The Three Battles of El Alamein
The Battles of El Alamein were critical in the fight for North Africa and had the potential to change the course of the war. The German war machine was at the zenith of its power, with Britain and Russia absorbing defeats as they fell back on their lines. When the opportunity to review this book was presented, I jumped on it for several reasons: the history of this crucial campaign, the Images of War series’ reputation and Jon Diamond as the author. It promised to be a powerful book – and it delivered!
The North African campaign was in the balance and the British had their backs to Egypt and its vital Suez Canal. With the German victory in Tobruk in June 1942, the British were forced to retreat to Egypt. The Three Battles of Tobruk refer to the First Battle of El Alamein (1-27 July 1942), the Battle of Alam el Halfa (30 August – 5 September 1942), and the Second (Main) Battle of El Alamein (23 October – 4 November 1942). This book does a great job of a concise history of these battles that proved to be the turning point of German fortunes in North Africa. With Operation Torch, the Allied Invasion of French North Africa that began on 8 November 1942, the Germans and Italians found themselves in a pincer from East and West, with their backs to the Mediterranean.
Author Jon Diamond does not hold the typical credentials to write about the Second World War. He is an American medical doctor, a kidney specialist, with a deep interest in the Second World War. With his interest and collection of WWII photographs, it seems natural for him to put both together for historian, modeler and casual reader’s benefit, in an informal conversation manner. He has authored over two dozen books in the Images of War series. The Three Battles of El Alamein does not disappoint.
In Jon Diamond’s Acknowledgments, he sums up his book,
“This archival photograph volume in the ‘Images of War’ series is dedicated to the multinational Allied Armed Forces service members who fought, were wounded and perished in the hellacious Western Desert and air combat to defend Egypt and the Suez Canal against the Axis thrusts from Libya in 1940 to 1942, with crucial emphasis on the three pivotal battles at El Alamein from July to November 1942 that contributed to the ‘turning of the tide’ in the Second World War.”
The book is presented in the Images of War format with chapters opening with dialog, followed by images and maps. The book is composed of the following six chapters:
- Desert Combat in Egypt and Cyrenaica 1940-1942
- Terrain and Weapons
- Commanders and Combatants
- The First Battle of El Alamein
- The Battle of Alam El Halfa
- The Second (Main) Battle of El Alamein
Every page with photographs is an inspiration for a modeler. The scenery is shown from tire cutting rock, to drifting sand, to beach, to flooded wadis; the weather is shown to be scorching hot to freezing cold. In between the land and air are amazing photographs of soldiers and their weapons. I sincerely had a hard time limiting the accompanying photographs to 15 as there are so many more that deserve to be shown. And that is probably the best recommendation to buy this book – for its sheer photographic presence that puts the human element in this conflict.
The combatants are well outlined, the numerous nationalities are described and well represented in photographs. The sheer scale and desolation of the battle area is made obvious. The photographs are a great collection of soldiers in the respective armies doing their duty – from exuberance, to boredom, to shock and dejection. History tends to focus on the larger picture, this book focuses on the soldiers through the camera lens.
While there are a few caption errors, ie a PzKpfw IV for a PzKpfw III, most readers wouldn’t notice, and honestly, niggles on this minor scale detract from the rich experience of this book. Most modelers would be happy to have the photograph for reference or inspiration. It also is a reflection of the immense task of assembling the photos to tie into the chapter in a chronological sequence.
The Epilogue states,
“The British Eighth Army under Montgomery, with the stewardship of Alexander, emerged as a victorious duo at the end of the three battles at El Alamein from July through November 1942. During the eleven days of heavy combat at the Second Battle of El Alamein, the Eighth Army suffered 13,500 men killed, wounded and missing. An Italian memorial monument has the names of 4.634 soldiers killed at El Alamein. The German memorial is situated near Tel el Eisa along the Mediterranean and lists the names of 4,200 German dead.”
In the words of the imminently quotable British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, “Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat.”
Profuse thanks to Casemate and IPMS-USA for providing the review sample.