Panzers halted at Battle of Alam Halfa

A 25-pdr field gun of 11th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, in action during the First Battle of El Alamein, July 1942.

Rommel’s attempt to break through the British defensive line at El Alamein was making slow progress. British tactics had changed – no longer could their tanks be lured out into an unequal battle with the German guns. Instead the German Panzers had to attempt to force their way past high ground – the Alam Halfa Ridge – that was dominated by the British artillery.

Henry Ritchie was one of the gunners on the ridge:

It seemed as if every gun on the plain below had opened up on our sector on the summit ofthe Alam Halfa Ridge. Bright, stabbing flashes from the enemy guns could be clearly seen as they laid fire down on the ridge and lambasted the sector from end to end with raining steel. Our jackets were being dusted and no mistake.

But great as was the firepower of the determined enemy, our own thundering, frightful gunfire at its zenith seemed to know no bounds and we and other gunners, declaring our faith, pumped thousands of rounds of deadly high explosive shells into the engines of the advancing enemy.

There were estimated to be three and a half thousand tanks, troop carriers, armoured cars and transport vehicles spread out in the cauldron below. Forty enemy tanks had dug in immediately below us and were pounding the top of the ridge and another hundred enemy tanks were mustering to the north between the New Zealand Division and ourselves.

In the meantime we derived inspiration and encouragement from the heart stopping sight of three formations of Bostons, dropping their bomb loads with perfect precision on the enemy concentrations of tanks and vehicles. All of the bombing and much of the shelling was clearly visible from our position on the ridge as we continued to fire salvo after salvo into Rommel’s Panzers.

However, in spite of the gunners firing a succession of ‘Stonk’ concentrations of Divisional artillery, the vast Panzer army continued to move eastwards.

In the middle of the afternoon a Stuka dive bombing raid pasted the whole of the top of the ridge. With their flaps down the Stukas were twisting, weaving and hurtling themselves through the anti aircraft barrage. Two Stukas fell out of the now darkening sky and with air brakes screeching and trailing thick black smoke, they hit the ground in blazing balls of fire.

Shortly afterwards four ambulances, their red crosses greyed over with dust, arrived at Battery Headquarters. ‘B’ Troop had been hit by the bombing and were only firing with two guns. A dazed tank Sergeant was staggering about in this frothing, smoke filled fog with an arm blown off.

Immense clouds of smoke and dust hung over the whole blitzed area and the enemy tanks below the ridge were giving us more and more attention. There was no doubt that the enemy were making a determined attempt to take the Alam Halfa Ridge and we could take it for granted that their motorised infantry were in the background, ready to assault the ridge when it had been sufficiently softened.

None the less, the enemy out there on the flat desert were at a disadvantage. We were well dug in and our O.P.s had a grandstand view of the enemy targets and there was no shortage of ammunition. On the other hand the enemy were unable to see us properly from below the escarpment and they were taking a tremendous pasting from our bombardment.

See Henry R. Ritchie: The Fusing Of The Ploughshare, the Story of a Yeoman at War..

The “Boston Shuttle” (1): a squadron of Douglas Boston Mark IIIs of No. 3 Wing SAAF positioned for their famous simultaneous take-off manoeuvre on a landing ground in the Western Desert. This commenced with all aircraft turning into wind in line abreast. The leading aircraft, on the right-hand side, then commenced its take-off run with the remainder following in echelon port so that each aircraft avoided the dust of the one ahead.

Boston Mark III, Z2183 ‘E’, of No. 24 Squadron SAAF, in flight on an air test shortly after the Squadron re-equipped with the type at Shandur, Egypt.

A pattern of bombs explode on scattered enemy positions in the Western Desert, during an attack by Douglas Bostons of No. 3 Wing SAAF

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