British In Africa British In Africa,Tunisia & Italy:
Mid-war Intelligence Briefing for British and Commonwealth Forces
with Phil Yates

“Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat.”

~ Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister.

The 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division was a Territorial Division from the north of England, mostly coal miners and workers from the foundries and mills of Durham and Yorkshire. The division’s symbol was two ‘T’s for the Tyne and Tees rivers flowing through the recruiting area.
France
In 1940 the division was sent to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) fighting alongside the French. After retreating for nearly a week, two battalions of Durham Light Infantry and two battalions of Matilda tanks counterattacked the German 7th Panzer Division under General Rommel at Arras. Although ultimately unsuccessful, the attack bought time for the Division to be evacuated from Dunkirk. Back in England, the 50th division was rebuilt. Then in 1941 they were sent out to the Middle East to garrison first Cyprus and then Iraq and train for the coming battles.
British In Africa
Brigade Boxes
In 1942 the North Countrymen headed for Libya, where General Rommel had driven the Eighth Army back to
Gazala. The 50th Division was deployed in three fortified ‘Brigade Boxes’ between the South Africans to the north and the Free French and Indians to the south. In theory these islands of infantry scattered in a loose line across the desert would restrict the enemy’s movements and provide safe harbours so that the British armour could sally forth and destroy the enemy in a decisive battle.

Gazala
At the end of May 1942, Rommel’s Afrikakorps drove south through the desert around the Gazala line smashing much of the British armoured strength in the process, but then found itself trapped in the ‘Cauldron’ with no supply route. It appeared that the British plan was working. 150 Infantry Brigade, supported by the Valentines of 44 RTR, was astride the vital Trigh Capuzzo—the main supply line through to the encircled Afrikakorps.

Then, with everything set, the Eighth Army’s commanders bickered and dithered. Rommel struck back with everything he had, desperately trying to break back through 150 Brigade and open his supply line. For two days the outnumbered North Countrymen doggedly repelled every attack. On the third day, 1 June, Rommel overran the brigade while Eighth Army looked on.

The defeat of the British armoured divisions and a gallant, but unsupported attack by 5th Indian Division over the next few days left the rest of the Gazala line cut off. The South Africans on the coast managed to slip past Rommel at the last moment, but 50th Division was surrounded. With the Afrikakorps lying to the east, a conventional withdrawal was impossible. Instead, 50th Division broke out through the startled Italian infantry to the west. Once clear of the Italian front line, the Division headed south into the desert. After a retreat of 300 miles, they made it back to friendly lines.

British In Africa
Mersa Matruh
50th Division fell back to the new defensive line at Mersa Matruh in Egypt. Once more, the North Countrymen were let down by Eighth Army’s inept high command. Along with the New Zealand Division and the remnants of 10th Indian Division, the North Countrymen again found themselves cut off. In a confused attack, most of the division escaped and make their way back to the final defence line at Alamein.

First Battle Of Alamein
By the start of July Rommel’s Afrikakorps was exhausted, but with Alexandria just 60 miles away and the Eighth Army equally tired, they pushed on. Over the next three weeks, South Africans, Australians, New Zealanders, Indians, and the men from Northumbria fought a series of desperate battles stopping Rommel’s advance at a terrible cost. Rommel made one more attempt to reach the Suez Canal and the oilfields beyond at the end of August, but this time General Montgomery (‘Monty’ to his men) was in charge of the Eighth Army. All talk of retreat was banned, a good plan stuck to, and Rommel’s attack was defeated. The 50th Division had meanwhile been withdrawn and reinforced. Monty initially planned on disbanding the division as since May it had lost an entire brigade, and its two other brigades were under-strength and exhausted. Fortune smiled however, as a new draft of Northumbrian reinforcements arrived just in time to save the division.

Second Battle Of Alamein
After nine months of disasters and retreats, the Eighth Army’s new general launched its own offensive, Operation Lightfoot, on 23 October, 1942. In the northern sector, the 9th Australian, 51st (Highland), 2nd New Zealand, and 1st South African Divisions attacked the German and Italian lines preceded by a massive artillery barrage. In the south, 44th and 50th Divisions made diversionary attacks, with 50th Division’s 69 Infantry Brigade attacking positions held by the elite Italian Folgore Division at Munassib Depression. The initial attacks bit deep into the enemy defences, but did not break through. For the next week, much of the fighting was undertaken by the 9th Australian Division on the north
coast, drawing the enemy away from the centre where the breakthrough would come.

By 2nd November, Rommel’s army was near breaking. Monty launched Operation Supercharge. For this the Northumbrian 151 Infantry Brigade and the Highland 152 Infantry Brigade joined the New Zealand Division for the attack. Following a creeping barrage, the North Countrymen seized their objectives, and opened the way for the following British armour to move through and engage Afrikakorps in a tank battle at Tel El Aqqaqir. A few days later, the defeated German and Italian forces began their retreat.

Over the next three months the Eighth Army regained everything it had lost, pushing Rommel out of Libya and into Tunisia. The Eighth Army were helped in this by a new arrival. The First Army, a combined British, French and US force, had landed west of Tunisia in Operation Torch and was closing in on Rommel from the west.

British In Africa
Tunisia
In March 1943, rested and refreshed, 50th Division was summoned back to the front. Rommel had failed in an offensive against Eighth Army at Medenine. Now it was the turn of Eighth Army with Operation Pugilist. Montgomery selected the 50th Division to make a frontal attack on the line, while the New Zealand Division made a wide outflanking move. The German defences proved too strong for the North Countrymen to overcome, but their fierce attack enabled the New Zealanders to force open the Tebaga Gap with Operation Supercharge II. The 1st Armoured Division dashed through, with Rommel’s Afrikakorps narrowly escaping the trap. Advancing on the next Axis position at Wadi Akarit, Montgomery again launched a combined frontal attack and outflanking manoeuvre—Operation Scipio, this time with 69 Brigade and 51st (Highland) Division attacking, while 4th Indian Division made a brilliant night attack through mountains to outflank the position. The Axis forces were running out of space to retreat. The First and Eighth Army had linked up. Tunis fell at the start of May, ending the North African campaign.

Sicily
50th Division landed on the south-eastern beaches of Sicily on 10 July, 1943. Initially the North Countrymen met only sporadic resistance from the Italians. Inland, the 51st (Highland) and 1st Canadian Divisions drove the Germans and Italians back across rugged terrain. The division’s rapid advance came to a halt when 151 Brigade ran into elite German paratroops around Primasole Bridge. Montgomery continued with attacks further inland to try and turn the German defences around Catania and the southern slopes of Mt. Etna, but skilful rearguards and demolitions allowed the German defenders each time to pull back to another position. Eventually, 50th Division reached its final objective of Messina—only to find the last of the Germans had been evacuated and the Americans already there.

British In Africa
Italy
In the meantime, the other divisions of the Eighth Army continued the war in the Mediterranean, landing in Italy on 3 September, 1943 in Operations Baytown (Calabria) and Slapstick (Taranto). Progress northwards up the Italian peninsula for these troops was hampered by determined German rearguards and demolitions. Operation Avalanche, the landing of a combined US and British Fifth Army at Salerno almost came to disaster when the Germans rapidly counterattacked, but by the end of 1943 the Allies had closed up to the Gustav Line anchored on Monte Cassino.

Normandy
On 6 June, 1944, 50th (Northumbrian) Division returned to battle, landing on Gold Beach in Normandy. For the next six weeks the North Countrymen hammered at the German defences suffering 4500 casualties in the process. In August, German resistance collapsed and 50th Division advanced across France into Belgium. Once the line stabilised, the division returned to England as a training formation. For the 50th (Northumbrian) Division the war was over.


~ Phil.
British In Africa  Last Updated 14 August 2013
Mid-war Intelligence Briefing for British and Commonwealth Forces in North Africa
January 1942 to May 1943
The V3 updated Mid-war Intelligence Briefing for British and Commonwealth Forces in North Africa contains the following:

■ Major General GPF 'Pip' Roberts.
■ Captain Charles Upham.
■ Heavy Armoured Squadron (Africa).
■ Light Armoured Squadron (Africa).
■ Infantry Tank Company (Africa).
■ Motor Company (Africa).
■ Rifle Company (Africa).
■ Divisional Cavalary Squadron (Africa).
■ Armoured Car Squadron (Africa).
■ Divisional Support (Africa).
■ Updated V3 British Arsenal.

British In Africa
Download a PDF version of the V3 updated British In Africa Intelligence Briefing here...
British In Africa
British In Tunisia Last Updated 14 August 2013
Mid-war Intelligence Briefing for British and Commonwealth Forces in Tunisia
January 1942 to May 1943
British In Tunisia The V3 updated Mid-war Intelligence Briefing for British and Commonwealth Forces in Tunisia contains the following:

■ Major General GPF 'Pip' Roberts.
■ Captain Charles Upham.
■ Brigadier Peter Young.
■ Death or Glory Squadron (Tunisia)
■ Armoured Squadron (Tunisia).
■ Infantry Tank Company (Tunisia).
■ Motor Company (Tunisia).
■ Rifle Company (Tunisia).
■ Armoured Car Squadron (Tunisia).
■ Recce Squadron (Tunisia).
■ Commando (Tunisia)
■ Parachute Company (Tunisia) 
■ Divisional Support (Tunisia).
■ Updated V3 British Arsenal.

Download a PDF version of the V3 updated British In Tunisia Intelligence Briefing here...
British In Italy Last Updated 14 August 2013
Mid-war Intelligence Briefing for British and Commonwealth Forces in Italy
June 1943 to December 1943

The V3 updated Mid-war Intelligence Briefing for British and Commonwealth Forces in Italy contains the following:

■ Brigadier Peter Young.
■ Special Rules for British & Commonwealth forces.
■ Armoured Squadron (Italy).
■ Motor Company (Italy).
■ Rifle Company (Italy).
■ Armoured Car Squadron (Italy).
■ Recce Squadron (Italy).
■ Commando (Italy).
■ Parachute Company (Italy).
■ Divisional Support (Italy).
■ Updated V3 British Arsenal.

British In Italy
Download a PDF version of the V3 updated British In Italy Intelligence Briefing here...


Last Updated On Friday, August 16, 2013 by Blake at Battlefront