Skip to main content

The North African Campaign

Page 6 – The North African Campaign timeline

Timeline showing key events of the Second World War, particularly New Zealand's involvement in North Africa.


5 January: First Echelon, Second New Zealand Expeditionary Force (2NZEF) embarks for the Middle East.
7 January: First Echelon, 2NZEF, advance party arrives Port Said, Egypt.
12 January: Second Echelon, 2NZEF, begins training.
28 January: 28th (Maori) Battalion assembles in Palmerston North.
12 February: First Echelon, 2NZEF, main body arrives at Maadi Camp, Egypt.
10 June: Italy declares war on Great Britain and France; Canada declares war on Italy.
11 June: Australia, New Zealand and South Africa declare war on Italy.
11-12 June: First air raids on Italy. East Africa campaign begins.
4 August: Italians invade British Somaliland.
27 August: Third Echelon, 2NZEF, embarks for the Middle East.
13 September: Italians invade Egypt; Private G. R. Osbourne, 4th Reserve Motor Transport Company, becames first member of 2NZEF killed as a result of enemy action; Headquarters New Zealand Division (HQ NZ Division) moves to Baggush in the Western Desert.
29 September: HQ NZ Division returns to Maadi Camp; Third Echelon 2NZEF arrives in Egypt.
28 October: Italy invades Greece.
9 December: The first Western Desert offensive begins. This involves some New Zealand support troops.
16 December: British offensive opens in Italian East Africa; Egypt cleared of Italian forces.


22 January: Tobruk in Libya falls to British and Australian troops.
7 February: Benghazi captured by British.
12 February: German forces under General Erwin Rommel arrive in Tripoli.
17 February: Instructions issued to military commanders for a Greek expedition.
3 March: Bulk of 2NZEF now in the Middle East; Kiwi Concert Party formed.
6-7 March: British troops, including most of 2nd New Zealand Division, enter Greece.
24 March: Rommel captures El Agheila in Libya with little resistance.
30 March: Enemy counter-offensive in the Western Desert. German armour and Italian infantry advance.
3 April: British evacuate Benghazi.
6 April: Germany invades Yugoslavia and Greece. New Zealand Division withdraws along eastern seaboard.
10 April: Australians forced to withdraw to Tobruk.
12-13 April: Rommel encircles Tobruk. Siege begins.
14 April: German attack on Tobruk repulsed.
22-29 April: Evacuation of troops from Greece to Crete and Egypt.
27 April: Germans enter Athens. Greece surrenders to Germany.
17 May: Italian forces in East Africa surrender.
20 May: German airborne invasion of Crete begins. Capture of Maleme airfield.
28-31 May: British and Commonwealth (Australian and New Zealand) troops evacuated from Crete.
June: New Zealand troops regroup and complete training exercises in Egypt.
15-18 June: Operation Battleaxe fails to relieve Tobruk.
12 September: New Zealand Division moves to Baggush in the Western Desert.
4-6 October: Raids on Benghazi and Tripoli by RAF. These continued for the rest of the month.
11 November: New Zealand Division moves from Baggush to assembly point near Matruh-Siwa road. This is the first time the entire New Zealand force has been together (20,000 all ranks).
18 November: Operation Crusader begins in the Western Desert. New Zealand Division crosses the Libyan frontier into Cyrenaica.
21 November: Tank battle between British 8th Army and Axis forces begins south and south-east of Tobruk.
23 November: Costly attack on Point 175 (Sidi Rezegh) by 25 Battalion.
26 November: New Zealand Division links up with garrison at Tobruk. New Zealand troops capture Belhamed and Sidi Rezegh.
27-30 November: Axis forces return to Tobruk front. They overrun several New Zealand-held points, taking many prisoners of war.
2 December: New Zealand Division withdraws from Libya; heavy RAF raids on Axis supply bases in Tripoli and Benghazi.
10 December: Siege of Tobruk lifted.
11 December: Germany declares war on United States; 5th (NZ) Brigade advances westward from Ascroma and captures large force of Italians.
16 December: Rommel begins retreat to El Agheila.
24 December: British take Benghazi.


2 January: Bardia taken by 8th Army – 1000 British prisoners of war set free.
6 January: Rommel commences offensive at El Agedabia.
8 January: Rommel repulsed and withdraws during sandstorms.
21 January: Rommel commences second offensive.
23 January: Axis troops take El Agedabia.
29 January: Rommel's forces retake Benghazi.
20 February: Western Desert frontline stabilised at Gazala.
February: New Zealand Division deploys to Lebanon-Syria.
27 May: Rommel launches new offensive in Libya.
14 June: With defeat of 8th Army in Libya, New Zealand Division recalled from Lebanon-Syria.
21 June: Rommel captures Tobruk.
30 June: Rommel reaches El Alamein near Cairo.
1 July: First Battle of El Alamein.
14-15 July: New Zealand Division captures Ruweisat Ridge. Charles Upham earns bar to Victoria Cross (VC).
7 August: General Bernard Montgomery takes command of 8th Army in North Africa.
25 August: Two companies of the 28th (Maori) Battalion inflict heavy casualties on Italians on the El Alamein Line.
2 September: Rommel driven back by Montgomery in the Battle of Alam Halfa.
21 September: Rommel hands over command of Italian-German Panzer Army to General Georg Stumme and returns to Germany.
23 October: Operation Lightfoot (Second Battle of El Alamein) begins. New Zealand Division captures Miteiriya Ridge.
25 October: General Stumme dies and Rommel returns to North Africa.
28 October: RAF breaks up German armour reforming for possible counter-attack in the Western Desert.
2 November: Operation Supercharge begins. Allied forces break Axis forces at El Alamein. New Zealand Division opens way for British armour.
8 November: Operation Torch begins. American and British forces land in French Morocco and Algeria under Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
11 November: Axis forces driven out of Egypt.
13 November: Tobruk falls to the 8th Army.
20 November: Benghazi recaptured by British forces.
13 December: Rommel withdraws from El Agheila.


23 January: 8th Army under General Montgomery takes Tripoli.
29 January: 8th Army advance parties enter Tunisia.
27 February: 8th Army takes up position opposite the Mareth Line, Tunisia.
6 March: Rommel attacks 8th Army in Tunisia and is repulsed.
9 March: Rommel leaves North Africa and returns to Germany on sick leave.
20-28 March: 8th Army breaks through the Mareth Line.
27 March: New Zealand Division executes 'left hook' at Tebaga Gap. Axis troops retire from Mareth Line.
6 April: Axis forces in Tunisia withdraw as British and American forces link up.
26 April: First Army offensive against Tunis begins.
7 May: Allies take Tunis.
13 May: German and Italian troops in North Africa surrender.
15 May: New Zealand Division begins to return from Tunisia to Egypt.
20 May: New Zealand government agrees to keep 2NZEF in the Middle East and operations in Europe. A furlough scheme for those with long service in the Middle East is decided upon.

How to cite this page

The North African Campaign timeline, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated