The Principles of War Podcast
Principles for the employment of Artillery at 2nd El Alamein
150th Anniversary of Australian ArtilleryArtilleryPodcastThe Battles of El Alamein

91 – Principles for Employment of Artillery at 2nd Alamein

This episode looks at the principles of employment for artillery 2nd Alamein and is part of our Battles of Alamein series.

We discuss

  • Why the German artillery performed so poorly?
    • The key task was to deny the Allies engineers the opportunity to clear the devil’s garden of mines and booby traps.  The Axis artillery failed to significantly impact clearing.  
  • Timed fuzes were in high demand, especially for troops in the open or in trenches,   It was requested that 15% of all ammunition be time fuzed.  
  • Montgomery wrote to Sir Alan Brooke:
    • The artillery fire has been superb and such a concentrated use of artillery has not been seen before in N. Africa; we could not have done what we have done without the artillery, and that arm has been wonderful.  A great trouble has been that most of the C’s RA (Commanders, Royal Artillery) knew very little about how to handle their artillery when concentrated; the policy of dispersion, and of Brigade Groups, had been the rule and they had not been properly taught.

Charactisterics of Artillery

Flexibility – at it’s peak, 9th Division was supported by most of the guns from XXX Corps and 1st Armoured Division – that is in X Corps.  Montgomery had created flexible C2 arrangements to weight his main efforts as they changed.  

Versatility – the range of artillery tasks that were used during the battle.  A great example of this was the 15 minute counter-battery bombardment, which is followed by a 5 minute pause and then a complete switch to neutralising enemy troops.  The field guns were also employed well in the anti-armoured role.

Responsiveness – all weather, day night fires.  The 14th Battery from 2/7th Regiment was able to respond to rapidly to calls for fires as a part of a standard concentration, ‘Stonk’, in under 2 minutes.  

Reach – the field and medium guns used to surround the Axis counter-attacks against 9th Division.  This was a joint effort with the Desert Air Force providing depth fires.  

Principles for the employment of Artillery

Cooperation – cooperation within and between field artillery, surveillance and target acquisition and the Ground Based Air Defence.  This effect is then integrated into the manoeuvre plan.  

Concentration of Fire – The Stonk, a 72 gun fire mission, which is 3 Regiments all firing at the same time and place was the ultimate result of the work that Cs RA had done to increase signallers and HQs doctrine to all for the concentration of fire.

Economy of Effort – Montgomery weight his design for battle with artillery because of his lack of faith in his armoured corps.  He strips artillery from the XIIIth Corps so he can weight his main effort on the coast road.  Montgomery understood his role was to sequence battles in order to achieve operational objectives.  

Sustainment – Montgomery delayed the offensive until he had been able to build up enough reserves of artillery.  One and a half million rounds of artillery were fired in 13 days.  The sustainment effort, strategic, operational and tactical was inordinate and played a critical role in the victory at 2nd El Alamein.  There was a dramatic asymmetry in logistics support and that was exacerbated by Montgomery’s 

In XXXth Corps, each gun fired on average 1,300 rounds,  9th Division Artillery fired 50% more than the Corps average. The 2nd/7th Regiment’s guns fired 65,594 in 13 days.  That is over 200 rounds per gun per day for 13 days!

We discuss how German doctrine started to be less combined arms – the hubris of the tank Corps was costly as they struggled to counter the Allied anti-tank artillery.

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