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North Africa


In the spring of 1942, the German Afrika Korps, commanded by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, "The Desert Fox," had advanced eastward across North Africa to El Alamein, deep inside Egypt. The British called for U.S. aerial assistance and by July, the AAF had become sufficiently strong to join the RAF in attacking Axis airfields, supply, munitions and fuel dumps, harbor facilities, and shipping.

With its logistical system thoroughly disrupted, the Afrika Korps was forced to retreat westward on Oct. 23, 1942. RAF and AAF pounded German and Italian airfields daily to prevent the Axis from employing its own airpower. Once the enemy had retreated beyond an airfield, RAF and AAF units moved in to occupy it. By the end of January 1943, Axis forces had been pushed back more than 1,000 miles to the Tunisian frontier.

On Nov. 8, 1942, while the Afrika Korps was retreating westward from Egypt, the Allies invaded French West Africa. 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. Axis forces were now caught between Allied armies to the east and west. Allied units at Oran immediately began driving eastward to occupy Tunis so as to prevent the Axis from evacuating its forces. However, Germany and Italy began flying men and weapons into Tunis and Bizerte by Ju-52s from Sicily, and they transferred large numbers of fighters and dive bombers to Tunisian airfields.

For the next six months, Axis forces, bolstered by the Afrika Korps which had retreated from Egypt, battled Allied forces on the frontiers of Tunisia. In cooperation with the RAF, the AAF used every type of airplane available, P-38s, P-39s, P-40s, Spitfires, B-17s, B-24s, B-25s, B-26s and A-20s, to provide direct support for ground forces and to bomb Axis ports, ship convoys and supply depots. By late March 1943, the Germans were using 500 planes to airlift reinforcements from Italy to Tunisia, so on April 5, the AAF began a campaign to cripple the aerial lifeline. By nightfall, 201 enemy airplanes had been destroyed. The Axis continued to suffer staggering losses, both on the ground and in the air, and daily the Allies closed the ring around the enemy. The AAF and the RAF won supremacy in the air, and early in May, German resistance on the ground began to collapse. By May 10, 1943, the last German unit of appreciable strength, the 15th Panzer Division, surrendered. The Axis had been driven from Africa.

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Other Resources
USAF Historical Study No. 105: Air Phase of the North African Invasion (Provided by AFHRA)
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