October 23- November 2, 1942 El Alamein

Rommel in his command halftrack
German forces, under the command of General Rommel, met the British forces, under the command of General Montgomery at El Alamein. Montgomery had a two-to-one advantage in tanks, and was victorious. It was one of the largest tank battles in history. The victory in El Alamain eliminated the German threat to the Suez Canal and the Middle East. Together with the German stalemate in Stalingrad represented the high water mark in German advances and with defeats in both places began the slow German defeat.

 


The German led by Field Marshall Rommel had advanced deep into Egypt. The Germans had defeated British troops at the Battle of Gazala. The British withdrew to within 50 miles Alexandria and the vital Suez Canal. The British commander General Claude Auchinleck decided that this was the right spot to hold back the Germans. His lines were short, with the Qattar Depression coming to within 40 miles of the coast the Germans would not be able to outflank his forces. Rommel’s forces meanwhile were fighting at the end of their logistic lines and had trouble obtaining enough supplies. The Allies were able to stop the German in what became known as the First Battle of El Alamein. Rommel at this point decided he could not advance any further and had his troops dig in. A counteroffensive by the British failed to dislodge the Germans.

General Auchinleck was replaced by General Sir Alan Brooks. Brooks wanted to achieve a decisive victory over the German Afrika Corps. With his army close to Alexandria and the battle considered critical, he was able to receive the needed supplies to build up his forces. The Germans knew that an offensive against their lines were inevitable and had built strong defensive lines that included 500,000 mines. By late October the Allies had 195,000 men and 1,029 tanks, including knew American Sherman tanks facing 116,000 men and 547 tanks for the Germans.

The first phase of the attack began on the night of October 23rd. The Allies let loose a massive artillery barrage against the Germans. Together with the barrage Allied infantry moved forward. They were followed by engineer whose task was to clear the minefields. The minefield was deeper than expected and although the tanks advanced by dawn they had not achieved their objectives. During the following day the Allies launched an attack on the Northern part of the line. The allies managed to advance, but did not achieve a breakout.

For the next nine days a battle of attrition took place in which each battle was fought to a near standstill, but in each battle the British and German lost the same amount of tanks, but for the Germans and Italians this was a battle they could not win. They had started out the battle with half the number of tanks as the British and by November 2nd they were down 30 operational tanks compared to 500 British tanks. The Germans were out of fuel, with the British successfully sinking the two tankers sent by the Germans to North Africa to refuel Rommel. On November 3rd the Allies launched a what they hoped would be a breakout attack on the Axis lines. The attack was successful and they broke through. Despite orders from Hitler to hold the line at all cost the remaining German forces were forced to either withdraw or be captured. The threat to Egypt was over, and this together with Stalingrad was the turning point in the war against Germany.

The Germans and Italians lost 9,000 troops killed, 15,000 wounded and 35,000 prisoners, while the Allies lost 4,810 killed and 8,950 wounded.