Rommel’s new offensive in the desert had given the British a serious fright. After capturing Tobruk it appeared to some that the way lay open for him to march straight on into Egypt.
But both sides in the desert war were now struggling from exhaustion.
The British retreat had halted and they were now consolidating their position around El Alamein. And with the arrival back in Egypt of the Australian 9th Division – which had been held in strategic reserve whilst recuperating in Palestine – there were now fresh troops to mount a limited new offensive.
Meanwhile Rommel was preparing for a new attack from a position in the south, hoping to maintain the momentum of his assault:
I decided to bring my headquarters forward during the night and set it up in Quaret el Abd, where I intended to spend the night in one of the concrete fortifications. It was a quiet night.
Seeing that the 5th Indian and 7th Armoured Divisions had been thrown back by our striking force during the day, we planned to thrust on next day with all our strength.
Next morning, the 10th July, we were awakened at about 05.00 hours by the dull thunder of artillery fire from the north. I at once had an inkling that it boded no good. Presently came the alarming news that the enemy had attacked from the Alamein position and overrun the Sabratha Division, which had been holding a line on either side of the coast road.
The enemy was now in hot pursuit westwards after the fleeing Italians and there was a serious danger that they would break through and destroy our supplies. I at once drove north with the kampfstaffel and a combat group of the 15th Panzer Division and directed them on to the battlefield.
The attack from Qaret el Abd had to be cancelled, since the portion of our original striking force now left in the south was too weak to execute the thrust to the east.
See The Rommel Papers .
Units of our forces launched an attack in the northern sector to capture the high ground Tel El Eisa and Tel El Makh Khad (respectively 10 miles north-west and 6 miles west of El Alamein railway station). These objectives were achieved. The enemy then put in a partially successful counter-attack, but our forces later restored the situation and consolidated. They were, however, unable to exploit their success further owing to tenacious enemy resistance. During their advance on the 10th an enemy tank force was encountered. Fifteen guns and some motor transport were captured and 1,000 enemy prisoners taken.
From the Military Situation Report for the week, as reported to the British War Cabinet, see TNA CAB
The Germans rushed to bolster the Italian defences with their own troops but the Italian Sabratha Division had been destroyed and the Trieste Division badly damaged. Rommel could no longer rely on his allies:
We were forced to conclude that the Italians were no longer capable of holding their line. Far too much had been demanded of them by Italian standards and now the strain had become too great.
Diverting German troops to support the Italians meant that he had to call off his assault.
Perhaps a worse outcome for Rommel was the capture of an obscure unit – the 621st Radio Intercept Company. Erwin Rommel’s famous insight into military situation and his capacity to ‘read the battlefield’ was not entirely due to personal genius. He had indeed been able to read the battlefield – but a large part of this had been attributable to a talented collection of men in what was effectively his personal Signals intelligence unit – the 621st Radio Intercept Company. Their ability to eavesdrop on British radio traffic at the frontline had been especially valuable. The equipment was replaceable but the men were not.