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Truck-carried British infantry crosses the border of Tunisia. - AN19890223-037
Truck-carried British infantry crosses the border of Tunisia.

The North African Campaigns, 1940-1943

A significant part of the Second World War was fought in North Africa. British, Canadian, Commonwealth, American and French forces confronted the Italian-German Axis across the desert sweep of northern Egypt and Libya and in the more hilly coastal areas of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia

In September 1940, Italian leader Benito Mussolini wanted to enlarge his Italian empire in Africa, which already included Libya and Ethiopia, by invading Egypt, then part of the British Empire. The Italians were driven back into Libya until Germany, eager to extend Axis influence into the Middle East, sent a force to Mussolini's side. After a series of advances and retreats, by late 1942 the British were able to gain air and sea superiority in the Mediterranean, which enabled their armies to push the Germans and Italians west through Libya.

North Africa was one of the few theatres in which the western Allies could engage the Axis armies in order to relieve pressure on the Soviet Union, which had joined the Allied side in June 1941 and had been invaded by the Germans. On November 8, 1942, American and British troops landed in Morocco and Algeria, controlled by Hitler's puppet, the French government at Vichy. The French soon agreed to a ceasefire with the Allies, but German troops poured into French Tunisia. Although the Germans succeeded at first against their as yet inexperienced foe, by the spring of 1943 the united Allied forces from Algeria in the west and Libya in the east pushed the Germans and remaining Italians into the north-east coast of Tunisia. A few Axis soldiers escaped, but some 275,000 became prisoners of war of the Allies.

No. 417 Squadron, RCAF, flew fighters above the armies from Egypt to Tunisia. Canadian-manned landing craft supported the Algerian and Moroccan landings, as did sixteen RCN corvettes. The corvettes sank three submarines in the North African theatre, but HMCS Louisburg and Weyburn were lost.

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