The Eighth Army
This famous WW2 field army had a multi-national roll-call of names
The Eighth Army was one of the most famous of the Britain’s Second World War field armies, fighting across North Africa and then in the invasion of the Italian mainland. Its order of battle reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the empire at large – with Englishmen and Scots fighting side by side with divisions from South African, New Zealand, Australia and the Indian subcontinent. At the time of the second battle of El Alamein, it even included a brigade each of Greek and Free French soldiers.
Their success against Rommel would not have been possible with the air superiority provided by the Western Desert Air Force (WDAF), a division of the RAF formed a year earlier. By the start of Operation Lightfoot, the WDAF could field 29 squadrons drawn from Britain, Australia and South Africa, a fleet of 1500 bombers, short-range fighters and reconnaissance planes.
It was their crushing superiority that protected the retreat from Mesra Matruh, prevented the Luftwaffe and Regio Aeronautica from playing any significant role in the battles of El Alamein that followed, and – at the end of October, as the Eighth Army battled on the ground – sank the Italian oil tankers Tergestea and Proserpina as they approached to Tobruk, dashing Rommel’s last hope of refuelling his Panzers. On the 24th alone, the WDAF recorded 1000 sorties over the Axis lines.
The records of RAF personnel who served in World War 2 are held by the Ministry of Defence but can be obtained by immediate next-of-kin via the RAF Disclosures Section ( www.raf.mod.uk/contact-us.cfm). The National Archives holds RAF combat reports for 1939-45; these are the after-action accounts filed by pilots and gunners following engagements with the enemy.
An American Kittyhawk Mark III in RAF service during Operation Lightfoot