Archive for November 5th, 2009

The last two months had been particularly unkind to the Afrika Korps.  Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s gamble at Alma el Halfa had not paid off, and early advances merely gave way to a retreat that, ten days later, found them back where they started…with a smaller force.  And that was the good news.  Two weeks later, Rommel was on his way to Germany, as the constant wear-and-tear of war and his relentless drive across North Africa left him sick and exhausted.

The British were in much the same position, bone-weary but grateful to have at least checked their enemy’s eastward advance.  There is little doubt that the narrow “fighting corridors” around El Alamein had helped General Montgomery, who had replaced Claude Auchinleck in mid-August.  Furthermore, British supply lines were much shorter and the Mediterranean Sea was becoming more “pro-British”.  So supplies destined for Rommel’s forces not only had much, much further to travel, they first had to make their way across an increasingly hostile body of water.

It was against this backdrop that General Montgomery, in early October of 1942, laid the groundwork for what would become the Second Battle of El Alamein.  It commenced on October 23rd with a massive artillery barrage by the British that, apparently, Field Marshal Rommel heard from his convalescent home in Germany.  Two days later, he was back in the theater.

But things would go very differently for the Desert Fox this time.  The vaunted Afrika Korps had been whittled down and, good as it was, the lack of consistent supply meant they simply didn’t have the firepower.  Ever the “man of attack”, Rommel tried a feeble counter-offensive, but there would be no breakthrough this time.  By November 2nd, the men under the Swastika had but 32 tanks intact.  Erwin Rommel had returned from illness to crushing defeat.

He sent word to Hitler, requesting a withdrawal.  The next day, Hitler returned a long eloquent reply that, summarized to just 3 words, said, “Stand and die.”.  On November 4th, Rommel began moving westward anyway, taking with him the 12 (12!!) tanks he had left.

And on November 5, 1942, as a massive invasion fleet closed in on the North African coasts from the west, General Montgomery began his counterattack from the east.  They immediately began capturing thousands of Germans, either too injured to escape or too exhausted to care any longer.  The westward drift would continue for both Axis and Ally until it met with the Allies coming from the west.

There would be many hard-fought battles to come, but the North African dominance of the Desert Fox ended here.

Recommended Reading:  Pendulum of War

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