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North Africa

The north African campaign began in 1940, when small British forces in Egypt turned back an Italian advance from Libya. This advance was stopped in 1941 when German forces under Erwin Rommel landed in Libya. Thus began a seesaw campaign that culminated in the two Battles of El Alamein. The first battle took place in summer 1942. The Germans had advanced to El Alamein, the last defensible point before Alexandria and the Suez Canal. However, as in the Soviet Union, they had outrun their supplies, and a British defence stopped their thrusts.

The later of the two battles, in the late autumn saw British forces take the offensive. Rommel was pushed back, and this time did not stop falling back until Tunisia.

To complement this victory, on 8 November, 1942, American and British troops landed in Morocco and Algeria in Operation Torch. Vichy French forces put up limited resistance before joining the Alied cause. Ultimately German and Italian forces were caught in the pincers of a twin advance from Algeria and Libya. Advancing from both the east and west, the Allies completely pushed the Germans out of Africa and on May 13, 1943, the remnants of the Axis forces in North Africa surrendered. Not widely known is that the number of prisoners taken in this incident, 250,000 was as many as at Stalingrad.

The Allies' Invasion of Italy

With the North African shore acting as a springboard, an Allied blow into what Churchill referred to as the 'soft underbelly' of Europe was inevitable.

A prelude of this attack was the capture of the offshore island of Sicily on 10 July, 1943. This took the wind out of the bombastic Mussolini. He was deposed on July 25, 1943, by the Fascist Grand Council.

He was arrested and placed under house arrest in an isolated mountain resort. His replacement, General Pietro Badoglio, negotiated an armistice with the Allies on September 8, 1943.

The Germans moved quickly into the confused situation, disarmed Italian formations and established strong defensive lines.

Allied troops landed in mainland Italy on September 9, 1943; the American at Salerno, the British at Taranto.

Mussolini was rescued by the Germans and installed as the head of a Nazi puppet state in northern Italy. He continued in this role until he was captured and lynched by mobs on April 28, 1945, as the Allied forces closed in on Milan.

The Germans had built a fortified zone in the mountains called the Gustav line. The Allied forces attacked both sides of the line, attacking Monte Cassino from the south and landing at Anzio in the north.

The Allies finally entered Rome on June 4, 1944, two days before the landings in Normandy. The Germans regrouped at the Gothic Line further north. After a landing in southern France in August to threaten the German flank, British forces started the attack on the line September 10. The offensive by Allied and some Italian forces continued until the Germans surrendered in Italy on April 29, two days after Mussolini's capture.

The Allies' Invasion of France

Essentially simultaneously with the fall of Rome came the long-awaited invasion of France. Operation Neptune put troops ashore in Normandy on June 6 1944. A long grinding campaign two months long followed as American, British and Canadian forces were slowly built up in the bridgehead, and German forces slowly worn down. When the breakout finally did come it was spectacular, with American forces under Patton racing across France to the German border. The German forces that had been fighting in Normandy were trapped in a pocket around Falaise.

General Charles de Gaulle

Leader of the Free French in opposition to Petin's Vichy regime. Incessant bombing of Germany's infrastructure and cities caused tremendous casualties and disruption. Internally, Hitler survived a number of assassination attempts. The most serious was the July 20 Plot, in which Hitler was slightly injured.

Operation Neptune was complemented by an invasion of southern France in August codenamed Operation Dragoon - the combined operation was referred to as Operation Overlord. By September, three Allied Army Groups were in line against German formations in the west. There was optimism that the war in Europe might be over by the end of 1944.

An attempt was made to force the situation with Operation Market Garden. The Allies attempted to capture bridges with an airborne assault, to open the way into Germany and liberate the northern Netherlands. Unfortunately, heavier German forces than intelligence had predicted were present. The British 1st Airborne Division was almost completely destroyed.

The cold winter of 1944 combined with a poor situation for the Allies led to a stagnate situation on the western front. The Americans continued to grind away at the defenders in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. As long as they stayed on the defense, the Allies were hard-pressed to advance rapidly.

That changed when the Germans mounted a major counteroffensive on Dec 16, 1944. The Ardennes offensive, also called the Battle of the Bulge, drove back and surrounded some American units. The Allied forces were eventually successful in driving back the Germans, in what turned out to be their last major advance of the war.

The final obstacle to the Allies was the River Rhine. It was crossed in April 1945, and the way lay open to the heart of Germany. The last German forces in the west were encircled in the Ruhr.



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