One day in the desert war

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

The command post of 83rd and 85th Batteries, 11th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery at El Alamein, July 1942.

Brigadier Kippenburger chose to keep a minute by minute diary of his life in the desert on 6th July 1942, describing a day spent in sweltering heat, with intermittent shellfire and bombing. It was business as usual for him, attending a conference at Divisional HQ, and organising a raid into the German lines after nightfall.

0650. Woke after peaceful night and instantly remembered that John Gray, Brian Bassett, and Dick Chesterman had been killed yesterday. All good friends and true soldiers. Joe brought a cup of tea. Slept on valise on ground by car.

0700. Tank fire in NE. surprisingly close. Went on to ridge but could see nothing in morning haze. No reports from Battalions. Our guns shooting quietly, harassing fire.

0730. Finished shaving and dressed in clean shirt and shorts. Joe remarked that one didn’t often see Wogs on a battlefield. One has just gone to command truck.

0800. Walked 500 yards across wadi to breakfast. Found Wog was Major Danvers of Indian Cavalry, escaped and walked in from Daba. Fed him and then took him to my car, gave him water to wash and a clean shirt and shorts. Very flea-bitten. McPhail got his story and some information and Good took him on to Division.

0900. 5th Brigade guns shooting steadily. Little return fire. 4th Brigade guns to SW. shooting occasionally. Tank fight, not big, going on spasmodically to NE.

Am sitting in command truck, tidied up after yesterday. McPhail slowly posting up information on map. Have to get used to his deliberate ways. Fairbrother calling up units in turn, all had a quiet night.

Shelling is still going on. Breakfast was tinned sausages, onions, and tea. Bit hard but held on to it and am fitter than at start of battle.

1450. Clouding over and a lot cooler. Going to visit battalions.

1730. Returned. Men dusty and thirsty but in good heart.

Arranged raids with Walters and Russell.

22nd to raid feature at 863280 this evening. One platoon. Silent. Guns standing by to deal with any retaliation. 23rd to reconnoitre crossings over Deir el Qatani during night.

22nd to raid depression about bend in road at 867277 tomorrow similar lines. Both cloak and dagger affairs, socks over boots, grenades, tommy guns, and bayonets.

Both raids were successful, except that each left a man missing.

The Twenty-second’s party went 1,700 yards and came on about thirty trucks parked close together with about a hundred men standing about. When challenged the party lay flat and made no reply.

They worked round behind the trucks and then charged in line right through the crowd, shooting, bayoneting, and bombing, and straight home. They lost one missing and one wounded and reckoned they hit at least thirty.

The Twenty-third’s party destroyed a truck and killed four Germans including an officer who would not surrender, and took one wounded German prisoner. They lost one missing and three wounded.

See Kippenberger: Infantry Brigadier

Grant and Lee tanks of ‘C’ Squadron, 4th (Queen’s Own) Hussars, 2nd Armoured Brigade, El Alamein position, Egypt, 7 July 1942.

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