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27th July 1942: Allies halt the Axis advance in the First Battle of El Alamein

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On the 27th July 1942, Allied forces in North Africa stopped the advancing Axis powers in the First Battle of El Alamein. Having been defeated at the Battle of Gazala in Libya the previous month, the British Eighth Army had retreated first to the Egyptian town of Marsa Matrouh 100 miles inside the border and then to the more easily defended line at El Alamein just 80 miles away from the city of Alexandria. This was effectively the Allies’ final hope of protecting Egypt’s Mediterranean ports, the British headquarters in Cairo and, ultimately, the Suez Canal. The Allied position at Alamein marked the narrowest defensible area between the sea and the Qattara Depression, which lay 20 miles to the south. The position ensured that Erwin Rommel, the German tank commander, would be unable to use his favoured form of attack which involved outflanking his enemy. Furthermore, the position stretched the Axis supply line perilously thin and so starved the advancing army of water, fuel and ammunition. Despite these resource problems, Rommel ordered the 90th Light Infantry Division to begin its advance at 3am on the 1st July. Although the Axis did eventually succeed in breaking through, the advance took most of the day and gave the Allies time to organise more defences along the line. The battle continued for nearly 4 weeks, with both sides attacking and counter-attacking. However, in the end the battle ended in stalemate with both sides taking time to reorganise and re-equip. However, the Allies had succeeded in stopping the Axis advance.