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December 07 , 2010

Operations in North Africa and the Middle East 1939-1942

Tobruk, Crete, Syria and East Africa


The Middle East Command in the Second
World War covered a vast region, stretching
across Egypt, Libya, Malta, Palestine and
Transjordan, Cyprus, Sudan, Eritrea, most of
Syria and a small part of Iraq, and included
some forty different languages. At one point
it also oversaw operations in Greece, Kenya
and British Somaliland. Its campaign area ran
for a thousand miles from the Jordan to the
Horn of Africa.
Initially under the leadership of General Sir
Archibald Wavell, Middle East Command’s
early actions were in contending with the
Italian forces in Libya and Italian East Africa.
He was soon distracted by the German
invasion of Greece and the subsequent
defence of, and withdrawal from, the Island
of Crete. With his attention turned from
North Africa to the Ægean, Italian forces in
North Africa were able to hold their ground
and even receive reinforcements in the form
of Rommel’s Afrika Korps .
Wavell’s despatches detail all of these
campaigns up to July 1941, when he was
superseded by General Claude Auchinleck.
The ‘Auk’ had to deal with the Anglo-Free
French invasion of Syria and Lebanon and the
nationalist uprising in Iraq. His main
concern, though, was with stopping
Rommel’s advances through Libya. The Axis
forces were eventually held close to the
border of Egypt at El Alamein. It was as far
as Rommel would go and it marked the end
of the long run of Axis successes in North
The despatches presented here form a
unique collection of original reports from the
commanding officers in this widespread and
difficult region. This is the first time these
documents have been brought together in a
single volume
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