El Alamein guarded the gateway to Palestine and to the oil fields further east. On October 23, 1942, when the battle for control of El Alamein began, 195,000 Allied soldiers under the command of Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery encamped at El Alamein, while only 1,000 yards to the west 104,000 German troops led by General Erwin Rommel were dug in behind a massive mine field. Five miles wide and 40 miles long, the mine field concealed 500,000 explosive devices, a deadly obstacle to Montgomery’s men. Despite Montgomery’s courage and unwavering determination, as well as the superior numbers of men he commanded, defeat of Rommel’s experienced desert force was no certainty.

Contingency plans, in the event of an Allied defeat, had to be prepared, and to this grim end Nelson Glueck was called on March 23, 1942, to serve his country in the way he knew best. Glueck supplied detailed information about the deserts of Palestine that might one day serve as a refuge for retreating Allied armies and as a staging place for continued guerrilla action against the Germans. Even after the decisive but tragically costly Allied victory at El Alamein in November 1942, Glueck continued for almost three years to supply secret information to the United States government.