British tanks advance during the Battle of El Alamein, Egypt, October 1942 [Public domain, wiki]
For the Allies, there was little reason for optimism at start of 1942. By the end of the year, the situation had changed dramatically. The Americans had scored a massive naval victory at the Battle of Midway
, the Russians had triumphed over the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad, and Montgomery’s Eighth Army had defeated the Italians and Rommel’s Afrika Korps
at the Battle of El Alamein.
The Sound of History: El Alamein 1942—–by Richard Doherty (Spellmount, Staplehurst, 2002) [Photograph by Edith-Mary Smith]
This week in the war, on 23 October 1942, Montgomery
launched the offensive that would be known as the Battle of El Alamein. Much of what transpired is described in Richard Doherty’s The Sound of History—El Alamein 1942
(Spellmount, Staplehurst, 2002) and in Montgomery’s own memoirs, The Memoirs of Field-Marshal Montgomery
(Collins, London, 1958). Victory for the British and British Empire and Commonwealth forces at El Alamein would lead to the eventual expulsion of all Axis armies from North Africa.
The battle began with a fierce bombardment. (Doherty reports that nuns, sixty miles away at the Sacred Heart Convent in Alexandria, felt their building shake.)
The plan was to punch two holes through the enemy positions, which were heavily defended by anti-tank guns and minefields, and then to pass through 10th Corps, which was strong in armour. Montgomery correctly predicted: “This battle for which we are preparing will be a real rough house and will involve a very great deal of hard fighting. If we are successful it will mean the end of the war in North Africa.”
The battle lasted until 4 November, when the British armoured car regiments burst through enemy lines at dawn and the tanks followed the armoured cars out into the open desert where they could harass the supply lines of the retreating enemy. Many of the Italian division could do little else but surrender, since the Germans had taken all of their motorized transport.