Tunisia was an independent republic in North Africa until occupied by the French Army in 1881. A strong nationalist movement under the leadership of Habib Bourguiba, emerged in the 1930s. He was imprisoned by the French authorities in 1934 and after Henri-Philippe Petain signed the armistice with Nazi Germany in June 1940 he was moved to German-occupied France.
On 8th November 1942, the US Army, under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, invaded Tunisia as part of Operation Torch. Allied troops were only 80 miles from Tunis when the German Army counter-attacked and won a victory at Medjez el Bab. By 25th November 24,000 German troops occupied most of northern Tunisia.
Allied forces led by General Kenneth Anderson got to within 12 miles of Tunis before being attacked at Djedeida by General Walther Nehring and the Deutsches Afrika Korps. A further attempt by the Allies to reach Tunis was halted by bad weather on 24th December, 1942.
General Jurgen von Arnium now arrived to take control of the German forces in Tunisia. In January 1943 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.