Rommel gets bogged down

British troops use rocks for shelter as a German Kettenkrad tracked motorcycle burns in the background, 10 September 1942.

‘Australians storm a strongpoint’. A posed portrait of Australian troops advancing during the Second Battle of El Alamein, 3 September 1942.

Despite the tremendous pounding they had received from the British artillery and round the clock bombing from the RAF, Rommel’s Panzers continued to try to push eastwards. They then fell victim to a deception plan that allowed them to move further eastwards – but in the direction where the British wanted them.

Ernie Huntley was serving with the Royal Signals, attached to the Rifle Brigade when he discovered that they were to be part of the bait laid in the trap for Rommel, although at the time the full plan was not disclosed to the troops involved:

We learned that we were to be part of a defensive action between Ruweiset and the Alam Halfa Ridges and were told that our function would be to entice the enemy forward; regardless of what happened, we were not to engage him. Now that order didn’t go down too well with most of us for it was something we had never done, turn tail and run. We had always stood and fought for as long as we could before fighting a strategic withdrawal action. But being soldiers, we obeyed.

We were located between two low ridges about eight miles south of Ruweiset and about the same distance SW of Alam Halfa Ridge, with the 8th Armoured Brigade and the 7th Armoured Division, some five miles to our rear (or to the East). During the night of the 31st August, the enemy sent his 90th Light Division in our direction and to their south the main thrust of the DAK.

We saw them coming, they in turn saw us, as they were supposed to. We allowed them, in fact encouraged them, to advance by making ourselves a prime target which they immediately engaged. We as ordered, turned and ran, hiding in whatever protection we could find, thus we found ourselves wedged between the 90th Light and their main thrust as both turned northwards towards El Alamein, in other words we were completely surrounded by the enemy!

What most of us weren’t aware of, was that false maps of the area had been allowed to fall into enemy hands which indicated certain routes between the Qattara Depression and the two ridges as being ‘safe’, whilst others were dangerous, meaning soft and treacherous sandy going.

This ruse worked causing many of their tanks, field guns and vehicles to become ‘bogged down’ in the soft sand and we were trying to find a safe place in whatever craggy places we could hide.

The advance into that area was part of Montgomery’s plan to give Rommel ‘what for’. Our armoured troops then came forward and engaged the enemy who, after a few days, fell back. We were then given the order to engage those in our area. We didn’t need much persuading and did so with great gusto. We realised that we had in fact been used as bait and, regardless of the outcome didn’t like it one little bit.

See War’s Long Shadow: 69 Months of the Second World War

A British 6-pdr anti-tank gun in action in the desert, 3 September 1942.

A knocked-out German PzKpfw IV Ausf F2 tank, 6 September 1942.

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