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Operation Torch (initially called Operation Gymnast) was the Britishmarker-Americanmarker invasion of French North Africa in World War II during the North African Campaign, started 8 November 1942.

The Soviet Unionmarker had pressed the United States and Britain to start operations in Europe and open a second front to reduce the pressure of German forces on the Soviet troops. While the American commanders favored Operation Sledgehammer, landing in Occupied Europe as soon as possible, the British commanders believed that such a course would end in disaster. An attack on French North Africa was proposed instead, which would clear the Axis Powers from North Africa, improve naval control of the Mediterranean Seamarker and prepare an invasion of Southern Europe in 1943. American President Franklin D. Roosevelt suspected the African operation would rule out an invasion of Europe in 1943 but agreed to support British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Background

Outward movements of assault and advance convoys
The Allies planned an Anglo-American invasion of northwestern Africa — Moroccomarker, Algeriamarker and Tunisiamarker, territory nominally in the hands of the Vichy French government. The Vichy French had around 125,000 soldiers in the territories as well as coastal artillery, 210 operational but out-of-date tanks and about 500 aircraft, half of which were Dewoitine D.520 fighters — equal to many British and U.S. fighter aircraft. In addition, there were ten or so warships and 11 submarines at Casablancamarker. The Allies believed that the Vichy French forces would not fight, partly because of information supplied by American Consul Robert Daniel Murphy in Algiersmarker. The French were former Allies of the U.S.marker and the American troops were instructed not to fire until they were fired upon. However, they harboured suspicions that the Vichy French navy would bear a grudge over the British action at Mers-el-Kebirmarker in 1940. An assessment of the sympathies of the French forces in North Africa was essential, and plans were made to secure their cooperation, rather than resistance. German support for the Vichy French came in the shape of air support. Several Luftwaffe bomber wings undertook anti-shipping strikes against Allied ports in Algiersmarker and along the North African coast.The Allies intended to advance rapidly eastwards into Tunisiamarker and attack the German forces in the rear. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was given command of the operation, and he set up his headquarters in Gibraltarmarker. The Allied Naval Commander of the Expeditionary Force would be Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham; his deputy was Vice-Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, who would plan the ground effort.

Preliminary contact

To gauge the feeling of the Vichy French forces, Murphy was appointed to the American consulate in Algeria. His covert mission was to determine the mood of the French forces and to make contact with elements that might support an Allied invasion. He succeeded in contacting several French officers, including General Charles Mast, the French commander-in-chief in Algiers. These officers were willing to support the Allies, but asked for a clandestine conference with a senior Allied General in Algeria. Major-General Mark W. Clark, one of Eisenhower's senior commanders, was dispatched to Cherchell in Algeria aboard HMS Seraphmarker, a submarine, and met with these Vichy French officers on 21 October 1942.

The Allies also succeeded, with resistance help, in slipping French General Henri Giraud out of Vichy France on Seraph, intending to offer him the post of commander in chief of French forces in North Africa after the invasion. However, Giraud would take no position lower than commander in chief of all the invading forces, a job already given to Eisenhower. When he was refused, he decided to remain "a spectator in this affair."

Battle

Map of Operation Torch.
The Allies planned a three-pronged amphibious landing to seize the key ports and airports of Morocco and Algeria simultaneously, targeting Casablancamarker, Oranmarker and Algiers. Successful completion of these operations was to be followed by an advance eastwards into Tunisia.

The Western Task Force (aimed at Casablanca) comprised American units, with Major General George Patton in command and Rear Admiral Henry K. Hewitt heading the naval operations. This Western Task Force consisted of the U.S. 2nd Armored Division, the U.S. 3rd and 9th Infantry Division—35,000 troops in all. They were transported directly from the United States in the first of a new series of UG convoys providing logistic support for the North African campaign.

The Center Task Force, aimed at Oran, included the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, and the 1st Armored Division—18,500 troops. They sailed from Britain and were commanded by Major-General Lloyd Fredendall, the naval forces being commanded by Commodore Thomas Troubridge.

The Eastern Task force, aimed at Algiers, was commanded by Lieutenant-General Kenneth Anderson and consisted of two brigades from British 78th and the US 34th Infantry Divisions and two British Commando units—No.1 and No. 6 Commandos; in all a total of 20,000 troops. During the period of the amphibious landings the force was to be commanded by U.S. Major-General Charles W. Ryder, commander of 34th Division, because it was felt that a U.S.-led invasion would be more acceptable to the French defenders than a one led by the British. Naval forces were commanded by Vice-Admiral Sir Harold Burrough.

U-boats operating in the eastern Atlantic area crossed by the invasion convoys had been drawn away to attack trade convoy SL 125. Some historians have suggested the timing of this trade convoy was an intentional tactical diversion to prevent submarine attacks on the loaded troop transports.

Aerial operations were split into two, east of Cape Tenez in Algeria, with British aircraft under Air Marshal Sir William Welsh and west of Cape Tenez, all American aircraft under Major General Jimmy Doolittle, under the direct command of General Patton.

Casablanca

The Western Task Force landed before daybreak on 8 November 1942, at three points in Morocco: Safimarker (Operation Blackstone), Fedalamarker (Operation Brushwood the largest landing with 19,000 men), and Mehdiya-Port Lyauteymarker (Operation Goalpost). Because it was hoped that the French would not resist, there were no preliminary bombardments. This proved to be a costly error as French defenses took a toll of American landing forces.

On the night of 7 November pro-Allied General Antoine Béthouart attempted a coup d'etat against the French command in Morocco, so that he could surrender to the Allies the next day. His forces surrounded the villa of General Charles Noguès, the Vichy-loyal high commissioner. However, Noguès telephoned loyal forces, who stopped the coup. In addition, the coup attempt alerted Noguès to the impending Allied invasion, and he immediately bolstered French coastal defenses.

At Safi, the landings were mostly successful. The landings were begun without covering fire, in the hope that the French would not resist at all. However, once French coastal batteries opened fire, Allied warships returned fire. By the time Allied commanding General Harmon arrived, French snipers had pinned the assault troops (most of whom were in combat for the first time) on Safi's beaches. Most of the landings occurred behind schedule. Carrier aircraft destroyed a French truck convoy bringing reinforcements to the beach defenses. Safi surrendered on the afternoon of 8 November. By 10 November, the remaining defenders were pinned down, and the bulk of Harmon's forces raced to join the siege of Casablanca.

At Port-Lyautey, the landing troops were uncertain of their position, and the second wave was delayed. This gave the French defenders time to organize resistance, and the remaining landings were conducted under artillery bombardment. With the assistance of air support from the carriers, the troops pushed ahead, and the objectives were captured.

At Fedala, weather disrupted the landings. The landing beaches again came under French fire after daybreak. Patton landed at 08:00, and the beachheads were secured later in the day. The Americans surrounded the port of Casablanca by 10 November, and the city surrendered an hour before the final assault was due to take place.

A squadron of the French navy was at Casablanca. A force of cruisers, destroyers, and submarines sortied to oppose the landings but was destroyed by American gunfire and aircraft; a cruiser, six destroyers, and six submarines were lost. The unfinished battleship Jean Bart, which was docked and immobile, fired on the landing force with her one working gun turret until disabled by American gunfire. Two American destroyers were damaged.

Oran

The Center Task Force was split between three beaches, two west of Oran and one east. Landings at the westernmost beach were delayed because of a French convoy which appeared while the minesweepers were clearing a path. Some delay and confusion, and damage to landing ships, was caused by the unexpected shallowness of water and sandbars; although periscope observations had been carried out, no reconnaissance parties had been landed on the beaches to determine local conditions. This was in contrast to later amphibious assaults, such as Operation Overlord, in which considerable weight was given to pre-invasion reconnaissance.

The U.S. 1st Ranger Battalion landed east of Oran and quickly captured the shore battery at Arzewmarker. An attempt was made to land U.S. infantry at the harbour directly, in order to quickly prevent destruction of the port facilities and scuttling of ships. The operation, code named Operation Reservist, failed as the two Banff class sloops were shattered by crossfire from the French vessels there. The French Navy broke from the harbour and attacked the Allied invasion fleet but were sunk or driven ashore.

French batteries and the invasion fleet exchanged fire throughout 8 November and 9 November, with French troops defending Oran and the surrounding area stubbornly. Heavy fire from the British battleships brought about the surrender on 9 November.

Airborne landings

Torch was the first major airborne assault carried out by the United States. The U.S. 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment flew all the way from Britain, over Spainmarker, intending to drop near Oran and capture airfields at Tafraouimarker and La Seniamarker respectively fifteen and five miles south of Oran. The operation was marked by weather, navigational and communication problems. Poor weather over Spain and the extreme range caused widespread scattering and forced thirty of the thirty-seven aircraft to land in the dry salt lake to the west of the objective. Nevertheless, both airports were captured.

Algiers

Resistance and coup

As agreed at Cherchell, starting at midnight and continuing through the early hours of 8 November, as the invasion troops were approaching the shore, a group of 400 French resistance under the command of Henri d'Astier de la Vigerie and José Aboulker staged a coup in the city of Algiers. They seized key targets, including the telephone exchange, radio station, governor's house and the headquarters of 19th Corps.

Robert Murphy then drove to the residence of General Alphonse Juin, the senior French Army officer in North Africa, with some resistance fighters. While the resistance surrounded the house, making Juin effectively a prisoner, Murphy attempted to persuade him to side with the Allies. However, he was treated to a surprise: Admiral François Darlan, the commander of all French forces, was in Algiers on a private visit. Juin insisted on contacting Darlan, and Murphy was unable to persuade either to side with the Allies. In the early morning the Gendarmerie arrived and released Juin and Darlan.

Invasion

The invasion was led by the U.S. 34th Infantry with one brigade of the British 78th, the other acting as reserve. Major-General Charles W. Ryder, commander of the 34th, was given explicit command of the first wave, since it was believed that the French would react more favourably to an American commander than a British one. The landings were split between three beaches—two west of Algiers and one east. Some landings went to the wrong beaches, but this was immaterial since there was practically no French opposition; coastal batteries had been neutralized by French resistance. One French commander openly welcomed the Allies.

The only fighting took place in the port of Algiers itself, where in Operation Terminal two British destroyers attempted to land a party of U.S. Rangers directly onto the dock, in order to prevent the French destroying port facilities and scuttling ships. Heavy artillery fire prevented one from landing, and drove the other from the docks after a few hours, leaving 250 of the infantry behind.

The landing troops pushed quickly inland; General Juin surrendered the city to the Allies at 18:00.

Aftermath

Political results

It quickly became clear that Henri Giraud lacked the authority to take command of the French forces. Moreover, he preferred to wait in Gibraltar for the result of the landing. Eisenhower, with the support of Roosevelt and Churchill, therefore made agreements with Admiral François Darlan that he would be given control if he joined the Allied side. This meant the Vichy regime was maintained in North Africa, with its Hitlerian laws and concentration camps for opponents. Consequently, Charles de Gaulle of the Free French, French Resistance, along with Allied war correspondents, all responded with fury. The problem did not vanish when a local French anti-Nazi, Ferdinand Bonnier de la Chapelle, murdered Darlan on 24 December 1942: Giraud was then installed in his place. He maintained the Vichy regime and arrested the Algiers resistance leaders of 8 November, without any opposition from Murphy.

When Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini found out what Admiral Darlan intended to do, they immediately ordered the occupation of Vichy France and reinforced Axis forces in Africa.

The Darlan-Giraud authority, initially resolutely Vichyist, was gradually forced to take part in the war effort against Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, to democratize, to eliminate its principal head Vichyist rulers, and to eventually merge with the French national Committee of London. Months later, the "Comité Français de la Libération Nationale" (CFLN) born from this fusion passed under the authority of General de Gaulle (despite opposition from President Roosevelt), becoming the U.S.- and British-recognized government of France.

Military consequences

As a result of the German and Italian occupation of Vichy France and their unsuccessful attempt to capture the interned French fleet at Toulon (Operation Lila), the French Armée d’Afrique sided with the Allies, providing a third corps (XIX Corps) for Anderson. Elsewhere, French warships, such as the battleship Richelieu, rejoined the Allies.

On 9 November Axis forces started to build up in Tunisia unopposed by the local French forces under General Barré. Wracked with indecision, Barré moved his troops into the hills and formed a defensive line from Teboursouk through Medjez el Bab and ordered that anyone trying to pass through the line should be shot. On 19 November the German commander, Walter Nehring, demanded passage for his troops across the bridge at Medjez and was refused. The Germans attacked the poorly equipped French units twice and were driven back. However, the French had taken heavy casualties and, lacking artillery and armour, Barré was forced to withdraw.

After consolidating in Algeria, the Allies struck into Tunisia. Forces in the British 1st Army under Lieutenant General Kenneth Anderson almost reached Tunismarker before a counterattack at Djedeida thrust them back. In January 1943, German and Italian troops under General Erwin Rommel retreating westwards from Libyamarker reached Tunisia.

The British 8th Army in the East, commanded by General Bernard Montgomery, stopped around Tripolimarker to allow reinforcements to arrive and build up the Allied advantage. In the West the forces of General Anderson came under attack in February at Faïd Pass on 14 January and at Kasserine Passmarker on 19 January. The Allied forces retreated in disarray until heavy Allied reinforcements blunted the Axis advance on 22 January.

General Harold Alexander arrived in Tunisia in late February to take charge of the new 15th Army Group headquarters, which had been created to take overall control of both the Eighth Army and the Allied forces already fighting in Tunisia. The Axis forces again attacked eastwards at Medenine on 6 March but were easily repulsed by Eighth Army. Rommel counselled Hitler to allow a full retreat to a defensible line but was denied, and on 9 March Rommel left Tunisia to be replaced by Jürgen von Arnim, who had to spread his forces over 100 miles (160 km) of northern Tunisia.

The setbacks at Kasserinemarker forced the Allies to consolidate their forces and develop their lines of communication and administration so that they could support a major attack. The 1st Army and the 8th Army then attacked the Axis in April. Hard fighting followed, but the Allies cut off the Germans and Italians from support by naval and air forces between Tunisia and Sicily. On 6 May, as the culmination of Operation Vulcan, the British took Tunis, and American forces reached Bizertemarker. By 13 May the Axis forces in Tunisia had surrendered.

Other

Place du 8 novembre 1942 in Paris is named in celebration of the events that took place on this day.Some people use the mnemonic device "Silly Old Hitler Couldn't Advance His Troops Over Africa" to remember the operations of the 3 basic trigonometric functions sine, cosine, and tangent. This relates Hitler losing the fight after the execution of Operation Torch.

See also



Footnotes

References

War Official reports

  • Les Cahiers Français, La part de la Résistance Française dans les évènements d'Afrique du Nord (Official reports of French Resistance Group leaders who seized Algiers on 8 November 1942, to allow allied landing), Commissariat à l'Information of Free French Comité National, London, Aug. 1943.


War correspondent report

  • Melvin K. Whiteleather, Main street's new neighbors, J.B. Lippincott Co., Philadelphia, 1945.


Academic work



General

  • Rick Atkinson, An Army at Dawn, Henry Holt, 2002 (ISBN 0-8050-6288-2).


External links




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