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First Battle of El Alamein- World War II (North Africa)

First Battle of El Alamein - Conflict & Dates:

The First Battle of El Alamein was fought July 1-27, 1942, during World War II (1939-1945).

Armies & Commanders

First Battle of El Alamein - Background:

Following its crushing defeat at the Battle of Gazala in June 1942, the British Eighth Army retreated east towards Egypt.

Reaching the border, its commander, Lieutenant General Neil Ritchie, elected not to make a stand but to continue falling back to Mersa Matruh approximately 100 miles to the east. Establishing a defensive position based on fortified "boxes" that were linked by minefields, Ritchie prepared to receive Field Marshal Erwin Rommel"s approaching forces. On June 25, Ritchie was relieved as the Commander-in-Chief, Middle East Command, General Claude Auchinleck, elected to take personal control Eighth Army. Concerned that the Mersa Matruh line could be outflanked to the south, Auchinleck decided to retreat another 100 miles east to El Alamein.

First Battle of El Alamein - Auchinleck Digs In:

Though it meant conceding additional territory, Auchinleck felt El Alamein presented a stronger position as his left flank could be anchored on the impassible Qattara Depression. The withdrawal to this new line was somewhat disorganized by rearguard actions at Mersa Matruh and Fuka between June 26-28.

To hold the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the depression, Eighth Army constructed three large boxes with the first and strongest centered on El Alamein on the coast. The next was situated 20 miles south at Bab el Qattara, just southwest of Ruweisat Ridge, while the third was located on the edge of the Qattara Depression at Naq Abu Dweis.

The distance between the boxes was connected by minefields and barbed wire.

Deploying to the new line, Auchinleck placed XXX Corps on the coast while the New Zealand 2nd and Indian 5th Divisions from XIII Corps were deployed inland. To the rear, he held the battered remnants of the 1st and 7th Armoured Divisions in reserve. It was Auchinleck"s goal to funnel Axis attacks