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Subject: Why Africa in WWII? rss

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Shane Brewer
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I'm wondering why there was action in Africa in WWII? I'm interested in some broad-stroked explanations.

1. Had the Germans invaded and conquered countries in North Africa? From what I've read it seems that some of the governments in the North African countries were simply sympathetic to the German cause? In other words, who were the bad guys (from the Allied perspective) in N.A.?

2. From what I understand, the British (and some French?) were in N.A. trying to vanquish some of the dictatorial governments (not sure if they were allied with the Axis but I assume so) and were having a little trouble due to some German reinforcements so the U.S. sent in some troops to help.

3. What were the strategic advantages of controlling N.A.? I guess I'm wondering why the Allies just didn't say "Forget Africa, we're invading Europe first." My guesses: controlling Gibraltar helped control Mediterranean access and thus helped the Axis control their southern flank. Also, and I'm less certain of the advantages of this, controlling Egypt allowed for control of the Suez Canal, another entry point into the Med. But that seems like less of a worry that controlling Gibraltar. Even if I am right, why didn't the allies just take Gibraltar and then move into Italy, letting the Axis troops in N.A. just sit there sweltering in the sun.

Some simple questions from a budding WWII buff.
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Cpl. Fields
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I'm definitely no expert, but most of the countries fought over in North Africa in WWII were actually colonies of the major powers (Egypt was under British control, Libya was Italian, Tunisia was French).

Things got started when the Italians entered the war in 1940 and attacked the British in Egypt, who promptly smacked the Italians so thoroughly that the Germans sent the Afrika Korps to rescue their ally.

Axis control of the Suez Canal would have been disastrous to the British, and I think this is why the theatre was so important. As for Gibraltar, this remained in British hands throughout the war, and the Germans never made an effort to conquer it once Franco made it clear that the Spanish were remaining neutral.

Quote:
"Forget Africa, we're invading Europe first.


The Western Allies weren't strong enough to invade France in 1943, but were under considerable pressure from the Soviets to do something. The landings in Tunisia diverted German resources that otherwise could have been sent to Russia.
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Shane Brewer
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Why was the Suez so important to the Brits? What did they need to get through there and which way (going north or south)? I know this is probably WWII 101 but I'm not an expert yet.
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DrBrewhaha wrote:
Why was the Suez so important to the Brits? What did they need to get through there and which way (going north or south)? I know this is probably WWII 101 but I'm not an expert yet.


There's all that lovely oil in the middle-east.

Give Egypt away to the Germans and there's not alot to stop them rolling through to a resource rich area.

That and direct transit lines to India.
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Let me see if I can expand Cpl. Fields' response a little bit.

In the 30s, Italy had made a lot of Fascism motivated expansion into North Africa...most notably in Ethiopia (though they got kicked hard in that one). Also, Italy viewed a lot of North Africa, as well as Yugoslavia and Greece as natural places to expand for them.

In 1940, the Germans invaded France and were clearly winning. Mussolini didn't want to go to war yet, but he also didn't want to waste the opportunity to be a "victor" in the negotiations with France (and hopefully Britain). So, he entered the war, and was granted a slice of France and a promise of Vichy neutrality towards his expansions in North Africa.

Italy had always wanted Tunisia/Algeria, which were French holdings. But with the French willing to make peace, and the British not willing to, the Italians decided Egypt would do just as well as Tunisia for their goals. So, there was a major shift in objectives, but this objective seemed to be even better than Tunisia. Egypt was "surrounded" by Libya and Ethiopia. If the Italians could advance all the way into the Middle East, local insurgent there, as well as the Vichy French in Syria would make them welcome. Adolf Hitler supported the Italian aims because all the Axis countries were starved of oil...and the Middle East has oil. Egypt is therefore a doorway to the Middle East.

Another plus in North Africa for Hitler was that the Battle of Britain had been lost, but he knew that the UK couldn't just give up Egypt and it would hopefully turn into a massive side-show for their forces, tying them up so they couldn't interfere with his goals in Eastern Europe.

So, the Italians launched an invasion...and the British owned them. It was basically a massacre. Adolf Hitler knew that the Italians couldn't hold out on their own. He also knew that the Italian people weren't as dedicated to the war as the German people. This meant that if the Italians suffered a disaster in North Africa, they would probably drop out of the war, and their military, most notably their Navy, would not be available for continued operations against the Allies. So, he sent them Erwin Rommel and the Afrika Korps. This was before Barbarossa, so he felt like these forces could be spared...after all, how long could the campaign possibly last? Rommel would sweep through Egypt, and then swing the Middle East into pro-Axis countries and come back after 12 or 18 months.

However, British resilience at Malta, and Montgomery's excellent generalship stalled out the Axis advance. The Americans had just entered the war in 1942 and were looking for something easy...and North Africa was it. American forces were still small and largely inexperienced. It was difficult to know what they were capable of...so sweeping up some Vichy Pawns and then knocking out the rest of North Africa seemed like a slam-dunk. It didn't quite work out that way.

After the Torch landings, Adolf Hitler annexed Tunisia (much more defensible than Libya), and sent reinforcements to support the German toe-hold. The Italians were still fighting, even if it was poorly done, and even some of the Vichy units directly support the Axis. After some brutal repulses, eventually the Allies broke through and the Axis tried to evacuate as many troops as possible, but many were left behind and captured.

So, why North Africa? One...it was thought of as easy. Both by the Axis when they started and later when the Allies launched Torch. The reason why the Allies didn't just forget about the Axis forces in North Africa (Tunisia) and jump to Sicily/Italy right away, isolating their enemies in the desert, has many reasons. Probably the biggest is that the Luftwaffe was still quite powerful and had strong bases in both Tunisia and Sicily. Naval movement definitely wasn't free. Another reason is that the Italian fleet, though bloodied and largely neutralized, was still in existence, and nothing would motivate them to try a risky battle than an invasion of the homeland. Naval affairs are always mixed bags, and so this was riskier than any of the Allied Chiefs felt was wise without eliminating the Airbases on Tunisia and establishing their own their first. Sicily was another required stepping stone before Italy as well.

So, I hope that's answered your question.
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Shane Brewer
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Wow! Good stuff. I feel very humbled and appreciative that you all took the time to write such extensive answers to my elementary questions. The situation now makes more sense.

Some followups, however:

1. I'm not sure I understand the reference to India. Why did the Brits need access via the Suez to India? Was it still a Brit colony/protectorate/whatever at the time?

2. Why were the insurgents in the Middle East (Arabs?) more inclined to sympathize with the Axis?

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Cpl. Fields
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DrBrewhaha wrote:


Some followups, however:

1. I'm not sure I understand the reference to India. Why did the Brits need access via the Suez to India? Was it still a Brit colony/protectorate/whatever at the time?


India was the Jewel in the Crown until 1947, and the Suez canal was the quickest (and, given the U-boat menace) the safest route. Keep in mind too that the British were fighting a war with Japan from 1942 on, so access to that theatre was a vital concern as well.

Quote:
2. Why were the insurgents in the Middle East (Arabs?) more inclined to sympathize with the Axis?


The enemy of my enemy is my friend. The Arabs wanted the Brits and the French out of Palestine and Syria.
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India was a source of men, manufacturing and resources for England.

Without India, WW2 may have had a very different ending in Europe.
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DrBrewhaha wrote:
Wow! Good stuff. I feel very humbled and appreciative that you all took the time to write such extensive answers to my elementary questions. The situation now makes more sense.

Some followups, however:

1. I'm not sure I understand the reference to India. Why did the Brits need access via the Suez to India? Was it still a Brit colony/protectorate/whatever at the time?

2. Why were the insurgents in the Middle East (Arabs?) more inclined to sympathize with the Axis?



This map may help.


Note that, except for the eastern seaboard of North America and the Republic of Ireland and one or two other little spots, ALL of the stuff in pink was still part of the British Empire as of 1940. Suez was the vital supply-line to India and other British possessions in the East.

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Shane Brewer
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Damjon wrote:
India was a source of men, manufacturing and resources for England.

Without India, WW2 may have had a very different ending in Europe.


This is something I would definitely like to read more about. Any book recommendations? Or any online article/site recommendations?

The map definitely paints a better picture. Thanks for posting.
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One aspect that hasn't really been commented on is the reasoning behind World War 2 in the first place.

Sure, it is fun to read into Axis motivations after the fact about Mideast oil and what not. Some of that might have been a long range goal for the players involved.

More simply though, the North African Campaign occurred because the Italians were attempting to seize the British colony of Egypt. This occurred because in the ideological environment of the Pre-WW2 world, war was seen as a legitimate means to acquire more national territory.*

Effectively, the North African Campaign was the result of an Italian blunder. After the campaign started, there were on the spot justifications as to what the goals of the campaign were. Things like, get the mideast oil, seize the suez, etc. Those justifications were ex post facto though, to the starting of the campaign.

*This is actually a more complicated point, but simplified to this statement. I recognize that it is more complicated, but I don't see any reason to go further into it.
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Wargames » Forums » General
Re: Why Africa in WWII?
One thing that hasn't yet been mentioned in this thread is the tension that the North African campaign, and later the Italian campaign, caused in the Allied high command.

George Marshall, the US Army Chief of Staff, was interested in an early campaign in Europe. He was lobbying for an invasion of France in 1943, and some kind of aggressive engagement in 1942. The British, on the other hand, and particularly Winston Churchill, were lobbying for a slower route into Europe.

And Stalin was screaming for a second front the whole time, to take pressure off of the Soviet Army.

Churchill's argument eventually carried the day, and this was probably a good thing for the Allies. The US Army needed to build experience, and the western Allies desperately needed to work on their logistics, transport, and especially amphibious assault capabilities before launching Overlord.
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Shane Brewer
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robbbbbb wrote:
One thing that hasn't yet been mentioned in this thread is the tension that the North African campaign, and later the Italian campaign, caused in the Allied high command.

George Marshall, the US Army Chief of Staff, was interested in an early campaign in Europe. He was lobbying for an invasion of France in 1943, and some kind of aggressive engagement in 1942. The British, on the other hand, and particularly Winston Churchill, were lobbying for a slower route into Europe.

And Stalin was screaming for a second front the whole time, to take pressure off of the Soviet Army.

Churchill's argument eventually carried the day, and this was probably a good thing for the Allies. The US Army needed to build experience, and the western Allies desperately needed to work on their logistics, transport, and especially amphibious assault capabilities before launching Overlord.


It was, in fact, a book I've been reading dealing with the Allied high command, that was the inspiration behind this post. The book "Brothers, Rival, and Victors" looks at the relationship and tensions between Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley. I'm finding it very fascinating to see how these men contributed and developed. I can see the "practice D-Day runs" you are referring in both the North African and Sicilian campaigns. It makes me wonder if the Axis leaders were astute enough to recognize that the Allies would likely invade France in the same way they invaded their Mediterranean objectives. If so, did that change their defensive preparations? If not, why not?
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Shane Brewer
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Quote:
This occurred because in the ideological environment of the Pre-WW2 world, war was seen as a legitimate means to acquire more national territory.*


This certainly was the attitude in WWI times and, apparently, still held over into the WWII era. Is that attitude largely gone in today's modern world? I tend to think so.
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DrBrewhaha wrote:
Quote:
This occurred because in the ideological environment of the Pre-WW2 world, war was seen as a legitimate means to acquire more national territory.*


This certainly was the attitude in WWI times and, apparently, still held over into the WWII era. Is that attitude largely gone in today's modern world? I tend to think so.


Yes. The UN regime, coupled with a bipolar post war international system*, marked by the Bretton Woods system, GATT, and the human rights revolution, all consequences of World War Two, war is no longer seen as a legitimate means to expand national territory.

*One could make an argument for a unipolar post war international system, but generally the post war system is thought to be bipolar.
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DrBrewhaha wrote:
I'm wondering why there was action in Africa in WWII? I'm interested in some broad-stroked explanations.


Much information already provided. I'll add my 2cents worth, some of which is a bit different from some of what has been posted.

DrBrewhaha wrote:
1. Had the Germans invaded and conquered countries in North Africa? From what I've read it seems that some of the governments in the North African countries were simply sympathetic to the German cause? In other words, who were the bad guys (from the Allied perspective) in N.A.?


North Africa consisted of European colonies / protectorates / mandates etc. France had Morocco-Algeria-Tunsia, Italy had Libya, Britain had Egypt. When Italy entered the war against Britain and France, France was already on the ropes and surrendered not long after. The Italians were 'encouraged' to move against Britain in Egypt. French colonies were 'hands off', as Germany wanted France to quit the war, and handing over French colonies would risk more of the empire going Free French. The fact that Italy contributed practically nothing to the defeat of France had something to do with it as well.

DrBrewhaha wrote:
2. From what I understand, the British (and some French?) were in N.A. trying to vanquish some of the dictatorial governments (not sure if they were allied with the Axis but I assume so) and were having a little trouble due to some German reinforcements so the U.S. sent in some troops to help.


No, not really. As described, the French and British (and Italians) were themselves 'in control' in North Africa (via various legal constructs). The Germans sent reinforcements to help the Italians, when the British counterattacked the feeble Italian advance into Egypt, and the Italian position in North Africa appeared about to collapse. The British then sent forces to Greece and Rommel arrived just at the right time to launch his own attack, and back and forth it went...

DrBrewhaha wrote:
3. What were the strategic advantages of controlling N.A.? I guess I'm wondering why the Allies just didn't say "Forget Africa, we're invading Europe first." My guesses: controlling Gibraltar helped control Mediterranean access and thus helped the Axis control their southern flank. Also, and I'm less certain of the advantages of this, controlling Egypt allowed for control of the Suez Canal, another entry point into the Med. But that seems like less of a worry that controlling Gibraltar. Even if I am right, why didn't the allies just take Gibraltar and then move into Italy, letting the Axis troops in N.A. just sit there sweltering in the sun.


Actually the Americans pretty well wanted to do just that - i.e. 'forget North Africa, let's land in France'. However, the Theatre was important to the British. At the time the Torch landings were agreed upon (Americans landing in Vichy North Africa) the Germans were still deep in Egypt. Monty would wind up breaking their defenses at El Alamein before the Torch lands, however, they were already planned and prepared for, so they went ahead. North Africa, especially locations such as Suez, were important for strategic reasons outlined by others.

Note Gibraltar is in Europe, so considerations of North Africa don't really factor in there. It would have been possible, in theory, to build naval and air bases across the straits in Spanish Morocco, and thereby have an 'alternate Gibraltar' I suppose.
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DrBrewhaha wrote:
Quote:
This occurred because in the ideological environment of the Pre-WW2 world, war was seen as a legitimate means to acquire more national territory.*


This certainly was the attitude in WWI times and, apparently, still held over into the WWII era. Is that attitude largely gone in today's modern world? I tend to think so.


It is for the moment, but that doesn't mean it's gone forever. Thirty years ago Argentina tried it, 20 years ago Iraq annexed its 19th province (better known as Kuwait) by force. Of course, neither were able to HOLD their gains...
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wifwendell wrote:
DrBrewhaha wrote:
Quote:
This occurred because in the ideological environment of the Pre-WW2 world, war was seen as a legitimate means to acquire more national territory.*


This certainly was the attitude in WWI times and, apparently, still held over into the WWII era. Is that attitude largely gone in today's modern world? I tend to think so.


It is for the moment, but that doesn't mean it's gone forever. Thirty years ago Argentina tried it, 20 years ago Iraq annexed its 19th province (better known as Kuwait) by force. Of course, neither were able to HOLD their gains...


This is exactly right. Other considerations play a role as well. See, Israel and 1967.
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wmd8tc wrote:
wifwendell wrote:
DrBrewhaha wrote:
Quote:
This occurred because in the ideological environment of the Pre-WW2 world, war was seen as a legitimate means to acquire more national territory.*


This certainly was the attitude in WWI times and, apparently, still held over into the WWII era. Is that attitude largely gone in today's modern world? I tend to think so.


It is for the moment, but that doesn't mean it's gone forever. Thirty years ago Argentina tried it, 20 years ago Iraq annexed its 19th province (better known as Kuwait) by force. Of course, neither were able to HOLD their gains...


This is exactly right. Other considerations play a role as well. See, Israel and 1967.


China + Tibet
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DrBrewhaha wrote:
I'm wondering why there was action in Africa in WWII? I'm interested in some broad-stroked explanations.

The Tchoimans were after this:



It's a real product, you can Google it.
Specifically, they sought a good fruit supply, small bits and pieces of which were in the drink. I had this a few times, decades ago, and it was very good.
I don't think the recipe includes bits of fruits anymore though, probably because they lost the battle for North Africa, so there you go.
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Damjon wrote:
China + Tibet

India and Goa, 1961.
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ConG wrote:
Damjon wrote:
China + Tibet

India and Goa, 1961.


But to provide a foil...Suharto's/Indonesia's occupation of East Timor was deemed as illegal by the UN and the Indonesians were compelled to leave. Timor is still poverty stricken and in a bad way, but they're free.
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greatredwarrior wrote:
ConG wrote:
Damjon wrote:
China + Tibet

India and Goa, 1961.


But to provide a foil...Suharto's/Indonesia's occupation of East Timor was deemed as illegal by the UN and the Indonesians were compelled to leave. Timor is still poverty stricken and in a bad way, but they're free.


I see your Timor and raise you the West Bank.

"West Bank was occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War in June, 1967."

DrBrewhaha wrote:
Quote:
This occurred because in the ideological environment of the Pre-WW2 world, war was seen as a legitimate means to acquire more national territory.*


This certainly was the attitude in WWI times and, apparently, still held over into the WWII era. Is that attitude largely gone in today's modern world? I tend to think so.


Define "Modern World".

Aside from the others previously mentioned - here's a list of more "invasions". This doesn't include border wars, civil wars, coups or genocides, of which there are many.

Czechoslovakia: Soviet Invasion, 1968
Cambodia: Vietnamese Invasion, 1978-1979
Congo, Democratic Republic of: Invasions and Internal Strife, 1998
Second Chechen War, 26 August 1999 (Maybe)

It's a little dated now, but a good resource is:

http://www.mesharpe.com/mall/resultsa.asp?Title=Encyclopedia...
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greatredwarrior wrote:
But to provide a foil...Suharto's/Indonesia's occupation of East Timor was deemed as illegal by the UN and the Indonesians were compelled to leave. Timor is still poverty stricken and in a bad way, but they're free.


I focused on India in Goa because it is straightforward. The Indonesians took East Timor and were booted out. They also took West Papua and it does not look as if there is much prospect that they will be removed.
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