Crucial element of the successful British breakthrough in the Western Desert. The British Eighth Army’s effort to prevent an Italo-German descent on Alexandria and Suez culminated successfully at El Alamein (24 October–4 November 1942).
At the battle’s outset, Axis forces fielded some 675 aircraft. The Luftwaffe’s contribution was 275, Italy’s Regia Aeronautica 400. Of these, approximately 350 were serviceable. Royal Air Force and attached U.S. Army Air Forces aircraft numbered 750, including some 530 serviceable machines. They comprised an Anglo-American Desert Air Task Force (DATF) under U.S. command. The DATF’s fighters and light bombers would be used against Italo-German forces in the battle itself while RAF and U.S. Army Middle East Air Force heavy bombers struck lines of communication and reinforcement stretching back to Tobruk, Benghazi, and Tripoli. Additionally, aircraft based on Malta and the Royal Navy’s carriers successfully continued their interdiction of Axis maritime reinforcement.
From the opening barrage, preceded by a wave of 125 medium bombers blasting German and Italian artillery batteries, Allied airpower dominated the skies. Of particular note was the USAAF’s 57th Fighter Group’s aerial victory on 27 October. Sixteen of the Group’s Curtiss P-40 “Warhawks” decisively scattered—with no loss to themselves—a force of some 60 German and Italian fighters and dive-bombers, downing seven in the process. All the while, 12th Medium Bombardment Group’s North American B-25 “Mitchells” and RAF Douglas DB-7 “Bostons” savaged Axis armored formations, infantry positions, and assembly areas. These constant attacks helped disrupt Axis counterattacks and forced German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel to initiate a withdrawal on 3–4 November.The British advance to Tunisia had begun.
References Hammel, Eric. Air War Europa: America’s Air War Against Germany in Europe and North Africa. Chronology, 1942–1945. Pacifica, CA: Pacifica Press, 1994. Heckmann, Wolf. Rommel’s War in Africa. Trans. Stephen Seago. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981. Young, Peter, ed. Atlas of the Second World War. New York: Paragon/G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1979.