Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

African countries and the Second World War

Article from AFRIC Editorial
On May 9, the 74th anniversary of the Victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany is celebrated in Russia and in the countries of the former USSR. May 9, 1945 is considered to be the date which marked the end of the Second World War. This holiday is also a reason to recall the role of African countries in world war and the consequences of the victory of the Soviet Union. It was the victory of the socialist state in the Second World War that changed the political attitude towards the colonial-dependent countries and allowed the peoples of Africa to achieve independence.


By the beginning of the Second World War, the vast African continent was under the rule of several European colonial powers. African countries were a field of fierce struggle between the Anglo-American bloc and Germany and its allies.

Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco constituted the complex of the so-called French North Africa. With the establishment of the reactionary Vichy regime in France, this region fell into the sphere of control of the fascist bloc. Under the terms of the Compiegne Armistice of June 22, 1940, German-Italian commissions were sent to Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, inspecting military bases, the most important economic and strategic sites. They organized the export of raw materials and food to Germany and Italy, as well as the supply of Italian-German troops in Libya.

Vichy authorities had established a regime of police terror and racist persecution in North Africa. The Vichy administration repressed all its actual or potential opponents, primarily the activists of the national liberation movement.

Sudan has become the other pole of political and military struggle in Africa. He was one of the main bases of the allies in the fight against the forces of Germany in Africa. In Sudan, military airfields were established, on which military aircraft from England and the United States of America were based. During the war, various workshops for the repair of military equipment, new enterprises for the processing of technical raw materials and food appeared in Sudan. The Sudanese Armed Forces took part, along with British troops, in battles with the German-Italian armies in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Libya. The number of Sudanese troops increased from 4,500 in 1939 to 26 thousand in 1944.

The position of the rest of Africa during the Second World War was very different from the conditions prevailing in the countries of the northern part of the continent. Excluding Ethiopia and several French colonies in West Africa, most African territories were not affected by the hostilities.


North Africa was a strategic springboard for which a fierce clash took place in the Second World War. Largely because of the difficult fighting in Africa, there was a delay in opening a second front in Europe.

The North African campaign (June 10, 1940 – May 13, 1943) was a military action between the Anglo-American and Italian-German forces in North Africa — on the territory of Egypt and the Maghrib during World War II. In its course, the famous battles of the British with the troops of the German General Rommel, known as the “desert fox”, and the landing of the US-British troops in Morocco and Algeria (the landing operation “Torch”, November 1942) took place. The East African campaign officially lasted less than a year and a half; from June 10, 1940 to November 27, 1941, but the Italian soldiers continued to fight in Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea until the end of 1943, until the order of surrender reached them. Madagascar, which was the base for the supply of Japanese submarines in the Indian Ocean, in May 1942, British troops landed, and by November of that year the island was liberated from the Vichy and Japanese troops.

In other countries of Africa there was no military action. But in the metropolitan army, hundreds of thousands of Africans were mobilized. Africans fought in North Africa, Western Europe, the Middle East, Burma, and Malaysia. The metropolitan policy towards the participation of Africans in the war was ambivalent: on the one hand, they sought to use the human resources of Africa as fully as possible; on the other hand, they were afraid to admit Africans to modern types of weapons. Most of the mobilized Africans served in the auxiliary troops, but many still received full military training, received military specialties of drivers, radio operators, signalmen, etc.

A total of over a million African soldiers fought on the side of the colonial powers in World War II.


Few Africans understood the causes of the war and the meaning of what they fought for. For the majority, it was “not their own” war and mobilization for war was carried out forcibly. But there were also volunteers. Some soldiers knew about Hitler and the consequences he could bring to the peoples of Africa. One of the veterans, John Henry Smith from Sierra Leone, recalled that his teacher had let him read Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”. “We read what this man was going to do with black Africans, if he came to power. It was a book that would make every African make up against such as it happened to me. ” So John became a volunteer and joined the ranks of the Royal Air Force of Great Britain, where he served as navigator.

The war was especially important for African consciousness. Fighting in distant countries, they imbued with the spirit of the anti-fascist war and returned home completely different. Many participants in the war further became activists and leaders of national liberation movements in African countries.

The victory over fascism led to the collapse of the colonial system and contributed to Africa’s independence and the emergence of armed liberation movements. The Second World War had a profound impact on the comprehension of class, racial, and political problems throughout the world. In fact, the Second World War became a catalyst for the crisis in the colonial empires and the increase in political activity throughout the African continent. Before 1945, the struggle of African peoples against colonial dependence, for the most part, was fought not so much for self-government, as for a certain degree of participation in existing governments, after the war, the demand for independence became the basis of the program of all African organizations. May 9, 1945 is the greatest divide in modern African history, the most important factor contributing to the independence of African countries.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

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