An Army at Dawn: The War in Africa, 1942-1943 Summary & Study Guide

Rick Atkinson
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An Army at Dawn: The War in Africa, 1942-1943 Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

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World War II officially began with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. Over the next two years most of Western Europe was brought under Axis control, Japan attacked the United States - putting the U.S. firmly in the Allied camp, Hitler turned east against his former ally Stalin, and Rommel was running rampant in North Africa. The United States quickly mobilized for war. Allied commanders made the decision that an invasion of North Africa would drain German resources and pave the way to an Allied invasion of Europe itself. The North African invasion was to be called Operation Torch.

The landing sites for Torch were decided in October 1942. The initial cities to be taken were Casablanca, Algiers, and Oran. More than 33,000 American soldiers and 100 ships were to be involved in the operation, although most of the troops had no practical combat experience. Several covert operations were already underway in Vichy-held North Africa, with varying degrees of success. Hitler assumed that a North African invasion was coming, but massed his submarines too far east to hinder the invaders.

The British had previously devised several badly planned schemes for small forces to sail into Oran and Algiers. For the most part, the troops were either killed or captured. However, most of the landings did eventually succeed (even if some accidents occurred and transports landed in the wrong location). After varying degrees of difficulty, all three targeted cities were taken. The French were marginally cooperative with the Allies. At that time, transports also came under attack by German submarines.

German troops began landing in northeastern Tunisia, and the French troops mostly stood down and allowed it to happen. German air superiority began to show as their Stuka aircraft started harassing Allied troops more and more. Allies began to move troops east into Tunisia to face the Germans. Logistical issues were among the major problems at this point; not enough supplies had been planned for the operation, and troops could not be efficiently moved to the front. The new Commander, Anderson, had been hoping to deliver a knockout blow to the Germans before they could build up too much force. On the whole, though, the Allies seemed to be very tentative as they moved east.

Eisenhower moved his headquarters to Algeria and became frustrated by the continued dominance of Axis planes. Stukas were attacking Allied formations at will, especially in Tunisia. The first tank battles of the war occurred, and the Americans realized that their lightly armed Stuart tanks were no match for the German heavy Panzer tanks. Only by attacking from the rear did the Stuarts have any success. The British actually made it within sight of Tunis before being turned back by a major German offensive. A German ambush also routed a large British force near Bizerte. Still another German attack decimated the Allied forces near Tebourba. Many Allied troops were in a state of panic.

Both armies dug in and reinforced in mid-December 1942. Many American troops were still stuck hundreds of miles from the front. Several hills were fought bitterly over and a general stalemate occurred between the armies. Most offensives for the Allies were cancelled.

Back in Casablanca, a high level Allied conference took place between President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, Eisenhower, and the American and English Chiefs of Staff. Eisenhower's Operation Satin, to move quickly across southern Tunisia and head off Rommel, was cancelled. After the Casablanca conference, Eisenhower appointed Major General Lloyd Fredendall to command the II Corps.

During this time, heavy fighting was taking place over a strategic area known as the Eastern Dorsal. Fredendall had not properly defended the area, and when it was attacked, he did not move rapidly to send reinforcements. As a result, the Axis troops seized several key areas, including Faid Pass. The Germans turned several other hurried attacks back, and Allied morale plummeted. The outlook became even worse after the Germans captured and killed thousands of Allied troops near Sidi Bou Zid. The Germans moved steadily westward, even prompting Fredendall to move his headquarters in a moment of panic. Americans were able to fight a holding action against the Axis forces at Sbeitla before falling back to Kasserine Pass. The Germans managed to take the badly defended Pass before being pushed back by an American Unit at Djebel Hamra. After that, the German offence ran out of steam and retreated. The Allies had lost more troops and tanks, but because of shipping losses, the Germans were no longer acquiring reinforcements.

Rommel moved east to confront Montgomery and was beaten badly when the British General intercepted and deciphered his attack plans. The Germans attacked again, but were driven back after taking heavy casualties. Montgomery moved north into Tunisia to join up with the rest of the Allied army, and the more intuitive Omar Bradley replaced Fredendall. The Allies began to retake ground that they had lost in the preceding months, and the Americans also became more adept in their fighting methods - particularly in the use of new artillery techniques. More German attacks were driven back as the Allies prepared for the final assault on the Axis bridgehead.

The Allied assault was to happen in three separate prongs with a total of 300,000 men. All three groups found quite a bit of German resistance and made slow progress, but the American unit under Bradley broke through to Bizerte after a long period of difficult hill-to-hill fighting. The other groups made it through to Tunis, and the war for North Africa was over.

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