« The Other White Meat | Main | Cairn Gormless on Snow Records »

The End of The Beginning

The Battle of El Alamein opened at 9.40 pm on 23 October 1942 when 900 British medium and field guns fired an intense fifteen minute barrage against the enemy gun lines.

El Alamein - Lightfoot
The opening of the battle saw four divisions (9th Australian, 51st Highland, 2nd New Zealand and 1st South African) in the assault on the north of the Axis positions. The Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry was in support of 5th New Zealand Brigade (Brigadier Howard Kippenberger) and the aim was for infantry to secure the Miteiriya Ridge during darkness, with the armour to pass beyond them at first light to establish a screen. By now the regiment was equipped with a mix of M4 Sherman, Crusader and Grant (M3 Lee) tanks. On the morning of 24 October 1942, A and C squadrons were ahead of the infantry on the western slopes of the ridge. B squadron had been delayed in the Devil's gardens minefields and had lost numerous tanks. Throughout that day, A and C squadrons engaged German panzers on the plain below, and were in turn hit by anti-tank fire. Initially, the heavier Sherman tanks were not vulnerable to this, but when the German 88mm anti-tank guns joined in they took severe casualties. By midday, the two squadrons were reduced to one Sherman and three Grants and the commanding officer had been badly wounded and evacuated. The 10th Armoured Division was at this stage supposed to pass through and onwards to start the breakout, but seemed to be reluctant to do so.
At 6p.m. the regiment was ordered to withdraw. It had lost almost all of its tanks and taken 42 casualties killed or wounded. In reserve, the regiment was issued with new tanks, a hasty mix of Shermans, Grants, and Crusaders (types II and III), mostly salvaged from the battlefield and rapidly repaired. Montgomery had been impressed with the performance of 2nd New Zealand Division and wanted them to spearhead the next thrust, but Freyberg was unwilling to do so without reinforcements as his troops had suffered so many casualties. Monty therefore placed 151 and 152 Infantry Brigades under Freyberg's command for the next phase of the battle.

El Alamein - Supercharge
On the night of 1/2 November 1942, the 8th Army attacked again in the north, with 2nd New Zealand Division in the lead. General Freyberg placed 151 Brigade on the right and 152 Brigade on the left. The aim was to attack directly westwards across the Rahman track, with the infantry leading the night assault and 9th Armoured Brigade (now commanded by Brigadier John Currie) again passing through to break the enemy gun line and allow X Corps to break out. The assault went to plan except that opposition on the left was heavier than expected which slowed the advance. As a result the advancing tanks were highlighted against the dawn sky in the east and began to be picked off by Axis anti-tank fire. The Regiment was in the centre of 9th Armoured Brigade, and the CO lost touch with both his artillery support and close anti-tank support. In the growing light, the B squadron commander (Major M.StJ.V.Gibbs) realised that he was in a ring of enemy anti-tank guns, ahead and to both flanks. He gave the order to 'Charge' and B squadron over-ran the anti-tank positions, losing some vehicles but destroying the enemy gun line. Meanwhile 21st Panzer Division was counter-attacking A and C squadrons and at 4pm the Regiment (now down to four tanks) was withdrawn. 1st Armoured Division from X Corps were just behind 9th Armoured Brigade but there were no liaison officers between the units and 1st Armoured did not take the opportunity to push on through the broken Axis gun-line.

Dispositions at the end of Operation Supercharge

After the 9th Armoured Brigade's action, Brigadier Gentry of the 6th New Zealand Brigade went ahead to survey the scene. On seeing Brigadier Currie asleep on a stretcher, he approached him saying, 'Sorry to wake you John, but I'd like to know where your tanks are?' Currie waved his hand at a group of tanks around him, replying 'There they are.' Gentry was puzzled. 'I don't mean your headquarters tanks, I mean your armoured regiments. Where are they?' Currie waved his arm and again replied, 'There are my armoured regiments, Bill".

My father's tank brewed up, he saved the driver by cutting off his trapped arm with a pocket knife, and stayed with the injured man until they were picked up to become POWs.


Knew you'd put up a post on the RWY at Alamein.
My father and stepfather were there too.
They were ordered to break the gun line "regardless of cost".
Incidentally, one history I read: it mentioned the tanks being silhouetted on the ridge, and taking casualties, but then the sun rose and blinded the gunners, as planned.

My dad was there.

That's what heroes are. Your father and his whole generation are heroes. The Empire forces you mentioned were ultimately rewarded by our shameless abandonment to join the European Fourth Reich, but that's another story.

Post a comment