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New Zealand Medical Services in Middle East and Italy

The Enemy Attacks

The Enemy Attacks

On the night of 30–31 August, Rommel resumed the offensive in a fresh endeavour to defeat the Eighth Army and capture Egypt and the Suez Canal. However, preparations had been made for this and Rommel's move came as no surprise. The enemy's armour in two main columns penetrated the minefields in the southern sector between Munassib and Himeimat. Rommel threw the whole Afrika Korps into the offensive. The light armoured forces watching the southern minefields fell back on to the main defences. During 31 August and 1 September the enemy established a narrow salient between the Qattara Depression and our fortified central ridges, in which confined area his closely packed concentrations of tanks and vehicles presented excellent targets for the RAF, which did much damage.

Rommel could not risk bypassing the Eighth Army with its considerable armoured forces and he then swung north against our southern flank, which consisted of a deep east-west defensive line along the Alam Nayil-Alam el Halfa ridge. His attacks were repulsed and he then found himself in a dangerous position vulnerable to artillery and bombers, which compelled a withdrawal in the early morning of 3 September.

During Rommel's attack eastwards the New Zealand Division had been holding the southern sector of the main defences on the high ground north of Deir el Munassib, shelling the enemy columns and waiting for a suitable opportunity to attack. On the evening of 3 September 6 Brigade, 132 British Brigade, and 5 Brigade launched a night attack with considerable success. The threat on the enemy's flank as he withdrew made him react violently. He made a number page 356 of counter-attacks the following day, but these failed and the withdrawal of the main German army continued. By the morning of 5 September no doubt existed that the enemy had accepted defeat. Rommel withdrew his whole force behind the minefield. He had lost many men and a considerable amount of material and was left with the disquieting reflection that his own army would need reinforcements before he could resume the offensive. Time was now on the side of the Eighth Army. Rommel found it politic to call his failure a ‘reconnaissance in force’.