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First battle of El Alamein, 1-27 July 1942
Build up to Battle
Rommel's First Attack
Auchinleck's First Offensive
Auchinleck's Second Attack
Auchinleck's Third Attack
The first battle of El Alamein (1-27 July 1942) was a series of engagements in the area south of El Alamein in which Rommel's run of victories in 1942 was finally brought to an end. A series of British counterattacks also achieved little, and the battle ended as a stalemate.
Between February and May 1942 the front line in North Africa had been the Gazala Line, a British defensive position that ran south from the sea at Gazala, and that was built around a series of defensive 'boxes', brigade sided strong points that were meant to be large enough to defend themselves for at least a week. The position was also meant to include an east-west line that ran back from the main line, to protect Tobruk, but this part of the line hadn't been completed.
On 26 May Rommel launched an attack on this line (battle of Gazala, 26 May-14 June 1942). This involved a frontal assault on the northern part of the line and an outflanking move around the southern end of the line. At first this gamble appeared to be failing, as Rommel's advance ran out of steam and he ended up apparently trapped on the wrong side of the Gazala Line, but the British failed to take advantage of a good chance to defeat him. The eventual British counterattack, on 5 June, was so badly handled that Rommel was able to launch his own counterattack later on the same day. He then turned south to eliminate the Bir Hacheim Box, at the southern end of the line, which was abandoned on the night of 10-11 June.
Rommel's final attack began on 11 June, and by 14 June General Ritchie, then commander of the Eighth Army, was forced to order a full scale retreat from the Gazala Line. The 1st South African Division escaped along the coast, and was at Tobruk by the following day. The 50th Division had a more difficult task, and had to break out west, through the Italian front line, turn south to get past Bir Hacheim and then east to head for the Egyptian frontier. An attempt to hold onto Tobruk failed. The supporting troops had to retreat on 16-17 June, and Tobruk fell to an Axis attack on 20-June 1942.
Rommel then turned east and invaded Egypt. Until 25 June the British had been intending to defend the Mersa Matruh position, but on that day General Auchinleck, the commander-in-chief in the Middle East, decided to remove General Ritchie and take over command of the army in person. Early on 26 June he decided not to defend Mersa Matruh, but instead retreat to the shorter El Alamein position if Rommel attacked. By this point XXX Corps, which had been badly battered at Gazala, was already in the Alamein position, attempting to recover. Mersa Matruh was defended by XIII Corps, which had escaped from Gazala in better condition, and X Corps.
Rommel attacked at Mersa Matruh late on 26 June. The British position was soon untenable, and a retreat towards the next defensive position, at Fuka, was planned. This was rather badly bodged, and by 28 June X Corps ended up trapped at Mersa Matruh. That night part of the Corps managed to break through the German lines, while XIII Corps retreated from the Fuka line.
Auchinleck's new position stretched south from the small railway halt of El Alamein, close to the Mediterranean coast. Unlike most of the other positions fought over in North Africa it couldn’t be outflanked to the south. Thirty miles inland was the Qattara Depression, a low lying area that is below sea level, and that is bordered by a steep escarpment. The depression was impassable to large military formations, and especially to armour. Eventually the Eighth Army would be able to fortify the entire gap, but that wasn't the case in July 1942. El Alamein itself was surrounded by an incomplete line of fortifications (another of the 'boxes'), but south of that the desert was open. The area was generally very flat, and even some of the named ridges weren't major features (the Ruweisat Ridge, which featured heavily in the battle, was a low stony ridge, most notable as a viewpoint over the surrounding desert).
Build up to Battle
In the days immediately before Rommel's first attack on the El Alamein position Allied troops were fed into the position from east and west.
XXX Corps (General Norrie) was given the task of defending the northern part of the line. The 1st South Africa Division, coming from the Gazala battle, was posted around El Alamein. Its 3rd South African Brigade was given the task of defending the western side of the fortifications. The 1st South African Brigade was posted on the northern slopes of the Ruweisat Ridge, due south of El Alamein. The 2nd South African Brigade was five miles to the east/ north-east of the 1st Brigade. At the western end of the ridge was the 18th Indian Brigade, newly arrived from Iraq. Auchinleck expected Rommel to try and bypass the defended Alamein position, and these units were posted to provide defence in depth.
Armoured support came from the 22nd Armoured Brigade (1st Armoured Division), which was posted just to the south of Ruwesiat Ridge, and by the 4th Armoured Brigade (7th Armoured Division), which arrived just to the north of the 2nd South African Brigade on 1 July, just ahead of the Germans, after fighting a series of delaying actions further to the west.
XIII Corps (General Gott) was posted on the southern half of the line. Gott's front line ran south/ south-west from the western end of Ruweisat Ridge. The 6th New Zealand Brigade was posted at Bab el Qattara, slightly more than half way between El Alamein and the Qattara Depression, with the rest of the New Zealand Division further east at Deir el Munassib. Next was the 7th Motorised Brigade. The 5th Indian Brigade held the Naqb Abu Dweis box, on the edge of the depression. This position was unfinished, and had no water source. The 7th Armoured Division was posted further to the east, around Qaret el Himeimat, near the start of the 'Barrel Track', one possible route for an advance on Cairo.
Auchinleck's one advantage was that Rommel's men were almost as exhausted by the fighting of the last few weeks, and were now at the far end of their supply line. The Afrika Korps was down to 55 tanks and 500 infantry, the 90th Light Division had 1,500 infantry, and the three Italian corps had 30 tanks and 5,500 infantry. Between them the Germans and Italians had 500 guns, but only 29 of the precious 88mms.
Rommel's position probably wasn't helped by Mussolini, who flew into Cyrenaica on 29 June, ready to make a triumphant entry into Cairo.
Rommel's First Attack
Rommel was confident of victory, but he had misread the British deployment. He believed that the survivors of X Corps, battered at Mersa Matruh, was all that was standing around El Alamein, while the fresher XIII Corps was fifteen miles further south, blocking the road to Cairo.
Rommel decided to use the 90th Light Division to bypass El Alamein and cut the coast road somewhere to the east. The Italian XXI Corps would attack the El Alamein box from the west. X Corps was sent against a X Corps box that Rommel believed to be at Deir el Abyad, to the west of Ruweisat Ridge. The Afrika Korps was to be used for an attack south-east across the battlefield, starting at Tell el Aqqaqir, (north of Deir al Abyad, west of Tobruk) and heading south-east across Ruweisat Ridge towards Alam Nayil (east of the 6th New Zealand Brigade position), to attack XIII Corps from the rear. He didn't expect to face much opposition while crossing the Ruweisat Ridge area.
The 90th Light Division began its advance on time at 0300 hours on 1 July, but took the wrong route, and instead of passing to the south of the El Alamein position ran into the defensive works. The Germans were pinned down by heavy defensive fire, and were unable to make any progress.
The Afrika Korps set off nearly four hours late, at 0645 hours, tired and recovering from an air attack. The 'box' at Deir el Abyad turned out not to exist, and the Germans didn’t make contact with the British until 0900 hours, when they ran into the 18th Infantry Brigade at Deir el Shein, at the western end of Auckinleck's defensive in depth.
At about noon a sandstorm allowed the 90th Light to move on, but it was still too close to the defences, and was soon pinned down again, this time by artillery and mortar fire.
The same sandstorm allowed the Afrika Korps to attack the 18th Infantry Brigade position, and by 1300 hours the Germans had penetrated its perimeter. This limited success encouraged Rommel to issue ambitious orders for the pursuit – 90th Light and the Italian XXI Corps were to mop up around El Alamein, while Ariete, Trieste and Littorio divisions dashed east towards Alexandria.
The British response was also affected by the sandstorm. A force of armoured cars, sent ahead of a relief effort by the 22nd Armoured Brigade reported that everything was quiet, and so the brigade stayed put. At about 1700 the 22nd Armoured Brigade did attack west, and managed to force 15 Panzer to retreat, but one hour later 21 Panzer overcame the last resistance at Deir el Shein. This small battle cost them 18 of their 55 tanks, far too high a cost for the limited success.
On the British side an armoured force was slowly being put together, and by the end of the day the 1st Armoured Division had 38 M3 Grant medium tanks, 61 M3 Stuart light tanks, 12 Valentine infantry tanks and 8 Crusader cruiser tanks. This would give Auchinleck enough confidence to order a counterattack on the following day.
Both commanders ordered an offensive for 2 July. Rommel decided to sent the Afrika Korps east towards Alam el Onsol, to the south-east of El Alamein, to cut the coast road. 90th Light Division would advance on the Korps left flank. On the British side Auchinleck ordered part of the 10th Indian Division ('Robcol') to take over the 1st Armoured Division position, leaving the armour free to advance west along the southern side of Ruweisat Ridge. The advance would be supported by XIII Corps coming from the south.
Both attacks began on the afternoon of 2 July, and neither of them made much progress. 15 Panzer, on the German right, clashed with 1st Armoured Division, and neither side could advance. 21 Panzer made two attempts to advance east along the ridge, but on both occasions was stopped by 1st South African Brigade and Robcol.
That evening Auchinleck decided to call the newly arrived 9th Australian Division up from the Delta to join his army. He also had to deal with a request from the commander of the 1st South African Division to allow the 1st Brigade to withdraw east towards Alam el Onsol. This had already been refused by General Norrie (XXX Corps commander). Auchinleck backed up Norrie, but also gave him permission to replace the South Africans with Ackcol, part of the 50th Division. The relief didn’t got as planned – the South Africans left before Ackcol arrived, and a party from the 90th Light Division had to be forced out of the position.
By now Rommel realised that his force was running out of steam. He decided to make one last push on 3 July, and then stop. 90th Light and the Afrika Korps were to push to the coast, while Ariete and Triestewere to attack south to pin down XIII Corps.
Neither attack achieved much. The German advance was stopped by 1st Armoured Division, although Ackcol was forced to abandon its position. The Italians suffered a heavy defeat. Ariete was hit by the New Zealanders, and by noon had lost 350 men and 44 guns, and only have five tanks left. Rommel had to use his German reconnaissance battalions to bolster his right flank. Rommel launched the Afrika Korps on one last attempt at 1600 hours, but it was stopped nine miles east of Deir el Shein. By the end of the day the Germans had pushed a salient into the Allied lines, running along the northern side of Ruweisat Ridge, but they weren’t close to breaking through at the eastern end of the salient, and Auchinleck had strong forces to the north and south.
On 4 July Auchinleck planned a minor offensive, with XIII Corps to push north west of El Mreir (to the west of Ruweisat Ridge), while XXX Corps was to stop any further German advances, and push west if possible. On the German side Rommel decided to try and close the gap in his line left by Ariete by moving 21 Panzer from the Ruwesiat Ridge to a position east of El Mreir. XV Panzer and 90th Light were to extend their lines to fill the gap.
The German move was detected by 1st Armoured Division at around 1400hours. Auchinleck thought it might be the start of a German withdrawal from their salient, and ordered both corps to be ready for a pursuit. Although this wasn't the case, 1st Armoured Division came close to overrunning 15 Panzer Division, and although the Germans escaped, they were pushed by four miles. The salient had been turned into more of a curve. Elsewhere the XIII Corps attack quickly fizzled out.
This first phase of the battle fizzled out on 5 July. Rommel prepared to withdraw the German units from the front line and replace them with his Italian divisions. This would give the panzer divisions a chance to recover from the stresses of the last few weeks, but it would also give Auchinleck a series of opportunities for local victories. On the British side XIII Corps was ordered to attack. The New Zealand was to advance north from Bab el Qattara in the direction of Sidi Abd el Rahman, on the coast, while the 9th Indian Infantry Brigade advanced on their left, heading for a point ten miles east of El Daaba, and about five miles west of Sidi Abd el Rahman (presumably these were directions, and not actual objectives for the day). Neither attack made much progress. On the same day General Norrie was replaced as commander of XXX Corps (in order to give him a rest) by General Ramsden, commander of the 50th Division.
Auchinleck's First Offensive
The initiative now passed to the British. Both sides prepared for new attacks, but it would be Auchinleck who moved first. Rommel was planning to chance his axis of attack. He would abandon the attacks around El Amamein and attack to the south of Ruweisat Ridge, heading for Alam Nayil and Deir el Munassib. Once the British line here was broken, he would be free to advance towards Cairo, leaving the Eighth Army isolated on the coast.
On the British side Auchinleck decided to attack the Italians on the coast. XXX Corps would carry out this attack, with the support of the newly arrived 9th Australian Division. XIII Corps would pull out of its southern positions and move them onto the Alam Nayil ridge, in order to concentrate his artillery more closely. He also hoped that this might convince Rommel to move south to try and take advantage of the apparently open road to Egypt, so that he would be unable to send his Germans to help the Italians on the coast.
The first stage in this plan came on the night of 7-8 July, when an Australian force raided the 15 Panzer position. The Afrika Korps commander believed this to be the start of a major attack, and summoned 21 Panzer to help. While this was distracting the Germans, the New Zealand division out of its old positions. On the following morning Rommel sacked the command of 15 Panzer.
On the night of 8-9 July the New Zealanders completed the move to Alam Nayil. The Germans didn’t realise they had gone, and on 9 July carried out a full scale assault on the empty Bab el Qattara box, led by the Littorio division and supported by 90th Light and the German artillery. Rommel didn't know that the New Zealanders had abandoned the box some time earlier, and believed that this attack was a major success. He prepared orders for a full scale attack on the southern front, to be carried out on the following day.
Auchinleck struck first. A heavy artillery bombardment began at 0330 (waking up Rommel), and the 9th Australian Division and 1st South African Division advanced against the Sabratha division. By 1000 the South Africans, with eight Matilda IIs had captured Tell el Makh Khad, a height point just west of El Alamein, and the Australians with 32 Valentine tanks, had taken the east part of Tell el Eisa, a few miles further to the north-west. The Sabratha division suffered very heavy losses, and was temporarily out of action. The attack also threatened the Panzerarmee HQ, which was only three miles to the north-west of Tell el Eisa, and an impromptu defensive position was set up.
Rommel reacted quickly. He cancelled the attack east, and moved north with his own HQ and a battle group from 15 Panzer. His counterattack began at noon, but was quickly stopped by artillery fire from the El Alamein position. Auchinleck's concentrated artillery fire was proving to be very effective.
On 11 July the Australians took the western end of Tell el Eisa, and then raided towards Deir el Abyad, ten miles to the south. This time they inflicted heavy losses on the Trieste division. Rommel now finally admitted to himself that he wouldn't be able to conduct any more major offensives with the army currently at his disposal.
That didn't mean he wasn’t willing to launch more counterattacks. On 13 July and 14 July XXI Panzer launched two attacks, both of which were repulsed with heavy losses – on 13 July they didn’t even get past the Axis front line before Allied artillery stopped the attack, which was aimed at the British lines south of El Alamein. The attack on 14 July was against the new Australian salient on the coast, and was no more successful.
Auchinleck's Second Attack
Auchinleck was now under pressure to attack, although this time the pressure came from events on the Russian front rather than directly from Churchill. The German summer offensive of 1942 was now well under way, and they were getting dangerously close to the Caucasus, from where they could potentially strike into Persia and seize the vital oilfields. There was some concern that the Russians wouldn't defend the Caucasus, as an advance in that area would take the Germans further away from Moscow, and the British began to consider the possibility that they would need to form an army to reinforce Persia. The Middle East Defence Committee asked for advice, and on 12 July Churchill replied that the only way that they would be able to do that would be by 'defeating or destroying General Rommel and driving him to at least a safe distance'.
Auchinleck's next target was the western end of Ruweisat Ridge, which was now defended by the Italian Brescia and Pavia divisions. Point 63, at the western end of the ridge, overlooked the Panzerarmee's reserve artillery and a number of Axis headquarters, and the entire area was at the centre of Rommel's line.
On the Allied side the New Zealand Division (XIII Corps) was to the south of the ridge, facing north from the Alam Nayil Ridge (facing the Pavia division). 7th Light Armoured Division was further south, watching the German 90th Light Division. 1st Armoured Division was on the left flank of the New Zealanders, and the 22nd Armoured Brigade was provide support for the attack. The 4th New Zealand Brigade had the hardest task, advancing north-west to Point 63. The 5th New Zealand Brigade was to attack to the right. On their right the 5th Indian Division (XXX Corps) was to attack the central part of the ridge, and aim at Point 64, close to a track that crossed the ridge.
The infantry attacks began at 2300 hours on 14 July, and at first all went well. The New Zealanders had reached their objectives by daybreak, and the Indian Division by noon, taking 1,000 prisoners. Unfortunately the 22nd Armoured Brigade didn’t set off when it was meant too, and when it did finally get going didn’t cooperate with the New Zealanders. Rommel launched a counterattack, and by the late afternoon had recaptured Point 63. The New Zealanders took 1,600 prisoners, but lost 1,500 men and a great deal of their trust in the British armour.
Rommel attempted to retake the area around Point 64, but two counterattacks on 16 July were repulsed by British anti-tank and artillery fire. These attacks cost Rommel 24 tanks, six armoured cars, six 88mms and ten anti-tank guns.
On the same day the Australians attacked towards Miteiriya, on the southern side of their salient on the coast, and once again defeated part of the Sabratha division, before withdrawing to their original positions. They repeated the exercise on 17 July, and took a large number of Italian prisoners. Rommel was forced to commit his last German troops to the front line.
17 July also saw Kesselring and Cavallero, Rommel's superiors in the Mediterranean, visit his HQ. Rommel demanded reinforcements, supplies, tanks, 88mm guns, ammo and petrol. All they could offer in the short term were the Ramcke and Folgore parachute brigades, which had been preparing for the invasion of Malta (Operation Hercules). That attack now had to be cancelled, and the parachute infantry was rushed to the front. Kesselring realised that Rommel was now in a very dangerous position, at the extreme end of his supply lines, and facing a British army that had clearly recovered from the Gazala defeat. He insisted that Rommel prepare for one final attack on the British lines, to be carried out after reinforcements had arrived. This would result in the battle of Alam Halfa (31 August-7 September), but for the moment Rommel had to go onto the defensive. On 20 July, with the prospect of his triumphal march fading rapidly, a humiliated Mussolini flew back to Rome.
Auchinleck's Third Attack
Auchinleck's third attack was timed to take advantage of the arrival of a new Armoured Brigade, equipped with the Valentine infantry. Once again he planned to attack along the Ruweisat Ridge, aiming for the centre of Rommel's line around Deir el Shein and El Mreir, at the western edge of the ridge. If this attack failed to break the Axis lines, then XXX Corps would attack south-west from its salient west of El Alamein and try and get into the enemy rear area. The first attack was to be carried out on 21-22 July, the second, if needed on 24 July.
The main attack was to be carried out by the New Zealand division, which would attack the western end of the ridge from the south, and the 5th Indian Brigade, which would advance west along the ridge from its positions around Point 64. The New Zealanders were to be supported by 2nd Armoured Brigade, coming from the eastern end of the ridge. 23rd Armoured Brigade was also available.
This attack would hit the Afrika Korps, which Rommel had been forced to deploy in the front line between El Mreir and the Ruweisat Ridge. Its two panzer divisions now only had 42 running tanks. The Italian XX Corps, to the south, had 50 tanks, but they were generally rather outdated. However Rommel had begun to cover his front with a dense minefield, mainly using mines taken from the British lines around Mersa Matruh.
The attack began on the evening of 21 July. The New Zealanders managed to fight their way to El Mreir, but this only meant that they were isolated on the Axis side of the minefields. The minesweepers had been unable to create a gap for 2nd Armoured Brigade, coming from the east, in time, and as a result the Germans were able to defeat the New Zealanders by 0515 hours on 22 July.
Unfortunatly General Gott didn't realise that the attack had failed, and so at 0800 he ordered 23rd Armoured Brigade to begin its advance, towards the second objective, further west in the El Mreir area. This was a costly disaster. The brigade began the attack with 104 tanks. 30 were lost in the minefield, and others as they advanced past it. Only 20 tanks managed to reach their objective, but only to run into the Afrika Korp's only battery of 88mm guns. The brigade was forced to retreat, having lost all but 11 of its tanks. The fate of the New Zealanders was still unclear, and so work on clearing gaps in the minefield continued. During the afternoon 2 Armoured Brigade attempted to pass through the gap, but ran into heavy enemy fire and had to retreat, having lost 21 tanks for no purpose. Rommel considered the day to have been a considerable success, but it had reduced the fighting power of the Afrika Korps.
This would have been the right time to launch the XXX Corps attack in the north, but General Morshead, commander of the 9th Australian Division, objected to his role, on the grounds that his men were exhausted. He claimed his right to consult with the Australian Government, and had to be won over by Auchinleck in person. A modified plan was adopted, in which one Australian brigade and the 69th Infantry Brigade would carry out the attack. Unfortunately this meant that it had to be postponed to 26/27 July. By this time the newly arrived Folgore division had been placed in the line, and Rommel was able to shift his men around. The attack began at 0300 hours on 26 July, but soon got bogged down, and any gains were taken back by counterattacks. The attack was cancelled at 1000 hours, ending the first battle of El Alamein.
Both sides were now exhausted, but the British were able to recover quicker than Rommel. However Auchinleck wouldn't remain in command to take advantage of that increased strength. Churchill was dismayed by his decision that the army wouldn't be ready to attack again until mid-September. Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa, was expected to go ahead in October or November, and Churchill wanted the British to win one last victory before the Americans began to enter the war in great numbers. He also believed that a British success in Egypt would have an impact on the attitude of the Vichy French officials in Algeria and Morocco.
For once Churchill was able to intervene in the Middle East in person. He had decided to fly to Moscow to visit Stalin and try and explain why the Western Allies were invading North Africa and not France. He would visit the Middle East twice on this trip, on the way out and on the way back. General Brooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, was sent ahead to examine the situation and report to Churchill.
In early August Brooke and Churchill met in Egypt. Churchill's first idea was that Auchinleck should return to Cairo to concentrate on his role as C-in-C in the Middle East, while General Gott was given command of the Eighth Army. Brooke disagreed, believing Gott to be too tired. Churchill suggested that Brooke take over the post, while Brooke and Auchinleck suggested appointing General Bernard Montgomery.
On 5 August Churchill visited the front, where he met with Gott, Auchinleck and the leaders of the Desert Air Force. Once again Auchinleck insisted that he couldn't attack until mid-September, and this convinced Churchill that the time was right for change. His first plan was to split the Middle East command into two. Auchinleck would remain in charge of the area east of the Suez Canal, while a new Commander-in-Chief in the Near East would take over west of the Canal. Brooke was offered the new post, but turned it down. Churchill settled on General Alexander for the Near East, with Gott in charge of the Eighth Army (Churchill would probably have been happy with Auchinleck in this post, but that would have been a clear demotion).
Churchill's plan was stopped by two unexpected developments. The first came on 7 August, when General Gott was killed when his aircraft was shot down. The second came on 8 August, when Auchinleck turned down the offer of the new Middle East command as it then stood. Over the next few days a variety of altenatives were considered, but eventually Auchinleck stuck to his guns. On 15 August he resigned as C-in-C Middle East and commander of the Eighth Army, and returned to the Indian Army (Alexander and Montgomery were already in Egypt by that date). He was replaced by Alexander as Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East, Montgomery as commander of the Eighth Army and General Maitland Wilson as commander-in-chief Persia and Iraq Command (a shrunken version of Churchill's original idea for a reduced Middle East Command).
Alexander and Montgomery took command two weeks before Rommel's final offensive in Egypt, the battle of Alam Halfa (31 August-7 September 1942). Montgomery inherited Auchinleck's defensive plans at Alam Halfa, although did make some modifications of his own, and Rommel's attack was very quickly repelled. It was then Montgomery's turn to prepare for an offensive, but unlike his predeciessors he was able to convince Churchill of the need to wait until the Eighth Army was fully prepared, and the Second battle of El Alamein didn’t begin until 23 October 1942, a full month after the date Auchinleck had been removed for insisting on.
Talk:First Battle of El Alamein/Archive 1
Seems the claim made in this Italian book  that the Eyties stormed the garrison at MM is valid after reading this article  and this extract from a French book  —Preceding unsigned comment added by Flylikeadodo (talk • contribs) 07:11, 23 June 2008 (UTC)
Sadly, the claim that 7th Bersaglieri took 6000 POWs at Mersa Matruh is based in confusion. The original source is Caccia-Dominioni Alamein: 1933-1962 An Italian Story (1966), p.37, which states: "The important thing was that Mersa Matruh should not cost us too much time every hour, every minute, was vital. Fighting continued throughout the 27th and 28th. At 9.30 on June 29th, the 10th and 11th Battalions of the 7th Bersaglieri burst into the town like a blast of hot air - which was fitting enough, as the name of the 7th's Colonel was Sciroco. Unfortunately, there were only 6,500 prisoners there could have been three times that number. The Trento, fighting with only two small battalions, the 61st and 62nd, suffered no fewer than eighty-one dead and wounded." In fact, the British X Corps had evacuated from Mersa Matruh the previous day (Playfair.I.S.O, volume.III, p.295 among others). The reference to 6,500 refers to the total prisoner haul by the Axis forces as a whole (including 90th Light Division and 21st Panzer Division). British sources attest to about 6,000 men being captured in the rout from Mersa Matruh when Xth Corps broke out (see Corelli Barnett, Desert Generals). It appears that people have misconstrued Caccia-Dominioni as 7th Bersaglieri took 6,500 POWs by itself, when in fact 7th Bersaglieri only "burst into Mersa Matruh like a blast of hot air" after the British had abandoned the place, and the 6,500 prisoners refers to the total POW haul by the entire Panzerarmee Afrika. I hope this lays this myth to rest! Paul Goldstone (Greenjacket01 (talk) 09:50, 24 June 2008 (UTC)).
Thanks Paul this not only lays this myth to a final rest, but is also a very good research work you have done. thanks again, --noclador (talk) 10:45, 24 June 2008 (UTC)
I beg to differ: you mention (noclador?) that " The reference to 6,500 refers to the total prisoner haul by the Axis forces as a whole" but if so, why does the following encyclopedia say "Axis troops entered Mersa Matruh on 29 June, capturing 8000 British personnel and quantities of weapons and supplies." Maybe you are not good with numbers but why be so cocky to affirm " The reference to 6,500 refers to the total prisoner haul by the Axis forces as a whole"? It is clear that the Germans did most of the fierce night fighting, capturing a significant number of prisoners and, with the break of dawn, the defenders were exhausted, confused and demoralised, and consequently the 7th Bersaglieri were able to "burst into Mersa Matruh like a blast of hot air" and take the remaining 6000 or 6500 defenders as prisoners. And why would you "burst into Mersa Matruh like a blast of hot air" when there is no one there to contest your advance? Why not simply march into the town with heads held up high? It's like saying something like "and he took a huge bite of a Shepherds Pie" that had already been consumed. You also state (noclador?) that "In fact, the British X Corps had evacuated from Mersa Matruh the previous day", making us believe the British abandoned Mersa Matruh in the morning, afternoon or even evening of 28 June, so that when the Italians stuck their fat noses in, there was nothing there apart from a block of cheese that was half-consumed by a rodent that already packed his bags and left. However the following link  (Encyclopedia of World War II: A Political, Social, and Military History - Page 981) clearly states "The X Corps commander, Lieutenant General William George Holmes ordered his units to break out of the city that night and escape to Alamein." In other words, the bulk of the defenders attempted to break out of the trap under the cover of darkness of the early hours of 29 June (not 28 June as you claim) unless you'd like us to believe the British carried out a "Houdini Act" in the space of a few hours prior to midnight on the evening of 28 June that would've surely made it into the Guinness Book of World Records. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Steyr2007 (talk • contribs) 12:38, 24 June 2008 (UTC)
Steyr2007 - Read Greenjackets entry above and cease to insert wrong information into the article. --noclador (talk) 07:23, 25 June 2008 (UTC)
Steyr2007: 1. Before you deleted my entry, you would have seen, I hope, that the sources I provided in the entry you deleted included reputable sources such as I.S.O Playfair, and recent scholarship such as Niall Barr. Why did you reject those sources?
2. Had 7th Bersaglieri really stormed a fortress and taken 6,500 POWs, that would have been an incredible feat of arms. Could you provide an archival or reference from a scholarly source to a primary source that supports your assertion? A reliable source such as Militargeschichliches Forschungsamt (ed) “Germany and the Second World War: Vol.VI”, p.714, which has ample archival evidence, for example, states that Panzerarmee Afrika took 6000 POWs, but makes no mention of 7th Bersaglieri.
3. The break out from Mersa Matruh on 28 July was for the columns to head to the south-east for twenty miles, and then the east covered by 7 Motor Bde. In the way lay 90th Light Division, which led to the fleeing British columns colliding with 90th Light Division. See, for example, Indian Official History: The North African Campaign, 1940-43, p.416 Barr.N, “Pendulum of War”, p.30 Playfair.I.S.O, “Mediterranean”, Vol.III, p.295 Pitt.B, “Crucible of War, Vol.2”, pp.280-282 Stevens.W.R, History of Fourth Indian Division, pp.179-181 . However, XXI Corps was to the WEST of Mersa Matruh wasn’t it? (There are detailed maps showing the situation in Militargeschichliches Forschungsamt (ed) “Germany and the Second World War: Vol.VI”, p.702 and Playfair.I.S.O, “Mediterranean”, Vol.III, p283.)
Moderators: If you wish to restore my entry on Mersa Matruh and delete the vandalism, could you add another reference - Militargeschichliches Forschungsamt (ed) “Germany and the Second World War: Vol.VI”, p.714
Thanks Paul --Greenjacket01 (talk) 09:41, 25 June 2008 (UTC)
Also: The Italian Army homepage of the 7th Bersaglieri Rgt.  does not mention this and the history of 7th on the homepage of the Italian Bersaglieri Association  does not mention anything about 6500 prisoners. --noclador (talk) 09:49, 25 June 2008 (UTC)
Thanks greenjacket/noclador for the response. Obviously you believe in your cause. However when reading the following snippet e (Le Tre Battaglie Di Alamein: 1-27 luglio 1942, 28 luglio-5 settembre 1942) states ". il 7° reggimento bersaglieri (colonnello Scirocco) con una compagnia del XXXII . partecipato alla fase finale delle operazioni intorno a Marsa Matruh. . " it becomes quite clear that the Italian Bersaglieri were indeed involved in the final phase of the attack on Mersa Matruh although some of us would like us to believe otherwise. Also the following snippet  (Storia E Politica Internazionale) states. "con un brillantissimo attacco a tenaglia: il 7 Reggimento bersaglieri vi . La fortezza di Marsa Matruh, sorta sullo schema offerto dall'antico campo . " is the work of experts. Now how can this think tank from Milan get it so wrong? Maybe too much Italian wine? And this snippet  (Batterie Semoventi, Alzo Zero: Quelli Di El Alamein) reports that "Il colonnello Scirocco, alla testa dei superstiti dei battaglioni X e XI, irruppe come una valanga nella piazzaforte. Fu una battaglia spaventosamente . " further confirms the presence of Bersaglieri troops in the fight for Mersa Matruh. With regards to what you say are "reputable sources such as I.S.O Playfair" I'm afraid this British General failed to give the Italians any real credit at all. For example his reconstruction of Operation Brevity fails to mention the exploits of the Bersaglieri and their contribution to stopping British operation dead on its tracks. Fortunately it is on record that on August 5, 1941 German Colonel von Herff, impressed by the actions and bravery of the Bersaglieri defending Halfaya Pass, issued an order of the day stating: "The detachment which defended the plains of Halfaya Pass resisted with lionlike courage until the last man against stronger enemy forces. The greatest part of them died faithful to the flag." (see New York Times article, Italians' Bravery Praised By Nazi Chief in Africa, August 5, 1941) And you know what?, the Italian Bersaglieri Association makes no metion of this either. What is your opinion of that? I would really like to know. You also write that "Panzerarmee Afrika took 6000 POWs, but makes no mention of 7th Bersaglieri" but hey amigo the following book (Rommel's Desert War: The Life And Death Of The Afrika Korps by Samuel W. Mitcham, 2007) reveals to Generation X and Y that " At 5:00 P.M. on June 28, the 90th Light Division and elements of the X and XXI Italian Infantry Corps stormed the fortress of Mersa Matruh. The fighting lasted all night. In the darkness another confused breakout occurred. Approximately 60 percent of the British X Corps escaped. The Axis simply did not have enough manpower to stop them all. The next morning resistance in the town collapsed. A rearguard of 6,000 men was captured and forty Allied tanks destroyed." I guess we have to move with the times and not live ignorance like many Baby Boomers thanks to "reputable sources such as I.S.O Playfair" and works such as "Germany and the Second World War: Vol.VI" that brushed aside the many acts of valour by part of the Italians at Ruweisat Ridge, Tobruk, Mersa Matruh, etc, etc, etc. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Steyr2007 (talk • contribs) 12:47, 25 June 2008 (UTC)
I ordered the following files from Archives New Zealand: WAII 1 da438.2/9 Battle Report of the Operations of Panzer Army Africa For the period 26 May to 27 July 1942, vol.III. Among the relevant signals are recorded: At 1045 on 29 June Rommel signals OKW on operations at MERSA MATRUK, stating in his account fo the action that "The prisoners taken so far by 90 Lt. Div. and the Italian enveloping troops [come] to more than 5000. 36 tanks were knocked out, numerous batteries destroyed and large quantities of war material captured." On 30 June Panzerarmeeafrika reported to supreme command that the number of prisoners taken at Mersa Matruh had increased to "more than 6000" along with quantities of war material and 40 tanks. I'll take pictures tomorrow and upload them so people can see for themselves the evidence. It seems pretty clear that the figure of 6000 is for the entire Panzerarmee Afrika, and not just 7th Bersaglieri alone. --Greenjacket01 (talk) 07:58, 26 June 2008 (UTC)
I'm joining this debate to set the record straight. I will make available official communiques released by the mouthpieces of Rome and Berlin to establish once and for all that it was the Bersaglieri that overwhelmed and disarmed the British rearguard left at Mersa Matruh. I am also looking forward to adding to this page Bollettino n. 763 del 29 giugno 1942 from Radio Rome that reports the capture of the 6,500-strong British rearguard left at Mersa Matruh by part of the 7th Bersaglieri Regiment. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Generalmesse (talk • contribs) 11:18, 26 June 2008 (UTC)
So Generalmesse (aka Steyr2007 and other sockpuppets) thinks that Radio Rome broadcasts are a reputable source - ooookay. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 188.8.131.52 (talk) 23:06, 26 June 2008 (UTC)
I have uploaded the Panzerarmeeafrika battle reports for Mersa Matruh, which readers are welcome to view: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a4/Battle_report_of_Panzerarmeeafrika_for_28_June_1942.jpg
I trust this ends this myth. --Greenjacket01 (talk) 06:48, 27 June 2008 (UTC)
Very informative. As a matter of interest, what is the source of these documents / translations? Presumably the originals were written in German. Stephen Kirrage talk - contribs 09:18, 27 June 2008 (UTC) Hi Greenjacket01. The two pages you uploaded don't seem to flow one to the next. I edited the ref in the article to document the link and described them as pages 1 and two of the battle report. but I'm not convinced they are. Can you help? Stephen Kirrage talk - contribs 09:43, 27 June 2008 (UTC)
Sorry - one is for 28 June. The other is page 2 of the 29 June. I'll add page 1 of the 29 June daily battle report. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Battle_report_of_Panzerarmeeafrika_for_29_June_1942_page1.jpg The source of the documents is from the large colection of captured documents held at the New Zealand archives (which include the war diaries, signals logs and daily battle reports of various Axis formations in North Africa, including Panzerarmeeafrika and DAK). During and after the war, captured enemy documents were translated for the Commonwealth war history project. Cheers Paul Goldstone --Greenjacket01 (talk) 09:52, 27 June 2008 (UTC)
The website in question says "il 29 entrò per primo in Marsa Matruh, dove catturò i resti del nemico in ritirata e liberò i prigionieri italiani e tedeschi, meritandosi una citazione sul Bollettino di guerra n° 763 del Comando Supremo." So, it's quite clear now that the Bersaglieri captured the rearguard inside Mersa Matruh and the Italian Comando Supremo informed the world of this Italian success in military communique no. 763. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Steyr2007 (talk • contribs) 04:14, 26 June 2008 (UTC)
None of the sources cited by Steyr2007 state that 7th Bersaglieri actually took 6500 POWs though. If Steyr2007 is going to make the claim that 7th Bersaglieri took 6500 POWs then he should provide the hard evidence to support it or stop vandalising the site. It seems to me that while 7th Bersaglieri did fight at Mersa Matruh, the 6000 POWs was the total number of prisoners taken by all the Axis forces. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 184.108.40.206 (talk) 05:31, 26 June 2008 (UTC)
Someone in the above paragraph claims "None of the sources cited by Steyer2007 state that 7th Bersaglieri actually took 6500 POWs though" but the following extract from Cesare Gori's La guerra aerea in Africa settentrionale. 1942-1943: assalto dal cielo says Sul fronte, anche Marsa Matruh era caduta ad opera del brillantissimo 9° Rgt. Bersaglieri che aveva catturato oltre 5000 uomini..--Generalmesse (talk) 11:34, 26 June 2008 (UTC).
9° Rgt. Bersaglieri. what now: 7th or 9th. 5000 or 6500. you really do quality research! Especially as the line you link too reads: "erano interamente dotate di materiale Alleato catturato nel pingue bottino di Tobruch. "="they were entirely equipped with allied material captured in Tobruk" so: which Bersaglieri Rgt. did (if) capture what. --noclador (talk) 13:30, 26 June 2008 (UTC)
The book "Rommel's Desert Commanders" reports "A very daring officer, Kleemann drove east with almost reckless abandon and cut off the British X Corps (10th Indian and 50th Infantry Divisions) east of Mersa Matruh on June 27, despite the fact he had only 1,600 men at the time, was outnumbered more than 10 to 1, and was 15 miles from the nearest Axis unit. Fortunately for Kleeman, the British did not try to breakout until the following evening, and, by that time the 90th had been reinforced by elements of the Italian X and XXI Infantry Corps. Only 60% of the British corps escaped in the confused breakout. The next day, Kleeman and the Italians captured Mersa Matru--Generalmesse (talk) 10:38, 27 June 2008 (UTC)sh, along with a rearguard of 6,000 and 40 destroyed tanks.
It appears to me that on the evidence I have seen ([WP:AN/I]]) that the editor Ronpillao is yet another sockpuupet of the banned editor user:Giovanni Giove. After three reverts of what I believe to be a sock puppet of a banned editor I wish to make it plain that I am not going to edit war, I've asked an admin to look at this and I will make no further reverts. The actions I have taken thus far have been to be WP:BOLD in order to combat the disruptive edits of what I believed in good faithe to be a disruptive editor. Justin talk 23:13, 27 June 2008 (UTC)
I've been tidying up the footnotes and bibliography. In this process I've noticed some footnotes referencing a book by "A. Stewart". It's not in the reference list and I can't find a likely candidate searching at WorldCat. Anyone know what it is? If not I will remove the footnotes (not the end of the world since they are duplicates). Stephen Kirrage talk - contribs 12:38, 9 July 2008 (UTC)
Hi Stephen, The source is Stewart, Adrian, "The Early Battles of Eighth Army: 'Crusader' to the Alamein Line 1941-1942", Pen & Sword Books, West Yorkshire, 2002. --Greenjacket01 (talk) 08:39, 10 July 2008 (UTC)
Thanks. I've added it to the bibliography (although I couldn't find the exact edition you mentioned, I don't suppose it matters). Stephen Kirrage talk - contribs 10:44, 10 July 2008 (UTC)
I deleted some very garbled sentences on Ruin ridge (which appears to have been confused with the battle for Tel el Eisa). The Axis forces operations report for the 17 July may be a useful summary: "“At dawn this day 2 strong battle groups [i.e. 2/32 Bn and 2/43 Bn] of 9 Australian Division advanced from the area Bir Makhkahd in a southwesterly direction along the Qattara track. The enemy overran the right wing of Div. Trieste as well as a Bersaglieri strongpoint of the Italian XXI Corps, reaching the area north of Sanyet el Miteiriya [i.e. Miteriya ridge or Ruin Ridge] in a rapidly carried out thrust. In order to seal off the break-in, considerable forces had to be moved out of the central front sector. Battle Group Briehl, Recce Detachments 3 and 33, together with elements of Rifle Regt 104, halted the enemy advance south of the Sanyet el Miteiriya. This compelled the Panzer Army to discontinue the attack in the central front sector which had as its aim the reoccupation of the old positions of the Italian X Corps. In the afternoon of 17.7, hard-pressed by the German units, effectively supported by the Luftwaffe, the enemy withdrew to the north-east. By evening the area Bir el Maqtua and Height 21 had been taken back by German troops. In the night 18/18.7 the units organised themselves for the defence. 1 battalion of Div. Trieste, as well as one arty detachment of Div. Trento, had been lost, but the enemy too had again suffered heavy losses. 200 prisoners were collected and a number of tanks have been destroyed.” Italian-German Army Battle report for the 17 July KTB 1222. --Greenjacket01 (talk) 08:46, 10 July 2008 (UTC)
I restored some of your deletions to the the Ruin Ridge section before I read the above comment. I'm trying to remember if it was originally put in by the Italian sock puppet - but it is reasonably referenced so deleting it could be construed as POV. I think I'll go and do a detailed check of the references before doing anything else. Any chance of uploading the battle report and linking it to this article? Stephen Kirrage talk - contribs 10:26, 10 July 2008 (UTC)
Hi Stephen, The deleted paragraph regarding the Ruin ridge attack of 17 July is a conflated rendering of selective sources that I'm afraid creates a rather misleading impression. Some Australian troops from 'B' Company 2/32 may have been taken prisoner by Italian defenders when they were pinned down in the open in the morning. However, the counter-attacks were made by German battlegroups - it was these counter-attacks by German tanks which drove the Australians back to their startline. This is explained in a variety of sources, including Johnston.M and Stanley.P, "Alamein: The Australin Story" (2002), pp.83-85 and Barton Maughan's official history (which is available online at http://www.awm.gov.au/cms_images/histories/19/chapters/12.pdf I'll photograph the Axis battle report for 17 July and upload it. --Greenjacket01 (talk) 23:38, 11 July 2008 (UTC)
OK. Thanks. Stephen Kirrage talk - contribs 00:17, 12 July 2008 (UTC)
I always thought Wikipedia to be the best online coverage of the North African campaign until I read this page. Greenjacket01 does the entire Italian community a disservice with his grossly inaccurate portrayal of the fighting capabilities of the Bologna, Trento, Pavia, Brescia, Ariete, and Littorio Divisions. He uses information from the Australian and New Zealand official histories as if they had actually used Italian sources. He gets the specifics of the capture of Mersa Matrouh wrong (see discussion page). His dependence on non-Italian sources has compromised his analysis of the fighting at Tell el Eisa, Ruweisat. and Miteiriya. With regards to the fighting at Tell el Eisa he has foolishly commented that "Sabratha did not launch a counter-attack that drove 2/48 Bn from Point 24" (see history page). But as Rommel himself noted the Sabratha Division in the form of a battalion after having retaken Tel el Eisa was indeed present in the frontline: "Next day, the 16th July, the British attacked again, this time only locally. After intensive artillery preparation, the Australians attacked in the early hours of the morning with tank support and took several strong-points held by the Sabratha"(see The Rommel Papers, page 256). As an Italian parachute commander observed, the Sabratha Division was responsible for "the splendid recapture of Tell el Eisa, carried out by the 1st Battalion 85th Infantry under Colonel Angelozzi on the afternoon of July 14" (see El Alamein 1933-1962, page 78). Wartime bias in Australian and New Zealand official histories, which focused on the exploits of German forces, have dismissed Italian units as cowardly and inept. These racist attitudes of the 1950's and 1960's have clouded Greenjacket01's judgement, leading him to omit Italian successes on the El Alamein front on 14th,17th, 22nd and 27th July. If the Anglo-Saxon primary sources he has previously cited makes it hard for Greenjacket01 to credit any acts of valour or any display of military competence by the Italian Army in the fighting, Giuseppe Rizzo's BUCHE E CROCI NEL DESERTO (Editrice Aurora, Verona 1969), Davide Beretta's BATTERIE SEMOVENTE ALZO ZERO (Mursia, Milano 1968), Giuseppe Lombardi's LA DIVISIONE BRESCIA DA EL AGHEILA A EL ALAMEIN (Reggio Calabria Tip. De Franco 1961) and Paolo Caccia Dominioni's El ALAMEIN 1933-1962 (Milano, Longanesi Editore 1963) should help other contributors contribute more positively to this page. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 220.127.116.11 (talk) 06:55, 20 September 2008 (UTC)
This was a shambles for the allies. Whole units were wiped out. Wallie (talk) 16:15, 2 March 2009 (UTC)
True, but it did at least stop Rommel's advance, albeit at a very high cost. Something that Monty conveniently swpt under the rug once he took over command of Eighth Army. Skinny87 (talk) 16:18, 2 March 2009 (UTC) The verdict now says "Tacticaly inconclusive" (true they fought each other to a standstill), "Strategic Allied Victory" (also true Rommel's advance to Cairo and Suez was stopped in its tracks). Xyl 54 (talk) 13:46, 24 June 2011 (UTC) PS: And Skinny is correct the "Auk" never really got the credit he deserved. Xyl 54 (talk) 13:48, 24 June 2011 (UTC)
On 29 June 1942, Rommel started a drive from Mersa Matruh that brought him to El Alamein. Many of his soldiers were worn down by two years of constant strain and combat but on 15th, 22nd and 27th July, the Brescia, Trieste and Trento succeeded in pinning the 2nd New Zealand, 5th Indian, 9th Australian and 50th British Divisions. These divisions were pinned between the Italian strong points and German armor and brought another series of disastrous defeats for the British commanders.
On 1 July 1942, the attack into El Alamein begin. However, the whole German advance was constantly attacked by Indians and South Africans, with the Indians managing to destroy eighteen German tanks and stopped the 21st Panzer Division. Α]
The Germans managed to overrun the Indians by the evening, however, and continued their advance. The 1st Armored Division clashes with the German 15th Panzer Division and drives them back west, somewhat hindering the German advance. Rommel ordered the offensive to be continued on 2 July 1942, but no significant gains were made and by the 5th, the Allies were regrouping and driving the Germans back.
On 3 July, the 4th New Zealand Brigade, supported by four artillery batteries, overrun the Ariete Armoured Division positions deployed inside a large depression. The Italians retreat to new positions, but lose 531 men (about 350 were prisoners), 24 artillery guns and six or eight tanks. In a report to his superiors, Rommel greatly exaggerates the Italian tank losses, in order to drive home the need for more German armour in North Africa. Β]
Determined to cut off the rest of the Ariete, the New Zealanders pushed on again on 5 July, but come under heavy fire from the Brescia Division at El Mreir.
The attacks by the New Zealand Division continued, and the remainder of the Indian 5th Infantry Division in the form of the 9th Brigade and 7th Motorised Brigade pushed north into Rommel's flank and in three days of fierce fighting almost reached Deir el Shein. A Maori battalion from the 2nd New Zealand Division made good progress in a night attack, but were unexpectedly counterattacked by the Pavia Division and forced to relinquish their gains. The New Zealand Official History confirms that "enemy forces seeping south threatened to outflank the Division" but reveals nothing more. Γ]
During the initial fighting, Major Terence O'Brien-Butler of the 3rd Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery displayed enormous control when surrounded by German armour, saving his battery from capture ajnd winning the Military Cross (MC) as a result.
Australians in the first battle of El Alamein July 1942.
Three major battles occurred around El Alamein in the Egyptian desert between July and November 1942. (3) Of the three, it is the final decisive battle in October/November that is most celebrated and best remembered. It is known simply as 'The Battle of El Alamein' from which its architect Lieutenant General Montgomery drew much of his fame. For Australians the fame of our 9th Division is also partly drawn from this battle which is often described as the turning point of the North African campaign. However a closer look at the whole period at Alamein reveals that the first battle in July is a rival to that claim. While not as decisive as the final battle, the July battle was a desperate struggle of high stakes and high drama, where victory could have gone either way.
The struggle for North Africa saw both sides' fortunes rise and fall in the first two years of the campaign, 1940 and 1941. A series of sweeping offensives had driven first one side back, then the other. At each turn the campaign became larger as more men and materiel were sent in. The Axis forces in North Africa comprised German and Italian troops and were known by 1942 as Panzerarmee Afrika, led by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, 'The Desert Fox.' Opposing him was the British Eighth Army commanded by General Claude Auchinleck. This army comprised British, Australian, New Zealand, South African and Indian troops as well as small contingents of Free French and Greeks.
In early 1942 the pendulum swung sharply in favour of the Axis. After being driven back across the Cyrenaican 'bulge' to El Agheila in December 1941, Rommel received reinforcements including much needed tanks. On 5 January 1942 he counterattacked, driving the Allies all the way back to Gazala, 100 kms west of Tobruk. From this thrust, the Allies lost half their armour and vast quantities of stores and equipment.
Both sides then paused near Gazala and there was a lull in fighting. On 26 May Rommel launched the next stage of his offensive, employing a sweep to the south with strong armoured forces to outflank the Allied line. Fierce fighting ensued for the next three weeks at places known as Knightsbridge, Bir Hakeim and 'the Cauldron.' Despite gallant resistance the Allied commanders badly mismanaged this battle, resulting in their line breaking, then failing back to the east in some disorder. A week later on 21 June, Rommel finally captured the vital port of Tobruk. After holding out so stubbornly the previous year, Tobruk fell easily and about 35,000 Allied prisoners were taken. The following day Rommel was promoted to Field Marshal.
Retreat into Egypt: 22 June--30 June
Eighth Army fell back to Mersa Matruh, about 200 miles inside Egypt. On 25 June Auchinleck assumed command of the Eighth Army after relieving Lieutenant General Ritchie. But Rommel was wasting no time. On the 26th he struck again and forced another disorderly retreat. By contrast, the New Zealand Division managed an orderly fighting withdrawal to Allied lines after being completely cut off. Thus nearing the end of June, Rommel had forced the Allies back deep into Egypt, and the capture of Cairo and the Suez Canal seemed a very real possibility. Rommel's confidence was high. On 27 June he wrote to his wife,
In July however, Rommel was to become rather too busy to take that holiday.
Coinciding with the Allied defeat at Mersa Matruh, The Australian 9th Division still in Syria, suddenly received orders to pull out. Their destination, then known only to the officers, was the object of much speculation. Were they going back to the North African desert or home to fight the Japanese? Intrigue heightened when orders were given to remove all vehicle markings and to conceal colour patches and their distinctive slouch hats, while some signallers were to stay behind to generate fake transmissions indicating the entire division was still there. When the convoys rushed down through Palestine to the Suez Canal, word came through that Mersa Matruh had fallen and the Eighth Army was in serious trouble. It now became obvious that the division would be facing their old enemy again, and soon .
The Allies now pinned all their hopes on their new defensive position hinged on the little railway stop of El Alamein. Here, the battlefield narrowed between the coast and the impassable Qattara Depression, just forty miles south. Defensive positions were hastily improved to make several strong points along the line. For Aucbinleck, things were going from bad to worse. Attempting to rally his army from headlong retreat, he needed a firm display of leadership. He had to demonstrate that a determined stand was to be made at Alamein, while also preparing for the very real possibility that his army may again be defeated and have to withdraw rapidly to avoid total destruction. This uncertainty played on the minds and morale of the troops. (5)
As well as the uncertainty at the front, Allied rear areas were also showing signs of collapse, bordering on panic. The 'Cairo flap' as it was called, resulted from the sudden departure of the Royal Navy Fleet from Alexandria and warning orders for GHQ to prepare to move out. Some foreign diplomats left, and at GHQ in Cairo they started burning documents.
One Australian soldier on his way to the front at this time wrote in his diary,
There was now much hasty repositioning of Allied forces to handle the emerging crisis. The Eighth Army's XXX Corps was positioned to hold the northern sector of the front including El Alamein and the all important coast road. Further south XIII Corps held the southern sector. As auxiliary troops and equipment streamed back from the front, 9th Division was briefly tasked with the defence of Cairo, then the Nile Delta near Alexandria. A few days later however, they were ordered to the front at El Alamein to join XXX Corps.
The opening moves: 1-4 July
Rommel attacked the Alamein line early on 1 July hoping to dislodge Eighth Army and open the way to Cairo and Suez. Delays in bringing up his forces hampered the attack and it soon bogged down. The Allies had by then regrouped enough to repulse the attack and make some small counterattacks of their own. They owed much to the tenacity of 18th Indian Brigade and to the Desert Air Force (DAF) who bombed them incessantly. Over the next two days Axis attacks again faltered as more organised British armour came into play. The New Zealanders also delivered a severe blow by demolishing the Italian Ariete Armoured Division, capturing their artillery and taking many prisoners.
Signs were now showing that Rommel's army was overstrained. They had been through five weeks of battle from Gazala to Mersa Matruh, and were now deep into Egypt, severely stretching their supply lines. Rommel did seem acutely aware of the problem, writing at the time, '. in modern warfare supplies decide the battle.' (7) Due to battle casualties, the Axis forces had also become dangerously weak in manpower, the German 90th Light Division having only 1500 effectives skewed the meaning of a light division to the extreme! Of more concern was the fact that his German tank force had dwindled to just twenty six effectives. They were now partly relying on captured British vehicles and equipment to continue the drive east. On the other hand, the Allies were assembling all they could muster in troops, artillery and tanks, and by now their growing strength in the air was telling. As 2/48th Battalion's war diary recorded on 2 July,
At this point Rommel accepted that he must now regroup and consolidate his position. His Chief of Staff, Friedrich von Mellenthin later wrote,
Rommel pulled his tanks out of the front line for a quick reorganisation and refit, their place being taken by Italian infantry divisions. Auchinleck, sensing the enemy was weakening and vulnerable, ordered attacks but these were poorly conducted and soon fizzled out. His orders at this time suffered from being sometimes too ambiguous and even contradictory, coupled with his failure to stress their urgency. It was an opportunity wasted as von Mellenthin later agreed,
During those first days of July, the fate of the whole campaign had hung in the balance. Both sides were critically weakened and disorganised, and had missed opportunities for decisive victories. They now took time to reorganise and rebuild their strength.
The vanguard of the Australian 9th Division arrived at the front on 5 July. They were a welcome boost for the battered Eighth Army. While not having its full establishment of guns and vehicles, it was the only division that was both fully rested and full strength in men. Moreover, despite having many unblooded reinforcements, the division had a strong cadre of veterans experienced in desert warfare, including its commander, Lieutenant General Leslie Morshead. Now, after being persuaded by Morshead to let the division fight together rather than disperse into brigade groups, Auchinleck planned to put them straight on the attack in the vital northern sector along the coast.
For his attack, Morshead chose the 26th Brigade (2/23rd, 2/24th, 2/48th Battalions), reinforced with anti-tank and machine guns. The whole of XXX Corps artillery would be in support, as would the DAF, plus some tanks. The plan was to capture Points 26, 23 and Trig 33 along the three mile coastal ridge, then turn and take the Tel el Eisa feature just over a mile further southwest. Tel el Eisa was also known by a loose translation as the 'Hill of Jesus'. To coincide with the Australian attack, the South Africans were to advance and take two points on the Makh Khad Ridge (about five miles to the south), while an armoured raiding party was to race up the coast road to El Daba attacking enemy supply lines. Over the next few days, the troops rehearsed the attack. Patrols ventured out during the night, right up to the enemy defences at Point 26. They confirmed intelligence reports that the Italian Sabratha Division opposite them was low in morale, poorly dug in and not alert. (10)
Auchinleck also knew on 8 July from Ultra and Y (wireless) intercepts that Rommel was massing his strongest units in the south for an attack. This is evident in Panzerarmee instructions of 9 July that ordered preparations to resume the offensive, in the belief that Eighth Army was about to withdraw. On 9 July Rommel attacked the southernmost sector of the Alamein line at Naqb Abu Dweis. But the New Zealanders who were holding this position, had been ordered to pull back shortly before this attack went in. Consequently, Rommel's attack succeeded, meeting no opposition. Encouraged by this and believing the Allies were going to make a general withdrawal, Rommel decided to quickly follow up the next morning to catch the Allies on the hop. He spent the night near Bab el Qattara with the 21st Panzer Division but had not long been asleep when he was awakened by the distant thudding of artillery coming from the north. He 'at once had an inkling that it boded no good.' (11)
The perfect attack: 10 July
At 0330, 2/48th Battalion (Bn) moved out for its first objective, Point 26. The plan was to seize it by surprise, approaching on foot and with no artillery support. The artillery would then come to life and support the further objectives. Suspense filled the air as the Australians stalked quietly closer. Then, just as they had almost reached it, an enemy plane dropped a parachute flare directly over Pt 26 that lit the whole place up like daytime.
The Italians obviously had not a single man keeping watch .
The battalion swept up onto Pt 26 and quickly overwhelmed its defenders many of whom were asleep. About 400 prisoners were taken. The time was now 0455, and the battalion went for its second objective, Pt 23. Following on the heels of their supporting artillery barrage, they took it just as dawn was breaking, and secured many more prisoners.
Meanwhile, 2/24th Bn had moved out at 0430 and advanced along the coast. Delayed by vehicles bogging and increasing enemy resistance, they pressed on. Artillery fire pounded their objective, Trig 33. By first light they had taken it and were digging in. Shortly after, planes of the Desert Air Force swept the battlefield in support, among them, fellow Australians from 3 Squadron RAAF. Meanwhile the South Africans had all but captured their objectives when they saw the pre-arranged Very light signal to withdraw. Flabbergasted, they complied. As for the planned exploitation by armoured columns, enemy tank and artillery fire prevented their breakout and for the time being these plans were cancelled.
Further east, 2/48th Bn now turned its attention to the third of its objectives, the area around Tel el Eisa railway station (a solitary hut). Under heavy fire from a now fully alert enemy, C and D Companies pushed forward. As they neared their final objective they encountered a four-gun battery of enemy artillery blocking them. One of C Company's platoons launched a fierce bayonet charge, the troops leaping into the gun pits and taking all the enemy prisoner. 26th Brigade Group now had all their objectives in hand, bar one, Tel el Eisa to the south across the railway line. This was due to the earlier delays in bringing forward the vehicles and heavy equipment. So far their casualties so far had been amazingly light.
Holding the coastal salient: 10-16 July
The area they had captured offered little or no cover. In such a generally flat expanse, ridges a mere twenty or thirty metres above sea level give commanding vantage points to their occupants. The height advantage is so slight that one can scarcely appreciate it until actually upon the feature. 26th Brigade Group began the difficult task of digging in while reinforcements of artillery, anti-tank guns and machine guns were quickly brought in. Now would come the inevitable response--an all out counterattack for this vital ground.
For the Germans and Italians, the situation had rapidly become critical. Rommel, still miles to the south realised that something big was up.
After the Sabratha Division was put to flight, von Mellenthin had hastily organised the headquarters staff and some members of the 328th Infantry Regiment and prevented a complete breakthrough. They got there in the nick of time. Rommel was very concerned over the lost territory and resolved that it must be retaken at once. A penetration in this sector could threaten his entire front.
He rushed some panzer battle groups up from the south to cut the Australians off from the Alamein box and destroy them. His first attempt to do so was spoiled by the overwhelming power of XXX Corps artillery. Apparently well ensconced and supported, the Australians would take some shifting, and Rommel had to deliver a well-coordinated and powerful counterattack.
At 1100, five German tanks attacked 2/48th Battalion, dug in along the railway. The tanks stopped in front of the battalion's positions and raked them with fire. Heavy artillery and Stuka dive-bombers joined in but they stayed put and withstood the onslaught. While the Stuka attacks were not very effective, the artillery was bursting over the men's heads, showering them with fragments. Casualties occurred, as they didn't yet have overhead cover for their slit trenches. One machine gunner, 'Skinny' Anderson was seen holding a shovel over his head as he crouched to answer the call of nature, no doubt hoping for some measure of protection!
At 1430 that afternoon, the Germans again attempted to drive them out. This time there were ten tanks, which managed to get in amongst their positions. The tanks rumbled around the area caving in the slit trenches with their tracks to intimidate the Australians into abandoning their positions. Aptly named machine gunner Morrie Trigger remembered a German tank commander yelling down to him 'Hande Hoch!--Hands Up!' Trigger ignored the command and narrowly escaped death by lying flat at the bottom of his slit trench. (14)
Sergeant 'Tex' Weston and Corporal 'Spud' Hinson led other men of 2/48th Bn against the tanks. Both were awarded DCMs for knocking out tanks with grenades and capturing their crews. Fortunately, anti-tank guns arrived on the scene and knocked out one particularly troublesome tank. The crew baled out and made a run for it. Sergeant Gus Longhurst, a big rugby forward, picked up a Vickers heavy machine gun and chased after them. A burst of fire convinced them to surrender.
2/48th Bn was attacked six times by tanks that afternoon. Morshead had taught his men in Tobruk the previous year, how to handle this sort of situation. They learned that if enemy tanks broke through their positions, they should not be overly concerned, stay put and concentrate on preventing enemy infantry coming through in support. The artillery and anti-tank guns further back would deal with the tanks. On this occasion, the Australian infantry overdid their job, getting out of their holes not to ran, but to have a crack at the tanks themselves.
At 1700 Rommel's counterattack shifted its focus to Trig 33 where 2/24th Bn was dug in. Approaching from the west were eighteen Italian tanks. These soon ran into difficulties however, hampered by soft ground and good shooting from the anti-tank gunners. Fourteen tanks were knocked out. Later, nine more approached from the south but were also repulsed. During this action, Bombardier J T McMahon bravely placed his gun in the open to engage them. He and his crew were all wounded, but they still knocked out two tanks. The 2/2nd Machine Gun Battalion also played their part here, spraying the tanks with bullets, forcing them to close down their vision slits and preventing the commanders from standing in their turrets to obtain a better view.
Soon after dark, a German battle group under Hauptmann Kirsten made the day's final attempt on 2/48th Battalion's positions near the railway station, and again broke through the forward defences. Anticipating the likelihood of a German breakthrough, the battalion was ready to respond. The reserve companies immediately launched a counterattack from north of the railway.
From the diary of Corporal Tom Derrick,
This counterattack routed the Germans and restored the battalion's positions. It was the final act of a long, but very successful day for the Australians.
An intelligence coup: the capture of NFAK 621
On top of the Australian's capture of the coastal ridge came another unexpected, yet exceptionally important bonus. As 2/24th Bn advanced along the coastal strip they collided with a German unit they were not expecting to meet. Thankfully it was not a heavily armed combat unit, but one that was jokingly referred to as 'the Circus' on account of their strange assortment of tents, trucks and equipment. (17) They were in fact Rommel's most valuable intelligence asset, the signals intercept unit Nachrichten Fern Aufklarung Kompanie 621 (NFAK 621). The unit included a team of highly skilled wireless operators and English language specialists who, unknown to the Allies at the time, had been very successful intercepting Allied signals.
Unfortunately for them, their commander Hauptmann Alfred Seebohm had recently been criticised for hanging back too far from the fighting. Seebohm's response was to move his unit well forward, right in behind the front line. They had set up camp behind the Sabratha Division's forward defences in the sand dunes by the sea.
The speed and surprise of the Australian attack caught the unit completely by surprise. NFAK 621 put up fierce resistance for over an hour while frantically trying to destroy documents, but was soon overrun. Most of the unit were either killed or captured, along with much equipment and documents. Very few escaped, and Seebohm died of his wounds some days later.
Interrogation of the prisoners and examination of their documents revealed the extent of NFAK 621's eavesdropping. Rommel was being fed all manner of detailed intelligence on the Eighth Army. This of course led to a thorough tightening up of Allied signals security as well as counterintelligence measures that put an end to the German 'Kondor Mission' spy ring in Egypt, and possibly the unwitting security leak coming from the US Military Attache in Cairo. (18)
The capture of NFAK 621 has on at least one occasion been portrayed as a planned, top secret assignment and the real purpose behind the Australian attack. (19) Nowhere however, is there evidence that this was the case. The main objective of the attack was to seize and hold the key high ground. NFAK 621 had simply been unwise to position themselves behind such an unreliable unit as Sabratha, and unlucky that they had been in the path of 2/24th's advance. Rommel when told of the unit's loss was furious--he had suddenly lost his best source of intelligence. As one author put it, this was 'quite the most important intelligence coup of the entire North African campaign.' (20)
Next morning, 2/24th Battalion supported by part of the 44th Royal Tank Regiment seized the eastern end of Tel el Eisa and by midday had taken the whole feature and 500 more prisoners. This caused Rommel to commit almost every piece of artillery he had to this sector. So began the pounding of Tel el Eisa. All next day, the whole salient was shelled relentlessly. Then around 1800 while it was still light, there were signs that a big counterattack was coming. Out to the west of Trig 33, men of the German 104th Motorised Infantry Regiment were seen coming on in waves, over 2000 strong.
Corporal Vic Knight quickly moved his section of Vickers machine guns into position. Here, they poured fire into the advancing ranks and with the artillery gradually cut the attack to ribbons. Knight stood in full view of the enemy directing his section's fire, while Lance Corporal Ron Allenden yelled to his infantry mates, 'Stay in your holes! Keep your bloody heads down!' Knight was awarded the DCM for his work that day.
The machine guns fired 80,000 rounds that evening, the men having to urinate on the barrels to cool them off. The Field Regiments had also been working overtime, one having fired 9000 rounds, the muzzles of their 25 pounders glowing red hot as darkness descended. The carnage wrought upon the Germans was awful.
The German infantry were certainly courageous in their attack, however for their commanders to launch such an attack while it was still light over such open ground, knowing the fire they would be subjected to, was surely stupid and wasteful. An Australian patrol early next morning counted around 600 Germans dead on the field.
On the 13th Rommel again shifted his point of attack, this time angled straight in at the Alamein box, to bypass the Australian salient. Tanks of the 21st Panzer Diviision were seen forming up for the attack and again every piece of Allied artillery in the area came down upon them. The attack broke up before they even got close. Next day, Rommel sent the 21st Panzer in again, this time directed at Tel el Eisa. In the afternoon, an air attack went in, then infantry supported by tanks. The attack was poorly coordinated though, coming too long after the air attack had finished. Fighting was intense, but the defenders managed to hold them off for some hours until panzers broke into the Australian positions and once more began caving in the slit trenches. One memorable sight was that of Private Allan Dwyer standing fully exposed, digging out his mates who had been buried in their hole. Despite their resistance, the Australians were overwhelmed and forced to abandon the position.
Another dangerous situation developed that night when more German tanks supported by infantry managed to break through, the tanks crossing the railway and pushing on towards Pt 26.
The artillery engaged them, the range dropping as the tanks came closer and closer. The artillery inside the salient was actually ordered to prepare to withdraw, but fortunately the tanks were soon forced back. As they retreated, concealed anti-tank guns ambushed them. Gunner Spittle destroyed three with as many rounds before he was killed. Sergeant Muffett and Warrant Officer Digby were also busy, destroying eight more tanks.
From a German account of this action,
Rommel wrote later that evening,
Rommel intended to continue the attack on the morning of the 15th, but that night Auchinleck launched an attack on Ruweisat Ridge, several miles to the south and penetrated the Italian XX Corps. This relieved a lot of pressure on the Australian sector as part of the 21st Panzer. Division was shifted to meet this threat. The New Zealanders had a tough day's fighting on Ruweisat Ridge. They took their objectives on the ridge but lacking tank support, became cut off. They sent the codeword for the capture of their objective--'Faith'. But events that followed would see their faith shaken. Help did not come for the Kiwis, and their day ended in catastrophe, suffering 1405 casualties. As testament to their stubborn resistance, Victoria Crosses were awarded to Sergeant Keith Elliot and Captain Charles Upham (his second VC). Wounded, Upham was captured, and was later imprisoned in Colditz Castle, Germany.
Despite his concerns further south, Rommel was still determined to destroy the Australian salient. Four separate attacks by tanks and infantry were directed at Trig 33. Again the defenders repulsed them destroying 10 tanks and causing heaving casualties upon the German infantry. Early next day, 2/23rd Bn retook Tel el Eisa in a well carried out operation that yielded another six hundred prisoners, mostly Italian. Yet again, they were shelled there so heavily that it had to be abandoned soon after. Once, when another soldier asked Corporal Vic Knight which was the 'Hill of Jesus', he replied 'See that one they're blowing Christ out of? That's the Hill of Jesus . ' (24)
The 26th Brigade Group had shown great skill and determination in capturing and holding this important salient over those first seven days. While the DAF, British tanks and Corps artillery were of invaluable support, the tenacity of the men in the front lines ensured the position would not fall. Rommel threw all he possibly could at them for a week. They were constantly pounded by artillery and attacked, even having the heart of the salient penetrated, but they held on. Only first class troops could have stood that sort of ordeal.
In the early hours of 17 July, 24th Brigade attacked in order to expand the salient. 2/32nd Bn drove west for Trig 22 on Makh Khad Ridge and took it by 0845 after heavy fighting. Meanwhile, 2/43rd Bn pushed south for Miteiriya (Ruin) Ridge. They reached it by 0700, however were driven off by strong counterattacks. The Brigade then brought up 2/28th Bn to consolidate about Makh Khad, with 2/7th Field Company engineers sowing a defensive minefield in front of them. Despite their mixed success, 24th Brigade had inflicted serious casualties on the enemy, taking hundreds more prisoners mostly from the Trieste and Trento Divisions. Significantly, they had also forced Rommel to send much of his strength to meet them, which spoiled his plans to exploit the victory at Ruweisat two days before. Delivering another telling blow the DAF compounded Rommel's problems by destroying 2200 tons of ammunition and 50,000 gallons of fuel back at Mersa Matruh. He recalled the 'round the clock bombing' by Allied aircraft as a constant drain on his strength. During July the RAF/DAF flew close to 15,400 sorties in the Middle East Theatre. Auchinleck later praised their efforts stating 'I am certain that, had it not been for their devoted and exceptional efforts, we should not have been able to stop the enemy on the El Alamein position . ' (25)
Rommel was now becoming exasperated and perhaps showed signs of losing heart. He wrote to his wife later that day,
Auchinleck considered regrouping before resuming his attacks at the end of the month, but now sensing the enemy were close to cracking, decided to launch another big push straight away. This time he would attack simultaneously along Ruweisat Ridge and from the Australian salient. But another four days would pass before the attack was launched and even then it suffered from hasty preparation.
On the night of the 21st, XIII Corps attacked along Ruweisat Ridge with two newly arrived units, the Indian 161st Brigade supported by 23rd Armoured Brigade, while the New Zealanders were to thrust up from the south. Sadly this second battle for Ruweisat was a repeat run of the disaster on the 15th. Strong enemy resistance and confusion in the dark did not prevent the infantry reaching their objective, however by first light they were in bad shape, lacking support and being heavily counterattacked. A headlong charge by 23rd Armoured Brigade did manage to push through but lost many tanks straying into the dense minefields and soon found itself trapped in a killing ground. Anti-tank guns and panzers shot them to pieces and this new brigade was practically wiped out. A more experienced unit would not have attempted such a bold and reckless drive. It proved at an unacceptable cost, that Allied tanks could not hope to succeed in that fashion against the more powerful German tanks and anti-tank guns. In total, XIII Corps lost 132 tanks. For the New Zealand infantry it was a terrible case of deja vu as they were again left badly exposed, suffering another 900 casualties. As the British Official History states, 'The plan of the attack conducted had some merit, however some critical faults. Firstly, two key tasks were given to inexperienced units, and secondly, insufficient time was taken to study the details of the plan . they saw the wood ahead, but lost sight of the many nearby trees.' (27)
The XXX Corps part of the attack was to be carried out by the Australian 26th and 24th Brigades, and was ambitious in its scope. 24th Brigade was to again thrust south onto Miteiriya Ridge, while 26th Brigade was to push well out to the west and capture Ring Contour 25, K109 and all of Tel el Eisa. Morshead told his Corps Commander that he thought the task given his division was not only too great, but would also leave them dangerously vulnerable. 26th Brigade had to seize these objectives while still holding the ground they now occupied. It not only meant that this weakened the force available for the attack, but also they would be stretched very thin in holding their new gains. Nevertheless, the attack was ordered to proceed.
Before dawn on the 22nd, elements of 2/24th Bn pushed out towards Ring Contour 25, but were met by withering artillery and machine gun fire from the outset. They reached their objective but had taken heavy casualties and were too weak to hold it. Shortly afterwards, 2/23rd made for Kilo 109 and East Pt 24 of Tel el Eisa and took them despite heavy fire. Again, despite strong artillery support, this battalion also found itself pinned down on its objectives and taking casualties. The next battalion to come into play was 2/48th, which had to sweep around the left flank of 2/23rd and capture West Pt 24 of Tel el Eisa. Once more heavy fire met this battalion, forcing them to ground short of their objective. They were pinned down and badly exposed. At this point, Private Stan Gurney sprang to his feet and charged the enemy. He attacked two machine gun posts using grenades and bayonet, killing all occupants save one, whom he sent back as a prisoner. Another Australian soldier had lent support in silencing the second post. Charging a third post, Gurney was blown off his feet by grenades, but leapt up again and into the enemy post where he was seen bayoneting the occupants. For his bravery in this action he would be awarded the Victoria Cross. His body was found later among the German positions.
Despite their tenacity withstanding hours under heavy fire, 26th Brigade could not hold any of its objectives. Attempts to assist them with Bren carriers and tanks failed, and the survivors made their way back throughout the day and started digging in. The only positive was that the Germans had been forced to abandon both points of Tel el Eisa and would never again occupy it. 2/23rd Bn went back onto East 24 the next morning while West 24, being too 'hot' for either side, remained empty.
Further south, 24th Brigade's attack had also failed. Pushing forward to seize Trig 22 on Makh Khad Ridge, infantry of 2/32nd and 2/43rd Bns had been met by withering fire and stopped cold. Later in the evening 2/28th Bn and supporting British tanks tried to force the objective, but poor coordination between infantry and armour and a bad mistake in map reading saw this attempt also fail. As one soldier of the 2/28th later said, it was 'a balls-up altogether.' (28)
Auchinleck's attacks had again been frustrated and both Corps had suffered heavy casualties. He had attacked Rommel not where he was weakest, but where he was strongest, and again coordination of armour and infantry had been lacking. Writing of the battle, Auchinleck pondered that his armour 'though gallant enough, lost control and direction', while the infantry 'made some avoidable mistakes.' 'Perhaps I asked too much of them . ' (29) But he was soon to ask for more.
Auchinleck's final attempt to break the enemy began on 26 July. His Special Order of the Day read:
The objective of the next attack was to break through between Miteiriya and Deir el Dhib. The South Africans were to make a gap through the minefields for the British 69th Brigade to come through driving west. The Australian 24th Brigade was to attack south onto Miteiriya (Ruin) Ridge, then drive northwest along it. They would also rely on making gaps in the dense minefields. The spearhead of their attack would be made by 2/28th Bn. Tanks of the British 1st Armoured Division were to then exploit further westwards.
Beginning at midnight on 26 July, 2/28th Bn advanced and after making a small gap in the minefield were on Ruin Ridge an hour later. Casualties had been moderate, but several supporting Bren carriers had been destroyed and were burning brightly, blocking the gap in the minefield. 2/28th Bn commander Lt Colonel McCarter sent the message, 'We are here'. The battalion dug in as best it could and waited .
69th Brigade, advancing at 0200 met heavy resistance and soon their attack broke down in confusion. German counterattacks caught them in this state and the best part of the brigade was completely overrun. Once more armoured support did not materialise in time, the tank commander deeming the gaps in the minefield insufficient. Hours ticked by.
2/28th Bn had beaten elements of the German 90th Light Division off the ridge and inflicted serious casualties. Rommel again organised his trademark rapid counterstroke. Strong battle groups supported by tanks now closed in on the 2/28th as the early morning wore on. Repeated calls were sent for more ammunition before their radio went dead. The sounds of heavy fighting from the ridge intensified. At 0905 they finally got their damaged radio going and called Brigade Headquarters. The first words heard there were 'We are in trouble.' Over the next hour the signallers at brigade recorded the battalion's desperate plight,
With their lines of communication and retreat completely cut, 2/28th Bn were then squeezed on three sides by strong German panzer and infantry groups until they were overrun. The battalion was virtually wiped out, losing 65 killed and 489 missing, most of whom were wounded and taken prisoner. The British 69th Brigade losses had been slightly heavier, totalling about 600. It was a tragic end to a month that had such encouraging successes in its first half, yet demoralising failures with heavy loss in its second.
'So ended the great campaign of the summer . ' wrote Rommel, (32) for now both sides were exhausted, as they had been at the end of June. Eighth Army was spent and needed time to recover and replenish. Rommel's army was so weakened by the past two months' fighting that they could not possibly launch a renewal of their offensive. They had barely held on. Eighth Army held the upper hand slightly, but by now they had lost many tanks and most infantry formations were seriously depleted. Conceding defender's advantage to Rommel, Auchinleck was right to now call a halt to proceedings. Now the race to reinforce and resupply would begin in earnest, a battle fought at sea and in the skies.
As stated, the importance of the July battles is often overshadowed by the second battle that began in October. But a few authors have recognised a greater importance in the July battles, as pointed out by Charles Messenger in his book The unknown Alamein. (33) While he admits that these include biographers and 'defenders' of Auchinleck, which is hardly surprising, there are others. Australian Official Historian Barton Maughan described the successful attack on 10 July as 'the turning point of the war in North Africa' (34), while more recent authors Mark Johnston and Peter Stanley suggest that the July fighting 'laid the foundations of the October victory' and that its subsequent 'obscurity is undeserved.' (35) In addition, British Official Historian I.S.O. Playfair wrote: 'In retrospect the vital importance of the July fighting stands out clearly, and to General Auchinleck belongs the credit for turning retreat into counterattack.' (36) To further stress the importance of the timing of the battle, we can look to none other than Winston Churchill who reflected that in July 1942
I was politically at my weakest and without a gleam of military success . (37)
From the achievements of the Eighth Army during this period, despite the reverses of the latter half of the month, perhaps Churchill should have noticed there was in fact a gleam of military success, and signs of a more shining victory on the near horizon. In other theatres there would be hope as well. In the next few months the Allies would follow up their important victory at Midway with success in Papua and Guadalcanal, while in Russia, the Germans descended into disaster at Stalingrad.
In early August, Auchinleck was reassigned to command in Persia and Iraq, and Lt General Bernard Montgomery took command of the Eighth Army. Churchill had finally lost patience when Auchinleck told him that he could not resume the offensive until mid September. Ironically Montgomery would get away with waiting until the end of October to launch his offensive. By that time, the balance of power had swung so much in favour of the Allies that victory was virtually assured.
The Australians of 9th Division had suffered 2700 casualties (600 dead) in July, a cost that would be matched and slightly exceeded in October/November. By the end of it, close to 6000 would be casualties (about 1200 dead or missing). That represented a full third of the division's strength, a casualty and death rate akin to the Western Front of twenty five years before.
9th Division continued to hold the coastal sector around Tel el Eisa. It would be from this key position that they would launch their part of the attack in October. As in July, they would play a prominent and decisive role. Rommel's last attempt to break through the Alamein line at Alam Halfa on 30/31 August was defeated easily. On 23 October, the Second Battle of El Alamein opened, in which ultimately the Allies would deliver a crushing defeat to Rommel's Panzerarmee that would soon see it ejected from Africa altogether. The pendulum had now swung irreversibly in favour of the Allies.
(1) This article was the result of research undertaken for a talk the author presented at Tel el Eisa, as part of a joint Australian War Memorial/Imperial War Museum battlefield tour of Crete and Egypt in September 2002
(2) Letter from Private David Henry Frazer (2/24 Bn) dated 23 July 1942, Australian War Memorial, Private Record PRO 1943.
(3) First Alamein (1-27 July), Alam Halfa (30-31 August) & Second Alamein (23 Oct-6 Nov).
(4) Rommel, Erwin 1953, The Rommel Papers: edited by B H Liddell Hart, Collins, London, p. 237
(5) Playfair, I S O 1960, British Official History, The Mediterranean and Middle East, Vol III, HMSO, London, p. 333
(6) Private papers of Gunner J P Stokes (2/7 Field Regt), Australian War Memorial, MSS1120. This attitude among the Egyptian population was not however universal.
(7) The Rommel papers, p. 242-244
(8) Mellenthin, F W von 1955, Panzer battles, p. 128
(9) Panzer battles, pp 163-164.
(10) Australian War Memorial, AWM54, 526/4/22, XXX Corps Operation Order #61 (7 July)
(11) The Rommel papers, p 252.
(12) 2/48 Bn War Diary, Australian War Memorial, AWM 52, 8/3/36
(13) The Rommel Papers, pp 252-253
(14) Oakes, Bill 1980, Muzzle blast: six years of war with the 2/2 Australian Machine Gun Battalion, AIF, 2/2 Bn Assn., Sydney, p 97.
(15) Glenn, John 1960, Tobruk to Tarakan, Rigby, Adelaide, p 110.
(16) Corporal Tom Derrick had already earned a Distinguished Conduct Medal earlier in the day during the attack on Pt 26. He went on to earn the Victoria Cross for his actions at Sattelberg, New Guinea in 1943 and promotion to Lieutenant. Sadly, he died in the 2/48th Battalion's last battle on Tarakan Island, Borneo in May 1945. Copies of his diaries are held at the Australian War Memorial, Private Record PR82/190.
(17) Behrendt, Hans-Otto 1985, Rommel's intelligence in the desert campaign, 1941-1943, Kimber, London p 170
(18) It is not clear whether or not the capture of NFAK 621 led to stopping the US leak. Some say 'The Good Source' as it was called by the Germans was stopped in late June, others say August.
(19) Bungay, Stephen 2002, Alamein, p 100.
(20) Brown, Anthony Cave 1975, Bodyguard of lies, Harper & Row, New York, p. 104. For further reading see Baillieu, Everard 1985, Both sides of the hill and Behrendt, Hans-Otto 1985, Rommel's intelligence in the Desert Campaign 1941-1943
(21) Share, Pat (ed) 1978, Mud and blood: Albury's own, 2/23rd Australian Infantry Battalion, Heritage, Frankston, Vic., pp 175-176.
(22) Aberger, Heinz-Dietrich et al 1972, Nut ein Bataillon, (German 8th Machine Gun Bn, 21st Panzer Division), p 192.
(23) The Rommel papers, pp 255-256.
(24) From a 1989 interview with Cpl Vic Knight (2/2nd MG Bn), Keith Murdoch Sound Archive, AWM, S00555
(25) The Mediterranean and Middle East, Vol III, HMSO, London, p. 335
(26) The Rommel papers, p 257.
(27) The Mediterranean and Middle East, Vol III, p. 354
(28) Johnston, Mark & Stanley, Peter 2002, Alamein: the Australian story, Oxford, Melbourne, p 94. From an interview with Jack Hawkes, 2/28th Bn, (1989), Keith Murdoch Sound Archive, AWM, SOO527.
(30) Maughan, Barton 1966, Australia in the war of 1939-1945, Vol 111. Tobruk and El Alamein, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, p 590.
(31) Australian War Memorial Official Record, AWM54, 526/6/5, HQ 9th Division--Report on operations--24th Brigade--3 to 29 July and to 6 November 1942
(32) The Rommel papers, p 260.
(33) Messenger, Charles 1982, The unknown Alamein, Ian Allen Ltd, Shepperton, Surrey, p 3. Messenger himself considers the battles in July to be 'undoubtedly the turning point of the desert war' (p 58)
(34) Baillieu, Everard 1985, Both sides of the hill, 2/24 Battalion Assn, Burwood, Vic., p ix (introduction by Barton Maughan)
(35) Johnston, Mark & Stanley, Peter 2002, Alamein: the Australian story, pp 115-116.
(36) The Mediterranean and Middle East, Vol III, P 377
(37) Churchill, Sir Winston S. 1951, The Second World War, vol. IV, Cassell, London, p. 390
Alamein at Amazon
Thus far, however, Marshal Rommel’s attempt to overrun Tel el Eisa and the sand dunes that dominate the area has not succeeded. The enemy’s efforts up to now have cost him heavily in men killed, wounded, and captured.
A color photograph of Erwin Rommel and his staff in North Africa.
The German artillery struck with sledgehammer blows, trying to clear a path for the infantry, the progress of which was able to follow through the night by the streams of machine-gun tracer bullets that left a glittering trail just above the ground. Green and white signal flares curled up from the German tanks as they drove forward.
The enemy infantry tried to rush the British positions from dugouts prepared during the day, but it met an incessant fire. At midnight the stonewall defense once again had proved too tough for Marshal Rommel’s elite troops.
On the night of 14th July, Auchinleck counterattacked to relieve the pressure on the Australians, sending his 4th and 5th New Zealand Brigades and 5th Indian Brigade against some 4,000 Italians on Ruweisat Ridge. The attack included fierce close-quarter resistance and intense artillery fire between the night of the 14th and afternoon of 15th July. In a devastating counterattack, German armor recovered the ridge. Total losses, killed and wounded in the 2nd New Zealand Division, exceeded 1,400, a hard and shocking blow to an already depleted infantry division.
Rommel, distraught at his inability to regain the offensive, pressed for a rapid retreat. However, senior Italian commanders issuing fresh orders to Italian units to fight to the last man talked him out of quitting. The following day, the Sabratha in the form of the 85th Regiment retook Tel el Eisa, but suffered heavy losses in the process. Caccia Dominioni writes of the “splendid recapture of Tell el Eisa, carried out by the 1st Battalion 85th Infantry under Colonel Angelozzi on the afternoon of July 14”. On 16th July, the 2/23rd Battalion attempted to retake Tel el Eisa, but stopped its thrusts after incurring heavy losses. In his papers, Rommel writes:
Next day, the 16th July, the British attacked again, but this time only locally. After an intensive artillery preparation, the Australians attacked in the early hours of the morning with tank support and took several strong-points held by the Sabratha.
Later, recounting the 2/23rd Battalion attack, Mark Johnston wrote that on 16 July, they received orders to retake it and the rest of Tel el Eisa Ridge. After initial success, they suffered nearly 50 percent casualties and had to withdraw.”
On 17th July, two Australian battalions attacked south against Italian positions on Sanyet el Miteiriya and Makh Khad Ridge. The Australians captured 700 prisoners. However, they came under fire from Italian gunners who fought well and later counterattacked by tanks and infantry. The Italians captured no less than 200 prisoners. But the Australian War Memorial states it was a German counterattack. However, German records indicate Italians from the 3rd Battalion 61st Trento Infantry Regiment are responsible. The Australian Official History just admits that two forward platoons of the 2/32nd’s left company became overran, 22 men taken prisoner. This implies that Germans captured them.
Johnston in Fighting The Enemy puts this down to “an unwillingness to acknowledge reverses against Italians.”
One group of Italian combat sappers in company strength entrenched on Makh Khad held out all through the predawn darkness till sunrise. All were reported killed or captured, having fought very bravely and well against the Australian 2/32nd Battalion. This gave the Trento Division sufficient time to prepare a counterattack that drove the Australians back.
First Battle of El Alamein
Alamein itself was an inconsequential railway station on the coast. The line the British chose to defend stretched between the sea and the Depression, which meant that Rommel could outflank it only by taking a significant detour to the south and crossing the Sahara Desert. The British Army in Egypt recognized this before the war and had the Eighth Army begin construction of several “boxes” (localities with dug-outs and surrounded by minefields and barbed wire), the most developed being around the railway station at Alamein. Most of the “line” was open, empty desert.
Rommel’s plan was for the 90th Light Division and the 15th and 21st Panzer divisions of the Afrika Korps to penetrate the Eighth Army lines between the Alamein box and Deir el Abyad (which he believed was defended). The 90th Light Division was then to veer north to cut the coastal road and trap the defenders of the Alamein box and the Afrika Korps would veer right to attack the rear of XIII Corps.
The first battle of El Alamein began on July 1st and lasted until July 27th. Rommel, who arrived dangerously short of men and tanks (only 55 wagons operating in front of El Alamein before the attack) and with a dangerously long supply line, hoped to surprise the Eighth Army before he deployed his potential in men and means, between the new troops arriving from Great Britain and the new tanks arriving from the United States on the other hand, Auckinleck hoped that Rommel’s overconfidence would bring the Axis forces to such a state that they could not only be stopped but rejected.
The battle was a stalemate, but it had halted the Axis advance on Alexandria. In his appreciation of 27 July, Auchinleck wrote that the Eighth Army would not be ready to attack again until mid-September at the earliest. He believed that because Rommel understood that with the passage of time the Allied situation would only improve, he was compelled to attack as soon as possible and before the end of August when he would have superiority in armour. Auchinleck therefore made plans for a defensive battle.
First, second and third Battle OF El AlameinTopic Search Topic Options
First battle 1-27 July 1942-After victory at Battle of Gazala ,Rommel advance toward Egypt was checked by General Auchinleck
Second Battle ( Battle of Alam Halfa) 30 August-5 September 1942.
General Montgomery, using battle plans prepared by gen Auchinleck stopped Rommel attempt to break through Alam Halfa towards River Nile.
Third battle- General Montgomery break through German- Italian defence forcing (arguably) gen. Rommel to began long fighting withdrawal towards Tunis .
All three battles are highly controversial
First Battle-General Auchinleck saved the situation but he was sacked by Winston Churchill. Was he scapegoat sacrificed to save WC skin?
Second Battle-General Montgomery claimed that the plans of battle was entirely his but in fact it was prepared by Auchinleck staff before his dismissal.
Third Battle -was it necessary? Successful Operation Torch will force Rommel to withdraw his army from Egypt anyway. Montgomery and Churchill plan to start this battle only few days before Operation Torch .Why?
In 1942 the public opinion in Britain , shocked by misfortunes in Asia and northern Africa demanded explanation. Coalition government of Mr. Churchill was rapidly loosing popularity. In June 1942 the Coalition Government lost by-election in Maldon by big swing of votes.
This was expression of heavy criticism of W. Churchill Coalition Government leadership of Nation in wartime. The war polices of W.C were questioned.
W. Churchill was in great political danger of loosing his position, probably the most dangerous time for his wartime leadership.
His political answer was to pass the ball to the military leaders. By doing so, he regain confidence of House of Commons (he wan the vote of censure 475 to 25) but the public demanded the offensive and victory.
When Auchinleck informed him that he will not be ready for offensive in El Alamein for another 6 to 8 weeks, he signed his death warrant. He went to Cairo to make a purge of staff in order to placate opinion at home.
After replacing Auchinleck with Alexander and appointing Montgomery as commander of 8 Army, Churchill did not spare any resources for his desert forces.
There was an uninterrupted flow of materiel and personnel from Great Britain to Egypt on the scale that was only a dream in the time of Auchinleck command.
The follow of materiel was not only marked by bigger quantity.
The qualities of new equipment give Montgomery , for the first time in the desert war, a distinctive quality advantage over his opponent.
New Sherman tanks were a class better than German Mark III and Mark IV (with exception of Mark IV Specials with long 75 mm guns but Rommel did not have many of them). Monty had 300 of them when previous commanders had as a main tank Grants which could not fight from”haul down “‘position and were not fully battle worthy in open desert warfare due to archaic sponson mounted of the main armament.
Also, the new 6 pounder anti tank gun become available in bigger quantity making strong impact on battlefield. There was 800 of this potent small guns to s give British infantry effective anti-tank weapon. Previously used two pounders were ineffective except very close range.
In field artillery he had enormous superiority not only in number of guns but also in available stock of ammunition. German’s batteries were continuously starved of ammo during the battle.
Monty superiority in amour was enormous. Ho got 1100 tanks ready for action. This include 300 new Sherman which could not be matched by any of Rommel tanks expect Mark IV Special. Rommel had only 30 of them. So in this category, Monty enjoyed 10:1 advantage.
He also had over 200 Grants which, despise their sponson mounted main armament, were considerable opponents for German Mark Iii and standard Mark IV . The remaining 600 machines were Valentines and other light tanks.
Additional 200 tanks were brought during the battle.
Against this forces, Rommel could put in the field 200 German gun armed tanks plus 300 Italians “Sardines tins” vehicles.
With this superiority, in quantities as well as in quality, it was no difficult to win the battle.
Additionally, the battle was planned in such way that the expected end of battle will coincide with operation Torch.
In case if Monty will not brake the line at El Alamein , Rommel anyway will be obliged to withdraw due to overall situation in North Africa so Monty will be able to claim victory anyway.
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First battle of El Alamein, 1-27 July 1942 - History
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First Battle of El Alamein 1 - 27 July 1942.
The Allied Eighth Army under General Claude Auchinleck had retreated from Mersa Matruh to the Alamein Line, a forty mile gap between El Alamein and the Qattara Depression, in Egypt.
On July 1 the German-Italian Afrika Korps led by Erwin Rommel attacked. The Allied line near El Alamein was not overrun until the evening and this hold up stalled the Axis advance.
On July 2 Rommel concentrated his forces in the north, intending to break through around El Alamein. Auchinleck ordered a counter-attack at the centre of the Axis line but the attack failed. The Allies also attacked in the south and were more successful against the Italians. As a result of the Allied resistance, Rommel decided to regroup and defend the line reached.
Auchinleck attacked again on July 10 at Tel el Eisa in the north and over one thousand prisoners were taken. Rommel's counter at Tel el Eisa achieved little. Auchinleck then attacked again in the centre at the Ruweisat Ridge in two battles - the First and Second Battles of Ruweisat on July 14 and July 21. Neither battle was succcessful and the failure of armour to reach the infantry in time at the Second Battle led to the loss of 700 men. Despite this another two attacks were launched on July 27. One in the north at Tel el Eisa was a moderate failure. The other at Miteiriya was more calamatous, as the minefields were not cleared and the infantry were left without armour support when faced with a German counter-attack.
The Eighth Army was exhausted, and by July 31 Auchinleck ordered an end to offensive operations and the strengthening of the defences to meet a major counter-offensive.
The battle was a stalemate, but the Axis advance on Alexandria (and then Cairo) was halted.
Second Battle of El Alamein
Second Battle of El Alamein was a battle that lasted from October 23 to November 3 1942 during World War II. Following the First Battle of El Alamein, which had stalled the Axis advance, British general Bernard Montgomery took command of the Eighth Army from Claude Auchinleck in August 1942. Success in the battle turned the tide in the North African campaign.
Table of contents
1 The Situation
2 The British Plan
3 The Battle
By July 1942 the German Afrika Korps under General Erwin Rommel had struck deep into Egypt, threatening the vital British supply line across the Suez Canal. Faced with overextended supply lines and lack of reinforcements while being aware of massive British reinforcements arriving, Rommel decided to strike at the British while their build-up was still not complete. This attack on 30 August 1942 at Alam Halfa failed, and expecting a counterattack by Montgomery?s 8th Army, the Afrika Korps dug in. After six more weeks of building up forces the British 8th Army was ready to strike. 200,000 men and 1,000 tanks under Montgomery made their move against the 100,000 men and 500 tanks of the Afrika Korps.
The British Plan
With Operation Lightfoot, Montgomery hoped to cut two corridors through the Axis minefields in the north. Armour would then pass through and defeat the German armour. Diversionary attacks in the south would keep the rest of the Axis forces from moving northwards. Montgomery expected a twelve-day battle in three stages - "The break-in, the dog-fight and the final break of the enemy."
The British practised a number of deceptions in the months prior to the battle to wrong-foot the Axis command, not only as to the exact whereabouts of the forthcoming battle, but as to when the battle was likely to occur. This operation was codenamed "Operation Bertram". A dummy pipeline was built, stage by stage, the construction of which would lead the Axis to believe the attack would occur much later than it in fact did, and much further south. To further the illusion, dummy tanks made of plywood frames placed over jeeps were constructed and deployed in the south. In a reverse feint, the tanks for battle in the north were disguised as supply lorries by placing a removable plywood superstructure over them.
The Axis were dug-in along two lines, called by the Allies the Oxalic Line and the Pierson Line. They had laid around half a million mines, mainly anti-tank.
The battle opened at 2140 hours on October 23 with an sustained artillery barrage. The initial objective was the Oxalic Line with the armour intending to advance over this and on to the Pierson Line. However the minefields were not yet fully cleared when the assault began.
On the first day, the assault to create the northern corridor fell three miles short of the Pierson line. While further south they had made better progress but were stalled at the Miteirya Ridge.
On October 24 the Axis commander, General Stumme (Rommel was on sick leave in Austria), died of a heart-attack and General Ritter von Thoma took command of the Axis forces, while Rommel was ordered to return to Africa, arriving on October 25.
For the Allies in the south, after another abortive assault on the Miteirya Ridge, the attack was abandoned. Montgomery switched the focus of the attack to the north. There was a successful night attack over the 25-26th. Rommel?s immediate counter-attack was without success. The Allies had lost 6,200 men against Axis losses of 2,500, but while Rommel had only 370 tanks fit for action Montgomery still had over 900.
Montgomery felt that the offensive was losing momentum and decided to regroup. There were a number of small actions but, by October 29, the Axis line was still intact. Montgomery was still confident and prepared his forces for Operation Supercharge. The endless small operations and the attrition by the Allied airforce had by then reduced Rommel's effective tank strength to only 102.
The second major Allied offensive of the battle was along the coast, initially to capture the Rahman Track and then take the high ground at Tel el Aqqaqir. The attack began on November 2 1942. By the 3rd Rommel had only 35 tanks fit for action. Despite containing the British advance, the pressure on his forces made a retreat necessary. However the same day Rommel received a "Victory or Death" message from Adolf Hitler, halting the withdrawal. But the Allied pressure was too great, and the German forces had to withdraw on the night of November 3-4. By November 6 the Axis forces were in full retreat and over 30,000 soldiers had surrendered.
Winston Churchill famously summed up the battle on 10 November, 1942 with the words "now this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
The battle was Montgomery's greatest triumph. He took the name "Lord Montgomery of Alamein" when he was raised to the peerage. The success of his plan led Montgomery to prefer overwhelming superiority in all his subsequent battles, leading to a reputation, with some, for being overcautious.
The Torch landings in Morocco later that month marked the effective end of the Axis threat in North Africa.
Weekly Battles: First Battle of El Alamein
After being pushed back to Egypt from Libya, the British Eighth Army began to fall back to the El Alamein line on the 26th of June, 1942 and, on the 30th of June all British forces had fallen back behind the El Alamein defences.
Unlike the previous defensive lines, Gazala and Marsa Matruh-Sidi Hamza, Generalfeldmarschall Rommel couldn’t send tanks to flank the line in the South and surround the British at the Qatarra Depression, an area of salt marsh and soft sand which lay to the south of the El Alamein line and was impassable to tanks and other heavy vehicles. The line was named after the El Alamein train station in the North.
On the 1st of July, 1942, the 90th Light Division attacked the Alamein Box, a ring of defences around El Alamein, but poor light and a sandstorm caused confusion and they ran in to the British defences, which they were supposed to skirt around. In the afternoon, the 90th Light Division came in to fire from the South African Division and when Rommel attempted to get the division moving again he was caught in the barrage himself.
The Deutsches Afrika Korps, DAK, did better in the south. Containing the 15th and the 21st Panzer Divisions, the DAK reached their start line three hours late due to bombing by the Desert Air Force. They attacked Deir el Shein, which was held by the 18th Indian Brigade, in the middle of the line. At 7pm, the panzer divisions finally overwhelmed the 18th Indian Brigade and captured Deir el Shein, though they lost 18 of the 55 tanks that they had. The capture of Deir el Shein took so long that General Auchinleck had time to move fresh forces to the area to prevent a German breakthrough. On the 2nd of July, 1942, the DAK attempted to move north in order to assist the 90th Light Division, which was still experiencing heavy British artillery fire, in attacking the Alamein Box. They experienced fighting around and on the Ruweisat Ridge in the middle of the line and although the British were too disorganised to repulse the attack entirely, the DAK were too tired to advance further and lost 11 more tanks, leaving them with only 26.
On the 3rd of July, 1942, the DAK attacked the south of the Ruweisat Ridge and made little progress. The British XIII Corps advanced on Deir el Shein but ran in to the Italian Ariete Division. After an exchange of artillery fire, the New Zealand Division attacked and captured 350 prisoners and 44 guns. The New Zealand Division then ran in to the Brescia Division, of the Italian X Corps, while trying to prevent the Ariete Division from retreating. Little progress was made by either side. Rommel ordered the DAK to withdraw and for Italian infantry to be placed in the positions that the DAK had occupied on the next day – Rommel went on the defensive.
On the 4th of July, 1942, the British discovered that the Germans hadn’t withdrawn. In a series of attacks, the British made very little progress except from the clearing of a large part of the Ruweisat Ridge of enemy forces. Over the next few days, the British attacked to the South West of the Ruweisat Ridge but achieved very little.
On the 9th of July, 1942, the 21st Panzer Division and the Italian Littorio Division attacked Bab El Qattara, south of the Ruweisat Ridge. The British, who had learned of the plan by ULTRA intercepts had abandoned it, leading Rommel to believe that it was a weak spot.
On the 10th of July, 1942, the 1st South African Division attacked Tel El Makd Khad and the 9th Australian Division attacked Tel El Eisa in the North. The 1st South African Division captured Tel El Makh Khad but then withdrew due to a misunderstanding. The 9th Australian Division also captured their objective and repulsed a counterattack by the 382nd Regiment from the German 164th Division. The 9th Australian Division were also attacked on the 12th and the 13th of July, 1942 and Rommel tried to cut them off by attacking the Alamein Box. These attempts failed.
On the 14th of July, 1942, the British XXX Corps and XIII Corps attacked the Ruweisat Ridge and by the 15th of July, most of the ridge was in British hands. Rommel immediately counterattacked and pushed the New Zealand Division from the western end of the Ruweisat Ridge and overran the 4th New Zealand Brigade’s HQ. The 1st Armoured Division waited for the right moment to counterattack, which never came. This, coupled with the tanks not exploiting the gains made by the infantry, caused antipathy between the infantry and tank commanders and meant that the British only had control of half of the Ruweisat Ridge.
On the 16th of July, 1942, Rommel attacked the 5th Indian Division on the Ruweisat Ridge but achieved nothing. The 9th Australian Division attacked the Miteirya Ridge but also made little progress. Little progress was made on the 17th of July either. Despite little progress being made by the British, Rommel had to abandon any planned offensives as he had lost over 2,000 tons of ammunition and 50,000 gallons of fuel to the Desert Air Force bombing Matruh.
On the 18th of July, 1942, armoured cars and light tanks from the 7th Armoured Division were sent to harass the Axis forces south of the line as a diversion. After being urged by Churchill to make an attack, Auchinleck ordered the 5th Indian Division to attack towards Deir El Shein along the Ruweisat Ridge and the New Zealand Division to attack the western end of the ridge and the El Mreir Depression. They achieved their objectives but were forced back by the 5th and the 8th Panzer Regiments before British armour could support them. When the British armour did engage the Germans, it suffered high casualties, 132 tanks on the first day, whilst the Germans only lost three tanks. On the 23rd of July, 1942, the 5th Indian Division tried to retake the ridge but failed.
On the 26th of July, 1942, the 9th Australian Division and the 1st South African Division attempted to take the eastern part of the Miteirya Ridge. They did manage to clear gaps in Axis minefields but were repulsed. The fighting continued in to the 27th of July but it was soon called off.
The British went on the defensive. The German rush across North Africa had been halted as well as the risk to Cairo and the British-owned territories in the Middle East and their oil had been greatly reduced. El Alamein was the turning point for the Allies in the Second World War as it was the first major victory against the German blitzkrieg tactics and showed how to defeat it: effective anti-tank guns air superiority superior numbers and supplies forcing them in to a war of attrition.
First battle of El Alamein, 1-27 July 1942 - History
On July 27th, 1942, the Allied forces under the command of Claud Auchinleck defeated Erwin Rommel's Afrika Corps in the first battle at El-Alamein.
Italy declared war on Great Britain on June 10th, 1940. In September, its forces, commanded by Marshall Rodolfo Graziani invaded Egypt, a formally independent state that, in practice, was completely dependent on the British. They were opposed by the "Nile" army, commanded by General Richard O'Connor. The Italian successes were negligible, and their offensive stalled.
Then, Germany decided to send its forces to Africa. Help for its ally was a secondary goal. The main objective was to create strategic footholds, necessary for the conquest of more African lands. Germany also wanted to capture the Suez Canal to make life in the Mediterranean difficult for the British.
The Afrika Corps was commanded by the then unknown General Erwin Rommel. His first echelon landed at Tripoli in the middle of February of 1941. The British paid little attention to this landing. This was a poor move on their part, as before Rommel gathered all his forces, he was able to strike at Al Uqaylah, Benghazi, and then Tobruk. Until then, the British have only faced marginally trained Italian commanders, and now they were faced with a very competent German one. As a result, the first few major battles were lost by the British. General O'Connor was captured. Rommel's offensive halted in June of 1941.
From the middle of June to the middle of November, the war in Africa was rather passive. The Germans no longer had the strength to advance, and the Allied commanders needed time to recover and prepare for a counterattack. The counterattack was delivered in November. The British planned to encircle Rommel at the border of Tripolitania, but Rommel managed to evade the trap, earning him the nickname "Desert Fox". In early 1942, Rommel managed to achieve another handful of victories, the most impressive of which can be considered the taking of Tobruk, which the British considered an impregnable fortress.
In the end of June, the Germans approached new defensive lines built by the Allies at El-Alamein. Fierce fighting began, as a result of which, the British, with an advantage in manpower and vehicles, began slowing Rommel's advance. British aircraft dealt significant damage to the German communications and supply lines.
On July 10th, the British pulled off a successful attack at Tel el Eisa, further reducing Rommel's vehicle count and capturing 1000 prisoners. The main battle occurred on July 27th. Even though Claud Auchinleck made many mistakes that cost the British many men and tanks, Rommel's offensive was stopped. Further attempts to crush the British army were unsuccessful. On May 13th, 1943, the German-Italian forces in Africa surrendered.