Late on the evening of 30 August, Rommel attempted, as at Gazala, to get around Eighth Army's left flank although his force was weak in armor. With diversionary attacks designed to hold British forces along the coast, Rommel ordered the Afrika Korps east and south of Alam Halfa Ridge with the aim of swinging north to the Mediterranean coast behind Montgomery and enveloping the Eighth Army.
The Eighth Army had established a defense in depth, including strong positions on the Alam Halfa and Ruweisat Ridges, and Montgomery rejected any withdrawal. The 10th Armored Division, 22nd Armored Brigade, and 44th Division defended Alam Halfa, while the 7th Armored Division was south of the ridge. Montgomery ordered his armored units to defend from their current positions rather than advancing to meet Rommel's panzers.
Slowed by British minefields and fuel shortages, Rommel's tanks did not reach Alam Halfa until the evening of 31 August. Daylight brought vicious Desert Air Force attacks against the Axis advance, and the 7th Armored Division's placement forced Rommel to swing north prematurely, into the teeth of a tank brigade on Alam Halfa Ridge. Fuel shortages prevented the Afrika Korps from outflanking Alam Halfa to the east, forcing Rommel onto the defensive there.
On 1 September, after a flank assault on the 22nd Armored Brigade failed and having suffered severe losses, Rommel ordered his forces to retire to their original positions. The withdrawal, which began the next day, exposed the Afrika Korps to further devastating British aerial attacks. Rommel repulsed a counterattack by the 2nd New Zealand Division on the evening of 3 September, and Montgomery believed that he lacked the resources to force a general Axis withdrawal, so he decided not to press his advantage for the time being. Certainly Rommel's past successes made Montgomery wary of pushing too far forward.
Montgomery had fought his first battle as commander of Eighth Army with great skill. Rommel now had no choice but to go on the defensive. He established positions between the Mediterranean and the Qattara Depression as both sides prepared for the Eighth Army's upcoming offensive: the Second Battle of El Alamein.
Thomas D. Veve
Lucas, James. Panzer Army Africa. San Rafael, CA: Presidio Press, 1977.; Montgomery, Bernard L. The Memoirs of Field-Marshal the Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, K.G. Cleveland, OH: World Publishing, 1958.; Thompson, R. W. Churchill and the Montgomery Myth. New York: J. B. Lippincott, 1967.