Allied Forces Work Together
The combined Axis forces faced the Eighth Army at the Mareth line, a 22-mile length of fortifications built by the French that ran from the sea to the Matmata Hills. While both sides prepared, General Harold Alexander, commander in chief of the British Middle East Forces, was named deputy commander for ground forces in an important command reorganization. Under Alexander were the British Eighth Army, U.S. Army troops, and forces of the Free French — a combined total of more than half a million men.
For nearly a month, from February 26 to March 20, the Axis forces were gradually weakened through a series of battles that took a heavy toll on their troops and equipment. Once the Axis forces had been sufficiently softened up, the Allies prepared for the coup de grâce: a push through the Mareth line. On April 8, patrols from the U.S. forces in the east and the British Eighth Army from the west shook hands near Gafsa, signaling the official linkup that was to drive the Axis from North Africa for good. Rommel, who had become ill, had already been flown to Germany, where he would play an important role in designing the German defense of Normandy. But the Desert Fox would never set foot in Africa again.
The Axis forces were in no position to put up much of a fight once the Allies hooked up and started their push. Desperately low on food and supplies and exhausted from the long retreat from El Alamein, they established one last defensive position encompassing Tunis, Bizerte, and the Cape Bon Peninsula but were quickly overwhelmed. Tunis was captured by the British, Bizerte by the U.S. and French. The German and Italian forces laid down their weapons for good on May 13, and their generals arranged for mass surrenders that eventually totaled more than 240,000 soldiers. North Africa was finally under complete Allied control.
This fact would prove strategically important, as Allied forces gradually took control of the entire Mediterranean region.