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Battle of El Agheila
Part of Western Desert Campaign
AfricaMap5.jpg
The Withdrawal of the Axis forces through North Africa.
Date 11 December – 18 December 1942[1]
Location El Agheila, Libya
Result Axis Retreat
Belligerents
 United Kingdom
 Poland
 New Zealand
Flag of Germany 1933.svg Germany
Flag of Italy (1861-1946).svg Italy
Commanders
United Kingdom Harold Alexander
United Kingdom Bernard Law Montgomery
Germany Erwin Rommel
Area of Rommel's retreat from El Alamein to El Agheila November 4, 1942 – November 23, 1942 (Click to enlarge)

The Battle of El Agheila was a minor battle during the Second World War, which occurred in December 1942 between the Allied forces (British Eighth Army), led by Bernard Law Montgomery, and the Axis forces (German-Italian Panzer Army) led by Erwin Rommel, during the Axis long withdrawal from El Alamein to Tunis. It ended with a full Axis retreat.

Contents

Background

  • On November 4, 1942, Rommel decided ultimately to end the desperate fighting at El Alamein, and withdrew westwards to Libya, defying the "Stand to the last" orders of his Führer Adolf Hitler, not for mere defying, but to save his forces from annihilation [2].
  • On November 5, Rommel's forces reached the village Fuka. The Italian forces had already been there (withdrew from El Alamein on 3-4 November) and formed a defensive line. However the Italians resumed their withdrawal on the same day. After a successful attack of the British forces, the German forces followed the Italians in their withdrawal. [3 ]
  • Rains fell on the front after the noon of November 6, so a great part of the Axis forces continued the withdrawal [4], while the British found it difficult to chase Axis forces and taking advantage of the Allied air superiority.
  • On November 7, a new defense-line was established at Marsa Matruh, and on the same day Rommel received a warning from Hitler about an expected Allied landing between Tobruk, and Benghazi.[3 ]
  • On the next day, Rommel found out that Hitlers expectation was wrong, but he knew about the Anglo-American landing in Morocco and Algeria (Operation Torch). Facing these news he decided to withdraw in one bound to El Agheila.[3 ].

Withdraw from Cyrenaica

  • Axis forces evacuated Sidi Barrani on November 9, and Halfaya Pass (on the Libyan-Egyptian border) on November 11.[3 ]
  • The whole of Cyrenaica was evacuated without serious resistance. However, Rommel wanted Tobruk to stay in Axis hands as long as it could be possible, to save 10,000 tons of equipment.[5] The British took Tobruk on November 13. [3 ]
  • Derna, and its airfield Martuba, fell on November 15. [6] Despite the importance of Benghazi's port to the supplies of the Axis forces, Rommel had to evacuate Benghazi to escape any possible interception by the British in the same way the latter intercepted the Italians at the Battle of Beda Fomm in February 1941.[7]
  • Rommel ordered the port facilities in Benghazi, and military equipment on it to destroyed. It seems that he was sorry for that. He wrote:"…in Benghazi, we destroyed the port facilities and platforms, and the chaos overwhelmed the civilians in this miserable town..".[8].Benghazi fell to the British on November 20. Three days later, the Axis forces evacuted Agedabia and fell back to Marsa Brega. [3 ]
  • During their withdrawal to Marsa Brega, the Axis forces faced many difficulties:
  1. The British air superiority targeting the Axis supply columns.
  2. Crowding of the Axis forces on the Coastal road.
  3. Shortage of fuel necessary for vehicles' transport.
  • To dely the British advance at any cost, the Axis sappers laid mines in the Marsa Brega area. Sometimes, they laid helmets to mislead British mine detectors.[9]

The Deadlock

  • No important actions took place during the eighteen days between the evacuation of Agedabia on November 23, and the beginning of the Battle of El Agheila on December 11, henceforth, historians paid a little attention to this period. However, Rommel described in detail this period in his memories. He engaged in fruitless bitter arguments with Hitler, Göring, Kesselring (German commander of the Mediterranean theatre), Cavallero (Italian chief of staff), and Bastico (Governor of Libya).[10] Rommels idea was to withdraw to Tunis as soon as possible, while they wanted to stand at the Marsa Brega line as long as possible.[11]
  • Meanwhile, the British had their own difficulties. They had to supply their forces far from Egypt to Agedabia. Despite the distance between Alexandria and Tobruk is only 440 miles (704 km) long, supplying the forces wasn't a big problem because of the existence of the railroads between them. By contrast, although the distance between Tobruk and Agedabia is shorter (390 miles, 624 km), supplying the British forces is much more difficult in this area, because the supplies must be transported either on the Via Balbia road, or by sea (to Benghazi, then to Agedabia). [12].

Battle of El Agheila

  • The British assault on the Axis positions on Marsa Brega, and El Agheila began on the night of December 11-12. The Axis forces engaged, after a few time, with a British reconnaissance force at Merduma (60 miles, 96 km west of El Agheila) behind the Axis lines, so Rommel decided to withdraw. By the evening of December 12 the Axis withdrawal began[13], except for some units covering the withdrawal.[3 ]
  • On December 13, Axis reconnaissance aircraft discovered some 300 vehicles north of Marada oasis (75 miles, 120 km south of El Agheila)[3 ], this means for the Axis forces the danger to get outflanked, so the withdrawal continued . While in the north, a British attack was held back by the Italians.[14]
  • On December 15-16, isolated engagements occurred between the two combatants. On December 17, the bulk of the German forces withdrew from El Agheila.[3 ]
  • On December 18, a short, but fierce fighting took place at Nofilia (100 miles, 160 km west of El Agheila), so the battle of El Agheila was over.[3 ]

Aftermath

Rommel withdrew to Buerat, with the intention to withdraw to Tunis, but he had to establish a new line at Buerat under the pressure of his superiors.

Notes

  1. ^ There is a one-day deffirence in the dates between the memories of Rommel, and those of his rearguard commander, von der Heydte, and the contributor tried to reconcile between the two sources
  2. ^ The Rommel Papers, p.561
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Purnell's History.., P.1148
  4. ^ Purnell's History.., P1148
  5. ^ The Rommel Papers, p.602
  6. ^ Purnell's History.., P1148
  7. ^ The Rommel Papers, p.604
  8. ^ The Rommel Papers, p.610
  9. ^ Purnell's History.., PP.1147-1148, & The Rommel Papers, p. 611
  10. ^ The History of World War II, Orbis.., p. 1067
  11. ^ The Rommel Papers, pp. 621, 626
  12. ^ Purnell's History.., P.1248
  13. ^ The Rommel Papers, p. 642
  14. ^ The Rommel Papers, p. 644

References

  • Basil Henry Liddell-Hart (ed.),” The Rommel Papers”, the Arabic language|Arabic version, translated to Arabic by Abdullah Fathi An Nimr, Maktabat al Anglo-Misriya, Cairo.
  • Basil Henry Liddell-Hart (ed.), "Purnell's History of the Second World War", 30 vols, Phoebus Publishing Company, London, 1980.
  • Peter Young (ed.), "The History of World War II", Orbis Publication, 30 vols., 1983.

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