The North Africa Campaign was a front in World War 2 that involved British and Commonwealth, Italian, American and German troops. Although not the largest front in the conflict, it was of strategic significance to both the Allies and the Axis. The campaign began in 1940 when Italy joined Germany in their war with Britain.

The Italians had sat out from 1939; however, in light of the fall of France, despite a lack of military readiness, they declared war on Britain's Empire in 1940. In this war, the Italians aimed to seize British territory in North Africa and expand the Italian Empire in the Mediterranean. North Africa was also important to the Axis as a potential platform towards allied oil supplies in the Middle East.

For Britain, the North Africa campaign and the Mediterranean actually emerged as the only place they could really take the fight to the Axis in the early 1940s. The Italians started the war by advancing on British positions in Egypt. However, the British counter-attack of Operation Compass was perhaps one of their most successful in the war. Despite having a smaller army, the British were able to push the Italians back into Libya. Up to 100,000 Italian troops surrendered to the British army and left them in occupation of Libya. Such a victory was a big boost to Britain after the disastrous Dunkirk.

Such a defeat did not push the Italians out of North Africa entirely; however, it became clear that they needed further military support. So the Germans started to join the Italians and provide German troop divisions under the great military strategist Rommel. Rommel was one of the best generals of the German army and was bad news for Britain's army.

In between the battles with France and Russia, Germany's armies became increasingly pre-occupied in North Africa and the Mediterranean. Britain's victories at Libya, as well as the routing of the Italian navy at Toronto and Cape Matapan, seemed to tip the war in North Africa in its favor. However, Rommel's 1941 advance pushed the Allies back into Egypt, and only at Tobruk were the Allies able to halt the advance. The German victory at Crete also enhanced the Axis position in the Mediterranean.

As such, the campaign remained in the balance. The Allies began to reorganize and Monty assumed high command of the Allied armies. Then as the Americans entered the war he was joined by Eisenhower. In 1942, the Americans and British planned Operation Torch with US and Commonwealth troops landing in French North Africa. A Vichy French welcoming party provided some defense of the territory until they were neutralized, thus losing the Axis the support of Vichy French troops.

Battle of El-AlameinCredit: Image licensed under public domain on Wiki Commons.  
The above image is a public domain image from Wiki Commons.  

More significant was the second Battle of El Alamein where a British & Commonwealth army of almost 200,000 defeated Rommel's Africa Korps and ended its chances of occupying Egypt. With such a defeat, combined with increasing US troops in support, the campaign was now very much tipped in the Allies favor. As such, by the end of 1942 an Allied victory was increasingly likely.

1943 was the final year of the campaign. An Allied advance into Tunisia merely confirmed their increasing military superiority in Africa, and the Africa Korps surrendered.[1] The remaining Axis troops began to retreat back to Italy. With this victory, the Allies began planning an advance into Italy.

Overall, North Africa was Britain's most successful front in the war. The success of British and Commonwealth armies against larger Italian divisions at Libya owed much to great military planning on behalf of Britain's military command. Equally, the defeat of Rommel's formidable Africa Korps at El Alamein was perhaps the decisive battle in the campaign. Such victories ensured a victory for the Allies, and was the beginning of the end for fascist Italy.