ACCOUNT OF AN ATTACK ON 38 (IRISH) INFANTRY POSITIONS
26th/27th February 1943
As at 18th February, it was thought that any further enemy infantry attack would probably come from the north. A breakthrough or even the seizing vantage points on this front would make the Brigade position precarious and dominate our artillery positions. There had, too been enemy patrol activity west of the main road and in the hills.
Just before the attack, there had been several indications of enemy presence in the 2 LIR area. As well as this, an OP party of 1 Company I/Herman Goering Jaeger Regiment had been captured at 5709 on 24 February and an Arab had reported an enemy Coy on 25 Feb at 5808, while on night 25/26 February, a strong enemy patrol raided area 5704.
6 Innisks, with under command one Coy of 1 RIrF, held from Grandstand (6507) to road positions (6403), while 2 LIR held the other northern approaches from 5909 to 6408. To deal with this frontage, a reserve was needed. It consisted with a Coy of 1 RIrF as Brigade reserve at 634072 and 1 RIrF (less two Coys) in Divisional reserve at 5704. 140 Army Field Regiment and one Medium Battery were in support and 2 troops Churchill tanks were under command for immediate counter attack at 625068.
The topographical layout and infantry positions are shown on the diagram illustrating this account.
THE INITIAL ATTACK
At 0645 hrs on 26 February, the enemy attacked from the north, being first reported at 611083 and, almost simultaneously at Castle Hill (6209). By 0840 hrs, he occupied hills 611083 and 624088, infiltrating between E and G Coys. An idea of the situation can be conveyed by the following series of reports
0825 – Enemy on hill 611083.
0842 – F Coy’s left in danger.
0845 – Enemy round G’s rear.
0850 – 100 (?) enemy moving south from 5909.
0900 – Enemy holding platoon position 588081.
At 0910 hrs, enemy held from 6109 to 641085, and had infiltrated all round Castle Hill and penetrated gullies 637086, 633092, and 6109. Hill 623083 reinforced by two sections 6 Innisks’ carriers at 0815 hrs, remained a Coy point, but the right was seriously threatened. The attack, made purely by infantry was supported from the start by mortars from Bir Rabal and Mehallah.
FURTHER PROGRESS OF THE BATTLE
Heavy mortar fire from 0920 hrs to 0930 hrs did not improve F Coy’s situation and the counter attack Coy (B/1 R IrF) with the tanks, attacked Stuka Farm (then in enemy hands) to clear up gullies in area 6308 – 6309. The tank-infantry cooperation was excellent and by 1020 the farm and gully to the east were clear and the enemy had retired north east with 20 casualties and leaving two PWs (3/I/HGJR) and much equipment in Stuka Farm. A party of 25 enemy (with 15 of our troops) going east at 641085 was shelled.
The centre and left.
At 1200 hrs, enemy were still on Castle Hill digging in on the north and west slopes and were said to be established between G and F Coys (6308). Our infantry, however, held Rear Hill at 1255 and at 1430 hrs, a fighting detachment of Bttn HQ took 14 PWs (1/I/HGJR) in the gully to the north-west. The enemy though mortared and shelled, were sniping from Castle Hill at anything that moved on Rear Hill, which made reorganisation difficult.
The left was still obscure. No more had been heard of the enemy Coy at 5909 or of our own platoons. The threat of penetration to the guns remained although the enemy was not pushing in the centre.
Action of the Divisional Reserve.
At 1105 hrs, A Coy 1 RIrF was ordered to proceed as part of a mixed force under Major BH Butler to meet a tank and infantry threat north of El Aroussa.
Permission was obtained to employ the rest of the Bttn in brigade reserve. It was impossible to spare infantry of 6 Innisks since the enemy might attack from the east. At 1410 hrs, therefore, 1 RIrF (less three Coys) was ordered to move to 609083 and protect medium battery at 613063. On arrival at 1650 hrs, a platoon and two 3” mortars were given to 2 LIR to strengthen Rear Hill.
Sweep on NE of position.
Enemy was still in gullies 6308-6408 and at 1610 hrs, F Coy, being short of ammunition, had to leave Stuka Farm. In order to stabilise the situation, 6 Innisks were ordered to send a platoon to sweep with artillery support from 641085 towards Stuka Farm, where B/1 RIrF would act as a stop. The operation was most successful as the enemy suffered 20 casualties and 10 men of 2 LIR were recaptured. Tanks again provided very effective support. The sweep was planned for much earlier, but unforeseen incidents combined to delay its execution.
FINAL POSITION, 26 FEBRUARY
There was no more contact and at 2000 hrs, 2 LIR stood thus:
- No news of platoon at 590095. No touch with platoon at 592076. One platoon and E Coy HQ overrun early on at 611083.
- G Coy (much weakened) had platoons at 627093, 628086 and 623087 with platoon 1 RIrF. Coy HQ and two sections carriers on Rear Hill.
- F Coy (many casualties) with two platoons C/1 RIrF held Stuka Farm area.
- H Coy (643079) was untouched.
The counter attack Coy was back at 634072 but 6 Innisks had now no reserve on 635065 (West Hill).
The enemy had suffered casualties and seemed to be checked though not yet driven away. He had made a three pronged effort to infiltrate from the north, but had not been able to push home his attack anywhere, and had retreated north east in 6308, while possibly holding 611083 and Castle Hill. Without further movement, the attacked seemed bound to fade out .and supplies must be a problem to anyone remaining on the north fringe of the positions.
RESTORING THE POSITION
There was no activity during the night but at 0905 hrs 27 February enemy were seen digging in at Stop Farm. At 1420 hrs, enemy Coy was trying to cross the main road east-west in area Stop Farm. Both these targets were effectively shelled. Castle Hill was also plastered, although no movement was seen there at all.
At 1620 hrs, hill 611083 was reported clear by E Coy, which had put two platoons on it with no opposition except mortar fire (from Castle Hill?). E Coy was now at 611083 with one platoon at 592076 while C/1 RIrF held Stuka Farm and F Coy reformed on West Hill. G Coy was divided into four small platoons, which (with platoon 1 RIrF and two sections of carriers) occupied all area 6208, but enemy remained on the north side of Castle Hill.
2 PWs captured at 0800 hrs at 610082 stated that there was no enemy north of the position; this was confirmed by the re-occupation without incident. PWs were wounded men left by their company (1A/24).
Enemy had now completely withdrawn and the situation was restored with area 6208 more strongly held than before. A patrol to area 6213 on 28 Feb/1 Mar bumped a line of posts, and captured two NCOs of 1A/24. The position indicated withdrawal north with the objective of guarding supply lines for troops still in the hills.
In all, 30 PWs were taken (excluding patrol 28 Feb/1 Mar).
26 Feb. 1020: Stuka Farm. 2 – 3/I HGJR.
1430: Rear Hill. 14 – 1/I HGJR.
Later: Rear Hill. 9 (wounded) – 1/I HGJR.
2300: Stuka Farm. 1 – 3/I HGJR.
27 Feb. 0200: 623083. 1 (deserter) – 1/A 24.
0800: 610082. 2 (wounded) – 1/A 24.
From the above identification, it appears that:
3/I HGJR attacked Stuka Farm area.
1/I HGJR attacked area 6208 backed up by 1/A 33.
1/A 24 (30 strong), after being relieved on Mehallah-Barka positions, attacked hill 611083.
It is impossible to establish what troops were employed in the west.
CASUALTIES – OWN AND ENEMY
The casualties within 38 Brigade were 18 killed, 67 wounded and 25 missing (some of whom may be PW).
The enemy casualties are estimated as follows from observation, from prisoner statements and from enemy dead on the positions.
Counter Attack – 20.
Sweep 1600/26 – 20.
Inflicted by Coy 2 LIR – 15.
Inflicted by H Coy – 20 (?).
Artillery 26/27 – 25.
Inflicted by E Coy and Artillery – 25.
G Coy – (15).
Bttn HQ 2 LIR – (6).
Estimate of 6 Innisks – 30.
Artillery – 20 (?)
Total approximate – 165. PWs – 29.
There are ample signs of careful preparation for this attack which was coordinated with that of III/HGJR. Incidents before the battle indicated reconnaissance, telephone communications were found at Farms 617112 and 645102. Ammunition dumps were located at Farm 617112 and 615094. Tellermine dumps at Farms 645102 and 616108. Traces were discovered of an OP at 606085, from which it is probable that the enemy saw E Coy stand on 26 Feb, and there were marks of a cart being used to bring stores from 605095 and 611099 to 591092.