英国驻埃及高级指挥官阿奇博尔德·韦维尔将军 – 通过拦截和解码德国无线电传输 – 知道隆美尔抵达的黎波里时的力量有多么虚弱，他计算在德国袭击事件发生之前至少有几个月的准备时间。但隆美尔在英国准备好之前就遭到袭击。他的闪电般的进攻使他的对手完全失去平衡。德国军队很快就以非洲军队的名字而闻名，他们与意大利盟友一起在埃及边境建立，同时围攻利比亚的托布鲁克盟军要塞。相机很喜欢隆美尔，戈培尔确保这位获胜的将军现在得到了德国媒体的大量关注。 然而隆美尔无法捕捉到托布鲁克，并且在1941年11月的一系列旋风，血腥的战斗中 – 代号为“十字军行动” – 他最终被迫退回到他在El Agheila的起点。其中很多原因在于Axis物流的困境。 Axis的供应线比英国的供应线要短得多，但几乎所有前往北非的意大利车队都必须对马耳他的飞机和潜艇进行攻击。这个棘手的问题让隆美尔感到沮丧，但他并没有接受现实情况，而是简单地责怪他的意大利盟友和他的季军。当德国空中力量开始“中和”岛屿时，马耳他对Axis供应线的束缚很快被解除，而隆美尔迅速反弹回到攻势，将英国人赶回了托布鲁克面前的Gazala线。
General Archibald Wavell, the senior British commander in Egypt, knew – through intercepted and decoded German radio transmissions – just how weak Rommel’s force was when it arrived in Tripoli, and he calculated on having at least a few months to prepare before any German attack. But Rommel attacked before the British were ready. And his lightning-fast offensive caught his opponents completely off balance. Very quickly the German forces, soon to be famous as the Afrika Korps, were established on the Egyptian frontier along with their Italian allies, while simultaneously besieging the Allied fortress of Tobruk in Libya. The camera loved Rommel, and Goebbels made sure that this victorious general now received plenty of attention from the German media. Yet Rommel was unable to capture Tobruk, and during a series of swirling, bloody battles – codenamed Operation Crusader – in November 1941, he was eventually forced to retreat to his starting point at El Agheila. Much of the reason for this lay in the troubled field of Axis logistics. The Axis supply lines were much shorter than those of the British, but virtually every Italian convoy to North Africa had to run the gauntlet of attacks from aircraft and submarines based at Malta. This difficult problem frustrated Rommel, but rather than accepting the reality of the situation, he simply blamed his Italian allies and his quartermasters. Malta’s stranglehold over the Axis supply lines was soon lifted when German airpower began to ‘neutralise’ the island and Rommel quickly bounced back on to the offensive, driving the British back to the Gazala line, just in front of Tobruk.