The U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II

Africa to the Alps
The Army Air Forces in the Mediterranean Theater

Edward T. Russell and Robert M. Johnson

AIR FORCE HISTORY AND MUSEUMS PROGRAM
1999


By the time the United States declared war on Germany and Italy on December 11, 1941, most of Europe had fallen under the domination of Adolf Hitler, dictator of Germany's Third Reich. In the west, only Great Britain, her armies expelled from the European continent, remained defiant; in the east, Hitler faced an implacable foe-the Soviet Union. While the Soviets tried to stave off a relentless German attack that had reached Moscow, Britain and her Commonwealth allies fought a series of crucial battles with Axis forces in North Africa.

Initially, America's entry into the war changed nothing. The United States continued to supply the Allies with the tools of war, as it had since the passage of the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941. U.S. military forces, however, had to be expanded, trained, equipped, and deployed, all of which would take time.

With the United States in the war, the Allies faced the question of where American forces could best be used. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston S. Churchil1 had already agreed that defeating first Germany and then Japan would be their policy, but that decision raised further questions.

Roosevelt wanted U.S. troops in combat against German troops as soon as possible. Josef Stalin, the Soviet leader, demanded a second front in northern Europe to relieve pressure on his armed forces.
Churchill, fearing German power in France, hoped for a strike at the Mediterranean periphery of Hitler's conquests-what he called the "soft underbelly" of Europe.

Churchill proposed an invasion of northwest Africa for late 1942 and Roosevelt agreed. As a result, American forces were soon on their way across the Atlantic, beginning a Mediterranean journey that would involve them in nearly three long years of combat.

Africa to the Alps describes the participation of the Army Air Forces in the war in the Mediterranean theater of operations, as it developed a practical air-ground doctrine, established an effective interdiction strategy, and gained valuable experience in airborne operations and close air support of ground troops.