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El Alamein: The Battlefield That Changed the Course of World War II

The Second Battle of El Alamein, fought in the deserts of North Africa in October-November 1942, marked a major turning point in the Second World War. It was here that the Allied forces, led by General Bernard Montgomery, decisively defeated the Axis armies under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, ending the Axis threat to Egypt and the Suez Canal. Today, the El Alamein battlefield remains a site of pilgrimage for those seeking to understand this pivotal moment in history.

The Strategic Importance of North Africa

To understand why the Battle of El Alamein was so significant, it‘s important to grasp the strategic context of the North African campaign. After the fall of France in June 1940, the Axis powers sought to gain control of the Mediterranean Sea and the vital Suez Canal, which would cut off Britain‘s access to its colonies and oil supplies in the Middle East and Asia.

As historian Niall Barr explains: "The Axis plan was to squeeze the British out of the Middle East. Rommel would advance from the west, while German forces would simultaneously attack Egypt from the Balkans. The Suez Canal would be the ultimate prize."[^1]

The Road to El Alamein

The North African campaign began in earnest in early 1941, with back-and-forth fighting between Allied and Axis forces across the deserts of Libya and Egypt. Rommel‘s Afrika Korps achieved a series of victories, pushing the Allies back to the Egyptian border by the summer of 1942.

The British Eighth Army made a stand at the railway halt of El Alamein, the last defensible position before the Nile Delta and the Suez Canal. As Churchill famously declared: "Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein, we never had a defeat."[^2]

The Second Battle of El Alamein

On the night of 23 October 1942, Montgomery launched Operation Lightfoot with a massive artillery barrage. Over 1,000 guns fired on the Axis positions, while RAF bombers targeted Rommel‘s supply lines. The initial infantry assault, however, met fierce resistance from the entrenched Axis troops.

Montgomery then shifted tactics, focusing on wearing down the enemy with attacks by the 9th Australian Division and 51st Highland Division. Rommel, running low on fuel and ammunition, launched desperate counterattacks, but was unable to break through.[^3]

The tide turned on 2 November, when Montgomery sent the 2nd New Zealand Division and 1st Armoured Division to break through the Axis lines in Operation Supercharge. After intense tank battles, the Allies succeeded in cutting off Rommel‘s forces, forcing the Axis into full retreat.[^4]

Over 12 days of fighting, the Allies suffered around 13,500 casualties, while the Axis lost over 30,000 killed or captured. The Allies also destroyed over 500 Axis tanks and nearly 1,000 guns.[^5]

The Aftermath of El Alamein

The victory at El Alamein marked the beginning of the end for the Axis in North Africa. As Rommel later wrote in his memoirs: "The dead lay in their thousands and we could do nothing for them. […] With this battle the initiative had passed to the British."[^6]

In the following months, the Allies would go on to drive the Axis out of Libya and Tunisia, setting the stage for the invasions of Sicily and Italy. El Alamein also served as a crucial morale boost for the Allies, demonstrating that they could defeat the previously invincible Germans.

Visiting the El Alamein Battlefield Today

For those interested in experiencing this pivotal site firsthand, the El Alamein battlefield lies about 60 miles west of Alexandria, easily reachable via a day trip. The desert landscape remains largely unchanged, offering a stark and evocative setting to contemplate the battle.

Key sites to visit include:

  • The Commonwealth War Cemetery, with over 7,000 graves of soldiers from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other Allied nations
  • The El Alamein War Museum, with exhibits on the battle and the North African campaign, including original vehicles, weapons, and uniforms
  • The German and Italian memorial, commemorating the Axis fallen
  • The El Alamein railway station, still bearing wartime bullet holes

Several battlefields tours are available, led by knowledgeable guides who can bring the history to life. The best times to visit are spring and fall, when temperatures are milder.

As historian Jon Latimer sums up: "El Alamein is the ultimate soldiers‘ battle, set in a barren, empty landscape, with nowhere to hide. It‘s a pure contest of arms, where the side with the best weapons, tactics, and morale prevailed. Walking the battlefield today, you can‘t help but feel awed by the courage and sacrifice shown here."[^7]

El Alamein in Popular Culture

The battle has been depicted in numerous films, books, and TV series over the years. Some notable examples include:

  • "The Desert Fox" (1951), focusing on Rommel‘s role in the campaign
  • "The Desert Rats" (1953), telling the story of the Australian 9th Division at El Alamein
  • "El Alamein: The Line of Fire" (2002), an Italian film that offers the Axis perspective
  • "Alamein: War Without Hate" (2002), a book by Italian historian Paolo Caccia Dominioni that challenges myths about the battle

These works, while often dramatized, help keep the memory and lessons of El Alamein alive for new generations.


In the annals of military history, El Alamein stands out as a textbook example of how superior planning, logistics, and leadership can overcome even a formidable enemy. It was here in the North African desert that the Allied forces proved they had what it took to defeat the Axis, paving the way for ultimate victory in World War II.

For anyone seeking to understand this pivotal conflict, a visit to the El Alamein battlefield is an unforgettable experience. Walking in the footsteps of the soldiers who fought and died here, one cannot help but feel a profound sense of history and sacrifice. As Churchill put it: "Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein, we never had a defeat." It was the battle that changed the course of the war, and the world.

[^1]: Niall Barr, "Pendulum Of War: The Three Battles of El Alamein" (2005)
[^2]: Winston Churchill, speech at the Lord Mayor‘s Luncheon, London, 10 November 1942
[^3]: John Bierman and Colin Smith, "The Battle of Alamein: Turning Point, World War II" (2002)
[^4]: Barrie Pitt, "The Crucible of War: El Alamein" (1990)
[^5]: Jonathan Fennell, "Combat and Morale in the North African Campaign: The Eighth Army and the Path to El Alamein" (2011)
[^6]: Erwin Rommel, "The Rommel Papers" (1953)
[^7]: Jon Latimer, "Alamein" (2002)