The bitter struggle that rolled back and forth across the North African desert was the first major Allied victory of the Second World War. ODAL!Music: ODAL!Video: channel/rfyxEnAH7Uy. North Africa campaigns, (–43), in World War II, series of battles for but significant events that bound the Axis Powers and culminated in a world war.
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The battle for North Africa was a struggle for control of the Suez Canal and access to oil from the Middle East and raw materials from Asia. Oil in particular had become a critical strategic commodity due to the increased mechanization of modern armies.
Britain, which was the first major nation to field a completely mechanized army, was particularly dependent on the Middle Eastern oil. The Suez Canal also provided Britain with a valuable link to her overseas dominions—part of a lifeline that ran through the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, the North African campaign and the naval campaign for the Mediterranean were extensions of each other in a very real sense. The struggle for control of North Africa began as early as Octoberwhen Italy invaded Ethiopia from its colony Italian Somaliland.
In reaction, the Egyptians granted Britain permission to station relatively large forces in their territory. Britain and France also agreed to divide the responsibility for maintaining naval control of the Mediterranean, with the main British base located at Alexandria, Egypt. If the Italians remained neutral, British access to the vital sea lanes would remain almost assured.
If Italy sided with Germany, the powerful Italian navy had the capability to close the Mediterranean. Italy did remain neutral when Germany invaded Poland in September When Germany invaded France in Junehowever, Benito Mussolini could not resist the opportunity to grab his share of the spoils.
Britain and Italy were now at war in the Mediterranean. On paper, at least, Italy enjoyed a considerable advantage over Britain in the Mediterranean theater of operations. The French surrender on June 25,placed the entire burden of controlling of the Mediterranean sea lanes on the Royal Navy. The British ground forces, however, were far better organized, trained and equipped and had superior leadership.
The British and Italian armies faced each other across the Libyan-Egyptian border in an area known as the Western Desert. It was an inhospitable region with no vegetation and virtually no water. A sandy coastal strip of varying width ran along the southern shore of the Mediterranean.
Inland, a sharp escarpment rose to the foot-high Libyan Plateau.
There were only a few passes where wheeled or even tracked vehicles could ascend the escarpment. Once on the plateau, however, military vehicles had good cross-country mobility across limestone ground covered by a thin layer of sand. On September 13,Graziani reluctantly moved into Egypt, almost a month after he had been ordered to do so by Mussolini. Some six Italian divisions drove east, bypassing a small British covering force along the border, and halted at Sidi Barrani, just short of the main British positions at Mersa Matruh.
Graziani apparently had no intention of going any deeper into Egypt. Italian control of the airfield at Sidi Barrani, however, seriously reduced the operational reach of British air power and posed a threat to the Royal Navy in Alexandria. With the Battle of Britain reaching its climax and Great Britain facing a possible German invasion, the British were in no immediate position to counter the Italian thrust. By Octoberthe threat of a German invasion of the British Isles had eased, and the British began to reinforce Wavell.
On November 11, British naval air power seriously damaged the Italian navy in a surprise attack against Taranto.
The Italian Tenth Army collapsed. In two afrkca, a British force of about two divisions had advanced miles, destroyed 10 Italian divisions, and capturedprisoners, tanks and guns. In the process, the British had suffered dead and 1, wounded. Most of those forces came out of Cyrenaica, which left Wavell only five brigades in Libya. Just a few weeks earlier, however, Adolf Hitler had decided to shore up the Italians in North Africa by committing German forces.
That threat forced the British forward units in Libya to resupply through Tobruk, more than miles away. Two German divisions and two additional Italian divisions began crossing from Italy into Libya. On February 12, Brig. Noryh Rommel assumed command of the German units that later became the famed Afrika Korps. He lost no time in regaining fotces initiative. Rommel probed El Agheila on March The magnitude of the German attack became apparent when the British were forced out of Benghazi on April 3.
North Africa campaigns
The Germans captured both British generals from their unescorted staff car on the night of April 6. Rommel drove rapidly to the east, surrounding Tobruk on April Unable to take the port on the run, he left a siege force of mostly Italian units there and continued his push for the Egyptian border.
It was a decision Rommel later regretted. The report also reached Churchill via Ultra intercepts. From this report, Churchill wrongly concluded that the Germans were ready to collapse with one strong push, and he started pressuring Wavell to norfh an immediate counteroffensive.
Meanwhile, a British supply convoy, code-named Tiger, made its way to North Africa carrying tanks and 43 Hawker Hurricane fighters. Despite heavy air attacks, the Tiger convoy arrived on May 12 after losing only one transport that carried 57 tanks. Prior to launching his counterattack, Wavell wanted to gain control of Halfaya Pass. Inn May 15, he launched Operation Brevity, under the command of Brig. William Gott, to secure the pass and Fort Capuzzo beyond.
World War II: North Africa Campaign | HistoryNet
Rommel skillfully parried the thrust, and the British withdrew from Fort Capuzzo the next day. By May 27 the Germans had recaptured Halfaya Pass. Unable to advance any farther because of supply shortages, they dug in and fortified their positions with 88mm anti-aircraft guns. The British troops began referring to the heavily fortified and fiercely defended Halfaya Pass as Hellfire Pass.
Under continuing pressure from Churchill, Wavell launched his major offensive on June Operation Battleaxe began with a frontal attack on the Sollum-Halfaya Pass axis. Skillfully using the 88mm anti-aircraft guns as anti-tank weapons, the Germans blunted the British attack. Battleaxe was over by June 17, and Wavell had lost 91 of his new tanks.
Rommel continued to grow weaker. By November, he had tanks, aircraft and nine divisions three Germanfour of which were tied down in the siege of Tobruk. The British had some tanks, 1, aircraft and eight divisions.
The British became increasingly obsessed with eliminating Rommel. On the night of November 17,a small commando force, led by year-old Lt.
North African Campaign – Wikipedia
The raid failed—Rommel was not even there—and Keyes died in the attempt. The Germans gave Keyes a funeral with full military honors, and the gallant Rommel sent his personal chaplain to conduct the services. After a series of fierce tank battles on November 22 and 23, Rommel drove deep into the British rear with two panzer divisions. He attempted to relieve the Axis forces at Halfaya and at the same time cut off the Eighth Army. With his tank losses mounting, Cunningham wanted to halt the operation.
Auchinleck immediately relieved him and replaced him with Maj. The British continued to press the attack, and on November 29 they broke through to Tobruk. By December 7, an overwhelmed Rommel was withdrawing his dangerously depleted forces. In order to avoid encirclement in the Benghazi bulge, Rommel retreated back across Cyrenaica, reaching El Agheila on January 6, Operation Crusader resulted in a clear victory for the British, but one they were unable to exploit due to a lack of reinforcements.
Only 30 tons of Axis supplies were shipped to North Africa in Novemberand 62 percent of them were lost en route. By mid-JanuaryRommel was operating on shorter supply lines, and his shipping losses were below 1 percent.
He now was ready to return to the offensive. On January 21,Rommel launched his second offensive and quickly drove the British back almost miles.
The aggressive German commander recaptured Benghazi on January 29 and continued to push east, reaching Gazala on February 4. For most of the next four months, the adversaries sat on either side of the Gazala Line, building up strength.
Both forces were roughly equal in strength, but General Ritchie had his armored units widely dispersed, while Rommel kept his concentrated. An Axis secondary attack in the north pinned down the Allied forces there. By May 28, the Axis armored units behind the Allied lines were in trouble. Rommel had lost more than one-third of his tanks, and the remainder were running short on fuel and ammunition. On the 30th, Rommel consolidated his armor in a defensive position that came to be known as the Cauldron.
The Eighth Army once more started falling back to the Egyptian border. On June 15, German tanks reached the coast and Rommel shifted his attention to the Tobruk garrison.
This time he would not make the same mistake of leaving the thorn in his side. Tobruk fell on June 21, and the Axis forces captured 2. The fall of Tobruk, however, had unforeseen consequences for the Axis. Churchill heard the news during a meeting with President Franklin D.
North African Campaign
Roosevelt in the United States. The American president immediately offered help. The resulting Sherman tanks and self-propelled guns would later play a pivotal role at El Alamein. The British fell back to defensive positions at Mersa Matruh, about miles inside Egypt.
Rommel, who had been promoted to field marshal for his success at Gazala, pursued. Auchinleck relieved Ritchie and personally assumed command of the Eighth Army. With only 60 operational tanks, Rommel attacked at Mersa Matruh on June 26 and routed four British divisions in three days of fighting.