Tunisia Campaign

Tunisia Campaign, from November 1942 until May 1943, is the last stage of North African campaign. During this period, the Allies attacked Tunisia defended by the Axis forces from two directions of east and west. Finally, with superiority in numbers and equipment, the Allies completely defeated the Axis forces.

The war in North Africa began from June 1940. In each of the major battlefields of World War 2, the war in North Africa is one of the first battlefields. After two years of fighting, the British had been greatly enhanced, far superior both in number and weaponry compared with its Axis opponent. In November 1942, the British gain victory in the Second Battle of El Alamein. After that, the 8th Army led by Montgomery chased all the way the retreating Axis forces. The Axis forces eventually abandoned the whole Libya and evacuated to Tunisia area. While the British won the battle, the U.S. and British forces landed in French North Africa. The landing was called Operation Torch. At that time, French North Africa included three components of Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Since Tunisia was closer to Italy, the Allies did not dare to land there and only landed in Morocco and Algeria. Although the landing troops quickly defeated the defense forces of the French Army and eventually persuaded the French to join the Allied, in the meantime the Axis quickly landed in Tunisia area where the Allied did not arrive and repelled a small-scale military unit of the Allied attempting to land there. The Axis not only prevented the Allies to quickly occupy the whole French North Africa, but also made the Axis forces retreating from Egypt able to withdraw back to Tunisia to trim and make supplement. Afterwards, Tunisia Campaign was fully launched. The Allied forces simultaneously attacked from the east and west directions against the Axis forces.

Tunisia’s terrain is different from that of Libya and Egypt, which have vast deserts. Many areas of Tunisia are mountainous, which makes attacking the region becomes more difficult and usage of the very powerful offensive weapon tank is restricted. But the area of Tunisia is smaller. It is the smallest piece of the entire North Africa, making the defensive side have not enough space to utilize and can be easily be compressed in a small area.

The initial offensive against Tunisia was conducted rapidly after Operation Torch. This offensive is called Run for Tunis. The British mobilized troops of about a division to quickly enter into Tunisia and advanced fast forward. In early December, the British had advanced to the area only 30 kilometers from the Tunisian capital Tunis, but then were repulsed by the Germans. After that, the British realized that it was unable to defeat the Germans in a short term and the two sides began to fall into a stalemate. The Allies’ plan of quick occupation of Tunisia failed. Afterwards, the battle in Tunisia area continued for another half a year and the two sides suffered a total of more than hundreds of thousands of casualties.

After the initial offensive ended, both sides began to reinforce the defense and sent a large number of reinforcements. As of January 1943, the Axis sent 240,000 troops to Tunisia and transported more than 850,000 tons of supplies. Coupled with the Axis troops withdrawing from Egypt, the Axis defending troops in the entire Tunisia were more than 300,000 people. But among these forces, the troops withdrawing from Egypt suffered heavy losses and lost most of the equipment and were in urgent need of trimming and supplement. The new reinforcements included troops that had not been completely set up or was undergoing trimming. Besides, lack of logistics capacity had troubled the Axis forces in North Africa. Rommel had only 100,000 troops and still was unable to obtain adequate supplies, not to say the army three times the size of the original. These negative factors weakened the combat strength of the Axis forces. More importantly, the Axis forces at this time were entrapped at Stalingrad into a desperate situation. The Germans were concentrating all forces to rescue the army in Stalingrad, therefore making the already inadequate resources scarcer.

The situation of the Allies was quite the opposite. In eastern Tunisia, only the British 8th Army led by Montgomery had more than 200,000 people. These troops came from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Poland and other countries. They were well equipped with great morale. The British 1st Army in the west also had 200,000 troops and was well equipped with ample supplies too. But among the forces in the west, it was the first time for the U.S. troops to be involved in a war. Their military officers and soldiers both lacked combat experience. The recently joined French Army, on the other hand, was poorly equipped. At this point, North Africa was the only region that required a lot of investment in the ground forces by the U.S. and Britain. In addition to the troops already invested, there were also reserved troops that were almost incalculable. The Axis powers almost sent every soldier, who could fight, to the front. The Allied had also superiority in the sea and the air. The Royal Navy in the Mediterranean repeatedly defeated the Italian Navy and took control of the Mediterranean. As to the air power, because of the involvement of the U.S. military forces, the situation significantly biased in favor of the Allied side.

After Rommel led his army to retreat into Tunisia, he made use of the Mareth Line left by the French to defend offensives from the 8th Army. When the 8th Army got prepared to carry out the attack, Rommel decided to launch pre-emptive attack against the U.S. troops with no combat experience in the west. Battle of Kasserine Pass broke out and the Axis forces easily defeated the U.S. Army and caused huge losses to the army. The ratio of casualties of the two sides reached 1 to 5. The Allies lost nearly ten thousand people and lost a lot of supplies. But Rommel failed to reach his operational objectives. Under the powerful air superiority cover, the Allies sent the British troops to reinforce the U.S. forces and thus stabilized the defense. Due to shortage of supplies and lack air cover, Rommel had to withdraw the attacking forces. After this operation ended, the U.S. military replaced its commander of II Corps and summarized combat experience. Barton took over the office of the command of II Corps. Although this operation ended with the Axis victory, but obviously we can see a huge advantage of the Allies. Rommel also lost the only chance to defeat the Allies in the west before the 8th Army launched an offensive.

Afterwards, Rommel turned on launching offensive against the 8th Army that was preparing for attacking. But this offensive lasted for only one day and then failed. The 8th Army was well equipped with a lot of experience and its commander Montgomery commanded cautiously. Therefore, Rommel had no chance to win. After that, Rommel was transferred back to Europe. And the 8th Army began to attack the Axis defense line in southern Tunisia. Although the Axis forces held the front line of defense, the 8th Army sent armored forces to outflank the enemy defense line, forcing the Axis forces have to abandon the defense and retreated to avoid being surrounded and annihilated by the British troops. At the same time, the U.S. troops in the west of Tunisia launched an offensive against the Axis defenses, but failed to break through. After the Mareth Line was broken through, the Axis could no longer organize a defense line as firm as before. The 8th Army on April 6 in the Battle of Wadi Akarit broke the defense line newly organized by the Axis, forcing all the Axis forces to retreat to the northern part of Tunisia.

The 1st Army located in the west occupied some solid defending positions in the outer-ring of Tunis in April, which got the Allies prepared for the occupation of Tunis and completely ending of the war in North Africa. To cooperate with the ground forces, the Allied carried out sea and air blockade against Tunisia in order to prevent the Axis to reinforce to attempt to retreat the army. In early May, the Allies had squeezed all the Axis forces to the areas near Tunis and made a complete encirclement. At the same time, it cut off the evacuation routes of the Axis by air and by sea. On May 6, the Allies entered into Tunisia and on the 13th defeated all the remaining resisting forces. About 250,000 people were captured.

With the Tunisia Campaign victory, the Allies ended the entire war in North Africa. This war continued for nearly three years. The victory in North Africa not only expels the Axis forces from the region, but also made the Allied begin counteroffensive operations in Europe. For the Axis powers, the situation was increasingly unfavorable. Within a few months, the Axis suffered two major failures with the loss of more than 600,000 people. It also must face the upcoming counterattack launched by the Allies in Europe. In the first half of 1943, the strategic situations of the Allies and the Axis were completely reversed. The Allies on all fronts would launch massive counterattacks.

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