El Alamein

The Second Battle of El Alamein (23 October–11 November 1942) was a decisive battle of the Second World War that took place near the Egyptian railway halt of El Alamein. With the Allies victorious, it marked the watershed of the Western Desert Campaign. The First Battle of El Alamein had prevented the Axis from advancing further into Egypt. In August 1942, Lieutenant-General Sir Bernard Law Montgomery took command of the Eighth Army following the sacking of General Claude Auchinleck and the death of his replacement Lieutenant-General William Gott in a plane crash. The Second Battle of El Alamein revived the morale of the Allies, being the first major success against the Axis since Operation Crusader in late 1941.

- Wikipedia
El Alamein
The Devil's Gardens, El Alamein © Bock-Schroeder Foundation

Although General Claude Auchinleck had stopped Rommel in his tracks during the First Battle of El Alamein in early July 1942, Churchill was becoming increasingly impatient with progress in the Western Desert. In early August that year, he arrived in Cairo and handed over command to General Bernard Montgomery. Auchinleck left for India.

Montgomery restructured the 8th Army, bringing in new divisions and generals and lifting the army's morale with his bold fighting talk - declaring among other things that he would 'hit Rommel for six out of Africa'. He also improved relations between the army and the Desert Air Force, ensuring a more unified attack plan.

Rommel attempted an attack between 30 August and 7 September (the battle of Alam Halfa), but the 8th Army held its ground, largely due to the excellent cooperation between the army and the air force. Montgomery did not make a counter-attack - he knew that reinforcements were on their way and he was biding his time.

Rommel knew that a major attack was inevitable, and did his best to prepare for it. He was a master of mobile warfare, but he had to change his preferred tactics due to a lack of fuel and transport. He chose to shelter his force behind a deep and complex minefield - dubbed 'the Devil's Gardens' by the Germans - backed by strong anti-tank gun positions.

But things were not going well on the German side. Rommel was plagued by illness and departed for hospital in Germany on 23 September, leaving General Georg von Stumme in command of a depleted Panzerarmee.

The bombardment started on the night of 23 October, but crumbling the German defences proved more difficult than expected. There was heavy fighting and the 8th Army slowly ground its way forward. On 25 October, Rommel returned from Germany to take command, after Von Stumme died of a heart attack during battle.On the night of 1 November, Montgomery launched the second phase of his attack, Operation Supercharge, which was designed to break through the last part of the German defences. The infantry units cleared the way for the armoured divisions, and Rommel, his army depleted and his petrol almost finished, decided the battle was lost.

On 2 November, Rommel warned Hitler that his army faced annihilation. The Allies intercepted his message and Montgomery had the deciphered note in his hands by the next morning.

- BBC History