10 Facts About World War Two in Africa and the Middle East

During the Second World War the Middle East, North Africa and the Horn of Africa were all major conflict zones. Due to the size and geographic location of the Mediterranean Sea, conflicts involved air, sea and land forces.

Fighting in Africa and the Middle East lasted from June 1940 until May 1945.

Here are 10 facts about the Second World War in the African and Middle Eastern theatre.

1. On the eve of Operation Compass, the first Allied campaign in North Africa, General Sir Archibald Wavell could call on only 36,000 troops while facing 215,000 Italians.

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2. Rommel wore British tank goggles on top of his cap as a trophy following the capture of Mechili on 8 April 1941.

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3. A new government of pro-Germans took power in Iraq in April 1941. By the end of the month it was forced concede ongoing British access through its territory.

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4. Operation Tiger resulted in the loss of 91 British tanks. Only 12 panzers were immobilised in return.

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General Sir Claude Auchinleck, ‘the Auk’, soon replaced Wavell.

5. 90 Axis ships were sunk in the Mediterranean between January and August 1941, thus depriving the Afrika Korps of essential new tanks and the food required to ward off hunger and illness.

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6. The Allies broke out from Tobruk in November 1941 with vastly superior resources. They had an initial 600 tanks against 249 panzers and 550 aircraft, whilst the Luftwaffe had only 76.

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By January, 300 Allied tanks and 300 aircraft had been lost but Rommel had been pushed back significantly.

7. Soviet and British troops invaded Iran on 25 August 1941 in order to seize oil supplies.

allies-desert

8. Rommel reclaimed Tobruk on 21 June 1942, winning thousands of tonnes of oil in the process.

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9. The major Allied offensive at Alamein in October 1942 reversed the losses sustained in July.

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It began with the deception of the Germans using plans devised by Major Jasper Maskelyne, a successful magician in the 1930s.

10. The surrender of 250,000 Axis troops and 12 generals after the Allied arrival in Tunis on 12 May 1943 signalled the end of the North African Campaign.

tunis-surrender

History graduate (and enthusiast) with postgraduate degrees in environmental history and heritage science.