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Middle East 1930 - 1947:

Western Desert 1940 - 1943 Overview and Higher Formations

Before the Second World War commenced in September 1939, the only British military presence in North Africa was the large military garrison in Egypt. Libya was an Italian colony; with Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco all being French colonies. The entry of Italy into the Second World War in June 1940 changed this theatre of operations from a sideshow into the main area of British military activity from June 1940 until the end of 1942. Indeed, with the evacuation of the British forces from France at the beginning of June 1940, the Middle East was the one area where British military forces could be deployed operationally to persecute the war.

Middle East Command was formed in August 1939 to assume overall responsibility for all operational and static formations stationed in the Middle East. It remained in being until 1967.


Order of Battle Structure Diagram(s)
» 1941 Middle East Order of Battle Structure Diagrams
» 42 8 Army Order of Battle Structure Diagrams
» 43 02 M.E.L.F. Order of Battle Structure Diagram

Higher Formations History and Personnel
» Middle East Command History & Personnel
» 8 Army History & Personnel
» X Corps History & Personnel
» XIII Corps History & Personnel
» XXX Corps History & Personnel

The pre-war command of British Troops in Egypt (B.T.E.) remained in being throughout the war, but as a base rather than an operational command. To fight the Italians, a formation called ‘Western Desert Force’ was created on the 17 June 1940. It was this formation that defeated the Italian Army in Libya so decisively in Operation Compass. With the Cyrenaica Province of Libya under British occupation, a new static command called Cyrenaica Command was created to garrison the area, and Western Desert Force was disbanded.

In April 1941, the German forces in North Africa attacked and drove the British and their Allies out of most of Libya. The General Officer Commanding Cyrenaica Command was captured, and the headquarters dispersed. The Western Desert Force was reformed to take command of all operational formations in Libya (including Tobruk which was now cut off).

On the 9 September 1941, in anticipation of a new British and Allied offensive, 8 Army was formed with the Western Desert Force (now redesignated as XIII Corps) and the newly formed XXX Corps under command. In June 1942, with the advance of the German and Italian forces into Egypt, X Corps was called forward from Syria to garrison Mersa Matruh. It was severely mauled and forced to withdraw leaving XIII Corps and XXX Corps to stop the advance.


For the second battle of El Alamein in October 1942, the higher formations were:

Middle East Command;
8 Army;
X Corps;
XIII Corps;
XXX Corps.

With the defeat of the German and Italian forces at El Alamein, XIII Corps was withdrawn to Syria, with X Corps and XXX Corps maintaining the advance into Tripoli and then Tunisia.

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