The birth of the WWII North African Campaign could be noted as early as June 11, 1940, just one day after Italy declared war on the Allies, when the Italian and Commonwealth forces began initiating a series of raids against each other. In less than a week of this onset, the British Army had already captured Ft. Capuzzo.
Linking North Africa to East Africa
It was the intention of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini to link the Italian North Africa (ASI) with the Italian East Africa (AOI). He also had his sights on capturing Egypt, the Suez Canal and the oilfields in Arabia. By early July, the Italians had forces in the AOI crossing the Sudanese border and forcing a small British battalion to withdraw from the railway junction located at Kassala. The Italians also managed to seize a small British fort in Gallabat approximately 200 miles south of Kassala. They also conquered a number of villages along the Blue Nile which included Ghezzan, Kurmuk and Dumbode. At this point, the Italians were running low on fuel and decided to discontinue any further ventures in the Sudan and decided instead to fortify Kassala with some heavier armament such as anti-tank weapons and machine guns posts resulting in the establishment of an extremely strong garrison.
On August 8, 1940, the Italian forces located in North Africa were given orders by Mussolini to begin invading Egypt. Just outside of a month – September 13th – Italian forces were crossing into Egypt from their Libyan base of Cyrenaica. The accomplishments of this invasion, however, were minimal.
Within the next year, British and Commonwealth armies would launch what would be known as Operation Compass and within six months the operation would result in the defeat of the Italians and the surrendering of all they had previously gained in both Egypt and most of Cyrenaica. The Italians also lost their most vital link between the ASI and the AOI – the desert oasis of Kufra – in March of 1941 in the Battle of Kufra.
Axis Take Greece But Are Defeated in North Africa
While all this fighting in Libya was taking place, the Axis began an attack on Greece. General Wavell, a British field marshal and the commander of British Army forces, received orders to halt any further advancement against the Italian army so troops could be sent to Greece. Though not pleased with this command, he did follow orders.
Despite the change in venue, the Allies were still not able to stop the Axis forces from taking Greece. Meanwhile, Erwin Rommel and his German Afrika Korps entered into the African theater holding off the Allies for another year and a half before being driven out of Libya in early 1943 – by which time the US ground forces had entered into the North African theater. Their amphibious landing on the north-west African beaches occurred in November of 1942 – known as Operation Torch.
What proceeded was a series of defensive movements by the Axis to stall the Allies, but being outnumbered and outgunned, they eventually were eventually defeated. On May 13, 1943, nearly three years after the beginning of the WWII North African Campaign, fighting in Africa ended and close to 240,000 prisoners of war were taken.