In July, 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill decided that the Allies should open a Second Front to help the Red Army fighting in the Soviet Union. Joseph Stalin favoured an invasion of Europe but Roosevelt and Churchill opted for an invasion of northwest Africa. Given the code-name Operation Torch, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed Allied commander of the invasion.
Over 100,000 Vichy troops were stationed in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. It was hoped that the French troops not to resist the Allied invasion.On 7th November, Eisenhower had a secret meeting with General Henri Giraud in Gibraltar. Eisenhower told Giraud about Operation Torch and persuaded him to become commander of French forces in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia after the invasion of North Africa.
The following day Allied forces landed in Casablanca, Oran and Algiers. The French troops fought back at Oran and General Mark Clark immediately began negotiations with Admiral Jean-Francois Darlan, overall C-in-C of Vichy forces, in an attempt to negotiate a ceasefire.
Adolf Hitler threatened Henri-Philippe Petain that the German Army would invade Vichy if his troops did not resist. When Darlan surrendered on the 11th November, Hitler carried out his threat and occupied the rest of France. French troops in Morocco stopped fighting but some joined the Germans in Tunisia.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower now controversially appointed Jean-Francois Darlan as the political head of the French North Africa. The decision infuriated General Charles De Gaulle and the French Resistance who claimed that Darlan was a fascist and a Nazi collaborator. However, the decision was endorsed by Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt who both agreed with Eisenhower that the deal with Darlan would assist military operations in the area.
Darlan was assassinated by, Ferdinand Bonnier de la Chapelle, an anti-Nazi royalist, on 24th December, 1942. Although he had been trained by the SOE and had been a member of the resistance group led by Emmanuel d'Astier, it is believed he was acting as an individual rather than under the orders of any particular group. Darlan was now replaced by the more acceptable Henri Giraud.
In January 1943, General Jurgen von Arnium took control of the German forces in Tunisia. Later that month he was joined by General Erwin Rommel and his army in southern Tunisia. Rommel was in retreat from Egypt and was being chased by General Bernard Montgomery and the 8th Army.
Montgomery now spent several weeks in Tripoli building up his supplies. Arnium and Rommel decided to take this opportunity to attack Allied forces led by General Kenneth Anderson at Faid Pass (14th February) and Kasserine Pass (19th February). The Deutsches Afrika Korps then headed for Thala but were forced to retreat after meeting a large Allied force on 22nd February, 1943.
General Harold Alexander was now sent to oversee Allied operations in Tunisia whereas General Erwin Rommel was placed in command of the German forces. On 6th March 1943, Rommel attacked the Allies at Medenine. General Bernard Montgomery and the 8th Army fought off the attack and the Germans were forced to withdraw. Rommel now favoured a full retreat but this was rejected by Adolf Hitler.
On 9th March, Rommel left Tunisia on health grounds and was replaced by General Jurgen von Arnium as commander of the Deutsches Afrika Korps. Arnium now concentrated in defending a 100 mile arc across north-east Tunisia.
By April 1943 the Allies had over 300,000 men in Tunisia. This gave them a 6-to-1 advantage in troops and a 15-to-1 superiority in tanks. The Allied blockade of the Mediterranean also made it difficult for the German Army to be supplied with adequate amounts of fuel, ammunition and food.
The Allies now decided to make another effort to take Tunis. General Omar Bradley, who had replaced General George Patton, as commander of the 2nd Corps, joined General Bernard Montgomery for the offensive. On 23rd April the 300,000 man force advanced along a 40 mile front. At the same time there was a diversionary attack by the 8th Army at Enfidaville.
On 7th May 1943, British forces took Tunis and the US Army captured Bizerte. By 13th May all Axis forces in Tunisia surrendered and over 150,000 were taken prisoner.