Battles of El Alamein
Great Britain defeats Germany in Egypt
1 July - 11 November 1942
author Paul Boșcu, December 2016
El Alamein was a decisive victory in the African campaign for the Allies. Winston Churchill affirmed: “We can almost say that before Alamein, we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat”.
The first battle of El Alamein was a battle of the Western Desert Campaign in Africa. The battle was fought between the Axis forces, led by General Erwin Rommel, and the Allied forces, commanded by Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck. After the defeat at Gazala, the British 8th Army retreated to Egypt, close to El Alamein, on the Mediterranean coast. Auchinleck created strong defensive positions, with bunkers at the end of each line and machine gun nests in the middle. He was waiting for Rommel’s imminent attack.

The attack materialized when the 90th Infantry Division attacked along the coast. However, the attack was repelled by the 1st South African Division. The 21st Panzer Division attacked the Deir el Shein point. The Indian brigade stationed there fought desperately, but was overwhelmed. The time won by the Indians however allowed Auchinleck to organize a mixed fighting group made up of infantry and artillery, part of the 10th Indian Infantry Division stationed in the Nile Delta for resupplying operations. The repeated Axis attacks were repelled due to the minefields through which the German Panzers could not advance.

At that moment, Rommel’s troops were exhausted and could no longer advance without time to rest and regroup. Thus, the general strengthened his positions and the battlefield became static. At the same time, the German supply lines were already stretched to the limit. The Allied air forces constantly attacked the German convoys, losses which Rommel could not afford.

The Allied army was reorganizing itself and receiving backup, especially American Sherman tanks. The British carried out a series of attacks in an attempt to break the German lines. They attacked the German line in the central area three times. Neither of these attacks succeeded. Due to the fact that the British 8th Army was exhausted, Auchinleck ordered the suspension of offensive operations.

In order to alleviate the pressure created by Rommel on the right and center of the defensive line, Auchinleck launched a counter-attack from the Quattara zone. The first assault was carried out by elements of the 4th New Zealand Brigade. The New Zealanders advanced towards the positions held by the Italian Ariete Armored Division, in a depression. The Italians lost 531 men, 36 artillery cannons, 8 tanks and 55 trucks. Determined to surround the Italian division, the New Zealanders attacked again two days later. However, they were forced to retreat, due to the attack of the Brescia Division.

The German offensive was repelled. The Allies did not manage to break through the German lines. However, through these actions, they stopped Rommel in his advance towards Alexandria. In spite of this, Churchill replaced Auchinleck with Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery. Thus, Montgomery took over command of the 8th Army.

Montgomery successfully defended the British line in the summer, during the Alam Halfa battle. Thus, he gave the Allies time to reorganize for the second offensive, which would follow in the autumn. In the attack from the Heights of Alam el Halfa, Rommel destroyed 67 British tanks, losing 49. The minefields, aerial warfare and British artillery seriously slowed the advance of the German Panzers.

Alam Halfa was the furthest position occupied by German forces in eastern Africa, during the entire campaign. Rommel himself was a step away from death when the Desert Air Forces bombed him and destroyed his tactical command.

“Auk”, with his base on the Heights of Ruweisat, stopped Rommel’s Panzer armies breaking through his defensive line, taking 7,000 prisoners. He drew up serious plans for launching a massive counter-attack in the autumn. Churchill and Alan Brooke visited Cairo, and Auchinleck was rewarded for his prudence, by being offered command of the forces in the Middle East. This would have been an obvious demotion, which he refused.

One year later, Auchinleck was appointed commander in chief of the forces in India. Even so, he never again had the opportunity to serve on the battlefield. General Sir Harold Alexander took command of the forces in the Near East.

Montgomery distinguished himself during the First World War. He led an attack at Ypres, capturing a German prisoner after he hit him in the testicles. In another situation, his survival seemed so improbable that a grave was dug for him at the first aid post. However, instead of being prematurely buried, he managed to obtain the Order for Special Services and finished the war with the honorary title of Lieutenant-Colonel. After the death of his wife, the emotional side of his life died and was replaced by total concentration on his military career.

Montgomery handled the Dunkerque retreat well. When he arrived in the Libyan Desert, he had already decided how his duel with Rommel would differ from those led by his predecessors. In contrast to former tactics, Montgomery was not planning to hunt the “Desert Fox” along the North-African coast between Egypt and Tunisia. Instead, he was going to try to lure the Afrika Korps into a single decisive battle, destroying it forever.

The two armies faced each other around an obscure railway station in the desert, El Alamein. Each army had been re-equipped and re-supplied as well as possible. Herein lay the key to Montgomery’s victory. The German supply lines were far too long. They were constantly attacked by British aviation. Thus, the Germans lacked the necessary fuel to defeat the British 8th Army.

Neither Benghazi nor Tobruk could be properly defended by the Luftwaffe. Both cities were bombed by the Allies. Thus, the majority of reinforcements sent by the Axis forces came through Tripoli via Naples and Sicily. The average quantity of fuel delivered each month to the Axis forces in Africa went up. However, the Afrika Korps needed even more fuel due to the extension of its supply lines.

The RAF destroyed the cisterns transporting fuel for Rommel along the only road worthy of the name. Petrol stocks, as Friedrich von Mellenthin declared, “were almost exhausted, and an armoured division without petrol is little better than a heap of scrap iron.” A division commander in the Afrika Korps, General Hans Cramer, considered that the Battle of El Alamein “was lost before it was fought. We had not the petrol.”

Rommel’s supply lines were stretched over a distance exceeding 1,600 km. Montgomery’s were twelve times longer. Most Allied troops and equipment had to come around the Cape of Good Hope. The vessels were under threat from German submarines during the entire voyage. The rest was transported over a shorter but more dangerous aerial route, over Central Africa. This route has been described as the longest supply line in the military history of the world. However, the proximity of petrol in the Middle East meant that the British forces were receiving large quantities of petrol.

The planes and submarines stationed in Malta ceaselessly harassed the Axis supply lines. A true unsinkable Allied aircraft carrier, Malta became the most bombed place in the world. The island received the King George Cross for its unshakeable courage in the face of being subjected to almost permanent attack from the Germans.

The British logistics were complicated. The four types of Allied tanks - Sherman, Crusader, Grant and Stuart - used three different types of fuel. During the summer of that year, Churchill, in a private setting, described the 8th Army as “a broken, baffled army, a miserable army.” By the autumn, the situation of the army had been completely turned around due to the important reinforcements received.

It has been maintained that Rommel should never have taken part in the Battle of El Alamein. Instead, he should have retreated behind his long communication lines, into Libya. General Alfred Jodl’s assistant, General Warlimont, explained to Rommel’s General Staff how important it was for the troops to stay at El Alamein. He spoke of German plans to invade Persia and Iraq from the Caucasus. The goal was for the Allies to be tied up defending Egypt, thus unable to send troops to other regions of the Middle East.

For Rommel, the rewards which would have come from a victory in Egypt were extremely tempting. Alexandria was the General Headquarters of the Mediterranean Fleet of the Royal Navy. Suez was the access port to Great Britain’s Indian Empire. Cairo was the largest city in Africa and the center of British power in the region. The Nile Delta was the road to Iran, Iraq and the oilfields of the Middle East. However, his troops, equipment and fuel were much diminished. For these reasons, it was considered that it was much too early to give up on land so hard fought over.

Rommel fell ill, with stomach and liver problems, high blood pressure, sinusitis and a sore throat. He flew to Germany, taking a long leave and handing leadership over to Georg Stumme, a veteran of the Eastern Front, who was completely unprepared. Rommel wasn’t even in Africa when Montgomery launched Operation Lightfoot, the second stage of the second battle of El Alamein.

The front line of the Axis forces was defended by a vast minefield nicknamed “The Devil’s Gardens” by the Germans. Hidden under the sand, the mines were very difficult to spot, even in daylight. The task of clearing a path for the infantry fell to the British sappers, using newly-invented detection equipment. The British sappers showed cool blood at El Alamein, comparable with the greatest acts of valor seen in the battlefields of this war.

Montgomery benefitted not just from one lucky strike, but three. Not only was Rommel away in Germany when the offensive began, but his efficient head of general staff, Fritz Bayerlein, was also on leave. The overweight Georg Stumme died of a heart attack on the first day of the attack. The leadership was taken over by the Panzer General, Wilhelm von Thoma.

Auchinleck chose El Alamein due to his defensive lines. Between the Mediterranean Sea in the north and the unpassable saltwater marshes of the Qattara depression in the south, there was only a 65 km wide corridor. This narrow corridor would work in Rommel’s favor when he was forced to adopt defensive positions due to the great number of Allied troops. Any battle at El Alamein was going to be a war of attrition, not one based on the movement of troops. This kind of battle was reminiscent of the Western Front of World War I.

The morale of the Italian air forces, armored divisions, artillery and paratroopers was, in general, high. However, the regular Italian infantry - making up the majority of Italian forces in Africa - was not faring so well. As at the beginning of the war, the Italians fought bravely when they were properly led, equipped, trained and fed. However, in the final phases of the African campaign, things changed. The Italian troops, like the Germans, suffered from a lack of supplies.

Some Italian units, such as the small airborne Folgore division and the Ariete armored division, were as strong as any other division on the battlefield. Rommel said of Ariete: “We always asked them to do more than they practically could, and they always did.”

Some Italian infantry formations could not resist the prolonged bombing for long, before making the decision to surrender. The lack of food was also a significant problem for the Italians. In one of the testimonies from the battle of El Alamein, it was said: “The only fresh meat was provided by the occasional camel that strayed into one of the Devil’s Gardens and either set off a mine or came close enough to be shot.”

The Italian tanks were, in general, too light and unfit for battle. Most of the Italian artillery was almost completely lacking precision at distances over 8 kilometers. The radio sets in the Italian tanks hardly worked at all when moving.

The way Rommel tried to raise the morale of the Italian infantry troops was to ‘corset’ them between elite German units. For example, the Italian Bologna Division was to be stationed next to the Ramcke troops, made up of elite paratroopers. The Italian Trento Division would be interspersed with the troops of the 164th Saxon Light Division. The Duke of Wellington in the Battle of Waterloo did a similar thing. He placed British regiments in the middle of the Belgian and Dutch units, which were of doubtful quality.

The calm after the storm of the first battle of El Alamein allowed Montgomery to prepare his troops. Detailed orders were sent from his general headquarters concerning the army’s logistics, equipment, physical condition, morale, organization and discipline. Many of the troops sent as reinforcements had never before fought in the desert. Thus, in the weeks of relative calm which followed, his conviction that intensive instruction is vital was fully applied. This gave Montgomery a firm resolve against the insistences of Churchill, who was pressing for a rapid attack.

All Harold Alexander could offer to those in Downing Street was the promise that he would send a codeword at the moment when the great assault began. It is possible that Alexander’s decision to leave Montgomery on his own infuriated the Prime Minister. However, what had to be done was done.

According to Montgomery’s plan, the forces of the Commonwealth together with the 51st Highlander Division would break through the Axis lines in the first two days of battle. The Commonwealth forces were made up of Australian, New Zealand and South-African troops. They must open paths through the minefields, through which the 1st and 10th Armored Divisions of the X Army Corps would attack. The latter were led by General-Major Raymond Briggs and General-Major Alec Gatehouse.

Montgomery’s point of attack was neither on the coast road leading north, nor in the Qattara depression in the south - as had happened in all the previous confrontations in the last two years. The attack point was located right in the heart of the battlefield. Due to this, but also to his insistence in fighting a decisive battle and returning to a war of attrition, Montgomery proved to be both original and visionary.

Special forces were used to attack the cities of Tobruk - Operation Agreement and Benghazi - Operation Bigamy. The goal was to push Rommel back to the zones with very flat relief. Operation Agreement was seriously compromised from the start. There was a clash at a roadblock. The operation cost the Allies 750 men, the cruiser HMS Coventry and two destroyers. Bigamy was attractive in theory, however, in the end it proved to be too costly and not worth the effort.

Montgomery hoped that the Germans’ attention would be distracted by a diversionary attack made by Lieutenant-General Brian Horrocks’ XIII Corps, south of the battlefield. At the same time, frontal infantry attacks would be launched by the XXX Corps, led by General-Lieutenant Oliver Reese. These attacks were directed against the Miteiriya and Kidney Ridges. They would be exploited by the 1st and 10th Armored Divisions of X Corps, led by General-Lieutenant Herbert Lumsden. These divisions would break through and push from behind the Axis defensive lines.

Montgomery, besides the fact that he had learned the lessons of the Second World War, managed not to forget those of World War I. Montgomery believed that through a huge initial barrage he could spark a process of ‘crumbling’. Thus, the Axis forces, especially the Italian infantry, would be demoralized and psychologically crushed, after tanks attacked their flanks and back. The British anti-tank cannons and the tanks attacking through the bridgehead must stop the inevitable counter-attack of the German Panzers.

An essential aspect of the imminent clash was the air superiority that the Allies had won over the Luftwaffe, beginning with the battle of Alam el Halfa. This was transformed, during the second battle of El Alamein, almost into air supremacy. Montgomery annexed the RAF headquarters, led by Vice-Admiral of aviation, Arthur Coningham, to his own command. Even though he later gave too little credit to this man in his writings, the two commands collaborated well.

The huge production power of the United States had already begun to make a difference. Hitler began to realise how unwise the declaration of war against America had been. “Anyone who has to fight, even with the most modern weapons,” wrote Rommel, “against an enemy in complete control of the air, fights like a savage against modern European troops, under the same handicaps and with the same chances of success… We had to face the likelihood of the RAF shortly gaining absolute air superiority.”

The days in which the Messerschmitt Me-109 planes, with their base in Libya, dominated the heavens and comfortably shot down the Tomahawk and Hurricane II planes, were over. Rommel believed that they must “put our defences into such a form that British air superiority would have the least effect… We could no longer rest our defence on the motorised forces used in a mobile role… We had instead to try to resist the enemy in field positions.”

The RAF could use 530 airplanes, compared to the Luftwaffe’s 350. Further, it had the advantage that these numbers didn’t matter too much. During the battle, the RAF carried out 11,600 missions, compared with only 3,100 by the Luftwaffe. Before the beginning of the second battle, the United States sent 1,500 planes into a theatre of war in which their ground troops had not yet become involved. Thus, before El Alamein, the ratio of air reinforcements was five to one in favor of the Allies.

Through Operation Lightfoot, Montgomery hoped to create two paths through the large Axis minefield, in the northern area. The goal was for the British armored vehicles to be able to pass through to meet the German tanks. The diversionary attack in the center and south of the line would keep the majority of the Axis forces far from the northern area. Montgomery was expecting a 12-day battle, in three stages: breaking through the lines, battle between the German and British armored divisions, and “cleaning up” the enemy.

Due to the failure of the offensive in August, the German-Italian forces were very thin. Rommel knew that the British forces were strong enough to launch an offensive. His hope was that the German troops in Stalingrad would defeat the Soviets as fast as possible, and then threaten the oil fields of the Middle East. This would mean a halt in offensives against him, since the troops in Egypt would have to support those in Iran. Thus, Rommel would have the time he needed to organise and strengthen the Afrika Korps.

Rommel’s forces were waiting in trenches for a British attack. They had approx. half a million anti-tank mines, and had created vast minefields of anti-personnel mines, S-mines. The minefields were christened “The Devil’s Gardens”.

Operation Lightfoot began with an artillery barrage. The infantry had to attack before the tanks, since many of the anti-tank mines would not be set off by the soldiers running over them, because they were too light. Thus, as the infantry advanced, the engineers created a path for the tanks. The barrage could be heard in Alexandria, 95 km away. It continued for five hours, then stopped at 3 am, beginning again at 7 am. During this time, the sappers began to create paths through the minefield for the infantry, marking them with white ribbon.

The attack was launched as evening fell by four divisions of infantry. As soon as these divisions had crossed the first minefields, a path was created for the tanks. The 7th Armored Division carried out a diversionary attack in the southern area, blocking the 21st Panzer Division into defensive positions. The barrage of fire managed to minimise the effects produced by the launchers, the snipers and the machine guns of the Axis forces. Even so, Lumsden’s X Corps failed to a great extent, in its attempt to break through enemy lines. This corps didn’t manage to protect the infantry from the Axis counter-attack, which could have disastrous consequences.

The next day, operations came to a halt due to the fact that the tanks could not advance through Rommel’s minefield. In the south, the first large tank battle of the conflict took place, when elements of the 1st Armored Division attacked the 15th Panzer Division. The attack came to a halt with neither side coming out victorious. Only the 8th Armored Brigade managed to reach the Miteirya Ridge. The rest of the army corps got blocked in the jam of huge traffic, along the narrow paths crossing the minefields. “Once a lane had been cleared, there was also the problem of congestion” noted a contemporary witness.

Montgomery ordered the 1st Armored Division to halt operations in the south in order to put pressure on the Axis troops, which were defending the northern part of the line until a breach was made. At the same time, the Axis forces made a series of attacks on the British lines, trying to find a weak spot but failing. Rommel was convinced that the main attack would be made in the northern part of the lines. He ordered the 21st Panzer Division and the Ariete Division to be moved to this area. The order proved to be a mistake, since not all the tanks arrived at the destination due to a lack of diesel.

Four days after the start of fighting, Rommel launched the main attack of the battle. However, due to lack of fuel and ammunition, the German tanks were forced to stop. In the following days, the Australians endeavored to create a breach in the German lines along the coast. Rommel tried unsuccessfully to attack the Australian positions, again stopped by lack of resources.

Montgomery withdrew part of the heavy tanks situated further south and ended the coastal assault, stopping Operation Lightfoot. This decision caused immense consternation in London, where the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, convinced Churchill that Montgomery had given up fighting in the middle of battle. Far from giving up, the commander of the 8th Army launched Operation Supercharge. Montgomery withdrew a brigade from each of the 44th, 50th and 51st Divisions, which were involved in the assault. He sent them towards the south of the Kidney Ridge, against the Italian infantry.

After calling General Alan Brooke out of a meeting of Chiefs of Staff, the British Prime Minister berated him, saying that “your Montgomery is fighting a half-hearted battle.” The Prime Minister asked the general: “Have we not got a single general who could even win one single battle?” Brooke defended his protégé, and the South African premier and Field Marshal Jan Christian Smuts supported him in protecting the general on the field against Whitehall strategists. Thus, a row broke out in which harsh words were said on both sides.

The next stage of the battle began with the launch of Operation Supercharge. The goal of this operation was to destroy the German tanks and the enemy’s supply routes and fuel provisions. The Durham Brigade of the 50th Infantry Division, the Seaforth and Cameron Highlander battalions and a Maori battalion from the 2nd New Zealand Division occupied the sought-for positions. The British created a 6.5 km-wide breach in the Axis lines. Then, the 9th Armored Brigade broke through this breach, arriving behind Axis lines. At that point, Rommel ordered the general retreat of the entire Axis forces.

After an initial bombing lasting a few hours, the attack began with elements of the 151st and 152nd Infantry Brigades at the fore. The objectives of the British soldiers were fulfilled to a great measure through destroying the Axis provisions. Then, the British tanks attacked the German Panzers stationed close to Tell el Aqqaqir.

Rommel’s decision to move the motorized and armored German units north indicated the fact that the system of ‘corseting’ the Italians was no longer working. Through this decision, Rommel offered Operation Supercharge an extraordinary opportunity in the Italian sector next to the Kidney Ridge. Concerning Rommel’s concern not to lose the coast road, Montgomery wrote, in 1958: “He concentrated his Germans in the north to meet it, leaving the Italians to hold his southern flank. We then drove in a hard blow between the Germans and the Italians, with a good overlap on the Italian front.”

Rommel called in the Italian Ariete armored division as reinforcements, in what was the last resistance of the Axis forces. After the launch of Operation Supercharge, the Afrika Korps had only a few tanks left. Thus, Rommel began to organise the retreat of his troops. After the initial attack, elements of the 1st, 7th and 10th British Armored Divisions completely broke through the German lines. The Italian Ariete Division was also defeated.

Montgomery benefitted from the inestimable advantage of being able to read the information received and sent by Rommel, due to the Enigma machine. Montgomery knew the problems the Germans faced due to lack of men, ammunition, food and, most of all, fuel. Rommel fought flawlessly at the Battle of El Alamein, at least as long as he was on the battlefield. In spite of decisive German counter-attacks and a complete reorganization of the new defensive positions, Rommel was persuaded by General Thoma that retreat towards the town of Fuka was inevitable.

The 9th Armored Brigade, under the leadership of Brigadier General John Currie, managed to advance consistently under cover of darkness. However, these troops were betrayed by dawn. The sun rose behind them, revealing their silhouettes, long before the troops had passed beyond the anti-tank cannons. The attack destroyed 35 anti-tank cannons along the Rahman Line. Further, it sparked the greatest tank battle in Africa, carried out around a knoll called Tel el Aqqaqir.

Rommel was faced with the possibility of his flanks being enveloped by the 7th Armored Division, and large parts of his army were surrendering en masse. Thus, Rommel withdrew to Fuka. That night, Montgomery ate dinner with General Von Thoma, who had been taken prisoner. The dinner was served in his tent, a scene reminiscent of wars from previous centuries. After a battle lasting, as Montgomery had estimated, 12 days, the Afrika Korps left the battlefield. The German forces left behind them all the equipment and fuel they could do without.

Thus, General Montgomery defeated his rival. After this battle, the retreat of the Axis forces began. This retreat ended in Tunisia in May of the following year. Then, Afrika Korps surrendered due to the Anglo-American vicehold from the east and west.

Montgomery’s success at El Alamein cannot be underestimated, even though he had a two-to-one superiority in regards of artillery and troops. The accepted vision in military strategy was that the attacker needed to have three-to-one superiority in order to be certain of victory. Also, as one of his officers remarked, the military historian Peter Young: “If, for once, a British general managed to get his army across the start line with a numerical superiority over the enemy, this should be a matter for praise rather than complaint!”

Michael Carver, who served under Montgomery’s command in Africa, later wrote: ‘It may have been expensive and unromantic, but it made certain of victory, and the certainty of victory at that time was all-important. Eighth Army had the resources to stand such a battle, while the Panzerarmee had not, and Montgomery had the determination, will-power and ruthlessness to see such a battle through.”

In total, the 8th Army took losses of 13,560 dead and wounded, 8% of its total troops. The Axis had 20,000 wounded, 19% of its troops. The Commonwealth countries also contributed heavily: one-fifth of the dead were Australian, and out of the 16,000 New Zealanders who fought there, 3,000 were killed and 5,000 wounded.

Rommel was forced to leave around 1,000 cannons and 450 tanks on the battlefield, with another 75 tanks being abandoned during the retreat. According to Carver’s estimates, “The Afrika Korps cannot have had more than 20 tanks, if that, left when they withdrew from Mersa Matruh on 8 November.” Malta was also safe. The Axis air bases in Martuba were occupied shortly afterwards.

Rommel did not put up serious resistance during the following three months and remained hundreds of kilometers away, west of the Mareth Line. This demonstrates how serious the defeat at El Alamein was. The British Empire had won its first terrestrial victory against Germany in the war. It was also the last important battle carried out from the position of being an indisputable imperial power. In the west, in Morocco and Algeria, an Anglo-American force landed, part of Operation Torch. From that moment on, the Allies fought under shared command, with the Americans most often holding the function of supreme commander of the Allied forces.

El Alamein was a decisive victory in the African campaign for the Allies. Winston Churchill affirmed: “We can almost say that before Alamein, we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat.”

Although the Allies had numerical superiority many times during the West African campaign, this superiority was never more evident than at El Alamein. The Allies received substantial support once the Sherman tanks and Spitfire planes arrived on the front.

Montgomery carried out a war of attrition against the Axis forces similar to that carried out during World War I. He correctly estimated the duration of the battle and the Allied losses. Allied air and artillery support had a vital role in the economy of the conflict. This was in contrast with the Axis air forces, which preferred to attack enemy planes than to support its own infantry.

Allied air supremacy had a major impact on the battle, as Montgomery wrote: “The moral effect of air action is very great and out of all proportion to the material damage inflicted. In the reverse direction, the sight and sound of our own air forces operating against the enemy have an equally satisfactory effect on our own troops. A combination of the two has a profound influence on the most important single factor in war—morale.”

Concerning the number of losses, it is estimated that the Germans had approx. 1,500 soldiers killed, another 3,900 wounded and 8,000 fell as prisoners of war. The Italians suffered around 1,000 deaths, 1,000 wounded and approx. 15,000 prisoners of war. The British suffered 2,350 deaths, 8,950 wounded, while 2,260 soldiers were declared missing.

The Axis forces suffered significant losses of tanks. In the last day, only 36 German tanks were still operational, out of 246 before the battle. On the same day, almost half of the 278 Italian tanks were destroyed. The British lost up to 500 tanks, but, by the end of the battle, 300 of these had already been repaired.

The British 8th Army was taken by surprise by Rommel’s retreat, and did not manage to halt the German retreat at Fuka and Mersa Matruh. Thus began a period of following the Axis forces through Libya and then through Tunisia. This ended in the following year, with the surrender of the Axis forces.

After El Alamein, the Axis forces withdrew, in December, to new defensive positions at El Agheila. At that moment, Rommel’s troops were exhausted. In the meantime, the British were receiving reinforcements and thousands of tons of supplies each day.

Montgomery halted the British offensive for three weeks in order to reorganize his forces and prepare to attack. The attack was launched in two directions. The 51st Division launched an attack along the coast, while the 7th Armored Division launched an attack in the interior, to flank the enemy. The 2nd New Zealand Division launched its own attack to flank the enemy and cut off its retreat to Mersa Brega.

The 51st Division advanced slowly, while the 7th Division met stubborn resistance from the remnants of the Ariete Division. Up to the middle of the month, the New Zealanders managed to complete their flanking maneuver. However, the rough terrain allowed Rommel to withdraw his troops through gaps in the New Zealand lines.

Rommel executed a perfect retreat, destroying the equipment and weaponry he had to abandon and leaving behind him a minefield and hidden traps. The British 8th Army arrived at Sirte on Christmas Day. They were forced to stop to the west of this locality in order to prepare for an attack on Wadi Zemzem, 329 km from Tripoli.

Rommel requested from Mussolini, through Marshal Ettore Bastico, permission to retreat from Libya into Tunisia for better defensive positions. Through retreating into Tunisia, Rommel also wanted to unite his forces with the Axis armies forming there as a response to Operation Torch, the Anglo-American landing in Morocco and Algeria. However, Mussolini demanded that the forces resist to the last man in Libya.

In the middle of January, General Montgomery launched a new attack on the Axis positions in Libya. The New Zealand Division attacked frontally, while the 7th Armored Division flanked the enemy along the Lebanese coast. Rommel was weakened by the retreat of the 21st Panzer Division, which had been sent to Tunisia to support the forces of General Hans-Jurgen von Arnim. Under these conditions, General Rommel ordered the retreat of the Axis forces towards the Mareth defensive line in Tunisia. At the end of January, the Libyan port of Tripoli fell into Allied hands.

Rommel’s forces were caught from two sides in Tunisia. From the west, the American, French and British forces attacked after the success of Operation Torch, while from the east, the Afrika Korps was attacked by Montgomery’s forces. Due to a failed attack towards Tunis, the conflict was lengthened into the spring. Then, the inevitable defeat of the Germans and Italians was over.