The Western Desert Campaign/The Desert War
British soldiers are posted over a valley in the Western Desert, on the
Egyptian side of the Egypt-Libya border, in February of 1942, looking for
enemies (the Atlantic 1942).
Benito Mussolini was hungry for more territory after hearing about Hitler's incredible conquests. In September 1940, Mussolini sent a military unit to seize the Suez Canal in Egypt, an area that Britain owned. The British won and captured 130,000 people while only suffering 2,000 casualties. Thereafter, British troops chased Italian forces into Libya, capturing the key port cities of Tobruk and Benghazi in February 1941.
Hitler strove to help Mussolini bounce back. In February 1941, Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel was sent to Libya to command the Afrika Korps (a force of German tanks and motorized infantry). Tanks were beneficial in fighting in the featureless deserts. In the spring of 1941, Rommel drove British, Australian, and Indian forces back into Egypt.
The British later reorganized as the 8th Army and lashed back at the Afrika Korps, sending the force back into Libya by January 1942. But in May 1942, General Rommel captured Torbuk and led the Afrika Korps into Egypt to seek out the benefits of the Suez Canal.
But in the same month, the 8th Army 's commander was replaced with General Bernard L. Montgomery, who attacked the Germans with smart tactics. Britain won the Battles of El Alamein taking place in North Egypt (near the Meditteranean Sea) in October 1942, sending the Afrika Korps from Egypt and Libya back into Tunisia. He prevented Germans from threatening the eastern part of North Africa again. This victory came right before Operation Torch (the Anglo-Americn invasion) came into effect.
This map shows the British and American landings during Operation Torch. More than 1 million troops were sent to take control of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia (Military History and Museum Division 2003).
On August 25, 1942, President Roosevelt directed that Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Arica, be launched on or before October 30, 1942. The attack actually happend 4 days before the election of 1942.
Operation Torch began on November 8th, 1942 when 650 naval ships landed 85,000 American troops and 23,000 British troops at three different areas in French Morocco and Algeria. The French Vichy government that reigned over Western North Africa was neutral but they were not pleased with the invasions of the Allies. Resistance to the Americans and British was fierce in some places.
In Algeria, the invading force was largely British but commanded by an American. After France fell in June 1940, British troops tried to destroy the French fleet to deny it to Adolf Hitler. Relations between the two countries were therefore tense. French general Alphonse Juin, the Marshal of France, surrendered Algeria on November 8, 1842, which guaranteed the Allies with control of the Mediterranean Sea.
The Americans pushed eastward intending to link up with the British Eighth Army. Expectations for an easy victory ran high, but in February 1943 they brushed against the veteran German Afrika Korps under Gen. Erwin Rommel. At Kasserine Pass in Tunisia, the first major land battle involving American ground forces, Eisenhower fixed his command structure by replacing nonproductive generals with aggressive leaders like General Patton.
The U.S. Navy played a major part in the conquests of French territories. On the Moroccan coast, Resident-General August Nogues directed a more spirited defense of the Casablanca area. The French warships in the harbor attacked the invasion
fleet. Three submarines were sunk by the Americans, along with several cruisers and destroyers. Overhead, dogfights raged
between French fighters and U.S. Wildcats. Gen. George S. Patton surrounded the city with tanks. On November 11, the French surrendered to the Allies.
By May 1943, the Allies had crushed Axis power in North Africa, taken 100,000 prisoners, and begun preparations for the invasion of Sicily in July.
The Tunisia Campaign
Allied troops march in Tunis following Allied success against Axis forces in the African Campaign. Tunis, Tunisia, May 20, 1943 (Library of Congress 1943).
The Tunisian campaign began with the Allies landied in eastern Tunisia on January 5, 1943, and attacked German troops at Gafsa in west central Tunisia on March 17, 1943. On February 4, 1943, the British 8th Army crossed the border from Libya into Tunisia.
German General Erwin Rommel attempted to stall the Allies with defensive operations because he had limited resources. German and Italian troops managed to rout the US II Corps at the Kasserine Pass (in Tunisia) on February 18, but the Axis forces were outnumbered. The Allies forced the Axis troops to the coast of North Tunisia.
On May 7, 1943, the British 7th Armored Division captured Tunis, the capital
of Tunisia, and the US II Army Corps captured Bizerte, the last remaining port in Axis hands. Six days later, on May 13, 1943, the Axis forces in North Africa, having sustained 40,000 casualties in Tunisia alone, surrendered; 267,000 German and Italian soldiers became prisoners of war.