In An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942 - 1943, author Rick Atkinson, correspondent for The Washington Post, gives a historic account of the Allies' North African Campaign during World War II, with a particular emphasis on the Americans' involvement.
During World War II, while the Axis forces under Hitler were strong in Western Europe, and while German General Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel was leading a strong campaign in North Africa, the Allies decided that starting a defense campaign in North Africa would weaken Axis forces enough that the Allies could next launch a defense in Europe.
The Allies' invasion of North Africa began with Operation Torch, led by General Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1942. The operation targeted Oran, Algiers, and Casablanca with plans to later land in Tunisia. One possible threat concerned the fact that these areas of Africa were already owned by the French, and the Germans had already invaded France and set up a government in Vichy. Hence, any of the French in these regions, called the Vichy French, technically speaking, belonged to Hitler. However, there was a general belief among the Allies that many of the Vichy French would not fight the Allies and be willing to put up a resistance against Axis forces instead. Eisenhower's intelligence gathering confirmed that several Vichy French officers were willing to fight on the side of the Allies. What else benefited the Allies invasion was the fact that, though Hitler had U-boats stationed in the regions, he had moved those U-boats farther east to attack merchant ships, called convoy SL 125, carrying supplies from Sierra Leone to Liverpool, England. Many believe the convoy was sent to intentionally divert and move the U-boats. Landings at all ports in Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers were largely successful despite some French fire and poor weather.
Meanwhile, headed by General Rommel, the Axis powers began to land in Tunisia and were not resisted by the French. The Allies began to move east into Tunisia across the desert, and moving both troops and supplies proved to be a major problem for both the Allies and Axis powers. The Allies had great difficulty capturing Tunis, capital of Tunisia, due to the Germans' superior Panzer tanks. British forces that made it as far as Tunis had to turn back when ambushed by German tanks. The Germans had more success near Tebourba. By mid-December in 1942, after a meeting in Casablanca with President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and all chiefs of staff, Eisenhower decided to cancel the operation to move forces across the desert into Tunisia to oppose General Rommel.
Things took a turn for the worse for the Allies when the Axis powers were able to seize Faid Pass, kill thousands of Allies in Sidi Bou Zid, and take Sbeitla. However, the Axis powers lost reinforcements and were forced into retreat, starting at Djebel Hamra.
More Allied successes happened when British intelligence intercepted General Rommel's plans to attack British troops near Tunisia.
After the Germans were driven back twice, the British were able to move into Tunisia to reinforce the Allies. Allied successes in Tunisia boosted morale enough to end the front by attacking the Axis bridgehead in Tunis. The final assaults involved 3 groups of 300,000 Allied troops. Success was slow going, but groups finally made it into Tunis, ending the campaign in North Africa.
Rick Atkinson -- A Biography
Lawrence Rush "Rick" Atkinson IV is an author with sterling credentials and the highest awards of recognition. The son of an American Army officer, Atkinson was born in Munich, Germany, and spent his childhood and youth living on a variety of military bases in a variety of locations.
Giving up an appointment at West Point, he opted to study English Literature at East Carolina University, then earned his master degree in English language and literature at the University of Chicago. His passion was for journalism and his first job was with The Morning Sun in Pittsburg, Kansas, with an emphasis on the ethnic and political area called "the Little Balkins." From this beginning, Atkinson went on to write for the Washington Post for twenty-five years, serving in every capacity from staff writer to editor to investigative reporter.
In 1999, Atkinson turned his hand to writing about history, beginning with World War II, an interest reawakened by a stint in Berlin. Among other prestigious awards, such as the $100,000 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing, Atkinson won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for History for An Army at Dawn.
An Army at Dawn: The War in Africa, 1942-1943 -- A Summary
Though World War II began with the invasion of Poland in 1939, the United States and the Allied powers invaded Africa in 1942 in Operation Torch to drain German resources in hopes of paving the way for an all-out invasion of Europe and of routing of Hitler's armies.
The targets of Operation Torch were Casablanca, Algiers and Oran, and 33,000 American troops joined those of the other Allied forces. There were small initial successes for the Allies, but the Allies were ill-prepared for fighting in North Africa or for the superiority of Hitler's Panzer tanks or for the prevalence of Germany's Stuka air attacks.
Casablanca, Algiers and Oran were taken, and the French imperialist forces located there allowed the Allies to execute their plans with minimal resistance. The Allies began troop movement to the east, to Tunisia, where they would engage the German troops, but supplies were inadequate and they could not move to the front successfully.
In December of 1942, both the Allied and the Axis (German) troops made base camps and waited for resupply, with hundreds of American troops still struggling forward to rendezvous. There was a reversal for the Allies when, as German troops moved eastward to meet the Allied forces, several key locations, including Faid Pass, were taken from Allied Major General Fredendall.
American troops at Djebel Hamra then struck a decisive blow that drove the Germans backward in retreat. With disruption to their supply shipments, the Germans were in a weakened condition. British General Montgomery successfully routed German General Rommel, then joined the other Allied forces in Tunisia. More American troops converged on Tunis, and, after driving back more German attacks, the war in North Africa was ended with the Allies being victorious over the Axis powers.