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Make Your Own List. Interview by Sophie Roell. But in that very same speech, he downplayed its significance. You mentioned in your book that more than books have been written on the battle of El Alamein. It then zooms back across the Atlantic to south-western Germany where all the German generals retired after the war. Rommel was a Swabian. Then there are all the sub-narratives—about Italy or India or the Commonwealth.
And then you have the Egyptians, the Palestinians. Even the Cypriots have a dog in the fight. It was a multinational battle at a pivotal time. What about the Israelis? Why do they care? If Rommel had succeeded in breaking the British line, the plan was to fall back on Palestine. But the British were going to abandon most of Palestine and try and defend northern Palestine, so the big population centres would have been overrun.
People in Israel tell me that they grew up with this battle, their grandparents and parents telling them about it in a really intense way. And what was El Alamein? As I was reading your book, I gathered there is some confusion about exactly when and where the battle took place. There is either no confusion or an enormous amount of confusion. There were two previous battles on a similar line, one taking place in July and another taking place in September But there are many other claimants to the throne of being the pivotal battle of the Mediterranean in World War II—and possibly the entire war.
So fighting over where it happened and which bit of the campaign is important is endemic to the study of El Alamein. This idea of the battle being a decisive turning point in World War II, is that accurate? It is a turning point. There are a variety of constituencies: But, in terms of how people were thinking during World War II, it was vital. Once the British and the Allies had beaten the Germans in the field, anybody with eyes could see that the Allies were going to win. That was the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle—to show that that could be done.
It also opens up amazing strategic possibilities. You can use the Suez Canal, you can use the Mediterranean. Some months after El Alamein, you can go from England to India again—just as you would in peacetime. The Three Battles of El Alamein Professor Barr as he now is—Dr Barr when he wrote that book as a relatively young historian—did it meticulously. He weighs the arguments, the evidence. He did research all round the world: There are very few non-partisans on Alamein.