Encouraged by Germany's success, Italy entered the conflict in June 1940. Mussolini had promised the Italian people great victories. In North Africa, he saw the potential to provide them. Following a successful assault on badly outnumbered forces in British Somaliland, Italy invaded Egypt in September 1940. The British offered determined resistance, however, as the loss of Egypt would have been a serious blow to the Allied cause. Egypt was the gateway to the strategically important Suez Canal and oil fields of the Persian Gulf.
In December 1940, British troops launched a counteroffensive that drove back the Italian armies, ultimately forcing Mussolini to seek German assistance. The arrival of German troops once again placed the British on the defensive. Under the leadership of the "Desert Fox," General Erwin Rommel, the Afrika Korps won several victories for Germany. Over the next few months, Rommel and his British counterparts engaged in a series of engagements that saw the balance of power in North Africa shift frequently.