El Alamein, Egypt (1942 AD)
The Battle of El Alamein actually constituted two separate engagements: the first was part of the German campaign to capture strategic targets in Egypt; and the second was the British counterattack that drove them back out of Egypt. It is the second battle that is well known and recognized as one of the key turning points of the World War II. The campaigns were also famous for the commanders involved. They pitted the German ‘Desert Fox’, Erwin Rommel, against the British ‘Desert Rat’, Bernard Montgomery, in one of the largest tank battles to ever take place outside of Europe. The Allied victory marked the beginning of the end of the German war in Africa.
In the Summer of 1940, much of North Africa was under Axis control: Libya as a province of Italy, and the Maghreb as a vassal state under Vichy France. Only Egypt, protected by forces of the British Empire, lay outside of Germany’s influence. However, several military developments in 1941 and early 1942 prompted the Germans to begin a campaign to conquer Egypt and other Middle Eastern territories.
First was the capture of Greece and the island of Crete in 1941, which made Egypt much more vulnerable. The second was the invasion of Russia, which strained German resources to the breaking point, notably their oil stockpiles. Third was the entry of America into the war, thereby exposing North Africa to the threat of a new front which the Germans did not have sufficient men and material to man.
In July of 1942, a joint German-Italian force under the command of Germany’s most accomplished military commander Erwin Rommel marched eastward from Libya along the African coast. The Axis forces met with initial successes, driving the Allied troops from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and other British imperial territories back towards Alexandria. However, despite a brief panic when the colonial government considered evacuating Cairo, the superior forces of the Allies began to take their toll on the Germans. The Axis campaign ground to a halt before the month was out.
In October it was the turn of the Allies. Now strongly reinforced and led by Bernard Montgomery, the British Eight Army counterattacked Rommel’s force. For several weeks the two sides battled back and forth. However, the preponderance of men and equipment completely favored the Allies, and by early November the outcome of the campaign was no longer in doubt. The Axis forces fell apart, suffering nearly forty thousand casualties, and opening a clear path for the British to liberate Egypt.
The Second Battle of El Alamein took place in the narrow corridor between the Qattara Depression of the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea Coast. It consists primarily of empty but scenice desert. Here and there scars of the battle can still be found. The main site for visitors is the Alamein Memorial close to the cemetery where thousands of war dead are buried. Also in the town is a small War Museum with artifacts of the battle.
The El Alamein Battlefield is located just west of the town of El Alamein approximately eighty miles west of Alexandria, with most of the sites of interest to be found just inland from the coast. The battlefield and cemeteries are an open site. As of this writing no visitor information was available for the museum. Web: www.egypt.travel (official tourism website of Egypt).
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