[Lone Sentry: The Battle of the Omars]
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The Battle of the Omars (Information Bulletin No. 11, U.S. War Department)
§Table of
§List of
  Part 1
  Part 2
§7 Ind Inf
§U.S. Army
§4 Ind Arty
  Part 3
   and Lessons
  Appendix A
   88-mm. Gun
Appendix B

Part 3 (pg. 31 - 41)


   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


*There are 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 reserve.

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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 Axis defenders.

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 orders.

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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 that day.

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 Libyan Omar.

   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 Libyan Omar.


Losses for the first two days of the battle were as follows:


November 22: November 23:
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:
Dead--approximately 25;

The following forces and equipment were captured by British on November 22 and 23:

Omar Nuovo

   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.]

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.


   a. British

      (1) General

          The 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*.

          Antitank 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.

          Action 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.

          During the assault the infantry itself had no mortars or heavy machine guns, only rifles, submachine guns, and bayonets.


*"These 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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      (2) Detailed

          (a) Reconnaissance

              This 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.

              In 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.

          (b) Orders

              The 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 many details.

              Confusion 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.

          (c) Support

              1. Tanks

                 The 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.

              2. Artillery

                 The 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.

                 Survey 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 minute.

                 No 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.

                 Smoke 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 direction


*The 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.

                 Lack 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*.

                 Because 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.

                 The 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.

                 On 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.

                 Field 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


*"The 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.

                 The following table gives ammunition expenditures for November 22 and 23:

                 Fifty-two 25-pounders used 6,000 rounds of HE shell, 700 rounds of smoke, and 226 rounds of superquick ammunition;
                 Eight 6-in. howitzers used 510 rounds of HE shell;
                 Four 4.5-in. guns used 500 rounds of HE shell.

              3. Air

                 The 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.

                 Prior 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.

   b. Axis

      (1) Artillery

          German 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.


*The 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.]

Figure 12. German Bounding Mine, or "Silent Soldier."

This 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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          The 75-mm. guns of the Italian 12th Artillery Regiment were the 75/46 gun equipped with armor-piercing shell for antitank use.

          The 65-mm. 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

              Defensive 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 yards.

              Axis 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

              The 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).

      (3) Morale

          All 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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