History Read Along – Inferno: The World at War, Chapters 13-14

Chapter notes from our summer reading of World War II History! This week we read about life during World War II and the Campaigns in Africa.

Families – check out these notes but these chapters in the book have some details which might not be suitable for young readers.

Chapter 13: Living With War

  • Different nations and individuals had different war experiences, depending on their location and involvement; casualties numbers varied greatly.
  • Soldiering and combat effected soldiers in a variety of ways, but overall they hated war and longed for home; they also had different ideas about why they fought, which did not always coincide with their generals and national leaders.
  • Isolation, loneliness, and obsession about home marks the writings and memories of many World War II soldiers.
  • On the homefronts, civilians suffered, directly affected by war. Few nations had civilians well-removed from the scenes of fighting.
  • Some civilians tried to flee the war, others volunteered or were forced in labor for the war efforts; civilian casualties mounted as the years passed.
  • Starvation and disease killed many civilians and famine reached terrifying levels in some countries.

A Polish city destroyed by war.

  • Hunger, desperation, and difficult situations created a moral collapse in some areas, as civilians would do almost anything for food or safety.
  • The nations at war mobilized women into the workforce or military whether the women wanted to help or not.
  • In the United States, women working in war manufacture were idealized and praised – like “Rosie the Riveter.”
  • The Soviet Union had the most women in their armies; 800,000 were in uniform and serving actively.
  • Military or war labor service had dangers for women, often exposing them to rude jokes or unwanted attentions.

Quote of the chapter: “So much of this war and army life amounts to the insignificant job of passing time, and that really is a pity. Life is so short and time so precious to those who live and love life that I can hardly believe myself, seeking entertainment to pass time away…I wonder sometimes where this is going to lead.” Staff Sergeant Harold Fennema, U.S.A. (page 322)

Chapter 14: Out Of Africa

  • In 1942, the United States built 48,000 planes and 25,000 tanks compared to Germany’s 15,400 planes and 9,200 tanks; Allied technology also advanced and they tested tactics in North Africa.
  • Churchill persuaded the other Allied leaders to fight in the Mediterranean and help reclaim and hold British territory in North Africa.
  • The British suffered military reverses in Africa, but steadily gained air superiority over the Luftwaffe.
  • British code breaking gave the Allies a secretive weapon against German operations, but they hesitated to reveal how much they knew to the United States and Russia.
  • In the autumn of 1942, the British Eighth Army grappled with German Rommel’s forces while the Italian troops starved and fell back, hoping for aid from the Germans.
  • On October 23, 1942, the Second Battle of Alamein started and lasted for twelve days, ending with a victory for British general Montegomery and Rommel returned from sick leave to coordinate a retreat.

American Troops – Operation Torch

  • Operation Torch (American landings) in Algeria and Morocco, starting on November 8, 1942, brought more Allied troops into Africa and pressure on both sides of the Axis forces in the region.
  • The battles and maneuvers in Africa began the testing fields of new tactics and lessons which would prove valuable as the conflict continued.
  • The Axis retreated from and the Allies believed the tide had turned in Europe; they captured 30,000 prisoners and had pushed the Germans out of North Africa by January 1943.

Quote of the chapter: “All the fight seemed to have gone out of the men… We were carpet-bombed, dive-bombed and machine-gunned… The last thing I remember [before evacuated with a wound] is blowing up my panzer when the petrol had run out, and watching the flames slowly envelop it. It was then that I knew this was the end of our Afrika Korps…I remember wondering why the British advanced so cautiously…if they only know, I almost wished they did know.” Tassilo von Bogenhardt, German (pages 363-364)


I had not thought about the famines and starvation during World War II. I knew food supply was limited in Britain, rationed in America, and almost non-existent in the besieged Russian cities, but hadn’t considered much beyond that. I’m beginning to think that the American-centric version of World War II taught in school textbooks leaves out so many details about human suffering during the war. I understand that it’s U.S. History so of course it will focus on one country, but that may be creating an inaccurate impression of the conflict as a whole.

Learning about the Africa Campaign was really fascinating. I’d actually like to know more than the details in this book, so I might be getting yet another book from the library in the future.

Your Opinion

What was interesting to you in these chapters? Any particular quotes that were particularly noteable? Let us know in a comment!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

4 thoughts on “History Read Along – Inferno: The World at War, Chapters 13-14

  1. One thing I find interesting about Hastings’ POV is that it is NOT American. I agree completely that the info on Russia has not been given enough attention in WWII studies, and I am wondering if this is not because of what followed the war. It was difficult to get much good info–pro-Russia in WWII info–when the Cold War became the issue. I think it still is. I see a serious disconnect between leaders and the people. We have always focused so much on Russian leaders from Stalin onward, but heard very little about the average Russian person. Some of the letters from Russian family members were heart-wrenching.

  2. Alan Moorehead’s MARCH TO TUNIS is a classic on the Africa campaign. World War II look a lot different when viewed through non-American eyes.

  3. Pingback: History Read-Along: Pearl Harbor Christmas, Chapters 10-13 | Gazette665

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