The Royal Air Force began its air offensive against Germany in May , and on 4 July the first American crews participated in air raids against the Continent. In early British and American leaders reaffirmed the priority of the European theater. General Marshall argued for an immediate buildup of American forces in Great Britain, a possible diversionary attack on the Continent in the fall, and a definite full-scale invasion in The British greeted this program with caution.
Remembering the enormous casualties of World War I, they preferred to strike at German power in the Mediterranean, rather than risk a direct confrontation in haste. Although acknowledging the eventual necessity for an invasion of France, they hoped to defer it until much later. Instead, Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill suggested Anglo-American landings in North Africa, bringing the French armies in France's colonies there back into the war on the side of the Allies and aiding the British in their fight against the Italians and the forces of German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel.
Months of lively debate followed, but ultimately President Roosevelt directed General Marshall to plan and carry out amphibious landings on the coast of North Africa before the end of Dwight D. Eisenhower, then in England, to take command of the invasion. Meeting the November deadline required improvisation of every kind Army troops were hurriedly trained in amphibious warfare. Technicians modified commercial vessels to serve as landing ships. While General Eisenhower monitored operations from Gibraltar, American forces, convoyed directly from the United States, landed along the Atlantic coast of French Morocco, near Casablanca.
Meanwhile, American and British troops sailing from England landed in Algeria.
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Despite efforts to win support among French military officers in North Africa, some fighting occurred. Nevertheless negotiations soon led to a cease-fire, and French units joined the Allied forces. While the Allies tightened their grip on Morocco and Algeria, their troops raced to reach strategic positions in neighboring Tunisia. Sir Bernard L.
If strong Allied forces could reach the coast of Tunisia, Rommel would be trapped between them and Montgomery's troops. Awake to the threat, the Germans poured troops into Tunisia by air and sea, brushing aside weak French forces there. Axis air power, based in Sicily, Sardinia, and Italy, pounded the advancing Allied columns. As torrential December rains turned the countryside into a quagmire, the Allies lost the race.
Instead of catching Rommel, they faced a protracted struggle. While his forces dug in along the southern border of Tunisia opposite Montgomery, a second powerful Axis force, the Fifth Panzer Army, barred the way to the Tunisian coast. A chain of mountains separates coastal Tunisia from the arid interior. In a plain between two arms of the mountains and behind the passes in the west lay important Allied airfields and supply dumps. On 14 February , the Axis commanders sent German and Italian forces through the passes, hoping to penetrate the American positions and either envelop the British in the north or seize Allied supply de- "Hill " by Fletcher Martin.
Much of the Army's fighting in the final offensive in northern Tunisia involved dismounted infantry attacks on prepared defensive positions in rugged hill country. German forces quickly cut off and overwhelmed two battalions of American infantry positioned too far apart for mutual support, and the experienced panzers beat back counterattacks by American reserves, including elements of the U.
Dug in around the oasis town of Sbeitla, American infantry and armor managed to hold off the Germans through 16 February, but defenses there began to disintegrate during the night, and the town lay empty by midday on the 17th. From the oasis, roads led back to two passes, the Sbiba and the Kasserine.
By 21 February the Germans had pushed through both and were poised to seize road junctions leading to the British rear. Rommel and other German commanders, however, could not agree on how to exploit their success.
From Pearl Harbor to V-J Day: The American Armed Forces in World War II
Meanwhile Allied reinforcements rushed to the critical area. The 1st Armored Division turned back German probes toward Tebessa, and British armor met a more powerful thrust toward Thala, where four battalions of field artillery from the U. On the night of 22 February the Germans began to pull back. A few days later Allied forces returned to the passes.
The first American battle with German forces had cost more than 6, U. In March, after the British repulsed another German attack, the Allies resumed the offensive. The U.
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II Corps, now under the command of Maj. George S. Patton, attacked in coordination with an assault on the German line by Montgomery's troops. American and British forces in the south met on 7 April as they squeezed Axis forces into the northeastern tip of the country. The final drive to clear Tunisia began on 19 April.
The Task of Winning the War
Six days later the last Axis resistance in Africa ended with the surrender of over , prisoners of war. Army learned bitter lessons about the inadequacy of its training, equipment, and leadership in the North African campaign. Army Ground Forces acted quickly to ensure that American soldiers would receive more realistic combat training. Higher commanders realized that they could not interfere with their subordinates by dictating in detail the positions of their units.
Troops had to be committed in division-size, combined arms teams, not in driblets. The problem posed by American tanks, outgunned by the more heavily armed and armored German panzers, took far longer to correct. But the artillery established itself as the Army's most proficient arm.
Montgomery's British forces landed on the southeast coast, while Patton's newly activated Seventh Army landed on the southwest, with the mission of seizing airfields and protecting the flank of the British drive.
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Airborne troops spearheading the attacks scattered wide of their targets but managed to disrupt enemy communications. Hours after the initial landings on 9 July, German armor struck the American beaches. Naval gunfire, infantry counterattacks, and the direct fire of field artillery landing at the critical juncture broke up the German formations.
But two attempts to reinforce the beaches with parachute and glider-borne troops ended in disaster when Allied antiaircraft batteries mistook the transport planes for enemy aircraft and opened fire, causing severe losses. Meanwhile, the Germans solidly blocked the British drive on the Sicilian capital, Messina. General Sir Harold R. Alexander, Allied ground commander, ordered Patton to push toward Palermo, at the western tip of the island.
Once in Palermo, since the British drive was still stalled, his forces attacked Messina from the north. Patton used a series of small amphibious end runs to outflank German positions on the northern coastal road. American and British troops arrived in Messina on 17 August, just as the last Axis troops evacuated Sicily.
In late July the Allies decided to follow up their success in Sicily with an invasion of Italy. Having lost hope of victory, the Italian High Command, backed by the king, opened secret negotiations with the Allies. The Germans, suspecting that Italy was about to desert the Axis, rushed in additional troops. The Germans swiftly disarmed the Italian Army and took over its defensive positions. A British fleet sailed into the harbor of Taranto and disembarked troops onto the docks, while the U. Fifth Army under Lt.
Mark W. Clark landed on the beaches near Salerno on 9 September. The Germans reacted in strength. For four days vigorous attacks by German armor threatened the beaches. But on 16 September American and British forces made contact, and two weeks later American troops entered Naples, the largest city south of Rome. Allied plans called for a continued advance to tie down German troops and prevent their transfer to France or Russia, while Hitler decided to hold as much of Italy as possible. Mechanized warfare demanded a substantial increase in tactical bridging; in Italy the Bailey Bridge proved versatile and adaptable to a variety of weights and situations.
The campaign in Italy became an endless siege, fought in rugged terrain, in often appalling conditions, and with limited resources. Moving north from Naples, the Allies forced a crossing of the Volturno River in October and advanced to the Winter Line, a main German defensive position anchored on mountains around Cassino. Repeated attempts over the next six months to break or outflank it failed.
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