On hearing of the new Allied offensive Rommel quickly returned from Germany to the North African desert. It was as a Field Marshal that he resumed command. It was as well that he did, the new Commander of Panzerarmee Afrika from late September 1942 General Georg Stumme died of a heart attack on the 25th after his vehicle came under air attack.
That night our line again came under a heavy artillery barrage, which soon developed into one long roll of fire. I slept only a few hours and was back in my command vehicle again at 05.00 hours [26th October], where I learnt that the British had spent the whole night assaulting our front under cover of their artillery, which in some places had fired as many as five hundred rounds for every one of ours. Strong forces of the panzer divisions were already committed in the front line. British night-bombers had been over our units continuously.
Shortly before midnight the enemy had succeeded in taking Hill 28, an important position in the northern sector! He had then brought up reinforcements to this point ready to continue the attack in the morning with the object of extending his bridge~head west of the minefields.
Attacks were now launched on Hill 28 by elements of the 15th Panzer Division, the Littorio and a Bersaglieri Battalion, supported by the concentrated fire of all the local artillery and A.A. Unfortunately, the attack gained ground very slowly. The British resisted desperately.
Rivers of blood were poured out over miserable strips of land which, in normal times, not even the poorest Arab would have bothered his head about. Tremendous British artillery fire pounded the area of the attack. In the evening part of the Bersaglieri Battalion succeeded in occupying the eastern and western edges of the hill. The hill itself remained in British hands and later became the base for many enemy operations.
See The Rommel Papers .
Some idea of what this fighting entailed can be judged from the actions of Percy Gratwick who was with the Australian attack that day. His colleague Corporal Frank Dillion later described :
Suddenly, without saying a word, Percy took out a grenade, climbed to his feet and galloped forward, holding his rifle in his left hand. It was so crazy and he was so quick, that the Jerries didn’t realise what was happening. Percy gave them the grenade, dropped on to one knee, got out another one and let fly with that. Next instance he had scrambled forward and dropped into their pit.
Another Jerry, about twenty yards down the slope, was trying to finish him off with a Tommy gun. There were two others in another post with a mortar. Percy must have seen them, but apparently he had no more grenades. Next time we looked he was up on his feet charging with fixed bayonet. It was all over in a few seconds. Percy had twenty yards to go – and you don’t miss much with a Tommy gun at that distance. But we saw him make it, and then disappear. He got the Jerry too, because we didn’t hear that Tommy gun again, or that mortar.
The citation for the Victoria Cross awarded to Percy Gratwick:
On the night of 25/26 October 1942 during the attack at Miteiriya Ridge, Egypt, the platoon to which Gratwick belonged suffered considerable casualties, including the platoon commander and sergeant. Gratwick, realising the seriousness of the situation, charged a German machine-gun position by himself, and killed the crew with hand grenades. He also killed a mortar crew. Under heavy machine-gun fire Gratwick then charged a second post, using his rifle and bayonet. In inflicting further casualties he was killed by machine-gun fire, but his brave and determined action enabled his company to capture the final objective.