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January 06 , 2009



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. Then, 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". Stephen Bungay's book is as much at home analysing the crucial logistics of keeping desert armies supplied with petrol and tank parts as it is reappraising the combat strategies of Montgomery and Rommel, and ranges widely from the domestic political pressures on Churchill to the aerial siege of Malta, key to the control of the Mediterranean. And in a chapter on "The Soldier's War", Bungay graphically evokes the phantasmagoric blur of thunderous cannonade and tormenting heat that was the lot of the individual men who actually fought and died in the desert.

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