The following report on the German attack at El Alamein in 1942 was originally printed in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 17, January 28th, 1943.



After the British attempt to penetrate Rommel's lines on July 27, 1942 had failed, the Egyptian front settled into a more or less stagnant period for a few weeks. During this period, outside of the constant artillery fire, night patrolling, and usual air activity, little in the nature of active military operations took place. Most of this time was utilized by both sides in preparing defensive positions and building up strength in personnel, equipment, and supplies.

During the month of August the British reached a new high in morale. This change in attitude was attributed by observers to three main factors. First, the complete turnover which had taken place in the supreme command. General Alexander, a World War I veteran, noted for his aggressiveness and the leader of two brilliant actions of World War II, had replaced General Auchinleck as High Commander in the Middle East. Now under Alexander and in direct command of the British Eighth Army, was Lieutenant General Montgomery, a veteran of the fighting in France in World War II, and a soldier's soldier. Second, the quantity and quality of rations, which in the past had left much to be desired, had increased to a point where the British Tommy was not the underfed and under-nourished soldier that Rommel's troops had previously faced. Third, the British had gained a much-needed and well-deserved rest.

The British, in particular, were very thorough in their plans for the anticipated battle with Rommel's forces. About the middle of August it became evident, from the nature of the position that the British were taking, that they did not intend to attack, but instead that their strategy was based on the fact that Rommel could and would. With this thought in mind, the British prepared their position for defensive action only. By restricting themselves in this fashion, the British hoped to be able to keep their armor from falling into antitank ambush, similar to that which had caused their defeat a few weeks earlier. Since they planned to remain on the defensive, the British were also able to site their guns so as to have immediate antitank and artillery support, which had been lacking in the earlier attack.

After the British command had committed themselves to the defensive, they spared neither time nor labor to make certain that no possible contingency could arise which would frustrate them. Every man had been instilled with the feeling that he, and he alone, might mean the difference between victory and defeat. The line that they would be defending was commonly known as "Egypt's Last Hope"; with its fall, Egypt was lost. During the period from the June 27 attack to the latter part of August, every conceivable defensive position had been tested all along the entire line. Terrain exercises and maneuvers were going on constantly, testing and improving the defenses. All tanks had been moved in and out of pre-selected battle positions, actually dug in, and placed in hull-down and gun-down positions. All drivers and all gun crews were thoroughly familiar with their duties and positions. Likely targets had been registered upon, and gun and tank crews had gone to their positions in darkness.

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British Crusader tank passes a burning German Panzer IV tank during Operation Crusader.


Of Rommel's general plan little is known. It is known that he was preparing a strong position and his armored strength increased in tanks, both German and Italian. German and Italian parachute troops made their appearance on this front, as well as elements of the German 164th Division. Despite continual bombings by British and American planes, the port facilities at Benghasi, Tobruk, and Matruh were still open, and through them, some supplies still reached the forward elements. The railroad from Tobruk to Daba also remained open, although traffic was severely hindered by the continual bombing by Allied planes.

Allied air reconnaissance showed that Rommel was regrouping his forces, with a large part of the German and Italian infantry, and the Italian armor, identified on the southern flank of his line, and with the bulk of the German armor behind the center although in a position to join overnight a thrust on the south.

About August 25, the Axis air force began to build up its strength in serviceable planes.


The British general plan was to prepare several contiguous fortified areas along the coast and to hold them at all costs, and also to cover the high ground of Ruweisat Ridge and the ridge immediately south of it. They also planned to hold the New Zealand "box" covering the western edge of Deir El Hima. The armor was to take up defensive positions along the foot of Alam El Haifa escarpment and maintain this position, thereby intending to force the German armor to fight them on ground chosen by the British. The southern sector was to be defended by two parallel mined areas extending to Himeimat, which is along the edge of the Qattara Depression. The bulk of the British armor was to be held in the south-central sector and well behind the minefields. In support of the infantry defending the fortified areas was an armored brigade (British brigade approximates U.S. regiment). Portions of the light armor and elements of the motor brigade patrolled and guarded the minefields. The light armor on the south would harass any advance, and the armored reserve (another armored brigade) was to be held in readiness to the east.

In the absence of any specified missions, the Royal Air Force, combined with the American Air Force, was to bomb continually and strafe the Axis ports, supply lines, and troop concentrations day and night.

British Intelligence fully expected the Axis offensive to get underway during the full moon on the night of August 25/26. For some reason, said by some to be a lack of fuel, the attack did not materialize at this time. However, on the night of August 30/31, just prior to midnight, Rommel launched the long-expected attack which he hoped would bring him victory, and drive the British from North Africa.


Rommel's attack on the strongly prepared British El Alamein line commenced at 2320, August 30. At that time German engineers and infantrymen commenced clearing a passage through the western section of the British minefield between the 25th and 26th east-west grid lines in the vicinity of Himeimat.

An interesting sidelight on this preliminary operation, and the subsequent tank penetration, was that the British fully intended to shell the Axis armor while they were confined and restricted in movement during passage through the minefield, but due to a misinterpretation of orders, this was only lightly done. As a result the Axis tanks managed to get through the minefields comparatively unharmed.

The German 15th Armored Division, with approximately 140 tanks, came through the minefield just north of Himeimat practically unharmed, then turned due east. Around noon they were in the vicinity of the 43rd north-south grid. At this point, for some reason not fully understood, they halted their advance, and formed up as though they were expecting a counterattack. When the expected counterattack did not materialize, they formed up in the area east of Deir el Ragil, and proceeded in a northeasterly direction at about 1600. At the same time they detached about 40 tanks, which remained in the area of Deir el Ragil as security for the southern flank. It appeared that the German armor would bypass the principal British position, and, in order to prevent this, and to draw the Germans northward, the British commander sent a detachment composed of two tank battalions south to make contact, and, if possible, draw the Axis tanks north. This move was successful, as the British detachment returned to its previous position closely followed by the 15th Armored Division. A patrol of the 15th Armored Division closed in on the left flank of British Armored Brigade "A"* defending the main position on the southern side of Alam El Halfa, and a short engagement followed. After dark the 15th Armored withdrew to the south, leaving about 13 tanks behind in a wrecked or burning condition.

El Alamein - Initial Disposition and Movements

The German 21st Armored Division crossed the minefield with the 15th Armored, then turned in a northeasterly direction. It reached the area north of Deir el Tarfa at 1700. At this point it came under the fire of the right flank of British Armored Brigade "A" southwest of point 337. As the Axis tanks closed in, a brisk fight followed which lasted till dark. The 21st Armored then withdrew to the vicinity of point 254, leaving approximately 15 tanks burning or totally destroyed.

The German 90th Light Infantry Division which was on the north flank of Rommel's southern group, had difficulty in crossing the minefields, but by evening had succeeded in reaching the area north of Deir el Muhafid.

South of the 90th Light were the Italian divisions, Littorio, Ariete, and Trieste, in the area Deir El Munassib. Of these latter three outfits, only the Trieste completely crossed the minefields during the engagement.

German Reconnaissance Groups 3 and 33 advanced east, and then turned south towards the area Qua El Labin.

In the central sector a localized Axis thrust by the German 433rd Infantry Regiment and the Italian Bologna Division against the Indian outfits (aided by the South African and the New Zealand brigades) on Ruweisat Ridge, advanced as far as point 211, but was later driven back by counterattack.

In the northern sector, another localized Axis attack by the German 125th Infantry Regiment was momentarily successful near Tel el Eisa, but was later driven hack to its original position by the Australian brigade occupying that sector.

Patrols of British Motor Brigade "B" were active in the east and also in the Himeimat area. The remainder of the British Eighth Army held to their defensive positions, and only fought that part of the Axis forces that attacked them. Allied air support was continuous and intensive, as was the British artillery support, given from the area near Alam el Halfa where it was concentrated.

In a review of the day's fighting, two points stand out. First, the Axis attack did not come as a surprise to the British. Second, the British held rigidly to their preconceived defensive plan. They did not counterattack but waited, as planned, and met the Axis tanks on ground of the British choice.

During the night of August 31/September 1, British Armored Brigade "C", then in reserve, was ordered to advance and tie in with the left flank of Armored Brigade "A" to form a line along the foot of the Alam el Haifa escarpment.

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Panzer III of the 10th Panzer Division in Tunisia 1943.


Just prior to daylight, the Axis tanks formed for the attack. The 21st Armored Division with approximately 50 tanks was along Deir el Agram facing the center of the main British position.

The 15th Armored Division, with about 100 tanks, formed southeast of the left flank of Armored Brigade "A".

At daylight, severe fighting broke out and continued until 1100. During the first hour of the fight, Armored Brigade "C" fought forward from its position in reserve, made contact with the left flank of Armored Brigade "A" on the main position, and formed as directed. This advance by the British armored reserve prevented the envelopment of the left flank of the principal British force.

It should be pointed out that the Armored Brigade "C" had been ordered to the position it eventually took during the previous night. However, the orders were not received until late at night, and execution was not as rapid as was expected.

The engagement was resumed in the late afternoon and continued until dark when the Axis withdrew to point 254 ridge, leaving behind 25 burning or totally destroyed tanks.

During the day a third Armored Brigade "D" went into position between the right flank of Armored Brigade "A" and the New Zealand box.


During the night, the Axis formed up along the ridge at point 254, on the defensive behind a screen of antitank guns.

After daylight, small and isolated groups of Axis tanks felt out positions occupied by Armored Brigade "D" which had been moved up the previous day, but no attack developed.

The 90th Light Infantry Division commenced withdrawing from its position east of the minefield. It was replaced by the Trieste, supported by the Ariete and Littorio. The Italian Brescia Division moved forward from the area Deir El Munassib, and took up a position facing the southwest corner of the New Zealand box.

Allied bombing and artillery fire was continuous and heavy, both by day and night. Armored car patrols had gone around the Axis line and were harassing Axis supply lines far to the rear.


The day of September 3 was comparatively quiet. Axis motor transport commenced withdrawing westward along its axis of advance.

During the day British light armor, and patrols from Motor Brigade "B" intensified their harassing activities from the east and south as far west as Himeimat.

Artillery elements joined these patrols and shelled the Axis motor transport from comparatively close-up positions, then withdrew in face of enemy pressure.

The British heavy armor remained in place along Alam el Halfa.

It appeared at this time that Rommel was still undetermined as to his course of action. He had failed to draw the British armor away from its support, or into antitank ambush; in fact, the British failed to play the game the way he wanted them to play it.


During the early morning hours, the New Zealand Division, composed of the two New Zealand brigades, which occupied the box, assisted by a brigade of another infantry division, laid down an artillery barrage and followed with an infantry attack. This attack advanced south and along the trails in square 88-27.

The attack advanced 3 miles, but with the coming of daylight the Trieste, Brescia, and the 90th Light Division, supported by the Ariete, and Littorio Divisions, in a series of three counterattacks, forced the attacking troops back nearly to their original positions.

This effort served one great purpose, however, in that it was evidently the deciding factor in causing Rommel's withdrawal. The force of this attack prevented him from using the 90th Light in a coordinated attack with the German armor.

The air and artillery attacks were continued on the same large scale as heretofore.


The bulk of the Axis transport was withdrawn west of the minefields. The 90th Light withdrew off to the west. An antitank screen, supported by tanks, was set up between Himeimat and Deir el Munassib.

This was a slow withdrawal, with Rommel utilizing to the full extent his old scheme of leaving tanks visible as bait for British armor. These tanks were well protected by antitank guns. Formerly the British had always pursued them, and frequently had lost rather heavily. This time, all British armored forces remained in their battle positions, with their artillery continually firing on the retreating Axis forces.

Whenever the pursuing British infantry gun-carriers came within range, the Axis antitank guns picked them off. Rommel withdrew carefully, sustained only a minimum of losses, and eventually halted very close to his original position, retaining only about 2 miles of the ground he had won on the first day.

The Axis line in the southern sector was formed by the Italian Brescia and Trieste Divisions in the northeast part of square 87-26. The Ariete Division was at Deir el Munassib. The 90th Light Division was about 7 miles to the rear of the Ariete, as a mobile reserve. The German 21st Armored Division, the 3 and 33 Reconnaissance Groups, and the Italian Littorio Division covered the area around Himeimat and west to El Taqa.

El Alamein - Final Disposition

While the Axis motor transport was retreating through the minefield area, the Axis air force managed to put up a fighter covering force which prevented Allied bombings. This protective covering "umbrella" was only local, however, and Allied bombing of the Axis rear areas continued on an undiminished scale.

When Rommel took up the position mentioned above, he immediately prepared strong defenses, and the El Alamein battle of August 1942 was at an end.


The Axis withdrawal was orderly, and since none of the previous engagements had been on a large scale, the loss of equipment throughout the entire battle was not unduly large.

Observers estimate that the Axis lost not more than 70 of their total of 440 tanks; of those lost, 55 were German.

Approximately 100 Axis motor transport vehicles, of which the majority were captured British vehicles, were destroyed and left on the field.

Judging from the empty cans lying about the areas that the Axis troops had occupied and then given up, the Axis forces appeared to be completely rationed with previously captured British supplies.

The British entered the battle with a grand total of 546 tanks of all types, and lost or had disabled a total of 67 tanks, which included British mediums and American medium and light M-3's. Of the total number of tanks lost, it was estimated that not more than 20 were completely destroyed and beyond repair.

British personnel losses were relatively light. A British corps commander estimated that the Axis losses were greater than the British in a proportion of 2 to 1.


Rommel first advanced with his entire striking force, but there was no indication that a full-fledged, all-out assault had been launched. It is believed that he hoped to engage the British armor on grounds of his own choice, defeat it and then occupy Ruweisat Ridge which commands the coast road and the avenue to Alexandria.

When the British tanks refused to come out of their hull-down defensive positions, and away from their antitank and artillery support, Rommel was not quite sure of his ground and was afraid to risk his full strength. He spent 2 days feeling out the British position, losing rather heavily in tanks and motor transport while doing so. In view of later developments, it is also believed that he underestimated British tank strength.

Rommel was not able to bypass the principal British position along Alam El Haifa and then proceed eastwards to the Delta (El Hamman) because of the constant danger to his supply line by the British armor, plus the constant interference from Allied bombing and artillery.

On realizing the full extent of the British strength, Rommel withdrew to his previous line and occupied the strongest defensive position in the Western Desert.

The British success was due to: security; the well-planned defense which had been thoroughly tested by many tactical exercises; a thorough knowledge among troops and unit commanders of what was expected; proper execution and coordination among higher echelons; and the continual artillery and air bombardments. The effect of these bombardments, while not producing great material damage, must be accounted as a decisive factor.

In the employment of armament the most outstanding points were: the British static use of tanks; the effect of antitank guns; and complete utilization of field artillery mobility.

The only notable achievement of the German Luftwaffe was their ability to maintain a protective fighter-umbrella for several hours during the withdrawal of motor transport through the minefields, despite over-all Allied air superiority.

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