Friday 5 March 2021

El Alamein, conflict archaeology to save the battlefield about to disappear

In Evidenza

The El Alamein Project is an exhaustive reconnaissance of the original locations where the battles of El Alamein took place in 1942, making it a perfect example of conflict archaeology. It involves a census and an initiative to preserve the military posts, remains, documents and material evidence that can still be found in the desert west of Alexandria, Egypt, where the Italian and German Axis forces fought against the Commonwealth and other allied nations, including France (July, August and October/November 1942).

Plans currently exist to build a large, modern city of about 2 million people between the sea and the desert. New Alamein will erase much of the battlefield and its material evidence. In fact, this process has already begun: the 8-lane motorway runs over posts that were heroically held by the Italian Folgore division. In the future, other posts will be “obliterated” as well. The El Alamein Project is also an example of public archaeology, as it sees the participation of members of the public.

In this video interview, Professor Aldino Bondesan of the University of Padua takes stock of the project, which is currently being hindered by the Libyan crisis and its administrative and military consequences, with the Egyptian authorities who view this area as a strategic point that is too close to the border. However, the study and collection of data for publication continues.

Highway over the posts of El Alamein battlefield
The 8-lane motorway running over the posts of the Folgore units in El Alamein.

El Alamein: a camera mounted on board of a Caproni

battle-of-el-alamein
A camera mounted on board of a Caproni of Regia Aeronautica

The 8-lane motorway running over the posts of the Folgore units in El Alamein. The new city of 2 million people being built on El Alamein’s former battlefield.

From conflict archaeology to intelligence data

The correlation between field activities and the observation of aerial photographs and satellite images, along with the evidence provided by historical sources, has played a decisive role in this great work of conflict archaeology.

An Italian Air Force collection has made it possible to study these invaluable historical aerial photographs. A preliminary Italian aerial reconnaissance of the battlefield just before the attempted breakthrough by Axis troops proved unsuccessful due to problems with developing the photographs. A second mission managed to bring some photographic material back to base, but the Air Force units ran out of film when they reached the very spot where the Italians and Germans were supposed to cross with their tanks to outflank the British (30 August 1942). The defences and the extension of the minefields remained unknown.

 

The gaps in intelligence caused precious time to be lost at a decisive moment. This event was certainly not the reason for the defeat, but it helped the Commonwealth forces, which had also intercepted useful information via Ultra to their advantage, to defend the front in the desert.

WATCH THE VIDEO INTERVIEW (in Italian)

The El Alamein Project is in fact a multi-faceted project that involves a number of initiatives, including the El Alamein Battlefield Historical Park. The aim is to highlight important areas of this vast site by using signs and hiking trails. A dozen trails have already been completed along the front by placing memorial stones in reinforced concrete. These indicate geographical coordinates and pay homage to the units that once fought there. The 300 volunteers that took part in the missions made it possible to place many stones all over the battlefield. One of the next steps will be to update and preserve the small museum that showcases the relics collected, to make it more appealing to visitors and to honour the memory of the fallen soldiers.

battle of el alamein
One of the memorial stones placed on El Alamein’s former battlefield

One of the memorial stones placed on El Alamein’s former battlefield.

REFERENCES

Bondesan, A. e Vendrame, T. (2015). El Alamein, Rivisitazione del campo di battaglia tra mito e attualità. Padova: Cierre Edizioni.

Link to Facebook  El Alamein Project

The El Alamein project:

Università degli Studi di Padova
SIGGMi- Società Italiana di Geografia e Geologia Militare (link)
www.congedatifolgore.com
ANPd’I-Associazione Nazionale Paracadutisti d’Italia

 

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