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In June, 1942, in Egypt, the British Eighth Army is severely beaten by General Rommel's Afrika Korps. John J. Bramble, the sole survivor of his British tank crew, struggles out of the tank, which is roving aimlessly across the desert, and crawls across the sand dunes until he reaches the desolate town of Sidi Halfaya. The town has been nearly destroyed by bomb blasts, but the Empress of Britain Hotel is still standing. John, now suffering from hallucinations, believes he is at Divisional Headquarters and "reports" to the Egyptian hotel owner, Farid, and the French chambermaid, Mouche, that the Royal Tank Regiment has been destroyed. Farid is unable to bring John to his senses, and when John collapses, he hides the unconscious soldier behind the desk, as German troops are overtaking the town. German lieutenant Schwegler informs Farid that his officers will use the hotel as their headquarters, and installs Field Marshal General Erwin Rommel in the best room in the hotel, and an Italian general named Sebastiano, in the worst. John revives and, with his wits fully restored, dons the clothing of a clubfooted hotel waiter who was killed in the cellar during an air raid. John successfully impersonates the waiter, and manages to hides his surprise when he is given a personal audience with Rommel because the waiter was actually a Nazi spy. Mouche hates John on principle because she feels that the British forces abandoned the French army at the battle at Dunkirk, where her brother was captured. She goes along with his impersonation until she hears his plans to kill Rommel, because she wants to approach Rommel and plead for the life of her sole surviving brother, an amputee who has been interred in a concentration camp. Rommel has no interest in helping Mouche, however, so she turns to Schwegler, who promises to help her in exchange for sexual favors. When high ranking British prisoners of war are then brought in, John makes contact with the British colonel, who advises him not to kill Rommel. Rommel grants the officers a lunch and solicitously answers their questions about his battle strategies. Rommel's key strategy is preparation, and he reveals that in the 1930s, the Germans buried supplies all over Egypt in anticipation of the war. As the British officers leave, the colonel subtly relays to John that his mission is to determine the locations of the supply depots and send word to the British command. John already knows that the term "Five Graves" is the code word for the supply depots, and is led directly to the information when Rommel, still believing that John is a Nazi spy, shows him a map of Egypt, stating that the locations are so basic, he does not even need invisible ink. When Farid uncovers a 1930s newspaper article about German archaeological excavations, John recognizes a photograph of Rommel, and realizes that instead of excavating ancient sites, the Germans were burying supplies. John sneaks into Rommel's office and redraws his map on a piece of cheesecloth, identifying the locations of the depots as coinciding with the letters E-G-Y-P-T as printed on the map. An air raid ensues and Schwegler finds John in the room. Schwegler believes John's explanation that he was trying to save the maps until they are in the cellar and a blast uncovers the body of the real waiter. John escapes and, while everyone else takes cover during the air raid, kills Schwegler. Farid helps him hide the body and, knowing that Rommel plans to send John ahead to Cairo that night, arranges with Farid for the body to be discovered the next morning. Mouche refuses to cooperate further with John's deception, however, as Rommel has confronted her with telegrams apparently sent by Schwegler, which indicate that he was arranging for her brother's release. Mouche soon learns that the telegrams were fakes and that Schwegler had been deluding her. Later, Schwegler's body is found in Mouche's bed and Rommel accuses her of his murder. Experiencing a change of heart, Mouche accepts the blame, thereby freeing John to carry out his mission to Cairo. Before he leaves, John tells Farid to reveal that he was Schwegler's killer before the Nazis put Mouche on trial. John successfully reaches the British command, and on 1 July 1942, British forces destroy the German supply depots in El Alamein, and Rommel's troops never reach Cairo. In September, John purchases a parasol in Cairo that Mouche had longed for, and carries it with him in his tank when British General Montgomery's Eighth Army makes its counter-offensive. The British troops return to Sidi Halfaya in November, and take German and Italian troops prisoner. John learns from Farid that although Mouche was found innocent of Schwegler's murder, the Germans found her guilty of deception, and beat her to death as she cried, "The British will be back." With a broken heart, John places the parasol by her grave and, after paying tribute, rejoins his troops.