2. THE ACTION AT HALFAYA
The defending forces were as follows: one company on the coastal plain behind a mine field, one Italian company facing east on the edge of the plateau, and one company facing to the south and west of the Italian company. Four 88-mm antiaircraft guns were sited in the front line covering the open right flank. The eight Italian gun-howitzers were distributed between the front line and the interval between Halfaya and Qalala, and the battalion held a company in reserve.
The main attack by the British tanks on the open right flank was stopped by the 88-mm guns after fire had been taken up by the 20-mm guns and all other weapons at 440 yards. When the attack had been broken, a patrol was sent out to establish the position of the British infantry, which was then pinned down by Axis artillery. There was a counterattack by the battalion reserve in which 67 prisoners and important codes and maps were captured. A second attack by the British followed in which the Axis held fire until the infantry was within 440 yards, then opened with 20-mm antiaircraft guns. The British plan to attack by the coast was foreseen and one 88-mm gun was placed there.
Two more infantry attacks on the second day (June 16) were stopped short by an artillery barrage, accompanied by 20-mm and infantry fire. During the morning, German airplanes bombed their own artillery and antiaircraft positions, and in the afternoon the ammunition situation became critical—the artillery reporting that only 600 shells remained and that antiaircraft ammunition was running short. Bach was worried about food and water. A message from the German Afrika Korps was dropped by air at 2000 hours: "All depends on holding Halfaya." He answered: "All depends on your sending us ammunition and food." As time had not permitted him to reconnoiter positions, he did not obey Knabe's order to clear the shore and concentrate on the pass. The next day aircraft dropped ammunition for small arms and 20-mm guns. The British retreat began, harassed by artillery, antiaircraft, and heavy machine-gun fire from Halfaya, and in the evening the position was relieved.
In the course of the action at Halfaya 20 British tanks and 8 armored cars were destroyed, and 98 prisoners were taken. Losses were small—8 killed and 32 wounded (excluding antiaircraft and antitank personnel). The Iron Cross, Class I, was awarded to Bach.
The report of the 1st Battalion of the 33d Antiaircraft Regiment
indicated that this unit played an important role in the victory. Its
guns opened up on the tanks at 2,200 yards at 0500, knocking out one
cruiser tank; then they held fire until the opposing tank force
approached to within 330 yards, where dust did not obscure the
targets, and bagged nine infantry tanks. After this the entire
battalion fired high-explosive shell into the infantry, forcing
it to take cover. The 88-mm guns on the coast knocked out three
infantry tanks. On the second day the 20-mm guns were pushed forward
to eliminate machine-gun nests and an OP at 1,650 yards, while the
coastal gun was used to scatter concentrations of motor transport
and an infantry battalion. The antiaircraft guns thus eliminated
14 of the 20 attacking tanks, and doomed the British attack to