Battle of Mersa Matruh, 26-28 June 1942

Battle of Mersa Matruh, 26-28 June 1942


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Battle of Mersa Matruh, 26-28 June 1942

The battle of Mersa Matruh (26-28 June 1942) was Rommel's last victory against the Eighth Army, and saw him brush aside a British attempt to defend the Mersa Matruh position. In the aftermath of the battle the British retreated to El Alamein, the last possible defensive position before Alexandria, where they were finally able to halt Rommel's advance.

At the end of 1941 Rommel had been pushed back to El Agheila, on the western border of Cyrenaica. The long siege of Tobruk had been raised, and for the moment the threat to Egypt appeared to have lifted. Even his Second Offensive (21 January-February 1942), which saw him re-conquer western Cyrenaica, wasn't too worrying, as his advance ran out of steam to the west of Gazala, some way short of Tobruk and the Egyptian frontier. Both sides then settled down and prepared for their next offensive. Rommel moved first, and the resulting battle of Gazala (26 May-14 June 1942) ended as a disaster for the British. Rommel outflanked the Gazala Line, survived a crisis caused by the same move and then destroyed most of the British armour. The British were forced to retreat back towards Egypt, with their army and their plans in chaos. This time Rommel made no mistakes at Tobruk, and the port fell to an assault on 20-21 June 1942.

While Tobruk was still holding out, the British remained on the Egyptian Frontier, but on 23 June, with the port gone, Auchinleck (the British commander-in-chief in the Middle East) got permission to retreat east from the border to Marsa Matruh, almost half way to Alexandria. The hope was that this would give the army the time it needed to recover from the disaster at Gazala. Once this had been achieved, the army would go back onto the offensive and push Rommel back to the Egyptian frontier.

By now Auchinleck had lost faith in General Ritchie, the commander of the 8th Army. On 25 June he took personal command of the army, while Ritchie was sent on leave (unusually this wasn’t the end of his career – he was soon given command of 52 (Lowland) Division, and then commanded XII Corps during the Normandy landings).

Ritchie had been planning for a virtual repeat of the unsuccessful attempt to defend Tobruk. One division was to defend the fortified 'box' at Maras Matruh on the coast. The rest of X Corps was deployed north of the northern escarpment (running parallel to the coast). XIII Corps, which had emerged from the Gazala fighting battered but still able to fight, was deployed south of the escarpment. Once he took command Auchinleck decided abandon this plan. On 26 June he issued new orders – if Rommel attacked, then the British would retreat to the El Alamein position. This was dangerously close to Alexandria, but did have one advantage – its southern flank was protected by the Qattara Depression, which was impassable to Panzer formations. Auchinleck also issued a number of orders for tactical changes – the fortified 'boxes' that had been used at Gazala were to be abandoned, armour and artillery would no longer be scattered piecemeal across the battlefield, and the artillery would come under central control.

The British position at Mersa Matruh wasn't terribly well organised. X Corps was spread out across a large area north of the northern escarpment. 25th Indian Infantry Brigade was defending the minefields west of Marsa Matruh. The rest of the 10th Indian Division was in the Marsa Matrub 'box'. The 50th Division was south-east of Marsa Matruh, guarding the coastal road and railway.

XIII Corps (General Gott) had to defend the area between the escarpments and the area to the south of the southern escarpment. The 5th Indian Division (29th Indian Infantry Brigade only) was to defend the eight miles between the escarpments. It had an unfinished 'box' at Sidi Hamza, on the southern escarpment, and its front was protected by two lines of minefields. The minefields were watched by two small British columns.

South of the southern escarpment was the 1st Armoured Division. Two armoured brigades (4th and 22nd) were posted in the area to the south-west of Sidi Hamza. The division HQ was further east, to the south of Minqar Qaim, where there was a route down the escarpment suitable for use by tanks. During 26 June the New Zealand Division (Freyberg) moved from X Corps to XIII Corps, and ended up south of the southern escarpment, facing north around Minqar Qaim.

Unfortunately for Auchinleck Rommel didn’t give him time to implement his new plans. His forces had suffered heavy losses in the fighting at Gazala and Tobruk. The Afrika Korps had around 60 tanks and 1,500 infantry. The 90th Light Division could add another 1,000 infantry, and the three German reconnaissance battalion up to 300, for a total of 3,400 German infantry. The Italian XX Corps had 44 tanks, while the X and XXI Corps had around 5,000 infantry. Rommel's strongest arm at this point was his artillery, with 330 guns.

Rommel's plan was to outflank the Mersa Matruh position and cut the coast road somewhere to the east of the British X Corps position. The Afrika Korps and the Italian XX Corps would advance on either side of the southern escarpment, with 21 Panzer and Littorio to the north and 15 Panzer and Ariete to the south. The motorised Trieste division would cover the right flank. Their role would be to defeat the British armour and force it to retreat east. On the Axis left flank the two Italian infantry corps would advance towards Marsa Matruh. In the centre the 90th Light Division would advance just to the south of the northern escarpment, and attempt to cut the coast east of Marsa Matruh. The attack was to begin on the afternoon of 26 June.

The British reaction to Rommel's attack can only be described as bodged. Having decided not to make a stand at Marsa Matruh, the obvious response would have been to order an early retreat. Instead the situation was misinterpreted, and orders were issued that eventually saw X Corps trapped against the coast. Rommel's advance began with mixed results. 90th Light Division brushed aside the small columns in the minefield, and by the end of the day was through the minefields. 21 Panzer was close to Sidi Hamza by the end of the day.

On the morning of 27 June 90th Light continued to advance. It crossed the track that ran from Gerawla on the coast inland to Sidi Hamza, dropped down the northern escarpment, and engaged 50th Division. To its right 21 Panzer pushed the 29th Indian Brigade east across the Gerawla track and then advanced east, passing to the north of the New Zealand position. 15 Panzer made slower progress, and was held up by 1st Armoured Division. At 1120 Auchinleck informed both of his corps commanders that if it became necessary both corps would retreat east to the Fuka line. At about the same time General Gott, who was visiting the New Zealanders, told Freyberg that his position wasn't vital, and if necessary he could side-step (heading east towards the Fuka line). By noon 90th Light Division was threatening the coastal road.

At this point Auchinleck misjudged the situation. Both of his corps were still able to retreat – X Corps along the coast road and XIII Corps south-east across the desert – but Auchinleck mistakenly decided that XIII Corps was in danger of being encircled. At 1500 hours he ordered X Corps to launch a counterattack south to take the pressure off XIII Corps. X Corps planned a two brigade attack up the northern escarpment, to begin at 1930 hours.

While this attack was being prepared, XIII Corps was actually holding its own. In the south the 1st Armoured Division was still successfully holding up 15 Panzer and Ariete. 21 Panzer had moved south, and was now attacking the New Zealand division from the east, but again without success. The main threat now came from 90th Light, which was heading towards the coast road. More confusion was caused on the Allied side when General Freyberg was wounded. He was succeeded by Brigadier Inglis, who asked for a target for any side-step. Gott misinterpreted this as meaning that the division was in quite a bad state, and appears to have suggested that it should move back to the El Alamein line.

Late in the afternoon an armoured unit from 1st Armoured Division attacked 21 Panzer east of Minqar Qaim. 21 Panzer halted its own attacks, and asked for help. Rommel's rather typical response was to order the Afrika Korps to prepare to pursue the Allies east towards Fuka. He also sent the Littorio division to the front, and repeated 90th Light's orders to cut the coast road.

At 1900 90th Light reached the coast road. X Corps HQ moved west into Marsa Matruh, temporarily putting it out of touch with 8th Army HQ.

At 1920 Gott issued the retreat orders to 1st Armoured and 5th Indian Divisions of XIII Corps, without first checking with Army HQ. This left X Corps dangerously isolated, and Auchinleck ordered them to withdraw. If this order had arrived promptly, then X Corps would probably have been able to break through the German forces on the coast road, but this order didn’t reach the Corps HQ until 0430 on the following day.

The evening of 27 June thus saw the British attacking in two different directions. One brigade from each of X Corp's division launched their attack south towards the northern escarpment, but none of these attack achieved anything. By dawn on 28 June the attackers were back at their starting points. To the south the units of XIII Corps were heading east, towards the Fuka line. The New Zealand Division proved that it was still battle worthy when it escaped right through the middle of 21 Panzer, inflicting heavy casualties on its infantry.

The confusion on the British side continued on 28 June. X Corps was now surrounded, defending a 30 mile perimeter and facing attack by most of Rommel's force. At noon Auchinleck ordered the corps to break out that night, and promised that XIII Corps would support the breakout with a counterattack. Unfortunately XIII Corps wasn’t informed of this until 1530 hours, by which time most of its troops had continued to retreat east from Fuka. The X Corps breakout began at 2100 hours, without any support from XIII Corps.

X Corps broke up into several columns and attempted to fight its way through the Axis lines. The different columns had very different experiences. Some escaped without any problems. Others were captured. One got involved in a hard fight with the 90th Light on the coast. One passed through Rommel's HQ. By the time the fighting ended Rommel had taken around 7,000 prisoners. The remnants of X Corps and XIII Corps were fleeing east, to join up with the survivors of XXX Corps at El Alamein.

Unsurprisingly this news caused a short-lived panic back in Egypt, but Rommel's forces were now almost exhausted. He pushed them east for one more effort, but his first attacks on the El Alamein position were repulsed (First battle of El Alamein). By now Churchill had lost faith in Auchinleck, and by the time Rommel was ready for a more organised attack a new command team was in place in Egypt. Auchinleck had been replaced by General Alexander, who proved to be a very able coalition leader and political operator, while the 8th Army was taken over General Montgomery. When Rommel attacked again he suffered another defeat (battle of Alam Halfa, 31 August-7 September 1942), and the front then went quiet as Montgomery prepared for his own offensive.


27th "Brescia" Infantry Division

The 27th "Brescia" Infantry Division (Italian: 27° Divisione Autotrasportabile "Brescia") was an Italian Army Division created from the 27th Infantry Division Sila prior to the start of World War II. It comprised recruits from Calabria. The division was part of the Italian XXI Infantry Corps in North Africa. Along with the 17th "Pavia" Motorised Division and the 25 "Bologna" Motorised Division 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. On 12 April 1941, as Italian and German forces commenced their Siege of Tobruk, the Brescia Division along with the German 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion captured the port of Bardia, taking several hundred prisoners and a large quantity of equipment.


Contents

Retreat from Gazala

Following its defeat at the Battle of Gazala in Eastern Libya in June 1942, the British Eighth Army had retreated east from the Gazala line into northwestern Egypt as far as Mersa Matruh, roughly 100 mi (160 km) inside the border. Lieutenant-General Neil Ritchie had decided not to hold the defences on the Egyptian border, because the defensive plan there relied on his infantry holding defended localities, while a strong armoured force was held back in reserve to foil any attempts to penetrate or outflank the fixed defences. Since 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. [ 6 ]

To defend the Matruh line, Ritchie placed Indian 10th 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. [ 7 ] Inland from X Corps would be XIII Corps with Indian 5th Infantry Division (with only one infantry brigade, Indian 29th Infantry Brigade, and two artillery regiments) around Sidi Hamza about 20 mi (32 km) inland, and the newly arrived New Zealand 2nd Division (short one brigade, the 6th, which had been left out of combat in case the Division was captured and it would form 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. [ 8 ] The 1st Armoured had taken over 4th and 22nd Armoured Brigades from 7th Armoured Division which by this time had only three tank regiments between them. [ 9 ]

On 25 June, General Claude Auchinleck—Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) Middle East Command—relieved Ritchie and assumed direct command of Eighth Army himself. [ 10 ] He decided not to seek a decisive confrontation at the Mersa Matruh position: it had an open left flank to the south of the sort well exploited by Rommel at Gazala. He decided instead to employ delaying tactics while withdrawing a further 100 miles (160 km) or more east to a more defendable 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.

Battle of Mersa Matruh

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 coordination 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 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. [ 11 ]

As the 21st Panzer moved on Minqar Qaim, the New Zealand 2nd Division found itself surrounded. It succeeded in breaking out on the night of 27 June without serious losses [ 12 ] and withdraw 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. [ 13 ]

X Corps meanwhile, 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 leaguered for the night. In the process, 5th Indian Division in particular sustained heavy casualties, including the destruction of the Indian 29th Infantry Brigade at Fuka. [ 14 ] Axis forces captured more than 6,000 prisoners, in addition to 40 tanks and an enormous quantity of supplies. [ 15 ]


In the Aleutian Islands. The Japanese land a small force on Kiska Island.

In the Pacific. The Battle of Midway. Admiral Yamamoto considers engaging in a surface battle against the US carrier fleet, but decides to retreat instead. The loss of the main portion of the Japanese carrier fleet and their aircraft pilots in the battle on June 4th has robbed the Japanese of the initiative in the naval battle in the Pacific. Also of importance is the use of code-breaking by the Americans to intercept Japanese planning. Prior knowledge of Japanese intentions at Midway allowed the Americans to prepare a trap.


Fact File : Battle of Gazala

Theatre: North Africa
Location: Cyrenaica (the eastern province of Libya).
Players: Allies: Lieutenant General Neil Ritchie and General Claude Auchinleck's 8th Army, comprising 13th Corps and 30th Corps. Axis: General Erwin Rommel's Armeegruppe Afrika including Panzerarmee Afrika, Deutsches Afrika Korps and the Italian 10th, 20th and 21st Corps.
Outcome: Loss of British positions in Cyrenaica.

The British line at Gazala ran about 65km (40 miles) south from the Mediterranean coast. It was made up of extensive minefields and fortified 'boxes' - instant fortresses which could be defended against attack from any direction.

Rommel advanced during the night of 26 May, cunningly driving around the southern end of the line - 32km (20 miles) south of his starting position at Rotonda Segnali - then turning north into the heart of 30th Corps. This tactic achieved total surprise by 9am on 27 May, two Panzer divisions were due west of Rotonda Segnali, on the British side of the minefields.

Rommel's divisions took heavy losses and only narrowly escaped encirclement. On 1 June, however, Panzerarmee Afrika broke through the line to its west, securing its supply lines. The 30th Corps retreated back east to Egypt.

On 11 June Rommel advanced towards El Adem, south of Tobruk. Battered, disorganised and outflanked, on 14 June the 13th Corps also withdrew to Egypt, leaving a South African division to garrison Tobruk. The city, which had withstood an eight-month siege the year before, fell on 21 June after a siege of one day, and 19,000 soldiers were taken prisoner.

Auchinleck, the Commander in Chief Middle East, now took personal command of the 8th Army. After a chaotic flight eastward and an abortive stand at Mersa Matruh, 160km (100 miles) inside Egypt, on 30 June the 8th Army reached its final defensive position at El Alamein, about 100km (60 miles) west of Alexandria. Army morale was shattered and the Deutsches Afrika Korps was close behind.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.


CommandoSupremo

War Correspondent Harry Zinder of Time magazine writing about the Italian divisions that fought at El Alamein:

“It was a terrific let-down by their German allies. They had fought a good fight. In the south, the famed Folgore parachute division fought to the last round of ammunition. Two armored divisions and a motorized division, which had been interspersed among the German formations, thought they would be allowed to retire gracefully with Rommel’s 21st, 15th and 19th light. But even that was denied them. When it became obvious to Rommel that there would be little chance to hold anything between El Daba and the frontier, his Panzers dissolved, disintegrated and turned tail, leaving the Italians to fight a rear-guard action.” (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,932852,00.html World Battlefronts: A PINT OF WATER PER MAN, Time Magazine, 16 November 1942)

EASTERN FRONT

As operations wound down in the winter of 1941-42, the Russian civilian population is on the point of complete starvation and welcome the Italian commanders that prevent a human catastrophe, providing money, food, transport and medicine to the civilians in exchange for shelter for their soldiers, and ignore German orders to roundup people of military age to be interned in local prison camps and/or be or be sent to Germany as slave labourers. (“It was expressly forbidden to requisition homes forcefully from the locals in the German manner. During the winter of 1941-42, the Russian urban population was on the edge of outright starvation. The Germans had requisitioned all local grain …Italian soldiers picked up many civilians during this period, providing much needed transportation for those moving toward the Don on foot. The Germans were concerned about security to the rear of their lines as masses of civilians entered areas close to the front near the Don River. They ordered civilians without prescribed permits to be interned in prison camps … The Italian military had nothing to do with roundups of civilian workers sent to Germany for forced labor … The troops had a period of quiet while in the zone of Stalino in the Donetz Basin, where their main battle was against the frigid weather. Soldiers frequently sought refuge in Russian homes where stoves offered welcome warmth. Women villagers often did the laundry for soldiers in exchange for part of their bread and rations. As villagers came to know the soldiers, they requested medical help for their children. Italian medical officers offered their assistance and even offered medicine. Numerous soldiers even gave blood for necessary transfusions. In Rikovo, officers of the Torino Division established free outpatient clinics, a rest house for the elderly, and even a clinic for pregnant women run by Italians with Russian personnel paid by the Italians.” Sacrifice on the Steppe: The Italian Alpine Corps in the Stalingrad Campaign, 1942-1943, Hope Hamilton, pp. 14-15, Casemate, 2011)

28 January – Raggruppamento Musino fights off repeated Russian attacks near Izium. (“The CSIR survived the hard winter of 1941-2 remarkably well, most likely thanks to their experiences in the campaign against Greece the previous winter. In larger battles in the Izium area to the north, the Italians at the behest of the Germans, repeatedly provided individual combat groups, who stood the test in both defensive and offensive functions. The success of the small Italian expeditionary corps was not least of all thanks to the unflagging commitment of its commander General Messe. The Unknown Eastern Front: The Wehrmacht and Hitler’s Foreign Soldiers, Rolf-Dieter Müller, p. 75, I.B.Tauris, 2014)

MALTA

13 January – On this day alone, Malta receives 14 air raid alerts in 19 hours. (“Tuesday 13 January dawned fine and clear, but the blue skies brought heavy air raids 14 in the space of 19 hours, lasting a total of 9 hours.” (https://web.archive.org/web/20120622003950/ https://maltagc70.wordpress.com/2012/01/13/13-January-1942-14-air-raids-9-hours-under-fire/ Malta War Diary)

A total of 262 air raids are sounded in Malta this month. (“In January 1942, the first month of the blitz, Malta was subjected to 262 air raids, and in the next three months only eleven nights saw no raids at all.” The Rough Guide to Malta & Gozo, Victor Paul Borg, p. 348, Rough Guides, 2002)

ROMMEL’S SECOND DESERT OFFENSIVE

21 January – Thanks to Italian convoys and the efforts of Italian code-breakers using the “Black Code”, Rommel resumes his desert offensive and quickly seizes Mersa Brega (21 January) and Agedabia (22 January).

(“…this time with crucial Italian – not German – intelligence giving him the daily British order of battle, and with the new self-propelled ‘Semovente’ 75/18mm which gave the Marcks Group a powerful Italian punch.” The American Experience in World War II, Walter L. Hixson, p.255, Taylor & Francis, 2003) (“Among the most important was the self-propelled Semovente 75/18 gun firing a shell specially designed to penetrate the 70mm armor of the Allies’ leading tanks. The ‘Effetto Pronto’, or Quick Effect round took its toll of the new Shermans and Grants beginning to make their appearance on North African battlefields…” Mussolini’s War: Fascist Italy’s Military Struggles from Africa and Western Europe to the Mediterranean and Soviet Union 1935-45, Frank Joseph, p.159, Casemate Publishers, 2010)

6 February – Rommel’s forces caputure Benghazi and commandeer 1,300 Allied trucks, The British are pushed back to Gazala. The British Commonwealth forces lose 40 tanks, 40 field guns and 1,400 troops. This was a disaster for the Allies in more ways than one. Now the Allied convoys to Malta must pass between Axis occupied Crete and the Benghazi airfield. (“They left 1,300 trucks that would serve the Germans well in the months ahead.” Afrikakorps, p. 100, Time-Life Books, 1990) (“By 6 February, he had pushed the British back to Gazala, just 30 miles west of Tobruk.” Turning the Tide: Decisive Battles of the Second World War, Nigel Cawthorne, p. 52, Book Sales, 2003) (“In the vicious battle that followed on 6 February, the loss of 1,400 Commonwealth troops, forty tanks, and as many pieces of field artillery could not prevent the fall of this strategic port city.” (Mussolini’s War: Fascist Italy’s Military Struggles from Africa and Western Europe to the Mediterranean and Soviet Union 1935-45, Frank Joseph, p.160, Casemate Publishers, 2010)

7 February – Malta has 17 air raid alerts in a span of 24 hours.. A total of 236 air raids alerts take place in Malta in February.

13 February – The Spica-class destroyer escort ‘Circe’ sinks the British submarine ‘Tempest’ off Taranto.

25 February – British submarine ‘P38’ is sunk off the coast of Tunisia by Italian destroyers.

SECOND BATTLE OF SIRTE

22 March – Admiral Angelo Iachino, commander of the Italian Navy, sets sail in his flagship, the ‘Littorio’, along with 3 cruisers, the ‘Gorizia’, ‘Trento’ and ‘Bande Nere’ and eight destroyers, ‘Alpino’, ‘Bersaglieri’, ‘Fucilieri, ‘Lanciere’ , ‘Scirocco ‘Ascari’, ‘Aviere and ‘Orlani’ to intercept a British convoy heading for Malta. The convoy is protected by the the anti-aircraft cruiser HMS ‘Carlisle’, the cruisers HMS ‘Cleopatra’, HMS ‘Dido’, HMS ‘Euryalus’, HMS ‘Penelope’ and sixteen destroyers, practically the entire Royal Navy in the Mediterranean under Admiral Philip Vian.

At 9:30 A.M., Italian torpedo bombers begin the attack on the convoy and it’s escorts, causing no damage. The Luftwaffe then appears but also fails to inflict damage on the British. At 1:30 P.M., most of the Italian and British warships make sight of each other. The British ships release smoke to prevent accurate firing by the Italian warships. The Italian heavy cruisers open fire and turn away once the ‘Carlisle’ and a destroyer fire back. The British assume the Italians have abandoned the fight. It was, however, a ruse to attempt to get the Allied ships within effective firing range of the 380mm guns of the ‘Littorio’. However, Admiral Vian realizes this.

At 4:30 P.M., the opposing sides again make sight of each other. Italian shells knock out the radar of ‘Cleopatra’ , and puncture the ‘Euryalus’ and the destroyer HMS ‘Havoc’, forcing ‘Havoc’ to retire to Malta for repairs. In the British evasive manaeuveres to avoid German Stukas and Italian torpedo-bombers, the ‘Carlisle’ collides with the destroyer HMS ‘Avon Vale’.

AT 17:15 P.M., with the worsening weather and British smoke screen, it becomes increasingly difficult for Iachino to engage the British warships. When the ‘Vittorio Veneto’ finds a clearing, it sustains a hit and catches fire but it’s brought under control. Italian return fire, damages the destroyer HMS ‘Kingston’ forcing it to retire to Malta for repairs. With darkness having fallen and gale-force winds, both sides retire, but much too late for Admiral Iachino, who loses the destroyers ‘Lanciere’ and ‘Scirocco’ when caught in a severe storm.

MALTA

March – There are 275 air raids in Malta for the month of March. Ninety of them at night.

MALTA

April – 283 air raids occurred in Malta this month and the island absorbed 6,728 tons of bombs. Thanks to limestone houses and the ability of the British to defend Malta, the Maltese continued to handle the attacks well.

MEDITERRANEAN

1 April – Italian cruiser ‘Giovanni Delle Bande Nere’ is sunk near Stromboli by British submarine HMS Urge.

14 April – The British submarine HMS ‘Upholder’ is sunk by the Italian destroyer escort ‘Pegaso’ off the coast of Tripoli, Libya. (“A number of theories exist as to the fate of Upholder, the most likely is that she fell victim to a depth charge attack by the Italian anti-submarine vessel Pagaso on 14th April east of Tripoli although no debris was seen and the position of the attack would have put Upholder some 100 miles out of position, however, this can be explained by the submarine changing position to find ‘richer pickings’.” ( http://rnsubs.co.uk/boats/subs/u-class/upholder.html RN Subs).

29 April – British submarine HMS ‘Urge’ is sunk by ‘Pegaso’ off the coast of Libya (“On 27th April 1942 HMS Urge left Malta on passage to Alexandria, where she was due to arrive on the 6th. The submarine failed to arrive. It is possible that Urge struck a mine outside Malta or that she was sunk by the Italian torpedo boat Pegaso in the eastern Mediterranean.” http://rnsubs.co.uk/boats/subs/u-class/urge.html RN Subs)

29 May – Italian destroyer ‘Emanuelle Pessagno’ is sunk off the coast of Libya by British submarine ‘Turbulent’.

BATTLE OF GAZALA

27 May – ‘Ariete’ overruns the British-officered 3rd Indian Brigade, capturing 1,000 troops. (http://www.avalanchepress.com/Ariete.php Ariete at Gazala)

30 May – ‘Trieste’ rescues the trapped Afrika Korps preventing their entire capitulation. (“At this time the British thought they had Rommel cornered and he himself contemplated surrender, but the Italian ‘Trieste’ Division managed to open a route through the minefield and get a supply column to him.” (https://web.archive.org/web/20150220115417/ http://desertrats.org.uk/battles1942.htm Engagements – 1942)

31 May – ‘Ariete’ destroys dozens of British tanks near Sidra Ridge. (“Ariete repelled repeated British tank attacks on the 29th, delivered with great bravery but little coordination. Italian 88mm and 90mm anti-aircraft guns, used in an anti-tank role, destroyed dozens of British tanks.” (http://www.avalanchepress.com/Ariete.php Ariete at Gazala )

1 June – Rommel’s forces break through the Gazala line, destroying 100 British tanks and taking 3,000 British POW’s.

5 June – ‘Ariete’ again successfully covers the back of the Afrika Korps. (http://www.avalanchepress.com/Ariete.php Ariete at Gazala)

12 June – In what is considered the “greatest defeat in the history of the British armor”, the ‘Trieste’ ensnares the British 22nd Armoured Brigade, and the British tank unit retreats with heavy losses. (“Bismarck and Nehring struck on June 12 and their timing was perfect. The distinguished British historian Correlli Barnett called the ensuing battle the greatest defeat in the history of the British armor. When the British XIII Corps commander, General Norrie, realized what was happening, he sent the 22nd Armoured Brigade to rescue the trapped 7th Armoured. The 22nd, however, was pinned down by the Italian Trieste Motorized Division and was taken in the rear by Bismarck and the 21st Panzer. It retreated with heavy losses. Bismarck then returned to the Battle of Knightsbridge, where he, Nehring, and Rommel crushed the 7th Armoured.”( Rommel’s Lieutenants: The Men Who Served The Desert Fox, Samuel W. Mitcham, p. 98, Praeger, 2006)

16 June – The Italian Army overruns several units & capture 6,000 Allied troops. (“The Italians finished mopping up the Gazala Line on June 16, capturing 6,000 prisoners, thousands of tons of supplies, and entire convoys of undamaged vehicles in the process”. (The Rise of the Wehrmacht: The German Armed Forces and World War, 2 Volumes, p.564, Samuel W. Mitcham, Praeger, 2008)

21 June – General Hendrik Klopper surrenders Tobruk to the Afrika Korps. The spoils include 35,000 POW’s, roughly 2,000 vehicles, 30 tanks, 400 guns and much needed fuel.

Italian destroyer ‘Strale’ abandoned off Tunisia is destroyed by British submarine HMS ‘Turbulent’.

With the capture of Tobruk all preparations for ‘Operation Hercules’ (the invasion of Malta planned for July) wind down and eventually cancelled on 21 July. (“As we now have Tobruk”, wrote Jodl, Chief of the Army High Command, on 22nd June, 1942, “we no longer require Malta.” The German and Italian troops intended for “Herkules” were sent to Rommel, and on 21st July all orders for “Herkules” were cancelled.” Key to victory: the triumph of British sea power in World War II, Peter Kemp Kemp, p. 222, Little Brown, 1957)

22 June – Rommel is promoted to Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal).

In the last week of June, Mussolini visits Tobruk and British soldiers at the POW camp at Derna, but is unable to meet up with Rommel at the front.

MEDITERRANEAN

8 June – Italian submarine smg. ‘Alagi’ sinks the Italian destroyer ‘Antonio Usodimare’ by tragic mistake.

14 June – The Regia Marina sends the Italian 7th cruiser division (cruisers, submarines and torpedo bombers) under Admiral da Zara in the flagship Eugenio di Savoia from Palermo, Sicily to intercept. In the following battle the Regia Marina’s direct attack sank the British destroyer Bedouin and forced an altered and delaying route on the British, allowing the Axis air forces to reduce the convoy from 6 to 2 transports. Only 2 merchant ships, the Orari and Troilus, along with the Welshman, were able to make it to Malta.

15 June – Italian cruiser ‘Trento’ is sunk off Malta by British Submarine ‘Umbra’.

OPERATION VIGOROUS

Mid June – Operation Vigorous, which included 11 merchant ships, seven cruisers and 28 destroyers was the largest convoy to set sail for Malta. The convoy had to turn back around and return home to Alexandria, Egypt once it was noted that the Italian Battleships Littorio and Vittorio Veneto, along with 2 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and 12 destroyers were dispatched to intercept them.

Total Allied damage included: 2 merchant ships sunk, 2 damaged, 3 cruisers damaged, 3 destroyers sunk and one torpedo boat sunk. Only 1 Italian heavy cruiser was lost, scuttled by the Italians due to severe damage.

These two operations were major Italian naval victories, but the downfall was that the oil shortages became so great for the Italian military machine, that such large Italian naval operations were rarely seen again.

MERSA MATRUH

26 June – General Ettore Baldassare (commander of the Italian XX Corps), General Guido Piacenza (his artillery commander), and Colonel Vittorio Raffaelli (his engineer commander), are killed while reconnoitering the British fortress of Mersa Matruh. (“The loss of these three important officers was a major blow to the Italians, particularly that of Baldassare, who had led them successfully through the battles of May and June” in Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini’s Elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa, Ian Walker, Crowood, 2012)

27 June – Germans censors and radio station Deutschlandsender give away the secret of the ‘Black Code’ in a radio play. According to Wilhelm F. Flicke, an officer with the Afrika Korps this breach in security dooms the Axis war effort in North Africa:

“Then the miracle occurred. No, it was no miracle it was a tragicomedy. It was as idiotically funny as a passage from a dime novel. It was Saturday, 27 June 1942. I tuned in the Deutschlandsender’s six p.m. broadcast. “We are offering a drama with scenes from the British or American information bureau,” the announcer said. “This is going to be some stuff,” I thought, but left the receiver on while I went ahead with some work. Suddenly I pricked up my ears: the drama had as its subject “Events in North Africa” and was commenting on political and military matters. One of the characters represented the American military attache in Cairo, and now there followed a discussion of his extensive supply of information and the way he sent it to Washington. I was speechless. To think that the German broadcast was putting on something that countless people were trying to keep secure! The drama was authentic, and only too well played…

On 29 June, 36 hours after this radio drama, the messages from Garrulus to Washington suddenly ceased. The German intercept operators listened and searched in vain. No further MILID or AGWAR message was ever heard. When messages began to flow again, the Americans were using a system which defied all our efforts at solution. Rommel, on the Egyptian threshold, remained without information. The British regrouped their forces he knew nothing about it. They introduced new units he was not told. New weapons were unloaded in Alexandria and Port Said Rommel did not find out about them. The great general now had to rely upon himself and his reconnaissance at the front.”( https://www.cia.gov/library/ center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol3no4/html/v03i4a06p_0001.htm The Lost Keys to El Alamein)

28 June – The massing of Italian troops near Mersa Matruh forces the British to abandon Siwa Oasis, the patrol base of the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), the original Special Air Service in North Africa. (“This great withdrawal on the coast had an obvious effect on the LRDG’s continued use of Siwa as a base.” The Long Range Desert Group 1940-1945: Providence Their Guide, David Lloyd-Owen, p. 99, Pen and Sword, 2009)

28-30 June – ‘Littorio’ surrounds Mersa Matruh & Bersaglieri capture 8,000 Allied soldiers. (“The Mersa Matruh positions came under heavy artillery fire from the Brescia and Trento Divisions, while the 90th Light and the Littorio Divisions tried to complete the encirclement from the south … Late in the day on 27 June, Gott, worried that his New Zealand 2nd Division was about to be cut off, ordered the withdrawal of XIII Corps. Because of a breakdown in British communications, X Corps did not learn until 0430 hours on 28 June that XIII Corps was in full retreat, and their southern flank was open. Later that day, the 90th Light Divison and the Littorio Divison completed the encirclement of Mersa Matruh … During the night of 28 June, groups of the Indian 10th Division tried a breakout of the Mersa Matruh position at the head of Wadi Ngamish, but they were driven back by the Littorio Armoured Division … On the morning of 29 June, the garrison of Mersa Matruh was overwhelmed. At 0930 hours, the Italian 7th Bersaglieri Regiment entered the conquered stronghold, taking 6,000 Allied prisoners.” World War II in Europe: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1, David T. Zabecki, p. 1578, Taylor & Francis, 1999) (“Most of the garrison of Matruh, the better part of another corps, broke out before that position was overrun on June 29, with Italian Bersaglieri playing a leading role in a close-quarters fight resulting in the capture of six thousand prisoners and a division’s worth of equipment.” Patton And Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century, Dennis Showalter, Penguin, 2006) (“By 30 June the situation had stabilized again, but Mersa Matruh was now in Axis hands. Rommel had gained a significant victory through almost outrageous bluff—a victory that had cost his opponents 8,000 prisoners and a great deal of equipment.” War in the Mediterranean, Bernard Ireland, p. 140, Pen & Sword, 2003)

FIRST BATTLE OF ALAMEIN

1 July – Bersaglieri forward troops round up 1,000

3 July – The New Zealand 19th Battalion dislodges the “Ariete’, capturing 531 New Zealanders stragglers near Minqar Qaim, 24 miles south of Mersa Matruh. (https://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/ misc/ngatoa/articles/orm.aspx Interview with Orm Poppleton) men and several artillery batteries. The New Zealand 21st and 22nd Battalions also attack but are unable to dislodge the ‘Brescia’.

10 July – The Australian 2/48th Battalion captures 835 troops from the ‘Sabratha’ Division defending Tel el Eisa. The Italians had initially resisted, but were unable to maintain their positions after being heavily shelled by 100 field artillery guns supporting the Australian advance. (“The advance to the next triangulation point on the ridge, Point 23, 2,000 yards further on, was not so easy against the now alerted defence but soon the rifle and machine-gun fire of the Italian defenders was drowned out by the drone of hundreds of shells. The guns of all three Australian field regiments and both South African field regiments as well as the 7th Medium Regiment, amounting to more than 100 25-pounder field guns, 4.5-inch and 5.5-inch medium guns in all, began firing their artillery programme in support of the attack”. Pendulum Of War: Three Battles at El Alamein, Niall Barr, p.105, Random House, 2010)

11 July – General Enea Navarini, reacts vigorously and the 7th Bersaglieri Regiment and 46th Artillery Regiment from the ‘Trento’ and a company of tanks from the ‘Trieste’ are rushed forward. The Italian reinforcements halt the Australian advance and the Bersaglieri retake part of Tel el Eisa. (“That afternoon Italian tanks counter-attacked both Australian battalions in an attempt to retake Hill 33 near the coast. Maj. Gabriele Verri, commanding 11th Armd. Bn. of the Trieste Motorised Division, sent a company of M13 and M14 tanks into the assault under Capt. Vittorio Bulgarelli.” War in the Desert, Neil D. Orpen, p.367, Purnell, 1971) ( “At approx 2000 hours enemy tanks–number unknown– and inf attacked D Coy front. They overran psn and enemy inf forced D Company to withdraw and occupied their psn” (2/48th Battalion War Diary)).

14 July – Colonel Erminio Angelozzi’s 1st Battalion, 85th Infantry Regiment, ‘Sabratha’ Division, launch a counterattack on the Australians deployed along Tel el Eisa and succeed in recapturing the position. (“La controffensiva inglese premeva a Nord, dove la Divisione Sabratha si battè in una serie di assalti e contrassalti. Ad essa, oramai allo stremo, fu affidato il compito di riconquistare la quota di Tell el Elsa: l’azione fu condotta dal solo battaglione operativamente valido, il I dell󈨙°, comandato dal colonnello Angelozzi: la quota, dopo aspra battaglia, fu riconquistata. Fu l’ultima azione della Sabratha, che fu sciolta.” (https://web.archive.org/web/20150221044819/ http://www.carabinieri.gov.it/arma/ieri/storia/cc-nel-900-italiano/fascicolo-30/1942-l%27anno-decisivo-pag-2 MINISTERO DELLA DIFESA)

15 July – The ‘Pavia’ & ‘Brescia’ Divisions derail 2nd New Zealand Division’s attack on Ruweisat Ridge. Several hundred attackers are captured. (While the attacking brigades had been able to cut large gaps through the defences held by the Italian infantry, they had not been able to subdue all the resistance. Not surprisingly, most of the smaller outposts and defended localities had fallen easily but some of the larger posts had been bypassed during the night. The outposts which remained contained substantial number of anti-tank guns, machine guns and infantry. When daylight came, these posts were able to cover the area south of the ridge by fire and shot up any trucks foolhardy enough to drive forward.”‘ Pendulum Of War: Three Battles at El Alamein, Niall Barr, p. 131, Random House, 2010)

16 July – The Australian 2/23rd Battalion attempts to retake Tel el Eisa, but are forced to retreat after suffering heavy casualties. (Later, recounting the 2/23rd Battalion attack, Australian historian Mark Johnston wrote that “On 16 July, they were ordered to retake it and the rest of Tel el Eisa Ridge. After initial success, they suffered nearly 50 percent casualties and had to withdraw.”) (In his diary, Rommel writes:”Next day, the 16th July, the British attacked again, but 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“).

17 July – The ‘Trento’ supported by tanks from the ‘Trieste’ overrun part of the 9th AIF Division, capturing no less than 200 Australians. The incredulous Australians assume the attackers were crack Panzergrenadiers, even though German records later proved that Italians from the 3rd Battalion, 61st Trento Infantry Regiment delivered the blow. Australian historians doctor the wartime accounts, with the The Australian Official History only admitting that “two forward platoons of the 2/32nd’s left company were overrun, 22 men were taken prisoner”.Australian historian Mark Johnston in the book Fighting The Enemy (Cambridge University Press, 2000) puts this down to “an unwillingness to acknowledge reverses against Italians.” (“The attack began on 17 July at 2.30 am. The 2/32nd captured the Trig 22 and linked with the 2/43rd but the Germans resisted fiercely and counter-attacked with tanks. The 2/32nd suffered heavily: nearly half its number were either killed or wounded and nearly 200 became prisoners of war.” https://www.awm.gov.au/unit/U56075/ 2/32nd Australian Infantry Battalion) (“Soon the companies had seized the enemy positions on the ridge, but, in the dark, the men of A Company overshot their objective, Point 22, by 1,500 yards. By the time they realised their mistake they were under such heavy fire that they could not withdraw. By 08.00 hours Italian tanks and infantry began to encircle their positions and eventually forced the entire company to surrender.” Pendulum Of War: Three Battles at El Alamein, Niall Barr, p. 148, Random House, 2010)

22 July – The ‘Brescia’ and ‘Trieste’ Divisions on Ruweisat Ridge contain another attack from the 2nd New Zeaaland Division, and 800 attackers caught out in the open are captured when German tanks arrive. Two Italian regimental commanders (Colonels Gherardo Vaiarini de Piacenza and Umberto Zanetti ) are killed defending Ruweisat Ridge proving that Italian officers fought and died alongside their men. (“The fighting which assumed particular tenacity has ended in favour of the Axis. The enemy has been everywhere repelled with counter-attacks and has sustained grave losses in men and materiel. Eight hundred prisoners, mainly New Zealanders, and Indians have fallen into our hands and 130 tanks were destroyed on the field. During that action the German Afrika Korps and the Italian Brescia and Trieste divisions particularly distinguished themselves.” https://web.archive.org/web/ 20100409154641/ http://www.comando supremo.com/1elalamein.html – ‘First Battle of El Alamein’ COMMANDO SUPREMO/ITALY AT WAR). (“A mixed German-Italian combat team held on and proved that not all Italians had lost the will to fight. Many of these men resisted to the last bullet. Their heroic stand gave Rommel time to concentrate his Afrika Korps against the 23rd Armoured Brigade.” Rommel’s Desert War: The Life and Death of the Afrika Korps, Samuel W. Mitcham, p. 122, Stackpole Books, 2007). (“Colonel Gherardo Vaiarini de Piacenza, commanding the 65th Trieste Infantry, was killed he met his death with such gallantry that he was posthumously awarded the Gold Medal … . The Trieste’s other infantry colonel, Umberto Zanetti, commanding the 66th, was also killed – on July 22nd.” Alamein 1933-1962: An Italian Story, Paolo Caccia Dominioni de Sillavengo, p. 83, Allen & Unwin, 1966).

27 July – The 3rd Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment, ‘Trento’ Division derails the attack of the Australian 2/28th Battalion. (“We could see the Australians and British advancing rather spread out, about 750 yards in front of us, all in groups corresponding with their units. We ceased fire with the machine-guns — there was still plenty of time for them — but continued with our 47/32s … . When they got within 300 yards, we opened up with everything. The noise was terrific you could only tell a gun was firing by the smoke and powder coming out of its muzzle. It was almost eleven o’clock. My tommy-gun broke down after about 3,000 rounds — ejector broken! The machine-gun also played up a bit after 5,000 rounds. But by that time the attack was beginning to peter out. The British artillery had packed it in. By midday it was all over. After the withdrawal, followed by our counterattack, the ambulances returned to start ferrying back the dead and wounded, but we got suspicious after an hour or so because they seemed to be hanging about too much. We fired a few shots over their heads to let them know it was time to break it up. They took the hint and went — and didn’t come back.” Alamein 1933-1962: An Italian Story, Paolo Caccia Dominioni de Sillavengo, p. 87, Allen & Unwin, 1966).

With German tanks still en route, the armoured reconnaissance squadron of the ‘Trieste’ arrives and captures the Australian 2/28 Battalion caught out in the open. (“The names of certain units were on everyone’s lips up and down the line following particularly brilliant actions, among them the reconnaissance Group of the Trieste. It had been set up some time previously: it was hardly a homogeneous unit on the German pattern, but did reflect admirably the Italian genius of improvisation. They had no more than nine vehicles–Morrises, Fords, Dingos and Jeeps, all captured from the enemy–armed with small caliber guns and machine-guns of all descriptions, British, Italian and German, together with two British 88 guns and their carriages, and two small supply lorries.” Alamein 1933-1962: An Italian Story, Paolo Caccia Dominioni de Sillavengo, p. 79, Allen & Unwin, 1966) (“The Bn was completely surrounded by armored cars which worked forward under cover of fire from enemy tanks further back, while 20mm, MMG and mortar fire kept the heads of our own troops well down. In this manner the enemy was able to cut off and dispose of sections and platoons one by one, until at 1030 hrs Bn HQ area was occupied by several armored cars and surviving personnel taken prisoner. An effort had been made to hinder the enemy armored vehicles by bringing Arty fire to bear on them before they dispersed. Unfortunately the only communication with Bde was by one wireless set WT repaired by Sigs, after about eight hours work. Messages reporting the situation were sent immediately once this set was capable of functioning, i.e., about 0930 hrs onwards. Last message was “All up, overrun!” ” July 1942 Diary by Lieutenant S. A. Walker (available online)).

German and Italian armoured attacks, and Italian officers, NCOs and recruits save Rommel from certain defeat, and the Afrika Korps commander confirms this:

“The Italians were willing, unselfish and good comrades in the front line. There can be no disputing that the achievement of all the Italian units, especially the motorized elements, far outstripped any action of the Italian Army for 100 years. Many Italian generals and officers earned our respect as men as well as soldiers.”(Rommel and His Art of War, John Pimlott, p. 150, Greenhill Books, 2003)

EASTERN FRONT

July – Mussolini sends reinforcements – the ‘Sforzesca’, ‘Ravenna’, ‘Cosseria’, ‘Vicenza’, ‘Tridentina’, ‘Julia’ and ‘Cuneense’ Divisions, and the CSIR of General Messe is renamed ARMIR (Armata Italiana in Russia – Italian Army in Russia).

BLACK SEA

3 August – Italian fast attack craft cripple the Russian cruiser ‘Molotov’. (“Italian MTBs torpedoed the cruiser Molotov after a bombardment of Feodosia on August 3, 1942.” Russia at War: From the Mongol Conquest to Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Beyond MEDITERRANEAN, Timothy C. Dowling, p. 128, ABC-CLIO, 2014) (“They were attacked by three Italian motor-boats, but only one torpedo launched by Captain Legnani’s MAS 568 found its target, crippling the Molotov with a nineteen-meter-long gash in her hull.” Mussolini’s War: Fascist Italy’s Military Struggles from Africa and Western Europe to the Mediterranean and Soviet Union 1935-45, Frank Joseph, p.159, Casemate Publishers, 2010)

MEDITERRANEAN

7 August – Italian destroyer escort ‘Pegaso’ sinks British submarine HMS ‘Thorn ‘off Tobruk, Libya. (Note: Pegaso sinks 3 British submarines in 4 months.) (“On the 7th August 1942 HMS Thorn encountered the Italian torpedo boat Pegaso, escorting the steamer Istria from Benghazi, 30 miles south west of Gaudhos Island, off southern Crete. At 1255 an escorting aircraft was seen to machine-gun the sea’s surface and Pegaso moved in to investigate. Just four minutes after the aircraft’s attack the Pegaso picked-up a contact and carried out seven attacks after which contact was lost. HMS Thorn failed to return from the patrol and is believed to have been lost in this attack.” Sunken Ships, World War II, Karl Erik Heden, p. 236, Branden Books, 2006)

22 August – Italian Generali-class destroyer ‘Antonio Cantore’ sinks after hitting a mine.

EASTERN FRONT

24 August – The Savoia Cavalleriaoverruns part of the Russian 304th Infantry Division. (“Three days later, the 3rd Cavalry Division Amedeo Duca d’ Aosta, comprising 600 horse-soldiers … charged 2,000 Soviets defending themselves with mortars and artillery on the Isbuschenski Steppe. The lead squadron achieved complete surprise by attacking head-on, while the other, armed with sabers, rode down the Reds from behind their positions. These were overrun in history’s last significant cavalry charge. It destroyed two soviet battalions, forcing another battalion to withdraw, while capturing 500 prisoners.” Mussolini’s War: Fascist Italy’s Military Struggles from Africa and Western Europe to the Mediterranean and Soviet Union 1935-45, Frank Joseph, p.147, Casemate Publishers, 2010).

25 August – Italian troops defeat Russian counterattacks. (“Elsewhere on the Don front Russian counter-attacks were reported “frustrated” by Italian troops.”https://news.google. com/ newspapers?nid=1917&dat=19420825&id=JGhGAAAAIBAJ&sjid= 4ugMAAAAIBAJ &pg=975,5654334&hl=en ‘Soviets Are Fighting Desperately Against Huge Tank Forces,’ Schenectady Gazette, 25 August 1942)

26 August– Italians repel more Russian attacks on the Don front. (“Italian troops operating on the Don front repulsed several enemy attacks in hand-to-hand fighting.” German High Command Communique. The New York Times, 26 August 1942)

ALAM EL HALFA

During the Battle of Alam el Halfa (30 August – 5 September) , the ‘Bologna’ Division and German 433rd Infantry Regiment attack several Indian, South African and New Zealand units on Ruweisat Ridge, and manage to capture Point 211. Although the Official History of New Zealand In The Second World War 1939–45 refers to the largely Italian action as simply ‘feints’, a noted British military historian, wrote that it was a counterattack requiring a strong response:

“In the centre of the British front a good Italian division, the Bologna, delivered a strong attack on the Ruweisat Ridge, and a considerable counter-attack was required to expel it from the footing it gained.”

(AFTERMATH OF WAR: THE EIGHT ARMY FROM ALAMEIN TO THE SANGRO. The illustrated London News, Volume 212, Issues 5672-5684, p. 262, The Illustrated London News & Sketch Ltd., 1948)

The Axis attacks come to a halt and the British Commonwealth forces start their counterattack (Operation Beresford) on 4 September, but the 2nd New Zealand Division suffers a reversal at the hands of the ‘Folgore’ Airborne Division as Colonel Fritz Bayerlein (one of Rommel’s key officers) points out:

“An attack by our Luftwaffe against the 10th Indian Div, which was in the assembly area for a counter attack against the centre of the front, caused the units which were assembled there to scatter to the winds. Also, all other attacks launched by other units against our flanks, especially the New Zealanders, were too weak to be able to effect a penetration—they could be repulsed. A night attack conducted against the X Italian Corps resulted in especially high losses for the British. Countless enemy dead lay on the battlefield and 200 prisoners were taken among whom was Gen (sic) Clifton, commanding general of the 6th New Zealand Brigade.” (https://web.archive.org/web/2009 0622151503/http://www-cgsc.army.mil/carl/resources/csi/hart/hart.asp A Battle Report: ALAM HALFA).

The ‘Trieste’, ‘Brescia’ and 90th Light Division, assisted by tanks from the ‘Ariete’ and ‘Littorio’ Divisions, counterattack in the area of the Munassib Depression the New Zealand 26th Battalion and 5th Brigade and the British 132nd (Kent) Brigade, forcing them back to practically their starting lines, after the New Zealanders and British had made good progress. (“During the early morning hours, the New Zealand Division, composed of the two New Zealand brigades, which occupied the box, assisted by a brigade of another infantry division, laid down an artillery barrage and followed with an infantry attack. This attack advanced south and along the trails in square 88-27. The attack advanced 3 miles, but with the coming of daylight the Trieste, Brescia, and the 90th Light Division, supported by the Ariete, and Littorio Divisions, in a series of three counterattacks, forced the attacking troops back nearly to their original positions.” The Afrika in Combat, Bob Carruthers, Pen & Sword, 2013 ).

OPERATION AGREEMENT

13-14 September – The British attempt an amphibious landing at Tobruk but are defeated by the Italian San Marco Marines and Italian (not German) shore batteries that sink the British destroyer ‘Sikh’. Italian fighter-bombers from 13° Gruppo sink the British destroyer ‘Zulu’. About 300 British are killed with the Royal Marines reporting the loss 81 men, and Royal Navy admitting the loss of another 217 men. Axis losses are fifteen Italians and one German killed and 43 Italians and 7 Germans wounded. A total of 576 British attackers are captured. Some 30 supporting LRDG commandos are also captured and appear in the Italian Giornale Di Guerra No. 285 newsreel. (Desert Raiders: Axis and Allied Special Forces 1940-43, Duncan Anderson, Andrea Molinari, p. 71, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2007) (“The Rome and Berlin high commands announced the capture of 576 prisonoers in Sunday night’s raid on the Libyan base.” https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2199&dat=19420916&id=92deAAAAIBAJ&sjid= KWENAAAAIBAJ &pg=6169,4990797&hl=en TWO DESTROYERS LOST, Lawrence Journal World, 16 September 1942)

HMS ‘Sikh’, according to the survivors was hit by Italian Marine 155 mm (6 inch) guns:

“The Sikh was sunk by cross fire from two batteries of six inch guns which the freed prisoners said had been especially mounted in anticipation of the raid. Despite this gunfire and the subsequent bombardment of small boats after they had abandoned ship, the Sikh lost only 17 men, although many more of the marine landing party were lost.” (https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1499&dat=19430323&id=xDAaAAAAIBAJ &sjid= JyUEAAAAIBAJ&pg=4461,2852440&hl=en Tobruk Raid Was Washout, The Milwaukee Journal, 23 May 1943)

EL ALAMEIN

23 September – Rommel leaves North Africa on sick leave, leaving General Georg Stumme in command of the Afrika Korps.

29-30 September – The 131st ‘Queen’s’ Brigade supported by tanks from the 4th Armoured Brigade launches Operation Braganzar in an attempt to capture the Deir el Munassib area through the supposedly weak Italian lines. The ‘Folgore’ Airborne Division repels the attack, killing or capturing over 300 attackers. ( “At 05.25 hours the barrage fired by nine regiments of field artillery crashed down in support of the advancing infantry. The 1/6th Queen’s advanced along the northern lip of the depression and met with little opposition. Similarly the 1/7th Queen’s encountered no difficulty in taking the eastern edge of Munassib. However, its sister battalion, the 1/5th Queen’s, had the more difficult task of seizing the southern lip of the depression. When its C Company approached the minefield in front of the enemy positions, the defenders, drawn from the Folgore Parachute Division, put down heavy mortar and machine-gun fire which pinned the troops to the ground. Meanwhile, A Company penetrated the Italian positions only to find itself surrounded and overwhelmed. The reserve companies were then held up by fierce defensive fire and made little progress. After day of heavy shelling, the 1/5th Queen’s were withdrawn from their exposed posts. The operation cost the brigade 328 casualties for little gain.” Pendulum of War: Three Battles at El Alamein, Niall Barr, p. 269, Random House, 2005)

The incredulous British assume that Fallschirmjägers (German Paratroopers) had derailed the attack, but the Afrika Korps’s war diary points out that the ‘Folgore’ “bore the brunt of the attack. It fought well and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy.” (Afrika Korps War Diary, 30 September 1942).

ITALY

11 October – Heinrich Himmler flies to Rome to visit Mussolini. The German government is very worried about the health of Mussolini. Himmler’s visit was to assess Mussolini’s health and the state of Fascism in Italy. Himmler later reports back to Hitler that if Mussolini remains alive, then so will the Fascist state.

MEDITERRANEAN

19 October – Italian Navigatori-class destroyer ‘Giovanni Da Verrazzano’ is sunk off Tripoli by British submarine HMS ‘Unbending’.

EL ALAMEIN

13 October – General Alessandro Predieri, commander of the ‘Brescia’ Division is killed in action. (“The Italian high command announced today that General Alessandro Prodieri, commander of the “Brescia” division had been killed in action on the Egyptian front on Oct. 13.” https://news.google.com/newspapers?d=336&dat=19421015&id General Killed The Desert News, 15 October 1942)

23 October – British 8th Army under command of General Montgomery attacks El Alamein. The 12 Italian and German divisions amounted to 80,000 men (53,000 of which were Italian). The British Commonwealth forces amounted to 230,000 men divided among 10 divisions. As far as the tanks are concerned, only the German Panzer IV (35 total) were equal to the American Sherman (252 total ) and Grant (170 total) tanks.

24 October – ‘Ariete’, ‘Brescia’ & ‘Folgore’ successfully defend the Alamein Front. (“The Ariete Division, the Bersaglieri Battalion and units of the Brescia and Folgore Divisions fought magnificently. Montgomery’s 13th Corps was able to make minor break throughs in the eastern minefield, but did not reach the main front line.” The Foxes of the Desert, Paul Carell, p. 279, Bantam Books, 1962)

General Stumme dies of a heart attack when his truck is caught in crossfire, and General Wilhelm von Thoma assumes command of the Afrika Korps.

25 October – Rommel arrives back in Africa.

26 October – 12th Bersaglieri Regiment overruns the Austalian 2/17th Battalion.(“Attacks were now launched on Hill 28 by elements of the 15th Panzer Division, the Littorio and a Bersaglieri Battalion, supported by the concentrated fire of all the local artillery and A.A … In the evening part of the Bersaglieri Battalion succeeded in occupying the eastern and western edges of the hill.” El Alamein: Desert Victory, John Strawson, p. 119, J M Dent & Sons Limited, 1981) ( “On the morning of 28 October, tanks, lorried infantry and some of the groups of men who had dug in after previous unsuccessful attempts gathered for another attempt to retake Point 29. The 2/17th Battalion, which had taken over the positions around Point 29, had suffered heavy casualties and eventually it was decided to pull the infantry back from the exposed height to better positions in the open desert.” Pendulum Of War: Three Battles at El Alamein, Niall Barr, p. 360, Random House, 2010).

28 October – The ‘Littorio’ Armoured Division overruns part of the British 133rd Brigade, 300 British are captured. (“In the early morning they attacked 133 British Lorried Infantry Brigade, which had been sent to relieve ‘Snipe’, but ended up to the north of it and was unable to dig its anti-tank guns into the rocky ground. The Axis assault virtually annihilated the British unit, knocking out their exposed anti-tank guns, killing sixty men, including their commander Colonel Murphy, and capturing 300 others.” Iron Hulls, Iron Hearts: Mussolini’s Elite Armoured Divisions in North Africa, Ian Walker, Crowood, 2012).

30 October – The 10th Bersaglieri Battalion defeats several Australian attacks. (“These costly German attacks did succeed in restoring contact with the beleaguered 125th Panzergrenadier Regiment. 90th Light Division later praised the regiment and the Italian X Bersaglieri who clung to their posts even when ‘surrounded on all sides, short of ammunition, food and water, unable to evacuate their many wounded while withstanding ‘attacks by an enemy superior in numbers and equipment’. During the morning, many of the German and Italian wounded were evacuated and more supplies brought into the salient.” Pendulum Of War: Three Battles at El Alamein, Niall Barr, p. 380, Random House, 2010).

2 November – Italian anti-tank gunners hold their ground and knock out 70 British tanks. (“The Italian gunners proved especially effective as daylight broke and they opened fire from ranges as little as 20 yards. The consequences were predictable and destructive. In a matter of hours the 9th Armoured Brigade lost 70 of of it’s compliment of 94 tanks.” Battlefield Documentary Alamein, Dave Flitton, 2001) (“Already at midnight on 2 November, the air bombardment suggested a new offensive was about to start and the headquarters of Panzer Army Africa issued its own order: all the positions were to be held no matter what, not an inch of terrain was to be surrendered without a hard fight … one battalion of 90th Light Division in the north, along with another one of 15th Panzer Division in the south, were soon overrun and at 4.45am it was reported that only one Italian BERSAGLIERI INFANTRY BATTALION was still holding the line … A little while later, the tanks of 9th Armoured Brigade arrived, immediately attacking the enemy positions along the Rahman track … with its three battalions deployed as follows from north to south: 3rd Hussars, Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry and Warwickshire Yeomanry, supported by the anti-tank guns of 14th Sherwood Foresters. El Alamein, Pier Paolo Battistelli, The History Press, 2011) (“La mattina del 2 novembre, dopo il sacrificio di un’intera divisione corazzata, la Littorio, che nella notte si era frapposta insieme ai pezzi da 88 tedeschi per cercare di fermare la 9° inglese dipingendo una delle pagine più eroiche della Seconda Guerra Mondiale.” http://www.ilprimatonazionale.it/cultura/el-alamein-battaglia-folgore-32837/ El-Alamein: la battaglia che consacrò il valore del soldato italiano).

3 November – ‘Ariete’, ‘Trieste’ & ‘Trento’ successfully cover the retreat of Rommel. (“Enormous dust-clouds could be seen south and south-east of headquarters [of the DAK], where the desperate struggle of the small and inefficient Italian tanks of XX Corps was being played out against the hundred or so British heavy tanks which had come round their open right flank. I was later told by Major von Luck, whose battalion I had sent to close the gap between the Italians and the Afrika Korps, that the Italians, who at that time represented our strongest motorised force, fought with exemplary courage.” The Rommel Papers, p. 325).

6 November – The Germans High Command makes public the role of the ‘Ariete’, ‘Littorio’, ‘Folgore’ and Bersaglieri Corps, “the British were made to pay for their penetration with enormous losses in men and material. The Italians fought to the last man.” ( https://www.webcitation.org/5gQKcoplt?url=http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWdesert.htm Desert War).

Even the Afrika Korps commander Erwin Rommel was impressed and speaking to the Italian people on Rome radio admitted,

“The German soldier has impressed the world however, the Italian Bersaglieri soldier has impressed the German soldier.” (Nebraska POW Camps: A History of World War II Prisoners in the Heartland, Melissa Amateis Marsh, p. 52, The History Press, 2014).

MEDITTERANEAN

Italian Pegaso-class destroyer escort ‘Centauro’ is sunk off Benghazi by British bombers.

EASTERN FRONT

1 November – Italian troops defeat Russian attempts to cross the Don River. (“On the Don front Italian troops again repulsed enemy attempts to cross the river.” https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1946&dat=19421102&id=rr4tAAAAIBAJ&sjid= 05gFAAAAIBAJ&pg=3023,205737&hl=en The Montreal Gazette, 2 November 1942)

Mid-November – German intelligence confirms that the Russian 5th Tank Army is massing for operations in the Italian sector, despite the danger a German officer attached to the ‘Cosseria’ reports that the Italian officers of the division and supporting ‘Ravenna’ Division were confident their men would hold off the Russian attacks. (“In spite of the unfavourable balance of forces – the ‘Cosseria’ and the ‘Ravenna’ faced eight to nine Russian divisions and an unknown number of tanks – the atmosphere among Italian staffs and troops was certainly not pessimistic…. The Italians, especially the officers of the ‘Cosseria’, had confidence in what they thought were well built defensive positions.” All or Nothing: The Axis and the Holocaust 1941-43, Jonathan Steinberg, p. ?, Routledge, 2003)

CORSICA

11 November – The “Friuli” & “Cremona” Divisions invade the French island of Corsica. (“…Italian troops landed on the French Island of Corsica, off the Italian coast, which Fascist Italy has long coveted.” https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1350&dat=19421111&id=Wd0iAAAAIBAJ&sjid=YP8DAAAAIBAJ&pg=1139,3116174&hl=en German Troops Invade Vichy France, Tunisia, Toledo Blade, 11 November 1942 )

NORTH AFRICA

8 November – Operation Torch is set in motion. 107,000 Allies, mostly Americans, land in Casablanca, Oran and Algiers. In fear of an outflanked Rommel, Axis air and ground units are routed to Tunisia, eventually numbering 250,000 troops.

Mid-November – The ‘Superga’ Division plays an important part in fighting off the British 78th Division. (“In the meantime, the British 78th Infantry Division had advanced on Bizerta and passed Abiod and the mountain of the same name, where it encountered Major Witzig’s airborne combat engineers. Witzig and his men held up the British for 48 hours. The heavy weapons from the Superga Division supported the paratroopers, and the Luftwaffe supplied much needed help from the air.” Das Afrika Korps, Franz Kurowski p. 202, Stackpole Books, 2010)

21 November – The Italian 50th Special Brigade under the command of General Giovanni Imperiali di Francavilla helps German Paratroopers repel U.S.tanks outside Gabes.(“When U.S. tanks showed up outside of Gabes 48 hours later, they were turned back by the paratroopers and two battalions of the “Brigade L” of General Imperiali. The Italian force had arrived as reinforcements.” Das Afrika Korps: Erwin Rommel and the Germans in Africa, 1941-43, Franz Kurowski, p. 202, Stackpole Books, 2010).

22 November – Tanks from the Italian 50th Brigade force US Paratroopers to abandon Gafsa. (“From here, the paratroopers were forced to withdraw as the jaws of a pincer movement of Italian tanks closed in from Sened and Keili.” The Bloody Road to Tunis: Destruction of the Axis Forces in North Africa, November 1942-May 1943, David Rolf, p. 35, Greenhill Books, 2001)

MEDITERRANEAN

27 November – Italian Spica-class destroyer escort ‘Circe’ sinks off Sicily after accidentally being rammed by a merchant vessel it was escorting.

2 December – Italian destroyer ‘Folgore’ is sunk off Tunisia by British Force Q. Spica-class destroyer escort ‘Lupo’ is sunk by Royal Navy destroyers.

4 December – Italian cruiser ‘Muzio Attendolo’ is sunk in the port of Naples by U.S. bombers.

NORTH AFRICA

3 December – 10th Bersaglieri Regiment overruns part of the British 2nd Parachute Battalion and US 509th Parachute Regiment. (“On December 3d 1942 minor Axis offensives continued. Some British parachutists were dropped in rear of the Axis lines. It seems that they fell just near a place where a battalion of Italian Bersaglieri (special infantry type) happened to be, who report capturing the entire detachment of about 300 men.” https://web.archive.org/web/20110617054745/ http://sill-www.army.mil/FAMAG/1943/FEB_1943/FEB_1943_PAGES_143_149.pdf) (“La sua prima brillante azione risale al 2 dicembre, quando reparti del XVI° catturarono un folto gruppo di paracadutisti inglesi e americani del Col. Raff, in un’ardita azione di rastrellamento nella zona di Donar Cheti, facendo meritare al Reggimento un encomio del comando della Divisione “Superga”. http://www.qattara.it/60-131-bersaglieri.html I BERSAGLIERI IN AFRICA SETTENTRIONALE)

6 December – Italian Army Headquarters reports that Italian forces have overrun an Allied unit in Tunisia. (“In Tunisia, during hard fighting which we reported in yesterday’s communique and which resulted in our capture of an important locality, we took 400 prisoners. We destroyed or captured twenty-five tanks, seven armored vehicles, forty-one guns, roughly 300 motor vehicles and a large amount of ammunition.” Italian High Command Communique, The New York Times, 7 December 1942)

13 December – The ‘Centauro’ Armoured Division forces a British armoured force to retreat at El Agheila. In his diary, Rommel writes:

“Late in the morning, a superior enemy force launched an attack on Combat Group Ariete, which was located south-west of El Agheila, with its right flank resting on the Sebcha Chebira and its left linking up with 90th Light Division. Bitter fighting ensued against 80 British tanks and lasted for nearly ten hours. The Italians put up a magnificent fight, for which they deserved the utmost credit. Finally, in the evening, the British were thrown back by a counter attack of the Centauro’s armoured regiment, leaving 22 tanks and 2 amoured cars burnt out or damaged on the battlefield. The British intention of cutting off the 90th Light Division had been foiled.” (The Rommel Papers, US version, p. 373)

MEDITERRANEAN

17 December – British submarine HMS ‘Spendid’ sinks Italian destroyer ‘Aviere’.

EASTERN FRONT

12 December – Italian reconnaissance troops penetrate Russian forward defences and bring back prisoners & war booty. (“Italian troops, in an aggressive reconnaissance engagement, broke into enemy positions and brought back prisoners and booty.” German High Command Communique, The New York Times, 12 December 1942)

16 December – At 0800 hours the Russians launch Operation Little Saturn, which aims at breaking the Italian lines with 15 divisions and several hundred heavy tanks. The ‘Cosseria’ and ‘Ravenna’ Divisions, although outnumbered 9 to 1, hold their ground for three days, as German and Russian records show. (“During this phase, the Germans praised the steadfastness of Italian infantry, who held out tenaciously even in isolated strongpoints but eventually reached their breaking-point under this constant pressure. ” The Unknown Eastern Front: The Wehrmacht and Hitler’s Foreign Soldiers, Rolf-Dieter Müller, p. 83-84, I.B.Tauris, 2014) (“On 17 December, Kuznetsov committed General-Major Pavel P. Poluboiarov’s 17th Tank Corps, General-Major Boris S. Bakharov’s 18th Tank Corps and General-Major Petr R. Pavlov’s 25th Tank Corps into an infantry support role and finally broke through the front of the Italian II Army Corps.” Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1941-1942, Robert Forczyk, Pen and Sword, 2014)

19 December – With German reinforcements turning up late, Italian headquarters orders the battered Italian divisions to withdraw to new lines. (“The attack at dawn failed to penetrate fully at first and developed into a grim struggle with Italian strongpoints, lasting for hours. The Ravenna Division was the first to be overrun. A gap emerged that was hard to close, and there was no holding back the Red Army when it deployed the mass of its tank forces the following day. German reinforcements came too late in the breakthrough battle.” The Unknown Eastern Front: The Wehrmacht and Hitler’s Foreign Soldiers, Rolf-Dieter Müller, p. 84, I.B.Tauris, 2014)

20 December – Italian reinforcements in the form of the ‘Sforzesca’ Division fight hard near Stalingrad, against strong Russian infantry and tank formations. (“On the Don river front German and Italian troops were said to be “still engaged against strong Soviet infantry and tank formations .”https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1129&dat=19421221&id=DcRRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=BWoDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6103,2537671&hl=en Nazis Admit Heavy Blows In Russia, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 21 December 1942)

The Russian attack causes panic amongst the supporting Wehrmacht staff officers and combat troops. The German 298th Division, located between the ‘Ravenna’ and ‘Pasubio’ Divisions, retreats without authorization as well as the German liaison officers attached to the Italian 29th Corps Headquarters, abandoning their posts and leaving the Italians alone to contain the Russian attacks. (“The German 298th Division stopped taking orders from the Italian 35th Corps and began taking orders from the German staff of the Italian 29th Corps. The division retreated from its positions, and did not bother to inform General Francesco Zingales, the Italian commander of the 35th Corps.” The Regio Esercito: The Italian Royal Army in Mussolini’s Wars, 1935-1943, Patrick Cloutier, pp. 156-157, Lulu Press, 2013) (‘”Germans efforts to cut themselves loose from the Italians and escape on their own, brought little success: abandoning joint defense eased the Russian task of encircling Axis forces. The German 298th Division and the German staff of the Italian 29th Corps Headquarters still ended up behind enemy lines with their Italian comrades-in-arms.” The Regio Esercito: The Italian Royal Army in Mussolini’s Wars, 1935-1943, Patrick Cloutier, p. 157, Lulu Press, 2013)


Re: Mersa Matruh and Italian Army's achievements in WW2

Post by Sid Guttridge » 11 Jul 2008, 19:21

I agree that there is no "biblical" source for history and that it is best to go back to primary sources. However, this is usually not practicable.

The importance of Iron Hulls Iron Hearts is threefold - firstly I know of nothing else in English that covers this ground in detail, secondly it uses sources from all sides, and thirdly it manages to remain detached.

I wouldn't recommend this (or any) book as a "bible", but in this case there is precious little in English on the same subject with similar qualities, so it is unusually useful and to be recommended.

Obviously, if you can get to Italian primary sources, that would be far better, but the Italian military archives are (or were) of very difficult access.

Veterans are useful for different reasons. They give human interest to events, which archives generally don't. But if it is the hard facts one is after, rather than impressions, the archives are preferable. Better, the two together.

Re: Mersa Matruh and Italian Army's achievements in WW2

Post by Oasis » 11 Jul 2008, 22:01

Hi Sid,
I fully agree with you.

Here a link with recension of Iron Hulls.. it is in italian but can be easily translated by babelfish.

Re: Mersa Matruh and Italian Army's achievements in WW2

Post by JeffreyF » 12 Jul 2008, 16:38

Re: Mersa Matruh and Italian Army's achievements in WW2

Post by Oasis » 13 Jul 2008, 07:02

Hi Jeffrey,
I usually dislike all the "epic" literature exalting war, victories, heroism. but it is also a source for history.
My father, a veteran, says war was/is a very bad job, and our children must know this. Campini, a tankman of Ariete, gave his book the title "Heroism and misery at El Alamein" as they are two aspects of the same object, but with different weight: the few who liked "the good smell of balistite" and the majority who hated the war (in its real aspects) and suffered it.
I always suggest to read a counter-stream book of James Hillman "A Terrible Love of War": one can agree or not, but it is a strong point of view on the phenomenon "war" and its actor "the man".
Naturally this is only my own opinion.

I report here a brief start of Hillman's book.

Re: Mersa Matruh and Italian Army's achievements in WW2

Post by 7thbersaglieri » 13 Jul 2008, 07:13

Re: Mersa Matruh and Italian Army's achievements in WW2

Post by 7thbersaglieri » 13 Jul 2008, 07:15

Re: Mersa Matruh and Italian Army's achievements in WW2

Post by Urmel » 25 Aug 2008, 20:24

The enemy had superiority in numbers, his tanks were more heavily armoured, they had larger calibre guns with nearly twice the effective range of ours, and their telescopes were superior. 5 RTR 19/11/41

Re: Mersa Matruh and Italian Army's achievements in WW2

Post by Greenjacket » 26 Aug 2008, 13:10

Mersa Matruh, with 6000 POWs and 40 tanks (and a large quantity of war material) was taken by 90th Light Division and reece elements. There are a number of various sources, but I think the official Axis operational record is the most useful (Panzer Army Africa Battle Report dated 29 June 1942 K.T.B. 812). I have downloaded copies at:
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/c . e_1942.jpg
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image . e_1942.jpg


With regard to ‘Iron Hull Iron Hearts’, I would treat that book with a degree of scepticism (indeed, I would urge scepticism of any book which has no footnotes and no use was made of any primary sources!). It is also a good idea to check claims made in ‘Iron Hulls Iron Hearts’ with the actual sources referred to. For example, on page 101, ‘Iron Hulls Iron Hearts’ (with regard to when ‘Ariete’ took Point 175 on 29 November 1941) complains that the New Zealand Official Histories “completely fails to name the enemy formation involved, or even to acknowledge that it was Italian. It seems that the constant deluge of British propaganda about Italian military incompetence both during the war and ever since made the New Zealanders reluctant to admit that the ‘incompetent' Italians were responsible for inflicting one of their most embarrassing defeats.” Check that claim against the account in the NZ Official History (page 401): http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2Tobr-c22.html (And the NZ official history does not refer to 'incompetent' Italians as far as I can tell - it is very poor to make up a quote.)

I would question the claim that 'Iron Hulls Iron Hearts' uses all sources - one would surely expect a book to use at least some primary evidence or at least check its claims? For example, 'Iron Hulls Iron Hearts' (page 179) claims that on 14 December, Ariete/Centauroi was attacked by "eighty Shermans" of 8 Armoured Brigade, and that "twenty-two Shermans" were destroyed. In fact, 8 Armoured Brigade had nothing like that number of Shermans. The brigade's total losses on 14 December 1942 came to 3 Crusader tanks and 1 Grant tank from the Staffs Yeomanry and a single Scout Car from the Sherwood Rangers (sources 'Iron Hulls Iron Hearts' should have seen are the 8 Armd Bde war diaries and operational records in the WO169 series at PRO, Kew - given that the author is British, that is surely not too much to ask?). Elsewhere 'Iron Hulls Iron Hearts' makes grossly inflated claims of British losses or exaggerates British strength. For example, on page 144, describes an attack by "two fresh British infantry divisions, heralded by the most intense artillery bombardment since World War I"(!), when the actual attack was made by the 2/48th Australian Battalion! ( http://www.awm.gov.au/cms_images/histor . ers/12.pdf) It is also rather odd that 'Iron Hulls Iron Hearts' makes no reference at all to the disastrous Italian tank counter-attack in that action.


The argument that the NZ Official Histories "belittle" the Italians is contradicted by other evidence. See page 293 http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2Tobr-c16.html for example. (It should be noted that the NZ Official Histories used Italian and German sources.) A detailed account of the battle for the Omars can be found in Bisheshwar Pradesh 'Official History of the Indian Armed Forces' Vol.III North Africa 1940-43', which points out that while the Omars werre held mostly by the 'Savona' Division, the main defence came from the 88mm guns of the German Oasis Company, which destroyed a large number of Matildas from 42nd Royal Tank Regiment. This is not anyone trying to belittle the Italian 'Savona' Division - it is just a fact that the Germans had the 88mm guns.

Re: Mersa Matruh and Italian Army's achievements in WW2

Post by Mechili » 30 Aug 2008, 12:42

No book is perfect - despite frequent lavish cover back and flap praise, there is no such thing as "the ultimate treatment" of any topic. I'm not here to defend the book or acquit its flaws, some of which you point out. To the contrary, any founded criticism is welcome and appreciated. However, I'd like to put forward a couple of remarks:

1) Belittling or downplaying Italian achievements, actions, facts and personalities just simply happens throughout the Anglosaxon (and German) literature on the subject. There is no paucity of instances of this steady belittling activity, ranging from outright disparagement to omissions to jibes to staging the Germans in the Italians' stead. Sometimes that may depend on blameless lack of information rather than any ill will on the part of the writer - since the Allies won and the Axis lost the war, unlike Allied papers and documents lots of Axis papers and documents just vanished over the battlefields, under aerial bombing raids and in the chaos of retreat and defeat. Sometimes it can be blamed on the linguistical barrier - knowledge of Italian language has apparently never been widespread outside Italy. Sometimes it can be blamed on scholarly laziness - touring Italy searching for rare publications or primary sources could turn out to be too much of a bother for the writer cozily ensconced in London or Down Under or elsewhere. All that is very understandable and I'm not going to moralize over it. However, when running into a number of those "snags" within so many texts, even an unprejudiced reader can't help wondering whether some of them may also have been put into the text on purpose, for sundry reasons including - chiefly when there are significant Allied losses to reckon with - the wish not to admit those losses have been to any degree inflicted by Italians. The question seems especially appropriate with more recent works, written when plenty of Italian sources were available already and sources crosschecks not impossible to carry out.

2) Anglosaxon official histories of the war are magnificent super-detailed works and still absolutely invaluable - possibly the best official histories of the war ever, worldwide. The downside to them, though, is that they are quite old - and AFAIK they have never been extensively revised and/or rewritten over time, in the light of new historical research developments and new sources. They are just the same great works dating back to the 1950s, when they were composed, a few years after the end of the war, entirely on Anglosaxon sources along with, at best, a smattering of German texts and the one or two Italian books translated into English by then. In comparison, large portions of the post-war Italian Army official histories (rich enough in details but built almost entirely on hardly screened Italian material) have been thoroughly rewritten in the 1980s, and German histories are as recent or even more so. Obviously, being newer doesn't automatically imply being better and more solid. But it may mean being more widely researched, fairer, and less prone to drag wartime emotions, sentiments and propaganda dross into official works.


Killing+over+359+troops+and+wounding+560

Matruh there was only one more defensive position before Cairo itself El Alamein. *June 27- a group of RAF Vickers Wellingtons bombed the units of 4th County of London Yeomanry, British 7th Armoured Division and the British 3rd Hussars during a two-hour raid near Mersa Matruh, Egypt, killing over 359 troops and wounding 560. ''Sharpshooters at War: The 3rd and 4th and 3rd 4th County of London Yeomanry, 1939-1945'', Andrew Graham ref>


Middle East Front 1942

We can have all sorts of PODs. Perhaps the weather is a bit better, they have slightly more transport working out to get supplies forward so the offensive jumps off on time, which means the defenses wouldn't get reorganized.

The only thing that needs to change is the outcome of 1st Alamein and British positions in Egypt fall apart. My OP handwaved how that happened, as it would likely have to be something earlier so that they can transport supplies a bit better, as they captured fuel and whatnot at Matruh. Get that forward on time and things likely work out.

You may want to look at the balance of forces a little more deeply. The Germans and Italians were outfought, out supplied, and out-generalled by the British et al given they were outnumbered roughly 1.5 to 1 in personnel, 2-1 in tanks, and 3-1 in the air, and the British were on the defensive, it's not really surprising.

And the casualties reflected that . The Axis lost roughly 17,000 and the British some 13,000.

There's no chance that's going to end up an Axis victory.

Deleted member 1487

The info is simply wrong. WW2 advances supplied by road rather inevitably petered out around 400-500 kilometres from the nearest port or railhead, due to exponential transport requirements.

When you look at the distances between the major ports of Libya and Egypt, they tend to be around that limit, meaning anyone advancing eastward has a hard time as they were very much at the end of their tether, and the defender was sitting on a logistics hub.

The British, having actually paid attention to this issue both prior and during the war, appropriately invested in Egypt's infrastructure and their own forces logistical assets (both material and personnel) so they could better avoid this problem. This is why the Eighth Army was always significantly larger than the Axis forces in North Africa, which was decisive in stopping Rommel at Alamein.

Which, aside from being predicated on the Germans breaching defenses they physically do not have the forces and supplies to breach, is also predicated on them taking Alexandria and those dumps intact. Both of these essentially require more then the British substituting lead time for tea time: it requires God to descend from the heavens and grant the Germans unlimited tanks, men, and fuel. And we do have a forum for that.

Deleted member 1487

You may want to look at the balance of forces a little more deeply. The Germans and Italians were outfought, out supplied, and out-generalled by the British et al given they were outnumbered roughly 1.5 to 1 in personnel, 2-1 in tanks, and 3-1 in the air, and the British were on the defensive, it's not really surprising.

And the casualties reflected that . The Axis lost roughly 17,000 and the British some 13,000.

There's no chance that's going to end up an Axis victory.

TFSmith121

At Gazala, the ratio was 1.1 to .9

At Gazala, the ratio was 1.1 to .9 (in favor of the Allies, but 8th Army was led by Neil Ritchie, so it's pretty much a wash) and there was an open flank at Mersa Matruh, the 8th Army was still retreating, there was an open flank, there was no army commander on scene, and the two corps commanders involved were trying to fight an army-level battle by committee.

Slight differences with 1st Alamein, Alam Halfa, and 2nd Alamein.

ObssesedNuker

Desptire British defenses the Axis forces won at Mersa Matruh and got the port, plus captured British supplies.

Via outflanking the British defenses: had Rommel attempted a frontal assault, he would have surely failed. This is not an option at El Alamein: the Qattara Depression means there is no flank to turn. There is no choice but to attack into the teeth of the British defenses. As history shows, the Germans were too weak to do so. They did not have the forces or the supplies to do it. Additionally, the Mersa Matruh port was of no importance (so the British wouldn't have even bothered to try and demolish it) and the dumps were immediately behind the British defences instead of a hundred kilometers off. None of this is applicable at El Alamein in regards to Alexandria: even had a sufficiently-sized meteorite chosen to land on the British forces a few hours before the battle, the Brits would have still had a few days to evacuate/destroy the dumps and level the port facilities due to the time it takes to move division-sized formations.

I also find it amusing that you quote the taking of 6,000 prisoners as if it means anything when it (and indeed all the British casualties in the battle) represent basically a insignificant proportion of British forces.

Astrodragon

Notice how the Axis just leaped over the Alamein-Quattara position, leaped across the desert between Alamein and the Nile, took Alexandria, found airlift for four parachute RCTs or whatever, found bridging equipment magically for the Nile, fought their way through two of the largest cities in the region, found more bridging equipment for the Suez, etc.

It's interesting apparently none of these troops need food, water, ammunition, or gasoline.

Astrodragon

Because we all know the British Army and the RN are completely unable to demolish port facilities.

Come to that, how are the Axis going to enjoy 15" bricks landing on them when they get closer to Alexandria?

John Farson

RodentRevolution

Thaddeus

Lionhead

Deleted member 1487

Because we all know the British Army and the RN are completely unable to demolish port facilities.

Come to that, how are the Axis going to enjoy 15" bricks landing on them when they get closer to Alexandria?

In a few days? IOTL at the time of 1st Alamein they hadn't prepared port destruction and if the Axis forces breach the defenses and move on there isn't anything more that they can do other than minor damage.

As to British BBs what did they have on hand in early July after the Alexandria raid sank two British BBs and left the Italian navy with BB superiority? They were able to turn back Malta convoys from the East that were heavily escorted in July 1942. And who is spotting in the city of Alexandria, especially if the Egyptians revolt against the British? They were apparently eager to get the British out once the Axis were in a major city by providing major support they were expecting to form up and help liberate themselves so they wouldn't just be a vassal that would result from an Axis only liberation from the British.

If you think so why are you posting here?

The British Army in Egypt recognised this before the war[17] 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", however, was just open, empty desert.[18] Lieutenant-General William Norrie (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.[18]

The scattering of X Corps at Mersa Matruh disrupted Auchinleck's plan for occupying the Alamein defences. On 29 June, he ordered XXX Corps—South African 1st, Indian 5th and 10th Infantry Divisions—to take the coastal sector on the right of the front and XIII Corps—New Zealand and Indian 5th Divisions—to be on the left. The remains of 1st and 7th Armoured Divisions were to be held as a mobile army reserve.[21] His intention was for the fixed defensive positions to canalise and disorganise the enemy's advance while mobile units would attack their flanks and rear.[22]

The quote was really for the phrase 'enormous quantities of supplies captured', which was where they were drawing supply from, plus the port at Matruh

King Augeas

AIUI, First Alamein consisted of a few days of unsuccessful German attacks, after which German exhaustion gave the initiative back to the British, who expended it on three weeks of internecine attritional slugging.

From this, the best chance of a German victory is on the very first day and every day that passes without that is a British strategic success, given the logistical issues. But the Wiki article doesn't suggest much hope even there - Rommel wanted to attack a day earlier, but his forces weren't in position, and by the time that the attack was launched, British forces freshly arrived from Iraq had established a blocking position on Ruweisat Ridge.

So a POD before the battle is required - some way of so disorganising the British forces that they can't form a line at Alamein. But given their mobility and the dominance of the Desert Air Force, it just improbable. It seems that Rommel took the best plausible advantage that he could of the victories at Mersa and Gazala, and it just wasn't enough.

Deleted member 1487

AIUI, First Alamein consisted of a few days of unsuccessful German attacks, after which German exhaustion gave the initiative back to the British, who expended it on three weeks of internecine attritional slugging.

From this, the best chance of a German victory is on the very first day and every day that passes without that is a British strategic success, given the logistical issues. But the Wiki article doesn't suggest much hope even there - Rommel wanted to attack a day earlier, but his forces weren't in position, and by the time that the attack was launched, British forces freshly arrived from Iraq had established a blocking position on Ruweisat Ridge.

So a POD before the battle is required - some way of so disorganising the British forces that they can't form a line at Alamein. But given their mobility and the dominance of the Desert Air Force, it just improbable. It seems that Rommel took the best plausible advantage that he could of the victories at Mersa and Gazala, and it just wasn't enough.

My handwaving in the OP was that something happens that gets the Axis in place before the British, so that they are able to breach the line and move on to Alexandria, while the reinforcements from Iraq are disrupted and fall back on the Nile due to the confusion of the Axis getting through their line. Of course IOTL Rommel didn't have enough to get through, the POD is that he does for whatever reason on the first day.

Though the British had positions just west of Alexandria just started, it was even less prepared than Alamein and the British staff were preparing to bug out, suggesting that a defeat at Alamein would mean they weren't really prepared to defend that last ditch line.


Mersa Matruh

Mersa Matruh is an ancient town on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, 290 kilometres west of Alexandria. In 1941 Matruh was the terminus of the railway Cairo and also a small port. Thus, when the Axis forces advanced on the Libya-Egypt frontier in April 1941, the British Commander in Chief in the Mediterranean, General Sir Archibald Wavell, decided to base his defence around Matruh, and only deploy light, mobile forces along the frontier. The Matruh area was developed into a strong defensive position known as a "box" and heavily fortified with minefields, anti-tank obstacles, barbed wire entanglements and a series of smaller defended areas. Its defences were not tested in 1941 but the renewed German advance of early-mid 1942 surrounded it on 26 June. The British garrison, X Corps, broke out of the German cordon on the night of 28 June and Matruh s passed into enemy hands, and was subsequently the site of General Erwin Rommel's headquarters. After the British victory in the second battle of El Alamein, Matruh was recaptured on 8 November. Today Matruh is a popular resort town and the site of a museum established in Rommel's former headquarters by his son.


Watch the video: Forgotten Hope 2 mersa matruh


Comments:

  1. Dowan

    Thanks for the explanation. I did not know it.

  2. Giolla Chriost

    Your idea brilliantly

  3. Aviram

    Safe variant :)



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