battle in africa

The Battles of El-Alamein: North African Campaign in WWII

150 miles to the West of Cairo was El-Alamein – a location where two significant battles took place which had marked the start of the end of Axis presence in the Regions of North Africa. The first battle of El-Alamein which took place in July 1942 ended in a stalemate, but the second battle in November 1942 was decisive in favor of the Allied powers. It was the British Eighth army that dealt the previously famous Marshel Erwin Rommel his defeat.

The First Battle of El-Alamein (1-27 July 1942)

Once the Italian forces present in North Africa sustained severe defeats at the hands of the British, German General Erwin Rommel was selected in February 1941 to command Axis forces in Libya. As part of this command Rommel decided to drive his force eastward along the North African coast with the goal of seizing the crucial geographical asset that is the Suez Canal. Despite Axis ambitions, the British were able to keep the Germans at bay until May 1942. After this point, the combined strength of the German and Italian militaries was able to neutralize most of the British artillery force, take the stronghold of Tobruk and progress to the British defense base of El-Alamein by the end of June 1942.

On July 1st, Rommel’s forces went on the attack which was met with a counterattack led by General Claude Auchinleck leading to a battle of attrition between the two. By mid-July, following numerous skirmishes and losses on both sides, Rommel found himself on the defensive leading to his eventual retreat to regroup and regather his forces. Despite this relative success by the Allied powers, they sustained a heavy loss of some 13,250 casualties. As a result, Auchinleck was removed from his position and his replacement having been killed meant that General Bernard Montgomery would now command the Eighth Army in North Africa. With the time that was awarded to him by Rommel’s retreat, Montgomery built a considerable force in preparation for the anticipated 2nd battle for El-Alamein.

A German 88mm anti-tank gun captured and destroyed by New Zealand troops near El Alamein, 17 July 1942.

The Second Battle of El-Alamein (23 October – 11 November 1942)

Montgomery showed his tactical prowess in knowing that the Axis powers would not be able get their armored forces through the Qattara Depression easily and thus built a defense line at El-Alamein itself. This move neutralized German capacity to fight their battles on open terrain, immediately putting the Axis powers at a disadvantage and the British Eighth Army on the offensive.

Thanks to Montgomery’s pro-active planning, the British forces were almost double that of Rommel’s forces. In addition to their armored advantage, the British were also able to enjoy air superiority in the battlefield. In response to this, Rommel attempted to implement his defenses as best possible, sowing antitank and antipersonnel mines in order to slow his enemy’s movements.

Montgomery chose to attack in a two-pronged manner, launching a diversionary attack in the south with the brunt of his forces attacking the North, breaking into the defensive line of the axis powers and tearing down their offensive capacity. Despite their numbers and sound plan of attack, the British advance was slowed by Rommel’s defenses leaving them open to numerous Axis counterattack and leading to heavy casualties. It seemed that Rommel would be able to avoid a British decisive victory for a while but eventually progress made by the Australian and New Zealand Infantry divisions opened corridors that the British forces exploited.

On November 2nd Rommel notified Hitler that the Axis powers had lost the battle for El-Alamein and begun withdrawing his German units. The Italians were left behind for the British to capture seeing as they did not have motorized transport to help them.

Following the victory of El-Alamein Axis forces would continue to be driven out of North Africa by operations such as Operation Torch and by the British Eighth Army leading to their eventual surrender on May 13, 1943.

Italian prisoners of war after the Second Battle of El-Alamein, November 1942.