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Why was Switzerland not attacked during the two World Wars?

Why was Switzerland not attacked during the two World Wars?



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Why in WW1 or WW2 or ever nobody invaded Switzerland? All other countries was in some wars. How Switzerland do it and should we learn from them?

I hear that many people with power have money in swiss banks, is that factor or not?


Simply because Switzerland was a worse alternative plan strategically than Netherlands and Belgium.

Hitler had a plan to attack Switzerland, named Operation Tannenbaum but the Maginot line could be breached through Belgium and Netherland. So it became needless conflict with no gain.

It is a less known fact that Switzerland (German part namely) was part of the Greater Reich Hitler dreamt of. He wanted to merge all Germanic territories under his control, but for strategic reasons he simply gave up on that. I am sure the logic behind it was: if Germany wins the war, Switzerland will have no choice, but to merge into the unified German Reich. So Hitler didn't have to waste resources on Switzerland, Operation Tannenbaum was about getting access point to France, a lot better one than through Maginot line.


Switzerland isn't much of a "prize." It has about 16,000 square miles, and about 4.5 million people in 1940 making it twice the size of New Jersey, with about as many people. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switzerland On both counts, it is one of the smaller countries in Europe, and less worth having.

On the other hand, Switzerland maintains a policy of armed neutrality. EVERY MAN (except those blind or crippled) has served a year or two in the army, and possesses a weapon. They mobilized 850000 men in 2nd world war as preparation according to WHKMLA source. About two thirds of the country is mountainous, and it can get quite cold in the wintertime, making it good for defense.

Also, Switzerland was very convenient as a "clearing house" for (both sides), in banking, but also in espionage and prisoner exchanges.

Basically, Switzerland was worth more to the Germans neutral than what it would have cost to subjugate her.


Why did the USSR bomb neutral Sweden during WWII?

During World War II, Sweden was unable to stay away from the military conflict, as it had hoped to. Under pressure from the Third Reich, it had to agree to the transit of German troops through its territory.

Furthermore, Stockholm deviated from its policy of neutrality not only under pressure, but also quite voluntarily. During the Soviet-Finnish war, Sweden declared itself a so-called &ldquonon-belligerent&rdquo state. However, without directly intervening in the conflict, it nevertheless actively supplied Finland with weapons, ammunition and volunteers.

In addition, the Swedes ended up taking part in the hostilities, too. From time to time, the warring sides&rsquo submarines attacked and sank Swedish merchant ships by mistake, while aircraft that had lost their bearings launched air strikes on Swedish territory.

According to Sweden&rsquos calculations, during World War II, Germany bombed it 10 times, Great Britain 12 times, while the USSR was responsible for seven incidents. Moscow, however, admitted its involvement in only one of them.

The first air raid

On January 14, 1940, Soviet aircraft attacked Swedish territory for the first time. Having flown over northern Finland and the Gulf of Bothnia, three DB-3 bombers reached the large Swedish port of Luleå .

In heavy snowfall and poor visibility, they turned to the island of Kallaxön south of Luleå , where they dropped about a dozen bombs. Fortunately, there were no casualties only a few residential buildings were damaged.

On the way back, empty fuel tanks forced the Soviet bombers to land in Finland, where they were captured by Finnish troops.

Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf, Duke of Västerbotten, who was in northern Sweden at the time, immediately arrived at the scene, accompanied by high-ranking military personnel. Straight away, speculation began as to the possible reasons for the Soviet bombing raid.

Crown prince of Sweden Gustaf Adolf.

According to the generally accepted theory, the Soviet planes were heading towards the Finnish city of Kemi, but lost their way. However, there was also another theory that the DB-3s had been tasked with bombing a military airfield being built on Kallaxön. Perhaps the USSR, thus, wanted to force the Swedes to give up their support for Finland. Moscow, however, did not acknowledge the involvement of its Air Force in this incident.

Attack on Pajala

At noon on February 21, 1940, seven Soviet bombers appeared in the sky over the Swedish village of Pajala, 10km from the border with Finland and rained bombs on it.

Pajala after the Soviet bombing raid.

Pajala was hit with more than 130 bombs, including incendiary ones, which severely damaged a local church, burnt down a sawmill and part of a residential area.

One bomb hit a local school&rsquos gym, where units of the Norrland Dragoon Regiment were stationed at the time. The only thing that saved the Swedish soldiers&rsquo lives was that the bomb did not explode.

Pajala after the Soviet bombing raid.

Miraculously, no-one was killed in the air raid, but two local residents were wounded. The small number of casualties was due to the fact that most of the bombs fell on the outskirts of Pajala. In addition, many residents had been warned by their friends and relatives from the neighboring village of Kengis on the very border with Finland, who were the first to spot the Soviet planes.

Sweden protested to the Soviet leadership, but Moscow rejected the charge of having attacked Pajala. It was only on March 6 that, having investigated the situation, the USSR admitted that it had bombed Swedish territory, citing the crews&rsquo navigation error as the reason.

Pajala after the Soviet bombing raid.

Already after the Winter War was over, a Soviet delegation visited the village to assess the damage caused. The Swedes estimated damage at 45,000 kronas. In the end, the USSR paid Sweden 40,000 kronas in compensation.

Pajala after the Soviet bombing raid.

Strike on the capital

On February 22, 1944, residents of Stockholm suddenly found themselves in the epicenter of a real war. Their city was being bombed by Soviet aviation.

The Swedish air defense forces had not detected four foreign bombers reaching the capital. Only one post reported that unidentified planes were approaching, but while it was trying to clarify the situation, it was already too late.

For the first time in history, Stockholm was bombed. One 100 kg bomb destroyed a newly opened theater, leaving a crater three meters deep and five meters wide. In addition to the Swedish capital, the neighboring town of Strängnäs was also hit.

As in the case with other Soviet air raids on Swedish settlements, miraculously, no one was killed. But two Swedish soldiers were wounded.

The Swedish air defense forces.

The Swedes concluded that the Soviet aircraft had struck Stockholm by mistake. At the time, the USSR was actively bombing southern and southwestern Finland, and its bombers may well have gotten lost on a dark winter night. However, in response to the Swedish demand to clarify the situation, Moscow refused to acknowledge its planes&rsquo involvement in the raid on the city, albeit unintentional.

There is a theory that the attack on Stockholm was by no means a navigation error, but a deliberate operation by the Soviet Union. The reason was the case of a Soviet intelligence agent named Vasily Sidorenko.

Sidorenko was arrested in Sweden in 1942 for espionage and sentenced to 12 years in prison. The Soviet leadership repeatedly appealed to Sweden demanding his immediate release, but all the appeals were invariably rejected. When diplomatic methods were exhausted, the USSR must have decided to resort to force.

Stockholm after the Soviet bombing raid.

Whether by coincidence or not, just three days after the bombing of Stockholm, Sidorenko was released on medical grounds and soon left the country.

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Why Was Switzerland Neutral During The World Wars?

Switzerland is renowned for its neutrality, but this should not to be confused with pacifism. The country maintains an army, including obligatory conscription for men, and did so throughout both World Wars that shook Europe to its core.

To understand why Switzerland stood on the side-lines we have to go back five hundred years to 1516 when the Swiss fought, and duly lost, their last battle against the French. The ensuing peace treaty set in motion Switzerland’s state of neutrality. As part of his grand design to become emperor of all of Europe, Napoleon invaded Switzerland in 1798 and Swiss neutrality fell away.

After Napoleon’s humbling, Swiss neutrality was enshrined at the Treaty of Paris as the great powers of Europe acknowledged the country’s wish to stay out of future conflicts. Neutrality became an important part of their culture, one that the Swiss were willing to defend if they had to.

Come World War I however, Switzerland was in a tight spot as its borders abutted the main warring factions on all sides Germany, Austria, France and Italy. To stem off any threat the Swiss mobilised their army of some 200,000 men and stationed it on the borders. Between 1914-18, the Swiss were not dragged into the war and instead the country became an island of calm for refugees, revolutionaries, artists and thinkers who sought to escape the ravages of war, including the founders of the Dada movement.

In the years following World War I, Swiss neutrality become even more enshrined by virtue of its banking system. In 1934, the Swiss created numbered bank accounts, completely anonymous by nature, that allowed patrons from abroad to hide their cash or other valuables. This would prove controversial many years later when it was discovered gold confiscated from Jews was traded to Swiss banks in exchange for foreign currency.

As World War II broke out, the Swiss once again had to bare their teeth to ensure their neutrality was respected. The country mobilised, amassing 850,000 soldiers at its peak of activity, and a ring of defences were thrown up (including the Toblerone Trail) as the threat of a Nazi invasion loomed. “Man for man, Switzerland probably has the best army in Europe today,” TIME magazine wrote and was strong enough to give the Nazi’s pause for thought.

Switzerland again became an important hub for refugees, despite controversy over their refusal to give asylum to those fleeing persecution on account of race, focusing rather on political asylum seekers. Nevertheless during the war nearly 300,000 refugees fled into the country.

Switzerland managed to stay neutral throughout two World Wars, but only by an ironic mixture of military strength and a good portion of luck. Conquering the small nation would not have been an easy feat. Instead it remained an important island for trade, peace negotiations, espionage and refugees.


Ireland Was Neutral in World War II, so Why Did the Nazis Attack It?

Key point: Berlin's bomber made some mistakes, but they likely also attacked Ireland on purpose too. Germany didn't want anyone thinking they could be too friendly to the Allies.

The south of Ireland, officially known as Eire and often referred to by many residing there as the “Free State,” declared its neutrality when World War II erupted suddenly in September 1939. The Irish would remain neutral throughout the war but were universally viewed as far more sympathetic and helpful to the Allies than the Axis. Despite their formal neutrality, the Irish experienced a number of aerial bomb attacks from German planes in 1940 and 1941. The Germans insisted that any damage to Irish property or casualties among the Irish populace could not have been the result of German ordnance since there simply were not any German military planes flying in Ireland’s airspace. They blamed British skullduggery for these attacks. According to the Nazis, it was Churchill and not Hitler who wanted to drag Ireland into war.

The ordnance and planes involved in these attacks would prove to be unmistakably German and, while it may be true that some of these incidents were in fact accidental, it appears more likely than not that Nazi Germany was both punishing and warning Ireland regarding its relationship with the Allies.

Neutrality was a difficult thing to maintain in World War II, especially for any nation in Europe. When the war began in September 1939, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, and Norway had all proclaimed their neutrality only to have the Germans quickly gobble them up the following spring. The Baltic States and Finland had done much the same, only to be forcibly occupied or invaded by the Soviet Union that same year or the next.

Sweden and Switzerland had both been neutral states since the Congress of Vienna in 1815, although both nations at least seemed to cooperate more with Germany than the Allies in the subsequent world wars.

Ireland was a different matter altogether. Ireland had Britain and the sea between her and any potential hostile powers like Nazi Germany or Communist Russia. It was no simple matter for a foreign power, save Britain, to invade Ireland, which was thought to be relatively safe from attack.

It was also fairly easy for Ireland to avoid any argument for entering the war. Ireland had no military alliances, strategic interests, colonial holdings, or financial ties that would force it into becoming a belligerent. So the Irish were officially neutral—even if that neutrality happened to favor the Allies. This was not an easy a task because English-Irish relations had, for centuries, been “strained,” to say the least.

Ireland had been under British rule since the 1100s, but after the Protestant Reformation in the mid-1500s under Henry VIII the two nations were in a virtual and perpetual state of war. Formal laws denying basic civil rights to Catholics and Protestant dissenters of English rule were passed in the early 1700s. This resulted in much bloodshed, including a failed Irish insurrection in 1798.

Irish-English relations remained strained in the early 20th century, but most Irish were supportive of Great Britain during World War I, with roughly 200,000 Irishmen serving in British ranks. These men were all volunteers, as Britain did not draft Irishmen even though Parliament passed a law in April 1918 authorizing them to do just that. Amongst this uneasy peace, the more militant Irish rose up in arms to defy British rule during the Easter Rebellion of 1916. The fighting was primarily in Dublin and was quelled by the British in less than a week.

In January 1919, two months after the curtain came down on the Great War, Ireland moved to declare itself an independent state. The British responded with the infamous “Black and Tans”—an ill-clad group of mostly unemployed war veterans not unlike the German Freikorps (Free Corps), who were then busy putting down communist uprisings throughout post-World War I Germany. Both organizations could be absolutely ruthless in their reprisals against innocent civilians, and the horror stories understandably survive to the present day.

A partial solution was reached in December 1921 with the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. It granted the 23 mostly Catholic counties in the south of Ireland independence in a year and let the nine mostly Protestant counties of the north vote to opt out of the treaty (which six did) in order to remain in the United Kingdom.

The German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, brought a declaration of war from the United Kingdom within 48 hours. That declaration of war was limited to the UK and did not involve other nations of the British Commonwealth. The UK’s authority for war powers over its citizens included the Isle of Britain, England, Scotland, and Wales as well as, the six counties in Northern Ireland known as Ulster.

The south of Ireland (Eire) had been a “self-governing dominion” of the British Empire from 1922-1937. The Irish, acting under British authority, had drafted a new constitution in 1937 and passed it in a plebiscite, making them a fully independent state. The authority enabling the Irish Free State to draft a new constitution came from Britain’s Statute of Westminster, passed in 1931.

On September 1, 1939, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland quickly convened an emergency session of the Dail (parliament) to deal with the crisis. The Taoiseach then was none other than Éamon de Valera, an American by birth who was brought by his uncle to Ireland at the tender age of two after his father died.

He had been part of the leadership involved in the 1916 Easter Rebellion and almost certainly was spared execution because he was an American by birth. The Brits in 1916 did not want to risk angering the large Irish-American population while they were courting America as a potential ally in the Great War.

De Valera was both an athlete and a scholar. He was something of an Irish version of Horatio Alger—a man who rose to prominence by picking himself up by his own bootstraps. He would be a powerful force in Irish politics from 1917 until his retirement in 1973 at the age of 90.

De Valera’s supporters regarded him as a supreme diplomat. Whether dealing with the Brits or the Germans, they thought him a tough and wise negotiator who could secure an agreement beneficial to his people and avoid conflict in the process. His detractors regarded him as a “typical” politician—that is, noncommittal, evasive, and selfserving. Most of the Irish populace fell into the former category while U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, David Gray (Roosevelt’s envoy to Ireland), and Churchill fell into the latter.

When the war broke out de Valera and his government knew that Ireland was not only free from any obligation to provide military assistance to anyone, but was completely incapable of offering any. The Irish Army had only 7,500 men in its ranks. While undoubtedly courageous, it was far from being combat ready and was regarded by most observers as more ceremonial in nature and best suited for parades. The Irish Navy, moreover, consisted of a mere two motorized torpedo boats (they would have six by the end of 1940) used for coastal patrol.

As for the Irish Air Corps, its combat capability consisted of four 1938 British Gloster Gladiators (biplanes), 16 twin-engine British Avro Ansons used for training and maritime reconnaissance (they could drop bombs, assuming the Irish had any), three Supermarine Amphibious Walruses (biplane boats) used for maritime recon, and three British Westland Lysanders, which could be used for land-based observation and reconnaissance or to shuttle a VIP or two.

As the British parliament was approving a declaration of war against Germany on September 3, 1939, the Irish Dail was busy passing the Emergency Powers Act. The Irish armed forces, sparse as they were, were now mobilized.

As prime minister, de Valera now had almost unchecked authority in regard to military matters and preparedness, but the Emergency Powers Act stopped short of granting him the authority to take the nation into war. He could, in effect, do whatever was necessary to protect Ireland from aggression, but the parliament made clear that the nation was neutral in the conflict and intended to remain as such. This was all fine with de Valera, who had long embraced these same sentiments.

De Valera wasn’t limiting his worries about aggression against Ireland to just Germany. There was a real fear that the British would seize a neutral Eire and occupy it as a protectorate. The Brits would reason that if the Irish didn’t have enough sense to throw in with Britain, then they could be forced to do so for their own good.

Any such anxiety on de Valera’s part would soon prove to be justified. The irony cannot be lost that on the very day that Hitler’s armies were storming into the neutral Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium (May 10, 1940), the British Royal Marines were landing in neutral Iceland to take control of it.


Tracking down the top physicist

Operation Big ended, but Pash wanted Heisenberg. Following the clues and full of foreboding—there were still nagging rumors that the Fuhrer would unleash a last Wunderwaffe against the Allies—Pash headed into the Bavarian Alps. After Wehrwulf youths sabotaged a critical bridge over a gorge, the Lightning A team had to abandon their vehicles, whereupon Pash led his 19 men across the ravine and up into the mountains.

When they came to the town of Urfeld near the alpine lake of Walchen, they found Germans surrendering to them en masse�out 700 SS troops giving way to his paltry passel of soldiers. Through a bit of chicanery, Pash led the Germans to believe his force was larger than it was and bluffed his way out of the precarious situation. He was not interested in surrendering soldiers—he was there for Heisenberg. After interrogating locals, Pash found the scientist and his family in a mountain cabin on May 2, 1945. Two days before, Hitler had committed suicide in his bunker.

The German scientists were eventually brought to a safe house called Farm Hall in England. The scientists for their part publicly stated that they were anti-Nazi and had been trying in their passive-aggressive way to undermine research so Hitler could not get the bomb. Secretly, British intelligence bugged Farm Hall and learned that the scientists were amazed that the Americans had successfully detonated an atomic bomb at Hiroshima. Otto Hahn, who had discovered nuclear fission, was anti-Nazi and did not take part in the German atomic-research effort, felt personally responsible that his early discoveries had led to so many gruesome deaths. And while the Americans couldn&apost conclusively infer the other scientists&apos motivations, it was clear that, ultimately, Germany had not been close to developing a working atomic bomb.

More information on the remarkable Alsos mission is coming to light as source material becomes declassified and is digitized. Colonel Pash’s papers, housed at the Hoover Institution Library and Archives in Stanford, California, contain a wealth of information about this daring episode of military history, including an annotated map created by Pash, an accompanying diary and film footage from the daring Alsos Mission.


Mein Kampf

'Mein Kampf': a manifesto for 'Lebensraum' © The final elaboration of Hitler's programme for acquiring Lebensraum occurred while he wrote Mein Kampf during 1924-1925. Essentially, this involved his study of 'geopolitics', that is, the impact of the environment on politics, which provided him with a quasi-scientific justification for the plans he had already worked out.

During his period in Landsberg prison (where he had been incarcerated following the failure of his notorious Munich beer hall coup in November 1923), he read and discussed Ratzel's work and other geopolitical literature provided by a Munich Professor of Geography, Karl Haushofer, and fellow-prisoner Rudolf Hess.

Haushofer emphasised the 'extremely unfavourable situation of the Reich from the viewpoint of military geography' and Germany's limited resources of food and raw materials, and no doubt thus provided Hitler with an intellectual justification for his views. These were expressed in Mein Kampf, and remained fundamentally the same through the following years.

Indeed, an important reason for his decision to invade the Soviet Union in June 1941 was his desire to acquire the Lebensraum that he had been seeking for Germany since 1925. He envisaged settling Germans as a master race in western Russia, while deporting most of the Russians to Siberia and using the remainder as slave labour.

He was not of course the only Nazi committed to acquiring Lebensraum in the east, as is demonstrated by a note in the diary of Heinrich Himmler, future leader of the SS, in 1919:

'I work for my ideal of German womanhood with whom, some day, I will live my life in the east and fight my battles as a German far from beautiful Germany.'


How Nazi Germany Could Have Crushed Russia During World War II

In our last installment, we discussed how Germany could have forced Britain to accept one of his peace offers and keep the United States out of the war. In this article, we shall examine how Germany might have not only avoided total defeat at the hands of the Red Army, but even might have achieved a measure of victory against her much larger and more powerful Soviet adversary, which was over forty times larger than Germany at its greatest extent.

Don’t invade Yugoslavia and Greece in April 1941.

In actual history, Yugoslavia agreed to join the Axis powers in late April 1941 but days later a coup brought new leadership to power more sympathetic to the Allies. While the new Yugoslav leaders promised the Germans to remain aligned with the Axis as previously agreed while remaining neutral in the war, Hitler viewed the coup as a personal insult and vowed to make Yugoslavia pay, diverting German Panzer divisions from Poland and Romania to invade Yugoslavia and Greece. This ended up delaying the planned German invasion of USSR by five and a half crucial weeks from May 15 to June 22, 1941. In retrospect, there was no military necessity for Hitler to invade Yugoslavia in April 1941. He could have merely sent a few German infantry divisions to reinforce Albania to prevent it from being overrun by Greek troops but he feared potential British reinforcements in Greece, which could threaten his southern European flank. Of course, had Britain and France not still been at war with Germany, it is unlikely that Italy would have invaded Greece in 1940–1941 and risked a British Declaration of War so in that case Operation Barbarossa could have kicked off on May 15, 1941 as originally planned, greatly increasing the chances of a German capture of Moscow in 1941. Combined with Hitler’s subsequent decision to divert his two central Panzer Armies to capture Soviet armies on their northern and southern flanks, this five and a half week delay to the start time of Operation Barbarossa proved fatal to German prospects for victory in the war. Even if Hitler hadn’t pursued a Moscow-first military strategy as his generals wisely advised, invading Russia five and a half weeks earlier might well have been sufficient to enable the Germans to capture Moscow by November 1941, albeit at considerable cost in men and material.

Don’t halt the advance on Moscow of the two Panzergruppen (tank armies) of Army Group Center for two crucial months.

While many historians view the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 as Hitler’s biggest blunder, evidence from Soviet archives uncovered following the Soviet collapse in 1991 suggests it was successful in preventing a Soviet invasion of Poland and Romania, which had been planned for July 1941. As it turned out, Hitler was correct in his assessment that his invasion of the Soviet Union was necessary as a preemptive attack against Soviets who were planning to attack Germany. In preparation for his planned invasion of Europe, Stalin had, between August 1939 and June 1941, overseen a massive military buildup of the Red Army increasing its total active-duty manpower from 1.5 million to 5.5 million. This expansion more than doubled their total numbers of divisions from 120 to 303 divisions including an increase in the number of Soviet tank divisions from from zero to sixty-one tank divisions as opposed to only twenty total Panzer divisions available in the German Army at the time of Operation Barbarossa. By June 1941, the Red Army boasted seven times more tanks and four times more combat aircraft than invading German forces. The first objective of this planned Soviet invasion of Europe was to occupy Romania to cut off Germany from its access to Romanian oil fields to immobilize the German armed forces and force their capitulation. Then after conquering Berlin and forcing a German surrender, the Red Army was to occupy all of continental Europe to the English Channel, which noted British author, Anthony Beevor, states that Stalin seriously considered doing at the end of the war as well. Viewed in this light, Operation Barbarossa was not a mistake at all but rather an operation which succeeded in destroying the over 20,000 Soviet tanks and thousands of combat aircraft concentrated at the border to invade German territory and postponed the Red Army subjugation of Germany and Europe by nearly four years. Soviet defector, Viktor Suvorov in his groundbreaking book Chief Culprit goes so far as to credit Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union as saving Western Europe from being conquered by the Red Army.

Rather, Hitler’s biggest mistake with regards to his war against the Soviet Union was his decision in early August 1941 to divert the two Panzer Armies of Army Group Center to help Army Group North and Army Group South to overrun and encircle Soviet armies on the flanks of its advance resulting in a two month delay in advancing on Moscow when the Soviet capitol was open for the taking. If Hitler had pursued a Moscow first strategy, he could have captured Moscow by the end of August or early September at the latest. He might even have pushed the Red Army back to the Archangel Volga Astrakhan line by October 1941 or by summer 1942 forcing Stalin to accept an armistice recognizing most of Germany’s hard won gains. In his excellent book Hitler’s Panzers East, R.H.S. Stolfi estimated that would have taken away up to 45 percent of the Soviet industrial base and up to 42 percent of her population making it extremely difficult for the Soviets to recover and take back lost territory. While the Soviets could have relocated many of their industries east of the Urals as in actual history, their industrial production would have been much more crippled than it was in actual history without U.S.-UK military industrial assistance. Had the Germans captured Moscow before winter 1941 and held it through the Soviet winter late-1941, early-1942 counteroffensive, Stalin might have requested an armistice on terms much more favorable to Germany than the ones he offered in actual history. Those terms might have included the transfer of much, if not all, of the oil-rich Caucasus region to Germany in exchange for the return of their all-important capitol city to Soviet control. With the Soviets so gravely weakened, Japan likely would have joined the fight to take their share of the spoils and occupy Eastern Siberia as Japanese Army generals had wanted to do all along. Thus, if Hitler had allowed his generals to capture Moscow first, the Germans likely have won the war.

Manufacture three million thick winter coats and other winter clothing for the German army before Invading the Soviet Union.

Due to Hitler’s rosy predictions for a swift Soviet collapse and an end to the war in the East by December 1941, Germany failed to produce winter clothing for his invading troops. According to some accounts, as many as 90 percent of all German casualties from November 1941 to March 1942, totaling several hundred thousands, were due to frostbite. Only in late December 1941 did the Nazi leadership admit their mistake and urgently collect as much winter gear from German civilians to send to German troops as possible.

Allow national independence and self-rule for all of the Soviet territories liberated by German forces.

Perhaps the biggest key to winning their war against the Soviet Union (other than not fighting the United States and the UK, of course) was for the Germans to not only be seen as liberators from Soviet Communist control, as they initially were when they invaded the Soviet Union, but to actually be liberators from Soviet Communist oppression. The Germans should have used nationalism to rally the people of Belarus, Ukraine and the Baltic States to fight not for the Germans or against Stalin but rather to liberate their own countries from Soviet captivity. They should have allowed self-rule for all of these liberated nations just as Imperial Germany had granted them after defeating the Russian Empire in March 1918 as part of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In actual history, the Germans captured 5.6 million Soviet troops and captured Red Army Lieutenant General Vlasov offered to lead a Russian Liberation Army to help fight the Soviets while other leaders offered to lead Ukrainian and Cossack Liberation Armies but Hitler would not allow them to be used in combat on the Eastern Front, believing them to be unreliable. If the Germans had treated the citizens of liberated Soviet territories and Soviet Prisoners of War (POW’s) fairly, millions of additional captured Soviet soldiers might have volunteered to fight on the German side. As it turned out, Stalin ended up using the nationalism of Ukraine and other Soviet republics to defeat the Germans instead of the other way around which represented a major missed opportunity for Germany that helped ensure they lost the war.


How North Africa Became a Battleground in World War II

American troops in M3 medium tanks storm the western regions of North Africa.

David T. Zabecki
March 1997

The battle for North Africa was a struggle for control of the Suez Canal and access to oil from the Middle East and raw materials from Asia. Oil in particular had become a critical strategic commodity due to the increased mechanization of modern armies. Britain, which was the first major nation to field a completely mechanized army, was particularly dependent on the Middle Eastern oil. The Suez Canal also provided Britain with a valuable link to her overseas dominions—part of a lifeline that ran through the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, the North African Campaign and the naval campaign for the Mediterranean were extensions of each other in a very real sense.

The struggle for control of North Africa began as early as October 1935, when Italy invaded Ethiopia from its colony Italian Somaliland. That move made Egypt very wary of Italy’s imperialistic aspirations. In reaction, the Egyptians granted Britain permission to station relatively large forces in their territory. Britain and France also agreed to divide the responsibility for maintaining naval control of the Mediterranean, with the main British base located at Alexandria, Egypt.

Italy was the wild card in the Mediterranean strategic equation at the outset of WWII. If the Italians remained neutral, British access to the vital sea lanes would remain almost assured. If Italy sided with Germany, the powerful Italian navy had the capability to close the Mediterranean. The navy’s main base was at Taranto in southern Italy, and operations from there would be supported by Italian air force units flying from bases in Sicily and Sardinia.

Italy did remain neutral when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. When Germany invaded France in June 1940, however, Benito Mussolini could not resist the opportunity to grab his share of the spoils. On June 11, 1940, six days after the British evacuation at Dunkirk, France, Italy declared war on Britain and France. Britain and Italy were now at war in the Mediterranean.

On paper, at least, Italy enjoyed a considerable advantage over Britain in the Mediterranean theater of operations. In June 1939, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham’s Mediterranean Fleet had only 45 combat ships against the Italian navy’s 183. The Italians held an especially large edge in submarines, with 108 against Cunningham’s 12. The French surrender on June 25, 1940, placed the entire burden of controlling of the Mediterranean sea lanes on the Royal Navy.

The Royal Air Force (RAF) was in a slightly better position, with 205 aircraft against the Italian air force’s 313 planes. On the ground, Italian Marshal Rodolfo Graziani had some 250,000 troops in Libya, while General Lord Archibald Percival Wavell, British commander in chief of the Middle East, had only 100,000 troops to defend Egypt, Sudan and Palestine. The British ground forces, however, were far better organized, trained and equipped and had superior leadership.

The British and Italian armies faced each other across the Libyan-Egyptian border in an area known as the Western Desert. It was an inhospitable region with no vegetation and virtually no water. From Mersa Matruh in western Egypt to El Agheila on the east side of Libya’s Gulf of Sidra, only one major road connected the region’s few towns and villages. A sandy coastal strip of varying width ran along the southern shore of the Mediterranean. Inland, a sharp escarpment rose to the 500-foot-high Libyan Plateau. There were only a few passes where wheeled or even tracked vehicles could ascend the escarpment. Once on the plateau, however, military vehicles had good cross-country mobility across limestone ground covered by a thin layer of sand. The commander of Germany’s 21st Panzer Division, Lt. Gen. Johann von Ravenstein, described the area as a tactician’s paradise and a logistician’s hell.

On September 13, 1940, Graziani reluctantly moved into Egypt, almost a month after he had been ordered to do so by Mussolini. Some six Italian divisions drove east, bypassing a small British covering force along the border, and halted at Sidi Barrani, just short of the main British positions at Mersa Matruh. Graziani apparently had no intention of going any deeper into Egypt. Italian control of the airfield at Sidi Barrani, however, seriously reduced the operational reach of British air power and posed a threat to the Royal Navy in Alexandria. With the Battle of Britain reaching its climax and Great Britain facing a possible German invasion, the British were in no immediate position to counter the Italian thrust.

By October 1940, the threat of a German invasion of the British Isles had eased, and the British began to reinforce Wavell. Through that December, an additional 126,000 Commonwealth troops arrived in Egypt from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and India. On November 11, British naval air power seriously damaged the Italian navy in a surprise attack against Taranto. On December 9, the Western Desert Force, under Lt. Gen. Sir Richard O’Connor, attacked the Italians at Sidi Barrani.

The British pushed the Italian Tenth Army out of Egypt and then, on January 3, 1941, scored a major victory at Bardia, just inside Libya. Driving into Cyrenaica (eastern Libya), the British took the vital port of Tobruk on January 22. O’Connor continued to pursue the Italians, trapping them at Beda Fomm on February 7, 1941. The Italian Tenth Army collapsed. In two months, a British force of about two divisions had advanced 500 miles, destroyed 10 Italian divisions, and captured 130,000 prisoners, 380 tanks and 845 guns. In the process, the British had suffered 555 dead and 1,400 wounded.

Following the British successes in North Africa, Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided on February 22 to commit British troops to defend Greece against the Axis. Most of those forces came out of Cyrenaica, which left Wavell only five brigades in Libya. Just a few weeks earlier, however, Adolf Hitler had decided to shore up the Italians in North Africa by committing German forces. On January 8, the Luftwaffe’s Fliegerkorps X arrived in Sicily from Norway and immediately began attacking Allied shipping destined for the Libyan port of Benghazi. That threat forced the British forward units in Libya to resupply through Tobruk, more than 450 miles away.

Two German divisions and two additional Italian divisions began crossing from Italy into Libya. On February 12, Brig. Gen. Erwin Rommel assumed command of the German units that later became the famed Afrika Korps. He lost no time in regaining the initiative. Rommel probed El Agheila on March 24. When he found that the British defenses were thin, he launched a general offensive despite Hitler’s orders to maintain an overall defensive posture.

Near the end of March, O’Connor was replaced by Lt. Gen. Sir Philip Neame as commander of the Western Desert Force. The magnitude of the German attack became apparent when the British were forced out of Benghazi on April 3. O’Connor was sent back to the front as an adviser to Neame. The Germans captured both British generals from their unescorted staff car on the night of April 6.

Rommel drove rapidly to the east, surrounding Tobruk on April 10. Unable to take the port on the run, he left a siege force of mostly Italian units there and continued his push for the Egyptian border. It was a decision Rommel later regretted. The Tobruk garrison, which held out against the siege for 240 days, remained a thorn in Rommel’s side–an annoying sideshow that tied down vital Axis manpower.

On April 14, Rommel’s main force reached Sollum on the Egyptian border, and his troops occupied the key terrain of the Halfaya Pass. The German high command, meanwhile, was concerned about the speed of Rommel’s advance and his failure to take Tobruk. They sent General Friedrich von Paulus to North Africa to assess the situation and ‘bring Rommel under control. Paulus’ report back to Berlin described Rommel’s weak overall position and his critical shortages of fuel and ammunition. The report also reached Churchill via Ultra intercepts.

From this report, Churchill wrongly concluded that the Germans were ready to collapse with one strong push, and he started pressuring Wavell to mount an immediate counteroffensive. Meanwhile, a British supply convoy, code-named Tiger, made its way to North Africa carrying 295 tanks and 43 Hawker Hurricane fighters. Despite heavy air attacks, the Tiger convoy arrived on May 12 after losing only one transport that carried 57 tanks.

Prior to launching his counterattack, Wavell wanted to gain control of Halfaya Pass. On May 15, he launched Operation Brevity, under the command of Brig. Gen. William Gott, to secure the pass and Fort Capuzzo beyond. Rommel skillfully parried the thrust, and the British withdrew from Fort Capuzzo the next day. By May 27 the Germans had recaptured Halfaya Pass. Unable to advance any farther because of supply shortages, they dug in and fortified their positions with 88mm anti-aircraft guns. The British troops began referring to the heavily fortified and fiercely defended Halfaya Pass as Hellfire Pass.

Under continuing pressure from Churchill, Wavell launched his major offensive on June 15. Operation Battleaxe began with a frontal attack on the Sollum-Halfaya Pass axis. Skillfully using the 88mm anti-aircraft guns as anti-tank weapons, the Germans blunted the British attack. Then Rommel counterattacked. Battleaxe was over by June 17, and Wavell had lost 91 of his new tanks. Churchill relieved Wavell on June 21 and replaced him with General Sir Claude Auchinleck. General Sir Alan Cunningham (the brother of Admiral Cunningham) was given command of the Western Desert Force, recently redesignated the British Eighth Army.

Auchinleck resisted Churchill’s constant pressure for an immediate British counterattack. When Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union on June 22, Rommel’s force in North Africa became even less a priority for Germany’s logistical support. Most of the Luftwaffe units in the Mediterranean were sent to Russia, which gave the British a freer hand in attacking Rommel’s supply convoys at sea and from the air. Rommel continued to grow weaker. By November, he had 414 tanks, 320 aircraft and nine divisions (three German), four of which were tied down in the siege of Tobruk. The British had some 700 tanks, 1,000 aircraft and eight divisions.

The British became increasingly obsessed with eliminating Rommel. On the night of November 17, 1941, a small commando force, led by 24-year-old Lt. Col. Geoffrey Keyes, tried to penetrate Rommel’s headquarters and assassinate the Desert Fox. The raid failed–Rommel was not even there–and Keyes died in the attempt. The Germans gave Keyes a funeral with full military honors, and the gallant Rommel sent his personal chaplain to conduct the services. The British later awarded Keyes, the son of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes, a posthumous Victoria Cross.

Operation Crusader opened on November 18, with the British XIII Corps advancing on Halfaya Pass and the XXX Corps attempting to sweep around Rommel’s southern flank to reach the besieged garrison at Tobruk. The XXX Corps reached Sidi Rezegh, 20 miles southeast of Tobruk. After a series of fierce tank battles on November 22 and 23, Rommel drove deep into the British rear with two panzer divisions. He attempted to relieve the Axis forces at Halfaya and at the same time cut off the Eighth Army.

With his tank losses mounting, Cunningham wanted to halt the operation. Auchinleck immediately relieved him and replaced him with Maj. Gen. Neil Ritchie. The British continued to press the attack, and on November 29 they broke through to Tobruk. By December 7, an overwhelmed Rommel was withdrawing his dangerously depleted forces. In order to avoid encirclement in the Benghazi bulge, Rommel retreated back across Cyrenaica, reaching El Agheila on January 6, 1942. Operation Crusader resulted in a clear victory for the British, but one they were unable to exploit due to a lack of reinforcements.

As Rommel withdrew to the east, the RAF continued to attack his supply convoys in the Mediterranean. Only 30 tons of Axis supplies were shipped to North Africa in November 1941, and 62 percent of them were lost en route. Hitler reacted by shifting Fliegerkorps II from Russia to Sicily and ordering the German navy to send 10 U-boats into the Mediterranean. Throughout December, Rommel’s resupply situation improved significantly, with shipping losses dropping to 18 percent. Meanwhile, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor caused the British to reroute forces from North Africa to India and Singapore. By mid-January 1942, Rommel was operating on shorter supply lines, and his shipping losses were below 1 percent. He now was ready to return to the offensive.

On January 21, 1942, Rommel launched his second offensive and quickly drove the British back almost 300 miles. The aggressive German commander recaptured Benghazi on January 29 and continued to push east, reaching Gazala on February 4. There he halted along the Eighth Army’s defensive line between Gazala and Bir Hacheim. For most of the next four months, the adversaries sat on either side of the Gazala Line, building up strength.

On May 26, Rommel launched Operation Venezia–his attack against the Gazala Line. Both forces were roughly equal in strength, but General Ritchie had his armored units widely dispersed, while Rommel kept his concentrated. Using his armor, Rommel swept around the Free French Brigade at Bir Hacheim and turned north, cutting across the Allied rear. An Axis secondary attack in the north pinned down the Allied forces there.

By May 28, the Axis armored units behind the Allied lines were in trouble. Rommel had lost more than one-third of his tanks, and the remainder were running short on fuel and ammunition. On May 29, the Italian Trieste Division cleared a path through the center of the Gazala Line. That opening became a lifeline to Rommel’s panzers. On the 30th, Rommel consolidated his armor in a defensive position that came to be known as the Cauldron.

On June 5-6, Rommel successfully beat off Ritchie’s series of piecemeal counterattacks. On June 10-11, the Axis finally drove the Free French forces out of Bir Hacheim, and on June 11 Rommel’s panzers broke out of the Cauldron. The Eighth Army once more started falling back to the Egyptian border. On June 15, German tanks reached the coast and Rommel shifted his attention to the Tobruk garrison. This time he would not make the same mistake of leaving the thorn in his side.

Tobruk fell on June 21, and the Axis forces captured 2.5 million gallons of much-needed fuel, as well as 2,000 wheeled vehicles. The fall of Tobruk, however, had unforeseen consequences for the Axis. Churchill heard the news during a meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the United States. The American president immediately offered help. The resulting 300 Sherman tanks and 100 self-propelled guns would later play a pivotal role at El Alamein.

The British fell back to defensive positions at Mersa Matruh, about 100 miles inside Egypt. Rommel, who had been promoted to field marshal for his success at Gazala, pursued. Auchinleck relieved Ritchie and personally assumed command of the Eighth Army. With only 60 operational tanks, Rommel attacked at Mersa Matruh on June 26 and routed four British divisions in three days of fighting. The British fell back again, this time to the vicinity of El Alamein, another 120 miles to the east.

Now less than 100 miles from Alexandria, Auchinleck was determined to hold near El Alamein. Under constant pressure from Rommel’s forces, Auchinleck improvised a fluid defensive line anchored on Ruweisat Ridge, a few miles south of the El Alamein defensive perimeter. Rommel attacked on July 1, attempting to sweep around El Alamein. For three weeks, Auchinleck skillfully battled Rommel to a standstill. Auchinleck launched a major counterattack on July 21-22, but gained no ground. Exhausted, both sides paused to regroup.

Despite the fact that Auchinleck had finally halted Rommel’s advance, Churchill relieved him in early August and named General Sir Harold Alexander commander in chief of the Middle East. Sir William Gott was promoted to general and given command of the Eighth Army. On August 7, the day after his appointment, Gott was killed when his airplane was attacked by a German fighter during a flight to Cairo. The relatively unknown Lt. Gen. Sir Bernard L. Montgomery succeeded Gott as commander of the Eighth Army.

Although Churchill desperately wanted to win a clear victory for political purposes and to raise morale, neither Alexander nor Montgomery was inclined to take the offensive without first amassing an overwhelming advantage. On August 31, 1942, Rommel launched what he believed would be the final attack in the Axis drive to the Nile. The British, however, had made extensive preparations around El Alamein, based on a plan developed by Auchinleck and adopted by Montgomery. The British commander also had the advantage of knowing Rommel’s intentions through Ultra intercepts.

Rommel planned to sweep south around Ruweisat Ridge, then cut off El Alamein and take it from the rear. In preparation, the British laid extensive minefields and heavily fortified Alam el Halfa Ridge, which was located behind El Alamein to the southeast. By September 3, the Axis attack had run short of fuel and petered out. Montgomery counterattacked immediately, but broke off the operation as soon as the Axis forces were pushed back to the vicinity of their starting positions. Both sides again hunkered down to build up their strength. Taken together, the battles of Ruweisat Ridge and Alam el Halfa were the real strategic turning point of the war in North Africa.

Montgomery used the time after the Battle of Alam el Halfa to rest and train his troops, integrate the new American tanks he had received, and carefully plan his counterattack. Rommel, meanwhile, became ill and returned to Germany on sick leave. When Montgomery finally launched the attack, his forces and equipment were three times greater than his opponent’s.

The Battle of El Alamein began on October 23 with a massive artillery barrage fired by 900 British guns. Rommel immediately returned from Germany to resume command. The Allies tried for five days to break through the Axis positions, sustaining 10,000 casualties in the process. On October 30-31, Montgomery renewed the attack with strong support from the RAF. Critically short on fuel and ammunition, Rommel started to disengage on November 3. At first, Hitler insisted on his usual no-retreat orders. On the 4th, he grudgingly gave Rommel permission to withdraw, and the 1,400-mile pursuit to Tunisia began.

For the next three months, Montgomery followed Rommel across the northern coast of Africa. Despite constant urging from his German and Italian superiors, who wanted him to save Libya, Rommel was more interested in preserving his force to fight another day. He paused at El Agheila between November 23 and December 18, and again at Buerat and Wadi Zemzem, from December 26, 1942, to January 16, 1943. Rommel reached Tripoli on January 23 and the Tunisian border at the end of the month. By the time he got to Tunisia, however, another Allied force was there waiting for him.

On November 8, 1942, just four days after Rommel started his long withdrawal, the British and Americans had executed Operation Torch, the Northwest African landings. In a coordinated series of landings, the Western Task Force, under Maj. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr,. landed on the Atlantic coast near Casablanca, Morocco the Center Task Force, under Maj. Gen. Lloyd Fredendall, landed just inside the Mediterranean around Oran, Algeria and the Eastern Task Force, under Maj. Gen. Charles Ryder, landed near Algiers. Although all the landing sites were in Vichy French territory, the ultimate objectives of the operation were the Tunisian port and airfield complex of Bizerte and the capital city of Tunis. Command of those facilities would allow the Allies to bomb Sicily, protect the Malta convoys, and strike at Rommel’s supply lines.

While the Allies established themselves ashore and attempted to negotiate terms with the Vichy French, the Germans reacted swiftly, sending troops from Sicily to Tunisia on November 9. Hitler also gave the order for the German military in occupied France to take control of the remainder of Vichy France. The French fleet at Toulon, however, was scuttled before the Germans could seize it.

From the moment the Allies landed, the campaign in Northwest Africa and the race for Tunis was a logistical battle. The side that could mass forces the fastest would win. For the Germans, control of the Tunis complex was critical to prevent Rommel from being trapped between Montgomery in the east and the newly formed British First Army in the west. On November 28, the Allies reached Tebourba, only 12 miles from Tunis, but a well-conducted Axis counterattack drove them back 20 miles in seven days.

The Germans won the initial race for Tunis because they had shorter supply lines, and their aircraft, operating from closer bases, had greater time over the contested area. In January 1943, the winter rains and resulting mud brought mechanized operations to a halt in northern Tunisia. Waiting for better weather in the spring, the Allies continued to build up their forces. The British First Army, under Lt. Gen. Sir Kenneth Anderson, was organized into three corps–the British V Corps, the U.S. II Corps and the French XIX Corps. The Axis forces in northern Tunisia now consisted of Lt. Gen. Hans-Jürgen von Arnim’s 5th Panzer Army.

Once Rommel’s Panzerarmee Afrika crossed into southern Tunisia, it occupied positions in the old French fortifications of the Mareth Line. Rommel’s 10 divisions were well below half strength, with only 78,000 troops and 129 tanks. Before he had to face the rapidly closing Montgomery, Rommel intended to eliminate the threat of the British First Army to his north.

On February 14, the Germans launched the first leg of a two-pronged offensive, with Arnim’s forces attacking that day through the Faid Pass toward Sidi Bou Zid. The following day, Rommel, in the south, attacked toward Gafsa. The bulk of Rommel’s forces, however, remained in the Mareth Line. By February 18, Kasserine Pass was in Axis hands, and U.S. ground forces had suffered their first major defeat of the war. Rommel tried to advance north toward Thala through Kasserine Pass on February 19, but the support he expected to receive from Arnim did not materialize. After several days of slow advances, he reached Thala on February 21 but could advance no farther. Hampered by a divided German command structure and rapidly massing Allied reinforcements, the attack stalled. The Allies pushed forward and recaptured Kasserine Pass on February 25. Rommel returned to the Mareth Line and prepared to face Montgomery.

When the Eighth Army reached Tunisia, the Allies modified their command structure to conform with decisions made at the Casablanca Conference in January. General Dwight D. Eisenhower became supreme commander of all Allied forces in the Mediterranean west of Tripoli. Alexander became Eisenhower’s deputy and, at the same time, commander of the Eighteenth Army Group, which controlled the First and Eighth armies and the now separate U.S. II Corps. Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder assumed command of the Allied air forces, and Admiral Cunningham retained command of the naval forces.

On February 24 the Axis also realigned its command structure. Rommel became commander of Armeegruppe Afrika, which included the Afrika Korps, Arnim’s 5th Panzer Army, and the Italian First Army under General Giovanni Messe. The Axis forces finally had a unified command structure in Tunisia, but Rommel probably was not the best choice. By that point in the war, he had become frustrated and dispirited, the cumulative effect of the long seesaw campaign. To make matters worse, Arnim, who detested Rommel, continued to do pretty much as he pleased.

The Axis position in North Africa was hopeless, the final outcome clearly in the hands of the logisticians. As the Allies consolidated their control over the northwest African coast, the Axis pressure on Malta eased, which in turn enabled the Allies to further restrict the Axis supply convoys from Sicily. Without first coordinating with Rommel, on February 26 Arnim launched Operation Ochsenkopf, a drive toward Beja. By March 3, that offensive had stalled, at the cost of 71 precious tanks.

Montgomery’s forces, which had crossed into Tunisia on February 4, had reached Medenine on the 16th and established defensive positions. Hoping to catch the British off-balance, Rommel attacked south from the Mareth Line on March 6. Spearheaded by 140 tanks, it was the most potent offensive Rommel mounted since arriving in Tunisia. It would also be the last. Warned by Ultra intercepts, Montgomery was waiting. The Germans ran into skillfully prepared anti-tank defenses and lost 52 tanks. Right after the failure of the Medenine attack, Rommel returned to Germany a sick man. Arnim assumed overall Axis command, and Messe took command in south Tunisia.

After the American debacle at Kasserine Pass, command of the U.S. II Corps passed to Patton. He wanted to mount an attack to drive to the coast, but Alexander would authorize only limited attacks designed to draw German forces away from the Mareth positions. At that point, Alexander simply did not trust American units. In fact, many among the British forces disparagingly referred to their American allies as our Italians. Patton’s limited attack between March 17 and 25 was successful, however, tying down the 10th Panzer Division near El Guettar.

On March 20, Montgomery attempted a night penetration of the center of the Mareth Line. The attack had failed by March 22. The next day, he shifted the weight of the main attack around the southwestern flank of the line, through the Matmata Hills. By March 26, his forces broke through the Tebaga Gap. The Italian First Army and the remainder of the Afrika Korps were forced back. Under continuous pressure from the Eighth Army on one side and the U.S. II Corps on the other, the Axis forces withdrew to Enfidaville.

By April 7, the Allied First and Eighth armies linked up, squeezing the Axis into a small pocket. On the east coast, the Eighth Army took Gabés on April 6, Sfax on April 10, Sousse on April 12, and Enfidaville on April 21. In the north, the U.S. II Corps, now under Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, took Mateur on May 3 and Bizerte on May 7. Montgomery’s 7th Armoured Division captured Tunis on May 7. The remaining Axis forces in Tunisia were caught in two pockets, one between Bizerte and Tunis, and the other on isolated Cape Bon.

Arnim surrendered his forces on May 13, 1943. The Royal Navy, waiting in strength offshore, made sure that few Germans or Italians escaped to Sicily. Axis losses in Tunisia alone totaled 40,000 dead or wounded, 240,000 prisoners, 250 tanks, 2,330 aircraft and 232 ships. British and American casualties were 33,000 and 18,558 respectively. For the entire North African campaign, the British suffered 220,000 casualties. Total Axis losses came to 620,000, which included the loss of three field armies.

On the strategic level, the North African campaign was a watershed for the Western Allies. For the first time in the war they had decisively defeated the Axis, and especially the Germans, on the ground. The psychological value of the victory cannot be minimized. The U.S. Army, too, had finally gotten into the war and acquitted itself well after a shaky start at Kasserine Pass. The British and Americans perfected the combined command structure that would serve the Grand Alliance for the remainder of the war. The various Free French factions were finally united and organized under the Allied command. And perhaps most important, the British proved the value of Ultra intelligence and refined the system for getting the necessary information to the field commanders.

On the downside, the Allies were now out of position with a huge force of almost 1 million men and their equipment. With very limited means of transportation and no way for that force to strike directly at Germany, a follow-up campaign in Sicily was almost the only feasible next course of action for the Allies.

The loss was a stunning strategic setback for Germany. At first, North Africa had been a rather effective economy-of-force campaign. At the risk of only three German divisions and a number of Italian divisions of questionable quality, the Axis was able to tie down a proportionately larger force and at the same time pose a significant threat to one of Britain’s strategic lines of communication. But after the defeat at El Alamein, Hitler’s sense of pride once again overcame his meager grasp of strategy, and he committed a second field army to North Africa that he could neither sustain logistically nor afford to lose. The forces Hitler threw away in May 1943 just might have made some difference for the Germans fighting in Russia or Sicily.

On the tactical and operational levels, several factors conspired against the Axis despite the battlefield brilliance of Rommel and the superb fighting of the Afrika Korps. Although North Africa was a logistician’s hell, logistics was the deciding factor. In the end, the Allies triumphed with sheer mass. The Axis forces could not overcome Allied air and sea power–both of which enhanced Allied logistics and degraded Axis logistics.

This article was written by David T. Zabecki and originally appeared in the March 1997 issue of World War II magazine. For more great articles subscribe to World War II magazine today!


World War I

  • After the war, the Paris Peace Conference imposed a series of peace treaties on the Central Powers. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles officially ended the war. Building on Wilson's 14th point, the Treaty of Versailles also brought into being the League of Nations on 28 June 1919. In signing the treaty, Germany acknowledged responsibility for the war, agreeing to pay enormous war reparations and award territory to the victors. It caused a lot of bitterness.
  • Austria–Hungary was partitioned into several successor states.
  • The Russian Empire lost much of its western frontier as the newly independent nations of Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland were carved from it.

World War II

  • The war ended with the total victory of the Allies over Germany and Japan in 1945. The United Nations was established to foster international cooperation and prevent future conflicts.
  • The Soviet Union and the United States emerged as rival superpowers.
  • Although the totalitarian regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan were defeated, the war left many unresolved political, social, and economic problems in its wake and brought the Western democracies into direct confrontation with their erstwhile ally, the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin, thereby initiating a period of nearly half a century of skirmishing and nervous watchfulness as two blocs, each armed with nuclear weapons, faced each other probing for any sign of weakness.
  • The European economy had collapsed with 70% of the industrial infrastructure destroyed.
  • A rapid period of decolonization also took place within the holdings of the various European colonial powers. These primarily occurred due to shifts in ideology, the economic exhaustion from the war and increased demand by indigenous people for self-determination.

Trade Ties Between Germany and Sweden

Long before World War II, Sweden was part of a trade circle which also included Germany and the United Kingdom. However, Swedish consignments were attacked at sea leading to a decrease in trade with Britain by 70%. Subsequently, Swedish exports to Germany increased to 37%. One of the objects of trade was iron ore which Germany used in its weapon production. World War II meant there would be a need for more weapons and as such Germany increased the annual export of iron ore to ten million tons. Due to its neutrality policy, Sweden did not stop trading with Germany. Meanwhile, the Allies realized the significance of the iron ore trade to Germany and devised a plan to stop the shipment of goods. Taking advantage of the Soviet attack on Finland in November 1939, the Allies asked Sweden and Norway for permission to send expeditionary forces to “help” Finland. They hoped that given permission they would take control of the northern cities, thus blocking Germany and paralyzing the trade. Unfortunately, the two governments did not grant their request. Since the Allies believed that Sweden’s trade ties with Germany supported World War II, Sweden was not seen as neutral.


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