The Allies Strike Back — How 1942 Marked the Beginning of the End for the Axis Powers

American paratroops prepare to drop into North Africa for Operation Torch. The Allied landings in Morocco and Algeria on November 8, 1942 and the simultaneous British Commonwealth victory at El Alamein, along with Germany’s waning fortunes at Stalingrad, signalled a seismic turning point in the war in the Allies’ favour. (Image source: WikiMedia Commons)“After the relentless failures of 1942, journalists around the world now sketched the triumph in North Africa as part of a global arc of dazzling Allied victories from Guadalcanal to Stalingrad.”
By Craig Nelson

ON APRIL 18, 1942, Roosevelt was working at Hyde Park with secretary Grace Tully and speechwriter Sam Rosenman when an urgent call arrived—Radio Japan was broadcasting that Americans were bombing Tokyo. Later calls brought reports of attacks on Osaka, Kobe, and Nagoya. The home islands were under siege.

FDR told Tully and Rosenman that these shocking rumors were true. After replacing Adm. Husband Kimmel as Commander in Chief in the wake of Pearl Harbor, United States Fleet Adm. Ernie King immediately suggested that American Navy carriers could launch army bombers if the planes could afterward land at friendly airfields (bombers being too heavy to return to a carrier). Roosevelt ordered King to work with air’s Hap Arnold on an operation to retaliate for Pearl Harbor and to attack the very heart of Japan. In one of three times that the U.S. Army and Navy fully cooperated on a joint mission (the others being during the War of 1812 and the War in Afghanistan), legendary pilot Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle led 80 Army Air Forces crewmen in 16 B-25s launched by the navy’s USS Hornet from 650 miles east of Tokyo to wreak havoc on the Japanese home islands.

Afterward, the men—who would be known as the Doolittle Raiders—were to fly to safe airfields in the Free Chinese capital of Chongqing. Instead, the Hornet was spotted by a Japanese picket boat, and Doolittle’s squadron was forced to launch too soon and too far from shore.

B-25 bombers launch from the carrier USS Hornet for a surprise daylight raid on the Japanese homeland just four months and 11 days after Pearl Harbor. (Image source: WikiMedia Commons)After successfully bombing Japan, the American crews crash-landed in the middle of the night in a heavy rain on the other side of the world. Many woke at first light to discover that they were swinging from chutes hanging from trees on mountainsides—actual cliff-hangers. Most of the Doolittle Raiders escaped with the help of Chinese peasants who snuck them undercover out of the Japanese-controlled Chinese coast. Some were captured. One died in prison. Three were executed.

Though the damage caused by the bombings was slight, the Japanese were “taken wholly by surprise and were very much agitated by it, and it is quite interesting to see their conduct under such conditions,” War Secretary Henry Stimson wrote in his diary.

“I have always been a little doubtful about this project, which has been a pet project of the President’s, because I fear that it will only result in sharp reprisals from the Japanese without doing them very much harm,” Stimson continued. “But I will say that it has had a very good psychological effect on the country, both here and abroad and it has had also a very wholesome effect on Japan’s public sentiment.”

The first American victory of World War Two gave both the Japanese a mental thrashing as retaliation for December 7, and the American people hope during a period of never-ending loss that the Allies might triumph.

News of a Doolittle Raider’s execution by the Japanese triggered the biggest one-day purchase of war bonds for the whole of the war, and Doolittle became one of a group of legendary USAAF pilots who made factory tours to promote the idea that, besides ace pilots and their crews, American working men and women were the key to global victory.

Australian troops surrounded at Tobruk. (Image source: WikiMedia Commons)After the good news of the Doolittle Raid, the summer of 1942 saw a relentless string of Allied failures. That May and June, Rommel hammered the British in North Africa, while on June 28, the Germans were back on the offensive in Russia; squadrons of Wehrmacht tanks were soon driving deep into the country. On June 21, George Marshall, diplomat Harry Hopkins, Churchill, and top British general Alan Brooke were meeting with FDR in his study when a note arrived: The Libyan port of Tobruk had fallen, with its 25,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers captured. Famous for holding out for 33 weeks in 1941, Tobruk had, in 1942, fallen in one day.

Churchill reeled. By July 3, Rommel was using supplies captured from Tobruk to advance to El Alamein. Similarly, the Germans had decimated Sevastopol and controlled the Crimea, while the Japanese had landed on Guadalcanal, from where they could interfere with shipping between the United States and Australia. Closer to home, 600,000 tons of Allied supplies had been sunk in the North Atlantic by Nazi U-boats in May, and then again in June; Churchill noted that the Nazis were sinking ships twice as fast as the Anglo-Americans could build them.

These catastrophes inspired the British to announce that they could no longer support George Marshall’s plan of a massive, cross-Channel invasion of Hitler’s Fortress Europe. Instead, they proposed a joint invasion of Morocco and Algeria, the French Vichy–controlled territory on North Africa’s Mediterranean coast. The Americans would land in the west and drive east, while British forces from Egypt would drive west to pincer Gen. Erwin Rommel’s Panzerarmee Afrika.

American troops arrive in Ireland in early 1942 as part of the Allied build-up for the liberation of France. It was part of the U.S. strategy of prioritizing the war in Europe over the Pacific known as “Germany First.” (Image source: U.S. Army)This campaign was first called Gymnast, and then Torch; it had been forecast by LTC Albert Wedemeyer in the “Joint Board Estimate of United States Over-All Production Requirements” back on September 11, 1941: “In French North and West Africa, French troops exist which are potential enemies of Germany, provided they are re-equipped and satisfactory political conditions are established by the United States.”

Even with this impetus, though, FDR’s strategic decision to back Torch was not supported by War Department strategists (who held little esteem in the president’s opinion as they had, by turn, dramatically overestimated or underestimated the military capabilities of Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union). G-2 Intelligence’s Col. Edwin Schwien ridiculed the plan as “a patent absurdity.” Stimson referred to it uncharitably as the president’s “great secret baby.”

Many Americans opposed to Torch believed that any operation besides a cross-Channel invasion of Nazi-held France (called Sledgehammer and then Overlord) would diffuse Allied power. When Churchill insisted that 1942 was far too early for such an ambitious campaign as Sledgehammer, War and Navy threatened to switch policy from a “Hitler First” strategy to Tojo First. When FDR then tried engaging with his commanders about Torch and they remained intransigent, the president ordered War’s Stimson, Army’s Marshall, and Navy’s King to provide him with detailed plans for their Asia campaign. They didn’t have any plans, and the renegades were forced to succumb, agreeing to an autumn 1942 Torch launch.

The president was aware of something that King, Marshall, and Stimson would not grasp for some time. In supporting the war, the American public accepted that there would be failures and reversals, but they could not accept long periods of the military appearing to do absolutely nothing at all. The White House knew that 14 U.S. newspaper editorials demanding American military action were published during the week ending April 9, then 27 in the week ending June 25, and 43 in the week ending July 16. Stalin himself complained bitterly that the Anglo-Americans were doing nothing, that the Soviets were fighting the entire war on their own.

When Marshall and King then charged the British with forgoing Sledgehammer in 1942 because they’d lost their fighting spirit, the British responded by agreeing to go forward with Operation Jubilee, which in some ways was a Sledgehammer dress rehearsal.

Canadian wounded lie on the shore at Dieppe, August 1942. (Image source: WikiMedia Commons)On August 19, 1942, Jubilee landed an infantry brigade of 5,000 Canadians, a thousand Britons, along with 50 U.S. Army Rangers and 58 Churchill tanks from 237 ships on the shores of the French fishing town of Dieppe. Their plans were to “stay a night and a day, kill as many Germans as possible, and take prisoners,” as Churchill told Stalin.

But the Nazis had been warned about the operation from French double agents. Dieppe was heavily defended. The Royal Navy provided inadequate gunfire to cover the landings. What’s more, the Churchill tanks’ tracks were stymied by Dieppe’s beaches. Trapped on the shoreline, the strike lasted barely six hours before its commanders ordered a full retreat. Within 10 hours of the first landing, 3,623 of the 6,086 troops who made it to the beaches were killed, wounded, or captured.

Lord Mountbatten later announced, “I have no doubt that the Battle of Normandy was won on the beaches of Dieppe,” as the fiasco revealed to Allied planners all that might go horribly wrong.

For Sledgehammer — the 1944 invasion of Normandy — they would avoid a heavily armed port city in favor of attacking a lightly defended shoreline; arrive in complete secrecy; have their landings preceded by massive marine artillery and aerial bombardment to soften the enemy’s defenses; and do enough research on the target shores to land the proper vehicles . . . all lessons learned from Jubilee.

Even after the horror of Jubilee, Stimson wanted to continue arguing against the North Africa campaign, but Marshall relented after being told by Sir John Dill:

“I am just a little disturbed about Torch. For good or ill it has been accepted, and therefore I feel we should go at it with all possible enthusiasm and give it absolute priority. If we don’t, it won’t succeed. . . . Those playing a part in mounting the operation must be entirely wholehearted about it, or they cannot give it all the help it should have and overcome all the difficulties that will arise.” 

The plan for Operation Torch. (Image source: WikiMedia Commons)Marshall, however, refused to ever admit that he was wrong on wanting to launch Sledgehammer in 1942, and blamed the course of events on politics:

“Churchill was rabid for Africa. Roosevelt was for Africa. Both men were aware of the political necessities. It is something we [in the military] fail to take into consideration. . . . We failed to see that the leader in a democracy must keep the people entertained. That may sound like the wrong word, but it conveys the thought. . . . People demand action.”

During a briefing on plans for North Africa, Marshall said that Roosevelt “held up his hands in an attitude of prayer and said, ‘Please make it before Election Day.’”

This was not exactly a joke, but it was, according to Marshall, the sole time that FDR tried to inject political benefits into military planning. When learning that Torch could not be waged before the midterm elections, the president refrained from any discouraging words, even though the delay gave the Republicans nine more senators and 47 more representatives.

American-made British tanks on the move in Egypt. (Image source: WikiMedia Commons)The North Africa campaign faced its first hurdle when Lt. Gen. Montgomery was unable to coordinate the timing of his Eighth Army’s attack on Rommel’s Afrika Korps at El Alamein with Torch’s American invasion to the west, as his Eighth required the light of a full moon to cross the world’s largest minefield—half a million explosives. On October 23, as Rommel was in Berlin receiving his field marshal’s baton from Hitler, a thousand British cannon began softening up the Korps’ defenses; in the two days that it took Rommel to return, the British had surmounted the minefield, killed Rommel’s substitute commander, and held the high ground. After 11 days, Rommel asked der Führer for permission to retreat. Hitler ordered, “siegen oder sterben”— “win or die.” Instead, the Afrika Korps cavalry ran away, leaving tens of thousands of fascist troops surrendering to the Eighth.

Three days later, on the eve of America’s invasion of North Africa, the president sent a letter to every U.S. combatant:

You have embarked for distant places where the war is being fought. Upon the outcome depends the freedom of your lives: the freedom of the lives of those you love—your fellow citizens—your people. Never were the enemies of freedom more tyrannical, more arrogant, more brutal. Yours is a God-fearing, proud, courageous people, which, throughout its history, has put its freedom under God before all other purposes. We who stay at home have our duties to perform—duties owed in many parts to you. You will be supported by the whole force and power of this nation. The victory you win will be a victory of all the people—common to them all. You bear with you the hope, the confidence, the gratitude, and the prayers of your family, your fellow citizens, and your president.

On November 8, 1942, 65,000 Anglo-American soldiers under the command of General Eisenhower landed across 800 miles of Algerian and Moroccan beaches to encounter 60,000 Vichy French defenders. Within three days, Adm. François Darlan ordered a cease-fire across the territory and, in exchange for a pledge of active resistance against the Nazis, Eisenhower granted Darlan oversight of the French regime in North Africa.

The Vichy may have been quelled, but not Afrika Korps. By mid-February 1943, at Faid and Kasserine Passes in Tunisia, Rommel gave a good punch back. From that nation’s cold high desert, correspondent A. J. Liebling wrote:

[We] always faced eastward while we ate in the morning so that we could see the Messerschmitts come over the mountains in the sunrise. . . . By the time I hit the ground on the lee side of the mound, slender airplanes were twisting above us in a sky crisscrossed by tracer bullets—a whole planetarium of angry worlds and meteors. . . . The Messerschmitts, which were there to strafe us, flew right over the mess shack and began giving the runways and the planes on the field a going over. . . . A couple of minutes later every one of the German planes had disappeared, with our ships after them like a squad of heavy-footed comedy cops chasing small boys.

German POWs in North Africa. After driving Rommel out of Libya, the Western Allies would set their sights on Sicily, Italy and then France. (Image source: WikiMedia Commons)On May 7, 1943, while American and French troops took Bizerte in Tunisia, the British First Army took the capital city of Tunis, and the Allies had won North Africa. Hitler had refused to retreat and cut his losses, so German and Italian troops, killed or captured, numbered 350,000, alongside nearly two hundred thousand tons of supplies taken by the Allies.

Though the timing hadn’t helped with 1942’s election, Torch’s success struck a grand-piano-full of chords with the American people; one poll told FDR that it was “a revolution in political sentiment toward you and your conduct of the war.”

After the relentless failures of 1942, journalists around the world now sketched the triumph of North Africa as part of a global arc of dazzling Allied victories from Guadalcanal to Stalingrad. FDR broadcast: “We know and they [the Axis] know that they have conquered nothing. Today, they face inevitable, final defeat. . . . The Nazis and the Fascists have asked for it—and they are going to get it. . . . [We will] press on with the massed forces of humanity till the bandit assault on civilization is completely crushed.”

Craig Nelson is the author of V is for Victory: Franklin Roosevelt’s American Revolution and the Triumph of World War II, from which this article is liberally excerpted. His other books include: Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness and the New York Times bestseller, Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon, The Age of Radiance (a PEN Award Finalist chosen as one of the year’s best books by NBC News, the American Institute of Physics, Kirkus Reviews, and FlavorWire), The First Heroes, Thomas Paine (winner of the Henry Adams Prize), and Let’s Get Lost (shortlisted for W.H. Smith’s Book of the Year). His writing has appeared in Vanity Fair, The Wall Street Journal, Salon, National Geographic, The New England Review, Popular Science, Reader’s Digest, and a host of other publications.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much money did the U.S. spend on the Vietnam War?

The war cost us 6 trillion dollars. And we lost. There were many lives lost.

It is possible that there were additional costs, but these were the most significant.

It is difficult to estimate the cost of war because it requires you to consider more than just military expenditures. Also, there's the cost to care for our veterans.

The draft cost is a fee that ends when an average American male turns 21 years old. This means that approximately 1 million young men served.

However, the majority of them weren’t drafted. Nevertheless, they were not forced to serve. Many had to go to college.

This resulted in a significant increase in tuition fees for students. Add the cost of the GI Bill to the equation and the total cost is closer than $1 trillion.

The cost of living is on the rise.

In fact, according to the National Priorities Project the lifetime cost for caring for disabled vets could rise to $4.3 trillion.

This would not include the cost of healthcare for those who have survived war.

At any rate, the bottom line is that the United States spent more money fighting the Vietnam War than we've spent on wars since.

What are the three types of war?

War is an emotionally charged experience for both sides. There is excitement and anticipation for the aggressor. He wants to make the enemy suffer. He views it as a game involving strategy and tactics.

For the victim, there is fear, uncertainty, and confusion. He knows that he's outnumbered and outgunned. He doesn't know the exact location of the fight or how much damage it will cause.

But in the end, the victor wins because he is victorious. He feels confident. He is eager for the next challenge. His mind is sharp and clear.

He knows he may lose, but he is ready to accept that loss. He is prepared for defeat. He accepts that his enemy is stronger and more experienced.

The winner considers himself to be the master of his domain. He believes he is invincible. He believes victory is certain.

War isn't just physical. It's mental too.

It's psychological warfare.

It's about winning hearts and minds.

It's about persuading people to follow you over your opponent.

Who won the Battle of Gettysburg

This battle was fought during the American Civil War (1861-1865). The Union Army led by General Ulysses S. Grant (1822-85) defeated Confederate soldiers led by General Robert E. Lee (1805-70).

Both sides had huge effects from the battle's outcome. For the Confederacy, it marked the turning point of the war. For the Union, it signaled the beginning of the end of slavery.

Lincoln's famous 1863 "Emancipation Proclamation", which granted freedom to slaves within rebel states, was signed by President Lincoln in 1863. He signed the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery throughout America, in 1865.

General Robert E. Lee surrendered on April 9th 1865 to General Ulysses S Grant, Virginia at Appomattox County House.

Lee was made prisoner of War after his surrender. In 1870, he died.

Grant was awarded the Medal of Honor for his leadership and bravery during the battle.

He died 1885.

Who was General Douglas MacArthur?

He was an American soldier commander, politician, diplomat and author. In addition, he was also an explorer, engineer, educator, and inventor.

He was born in 1880 in Missouri, United States. His father was killed when he young. He was forced to leave school before his age to support the mother and siblings. At age sixteen, he joined the army and rose quickly through the ranks. He fought in Cuba as part of the Spanish-American War. Two medals were awarded for valor. He was involved in politics, and helped to establish the Philippine Army.

In 1908, he married Jean Faircloth, whom he had met while stationed in Japan. Arthur Jr. Robert, Mary and Mary would be the three children they would have together. While serving as commander of the Philippine Division, he led the successful invasion of northern Luzon in World War I. In 1935, his active duty was over and he returned to the Philippines. During World War II, he was the Chief of Staff of the Allied Expeditionary Force.

MacArthur was best known for leading the Allied Forces to victory against the Japanese Imperial Forces in the Pacific Theatre of Operations during World War II. When the Allies invaded Leyte Island in 1944, MacArthur ordered the landing site to be shifted southward due to poor weather conditions, resulting in heavy casualties among the troops. This decision eventually led to the demise of the initial operations against Leyte. MacArthur managed to plan the Battle of Okinawa and captured the island after he returned to Australia. He was awarded the Medal of Honor in recognition of his efforts.

Upon his return to the US, MacArthur continued serving as a Congress member. In 1952 and 1954, he was elected President of the United States. He was responsible for the Korean Armistice Agreement, and oversaw the withdrawal of US troops South Korea.

During his retirement years, MacArthur wrote numerous books, including Reminiscences (1956), Strategy and Command (1959), and Memoirs (1963). He founded the Military History Institute of California and published his autobiography, Years of MacArthur (1966). He died on April 5th, 1964.

General Douglas MacArthur is one the most beloved soldiers in history. He has been inducted to many halls and honors.


  • Fact: Kentucky provided more soldiers in the War of 1812 than any other state and suffered approximately 60 percent of the war's total casualties. (
  • Kimball reports that: Of historians in the field of diplomatic history, 7% are Socialist, 19% are Other, 53% are Liberal, 11% are None, and 10% are Conservative. (

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What did the U.S. and Russia do during WWII, China?

The United States, Russia, and China had been allies since 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Hitler set his sights on the Soviet Union after Germany invaded Russia, June 1941. Operation Barbarossa became an invasion of Soviet Union by Hitler in December 1941.

Hitler wanted Stalin forced to accept peace in order to give him more time for preparations for his next operations against Britain. He also hoped that the Red Army would be destroyed so that German troops could concentrate their efforts on destroying the British Royal Air Force.

Stalin continued fighting even though the war was over. He believed that the USSR needed to hold out long enough to continue its industrialization efforts.

The Soviets' greatest mistake was made later. Hitler sent General Heinz Guderian and Field Marshal Erich von Manstein to Moscow in July 1944 to convince Stalin to surrender. Stalin refused to listen because he felt the Germans had already committed too much blood and treasure to defeat the Russians.

The Red Army launched counterattacks in August 1944 against the Wehrmacht, a German military force, in East Prussia. Hitler ordered the encirclement & destruction of Red Army on September 2, 44.

In February 1943, the German army captured Stalingrad and Leningrad. Hitler launched a massive offensive against Soviet Union, which lasted until the end of 1944. Hitler planned to invade Finland and the Baltic States in July 1944.

The Allies made land in France on August 21, 1944. The Soviet Union declared its war on Germany two days later. This was the Battle of Kursk in which the Germans defeated Red Army.

Hitler launched a huge attack against the Western Front following the battle. His goal was Paris capture. However, the German advance at River Seine was stopped in its tracks by the Allies.

At the exact same time, the Americans dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima in Japan and Nagasaki in Japan. Emperor Hirohito then surrendered to the Americans unconditionally. The Second World War ended on August 14, 1945.

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