On the international scene, the situation was turning bad once more. Germany under Adolf Hitler, angered by her humiliation in the First World War, started the Second World War by declaring war on Poland that brought in France and Britain into the war against Germany. The hopes of idealists of a free and better world after the First World War were quickly shattered.
Meanwhile, Britain rearmed for war, unprepared as the German army swept Poland within a month. France was taken by surprise as German troops poured through neutral Netherlands and Belgium, behind the infamous Maggot Line and straight into Paris. France surrendered, leaving Britain to alone against the full might of Germany that had seized much of Continental Europe. Britain survived the Battle of Britain that guaranteed her survival. Troops from her various colonies, noticeably India, were beginning to relocate, passing through Egypt.
Meanwhile, Germany’s ally, Italy, was attacking Greece and Yugoslavia. Ethiopia, annexed by Italy, now threatened Egypt from the South. The Italians landed in Vichy French colonies in Northern Africa and likewise threatened to attack Egypt from the West. The war was slowly moving towards the Mediterranean, and Egypt was to become the epic centre of the British struggle.
War in the Middle East
The war in the Mediterranean was for a moment marked by British successes. In Ethiopia and Italian Libya, the Italians suffered embarrassing defeat by the British forces. The British, encouraged by their successes, sent what little forces they had in the Middle East into Greece to hold up the Italians. Unfortunately, these successes were to bring about immense danger.
The British successes in the Mediterranean eventually brought Mussolini to request for German help, which was granted. German troops flooded into Yugoslavia and Greece, quickly driving out the small British expedition force that suffered much losses, considering its small size. The German army, the Afrika Korps under General Rommel, soon landed in North Africa and started threatening Egypt. The importance of Egypt was clearly understood. Egypt, the centre of British communications between England and her colonies, was essential. Troops and shipping had to rely on Egypt for transit. Furthermore, Egypt now stood in the way of German assault into the Middle East and with it, her rich oil deposits. The USSR would then be attacked from the South. Egypt, becoming the centre for British military command in the Middle East, her importance was immense.
Under Rommel’s brilliant leadership and tactics, the British Eighth Army suffered many defeats. Indeed, the British were embarrassingly defeated in armoured warfare in the desert. Despite numerical superiority to Rommel’s Afrika Korps that were beginning to suffer from Hitler’s war with the USSR, the British were still out-maneuveured and out-witted by the armour ace, now nicknamed the Desert Fox. The demoralised British Eight Army on the other hand, called themselves the Desert Rats. For a moment, Rommel’s troops seemed ready to march into Egypt herself and the Eighth Army, demoralised by defeats, were preparing last ditch defenses in Egypt herself. Egypt, the epic centre of the British Empire and centre of British struggle against the Axis powers seemed to hang by a thread to defeat.
Fortunately, British General Montgomery took command of the British Army and raised moral of the troops. Taking advantage of prepared plans by his predecessor, he soon turned the tides against the Germans, repelling their attacks and turning defense into offense. US forces landed in Operation Torch, was soon pushing the Germans from the West. This pincer attack eventually resulted in the German defeat at Al’Amein, the first major British victory in the war. With the threat on Egypt passed, the British, after years of hard battle in the Libyan-Egyptian deserts, were finally able to heave a sigh of relief.
Colonisation of Egypt. © Copyright 2005
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