||§7 Ind Inf|
||§4 Ind Arty|
| and Lessons||
c. November 22-23 (fig. 9)
During the morning of November 22 the Sussex and Punjab
Battalions, both in trucks, and their supporting units moved to the
assembly areas about three miles north of Omar Nuovo, and in spite of
the rather vague "subject to satisfactory reports of routes clear of
mines" and possible confusion resulting from artillery counterbattery
fires and a half-hour bombing by the R.A.F., the attack was started on
schedule. The infantry detrucked a short* distance from the wire and
began the assault on foot.
In general, the attack proceeded according to plan, and the first
objective was taken by 3:30 p.m. on that day. Thirty-two tanks**,
accompanied by some Bren-gun carriers, advanced abreast in two
groups, each of two waves. Each wave consisted of eight tanks, with
infantry following immediately behind the rear wave. About 150 yards
from the Axis positions the tanks increased their speed, and the
infantry, which had been close behind the tanks, could not keep up. The
result was a gap of 75 to 100 yards between the rear of the tanks and
the assault wave of the infantry.
As the tanks advanced, they reached a mine field which had
apparently been laid during the preceding night, after all British
reconnaissance had been completed. Eleven tanks were put out of action
by the mines and the remainder milled around for some minutes before
a Bren-gun carrier discovered a small gap in the field. All tanks still
in action then went through the gap in column and continued the attack.
The existence of this mine field, which took such a toll of the tanks,
appears to have been a complete surprise to the attacking troops.
The mine field proved to be incomplete, but was effective
enough to cause heavy tank casualties, which in turn resulted in a large
conflicting accounts as to exactly where the infantry
detrucked. A captain of the Royal Sussex Battalion said that his company
detrucked about 300 yards from the wire, but the American Observer
placed the detrucking distance at about a mile from the wire. The
infantry, however, undoubtedly detrucked in full view of the enemy.
**Two companies of tanks were used, the other company being held in
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infantry toll. The delay at the mine field also set the tanks up as
excellent targets for a battery of 88-mm. German antiaircraft-antitank
guns and some Italian 75-mm. guns, which knocked out
more tanks with their extremely accurate fire.
The Axis forces stayed well concealed in their slit trenches
until the tanks passed, but came up in time to catch the infantry
their fire at a range of less than 50 yards. The result was heavy
casualties in the Royal Sussex Battalion.
After the British penetrated the position, the right company
of tanks and two infantry companies swerved to the west and took
area A (fig. 10), and the left tank company followed by the other
two infantry companies continued its advance and took areas B and
C. This attack was conducted almost entirely with rifles, bayonets,
and grenades, for the supporting tank force had been badly
depleted and there was no heavy machine-gun support. R.A.F. bombing
and the artillery concentration preceding the attack had both
proved ineffective, inflicting few casualties and little damage on the
Having taken its objective, the Royal Sussex began consolidating
its positions, and the remaining operative tanks and gun
carriers moved northwest to take part in Phase II of the attack, in
which they were to support the Punjabs in assaulting the Libyan
Omar position (DEFGHJ). En route the surviving tanks ran into
more mines and suffered further losses.
The Punjab Battalion, which had constituted the regimental
reserve during the first part of the attack, moved into position
preceded by its attached company of infantry tanks and the surviving
tanks from Phase I, a total of 25 tanks.* After a 10-minute
artillery concentration** on the west sector of the position, the Punjabs
moved to attack at 4 p.m. only to be halted by another mine field
which had been constructed within the position, running north-south through
*There were 16 tanks in the company
which had been held in reserve attached to the Punjabs, and 9 tanks
remaining from Phase I.
**See Artillery Programme 2, Table I, 4th Indian Division Artillery
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Libyan Omar. Three tanks were lost in this mine field, and
19 were knocked out by artillery fire. This ended the British attack
The following day, November 23, the Punjabs and the three remaining
infantry tanks took the Libyan Omar position after assaulting it
twice. By 4 p.m., November 23, all of the Omar group was in
British hands with the exception of isolated positions along the boundary
fence north of Sidi Omar and a few artillery positions near
d. Later Operations
Shelling by both sides occurred all day November 24 on a small
scale, with the British cleaning up small pockets of resistance and the
Germans firing counterbattery fires from the few positions remaining.
On the evening of November 24 at about 5 p.m., just before
dark, a violent armored attack was launched from the west on the 4th
Indian Division Headquarters at Bir Sheferzen, cutting the lines of
communication to the south. Leaving many vehicles in flames and
abandoning much of their equipment, the division headquarters was
moved to the north and entered the mine field inclosures at Omar
Nuovo and Sidi Omar.
About 9 a.m., November 25, a heavy artillery concentration
came down on the inclosure at Sidi Omar from Axis batteries in the
desert northwest of Libyan Omar, setting fire to many vehicles and
wounding some men. This concentration, which was delivered by 105-mm.
howitzers using ricochet fire, was very effective on vehicles in
the area, but because of the excellence of the fortifications there were
only a few casualties among the officers and men. A short while after
11 a.m. a number of Axis tanks made an attack from the southeast on
the 1st Field Artillery position just inside the mine field in southeastern
Omar Nuovo. The battalion commander ordered fire to be
held until his command was given, and when the Axis tanks were about
800 yards from the battalion, fire was opened with direct laying. Ten
Axis tanks were knocked out, two with their turrets blown off, and the
remainder set afire.
Simultaneously with this attack another was launched on Libyan
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Omar from the northwest by both tanks and infantry. By 4p.m. the
British had been driven out of Libyan Omar but still occupied both
Sidi Omar and Omar Nuovo. On November 30, however, the British
launched another infantry and tank attack and succeeded in retaking
Losses for the first two days of the battle were as follows:
|Dead--3 officers and 58 men;
||Dead--4 officers and 30 men;
|Wounded--200 officers and men.
||Wounded--3 officers and 125 men.
Total November 22 and 23:
November 22 and 23:
The following forces and equipment were captured by
British on November 22 and 23:
3d Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment;
Headquarters Company and 2 companies of the 155th Machine-Gun Battalion;
2 batteries of 75-mm. guns from the 12th Field Artillery Regiment;
503d Battery of 20-mm. Breda guns;
1 battery of the 18th Antiaircraft Regiment;
Some Italian 47-mm. antitank guns.
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Figure 11. Path through a Desert Mine Field.
|Stakes at left are standard mine field mark-|
ings. Behind the stakes can be seen a mass
of concertina wire.
Libyan and Sidi Omar
1 battalion of 16th Infantry Regiment;
4 German multipurpose 88-mm. guns;
3 companies of the 155th Machine-Gun Battalion;
2 batteries of 105-mm. howitzers of 12th Field Artillery Regiment;
267th Battery of 65-mm. guns;
56th Engineer Battalion.
5. COMMENTS AND LESSONS
British success in the Battle of the Omars is impres-
sive when the relative strengths of the two forces are considered.
Two thousand British infantry men, supported by tanks and artillery,
attacked and captured positions which were fortified by extensive mine
fields and entrenchments, supported by strong antitank artillery, and
garrisoned by an enemy double the size of the attacking force*.
protection for the 4th Indian Division Headquarters
was inadequate and nearly resulted in disaster on the evening of
November 24. The only protection was that provided by an inadequate
antitank force and Bren-gun carriers, which were located some dis-
tance from headquarters and other installations. Bren-gun carriers,
of course, are too lightly armored to withstand an armored attack.
on the desert usually stops at dark, and if a unit is
protected by a mine field, it considers itself safe until daybreak, for
few troops or vehicles dare to cross a mined area during darkness.
the assault the infantry itself had no mortars or
heavy machine guns, only rifles, submachine guns, and bayonets.
British soldiers are some of the bravest men I have ever
seen, for they passed through gaps in the mine fields after tanks had
been knocked out and took the positions with the bayonet -- this in the
face of severe machine-gun and rifle fire." American Observer.
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operation demonstrates the importance of thorough
and continuous reconnaissance, and shows that reconnaissance
must be so conducted as not to reveal the point of attack.
this operation. it appears that the Axis troops were
able to deduce the point of attack from the actions of the British
patrols, and to take preventive action by mining this area. The
incomplete nature of the mine fields in which the British tanks were
caught indicates that they were laid down in a great hurry, probably
during the night before the attack.
British infantry warning order for the assault on
the Omars, with its approximate counterpart in an American warning
order, has been included in this study and forms a basis for
comparison of the methods of the two armies. These orders are
excellent examples of warning orders, with every possible detail of
information included. It should be noted, however, that there would
not have been time for the preparation of such detailed orders in a
rapidly moving situation. In this operation the fact that the
attacking force had troops operating on three sides of the objective, and
that the supporting artillery was so located that it also was firing
into the position from three sides, required the coordination of
in time of attack, which was to be indicated
by artillery concentrations, might well have resulted from
numerous batteries firing counterbattery missions prior to the time
of attack. Coordination of the various British units during the attack
was good, largely because subordinate units had ample time to
work out their own plans after receiving the warning order.
Royal Sussex battalions suffered heavy losses
in the attack on the Omar Nuovo position because of the interval
between their assault wave and the attacking tanks. Had the tanks strictly
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followed orders, reaching the Axis positions 10 minutes be-
fore the infantry, losses would have been even greater.
artillery preparation on November 22 was
delivered without prior registration, using map data corrected. The map
scale of 1/50,000 indicated that the results might be expected to be
poor. The omission of registration was due to the fact that the attack
was to be a surprise*. It seems, however, that one battery at least
might have registered and then transmitted corrected data to other
units. Most of the fire delivered appeared to be ineffective, and later
inspection of the terrain and fortifications in the Omars verified this.
It seemed that more artillery might have been sited in the position of
the 12th Field Artillery Battalion (see fig. 5), which was firing along
the axis of the fortifications rather than perpendicular to it.
work was quickly accomplished by both the
divisional artillery and battalion survey groups. Locations were
reported to have a maximum error of 1 yard and a direction error of 1
fire direction methods were used by any unit
during the battle, although the situation was apparently ideal for their
use. In spite of excellent visibility, no attempt was made by any
battalion or battery commander to correct by observation any data once
the concentrations had started. All fire was delivered by battalion
concentrations except in the case of the 4.5-inch battery, which fired
counterbattery missions. Axis batteries attempted no counterbattery
fire during the preliminary artillery concentration, apparently holding
their fire for the tank-infantry assault.
concentrations delivered during the attack
were satisfactory because of the use of two centers of impact and
double the normal rate of fire. The wind on the desert is extremely
variable, and different sizes of whirlwinds which veer and change
element of surprise was conspicuously lacking, however, for ter-
rain and atmospheric conditions were such that British preparations
for the attack, the movement of the vehicles, and the detrucking of
troops for the assault were clearly visible to the Axis forces.
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constantly make it difficult to estimate the wind in any such
operation as the laying of smoke.
of cover on the flank of the Omar position or within
close range to the north forced the siting of the W/X Field Artillery
Battalion 6000 yards to the north. This rendered its support of the tank
attack ineffective. The result was that numerous Axis antitank guns,
ranging from the 47-mm. to the 88-mm., knocked out 31 of the 48 British
tanks which took part in the battle*.
of the dust, the artillery observers who were in
the second wave of tanks could not see. Observers were not in the first
wave of tanks because of the risk of being knocked out, but it is believed
that they could have been located in positions from which fire could have
been conducted more effectively, as for example, on the flank. The only
targets fired upon were the German 88-mm. multipurpose guns, which
were finally silenced after they had disabled 15 tanks.
battalion of artillery directed to support the infantry
during the advance fired only on fortifications to the flank of the
infantry, for the advancing tanks had raised large clouds of dust, the terrain
was flat, and arrangements for observation were so inadequate that it
was not safe to fire over the heads of friendly infantry.
November 23 four enemy 105-mm. batteries as well
as other enemy groups were still active. These were successively
neutralized by the 6-inch counterbattery battalion.
artillery flash spotters located many isolated 105-mm.,
75/46** and antitank guns, and these were partly silenced on
November 23 and 24. These spotters were available to adjust
counter-battery fires, but were not so used. It was noted that the 4.5-inch
employment of tanks in no way lessens the need for strong fire
support. Combat aviation and the supporting fires of artillery. . . and
other supporting weapons, are carefully coordinated with the advance of
the leading echlon. The mission of fires supporting the tank action is to
neutralize hostile antitank guns . . ." Par. 1149, WD FM 100-5, FSR.
**The Italian 75/46 is a 75-mm. gun with a tube 46 times the diameter
of the bore.
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battery which was assisting in the counterbattery fires did little effective
firing*, When this was checked several days later, it was found that the
use of a faulty declination constant had caused an error of 2 1/2
degrees in the aiming circle.
following table gives ammunition expenditures for
November 22 and 23:
25-pounders used 6,000 rounds of HE shell,
700 rounds of smoke, and 226 rounds of superquick ammunition;
6-in. howitzers used 510 rounds of HE shell;
4.5-in. guns used 500 rounds of HE shell.
R.A.F. had air superiority, yet no orders or details
regarding its part in the battle were issued other than the
indefinite statement "RAF will bomb OMAR NUOVO, LIBYAN OMAR and
ADHIDIBA between 1130 and 1299 hrs." The air arm apparently had
no role during the actual attack, though it could have been well
employed in bombing AT positions. With cooperating air force it is
necessary that definite targets and definite missions be assigned.
to the attack, 27 loads of bombs were dropped on
the Axis positions from an altitude of 6,000 feet. The total weight of
the bombs dropped was 250 x 3 x 27 = 20,250 pounds. When the defensive
positions were examined, however, little effect was noticeable.
This was probably due to the accuracy of Axis antiaircraft fire in the
Omars, which knocked down five Hurricanes and one Maryland bomber
on November 22 and 23.
88-mm. multipurpose guns (see Appendix A) were
used chiefly as antitank weapons, and were extremely effective.
These guns were well emplaced in sunken positions with only enough
of the gun showing to permit it to traverse.
ineffectiveness of the fire, particularly the inaccuracy of the 4.5-
inch battery, was noted by the American artillery observer, who was
observing the effect from the top of a caisson.
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Figure 12. German Bounding Mine, or "Silent Soldier."
antipersonnel mine was used by the Germans in the Omars. It has
trigger wires which, if stepped on, detonate the propelling charge, and a
delay fuze explodes the mine when it is a few feet above the ground.
Shrapnel (350 steel balls) is projected horizontally, effective within a
radius of 40 feet and fairly effective within a radius of 100 feet.|
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75-mm. guns of the Italian 12th Artillery Regiment were
the 75/46 gun equipped with armor-piercing shell for antitank use.
Italian guns were ordinary close-support weapons
used in an antitank role, and had both armor-piercing and H.E. shell.
(2) Defensive Positions
(a) Trench Systems
positions at Sidi Omar, Libyan Omar, and
Omar Nuovo were well constructed and excellently concealed. All
trench systems had been dug, or rather blasted, into the rocky ground
and the debris removed, so that little or nothing showed above the
ground. Trenches, which were 4 to 5 feet deep, were zigzagged at
short intervals, and fields of fire were perfect for several hundred
troops remained safe in their trenches while the
British tanks crossed over them in their assault, then came up and
delivered fire on the attacking infantry at close range. This technique is
stressed in the German training doctrine.
(b) Mine Fields
mine fields were in the form of a belt, about 100
yards wide, in which the mines were planted in rows of about 6 to 8
feet apart. The mine positions were sufficiently concealed by the
shifting sand. Approximately 100,000 mines were used. Axis mine fields
were marked for identification by barbed wire fences on the outside.
The Axis used German "Teller" antitank mines and bounding
anti-personnel mines (see fig. 12).
Italians captured on November 22 and 23 in the Omars
belonged to the Savona Division and were reported to be tougher on the
whole and better disciplined than the Italians of the Trento Division
captured in December 1940 and June 1941. The prisoners were a
well-clothed, well-disciplined group, who had put up a good fight and knew it.
The 6 German and 52 Italian officers, as well as the 37 German
technicians, were very bitter about their capture and would not speak.
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