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El Alamein and the Struggle for North Africa

El Alamein and the Struggle for North Africa: International Perspectives from the Twenty-first Century

Edited by Jill Edwards
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    El Alamein and the Struggle for North Africa
    Book Description:

    This new collection of studies presents fresh insights into a war fought over unusually difficult terrain and with exceptional supply demands. From the ongoing Italian geomorphic study of the Alamein arena to individual memories of non-combatant Alexandrians, from the Free French to the seasoned colonial forces of Australia, India, New Zealand, and South Africa, and from vital naval engagements and the siege of Malta to the study of Rommel’s leadership and the Churchill–Montgomery duo, this book presents the reader with a detailed yet broad reassessment of the complexities of the war in North Africa between 1941 and 1943, its technology, philosophy, military doctrine, strategy, tactics, logistics, and the associated local and international politics. Writing from the perspectives of some of the many nations whose armies were involved in the conflict, fifteen historians bring to their work the precision of their national historical archival sources in clear and spritely narratives.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-348-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xvii-xx)
    William Roger Louis

    The distance in time of seven decades provides the opportunity for balanced and comprehensive interpretation of one of the decisive events in the Second World War: the Battle of El Alamein, October 23–November 5, 1942. Each of the authors in this volume writes with authority and overall knowledge of critical events, such as the Italian entry into the war in 1940 and the British Eighth Army’s victory over the forces of General Erwin Rommel three years later. By July 1942 Rommel had driven back British troops to the last defensible position before Alexandria and Cairo. At El Alamein there...

  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)
    Jill Edwards

    Over the past two years, revolutionary movements across North Africa have featured prominently in world media headlines and will continue to do so as the people strive to establish stable democracy. Seventy years ago this autumn the spotlight was also on North Africa, as the struggle between Axis and Allied forces was fought out through the Western Desert, and across North Africa, a very different place then when the region was still a vital part of the vast European imperial network. Thousands of men, mostly young, from Allied, Axis, and local forces, who gave their lives in North Africa, lie...

  8. 1 The War in North Africa, 1940–43: An Overview of the Role of the Union of South Africa
    (pp. 9-30)
    James Jacobs

    Until Italy joined the war on June 10, 1940, the Second World War was mainly a European affair. The German war machine overran western Europe within the time span of a few months; and as the main focus of Adolf Hitler, the German dictator, was the conquest of the Soviet Union, Africa would have played virtually no role in this had it not been for the dreams of conquest by the Italian leader, Benito Mussolini. He wanted to exploit the precarious position of Britain and France in Europe to expand the Italian colonial empire in Africa. Thus on June 10,...

  9. 2 Training the Troops: The Indian Army in Egypt, Eritrea, and Libya, 1940–42
    (pp. 31-54)
    Alan Jeffreys

    This chapter examines the ‘approach to battle,’ the battles, and lessons learnt by the Indian Army formations in the North African and East African campaigns, concentrating mainly on the experience of the Fourth Indian Division. For as Lieutenant General Sir Francis ‘Gertie’ Tuker, commanding the Fourth Indian Division from 1942–44, remarked in his study of the Eighth Army, “If the approach to battle is good, then the battle will be easy.”¹ On taking over the Fourth Indian Division, he immediately introduced training instructions to improve the fighting effectiveness of the formation. The Fourth Division produced over forty training instructions...

  10. 3 “The Part We Played in This Show”: Australians and El Alamein
    (pp. 55-72)
    Peter Stanley

    Understanding the significance of the Battle of El Alamein holds for Australians involves placing the Ninth Australian Division’s part in the battle in a broader context, one that will probably be unfamiliar to non-Australian readers.¹ This discussion of El Alamein’s importance for Australia therefore necessarily begins a long way from the desert of Egypt.²

    Australia has a long record of participating in wars, all but two of which have been fought exclusively overseas. (The exceptions are the protracted frontier conflict that accompanied European settlement, which saw fighting in many parts of the continent from 1788, and the Second World War,...

  11. 4 “No Model Campaign”: The Second New Zealand Division and the Battle of El Alamein, October–December 1942
    (pp. 73-92)
    Glyn Harper

    On the evening of October 23, 1942, just after 2200h, as the first enemy artillery rounds passed over his forward headquarters, Lieutenant General Bernard Freyberg, General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Second New Zealand Division, received news that the “Infantry are off—both bdes [brigades] are away to a good start.” General Freyberg turned to his G1, the principal staff officer, and remarked

    If there was ever justice in a cause this is it. I don’t think the Itys will stick it and I don’t think the Boche will either—they didn’t in the last war…. Auchinleck could have won...

  12. 5 The Free French in the Battle for North Africa, 1942: Military Action and Its Political Presentation
    (pp. 93-112)
    Rémy Porte

    By the time General Koenig’s³ First Division Free French forces (DFF)⁴ received orders to relieve the 150th Indian Brigade’s advance position in the Libyan Desert at Bir Hakim,⁵ General de Gaulle’s men had been fighting nonstop since August 1940, in Africa and along the Mediterranean coast, in fact, ever since the Folliot Company of the First Marine Battalion had first been integrated into the British Seventh Armoured Division on the Libyan border.

    In Africa, Ethiopia, northern Chad, the Levant, and the Egyptian Western Desert, French units were incorporated into the British and Commonwealth forces,⁶ retaining as far as possible their...

  13. 6 Between History and Geography: The El Alamein Project: Research, Findings, and Results
    (pp. 113-136)
    Aldino Bondesan

    The El Alamein project began in 2008 as a research project promoted by the University of Padova (Italy) and the Italian Society of Military Geography and Geology, in order to study and preserve the El Alamein battlefield.¹

    Several national and foreign institutions quickly expressed interest in the project and offered patronage when the Italian Senate and the House of Representatives signed memorandums of understanding between the University of Padova and the Italian Graves Commission (Ministry of Defense, Commissariato Generale Onoranze ai Caduti in Guerra), various research institutes, museums, and the Egyptian National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences.


  14. 7 Silent Service: The Royal Navy and the Desert Victory
    (pp. 137-152)
    Nick Hewitt

    The Second Battle of El Alamein has been justifiably identified as the key turning point in the Western Desert campaign and, arguably, even of the war in the west. Winston Churchill wrote of the battle that “it marked … the turning of the ‘Hinge of Fate.’ It may almost be said, ‘Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat.’”¹ He went on to give the fourth volume of hisHistory of the Second World Warthe subtitleThe Hinge of Fate.

    But without losing sight of what was achieved on land, it is important...

  15. 8 Feeding the Fortress: Malta, Summer 1942
    (pp. 153-180)
    Thomas Scheben

    For more than a century, Malta had been Britain’s main base in the Mediterranean, and its importance to this day lies in its strategic position midway between Gibraltar and Alexandria, roughly 3,700 kilometers east to west, with the Tunisian coast 297 kilometers to the southeast, and Sicily ninety-six kilometers to the north.¹ A small and rocky island, even in peacetime Malta was heavily dependent on imports; in wartime it had also to support, maintain, and keep operative modern mechanized military forces. Caught up in the war by virtue of their geographic position, the outlook for the Maltese people was grim....

  16. 9 “The Highest Rule”: Rommel as Military Genius
    (pp. 181-196)
    Antulio J. Echevarria II

    Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel (1891–1944) is probably both the most and least well-known of Hitler’s generals. The name Rommel is more familiar to the public than any of the other generals who served the Third Reich. Yet, much of what the public knows about history’s famous ‘Desert Fox’ is shrouded in myth. It is a myth, moreover, that was deliberately fashioned and aggressively nurtured by Rommel himself and, as the war progressed, by the extensive resources of the Nazi propaganda machine. It is also a myth that has on the whole endured, despite the collective efforts of military historians...

  17. 10 High Command in the Desert
    (pp. 197-220)
    Niall Barr

    Fritz Bayerlein once stated that a desert soldier needed “physical capacity, intelligence, mobility, nerve, pugnacity, daring and stoicism.” He considered that the qualities required in a commander were even greater and had to include “toughness, devotion to his men, instinctive judgment of terrain and enemy, speed of reaction and spirit.”¹ As far as Bayerlein was concerned, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel combined these traits to a greater degree than any other officer or man that he knew. This was high praise indeed and it was famously echoed by Winston Churchill, the British prime minister. On July 1, 1942, while the fighting...

  18. 11 Alexandrians Tell Their Story: Oral Narratives of the War in North Africa 1940–43
    (pp. 221-234)
    Mohamed Awad and Sahar Hamouda

    Alexandria acquires its legendary fame from the larger-than-life characters with whom its name is associated: Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Caesar, Marc Antony, and, in more recent times, with Cavafy, Durrell, Forster, Ungaretti, and so on. During the Second World War, other legendary names made the city their headquarters while they fought the war in North Africa. As the Germans advanced upon El Alamein, Montgomery took up residence in the Cecil Hotel—one of Alexandria’s landmarks on the Corniche—and conducted his war from there. Churchill was to be seen eating at the Union restaurant, at the table next to the...

  19. 12 The Battle of El Alamein: Impressions of a Young Schoolboy in Alexandria
    (pp. 235-238)
    Harry Tzalas

    At the end of September 1942, I was a six-year-old boy and had just started school at St. Vincent de Paul in Alexandria. The war in North Africa, with the repeated advances and retreats of the Allied and Axis forces, had been going on for over a year and Alexandria, an important naval base for the Royal Navy, was constantly under air attack. We did spend nearly every night in an ancient cistern arranged for the occasion as a shelter. Thisabriwas the meeting point of our cosmopolitan neighborhood. My Greek father and my Italian mother shared the anxiety,...

  20. “Here Dead Lie We”
    (pp. 239-240)
    A.E. Housman