The North Africa Campaign was fought from 10 June 1940 to 13 May 1943. It included campaigns fought in the Libyan and Egyptian deserts (Western Desert Campaign, also known as the Desert War) and in Morocco and Algeria (Operation Torch) as well as Tunisia.
The campaign pitted the Allies, many of whom had colonial interests in Africa dating from the 19th Century, against the Axis Powers. Allied Forces were dominated by the British Commonwealth and exiles from German-occupied Europe. The United States entered the war in December 1941 and began direct military assistance in North Africa in May 1942.
Fighting in North Africa started with Italy’s declaration of war on 10 June 1940, shortly before the fall of France. On 14 June, British forces crossed from Egypt into Libya and captured the Italian Fort Capuzzo. This was followed by an Italian counter-offensive into Egypt and the capture of Sidi Barrani in September. The British retook the town during the opening phase of Operation Compass, which culminated in the destruction of the Italian 10th Army. To prevent a complete Axis defeat, the German Afrika Korps, commanded by Erwin Rommel – who later became known as the ‘Desert Fox’ – was dispatched to North Africa in February 1941.
A fluctuating series of battles for control of Libya and parts of Egypt followed, reaching a climax in the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942 when British Commonwealth forces commanded by Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery decisively defeated Rommel’s Afrika Korps and forced its remnants into Tunisia. After the Anglo-American landings (Operation Torch) in North-West Africa in November 1942, and subsequent battles against Vichy French Forces (who then changed sides), the Allies encircled several hundred thousand German and Italian personnel in northern Tunisia and finally forced their surrender in May 1943.
Victory for the Allies in North Africa immediately led to the Italian Campaign, which culminated in the downfall of the fascist government in Italy and the elimination of Germany’s main European ally.