A lot of people assume that the World War II mainly took place in Europe and Asia. But just like the two big continents, Africa was greatly affected too. Military campaigns in North Africa during World War II took place between 13 September 1940 to 13 May 1943. The continent was important for both the Axis and the Allies, since both factions wanted control and access to North Africa’s abundant oil supply.
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The campaign had three phases: Western Desert campaign in eastern Libya and western Egypt; Tunisia campaign; and Operation Torch in Algeria and Morocco. During the campaign, the Italians and Germans lost 620,000 men, while the British lost 220,000. The victory of the Allies in North Africa neutralized 900,000 German and Italian troops.
The five territories of the North African coast—Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt—were all under a European power. In 1914, Britain established a colony over Egypt. Even if Egypt declared nominal independence in 1922, the Brits took over Egypt’s foreign policy and military defense. The Brits soon reconfirmed their control over Egypt in 1936 after both parties signed the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty. Italy also conquered different provinces from the Turks in 1911, and eventually took control of Libya in 1934. France had Tunisia in 1881, and Morocco also became a French colony under the Treaty of Fez. Algeria also became a formal part of France in 1940.
It was in 1942 when North Africa saw the most bloodshed during the war. Because British supply lines were overextended, General Rommel led German forces in a fierce counterattack. The British were forced to retreat to the Gazala Line. The Battle of Gazala was the biggest of the Desert War. It resulted in the retreat of the British troops (led by General Auchinleck) to Alam Halfa.
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In November 1942, the Axis faction saw the start of its downfall with Operation Torch. After fighting against Vichy French forces, the Allied forces controlled the Algerian and Moroccan coasts. By May 1943, around 230,000 Axis soldiers surrendered to the Allied forces in Tunisia, which ended the war in North Africa.