WWII North Africa


The North African desert ranges from the lowlands facing the Atlantic Ocean, including Casablanca, the largest city of Morocco, through the deserts of Libya, to the sunny country of Tunisia lying at the eastern end of the Atlas Mountains, and the thinly-populated Sahara covering most of Algeria.

In the 1920s and 30s Mussolini decided to enhance his empire in the deserts of Africa. In the fall of 1940, Italian build-up in Libya was deemed sufficient to smash British forces in the Sudan and Egypt and the Italian dogs of war were unleashed. In mid-February 1941, Colonel-General Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel in command of the German forces of the Afrika Corps, arrived to support the collapsing Italian army. On November 8, 1942, while the Afrika Korps was retreating westward from Egypt, the Allies invaded French West Africa in Operation TORCH. Amphibious landings were made at Casablanca and Oran despite strong resistance by Vichy French troops, but within several days, the area was secured by U.S. and British troops.

Most of the battles in the North African desert were fought 'on the cheap'. While primarily 'tank battles', unlike the bloody slugfests on the Eastern Front, the cost in men killed was surprisingly low. As losses were not particularly lethal by 20th century standards, the war in Africa was a relatively safe place to be, if one had to be in a war at all. However, flies and other insect infestations, boredom, heat, bad food, and so on all contributed to the daily misery of the typical soldier. In short, the life of a soldier in North Africa was a whole lot less glamorous than some accounts might lead the uninitiated to believe.

In a series of diplomatic entanglements and deals in the first half of the 20th century, Italy's influence in Tunisia was reduced and replaced by that of France. In return, Libya was placed in the Italian thrall. In the spring of 1942, Casablanca, the largest city of Morocco, was controlled by the Vichy government of France. Based on the classic 1943 film about the resistance movement, Legend's Casablanca is filled with familiar characters. See if you can locate the Nazi, Major Strasser; Captain Renault, the police prefect; Victor Laszlo of the French Resistance; Ilsa Lund; Sam and Rick Blaine of Rick's Cafe Americain for "everybody comes to Rick's."