdraw. The Axis forces had received more fuel, so Rommel told the 21st Armored Division that they would need to be "mobile" by the next morning and should "hand-over" to the Italian Trieste Division.
The 90th Light Division had formed a defensive line. The attack by the 2/24th and 2/48th Battalions had also hit the 90th Light Division forces. An Italian light artillery unit was also hit and "overrun". Rommel got a message saying that 30 British tanks had moved forward to the main road. Rommel set up a command post near the Sidi Abd el Rahman mosque. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Hard times for the 2/24th and 2/48th Battalions on 31 October 1942

We would say that the tasks given to the 2/24th and 2/48th Battalion in the fight to the north were beyond what was reasonable. We can only say that when you recognize that both battalions had taken heavy losses that had reduced them to token strength. The men still showed great spirit. The remnants of the right company in the advance, now commanded by Lieutenant Allen, charged an enemy post that had held up a company, and using grenades and bayonets, "overcame" the post. Robbins had led his company wide to the left to escape a minefield. His battalion commander never heard from Robbins, because he had been killed, and "all his  platoon commanders and headquarters men had been either killed or wounded". They had been "caught in the open" and lost 16 men attacking their objective. Sergeant Kibby took command and led and attack on the "objective". Kibby was killed and the surviving soldiers were "forced to ground twenty yards from the objective.
Colonel Hammer, the 2/48th Battalion commander, held a meeting of the commanders of what remained of his battalion. There were only 41 men surviving from the 2/48th Battalion. Colonel Hammer decided to make contact with the 2/24th Battalion to see if it was even feasible for the 2/48th Battalion to hold their ground "north of the road". Colonel Hammer ventured off on his own, with only a pistol, to find the 2/24th Battalion. Colonel Hammer had found the 2/24th Headquarters, but not the battalion commander. When he returned to his battalion, he had been shot "through the face". He ordered a retreat "to the blockhouse". He assumed that the 2/24th would also withdraw. That was actually not the case, but they both withdrew anyway. Both the 2/24th and 2/48th remnants had reached the "saucer" before dawn. The 2/24th had the misfortune to go through "a minefield of aerial bombs, of which two exploded. Two carriers arrived and took the wounded out. The two battalions were near the 2/32nd Battalion positions. There had been 54 men left from the 2/24th Battalion. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Saucer battle on 30 to 31 October 1942

The 2/48th and the 2/24th Battalions went ahead with their attack even though they had missed the barrage. They both attacked with two companies forward and two companies following. They were hit whle advancing by anti-tank guns, heavy mortars, and machine guns. They were both able to take their initial objectives, after some fighting. They found themselves "advancing with ever dwindling strenght against ever stronger opposition. As someone ran into trouble, help arrived from the other battalion.
While the 2/24th Battalion moved forward, the heaviest fighting was on the left. The company on the right had an easier time. The left company had one platoon that took three posts. Two other platoons attacked another post and took an 88mm gun. The two other companies were caught by machine gun fire and wounded the company commander. He was replaced by a lieutenant. They had to help another company that was stopped short of their "first objective". The 2/48th Battalion also helped and they took the post. The back companies were able to "pass through". Many leaders were wounded or killed. Warrant Officer Cameron was eventually the company commander. He ended taking the last eight surviving company members back to the rear, where they dug in. The remnants of the 2/24th Battalion were concentrated "north of Thompson's Post", where they dug in, ready for "all-around defense". They got a report that Thompson's Post was not occupied. They were asked to check it out. The battalion commander took 15 men to check the report.
The 2/48th Battalion also had heavy fighting. They were involved in attacking posts and in case disabled an 88mm gun and two machine guns.
The two reserve companies were in a fight and had to fight posts on the edge of their path. Agsin, leaders were killed or wounded. One company was stopped and had to get down due to fire, "forced to gound". One company on the left side had moved out to miss a minefield, but then was out of touch with the rest of the group. A lieutenant was ordered to "deal with mortar and machine gun posts". One company was reduced to five men by this time. The battalion headquarters moved forward but were quickly in front of the companies. Two companies were merged to form a 45 man company. The 2/48th Battalion commander met with the current leaders of his battalion. He ordered them to dig in and hold the ground that they had taken. This  is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The battle for the "Saucer" on 31 October 1942 at El Alamein

The Australian attackers started taking many casualties. The commander of the 2/32nd Battalion was wounded again and had to be relieved by Major Joshua. Vehicles trying to move forward were "shot up" by a German 88mm gun. The vehicles were mainly trying to bring ammunition to the front. Vehicles belonging to a company of the 2/32nd Battalion were among those hit.

The work of the engineers on the rail crossing met with success by 3:45am. Some fifty men had been working on the rail crossing. 2/32nd Battalion vehicles were now able to cross to the north. The enemy had responded by pressing along the rail line from the west side. They were concentrating fire on "the gap". Because of that, the 2/32nd Battalion was not able to connect to the 2/15th Battalion. The ground that the 2/32nd Battalion held came to be known as "the saucer", because that is what it looked like. The "saucer" had become the key point that was fought over by the two armies.

Two Australian battalions, the 2/24th and the 2/48th, were attacking to the east, trying to advance some 2,250 yards. They were moving towards their own bombardment. They left a trail of dead and wounded as they moved forward. They were energized by their spirit. The bombardment had started at about 1am. The Australians were to move forward behind the bombardment as it was adjusted to the east. The start line ended up being fired on by the enemy and their own bombardment. The 2/48th Battalion were early to arrive at the start. That meant that they to stay back from the bombardment. When the 2/24th Battalion arrived, they did not see the 2/48th Battalion, so they figured that they must have already started. There was confusion about the battalion locations. A 26th Brigade liaison officer helped sort things out. Battalions were now adopting the formation of two companies forward with two following. They would then allow the following companies to move forward through the other two companies. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, March 09, 2020

The attack in the north starting on the night of 30 October 1942 at El Alamein

Before the attack started, two officers from the 2/32nd Battalion were wounded, one mortally. The barrage started at 10pm. Two companies stepped off at 10:10pm. There was no opposition, so the companies had caught up with the barrage. Their objective was the rail line. They had taken some 175 prisoners, almost all were German from the 1/361st Battalion. They had paused on reaching the rail line. They then moved forward, but started to incur casualties.

Once they had reached their objective, they had two companies covering the road. They had cover by being on a reverse slope. Two other companies moved into an area "south of the railway facing west". The engineers were busy clearing mines from tracks that could be used to move forward. The companies were facing west. The engineers had started work to break down the "12-foot railway embankments". The important truck carrying their essential equipment did not arrive, so they were left to improvise. German medical officers and personnel were in a blockhouse used as a medical station. Rommel always tried to treat wounded carefully and follow the "rules of war". The Germans treated everyone brought in, German or Australian. The Germans were joined by the Australian medical personnel.

The 2/48th Battalion, 2/24th Battalion, and the 2/3rd Pioneer Battalion had set out from Trig 29 at: "10:30, 10:40, and 11:00pm". They were following the 2/32nd Battalion. They had met some opposition and fought their own actions. The three battalions then dug-in "near the 2/32nd". Some of the pioneers went to help the engineers working on the railroad embankment. One pioneer platoon and a 2/32nd Battalion company attacked troublesome positions and eventually subdued them. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

More about the 9th Australian Division plan for an attack

The attack by the 9th Australian Division would hit the coast road and railway. The attacker vehicles would need to cross the "railway embankment". The plan envisioned the engineers would blow up the rail line and then use a bulldozer to move away the dirt from the embankment. A field company, the 2/3rd was added because the engineers had some many responsibilities. Brigadier Ramsey commanded the artillery. The artillery had 360 guns in "12 field regiments and 3 medium" regiments.

The plan was devised by General Morshead, who issued the outline at 5pm on 29 October. He passed his final plan to Brigadier Whitehead at 7am on 30 October. The plan included having the 24th Brigade relieving the 26th Brigade during 31 October to 1 November. He wrote later that "Whitehead does not want any tanks".

There was a lot of enemy action. The enemy attacked the 2/15th Battalion as many as four times during the period from midnight until dawn. One enemy attack had penetrated, almost reaching the anti-tank guns. In the end, they were able to push back all the attacks and regroup on the line. They thought that it seemed that the enemy had been building up the area where the attack was planned. General Morshead was aware that two battalions were reduced in strength. He decided to use the 2/3rd Pioneer Battalion as a reserve, available for use as needed. It the pioneers were not needed, they would be used to attack the enemy lines north of the coast road. The pioneers had a lot of possible responsibilities. In order of priority, they should be ready to help the 2/32nd Battalion. If that was not needed, they would help the 2/24th Battalion take Thompson's post. If they were not needed there, they would help the 2/48th Battalion take the area from the road to the sea. If that was not needed, they would do what was originally planned, to move north to the coast. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

Monday, March 02, 2020

The meeting where Churchill was persuaded and a new plan was formulated

Churchill held a meeting on 29 October 1942 where he met with the chiefs of staff, with the addition of Field Marshal Smuts, the South African. Churchill started the meeting by attacking Montgomery. Alan Brooke, the CIGS, defended Montgomery and pointed out that Montgomery was gathering a force to use for the next offensive. When Field Marshal Smuts supported Alan Brooke and Montgomery, Churchill backed off. Churchill's bad message to Alexander did not get sent and instead, another was sent.

Another meeting was held in North Africa with Alexander and then with Montgomery. The new attack would be called "Supercharge". They would attack as far north as possible. They would try to breakthrough between the 90th Light Division and the Trento Division. The new attack would happen on the night of 31 October to 1 November 1942. Montgomery wanted to "destroy the enemy's armor", "to fight in the open", and "use up his petrol". General Freyberg would command a division with two British brigades and the 9th Armoured Brigade. The 1st Armoured Division with two armoured brigades and the 7th Motor Brigade would create a new "bridgehead". Freyberg wanted more time, so Montgomery postponed the attack on day to the night of 1 November to 2 November.

To keep pressing the enemy, the 9th Australian Division was to keep attacking to the north. They would use four battalions. One would be used "to cut the road". Two more would be used to clear the road. The fourth battalion would "push through to the coast".

Brigadier Whitehead was the attack commander for the night of 30 to 31 October 1942. The main force was from his 26th Brigade. He would not have one battalion, but had two more added along with the 40th RTR. They would attack from the 2/23rd Battalion front. The 2/32nd Battalion would be a mobile force with an anti-tank battery and some machine guns. This is based on the account in Vol.III of the Australian Official History.

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