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The second Battle of El Alamein was a critical offensive against German and Italian forces in which the 2/17th Battalion, as a part of the Australian 9th Division played a critical part. The battle lasted from 23 October until 4 November 1942. El Alamein is located about 100 miles, or 160 kilometers north of Egypt’s capital.[1]

At this stage, the 2/17th Division was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Noel ‘Red Fox’ Simpson, CB, CBE, DSO & Bar.[2] [3]
The battalion had been involved in training in Lebanon and Syria for the first half of 1942, where they moved after the Battle of Tobruk. The 9th division, and subsequently the 2/17th were then moved from Syria to El Alamein, after the influx of German and Italian troops in July 1942. At this point the area had become a crucial position in the war. The 2/17th reached to forward position in mid-July. Once there the division held the area for an extended period of time (around 4 months) while the British commanding officers prepared a new offensive against the Axis forces. The battalion spent about two months during this period observing the enemy defences from early August.[4]

Australian 9th Division, which included the 2/17th, was a key part of operation Lightfoot, which aimed to cut two passages through the Axis minefields.
The original plan of breaking through with tanks was determined to be impossible. The idea then became to draw the stronger Axis units to places where they would be pinned down. [5]

On 25 October the Australians captured a point known as trig 29, which was held by the 2/48th battalion and then by the 2/17th. The second 17th suffered reasonably heavy losses here. It was, however, a key position in the battle.
Trig 29 was described by one Australian signaler as “the worst spot I have been anywhere in this war.”[6]

The Australian forces as a whole had about 22% of the casualties in this battle, even thought they only made up 10% of the forces.[7]
In the course of the battle, 62 men were killed, 203 were wounded and 4 were captured from the 2/17th Battalion.[8]

After the battle the 2/17th were recalled from the Middle East in order to address the situation in the Pacific Islands, where Japanese forces threatened mainland Australia. They left Suez aboard the Acquitania on 27 January 1943 and subsequently left Sydney on 27 February of that year.[9]

The victory at El Alamein is considered to be a major turning point in the war, and one of the major victories for the Allies in North Africa. [10]
The battle stopped any chance of the Axis entering and controlling Egypt, which would have given them access to the Middle East and the oil fields there.[11]

A notable officer in this battle who had connections to the 2/17th battalion was Lieutenant Colonel Keith Magno, who was killed in action here after suffering severe wounds on 28 October. He was originally an officer from the 2/17th before he went on to take over the 2/15th battalion. At a point in the battle, he was offered shelter, but insisted on staying with his men. He subsequently lost an arm and suffered head and stomach wounds. Despite this he remained conscious, calm and concerned about his men, before he died of his wounds two days later.[12]
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[1]Australian War Memorial, 2/17th Battalion //http://www.awm.gov.au/units/unit_11268.asp//
[2] Australian War Memorial, 2/17th Battalion War Diary http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/records/awm52/8/3/17/awm52-8-3-17-15.pdf
[3] Australian War Memorial, NX12221 Noel William 'Red Fox' Simpson, CB, CBE, DSO & Bar, //http://www.awm.gov.au/units/people_1080602.asp//
[4] Australian War Memorial, 2/17th Battalion //http://www.awm.gov.au/units/unit_11268.asp//
[5] Ibid.
[6] Australian War Memorial, Remembering 1942: The Battle of El Alamein 23 October 1942 http://www.awm.gov.au/atwar/remembering1942/alamein23/transcript.asp
[7] Ibid.
[8] Australian War Memorial, Remembering 1942: The Battle of El Alamein 23 October 1942 http://www.awm.gov.au/atwar/remembering1942/alamein23/transcript.asp
[9] Australian War Memorial, 2/17th Battalion //http://www.awm.gov.au/units/unit_11268.asp//
[10] Ibid.
[11]Australian War Memorial, El Alamein, //http://www.awm.gov.au/units/event_180.asp//
[12] Australian War Memorial, Remembering 1942: The Battle of El Alamein 23 October 1942 http://www.awm.gov.au/atwar/remembering1942/alamein23/transcript.asp


Information researched by Brenton
Editing, Layout and title images done by Dominique