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The North African Campaign (Operation Torch)

November 1942

a map of the North African Campaign of 1942
a map of the North African Campaign of 1942

The British had been fighting a seesaw campaign against the Germans and Italians in North Africa, taking and losing ground over and over again. In May, 1942, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps, aided by Italian troops, began a powerful offensive. Capturing Tobruk in Libya, they moved toward Egypt. By July, strong British resistance and Rommel's supply shortage had halted the Axis attacks at El Alamein, Egypt. In October, the British Eighth Army under General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery took the offensive, and rolled on to Tripoli and southern Tunisia. This victory was a major turning point of the war.

Along with the British offensive in Tunisia, the Allies planned an invasion of French North Africa. The goal of Operation Torch was to force the Axis armies out of Africa, and also to relieve pressure on the Russian forces, which were reeling under a new German offensive. Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower commanded an Allied force that landed on the coast of Algeria and Morocco on November 8, 1942. About 500 troops and supply ships, escorted by more than 350 warships, transported Allied troops from the United States and the British Isles. The invasion caught the German high command completely by surprise.

The Allies had made elaborate preparations to capture French North Africa with as little fighting as possible. Allied diplomats plotted with French patriotic groups, and Major General Mark W. Clark secretly landed in North Africa from a submarine to plan with the French. French forces resisted the landings, but Admiral Jean Darlan, the Vichy French leader, ordered them to stop fighting.

As soon as Hitler learned about the Allied landings in North Africa, he ordered German troops to occupy all France. The Germans tried to capture the main French fleet at Toulon, but the French managed to sink about 50 ships. An assassin shot Darlan on December 24, 1942, and General Henri Giraud succeeded him as chief of state in North Africa.

While U.S. troops pushed eastward across Algeria, the British Eighth Army advanced into southern Tunisia. On May 12, 1943, the last organized Axis army force in Africa surrendered. The Allies had killed, wounded, or captured about 350,000 Axis soldiers, and had suffered about 70,000 casualties in the North African campaign.

SOURCES
Encyclopędia Britannica Chicago: Encyclopędia Britannica, Inc., 1957
World Book Encyclopedia Chicago: World Book-Childcraft International, Inc., 1979

SEE ALSO
Dwight D. Eisenhower

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