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Battle of El Alamein

Updated on August 24, 2010

An important land battle of World War II was fought between the British and German armies in North Africa. The battle of Alamein took place in the western desert of Egypt and began on the night of October 23, 1942. Winston Churchill, then Prime Minister of Great Britain, said that it was the "end of the beginning" of the war.

The advance that began at El Alamein went on to Tunis, Italy and western Europe with only a few pauses until Germany finally surrendered on May 8, 1945.

The German and Italian forces were commanded by Field Marshal Erwin Rommell, one of the most able German generals of World War II. In May 1942 Rommel started a great attack, which was intended to drive the Allies out of Egypt and win the vital Suez Canal. The British just managed to stop Rommel at Alamein, 106 kilometres west of the Nile delta.

At this point, General Harold Alexander became commander of all the forces in the Middle East, and General Bernard Montgomery took command of the army in the western desert which was now known as the Eighth Army. An attack was planned to break through the German and Italian defences and on October 23 at 9.40 p.m. exactly, 1,000 guns opened fire on the enemy's defences. Half an hour later the infantry attacked, and fighting went on through the night. By dawn the next morning the British had captured the Miteiriya Ridge and had cleared the mines away from the two lanes. The armoured divisions were already rolling forward.

Then things began to be more difficult. There were ten days of fighting which went on almost without a pause. On the morning of November 4, 12 days after the battle had started, the armoured divisions moved off into the open desert. The Battle of Alamein had been won.

"Desert Rats" was the name given to the soldiers of the Eighth Army who belonged to the 7th Armoured Division. The Eighth Army was greatly helped by the desert air force which gained complete control of the skies. The Allied forces came from Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India.

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