On September 1, 1939, Adolf Hitler invaded the nation of Poland, kicking off World War II. Hitler had been in power since January 1933 (total power since 1934) and had made fairly good on his promise to make Germany great again. At the end of the First World War (1914-1918) Germany was saddled with untenable sanctions by the allies: For example, Germany was forced to pay for the damages incurred during the fighting. Inflation, poverty, and street violence followed as dozens of radical political groups duked it out in broad daylight. One of those groups was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or the Nazis. Hitler blamed Jews for Germany’s loss, saying that had not the Jews sold them out, they would have won the war.
Hitler wasn’t the only dictator in Europe at the time (or the bloodiest...the Soviet Union’s Josef Stalin killed far more people than Hitler). Another continental strongman was Benito Mussolini, of Italy. Leader of the Fascists, Mussolini had been swept to power after his glorious March on Rome, 1922. In his early years, Hitler idolized Mussolini.
By the late 1930s, however, Hitler was the big dog and Mussolini was the leader of a nation that wouldn’t be ready for war until 1943 at the earliest. Since the two nations were allied, Hitler promised not to start any trouble until Mussolini was ready.
But he lied.
Mussolini initially stayed out of the fray, but during 1940, when the German army was sweeping west, he threw his hat into the ring, On June 10, 1940, Italian troops pushed into France, Mussolini reportedly saying: “"I only need a few thousand dead so that I can sit at the peace conference as a man who has fought."
Though Hitler had his sights set on Europe, Mussolini wanted to build a new Roman empire along the Mediterranean. He quickly sent troops into North Africa, but it was only 1940, not 1943: They were not prepared for war and met heavy resistance from the British. It wouldn’t be unfair to say they were creamed.
In February 1941, Hitler assigned one of his Generals, Erwin Rommel, to the newly formed Deutsches Afrika Korps, a division meant solely to assist Italian imperialism in Africa. Rommel proved himself a capable warmaker, winning several stunning victories.
In 1942, however, the British got a boost when Bernard Montgomery, a highly decorated WWI vet, took command of allied operations in Africa.
On October 23, the Second Battle of El-Alamein began, with the British striving to break through the German and Italian lines: Rommel’s forces had dug a five-mile-deep defensive area, replete with minefields and antitank guns. The Germans were outgunned, but their biggest problem was: No Rommel. He was recovering from an illness in Austria at the time. When he got back two days later, he found his defensive lines six miles past where they were before he left, his men having been knocked back by the British.
The arrival of Rommel stemmed the tide of war, but it was too late: Though his forces destroyed four times as many tanks as they lost, the British kept coming. On November 2,
Montgomery launched Operation Supercharge. He switched the thrust of attack westward, and smashed easily through Rommel’s line. Rommel withdrew his forces to Fukah but Hitler insisted that they hold their position at El Alamein. Rommel reluctantly obeyed, which was a mistake. He attempted to push back against the British onslaught, but failed, and wound up retreating even further.
Thus came the end, virtually, of the Italian empire.