15. INITIAL ACTION ON THE EL ALAMEIN LINE

The following intelligence report on initial British attack at El Alamein was originally printed in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 14, December 17th, 1942.

In the initial stages of the recent British offensive in Egypt, the 51st Highland and 9th Australian Divisions were assigned the mission of pushing a salient through the minefield in the northern sector of the El Alamein line, where the terrain is absolutely flat. After a penetration had been achieved, the British X Armored Corps was to move through and fan out in rear of the Axis positions. Because of the effective fire with which the Germans and Italians covered the minefield, most of the operations had to be conducted at night, and sufficient time allowed after completion to permit the infantry a minimum of 4 hours to dig in, construct their own fortifications, and prepare to resist any Axis counterattack.

The Australian division, which was in the extreme northern position, employed two regiments forward and one in reserve. The regiment on the right flank used one battalion forward on a front of 1,000 yards. In addition to the mission of attacking frontally, this battalion also had the task of securing the northern flank of the salient opened up by both the British divisions. The left flank regiment of the Australian division used two battalions forward and one in reserve, and coordinated its advance closely with the 51st Highland Division's right flank elements, which were immediately south of them.

The Australian division, operating on a 3,000-yard front, was heavily reinforced with artillery and was reported to have used 336 guns. Thirteen of these artillery regiments (probably about 300 guns) used 25-pounder weapons. In general, the preparation by the artillery was set to begin 20 minutes before H hour, and all guns were employed in counterbattery work for 15 of the 20 minutes. It is stated that in general the British employed their artillery on counterbattery missions at a ratio of 20 to 1 (presumably this means for all divisions at the front).

The tremendous artillery barrages were apparently extremely effective, and it is reported that for 2 hours after the initial attack was launched the German artillery was practically silent, unable to answer requests from their own infantry for defensive fire. Mention is made of attacks supported by a rolling barrage which was moved forward at a rate of 100 yards every 2 1/2 to 3 minutes, but it is not apparent whether this reference is to the British operations or to the heavy Axis counterattacks.

One observer in this theater believes that the tank has definitely been beaten by the antitank gun, and consequently the use of the tank in forward positions will be primarily strategical rather than tactical. He predicates this conclusion on the fact that the German 50-mm antitank gun and the British 6-pounder (57-mm) antitank gun, as well as higher calibers, can effectively disable any tank used today. The same observer also points out that mines have assumed major proportions in any defensive system, since infantry are prevented from making direct contact with the enemy until they have cleared and crossed intensive minefields swept by the defensive fire. Apparently, the British attack did not come as a surprise to the Germans, who expected it any time after October 14. The exact sector in which the main effort was to be made, however, was definitely not known to the Axis, and the British infantry thereby gained tactical although not strategic surprise.

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The Panzerjäger-Abteilung 39 (part of Kampfgruppe Gräf, part of the 21 Panzer Division) of the Afrika Korps on the move, 1942.

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