The Principles of War Podcast
2nd El Alamein counter battery battles
150th Anniversary of Australian Artillery Artillery Podcast The Battles of El Alamein

90 – Counter Battery Fires at 2nd El Alamein

This episode looks at the Counter Battery battle at 2nd Alamein and is part of our Battles of Alamein series. It is part of the RAAHC commemorations for 150 years of Australian Artillery and a part of our 10 decisive battles for Australian Artillery series.   These are the show notes – for the full details, listen to the podcast on your favourite podcast player.

The is far, far better to give than to receive – the key principle in the counter battery battle.

Survey Troops supporting the battle

How did they do it and what role did the 4th Survey (Durham) Regiment play, along with the Desert Air Force and Engineers in constructing a process to find and neutralise Axis Artillery?  The Regiment established 2 sections for flash spotting and 2 sections for sound ranging.  The Survey troops supported the calibration of the guns, determining the muzzle velocity for each of the guns in the 8th Army.  Calibration shoots were conducted every 3 days, such was the wear that some of the guns were experiencing during the heavy firing.

The Survey Troops also maintained the meteorological data, updating it every 2 hours, providing corrections of the moment for the batteries.

 

The Counter Battery Office

The CBO was responsible for maintaining the HBL – the Hostile Battery List.  It deter

The 9th and 51st Divisions sent out infantry patrols to draw artillery fire.  The sound ranging and flash spotting sections were forewarned, enabling them to update the Hostile Battery List and improve it’s accuracy.

As 9th Division took on a larger part of 

Ramsay and Kirkman denied Axis Artillery the ability to interfere with the commencement of Op Lightfoot. Before Op Lightfoot commenced, Kirkman instigated a silent counter battery policy for the last 2 weeks before the offensive.  This meant that no HBs were to be fired on.  This decreased the need for the Axis artillery to move positions.  Kirkman wanted all enemy batteries to remain in place right up until their neutralisation at the start of H-Hour.   In XXX Corp the the Counter Battery bombardment started with batteries receiving between 20:1 and no less than 10:1.  Kirkman ensured that the Allies had achieved moral superiority over the Axis artillery.  This was supported by the work of the gunners, firing 24 hours a day and an almost unlimited supply of 25 pounder ammunition.

The Desert Air Force also worked to assist in the in locating the batteries.  It flew photo reconnaissance mission and the Aerial Photographic Interpretation Section kept track of each of the batteries.

The main CB serial last for 15 minutes, commencing at 21:40.  

Once the infantry cross the LD, the static battle finished and a battle of manoeuvre commenced.  This made it more difficult to track the HBs and as a consequence 

How was the fire plan developed to support the infantry as they crossed the LD?

We discuss the C2 arrangements for the artillery as tasks changed from CB at 21:40 to neutralisation of targets to support the advance of XXX Corps troops at 22:00.  This was important because of the depth and extent of the ‘devil’s garden’ and the fact that Montgomery did not have confidence in his X Corps Armour to support the infantry. 

The first day saw 80% of the objectives being obtained.  On D+1, Monty had the 9th Division swing north towards the coast, just 6,000 meters away and cut of the Axis units to the East.  The 26th BDE commenced the advance.  They had 7 field and 2 medium Regiments in support.  We see here the flexibility of artillery.  The 9th Division becomes the main effort. 

Rommel counter attacks with the 90th Light Division and commits the 21st Panzer Division, his operational reserve.  This is a decisive event for Montgomery.  The 21st Panzer was already out of position due to the deception plan, Op Bertram.    He commits not only his physical reserve, but this will also consume his fuel reserve.

On the 28th the 20th BDE takes over the offensive for 9th Division.  BRIG Ramsay, the 9th Division CRA (Commander, Royal Artillery), now has 13 field regiments and 3 medium regiments under command, a total of  360 guns.  

The 20th BDE culminates and 26th BDE is recommitted to the battle.  It will be supported by a fireplan created extremely quickly by the Brigade Major Royal Artillery, MAJ Hylton Williams.  It was this fireplan that was promulgated by Montgomery of an example of best practice staff work.  The fireplan was particularly complicated with some Regiments firing directly into the axis of advance of the advancing 26th BDE.

The 24th BDE conducts a relief in place, at night, in contact at The Saucer.  Ramsay used the ‘Stonk’ to support the 24th in their defensive battle.  This is a Standard Concentration of 72 guns – effectively a divisional fire mission.  This were able to get predicted fire in sometimes as little time as 2 minutes – all this with just slide rules. 

One of the critical lessons from 2nd El Alamein was that infantry alone, without armour, could achieve their objectives against stiff resistance if supported with copious amounts of artillery.  

We discuss a clever German ruse aimed at undermining the infantry confidence in the supporting artillery, which, thankfully, was discovered after some careful crater analysis.

For the rest of the war, an “Alamein Barrage” was the term used to describe a barrage of particular ferocity.

 

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