The Day Rommel Was Stopped: The Battle of Ruweisat Ridge, 2 July 1942
Major F. R. Jephson MC TD and Chris Jephson
Seventy five years in the making, this is a well researched book. Jephson senior was at the battle and although much of what is discussed is obvious to him, he does seem to assume some prior knowledge of events and of the importance of the battle. Truth be told, I wasn’t even aware of this battle.
Within the first few pages of this book I realised that I was well and truly out of my depth and before going any further I needed to carry out some research of my own in order to make sense of things. One of the benefits of this research was the discovery of several maps of the area, which this particular volume is lacking, but which made the understanding of the story so much easier. I printed off several maps and drew various troop positions and movements on them as I read through the book. It’s a real disappointment that the book contains so few diagrams for what was a complicated and chaotic time in WW2.
Although Jephson senior was at the battle, he seems to have frequently doubted his own memory of events and sought out others to add to and confirm or correct his own knowledge. We genuinely begin to understand just what had happened on that day in July when Rommel was brought to a halt by a force that was, on paper, far inferior to his and rather disparate in its composition. The research covers the build up to July 2nd 1942 and provides an understanding of how such a disparate force came to be cobbled together.
As much as anything this volume shows just what the amateur historian can achieve with dedication and patience. Archives and diaries have been uncovered, and personal recollections solicited by way of newspaper articles and letters. These recollections were absolutely fascinating and it was a real eye opener to read the very personal contents of the diaries.
Reading through the graphic descriptions I found my mind drifting and playing ‘what if.’ What if, Rommel hadn’t been stopped here: what if, Rommel had been able to crash through and carry on down to Alexandria and the Suez Canal? What direction would the war have taken?
The (second) battle of El Alamein is said to be the turning point of WW2, but what would have happened if this, the first battle, had taken a different turn? As Churchill (quoted in the book) said about 1942, “For the first six months all went ill, for the last six months all went well.” This book looks at the very pivotal point that changed our fortunes.
This book isn’t the easiest of reads, the cast of players is large and without a few maps or sketches it is difficult to envisage the various military positions: but the book more than makes up for these short-comings with its detailed content. This book would be a war gamers wet dream.
This small book (238pages in total) is a fitting tribute and memorial to those that were there and I’m more than happy to run to 4 anchors. This is one book that’s a must for the serious WW2 enthusiast.