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El Alamein

El Alamein(1954)

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Several years after the end of World War II, mechanical engineer Joe Banning returns to North Africa to recall his wartime experiences: As a civilian tank mechanic, Joe delivers the newest models of American-made tanks to the British Seventh Tank Corps. Eager to try out the tank, British captain Harbison, Joe and a partial crew set out on a desert patrol, but because they have a malfunctioning compass and no radio, they are soon lost. The crew picks up a Punjabi solder, Corp. Singh Das, the sole survivor of a search party wiped out by the Germans, and proceeds toward a supply depot, which is being held by a small Italian contingent. After driving off the Italians, the tank crew refuels and loads up with supplies. Joe repairs the Italian radio and Harbison realizes from information broadcast by British headquarters that they are deep behind German lines. Headquarters then announces confirmation of the start of the Allied campaign, led by Field Commander Bernard Montgomery, to drive the Germans, led by "Desert Fox" Erwin Rommel, out of North Africa. Anxious to reunite with the division to assist in the upcoming conflict, Harbison welcomes the addition of four Australian infantrymen separated from their unit who wander into the supply camp. Later that afternoon, a lone German fighter plane strafes the depot and is shot down by the tank crew. The pilot bails out and when he is discovered to be severely wounded, Singh offers to kill him to end his suffering. Harbison rejects the offer and while the men debate what to do next, the pilot tries to shoot the captain. Singh throws himself in front of Harbison and is killed by the pilot who later dies from his wounds. The men are further unsettled when they hear on the radio an English broadcast from Germany declaring that the Allied desert campaign will fail. Harbison decides to continue to an old Bedouin tomb near El Alamein, the designated rendezvous point of the brigade. Upon arriving the next day, they find a native and his teenaged niece, Selim and Jara, with their goat and camel camped there. When Selim reveals that the Germans have used the well near the tomb, Harbison orders the water tested for poison. Determining that the water is safe, Harbison suspects that the Germans will likely return and posts guards. When Harbison is unable to home in on the British radio signal, he worries that attack plan may have changed. Distrustful of Selim, Joe is nevertheless startled when Selim offers to sell Jara to the men. Joe agrees to be Jara's guardian when she reveals that her uncle mistreats her, and Harbison promises that Jara will be sent to a mission school after the Allied campaign. That evening, Jara flirts with Joe while Selim knocks out his guard and flees to the Germans to report the arrival of the British tank. The German commander, leading a tank brigade to the tomb for water, sends a truck ahead to verify Selim's report. With Jara's assistance, Harbison's men lure the reconnaissance truck into a trap, killing Selim and most of the Germans, but two Germans escape into the desert. When papers on the dead Germans identify them as members of the Fourth Afrika Korps, Harbison is certain that the escaped Germans will bring back reinforcements. To protect Jara from the anticipated attack, Joe attempts to convince her to flee, but she refuses and hides inside the large tomb's cave. Trying to force Jara's camel to rise, Joe and the others discover a supply of gasoline and ammunition buried inside the cavern. Realizing the importance of the site to the Germans, Harbison again attempts to raise the main British forces on the radio. The tank crew then hears a report that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill has met with Montgomery in the field near El Alamein where the Allies are leading a successful assault on Rommel's forces. After Joe sends Jara away on the camel, Harbison orders the men to cover the tank with a parachute. As night falls, German infantry are spotted approaching the tomb site. The tank crew fends off the attack, but Harbison wonders how long they can hold off the enemy. Joe returns to working on the radio, but is interrupted by another German attack. After again keeping the Germans at bay, Joe is finally able to repair the radio and sends a message to a tank brigade within a few miles reporting Harbison's crew's position. The brigade confirms that the German lines have crumbled and they are on their way to assist Harbison. The Germans then make a rear assault on the tank crew, killing all of the Australians. As German panzers are sighted, Harbison orders his remaining crew to blow up the ammunition dump. The British tank brigade then arrives and after engaging the Germans in a fierce tank, emerges victorious. In the present, Joe reflects on the bravery of the men in Harbison's tank crew and promises never to forget them.