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First Battle of El Alamein

History -- Military history -- List of battles -- World War II

First Battle of El Alamein 1 - 27 July 1942.

The Allied Eighth Army under General Claude Auchinleck had retreated from Mersa Matruh to the Alamein Line, a forty mile gap between El Alamein and the Qattara Depression, in Egypt.

On July 1 the German-Italian Afrika Korps led by Erwin Rommel attacked. The Allied line near El Alamein was not overrun until the evening and this hold up stalled the Axis advance.

On July 2 Rommel concentrated his forces in the north, intending to break through around El Alamein. Auchinleck ordered a counter-attack at the centre of the Axis line but the attack failed. The Allies also attacked in the south and were more successful against the Italians. As a result of the Allied resistance, Rommel decided to regroup and defend the line reached.

Auchinleck attacked again on July 10 at Tel el Eisa in the north and over one thousand prisoners were taken. Rommel's counter at Tel el Eisa achieved little. Auchinleck then attacked again in the centre at the Ruweisat Ridge in two battles - the First and Second Battles of Ruweisat on July 14 and July 21. Neither battle was succcessful and the failure of armour to reach the infantry in time at the Second Battle led to the loss of 700 men. Despite this another two attacks were launched on July 27. One in the north at Tel el Eisa was a moderate failure. The other at Miteiriya was more calamatous, as the minefields were not cleared and the infantry were left without armour support when faced with a German counter-attack.

The Eighth Army was exhausted, and by July 31 Auchinleck ordered an end to offensive operations and the strengthening of the defences to meet a major counter-offensive.

The battle was a stalemate, but the Axis advance on Alexandria (and then Cairo) was halted. See Second Battle of El Alamein for the sequel.