FIRST BATTLE OF EL ALAMEIN Italians defeat Elite Australian 9th Division




On 11 July, the 7th Bersaglieri Regiment (supported by the 46th Artillery Regiment from the ‘Tento’ Div and a coy of tanks from the ‘Trieste’ Div) retake part of Tel el Eisa, derailing the advance of the Australians. On 14 July, Colonel Erminio Angelozzi’s 1st Battalion of Conscripts from the ‘Sabratha’ Div completely recapture Tel el Eisa from the 2nd/48th Battalion. On 16 July, the 2nd/23rd Battalion attempt to recapture Tel el Eisa from Angelozzi’s men, but are defeated and forced to retreat under heavy fire from the ‘Sabratha’ and ‘Trento’ artillery. (Source: http://www.comandosupremo.com/1elalamein.html First Battle of El Alamein COMANDO SUPREMO/ITALY AT WAR)

“The way was now open for another bid to complete the capture of Tell el Eisa, and this time the 2/23rd Battalion did in daylight on 16 July, aided by tanks from 8 RTR. The Australians demolished the remaining battalion of Sabratha Division … The success was shortlived … On Tel el Eisa the situation was now too hot for the Australians … They withdrew again.” (Dance of War, p. 165, Peter Bates, Pen & Sword, 1992)

Major Renzo Rastrelli recalled the failed Australian attack:

“The enemy was close at hand, their patrols and armored cars were all over the road. Without hesitation the battery commander, Captain Comi, opened fire at minimum elevation … handling his massive 149s as if they were machine guns. The space before the leveled guns was clear in no time. The ground was plowed up in front of the guns for a distance close on 20 yards….The guns became red-hot, and many of the handlers were burnt….The area in front of Comi was deserted, except for blazing vehicles and dead Australians.” (Rommel’s Desert War, Samuel W. Mitcham, pp. 118-119, Stackpole Books, 2007)

Australian 2/32nd Battalion surrenders to 3rd Trento Battalion:

“Soon the companies had seized the enemy positions on the ridge, but, in the dark, the men of A Company overshot their objective, Point 22, by 1,500 yards. By the time they realised their mistake they were under such heavy fire that they could not withdraw. By 08.00 hours Italian tanks and infantry began to encircle their positions and eventually forced the entire company to surrender.” (Three Battles at El Alamein, Niall Barr, p. 148, Random House, 2010)

Australian 2/48th Battalion surrenders to Trieste Recce Squadron (not German panzers!!!):

“The Bn was completely surrounded by ARMORED CARS which worked forward under cover of fire from enemy tanks further back, while 20mm, MMG and mortar fire kept the heads of our own troops well down. In this manner the enemy was able to cut off and dispose of sections and platoons one by one, until at 1030 hrs Bn HQ area was occupied by several ARMORED CARS and surviving personnel taken prisoner. An effort had been made to hinder the enemy armored vehicles by bringing Arty fire to bear on them before they dispersed. Unfortunately the only communication with Bde was by one wireless set WT repaired by Sigs, after about eight hours work. Messages reporting the situation were sent immediately once this set was capable of functioning, i.e., about 0930 hrs onwards. Last message was “All up, overrun!”” (https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1026672/?image=5 July 1942 Diary by Lieutenant S. A. Walker)

“The names of certain units were on everyone’s lips up and down the line following particularly brilliant actions, among them the reconnaissance Group of the Trieste. It had been set up some time previously: it was hardly a homogeneous unit on the German pattern, but did reflect admirably the Italian genius of improvisation. They had no more than nine vehicles–Morrises, Fords, Dingos and Jeeps, all captured from the enemy–armed with small caliber guns and machine-guns of all descriptions, British, Italian and German, together with two British 88 guns and their carriages, and two small supply lorries.” (Alamein 1933-1962, Paolo Caccia Dominioni de Sillavengo, p. 79, Allen & Unwin, 1966)

“Assuming that the Italians were demoralized and easy pickings was a mistake, which the 9th Australian Division, the heroes of the defense of Tobruk in 1941, learned to its regret. A night attack against the Trento and Trieste Divisions, after some initial success, was bloodily repulsed, one entire battalion of Australian infantry being overrun.” (The Life and Death of Erwin Rommel, Daniel Allen Butler, p. 352, Casemate, 2015)

“There were some courageous efforts by Italian units against Australians at Alamein, but these have gone largely unnoticed in Australian writings … In wartime and published Australian accounts of Alamein actions, it is not always possible to determine whether “the enemy” referred to was German or Italian … However, the lack of credit probably derives more from a desire to inflate Australian achievements, and an unwillingness to acknowledge reverses against Italians.” (Fighting the Enemy, Mark Johnston, pp. 12-13, Cambridge University Press, 2006)

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