Remembering the Battle of El Alamein

The Port Alfred Moths commemorated the Battle of El Alamein in a parade at the Battleaxe Shellhole recently.

Although there are no World War 2 veterans left in the ranks of the Port Alfred Moths, other old soldiers keep the memory alive of those who went before them.

Old Bill Mark Schroder related the history of the battle. He said South Africa had entered World War 2 by going into Abyssinia (Ethiopia) to fight Italian troops. They successfully pushed the Italians out of Abyssinia, and many Italian POWs were sent to South Africa, some even to Port Alfred.

After that, South African troops joined the Allies in North Africa, also to fight Italians.

Adolf Hitler sent Field Marshall Erwin Rommel and the German Afrika Korps to North Africa to help Italy. Rommel’s plan was to take Egypt. If he was successful, he would have been able to move into Palestine, then Iraq and even to the borders of northern India, and cut off Britain’s allies.

The South Africans suffered badly at the Battle of Tobruk, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sent General Bernard Montgomery to North Africa to lead the Allied troops.

The Battle of El Alamein was fought at the same time as the Battle of Stalingrad in Russia.

“If either of those battles had gone differently, the war might have been over for the Allies,” Schroder said.

The first Battle of El Alamein was fought in June 1942. The Axis forces ran into South Africans again, but this time the South Africans stopped them. As a result Italian dictator Benito Mussolini left Italy, but Rommel fought on.

Rommel had 10,000 vehicles at his disposal, including tanks, armoured cars and trucks.

Montgomery decided to attack first, on October 23 1942. Both he and Rommel were World War 1 veterans, and they both knew what trench warfare was like and wanted to avoid that. The strategy was to keep moving.

South African artillery provided a five-hour barrage with 25-pounder guns, after which sappers went in and cleared minefields, then the infantry moved in. South African forces lost 600 men in the first three days of the battle – the British lost 2,000 men in the same time.

But by November 4 fighting had ceased and the Allies advanced continuously on Rommel’s forces until he was forced to retreat from Africa in early 1943.

This opened the way for the Allies to invade Sicily and the rest of Italy.

Moths stood on parade for the last post and reveille, and lay minister Kathy Cutter led a devotional in honour of the sacrifice of the soldiers who laid down their lives.

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