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World War II: The North African Campaign

World War II: The North African Campaign

During the Second World War, the North African Campaign took place in North Africa from June 10th, 1940 to May 16th, 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) and Tunisia (Tunisia Campaign).

The campaign was fought between the Allies and Axis powers. The Allied war effort was dominated by the British Commonwealth and exiles from German-occupied Europe. The United States entered the war in 1941 and began direct military assistance in North Africa, on May 11th, 1942.

Fighting in North Africa started with the Italian declaration of war on June 10th, 1940. On June 14th, the British Army's 11th Hussars (assisted by elements of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment) crossed the border into Libya and captured the Italian Fort Capuzzo. This was followed by an Italian offensive into Egypt and the capture of Sidi Barrani in September 1940 and then in December 1940 by a Commonwealth counteroffensive, Operation Compass. During Operation Compass, the Italian Tenth Army was destroyed and the German Afrika Korps, commanded by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, was dispatched to North Africa, during Operation Sonnenblume, to bolster the Italian forces and prevent a complete Axis defeat.

A back-and-forth series of battles for control of Libya and parts of Egypt followed, climaxing in the Second Battle of El Alamein when British Commonwealth forces under the command of Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery, delivered a decisive defeat to the Axis forces and pushed the Axis forces back to Tunisia. Following the Allied landings in North West Africa, Operation Torch, in late 1942 under the command of General Dwight Eisenhower, and after Allied battles against Vichy France forces (which subsequently joined the Allies), the combined Allied forces encircled the Axis forces in northern Tunisia and forced their surrender.

By making the Axis powers fight on a second front in North Africa, the Western Allies provided some relief to the Soviet Union fighting the Axis on the Eastern Front. Information learned from the British Ultra codebreaking operation was a major contributor to Allied success in the North African campaign.