World War II: 80 years since New Zealand fought in second battle of El Alamein

Sunday marks the 80th anniversary of arguably New Zealand's finest hour of World War II, the second battle of El Alamein - which was fought in the Egyptian desert in 1942.

The battle was the main turning point of the war as it was Britain's first land victory against Nazi Germany.

The New Zealand division spearheaded the attack and was the only division in the British eighth army to achieve its first-day objectives.

As the battle ground to a halt in the following days, the unused Māori battalion was thrown into the frame which helped secure a vital ridge that turned the tide.

However, the cost for New Zealand was high as the El Alamein war cemetery contained the graves of 1064 Kiwi soldiers.

It began with a deafening bombardment as around 100,000 Commonwealth soldiers waited to attack the German and Italian lines, among them were about 15,000 New Zealanders.

"In terms of making a significant difference to an outcome and this is a turning point battle in the Second World War, this is one of New Zealand's prime moments - [it's] a pivotal moment," military historian Professor Glyn Harper told Newshub.

The Kiwi soldiers smashed through the German lines but paid a heavy price for their night's work.

"They had over 650 casualties on the first night alone and they were critically short of infantry because they had no reinforcements in all of 1942," Prof Harper said.

Prof Harper has studied the battle extensively - he said although the Kiwi troops were quickly exhausted, New Zealand commanders were given control of British units to continue the advance.

"It is controlled and run by New Zealanders even though it is British infantry and British armour who are doing most of the fighting," Prof Harper said.

It's believed no Kiwi veterans of the battle are still with us but 103-year-old Englishman Raymond Whitwell is and he helped take in German prisoners.

"They were an arrogant lot but they were beaten and they knew it," Whitwell said.

It was the first time a British army had defeated the Germans in World War II so what would've happened if the Nazis had won?

"With Cairo, the Suez Canal and the oil fields of the Middle East in German and Italian hands, the war would've lasted much longer - perhaps two or three years," Prof Harper told Newshub.

The cost in lives was high with over 13,000 Commonwealth soldiers killed and 10 percent of those were New Zealanders.

Many are buried at the El Alamein War Cemetery where row after row of silver fern headstones lie.

A whole 80 years on since they helped save the world from tyranny.