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Editorial – Backs to the Wall

4 July 1942

Mexborough & Swinton Times – Saturday 04 July 1942

Backs to the Wall

News from the Middle East, more curt and cautious in the hour of crisis than during the false dawn of optimism when Rommel misjudged his first thrust at the Gazala line, is grim and ominous.

Exploiting their success with typical thoroughness the Germans are racing for the Nile valley, the utmost in speed and endurance being exacted from men and machines. Bereft of most of its armour, the Eighth Army is still showing plenty of fight, and mobile units scattered over a battlefield now ranging over a hundred miles or more are hanging on to the fringe of the panzer columns with bulldog grit and determination. Behind them the spearhead of the Afrika Korps presses on, ferociously eager to keep up its momentum long enough to forestall the reorganisation of reinforcements behind the El Alamein position on which British hopes are pinned.

General Auchinleck, who has personally assumed command of the Eighth Army in this grave hour, has issued an order of the day as momentous as Haig’s “backs to the wall” message. A supreme effort is called for, and though the order is addressed to men who have been fighting a gruelling battle for more than a month, with a disastrous retreat at the end of it, there is no question about the response. These men will be staunch to the end. Of that there cannot be the slightest doubt

Whether the equipment which alone can make this gallant effort of any avail is at hand remains to be shown. But the future cannot long withhold a decision one way or the other. As far as Egypt is concerned the ultimate trial of strength is upon us.

Rommel, athirst for a quick decision with Alexandria as the gleaming prize, has stretched his lines of communication to a dangerous length, but has more than once proved capable of confounding the orthodox military manuals. We cannot afford to take much comfort from his attenuated striking arm, though General Auchinleck’s Battle Groups are ceaselessly harrying the supply lines and the tank strength is being whittled away, Much depends on the persistence of our pressure on the German supply columns, the success of our units engaged in knocking out tanks, and the stubborn blocking of the coastal corridor to the delta.

This vital work is the foundation on which the final effort to save our great Eastern Mediterranean base depends The British plan has been to secure as much time as possible before submitting the issue to the final arbitrament between the rival tank forces on the banks of the Nile. These are the considerations of immediate importance. Our cause in the Middle East stands or falls not on what has been elicited in the course of the debate in the House of Commons on the vote of censure, but on the courage and ingenuity of the men on the spot, and the assembly of equipment at their present command.

Findings of the debate will serve, we hope, to mend our future campaigning. Our men in the Middle East are masters of their own fate. Their splendid fight must stiffen our resolve and strengthen our determination to give such men weapons worthy of them.