Friday, July 10, 2009

North Africa — Part 1

In 1942, Allied fortunes in North Africa ebbed at first, when the German General Erwin Rommel turned the strong defensive line running from Gazala on the coast to Bir Hacheim in the desert, took Tobruk, and went on to cross the Egyptian frontier. There he was checked, initially at First Alamein on July 1, and then at Alam Haifa at the very end of September. In October, British General Montgomery, the newly appointed commander of 8th Army, won the battle of El Alamein. The following month an Allied army landed in French North Africa, catching Axis forces in the theatre in a gigantic pincer which would eventually snap shut in 1943. Above, A Hudson MkVI bomber over the Pyramids, Summer 1942.

A January 1942 photograph of an Italian convoy caught by the RAF on the coast road during Rommel's withdrawal the previous month.

Although this photograph is blurred and undated (though it passed the censor in 1942) it gives a good impression of infantry of the 4th Indian Division moving up with a shell bursting dangerously close.

The British might have won the Gazala battles of May-June 1942, but superior German generalship and all-arms tactics eventually proved too much for them. Neverthrless, the Germans did not have it all their own way. Here a new U.S.-supplied Grant tank, which mounted a 75mm gun in its hull and a 37mm in the turret, passes a burning German tank.

A 25-pounder in action at night, June 2. These weapons were often used in the anti-tank role in the desert, and during the Gazala battles their detachments frequently fought them to a finish as German tanks overran their positions.

The Stuka dive-bomber, so useful for providing close air support, was very vulnerable without fighter support. These Messerschmitt Me 109 fighters aircraft wait at their desert strip while ground crew snatch an alfresco lunch.

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