Meeting: Alamein

Speaker: Stephen Bungay

Wednesday 10th February 2021; 7:30 pm

Woodcote Village Hall, Reading Road, Woodcote, RG8 0QY

Due to COVID-19 this Meeting has now been re-scheduled as a BMMHS Zoom Talk

This Meeting however will now take place as a BMMHS Virtual Talk. Click on the BMMHS Virtual talks & Zoom logo below for registration and joining details.

The British Modern Military History Society will this month be hosting a presentation given by broadcaster, historian and author Stephen Bungay on:-

Alamein

El Alamein. There, in October 1942, in a remote part of the desert between Libya and Egypt, the British army won an epic battle of attrition with Rommel’s Afrika Korps. It was a defeat from which Rommel would never recover and a turning point in the war, famously celebrated by Churchill as “the end of the beginning”—the line in the sand that Hitler’s forces were never able to cross. This is a trenchant reexamination of an event that has been cloaked in myth.
El Alamein was the World War II land battle Britain had to win. By the summer of 1942 Rommel’s German forces were threatening to sweep through the Western Desert and drive on to the Suez Canal, and Britain was in urgent need of military victory. 
 
Logistics was the key to keeping desert armies supplied with petrol and tank parts and had a significant impact on the combat strategies of Montgomery and Rommel respectively. Other elements included the domestic political pressures on Churchill and the aerial siege of Malta, key to the control of the Mediterranean. 
 
In October, after 12 days of attritional tank battle and artillery bombardment, Montgomery’s Eighth Army, with Australians and New Zealanders playing crucial roles in a genuinely international Allied fighting force, broke through the German and Italian lines at El Alamein. 

It was a turning-point in the war after which, in Churchill’s words, “we never had a defeat”. 

Alamein: The Key Questions

Stephen Bungay’s talk will answer a series of key questions:-
 
What were they all doing there?
Why did it go on for so long?
Why did it stop at Alamein?
Why did Churchill replace Auchinleck?
What did Monty do differently?
How was the battle won?
How was the campaign won?
Why did the battle matter?
Was Monty good, bad or indifferent?
El Alamein Painting
The Battle of El Alamein, (23 October - 4 November), 1942 British Infantry advancing, supported by a Sherman tank, past a smoking German Panzerkampfwagen Mk 3 Ausf.L and an 88 mm German anti-tank gun. The identification of the action is based on the dating of the armour: the Panzer carries supplementary armour around the turret not in use until 1942, and the use of Shermans indicates late 1942. This would rule out both Battles of Tobruk. Painting by Will Longstaff (1879-1953). © NAM. 1990-06-4-1
Monty
General Bernard Montgomery In 1942, he was appointed Eighth Army's commander in the Western Desert, where he set about transforming the fighting spirit and abilities of his men. Montgomery effectively organised the defence of El Alamein against Rommel, countering Italian and German attacks, before delivering the Allies their first major land victory of the war at the Second Battle of El Alamein in October.
Rommel
Erwin Rommel was Britain's most persistent opponent in the Second World War. Known as the Desert Fox he achieved international fame and legendary status for his daring and brilliant generalship during the battle for North Africa.
El Alamein
The El Alamein battlefield strewn with destroyed vehicles and equipment.
Alamein Soldiers Advance
British infantry advancing as darkness falls, silhouetted against the setting sun, El Alamein, 1942 The 2nd Battle of El Alamein began on 23 October 1942 with the biggest barrage the British army had fired since 1918 unleashed on the Axis positions. This was followed by the infantry advancing in the moonlight along white tape the sappers had laid to show the way through the German minefields. © NAM. 2005-05-25-7 Out of Copyright

Alamein: A land battle Britain had to win

German prisoners of war under guard by a signpost to El Alamein. © NAM. 2008-12-200-80 Out of Copyright
El Alamein
A British infantryman advancing with fixed-bayonet, El Alamein, 1942 At the Second Battle of El Alamein (23 October-4 November 1942) Allied forces in Egypt under the command of Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery broke the Axis lines and forced them into a retreat that pushed them all the way back to Tunisia. © NAM. 2005-05-25-1 Out of Copyright
El Alamein
British soldiers move forward with fixed bayonets. The 2nd Battle of El Alamein in 1942 turned the tide of battle in the Western Desert in the Allies' favour. General Montgomery spent months building up an overwhelming advantage in men and armour, before launching his attacks against Field Marshal Rommel's German and Italian troops. © NAM. 2005-05-25-4 Out of Copyright
El Alamein
A British officer armed with a revolver leading his men forward with fixed bayonets, The 2nd Battle of El Alamein in 1942 turned the tide of battle in the Western Desert in the Allies' favour. General Montgomery spent months building up an overwhelming advantage in men and armour, before launching his attacks against Field Marshal Rommel's German and Italian troops.© NAM. 2005-05-25-6 Out of Copyright
A British infantryman capturing a German tank crewman at El Alamein, 1942
A British infantryman capturing a German tank crewman at El Alamein, 1942
'A' Squadron hull down on Ruweisat Ridge in support of infantry attack, 1942 Photograph by Major Wilfred Herbert James Sale, MC, 3rd County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters). Ruweisat Ridge, a prominent geographical feature in the Western Egyptian Desert, witnessed intense fighting during the First Battle of El Alamein (1-27 July 1942) involving the 2nd New Zealand Division, 5th Indian Division, 2nd Armoured Brigade and 22nd Armoured Brigade. © NAM. 1975-03-63-8-53
El Alamein
A mine explodes close to a British artillery tractor as it advances through enemy minefields at El Alamein Unlike other battles of the desert war, El Alamein was fought on a narrow front, which offered no possibility of flanking manoeuvres. Instead the Eighth Army had to fight a bloody pitched battle in which they advanced slowly through dense minefields under a massive artillery bombardment in the teeth of ferocious enemy resistance. In a grinding battle of attrition, Montgomery used his superior resources to wear down the enemy before unleashing an armoured onslaught to effect a breakthrough that forced them into retreat. While the strategic importance of the battle may have been overstated, El Alamein was an important boost for British morale at this otherwise low point in the war. © NAM. 2005-05-25-2 Out of Copyright
Rommel's Map
British copy of Field Marshal Rommel's annotated map of El Alamein, 23 October 1942 © NAM. 2000-04-50-1

Biographical notes – Stephen Bungay

Director, Ashridge Strategic Management Centre
 
 
After graduating from Oxford and the University of Tübingen, West Germany, Stephen worked for The Boston Consulting Group for a total of seventeen years before subsequently joining the Ashridge Strategic Management Centre in 2001.
 
He teaches on executive programmes at several business schools, including Ashridge, and is a regular guest speaker at the Royal College of Defence Studies in London.  He also works as an independent consultant and conference speaker.
 
His first book on military history, The Most Dangerous Enemy – A History of the Battle of Britain, published in 2000, has now become the standard work on the subject.  A second work, Alamein, appeared in 2002.
 
His book about strategy execution, The Art of Action – How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions and Resultsappeared in 2011.  Some of its key concepts being applied in companies ranging from Shell to the Mercedes Formula 1 team and have featured in international conferences.
 
In 2004 he appeared as principle historian in the Channel 4 series ‘Spitfire Ace’ and has continued to contribute to a range of television programmes since then.
 
His current work is focussed on the most effective ways of developing strategy in an environment of high uncertainty.
Stephen Bungay
Stephen Bungay

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