The Battle of El Alamein, fought in the deserts of North Africa in October 1942, is seen as one of the decisive Allied victories of the Second World War.

Background

The Battle of El Alamein marked a turning point in the North African campaign, fought between Commonwealth forces and German and Italian forces, led by German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. For both sides the ultimate aim was control of the Mediterranean, the link with the East through the Suez Canal, Middle East oil supplies and the supply route to Russia through Persia. After months of fighting in which the Allies suffered several setbacks, British commander Bernard Montgomery had taken up a new defensive position near the coastal railway station of El Alamein.

The Battle

Montgomery spent months building up an overwhelming advantage in personnel and artillery. Among the Commonwealth forces which took part were British, Indian, New Zealand, and South African troops. The attack was planned in two phases. The first, Operation Lightfoot, began on 23 October with a powerful bombardment from more than 1,000 artillery pieces, followed by infantry attacks to the north and south. Rommel was back home in Germany on sick leave when the battle began, only returning to take command on 25 October.

On 1 November, Montgomery began the second phase of the attack, Operation Supercharge, designed to break through the last part of the German defences. Rommel’s battered armoured units were fast running out of fuel and he decided to withdraw. On 2 November, he warned Hitler that his army faced annihilation but Hitler ordered him to stand fast and not retreat. Two days later, however, Rommel was forced to order his troops to disengage and the battle was over.

Aftermath

The Battle of El Alamein was a much-needed victory for Commonwealth forces, hailed at the time by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Although there was much fighting afterwards, in which many lives were lost, it proved an important step towards the final defeat of Axis forces in North Africa in May 1943.

The battlefield graves of those who died in the Desert Campaign were moved into the Commonwealth war cemeteries at El Alamein, Sollum, Tobruk, Acroma, Benghazi and Tripoli. The names of soldiers and airmen whose graves are unknown are commemorated, with those of their comrades from the other operations in the Middle East on the Alamein Memorial. The names of the missing sailors are on the memorials at their home ports.

Related Cemeteries & Memorials

El Alamein War Cemetery is the final resting place of some 7,240 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War, of whom more than 810 remain unidentified. Also buried within the cemetery are more than 100 Allied - French, Greek and Polish - servicemen. At one end of the cemetery stands the Alamein Memorial which commemorates some 11,860 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War who died in the North African campaign and who have no known grave.