Montgomery vs. Rommel: The Story of El Alamein

up:date April 29, 2023 by Jans Bock-Schroeder

The Battle of El Alamein refers to a military confrontation that occurred in the North African campaign of World War II, where Allied forces led by General Bernard Montgomery defeated German and Italian forces under the command of General Erwin Rommel.

El Alamein, World War II in North Africa
World War II in North Africa

The battle of El Alamein, fought in two phases from July to November 1942, was a significant turning point in the war, marking the first major defeat of the Axis powers in Africa and halting their advance towards the Suez Canal.

The main battle of El Alamein marked a showdown between two legendary commanders: British General Bernard Montgomery and German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, known as the Desert Fox.

British POWs in the desert of El Alamein North Africa 1942
British POWs El Alamein North Africa 1942

Taking place in the North African desert from 23 October to 4 November 1942 in present-day Egypt, the final battle was a turning point in the war as it marked the first major defeat of German forces on land during World War 2.

The battle at El Alamein was a crucial victory for the Allies, it boosted their morale and helped to turn the tide of the war in their favor.

Historical Background of the Battle of El Alamein

El Alamein, World War II in North Africa
World War II in North Africa

The Battle of El Alamein was fought in the deserts of Egypt, which had been under British control since 1882. During World War II, Egypt was a strategically important location for both the Allied and Axis powers.

The British Empire had established a military presence in Egypt to protect the Suez Canal, a vital sea route connecting Europe and Asia.

The Axis powers, led by Germany and Italy, wanted to capture Egypt to control the Middle Eastern oil fields and cut off Britain's supply lines to India and the Far East.

North African campaign

El Alamein
World War II in North Africa

The North African Campaign in World War II began in 1940, when Italian forces invaded British-controlled Egypt from Libya.

The British responded by launching an offensive in the Western Desert, which was successful in pushing the Italians back into Libya.

However, the arrival of German forces, led by Rommel, in February 1941 dramatically altered the situation. Rommel, who was known for his daring and unconventional tactics, quickly gained the upper hand and pushed the British back into Egypt.

The First Battle of El Alamein

The first battle of El Alamein took place in July 1942, shortly before Montgomery took command of the Eighth Army. Auchinleck's forces were heavily outnumbered and outgunned, and the battle ended in a stalemate.

The British suffered heavy losses, but Rommel was unable to push them back further into Egypt.

The battle highlighted the importance of logistics and supply lines in modern warfare, as both sides struggled to maintain their forces in the harsh desert conditions.

Montgomery takes command

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.

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's Offensive

El Alamein, World War II in North Africa
World War II in North Africa

After the first battle of El Alamein, The Afrika Korps, led by General Erwin Rommel, began a series of offensives in August 1942, pushing the British back towards Alexandria.

By mid-1942, the German Afrika Korps had captured Tobruk and was poised to attack the strategically important city of Alexandria and the Suez Canal, but their advance was halted by the British at El Alamein.

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.

With both sides hunkering down and preparing for a decisive confrontation, the stage was set for one of the most important battles of the war.

The Second Battle of El Alamein

El Alamein, World War II in North Africa
World War II in North Africa

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.

The North African Campaign had been raging for almost two years at this point, and control of the region was crucial for both sides.

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.

Montgomery's forces were well-prepared, with extensive defensive measures and a coordinated attack plan.

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.

The Allied victory at El Alamein led to the withdrawal of the Afrika Korps and the surrender of German troops in North Africa in May 1943.

The battle in the desert saw the deployment of over 1,000 tanks, 500 aircraft, and nearly 200,000 soldiers, making it one of the largest and most complex battles of the war.

Turning Point in the North African Campaign

El Alamein, World War II in North Africa
World War II in North Africa

Today, the Battle of El Alamein is widely recognized as one of the most important battles of World War II, and has been the subject of countless books, films, and documentaries.

Its impact on the course of the war, and on the strategic balance of power in the Middle East and North Africa, cannot be overstated.

The battle of El Alamein was a pivotal moment in the North African campaign during World War II. The British forces, led by General Bernard Montgomery, were able to successfully hold off the German forces and ultimately forced them to retreat.

This marked the first major defeat of the German forces in the war and gave the Allies a much-needed morale boost.

The battle also had strategic significance, as it marked the end of the German advance in North Africa and allowed the Allies to gain control of the Mediterranean Sea.

El Alamein, World War II in North Africa
World War II in North Africa

The victory at El Alamein paved the way for the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, which marked the beginning of the end for the Axis powers in the Mediterranean.

At the Battle of El Alamein, two of the most important commanders of the Second World War faced each other: Montgomery and Rommel.

The Battle of El Alamein remains a milestone moment in military history, and its lessons continue to be studied and applied by military strategists around the world.

Key Players in the battle of El Alamein

The Battle of El Alamein was fought between the Allied forces, primarily composed of the British Eighth Army and the Commonwealth forces, and the Axis powers, mainly the German Afrika Korps and the Italian Army. The key players in the battle included:

  • General Bernard Montgomery: He was the commander of the British Eighth Army and was responsible for planning and executing the Allied offensive. Montgomery was known for his meticulous planning and attention to detail, which played a significant role in the victory.

  • Field Marshal Erwin Rommel: Rommel was the commander of the German Afrika Korps and was widely regarded as one of the most brilliant tacticians of the war. He was known for his innovative tactics and his ability to lead his troops from the front.

  • General Dwight D. Eisenhower: Eisenhower was the supreme commander of the Allied forces in North Africa and was responsible for coordinating the efforts of the British Eighth Army and the US Army.

  • General Harold Alexander: Alexander was the commander of the British Middle East Command and played a crucial role in the battle by providing crucial logistical and strategic support to Montgomery's Eighth Army.

  • General Georg Stumme: Stumme was the initial commander of the German Afrika Korps during the battle. He was known for his caution and defensive mindset, which ultimately led to his defeat and replacement by Rommel.

  • General Mario Berti: Berti was the commander of the Italian XX Motorized Corps and played a significant role in the battle by coordinating the efforts of the Italian troops with those of the German Afrika Korps.

Veteran of the battle of El Alamein

Peter Bock-Schroeder
Peter Bock-Schroeder, El Alamein 1942

Extract from an American newspaper in Portland Orgeon reporting on Peter Bock-Schroeder in 1952.

A German newspaperman, in Portland on assignment in Alaska and Canada, reacted on a Reuters dispatch in The Oregonian from Frankfurt today.

It was a story reporting that German magazines and newspapers are reviving the "myths of the Nazi regime" and it particularly charged that his pictorial magazine, Revue, with a circulation of 573,000, was leading the parade.

The story that set off the Reuters dispatch was one of the life of Hitler which Bock-Schroeder declared was an anti-Nazi article, coldly setting out to give the facts and explode the myths of the Hitler regime.

After the war no one in Germany wanted to hear any more about Hitler. "He was not only dead physically but his legend had been killed."

The revival of the myths which was started by the representatives of the foreign press was later taken up by some of the German papers. To meet this, the Revue undertook a deflation of the Nazi myths.

Bock-Schroeder declared the representatives of the foreign press could always be counted on to come up with a story on "Hitler alive in submarine" or "Eva and Hitler seen in Spain”, when they had no atom bomb sensation or Barbara Hutton romance.

“I see nothing heroic about the photos of Hitler but in my opinion a heroic photo of Hitler does not exist -Peter Bock-Schroeder (1913-2001)

"Revue is I believe particularly justified in bringing this series, for one of its publishers was for many years imprisoned in a concentration camp as an Anti Nazi.

These people have the right to publish the truth about an era which they know only too well from experience." The article itself bears strong resemblance to Konrad Heiden's Book "Hitler", published in several languages in 1934, although the Revue has brought it up to date and it is much more anti Hitler"

Peter Bock-Schroeder said he had hoped at the end of the war never to hear of Hitler again, but he felt "more good than harm can be done by putting into black and white today the factual story of Hitler's regime as a warning not only to Germans but to the whole world."- Fred G. Taylor, 1952

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