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DESERT WAR PART EIGHT: OPERATION TORCH ... DESERT WAR PART EIGHT: OPERATION TORCH DATE: NOVEMBER 08 – NOVEMBER 16 1942 In the Mediterranean Theater in the summer of 1941, Axis forces

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    DATE: NOVEMBER 08 – NOVEMBER 16 1942 In the Mediterranean Theater in the summer of 1941, Axis forces held Greece and the island of Crete as well as Sicily, only 90 miles

    north of the Tunisian coast of Africa. Passage through Gibraltar was possible, but the waters were infested with German submarines. Britain still held the island of Malta, pounded continually by German bombers.

    In North Africa, General Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps, allied with the weak Italian army, had pushed the British

    eastward almost to Alexandria, capturing the Western Desert area of Libya and Egypt. The British Eighth Army was still a viable force in Egypt, but had been on the defensive for some time and would not regain the initiative until late 1942, with the great British victory at El

    Alamein, immediately prior to the Torch landings.

    Strategic discussions between US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill reached an agreement to send American troops to North Africa in late 1942 to bolster British interests in the Mediterranean, and open a second front to take pressure off Russia on the Eastern Front. In return, the British would further American plans to defeat Hitler in Europe by supporting a

    major cross-Channel attack in 1943 or 1944. On July 24 1942, after formal approval, American and British Combined Chiefs of Staff in London began planning the insertion of the United States Army into the Mediterranean area, to be called Operation Torch. Lt. Gen.

    Dwight D. Eisenhower was selected to be Commander in Chief, Allied Force, based in London. On November 5 1942, Eisenhower moved his headquarters to Gibraltar.


    The objective of Operation Torch was to gain complete control of North Africa from French Morocco to Tunisia, trapping Rommel's Afrika

    Korps between Torch and the British Eighth Army to the east. After defeating Rommel, the Allies would control North Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.

  • Operation Torch was the first offensive operation that the United States undertook against Germany during World War II. At the time, it was the largest amphibious operation ever undertaken. Torch was comprised of three simultaneous landings against the North African

    French colonies:

    1. Casablanca, Morocco, 190 miles south of Gibraltar on the Atlantic coast: Western Task Force led by Major General George S. Patton, Jr.

    2. Oran, Algeria, 280 miles east of Gibraltar: Center Task Force led by Major General Lloyd R. Fredendall

    3. Algiers, Algeria, 220 miles east of Oran: Eastern Task Force led by Major General Charles W. Ryder

    Because of French animosity toward the British, who had clashed with the French at Oran and Dakar in September 1940, and in Syria in June 1941, the three landings were headed by American officers, although the Eastern Task Force was actually commanded by British Lt. General Kenneth Anderson. Naval and air support was provided by both US and British commands, with Western Task Force supported by

    American ships while the Center and Eastern Task Forces relied on the British Navy.


    On November 8 1942, 125,000 soldiers, sailors, and airmen from British, American and Free French units invaded French North Africa

    under General Eisenhower's command.

    WESTERN TASK FORCE Patton's Western Task Force was by far the largest of the three task forces. Shipped directly from Hampton Roads, Virginia, to North

    Africa across an extremely dangerous route during the height of the Battle of the Atlantic, the convoy arrived unsuspected and undetected.

    Patton planned to avoid a direct confrontation at Casablanca by landing at three surrounding points, then converging on the city by land

    routes. Western Task Force landings in French Morocco encountered the strongest resistance of any of the landing forces. In the Western Task Force center, the US 3rd Infantry Division, landing at Fedala near Casablanca, was opposed by French army and naval

    forces. As it fought its way inland, fire from US Navy ships neutralized the shore batteries and sank several French warships. By 1500

  • hours on Nov 8, Fedala had fallen. 3rd Infantry Division then closed in on Casablanca where it met with strong resistance. The city was encircled and an attack was to commence at dawn on November 11, but the French surrendered in time for the assault to be called off.

    In the southern zone of the Western Task Force area, Army units established a beachhead at Safi against heavy ground and air

    resistance. When US carrier planes joined the attack, the army was able to breakout and drive northward toward Casablanca, halting only when Casablanca surrendered. In the northern zone of the Western Task Force area, US Army infantry and armored units, with the

    support of naval shelling captured the Port Lyautey airfield late on November 10.


    Center and Eastern Task Forces coming from the United Kingdom in British ships passed through the Straits of Gibraltar. Spies immediately reported the movement to the Germans, who wrongly assumed the ships were on their way eastward to follow up the defeat

    of the Afrika Korps at El Alamein.

    The Center Task Force assault troops at Oran, as in French Morocco, were entirely American although carried by British ships. Landing on both sides of Oran, US Army units met with only sporadic resistance as they came ashore. The 2nd Battalion of the US 509th Parachute

    Infantry Regiment was dropped near the airport; infantry advanced toward the city, and armored units linked up with the airborne troops to seize the airfields. The French capitulated at 1230 hours on November 10.

  • The Eastern Task Force landing at Algiers encountered the least resistance. Coming ashore on both sides of the city, the Allied force consisted of US Army units, British Commandos and elements of a British Infantry Division. Opposition ended that same day, as orders

    from Admiral Darlan in Algiers were issued to cease all hostilities in North Africa.


    The Allies hoped the French in North Africa would receive the landings as liberation from the Nazi grip on their home country and put up

    only token resistance, if any. French military forces defending northwest Africa were operating under the control of the Vichy government, independent but closely supervised by Germany after the 1940 Blitzkrieg and armistice. Some of these forces were

    sympathetic to the Allied cause while others were loyal to the Vichy government.

    Although the Allies achieved strategic surprise, in almost every instance the French defended the invasion beaches. However, they were deeply divided on who to support, limiting their effectiveness. Other than the Morocco fighting, French army units in North Africa gave little resistance to the landings. The naval units offered more opposition, albeit halfheartedly. The only determined resistance to the

    Allied landings in North Africa occurred in Oran Harbor.

    Allied diplomatic efforts led by General Mark Clark paralleled the fighting, leading to an armistice agreement November 11 1942. Two days later, Admiral Darlan was recognized by the Allies as de facto head of the French Government in North Africa, a move opposed by

    General Charles de Gaulle, the British-approved leader of the Free French forces, who considered Darlan a traitor. Darlan was assassinated on December 24, replaced by the more acceptable General Henri Giraud.


    Following the end of fighting in Morocco and Algeria, the Eastern Task Force advanced eastward toward Tunisia, organized as the British First Army under Lt. General Kenneth Anderson. Far to the east was the British Eighth Army, commanded by Lt. General (later Field

    Marshal) Bernard Montgomery, which was moving westward after its important victory at El Alamein. As expected, Rommel would be caught between.

    To counter the Allied advance, the German garrison in Tunisia was massively reinforced and reorganized, unopposed by the French in

    Tunisia. By November 16, First Army had advanced 400 miles from Algiers, and was only 50 miles from Tunis. But an Allied attack on November 24 was repulsed and German counter-offensives on November 27 and December 1 forced a withdrawal. An unsuccessful

    offensive between December 22-24 demonstrated that First Army could only hold a defensive position while building up its forces, expanded by local French troops as well as American reinforcements arriving from the west.


    Operation Torch was the first large-scale amphibious landing under hostile fire. Despite resistance by the French, the landings were successful and all of North Africa west of Algiers was in Allied hands within three days. 125,000 soldiers, sailors, and airmen

    participated in the operation, 82,600 of them US Army personnel. 96 percent of the 1,469 casualties were American, with the Army losing 526 killed, 837 wounded, and 41 missing. Casualties varied considerably among the three task forces. Eastern Task Force lost the

    fewest Americans with 108 killed in action, while Western Task Force suffered 142 killed. Center Task Force casualties included 276 killed, inflated by an ill-fated British-sponsored mission at Oran.


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