Rommel returns to the El Alamein battlefield

A German half track or Schützenpanzer in the desert sometime in 1942.

Rommel near El Alamein in June 1942.

On hearing of the new Allied offensive Rommel quickly returned from Germany to the North African desert. It was as a Field Marshal that he resumed command. It was as well that he did, the new Commander of Panzerarmee Afrika from late September 1942 General Georg Stumme died of a heart attack on the 25th after his vehicle came under air attack.

That night our line again came under a heavy artillery barrage, which soon developed into one long roll of fire. I slept only a few hours and was back in my command vehicle again at 05.00 hours [26th October], where I learnt that the British had spent the whole night assaulting our front under cover of their artillery, which in some places had fired as many as five hundred rounds for every one of ours. Strong forces of the panzer divisions were already committed in the front line. British night-bombers had been over our units continuously.

Shortly before midnight the enemy had succeeded in taking Hill 28, an important position in the northern sector! He had then brought up reinforcements to this point ready to continue the attack in the morning with the object of extending his bridge~head west of the minefields.

Attacks were now launched on Hill 28 by elements of the 15th Panzer Division, the Littorio and a Bersaglieri Battalion, supported by the concentrated fire of all the local artillery and A.A. Unfortunately, the attack gained ground very slowly. The British resisted desperately.

Rivers of blood were poured out over miserable strips of land which, in normal times, not even the poorest Arab would have bothered his head about. Tremendous British artillery fire pounded the area of the attack. In the evening part of the Bersaglieri Battalion succeeded in occupying the eastern and western edges of the hill. The hill itself remained in British hands and later became the base for many enemy operations.

See The Rommel Papers .

A British soldier gives a V-for-Victory sign to German prisoners captured at El Alamein, 26 October 1942.

Forty year old Percy Gratwick, awarded the VC posthumously for his actions at Alamein.

Some idea of what this fighting entailed can be judged from the actions of Percy Gratwick who was with the Australian attack that day. His colleague Corporal Frank Dillion later described :

Suddenly, without saying a word, Percy took out a grenade, climbed to his feet and galloped forward, holding his rifle in his left hand. It was so crazy and  he was so quick, that the Jerries didn’t realise what was happening. Percy gave them the grenade, dropped on to one knee, got out another one and let fly with that. Next instance he  had scrambled forward and dropped into their pit.

Another Jerry, about twenty yards down the slope, was trying to  finish him off with a  Tommy gun. There  were two others  in  another  post with a  mortar. Percy must have  seen them, but  apparently he  had  no more  grenades. Next time we  looked he  was up on his feet charging with fixed bayonet. It was all over in  a few seconds. Percy had  twenty yards to  go  –  and  you  don’t  miss much with a Tommy gun at that distance. But we saw him  make it, and then disappear. He got the Jerry too, because we  didn’t hear that Tommy gun again, or that mortar.

The citation for the Victoria Cross awarded to Percy Gratwick:

On the night of 25/26 October 1942 during the attack at Miteiriya Ridge, Egypt, the platoon to which Gratwick belonged suffered considerable casualties, including the platoon commander and sergeant. Gratwick, realising the seriousness of the situation, charged a German machine-gun position by himself, and killed the crew with hand grenades. He also killed a mortar crew. Under heavy machine-gun fire Gratwick then charged a second post, using his rifle and bayonet. In inflicting further casualties he was killed by machine-gun fire, but his brave and determined action enabled his company to capture the final objective.

El Alamein: Distant view of a tank battle on Miteiriya Ridge showing a British tank on fire during the evening of 25 October.

El Alamein 1942: A British ambulance drives into a tank battle to rescue wounded men.

A formation of Martin Baltimores of No. 232 Wing RAF flying to attack enemy positions during the Battle of El Alamein, seen through the lower gun hatch of another aircraft.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Stefano October 27, 2012 at 1:33 pm

I think the soldier in the “prisoners of war” picture isn’t giving a v for victory… Hand would be turned the other way
Great site!!!

Editor October 26, 2012 at 11:13 am

Thanks for your encouraging words.

These were the original captions to the images – it is unclear when they were written, probably by the Ministry of Information.

The possible meanings for the V for victory sign no doubt contributed to its success:

Martin October 26, 2012 at 8:03 am

Thank you for the excellent site – I check it almost every day, and appreciate both the brevity and the personal accounts that set it apart from the run-of-the-mill ww2 sites.

My grandmother drove an ambulance in North Africa during the campaign. I don’t know much of her story – as a boy, “driving ambulances” didn’t have the ‘excitement’ I yearned for. So I didn’t ask much. But I still have a photo of her standing in front of the sphinx & pyramids of Giza. And I remember a story of her on a truck-convoy. They passed along a route that they had used the previous day, and stopped for rest at the same wadi/grove/oasis as 24-hours earlier. A bomb crater had appeared, where previously there had been none. My gran’s friend (also a medic/driver) burst into tears, and when asked why, she said that it was because the bomb crater graced the exact spot she had ‘gone to the bathroom’ the day before!

Re: the photo of the V-for-Victory soldier……that might be a somewhat less polite gesture, though still quite patriotic in many ways :-)

Thank you again.

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