The Battle for North Africa: El Alamein and the Turning Point for World War II

The Battle for North Africa: El Alamein and the Turning Point for World War II

The Battle for North Africa: El Alamein and the Turning Point for World War II

The Battle for North Africa: El Alamein and the Turning Point for World War II


In the early years of World War II, Germany shocked the world with a devastating blitzkrieg, rapidly conquered most of Europe, and pushed into North Africa. As the Allies scrambled to counter the Axis armies, the British Eighth Army confronted the experienced Afrika Corps, led by German field marshal Erwin Rommel, in three battles at El Alamein. In the first battle, the Eighth Army narrowly halted the advance of the Germans during the summer of 1942. However, the stalemate left Nazi troops within striking distance of the Suez Canal, which would provide a critical tactical advantage to the controlling force. War historian Glyn Harper dives into the story, vividly narrating the events, strategies, and personalities surrounding the battles and paying particular attention to the Second Battle of El Alamein, a crucial turning point in the war that would be described by Winston Churchill as "the end of the beginning." Moving beyond a simple narrative of the conflict, The Battle for North Africa tackles critical themes, such as the problems of coalition warfare, the use of military intelligence, the role of celebrity generals, and the importance of an all-arms approach to modern warfare.


On the evening of October 23, 1942, Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery settled in for a good night’s sleep. Montgomery later claimed that he retired to his caravan early as was his habit, read a few pages from a novel “and some time after nine o’clock he went to sleep.” If this was true, it was a remarkable display of calm, steely resolve and composure given what was at stake. Earlier Montgomery had written a Personal Message to be read to the men of his Eighth Army that morning. Part of his Message read:

When I assumed command of the Eighth Army I said that the mandate was to
destroy rommel and his Army, and that it would be done as soon as we were

We are ready now.

The battle which is now about to begin will be one of the decisive battles of his
tory. It will be the turning point of the war. the eyes of the whole world will be
on us, watching anxiously which way the battle will swing.

Montgomery was in no doubt that the battle would swing his way. It was part of the reason he claimed to sleep so soundly that night. Earlier he had dined with Lieutenant General Sir Oliver Leese, his 30 Corps commander. On learning that Leese intended to watch the opening barrage timed for 9:40 p.m. that evening, Montgomery counseled against it. Leese recalled what Montgomery said to him:

My job, he said, was to go to bed early so as to appear fresh in the morning and
be able by my appearance to give confidence to the troops. I had then to be on
top of my form so as to accept the inevitable shocks of battle; and be able to plan
quickly and soundly the next night’s attacks. He could not have been more right.

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