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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

Enemy Attacks

Enemy Attacks

On the morning of 1 July the enemy opened the battle for the Nile valley when 1 South African Division around Alamein itself was attacked. This attack was repulsed, but 18 Indian Infantry Brigade to the north of Kaponga Box was overrun. Although this advance was finally halted, it showed that, except for the semipermanent fortifications around Alamein, our general position was still weak. Strongpoints were disconnected and lacked depth, and there was a serious shortage of troops to hold the extended front. The defence of the all-important Ruweisat Ridge position had to be entrusted to battle groups weak in infantry, backed by what remained of our armour. There was a very real danger that the enemy might break through our defences with a sudden and concentrated attack.

On 2 July further attacks were repulsed, and the following day a valuable New Zealand counter-attack on the Ariete Division routed the Italians, who left behind over 300 prisoners, 44 field page 342 guns, 2 tanks, trucks, and valuable medical supplies. This New Zealand attack relieved pressure on the southern sector and, what was more important still, Rommel lost an important part of the artillery he needed for any offensive thrust.

From enemy documents we learn that on 3 July Panzerarmee Afrika reported: ‘The enemy's strength, our own numerical weakness and overstrained supply position, all compel us to halt our large-scale attack temporarily’; and on 4 July the entry included: ‘Our intention is to hold our frontline positions and regroup with a view to encircling and destroying 2 NZ Division’.

The turning point in the battle to stabilise the line had been reached by 4 July, when the failure of Rommel's attacks led him to give orders to go over to the defensive. It seemed that Rommel would have to postpone the date of his much-advertised triumphal march to Alexandria.