El Alamein: the line in the sand

No more reverses. That was the message that the British Eighth Army carried into the second battle of El Alamein in October 1942. What happened next transformed British fortunes in the desert war. But, asks James Holland, did victory come at too high a price?

El Alamein battle in the Libyan desert, c1942. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

This article was first published in the November 2017 issue of BBC History Magazine.

At around 9.40pm on Friday 23 October 1942, Flight Lieutenant Tommy Thompson, a Battle of Britain and Malta veteran, was flying over the Alamein line on his return from a strafing mission. Suddenly, the guns below opened up and it seemed to Thompson that one massive flash of fire had erupted in a long line. Mesmerised, he circled around at just 3,000 feet and watched. Further away he spotted a wave of bombers pounding enemy positions too. “A magnificent sight,” he recalled. “What an artillery battle.”

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