El Alamein – 80th Anniversary

After the fall of Tobruk on 21 June 1942, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and his Panzers turned east and commenced a very rapid advance. Nine days later the British Eighth Army had retreated to El Alamein where defensive positions were taken up. Intermittent heavy fighting continued and 208 Squadron’s pilots flew tactical reconnaissance (Tac R) sorties in support of XIII Corps, but losses were high with fourteen pilots, including the Squadron Commander, Wing Commander J.K. Rogers, failing to return. Two had been taken prisoner.

The new GOC Eighth Army, Lieutenant General Sir Bernard Montgomery issued his plans on 14 September for Operation Lightfoot to be launched during the October moon period. Lieutenant General B.G. Horrocks, the dynamic GOC of XIII Corps, visited the squadron and briefed the pilots on the ground situation and future plans. The unique relationship that existed between the Eighth Army and the Desert Air Force (DAF) extended down to unit level where army liaison officers (ALO) served on the squadron. As the Eighth Army prepared to launch its attack, squadron HQ was established at Wadi Natrun (LG 202) with one flight operating from Burg-el-Arab.

The squadron was in constant demand to provide reports on enemy movements and build-up of forces. On 19 September, over 700 motor transports were found together with tanks and fifty artillery pieces. The following day a further 800 transports were observed. As the time for the commencement of the Battle of El Alamein approached, these reconnaissance flights became crucially important and fighters of 243 Wing, in addition to a weaver supplied by 40 Squadron SAAF, accompanied each Tac R and photographic reconnaissance sortie.

General Montgomery had decided to launch his attack on the night of 23/24 October with a sharp bombardment of 900 guns as the infantry of XXX Corps advanced though the minefields in the north. Lieutenant General Horrocks paid another visit to the squadron; he had lunch with the pilots and briefed them on the plan of action. He emphasised the type of information the army required from the late afternoon sortie, to be flown by Flying Officer Peter Perry.

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