Decisive moment of war
"This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
That is what Prime Minister Winston Churchill told the British people after our Eighth Army had won the battle of El Alamein in November 1942.
Jonathan Dimbleby was talking on Saturday about his new book Destiny in the Desert and said Churchill made the most of this victory in the pitiless Egyptian desert as Britain had suffered three years with painfully little success against the Germans and Japanese in the Second World War.
In these islands, Alamein rose to the height of Blenheim and Trafalgar in the pantheon of great military successes, but many historians and the Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin saw the whole North African campaign as merely a sideshow in the war.
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But Jonathan Dimbleby, whose father Richard reported from the Middle East for the BBC, argued pithily that the North African campaign played a crucial part in securing the Allied victory in 1945.
By persuading the Americans that the Allies should drive the Italians and Germans out of North Africa before invading northern France, Churchill had saved the British Empire, and prevented the successful D-Day landings of 1944 from being launched prematurely and disastrously in 1942 or 1943.
This was achieved, Jonathan Dimbleby explained, despite Americans thinking the Empire should be broken up, and largely through Churchill's wooing of their President, Franklin Roosevelt.
Italy's dictator Benito Mussolini wanted to revive the Roman Empire and regarded the Mediterranean as an Italian lake, so in 1940 he invaded Egypt, an essential pivot of the British Empire because of the Suez canal, from his colony of Libya.
Mussolini remarked that he needed only "a few thousand dead so I can sit at the peace conference as a man who fought" and claim a share of the territorial spoils.
However his generals and soldiers showed less enthusiasm for fighting in fly-infested heat and Hitler sent seasoned German troops under star General Rommel to bolster his failing Italian allies.
Rommel achieved remarkable success with small forces until British General Montgomery sent him into full-scale retreat from Alamein, which is only 50 miles from Cairo.
Then the allies were able to invade what Churchill called "the soft underbelly of Europe" and knock Italy out of the war.
Jonathan Dimbleby said the underbelly was not that soft, but the Italian front took German troops away from the crucial Eastern, and later the Western, front after D-Day.