“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it”, declared Winston Churchill. That quote might reveal why the second battle of Alamein seems only to reach a limited audience of military history specialists and enthusiasts. In terms of visibility and shelf space, Alamein doesn’t rank with D-Day, Stalingrad, or Bastogne.
Knowing that the battle stopped Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s advance on Egypt during the turning point year of 1942, one can reasonably wonder why that is so. In a nutshell, “the absence of the victors left plenty of room for the ‘losers’ to have their say. […] the British state’s insistence on not telling a national narrative over-represented the voices of its enemies”, explains historian Simon Ball in The Folio Society edition of his insightful history of the battle fought in the sands of North Africa in October and November 1942.
Material rather than manpower would have been the drivers of the Allied victory. In sum, “the Axis had lost the battle for four reasons: enemy air superiority; the poor performance of the Italian troops; the Eighth Army’s superiority in modern weapons; and their own lack of fuel.” Rommel became an icon – a phenomenon I observed on numerous occasions while visiting military museums in the United Kingdom – and his opponent, Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery drew flak from “old régime” figures who could not stomach the methods of this iconoclast figure who privileged meritocracy. The tenants of that school preferred to give way to Rommel rather than applaud the success and qualities of Montgomery. That phenomenon is regrettably still observable to this day.Continue reading “The distorted memory of Alamein”