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The El Alamein line

Discussion in 'North Africa: Western Desert Campaigns 1940 to Ope' started by yan taylor, Mar 14, 2011.

  1. TiredOldSoldier

    TiredOldSoldier Ace

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    Momentum plays a big part in military operations, and Rommel was a very aggressive gambler which earned him big rewards as long as his opponents made mistakes or simply didn't react fast enough, so he hoped to keep his opponent off balance until he had managed to get to Alexandria and the canal, unfortunately for him the allies were able to reinforce a lot faster than he could push his battle weary force. all considered it wasn't a much different gamble than others he did manage to pull off.
    .
    The El Alamein bottleneck was the best defensive position along the whole Tripoli to Alexandria route. I'm no fan of Monty, there simply was no way for the weak axis force to get through at El Alamein as the geography didn't allow for the sort of manoeuvring the had previously allowed Rommel to defeat the British forces piecemeal, the only way to break through would have been trough brute force and Rommel was too weak for that, so IMO Monty could not loose unless he really goofed and no allied general of the time was as bad as that.

    Once he had moved the foot infantry forward Rommel lacked the transport capability (both trucks and fuel) to disengage without leaving behind a large amount of his force, while the pursuit was likely to be slow, as happened historically, there is no way foot troops could have escaped a motorized pursuer.
     
  2. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    What would Hitler have said if Rommel had retreated from Alamein? I don´t think even Rommel could have been saved from getting back to Germany for treatment for bad health by Hitler´s order. Then again Rommel naturally felt the closeness of the "price", which always can drive generals crazy. He also had this huge "devil´s garden" full of bombs and mines, that he thought would stop the enemy. Well, it didn´t.
     
  3. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

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    Though Rommel's reputation was a little inflated, ironically enough as much by the wartime British as from the German Propaganda Ministry, he was no fool. Yes he could read a map and he had perhaps the best understanding of both what his own troops could do and what his enemy was likely to do, certainly better overall than Kesselring, who was too far back, Mussolini, who had no idea how to use an army and Hitler and the OKW, who were target fixated upon Russia.

    TOS is correct that the El Alamein position was the best possible (and last realistic) defensive ground the 8th Army could hold, but the pursuit and attempt to breach it was the correct (and expected by Hitler, OKW and the Commando Supremo) decision based upon facts on the ground known at the time. In nearly every previous encounter between Rommel and the various British commanders, the latter had regularly made some exploitable error that allowed a strong position to be turned.

    In my reading of the1st El Alamein the battle comes off as a close run knife fight between 8th Army and Panzerarmee Afrika. A even fight that Britain won, but just might have gone differently under a different commander than Auchinleck ( most, if not all previous commanders of WDF/8th Army), who in my opinion deserves far greater credit both for the victory here and setting into motion the vital changes that allowed 8th Army to push back Rommel in the 2nd Battle of El Alamein under Montgomery.

    After the repulse, as we now know, a retreat back to a more logistically supportable position would have been best and might have offered a chance to repeat another flanking move on 8th Army somewhere between Tobruk and El Alamein as they almost inevitably came out her defenses to pursue Panzerarmee Afrika, something Churchill would have insisted upon. But then would Hitler, OKW and Commando Supremo allowed Rommel to retreat in the face of no pressure by the British? Highly unlikely since he/they allowed almost no such withdrawal before or since.

    In this Rommel must be give a little slack. He was stuck between a rock (a unbreakable 8th Army line), and a hard place ( a unwillingness/inability to allow him to withdraw or to give him enough troops and logistics to breach that defense). Sometimes a leadership place a commander in a position where no victory is possible, no matter how brilliant they may be.
     
  4. merdiolu

    merdiolu Member

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    Before this thread becomes another "Montgomery = incompatent because he was slow though methodic and not a US cavalry commander" thread there is a fact I would like to mention. Rommel retreated and willingly quit ground before. During Operation Crusader despite continued siege of Tobruk he decided to retreat and abondoned Cyreneica to 8th Army in December 1941. He read the situation thoughly , took best option back then saved most of German-Italian Panzer Army. Nobody from Berlin called him , Hitler did not relieve him or shot him. And in 1942 he gained much more reputation and public popularity both in Germany and abroad. Hitler could hardly dare to touch him whom he gave Field Marshall baton in September 1942.

    And anyway promotion , close relationship with Hitler and personal ambition/myth making all of them should flow in wind because of one fact. A commanding officer should be responsible for the men under his command. It does not change the fact that Rommel failed to stock necessary logistical build up to retreat , did not seek necessary transport , did not press OKW for more support especially Luftwaffe cover due to his brawl with Kesselring...If he knew he couldn't get them he should have pulled back. Instead he gambled everything for one last all out everything or nothing type attack on Alam el Halfa and failed. He should be also aware of the fact that he lost his main intelligence arm (Wireless Interception Unit 621) , unsupported by Luftwaffe and his chances of sucess are much more lower in Alam el Halfa than Gazala Tobruk battles. Instead of taking precautions like necessary resources and supply stockpiles for retreat and though planning for that (just a precaution) he gambled again in attacking in August 1942 used his remaining logistics for that and then stood where he was and tried to create a Verdun in desert. Except British Army despite its all shortcomings and failures knew and experienced and remembered one thing. There knew how and were experienced in breaking through a defensive front no matter how reinforced , fortified unbroken it was. They learned their lesson in Great War. They did it in Hundred Days Offensive in Europe and Battle of Megiddo in Middle East in 1918. Only thing they needed was time and necessary logistical and force build up. Rommel stood his ground , gave that time to them and put Panzer Army as a tempting target in desert until British tanks tore up his front in November 1942 before taking inevitable decision to retreat. (a decision which should have been taken planned and exacuted months ago ) meanwhile leaving most of his infantry behind as POWs

    That's why I respect Montgomery much more than Rommel. He was aware what his men (British Commonwealth troops) could do what can be expected of them and planned thoughly maybe cautiosly for some but compatently....Except maybe Market Garden fiasco in 1944 (where he was forced to take risks to finish the war , a mirage actually ) he did not gamble much. He knew he had the luxury of numerical , logistical adavantage and did not rush and waste his men....He did not give any gap a mistake to be exploited by enemy....Rommel's march than defense in Alamein is one of the biggest mistakes of war in my opinion a sure way to destroy Panzer Army like no other. It is like he over worked and overheated a perfectly working engine.
     
  5. merdiolu

    merdiolu Member

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    I disagree. All of Auchinleck poorly planned piecemental attacks failed disasterously in June/July 1942 once lines were stabilized on Alamein front. First Battle of Ruweistadt (14 July ) 700 New Zealanders were captured because of poor armored support , Miteirya Ridge (26th July ) 9th Australian Div. suffered 400 casaulties with no ground taken (and they failed against Italians) , Second Battle of Ruweistadt (21 July ) 1000 New Zealanders captured , 84 tanks from 23rd Armored Brig. destroyed and Operation Manhood last attack by Auchinleck on Miteirya (Ruin Ridge) on 27th July 600 British troops from 69th Brig. captured , two advance Australian battalions were overwhemed when their anti tank support lost in dark and delayed , tanks were late in minefields etc....500 Aussies went to Axis POW cages.

    List goes like that. The relations between 8th Army infantry and armored units were awful in July 1942. And there was no cooperation with RAF Desert Air Force. There was no central command from army HQ once an operation commenced. Auchinleck picked up very bad subordinates like Norrie , Gott , Ramdsen , Goodwin-Austin and worst Ritchie. Only Royal Artillery was very good but even that arm went some though changes once Montgomery took over command of army and brought some experts from Britain. Montgomery's halting piecemental attacks , conserve and gather his strength and preparing for one decisive battle , resisting Churchill's insistence for rushing things up , disbanding regiment brigade sized battle groups in favor of large division sized units , his emphasizs for training on desert conditions , mine clearence etc all were crucial decisions for winning the battle. Auchinleck should be admired for stopping Panzer Army but he certainly was not the man to drive Rommel back....
     
  6. von_noobie

    von_noobie Member

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    Yes Auchinleck had his faults and many of them but he still had his successes of his own making. Tel el Eisa being one of them, While the Australians suffered casualties (50% in one battle) they were not often nor to the extent they inflicted on the Axis. That said I'll concede that on the attack he wasn't the best though he was far from the worst.

    His greatest contribution was setting it up so the battle would be fought at El Alamien rather then Mersa Mutrah. Had the battle taken place at the later then it is likely Rommel would have been able to flank and harass the forces so much that they would not be able to establish them selves at El Alamien. But that is all a WI, Which may be interesting for later.

    On the topic of Rommel and his gambles, Should he have retreated or stayed and fought? While staying to fight was a big gamble did he really have that much of a choice? The Allies could replace any losses inflicted by him so he needed a big win to get ahead of them. With out taking the big gamble he would be stuck in a continuous battle of back and forth until the Yank's sent in their troops at which point he would have no chance. But as for retreating, After travelling so far much of the equipment to my knowledge was worn out, It would not have made a return trip. Would Rommel have received the replacements for said equipment by the time the Allies came attacking? Unlikely.
     
  7. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

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    I am not trying to bash Montgomery, but praise Auchinleck for his just dues. He created the the line and fought it during Panzerarmee Afrika's attack designed to breach it. Further many of the efforts to make British armor to both fight effectively and in a co-ordinated manner were begun under Auchinleck. Certainly Montgomery refined the work of his predecessor, but 8th Army's armor would not worked as well as it did in the 2nd Battle of El Alamein without the ground work laid by Auchinleck.

    Popular history has tended to divide North Africa into two epoch's, BM (Before Monty), where every British commander was a bumbling fool and AM (After Monty), where nary a single setback stained His Majesty's forces. At best this is a oversimplification, at worst revisionism. Can we not agree that turning Britain's flawed mobile warfare doctrine into a reasonably effective, war winning method was something that took time and experimentation? Further Auchinleck gave Monty a battlefield well suited to Britain's attritional warfare style, no possible flanking attack by Rommel to ruin the counter attack.

    Auchinleck's counter-attacks, while costly to Commonwealth forces, these losses could be quickly replaced, Rommel's losses could not, and they did weaken overall the Panzerarmee Afrika. A weakness Montgomery exploited.

    A difference between the withdrawal you noted was that first came at a time when Rommel's task was simply to keep Italy from being ejected from North Africa. However here Hitler and Mussolini could smell (a false) victory in the offing, and once Hitler had become fixated on a place, retreating no longer became optional. Indeed when Rommel pleaded for permission it was denied.

    Lastly considering the number of officers Montgomery sacked here and Northwest Europe, he too had problems with subordinate's.

    Nothing wrong with preferring Monty over Rommel, a perfectly viable choice, just as the reverse can be.
     
  8. merdiolu

    merdiolu Member

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    Except those costly attacks in July 1942 were costly failures, They failed against much weaker opponents (in Miyterna New Zealanders were routed by just two Italian battlalions a fact best NZ battalion cmdr of war Howard Kippenberger realized and summarized "something is very wrong in command" Tank support promised simply did not materialize. That kind of uncoordination creates a bad reputation for any leadership) they failed to destroy enemy forces as intended they failed to capture any ground and worst effect they lowered soldiers morale and their self confidence and destroyed trust towards their superiors and army commanders. Attrition was working of Axis favour in these attacks and there was not any tangible result ( I am talking about assaults after Tel El Eisa in 14th July) At the end of month Auchinleck lost confidence of his men to attack and get results.

    Montgomery sacked a lot of subordinetes yes. Because they failed to get satisfactory results demanded of them. So he did not keep them because "there is no one else familiar to army/enviroment/theater" or "it will lower morale" He also kept men loyal to him close but he also asked them no slow work or finding excuses etc. Getting defeated lowers morale and shakes confidence. Commander himself as a name is nothing. If he is relieved because he can not get the job done no one weeps after them. Auchinleck first put Alan Cunningham to job (bad choice because he gave up in second week of Operation Crusader ) , then put Richie in charge of 8th Army who failed to stop retreat of Panzer Army then lost Benghazi in January 1942. Despite contradictory reports coming from front about him and his appearent inexperience Auckinleck kept Ritchie in charge of army because "relieving him woud lower morale" (Ritchie was a staff officer and youngest one at that , rarely visited front ) , couldn't make his authority feel (his field commanders were always finding excuses for one way to another) Auchinlecks idea that he can tutor Ritchie was a disaster , every commanding officer should know that there must be a unity in leadership. Both Ritchie's and Gott's faulty and cumbersome Abardeen attack plan against Cauldron caused destruction of British tank brigades instead. Result was defeat in Gazala. Then Auchinleck caved in under Churchill's pressure to hold Tobruk like the year before in 1941 despite shortcomings and deficiencies of fort. Ritchie does not object. Result : Tobruk falls. Rommel bags 32.000 POWs and lots of supplies. After all that Auckinleck relieves Ritchie and takes over army command. An act he was supposed to do months ago. His decision to pull back from Marsa Matruh and to Alamein was commendable I agree. (though both he and his corps commanders acted late so a weakened Afrikakorps captured a further 6.000 POWs in Matruh ) And 8th Army under his personal command fought over extended Panzer Army to a stand still. His sucess in Tel El Eisa and Ruweistadt in first two weeks of July were brilliant. His personal handling of army should have been clear from start. But just a reminder. Panzer Army attacking to Alamein in first weeks of July was very tired , undersupplied , desperately short of fuel and understrength due to its previous losses. More over it was constantly harrassed from air by RAF Desert Air Force. And 8th Army and RAF were conducting their battles independently , without coordination or support each unaware of other ( a fact DAF commander Vice Marshall Conningham bitterly complained. Army was not defending airfields , RAF fighter bombers attacking friendly units ) So Auk was also lucky. Yes he left battlefield stabilized and Monty took over a textbook ready and strong defense line impossible to overflank from deep desert. (by the way Alamein was designed as last defence line in 1939 by COS of Egypt Desert Force in Cairo before Auckinleck came into desert. Both Wavell and O'Connor saw value of Quattara Depression as an impossible to overflank anti tank ditch and made the necessary plans for that) But Auckinleck was not the man to attack and drive Panzer Army out of Egypt. He failed in piecemental attacks , lost confidence , wasted forces which should have been conserved , his insistence on brigade / regiment sized units in operations and holding out ancient Box defense system clearly shows that.

    Monty was ruthless towards his underachieving subordinates but he was usually justified. During Operation Lightfoot in Second Battle of Alamein both 10th Corps cmdr Lumdsen and Gatehouse began bellyaching not to lose their vehicles in minefields. Montgomery of course knew from previous experiences that vehicles were expandeble to cross minefields. But sacrificing lives and confidence of brave infantrymen's and engineers who crossed Devil's Garden minesfields in darkness and holding their position in ridges beyond undefended without tank support was unacceptable. That happened too many times. It proved to be correct. Infantry got proper tank , anti tank support in time , drove inevitable German counter attacks. After the battle he put Lumdsen and Gatehouse to black list and got rid of them because they questioned his authority. He simply couldn't work with men like that. Message was clear. "Orders might not seem sensible. But they are to be obeyed or Monty finds another man to do it. He is the boss" That was an attitude Auckinleck should have taken long time ago when dealing with Ritchie , Gott or Norrie and an attitude they were supposed to reflect to their subordinates.
     
  9. merdiolu

    merdiolu Member

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    He seeked that permission on November 2nd right after Operation Supercharge that wiped out his remaining panzer reserves and ate up his defense lines. Hitler just delayed that decision for 48 hours before entire front collapsed on 4th November and Rommel retreated on his own initiative. Except he lost most of Panzer Army especially Italian infantry on foot and denied motor transport. He was recalled to Berlin to explain himself to Hitler but was not punished because his fame and skills were worldwide propaganda stuff now.

    Let's make a contrast with General Graf Von Sponeck's decision to retreat from Kerch Peninsula (Crimea) because of danger of a Russian landing on Dec. 1941. Hitler went to roof due to his decision , sacked Sponeck from army , even forbidden him to wear an uniform (Sponeck was executed in 20th July conspiracy trials ) Still Sponeck felt he was responsible to his men , took sensible decision militarily and saved his corps regardless of personal costs. Field Marshal Von Rundstedt in face of a Russian counter attack pulled his army group advance units from Rostov (that's is gateway to Caucaus which had Germans needed most : oil ) on same month because of a danger of Russian counter attack on his undefensible position , he was relieved by Hitler and send to a "sickness leave". Guderian made a similar decision during Battle of Moscow along with Army Group cmdr Von Bock they were relieved on January 1942. Field Marshall List was relieved by Hitler along with Halder because of militarily wrong strategic decisions during Case Blau. None of these men put welfare of their forces above strategicly unattainable objectives regardless of political and personal costs. They were acting according to military rationale responsible to welfare and well being of their forces (if not German nation due to their blind obedience to Fuhrer ) Rommel did not do that. He put his army in front of Alamein before Alexandria and Nile "mirage" and kept them there there even after mirage disappeared and reality of situation sunk in.

    One of them was winner. Other is loser despite all his Knight in Desert image/myth.


    I can agree with that basicly though Montgomery continued to experiement and increase the efficiency of armor and its coordination with other arms. Cab-Rank system to coordinate with Tactical Air Wing of RAF (a concept RAF Vice-Marshall Broadhurst came up with ) , Hobarts Funnies to use in amphibious assaults all indicate that.
     
  10. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

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    One of them was winner. Other is loser despite all his Knight in Desert image/myth.


    Belasar responds :)

    There was a point in time where the shoe was firmly on the other foot in the spring of 1940. Montgomery's fortune was that as the war progressed the balance of force tipped in his favor.

    lets us agree to disagree and resume the topic.

    Sorry about the bold, too lazy to retype :)
     
    von_noobie likes this.
  11. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Perhaps waiting for supplies to build up to allow him either to attack again or manage a well organized withdrawl?
     
  12. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

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    I Tend to agree. The pursuit of a beaten army in the hope of catching and destroying same is textbook military tactics. As for setting up a defensive position, it would also be textbook since the British could not flank him either. Sometimes you can make the correct decision at each junction only to find that these choices in the aggregate are a recipe for disaster.

    I know the Auchinleck counter attacks are criticized, but consider the psychological effect on Rommel. These attacks might have convinced Rommel that to attempt a retreat might expose his tired and depleted forces to the same kind of disaster that a few weeks before he had hoped to inflict on the 8th Army as they retreated. He was also likely aware of Hitler's "No Retreat" order to the troops in Russia the previous winter, especially those before "vital" objectives like Leningrad and Moscow.
     
  13. merdiolu

    merdiolu Member

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    This is the most likely explanation I can think of...Still it does not make Rommel's insistence to hold on and dig in Alamein right. And Auckinleck's counter attacks between 14-29 July did aim was to destroy whole or significant part of Panzer Army and drove it out of Egypt. Those operations objective was not anything psychological. That can be only a secondary unintended result however positive one. And their failures damaged confidence of 8th Army more than any detrimental psychological effect on enemy strategic thinking.

    Rommel probably after took Field Marshal's baton assumed British performance would be like in Gazala or Tobruk in 1942. Even after Montgomery / Alexander assigned to Middle East Command maybe he thought that British would give him an opputunity , a mistake or mistakes to exploit to turn the tables like he did in Gazala Cauldron. July 1942 battles when he threw back British Commonwealth counter attacks with ease might have given that over confidence. ( despite severe disadvantages like acute supply shortage , total air superorty of RAF , losing his main wireless intelligence unit and appearent growing enemy superiorty) The trick was in my opinion after Montgomery took over 8th Army first time was led and was acting in a way that enabled to use its numerical superiorty with solid positive results and sucesses and did not give any oppurtunity or gap for an oppurtunistic enemy to exploit anymore. They figured out best way to defeat Afrikakorps and meanwhile minimize casaulties would be using massive firepower , coordination with RAF in tactical support , cut out enemy logistics and using attrition tactics like Great War. They found out that Germans especially punish mistakes in field like piecemental operations , unsupported arms , gaps , hesistancy etc ruthlessly so they did not give any. They also found out I think best way to deal with enemy was to throw back any German counter attack once an incursion was made. Germans always bound to counter attack even just for spoiling purposes and repulsing them would destroy meagre German resources. After August 1942 8TH Army was fighting first time in confidence with existing , known , proven methods which were displayed sucessfully before. After that British rarely tried to imitate Germans but forced Germans to fight on its own terms and rules like sticking unbroken or undivided fronts or lines , no open flanks , big divisions and material / firepower war. It might be seen slow , cautios and unimaginative sometimes but it took results. Holding initiative like that wins the war eventually although you might lose a few engagements in the way.

    That only points a moral failure on his regard. As I said several generals in Eastern Front defied Hitler's "No Retreat" Order and paid high personal prices but also lessened casaulties at cost of their personal carreers maybe nothing more. That is why I put Guderian , Rundstedt , Manstein , Bock , Hoepner etc much higher place than Rommel. He did not show same moral thinking until last moment and unlike them he had relatively much more freedom in Africa and fame / credits in Hitler's entourage and among public.
     
  14. lwd

    lwd Ace

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    Perhaps, at least in part, what the Japanese referred to as "Victory Disease".
     
  15. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

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    I can agree that the Auchinleck counter attacks were not intended to stimulate a impulse that would induce Rommel to dig in, but this is not a totally uncommon effect. Battles, especially protracted ones, can take on a life of their own. Guadalcanal is a good example of this. I can also agree that in retrospect Rommel withdrawing to the Egyptian frontier was probably the best possible course for Panzerarmee Afrika, but that could have been said about R.E. Lee disengaging from Gettysburg on July 1st.

    The thing is both commanders were in similar positions. Acknowledged as the best "tactical" commanders in the theater they operated in. Both had come off significant victory's and had just been held in check by a defensive action by their opponent. Both faced unfamiliar enemy commanders of unproven ability. Both at the extreme extent of their logistics, open to possible interdiction by the enemy. Both with a reputation of being able to seek out a enemy mistake or miscalculation and exploiting these to gain victories against long odds on paper. Both supremely confident in the troops they commanded to do what the enemy can not. Both faced a long term unfavorable strategic situation.

    Lwd offers "victory disease" and certainly that is probable for both commanders.

    But just as for Lee on the evening of July 1,1863 unilaterally falling back from a enemy who appeared to be on their heels was neither the easy or obvious choice to make. Every time before Rommel had got the resources to renew an attack posture, every time before the British made some mistake in their disposition's, or drew off some portion of their growing forces for some other front/threat (Greece/Pacific).

    As for his comparison to other German commanders of note, yes some were better Army group commanders, but I'm not sure they were morally superior in any real sense. They all served the immoral master and all of them listed are stained by the acts of atrocity committed in the East under their noses. Further they generally retreated only when under direct pressure and when holding the line was no a longer viable option. Pre-emptive withdrawals because of possible enemy action almost only occurred with the Fuhrer's permission and then only to free up troops for other threats/options. One must also acknowledge that Rommel was in a unusual position for a German army group commander of a isolated commander with no one on his left or right flank.

    I have said before that in my opinion Rommel was a superb Corps commander, Better than average Army commander but as a Army group/front commander only average. Being average in a unfavorable strategic situation with a unforgiving and unreasonable master is not going to be kind to your reputation in the long term.
     

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