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The Battle of El Alamein

August 1942. German General Erwin Rommel’s unstoppable Afrika Corps has pushed the British 8th Army back into Egypt. Rommel now is poised to capture the Suez Canal and the entire Middle East with it. After three years of hard desert fighting the British are weary and at the end of their ropes. But a maverick general called Montgomery has a plan!

Monty, as he is nicknamed by the troops, sweeps through the 8th Army like a tornado, exhorting the men, initiating training, and badgering British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for more men, planes, tanks and supplies.
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In turn, Churchill cajoles his army commander for an early offensive against the Germans. The war weary Britons are in desperate want for some kind of victory, especially with the Torch invasion eminent. Churchill wishes to show the Americans the English can still fight, and prove Great Britain is in the war for the long haul.

Monty is in no hurry, though. By the time he is prepared in late October, the 8th Army will have an overwhelming advantage over Rommel in men and materiel.

Tanks:
Monty – 1200
Rommel – 500

Planes:
Monty – 800
Rommel – 350

Guns:
Monty – 2300
Rommel – 1200

Men:
Monty – 195,000
Rommel – 104,000 (Half Italians)

The 8th Army is a veritable cornucopia of nations fighting against the Axis. There are Australians, Black Africans, Free French, Greeks, New Zealanders, Poles, and South Africans. Also present are a few American advisors, come to watch their new Sherman tanks in action (Monty has 200 of these, a gift from President Roosevelt to Churchill).

Rommel, meanwhile, has not been idle, waiting for the allied assault. With his army behind the nearly impassible Quatara Depression, he sows a thick mine belt, which he covers with batteries of lethal artillery. The invincible general has done all he can, and it is nearly enough.

The attack begins at 9:40 p.m., on October 23, under a full moon. The allies also have artillery, some 2000 guns which open a hail of lead on the German lines.

Next, Monty’s sappers try to pierce the thickly sown mine fields. They are aided by special built tanks, equipped with rotating chains called flails.

Rommel, however, is not there. Suffering from jaundice and high blood pressure, he is ordered back home days before the British offensive. His replacement is General Stumme, veteran of the Russian front, but unskilled in desert fighting.

Worse was to come for the Axis. While visiting the front lines, General Stumme is caught in Monty’s murderous artillery barrage and suffers a fatal heart attack. Rommel is recalled back to his distressed troops.

Monty attacks all along the German line, probing for a break, but to little avail. Finally, he orders a last, desperate attack code named Supercharge.

A bloody assault is ordered along the coast road in the north, and the British lose hundreds of tanks. In spite of this debacle, Commonwealth troops break through the enemy lines and into the open desert.

By November 3, Rommel has enough. Gathering what’s left of his once vaunted Afrika Corps, he abandons his Italian allies and heads west, towards Tunisia. He leaves behind 50,000 casualties and all but 50 of his famous Panzers.

On November 8, General Patton lands his troops at Casablanca, in western Africa. On November 15, Churchill orders all the bells in England to ring for the first time in the war. The finale has begun.

Suggested reading:
Churchill’s Second World War The Hinge of Fate

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