A Brief History Of The Eighth Army And The Desert War

The Eighth Army, formed in September 1941, was a diverse formation made up of units from all corners of the British Empire, with infantry divisions coming from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India.

Eighth Army
The original core of the army was based on the Western Desert Force, fighting in the North African campaign.  It comprised of the 7th Armoured Division and 4th Indian Division, which had had success in the early fighting of Operation ‘Compass’ during 1940-1941.

By October 1942, the Eighth Army was made up of 7 British divisions and 4 Commonwealth divisions, including the 4th and 5th Indian Divisions, 9th Australian Division and the New Zealand Division.

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Soldiers Of The 4Th Indian Division Relax In A Tent In The Desert

A canteen group comprising Gurkhas, Rajputanas, Jats, Sikhs and men of the Essex Regiment, 1943, by Anthony Gross. He had requested that he travel to the Middle East to record the 4th Indian Division, who had distinguished themselves in the Battle of Alamein the previous year.

Commonwealth troops became famous as a result of their role in North Africa.

The 9th Australian Division’s defence of Tobruk, a port city in Libya, under the command of Major-General Morshead, gave them the ironic nickname the ‘Rats of Tobruk’. 1st South African Division and 18th Indian Infantry Brigade defended the Alamein Line on 1 July 1942. The ensuing counterattack by 5th Indian Division and the New Zealand Division finally halted German General Erwin Rommel’s advance.

In the later Tunisian campaign, 4th Indian Division, commanded by Major-General Tuker, were present at the Eighth Amy’s last battle at Wadi Akarit, when the formation undertook a successful night attack.

The Eighth Army depended upon the manual labour of the Royal Pioneer Corps, which included units such as the Auxiliary African Pioneer Corps. Commonwealth forces also contributed to Special Forces with the New Zealanders, Indians and Rhodesians serving in the Long Range Desert Group.

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Australian And South African Forces In North Africa

South African and Australian soldiers play a game of cards in a gun pit, 21 July 1942.