Richard Doherty hopes his latest book, El Alamein: 1942 - Turning Point in the Desert, will stand as a “tribute”, however small, to all those who served and died in the famous WWII North Africa campaign.
The Londonderry-born author - recognised as Ireland’s leading military historian - regards The Battle of El Alamein as not only a “pivotal moment” of the Second World War but, indeed, one of the “iconic battles” in military history.
Doherty’s new book examines all three battles that constitute El Alamein in their full context, showing how the British Eighth Army prepared for each.
“In writing this book,” says Richard Doherty, “I have tried to show how the roles of all the arms and support services from the UK, the Commonwealth and the Empire came together to play their part and how those parts were interdependent.”
The Eighth Army and El Alamein is, of course, synonymous with the soldier who oversaw the decisive battle - Bernard Montgomery, who was, as Doherty reveals, to achieve legendary status and become Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (pictured right).
Montgomery, of course, never missed an opportunity to boast of his North West roots.
The general’s family hailed from Moville on Donegal’s Inishowen Peninsula, and, during World War II, his mother, Lady Maud, still lived in the family home at New Park on the outskirts of the seaside town.
The third and final battle of El Alamein began on October 23, 1942. It opened with the largest artillery bombardment since the First World War, with more than 800 guns firing on the German and Italian artillery positions.
Such was the fury of the bombardment that it could be heard in Alexandria, some 60 miles away.
It shook the walls of the city’s Sacred Heart Convent and one of the Franciscan Missionary nuns there, Sister Mary Richard Coyle, from Rosemount in Londonderry, later recalled how the terrified sisters realised that they were listening to ‘the sound of history’.
The battle raged for two weeks before the Italo-German commander, Erwin Rommel, ordered his battered forces to retreat. By January of the following year, Allied forces had taken the city of Tripoli, capital of the Italian colony of Libya, with the first troops to enter the city being reconnaissance parties of 9th (Londonderry) Regiment.
Although the 11th Hussars, the ‘Cherrypickers’, claim that distinction, they were greeted by Irish voices demanding to know what had kept them so long.
El Alamein was the beginning of the end for German and Italian fortunes in the war.
Following on from the US Navy’s victory over the Japanese Navy at Midway in June 1942, and coming before the defeat of the Sixth German Army at Stalingrad in February 1943, as well as the turning of the Battle of the Atlantic in May 1943, El Alamein was one of the decisive victories which led to eventual Allied victory in the Second World War. ‘El Alamein: 1942 - Turning Point in the Desert’, by Richard Doherty, is published by Pen & Sword and is available from booksellers and online.