Second Battle of Alamein (26-27 October 1942)

26 October 1942

In London, an intelligence planning group headed by Cdr. Ewen Montagu, a King’s Counsel and leading member of the bar, discusses a highly unusual development. A British flying boat going from Lisbon to Gibraltar crashed in September, washing up bodies of passengers and crew on a Spanish beach. Among the bodies is that of Lt. J.H… Turner, a Royal Navy postmaster, carrying a letter from Gen. Walter Bedell Smith to Gen. Sir Henry Mason-MacFarlane, Governor of Gibraltar, regarding Ike’s future headquarters there. The letter has been returned, still sealed in the coat pocket. The Spaniards claim the water opened the envelope’s four seals. The writing is clearly still legible. Nobody is sure if the Germans have been given access to the letter, and if so, whether security has been breached.

Someone points out that when the British unbuttoned Turner’s jacket, sand had fallen out of the buttonhole. It had apparently been rubbed into the buttonhole while the body lay on the beach. No agent would replace the sand when re-buttoning the jacket. The secrets must be safe.

Montagu makes a suggestion. What if the British deliberately send a body ashore to Spain in a uniform, carrying faked documents? That could send the German high command into a tizzy that could, in turn, divert German troops from a major invasion. Montagu’s suggestion goes up the chain of command. It will become Operation Mincemeat, better known to the public as “The Man Who Never Was.”

The Germans don’t know it, but they have missed a major chance to determine the Allies’ next move. Indeed, the are overwhelmed with information. Many German intelligence officers believe the Allies will invade Dakar, using Brazil, the newest addition to the Allies, as a base. From there the Allies would then move overland into Morocco. This belief is supported by reports from the Portuguese ambassador to Brazil on large quantities of American troops and equipment in Brazil. This material is actually for the Takoradi air supply route to Egypt.

Another report comes from a source known for its excellent intelligence system: the Vatican City. Catholic officials in the Vatican who sympathize with Germany tell Nazi and Italian agents that the Allies are heading for Dakar.

Other clues come from German spies, who gain their information from junior Allied soldiers and civilians, or from reading newspaper articles by armchair strategists. German spies buff up these questionable reports by attributing the results to “observers” or “well-informed circles here.”

The Germans are also fooled by Allied intelligence, which has control of nearly every Axis spy in Britain. The “Double Cross System” feeds the Germans endless lies and spurious rumors, suggesting that the Americans and British will soon invade Norway. Or Denmark. Or Holland. Or France. Or all of the above.

To keep the Germans believing this rubbish, the “Double Cross” controllers add real, but minor information to the “carillon.” These tidbits include the 28th Infantry Division having a keystone as a symbol, or that a clock in Tidworth is two minutes slow. The Germans turn this information over to their propaganda broadcasters, like “Axis Sally” and “Lord Haw-haw,” who use them in their diatribes. Allied soldiers, listening to these broadcasts, are amazed at how the Germans can have such accurate information, and see “spies” everywhere. The Allied soldiers don’t realize the broadcasts are just part of greater deceptions.

Meanwhile, the Germans manage to work through the vast array of lies to learn some truths. The Abwehr reports the Allies readying convoys in Britain, then putting to sea.

The only Axis intelligence people who figure out the truth are the maligned Italians. They believe the Allies will invade Morocco.

At midnight, the Australian 9th Division opens up with 16,000 rounds of 25-lbr. ammunition on the German 125th Regiment. The 2nd/48th Australian Battalion heads out at midnight - one company in Bren gun carriers - and arrives at Point 29 dead on time. They find the defenders stunned and exhausted from the artillery bombardment. The Australians take the hill in two minutes.

The rest of the Australian attack does not go as well, as the German defense is as tenacious as ever. But the Australians gain ground and take 300 German prisoners and count at least that many German dead lying on battlefield.

South of the Australians, the 51st Highland Division struggles on, supported by Valentine tanks. Heavy bombardment demolishes three German 88mm guns, and the 5th Black Watch finally takes the Oxalic Line.

7th Armoured Division and 51st Highland Division argue over attack routes in the same sector. The tankers claim to be further west than they actually are. The two division staffs bicker over maps, forcing Montgomery to order the troops to fire flares at a specific time during the day. His surveyors will use the flares to establish cross-bearings. The results embarrass 7th Armoured.

Meanwhile, 10th Armoured Division finally moves out of 2nd New Zealand Division area just after midnight, swinging into the 1st Armoured Div. area. 10th Armoured Division men go without sleep for the third straight night.

13th Corps’ infantry attacks as well. Two battalions of 69th Brigade move fowrard. The 6th Green Howards take 45 Italian paratroopers of the Folgore Division POW and their objective. But 5th East Yorks come under heavy shellfire, lose 100 men, and have to withdraw to their start line.

At 5 a.m., Rommel hops into his command car to personally lead the Axis defense. He learns that the British have hurled 500 artillery rounds at him for every shot his guns have sent over. He drives to the front, where 15th Panzer and Italian Littorio Division tanks have attempted counterattacks on Kidney Ridge, only to be slaughtered by well-placed British anti-tank guns , losing 26 panzers and five Italian tanks. Rommel summons the 90th Light Division and Luftwaffe 88mm AA guns to help. It takes the German 90th Light Division all morning to move up and get in position.

Meanwhile, the Australian advance continues, backed by two brigades of British tanks. The Highlanders consolidate on Oxalic Line, while the South Africans and Indians anchor 30th Corps.

In the 13th Corps sector, the fighting dies down as the Germans withdraw 21st Panzer Division and Ariete ArmoredDivision to head north into the main battle. (they finally realisedon thirds day of batle that , British movements in south were deceptions to divert their reserves. The success of Operation BERTRAM is appearent)

All day long, the British maintain heavy shelling of the Axis positions, while squadrons of fighters and bombers hammer the Afrika Korps. The Germans are almost unable to shoot back. When the Italians counterattack, they send in the old - M13 tanks - and the new - Semovente self-propelled guns - against the 2nd/13th Australians. The Australians call down heavy shelling that turns the Italians away.

The Italians regroup and try again, and the Australians call in RAF A- 20 bombers, which pulverize the enemy with 500-lb. high-explosive bombs.

Other British units find the same. 51st Highland Division and 2nd New Zealand Division spend the day under random shelling. 24th Armoured Brigade’s tank crews even get some sleep.

Rommel sends 90th German Light Division forward against Kidney Ridge personally at 3 p.m., and comes under heavy fire. The bombardment reminds Rommel of the Western Front in 1917. The 90th Light’s men dig in wherever they can, their assault stopped, in an inferno of noise and smoke however under heavy British shelling their casaulties are high .

The British put their advantage of having broken the German Enigma coding system to good advantage. The British read the German communications, and send air strikes to disperse Axis forces as they concentrate, disrupting counterattacks.

Italian and German dive-bombers (including Italian-manned Ju 87 Stukas) try to interdict the Allied supply line. The famous Stukas are intercepted by something new in the desert, Spitfires. More than 60 of them sweep into the Luftwaffe formations, scattering the Stukas. Italian bombers jettison their loads over their own lines and scurry home. Surviving Germans struggle to the target and fly into a wall of AA fire. 24 Axis aircraft were shot down.

Horrified by the destruction, Rommel returns to headquarters. He orders 21st Panzer Division and Ariete to head north and seal off the northward drives. Rommel’s chief of staff, Gen. Siegfried Westphal, points out that this move will consume much fuel. However, the Italian tanker Proserpina is due in Tobruk the following day with 2,500 tons of petrol, followed by the Tergesta, with another 1,000 tons of fuel and 1,000 tons of ammunition.

These ships’ loads will give Rommel an extra six days supply of fuel. Rommel notes that British armor is still poor at fighting mobile battles, but British infantry, artillery, and airpower, are doing a superb job.

That evening, Rommel radios Hitler to request more supplies, saying his army’s survival is in the balance. “We shall lose this battle unless the supply situation improves at once,” he says. But Rommel writes his wife Lucie to say that he is not despairing.

After sunset, 21st Panzer Division moves north, harassed by British night bombers. They cause very few casualties, but slow the panzers’ advance.

The British 7th Motor Brigade moves to its startline near Kidney Ridge, and stars moving 11:30 p.m.

2nd New Zealand Division and 1st South African complete the occupation of the final objective on the forward slope of Miteiriya Ridge. The South Africans take over the Kiwi front, and 2nd NZ Division withdraws to Alamel Onsol, a few kilometers in the British rear, to recuperate for the next phase of the battle. Under its charter from Wellington, 2nd NZ Division cannot be wasted in static defense. It is designated as an assault force.

On the British side of the line, de Guingand reports the casualty bill to Monty. 30th Corps has lost 4,643 men, 10th Corps 455, and 13th Corps 1,037. The price is not exorbitant, and most of the losses are the hard-working infantry. The Australians have lost about 1,000 men, the New Zealanders the same, and the Scots 2,000. Some New Zealand companies are down to 50 or 60 men. Enemy casualties are estimated at 61,000 men, 530 tanks, and 340 field guns. Montgomery says those numbers are extremely inflated.

The situation is critical. German forces are short of fuel, British tank losses are heavy (though mostly theser knocked out British tanks can be recovered , repaired and get back to battle), and men on both sides are exhausted. But Montgomery still has vast supplies of ammunition and 800 tanks. Artillery duels continue into the night.

Eisenhower drives to London with Mark Clark to brief Churchill on Clark’s journey. Churchill, a veteran of similar harum-scarum escapades in the Boer War, enjoys the story.

In the Clyde, the fast convoy of ships headed for North Africa sets sail. The slow convoy has already departed on the 22nd. 39 vessels with 12 escorts make up the fast force, while the slow group has 46 cargo vessels and 18 escorts. Among the ships in the slow convoy are three Lake Maracaibo (Venezuela) oil tankers modified to land vehicles through their bows. These are the first landing ship tanks, but they can only land M3 Stuart light tanks. Shermans and Grants are just too big to clear the openings.

As the Allied convoys move, German and Italian intelligence goes to work to figure out the Anglo-American moves. The Germans guess that the Allies are headed to relieve Malta or invade Dakar. The Italians, more realistic, suspect a threat to French North Africa, and alert their troops around Tripoli to be ready to move into Tunisia.

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27 October 1942

26 october map

26 October 1942 Alamein

26 October Snipe map


26 October 6 pounder

6 pounder anti tank gun

In the Atlantic Ocean, the Western Task Force, bound for Morocco, forms together. Its defense consists entirely of US warships, led by the fleet carrier Ranger and four escort carriers: Santee, Sangamon, Suwanee, and Chenango. The last is loaded with Army P-40 fighters to be flown ashore once airfields are taken. Ranger is the prime air cover. Its aviators must sit in a wardroom, thanks to the ship’s poor design, directly downwind from the head.

The American force also includes the new battleship USS Massachusetts, armed with 16-inch guns, and the older and slower World War I veteran battlewagons USS Texas and USS New York. Massachusetts is assigned to deal with the French battleship Jean Bart, moored at Casablanca. Jean Bart is unable to move, but can fire her forward 15-inch quadruple gun turret. The second turret is also unfinished.

Providing gunfire support to the Morocco landings are the heavy cruisers Augusta, Wichita, and Tuscaloosa, and the light cruisers Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Savannah, and Cleveland.

The American force also includes 38 destroyers, four submarines, eight minesweepers, three minelayers, 23 combat-loaded transports, eight mechanical transports, five tankers, and a seaplane tender. Rear Adm. Kent Hewitt commands the force from USS Augusta.

The force groups together and sails for Morocco. In the transports, American troops battle seasickness and sit through briefings on their invasion.

Eisenhower sends a message to Washington recommending a Distinguished Service Medal for Mark Clark. It is approved.

At El Alamein, gunfire continues through the night. At 2 a.m., the sky grows "bright with the glare of muzzle-flashes and shell-bursts."

The Australians attack at that time, with a massive artillery barrage. The Aussies move forward without opposition capture the rest of Point 29 and forward enemy trenches beyond, finding the defenders stunned and shocked. The Australians collect 41 German Prisoners and an intact 88mm gun.

Point 29 was a prize that Rommel wanted back, and in subsequent days he launched no fewer than twenty-five counter-attacks against the post. But it was held, first by the 2/48th and then by the 2/17th Battalion. Losses on both sides were severe. An Australian signaller wrote on 28 October: ‘Trig 29. The worst spot I have been anywhere in this war.’ He listed eleven close comrades killed on or near it.
As daylight broke, the tanks started to snipe at each other. The battlefield was soon in an uproar, with shell fire, airbursts and tank fire all around. Meanwhile, the Boston bombers ‘football team’ bombed the Afrika Korps at half-hour intervals as the area came under intense shelling from German 88mm and 105mm guns.

German psnzers and Italian tanks and troop carriers could be seen massing, and at 12.30 p.m. a smoke screen was laid along the Axis front, about 900 metres out from the Australians. Shortly after, about thirty tanks broke through the smoke screen and advanced on the Australian lines. Les Watkins immediately manned a two-pounder. He was excited, itching to have a go at the enemy.

“We did not forget our training and waited 500 yards, 400 yards, 300 yards. Still we waited, 200 yards. They were getting very close to our infantry positions. 100 yards, then as if on a command, the tank attack guns opened up. As fast as the gun was loaded, I fired. As soon as I put two shells into a tank, I would shift target. How many tanks I hit I could not say. One seemed to become drunk with excitement and was just blasting away at targets.”

As the stricken tanks came to a standstill, the infantry took care of their fleeing crews. The artillery was also playing havoc with the carrier-borne troops. By 3.30 p.m. the enemy attack was over. The German tanks and infantry withdrew in disorder. All night the Germans kept up a deafening barrage of airbursts from their 88mm guns to harass the Diggers. The noise and the bitter cold made sleep impossible.

South of the Australians, 1st Armoured Division sends two infantry battalions forward from Kidney Ridge to dominate the enemy anti-tank positions. This will enable British armor to break through. The British objectives are two points named “Woodcock” and “Snipe.”

The two rifle battalions - 2nd King’s Royal Rifle Corps and 2nd Rifle Brigade from 1st British Armored Division , move forward in the dark, their vehicles struggling behind through soft sand. The British move into the middle of a German engineers dump, capture some exhausted Italians, then find themselves under heavy German fire. The POWs try to flee, and are cut down. The British withdraw a few yards to the cover of their anti-tank guns, which proves wise, as an Italian Semovente and German Mark III panzer attack. British guns destroy both with two pounder anti tank guns, but one German tanker leaps out of his tank, into a trench, and spends the rest of the night sniping the British until they kill him with a grenade.

At dawn, 300 British soldiers from 2nd Rifle Brigade and their 20 supporting anti-tank guns are dug in at Snipe, awaiting enemy counterattack.

The enemy does so, sending in a large column of German and Italian vehicles. The British 6 pounder anti tank guns open fire and a wild duel ensues, with smoke and blown sand filling the air. Half an hour later, the Germans pull back, leaving behind eight wrecked Italian tanks, two blasted Semoventes, and two wrecked German panzers. The British lose three anti-tank guns, one buried by its own recoil.

At Woodcock, the 2nd Armoured Brigade and 24th Armoured Brigade await the enemy attack.

Rommel heads up to Kidney Ridge early, watching artillery bombardments, air strikes, and the clock, awaiting his panzers from the south.

They don’t show. What does appear is a message from Tobruk, saying that the two vital supply ships, Proserpina and Tergesta, have been sunk by the RAF torpedo bombers just outside Tobruk. Their moves were picked off by British codebreakers. The fuel and ammunition will not arrive. Rommel is stunned. All he has is 70 tons of fuel flown in by the Luftwaffe. With virtually no fuel, he orders the counterattack anyway.

The Germans attack with their toughest tanks, Mark IIIJs and Mark IV Specials, and come under fire from the anti-tank guns at Snipe, which blast three German tanks. That alerts 24th Armoured Brigade’s Sherman tanks, which rumble over to Snipe to help the defenders. The Germans hit back with their 88mm anti-tank guns, which set seven Shermans ablaze. 24th Armoured Brigade is ordered to withdraw.

As they do, the Germans attack again. The Rifle Brigade’s 6 pounder. (57 mm) anti-tank guns shred the Germans. The British are hanging on, but short of medical supplies and artillery support.

The enemy attacks again, this time 1,000 Italian infantrymen, armed with Mannlicher-Carcano rifles, noted for their slow rate of fire. The British send a platoon of Bren carriers against them, rifles and machine-guns blazing, which scatter the Italians , killing many of them on No Mans Land.

The Axis, however, show ample determination. They attack again with 13 Italian M13/40 tanks - slow-moving vehicles with thin armor, weak 47mm gun, and a riveted hull - and more than 20 more impressive German tanks, facing the hull-down British Shermans of 24th Armoured Brigade. “(A hull-down vehicle is one that has most of its hull behind a a man-made or natural visual obstruction.)”

British 6 pounder anti-tank guns in Snipe open up and hit four M13s in the first salvo. The remaining Italians get the point and retreat. The Italians know their tanks can be ripped open by British 2-lbr. (37 mm) guns. To advance against the 6 pounder is suicidal.

The Germans, however, maintain their advance. Sergeant Calistan from Rifle Brigade opens up with his anti-tank gun, and helps the Shermans knock off eight Grman armored vehicles. The Germans are forced to withdraw again. Finally, the British are coordinating armor and infantry. But the British in Snipe are nearly out of water, bandages, and ammunition.

At 1 p.m., the Italians attack again with eight M 13s and a Semovente assault gun, one of Italy’s new weapons, packing a 75-mm gun. The British are running out of guns, shells, and men. Colonel Victor Turner, leading the 2nd Rifle Brigade defense, personally helps load Calistan’s gun. The determined sergeant picks off five Italian M 13 tankss and four Semovente tanks before they reach 400 yards - reducing his ordnance supply to two rounds. Lt. Toms jumps into a jeep, drives over to a wrecked gun, and tosses shells in the back. He speeds back to Calistan with the ammo. Just as he arrives, Italian machine-gun fire sets the jeep’s jerrican ablaze. Ignoring the fire, Turner and a corporal hurl the shells out of the jeep and to the gun. A shell fragment pierces Turner’s helmet, cuts into his skull, sending blood pouring over his face, temporarily blinding him.

The three Italian tanks are now 200 yards away, their machine-guns stitching up British defenses. Calistan loads, aims, and fires three times, scoring an amazing hat-trick, destroying all three Italian tanks, killing their crews. “Hardly miss `em at that range,” he says later. “Poor bastards!”

Meanwhile, Rommel drives up to Telegraph Track again, to watch this battle. He sees the 90th German Light Division deploy under heavy British bombing. At 3 p.m., Rommel’s men and tanks go forward, backed by Stukas and 88mm guns. German ordnance tears apart the sandlines. The panzers creak forward and come under massive British fire from dug-in anti-tank guns and tanks. The German tanks explode in flame.

At Snipe, the Rifle Brigade endures heavy enemy shelling. Turner regains consciousness, and despite intense pain and heat, visits his gun positions. The heat gives Turner hallucinations, and his staff has to keep him in his headquarters by force, amid flying sand, shellfire, and flies.

To add to the suffering, British gunners of the 11th Royal Horse Artillery finally move their American-made self-propelled 105 mm guns into range. These are known as “Priests” for their pulpit, and are something new in the Allied arsenal. In fact, these guns are among the 100 President Roosevelt sent to the 8th Army after the Gazala defeat. The shells land amid the Rifle Brigade’s defenses, killing British soldiers.

“During an unpleasant day,” Turner writes, “this was the most unpleasant thing that happened.”

The Germans try attacking to Snipe again with 15 panzers. Sergeant Miles is hit and his gun crew pinned down, so Sergeant Swann crawls 50 yards under intense machine-gun fire to Miles’s gun, loads, aims, and fires, knocking out the lead German panzer. Sergeant Hine picks off another panzer at less than 100 yards. Hine’s shell slices through German tank and into another one 10 yards behind, halting the attack. 2nd Rifle Brigade signals, “20 tanks lying doggo in valley to the north of us at about one thousand yards. We are being swept by machine gun fire. Expect attack at any moment.”

At 7 p.m., the sun sets, and by 7:40 the Germans also withdraw, leaving the British alone. All anti-tank ammo is gone, so 1st Armored Division decides to evacuate Snipe for the moment and the British destroy their guns’ breech blocks and finally send the wounded men back to their own lines in Bren carriers.

The British await the final enemy attack. It doesn’t happen. The British hear German ambulances and recovery teams at work. At 10:30 p.m., the British withdraw on foot, covered by an artillery barrage.

The fanatical British defense has cost them about 100 killed and wounded, including Turner, who is awarded the Victoria Cross. Sgt. Calistan is recommended for one, but receives the Distinguished Conduct Medal instead. Several Distinguished Service Orders are handed out, as well.

Rommel loses more 37 tanks in failed attacks to Snipe in less thsn 24 hours, and writes, “There is, in general, little chance of success in a tank attack over country where the enemy has been able to take up defensive positions; but there was nothing else we could do. We are pouring rivers of blood for a patch of ground even the most misable Arab would not lift his head to take an interest”

Rommel’s tanks are now almost reduced to being mobile artillery. He begs Rome and Rastenberg for help, but there is little to offer.

The British maneuver the 7th Armoured Division and 2nd NZ Division northward to be ready to join the northern battle on the 28th.

Those on the ground also had much for which to thank the Allied Air Forces. As 21. Panzer Division had been trying to form up for their counter-attack that morning, they had been repeatedly carpet-bombed. ‘Our best effort yet,’ noted RAF Air Marshall Tommy Elmhirst, ‘with our two light bomber wings putting in 200 sorties and hitting enemy panzer divisions while they were trying to concentrate for an attack.’


Defence of Outpost Snipe 26-27 October 1942

The defence of Outpost Snipe in Egypt took place in the Second Battle of El Alamein, part of the Western Desert Campaign during the Second World War. On the night of 26/27 October 1942, the 2nd Battalion of the Rifle Brigade (part of the 7th Motor Brigade), with 13 × 6-pounder anti-tank guns and the 239th Battery, 76th Anti-Tank Regiment RA, with six more 6-pounders, was ordered to occupy a desert feature known as Snipe, a small depression in the landscape suitable for an outpost. Once consolidated it could be used as a jumping-off point for an advance by the 24th Armoured Brigade.
From 26–27 October, the 2nd Rifle Brigade defeated numerous Axis armoured counter-attacks and withstood constant artillery-bombardments and machine-gun fire, while knocking out 52–57 Axis armoured vehicles, with intermittent support from the tanks and artillery of the 1st Armoured Division. The defence of Outpost Snipe, managed to spoil the biggest Axis counter-attack against the positions captured by the Eighth Army, during Operation Lightfoot. The Battalion had 72 casualties. The fighting at Outpost Snipe led Rommel to write that an armoured attack, on ground which the defenders had been able to prepare, was unlikely to succeed.


The course of Operation Lightfoot during first stage of Second Battle of Alamein , led Rommel to commit the 90th German Light Division from reserve to the north of the front. The move of the division in the coastal sector, suggested that Rommel expected the next Eighth Army attack there. Montgomery planned Operation Supercharge, an attack on a 4,000 yd (3,700 m) front south of Point 29, for the night of 31 October/1 November, as soon as the Eighth Army had completed a reorganisation to create reserves needed for the attack. To keep Axis attention on the coastal sector, Montgomery ordered the renewal of the 9th Australian Division attacks on the night of 28/29 October, as the rest of the infantry of 30th Corps consolidated the new line and tanks covered the Australian left flank. The Australian positions were taken over by a brigade of the 51st (Highland) Division and to the south, the 2nd New Zealand Division was withdrawn and replaced with the 1st South African Division by extending its right flank, as the 4th Indian Division further south did the same. In 13th Corps, the 7th Armoured Division was to conserve its strength, ready to move towards the coast as soon as the 21st Panzer Division was known to have moved north.

Major-General Raymond Briggs, the 1st Armoured Division commander, continued attempts to push forward the tanks to act as a shield for the infantry, by creating a firm base, despite the congestion caused by the division being superimposed on the 51st (Highland) Division. Arguments between the tank and infantry commanders as to the position of the front line had bedevilled co-operation, with the tank commanders insisting that their units were much further forward than the infantry commanders believed. The Eighth Army headquarters decided to end the bickering by having the troops light flares, which would be mapped from several locations to triangulate their positions but this took place too late to affect the operation. Two battalions of the 7th Motor Brigade (Brigadier T. J. B. Bosville) were to advance either side of Kidney Ridge and occupy ground from which Axis anti-tank emplacements could be dominated and create a path for the 2nd and 24th Armoured brigades to advance.

Woodcock was 1 mile (1.6 km) north-west and Snipe the same distance south-west of the ridge.
Arguments about the location of infantry and tank units after Operation Lightfoot had not been resolved by a reconnaissance during the morning, as the flare-firing exercise had not begun, which left Turner in doubt about the battalion start line and the position of the objective. After the flares had been lit the confusion persisted, because the tanks units refused to accept the evidence that their map-reading was even worse than that of the infantry. Late on 26 October, Turner referred this to the 7th Motor Brigade headquarters, who replied that it was too late to change plans. Turner ordered the battalion to follow the creeping barrage, which began at 10:55 p.m. on a bearing of 270°, rather than the 233° given by the battalion navigator, which delayed the infantry for ten minutes as they reassembled to follow it. The battalion passed through the 5th Black Watch and then the 1st Gordon Highlanders by 2:00 a.m. on the morning of 27 October.

The 2nd Rifle Brigade advanced on the new bearing at 11:10 p.m. and met little opposition apart from dust, which lay 18 inches (46 cm) deep in the lanes through the minefields, for the first 1,000 yards (910 m) and then came upon barbed wire, which turned out to line a dummy minefield. Over the next 1,000 yards (910 m), the battalion took twenty Italian prisoners and sent them back , scattered several parties of Axis infantry and moved for about 500 yards (460 m) beyond a ridge, to what was thought to be Snipe, after a smoke shell was fired to mark the position by the British artillery but was a similar depression with an abandoned German engineer store, about 800–900 yards (730–820 m) south-east of the objective. Turner ordered the battalion to dig in at 12:15 a.m. and fired the rocket signal for the heavier weapons to be brought forward. The lorries and Chevrolet portées carrying the anti-tank guns, encountered long sandy ridges which slowed the journey but 19 of the 27 × 6-pounders and the ammunition were unloaded and dug in by 3:45 a.m.

The guns in small dips had cover and were on soft sand, which could be excavated; the five guns of B Company were dug in to the south-east, facing from 90°–225°. C Company had four guns which were to the south-west, covering the angles from 225°–315° and A Company had four guns facing north-west and north. Six guns of the 239th Battery, 76th Anti-Tank Regiment RA, faced north and north east. The C Company carrier platoon patrolled to the west and found about 160 Axis soldiers ready to surrender but before infantry arrived to collect them, the platoon ran into a laager of about 35 Italian tanks (12th Armoured Battalion from the 133rd Armoured Division Littorio) and German tanks, Panzerjäger (tank destroyers) and infantry (Kampfgruppe Stiffelmayer). The British opened fire and set three lorries on fire but lost a carrier while withdrawing. Most of the prisoners ran away but 35 German troops remained from Pioneer Battalion 220 of the 164th Light Afrika Division Pioneer Battalion and 33 of the 15th Panzer Division were captured by Rifle Brigade and sent back to British lines.

When dawn broke the battalion found that it was in scrubby desert, deployed in a north-east to south-west oval, about 1,000 yards (910 m) long and 500 yards (460 m) wide. As movement was seen in the German laager, the gun-crews in the north-west face of Outpost Snipe prepared to receive an attack but the German tanks moved westwards, away from the front line, which exposed them broadside to the British guns. The gunners opened fire and for thirty minutes the north end of the outpost disappeared in smoke, flying sand and explosions as Axis artillery and tanks replied to the anti-tank fire until the tanks were out of range. Part of Kampfgruppe Stiffelmeyer had spent the night in a dip and reappeared 800 yards (730 m) to the south-west of Snipe, also moved with their sides exposed to the British 6-pounders. The British gunners claimed six German, eight Italian tanks and two Semoventi self-propelled guns destroyed and two tanks damaged; three anti-tank guns had been knocked out and one had sunk into the sand. Axis return fire caused several casualties and daylight showed that some of the guns were too exposed and needed to be resited.

The armoured brigades had been intended to join the parties at Snipe and Woodcock but the failure at Woodcock caused confusion and hesitation among the British tank units. The 47th Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) of the 24th Armoured Brigade, was under command of the 10th Armoured Division and drove over a ridge at 7:30 a.m., saw a post surrounded by German tanks 2,000 yards (1,800 m) beyond, assumed it was a German laager and opened fire. Turner sent an officer back in a Bren Carrier, who managed to get the most advanced tanks to stop after thirty minutes but the rest kept firing. As the British tanks moved forward, the Rifle Brigade gunners at the south end of Snipe saw about 25 German tanks with long-barrelled guns (Panzer III or Panzer IV Specials), heading behind a ridge 1,500 yards (1,400 m) away to ambush the British tanks.

The German tanks were broadside on again and the gunners immediately hit three which caught fire and the 47th RTR machine-gunned the crews as they tried to escape. By 8:30 a.m. the 47th Royal Tank Regiment had arrived at Snipe, which attracted a storm of artillery-fire and the outpost disappeared again in smoke, fire, explosions and flying sand. German tanks fired smoke shells at the British tanks and then anti-tank and tank gunners aimed at the smoke, which was much easier to see than the camouflaged vehicles. Soon the 47th RTR was down to five Shermans and six Crusaders and 9:00 a.m. the tanks were ordered to retire with the 41st RTR which had lost another twelve tanks, which ended a plan for the 24th Armoured Brigade to pivot to the south of Outpost Snipe into open ground. As the tanks moved they were engaged from about 2,000 yards (1,800 m) to the north by tanks and anti-tank guns; a British gunner was persuaded to open fire despite the range and knocked out a Panzer IV, for a loss of two 6-pounder anti tank guns.

The battalion Medical Officer and the ambulances had been left behind at the start line on 26 October, since when they had been unable to move forward in daylight and the loss of the Forward Artillery Observer during the night, made it impossible to direct plunging fire on the Axis artillery and tanks hidden in dips around the post. Much of the British artillery-fire fell around the outpost instead, until the 2nd Rifle Brigade managed to stop the guns at 12:30 p.m… The outpost was also running short of ammunition so three carriers were loaded with the most badly wounded men, dashed for the ridge to the east and reached safety. The battalion ambulances and supply lorries were behind the ridge ready to move, along with a replacement Forward Artillery Observer but nothing could make the return journey through the Axis artillery and machine-gun fire, which began as soon a vehicle appeared above the crest. Around 10:00 a.m., Italian infantry were seen assembling opposite the western face of the outpost and machine gun armed Bren carriers from a scout platoon sallied from the post to disperse them, inflicting many Italian casualties and destroying two Italian vehicles towing captured 6-pounders. Two anti-tank guns were moved to the south-west perimeter from the north, despite the Bren carriers not having towing attachments and dust thrown up by the move was shelled by Axis artillery, which killed four men.

Just as the guns were readied, thirteen Italian M13/40 tanks from the 13th Battalion appeared over the ridge to the west and about twenty German tanks of Kampfgruppe Stiffelmeyer used the attack as cover to advance from the hull-down ambush position to counter-attack the 24th Armoured Brigade, which had retired to similar positions behind the ridge to the east. The anti-tank guns along the western flank of Snipe opened fire , hit and destroyed four Italian tanks at once, causing the rest to return to cover. The German tanks came into the open and exposed their sides to the Rifle Brigade gunners and then half of the German tanks turned towards the outpost, to suppress the fire from the anti-tank guns, only to present their sides to the British tanks behind the ridge. The gunners at Snipe and the tank gunners ignored the vehicles heading towards them and concentrated on those which were broadside on. Eight German tanks were set on fire, several more began attempts to tow them away and the rest retreated

Conditions inside Snipe worsened in the midday heat as the number of casualties increased, with little more than shell-dressings and water to tend them. Just before noon, six Bren carriers were hit and caught fire, the heat and smoke drifting over the guns, adding to the poor visibility. Many of the gunners were among the casualties and guns were kept in action with improvised crews and by men moving from one to the other. Only thirteen guns were still operational to cover the 2,500 yards (2,300 m) perimeter and the guns along the south-west face became so short of ammunition, that two men drove jeeps back and forth to share out the remainder. Three of the remaining carriers took out more wounded but one was knocked out during the journey and st 1:00 p.m., Axis artillery and machine-gun fire increased. Eight Italian M13/40s, a self-propelled gun and infantry appeared over a ridge to the south-west, where only one 6-pounder was still in action. Turner and another officer joined the Sergeant in command of the gun and waited until the tanks were within 600 yards (550 m), then knocked out five tanks and the self-propelled gun, before the Italians had closed the range to 400 yards (370 m).

With only two rounds left and the last three M13/40s pressing on, Lieutenant Toms left the gun to drive a jeep to the nearest knocked-out gun for ammunition and arrived back at the gun through machine-gun fire, which set the petrol tank alight. Turner and an NCO rushed over to help unload the jeep, by when the tanks were 200 yards (180 m) away, firing machine-guns at the gun crew. Sergeant Calistan, the gun-layer, hit the three tanks and set them on fire, from which none of the crews escaped. After the attack, a lull fell apart from the artillery bombardment, which caused more casualties. Turner had been wounded unloading the jeep but visited the gun positions, until effect of his wounds became too serious; by 4:00 p.m. most of the officers were casualties and the guns were commanded by wounded NCOs. Briggs ordered forward the 2nd Armoured Brigade artillery, the 11th RHA and they drove their M7 Priests up the east side of the ridge, to bombard Axis positions but managed to hit Snipe again, with 105 mm howitzer fire.

Rommel could see the fighting around Snipe from his headquarters and had assembled the 90th Light Division and the 21st Panzer Division, which had been moved to the northern area of the battlefield overnight, with parts of the 15th Panzer Division, the 164th Light Afrika Division and a battlegroup of the 132nd Armoured Division Ariete, which assembled about 70 Axis tanks and self-propelled guns, in two waves about 1,200 yards (1,100 m) west of Outpost Snipe, which was to attack the British tanks beyond the ridge to the east, after a five-minute bombardment and a Stuka attack. As the formation of 20 Ju 87 Stukas, escorted by 20 Fiat CR.42s and 20 Me-109s approached, it was intercepted by 16 Curtiss P-40s of the 64th Fighter Squadron and the 65th Fighter Squadron, USAAF (attached to Desert Air Force of RAF), which claimed six Axis fighters. The Axis formation was then attacked by 24 Hurricanes of 33 Squadron and 213 Squadron RAF, which claimed two Stukas, four CR-42s and four Me-109s for a loss of three Hurricanes.

Part of the Axis tank force advanced against Australian positions near Point 29 to the north of Snipe and to the south about thirty German and ten Italian tanks advanced towards part of the 2nd Armoured Brigade. The force in the north was deluged by artillery-fire and then dispersed by bombing and the southern force passed by the 239th Battery, with seven of the tanks only 200 yards (180 m) away. The anti-tank gunners knocked out nine tanks, damaged several and a 6-pounder crew from A Company claimed four more, after which the tanks withdrew to low ground near Kidney Ridge. The second wave of tanks attacked and fifteen Panzer III turned towards the north-west perimeter of Snipe, where only two guns were operational. A third gun was hauled round in time to join in but there were only thirty armour-piercing rounds left. The tanks advanced cautiously, along routes with cover and machine-gunned the 6-pounders as they came into view, driving the crews into slit trenches.

When three tanks were 100 yards (91 m) away, a sergeant crawled 50 yards (46 m) to one of the guns and operated it alone, hitting the leading tank twice despite the machine-gun fire and then knocked out the next two, the third tank being hit by a shot which went through the second tank. The third tank drove into cover about 800 yards (730 m) back and was joined by the rest of the force, which had lost six tanks altogether. The tanks machine-gunned the position, without exposing themselves to return fire from the anti-tank guns for the rest of the day. About seventy Axis armoured vehicles littered the area and the 2nd Rifle Brigade had lost 16 Bren carriers and ten 6-pounders, with another five damaged; at 6:44 p.m. a signal was sent to the 7th Motor Brigade about the tanks; reinforcements were promised but no armoured counter-attack was made. The 2nd Rifle Brigade burnt their codes and soon after the light began to fade; at 7:40 p.m., the German tanks drove to the north-east, where some were silhouetted and the British fired their last anti-tank ammunition, hitting a tank. Survivors from the posts around the perimeter, began to move towards the command post dragging wounded with them, under streams of bullets from Axis machine-guns being fired horizontally across the outpost.
After checking the 6-pounders to make sure they were incapable of firing, the last unwounded troops prepared for the relief but no sign of a relief party or the battalion transport appeared and at 10:30 p.m., the survivors of A and C companies withdrew with one 6-pounder, which was carried out on a damaged Chevrolet portée; as both sides were out rescuing wounded the party was not fired on. British artillery opened fire soon after the retirement began and bombarded accurately the area around Outpost Snipe for the first time, which led to German tanks moving from the laagers straight towards the outpost, at which the battalion HQ with the remaining men retired for 2.5 miles (4.0 km) on foot and under fire. A relief force of the 5th Royal Sussex from the fresh 133rd Lorried Infantry Brigade (Brigadier A. W. Lee) had set when the brigade began to take over from the 7th Motor Brigade and the British bombardment had been fired as the 5th Royal Sussex advanced. As the 2nd Rifle Brigade had retired they had passed unseen the relieving battalion, which dug in before dawn, about 1,000 yards (910 m) south-east of Outpost Snipe.


The 2nd Rifle Brigade showed that with powerful anti-tank guns, dug in on well-chosen positions, British infantry could inflict disproportionate losses on tanks which came into range, which included the ability to knock out German tanks at 2,000 yards (1,800 m). Co-operation between the Rifle Brigade gunners and the tank gunners of the 24th Armoured Brigade on 27 October had been excellent but the imminence of Operation Supercharge and the fate of the tanks which reached Snipe on 27 October, left Briggs reluctant to risk more tanks. The attempt of the 1st Armoured Division to provide artillery support had backfired, due to the chronic inability of the British commanders to agree where their units were (even after the location exercise with flares). Rommel had ordered a counter-attack by the Panzerarmee reserve, to restore the original German positions on a 6-mile (9.7 km) front from El Wishka in the south to Point 29 in the north, which had been lost during Operation Lightfoot. Outpost Snipe was 1,000 yards (910 m) behind the German front line, across the route of the right flank of the counter-attack of 27 October; Rommel wrote later of the “murderous fire”, which “struck into our ranks” and stopped the biggest Axis counter-attack against 30th Corps; an armoured attack on ground where the defender had been able to prepare, was unlikely to succeed.

The 2nd Rifle Brigade suffered 72 casualties but a month later, a committee of inestigation concluded that the battalion had managed to knock out 52–57 Axis vehicles, of which 22 German and 10 Italian tanks had been destroyed, along with five self-propelled guns; Axis human losses were unknown but believed to be more than the Rifle Brigade losses. Lieutenant-Colonel Victor Turner was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the battle.

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