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

By Glyn Harper | Go to book overview

THREE
“DRASTIC AND IMMEDIATE”
CHANGES

Waging war in the Egyptian desert was never easy. But campaigning during the peak of summer—in July and August—was a torment for those who were forced to do it. The fierce sun beat down from a cloudless sky at a location where no natural shade was to be found. This was a land well-suited for war. There were no farms or crops to ruin, no cities or towns to pound to rubble. One British soldier poet expressed the landscape succinctly:

This land was made for war. As glass
Resists the bite of vitriol, so this hard
And calcined earth rejects
The battle’s hot, corrosive impact. Here
Is no nubile, girlish land, no green
And virginal countryside for War
To violate. This land is hard,
Inviolable.1

Fighting in this hard land had its challenges. The lack of water was a serious problem. It had to be pumped in from distant locations and then carted on transport vehicles to the forward positions. There was never enough of the precious liquid. Eighth Army’s water came via a pipeline from Alexandria to various distribution points. From there, they were taken forward by water trucks. The ration for soldiers in the Eighth Army was usually a one-liter bottle a day. It tasted flat and had been chemically treated. This small ration had to be used for all purposes: “half a mugful for a wash and shave and the rest for drinking.”2 The Germans and Italians took most of their water from old wells and cisterns along the coast. Much of the water was brackish, polluted with oil, and had also been

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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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