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The Battle of El Alamein in late 1942 was the decisive battle of the North African campaign that lasted from 1940 until 1943 El Alamein was located 70 miles west of the main Egyptian port of Alexandria and could not be outflanked because movement of vehicles was restricted to a corridor of 40 miles between the sea and the impassable Quattara depression Although the 8th Army had overwhelming superiority in men tanks guns and aircraft and could not have lost the battle the prospect of a clear cut and decisive victory hung in the balance for eleven days The North African campaign opened at the end of 1940 when General Wavell launched a successful offensive against the Italians The Germans responded three months later by introducing into the desert the Africa Corps led by General Erwin Rommel However the successful Australian defence of the besieged fortress of Tobruk thwarted the Germans who were eventually pushed out of Cyrenaica In January 1942 Rommel again attacked and drove the British 8th Army to Gazala just west of Tobruk There was a lull in the desert war for four months until Rommel resumed the offensive Tobruk capitulated on 21 June and the 8th Army first fell back to Mersa Matruh and then to the defensive positions at El Alamein where the long retreat halted Rommel confident that he could smash his way through to Alexandria attacked the El Alamein defences on 1 July but in three days of fighting the 8th Army held against the German and Italian thrusts The 9th Australian Division which under the command of General Leslie Morshead had formed the bulk of the Australian garrison at the siege of Tobruk in 1941 and was retained in the Middle East in 1942 The Australian Government sought its return to help fight the Japanese but before it returned home it was to play a notable part in the decisive battles for Egypt in the second half
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