75th Anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein

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“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

It was August 1942, and Allied forces found themselves in a perilous situation as Axis forces advanced from Tobruk to the small Egyptian town of El Alamein, a gateway to Cairo.

Commanded by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, otherwise known as the ‘Desert Fox’, Axis forces were set to take Egypt as well as the strategically important Suez Canal.

Rommel’s thirteen divisions, five hundred tanks and 100,000 men had closed both flanks of the Mediterranean in the north and the Qattara Depression in the south.

Winston Churchill, realising the impending defeat of Allied forces in North Africa, ordered a shakeup of command and appointed General Bernard Montgomery to take over the defence of El Alamein from General Claude Auchinleck.

Montgomery immediately began making changes to Allied tactics including improving Army, Navy and Air Force relations to ensure a more unified strategy, all while the Allied army grew steadily in strength with the arrival of more troops and equipment. 

Rommel attempted an attack between 30 August and 7 September but Montgomery’s 8th Army held its ground, as the Axis advantage began to collapse.

Finally, the pendulum swung in the Allies favour and on the night of the 23 October 1942, they launched their offensive, heralded by a massive artillery barrage.

By the 11 November 1942, after fierce fighting, the Allies had secured a decisive victory. Over 30,000 prisoners were taken as the Afrika Korps retreated, despite Hitler’s orders to ‘stand and die’.

During the Battle of El Alamein, the 15,000 soldiers of the Australian 9th Division suffered almost 6,000 casualties. Although the price was high, they had without doubt, played a crucial role in ensuring an Allied victory in North Africa.

A memorial to the 9th Australian Division stands at the El Alamein Cemetery in Egypt, which contains 7,240 Commonwealth burials.

In 1967, on the 25th anniversary of the battle, General Montgomery visited the El Alamein Cemetery and made the following statement:

“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.”

On Monday 23 October, a Last Post Ceremony will be held to honour those who fought and died in the Battle of El Alamein. For more information on the commemorative event and other services, visit the Events Page. To read more about Australia’s contribution in El Alamein visit the Anzac Portal.