5 - 11 September 1942

I already wrote 5th September in previous 30 August-4 September thread…sorry

5 September 1942

Atlantic Ocean : German submarine U-506 torpedoed and sank British merchant ship Myrmidon 200 miles south of Cape Palmas, Liberia at 0233 hours; all 245 aboard survived.

German submarine U-513 torpedoed and sank British cargo ship Saganaga (30 were killed, 14 survived) and Canadian cargo ship Lord Strathcona (all 44 aboard survived) at Wabana, Bell Island, Newfoundland at 1615 hours.

El Alamein , Egypt : Battle of Alam El Halfa is over. Axis troops returned to the positions west of El Alamein, Egypt from which they began the failed offensive on 30 Aug. Their only small consolation for them is they halted their retreat and held on western portion of old British minefields at southern flank of Alamein line and capture of Himmemiyat peak which they held a valuable observation point on 13th Corps positions at southern flank of Alamein. When 13th Corps commander General Horrocks relayed his wish to recapture Himmemiyat peak , Montgomery refused and halted ant offensive and pursuit operations , recognising Eighth Army was not ready yet and even more importantly , he wanted Panzer Army to hold Himmemiyat peak to have good observation point to look down on 13th Corps position at south because he was already planning his all out offensive operation battle on northern flank of Alamein line at 30th Corps front meanwhile wished to divert the attention of enemy to southern flank to decieve him. Montgomery was already thinking and planning two battles ahead.

At the end of Battle of Alam el Halfa , Panzer Army Afrika lost 3.050 killed , wounded , captured (almost 2.000 German , 1.050 Italian) , 49 tanks (39 German panzers , 10 Italian tanks destroyed and left in battlefield) , 55 guns destroyed beyond recovery and 455 motorised vehicles , the last one was a heavy blow Rommel could not replace easily. Luftwaffe also lost 48 aircraft over Alam el Halfa. Eighth Army suffered 1.640 casaulties , killed , wounded and captured , 64 tanks knocked out though most of them recovered and repaired back to service , ten anti tank guns destroyed and 67 aircraft shot down from Desert Air Force.

Montgomery spent that day conducting Wendell Wilkie, the American politician and one-time contender for the Presidency, around the front, proudly taking him to the positions of 22nd Armoured Brigade. The fact that the Army Commander had time to engage in a public relations exercise was a clear sign that the fighting was at an end. Warned by President Roosevelt that by the time he reached the Middle East, Cairo might have fallen into German hands, Willkie arrived in the Egyptian capital on 4 September. He was soon subjected to all manner of rumour and counter-rumour about the British predicament in the region. He was thus mesmerised by the ‘wiry, scholarly, intense, almost fanatical personality of General Montgomery’ who kept insisting in a quiet voice that, so far from facing any kind of crisis, ‘Egypt has been saved’. On a tour of the front, interrupted only by a lunch of ‘sandwiches – and flies’, he was dazzled by the Eighth Army commander’s ‘amazing’ mastery of military detail as again and again he demonstrated more knowledge of the deployment of troops and tanks than the relevant unit commanders he met. When Montgomery assured him that the Eighth Army’s superiority in tanks and planes meant that ‘it is now mathematically certain that I will eventually destroy Rommel’, Willkie did not doubt this for a moment; and he was right. For the first time in the Desert War, the Eighth Army had the preponderance of firepower required for victory.

He relayed this glowing assessment to a White House which still harboured grave doubts about the Eighth Army’s prowess and remained anxious lest a Nazi pincer movement from the Caucasus and the desert might yet strangle the Middle East. This did much to reassure the President that his decision to press ahead with Torch – which he cabled to Churchill on the same day as Willkie’s awestruck meeting with Montgomery – had not been so ill judged as his principal advisors had feared. But the key word in Montgomery’s secret briefing was ‘eventually’. Like Wavell and Auchinleck before him, he had no intention of being rushed into a premature offensive until his men were so well trained, armed and supplied as to ensure victory. But, unlike his predecessors, who eventually succumbed to Churchill’s sustained war of attrition against them, he had time on his side.

The accumulated effect of Rommel’s sickness, the shortage of fuel, RAF command of the air and well‐prepared British defences have led some historians to conclude that Alam al‐Halfa was for Monty a battle easily won and for which he can claim no great credit. But it was also a battle easily lost. Previous British commanders with the factors similarly weighted in their favour had been drawn into fighting Rommel’s way and beaten. The German knew his strength and intended to outwit this new commander in the same way. Monty appreciated that his weakness was precisely that kind of quickly changing battle and that the terms of engagement had to be his own. There would be no tank‐on‐tank battle and no armoured cavalry charge as proposed to him by General Renton, commanding 7th Armoured Brigade, who asked when the tanks would be ‘let loose’. While artillery shells and RAF bombs reduced the enemy, Eighth Army would remain still and allow Rommel to ‘beat up against 400 tanks in position, dug in, and deployed behind a screen of 6‐pounder anti‐tank guns… and to suffer heavy casualties’. That Montgomery’s tactics were correct was confirmed by Rommel himself:

“British ground forces hardly put in an appearance. Montgomery attempted no large‐scale attack to retake the southern part of his line, and would probably have failed if he had. He relied instead on the effectiveness of his enormously powerful artillery and air force, and harassing attacks by the 7th Armoured Brigade. There is no doubt that the British commander’s handling of this action was absolutely right and suited to the situation, because it enabled him to inflict heavy damage on us in relation to his own losses, and preserve the striking power of his own force.”

Now very fatalistic (in contrast with his earlier arrogance in summer when he considered that Egypt was his for taking after Battle of Gazala victory and Fall of Tobruk), Rommel recognized that the fortunes of war had turned against him and Germany. He wrote shortly after the battle:

"With the failure of this offensive our last chance of gaining the Suez Canal had gone. We could now expect that the full production of British industry and, more important, the enormous industrial potential of America, which, consequent on our declaration of war, was now fully harnessed to the enemy cause, would finally turn the tide against us.

Rommel’s gamble, unlike his earlier risk taking, had failed. The price would be much higher than he perhaps realized. General Alexander, in his post-war Despatch of the North African campaign, wrote that Alam Halfa “was far more important than would appear.” It was the last chance for a German victory there and the beginning of the turn of the tide against the Axis.

Monty was cock‐a‐hoop and wrote to his son David on 8 September to tell him that ‘The battle I have been fighting with Rommel is over. I have defeated him and I expect you will see a good deal about it in the papers. I have enjoyed it all enormously.’ Montgomery issues an Order of the Day, congratulating Eighth Army on its “devotion to duty and good fighting qualities which have resulted in such a heavy defeat of the enemy and which will have far-reaching results.”

His success was, as he had imagined, splashed across the British papers, but for the Prime Minister Churchill it was hardly enough. Monty had beaten Rommel in a defensive battle. Churchill needed him to destroy Rommel in an offensive battle and he pressed for an attempt to be made soon. Monty replied that the additional equipment he needed would not be in place and most importantly training of his forces for offensive would not be sufficient until October and later wrote: ‘The Prime Minister signalled that the attack must be in September… I refused to attack until October; if a September attack was ordered, they would have to get someone else to do it. My stock was rather high after Alam‐el‐Halfa ! We heard no more about a September attack.’

Indeed it was. After the reply of Montgomery about his insistence to attack on October , no more heard from Churchill and Whitehall for a September offensive. But not only that , it also restored a lost faith in British leadership and a confidence in their own fighting abilities. One veteran from 7th British Armored Division wrote that the importance of this victory was “in the proof it gave that British tanks and infantry could stand up to the Germans and inflict a crushing defeat.” As a result, “morale rose to great heights and confidence was re-established.” (well not quite as we shall see in future but still , huge steps on this regard was taken.) As Alexander wrote, reflecting the views of many fighting in Eighth Army: “I now felt sure that we should be able to defeat the enemy when we were ready to take the offensive." As another veteran of the battle stated, “it was our first obvious victory and a tremendous morale booster. At last a plan that actually worked! For Montgomery’s chief of staff, Freddie de Guingand, Alam Halfa was “a heaven sent event.” It provided “the whole Army, its commander, staff and the fighting troops a great opportunity of running themselves in.”

The architects of the British victory, however, had been artillery and anti tank gunners, and even more so the RAF, who had been almost entirely responsible for the British offensive operations in the battle. The Desert Air Force had begun the battle with slightly fewer aircraft than the Axis but with much more fuel and so had been able to maintain almost total air superiority. As Rommel himself admitted, ‘non-stop and very heavy air attacks by the RAF, whose command of the air had been virtually complete, had pinned my army to the ground and rendered any smooth deployment or any advance by time-schedule completely impossible’. At RAF HQ, Desert Air Force Air Marshall Mary Coningham had reason to be pleased. Sixty-seven aircraft had been lost, but it had been a great victory. Once again, their efforts had helped the army to an incalculable degree. Mary and the other senior air staff had taken to dining with the army commander every night, but on 4 September, before wandering over for supper, Mary brought out a bottle of champagne, which he had been keeping for a special occasion. Raising his glass, Mary gave a toast: ‘To the further confusion of the Hun!’

Montgomery’s first success in North Africa was critical. It set Eighth Army on the road to recovery from its bewilderment and from the many disasters of May through July 1942. It was “the beginning of something new” as air-ground cooperation “now went up a gear” and “paid extra dividends.” It left Montgomery free now to plan and prepare his own battle of El Alamein, where these dividends could be fully exploited. As the British official history noted, with their forces growing stronger every day, “the initiative was theirs for the taking.” Montgomery was determined to seize it. When he felt his army was ready, Montgomery would strike against Rommel’s Panzer Army with all the considerable force at his disposal.

Mediterranean Sea : Royal Navy submarine HMS Traveller intercepted another Axis convoy in Central Mediterranean , torpedoed and sank Italian freighter Albachiara 25 miles off Derna, Libya.

Stalingrad , Russia : Soviet 24th Army and 66th Army organized a counter attack against German 14th Panzer Corps at Stalingrad, Russia. Launched in the morning, it was called off around noon time; 30 of the 120 tanks committed to this attack were destroyed, nearly all of which to German Luftwaffe Ju-87 Stuka dive bomber and JU-88 medium bomber attacks. But they take pressure off 62nd and 64th Armies, giving them time to lay barbed wire, dig trenches, plant mines, and infuse manpower. 87th Division is down to 180 men, 112th has 150, and 99th Tank Brigade has 120 men and now tanks.

1st Guards Army also attacked again, only to be beaten back: worse still, air reconnaissance reported strong concentrations of German tanks, artillery and motorized infantry on the move from Gumrak, Orlovka and Bolshaya Rossoshka. At the end of the day Soviet troops had made up 4,000 yards at the most, while 24th Army had been pushed back to its start-line.When Zhukov reported on the day’s fighting, Stalin expressed his satisfaction, particularly about German movement from Gumrak: ‘That’s good. That is a great help to Stalingrad.’ The attacks were to continue, in order to draw off as many German troops as possible from Stalingrad itself. Zhukov accordingly ordered 1st Guards Army commander General Moskalenko to continue his attacks by day with 1st Guards: at night Golovanov’s bombers from the Long-Range Bomber Force went after targets in the German rear. Golovanov himself worked with Zhukov at 1st Guards HQ. Rudenko’s 16th Air Army, recently re-formed, was assigned to operate with the Stalingrad Front and on 6 September Zhukov received a STAVKA signal that two more fighter regiments were moving up to Stalingrad, with two more fighter groups arriving within the next forty-eight hours. Lieutenant-General Novikov, commander of the Soviet Air Force and Stavka ‘representative’, now enjoyed special authority to concentrate all fighter aircraft of the Stalingrad and South-Eastern Fronts on any sector where they were needed, while Khryukin’s and Stepanov’s fighter regiments were in part subordinated to Novikov. The Stavka threw in all available aircraft: Zhukov authorized ‘unlimited right to manoeuvre’ for air units to concentrate on threatened sectors.

To capture Stalingrad Sixth German Army commander General Paulus, plans his next move too, yet another assault on the blasted city. Paulus, suffering dysentery, is tired and listless, but he starts each morning with bright white collar and highly polished boots. As the battle goes on, he becomes increasingly depressed about his casualty bill.

Paulus plans to concentrate two shock forces against the southern half of the town, to grab the “Central landing stage” opposite Krasnaya Sloboda. Three German divisions will charge from Gumrak railway station. Another force, including the 29th German Motorized Division, will attack from the northeast.

Caucausian Front : Despite heavy resistance of Soviet Marines rearguard action in outskirts of town , 17th German Army besieged Soviet port city Novorosissk.

Volkhov , Leningrad Front , Russia : The front lines of the Soviet Volkhov Front offensive reached within 3.5 miles from the Leningrad Front on the other side, nearly breaking the German siege on Leningrad, Russia, but the offensive would soon peter out.

Rouen , France : US 8th Air Force bombers attacked the Rouen marshalling yards in France, but bombs dropped wide by the inexperienced American crews caused the deaths of 140 French civilians.

Kokoda Track , Papua New Guinea : With their flanks threatened by Japanese 41st Regiment advance , Australian 2/16th and 2/14th Battalions abandoned Templetons Crossing , fell back to Efogi along the Kokoda Track in Australian Papua on the southern side of the Owen Stanley Gap.

Casualties during the engagements amounted to 43 killed and 58 wounded for the Japanese out of a force of around 1,300, and 21 killed and 54 wounded for the Australians from around 710 personnel. Author, Peter Williams, later described the battle as “the least-examined engagement of the campaign”; occurring so soon after the fighting around Isurava. Williams argues that the battle has been “obscured by it”, highlighting that Japanese accounts in fact refer to it as the “Second Battle of Isurava”, while contemporary Australian press reports were largely silent in their coverage of it. Nevertheless, it was arguably one of the main clashes during the Australian withdrawal and it was the last time during the campaign that the Japanese outnumbered the Australians. The Japanese force was supported by four artillery pieces and an engineer platoon, while Australians had only a single 3-inch mortar for indirect fire support.

Although the withdrawal resulted in the loss of their supply dump around the dry lake at Myola, the action was a successful rearguard action for the Australians, with the slowness of the Japanese pursuit contributing to this. The foodstuffs captured at Myola by the Japanese were later found to have been contaminated by the withdrawing Australians, rendering them useless. Following the fighting around Eora Creek, the Japanese 41st Regiment was criticised, particularly by members of its sister regiment, the 144th, and by Horii, for its slow rate of advance towards Efogi and its inability to destroy the Australian force, thus allowing it to regroup. The 144th subsequently took over the pursuit, catching up with them around Efogi.

South China Sea : American submarine USS Seal torpedoed and damaged Japanese passenger-cargo ship Kanju Maru 20 miles off the coast of French Indochina in the South China Sea.

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6th September 1942

Atlantic Ocean : At 2323 hours, U-109 torpedoed and sank British passenger-cargo ship Tuscan Star 300 miles southwest of Cape Palmas, Liberia, 51 were killed, 63 survived but 1 of them would be taken prisoner.

German submarine U-165 penbetrated S.t. Lawrence Gulf , Canada and torpedoed and sank Greek cargo ship Aeas then retreated back from Gulf.

German submarine U-514 sank British sailing vessel Helen Forsey by her deck gun 500 miles east of Bermuda at 1100 hours; 2 were killed, 4 survived.

Caribbean Sea : German submarine U-164 torpedoed and sank Canadian cargo ship John A. Holloway 150 miles northwest of Aruba at 2227 hours; 1 was killed, 23 survived.

El Alamein , Egypt : Panzer Army Afrika complated its retreat back to its original lines plus holding western end of British minefields , began construction of several belts defensive entrechments , fortifications , anti tank defences and sowing vast minefields nicknamed as “Devil’s Gardens” to meet up future offensive of Eighth Army.

As Rommel prepared his defences along the El Alamein line he was aware that the conflict to come would be one of “Material‐schlacht” : a battle of attrition in which the side with the greater resources (and the greater ability to replenish them) must prove the victor. Here, both sides had taken up fixed positions and any form of mobile warfare in the open desert was unlikely to develop.

He set about strengthening his front‐line defences, which ran forty miles from the sea to the Qattara Depression. The enemy would have to penetrate two parallel belts of mines separated by a gap scattered with bombs and shells (some of them wired for remote detonation) that became known as ‘the Devil’s Gardens’. His chief engineer reported on 10th September that 434,000 anti‐tank mines and 40,000 anti‐personnel mines were laid. Tank regiments were spread evenly along the line, stronger German regiments alternating with the weaker Italians. Rommel expected the minefields to delay the enemy long enough for his armour to be concentrated at the point of an attempted breakthrough. Losses were expected to be high on both sides.

Mediterranean Sea : U-375 sank Egyptian sailing vessel Turkian with her deck gun 20 miles off of Khan Yunis, Palestine at 1008 hours, in range of British coastal guns (which failed to hit the submarine); all 19 aboard survived.

Caucasian Front , Russia : The German 4th Mountain Division of 17th German Army captured the naval base at Novorossiysk on the Black Sea in southern Russia. It left the heights south of the port and several coast roads in the hands of 47th Soviet Army though. Attempts to push out of Novorossiysk were costly failures and the Axis also failed to break the defences on the coastal plain from Novorossiysk to Tuapse, having only the strength to stabilise the line.

Lithuania , Baltics : Arvid and Mildred Harnack of Soviet espionage network Red Orchestra were arrested by the Gestapo. With all its leaders now imprisoned the Red Orchestra soon collapsed.

Meaulte , France : B-17E bombers of US Eighth Air Force attacked an aircraft factory near Méaulte, France, without fighter escort because the fighters had failed to make the rendezvous. The raid caused no damage on the French aircraft production ; two US bombers were shot down

UK : Messerchmitt-210 was used over Britain first time , two of them were shot down by RAF Hawker Typhoon interceptors over Yorkshire coast

London , UK : Operation TORCH was finally beginning to take shape. On the third anniversary of Britain’s entry into the war, Harry Butcher recorded in his diary that both parties had found a way forward. Recommended by the US Joint Chiefs were simultaneous landings at Casablanca and Oran but also Algiers, with US troops leading the way at Casablanca and Oran and supporting the British at Algiers. This was agreed by Churchill two days later, albeit with some caveats about the number of troops to be deployed at each of the landings. ‘We agree to the military lay-out as you propose it,’ he wrote to the President. The Casablanca task force was to come directly from the USA while the troops for Algiers and Oran would come from Britain. All three landings were to be simultaneous, if at all possible. After securing the beaches, ports were to be seized for follow-up forces and for supplies, while beachheads were to be expanded rapidly with a view to securing French Morocco and western Algeria. Ground bases and airfields could then be quickly established to support the push towards Tunisia. ‘Hurrah!’ came the one-word reply from the President. A day later, Churchill told him, ‘OK, full blast.’ What Harry Butcher called ‘the transatlantic essay contest’ was finally drawing to a close.

There was still much to be done, however, and General Eisenhower’s mind was swimming with the enormous number of imponderables that faced them, not least the weather for D-Day. ‘I am searching the Army to find the most capable chaplain to assure a fairly decent break in the weather when the big day comes,’ he wrote to Patton. But despite such anxieties, the broad plan of TORCH had now been agreed, and with that box safely ticked, the rest of the planning could gather pace.

The numerous staff and command appointments were also being finalized. Soon to arrive in London was Brigadier-General Walter Bedell-Smith to take up his position as Ike’s Chief of Staff. An American veteran of the First World War, Bedell-Smith was another who had caught Marshall’s eye and since February had been secretary to the US Chiefs of Staff. Intimately familiar with the machinations over TORCH within the US War Department and in the White House, he was also well acquainted with all the key players in Washington, both British and American, and was a good friend of Ike’s. His good humour, flair for getting on with people, and sound judgement would be invaluable to the Allied C-in-C in the weeks and months to come.

Bedell-Smith had also become firm friends with Admiral Andrew Browne Cunningham (ABC) previous Royal Navy Mediterranean Fleet commander , and at one point had called on ABC for a ‘heart-to-heart’ about TORCH and its prospects. He told ABC that personally he felt enthusiastic about the plan, but was getting little encouragement from the US Navy Department. What did ABC think the effect of the Allied occupation of North Africa would be on the naval and shipping situation as a whole? The American Admiral King, who saw little benefit in possessing the Mediterranean, had told Bedell-Smith it would be of little or no consequence. Unsurprisingly, ABC vehemently disagreed and told his friend that, in his opinion, the gain from complete success in Africa would be ‘incalculable from every point of view’. It would lay Italy open to invasion, would give the Allies dominance in the air throughout the Mediterranean, and allow them to run convoys to Malta and the Middle East without looping all around the Cape.

This appeared to be the assurance Bedell-Smith wanted, but he then told ABC that he thought it was important that the naval commander was someone who was wholeheartedly in favour of the operation and so asked him whether he would be prepared to take on the role. Not wanting to tread on the toes of the First Sea Lord, ABC replied guardedly, although in reality he was keen as mustard and itching to escape his desk job and the ‘detached atmosphere’ of Washington and get back to sea and some proper action.

It had been Ike’s idea to have one single Allied naval commander directly responsible to himself, and despite some scepticism in both Washington and London, his wish was granted; it was another personal goal in his development of united Allied command. Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, the architect of the relief of Dunkirk, had been appointed naval C-in-C, but at the end of August, just before Bedell-Smith set off for London, the Americans (Admiral King included) appeared to have second thoughts, pointing out that the obvious man to command the naval forces for TORCH was none other than ABC, the hero of Matapan and former C-in-C of the Mediterranean. To Cunningham’s great relief, the Prime Minister agreed. The American Admiral Hewitt would command the Western Task Force from the USA, and ABC the Eastern Task Force from Britain, but from the moment the Americans passed longitude 40 degrees west, command of the entire naval operation would be turned over to Cunningham.But while Ike may have got his way over the naval commander, his demand for a single Allied air C-in-C fell on deaf ears. For some bizarre reason, no one thought to consult Tedder or Mary Coningham, or even Tommy Elmhirst for that matter, the architects of army/air co-operation who, along with the American General Brereton, had already so successfully brought US air forces to work alongside the RAF. Instead, control of the air was split into two quite separate commands: Western Air Command covering Morocco and West Algeria would be an American affair, commanded by Brigadier-General Jimmy Doolittle, and Eastern Air Command, covering Eastern Algeria, would be left to the RAF and commanded by Air Marshal Sir William Welsh. Quite apart from the fact that there are no demarcation lines in the sky, this division meant that the two air commands planned almost entirely in isolation from one another.

But at least Ike now had his commanders in place and with Bedell-Smith on his way, and with TORCH finally taking shape, he felt able to slip away from the office early on Sunday, 6 September, and head for the golf course next to Telegraph Cottage.

Kokoda Track , Papua New Guinea : In early September, Brigadier Potts, now in command of Maroubra Force (2/14 and 2/16 Australian Battalions) , determined to make a stand on Mission Ridge and Brigade Hill, a feature that dominated the track north of Menari and south of Efogi and which offered commanding views of the approaches to the north. Mission Ridge, a protrusion that extended north from the main feature – Brigade Hill – ran north–south along the track, joining Brigade Hill further to the south, forming a “boomerang shape” that turned south–west. As a defensive position, it offered the defenders good observation and cleared areas to enable airstrikes on an attacking force. It was protected by difficult high ground to the east, but to the west the ground fell away towards the Fagume River, offering a force attacking from the north good opportunities to outflank the position on Brigade Hill.

Reinforced by the 2/27th Australian Infantry Battalion, which had been released from Port Moresby where it had been held in reserve, Maroubra Force consisted of three infantry battalions of the veteran 7th Division’s 21st Brigade: the 2/14th, 2/16th and 2/27th. Together with elements of the armed Papuan Constabulary – who were used mainly to maintain order amongst the native carriers that were conscripted into carrying supplies and evacuating the wounded– ANGAU, and two detachments from the 2/6th and 14th Field Ambulances, the Australians had a force of 1,400 men at the start of the battle. At the time, Potts thought that he was heavily outnumbered; however, it has since been determined that the two forces were roughly equal in strength. Facing the Australians were 1,570 Japanese, mainly from the 144th Japanese Infantry Regiment, supported by six artillery pieces. While the Australians were supported by US airstrikes, they lacked the artillery support which the Japanese had at that stage of the campaign, although they were able to field three 3-inch mortars that had been parachuted into Myola. With these weapons, the Australians were later able to provide effective counter-battery fire for the first time in the campaign.

South China Sea : American submarine USS Growler torpedoed and sank Japanese cargo ship Taika Maru off Formoza.

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