Review by Christopher Eric (Moon) Mullins
Author : Neal Dando
General – Pages : 192 | Images : 8 colour maps, 3 tables
Paperback – Date of Publication : 4th December 2023 | Size : 234mm x 156mm | ISBN : 9781804512326 | Helion Book Code : HEL1661
Neal Dando does a great job of storytelling regarding the Tank Battle at Gazala in 1942.
The Battle of Gazala, raging from May 26th to June 21st, 1942, was a pivotal clash in the WWII Western Desert Campaign. On one side, General Auchinleck’s British Eighth Army, a diverse force of soldiers from across the Commonwealth, India, and Free France, stood firm behind their fortified Gazala Line, aiming to halt the German advance. Facing them was the legendary “Desert Fox,” General Rommel, commanding the Panzerarmee Afrika, a combined German and Italian unit hungry to recapture the strategic port of Tobruk.
Rommel, known for his audacious tactics, surprised the Allies with a flanking maneuver, encircling their southernmost positions. The battle that ensued was a ferocious dance of fire and steel, with tank clashes, artillery barrages, and infantry slogging through the unforgiving desert heat. Despite initial Allied successes, Rommel’s cunning and the defenders’ communication issues allowed him to exploit weaknesses. French resistance at Bir Hacheim, a key stronghold, bought valuable time but ultimately fell, leaving the Gazala Line vulnerable. On June 5th, Rommel capitalized on the disarray and stormed through the defenses, sending the Eighth Army into retreat.
The Allies suffered heavily, losing some 98,000 men and numerous tanks. Though a victory for the Axis, the battle wasn’t without its costs. Rommel’s resources were stretched thin, and his advance was eventually halted at El Alamein. Gazala proved a crucial turning point, showcasing Rommel’s brilliance while foreshadowing the Axis’ eventual demise. It was a clash of diverse forces, a tactical masterclass, and a stark reminder of the war’s brutality and complexities.
Was the Rommel at his best?
Decisive Victory: Rommel achieved a crushing victory, outmaneuvering and defeating a numerically superior Allied force. This win effectively broke the Gazala Line and opened the path for the capture of Tobruk, further bolstering his reputation as the “Desert Fox.”
Tactical Brilliance: Rommel’s flanking maneuver around the line’s southern end was audacious and unexpected, catching the Allies off guard and exploiting their defensive weaknesses. His ability to adapt and react quickly to changing battlefield conditions was also on full display.
Leadership: Rommel led from the front, inspiring his troops with his courage and charisma. He fostered a close relationship with his men, earning their loyalty and dedication, which proved crucial in the harsh desert environment.
Overstretched Resources: The victory at Gazala came at a high cost. Rommel’s forces suffered significant losses in men and equipment, stretching his supply lines and hindering his ability to sustain further offensives.
Strategic Overreach: Despite the tactical brilliance, the push towards Egypt proved ambitious, overestimating German capabilities and underestimating the potential for Allied reinforcements. This ultimately led to Rommel’s defeat at El Alamein.
Mistakes and Missed Opportunities: Some argue that Rommel made tactical blunders at Gazala, such as neglecting to capture Bir Hacheim earlier, which could have weakened the Allied defense further. Additionally, he failed to capitalize fully on his initial momentum, allowing the Allies to escape and regroup.
While the Battle of Gazala showcased Rommel’s undeniable talent as a tank commander and strategist, it’s difficult to definitively claim it as his absolute best. Other tank battles, such as his earlier victories at Tobruk and Kharkov, arguably displayed similar tactical brilliance with arguably less strategic overreach. Ultimately, assessing his “best” performance depends on how you weigh tactical success, strategic foresight, and resource management.
Regardless of its ranking in Rommel’s military career, the Battle of Gazala remains a testament to his skills and a fascinating case study in armored warfare. It’s a battle that continues to be debated and analyzed by historians and military enthusiasts alike.
5 stars for content, context, and readability