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Australia's War 1939 - 1945
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An RAAF fighter pilot arriving back from a dawn patrol, landing a Curtiss P-40 'Kittyhawk' at an airfield in Egypt, October 1942.
[AWM MED0680]
Propaganda leaflets using a rough copy of the 9th Division platypus and boomerang emblems. The Germans dropped these over the Australian troops at El Alamein in September 1942.
[AWM 025015]
The El Alamein Railway station cemetery in Egypt.
[AWM 024831]
Gallery
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Sapper Bill Rudd
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video gallery
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El Alamein October-November 1942
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A machine gun crew photographed soon after the Australians had repulsed a German attack on a ridge at
El Alamein, November 1942.
[AWM 013660]

I want to congratulate you on the magnificent work your Division has done on the right part of the line. Your men are absolutely splendid and the part they have played is beyond all praise.

[General Montgomery sent this message to General Morshead,
quoted in John Glenn, Tobruk to Tarakan, p.14]

Between 1940 and late 1942 the British Empire and Dominion forces struggled against the German and Italian 'Axis' forces in North Africa as the Axis forces tried to capture the Suez Canal and take control of the Middle East oilfields.

On 1 September 1942, Australians from the 2/15th Battalion crossed a minefield and seized an enemy post about 3 kilometres from Tel el Eisa, near El Alamein. They were forced to withdraw, their brief raid costing 39 Australian lives, 100 wounded and 25 missing.

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Gunners of the 2/8th Field Regiment AIF fire a 25-pounder field gun at German positions on the coastal sector, El Alamein. November 1942
[AWM 024513]

Seven weeks later, on 23 October 1942, El Alamein in the western desert of Egypt became the scene of one of the major battles of World War II. The British Eighth Army, which included the 9th Australian Division under Lieutenant-General Sir Leslie Morshead, was pitted against Field Marshal Erwin Rommel with four German and eight Italian divisions.

During the next 10 days, aircrews of the Royal Air Force's Desert Air Force, which included men from the Royal Australian Air Force, flew many sorties in support of the ferocious ground battles. Rommel began to withdraw his troops to the Libyan border at dawn on 4 November, ending the Battle of El Alamein, but the Allies pursued their defeated enemies until May 1943 when the Axis forces in North Africa finally surrendered.

The Battle of El Alamein was the last great imperial battle. More than 13,500 men in the Eighth Army were killed, wounded or missing including 2,694 Australians from the 9th Division, approximately one-fifth of the Eighth Army's total casualties.

 

 

The struggle at the 'saucer'
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2/32nd Battalion holding German counter-attack,
El Alamein,
31 October 1942,
William Dargie, 1943
[Oil on hardboard, 39 x 45.4 cm AWM ART22251]
Field Marshall Montgomery, Commander of the British Eighth Army, originally planned his break out operation, 'Super-charge', for the night of 31 October-1 November 1942. However, to ensure that it was adequately planned and prepared, the attack was postponed until the night of 1-2 November. During this planning stage it was vital that the pressure remained on the enemy and the 9th Australian Division launched an ambitious attack with two brigades on the night of 31 October-1 November. The 2/32nd Battalion's role was to capture the enemy's position at the main road at Barrel Hill. Forming defensive flanks to the north, northwest and west, they would form a screen for the 2/48th and the 2/24th Battalions to advance. In the last stage of the attack, the 2/32nd would provide the 2/3rd Pioneer Battalion with anti-tank gun and machine-gun support.

On the night of 30 October 1942, the 2/32nd Battalion under Lieutenant-Colonel Balfe assembled for its attack due to begin at 10 pm. A German sniper shot at two of the battalion's officers who were reconnoitering before the attack, killing one of the officers. Casualties increased during their advance on the railway line. Despite their increasing casualties, the Australians captured the vital bridgehead known as the 'saucer', the 1 kilometre area which included the German medical post, the Blockhouse, Barrel Hill and a crossing in the railway embankment. During the next day the Australians struggled to hold the area as together with British troops they fought a furious battle against the counter-attack by German tanks. By the evening of 1 November the exhausted and depleted Australian units were still holding their positions at the 'saucer'.

The Eighth Army launched 'Operation Supercharge' at 1.05 am on 2 November.

 

 

Australia at war 3 September 1939
Libya and the Siege of Tobruk 1941
Greece and Crete April-May 1941
Syria and Lebanon June 1941
Malaya December 1941 to Moresby May 1942
Australia under attack 1940-1945
Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay May-September 1942
El Alamein October-November 1942
The Home Front 1939-1945
The Coastwatchers 1941-1945
Australian prisoners of war 1940-1945
Little-known operations 1939-1945
Papua 1942-1943
The Japanese retreat March 1943-January 1944
War at sea 1939-1945
Air war Europe 1939-1945
Bougainville, Borneo, New Britain, New Guinea 1944-1945
8 May 1945/15 August 1945
Australia at war 3 September 1939
Libya and the Siege of Tobruk 1941
Greece and Crete April-May 1941
Syria and Lebanon June 1941
Malaya December 1941 to Moresby May 1942
Australia under attack 1940-1945
Coral Sea, Kokoda, Milne Bay May-September 1942
El Alamein October-November 1942
The Home Front 1939-1945
The Coastwatchers 1941-1945
Australian prisoners of war 1940-1945
Little-known operations 1939-1945
Papua 1942-1943
The Japanese retreat March 1943-January 1944
War at sea 1939-1945
Air war Europe 1939-1945
Bougainville, Borneo, New Britain, New Guinea 1944-1945
8 May 1945/15 August 1945
8 May 1945/15 August 1945
A RAAF fighter pilot arriving back from a dawn patrol, landing a Curtiss P-40 ‘Kittyhawk’ at an airfield in Egypt, October 1942.
[AWM MED0680]
Propaganda leaflets using a rough copy of the 9th Division platypus
and boomerang emblems. The Germans dropped these over the
Australian troopsat El Alamein in September 1942.
[AWM 025015]
The El Alamein Railway station cemetery in Egypt.
[AWM 024831]