Tunisian Campaign
The Allies defeat the Axis in North Africa
17 November 1942 - 9 May 1943
author Paul Boșcu, November 2018
After the Axis defeat at El Alamein General Erwin Rommel's forces were forced to retreat across Libya, and into Tunisia, with the British forces perusing them. At the same time the Anglo-American landings in Morocco and Algeria, code-named Operation Torch, forced the Axis forces to make a stand in Tunisia, with the Allies pressing from the east and the west. In the beginning of 1943 a short German counter-attack at Kasserine Pass was stopped by American forces who, nevertheless, suffered heavy casualties. From that point on the German-Italian collapse was inevitable: pressed from both sides their defenses crumbled by spring 1943 and were forced to surrender.

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The Tunisian Campaign consisted of a series of battles which took place in Tunisia between the Axis and Allied Forces of World War Two. Although initially the Germans and Italians had some success, the Axis’ supply problems led to defeat. In the end over 230,000 Italian and German soldiers were taken prisoners.

When they landed in Africa, as the American historian Rick Atkinson states, the soldiers of the US Army ‘were fine men, but not yet a good army’. To defeat the Germans in northwestern France they would need to be both. The campaign in North Africa proved the best possible training ground for this.

Adolf Hitler’s decision to continue to pour reinforcements into North Africa meant that the number of Axis troops captured was far higher than if he had ordered a withdrawal to Sicily immediately after Operation Torch. Hitler actually sent far more men into Africa after Torch than the Germans had commanded in their initial struggle against the British in Libya and Egypt.

Whatever setbacks they suffered, the tide of war in North Africa was running overwhelmingly in the Allies’ favor. The caution of the Italian High Command denied German General Erwin Rommel a chance to exploit a brief opportunity to outflank and destroy Allied forces in northern Tunisia. The Americans were reinforcing rapidly, while German strength was shrinking.

After the Germans’ epic defeat at Stalingrad and expulsion from North Africa, there was no doubt among the Allied nations about the outcome of the war. Yet, if the tide was now running strongly for the Allies, great uncertainties persisted about the course and duration of the war. While Churchill ordered the church bells of Britain rung for victory in North Africa, much more pain and hardship lay ahead before the Allies would enjoy real cause for celebration.

For the first two years of conflict in North Africa, the British on one side, and the Germans and Italians on the other, battled for control of Egypt and Libya. The defeat at El Alamein forced the Axis forces to retreat into a trek through Libya and into Tunisia, with the British in pursuit. At the same time, in November 1942, came Operation Torch, an Anglo-American invasion of French Algeria and Morocco. After the success of this operation the Axis forces found themselves pressed in Tunisia from the east and west.

General Bernard Montgomery’s relatively tardy and cautious follow-up to the victory at El Alamein – he took nine days to retake Tobruk – has been much criticized, but he did not want to overreach himself, especially against an adversary like General Erwin Rommel. Heavy rain at Fuka ended the 2nd New Zealand Division’s hopes of cutting off the Afrika Korps’ long retreat back to Tripoli. ‘Only the rain on 6 and 7 November saved them from complete annihilation,’ wrote Montgomery afterwards. ‘Four crack German divisions and eight Italian divisions had ceased to exist as effective fighting formations.’ ‘The doom of the Axis forces in Africa was certain,’ he wrote later, ‘provided we made no mistakes.’

In the course of December 1942, the Germans turned and fought several fierce rearguard actions, but on each occasion Eighth Army prised them from their positions and pushed on. Tripoli fell on 23 January 1943. Three days later, Montgomery’s forces found themselves in Tunisia, where the last protracted phase of the North African war was fought out.

Montgomery’s victory at El Alamein should have provided a powerful inducement for the Vichy authorities in Africa to cooperate with the Allies during the invasions of Morocco and Algeria, codenamed Operation Torch. The fighting nonetheless cost the French 3,000 casualties over three days, and the Allies 2,225. Small wonder that Torch’s commander, the American general Dwight D. Eisenhower, wrote: ‘I find myself getting absolutely furious with these Frogs.’

Operation Torch was undertaken because the British refused to re-enter the European continent in northwest France – where they had been ignominiously expelled in June 1940 – until the Wehrmacht had been significantly weakened on the Eastern Front by the Russians, Germany had been heavily bombed, the Middle East was safe and the battle of the Atlantic unequivocally won.

General George C. Marshall’s April 1942 plans for an early return to France – with either a nine-division assault codenamed Sledgehammer, or a forty-eight-division invasion codenamed Roundup – were both judged far too risky by General Alan Brooke, the chairman of the British Chiefs of Staff as well as Chief of the Imperial General Staff. ‘The plans are fraught with the gravest dangers,’ he confided to his diary. ‘The prospects of success are small and dependent on a mass of unknowns, whilst the chances of disaster are great and dependent on a mass of well established military facts.’

The speed of the German response to Operation Torch surprised the Allies. Two thousand troops were landed at Tunis, the German capital in Africa and thus the ultimate objective. It soon became clear that Hitler intended to contest North Africa despite Rommel’s defeat 1,000 miles to the east. Although the commander of the British First Army, Lieutenant-General Kenneth Anderson, was to reach Bône by land, thereafter the winter rains set in and he found himself at the end of a long supply line fighting on too wide a front – 50 miles – to be able to seize Tunis. Eisenhower’s order to Anderson to give up the drive on Tunis proved correct, however much consternation it created in the British High Command concerning the Supreme Commander’s fitness for the post.

In retrospect it would have been better if General Dwight Eisenhower, the Allied Commander-in-Chief, had stuck to his original plans for landings deep inside the Mediterranean as far east as Bône on the Tunisian border, even though it was out of reach of air cover from Gibraltar. Marshall feared that this might over-extend the American forces, however, and invite retaliation from the Luftwaffe in Sicily, or even a German counterattack via Spain. US President Franklin Roosevelt therefore told British Prime Minister Winston Churchill that he wanted to ‘emphasize that under any circumstances one of our landings must be on the Atlantic’.

Short supply routes and excellent air cover enabled the Germans to hold and push back the first Allied units on the scene. In the race to build up troops and equipment for a new assault, the British, Americans and some French could not pull together sufficient strength to push through the German and Italian forces. A German counterattack in the first days of December followed by more fighting in late December only made the stalemate more obvious as the Allies were obliged to pull back and consolidate their position. It would take a two-month pause before a new push could begin.

The original Allied plan had been to cover the route to Bizerta and Tunis quickly with the aid of commandos and parachute troops. These projects had to be scrapped due to concern about the attitude of French troops in the area. The forces – primarily British with some American participation – which raced overland to seize the key harbor of Bône and move into Tunisia, crossed the border into Tunisia. It soon became evident that they had lost the race: as the weak Allied spearheads ran into the German formation operating out of their bridgehead of Tunis and Bizerta, 20 and 40 miles away respectively, they were checked.

In early 1943, amid winter rain and mud, the Germans were able to further frustrate Allied efforts to rush Tunis: in a series of January offensives, Hans-Jürgen von Arnim’s formations drove back ill-equipped French forces, and held open the supply line to the Afrika Korps further east. In February, they achieved a series of smashing successes against the Americans, destroying two tank, two infantry and two artillery battalions of Lt. Gen. Lloyd Fredendall’s corps in a single forty-eight-hour operation.

Once the Allied onrush toward Tunis and Bizerta had been checked, new plans had to be made in that theater, not only for the timing of subsequent future operations but for Tunisia itself. The original idea of seizing Tunisia and driving into Libya to catch Rommel's army now had to be reversed. The Allies would have to build up their forces in Tunisia. In the interim, the British 8th Army would drive on toward Tunisia, with the Allies now hoping to destroy the new German army in Tunisia as well as that of Rommel.

Concerned about a possible collapse of Italy and an attack on Europe from the south, Hitler was now determined to allocate resources to the North African campaign on a scale far greater than ever before in the war. At a time of enormous tension on the Eastern Front, he diverted desperately-needed troops and equipment to Tunisia. It must be noted, furthermore, that he thought of the campaign in Tunisia as more than a holding operation. The situation of the Afrika Korps had always been difficult as long as supplies could not be sent across the short route from Sicily to the ports of Tunis and Bizerta. Now the Korps could work together with the new army being built up in Tunisia.

In November and December 1942, more than 50,000 German and 18,000 Italian soldiers were rushed into Tunisia, with about another 100,000 Germans and 10,000 Italians in the subsequent months of the campaign. Vast quantities of equipment were flown or shipped in and hundreds of fighters assigned to this new front.

The campaign for Tunisia, by drawing massive Axis forces into a new theater at a time of crisis on the Eastern Front, provided important relief to the Soviet Union. The diversion of effort would make it impossible for the Germans to send a substantial army to the relief of Stalingrad. Simultaneously, German air transport could not be used both to fly troops and supplies to North Africa and to fly supplies into the Stalingrad pocket; the two Allied campaigns greatly assisted each other in this regard.

Some French troops, nominally under General Henri Giraud but actually commanded by General Alphonse Juin, were participating on the Allied side, but the French forces in Tunisia — obedient to orders from General Phillipe Pétain in German-occupied France — had missed their opportunity. This meant that Pétain had performed his last major service for the Germans: there had to be a major campaign for Tunisia and hence no Allied landing in the West in 1943. All of France could look forward to an additional year of German occupation.

This point is especially clear when one sees how the recognition that Torch would not include a rapid seizure of Tunisia affected Allied planning for 1943. Into the last days of November 1942, there was still hope in both London and Washington that an invasion of France would be feasible in the summer of 1943. By the 8th of December, the British Chiefs of Staff had concluded that this idea had to be abandoned and only operations in the Mediterranean would be possible. The only concern of the Americans, and especially of General Marshall, was that the need to clear Tunisia and complete the follow-up operations in the Mediterranean in 1943 might postpone the cross-Channel attack even beyond 1944.

Rommel, driven across the Tunisian border early in February 1943, had the Afrika Korps prepared to make a stand at the Mareth Line, its first major attempt to halt Montgomery since El Alamein. As these units dug in, however, Rommel flew westwards to perform one of his stunning counterattacks, in a series of five engagements collectively known as the Battle of Kasserine Pass. Inexperienced, the American units were pushed back some 85 miles from their initial positions, suffering heavy casualties.

The struggle at Kasserine, between Rommel’s Afrika Korps and Major-General Fredendall’s II Corps through the Western Dorsal mountain range in Tunisia, perfectly illustrates the formidable German capacity for counterattack. It further shows why Marshall’s plan for an early attack on northwest France was probably impracticable.

Major-General Orlando Ward’s 1st Armored Division was split into small units, and an Allied counterattack was ambushed, with ‘appalling’ ground-to-air liaison and ‘lamentable’ cooperation between US armor, artillery and infantry, which led to more than 6,000 Allied casualties out of the 30,000 engaged, against 989 German casualties (of whom only 201 were killed), and 535 Italians captured.

The initial defense of the pass had to be carried out by the US engineer battalion, a construction unit that had not completed rifle training before being shipped overseas, in which only one member had seen active service before, together with an infantry battalion and a four-gun French battery; barely 2,000 men all told. Anti-tank mines had been dumped rather than buried and there were not enough sandbags or entrenching tools. This was no way to send green GIs into battle, especially against German veterans who had fought in Poland, France and Russia.

The Americans learned lessons which had often been forced upon the British before them: about the quality of enemy armor, the speed of the Germans’ actions and reactions, the ruthlessness with which they pressed every advantage. Some US units panicked in a fashion which inspired contempt among senior British officers. Sensible English people understood the folly of patronising their allies. RAF Corporal Peter Baxter wrote in his diary: ‘I think the Americans merely lack training in battle conditions, and maybe aren’t too sure what they’re supposed to be fighting the Germans for.’ Both these suppositions were true.

Although Rommel’s counterattack finally petered out on the road to Thala called Highway 17, it was not before he had almost broken through to the straight roads and flat country which led to the Le Kef supply depots only 40 miles away. ‘I felt strategic fear,’ the highly competent commander of the French forces in the region, General Alphonse Juin, later admitted, ‘for if Rommel broke through, all of North Africa was doomed.’ The Germans were not about to thrust the Allies all the way back to Casablanca, but they could possibly have turned the tide in Tunisia. Because the line held in the end, Rommel had to withdraw his forces.

Instructed to hold the town, Brigadier Charles Dunphie of the British 26th Armoured Brigade ordered ‘every cook, driver and batman in Thala to the [front] line’. A tank fight developed in the dark of night at 20 yards’ range. The arrival at 08.00 hours the next day of American General Stafford Le Roy Irwin’s division was critical in persuading Rommel not to press on further that morning, and instead an intensive artillery duel developed through the day.

With four days’ rations and only enough fuel to drive 200 miles, and intelligence reports of the reinforcement of Thala, Rommel appeared ‘depressed’ to Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, who as Commander-in-Chief South had overall responsibility for the Mediterranean Basin and who visited Kasserine to confer with him. ‘Rommel was physically worn out and psychologically fatigued,’ thought Kesselring, noting that ‘he had undoubtedly turned into a tired old man’.

The outskirts of Thala was the furthest point the Axis were ever to get in North-West Africa. The Afrika Korps turned back, with a Panzer division acting as rearguard. It took three days for the Americans and British to reach the pass, and to organize Italian POW burial parties to bury the many corpses found there.

American General Lloyd Fredendall had been forced back 85 miles in seven days. The blame for Kasserine must be shared by Anderson, Eisenhower and Fredendall, and the last was swiftly replaced by General George Patton. The defeat at the Kasserine Pass ended any mood of over-confidence, and reminded each component of the Western alliance of the importance of close cooperation. ‘Our people from the very highest to the very lowest have learned that this is not a child’s game,’ Eisenhower reported to Marshall. Yet it must be remembered that the Kasserine Pass was recaptured only days after the defeat.

Cooperation between the British, French and Americans had been dire, at least until Eisenhower’s deputy Harold Alexander arrived the following month to take over command of the 18th Army Group, comprising the British First and Eighth Armies, the French XIX Corps and the US II Corps.

Despite having fallen back more than 1,000 miles, Rommel was still not getting the supplies he needed. He estimated that he required 140,000 tons of supplies a month to sustain him, and by early 1943 was receiving only a quarter of that. Furthermore, almost every request to Kesselring in Rome was – unbeknown to him – landing on Eisenhower’s desk, because the British had managed to decipher the German radio transmissions, often within six hours of transmission.

The higher commanders of the British army drew a flawed lesson from this event. Both General Montgomery and Field Marshal Alexander concluded that the Americans were hopelessly trained and led, made poor soldiers, and were unlikely to improve quickly in either performance or leadership. It is difficult to understand why they found it so hard to comprehend that the Americans' taking several months to learn what it had taken their own army and its leaders three years was a good, not a bad, sign for the Allied cause. Thereafter, Alexander, who kept his opinions on this subject quiet until he revised them, would always get along well with the Americans. Montgomery, who probably never revised his opinion and at times voiced it, never could develop a harmonious relationship with American — or Canadian — commanders.

General Eisenhower reorganized the air, naval, and ground relationships among the Allied forces. Thus, he created the first truly combined inter-Allied headquarters. Eisenhower’s gifts as a conciliator and strategist were exceptional; he was also willing to learn from experience. And his usually patient personality allowed him to mold a group of disputatious and quarrelsome generals from different countries into a winning team. That nearly everyone underestimated him was a major factor in his effectiveness. He would now display those talents in marshaling and organizing Allied forces attacking the Axis positions in Tunisia.

After Kasserine, Rommel was promoted to become Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Africa. Ultra, the machine the British used to decipher German messages, revealed his intention to use all three of his weak Panzer divisions to strike Montgomery’s Eighth Army, approaching the Axis Mareth line in southern Tunisia. The German push at Medenine was easily thrown back; Rommel, a sick man, left Africa for the last time.

The withdrawal of the German assault forces from the Kasserine front was designed to enable Rommel to strike quickly at the advance units of the British 8th Army. To strike at Montgomery's advance guard, Rommel gathered his armored units for an assault on the Medenine area. The British knew from intelligence that this attack was coming and defeated it.

By now the situation of Axis forces in Tunisia was rapidly deteriorating. Allied fighter aircraft had gained the upper hand, so that the Stukas could no longer operate without suffering heavy casualties. On the ground, Allied pressure placed Axis troops in an impossible situation.

While Patton attacked Rommel’s rear – and with fine covering artillery support defeated the veteran German 10th Panzer Division at El Guettar – the Eighth Army attacked the Mareth Line, but got bogged down in the minefield. Montgomery nonetheless took the port of Sfax shortly afterwards. After the failure of his first assault, Montgomery conducted a successful outflanking operation deeper inland, but the Germans were able to withdraw intact to new positions at Wadi Akarit.

The nutcracker effect of Patton and Montgomery on each side of Rommel was one that was to lead to a ludicrous competitiveness – culminating in outright enmity – between the two men. ‘God damn all British and all so-called Americans who have their legs pulled by them,’ Patton wrote in his diary. ‘I would rather be commanded by an Arab. I think less than nothing of Arabs.’ Montgomery’s vanity has already been noted, but this is what Patton wrote in his diary before sailing on Torch: ‘When I think of the greatness of my job and realise that I am what I am, I am amazed, but on reflection, who is as good as I am? I know of no one.’ Yet there was a sentimental side to the bruiser too: Patton wept at his ADC’s funeral and put flowers on his grave before leaving the North African theater.

The initial 8th Army attack on the right flank of the Axis position failed to penetrate and had to be withdrawn. But the New Zealanders on the left had pushed rapidly and successfully around the Mareth position. Montgomery now shifted his axis of attack and reinforced the push inland behind the New Zealanders. The result was that the Axis army defending the Mareth line had to pull back or risk being cut off. Their blocking forces held long enough to enable what was now called the 1st Italian Army under General Giovanni Messe to escape once again.

The British assault had been assisted by the American attack to the north, which had drawn one of the German armored divisions away from their front, but the British battered rather than crushed the army in front of them.

It was the unceasing Allied air campaign against Axis shipping and ports that bit most deeply. Informed by Ultra of virtually every Axis air and naval movement, Allied air attacks devastated the convoys crossing to North Africa. In mid-March, Fliegerkorps Tunis concluded that the courses of its convoys across to Tunisia from Sicily were being betrayed to the Allies. But the Germans found it impossible to believe that their own communications might be the problem. By the end of March the Germans had to shut the convoys down entirely and move to airlift.

The final part of the campaign saw Mark Clark’s II Corps – Patton had passed on the command in order to plan for the invasion of Sicily – attacking the northern sector of the Axis defensive position, and some particularly tough fighting by the US Army for a defensive position called Hill 609. Anderson’s First Army and Montgomery’s Eighth Army also played crucial roles, which were reallocated by Alexander to ensure that the British and Americans jointly took the glory for expelling the Axis forces from Africa.

Constantly refusing Rommel’s reasonable and strategically sound requests to extricate his forces from Africa, Hitler proceeded in early 1943 to make precisely the same mistake that he had at Stalingrad in late 1942, reinforcing defeat and issuing ‘Stand or die’ orders that amounted to demands for suicidal resistance for no appreciable gain.

The Americans regained the ground lost in the small disaster at Kasserine. Chaotic Allied command arrangements were reorganized; the most visibly incompetent American officers were replaced with a ruthlessness the British might profitably have emulated. Through April, the Allies steadily pushed back the Axis line. By early May, the German forces were confined to a pocket seldom more than sixty miles from the Mediterranean coast, along a 150-mile front where the British confronted them in the east, the Americans further west.

Montgomery finally achieved success at Wadi Akarit, driving back his opponents to a new line. Alexander launched an all-out offensive: First Army attacked towards Tunis, Bradley’s corps at Bizerta and the French towards Pont du Fahs. The British Eighth Army failed to smash the new German line at Enfidaville. On Montgomery’s advice, Alexander transferred two of his divisions to First Army, to deliver a final assault along the Medjez-Tunis road, with massive air and artillery support. The combined pressure on von Arnim’s front proved irresistible.

The Allied plan for the final assault had a feature worth noting: it appeared to Eisenhower and Alexander to make the most sense to have the major offensive launched by the British 1st rather than the 8th Army. The latter had plenty of experience in the desert, the former in the rugged Tunisian terrain. Because of the need to amass a powerful attack force, however, several of 8th Army's most experienced divisions were transferred to 1st Army and took part in its offensive.

The Allies, in preparation for the final assault, also took measures by sea and air to prevent an evacuation of the Axis forces, but in this they misjudged Axis intentions. Almost to the last moment, the Germans were bringing troops and supplies into Tunisia, and no preparations whatever were made for any evacuation. The hope was that the bridgehead could hold and keep the Allies tied down for months: it was assumed that any evacuation preparations would only lower morale.

When the Allies struck in April, the British 1st Army and United States II Corps battled their way forward while 8th Army soon called off its assaults. The 1st Army headed for Tunis and broke the German bridgehead into two portions. Bizerte and Tunis were about to fall.

Instead of trying to hold out in the Cape Bon area or elsewhere, both German and Italian troops surrendered in increasing numbers after the 3rd of May. The numbers, in fact, increased more rapidly than the Allies had expected. Only about 800 Axis soldiers managed to escape, and in about ten days some 275,000 German and Italian soldiers walked, drove, or rode donkeys into prisoner of war enclosures that repeatedly had to be expanded. It was the largest haul of Axis prisoners in the war to date.

General Omar Bradley took Bizerta on 7 May, the same day that the British finally entered Tunis. There was plenty of glory to be shared by the end of the campaign. Rommel’s successor, General Hans-Jürgen von Arnim, was captured, along with no fewer than 230,000 other POWs. ‘The Tunisian campaign is over,’ Alexander cabled Churchill. ‘We are masters of the North African shore.’

The British suffered heavily in the Tunisian campaign: of the 70,000 Allied casualties in Tunisia, more than half were British and, of those, two-thirds were suffered by the First Army. The Eighth Army has taken much of the glory and the attention of history, but the First Army also deserves recognition.

Churchill chose the opportunity of his speech to the US Congress to underline the point about ‘the military intuition of Corporal Hitler’ that he had made in London back in February. To be an object of fear and hatred was perfectly acceptable to Hitler, but Churchill wanted to transform him into one of derision and mirth. The master of parliamentary ridicule had spotted a way of mocking ‘Corporal Hitler’, as he increasingly took to calling him, and he unerringly grasped it. ‘We may notice’, he said of German strategy in Africa, ‘the touch of the master hand. The same insensate obstinacy which condemned Field Marshal von [sic] Paulus and his army to destruction at Stalingrad has brought this new catastrophe upon our enemies in Tunisia.’

Victory had required almost five months’ more fighting than the Anglo-American High Command had anticipated after El Alamein and Torch. But Hitler’s reinforcement of failure rendered the success, when it came, correspondingly greater. Initial American hubris was punished by Wehrmacht skill. But Eisenhower and his colleagues displayed sense and humility in learning the necessary lessons. Weakness of command, tactics, equipment and junior leadership were addressed to some effect before the Allied armies began to cross the Mediterranean.

The British Army was vastly cheered by the sense of redemption that accompanied its arrival in Tunis. After almost three years of hard campaigning, it had achieved a victory which won enthusiastic applause at home. Despite the overblown acclaim lavished on Montgomery, Eighth Army’s commander had shown himself to be a steady professional. His record was tarnished by failure to destroy Rommel’s army after Alamein, the sluggishness of his subsequent pursuit and some important failures against German defensive positions. But Montgomery had proved himself the ablest British general of the war thus far, with a shrewd awareness of the limitations of his citizen army.

The North African campaign established the reputations of the Allied commanders who would dominate the big western campaigns in Europe – ‘Monty’, Alexander, Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley. It was their good fortune to face the Germans when the Allies had substantial material superiority, and the Wehrmacht had suffered debilitating losses in Russia.

The American army would receive its real baptism of fire in the war against Germany under circumstances in which set-backs, though unwelcome, were not disastrous. The lessons about training, equipment, and tactics learned in Tunisia would be of great value thereafter. The testing of the higher commanders would show who could be expected to play a key role in the steadily enlarging American military effort.

The Western Allies had attained their objective in North Africa, but not as quickly as they had hoped. In the process, they had learned some hard lessons in the problems of fighting as Allies with all the difficulties of such an arrangement. They now had some experience in this form of warfare at times of both advances and setbacks, disasters and triumphs, daring strikes and grinding positional warfare. It was experience that would be critical to their future success in the invasion of Sicily, and thereafter.

The Axis had lost its hold on parts of North Africa, two armies, and vast quantities of supplies, shipping and airplanes. Its cohesion was strained to the limit as Italian morale was hit by the loss of the last portion of the country's African empire. Time and again Mussolini and other Italian leaders had urged Germany to make peace on the Eastern Front so that all Axis forces could concentrate on fighting Britain and the United States. The Germans had always rejected this concept and were instead planning a new summer offensive in the East in the very days that the Axis forces in North Africa were surrendering by the tens of thousands.

In victory, even the French began to work together: Generals Giraud and Charles de Gaulle formed the French Committee of National Liberation. The British, United States and Soviet governments then recognized this organization as a de facto government which pulled together the areas earlier under de Gaulle with those in Northwest Africa. The great issue which underlay the cleavage — whether to overlook or to punish the earlier identification with the Vichy regime of most of Giraud's associates — would continue to divide Frenchmen. But they could begin to work together.

On only one point did the Germans learn something from the disaster. Between October 1942 and June 1943 they lost 1,419 transport planes; they now established an air transport command for the first time in the war. The great loss of precious transport planes had been caused by two simultaneous heavy demands on their limited fleet of such aircraft: the need to supply the campaign in Tunisia and the effort to supply the army which was cut off in Stalingrad.

The obvious lengthening of the North African campaign required a new look at the strategy the Western Allies might follow. The Allied leaders decided that an invasion of Sicily should follow on the final victory in North Africa as part of the plan to knock Italy out of the war. An invasion across the Channel in 1943 was, in effect, ruled out in favor of one in 1944; there was as yet no prospect of an adequate number of American divisions in England or the shipping and landing craft for a major landing in France. The preparations for such an operation, however, were to go forward, at the vehement insistence of the Americans.

The strategic plans had to be reviewed once more at the ‘Trident’ Conference in Washington of May 1943. If the British were interested in further operations in the Mediterranean, the Americans were insistent that these be limited so as not to interfere with a cross-Channel invasion in 1944. In a series of very difficult arguments, the issues were hammered out to an agreement.

At the Trident conference, the Americans received the assurance of an invasion of northwest France in 1944 and limits on Mediterranean operations so that this would be possible. The British obtained American agreement to a possible follow-up operation in the Mediterranean after Sicily, with specifics still to be decided. The assumption was that in this way the victory in Tunisia would be utilized for new operations to tie down German forces and divert them from the Russian front by requiring the Germans to defend Italy.

In retrospect, the British were entirely right. None of the preconditions for a successful landing on the coast of France yet existed. The Battle of the Atlantic was not over; the Luftwaffe had yet to be defeated; the logistical infrastructure for the immediate support of the invasion did not exist; and Allied air forces were not capable of interdicting the landing area and preventing the Germans from moving rapidly against the invasion. About the only argument the Americans won was a symbolic agreement to coordinate the efforts of the Allied strategic bombing forces.