The Second Battle of El Alamein

by Daniel Russ on December 13, 2017

Post image for The Second Battle of El Alamein

A line of Sherman tanks The Queen’s Bays (2nd Dragoon Guards), 1st Armoured Division, at El Alamein, 24 October 1942.
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WAR OFFICE SECOND WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION
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When Commonwealth 8th Army invaded North Africa, it was indeed a sampling platter of the might and reach of the British empire: South African Troops, New Zealander Troops, Indian Troops, and of course Australians. All of these expeditionary forces were blooded. The land they defeated the mighty German Afrika Korps was El Alamein, a railroad halt. From October 23rd 1942 until November 4 this was the end of a long series of back and forth exchange of weapon, territory and fortunes. In fact, this was the Second Battle of El Alamein as they had once fought Montgomery and Rommel would both gain world fame as military commanders in this war.

Mathilda Scorpion Flail anti mine device

 

 

 

        

A Crusader Mk II, 14 July 1942.
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WAR OFFICE SECOND WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION
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While it was a battle won largely by the ability of the Allies to resupply and reinforce their troops, it was also largely a brilliant chess match between two masters. British Command Claude Auchinleck earlier in 1942 had stopped the juggernaut Afrika Korps in the First Battle of El Alamein. Before Rommel could recover and launch a counter offensive, Auchinleck was replaced by Bernard Montgomery. Despite urging by Churchill to go on the attack, Monty decided his troops needed more training and he needed more interactions with them so that they understand what he wants and how to follow him. He needed them in his grasp.

 

The facts on the ground, intelligence and other indications told British commanders that Rommel was over extended and lacked the number of arms to put up a large enough fight to make a difference. The battlefield was a skirmish line north to south from the Mediterranean to the impenetrable Qattara Depression. Operation Lightfoot began the second battle when XXX Corps tried to strike through German lines. This was followed by a sweeping force from behind executed by x Corps. Rommel further south decided to lay large fields of landmines to stymie the British attack. Rommel tried to stage a counter attack but simply lacked the number of tanks to make much difference. In the north Aussie and New Zealand forces broke through Rommel’s defense at Kidney Ridge. And the South XIII corps attacked to pin German forces down so they could not reinforce the ridgeline.

 

Tanks on the battlefield.

 

Italians had the Semo 75/18, a fairly good tank in infantry support, but outclassed in an armor exchange. They had the Semo 450 and other 47mm anti tank guns which were marginal in the modern tank armor thickness. The M 13/40 and M 14/41 were both obsolete against anything but infantry support.

 

The Germans had a wide spectrum of tanks, with a wide spectrum of performance. On the low end the Panzer Kampfwagen II. It was absolutely obsolete.  And few of them were better than the the Panzer Kampfwagen IV with its powerful 75mm gun. However only 30 were on the battlefield.

 

The Allies had British and American  tanks. The 119  M-3 Light “Honey” and the 170 M-3 Medium “Grant” tank from the US fought all the way through the war.

 

The 252  M 4 Medium American tanks did very well in North Africa, although it delayed the  main gun upgrade which hurt US tankers efforts through the war.

 

The British had the Crusader, the Valentine II, the Bishop, the Priest, The Scorpion and the Mathilda. The 25 pounder cannon provided much of the British firepower on the battlefield. The US 75 mm gun had its day in North Africa, but far more powerful guns were coming out of factories and would soon find their way on the battlefield.

 

The Germans had to withdraw and this was the beginning of the end of Germans in North Africa.

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