On this day in 1942, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel is brought to a standstill in the battle for control of North Africa.
In June, the British had succeeded in driving Rommel into a defensive position in Libya. But Rommel repelled repeated air and tank attacks, delivering heavy losses to the armored strength of the British, and finally, using his panzer divisions, managed to force a British retreat—a retreat so rapid that a huge quantity of supplies was left behind. In fact, Rommel managed to push the British into Egypt using mostly captured vehicles.
Rommel’s Afrika Korps was now in Egypt, in El Alamein, only 60 miles west of the British naval base in Alexandria. The Axis powers smelled blood. The Italian troops that had preceded Rommel’s German forces in North Africa, only to be beaten back by the British, then saved from complete defeat by the arrival of Rommel, were now back on the winning side, their dwindled numbers having fought alongside the Afrika Korps. Naturally, Benito Mussolini saw this as his opportunity to partake of the victors’ spoils. And Hitler anticipated adding Egypt to his empire.
But the Allies were not finished. Reinforced by American supplies, and reorganized and reinvigorated by British General Claude Auchinleck, British, Indian, South African, and New Zealand troops battled Rommel, and his by now exhausted men, to a standstill in Egypt. Auchinleck denied the Axis Egypt. Rommel was back on the defensive—a definite turning point in the war in North Africa.