The U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II
to the Alps
The Army Air Forces
in the Mediterranean Theater
Edward T. Russell and Robert M. Johnson
A I R F O R C E H I S T O RY A N D M U S E U M S P R O G R A M
Africa to the Alps
The Army Air Forces in the Mediterranean Theater
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, re-
mained defiant; in the east, Hitler faced an implacable foe—the Sovi-
et Union.While the Soviets tried to stave off a relentless German at-
tack 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 Unit-
ed 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. Churchill had al-
ready 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 the