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World War II

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The Mediterranean Theater

Campaign in North Africa

In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill were becoming personal allies. They agreed to destroy Germany first, then Japan. With Germany battling Russia, U.S. war planners wanted to open a second front in German-occupied France. But Roosevelt deferred to Churchill: the Allies would first attack in the Mediterranean, the “soft underbelly” of Nazi-occupied Europe.

In 1942, untested U.S. troops joined the British, who had been battling Italian and German advances in North Africa for two years. Supported by hundreds of warships and support vessels, plus bombers and fighters, Allied troops put ashore along Africa’s northern coast. Then they pushed east to join the fight against Axis strongholds in Tunisia. Allied air, naval, and ground forces, initially outmatched and often stopped, gradually isolated the Axis army. Months of brutal fighting ended in the war’s first Allied victory, and taught green U.S. troops and commanders hard truths about real combat.


Exhibition Graphics

President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill at the 1941 Atlantic Conference off Newfoundland Air transport in North Africa

President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill at the 1941 Atlantic Conference off Newfoundland Air transport in North Africa

U.S. transport command plane over Egypt

U.S. transport command plane over Egypt

American P-38 fighters over Tunisia

American P-38 fighters over Tunisia

Americans joining the British in North Africa

Americans joining the British in North Africa

American tanks joining the offensive in North Africa

American tanks joining the offensive in North Africa

U.S. Army Rangers on patrol

U.S. Army Rangers on patrol

German general Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox”

German general Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox”


Related Artifacts

United States Tanker’s Helmet
M1 Rocket Launcher
German “Tellermine” Anti-tank Mine

Italian Cul-de-Sac

Roosevelt and Churchill agreed that Italy promised the best approach to Nazi Europe. In July 1943, half-a-million Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen were deployed in a massive amphibious assault against German and Italian forces on Sicily, a rocky island just south of Italy’s “boot.”

British and American commanders—often at odds and fiercely competitive—struggled to coordinate operations. U.S. Lieutenant General George S. Patton was determined to best British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. In what Patton considered “a horse race in which the prestige of the U.S. Army is at stake,” he raced up the island’s west side. Patton reached Messina, Sicily’s northernmost port, before Montgomery—just after Axis troops had escaped.

Lightly resisted landings in Italy in September belied the bloody struggle that lay ahead. It took nine months for Allied forces to claw their way to Rome, and they never reached Germany. By the end of the war, Allied casualties in Italy topped 300,000.


Exhibition Graphics

General George S. Patton on the way to Messina

General George S. Patton on the way to Messina

British field marshal Bernard Montgomery

British field marshal Bernard Montgomery

Americans firing 155 mm artillery in Italy

Americans firing 155 mm artillery in Italy

African American field artillery troops in Italy

African American field artillery troops in Italy

Japanese American troops of the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry

Japanese American troops of the 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry

100th Battalion Infantryman

100th Battalion Infantryman

African American airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group in Italy

African American airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group in Italy

American dead near Santa Maria Infanta

American dead near Santa Maria Infanta

German troops surrendering to Allied forces in Italy

German troops surrendering to Allied forces in Italy

Victorious American soldiers entering Rome, June 4, 1944

Victorious American soldiers entering Rome, June 4, 1944

African American troops in the Po valley

African American troops in the Po valley


Related Artifacts

United States M3 Submachine Gun


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