The First Battle of El Alamein (1–27 July 1942) was a battle of the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War, fought in Egypt between Axis forces (Germany and Italy) of the Panzer Army Africa (Panzerarmee Afrika, which included the Afrika Korps under Field Marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) Erwin Rommel) and Allied (British Imperial and Commonwealth) forces (Britain, British India, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand) of the Eighth Army (General Claude Auchinleck).
The British prevented a second advance by the Axis forces into Egypt. Axis positions near El Alamein, only 66 mi (106 km) from Alexandria, were dangerously close to the ports and cities of Egypt, the base facilities of the Commonwealth forces and the Suez Canal. However, the Axis forces were too far from their base at Tripoli in Libya to remain at El Alamein indefinitely, which led both sides to accumulate supplies for more offensives, against the constraints of time and distance.
Following their defeat at the Battle of Gazala in Eastern Libya in June 1942, the British Eighth Army, commanded by Lieutenant-General Neil Ritchie, had retreated east from the Gazala line into north-western Egypt as far as Mersa Matruh, roughly 100 mi (160 km) inside the border. Ritchie had decided not to hold the defences on the Egyptian border, because the defensive plan there was for infantry to hold defended localities and a strong armoured force behind them to meet any attempts to penetrate or outflank the fixed defences. Since General Ritchie had virtually no armoured units left fit to fight, the infantry positions would be defeated in detail. The Mersa defence plan also included an armoured reserve but in its absence Ritchie believed he could organise his infantry to cover the minefields between the defended localities to prevent Axis engineers from having undisturbed access.
To defend the Matruh line, Ritchie placed 10th Indian Infantry Division (in Matruh itself) and 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division (some 15 mi (24 km) down the coast at Gerawla) under X Corps HQ, newly arrived from Syria. Inland from X Corps would be XIII Corps with 5th Indian Infantry Division (with only one infantry brigade, 29th Indian, and two artillery regiments) around Sidi Hamza about 20 mi (32 km) inland, and the newly arrived 2nd New Zealand Division (short one brigade, the 6th, which had been left out of combat in case the division was captured and it would be needed to serve as the nucleus of a new division) at Minqar Qaim (on the escarpment 30 mi (48 km) inland) and 1st Armoured Division in the open desert to the south. The 1st Armoured Division had taken over 4th and 22nd Armoured Brigades from 7th Armoured Division which by this time had only three tank regiments (battalions) between them.
On 25 June, General Claude Auchinleck—Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) Middle East Command—relieved Ritchie and assumed direct command of the Eighth Army himself. He decided not to seek a decisive confrontation at the Mersa Matruh position. He concluded that his inferiority in armour after the Gazala defeat, meant he would be unable to prevent Rommel either breaking through his centre or enveloping his open left flank to the south in the same way he had at Gazala.[c] He decided instead to employ delaying tactics while withdrawing a further 100 mi (160 km) or more east to a more defensible position near El Alamein on the Mediterranean coast. Only 40 mi (64 km) to the south of El Alamein, the steep slopes of the Qattara Depression ruled out the possibility of Axis armour moving around the southern flank of his defences and limited the width of the front he had to defend.
While preparing the Alamein positions, Auchinleck fought strong delaying actions, first at Mersa Matruh on 26–27 June and then Fuka on 28 June. The late change of orders resulted in some confusion in the forward formations (X Corps and XIII Corps) between the desire to inflict damage on the enemy and the intention not to get trapped in the Matruh position but retreat in good order. The result was poor co-ordination between the two forward Corps and units within them. Late on 26 June, the 90th Light and 21st Panzer Divisions managed to find their way through the minefields in the centre of the front. Early on 27 June, resuming its advance, the 90th Light was checked by British 50th Division's artillery. Meanwhile, the 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions advanced east above and below the escarpment. The 15th Panzer were blocked by 4th Armoured and 7th Motor Brigades, but the 21st Panzer were ordered on to attack Minqar Qaim. Rommel ordered 90th Light to resume its advance, requiring it to cut the coast road behind 50th Division by the evening. As the 21st Panzer moved on Minqar Qaim, the 2nd New Zealand Division found itself surrounded but broke out on the night of 27/28 June without serious losses and withdrew east.
Auchinleck had planned a second delaying position at Fuka, some 30 mi (48 km) east of Matruh, and at 21:20 he issued the orders for a withdrawal to Fuka. Confusion in communication led the division withdrawing immediately to the El Alamein position. X Corps, having made an unsuccessful attempt to secure a position on the escarpment, were out of touch with Eighth Army from 19:30 until 04:30 the next morning. Only then did they discover that the withdrawal order had been given. The withdrawal of XIII Corps had left the southern flank of X Corps on the coast at Matruh exposed and their line of retreat compromised by the cutting of the coastal road 17 mi (27 km) east of Matruh. They were ordered to break out southwards into the desert and then make their way east. Auchinleck ordered XIII Corps to provide support but they were in no position to do so. At 21:00 on 28 June, X Corps—organised into brigade groups—headed south. In the darkness, there was considerable confusion as they came across enemy units laagered for the night. In the process, 5th Indian Division in particular sustained heavy casualties, including the destruction of the 29th Indian Infantry Brigade at Fuka. Axis forces captured more than 6,000 prisoners, in addition to 40 tanks and an enormous quantity of supplies.
Alamein itself was an inconsequential railway station on the coast. Some 10 mi (16 km) to the south lay the Ruweisat Ridge, a low stony prominence that gave excellent observation for many miles over the surrounding desert; 20 mi (32 km) to the south was the Qattara Depression. 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 recognised 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. Lieutenant-General William Norrie (General officer commanding [GOC] XXX Corps) organised the position and started to construct three defended "boxes". The first and strongest, at El Alamein on the coast, had been partly wired and mined by 1st South African Division. The Bab el Qattara box—some 20 mi (32 km) from the coast and 8 mi (13 km) south-west of the Ruweisat Ridge—had been dug but had not been wired or mined, while at the Naq Abu Dweis box (on the edge of the Qattara Depression), 34 mi (55 km) from the coast, very little work had been done.
The British position in Egypt was desperate, the rout from Mersa Matruh had created a panic in the British headquarters at Cairo, something later called "the Flap". On what came to be referred to as "Ash Wednesday", at British headquarters, rear echelon units and the British Embassy, papers were hurriedly burned in anticipation of the fall of the city. Auchinleck—although believing he could stop Rommel at Alamein—felt he could not ignore the possibility that he might once more be outmanoeuvred or outfought. To maintain his army, plans must be made for the possibility of a further retreat whilst maintaining morale and retaining the support and co-operation of the Egyptians. Defensive positions were constructed west of Alexandria and on the approaches to Cairo while considerable areas in the Nile delta were flooded. The Axis, too, believed that the capture of Egypt was imminent; Italian leader Benito Mussolini—sensing a historic moment—flew to Libya to prepare for his triumphal entry into Cairo.
The scattering of X Corps at Mersa Matruh disrupted Auchinleck's plan for occupying the Alamein defences. On 29 June, he ordered XXX Corps—the 1st South African, 5th and 10th Indian divisions—to take the coastal sector on the right of the front and XIII Corps—the 2nd New Zealand Division and 4th Indian divisions—to be on the left. The remains of the 1st Armoured Division and the 7th Armoured Division were to be held as a mobile army reserve. His intention was for the fixed defensive positions to channel and disorganise the enemy's advance while mobile units would attack their flanks and rear.
On 30 June, Rommel's Panzerarmee Afrika approached the Alamein position. The Axis forces were exhausted and understrength. Rommel had driven them forward ruthlessly, being confident that, provided he struck quickly before Eighth Army had time to settle, his momentum would take him through the Alamein position and he could then advance to the Nile with little further opposition. Supplies remained a problem because the Axis staff had originally expected a pause of six weeks after the capture of Tobruk. German air units were also exhausted and providing little help against the RAF's all-out attack on the Axis supply lines which, with the arrival of United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) heavy bombers, could reach as far as Benghazi. Although captured supplies proved useful, water and ammunition were constantly in short supply, while a shortage of transport impeded the distribution of the supplies that the Axis forces did have.
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 (which Rommel thought was occupied by the remains of the 50th Infantry Division) and the Afrika Korps would veer right to attack the rear of XIII Corps.
An Italian division was to attack the Alamein box from the west and another was to follow the 90th Light Division. The Italian XX Corps was to follow the Afrika Korps and deal with the Qattara box while the 133rd Armoured Division Littorio and German reconnaissance units would protect the right flank. Rommel had planned to attack on 30 June but supply and transport difficulties had resulted in a day's delay, vital to the defending forces reorganising on the Alamein line. On 30 June, the 90th Light Division was still 15 miles (24 km) short of its start line, 21st Panzer Division was immobilised through lack of fuel and the promised air support had yet to move into its advanced airfields.
At 03:00 on 1 July, 90th Light Infantry Division advanced east but strayed too far north and ran into the 1st South African Division's defences and became pinned down. The 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions of the Afrika Korps were delayed by a sandstorm and then a heavy air attack. It was broad daylight by the time they circled round the back of Deir el Abyad where they found the feature to the east of it occupied by 18th Indian Infantry Brigade which, after a hasty journey from Iraq, had occupied the exposed position just west of Ruweisat Ridge and east of Deir el Abyad at Deir el Shein late on 28 June to create one of Norrie's additional defensive boxes.
At about 10:00 on 1 July, 21st Panzer Division attacked Deir el Shein. 18th Indian Infantry Brigade—supported by 23 25-pounder gun-howitzers, 16 of the new 6-pounder anti-tank guns and nine Matilda tanks—held out the whole day in desperate fighting but by evening the Germans succeeded in over-running them. The time they bought allowed Auchinleck to organise the defence of the western end of Ruweisat Ridge. The 1st Armoured Division had been sent to intervene at Deir el Shein. They ran into 15th Panzer Division just south of Deir el Shein and drove it west. By the end of the day's fighting, the Afrika Korps had 37 tanks left out of its initial complement of 55.
During the early afternoon, 90th Light had extricated itself from the El Alamein box defences and resumed its move eastward. It came under artillery fire from the three South African brigade groups and was forced to dig in.
On 2 July, Rommel ordered the resumption of the offensive. Once again, 90th Light failed to make progress so Rommel called the Afrika Korps to abandon its planned sweep southward and instead join the effort to break through to the coast road by attacking east toward Ruweisat Ridge. The British defence of Ruweisat Ridge relied on an improvised formation called "Robcol", comprising a regiment each of field artillery and light anti-aircraft artillery and a company of infantry. Robcol—in line with normal British Army practice for ad hoc formations—was named after its commander, Brigadier Robert Waller, the Commander Royal Artillery of the 10th Indian Infantry Division. Robcol was able to buy time, and by late afternoon the two British armoured brigades joined the battle with 4th Armoured Brigade engaging 15th Panzer and 22nd Armoured Brigade 21st Panzer respectively. They drove back repeated attacks by the Axis armour, who then withdrew before dusk. The British reinforced Ruweisat on the night of 2 July. The now enlarged Robcol became "Walgroup". Meanwhile, the Royal Air Force (RAF) made heavy air attacks on the Axis units.
The next day, 3 July, Rommel ordered the Afrika Korps to resume its attack on the Ruweisat ridge with the Italian XX Motorised Corps on its southern flank. Italian X Corps, meanwhile were to hold El Mreir. By this stage the Afrika Korps had only 26 operational tanks. There was a sharp armoured exchange south of Ruweisat ridge during the morning and the main Axis advance was held. On 3 July, the RAF flew 780 sorties.[d]
To relieve the pressure on the right and centre of the Eighth Army line, XIII Corps on the left advanced from the Qattara box (known to the New Zealanders as the Kaponga box). The plan was that the New Zealand 2nd Division—with the remains of Indian 5th Division and 7th Motor Brigade under its command—would swing north to threaten the Axis flank and rear. This force encountered the Ariete Armoured Division's artillery, which was driving on the southern flank of the division as it attacked Ruweisat. The Italian commander ordered his battalions to fight their way out independently but the Ariete lost 531 men (about 350 were prisoners), 36 pieces of artillery, six (or eight?) tanks, and 55 trucks. By the end of the day, the Ariete Division had only five tanks. The day ended once again with the Afrika Korps and Ariete coming off second best to the superior numbers of the British 22nd Armoured and 4th Armoured Brigades,[e] frustrating Rommel's attempts to resume his advance. The RAF once again played its part, flying 900 sorties during the day.
To the south, on 5 July the New Zealand group resumed its advance northwards towards El Mreir intending to cut the rear of the Ariete Division. Heavy fire from the Italian Brescia Motorised Division at El Mreir, however, 5 mi (8.0 km) north of the Qattara box, checked their progress and led XIII Corps to call off its attack.
At this point, Rommel decided his exhausted forces could make no further headway without resting and regrouping. He reported to the German High Command that his three German divisions numbered just 1,200–1,500 men each and resupply was proving highly problematic because of enemy interference from the air. He expected to have to remain on the defensive for at least two weeks.
Rommel was by this time suffering from the extended length of his supply lines. The Allied Desert Air Force (DAF) was concentrating fiercely on his fragile and elongated supply routes while British mobile columns moving west and striking from the south were causing havoc in the Axis rear echelons. Rommel could afford these losses even less since shipments from Italy had been substantially reduced (in June, he received 5,000 short tons (4,500 t) of supplies compared with 34,000 short tons (31,000 t) in May and 400 vehicles (compared with 2,000 in May). Meanwhile, the Eighth Army was reorganising and rebuilding, benefiting from its short lines of communication. By 4 July, the Australian 9th Division had entered the line in the north, and on 9 July the Indian 5th Infantry Brigade also returned, taking over the Ruweisat position. At the same time, the fresh Indian 161st Infantry Brigade reinforced the depleted Indian 5th Infantry Division.
On 8 July, Auchinleck ordered the new XXX Corps commander—Lieutenant-General William Ramsden—to capture the low ridges at Tel el Eisa and Tel el Makh Khad and then to push mobile battle groups south toward Deir el Shein and raiding parties west toward the airfields at El Daba. Meanwhile, XIII Corps would prevent the Axis from moving troops north to reinforce the coastal sector. Ramsden tasked the Australian 9th Division with 44th Royal Tank Regiment under command with the Tel el Eisa objective and the South African 1st Division with eight supporting tanks, Tel el Makh Khad. The raiding parties were to be provided by 1st Armoured Division.
Following a bombardment which started at 03:30 on 10 July, the Australian 26th Brigade launched an attack against the ridge north of Tel el Eisa station along the coast (Trig 33). The bombardment was the heaviest barrage yet experienced in North Africa, which created panic in the inexperienced soldiers of the Italian 60th Infantry Division Sabratha who had only just occupied sketchy defences in the sector. The Australian attack took more than 1,500 prisoners, routed an Italian Division and overran the German Signals Intercept Company 621. Meanwhile, the South Africans had by late morning taken Tel el Makh Khad and were in covering positions.
Elements of the German 164th Light Division and Italian 101st Motorised Division Trieste arrived to plug the gap torn in the Axis defences. That afternoon and evening, tanks from the German 15th Panzer and Italian Trieste Divisions launched counter-attacks against the Australian positions, the counter-attacks failing in the face of overwhelming Allied artillery and the Australian anti-tank guns.
At first light on 11 July, the Australian 2/24th Battalion supported by tanks from 44th Royal Tank Regiment attacked the western end of Tel el Eisa hill (Point 24). By early afternoon, the feature was captured and was then held against a series of Axis counter-attacks throughout the day. A small column of armour, motorised infantry, and guns then set off to raid Deir el Abyad and caused a battalion of Italian infantry to surrender. Its progress was checked at the Miteirya ridge and it was forced to withdraw that evening to the El Alamein box. During the day, more than 1,000 Italian prisoners were taken.
On 12 July, the 21st Panzer Division launched a counter-attack against Trig 33 and Point 24, which was beaten off after a 2½-hour fight, with more than 600 German dead and wounded left strewn in front of the Australian positions. The next day, 21. Panzerdivision launched an attack against Point 33 and South African positions in the El Alamein box. The attack was halted by intense artillery fire from the defenders. Rommel was still determined to drive the British forces from the northern salient. Although the Australian defenders had been forced back from Point 24, heavy casualties had been inflicted on 21st Panzer Division. Another attack was mounted on 15 July but made no ground against tenacious resistance. On 16 July, the Australians—supported by British tanks—launched an attack to try to take Point 24 but were forced back by German counter-attacks, suffering nearly fifty percent casualties.
After seven days of fierce fighting, the battle in the north for Tel el Eisa salient petered out. Australian 9th Division estimated at least 2,000 Axis troops had been killed and more than 3,700 prisoners of war taken in the battle. Possibly the most important feature of the battle, however, was that the Australians had captured Signals Intercept Company 621. This unit had provided Rommel with priceless intelligence, gleaned from intercepting British radio communications. That source of intelligence was now lost to Rommel.
As the Axis forces dug in, Auchinleck—having drawn a number of German units to the coastal sector during the Tel el Eisa fighting—developed a plan—codenamed Operation Bacon—to attack the Italian Pavia and Brescia Divisions in the centre of the front at the Ruweisat ridge. Signals intelligence was giving Auchinleck clear details of the Axis order of battle and force dispositions. His policy was to "...hit the Italians wherever possible in view of their low morale and because the Germans cannot hold extended fronts without them."
The intention was for the 4th New Zealand Brigade and 5th New Zealand Brigade (on 4th Brigade's right) to attack north-west to seize the western part of the ridge and on their right the Indian 5th Infantry Brigade to capture the eastern part of the ridge in a night attack. Then 2nd Armoured Brigade would pass through the centre of the infantry objectives to exploit toward Deir el Shein and the Miteirya Ridge. On the left, the 22nd Armoured Brigade would be ready to move forward to protect the infantry as they consolidated on the ridge.
The attack commenced at 23:00 on 14 July. The two New Zealand brigades shortly before dawn on 15 July took their objectives, but minefields and pockets of resistance created disarray among the attackers. A number of pockets of resistance were left behind the forward troops' advance which impeded the move forward of reserves, artillery, and support arms. As a result, the New Zealand brigades occupied exposed positions on the ridge without support weapons except for a few anti-tank guns. More significantly, communications with the two British armoured brigades failed, and the British armour did not move forwards to protect the infantry. At first light, a detachment from 15th Panzer division's 8th Panzer Regiment launched a counter-attack against New Zealand 4th Brigade's 22nd Battalion. A sharp exchange knocked out their anti-tank guns and the infantry found themselves exposed in the open with no alternative but to surrender. About 350 New Zealanders were taken prisoner.
While the 2nd New Zealand Division attacked the western slopes of Ruweisat Ridge, the Indian 5th Brigade made small gains on Ruweisat ridge to the east. By 07:00, word was finally got to 2nd Armoured Brigade which started to move north west. Two regiments became embroiled in a minefield but the third was able to join Indian 5th Infantry 5th Brigade as it renewed its attack. With the help of the armour and artillery, the Indians were able to take their objectives by early afternoon. Meanwhile, the 22nd Armoured Brigade had been engaged at Alam Nayil by 90th Light Division and the Ariete Armoured Division, advancing from the south. While—with help from mobile infantry and artillery columns from 7th Armoured Division—they pushed back the Axis probe with ease, they were prevented from advancing north to protect the New Zealand flank.
Seeing the Brescia and Pavia under pressure, Rommel rushed German troops to Ruweisat. By 15:00, the 3rd Reconnaissance Regiment and part of 21st Panzer Division from the north and 33rd Reconnaissance Regiment and the Baade Group comprising elements from 15th Panzer Division from the south were in place under Lieutenant-General (General der Panzertruppe) Walther Nehring. At 17:00, Nehring launched his counter-attack. 4th New Zealand Brigade were still short of support weapons and also, by this time, ammunition. Once again, the anti-tank defences were overwhelmed and about 380 New Zealanders were taken prisoner including Captain Charles Upham who gained a second Victoria Cross for his actions including destroying a German tank and several guns and vehicles with grenades despite being shot through the elbow by a machine gun bullet and having his arm broken. At about 18:00, the brigade HQ was overrun. At about 18:15, 2nd Armoured Brigade engaged the German armour and halted the Axis eastward advance. At dusk, Nehring broke off the action.
Early on 16 July, Nehring renewed his attack. The 5th Indian Infantry Brigade pushed them back but it was clear from intercepted radio traffic that a further attempt would be made. Strenuous preparations to dig in anti-tank guns were made, artillery fire plans organised and a regiment from the 22nd Armoured Brigade was sent to reinforce the 2nd Armoured Brigade. When the attack resumed late in the afternoon, it was repulsed. After the battle, the Indians counted 24 knocked out tanks, as well as armoured cars and numerous anti-tank guns left on the battlefield.
In three days' fighting, the Allies took more than 2,000 Axis prisoners, mostly from the Italian Brescia and Pavia Divisions; the New Zealand division suffered 1,405 casualties. The fighting at Tel el Eisa and Ruweisat had caused the destruction of three Italian divisions, forced Rommel to redeploy his armour from the south, made it necessary to lay minefields in front of the remaining Italian divisions and stiffen them with detachments of German troops.
To relieve pressure on Ruweisat ridge, Auchinleck ordered the Australian 9th Division to make another attack from the north. In the early hours of 17 July, the Australian 24th Brigade—supported by 44th Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) and strong fighter cover from the air—assaulted Miteirya ridge (known as "Ruin ridge" to the Australians). The initial night attack went well, with 736 prisoners taken, mostly from the Italian Trento and Trieste motorised divisions. Once again, however, a critical situation for the Axis forces was retrieved by vigorous counter-attacks from hastily assembled German and Italian forces, which forced the Australians to withdraw back to their start line with 300 casualties. Although the Australian Official History of the 24th Brigade's 2/32nd Battalion describes the counter-attack force as "German", the Australian historian Mark Johnston reports that German records indicate that it was the Trento Division that overran the Australian battalion.[f]
The Eighth Army now enjoyed a massive superiority in material over the Axis forces: 1st Armoured Division had 173 tanks and more in reserve or in transit, including 61 Grants while Rommel possessed only 38 German tanks and 51 Italian tanks although his armoured units had some 100 tanks awaiting repair.
Auchinleck’s plan was for Indian Infantry 161st Brigade to attack along Ruweisat ridge to take Deir el Shein, while the New Zealand 6th Brigade attacked from south of the ridge to the El Mreir depression. At daylight, two British armoured brigades—2nd Armoured Brigade and the fresh 23rd Armoured Brigade—would sweep through the gap created by the infantry. The plan was complicated and ambitious.
The infantry night attack began at 16:30 on 21 July. The New Zealand attack took their objectives in the El Mreir depression but, once again, many vehicles failed to arrive and they were short of support arms in an exposed position. At daybreak on 22 July, the British armoured brigades again failed to advance. At daybreak on 22 July, Nehring's 5th and 8th Panzer Regiments responded with a rapid counter-attack which quickly overran the New Zealand infantry in the open, inflicting more than 900 casualties on the New Zealanders. 2nd Armoured Brigade sent forward two regiments to help but they were halted by mines and anti-tank fire.
The attack by Indian 161st Brigade had mixed fortunes. On the left, the initial attempt to clear the western end of Ruweisat failed but at 08:00 a renewed attack by the reserve battalion succeeded. On the right, the attacking battalion broke into the Deir el Shein position but was driven back in hand-to-hand fighting.
Compounding the disaster at El Mreir, at 08:00 the commander of 23rd Armoured Brigade ordered his brigade forward, intent on following his orders to the letter. Major-General Gatehouse—commanding 1st Armoured Division—had been unconvinced that a path had been adequately cleared in the minefields and had suggested the advance be cancelled. However, XIII Corps commander—Lieutenant-General William Gott—rejected this and ordered the attack but on a centre line 1 mi (1.6 km) south of the original plan which he incorrectly believed was mine-free. These orders failed to get through and the attack went ahead as originally planned. The brigade found itself mired in mine fields and under heavy fire. They were then counter-attacked by 21st Panzer at 11:00 and forced to withdraw. The 23rd Armoured Brigade was destroyed, with the loss of 40 tanks destroyed and 47 badly damaged.
At 17:00, Gott ordered 5th Indian Infantry Division to execute a night attack to capture the western half of Ruweisat ridge and Deir el Shein. 3/14th Punjab Regiment from 9th Indian Infantry Brigade attacked at 02:00 on 23 July but failed as they lost their direction. A further attempt in daylight succeeded in breaking into the position but intense fire from three sides resulted in control being lost as the commanding officer was killed, and four of his senior officers were wounded or went missing.
To the north, Australian 9th Division continued its attacks. At 06:00 on 22 July, Australian 26th Brigade attacked Tel el Eisa and Australian 24th Brigade attacked Tel el Makh Khad toward Miteirya (Ruin Ridge). It was during this fighting that Arthur Stanley Gurney performed the actions for which he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. The fighting for Tel el Eisa was costly, but by the afternoon the Australians controlled the feature. That evening, Australian 24th Brigade attacked Tel el Makh Khad with the tanks of 50th RTR in support. The tank unit had not been trained in close infantry support and failed to co-ordinate with the Australian infantry. The result was that the infantry and armour advanced independently and having reached the objective 50th RTR lost 23 tanks because they lacked infantry support.
Once more, the Eighth Army had failed to destroy Rommel’s forces, despite its overwhelming superiority in men and equipment. On the other hand, for Rommel the situation continued to be grave as, despite successful defensive operations, his infantry had suffered heavy losses and he reported that "the situation is critical in the extreme".
On 26/27 July, Auchinleck launched Operation Manhood in the northern sector in a final attempt to break the Axis forces. XXX Corps was reinforced with 1st Armoured Division (less 22nd Armoured Brigade), 4th Light Armoured Brigade, and 69th Infantry Brigade. The plan was to break the enemy line south of Miteirya ridge and exploit north-west. The South Africans were to make and mark a gap in the minefields to the south-east of Miteirya by midnight of 26/27 July. By 01:00 on 27 July, 24th Australian Infantry Brigade was to have captured the eastern end of the Miteirya ridge and would exploit toward the north-west. The 69th Infantry Brigade would pass through the minefield gap created by the South Africans to Deir el Dhib and clear and mark gaps in further minefields. The 2nd Armoured Brigade would then pass through to El Wishka and would be followed by 4th Light Armoured Brigade which would attack the Axis lines of communication.
This was the third attempt to break through in the northern sector, and the Axis defenders were expecting the attack. Like the previous attacks, it was hurriedly and therefore poorly planned. The Australian 24th Brigade managed to take their objectives on Miteirya Ridge by 02:00[g] of 27 July. To the south, the British 69th Brigade set off at 01:30 and managed to take their objectives by about 08:00. However, the supporting anti-tank units became lost in the darkness or delayed by minefields, leaving the attackers isolated and exposed when daylight came. There followed a period during which reports from the battlefront regarding the minefield gaps were confused and conflicting. As a consequence, the advance of 2nd Armoured Brigade was delayed. Rommel launched an immediate counter-attack and the German armoured battlegroups overran the two forward battalions of 69th Brigade. Meanwhile, 50th RTR supporting the Australians was having difficulty locating the minefield gaps made by Australian 2/24th Battalion. They failed to find a route through and in the process were caught by heavy fire and lost 13 tanks. The unsupported 2/28th Australian battalion on the ridge was overrun. The 69th Brigade suffered 600 casualties and the Australians 400 for no gain.
The Eighth Army was exhausted, and on 31 July Auchinleck ordered an end to offensive operations and the strengthening of the defences to meet a major counter-offensive.
Rommel was later to blame the failure to break through to the Nile on how the sources of supply to his army had dried up and how:
then the power of resistance of many Italian formations collapsed. The duties of comradeship, for me particularly as their Commander-in-Chief, compel me to state unequivocally that the defeats which the Italian formations suffered at Alamein in early July were not the fault of the Italian soldier. The Italian was willing, unselfish and a good comrade, and, considering the conditions under which he served, had always given better than average. There is no doubt that the achievement of every Italian unit, especially of the motorised forces, far surpassed anything that the Italian Army had done for a hundred years. Many Italian generals and officers won our admiration both as men and as soldiers. The cause of the Italian defeat had its roots in the whole Italian military state and system, in their poor armament and in the general lack of interest in the war by many Italians, both officers and statesmen. This Italian failure frequently prevented the realisation of my plans.— Rommel
Rommel complained bitterly about the failure of important Italian convoys to get through to him desperately needed tanks and supplies, always blaming the Italian Supreme Command, never suspecting British code breaking.
According to Dr James Sadkovich and others, Rommel often displayed a distinct tendency to blame and scapegoat his Italian allies to cover up his own mistakes and deficiencies as a commander in the field. For example, while Rommel was a very good tactical commander, the Italian and German High Commands were concerned that he lacked operational awareness and a sense of strategic objectives. Dr Sadkovich points out that he would often out-run his logistics and squander valuable (mostly Italian) military hardware and resources in battle after battle without clear strategic goals and an appreciation of the limited logistics his Italian allies were desperately trying to provide him.
The battle was a stalemate, but it had halted the Axis advance on Alexandria (and then Cairo and ultimately the Suez Canal). The Eighth Army had suffered over 13,000 casualties in July, including 4,000 in the 2nd New Zealand Division, 3,000 in the 5th Indian Infantry Division and 2,552 battle casualties in the 9th Australian Division but had taken 7,000 prisoners and inflicted heavy damage on Axis men and machines. 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.
In early August, Winston Churchill and General Sir Alan Brooke—the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS)—visited Cairo on their way to meet Joseph Stalin in Moscow. They decided to replace Auchinleck, appointing the XIII Corps commander, William Gott, to the Eighth Army command and General Sir Harold Alexander as C-in-C Middle East Command. Persia and Iraq were to be split from Middle East Command as a separate Persia and Iraq Command and Auchinleck was offered the post of C-in-C (which he refused). Gott was killed on the way to take up his command when his aircraft was shot down. Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery was appointed in his place and took command on 13 August.[h]
101st Motorised Division Trieste or 101° Divisione Trieste (Italian) was a Motorised Division of the Italian Army during World War II. The Trieste was formed in 1939 and served in Albania and North Africa where it surrendered to the Allies in 1943.102nd Motorised Division Trento
The 102nd Motorised Division Trento (in Italian: 102ª Divisione Fanteria Trento) was a motorised infantry division of the Italian Army during World War II. It was formed in 1939 and kept in reserve in Italy until it was moved to North Africa in February 1941. It took part in Axis attacks across North Africa, following the Allied Operation Compass and suffered heavy losses at Tobruk. The division was then reformed and took part in all of the major battles of the Western Desert Campaign until it was destroyed during the Second Battle of El Alamein.133rd Armoured Division Littorio
133rd Armoured Division Littorio or 133° Divisione Corazzata Littorio (Italian) was an armoured division of the Italian Army during World War II. The division was formed in 1939 from the Infantry Division Littorio (4 Infantry Division Littorio) that had taken part in the Spanish Civil War. It was a reserve unit during the invasion of France when it attacked through the Little St Bernard Pass, which was halted by the French defenders. It then took part in the Invasion of Yugoslavia, fighting at Mostar and Trebinje.
It was sent to North Africa in the spring of 1942 where it fought until it was destroyed at the Second battle of El Alamein in November 1942.18th Indian Infantry Brigade
The 18th Indian Infantry Brigade was an infantry brigade formation of the Indian Army during World War II. It was formed in October, 1940 at Meerut in India and assigned to the 8th Indian Infantry Division. It was then detached for independent duties in Abadan in Persia. In June 1942 the 18th Brigade, having been rushed over to North Africa from Mosul, and was attached to the 10th Indian Infantry Division, had only two days to prepare defensive positions, was overrun by Erwin Rommel's tanks at Deir el Shein in front of the Ruweisat Ridge. In the process, however, they gained valuable time for the rest of the British Eighth Army to organise the defences for what was to be known as the First Battle of El Alamein, halting Rommel's advance towards Egypt. The remnants of the Brigade were then sent to the 5th Indian Infantry Division and the 18th Brigade was officially disbanded in August 1942.2/28th Battalion (Australia)
The 2/28th Battalion was an infantry battalion of the Australian Army, which served during the Second World War. Formed in mid-1940 from Western Australian volunteers, the battalion served in North Africa in 1941–42 as part of the 24th Brigade, which was assigned to the 9th Division. The battalion's first major engagement came during the Siege of Tobruk, where the battalion carried out defensive duties as part of the garrison for over six months before being withdrawn by sea. After undertaking occupation duties in Syria and Lebanon, the 2/28th took part in the First Battle of El Alamein in mid-1942 during which it was heavily depleted, and had to be rebuilt prior to its commitment to the Second Battle of El Alamein later in the year. In early 1943, the battalion returned to Australia and later took part in campaigns against the Japanese in New Guinea in 1943–44, where it was committed to capturing Lae, and then clearing the Huon Peninsula, and then retaking Borneo in 1945. After the war, the battalion was disbanded in early 1946.27th Infantry Division Brescia
The 27th Infantry Division "Brescia" (Italian: 27° Divisione Autotrasportabile "Brescia") was an auto-transportable Infantry Division formed 1 January 1935 as 27th Infantry Division Sila and reorganized to the 27th Infantry Division "Brescia" 24 May 1939. It was made up of draftees from Calabria. The Brescia was classified as an auto-transportable division, meaning staff and equipment could be transported on cars and trucks, although not simultaneously.
The division was part of the Italian XXI Infantry Corps in the North Africa. along with the 17 Motorised Division Pavia and the 25 Motorised Division Bologna together they took part in the Siege of Tobruk, the Battle of Gazala, the Battle of Mersa Matruh, the First Battle of El Alamein and the Second Battle of El Alamein.29th Indian Infantry Brigade
The 29th Indian Infantry Brigade was an infantry brigade formation of the Indian Army during World War II. It was formed on 11 October 1940, by the renumbering of the British 21st Infantry Brigade. It was assigned to the 5th Indian Infantry Division. They took part in the East African Campaign and the Western Desert Campaign and was destroyed on 28 June 1942 during the fighting at Fuka during the First Battle of El Alamein.44th Royal Tank Regiment
The 44th Royal Tank Regiment (44 RTR) was an armoured regiment of the British Army, which was part of the Royal Tank Regiment, itself part of the Royal Armoured Corps that saw active service in World War II.
The 44th RTR was formed before World War II in 1938 from the 6th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment. When war was declared on 3 September 1939 44th RTR was in Bristol, attached to 21st Army Tank Brigade at the time, with the 42nd and 48th RTR. The battalion then went to the Middle East in April 1941 and by the time of Operation Crusader, November 1941, 1st Army Tank Brigade, equipped with Valentine tanks, along with 8th and 42nd RTR, supporting 2nd New Zealand Division, contributing to the Divisions stand against the German and Italian armoured attacks on 30 November 1941. It was still part of 1st Army Tank Brigade when the Germans and Italians attacked at Gazala in May 1942 and also in the Cauldron battles of that campaign. It then supported the Australians during the withdraw during the 'Gazala Gallop' and again during the First Battle of El Alamein.
It was then withdrawn from the line for re-equipping although a small number of it troops used mine sweeping Matilda (Scorpion) tanks during the Second Battle of El Alamein. In June 1943, the battalion became part of 4th Armoured Brigade for the invasion of Sicily and the also for the brigade's part in the Italian Campaign. It, with the rest of 4th Armoured Brigade, withdrew from Italy in January 1944 to return to the United Kingdom ready for the Normandy landings, where it arrived on 9 June 1944.
After the Operation Overlord in Normandy, it took part in the break-out and reached the River Scheldt by 9 September 1944. On 17 September it came under the command of the US 101st Airborne Division as part of Operation Market Garden, before returning to the 4th Armoured Brigade. In April 1945 the regiment helped 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division in the capture of Bremen. It then moved via Hamburg to begin its occupational role to Uetersen on 9 May 1945.
The regiment was amalgamated with 50th RTR to form 44th/50th RTR and on 31 October 1956, the new regiment was further amalgamated with the North Somerset Yeomanry, to form the North Somerset Yeomanry/44th Royal Tank Regiment, which has since become the North Somerset and Bristol Yeomanry.5th Infantry Division (India)
The 5th Indian Infantry Division was an infantry division of the Indian Army during World War II that fought in several theatres of war and was nicknamed the "Ball of Fire". It was one of the few Allied divisions to fight three major enemy armies, Italian, German, and Japanese.The division was raised in 1939 in Secunderabad with two brigades under command. In 1940, the 5th Indian Division moved to Sudan and took under command three British infantry battalions stationed there and was reorganised into three brigades of three battalions each. The division fought in the East African Campaign in Eritrea and Ethiopia during 1940 and 1941, thence moving to Egypt, Cyprus and Iraq. In 1942, the division was heavily engaged in the Western Desert Campaign and the First Battle of El Alamein. From late 1943 to the Japanese surrender in August 1945, it fought continuously from India through the length of Burma. After the end of the war, it was the first unit into Singapore and then fought pro-Independence forces in Eastern Java.Alamein
Alamein or El Alamein may refer to:
El Alamein, a town in Egypt
First Battle of El Alamein, during World War II
Second Battle of El Alamein, during World War II
Alamein railway line, Melbourne, Australia
Alamein railway station on the line
HMS Alamein (D17), a Royal Navy destroyerBir Hakeim
Bir Hakeim (Arabic pronunciation: [biʔr ħaˈkiːm]; sometimes written Bir Hacheim) is in the Libyan desert at 31°36′00″N 23°29′00″E, and the site of a former Ottoman Empire fort built around the site of an ancient Roman well, dating to the period when the oasis was part of Ottoman Tripolitania. It is about 160 kilometres (99 mi) west of Sollum on the Libyan coast, and 80 kilometres (50 mi) south-east of Gazala. Bir Hakeim is best known for the battle of Bir Hakeim, which took place there during World War II.
The battle occurred during the Battle of Gazala (26 May – 21 June 1942) when the 1st Free French Brigade of Général de brigade Marie Pierre Kœnig defended the site from 26 May – 11 June against much larger German and Italian forces, commanded by Generaloberst Erwin Rommel. Although the Afrika Corps captured Tobruk ten days later, the delay imposed on the Axis offensive by the defence of Bir Hakeim influenced the cancellation of Operation Herkules, the planned German invasion of Malta. The stand by the Free French gave the retreating British Eighth Army time to reorganize. The British then stopped the German advance at the First Battle of El Alamein.
This battle would serve as the namesake for Bir-Hakeim (Paris Métro), a station on the Paris Métro, and Pont de Bir-Hakeim, a bridge.
Bir Hakeim was also the site of a daring rescue during World War I. On 14 March 1916, Major Hugh Grosvenor led an armoured car squadron, part of the Western Frontier Force, to Bir Hakeim after having traveled 120 miles across the desert from Sollum. There they rescued 91 British POWs from HMS Tara and HMT Moorina. German U-boats had captured the British sailors after torpedoing their vessels and had turned their prisoners over to the local Senussi, who were allied with the Germans.
As a result of the Italo-Turkish War, Italy captured the Ottoman Tripolitania Vilayet (province), which became known as Italian Libya. The Italian army stationed a unit of its Zaptié Meharista at Bir Hakeim.George Barclay (RAF officer)
Richard George Arthur Barclay, (1920 – 17 July 1942) was a Royal Air Force fighter pilot and flying ace of the Second World War. He was killed in action during the First Battle of El Alamein.Iven Manning
Iven Wemyss Manning (7 June 1918 – 20 July 1988) was an Australian politician who was a Liberal Party member of the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia from 1950 to 1974.
Manning was born in Bunbury, Western Australia, to Laura Mabel (née Fidler) and Ernest Joseph Manning. He worked as a farmhand after leaving school, and then in 1940 enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Manning served with the 2/28th Battalion in the Middle East, and lost his arm in the First Battle of El Alamein in July 1942, in the area known as Ruin Ridge. Upon returning to Australia, he farmed at Harvey and Yarloop, and was also an officeholder with the Returned Services League (RSL) and various other veterans' organisations.A member of the Liberal Party since 1946, Manning entered parliament at the 1950 state election, winning election to the new seat of Harvey. He switched to the recreated seat of Wellington at the 1962 election, which he held until his retirement at the 1974 election, and of the eight elections he contested was elected unopposed on four occasions. Manning was a Liberal Party whip from 1957 to 1962 and again from 1965 to 1974, and served as chairman of committees in the Legislative Assembly from 1962 to 1965. He returned to farming after leaving politics, and died in Perth in July 1988, aged 70. He had married twice, having four children by each wife.John Frederick Brill
John Frederick Brill (died 1942) was an English soldier and painter who created the Bardia Mural. A photograph of John Brill painting his mother can be found here. On 1 July 1942, the Axis launched an attack with the target being the capture of Alexandria, which was to become known as the First battle of El Alamein. The allied forces fought hard and the line held until the evening of that day. It was also on that day that John Frederick Brill, who was a Private in the British Army, 5th Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment, died at the age of just 22. On 21 April 1942, some 9 weeks earlier he signed the Bardia Mural, which he is said to have created, depicting his memories of home. Some might say it depicts the memories of the world he would die to protect. He was buried at the El Alamein War Cemetery.Keith Elliott
Keith Elliott, VC (25 April 1916 – 7 October 1989) was a New Zealand soldier who served with the New Zealand Military Forces during the Second World War. He was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces, for his actions in the First Battle of El Alamein.
Born in Apiti, Elliott was a farm manager when the Second World War began. He volunteered for service abroad with the Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF) and was posted to the 22nd Battalion. He saw action during the Battles of Greece and Crete and then in North Africa. By now a sergeant, during Operation Crusader in November 1941, he was one of 700 New Zealanders made prisoners of war when their position was overrun by the Germans. Freed two months later, he was serving as a platoon commander during the First Battle of El Alamein. After he was awarded his VC, he was promoted to second lieutenant, sent home to New Zealand and discharged from the 2NZEF.
Returning to civilian life, he resumed his farming career, but in 1948 became a priest. He shifted around the lower half of the North Island for the next several years, serving in a number of churches. He was also a chaplain in the Territorial Force. He retired from the priesthood in 1981 and died eight years later at the age of 73.Neil Cameron, Baron Cameron of Balhousie
Marshal of the Royal Air Force Neil Cameron, Baron Cameron of Balhousie, (8 July 1920 – 29 January 1985) was a senior officer in the Royal Air Force. He fought in the Second World War as a fighter pilot taking part in the Battle of Britain, the Battle of Alam el Halfa, the First Battle of El Alamein and the Second Battle of El Alamein and then in operations in Burma. He served as Chief of the Air Staff in the late 1970s advising the British Government on the reinforcement of the British garrison in Belize which was under threat from Guatemala at the time. He also served as the Chief of the Defence Staff at the end of the 1970s in which role he secured pay comparability for services personnel involved in civil support during the firemen's strike, visited the People's Republic of China and lectured extensively on the Soviet air threat.Norman McMillan
Norman McMillan (2 September 1906 – 16 July 1942) was a New Zealand cricketer. He played one first-class match for the Auckland cricket team in 1931/32. He was killed in action during the First Battle of El Alamein in World War II.Sahara (1943 American film)
Sahara is a 1943 American drama war film directed by Zoltán Korda. Humphrey Bogart stars as an American tank commander in Libya during the Western Desert Campaign of World War II. The story is credited to a story by Philip MacDonald (Patrol) and an incident depicted in the 1936 Soviet film The Thirteen by Mikhail Romm. Later, Sahara was remade by André de Toth as a Western with Broderick Crawford called Last of the Comanches (1953) and by Brian Trenchard-Smith as the Australian film Sahara (1995).In Sahara events are depicted which point to the Battle of Gazala, an important battle of the Western Desert Campaign of World War II, fought around the port of Tobruk in Libya. Bogart makes reference to events that occurred in May–June 1942. The battle had begun with the British stronger in terms of numbers and quality of equipment, and had received many of the M3 tanks, which was the tank used in the film. A small group of American advisors and crews had come to train them in use of the equipment.
The British forces were routed, and as shown in Sahara, many tanks which were only damaged, were unable to be salvaged because of the 8th Army's retreat. The British lost virtually all their tanks, although a number of damaged tanks could be evacuated. General Rommel pursued the British into Egypt, trying to keep his opponent under pressure and denying him the opportunity to regroup. As both sides neared exhaustion, the British were able to check Rommel's advance at the First battle of El Alamein, which is where the radio report calls Bogart and tank crew to rally in the film.The Battle of El Alamein
There were two battles of El Alamein:
At the First Battle of El Alamein (July 1 – July 27, 1942) the advance of Axis troops on Alexandria was blunted by the Allies.
At the Second Battle of El Alamein (October 23 – November 4, 1942) Allied forces broke the Axis line and forced them in a retreat that pushed them all the way back to Tunisia. Winston Churchill referred to this as "not the beginning of the end, but, perhaps, the end of the beginning".