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

By Glyn Harper | Go to book overview

ONE
THE MILITARY BACKGROUND

Since late 1940, after Italy joined the war on the side of the Axis on June 10 that year, both sides had waged military offensives in the Western Desert with varying degrees of success. Egypt was a vital cog in Britain’s war effort, described by John Connell as “the fulcrum of the British Empire.”1 Egypt protected the sources of oil in the Middle East and its route to the United Kingdom. It was a center of communications for the far-flung parts of the Empire “east of Suez” and a critical base for naval operations in the Mediterranean. For these reasons, Egypt became the largest British military base outside of the United Kingdom. It was a vital, strategic asset. But, after June 1940, one of Britain’s Axis enemies was just across the border in Libya with a huge military force. Italian forces in Libya, under Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, numbered 250,000 organized into two armies and fourteen divisions. British forces in Egypt under General Sir Archibald Wavell had just 36,000 men and consisted primarily of an understrength armored and two infantry divisions. The Western Desert Force, as these were called—there were not yet enough assets to form a corps or an army—was short of much essential equipment including artillery, tanks, transport, and logistical support.

Given their overwhelming force, it was natural that the Italians should strike first. They took some time doing so, though. It was not until September 13 that the Italians crossed the border and began a slow, ponderous advance into Egypt. After four days, all the time harassed by artillery fire, minefields, and bombed by the Royal Air Force (RAF), the Italians reached Sidi Barrani, just sixty-five miles into Egypt. There they halted, dug in, and planned their next moves.

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

Table of contents

  • Twentieth-Century Battles ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Maps vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction- the Eyes of the Whole World, Watching Anxiously 1
  • One - The Military Background 8
  • Two - The First Battle- July 1942 36
  • Three - "Drastic and Immediate" Changes 75
  • Four - Alam Halfa- Rommel’s Last Attempt 92
  • Five - Preparations and Plans 116
  • Six - Attempting the Break-in- October 23–24 144
  • Seven - Slugging It out 170
  • Eight - Operation Supercharge- The Breakthrough 204
  • Nine - Reflections and Reputations 237
  • Bibliography 257
  • Index 265
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