By Arnold Blumberg An old cliché admonishes, “Bad things always come in threes.” Whether it was thought of as a law of nature or merely coincidence, a rapid succession of events in North Africa during the summer of 1942 seemed to confirm this widely held notion among the officers and men of the British Eighth Army. The first event was the Battle of Gazala (May 26-June 15), which witnessed a resurgent German-Italian Panzerarmee Afrika under Erwin Rommel tear through the fortified British Commonwealth defensive lines. That success forced the British—almost in rout—to flee east over the Libyan-Egyptian border. The second event was the surprisingly quick collapse in just two days (June 20-21) of the British fortress of Tobruk, which had the year before withstood an Axis siege of eight months. And with Tobruk’s fall came the capture of 32,000 Commonwealth troops and a promotion to field marshal bestowed on its conqueror, Rommel. The third event was Eighth Army’s bungled defensive stand at Mersa Matruh, with the loss of a further 7,000 British prisoners of war, on June 26 and 27, which should have delayed if not stopped the enemy’s advance, resulting instead in another precipitate British retreat deeper into Egypt. On June 25, just before the fiasco at Mesra Matruh, the commander of all British forces in the Middle East, General Sir Claude Auchinleck, took personal charge of Eighth Army’s operations. From the fall of Tobruk to the moment the stampede of English


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