campaigns in North Africa

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North Africa Campaign (1942–1943).Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Africa by American and British forces in November 1942, was the first major joint Allied offensive operation in World War II. It was the largest amphibious military operation undertaken until then. More than 500 American and British warships, troop transports, supply vessels, and landing craft took part. Over 100,000 troops, mostly Americans, sailed from the United States and Britain to Morocco and Algeria in the opening phase of the invasion.

The decision to invade North Africa ran counter to the U.S. War Department's desire to invade German‐occupied France across the English Channel in 1943. The Soviet Union also wanted the West to open a second front. The British feared that a cross‐Channel invasion would be premature and would lead to a slaughter on the beaches of France, while Allied control of the North African coast, the ultimate objective of Operation Torch, would expose what Winston Churchill called the “soft underbelly” of occupied Europe. Facing pressure from President Franklin D. Roosevelt for a bold, uncostly military move in the European area before November congressional elections, and British objections to an early cross‐Channel operation, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall reluctantly agreed to the invasion of Vichy French–held North Africa.

Marshall picked U.S. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to be supreme commander, and British Adm. Sir Andrew Cunningham was chosen to be naval commander. They assembled forces, supplies, and naval and maritime support. Eisenhower also sent Gen. Mark Clark on a secret submarine mission to negotiate with local Vichy forces not to oppose the landings. Beginning on 8 November, four days after the British stopped German general Erwin Rommel at El Alamein in Egypt, the Anglo‐American landings commenced with commando port assaults and nighttime beach landings. The Allies aided Free French rebels and overwhelmed Vichy French resistance, which was relatively light. The Vichy military commander, Adm. François Darlan, visiting Algiers, was captured and persuaded on 11 November to order a cease‐fire. U.S. forces sustained 1,400 casualties, 526 of which were fatalities. As a result of the invasion, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler ordered the German Army to occupy Vichy France and rushed troops to Tunisia before the Americans could conquer it. On 14 February 1943, the U.S. II Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. Lloyd Fredendall, was surprised in the Kasserine Pass by a German counterattack and temporarily thrown back. Fredendall was replaced by Maj. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., and his deputy, Maj. Gen. Omar Bradley, and they resumed the offensive. The U.S. First Army and Gen. Bernard Law Montgomery's British Eighth Army contained the Germans in Tunisia in April, and 250,000 German and Italian troops surrendered on 13 May 1943, marking the end of the North Africa Campaign. The U.S. casualities amounted to about 18,500.
[See also World War II: Military and Diplomatic Course.]


George F. Howe , Northwest Africa: Seizing the Initiative in the West, 1957.
Carlo D'Este , World War II in the Mediterranean, 1942–1945, 1990.

Norman Gelb

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NORTH AFRICAN CAMPAIGN. After two years of desert skirmishes among the British, Italians, and Germans, the North African campaign opened on 8 November 1942, when Anglo-American forces under U.S. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower landed in French Morocco and Algeria near Casablanca and met bitter French resistance. An armistice brought the fighting to an end on 11 November, and the French forces soon joined the Allies.

Allied units under British Gen. Kenneth Anderson tried to take Bizerte and Tunis quickly, but Italian and German troops held firm. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Italo-German army, defeated at El Alamein, Egypt, in October, retreated across Libya and at the end of the year took defensive positions around Mareth, Tunisia, to halt the pursuing British under Gen. Bernard L. Montgomery. Bad weather brought operations to a close. While the seasoned Axis forces built up strength, the Allies suffered from an inadequate supply line, faulty command arrangements, and American battle inexperience and overconfidence.

In February 1943 the Axis forces, in the Battle of Kasserine Pass, drove the Americans and French back about fifty miles in southern Tunisia. Allied confidence was restored with the arrival of new field commanders, British Gen. Harold Alexander and American Gen. George S. Patton Jr. In March 1943, the Allies attacked and pushed Rommel's army into northern Tunisia. Bizerte and Tunis fell on 7 May, Arnim surrendered, and the last organized Axis resistance in North Africa ended on 13 May, with more than 250,000 prisoners taken. With North Africa secure, the stage was set for operations in Europe.


Blumenson, Martin. Kasserine Pass. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967.

Howe, George F. Northwest Africa: Seizing the Initiative in the West. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 1991.

Moorehead, Alan. The March to Tunis. New York: Harper and Row, 1967.

Strawson, John. The Battle for North Africa. New York: Scribner, 1969.

MartinBlumenson/a. r.

See alsoKasserine Pass, Battle of ; World War II .