El Alamein; This modest seaside stronghold (not a ‘city,’ as the brochures would have you think) is famous for the Allies’ decisive victory in the WWII North Africa campaign.
The Afrika Korps, led by German General Erwin Rommel (nicknamed “Desert Fox”), began an all-out onslaught from Tobruk, Libya, in June 1942.
The Axis forces with their 500 tanks got within 100 kilometers of capturing Alexandria and the strategically critical Suez Canal.
It was hardly the first effort in two years of seesaw fighting, but the Axis troops were optimistic of a breakthrough this time.
The Allies, led by General Bernard Montgomery (‘Monty,’ halted their advance with a line of defence running south from El Alamein to the Qattara Depression. Montgomery’s 8th Army swooped down from Alexandria with a thousand tanks on October 23, 1942, and destroyed the combined German and Italian troops within two weeks, pushing Rommel and the Afrika Korps back to Tunisia.
More over 80,000 men were killed or injured at El Alamein and in following fights for North African dominance. Thousands of graves in three enormous war cemeteries around the town serve as a sombre reminder of the losses.
The El Alamein War Museum and Commonwealth War Cemetery are located on a side road that departs from the main highway near the Greek war monument and rejoins it after going through the town.
Though it is feasible to spend the night at neighbouring Sidi Abdel Rahman, El Alamein is best viewed as a day excursion from Alexandria; there isn’t much here to keep anybody but the most ardent military historians occupied for more than a few hours.
1. Commonwealth War Graves Commission
This cemetery (free entrance) on the eastern side of town is a gloomy spot with approximately 7000 tombstones covering a hill overlooking the desert battlefield of El Alamein. Soldiers from the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, France, Greece, South Africa, East and West Africa, Malaysia, and India fought for the Allies. Outside, a modest separate monument honours the Australian soldiers, while another honours the Greeks a bit farther east.
2- War Memorials in Germany and Italy
A hermetically sealed sandstone stronghold stands on a cliff overlooking the sea about 7 kilometers west of El Alamein. Inside this sombre but clear remembrance of battle are the graves of German veterans and a memorial obelisk in the middle.
The Italian monument is around 4 kilometers away and has a tall, thin tower as its focal point. Before approaching the German monument, you’ll observe what looks to be a glorified milestone on the left side of the road. ‘Manc la Fortuna, non-il valore’ – ‘We were short on luck, not courage’ – is written on it in Italian.
3- The War Museum
The War Museum has a good collection of relics, uniforms, and photographic material from each countries participated in the Battle of El Alamein and the North African battles. Maps and descriptions of key stages of the war in Arabic, English, German, and Italian supplement the displays, and you may watch a 30-minute Italian-made video. Outside the museum, there is an exhibition of tanks, artillery, and battlefield weapons.