A tank-artillery team stands on alert. This kind of unit -- a 105mm. howitzer mounted on a half-track -- has proved a 'winning combination,' according to Army experts, in ground warfare in Tunisia.
Caption from LIFE. "A tank-artillery team stands on alert. This kind of unit -- a 105mm. howitzer mounted on a half-track -- has proved a 'winning combination,' according to Army experts, in ground warfare in Tunisia."Eliot Elisofon—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
A tank-artillery team stands on alert. This kind of unit -- a 105mm. howitzer mounted on a half-track -- has proved a 'winning combination,' according to Army experts, in ground warfare in Tunisia.
Camouflaged American artillery fires on German positions during Allied campaign in North Africa during WWII.
American artillery, World War II, Tunisia, 1943
Covering two and a half ton truck with net after arrival at ammo dump near front. Ammo is moved to artillery at night. Ammo is 105mm in clover leaf (cluster of 3 shells).
Douglas A20 attack planes in formation, about to bomb enemy position in Tunisia during Allied campaign in North Africa, WWII.
Photographs and clipped contact-sheet images (uncharacteristically glued to paper) from Tunisia, the North African Campaign, 1943, from the LIFE archives.
Desert scene, World War II, Tunisia, 1943.
Three tank-destroyer men take refuge in foxholes under a bank during a Stuka bombing attack. U.S. tank destroyers, with 3-inch guns, played a big part in defeat of 10th Panzers, Tunisia, 1943.
American soldiers charge into wall of smoke during a raid on German positions at Sened in the North African campaign, Tunisia, 1943.
Bespattered with blood and oil after strafing attack by nine Me-109s [Messerschmitts] on first day of battle, a wounded half-track gunner vainly tries to swallow a sulfa tablet. Attending officer subsequently flushed it down his throat with water. Three other men on the half-track were killed.
Wounded German soldier captured during the Battle of Sened, Tunisia, 1943.
C-rations, Tunisia, 1943.
Photographs and clipped contact-sheet images (uncharacteristically glued to paper) from Tunisia, the North African Campaign, 1943, from the LIFE archives.
American Lt. Gen. (later General) George S. Patton in North Africa during WWII, 1943.
American troops, North Africa, 1943.
American soldiers in North Africa during the Allied Tunisia Campaign, 1943.
Photographs and clipped contact-sheet images (uncharacteristically glued to paper) from Tunisia, the North African Campaign, 1943, from the LIFE archives.
Barbed wire enclosure holds Axis prisoners taken during the Allied assault on German positions near Sened, Tunisia, 1943.
Italian prisoners playing cards, Tunisia, 1943.
A group of Axis prisoners are taken during the Allied assault on German positions near Sened, Tunisia, 1943.
An American M3 tank disabled in Tunisia, 1943.
Airplane wreckage in the desert, Tunisia, 1943.
Shelled building behind Italian gun position, Tunisia, 1943.
German cemetery, Tunisia, 1943.
Caption from LIFE. "A tank-artillery team stands on alert. This kind of unit -- a 105mm. howitzer mounted on a half-trac
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Eliot Elisofon—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
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LIFE in WWII: Rare and Classic Photos From North Africa, 1943

Sep 28, 2013

So many World War II battlefields have been immortalized in histories, memoirs, novels and films that the names alone can conjure stark and stirring images for even the most casual history buff.

Saipan. Stalingrad. Bastogne. Normandy. Okinawa. Leyte Gulf. The details of each and every battle might be hazy for most of us — but if pressed, we could at least locate the site of the combat in the Pacific or European theater of war.

But how many of us recognize names like Sidi Bou Zid? El Guettar? Seden? Wadi Akarit? To a lesser or greater degree, these and other battles with now long-forgotten names also helped to determine the course and the outcome of the Second World War. That they were fought not in Europe or on one of the Marshall or Mariana islands in the Pacific, but instead in the deserts and towns of North Africa, might come as something of a shock to people who never knew in the first place that Allied and Axis troops fought — and fought for years — in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and other countries along the northern rim of the African continent.

Here, 70 years after the fighting ended in the bleak and largely forgotten North African Campaign, LIFE.com presents a series of photos — many of which never ran in LIFE magazine — made in Tunisia by photographer Eliot Elisofon in 1943, as the campaign was nearing its end. The number of dead, wounded and missing in North Africa didn't come close to the millions lost in Europe and the Pacific during the war — but neither side got off easy. Close to 100,000 troops were killed, the grim total split almost evenly between the Allies (British, American and Free French, for the most part) and Axis powers (Italian, German and Vichy French). Among the Allies, the British were the hardest hit, with more than 200,000 men killed, wounded, captured or missing.

In May 1943, LIFE noted to its readers:

The Allies' final push caught the Germans completely off base. Thousands of German officers and soldiers were obliviously promenading the streets of Tunis when four British armored cars rolled into the city on May 7. When LIFE's correspondent Will Lang entered Tunis' Majestic Hotel to register for a room, German officers were still drinking at the bar.

Allied pressure never relaxed. Audacious columns streamed to the coast from all directions, cutting the enemy into hundreds of hopeless, helpless units. The disintegration was complete. German motorized elements simply decorated their vehicles with white flags and drove into the Allied lines. Gasped one British general: "These last three days have been fantastic, unbelievable. The Germans may have witnessed scenes of wholesale surrender like this, but we never have."

After North Africa, Allied eyes in the Western hemisphere were trained on Europe: by July 1943 American, British and Canadian troops had landed in Sicily and had begun the long, brutal push toward Mussolini's Rome, Nazi-held Paris and ultimately, two years later, Berlin.

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