The following report on the Battle of El Alamein was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 15, December 31st, 1942.
October 23 to November 7, 1942
a. Summary of Operations
On October 23, Axis armored divisions were disposed in two groups as follows: the 21st Panzer and the Italian Ariete in rear of the south end of the line; the 15th Panzer, the Italian Littorio, and the German 90th Light (less certain reconnaissance elements), in rear of the north end of the line.
Beginning October 27, the Axis armored forces which had been concentrated in the north counterattacked vigorously, particularly against the north end of the British line. This was unsuccessful due to prior Axis losses and stiff British resistance.
On October 30, the 21st Panzer Division moved north and joined the 90th Light Division and the two armored divisions in that area; the Trieste Division (motorized), the only available reserve on the entire front, was committed in the north.
By the morning of November 1, the British completed regrouping the X Armored Corps, and in the evening the Corps attacked due west. The main effort of this attack was directed frontally against the 15th Panzer Division and the Italian Littorio (Armored) Division. Both of these Axis divisions suffered heavy casualties. The British attack penetrated, into the Axis rear areas and isolated one regiment of the German 164th Division along the coast. The 21st Panzer Division at this time was also along the coast, west of the 164th Division. The Axis forces counterattacked desperately and lost heavily in tanks and antitank guns in combat between armored units. Although suffering heavy losses, the 90th Light and the two German Panzer divisions with their depleted forces succeeded in withdrawing to the west.
A large proportion of the Italian forces in the south, lacking transportation, ceased resistance and they, together with miscellaneous German troops, were captured by the British XIII Corps.
b. Change in German Commanders
It is interesting to note that a change in German commanders during this period probably had a marked influence on the Axis conduct of the operation. At the beginning of the period, General Stumme was in command of the Afrika Korps in Marshal Rommel's absence. It was during his command that the Axis armor was split into two groups. On October 26, Stumme was killed in action and General Thoma took command. He initiated the concentration of his armored units for employment as a striking force.
c. Evaluation of Axis Tactics
Concentration of effort has always been a basic German tactical principle. It is almost axiomatic with German commanders to employ their armored units, specifically tanks, in mass to deliver hammer blows.
Hence it is difficult to understand why General Stumme divided his armored force into two parts, one south and the other north, without keeping an armored force in general reserve to deal with a British breakthrough. Perhaps terrain and lack of adequate facilities dictated his choice. Nevertheless, his reported disposition against an alert and well-equipped enemy possessing superior air power invited the Axis defeat that followed.
General Thoma's concentration of his armored forces apparently came too late. The British not only were prepared to take on the Axis counterattacks but they were able to renew the offensive at the proper moment, when the Axis forces were disorganized and expended as a result of these counterattacks.
d. Evaluation of British Tactics
Improvements in British tactics have been noted in the following respects:
(1) Intense and effective use of artillery against tanks and antitank guns.
(2) Judicious use of armored units concentrated for mass employment.
(3) Coordination between tanks and infantry movements.
The conduct of this campaign by the British was at marked variance with that of other desert operations. Previously, armored regiments, reinforced, were used independently as striking forces, but in this action the British X Corps, composed of two armored divisions and one motorized division, was used as a unit. This change in tactics was without doubt due in part to the recent sweeping changes in British High Command in the Middle East; but lessons learned in previous desert operations probably played a more important part.
A Panzer III undergoing refueling and re-arming in a rudimentary camp, April 1942.