Second Battle of El Alamein Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Second Battle of El Alamein pitted British forces in the Middle East against the German Afrika Corps and resulted in a British victory.

Summary of Event

Declaration of war on the Allies by Italy in June, 1940, gave the British the opportunity of striking at Italy’s possessions in North Africa. Italy;colonial possessions Fighting alone against Germany and Italy, the British were in no position to mount an offensive on the European continent, and it was essential for them to hold the so-called Imperial Lifeline Imperial Lifeline, British British Empire;World War II of Gibraltar, Malta, and Suez. Victory in North Africa would not only help maintain British control in the Mediterranean but would also weaken the enemy. Accordingly, Winston Churchill, the British prime minister, and General Alan Francis Brooke, chief of the Imperial General Staff, ordered General Archibald Wavell, commander of Middle East forces, to begin operations against the Italian army in North Africa. [kw]Second Battle of El Alamein (Oct. 23-Nov. 3, 1942) [kw]Battle of El Alamein, Second (Oct. 23-Nov. 3, 1942) [kw]El Alamein, Second Battle of (Oct. 23-Nov. 3, 1942) El Alamein, Second Battle of (1942) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];North African campaign El Alamein, Second Battle of (1942) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];North African campaign [g]Africa;Oct. 23-Nov. 3, 1942: Second Battle of El Alamein[00650] [g]Middle East;Oct. 23-Nov. 3, 1942: Second Battle of El Alamein[00650] [g]Egypt;Oct. 23-Nov. 3, 1942: Second Battle of El Alamein[00650] [c]World War II;Oct. 23-Nov. 3, 1942: Second Battle of El Alamein[00650] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Oct. 23-Nov. 3, 1942: Second Battle of El Alamein[00650] Alexander, Harold (first Earl Alexander of Tunis) Auchinleck, Sir Claude John Eyre Brooke, Alan Francis Churchill, Winston [p]Churchill, Winston;World War II military leadership[World War 02 military] Graziani, Rodolfo Hitler, Adolf [p]Hitler, Adolf;Middle Eastern military campaign Montgomery, Bernard Law Raeder, Erich Rommel, Erwin Wavell, Archibald (first Earl Wavell)

Throughout 1940 and 1941, Wavell’s small but highly trained forces inflicted defeat after defeat on the Italian troops under the command of Marshal Rodolfo Graziani and drove them out of Libya and Ethiopia. Hundreds of thousands of Italians surrendered to the British. The campaign was an outstanding success as far as it went.

Adolf Hitler, chancellor and führer of Germany, began to be perturbed over his ally’s losses. Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, though officially commander of the German navy, was probably the best strategist among Hitler’s military advisers, and he advised Hitler to send large forces to North Africa to sever the Imperial Lifeline, capture Suez, and gain the oil riches of the Middle East. Toward the end of 1940, however, Hitler had committed himself to the invasion of Russia, and he would agree to sending only a small force to North Africa, appointing General Erwin Rommel as commander.

Rommel, who became known as the Desert Fox, arrived in Africa at a propitious moment. Wavell had been forced to send many of his troops to the defense of Greece, and the British forces remaining in Africa were therefore weak when Rommel began an offensive in April, 1941. The British were pushed back eastward toward Cairo. As a countermeasure, Churchill and Brooke appointed General Sir Claude John Eyre Auchinleck as commander of British forces in the Middle East. It was not a good choice, and when Auchinleck, never a forceful soldier, found himself in a poor defensive position, he gave more ground to Rommel, who captured the key town of Tobruk Tobruk, fall of (1942) in June, 1942. The British fell back to a defensive position at El Alamein, sixty-five miles from Alexandria and the Nile Delta. Anchored on the sea and running to the Qattara Depression in the south, the thirty-mile front could not be flanked.

In desperation, Churchill and Brooke replaced Auchinleck with General Harold Alexander. To command the main British force, they appointed General Bernard Law Montgomery as commander of the British Eighth Army. Montgomery immediately realized the military situation and planned an offensive that would turn back the Axis forces.

When Rommel tried to resume the offensive in September, Montgomery forced him to a standstill at the Battle of Alam el Halfa Alam el Halfa, Battle of (1942) . Meanwhile British troops and supplies, particularly tanks, were arriving in great numbers, while the Germans were overextended and suffering a severe scarcity of fuel. Because the British had cracked the code World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];cryptography Cryptography World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];military intelligence Espionage of the German Enigma Enigma machine cryptographic machine, decrypted German radio traffic (referred to by British intelligence as “Ultra”) Ultra (code name) reached British commanders as quickly as it reached Rommel. Knowing when shipments of fuel were scheduled, the British were able to destroy the vast majority of such transports before the ships could reach their destination. By mid-October, the British had numerical superiority in men, tanks, airpower, and artillery.

On October 23, 1942, Montgomery struck. At this crucial moment, Rommel was on sick leave in Germany. He hurried back to take command of the Axis forces, but the British were able to force a break in his lines and, in a tank battle that lasted a week, Rommel’s forces were defeated. Rommel had ordered a systematic general withdrawal to positions nearer his source of supplies. Hitler personally insisted that the position at El Alamein be held at all costs. When Rommel finally ordered the retreat on November 3, the situation was desperate; many of the German armor and nonmotorized infantry units were lost. Montgomery had achieved the first major defeat of a German army in World War II.

Significance

The Battle of El Alamein has been hailed by the British as a major turning point in the war. German military historians generally agree with this assessment. To the British, it was their last great single victory over the Axis. The final day of the battle coincided with the Anglo-American invasion of northwest Africa. These two events, coupled with the German defeat at Stalingrad two months later, put the Germans on the defensive for the remainder of the war. El Alamein also highlighted the importance of winning the battle of supply in modern warfare. El Alamein, Second Battle of (1942) World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];North African campaign

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bryant, Arthur. The Turn of the Tide: A History of the War Years Based on the Diaries of Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1957.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Churchill, Winston S. The Second World War. Vol. 4: The Hinge of Fate. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Montgomery of Alamein, Field Marshal. Memoirs. Cleveland, Ohio: World, 1958.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rommel, Field Marshal Erwin. The Rommel Papers. Edited by Captain B. H. Liddle Hart. Translated by Paul Findlay. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1953. The above are pertinent memoirs of the leading figures in the Battle of El Alamein.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barr, Niall. Pendulum of War: The Three Battles of El Alamein. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 2005. Portrays the twelve-day battle as a pendulum swinging back and forth between the two sides to such an extreme degree that it is actually understandable as three separate battles. Attempts to understand the British victory as the result of many different factors, some predictable and some uncontrollable, rather than as simply a triumph of British tactics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carver, General Michael. El Alamein. New York: Macmillan, 1962. A thorough, reasoned, and objective account of the battle, placing the opposing leaders in perspective. Carver is sympathetic to Rommel’s problems, particularly his lack of material support, but he blames Rommel for originally overextending his chosen position at El Alamein.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Freiden, Seymour, and William Richardson, eds. The Fatal Decisions. New York: Berkeley, 1956. Freiden and Richardson present reports on six major battles of World War II, each written by one of the German commanders present at the battle. Lieutenant-General Fritz Bayerlein, who was chief of staff of the Afrika Korps and then held the same position on Rommel’s staff, presents his account of the battle of El Alamein.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jacobsen, H. A., and J. Rohwer, eds. Decisive Battles of World War II: The German View. Translated by Edward Fitzgerald. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1965. A history of World War II written by German military historians who present the German view of the war. Because some of the contributors had formerly been highly placed military men, they are able to give readers the benefit of their hindsight as well as their research.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lucas, James. War in the Desert. New York: Beaufort Books, 1982. One of the best accounts of El Alamein, putting the final battle in its proper perspective. Lucas’s own service in the desert provides insights lacking in many other accounts. Lucas is among the few writers to give Ultra intelligence its proper place in the victory, and the crucial role of airpower is better illustrated by Lucas than in many other accounts.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Philips, C. E. Lucas. Alamein. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962. A popular writer, Philips concentrates on narrative, making Montgomery a hero, while Rommel is less than a villain.

World War II: European Theater

Anglo-Iraqi War

Battle of Stalingrad

Invasion of North Africa

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