North African campaign

The North African campaign of the Second World War took place in North Africa from 10 June 1940 to 13 May 1943. It included campaigns fought in the Libyan and Egyptian deserts (Western Desert Campaign, also known as the Desert War) and in Morocco and Algeria (Operation Torch), as well as Tunisia (Tunisia Campaign).

North African campaign
Part of World War II

British Crusader tank passes a destroyed and smoking German Panzer IV tank during Operation Crusader, November 1941
Date10 June 1940 – 13 May 1943
2 years, 11 months and 3 days
Location
Result

Allied victory

Territorial
changes
Italian Libya placed under British and French military administration
Belligerents

Allies
British Empire

 United States[nb 1]
 Free France

Poland
Greece
Czechoslovakia

Axis
 Italy

 Germany


 Vichy France[nb 2]

Commanders and leaders
Casualties and losses
  • British Empire:
    35,478 killed[1]
    220,000 total casualties[2]
  • Free French:
    16,000 killed, wounded or missing[3]
  • United States:
    2,715 killed
    8,978 wounded
    6,528 missing[4][5]
  • Material losses:
    2,000 tanks destroyed
    1,400 aircraft destroyed

The campaign was fought between the Allies, many of whom had colonial interests in Africa dating from the late 19th century, and the Axis Powers.[12][13] The Allied war effort was dominated by the British Commonwealth and exiles from German-occupied Europe. The United States officially entered the war in December 1941 and began direct military assistance in North Africa on 11 May 1942.

Canada provided a small contingent of 201 commissioned officers and 147 non-commissioned officers.[14]

Fighting in North Africa started with the Italian declaration of war on 10 June 1940. On 14 June, the British Army's 11th Hussars (assisted by elements of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment, 1st RTR) crossed the border from Egypt into Libya and captured the Italian Fort Capuzzo. This was followed by an Italian counter-offensive into Egypt and the capture of Sidi Barrani in September and its recapture by the British in December following a British Commonwealth counteroffensive, Operation Compass. During Operation Compass, the Italian 10th Army was destroyed and the German Afrika Korps—commanded by Erwin Rommel, who later became known as "The Desert Fox"—was dispatched to North Africa in February 1941 during Operation Sonnenblume to reinforce Italian forces in order to prevent a complete Axis defeat.

A fluctuating series of battles for control of Libya and regions of Egypt followed, reaching a climax in the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942 when British Commonwealth forces under the command of Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery inflicted a decisive defeat on Rommel's Afrika Korps and forced its remnants into Tunisia. After the Anglo-American landings (Operation Torch) in North-West Africa in November 1942, and subsequent battles against Vichy France forces (who then changed sides), the Allies encircled several hundred thousand German and Italian personnel in northern Tunisia and finally forced their surrender in May 1943.

Information gleaned via British Ultra code-breaking intelligence proved critical to Allied success in North Africa. Victory for the Allies in this campaign immediately led to the Italian Campaign, which culminated in the downfall of the fascist government in Italy and the elimination of Germany's main European ally.

The North Africa campaign was often labeled a "war without hate," a pure military clash in the desert without the partisan roundups and ethnic cleansing happening in Europe. This view has been challenged by recent historians, given that there were indeed many civilians who lived in the region,[15] and the campaign was marked by numerous atrocities and abuses by both German and Italian forces towards prisoners of war and local Jewish, Berber, and Arab populations.[16] They were often motivated by racism and anti-semitism.[17]