The Day Rommel Was Stopped: The Battle of Ruweisat Ridge – 2 July 1942.


by Major F. R. Jephson and Chris Jephson. Hardback. 238 pages.
Reviewed by Russ Lockwood


Written in a memoir style, with a hint of a detective story in tracking down sources, the elder Jephson was able to collect information from the diaries of various British officers to supplement his own memories and the official histories obtained from the Imperial War Museum. This informal style highlights the journey of the former soldier of obtaining the truth about the battle and placing it in context of stopping the Afrika Korps from slicing through the El Alamein position.

The short version is that the Germans and Italians circled around the Mersa Matruh (Egypt) position and raced for Alexandria. Here, they were repulsed by the South Africans, but overran the Indian 18th Brigade on July 1, 1942, in essence punching a hole in the El Alamein line. An ad hoc group, called Robcol (i.e. Rob’s column) after its commanding officer Brigadier Rob Waller, was shoved into the gap just south of the coast road. RobCol consisted of four troops and an anti-tank battery of the 11th Field Artillery Regiment plus Company C of the 1st/4th Essex Regiment.


This scratch force of two dozen or so guns and about 250 infantry held off the tanks and infantry of the Afrika Korps at one end of Ruweisat Ridge on July 2, 1942. Without their effort, the Germans would have slipped around the South Africans in a maneuver not unlike that at Mersa Matruh and be 60km down the road in Alexandria in no time. After that, Mussolini could mount his white horse and ride into Cairo like a Roman Emperor.

Western Desert. Image from web.

Jephson’s argument: This battle by Robcol was the, as in THE, turning point of the war. Precious German tanks were brewed up, infantry cut down, Rommel stopped, Egypt saved, and this stalwart defense set up the continuing success of the El Alamein battles.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80"><br>Well, certainly it could be considered the turning point in the retreat across the North African desert. It certainly goes to show how a wee bit of stubbornness in the right place at the right time can alter events on a larger scale than the win or loss of a single skirmish. It bought time for other units to firm up the British line.
Well, certainly it could be considered the turning point in the retreat across the North African desert. It certainly goes to show how a wee bit of stubbornness in the right place at the right time can alter events on a larger scale than the win or loss of a single skirmish. It bought time for other units to firm up the British line.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80"><br>Best of all, you can re-create the Robcol battle on a tabletop almost at the squad level, and certainly at the platoon level, since there are so few troops on both sides.
Best of all, you can re-create the Robcol battle on a tabletop almost at the squad level, and certainly at the platoon level, since there are so few troops on both sides.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80"><br>Slightly off topic, the march of some British troops from Iraq to El Alamein gives some indication of how far and fast motorized units can move across a friendly rear area. According to Brigade Major B.A.G. Jones' diary at the time: May 21 (traveled 145 miles), May 22 (101 miles), May 23 (?), May 24 (96), May 25 (103), May 26 (120), May 27 (79 and a rest), May 22 (120), May 29 (100), May 30 (200 miles). All told that's over 1,000 miles in nine days (p89-91).
Slightly off topic, the march of some British troops from Iraq to El Alamein gives some indication of how far and fast motorized units can move across a friendly rear area. According to Brigade Major B.A.G. Jones’ diary at the time: May 21 (traveled 145 miles), May 22 (101 miles), May 23 (?), May 24 (96), May 25 (103), May 26 (120), May 27 (79 and a rest), May 22 (120), May 29 (100), May 30 (200 miles). All told that’s over 1,000 miles in nine days (p89-91).

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80"><br>Robcol units performed a similar road march from Northern Iraq to Egypt — indeed, the 11th Field Artillery arrived at Mersa Matruh just in time to be surrounded by the Germans and most punched their way eastward to avoid capture. They retreated to El Alamein and were intercepted and stuffed into the gap.
Robcol units performed a similar road march from Northern Iraq to Egypt — indeed, the 11th Field Artillery arrived at Mersa Matruh just in time to be surrounded by the Germans and most punched their way eastward to avoid capture. They retreated to El Alamein and were intercepted and stuffed into the gap.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80"><br>The book is very much a personal creation of the elder Jephson, with all the tumble and jumble of research that he did. I can almost see Jephson sitting across from me, talking about how he found this or that fact that jogged his own memory. What it lacks in polish, it makes up for it in charm.
The book is very much a personal creation of the elder Jephson, with all the tumble and jumble of research that he did. I can almost see Jephson sitting across from me, talking about how he found this or that fact that jogged his own memory. What it lacks in polish, it makes up for it in charm.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80"> Enjoyed it! Enjoyed it!

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