Desert war – a different type of war

British troops marching in the desert

As British and Empire re-inforcements began to arrive in Egypt they needed acclimatisation, which included long route marches.

The Italians had crossed the border into the Egyptian desert in September but they were not making a co-ordinated attempt to continue their attack towards Cairo and the Suez canal. Alan Moorehead was a journalist covering the war:

More and more I began to see that desert warfare resembled war at sea. Men moved by compass. No position was static. There were few if any forts to be held. Each truck or tank was as individual as a destroyer, and each squadron of tanks or guns made great sweeps across the desert as a battle-squadron at sea will vanish over the horizon.

One did not occupy the desert any more than one occupied the sea. One simply took up position for a day or a week, and patrolled about it with Bren-gun carriers and light armoured vehicles. When you made contact with the enemy you manoeuvred about him for a place to strike, much as two fleets will steam into position for action. There were no trenches. There was no front line.

We might patrol five hundred miles into Libya and call the country ours. The Italians might as easily have patrolled as far into the Egyptian desert without being seen. Always the essential governing principle was that desert forces must be mobile: they were seeking not the conquest of territory or position but combat with the enemy. We hunted men, not land, as a warship will hunt another warship, and care nothing for the sea on which the action is fought.

See Alan Moorehead’s The Desert War: The Classic Trilogy on the North African Campaign 1940-43.

Men of the Staffordshire Regiment training with Bren guns for use against aircraft .

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: