“I have cancelled the plan for withdrawal. If we are attacked, then there will be no retreat. If we cannot stay here alive, then we will stay here dead,.” General Bernard Montgomery, exclaimed .
The year was 1942., Commanded by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, German forces were advancing from Tobruk to the small Egyptian town of El Alamein, gateway to Cairo. Rommel was set to take Egypt—and beyond it, the strategically important, Suez Canal.
Image:Erwin Rommel (left) in his command halftrack,
Allied forces attempting to keep Rommel’s force at bay found themselves in a desperate situation.
Winston Churchill, impatient with the lack of progress in North Africa, appointed General Bernard Montgomery to head the defence of El Alamein. Nicknamed ‘Monty,’ the widely respected general rallied land, sea, and air forces under a single strategy, attempting to improve morale with frequent visits to the troops.
Image: 'Monty' General Bernard L. Montgomery watches his tanks move up. North Africa, November 1942, Imperial War Museums
The world’s eyes were fixed on North Africa, awaiting the outcome of the pivotal moment.
Rommel’s thirteen divisions, five hundred tanks and 100, 000 men sealed both flanks of the Mediterranean in the north and the Qattara Depression in the south, an area known to the Germans . Known by the Germans as “the Devil’s Garden.” Surrounded, Monty famously declared the Allies would
“hit Rommel for six out of Africa.”
Monty struck the German forces in two phases. Following a powerful artillery bombardment with an infantry attack by the 30th Corps in the north, and the 13th Corps in the south, Monty opened paths through minefields where armoured divisions could pass.
Image: Second Battle of El Alamein, Deployment of Forces on October 23rd, 1942
The fighting, which began on October 23rd, and continued for ten days. A ferocious battle with bravery on both sides ended in an Allied victory. Leaving 30,000 prisoners in Allied hands, Tthe Afrika Korps eventually retreated, and were chased out of Africa despite Hitler’s orders to “stand and die.”
Image: Allied night artillery barrage which opened the second Battle of El Alamein, Imperial War Museums
During the fight for El Alamein, 1,200 Australians lost their lives. Monty returned to El Alamein on the 25th aAnniversary of the battle in 1967. Walking around the cemetery, he commented on Australia’s involvement:
“The more I think back, the more I realise that winning was only made possible by the bravery of the 9th Australian Division in holding the road against counter-attacks and slowly pushing forward despite increasing casualties. I do not know of any [other] Allied Division who could have done it.”
Today, we remember the bravery and resilience of the Aussie corps who lost their lives defending their country.
Lead Image: Soldier gives a V gesture to German prisoners captured at El Alamein, 26 October 1942, Imperial War Museums