The Second Battle of El Alamein was fought during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War, around the town of El Alamein in Egypt from 23 October – 11 November 1942. The battle was fought between the Axis forces (Germany and Italy) of the Panzer Army Africa (also known as the Africa Corps) commanded by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and Allied (specifically British Imperial) forces (Britain, British India, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand) of the Eighth Army, commanded by Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery who had taken command from General Claude Auchinleck.
Following the First Battle of El Alamein in which the Axis advance had been halted, and faced with overextended supply lines, a lack of reinforcements, and aware of massive allied reinforcements in men and material on the way, Rommel decided to strike the Allies while their build-up was incomplete. Rommel attacked the Allied lines at the Battle of Alam el Halfa (30 August - 5 September) but was repulsed. Expecting a counter-attack by Montgomery's Eighth Army, Rommel took in a defensive stance, fortifying his position and placing over 500,000 mostly anti-tank mines.
The Axis forces were suffering from a severe lack of supplies and fuel. With the bulk of German war materials going to the Eastern Front, Rommel was forced to rely on captured Allied supplies. With his health failing, Rommel took leave to Germany in September.
Due to the depth of Rommel's defenses, Montgomery planned his attack in two phases. The first, Operation Lightfoot, would consist of a powerful artillery bombardment followed by an attack by the infantry divisions of 30th Corps in the north, and 13th Corps in the south. They would allow engineers to open two routes for the armoured divisions of 10th Corps to pass through. After clearing the mines, the armor would reform while the infantry defeated the initial Axis defenses. The second phase, Operation Supercharge, was designed to break through the last part of the German defences, destroying enemy armour, forcing the enemy to fight in the open, reducing the Axis stock of petrol, attacking and occupying enemy supply routes, and causing the disintegration of the enemy army.
On the night of 23 October 1942, Montgomery began a heavy 5-hour bombardment of the Axis lines. Behind this, 4 infantry divisions from XXX Corps advanced over the mines (the men did not weigh enough to trip the anti-tank mines) with the engineers working behind them. The Rand Light Infantry was in the forefront of the South African assault on Miteiriya Ridge, which opened the battle of El Alamein.
By 2:00 AM the armored advance began, however progress was slow and traffic jams developed. The assault was supported by diversionary attacks to the south. As dawn approached, the Axis defense was hampered by the loss of Rommel's temporary replacement, Lieutenant General Georg Stumme, who died of a heart attack. Taking control of the situation, Major-General Ritter von Thoma coordinated counterattacks against the advancing British infantry.
Though their advance was bogged down, the British defeated these assaults and the first major tank engagement of the battle was fought. Having opened a six mile wide and five mile deep inroad into Rommel's position, Montgomery began shifting forces north to inject life into the offensive. Over the next week, the bulk of the fighting occurred in the north near a kidney-shaped depression and Tel el Eisa. Returning, Rommel found his army stretched with only three days of fuel remaining.
Moving divisions up from the south, Rommel quickly found that they lacked the fuel to withdraw, leaving them exposed in the open. On October 26, this situation worsened when Allied aircraft sank a German tanker near Tobruk. Despite Rommel's hardships, Montgomery continued to have difficulty breaking through as Axis anti-tank guns mounted a stubborn defence. Two days later, Australian troops advanced northwest of Tel el Eisa towards Thompson's Post in an attempt to break through near the coast road. On the night of October 30, they succeeded in reaching the road and repelled numerous enemy counterattacks. After assaulting the Australians again with no success on 1 November; Rommel, his army depleted and his fuel reserves almost finished, began planning a retreat 50 miles west to Fuka.
At 1:00 AM on November 2, Montgomery launched the second phase of his attack, Operation Supercharge. Attacking behind an intense artillery barrage, the 2nd New Zealand Division and the 1st Armored Division met stiff resistance, but forced Rommel to commit his armored reserves. In the resulting tank battle, the Axis forces lost over 100 tanks.
His situation hopeless, Rommel contacted Hitler and asked for permission to withdraw. This was promptly denied and Rommel informed von Thoma that they were to stand fast. In assessing his armored divisions, Rommel found that fewer than 50 tanks remained. These were soon destroyed by British attacks. As Montgomery continued to attack, entire Axis units were overrun and destroyed, opening a 12-mile hole in Rommel's line. Left with no choice, Rommel ordered his remaining men to begin retreating west.
On November 4, Montgomery launched his final assaults with the 1st, 7th, and 10th Armored Divisions clearing the Axis lines and reaching open desert. At midday on 4 November, Rommel's last defences crumbled and the enemy was in full retreat.
The Second Battle of El Alamein cost Rommel around 2,349 killed, 5,486 wounded, and 30,121 captured. In addition, his armored units effectively ceased to exist as a fighting force. For Montgomery, the fighting resulted in 2,350 killed, 8,950 wounded, and 2,260 missing, as well as around 200 tanks permanently lost. A grinding battle that was similar to many fought during World War I, the Second Battle of El Alamein turned the tide in the North African Campaign and ended the Axis threat to Egypt, the Suez Canal, and of gaining access to the Middle Eastern and Persian oil fields via North Africa. From a psychological perspective, the Second Battle of El Alamein revived the morale of the Allies, being the first major offensive against the Axis since the start of the European war in 1939 in which the Western Allies had achieved a decisive victory.
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The Second Battle of El Alamein was fought during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War, around the town of El Alamein in Egypt from 23 October – 11 November 1942.Read more