(Photo: by courtesy, 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. These attacks cost Rommel 24 tanks, six armoured cars, six 88mms and ten anti-tank guns. A Tactical study of the Royal Artillery in the Twentieth Century (London, 1970). The operation was a fiasco. 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. Auchinleck was now under pressure to attack, although this time the pressure came from events on the Russian front rather than directly from Churchill. From a British perspective, the situation in North Africa did not look good by July 1942. 7th Light Armoured Division was further south, watching the German 90th Light Division. Young, D, Rommel (Glasgow, 1975). Thus, Auchinleck's efforts were frustrated. The supporting troops had to retreat on 16-17 June, and Tobruk fell to an Axis attack on 20-June 1942. Its two panzer divisions now only had 42 running tanks. A series of British counterattacks also achieved little, and the battle ended as a stalemate. During these attacks, the South Africans played mainly a supportive role. Rommel attempted to retake the area around Point 64, but two counterattacks on 16 July were repulsed by British anti-tank and artillery fire. South African losses on this day entailed nine dead and 42 wounded (Roll of Honour, 19391945; Div Docs 105, File 1 SAD/A2/ 2: Battle Casualties, 13 July 1942). It was part of the Western Desert Campaign of World War 2 was fought between the British Eighth Army led by General Claude Auchinleck and the Axis forces consisting of German and Italian units of Panzerarmee Afrika (Panzer Army Africa) led by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. While the consequences of the battle are not as clear cut as its successor, the strategic impact it had on the war was nevertheless significant. Another problem was that the British' armour had not been ordered to advance through the minefields at a specific time and it was left to the discretion of their commander to decide when to do so. Next was the 7th Motorised Brigade. It marked the beginning of the end for the Axis in North Africa. 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 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). After the First Battle of El-Alamein, Egypt (150 miles west of Cairo), ended in a stalemate, the second one was decisive. 21 Panzer made two attempts to advance east along the ridge, but on both occasions was stopped by 1st South African Brigade and Robcol. 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. UWH 324, File 34374/3 Reports, Panzerarmee AfrikaCommander Southern Front, July 1942. Elsewhere the XIII Corps attack quickly fizzled out. Dorman O'Gowan, E, "1st Alamein - The battle that saved Cairo" in Purnell's History of the Second World War, 7, 3/6, 1967. The 1st South African Brigade was posted on the northern slopes of the Ruweisat Ridge, due south of El Alamein. He decided to make one last push on 3 July, and then stop. Pienaar's concern for his men was proved correct the next day, when a column of the British 50th Division (Accol) was driven out of the same position by a German attack with heavy losses, just as he had predicted (Hartshorne, Cape Town, p 158). The South Africans were more directly involved in the last operation of the battle, Operation 'Manhood'. Prasad, B (ed), Official History of the Indian Armed Forces in the Second World War, 1939-1945. Thus, in retrospect, the South Africans had thwarted the key component of Rommel's plan. It is clear that the South African division played a decisive role during the battle, but this must be seen in perspective. 15 Panzer, on the German right, clashed with 1st Armoured Division, and neither side could advance. Butler, J R M (ed), History of the Second World War, UK Military Series (Playfair, ISO (et al), The Mediterranean and Middle East, Volume III, September 1941-September 1942. Cancel Unsubscribe. It was part of the Western Desert Campaign.The Field Marshal Commander Erwin Rommel led the … However, the biggest threat to the security of the Suez Canal and the Persian Gulf oilfields were the Axis forces operating from Libya under the command of Rommel (Calvocoressi and Wint, 1973, pp 397-8). 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. Rommel threw everything at the Eighth Army during the next two days. For once Churchill was able to intervene in the Middle East in person. Liddell Hart, B H, History of the Second World War (London, Pan, 1974). 1st Armoured Division was on the left flank of the New Zealanders, and the 22nd Armoured Brigade was provide support for the attack. The 18th Indian Brigade was deployed outside the artillery range of other formations of the Eighth Army. General Brooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, was sent ahead to examine the situation and report to Churchill. At the same time, the Afrika Korps (21st and 15th Panzer Divisions) advanced south of the 90th Light with the aim of reaching a position east of the British 13th Corps. Build up to Battle UWH 224, Draft Narratives: Radio Message, 21st Panzer Division - Deutsches Afrika Korps, 05.40, 2 July 1942. This situation was aggravated by the weak road and limited railway system along the coast. Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton (London, 1977). 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. Bidwell, S and Graham, D, Fire Power. He joined the SADF in 1973 and served as an armour officer at 1 Special Service Battalion in Bloemfontein. After the battle of Gazala, the British Eighth Army retreated to El Alamein line. German artillery fire was very accurate and the possibility existed that the panzers could swing the axis of their advance to a more north-westerly direction and destroy the brigade, which had a severe shortage of anti-tank guns. The rest of the Axis forces conducted fixing attacks against the rest of the Eighth Army. From this low lying hill west of the El Alamein Box, the Australians could threaten Rommel's line of communications along the coast. El Alamein battles Three major battles occurred around El Alamein between July and November 1942, and were the turning point of the war in North Africa. WD 361, File A7/ME 52: War Diary 3rd South African Brigade Headquarters. 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. Churchill was dismayed by his decision that the army wouldn't be ready to attack again until mid-September. His tank forces had already arrived in the vicinity of El Alamein by 30 June, but he had too little information on the British forces and, believing the propaganda of the BBC on the strength of the El Alamein line, he decided to attack early on the following day (Liddell Hart, 1974, p 239). British losses were already high, while Rommel had by then received some reinforcements (Liddell Hart, 1974, p 300). At this stage, the British had more 6-pounder anti-tank guns available, the control of field artillery fire was more centralised and more extensive use of land mines could be made. WD 358, File A6/ME 49: War Diary 1 st South African Brigade Headquarters. The First Battle of El Alamein (1–27 July 1942) was a battle of the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War, fought between Axis forces (Germany and Italy) of the Panzer Army Africa (Panzerarmee Afrika) commanded by Field Marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) Erwin Rommel, and Allied (specifically, British Imperial) … The fall Egypt and the all important Suez Canal seems inevitable. Rommel decided to sent the Afrika Korps east towards Alam el Onsol, to the south-east of El Alamein, to cut the coast road. Connell, J, Auchinleck. 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. Before July 1942, British commanders repeatedly launched tank attacks, insufficiently supported by artillery and infantry, into Rommel's defensive positions, making them easy prey to crack German and Italian anti-tank gunners. 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. WD 347, File A3/ME37: War Diary 1st South African Division Headquarters. At the same time, British reinforcements were arriving at such a slow rate that a large-scale offensive before September was out of the question. 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. The First Battle of El Alamein (1–27 July 1942) was a battle of the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War, fought on the northern coast of Egypt between Axis forces (Germany and Italy) of the Panzer Army Africa (Panzerarmee Afrika) (also known as the Africa Corps) commanded by Field Marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) … On the night of 8-9 July the New Zealanders completed the move to Alam Nayil. Early on 1 July, the German 90th Light Division tried to break through the line between the El Alamein Box and Ruweisat Ridge in an effort to reach the coast east of the South African position. Bidwell, S, Gunners at War. The reasons for this were that, only on 13 July did the German panzers attack them specifically, and Pienaar did everything in his power to prevent a repetition of Tobruk and Deir el Shein. Italian and German scouts race towards Alexandria. Having been badly defeated by Axis forces at Gazala in June 1942, the British Eighth Army retreated east into Egypt and assumed a defensive position near El Alamein. This was of vital importance to the Allied war effort, as it enabled the British forces, in cooperation with their American allies, to drive the Axis forces from North Africa. In 1983, he became a lecturer in military history at the Military Academy, Saldanha, and in 1989 became the head of the Department of Military History. They had to cover a gap of twelve kilometres between the left flank of the South Africans and the right flank of 13th Corps. 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. However, the Axis forces were far from beaten and Auchinleck decided to transfer the 9th Australian Division from the Nile Delta to capture Tell el Eisa to put Rommel's forces under more pressure. Young, P, Atlas of the Second World War (New York, 1974). Although this brigade ceased to exist as a fighting entity as a result of the action that followed, the Germans also suffered losses. Total South African losses, from 26 June to 30 July 1942, were 433 officers and other ranks of whom 164 were killed, 253 wounded, and eight taken prisoner of war, while eight received treatment for shell shock (Roll of Honour, World War 11,1939-1945; Div Docs 105, File1 SAD/A2/2: Battle Casualties, 1-30 July 1942). 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. Thus, in total, the division had only between 3 000 and 4 000 men available. However, as soon as the forces made contact, the South Africans beat off several attacks with ease. 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). On 5 August Churchill visited the front, where he met with Gott, Auchinleck and the leaders of the Desert Air Force. Thus, Auchinleck decided rather to withdraw to El Alamein, confirming a decision by the British General Staff that this would be the best position from which to defend Alexandria, Cairo and the Suez Canal (Auchinleck, January, 1948, p 328). These events would also have a negative effect on relations between South African and British commanders. Howard, M, The Mediterranean Strategy in the Second World War (London, 1966). First Battle of El Alamein 1 Jul 1942 - 27 Jul 1942 Contributor: C. Peter Chen El Alamein was a small railway town on the Egyptian coast that was chosen by British Commander-in-Chief Claude Auchinleck to be the main defensive position against the mid-1942 offensive conducted by Erwin Rommel. First Battle of El Alamein (1-27 July 1942) by David Aldea March 15, 2010. written by David Aldea March 15, 2010. The British response was also affected by the sandstorm. The Italian XXI Corps would attack the El Alamein box from the west. (Source: SANDF Documentation Centre). The sacrifices were worth it, as Rommel's forces were again prevented from enveloping the El Alamein Box. (Source: M Wright (ed), The World at Arms, Reader's Digest Illustrated History of World War II, p 90). Lieutenant-General Neil R… 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). After the capture of the Tell el Eisa hill by the Australians on 10 July, the South Africans only played an active role on 13 July and again in Operation 'Manhood'. However, the effort was not wasted as the Eighth Army gained valuable experience in German defensive tactics. Volume I, The War in the West (New York, Ballantine Books, 1973). Pienaar decided that the only solution was to move the brigade to a safer position further east. Thus, on the eve of the battle, Rommel had little information regarding the strength and deployment of the Eighth Army. 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