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North African Campaign of World War II

Updated on April 1, 2012

The North Africa Campaign

The North African Campaign officially began when Italy joined the Axis war effort. Previously, Italy had taken a strong stance in favor of Imperialism by invading Ethiopia and Albania. Now, with the war on, it was looking to expand into Egypt.

The coming conflict started light, with a non-provocative stance by British forces, which primarily included tactics like raiding and reconnaissance. However, as the campaign progressed, it would eventually come to test the might of British arms and armor.

Early Campaign

At the very beginning, there was little movement along any front as the so-called 'phoney war' progressed. British tanks and motorized infantry attempted raids into Italian territory. However, British clandestine elements were actively attempting to gain information about Axis forces, specifically, using cryptographers to crack the codes of the Enigma machines. Allied clandestine services in the theater, using information given by Polish code-breakers prior to the outbreak of the war, were thought to have broken the 'Ultra' series of codes.

Also of interest, and importance during this phase, was the removal of Polish Gold from the Central Bank of Poland. It was moved, with the support of British clandestine services, from Poland, through Romania and Bulgaria, through Turkey, and into Lebanon. Through the war, this gold, worth 60 Million at the time, which would have been about 3,000,000 Troy Ounces of gold. In comparison, that would have been worth about 3.6 Billion today.

This would have undoubtedly led to an increase in the material wealth of the German state, and with the power of leveraging, would have been worth as much as 120 million-500 Million (60-150 Billion in today's dollars) more towards the war effort. Given the relative size of world economies at this time, it was likely to have impact, but not so much during the war (all economies spent the equivalent of about 500 Billion during the conflict; President gave an exact estimate of around 400 Billion for the US during the crisis in Greece in 1948).

The Fight Begins

After the Fall of France, Mussolini ordered the Italian 10th Army to advance from Libya into Egypt. However, Italian forces were plagued by a lack of supplies, and a poorly trained officer corp. Within the week, the invasion still had not begun.

The Italians eventually did advance, but were plagued with operational difficulties. After a few short months of campaigning, the 10th Army settled into fortified camps. The British counterattack, was fueled due to an excellent logistical network on the sea. The British eventually took all of the 'fortress-camps', and destroyed the Italian 10th Army.

Operation Sonnenblume

Operation Sunflower was the deployment of the German Afrika Corp into Libya, to assist Italian forces there. Rommel was appointed as the commander for this new group. Initially, Rommel was simply to hold the line, but a series of reconnaissance movements determined that a good bit of the hardened combat forces had been moved to Greece. As a result, Rommel pressed his 5th Panzer Regiment hard and fast, in a style similar to the Blitzkrieg attacks of before. Initially this tactic was incredibly successful, with support units coming under fire or being captured, included among this were actual command posts and General Officers.

Rommel proceeded to drive to Tobruk, but his attack stalled trying to siege the city. He eventually fell back by the Summer of 41; though he would re-engage soon enough. This period of stalemate saw several attempts at an advance by British forces, but lasted until the January of 1942.

Rommel started a second push, this time able to take Tobruk, and pushing deeper, towards Alexandria. A major port in the region, without it, British forces would have to pull out of Egypt completely. However, Rommels forces were stalled, and then soundly defeated by the Allied 8th Army in the second battle of El Alamien.

A Note on the 8th Army

It should be noted that the 8th Army consisted of troops from Britain, and was led by the British. However, in addition, there were also Free French troops, alongside of Greek Troops. The British Dominions, while subject to the chain of command, all had their own unique identity, and South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and India was represented.

People of divergent faiths could be found fighting side by side against the Nazis. The Indians, many of whom were Muslim, fought alongside Indians who were Hindu, as well as Catholics from France, Anglicans from England, and Orthodox Christians from Greece. The Egyptian people also participated, joining resistance cells against Nazi occupation, or joining the British Army directly.

Resistance to the Germans was popular with the Egyptian people, with the exception of one person. King Farouk of Egypt, who supposedly had German Sympathies. Indeed, at one point, the British Army planned to supplant him for his support of Germany in 1943. It should be noted, that after the War, Farouk invited several former Nazis and other Germans to live in Egypt as 'advisors'. These subsequently plotted with him, and effected a military coup in 1953.

US Army Landings in Algeria

Operation Torch

By November of 1942, American Forces successfully began an invasion of Algeria, where Vichy forces held sway. They captured the former French possession, sometimes with no fighting involved, and developed it in order to be a logistical and support center for future operations on the continent.

As a side note, much of the American logistics capabilities and support industry was based out of Algeria, including the 'mobile Coca-Cola' plants which would supply Cokes to beleaguered allied forces across the continent. But most importantly, Algeria became an important shipping hub, which would support the Invasion of Italy and later the Invasion of France.

Tunisia Campaign

The Tunisia campaign followed a small buildup that winter, and ended in the Early Spring. Though the Axis powers were primed to defend Tunis, eventually, they were outgunned, and in a position to lose the vast majority of their forces there. Eventually, these troops were shipped back to Italy, to assist in the defense of Italy, which would begin two months later.


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