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The War in the Desert

When Italy entered World War II in June 1940, the war quickly spread to North Africa, where her colony of Libya bordered the vital British protectorate of Egypt. On 7 September 1940, Marshall Graziani’s troops began a land offensive. Their numerical supremacy won them initial success. They captured the port of Sidi el-Barrini and established a chain of fortified camps. The British counterattack, launched in December 1940 and led by General Wavell, quickly flattened the Italians. As British armaments grew daily, Italian supplies dwindled. Italian forces retreated in chaos, and the human tide of surrendering soldiers impeded the Allied advance, making movement of tanks difficult. With Italian positions crumbling, Hitler, shocked by the Italian failure, dispatched the German Afrika Korps – commanded by the brilliant General Erwin Rommel.

The ‘Desert Fox’ rapidly adapted his formations and tactics to a Desert War fought in the open, with few natural obstacles and a small civilian population. Rommel launched his first blow against the Allies in February 1941, taking the British by surprise and carrying out an audacious triple attack on the Sollum-Halfaya line on the Egyptian border. The Germans captured the key port of Benghazi, moving on to besiege the other major port of Cyrenaica, Tobruk…..

……A disconsolate Churchill reshuffled the military command, placing Montgomery at the head of the Eighth Army. The battle-hardened general, conscious that the mobile tank battle was Rommel’s forte, unleashed the Battle of El Alamein as a battle of attrition, using his huge advantages in artillery, infantry and supplies. After two weeks of intense fighting, Commonwealth forces had reduced the German tank force to 35, pressuring the remnants of Axis forces into retreat.

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