Deir el Shein sources - July 1942

Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by Tom OBrien, May 17, 2023.

  1. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Resolved by Charley

    Anyone here have access to the book ‘The North African Campaign 1940-1943’ by William G.F. Jackson, pub. 1975?

    It is not part of the Official History of the campaign that was published later. It is not in any of the UK libraries I can access locally or online.

    Stewart's book does not have footnotes and it could be three separate quotes. I am interested in his general comments on Deir el Shein and the decisions around 1/7/1942.
    Last edited: May 19, 2024
  2. Charley Fortnum

    Charley Fortnum Dreaming of Red Eagles

    Careful use of search should get you there without open access:
  3. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Cheers Charley. That has clarified Adrian Stewart's quotation, two are from Jackson and one is his. I have amended Post 276 to show the correct author for the quotations.
    Jackson also some information that needs to be assimilated!:cheers:
  4. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    I have a much later book by William Jackson, who has a certain writing style and enjoyed reading this one. A number of items to be added to the research paper.

    ‘The North African Campaign 1940-1943’ by William G.F. Jackson[1], pub. 1975.

    Taken from:

    The online book was checked, not all pages were available and relevant information was extracted. I have added to the page number subject headings and footnotes to explain – Wikipedia is used as an initial reference.

    Pg. 130 Jock Columns

    This task fell to Brigadier ‘Jock’ Campbell[2], who had taken over 7th Support Group when Gott was promoted to command 7th Armoured Division in Creagh’s place. Under his dynamic leadership the ‘Jock’ columns came into being. These were small mixed forces of about a battery of field guns, a troop of anti-tank guns, a troop of anti-aircraft guns and a company of motorised infantry, whose task it was to provide a defensive screen in the vast no man’s land of the Western Desert. ‘Jock’ columns had strict limitations. They could not hold ground against a determined attack and had to depend on their mobility to ride such blows; nor did they have the strength to do more than raid or ambush when required to act offensively.

    Pg. 146 Norrie takes command 30 Corps

    Cunningham decided to group his armoured forces under Lieutenant-General Pope’s 30 Corps[3] which was raised for the purpose. Pope[4] had been the War Office’s Director of Armoured Fighting Vehicles. He was killed in an air crash shortly after taking over and was replaced by Lieutenant-General Norrie[5] from 1st Armoured Division which was arriving in Egypt.

    Pg. 213 The 150th Brigade Box behind Rommel’s rear

    Had it not been for the 150th Brigade Group[6] Box between the two Trighs, Rommel would have been able to re-supply his striking force at will.[7] As yet, he was unaware that this Box existed in his rear. The box was attacked 30-31/5/1942 and finally overrun on 1/6/1942 by 15 Panzer and 90 Light divisions.

    Comment: Could this experience explain why the Afrika Korps, commanded by Rommel’s subordinate, decided to attack the 18th Indian Brigade “box” @ Deir el Shein?

    Pg. 234 Norrie & 30 Corps HQ leave the frontline

    On the 18 June Auchinleck flew to Eighth Army Headquarters, which was at Solium, to decide future tactical policy. …. Norrie should go back with his 30 Corps HQ to Egypt where he was to set about forming a new mobile striking force as resources became available.

    Pg. 250 Norrie & 30 Corps HQ returns to the frontline

    Norrie had reached El Alamein with his XXX Corps HQ on 26 June. He made his own corps responsible for the northern half of the front. Apart from the prominent mound of Tel el Eisa, a few miles west of the El Alamein Box, his sector was flat and featureless, although closer acquaintance gave tactical significance to the Miteirya and Ruweisat ridges and the shallow depressions of Deir el Shein and Deir el Abyad. Norrie appreciated that Rommel would probably try to repeat his Tobruk and Mersa Matruh manoeuvres by thrusting around the southern face of the El Alamein Box to cut the coast road behind it. He gave Pienaar’s 1st South African Division the task of holding the El Alamein Box and of blocking Rommel’s way round between El Alamein and Ruweisat Ridge. He decided to defend Ruweisat Ridge itself with a new box constructed in Deir el Shein and manned by 18th Indian Infantry Brigade Group from Syria. Pienaar’s method of carrying out his task was to organise his division into three brigade artillery columns as Auchinleck had ordered. He made his 3rd South African Brigade responsible for holding the El Alamein Box, while he disposed his other two brigade columns to block Rommel’s potential out-flanking route: 2nd South African Brigade with his own divisional HQ at Alam Onsol, and 1st South African Brigade on the northern side of Ruweisat Ridge forming an artillery trap. When 1st Armoured Division finally disengaged on its way back from Matruh it was to withdraw with 4th and 22nd Armoured Brigades into the South African sector to give tank support.

    The bulk of Holme’s[8] 10 Corps[9] was to have gone straight back to the Delta when it broke out from Matruh, but its 50th Division[10] was stopped and formed into three artillery columns alongside Auchinleck’s Eighth Army HQ on the eastern end of Alam Haifa Ridge fifteen miles behind the front.

    Comment: A 50th Division brigade was supposed to join the 18th Indian @ Deir el Shein, it never did. Begs the question whether the ‘columns’ were only artillery and had limited infantry.

    Pg. 252 Rommel’s preparations to attack

    Rommel took greater care with his preparations for the assault on the El Alamein position than he had done at Matruh, possibly because he too had been impressed by BBC propaganda about the strength of the El Alamein ‘Line’. Air photography showed the El Alamein Box and ‘Kaponga’ but not much else. His reconnaissance troops reported that an Indian Division was holding Deir el Abyad, possibly through mistaken map reading for 18th Indian Brigade Group’s Box seven miles further east in Deir el Shein. His radio intercept service correctly gave the northern half of the position to Norrie and the south to Gott. It put 50th Division in the El Alamein ‘box’

    Pg. 253 Rommel’s attack

    Rommel’s first idea seems to have been to attack through the southern sector as he directed the Afrika Korps in that direction from Fuka. He changed his mind and decided to attack, as Norrie expected, between the El Alamein Box and Ruweisat Ridge. Once he was through the British front he hoped to fan outwards, sweeping north to cut the coast road behind El Alamein and south to attack Gott’s XIII Corps from the rear. 90th Light and the Afrika Korps would make the breach. The former would drive on as it had done at Matruh to cut the coast road, and the latter would carry out the drive southward. The three Italian Corps would hold the shoulders of the breach and follow up the German thrust. The Afrika Korps would start moving to its assembly area opposite the northern sector at dusk, and the advance would start at 0300 hours on 1 July.

    Rommel seems to have been in a jubilant mood on 1 July. He did not expect Deir el Shein to hold the Afrika Korps up for long and so he sent warning orders to the Italians to be ready to pursue the British by evening.

    Pg. 254 Attack on 18th Indian Brigade

    Nehring’s attack on Deir el Shein was also launched in swirling clouds of dust, which helped rather than hindered his infantry and sappers as they tried to breach the mines and wire around the Indians’ perimeter. It was 18th Indian Brigade’s first battle, but it withstood the Afrika Korps’ attacks all day. Unfortunately, like 150th Brigade Group at Gazala, no-one realised that it was in serious trouble until too late. Misunderstanding and plain muddle led to the brigade being over-run by the Afrika Korps as darkness fell. Nevertheless, the Indians’ defence of Deir el Shein and the action of the South African and 1st Armoured Division artillery on 1 July was an unnoticed turning point in the North African Campaign. The British retreat from Gazala was over; the battles of El Alamein had begun.

    … column of 7th Motor Brigade[11] actually reached Fuka[12], causing momentary alarm amongst the…??? Probably the Germans or Italians?

    Comment: Fuka was the planned objective of a column to be formed from the 18th Indian Brigade, ordered on 30/6/1942.

    [1] See: William Jackson (British Army officer) - Wikipedia Served in WW2 and became a historian, including writing Official Histories.

    [2] See: Jock Campbell (British Army officer) - Wikipedia He died in February 1942 in an accident and was a highly regarded commander – including by the Germans.

    [3] Formed in September 1941. See: XXX Corps (United Kingdom) - Wikipedia

    [4] See: Vyvyan Pope - Wikipedia He was killed in an air crash on 5/10/1942.

    [5] He took command of 1st Armoured Division in the UK and was ordered to move the division to Egypt in November 1940. From: Willoughby Norrie, 1st Baron Norrie - Wikipedia

    [6] See: 150th Infantry Brigade (United Kingdom) - Wikipedia

    [7] Part of: Battle of Gazala - Wikipedia

    [8] See a slim bio: William Holmes (British Army officer) - Wikipedia

    [9] The 10 Corps had been involved in the Mersa Matruh battles, but escaped. From: XXX Corps (United Kingdom) - Wikipedia There is no pre-July 1942 information on: X Corps (United Kingdom) - Wikipedia

    [10] See: 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division - Wikipedia

    [11] Part of 1st Armoured Division, infantry and artillery units.

    [12] Fuka was an airfield and the location of the 29th Indian Brigade being overwhelmed on 29/6/1942. See: Battle of Mersa Matruh - Wikipedia
  5. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Some comments:

    1) I doubt it. Keep in mind that Rommel thought that it was Deir el Abyad that was occupied. It simply had to go as you cannot leave it behind your lines when you don't have the forces to invest it.
    2) They normally were very weak in infantry. On 3 April 5 Indian had three columns in the field, consisting of a company of infantry, a battery of 25-pdrs and 1 or 2 troops LAA each. Keep in mind that the infantry companies would have been well below strength at this point. The real power of these columns were the 25-pdrs.

    All the best

  6. jwsleser

    jwsleser Well-Known Member

    James M. Szpajcher just posted a book review on H-Wars on Glyn Harper’s The Battle for North Africa: El Alamein and the Turning Point for World War II. I am bringing this up as his post goes beyond what a usual book review would address and had a rather long bit about the 18th Indian Brigade. I have posted that section below, but the complete review can be read Szpajcher on Harper, 'The Battle for North Africa: El Alamein and the Turning Point for World War II' | H-Net I felt this could be of some small interest.

    “…Three of the authors—Harper, Barr, and Lucas Phillips—describe an important action around the box position held by the 18th Indian Infantry Brigade and supporting units on July 1, 1942, the action that stopped the advance of the Axis forces. Lucas Phillips did not identify the battalions that made up the infantry brigade.[3] Harper writes of the action, noting: “Most of 18 Indian Brigade managed to escape, but it had to leave behind close on 1,000 casualties” (p. 42). Barr gives the most detailed account of this action, taking several pages to present the details of this crucial confrontation, and he does it well. Unfortunately, he does not identify any of the battalions of the 18th Indian Brigade, and the one battalion that he does name was not in the battle, having passed through earlier to take part in another important action in the coming days.[4] There were two battalions of the Essex Regiment in the Eighth Army at this time, serving with different brigades. Barr misidentifies a battalion of the 18th Indian Brigade, which was overrun and destroyed, as 1/4th Essex, which was with the 5th Indian Brigade at the time.[5] The battalion he describes was 2/5th Essex, fighting its first battle: its only battle. The 2/5th Essex, together with the 4/11th Sikh and the 2/3 Gurkha battalions, three field artillery regiments and some scattered forces thrown into the fray, were responsible for saving the British position at El Alamein. Barr writes, “The sacrifice of the brigade had bought critical time. Although few, if any, observers recognized it at the time, the resistance of the 18th Indian Brigade had stemmed the tide.”[6] Regrettably, the Essex regimental history gives no breakdown of casualties, nor any roster of personnel of this doomed battalion.[7] Both the 2/5th Essex Battalion and the 18th Indian Infantry Brigade were disbanded after the battle and disappeared from the British and Indian armies. Only Fennell identifies the 2/5th Essex, noting the scale of the casualties, but without any context for the battle.[8]

    The discussion of 2/5th Essex brings into focus the issue of casualties incurred in combat units during the individual battles and over the campaign…”

    [3]. C. E. Lucas Phillips, Alamein (London: Heinemann, 1962), 47, 48.

    [4]. Niall Barr, Pendulum of War: The Three Battles of El Alamein (London: Jonathan Cape, 2005), 75–82.

    [5]. Barr, Pendulum of War, 75–82; and Col. T. A. Martin, The Essex Regiment: 1929 to 1950 (1952; repr., Uckfield, East Sussex: The Naval and Military Press, n.d.), 263.

    [6]. Barr, Pendulum of War, 80.

    [7]. Martin, Essex Regiment, 439-73.

    [8]. Jonathan Fennell, Combat and Morale in the North African Campaign (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 251.
  7. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron


    Thanks for the post. the three named authors I have used and those in the footnotes. It took awhile to spot that Lucas Philips had actually been there on the day! Which as I recall he actually never wrote in his books. He was 2iC of 121 Field Regt., 18th's own regiment - though not at 100% strength, having been in combat beforehand.

    One of the remaining gaps is the extent of the 2/5th Essex's casualties that day. Very few are officially commemorated and less than a dozen made it out. There are various accounts that some or many were taken prisoner. It is something that puzzles me, so their museum's records have no post-war comments and Charley has looked through many issues of their regimental journal.

    Later I will post up the casualty chart.
    Last edited: May 21, 2024
  8. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Attached is a Roll Call document, I have removed all the footnotes for brevity.

    Attached Files:

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