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With the northern and eastern flanks of Palestine secure, Churchill reinforced his forces in Egypt and on December 9, 1941 began an attack that drove Rommel’s troops back to central Libya. On December 10, as a result of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor three days earlier, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy declared war on America. Hitler, for a second time, sent major reinforcements to North Africa, including an entire air wing commanded by General Albert Kesselring, and Rommel’s troops again halted the Allied advance in central Libya, and began a counterattack.
In February 1942, British tanks and soldiers surrounded the Abdeen Palace in Cairo and forced King Farouk to dismiss the government, which had many pro-Axis members, and replace it with a pro-Allied coalition. In late June 1942, Rommel routed the Commonwealth/Empire Army in eastern Libya and sent it furiously retreating into Egypt. Hundreds of Jewish Palestinians, who were attached to Free French forces, fought tenaciously at Bir Hakeim and prevented the Germans and Italians from turning the Allied southern flank and encircling the entire Commonwealth Eighth Army.
Faced with a catastrophic Allied defeat, America rushed fighter and bomber squadrons, tanks and self-propelled artillery to Egypt to help stop the Germans and Italians in north-central Egypt at El Alamein – and to save Churchill’s dual positions as prime minister and defense minister.
The aircraft carrier USS WASP had made trips, in April and May 1942, into the western Mediterranean to launch fighter planes to bolster the defenses of a beleaguered Malta, which was essential to interdicting Rommel’s supply lines from Italy. Finally, President Franklin Roosevelt, overruling Army Chief of Staff George Marshall and Chief of Naval Operations Ernest J. King, ordered the deployment of a large army-navy amphibious force to Morocco and Algeria, to trap and destroy the Italian-German army fighting in Egypt.
On October 22, 1942, General Bernard Montgomery’s Eighth Army launched the Commonwealth/Empire offensive at El Alamein, and after nearly two weeks of hard fighting his forces sent Rommel’s troops retreating into Libya. The North African pendulum had swung for the sixth and last time during the war, because on November 8, 1942, an Anglo-American force, under General Dwight Eisenhower and including General Patton, landed in Morocco and Algeria. After a week of futile yet stout resistance, the Vichy French switched sides and joined the Allies.
But for a third time, Hitler (and Mussolini) heavily reinforced the Axis forces in North Africa. Unfortunately, the Vichy French military forces in Tunisia, unlike their counterparts in Morocco and Algeria who fought vigorously against the Anglo-Americans, did not resist the Axis troops who arrived by plane and ship. Consequently, the Allies required six months of intensive combat to defeat the Germans and Italians.
While the American army suffered severe setbacks at Sidi Bou Zid and the Kasserine Pass in February 1943, the replacement of the incompetent General Lloyd Fredendall by General Patton quickly rectified the battlefield failures. (Patton’s son-in-law, Lt. Col. John Waters, was captured in the February debacle, but he survived in German prisoner-of-war camps.) In May 1943, 250,000 Axis soldiers surrendered in northern Tunisia, some three months after the German surrender at Stalingrad, and these two Allied victories turned the tide in the European war.
In short, Winston Churchill organized and commanded Allied military forces that in three years defeated the Axis and their indigenous allies in nine North African or Middle Eastern countries. By contrast, in nearly four years, Barack Obama has achieved no lasting victories in these two interrelated regions, despite the dispatch of large military forces, extensive economic aid and craven diplomatic efforts.
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The other Allied leader who demonstrated a profound understanding of the disparate forces operating in the Middle East and North Africa during World War II was David Ben-Gurion.
After convincing the Jews of Palestine in September 1939 to support Great Britain and its allies, Ben-Gurion traveled to America in November 1941 to garner support for an independent Jewish state in Palestine. The culmination of his indomitable efforts was the issuance by Zionist leaders in May 1942 of the Biltmore Declaration, named for the New York City hotel that hosted the conference.
The concise document candidly declared “its unalterable rejection of the White Paper of May 1939.” With the Jews of Europe facing an unprecedented tragedy, the Biltmore Declaration raged that it was “cruel and indefensible” to deny them a “sanctuary” in Palestine, which “has become a focal point of the war front of the United Nations.”
About the Author: Marc Schulte is a prolific writer whose work has appeared in a number of publications including The Weekly Standard, New York Post, New York Daily News, and The Jewish Press.
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