Egypt. 10th June 1940

Discussion in 'North Africa & the Med' started by DavidW, Dec 16, 2014.

  1. DavidW

    DavidW Well-Known Member

    In his book "Crusader" Richard Humble quotes the Commonwealth Infantry forces in Egypt as being only 14 Battalions strong, excluding the infantry components of the 7th Armoured Division, 4th Indian & 2nd N.Z Infantry divisions.

    I can only figure out 10 of those 14.
    Can anyone help me to fill in the blanks?

    1). 2/Yorks & Lancs.
    2). 1/Essex.
    3). 1/Hants.
    4). 1/Welch.
    5). 1/Cheshire.
    6). 1/Northumberland Fusiliers.
    7). 1/South Staffs.
    8). 2/Scots Guards.
    9). 1/Durham Light Infantry.
    10). 3/Coldstream Guards.

  2. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    2nd Bn King's Own Royal Regiment

  3. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    2nd Black Watch?
    2nd Queens?
    1st Beds & Herts?

    All the best

  4. DavidW

    DavidW Well-Known Member

    Thanks Owen.

    Andreas. I have those three arriving later?
  5. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    Well they were all in Palestine as part of 6 Division in 1940, and 2 Black Watch went to British Somaliland in July. Chances are high therefore that in June they were in Egypt.

    All the best

  6. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Were 1st Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders there in June 40 ?

    edit: ah no that was September.
  7. DavidW

    DavidW Well-Known Member

    Andreas. I wonder if anyone can confirm?

    Owen. I have them arriving early September?
  8. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

  9. DavidW

    DavidW Well-Known Member

    I'll look at those later. Thanks very much!
  10. DavidW

    DavidW Well-Known Member

    The Black Watch link was inconclusive, but I'm inclined to think that they weren't there until later.
    The Beds & Herts link says nothing of help.
    The Queen's link confirms there arrival in the September.

    So, still need 3 Battalions if Mr Humble is correct.

    Thanks Andreas & Owen.
  11. Andreas

    Andreas Working on two books

    We're clearly not reading the same links. :)

    So unless the Black Watch embarked from Palestine, it is quite likely that they moved through Egypt to get to British Somaliland.

    Beds and Herts makes it clear they are in the Middle East, which should be helpful to some extent.

    Right on the Queens however:

    Now the other thing question is whether Mr. Humble got things right as well?

    All the best

  12. DavidW

    DavidW Well-Known Member

    You have a good point with the Black Watch, they might have been counted by Humble, even though only passing through.
    Good detective work my friend!
  13. Tullybrone

    Tullybrone Senior Member


    I have British Army Order of Battle Sept 1939 (from internet but can't remember where so can't attach link -

    British Troops in Egypt -

    1. 3rd CG at Alexandria

    2. 1st Royal Sussex at Moascar

    3. 1st Essex at Moascar (detachments at Port Said & Cyprus).

    4. 1st RNF Cairo

    5. 1st Beds & Herts Cairo

    6. 2nd Cameron Highlanders El Fayid

    7. 1st/6 Rajputana Rifles El Fayid

    8. 4/7th Rajput Regiment El Fayid

    9. 2nd Scots Guards Mersa Matruh

    10. 1st Hampshire Mersa Matruh

    11. 1st Battalion The Buffs Mersa Matruh

    Hope that helps

    Steve Y
  14. DavidW

    DavidW Well-Known Member

    Hi Steve.

    It doesn't really help specifically with this question, as it is pertinent to 10th June 1940.

    But it is very interesting in it's own right. Thanks for posting. (Was it Steve Rothwell's site perhaps?)

  15. dryan67

    dryan67 Senior Member

    This file may be a bit out of date since I have not updated it recently, but at one point I tried to track all Middle East Force units from 3 September 1939 up to 9 December 1940. This may help answer some of your questions.

    If there are any questions, I can probably provide an update for any units.

    Attached Files:

  16. JackGe

    JackGe Junior Member

  17. DavidW

    DavidW Well-Known Member

    Superb document David!

    Thank you so much for sharing.
  18. DavidW

    DavidW Well-Known Member


    With 2/KORR (Lancaster) I have 11.

    Steve Rothwell puts 2/Black Watch in the Delta area at 10/06/40, so that is 12. (Andreas, you were right!)

    He also has 2/HLI at Mersa Matruh on the same day, so that is 13.

    But as 1/Royal Sussex were part of 4th Ind Inf Div they don't count, as per the criteria in the opening post.

    One to find!
  19. DavidW

    DavidW Well-Known Member


    Please could you give the movements of 2/Highland light Infantry for 1940, 41 & 42. If it's not too tiresome.
    Thanks ever so much.

  20. dryan67

    dryan67 Senior Member

    2nd Battalion, The Highland Light Infantry (City of Glasgow Regiment)

    Jerusalem Area, British Troops in Palestine and Transjordan – 3 September 1939 to 14 November 1939
    In August 1939, the 2nd Battalion were preparing to change station and return to the United Kingdom. On the outbreak of war, the battalion was spread out in detachments in Gaza and covered an area of over thirty miles from north to south on Railway Duties. These posts were numbered 1 to 9 with Nos. 1 to 3 around Khan Yunis, Nos. 4 to 6 in the middle, and Nos. 7 to 9 around Al Majdal. The reserve company was in readiness to move on short notice to quell any outbreaks of violence among the Arabs and Jewish immigrants. At times it was used in Jerusalem, Gaza, Beersheba and Tel Aviv. The 2nd Battalion served under the command of Headquarters, Jerusalem Area, which had been converted from HQ 19th Infantry Brigade on September 3rd, 1939. On short notice, the battalion left Palestine in November 1939 and moved to Cairo.

    18th Infantry Brigade and Cairo Area – 14 November 1939 to 17 March 1940
    On arrival from Jerusalem, the battalion occupied The Citadel in Cairo as a garrison unit.

    22nd Infantry Brigade – 18 March 1940 to 21 July 1940
    The battalion left Cairo and served under the brigade at Mersa Matruh, where it helped construct defensive positions west of the town. After the entry of Italy in the war, two companies did a reconnaissance in force up to the frontier posts but withdrew after an exchange of fire. In July the battalion returned to Cairo.

    23rd Infantry Brigade and Suez Canal Area – 22 July 1940 to 14 August 1940
    On its return to Cairo, the battalion briefly served at The Citadel and then in Kasr el Nil Barracks before moving to Port Said.

    HQ Suez Canal Sub-Area – 15 August 1940 to mid-December 1940
    The 23rd Brigade and Suez Canal Area was redesignated as HQ Suez Canal Sub-Area on August 15th and the 23rd Brigade ceased to exist. The HLI left Port Said in December 1940 and sailed to Port Sudan, Sudan to relieve the 1st Essex Regiment.

    GHQ Middle East Force – mid-December 1940 to 22 December 1940
    On arrival at Port Sudan, the battalion entrained for Gedaref.

    10th Indian Infantry Brigade – 22 December 1940 to 23 June 1942
    The battalion moved to Khasham el Girba, Sudan. It took over from the 1st Essex at the Butana Bridge and came under the command of the 10th Indian Infantry Brigade there on December 22nd, 1940. When the battalion arrived the 10th Indian Brigade held a number of bridgeheads on the east bank of the Atbara in the area of Gedaref, Khasm-el-Gerba and Sarsareib. Early in January the 2nd HLI, less two companies, and with two machine-gun companies and a battery of 4.5-inch howitzers under command, was ordered to probe enemy positions at Abu Gamel. After a thirty-mile night advance, the force was deployed before Abu Gamel on the morning of January 10th, 1941. The other two companies joined during the day and the battalion took the enemy water supply as well as turning back the Italian supply columns. Just as it was ready to attack on the 11th, the battalion and supporting troops were withdrawn thirteen miles to the rear at Beija. Later intelligence learned that the Italian garrison was ready to surrender on the 13th.
    When news of the withdrawal of the enemy from Abu Gamel reached the battalion, the commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Fletcher, ordered the HLI to advance at once. Abu Gamel was reached on the 16th and the Italians could be seen retreating to Tessenei. From there the 2nd HLI continued to advance to cut the track between Kassala and Tessenei in order to cut off the Italians retreating from Kassala. From there it was to move on to Tessenei. Unfortunately the advance was delayed by mines on the road and on the banks of the River Gash and the battalion only reached the west side of the river. After the engineers prepared the riverbed, the 2nd Battalion crossed on the morning of the 18th and moved directly on Tessenei. Since the Italians begen to withdraw from Kassala on January 18th there was not hope of cutting off the retreat. The battalion bivouacked for the night at Tessenei and found the Italians falling back on Keru the following day. The 10th Brigade was ordered to advance eastwards from Tessenei and block the enemy line to Keru. The 2nd Battalion moved at once the twenty-two miles to Aicota to cut of the retreat advancing along a single narrow track through wadis and ravines. It reached a long and narrow gorge and pushed on through to continue to attempt to cut off the enemy. Shortly the battalion was in action against enemy rearguards, which were overcome allowing the sappers to clear a path through for heavy vehicles. Two companies of the battalion then moved forward to support the screening force from the Sudan Defence Force. On the 22nd, the Sudan Defence Force contacted enemy columns retreating from Keru. A single company of the 2nd HLI supported by a single field battery was sent to meet the enemy on the Jebel Sheba. During a hasty attack, the company commander was killed as the battalion came up against heavy machine-gun fire. With the support of the field battery, the company closed on the enemy, who surrendered for a total bag of six hundred prisoners.
    After the action at Jebel Sheba, the battalion contined the advance through difficult terrain to Biscia, already taken by the 4th Indian Division. From there, the 10th Indian Brigade was ordered to push cross-country to cut the Agordat-Barentu road. When it reached the position on the road, no enemy arrived so the brigade moved on to Barentu. The two Indian battalions in the brigade, the 4/10th Baluchs and the 3/18th Royal Garhwal Rifles, had already taken the first line of defence at Barentu on January 26th. The 2nd Highland Light Infantry attacked the second line of defence after forming up behind the Indian battalions with ‘A’ Company on the right flank and ‘D’ Company sweeping further west. Both companies took their objectives after a stiff fight, but a withering enfilade fire then hit ‘A’ Company. ‘A’ Company was forced to retreat while taking casualties causing a similar fate to befall ‘D’. During the attack the battalion lost both company commanders along with one hundred other casualties. As the brigade continued pressure on Barentu along with the 29th Indian Brigade to the west, the enemy gave way and evacuated the town on the night of February 1st. Barentu was occupied the following day.
    Since the 4th Indian Division was held up at Keren, the brigade could not pursue the enemy down the Arressa track. Instead, the battalion was withdrawn back to Tessenei to help recover from an outbreak of sickness caused by the unhealthy conditions around Barentu. The 5th Indian Division remained around the Sabderat-Tessenei area after Barentu to rest and train in mountain warfare. A new plan was formulated on March 1st for another attack on Keren involving both the 4th and 5th Indian Divisions. The 4th Indian Division would attack north and west of the road and, when the left flank was secure, the 5th Indian Division would attack east of the road.
    The 4th Indian Division’s attack went in on March 15th on the heights on the north side of the roadblock. On the 5th Indian Brigade front, the 9th and 29th Indian Brigades concentrated behind the lower slopes of Cameron Ridge on the morning of March 15th. The 10th Brigade would not become involved until the first two phases of the 5th Indian Division’s attack were complete and it would be used to exploit any success. On March 15th, the 2nd Highland Light Infantry was attached to the 9th Indian Brigade and would carry out the attack on Fort Dologorodoc. The battalion went forward at 1030 hours behind Cameron Ridge and advanced across the road and up the southern side of the gorge with ‘C’ Company leading. Its objective was the Pinnacle feature. Once secured, ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies would pass through and attack Fort Dologorodoc. Under heavy fire, ‘C’ Company pressed to the foot of the objective, but was then pinned down. ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies were also held up at the foot of the Pinnacle because the 4th Indian Division had not taken its objectives. After being under heavy fire for six hours, all three companies were withdrawn at dusk. ‘D’ Company had been used as porters during the attack, a normal practise in such mountainous territory. An attack by the other three battalions of the 9th Brigade secured Fort Dologorodoc by the morning of March 16th and the 2nd Highland Light Infantry returned to the 10th Indian Brigade, which was placed at the disposal of the 11th Indian Brigade.
    The 10th Indian Brigade, under the 4th Indian Division, prepared to break through between Brig’s Peak and Mt. Sanchil. The two Indian battalions would begin the attack and the HLI would attack the col between the two positions after both were taken. It would then break out onto the Keren plain. The leading Indian battalions reached their attack positions at 0330 hours on March 17th. Due to heavy fire, the Indian battalions were not able to capture the two positions taking a total of 316 casualties between them. The HLI was not committed and the 10th Brigade was withdrawn on the night of March 17th/18th to Force Reserve with the HLI not able to get away until the night of March 18th/19th. The attack on both divisional fronts had now faultered and both divisions reorganised while holding the ground.
    The 10th Indian Brigade (less the 3/18th Royal Garhwal Rifles) concentrated in vicinity of Cameron Tunnel on March 24th in readiness for the final attack on Keren. The brigade attacked on March 25th with the 2nd Highland Light Infantry’s objective being the lower ridge before Sanchil. The battalion had entered the railway tunnerl past Cameron Ridge early on the 24th and waited until 0430 hours on the 25th to attack, surprising the Italians. The battalion was reduced to only 300 ranks with ‘A’ and a combined ‘B’/’C’ Companies involved. It took all objectives by 0700 hours taking 900 prisoners. The HLI then held the position until March 27th under constant fire. On that date, the mobile column, Fletcherforce was able to move forward and exploit the breakthrough. ‘A’ Company then took the summit of Sanchil.
    On March 29th, the 10th Indian Brigade was ordered forward of Keren and took Asmara on the 31st. The HLI arrived at Asmara on April 1st, 1941 and marched in with pipes playing. From there, the brigade moved onto Massawa on April 4th, clearing a roadblock that night. On April 5th, the brigade reached Dogali and cleared another roadblock. By the 7th, the 5th Indian Division had invested Massawa and was prepared to attack the city. The 10th Indian Brigade moved forward on the night of April 7th/8th and occupied part of a ridge running west and north of Signal Hill. The attack continued and Massawa surrendered at 1400 hours on April 8th.
    The 5th Indian Division was now given the task of taking Amba Alagi and sent forward the 29th Indian Brigade with supporting forces including the 3/18th Royal Garhwal Rifles of 10th Indian Brigade on April 24th. The 2nd HLI was not involved, since Amba Alagi capitulated on May 16th, one day before the battalion was scheduled to march against the city. For the next two months the battalion remained at Keren with detachments at Adua and Kub Kub on occupation duty. During the time it trained and took on reinforcements. On July 5th, 1941 it embarked at Massawa for Egypt.
    On July 10th, 1941 the battalion arrived in Egypt with the 10th Indian Brigade and moved into Quassassin Camp near Ismaila on the Suez Canal with the brigade. During the second week of August 1941, the brigade moved to the desert to begin training in mobile desert warfare and the 5th Division worked on the defences of the Alamein Line in the area of ‘Fortress A’ and ‘Fortress B’. The 5th Indian Division assembled at Burg el Arab in preparation for its move to Iraq on August 22nd. The 10th Brigade began its journey to Iraq on the 25th. The journey of over 1500 miles ended at Kirkuk during the first week of September 1941 and passed through Mena, Ismailia, Asluj, Gedera, Mafraq, H4 Pipeline, H3 Pipeline, RAF Landing Ground 5, Habbaniya, and Diltawa. After only a short time in the Kirkuk area, preparations for the 5th Indian Division’s return to Egypt began on September 25th. After a similar reverse journey, the 2nd Highland Light Infantry arrived at Mena Camp with the brigade on October 16th, 1941. On November 2nd, the 10th Brigade embarked for Cyprus from Haifa and landed at Famagusta. After a brief stay in a nearby transit camp, the brigade moved into positions to garrison eastern Cyprus around Larnaca.
    The 10th Indian Brigade left Cyprus on March 12th, 1942 aboard the Antwerp and moved to Haifa in Palestine. From there it entrained for Egypt and returned to Qassassin Camp on arrival. On April 8th, the brigade left Qassassin for the Western Desert, taking over positions in the area of Halfaya Pass after moving through Mersa Matruh. The 2nd Battalion was located at Sollum. The brigade remained there until April 25th, when it moved to the ‘Kennels’ at El Hamra, where all three brigades of the 5th Indian Division assembled. At the end of the second week of May 1942, the 10th Brigade moved to the Gambut area to guard the group of airfields north and south of the Trigh Capuzzo and also protect 8th Army’s Advanced Headquarters. The brigade was still there when the Afrika Korps began its offensive on May 26th.
    As Rommel broke through on May 31st, the 10th Brigade was moved to the area of Bir Harmat in order to establish a box at Bir et Tamar. It was to be used with the 69th Brigade to attack Aslagh Ridge, but a sandstorm forced the cancellation of the attack. Another attack was organised on June 3rd that would have the 10th Brigade start from the Bir Harmat-Knightsbridge track and make a night attack to the west to secure the northeastern end of Aslagh Ridge with the 4/10th Baluchs and Bir et Tamar to the northwest with the 2nd Highland Light Infantry. The 2/4th Gurkha Rifles would remain in reserve northeast of the Baluchis. The 10th Brigade’s attack began at 0250 hours on June 5th supported by the tanks of the 4th Royal Tank Regiment. The battalions reached their objectives with very little loss and the 2nd Highland Light Infantry was established at daylight in the area of B204 (Bir et Tamar). Due a miscalculation, the brigade fell short of its objectives and the artillery fire program fell on empty desert. This was discovered as the 22nd Armoured Brigade advanced beyond the brigade and was halted by intense enemy fire. While this was happening, the 2nd HLI lost part of its objective to an enemy counterattack. It attempted to retake the position but was attacked by German armour at midday. The battalion was then driven back to the Gurkhas’ position and were then sent back to the Trigh Bir Hacheim to reform. It organised into a composite battalion along with the remnants of the 2nd West Yorks and the 3/12th Frontier Force Regiment. By June 6th, the rest of the 10th Brigade was destroyed on Dahar el Aslagh and overrun.
    The 2nd Battalion moved back to El Adem to reform. The battalion had lost ten officers and 221 other ranks during its nine days in action. The battalion at El Adem now had 15 officers and 400 ranks. In the 10th Brigade the 4/10th Baluchs had five officers and 190 men and the 2/4th Gurkhas one officer and 156 men remained. The 2nd HLI were now attached to the 9th Indian Brigade in the El Adem Box. On June 12th, the Germans began to attack the box and, by the 16th, the El Adem Box was almost completely surrounded. El Adem was then evacuated and the 2nd Battalion was transferred to the 29th Indian Brigade to replace the 1st Worcestershire Regiment.

    29th Indian Infantry Brigade – 23 June 1942 to 22 July 1942
    During the withdrawal the battalion did not operate as a complete entity. Its companies were detached to the various columns formed and fought with ‘Gleecol’, ‘Scotcol’, ‘Leathercol’ and others. One company was overrun at Hamza while covering the retreat of the 29th Brigade. One column operated out of Mersa Matruh with eight guns while others took up positions on the Fuka escarpment to cover the withdrawal of XIII Corps. When the Germans attacked the escarpment, the brigade headquarters and guns were overrun on June 26th and 27th. The remnants of the battalion withdrew through the enemy and joined up with a piquet of the 12th Lancers west of El Daba, where Battalion HQ gathered up any survivors. By June 28th, the battalion strength was 16 officers, 360 other ranks, 37 vehicles and 4 carriers. At the start of July the battalion withdrew to Khatatba with 13 officers and 293 other ranks.

    GHQ Troops, Middle East Force (HQ British Troops in Egypt) – 22 July 1942 to 25 March 1943
    On July 22nd, the battalion left the field and relieved the 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders at the Citadel in Cairo. It remained in Cairo until it left for Palestine in March 1943.

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