Introduction: Desert Rats (01:44)
Britain’s 7th Armored Division, led by Bernard Montgomery, was known as the Desert Rats. Their war started in Egypt in 1940. Later they fought in Tunisia and Italy; and finally, they landed at Normandy and advanced on Belgium, Holland and Germany.
Egyptian Origins (02:00)
Egypt came under threat as Italian dictator Benito Mussolini sought to expand his African empire. Egypt was strategically essential to the British because of the Suez Canal, and the Brits formed a new mobile division to counter the problem.
The 7th Armored Division was made up of two armored brigades, a support group and a reconnaissance regiment, the 11th Hussars. The division used a mix of light and larger cruiser tanks and was considered an elite unit from the start.
Fighting in Egypt and Libya (08:47)
The Desert Rats drove the much larger Italian forces out of Egypt, winning a decisive victory at the Battle of Beda Fomm. Germany sent reinforcements, led by Erwin Rommel, and the Brits suffered heavy casualties under fire from the Nazis’ advanced anti-tank guns.
Desert Conditions (04:03)
The Desert Rats faced harsh conditions, ranging from sandstorms to extreme heat. Water was strictly rationed, food came in cans, and troops were lucky to get four hours of sleep a night. Yet the desert campaign was considered “a clean war,” with few civilians and other distractions to get in the way.
Taking on Rommel (05:32)
The 7th Armored Division fought a grim tank battle for control of the airfield at Sidi Rezegh. Rommel attacked in January 1942, driving British forces back to Gazala. Tubruk fell, and the allies were driven back to the El Alamein line.
Victory in Libya (03:35)
The Desert Rats and other units of the 8th Army launched an assault on El Alamein on Oct. 23, 1942. The Allies gradual wore down Rommel’s forces, which were in full retreat by November; they re-took Tripoli in January 1943.
Victory in North Africa (05:02)
American and British forces arrived in Morocco and Algeria in November 1942, advancing into Tunisia to engage forces guarding Rommel’s rear flank. Montgomery and the 8th Army advanced from the east, and the Axis forces in North Africa finally surrendered on May 11, 1943.
Italy Invasion (03:19)
The 7th Armored Division crossed the Mediterranean to support American forces invading Italy. They had to adjust their tactics to Europe’s mountainous terrain. Montgomery took command of the 21st Army Group and took the Desert Rats with him to England.
Operation Goodwood (04:37)
The Desert Rats played a crucial role in fending off the German armored assaults that attempted to destroy the Allied beachhead after D-Day. They also participated in Montgomery’s massive, armored push in eastern France.
Advance to Germany (01:52)
The end of the war was in sight, but the race to Germany’s border came to a halt as Allied supply lines snapped during the summer of 1944. Desert Rats Corporal Bob Pass delivered a special Christmas message via the BBC but tragically died a few weeks later.
Final Push Through Germany (03:47)
The Desert Rats participated in intense fighting to clear Germans from the approaches to the Rhine and crossed the river in March 1945. They liberated a prisoner-of-war camp near Fallingbostel before taking Hamburg on May 3.
Credits: Gladiators of World War II: Desert Rats (00:56)
Credits: Gladiators of World War II: Desert Rats
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