of El Alamein
First Battle of El Alamein
1 - 27 July 1942.
The Allied Eighth Army under General Claude Auchinleck
had retreated from Mersa Matruh to the Alamein Line, a
forty mile gap between El Alamein and the Qattara
Depression, in Egypt.
On July 1 the German-Italian Afrika Korps led by Erwin
Rommel attacked. The Allied line near El Alamein was not
overrun until the evening and this hold up stalled the
On July 2 Rommel concentrated his forces in the north,
intending to break through around El Alamein. Auchinleck
ordered a counter-attack at the centre of the Axis line
but the attack failed. The Allies also attacked in the
south and were more successful against the Italians. As a
result of the Allied resistance, Rommel decided to
regroup and defend the line reached.
Auchinleck attacked again on July
10 at Tel el Eisa in the north and over one thousand
prisoners were taken. Rommel's counter at Tel el Eisa
achieved little. Auchinleck then attacked again in the
centre at the Ruweisat Ridge in two battles - the First
and Second Battles of Ruweisat on July 14 and July 21.
Neither battle was succcessful and the failure of armour
to reach the infantry in time at the Second Battle led to
the loss of 700 men. Despite this another two attacks
were launched on July 27. One in the north at Tel el Eisa
was a moderate failure. The other at Miteiriya was more
calamatous, as the minefields were not cleared and the
infantry were left without armour support when faced with
a German counter-attack.
The Eighth Army was exhausted, and by July 31 Auchinleck
ordered an end to offensive operations and the
strengthening of the defences to meet a major
The battle was a stalemate, but the Axis advance on
Alexandria (and then Cairo) was halted.
Second Battle of El Alamein
Second Battle of El Alamein was a
battle that lasted from October 23 to November 3 1942
during World War II. Following the First Battle of El
Alamein, which had stalled the Axis advance, British
general Bernard Montgomery took command of the Eighth
Army from Claude Auchinleck in August 1942. Success in
the battle turned the tide in the North African campaign.
Table of contents
1 The Situation
2 The British Plan
3 The Battle
By July 1942 the German Afrika Korps under General Erwin
Rommel had struck deep into Egypt, threatening the vital
British supply line across the Suez Canal. Faced with
overextended supply lines and lack of reinforcements
while being aware of massive British reinforcements
arriving, Rommel decided to strike at the British while
their build-up was still not complete. This attack on 30
August 1942 at Alam Halfa failed, and expecting a
counterattack by Montgomery?s 8th Army, the Afrika Korps
dug in. After six more weeks of building up forces the
British 8th Army was ready to strike. 200,000 men and
1,000 tanks under Montgomery made their move against the
100,000 men and 500 tanks of the Afrika Korps.
The British Plan
With Operation Lightfoot, Montgomery hoped to cut two
corridors through the Axis minefields in the north.
Armour would then pass through and defeat the German
armour. Diversionary attacks in the south would keep the
rest of the Axis forces from moving northwards.
Montgomery expected a twelve-day battle in three stages -
"The break-in, the dog-fight and the final break of
The British practised a number of deceptions in the
months prior to the battle to wrong-foot the Axis
command, not only as to the exact whereabouts of the
forthcoming battle, but as to when the battle was likely
to occur. This operation was codenamed "Operation
Bertram". A dummy pipeline was built, stage by
stage, the construction of which would lead the Axis to
believe the attack would occur much later than it in fact
did, and much further south. To further the illusion,
dummy tanks made of plywood frames placed over jeeps were
constructed and deployed in the south. In a reverse
feint, the tanks for battle in the north were disguised
as supply lorries by placing a removable plywood
superstructure over them.
The Axis were dug-in along two lines, called by the
Allies the Oxalic Line and the Pierson Line. They had
laid around half a million mines, mainly anti-tank.
The battle opened at 2140 hours on October 23 with an
sustained artillery barrage. The initial objective was
the Oxalic Line with the armour intending to advance over
this and on to the Pierson Line. However the minefields
were not yet fully cleared when the assault began.
On the first day, the assault to create the northern
corridor fell three miles short of the Pierson line.
While further south they had made better progress but
were stalled at the Miteirya Ridge.
On October 24 the Axis commander, General Stumme (Rommel
was on sick leave in Austria), died of a heart-attack and
General Ritter von Thoma took command of the Axis forces,
while Rommel was ordered to return to Africa, arriving on
For the Allies in the south, after another abortive
assault on the Miteirya Ridge, the attack was abandoned.
Montgomery switched the focus of the attack to the north.
There was a successful night attack over the 25-26th.
Rommel?s immediate counter-attack was without success.
The Allies had lost 6,200 men against Axis losses of
2,500, but while Rommel had only 370 tanks fit for action
Montgomery still had over 900.
Montgomery felt that the offensive was losing momentum
and decided to regroup. There were a number of small
actions but, by October 29, the Axis line was still
intact. Montgomery was still confident and prepared his
forces for Operation Supercharge. The endless small
operations and the attrition by the Allied airforce had
by then reduced Rommel's effective tank strength to only
The second major Allied offensive of the battle was along
the coast, initially to capture the Rahman Track and then
take the high ground at Tel el Aqqaqir. The attack began
on November 2 1942. By the 3rd Rommel had only 35 tanks
fit for action. Despite containing the British advance,
the pressure on his forces made a retreat necessary.
However the same day Rommel received a "Victory or
Death" message from Adolf Hitler, halting the
withdrawal. But the Allied pressure was too great, and
the German forces had to withdraw on the night of
November 3-4. By November 6 the Axis forces were in full
retreat and over 30,000 soldiers had surrendered.
Winston Churchill famously summed up the battle on 10
November, 1942 with the words "now this is not the
end, it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is,
perhaps, the end of the beginning."
The battle was Montgomery's greatest triumph. He took the
name "Lord Montgomery of Alamein" when he was
raised to the peerage. The success of his plan led
Montgomery to prefer overwhelming superiority in all his
subsequent battles, leading to a reputation, with some,
for being overcautious.
The Torch landings in Morocco later that month marked the
effective end of the Axis threat in North Africa.
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