The First Battle of El Alamein

At the end of June, 1942, Mussolini flew to Libya to personally plan his triumphal march into Cairo. Rommel was driving hard across North Africa and it looked as if he would make it to the Suez as long as he was properly supported. To that end, the Italian High Command (Rommel’s nominal superiors, though he reported directly to Hitler and the OKW, annoying the Italians) began siphoning men, material, and equipment from Operation Herkules, the invasion of Malta set for mid-July, to Libya and Egypt. Herkules was fully supported by Rommel, who previously even offered troops for the operation as he understood the necessity for taking Malta in order to secure North Africa. But while chasing the British Eighth Army into Egypt, Malta took a back seat and the invasion was postponed due to lack of supplies. Despite horrific bombing that by July 1942 brought the island to its knees, the Germans wouldn’t take Malta for the rest of the war. 

Gen Ritchie, the commander of the Eighth Army who lost both the Battle of Gazala and Tobruk, wanted to defend the heights at Mersa Matrah, 150 miles inside Egypt, in a glorious face saving last stand against the Germans. The realistic and practical Gen Auchlineck, his superior and Commander in Chief of the Middle East, quickly noted that Mersa Matrah was indefensible against Rommel and just as quickly fired him. Auchlineck took personal command of the Eighth Army and withdrew them east under heavy pressure, all the way back to El Alamein, just 60 miles from Alexandria and the Nile. El Alamein was a bottleneck between the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the impassable Qattara Depression of the Sahara desert to the south, through which Rommel must pass to reach Cairo and the Suez Canal. Rommel was so feared by the British headquarters that the hasty evacuation of Cairo during this time would be forever known in British military history as “The Flap.” Throughout the month of July, Gen Auchlineck’s Eighth Army and Rommel’s PanzerArmee Afrika would duke it out in a brutal battle of attrition for the passes and hills of El Alamein. However, Rommel’s extended supply line all the way back to Tobruk and Tripoli couldn’t keep pace with Auckineck’s shorter supply line to Alexandria and the Germans were halted. The battle turned when New Zealand troops overran Rommel’s all important radio interception company on 9 July, thus depriving him of his most useful and timely intelligence, upon which he depended.

Rommel would go no further.

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