The Second Battle of El Alamein: Operation Lightfoot

Ever since Rommel arrived in North Africa in Feb 1941, he used virtually the same tactic to defeat the British: He would make a wide sweeping movement with his tanks in the open desert around the flank of the British line which would inevitably obligate every British tank to counterattack in a grand charge to defeat the German maneuver. Rommel would then ambush and destroy the British force with his long range and very destructive 88mm anti aircraft guns. The only thing left was to pursue the routed and flanked British force.

In mid Sep, 1942, Rommel sought to do this again but the British 8th Army’s new commander, General Bernard Law Montgomery, had other ideas. Instead of gallantly charging into the teeth of German firepower, he let the Germans turn the flank and ambushed them behind the British lines at Alam Halfa Ridge. All of the British armour was dug into defensive positions along the ridge, effectively turning the tables on the German maneuver. The Battle of Alam Halfa was Erwin Rommel’s first serious defeat.

The Panzer Armee Afrika retreated to their former positions and awaited the expected British counter attack. But it never came. Gen Montgomery knew that in order decisively defeat Rommel he had build up an overwhelming superiority in men, weapons and equipment. An immediate counterattack would initially be successful but it would eventually run out of supplies as the British pushed Rommel back towards his own supply bases in Libya. If that happened the see saw campaign in North Africa would continue. So Montgomery used the time after Alam Halfa, when he was still close to his supply dumps in Cairo and Alexandria, to build up an overwhelming superiority in combat power while Rommel was still stuck in Egypt and a thousand miles from his supplies.

On 23 October 1942, just when Rommel was on sick leave in Germany, Montgomery’s Eighth Army launched Operation Lightfoot, named for the infantrymen and engineers who had to clear the anti tank mines but were too light to set them off when they stepped on them. Operation Lightfoot initiated the Second Battle of El Alamein and by 2 November 1942, Montgomery defeated Rommel, and the Axis forces would be in full retreat back to Libya against Hitler’s specific orders to stand and die. Unlike previous withdrawals, Rommel would never recover the lost ground.

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