The seventieth anniversaries of Second World War milestones are being ticked off each year with the usual round of documentaries, special-edition magazines, and, of course, new books. This autumn it is the turn of the Battle of Alamein, that most iconic of clashes in the North African campaign. In fact, the defeat of all Axis forces in North Africa in Tunisia in May 1943 was a far greater victory – in turns of numbers, bigger even than Stalingrad – but Alamein was nonetheless an important moment in British fortunes during the war, and both recognised and celebrated as such at the time. It is also the case that General Montgomery, newly commanding the Eighth Army, made a meal of it with his decidedly questionable deployment of artillery derived from tactics used at the Western Front in 1914–18. What should have been all over in forty hours took ten days of hard, grinding slog, and it is very likely it would have taken even longer had it not been for the Herculean efforts of the RAF and the extraordinary and elaborate pre-battle deception plan, codenamed Operation Bertram, which is the subject of Rick Stroud’s new book.
It is all well and good publishing new accounts to coincide with anniversaries, but only so long as they bring something fresh and genuinely new to our understanding of the subject, and I will freely admit my heart sank when The Phantom Army of Alamein landed on my desk. Haven’t