This Day In History: Montgomery Breaks Through The German Lines At El Alamein (1942)

General Bernard L. Montgomery watches his tanks move up." North Africa, November 1942

On this day in 1942,during the Second Battle of El Alamein  General Montgomery  launches an assault that finally breaks through the Germans defensive lines. Rommel had established a defensive line in the area near El Alamein with miles of mines and tank obstacles. After several attempts, Montgomery’s forces finally broke through these lines and this caused the German Afrika Korps and its Italian allies to retreat and leave Egypt.

In June 1942, the Afrika Korps after a brilliant tactical move seized the key town of Tobruk in Libya. This effectively cleared the British, Commonwealth and Empire troops from the region. Rommel, encouraged by Hitler next advanced on Egypt which was key to British interests in the Middle East and beyond. The Germans were halted at El Alamein in the western Egyptian Desert by the British. Despite this, the British High Command decided to change its commander and appointed Montgomery to lead the 8th Army. He was deemed to be a more aggressive commander and this was what Churchill wanted. On the 23rd of October in 1942, Montgomery launched a full-scale assault on the German lines. This was intended to break the deadlock in the desert. The British and their allies outnumbered the Germans and the Italians and had many more tanks.  Rommel had developed a five-mile-deep defensive line that was heavily defended. Montgomery used his superior numbers to good effect and gradually began to wear the Axis forces down. The Axis forces commander Rommel fell ill in the later stages of the battle and his successor was killed while visiting the front-line. However, Rommel returned and helped to retrieve the situation and he led a ferocious defense and beat off several Allied attacks.  Rommel wanted to retreat to a position in the east as he was growing increasingly concerned about the state of his army. However, Hitler refused to sanction any retreat.

[Bildbegleitzettel:] General [Erwin] Rommel und General Cruewell in der W¸ste bei einer Panzerdivision (Flankenstellung bei El Agheila); Film-Nr. 101/3, 17B [Scherl-Text:] Prop.-Kp. Lw.7, Text: 17B/15AK Bildberichter Zwilling Nordafrika [aufgenommen am] 12.1.42 Generaloberst [Erwin] Rommel bei der italienischen Division "Pavia" in der nordafrikanischen W¸ste. Ganz vorne rechts einer der Gener‰le der Division.
Rommel with Italian and German officers before El Alamein
On this day in 1942, Montgomery launched operation ‘Surcharge’ and attacked the Axis lines from the southwest. The Axis lines began to break and they were soon in full retreat. The formidable Afrika Korps was never quite the same after El Alamein as it lost many of its finest soldiers and many of its tanks. Rommel however, was able to prevent the total annihilation of the Axis army by a series of brilliant maneuvers.  El Alamein meant that the German and Italian armies had been effectively defeated in North Africa and by 1943 Rommel had been driven back to Tunisia.  According to Churchill the battle was a turning point in the war as before it the allies had been struggling to survive and after it they only knew victories.

A German half-track at El Alamein (1942)