World War 2 in the Colonies – the North African Campaign

The Second World War included a North African Campaign that began in June 1940 and continued for 3 years, in which the Axis-Allied antagonisms played out in colonized terrains.

At the beginning of the war, Libya had been an Italian colony for several decades and British forces had been in neighboring Egypt since 1882. The two armies began skirmishing almost as soon as Italy declared war on the Allied Nations in 1940. Italy invaded Egypt in September of 1940, and in a December counterattack, British and Indian forces captured some 130,000 Italians. Hitler’s response to this loss was to send in the newly formed “Afrika Korps” led by General Erwin Rommel. Several long, brutal pushes back and forth across Libya and Egypt reached a turning point in the Second Battle of El Alamein in late 1942, when Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery’s British Eighth Army broke out and drove Axis forces all the way from Egypt to Tunisia. In November, Operation Torch brought in thousands of British and American forces. They landed across western North Africa, and joined the attack, eventually helping force the surrender of all remaining Axis troops in Tunisia in May of 1943 and ending the Campaign for North Africa.—Alan Taylor, “World War II: The North African Campaign

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“An RAF Airman places a cross, made from the wreckage of an Aircraft, over a grave on December 27, 1940, containing the bodies of five Italian Airmen shot down in the Desert Battle at Mersa Matruh on October 31, 1940.” Source: AP

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“A British patrol is on the lookout for enemy movements over a valley in the Western Desert, on the Egyptian side of the Egypt-Libya border, in February of 1942.” Source: AP

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The Second World War and the Nile: “This hydroplane is part of the R.A.F. rescue service in the Middle East. It operates on the lakes of the Nile Delta for the assistance of pilots who may make forced landings in the water. Consisting of a cabin mounted on seaplane flats it is driven by an aircraft engine and propeller mounted in the stern and steered by an aircraft rudder. There are also rudders on each of the floats. The top speed of the craft is about fifteen knots. Photo taken on March 11, 1942.” Source: AP

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Of War and Bodies: “A wounded German officer, found in the Egyptian desert during the first two days of a British offensive, is guarded by a sentry while awaiting backup, on November 13, 1942.” Source: AP

For the extended photoessay which includes photographs, particularly from Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria, click here.

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