That’s how General Alexander concluded the message sent to his boss, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, at 1:16pm on May 13, 1943. The North African campaign, fought over a 6-month period, was finally over. But the cost had been high for the Allies. More than 6,000 British soldiers had been killed, along with more than 9,500 French and nearly 3,000 American soldiers. Total casualties (wounded, missing, or captured) would top the 70,000 mark.
On the Axis side of the ledger, determining numbers is more difficult, as the loser in a war rarely gets a chance to number the fallen, and the victors rarely take the time. 12,000 Italian and German dead is probably the low-end of the estimates with another 40-50,000 wounded. Numbers of captured were huge, as thousands laid down their arms in Bizerte and Tunis. In addition, the 5th Panzer Army, which we left last week on the Cape Bon Peninsula, surrendered as well. A total prisoner count of 300,000 is probably about right, as the photo above (of a German POW camp near Mateur) seems to bear out.
And for U.S. troops, their first fighting experience had been hard, but valuable. Rick Atkinson, in his book An Army At Dawn (which I’ve recommended numerous times) writes, “Four U.S. divisions now had combat experience in five variants of Euro-Mediterranean warfare: expeditionary, amphibious, mountain, desert, and urban. Troops had learned the importance of terrain, of combined arms, of aggressive patrolling, of stealth, of massed armor. They now knew what it was like to be bombed, shelled, and machine-gunned, and to fight on.”
The U.S. Army was now a fighting machine and, what’s more, they had fought against the vaunted Wehrmacht, and come out on the better end. The North African landscape was dotted with burned-out tanks and artillery pieces, remnants of shattered aircraft, and not a few human remains. Towns had been destroyed and the landscapes marred.
Decades later, unexploded bombs, mines, and artillery shells were (and are) being dug up at the rate of dozens per month. But nobody was fighting in North Africa, and Adolf Hitler’s double-disasters in North Africa’s desert and in Stalingrad’s frozen streets meant 1943 was the beginning of the end for him and his aspirations.
Many of the men believed they would be sent home. But many others looked to the northwest, just as their German counterparts had done the week before. But the Germans had looked that direction with hope and longing for a rescuer from the Allied trap. Allied soldiers looked that way with the somber knowledge that more Germans were waiting.
Sicily was next, with Italy not far behind.