The M/NATO was important to both the Axis and Allies for the same three reasons: Effective control of
the area provided or denied access to Persian Gulf oil. It exposed or secured the “soft underbelly” of
Europe. It also shortened or lengthened sea lines of communication (SLOC) to the Soviet Union and
British India. Additionally for the Allies it provided an opportunity to open the “Second Front” against
the Axis and relieve pressure on the Soviet Union. (US and British planners initially disagreed on the
desirability of operations in M/NATO, but regardless it still provided an opportunity.)
North Africa began as an Italian theater that Germany initially considered a sideshow when compared to
operations in Russia. However, early in 1941, Hitler was forced to bolster his Italian ally’s operations
against the British Eighth Army in Egypt by providing Generalleutnant Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps.
With the German failure to defeat USSR in 1941, Hitler began to retool his strategy for a longer
protracted war. Hitler appointed Albert Speer to expand war related industrial production. It was a
heavily resource driven strategy and the Persian Gulf area with its oil became increasingly important and
the Mediterranean and North Africa was the route to it. The spring 1942 offensive in Russia was directed
at the Caucasus region to gain oil resources required for a longer war effort. In support of this “resource
strategy” Axis forces in North Africa wanted to cut the Suez Canal and gain access to and deny British
access to Persian Gulf oil. Should this happen it would weaken the Allies while strengthening the Axis. It
was the mission of the British Eighth Army in Egypt to secure the Suez Canal and deny Axis access to the
oil. Note that at the strategic level Britain, as an island nation, was heavily dependent on the import of oil
and other raw materials thus maintaining open SLOCs was of critical importance. Open SLOCs through
the Mediterranean to the Suez...